"Pick up the pace and do something truly new next time, Konami. Don't make the dedicated fans buy the same game over and over again."
Well, they got the message.
It was a year and a half ago when I ended my review of Yu-Gi-Oh! World Championship 2008 with those two sentences -- you can go back and read the whole thing
if you like, but my opinion in summary was that the game was too similar to its predecessor, the 2007 Yu-Gi-Oh! World Championship
game, and that more should have been done to make the new sequel distinct. It didn't have a story mode, it hadn't made many changes. It was still a solid game thanks to the '07 title being so well done, but it seemed like a quick turn-around cash-in with a new year number slapped on the box.
Well, Konami got the message. Because the epically lengthily-titled Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Stardust Accelerator World Championship 2009 is something truly new, it isn't just the same game again, and it does definitely pick up the pace.
5D's is the latest spin-off of the base Yu-Gi-Oh! brand, and it's a series that's all about speed. In this futuristic vision of the card-crazed world, the popular collecting-and-battling card game Duel Monsters that the franchise is built around has been kicked into hyperdrive -- by combining it with, oddly enough, high-speed motorcycle racing. Futuristic motorcycles, on hazard-filled tracks. Like F-Zero
, or Wipeout
The main character of the show is a fellow by the name of Yusei Fudou, a guy who's trying to overcome his poverty-stricken childhood experience living in the slums of the low-class Satellite district and make it as one of the famous motorcycle-driving Turbo Duelists living in the high-class Neo Domino City. He's set back in his ambitions when his best friend Jack betrays him, steals his bike and his best card, and leaves him back in the dust of the slums without a second thought. But viewers of the show know that Yusei's able to pick himself up, dust himself off and exact some card-battling revenge on his old buddy.
The new Wii title, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Wheelie Breakers
, picks up at around this point and bases its gameplay on a version of the combination of racing and dueling that the cartoon showcases both Yusei and Jack competing in. This DS title, though, takes a different turn -- it casts you as an all-new character, starting off in the slums of Satellite just like Yusei did and offering an RPG-like Story Mode that has your hero (whom you customize and name) finding and befriending characters from the show, recovering lost memories to overcome the (admittedly cliched) amnesia that afflicts him at the story's start, and doing lots and lots of dueling.
If you've played Pokemon Colosseum
or Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness
on the GameCube, you'll have a good sense of what the Story Mode feels like -- it most reminds me of those titles, with its fully 3D environment exploration, conversations with non-player characters and light puzzle-solving. It's an impressive adventure -- not because it's all that complicated or grand in scope in the end, but because it's there at all. The '07 and '08 World Championship Yu-Gi-Oh! games had no storylines whatsoever, and this one's giving us not only a full adventure, but one that's comparable to first-party Nintendo console RPGs? Sold.
It's certainly still a Yu-Gi-Oh! design, though, even given its similar vibe to those Pokemon games -- because the combat is all about playing the Duel Monsters card game. You come across several road-blocking opponents on your quest to recover your memories and make it out of the Satellite district and back to the City, and each one won't let you pass until you've bested him or her in a round of card-battling. This aspect has both positives and negatives.
It's positive in that the wide variety of opponents, decks and strategies you're forced to overcome really showcase the depth of the Duel Monsters game design -- you're seriously challenged and have to be skillful and strategic to be able to defeat all the trick and techniques that come against you.
It's negative, though, in that Duel Monsters games can take a long while to play out. When you fought an enemy in Pokemon Colosseum, your battles went for just a couple of rounds -- you chose a Super Effective attack or two, blasted the bad guy's Rattata or Zubat, and moved on. A fairly quick pace overall, even if there were lots of enemies to beat in a row.
Here in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, things don't move nearly so quickly -- individual battles can take 15 or 20 minutes or more, and you're much more likely to lose than you were in the push-over confrontations in Colosseum. Sometimes the cards just don't fall for you, and your opponent gets exactly what he needs with every draw. It can be annoying, and you might end up having to face the same roadblocking guy two or three times before you can beat him and keep the storyline and environment exploration going.
Luckily, if you find yourself getting beaten a little too often, you can make the appropriate adjustments to prepare for your next rematch -- by tweaking the contents of your deck, or entirely rebuilding from scratch. Currency earned in the game can be spent at card shops to purchase booster packs, and the selection is expansive. There are nearly 3000 unique cards to collect and use in this latest Yu-Gi-Oh! adventure, so the sky's the limit for the decks you could potentially construct and wield against your enemies.
The motorcycle racing aspect of Stardust Accelerator comes into play a short while into the Story Mode, as the game eases you from fighting standard Duel Monsters battles to the new Turbo Duels. The racing included here isn't the same design as the Wii's Wheelie Breakers game, though -- that console title is its own beast. Here, the motorcycle racing is an occasional diversion used as a break in the environment exploration action, and works pretty well -- accelerating with A, steering with the D-Pad, avoiding rocks and oil slicks on the road and racing for the finish line. After the occasional break to have your hero race against enemies and ride his Duel Runner motorcycle to evade "the Securities" trying to catch and arrest him, though, things stay pretty firmly centered on the card battling.
Turbo Dueling is a new style of Duel Monsters play that mostly follows the regular rules, but spices things up a bit with a card called Speed World. It's a Field Spell that's placed into play by default at the beginning of any Turbo Duel, and its rules allow you to play a special class of cards called Speed Spells. These spells rely on tokens called Speed Counters for their activation costs, and the Counters are collected and stored by both players as the duel continues -- you get more during each Standby Phase, and you lose them when you use them, or when you take considerable damage from enemy attacks.
All of this is going to be nothing but gibberish to those of you out there who aren't already familiar with Duel Monsters, but don't feel entirely intimidated -- I wouldn't go so far as to say this game is purely intended for the previously initiated. I only play Yu-Gi-Oh! once a year myself, whenever I'm reviewing these yearly World Championship products, and I've found all this to be fairly easy to understand -- even without having seen more than two episodes of the most recent cartoon. It can be easy to write off complicated game designs when you feel like you're starting from scratch, but other recent incredibly deep DS games like Knights in the Nightmare have proven that it can be worthwhile to take the time, get involved and learn the intricacies of an unfamiliar but robust game system.
And Stardust Accelerator has a complete Tutorial Mode, too, that can bring you from the Step 1 basics of Duel Monsters play all the way to expert status fairly quickly. It's similar to the fully-featured tutorial found in the '07 and '08 World Championship titles, offering step-by-step breakdowns of each card type and game mechanic and an array of practice duels that test your progress to make sure you're understanding everything.
This year's tutorial has also been updated, too, to include a full explanation of Turbo Duels, and one or two other new game mechanics like Synchro Summons. Since I know how to play Duel Monsters from the past games, I just scrolled down the Tutorial Mode menu to find those new-for-2009 additions, played through them to update my knowledge, and was good to go.
And that's where things ultimately arrive -- finding yourself confident and knowledgeable in the latest and greatest Yu-Gi-Oh! mechanics and concepts, and wanting to try out your skills against the world. The "World Championship" Mode is entirely separate from the 5D's Story Mode, and just like the past few years it offers an incredibly deep challenge against, literally, the world -- Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection support lets you face off against thousands of other Yu-Gi-Oh! fans around the globe, as well as compete in Konami's official tournaments. The Wi-Fi experience feels improved, too, over past years. Maybe because the tech underneath has been enhanced, maybe because some of the subtle updates to the game's presentation and interface make your matches run more smoothly. Maybe both.
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