Older gamers may remember the tale of Tiki the kiwi in the original New Zealand Story, which graced the likes of the Amiga and the NES all those years ago (it was around 1988, for the information hogs amongst you). As a Taito classic, it is part of the deal struck up between the company and Rising Star Games, meaning it’s ripe for a remake…and that’s what we’ve got here, with Dreams’ latest Taito update, New Zealand Story Revolution. Can it hope to live up to the original, though?
Like many games of the era, New Zealand Story’s plot is pretty basic, and Revolution follows in these footsteps with a carbon copy of the storyline. Tiki’s fellow kiwis have been kidnapped by a nasty leopard seal (fans may be glad to learn that the issue of what the bad guy actually IS has been cleared up at last – the first game notoriously has the enemy referred to as a walrus or a leopard seal in alternation between the versions of the game). Tiki, being the noble little bird that he is, immediately sets off to rescue them, taking his little bow and arrows with him.
A few new moves have been added to Tiki’s repertoire since the game of old. For starters, his bow’s firing direction is now adjustable with the d-pad when holding the R button, making it easier to strike enemies – the L button resets it to its default straight-forward firing mode. The arrows can now be charged up by holding the fire button to deliver a more powerful punch. He can also fly for short periods of time after a double jump with repeated pushing of A, which is pretty clever for a kiwi, really, considering that they’re flightless birds with almost non-existent wings. The kiwis of the world of Taito have always been mutants though, so we’ll put it down to creative licence…
Tiki’s adventure is quite unique as a game. At its core it is a platformer, but due to the sheer amount of enemies (which can get very overwhelming at times) it feels like a cross between the platformer genre and the shoot ‘em up. In addition to this, vehicles also form a strong part of the game – balloons, stolen from enemies, are most common and are essential to getting around the stages in many a-place, but you can also find cars, gliders, special roller-skates that can go up walls and bubbles when underwater. Throughout the multi-section levels you have to locate keys and cages containing your troubled bird buddies, and when dispatching enemies Taito’s trademark fruit appears for you to collect. Various power-up items can also be collected, which change your projectiles so that you can shoot fire or ice, or stop time for a short period.
New Zealand Story is legendary for its difficulty level, being one of the more challenging titles of yesteryear. Similar to adjustments in previous Taito remakes, the single hit death has been replaced with a slightly more lenient system, in that you can take three hits before losing a life. This is greatly welcomed, but we really don’t want to imagine playing Revolution with the old life scheme – frankly, the challenge level can be through the roof. After a few stages to ease you into things, the difficulty really spikes up, and in this case you can take ‘difficulty spike’ literally. In a very frustrating move, Dream have been extremely liberal with their usage of pointy implements prickling around the levels, covering many of the surfaces and turning them into death traps. Despite the lack of single hit fatalities, Revolution has a tendency to feel much more unfair than its predecessor thanks to the spread of spikes, which isn’t helped at all by some of the backgrounds being identical in colour to the obstacles, particularly on the sea-based levels. It’s not uncommon to completely miss out on seeing the spikes and ramming head, tail or body first into them, stealing away precious health at the most inconvenient of times – and it’s even worse when it pops the balloon you’re riding on after a particularly arduous climb through the air, sending you plummeting you right back to where you started. It’s infuriating level design that will probably stop many players from delving too far into the game.
It would be fair to ask what new things the DS can bring to the game, also, and the answer is ‘not too much’, in all honesty, as the game isn’t really suited to touch play. It hasn’t stopped Dreams from trying, nonetheless, and the result is a game lightly peppered with awkward touch based diversions which sometimes expect you to be able to use d-pad, buttons and stylus almost simultaneously. Some of the mini-games work, such as when Tiki must cross a room with huge gaps that aren’t possibly jumpable. The button screen transforms into a pit of spikes beneath the ground, and when Tiki inevitably falls down the oversized holes he must be grabbed with the stylus and flicked back up onto the other side of the gap. Fishing, by hooking fish with the stylus, is a reasonable thought, while tight rope walking is a good, but initially confusing, idea, involving the player balancing Tiki on the bottom screen by adjusting ends of a balancing pole so that they are level, then moving with the d-pad, then stopping again to adjust the pole repeatedly, until the rope is traversed. The worst offenders are the ‘opening doors’ mini-game and the ‘spot the difference’ game, which can spring from absolutely nowhere and immediately require the stylus to hand. In the case of doors, you physically must rotate a switch to open them – and the touch screen doesn’t even recognise the movement very well – while in spot the difference you have to spot a minute difference between the two screens in order to open a portal to progress. These might not be so bad, but the action isn’t even paused while they’re taking place, meaning you can be getting bombed by numerous enemies while trying to complete the game – leaving Tiki as more of a sitting duck than a kiwi, thanks to the stylus preventing easy use of the face buttons. When touch games aren’t in activation, the lower screen displays a map. A multiplayer mode also appears with some touch based games, but as they’re multicard only and we had just one copy of the game to hand we were unable to test them out.
The levels are, for the most part, quite well-designed, but the over-use of spikes messes this up a lot of the time, and there is an annoying habit of the game in that sometimes once you get past a certain point without collecting something important you cannot get back unless you die so that you can go through the entirety of the stage again. Boss battles have also been re-designed with the DS in mind, in probably the best use of the system. For example, in the first big fight you must defeat a whale, but to do so you need to be swallowed. Once you’ve descended into his belly, Tiki moves to the bottom screen, where you have to attack the beast’s heart directly (don’t let the cute exterior fool you – Tiki means business, and has no qualms about dismembering internal organs). We’re sure the other boss battles are similarly fun, but somehow we kept managing to find secret tunnels which got us halfway through the next set of levels and completely missing out on the boss battles. Ho hum.
It’s probably the best looking of the Taito remakes, with a graphical update that’s subtle yet a marked improvement, without a huge departure from the original. It’s just a shame they couldn’t have made obstacles stick out from environments a little better. Everything is well animated and Tiki’s personality shines through, with distressed, angry and bored looks appearing obviously. The expressions that are the result of the use of fire, both on Tiki and enemies, also would not look at all out of place in a Kirby game – take that as a good sign. There’s some catchy music at times too, but much of it can get repetitive, especially since you’ll have to replay levels quite often to complete them thanks to the difficulty.
It’s a passable game, but New Zealand Story Revolution never catches the attention as the original did due to its few but notable faults - though it‘s at least faithful in that it‘s still extremely frustrating. The game is still fun if you’re prepared to stick it out through the irritating segments and if you have the determination to keep trying as you die repeatedly, but we have the feeling that it’s more a game that fans of the original may be more partial to (despite the changes) and not likely to draw attention from gamers that have not played previous versions before, especially with some of the other big-hitters appearing on DS at the moment.
The platforming action is as good as it ever was and the controls work well, but the interjections of touch-based mini-games, evil placements of spikes and sometimes ridiculous amounts of enemies, especially when you’re in the middle of one of said touch mini-games, let it down.
Tiki is cute and filled with personality, and the other sprites look good too. The backgrounds let things down though, sometimes because they’re bland, sometimes because they obscure obstacles.
Good menu tunes, often boring in-level tunes. The sound effects don’t really stand out.
It’ll take a while to complete thanks to how hard it can be, but it really depends on whether you’ve got the patience to keep playing in the face of repeated unfair deaths.
It’s a shame that this didn’t turn out better given the source material, and New Zealand Story Revolution could have been a lot better if it was a tad more faithful – even the removal of a couple of the touch mini-games alone would have been a world of improvement. As it stands, Tiki just about avoids us wanting to put him into the pot for a kiwi stew, as it’s an average game that’s worth a look if you enjoyed the original. Just don’t expect it to replace it in your heart.
this sounds pathetic.
It's not pathetic, it's just pretty average, unfortunately. Out of the Rising Star/Dreams Taito classic remakes, I'd say that Rainbow Islands Revolution has been the most successful thus far, but I'm only compelled to keep Bubble Bobble Revolution...despite the terrible main game, it has the classic original included, which earns it a place in my collection!