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Kauai Coffee Na Pali Coast Dark Roast, 12 Single Serve Cups, 4.2 Ounce
Kauai Coffee Na Pali Coast Dark Roast, 12 Single Serve Cups, 4.2 Ounce
Price: $8.46
8 used & new from $3.50

5.0 out of 5 stars The best coffee you'll ever get from a K-Cup, August 25, 2015
I got my first taste of Kauai Coffee, literally, while visiting them in Kauai two years ago. If you're ever on Kauai (and it should be on everyone's bucket list), definitely make a trip out there. Aside from unlimited tasting of some of the most amazing coffee you'll drink anywhere in the world, you can take a self-guided walking tour of their coffee fields, enjoy awesome desserts in their cafe, listen to Kauai's employees teach you everything you ever wanted to know about coffee, and otherwise make your amazing Kauai experience even more amazing.

I am one of those (shhh!) who originally bought a Keurig planning on "borrowing" K-Cups from the office to work at home. That ended quickly, but because I was overcome by a sense of conscience but because the K-Cups at work were absolutely revolting. They were the "Green Mountain Coffee" brand which you'd think would be top-of-the-line given that they also own Keurig. But invariably the coffee would be bitter, tasteless, or watery regardless of the variety--Breakfast Blend, French Roast, Dark Magic, I stole, I mean I tried them all.

Going the "honest" route I then bought my own K-Cups, but they too were disappointing. Specifically, buying familiar Starbucks roasts like Pikes Market and House Blend ended up being shadows of what they were in the Starbucks stores (which aren't much to write home about in the first place). Again, the taste was invariably bitter almost to the point of having to spit it out or cover it up with double the cream.

And so it was with low expectations that I tried the Kauai Coffee pods. I bought them on a lark in their company store.

My first pleasant experience when I got home was opening the vacuum-sealed bag. Wafting out was the same wonderful aroma that I experienced in Kauai. The look of the pod is unique to begin with--instead of landfill-clogging plastic they use a smaller pod with a thin mesh instead of the plastic. At first I thought they were just being eco-friendly for the sale of being eco-friendly, but as you'll see later in this review it works from a functional perspective too.

When I brewed my first cup I was in shock. The coffee was rich, had a wonderful aroma, and the taste was flavorful and not bitter. While I can't say it matched my experience drinking coffee in Kauai (granted there were other things that made that experience what it was too), it was far and away better than anything I'd experienced in a K-Cup before.

I was sad when I ran out of my 12 pods--it was like my vacation to Kauai was officially over--but I discovered with delight that Kauai Coffee sold their product online. Months later I was further delighted to see that they also started selling through retailers including Amazon. Some of the packages I've received have been just as good as the ones I got in person in Kauai, while others have been so-so (but still far superior to Green Mountain and Starbucks). I think it probably has to do with the amount of time it's sat on a shelf, regardless of the printed expiration date.

As the Kauai Coffee employee (who was amazing) told me while we were sipping coffee, the Dark Roast is actually the variety with the most flavor and not the one with the most caffeine as you might expect (that distinction belongs to the medium roast). As such it's by far my favorite flavor. When we've had guests over they've marveled at how good the coffee is too without even realizing it came from a Keurig (sort of a "Madge, you're soaking in it" moment)

Bottom line, while many K-Cups disappoint, this one will not, and will restore your investment in your Keurig machine. And all legally too :)


4Moms Mamaroo Bouncer, Grey Classic
4Moms Mamaroo Bouncer, Grey Classic
Price: $239.99
17 used & new from $239.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the price if even just to use as a baby recliner for colicky and gassy babies, August 25, 2015
Our little girl is going on three weeks now. As seems to be the case with most parents for the first three weeks she slept like the proverbial baby all day and night. My wife and I of course got lulled into thinking that maybe, just maybe we'd be the first parents in the history of mankind to have the perfect baby that would sleep through the night and only utter cooing noises. We were actually getting worried that she wasn't crying enough and that her lungs weren't getting the exercise they needed.

She made up for that in one night, two nights ago. All night long she was at Defcon 1, completely inconsolable. I sang. I cradled. I rocked. I drove to the drug store at 4 AM to get a pacifier. Nothing seemed to help.

We made a couple adjustments. We made sure we burped her completely and didn't set her in her bassinet right away after eating. But last night she was still spitting up and waking up every 10 minutes, kicking the swaddling cloth off and then going into her wailing.

My wonderful colleagues had bought us a Mamaroo. Honestly, I didn't think I'd get use out of it. I tried setting baby into it when she was awake and setting it to the gentlest "rock a bye" setting and yet she seemed disoriented and confused, so I stopped it. I figured maybe we'd give it to another couple who could use it.

But last night I tried plopping her into the Mamaroo seat--just the seat and the soft infant insert with no motion or sound--and she once again slept for hours and hours. Trying to read baby's mind, I think there might be a couple reasons for this. First, I can adjust the seat to an infinite number of angles; right now I have her at a slight incline which seems, knock on wood, to have all but fixed the reflux issues. Second, it's snug like it must have been inside mommy's womb without being constraining like a car seat. Last night she slept for a nighttime record 5 hours straight and as I type this right now she's going for the daytime record. She'll fuss for about 10 seconds and then curl right back to sleep.

I'd set up a baby monitor next to me so I could work while baby was sleeping in the next room. With the Mamaroo I ditched the monitor and just moved baby next to me. I'd echo what others have said--just be sure that baby is strapped in or that you have her under constant supervision. Also, I'm still planning to use it as a sleeper seat only during the day and when I can watch her--otherwise it's still into the bassinet for nighttime.

I'm still hopeful that at some point I'll be able to play with baby and all the rocking features. The design of the product is phenomenal--I downloaded the 4Moms app and spent hours playing with controlling the seat through Bluetooth and my iPhone (sans baby, of course). But for the time being, just the design of the seat itself without the rocking and sounds is worth its weight in gold.


ADOPTED Leather Folio iPhone 6 Plus Case, Black/Black, iPhone 6 Plus
ADOPTED Leather Folio iPhone 6 Plus Case, Black/Black, iPhone 6 Plus
Offered by from_wow
Price: $17.99
5 used & new from $14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Great case for holding your essential cards and for holding onto your phone, February 27, 2015
I searched very long and very, very hard for an iPhone Plus case that was right for me. After testing out dozens of this, this was the one.

The most important thing I needed one that could keep my building ID card, my subway card, and my monthly train pass handy. Happily, this one did the trick. When I keep my building ID card in the first pocket, my building's RFID system is able to recognize it. And while there's no clear plastic window to see a train ticket through, luckily the conductor on my train is satisfied with seeing the portion of the ticket that does appear.

Something else I love about this case that you don't get with other cases is that the flap also doubles as a way for you to hold your phone almost like a book, whether with one hand or two hands. One of my fears with the slick and long shape of the 6 Plus was that it's constantly be slipping out of my hands. But since using this case, that rarely happens. And when it does, the leather hasn't failed me yet as far as providing a cushion for most falls. and the plastic edges that clip the phone in place keep the phone very secure so it doesn't pop out. Between this case and my Zagg protector my iPhone should be in pristine shape by the time it's time to upgrade to the next one.

Hard to find things to complain about with this case. After opening and closing the cover hundreds of times, I do fear that the edge is getting a little loose and will eventually rip if I'm not careful. Also, the inside of the flap tends to be a dust collector, but nothing that occasionally removing the lint with a piece of tape can't cure. And of course, the case adds just a little bit of width which detracts ever so slightly from the slick form factor of the phone design. Stlll, if it's a choice between looking cool and preserving my investment, the choice is an easy one.


ZAGG InvisibleShield Glass for Apple iPhone 6 Plus - Case Friendly
ZAGG InvisibleShield Glass for Apple iPhone 6 Plus - Case Friendly
Offered by Amazing Deals Online
Price: $21.95
25 used & new from $11.87

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Love ZAGG, but this product hasn't worked out well for me., February 26, 2015
I've been a fan of Zagg since the iPhone 4. Yes, it's hard to justify paying $40 for a sheet of plastic or glass, but Zagg does such a great job with its packaging, its customer service, and its warranty policy that I've been using them for pretty much every device. So this review isn't about the company, it's about this particular product.

Unfortunately, I'm on my fourth InvisibleShield Glass for my iPhone 6 now. I got my first one when I got my iPhone 6 Plus. I messed up the installation, but this was largely my fault. I was used to applying the plastic shield, and so I got thoroughly confused at how the glass shield worked (which you basically just peel and stick--I spent 15 minutes trying to stick the protective plastic onto my phone and tossed out the glass!).

I had better luck with my second shield, but because I placed it about a millimeter too low, there was a space on the top where it stuck out over the curved screen. After a few weeks, a tiny part of the glass shattered, and it quickly spread. Worse, the cracks left tiny little shards of glass which I imagine wouldn't be very good for you if you breathed or ingested it. As a stopgap I put a little clear tape over it which stopped the cracking to some extent, but obviously it looked horrible.

My third shield, I was fastidious about measuring my screen and placing the shield exactly where it should be. But in the time I spent trying to align the shield, a piece of dust got in between the glass and the phone. I forced myself to ignore it. But just the other day, because the shield was just a fraction of the millimeter too high, you guessed it, the edge of the shield cracked and I have to get a new one now. And in all these cases I had the "case friendly" version which is supposedly cut smaller than usual.

Once again, I botched the application for my fourth shield. This time I had it all planned out--had rubber gloves, marked the edges on my phone, and carefully placed it on. And once again, I STILL botched the installation. I realized (too late) that the proper procedure is to peel off the backing, and then grasp the two yellow cellophane "tabs" on each end of the protector to position the glass before sticking it on. Their tiny instruction guide with tiny illustrated diagrams doesn't make this clear at ALL.

While Zagg has a relatively generous lifetime warranty, you do have to pay $6 shipping and handling each time you get a new unit plus the postage to ship your old broken unit back to them, even if the defect is not your fault. This is true even if it breaks the first time you put it on. So I'm in the hole about $60 now and given that I'm averaging one broken unit a month, this is turning out to be a hefty investment. To their credit, the process to order a replacement unit online is pretty simple, and the replacement you get in the mail is the actual retail package.

It's a shame that this product is giving me so much trouble because the glass itself is amazing. It's literally putting a thin sheet of clear glass over your existing glass screen, so you end up with a beautiful clear screen that make makes your phone look new all the time, has the feel of real glass, and protects your screen from fingerprints and scratches. I just wish they came up with some kind of instructions or engineering that made application more seamless.


Shape Up - Xbox One
Shape Up - Xbox One
Offered by Hubbagames
Price: $13.01
56 used & new from $9.02

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best exergames to date, providing an intense aerobic workout but being so fun you don't really notice nor mind., December 13, 2014
This review is from: Shape Up - Xbox One (Video Game)
Ubisoft has been one of the leaders in games with ancillary fitness benefits with its Just Dance series, but they've often fallen short when it comes up traditional exercise games. I remember in particular the abysmal Your Shape for the Wii; the Wii rendering of Jenny McCarthy still haunts me in my dreams.

So I admittedly wasn't expecting too much with Shape Up. But boy, was I pleasantly surprised.

Right away you can see that Shape Up makes good use of the advanced capabilities of the Xbox One and the Kinect 2.0. Granted they use a bizarre "8-bit" looking font throughout that gives the game a sort of cheapish "retro" look. But once you look behind the curtain there's some impressive technology.

You're greeted by two full-motion video instructors who'll be your teachers (and your competition) through the game. Speaking of full motion video, not only does the Kinect camera detect you, it also takes live video of you and places *you* within the game. This kind of technology was first used in games like Kung Fu High Impact, but with the Xbox One your video image is clearer than ever, and there's absolutely no lag.

Where Shape Up shines are in its mini-games, called "Challenges". They consist of different activities of about 2-4 minutes each that work out different parts of your body. In each game, you have a different challenge to meet, and you're pitted against an opponent whose video image you see to your right on the screen. Ingeniously, this opponent could be the system (which is technically a pre-recorded performance by the video trainer), an online opponent (who needs to be one of your Xbox Live friends), or even your own past performances or the past performance of someone who shares your Xbox with you. It's ingenious because as fun as the games are to play, it's even more fun when you're playing against someone else or even your own best performance.

Here's a synopsis of each game.

Arctic Punch - In this game, you're smashing ice blocks by punching, cross punching, and kneeing them. The ice blocks will show up in every direction around you, and there are certain times they'll rain down from above and you need to punch frantically. It's a great workout for your arms, legs, and abs. I give this one a workout value of 5 and a fun value of 4.

Knee Up Splash - This is like a cross between Fruit Ninja and the old game Simon. You need to memorize the patterns of red, green, and blue melons, and then grab the melons in the right order and smash them over your knee. At certain times a bunch of melons will come rolling toward you which you need to stomp with your feet. I give this a workout value of 4 and a fun value of 5.

Piano Step - This one is sort of a cross between Tom Hanks playing the piano in FAO Schwartz in "Big", Dance Dance Revolution, and Guitar Hero. Your task is to stomp your feet on one of four giant piano keys as the music plays and colored notes come speeding up toward you. There are a couple variations of this game to different songs (I Was Made for Lovin' You, Eye of the Tiger, Maniac, Lemonade Rush). Workout value of 5 and fun value of 5.

Abs Zapper - This one is sort of like Space Invaders or Galaxian. You lie on the ground, hold your hands together, and direct a laser beam to shoot oncoming aliens. Because of the position you're in, you end up getting a great core workout. Workout value of 5 and fun value of 4.

Squat Me to the Moon - Here, you just squat and stand, squat and stand. Do squats that are deep and quick, and you end up shooting yourself into outer space. You get a little break after a while of squatting when you can spread your arms out and shoot lasers at aliens. Workout value of 5 and fun value of 4.

Waterfall Jump - Another Guitar Hero-type game, this is basically a jump rope simulation, but to make it interesting you need to jump along to patterns that come racing at you. You get rewarded for accuracy as well as how well you jump. In between you hop on a surfboard and "surf" by leaning back and forth, trying to avoid mines. Workout value of 4 and fun value of 4.

Push Em Up - This is a game where you simply do push-ups. This is the one game where you Kinect definitely needs a very clear view of your floor. As you do pushups, your image on screen will have more and more things loaded onto its back from barrels to treasure cheese to arcade games to jeeps to elephants to killer whales. Workout value of 5 and fun value of 4 (thanks to the humor and entertainment value of what's happening on the screen). By the way, I haven't done a pushup in 15 years, which explains my abysmal performance.

Stunt Run - This is largely a duplicate of the "Runaway Train" game on Active Life: Explorer on the Wii, but of course greatly updated with more precise tracking and realistic graphics. Like Daniel Craig in Skyfall, you're running (in real life running in place) on the top of a speeding train and ducking and weaving to avoid obstacles, all while racing with the person to your right. This one has a workout value of 5 and fun value of 4.

To the Core - In this game you're "twisting" back and forth as you "drill" your way down to the depths of the ocean. You need to vary the speed and extent of your swiveling in order to navigate the depths, and from time to time you'll be able to "ride a vortex". Workout value of 4 and fun value of 3.

Volcano Skate - - In this game you simulate a speed skater to build up speed as you skate up a roller coaster track, and then once you're on top you simulate a downhill skier trying to avoid obstacles by lifting either foot or jumping. Workout value of 5 and fun value of 4.

What's great about all these games is that the "fun value" shoots up to 5 whenever you play against an opponent, whether that opponent is the computer, an online opponent, or your own past performance. You'll even be able to record a short video clip of yourself hamming it up to the cameras which will be displayed each time your performance is used by someone or yourself to compete against.

The game also supports local 2-person multiplayer, although bear in mind you're going to need a LOT of space between you and your opponent for most of the games, or you may end up knocking each other out. For single player, happily I was able to play most games with my Kinect only about 5 feet away from me (with the exception of Push 'Em Up, which required a full view of the floor).

Other than "Challenges", there's a section of the game called "Workouts" where your online instructors will take you through more traditional calisthenics and aerobic exercises of varying degrees of intensity. There's no gaming element to these, but you are rated based on how well you perform the exercise, and that all gets recorded in your overall stats.

There's also a story mode that'll take you through a 4 week regimen where each week you'll face off against a "champion". Three days a week for 15 minutes you'll need to complete a certain number of pre-selected workouts and challenges, with the goal of defeating your main challenger by the fourth week. It's a clever way to get you to play a number of the challenges and workouts together to maximize your fitness benefit, all while feeling like a video game "quest".

One of the nearest features of the game is its Statistics section, which shows you the number of "Bolts" (the game's point system) you've earned, as well as weekly statistics of the number of minutes you've worked out, the calories you've burned, and a percentage breakdown of which part of your body you've worked on (upper body, core, or lower body). There's also the ability to integrate with the "Shape Up Battle Run" app for iOS or Android to track your running or jogging statistics.

The one part I wasn't completely enthused about was the downloadable content. There's DLC called "Shape Up Coach" where you can create a customized workout program, choose one of 100 pre-made Training Quests, look up diet plans, and track your caloric intake to sync up with the game. At $24.99 a year, I personally don't think this is worth it, but for someone who perhaps loves this game to the point where he or she wants to build a diet and exercise plan around it, it might be.

Similarly, they're selling downloadable content called a "Shape Up Season Pass" that allows access to other Workouts and Challenges. My general attitude towards DLC is, it's fine to sell add-ons like new music tracks for the piano game or new exercises under Workouts, but when they're holding back core things like new Challenges from their packaged game and nickel-and-diming us to buy it as DLC, that admittedly rubs me the wrong way.

I'm happy to say I didn't experience any of the crashing or lagging that earlier reviewers had, so I'm assuming that they've since fixed these issues. I was able to play through all the Challenges with no problems at all.

Overall, I have to say that I was really impressed by this game. It truly is innovative in the way that it makes exercise fun. I won't go so far as to say this is the "killer app" that'll make the masses embrace the Kinect. But for those who still believe the Kinect has potential greater than just a curiosity or those of us in the niche of people who like to use video games for fitness and exercise, this is a truly innovative game that pushes the genre forward.


Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved - Xbox One
Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved - Xbox One
Price: $11.64
73 used & new from $7.48

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not without its flaws, but still a fun game that's true to the original Fantasia in letting you experience music in a new way, December 6, 2014
The concept of Fantasia: Music Evolved is fantastic. This game is loosely based on the original Fantasia short where Mickey Mouse is "conducting" the stars and the heavens as the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Your goal throughout the game is to match patterns on-screen with your arm and hand movements. It's more like Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero than "real dancing games" like Just Dance or Dance Central in that it's really more about pattern matching than dancing.

On the positive side, the use of the Kinect 2.0 is excellent. The game detects your hand movements more precisely than any other game I've played on any other platform. Before you start the game, you'll go through some clapping exercises to make sure the sound and picture are perfectly synchronized.

The graphics are beautiful as well. From the opening screen, there's a silhouetted version of you on an orchestral podium, similar to the opening scenes of Fantasia where Leopold Stokowski is introduced. Your silhouette will continue to appear at the bottom of the screen throughout as you "conduct" in different "Realms". While I wouldn't go so far as say that the graphics match what you'd find in Disney's traditional or computer generation animation titles, they did produce graphics that seem to take good advantage of the Xbox One's advanced capabilities--and managed to avoid the sluggishness that plagued games like Dance Central on the Xbox 360.

The song selection is also very eclectic. I love the fact that they included some classical pieces in a nod to the original Fantasia, but also included modern pieces as well. When you start the program the entire song library is locked, but you can turn "Party Mode" on to view and play all the songs in a group setting. Here's a list of all the artists and songs that come as part of the physical game.

Lady Gaga - Applause - Difficulty 4/5
New Order - Blue Monday - Difficulty 4/5
Queen - Bohemian Melody - Difficulty 1/5
Mozart - Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (Allegro) - Difficulty 1/5
Depeche Mode - Enjoy the Silence - Difficulty 3/5
Gorrilaz - Feel Good Inc - Difficulty 3/5
Jimi Hendrix - Fire - Difficulty 5/5
Cee Lo Green - Forget You - Difficulty 2/5
Vivaldi - The Four Seasons: Winter, 1. Allegro Non Molto - Difficulty 4/5
M.I.A. - Galang - Difficulty 2/5
Missy Elliott - Get Ur Freak On - Difficulty 3/5
Liszt - Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 - Difficulty 2/5
Peter Gabriel - In Your Eyes - Difficulty 3/5
Avicii - Levels - Difficulty 3/5
Bruno Mars - Locked out of Heaven - Difficulty 3/5
The Police - Message in a Bottle - Difficulty 1/5
Mussorgsky - Night on Bald Mountain - Difficulty 2/5
Tchaikovsky - Selections from The Nutcracker (Medley) - Difficulty 3/5
Imagine Dragons - Radioactive - Difficulty 2/5
The Who - The Real Me - Difficulty 5/5
Elton John - Rocket Man - Difficulty 1/5
Lorde - Royals - Difficulty 3/5
Kimbra - Settle Down - Difficulty 3/5
The White Stripes - Seven Nation Army - Difficulty 3/5
Fun. - Some Nights - Difficulty 2/5
Nicki Minaj - Super Bass - Difficulty 3/5
Dvorak - Symphony No. 9, from the New WOrld, IV. Allegro Con Fuoco - Difficulty 3/5
Drake - Take Care (ft. Rhianna) - Difficulty 2/5
J.S. Bach - Toccata and Fugue in D Minor - Difficulty 3/5
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots - Difficulty 2/5
David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust - Difficulty 4/5

There are also two songs by video game musician Inon Zur (Main Theme and Scout's Song) that need to be unlocked in Story Mode.

Of course, there's plenty of downloadable content as well. But the mix that comes with your original purchase price is a pretty good one that should keep you satisfied for many hours. .

As I mentioned, there are two ways to play the game: Story Mode and Party Mode. Story Mode is required to unlock all the songs and features of the game.

Once you start "Story Mode" you're brought to the workshop of Yen Sid, the Sorcerer in the original deluxe short, whom most Fantasia enthusiasts will recognize as an alter-ego of Walt Disney (try spelling his name backwards). They quickly get Yen Sid out of the way but then replace him with an impish young girl with a Fantasia-looking cap named "Scout" who, like Mickey, was a washed-up former apprentice and serves as your tour guide through the rest of the story. For some reason she grated on me as much as the impish, obnoxious dancers in Dance Central. I don't know what it is about Xbox game developers, but developing likable character doesn't seem to be one of their strong suits.

"Story Mode" itself is pretty contrived, as if the developers focused mostly on the actual gameplay and threw together the story as an afterthought. The "Story" is mainly a way to get you to play through all the songs.

To play the game itself, you select a song and then you'll stand up and "conducting" it by following on-screen cues. You start out learning the basic motions of the game. There are "push cues" where you punch your screen forward with either or both hands as a "sphere" hits the screen. There's a "sweep cues" where you sweep your hands in the direction of an on-screen arrow. There are "hold cues" where you keep your hands raised in a certain place. And then there are combinations where you "sweep" then "hold". There are "path cues" where you push forward and trace the path of the cue. And you'll encounter "switch cues" that you hit in the direction of silhouettes of instruments on screen to select or change instrumentation or song styles in the middle of a performance. While the names sound kind of complicated, all the motions are pretty intuitive, similar to the motions a conductor will make on a podium. Hit a cue correctly and the music plays loud, miss one and the music is muted. I have to admit, the first time I played I really felt like Leopold or Mickey on the podium, even if I didn't quite look like it in real life.

The story continues as you help Scout "unlock" the "Magic" throughout the world of Fantasia. You're introduced to "The Muse", a ball (really a cursor) that you can use to explore the different "Realms" (including The Capsule, The Press, The Shoal, The Nation, The Hollow, and The Shadows). Using "The Muse" to navigate within the different realms is itself an exercise in frustration, something that seems to be endemic to all Kinect games.

You're suddenly bombarded with confusing phrases like "Magic Fragments", "Composition Spells", "Hot Spot Recordings", "The Noise", and "Mixes". This is where I started to have issues with the game. I know they chose these exotic names to try to make the game sound "cool" and "mysterious", but what they really did is just create confusion. I felt like I had to learn a foreign language here just to play the game.

But after some trial and error you'll start to figure out what's going on. In a "Realm", you need to unlock a certain number of "Magic Fragments", by completing tasks such as finding one of 11 hidden "Hot Spots", by unlocking "Mixes", by unlocking and using "Composition Spells, or by otherwise completing song goals. Collect enough "Magic Fragments" and you clear each realm of "The Noise" (which is evidently something bad).

"Composition Spells" are basically ways you can create audio samples visually--all with your arms and hands. For example, a Composition Spell called "Sound Sketcher" allows you to move your arms and hands up and down to play a series of notes on a sphere, which you "save" by putting your arms to your side. You don't have the precise control that a real composer would have, but even by randomly moving your arms and hands you can create some pretty interesting and totally original mixes which will show up as samples throughout songs later in the game.

"Hot Spots" are a little less interesting. You basically need to hunt and peck through screens to find "hidden" objects which you can wave your hand over to play notes and create a "Hot Spot Recording". This seemed kind of pointless; it's as if the game developers asked themselves "What can I do to artificially prolong Story Mode so users don't finish it right away".

In addition, each song also has three "Mixes" that you'll unlock through the game. For example, you can hear Antonin Dvorak's New World Symphony performed by a Big Band, or Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody set to heavy metal.

What makes thing interesting is that these different things that will let you customize your sound and literally make the music unique to you. In fact, after particularly good "performances" you'll probably want to save the performance for posterity, and what you save will be a creation that's uniquely your own.

I have to say that the more you play this game, the more it grows on you. Again, I won't say there aren't frustrations. The Story itself is tedious, and there is a learning curve for figuring out how to execute the "cues" in a way that the Kinect recognizes you. For example, I found after trial and error that I actually have to make Sweep motions a split second before I *think* I should, and I also realized after a while that rather than always making broad sweeping motions I'd be better of making a mix of long and short motions in a way that flows with the music (sort of like a conductor would make small movements for pianissimo and grand movements for fortissimo).

After a while, as the motions start becoming more intuitive and natural, you can start literally "feeling" the music, and that's when it becomes really enjoyable. It took me about 2 days of playing to finally start scoring in the 80-90% range, and I'll admit that my enjoyment of the game increased as that happened, not because I cared about the score but because I started to really "experience" the music. In that sense, this Kinect game starts to realize the vision that Walt Disney had with the original Fantasia--of letting you experience music in a brand new way.

As for fitness and exercise value of the game, I can't say there's much of that. I do find that when I play for extended periods of time, I do build up a sweat and my heart rate is elevated, particularly on higher difficulty levels where your arms are moving frantically. I'd be kidding myself if I said it was anything close to an aerobic workout. That said, add some wrist weights and move your feet while you play, and suddenly you will have a game that is a lot of fun and can help you tone your arms.

The game also has a two player mode. As long as you're playing with someone who's had the same level of practice you've had, this can be a ton of fun. It involves cooperation; you each need to hit your own colored cues properly for the song to play, and the choices both of you make with Switch Cues and Composition Spells can influence what the final song sounds like. But it involves competition as well--you're both judged on how well you performed and it can get pretty competitive. And because the Kinect 2.0 is so precise, unlike with games like Just Dance you can't blame a loss on anything except yourself.

Overall, I'd give Fantasia: Music Evolved a solid 4 out of 5. The story mode seems a bit sloppy and lazy at times, but the core game play, graphics, music selection, and motion controls are a decent, if not revolutionary demonstration of what the Xbox One with Kinect 2.0 is capable of.


Just Dance 2015 - Wii
Just Dance 2015 - Wii
Offered by Delaware
Price: $33.95
87 used & new from $15.69

119 of 127 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still one of the best video games for groups or workouts, improved by a great song list and vastly improved online capabilities, October 22, 2014
This review is from: Just Dance 2015 - Wii (Video Game)
While motion gaming for the Wii seems to have gone the way of the dodo, one sure thing in life is that Ubisoft will release a new version of Just Dance every year. Just Dance 2015 (which is technically "Just Dance 6") is the latest.

I'll start off by saying that other than 45 new songs and improvements in online play, there's not a whole lot new here. But I gave it four stars ("I like it") because it's still one of the most fun games you can play at a party or a family gathering, and one of the only options left for the Wii or Wii U in terms of playing a video game for fitness and exercise.

Here's what I like about the game:

1) The Song List - Once again, the song list is great and has something for just about all members of the family. It has plenty of selections from the current Billboard Top 20, including "Bang Bang" by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj; "Black Window" by Iggy Azalea; "Maps" by Maroon 5; and "Break Free" by Ariana Grande. There are recent hits like Pharrell Williams' "Happy", Rihanna's "Diamonds', and Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance". And there are oldies like Run DMC and Aerosmith in "Walk This Way", Los Del Rio's "Macarena" (complete with authentic moves) and Marvin Gaye's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". For the kids there's the song none of us can get out of our head: Disney's "Let It Go" from Frozen. In a strange move, they even have the original theme song for the video game "Tetris". Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" (which isn't listed in the official track list) IS included.

(UPDATE: Judy asked a question in the comments that I think warrants my updating this review. If you're a parent or grandparent of a young child, as with previous versions of Just Dance you're probably going to want to take a good look at the song list and make a decision of whether it's appropriate for your household. While there are plenty of kid-friendly songs like "Let It Go" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", there are also suggestive songs such as "Birthday", "Bang Bang" and "4x4" that some parents will likely find too suggestive. Ubisoft did attempt to censor the most glaring words but in my opinion, not only is that likely to NOT going to be enough for most parents' comfort, it also detracts from players who aren't parents who want to listen to the uncensored lyrics. The lack of parental controls and the "E for Everyone 10+" rating have been controversial in the past, and unfortunately it doesn't look like Ubisoft has quite come up with a great solution for this yet with this version.)

2) Choreography - The choreography, once again, is fantastic. As they usually do, the dance moves did a great job of capturing the spirit of the songs, and in some cases use dance moves from the original artists' videos. While 1-4 players can dance to any song, certain songs are specially choreographed for 2, 3 and 4 players and the moves can get pretty intricate and interactive (making it as much fun for people watching as it is for the people dancing).

Overall, the steps are simple enough that novices can play along, but complex enough that they'll look impressive on a real dance floor if you master them. As a bonus, as you play you'll be able to unlock alternate choreography for many of the songs. For example, "Happy" has a "Sing Along" mode and "Diamonds" has a "Seated Dance" mode.

3) Motion Controls - I'll preface by saying that motion controls are never going to be 100% precise on the Wii. But when compared to how poor the controls were in the first few versions, I think they've made it as good as it's going to get. I used my nephew, who's a Just Dance expert, to test it. He dances every step (including arm, wrist, and spin movements) precisely, and he manages to routinely get 5 of 5 stars. As for me, I *think* I'm dancing correctly, but I typically score 2-4 stars. The key to success is to learn the moves and then dance them naturally to the music, instead of focusing on mimicking the on-screen dancer.

4) Artwork - Again, Ubisoft stuck to the formula of using simple cartoon drawings and backgrounds instead of trying to get too "realistic", and it still works. Some of the artwork is beautiful, others are hilarious, and the animations that fill up the screen as you dance keep you from being bored during the song.

5) Workout - Contrary to what others have reported, Just Dance 2015 didn't remove "Just Sweat Mode" except in name only. You can still turn on "calorie tracking", and it'll track for any song as you play the game (not just by going into a given mode). The system will keep track of the total calories you've burned over the life of the game. Also, similar to "Just Sweat Mode" in past games, there's a Playlist mode that lets you select songs to dance to for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 40 minutes, or non-stop for the purpose of working out (Unfortunately, you still don't have the capability to save playlists).

6) Community Remix - While this is listed as a "feature" on the Amazon product page, it's technically only available on the Xbox and Playstation version, where players can use those consoles' camera to record their dances and get them rated by the community. A team in Ubisoft will take the best videos and create a video mix of different people around the world performing the moves. While Wii users can't record themselves on video, they can view and play along to these. The first of these is a version of Pharrel's "Happy" that's a lot of fun, and there are sure to be more.

7) Singalong - As usual, as songs play the lyrics will also appear for those who'd like to sing along. Something else you can do now is attach any USB microphone to your Wii, and like a karaoke machine, your voice will come through the TV for everyone to enjoy. It's a great way to get more people involved in a party setting.

If that were it, I'd probably still give this game just 3 stars--it's a solid game, but up to this point there wasn't much new. But what upped my rating to "I like it" were the vast improvements in online play.

You might recall that Ubisoft tried their hand at online play with Just Dance 2014 and did a pretty bad job of it. Just to participate in online play, you had to sign in with your Nintendo ID, then sign in again (or create) something else called a "Uplay ID", agreeing to a bunch of disclaimers on the way. And even after going through all that, chances are their server would kick you out or crash on you.

It's a world of difference with Just Dance 2015. First of all, there's no setup nor "Uplay account" necessary. You can just jump right into online play in two ways:

1) World Dance Floor - On the lower right-hand corner of the main Just Dance 2015 screen, you'll see the words "World Dance Floor", along with the number of dancers around the world currently dancing and the song everyone is dancing to. Click on it and within seconds you'll see a single button that says "DANCE NOW", along with the avatars of everyone who's online at the moment and what country they're from.

Once you click on it, you'll be placed into a "Party" of about eight dancers. You can compete against each individually, and also choose a "side" (Dog vs. Cat, Sun vs. Moon, etc.).

As you dance to the song, you'll see how well you're doing vs. the others in your party. As you successfully hit moves and improve our score, you'll see your avatar's position rise against other players in real-time. I have to admit, it's addictive trying to beat your fellow dancers and get that #1 spot. And even if you can't keep up with the top players, the better you do the more you'll be helping your "side".

Once you finish dancing, you'll see whether your "side" won. You'll also be able to compare your score not just to members of your own group but to everyone around the world dancing at that moment. In some cases you'll be able to vote on the next song to dance to, and you can keep dancing indefinitely. Whenever you decide to stop, you'll see your current "online level", how many minutes you danced, and how many different dancers you were dancing with from how many different countries in the time you were playing. I appreciate how they simplified not just the process of joining in the World Dance Floor but the gameplay as well.

2) Dance Challenger Mode - With typical Just Dance songs you can dance with up to four players holding four Wii remotes. For the first time, you'll also be able to activate "Dance Challenger Mode" which will fill up any empty slots with online players OR against your best performance from the past. Unlike with World Dance Floor, you're not competing against live players, but you are competing against real people's performances.

There's only one major glitch I encountered; at a certain point when I was configuring avatars, the game crashed my system, resulting in a freeze that required me to unplug my unit and plug it in again. Hopefully that has just a one-time thing.

Yes, this game really isn't breaking huge new ground in terms of innnovation, but it still manages to be one of the most entertaining video games you can play at family gatherings or parties, as well as still one of the best ways you can get exercise while playing a video game. The publisher did a great job of carrying over the best things about previous versions of Just Dance, but it's the updated song list and the improvements in online features that make Just Dance 2015 worth buying.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 1, 2015 10:10 AM PST


Wii Sports Club - Wii U
Wii Sports Club - Wii U
Offered by AMAZING DEALS R US
Price: $59.95
26 used & new from $39.99

65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enough improvements to make it a worthwhile purchase for the Wii U, July 25, 2014
The first thing to know about Wii Sports Club is that if you've played the original Wii Sports on the Wii, there's really nothing new in terms of the gameplay or the basic experience. You have baseball, tennis, bowling, golf, and boxing. The controls work pretty much identically to the original--you hold the Wii remote in your hand to bat, volley, bowl, tee off, and punch.

It's tough to justify paying $40 for a game that we all got for free with the original Wii. But for a couple reasons I think it's worth it. Here are the main ones:

1) Improved graphics: As Microsoft and Sony were competing to see who could get the most powerful and realistic HD graphics, I love how Nintendo went the opposite direction and created a world of ingeniously simple cartoony characters (Miis) that seemed to have their own personalities. Not only did it look great, it meant that games would be incredibly responsive, something that Xbox 360 developers never figured out how to do with their slow-as-molasses motion controls.

Now that the Wii U supports HD graphics, I'm glad to see that Nintendo kept the whole Mii universe as-is, but added a lot of background details (the texture on the playing surface, beautiful scenery, crowd animation, etc.) to enhance the experience. The graphics improvements are more subtle and aren't as dramatic as, say, the improvements they made to Mario Kart 8 over Mario Kart Wii, but they're still very good.

2) Smart (not gratuitous) use of the GamePad: The GamePad is one of the most panned features of the Wii U and not without reason--it's a piece of hardware they released before giving developers a chance to figure out how to best to exploit it. As a result, most games that supposedly support the GamePad do it in a really forced way. However, Wii Sports Club makes intelligent use of the GamePad to make gameplay a lot more fun. Specifically, in baseball, one player holds the GamePad to pitch; gone are the days when you could glance over at the player to figure out what kind of pitch they're throwing. You can also hold the GamePad in front of you to have a first-person view of catching fly balls and line drives in a way that feels surprisingly realistic. Also, in golf, you put the GamePad on the ground and literally "tee up" just like you do in real life, which is both clever and makes the experience feel all the more realistic. I actually like that they didn't try to "force" GamePad use in the other sports, simply because it wouldn't have added anything to them.

3) Improved controls: I remember playing Wii Sports together with a group of five year olds and getting destroyed when they were just bouncing around like a bunch of jumping beans and wagging their remotes. Those days are over :)

The motion control capabilities of the original Wii remote were pretty basic, but later down the road Nintendo released the Wii MotionPlus attachment (and later the Wii Remote Plus), which looked the same as the Wii remote but could capture complex motion more accurately (in addition to the original accelerometer and sensor bar capabilities that could detect basic movements, it added gyroscopes that could detect nuances like the angle you're holding the remote at and your wrist rotations). With Wii Sports Club, this greater precision is taken into account in the gameplay. It's a thrill to rotate your wrists and see the trademark on your baseball bat or the angle of your tennis racquet smoothly rotate along with it.

I also liked how when two people are boxing locally, both of them can use two Wii Remote Pluses to give really precise control with both hands. You still have the option to use one Wii remote each as well, although support for the nunchuk has been removed.

There may be times the motion controls get stuck or out of sync, which can get frustrating. But they seem to anticipate this happening and provide instructions on the screen for how to reset your controller if it does (e.g., by putting it flat on a table, pressing the directional buttons, etc.)

I should say these "improvements" are not necessarily for everyone. There was a certain fun to having the controls be ridiculously basic so that all players of all ages competing against each other were more or less on the same playing field. Now, you really need to learn how to finesse things like the angle and trajectory of your tennis shot, the position and speed of your bat, or the angle of your bowling release. It takes a lot of getting used to the new controls, and admittedly I had some challenges with a couple of the sports at first. But with practice, you'll get it.

4) New training modes: They've added more mini-games called "training mode". Bowling has a game where you try to pick up spares, a game where you have to try to throw in a straight line, and everyone's favorite, the 100-ping game. Tennis has a game where you need to hit tennis shots through rings, hit "moles" as they pop up on the court, and a fun new game where a ducky-shaped ball machine has to run after your shots. Baseball has the home run derby, of course, as well as a quick game where you have 90 seconds to smash walls and a pitching game that uses the new GamePad. Golf has a putting mini-game, a game where you can practice your short game, and a game where you have practice your driving skills. Finally, boxing (still the best workout of all of the sports) has a game where you smash plates in front of you, punch a bag, and dodge balls.

5) Online Play: This was one of the highlights for me. It's one thing to play against the computer or with your family and friends in your house (both of which you can still do), but it's great to be able to call a friend up across the street or across the world and challenge them to a game. You can also play against strangers. I like the fact that as of now, I still don't see "cheaters" who modify their systems to get unfair advantages (as there was in Mario Kart Wii where online play became unusable because of all the cheaters). Let's hope Nintendo keeps it that way.

I also like the notion of "Clubs" (ergo, the name) where you can associate yourself with your country or state, and have your great play contribute to helping your club rank better than all the others out there.

6) The physical version of the game: As much as Nintendo tried to force us to buy the download version, I'm glad I didn't bite because there are so many reasons the physical version is better. The price is pretty much the same ($39.99 for the physical version vs. $39.96 for all sports in the download version), but I like the ability to take my disc to a friend of family member's house to play with them.

Like I said, there's a part of me that bristles in paying $40 for a game that we all got for free before; plus I would have liked to see some improvements (another sport or two perhaps like football or basketball). But as with Mario Kart 8, if you loved the game I think there are enough improvements that makes this a worthwhile purchase for your Wii U.


Sony XBR55X850B 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD 120Hz 3D Smart LED TV (2014 Model)
Sony XBR55X850B 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD 120Hz 3D Smart LED TV (2014 Model)
Offered by Video & Audio Center
Price: Click here to see our price
11 used & new from $1,194.52

333 of 355 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent picture quality, beautiful set, amazing 4K, July 1, 2014
I remember back in the 1980's, Sony TVs were the thing to get. Those Trinitron CRT sets just seemed to have a brighter, crisper picture than anyone else out there. They suffered a little bit in the last few years as their competitors closed the gap of price and quality. This new series of 4K TVs may be just the thing Sony needs to remind everyone that they're still one of the best out there.

I had a couple things on my list: 4K, 3D, a decent-looking design, a set that wouldn't be obsolete in a year, and a set that was relatively affordable. Here's how the set did.

4K:

The first time I walked into a Best Buy and saw a TV with a 4K picture, my jaw dropped. Seeing 4K for the first time reminded me of the time I saw 1080i for the first time in a Tokyo airport. The picture improvement is that much clearer and crisper. Sure enough, the 4K rendering on this set is terrific--color fidelity is spot-on and the picture is bright.

Of course, 4K is really only good for early adopters and technophiles right now, as there isn't much 4K content out there and likely won't be for years. Cable companies aren't going to support it until there's a critical mass (heck, most are still broadcasting at 720p). The only other ways outside of the TV to get 4K content is through a PC (you'll need an upgraded video card) or a media server, which will cost extra.

That said, I was able to connect directly to NetFlix through the TV. There's a handful of 4K programs available, which as of this writing includes movies like Ghostbusters, Philadelphia, and Smurfs 2; TV shows like Breaking Bad and House of Cards; and a couple of mediocre nature films. I loaded up House of Cards and I was blown away; it was surreal, more like watching a home movie of Kevin Spacey than a TV show.

As a bonus, I started up the YouTube app on the TV, and tried playing a few 4K videos. They were also beautiful and exceptionally sharp on a 50Mbps Internet connection.

3D:

It looks like companies have all but given up trying to market 3D to a mass consumer audience, but I appreciate Sony continuing to support 3D for the niche that continues to be enthusiastic about it. I'm one of those; I bought a 3D camcorder from Sony and I actually have guests to my house asking me to show them my vacation videos :P

I also have a PS3 which plays 3D Blu-Rays, and not surprisingly, the picture is fantastic. I know in last year's model there were rumors that Sony deliberately cut down the resolution in each eye for the 55" set. I don't know if that's still the case with this set, but the picture was very clear regardless.

This set does support passive 3D, something I wanted because I didn't want to deal with the hassle of charging batteries, wearing bulky glasses, or dealing with the 'darker' picture that comes with active 3D. Surprisingly, the 3D quality was still excellent. I popped "How to Train Your Dragon" into the PS3 and the colors were vibrant, the textures detailed and crisp, and the 3D depth just like in the theater.

Design:

One thing I absolutely hated about last year's passive 3D/4K set was that they put these butt-ugly "Dumbo ears" speakers on the sides of their set. Happily, this year they got rid of it and replaced it with a simple, sleek black border. While it's a 53" set, it fits perfectly on my entertainment console which is about 50-51" end-to-end. The screen is a glossy sheen which is almost mirror-like, so if you have bright lighting in the house near where you sit you'll want to turn it off.

A set that wouldn't be obsolete in a year:

One thing I liked is that once I connected the set to the Internet, it asked me if I wanted to do a software update. That's one way of ensuring that the TV is going to be kept up-to-date. I do like that HDMI 2.0 is supported out of the box. And of course, 8K is not coming out anytime soon :)

A set that was relatively affordable:

This is the second-generation of 4K sets, and Sony is being pretty aggressive with the pricing; the 55" set retails for $3000, but street price seems to be around $2300 as of this writing, only a few weeks after launch. Considering that the equivalent first-generation set retailed for $5000, the drop in price is definitely more precipitous than typical.

Yes, in a year you'll probably be seeing sub-$2000 street prices, but I decided to jump now. It's no secret that Sony has been losing money and market share in its TVs for years, so expect them to continue to be very aggressive in their pricing.

While the photos all show the stand on the far left and right of the unit, you can also install the stand so that they're closer to the middle of the unit (just to the left and right of the LED in the center). This might be a better option if, say, you'll be placing it on a cabinet that's less than 48" wide.

The unit comes with two remotes, a more traditional remote with a ton of buttons and a smaller remote with a trackpad. It also comes with two passive 3D glasses (the ones from the movie theater will work too), and an "IR blaster" that you can use to control other devices with your remote (I have mine set up to control my TiVo). It has 4 HDMI connectors. USB ports will let you attach things like a PS3 controller (for Playstation Now, coming in the Fall) or a keyboard. There's also an MHL connector that will let you mirror photos and videos on smartphones, projectors, and other devices that support it (Nokia, Samsung, Silicon Image, Sony, and Toshiba).

The one thing I did NOT like about this set was how convoluted their on-screen display was. Using the trackpad remote was not intuitive at all, and this is exacerbated by really poor software design where it's impossible to navigate from screen to screen without getting completely lost. I think the UX people at Sony must have made the poor decision to steal ideas from Microsoft.

That aside, this was a purchase I was completely satisfied with. As another reviewer said, the brightness and color richness of the display rival a plasma set and the 4K is just stunning.
Comment Comments (17) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 15, 2015 3:48 AM PST


Mario Kart 8 - Nintendo Wii U
Mario Kart 8 - Nintendo Wii U
Price: $57.03
154 used & new from $40.00

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We've seen Mario save the Princess. Now can it save the Wii U?, June 8, 2014
It's no secret that the Wii U has been struggling. Nintendo needed to hit an out-of-the-park grand slam to have any chance of reviving it. With Mario Kart 8, it may have done just that.

There's not much new with Mario Kart 8. It's the same kart racing concept that's been around since Super Mario Kart for the SNES. You race against a number of other Mario characters in various tracks. As with Mario Kart Wii, you can use the Wii remote to steer (the Mario Kart wheel is just a round plastic accessory that you snap the remote into). You can also use the Wii U Pro controller, the Wii Remote or the Gamepad (you can also use the Wii remote + Classic Controller Pro or the Wii remote + Nunchuk).

The Gamepad offers additional features, of course. At its most basic, you can steer by tilting the Gamepad. The ZL button lets you throw things you've picked up, the A button accelerates, and the B button goes in reverse. In addition, you can use the ZR + A button to "drift". If you play on the Gamepad, you still look to the TV to play, but your Gamepad screen shows everyone's position in the race (and what extra they have in their possession), as well as a video of the race, a map of the track with everyone's position, and a horn in the middle like a real steering wheel.

The graphics are phenomenal and finally showcase the HD capabilities of the Wii U. The colors are bright, and there's amazing detail in all the screens, from delicate giant dandelions to giant candies that look good enough to eat. New tracks are wonderfully creative, such as one where you drive through an airport's terminal area, baggage claim area, and right onto the runway as a jumbo jet flies towards you. Classic tracks like Moo Moo Meadows have been totally redone with crisp graphics and exquisite attention to detail, from beautiful sunrises to trees and cows with detailed 3D rendering, to marks your vehicle makes when driving over sand. The tracks are a lot more nuanced, so you can either stay on the main road or take various shortcuts you'll discover over time.

Unlike the previous Mario Kart Wii, you can not only choose a Kart type (50cc, 100cc and 150cc), but also configure it with custom tires and a custom "parachute" that deploys when you're in the air--as you get more advanced in the game you'll understand how subtle choices you make here can give you an advantage on certain tracks.

Gameplay is mostly the same as always. You race around the track, pick up cubes that'll unlock extras to use in the race (including new ones like a boomerang, a sonic boom device, and a rotator that lets you use 8 of them in succession). They've kept old features in, but subtly introduced new ones, like a blue strip that turns your car into a hovercraft. You can also pick up coins throughout the game which will help you unlock things like new accessories, vehicles, and characters.

Of course, the game is best played using the Gamepad or the Wii remote to steer. The controls are much, much improved over Mario Kart Wii. You feel much tighter control and precision than I've felt in any other racing game on any platform.

There are a lot of new bells and whistles. After each race, you can view a "highlight reel" that lets you relive your greatest moments during the race. A new feature called "Mario Kart TV" archives your recent race videos.

You can play single player against the computer or multiplayer. As with Mario Kart Wii, in single player mode, you can race the Grand Prix (4 race matches), Time Trials (racing for new time records), VS Race (racing using special rules, including adjusting items, computer difficulty, number of races, etc.), and Battle Mode (where you try to pop the other team's balloons). Multiplayer mode has the same options except for Time Trials, and lets you race up to four players.

One of the worst features of Mario Kart Wii was its online play. There was simply much too much cheating going on, with cheaters racking up thousands of points and creating hacks that made the competition meaningless. I was shocked at how good online play is now. You see your Mii join in with other Miis from around the world, you all vote on which track to play, and it looks like at least for now there's no cheating--you can observe the technique the top players are using, and it's clear that it's all skill that keeps them up front. For me, I consistently placed around positions 5-7, and I was very happy with that. If you have 12 friends, you can get around the 4-player limit on a local Wii by connecting them online, forming your own Room, and competing against each other.

They did seem to do away with the "driver's license" feature of Mario Kart Wii where you could keep track of which tracks you've played, but that was no great loss. What is a bit annoying is that it's not easy to change your Mii in case someone else want to play, so unless you quit the game, select a different Mii, and restart the game, all the videos and progress will be attributed to one Mii. The exception to this is online multiplayer, where player 2 will be able to select their own Mii to play online.

Simply put, this is not just the best game on the Wii U, it's one of the best games Nintendo has ever released, and one of the best racing games on any platform. It's a shame they didn't have the foresight to bundle this with the original Wii U when it first came out, because I think this game could have boosted sales of the Wii U by millions of units, just like Wii Sports did back when the Wii was released. Still, they did a smart thing and are running a generous promotion where if you register this game, you'll get another great game for free (Pikmin 3, Super Mario Bros U, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Walker, or Wii Party U). It's a nice way for Nintendo to thank those who purchased the Wii U early on, as well as push people on the fence to get on board.

While this game is hardly original (the concept is the same as it's been for over 20 years), the graphics, gameplay, and precise controls make it a must-have for anyone who has a Wii U, and a reason to run out and buy a Wii U for those who don't.


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