Saturday, December 26, 2009

Xbox 360 look: The Last Remnant

The Last Remnant is in some ways Square-Enix's attempt to bring the Romancing Saga franchise to the next generation of consoles. I think this is extremely interesting because the Saga series has always been very unique in its approach. In fact the Saga games tend to take their uniqueness a bit too far and create games only a small group of people can understand let alone enjoy.

I know the phrase "It's not for everyone" gets terribly overused around here but once again it has to be said. While the Saga games have aspects standard to the JRPG they also have tons of their own sub-systems that create something rather off-putting and picking up on them can be a bit of a struggle. Take for instance how experience is handled. In Saga games the characters don't level up. Instead they randomly gain stats as they win battles. Furthermore the battles they win must be ones where the party is weaker than the enemy. Where this gets strange is that enemies can gain in strength along with the party. There's a hidden rank in some of these games that actually cause enemies to change to more powerful ones. This means that after awhile the rats the player was picking on in the first dungeon could become behemoths of the apocalypse. This rank extends beyond battles as if the player doesn't properly maintain it it'll lead to them missing out on the many quests NPCs dole out. Sure other quests will pop up depending on rank but since some can open up entirely new dungeons and lands to explore that equates to a lot of missed content.

Thankfully it's not all that frustrating. Saga games are usually light on the equipment requirements so the party is adept for whatever situation that comes about. After every battle all party members are restored to full health. Magic Points(MP, TP, EP, or whatever) are given out as battles progress so the player can use powerful skills constantly. So for the most part even if the player can't quite figure out how to work the system to their advantage the games never become truly daunting.

The Last Remnant is definitely a Saga game. The storyline is about as tolerable as the average JRPG will allow and most of the player's time will be spent in dungeons or in combat. While the dungeons are very standard and predictable they serve their purpose.

To properly explain the battle system we must first start with how parties work. In this game they are known as Unions and eventually the player can form up to five unions with 18 party members(though in the 360 version only six of them can be powerful leaders). After deciding on the characters for a Union a formation must be decided upon. These affect everything from defense to certain attacks to mobility to achieving a particular maneuver with slightly more success. Rarely does this boil down to life or death but any advantage is worth having.

When a battle starts all of the Unions will participate. The enemies are like-wise organised into Unions and after deciding their orders they will clash until one side is wiped out. I say "orders" because unlike other RPGs they are a not "commands". When the player selects an enemy party to attack a list of orders will come up. These are adapted to the current situation and take into account multiple factors like morale(the huge bar at the top of the screen), union configuration, status of other unions, and so on. The average list of orders will consist of "Attack", "Attack from afar(with spells)", "Attack with special skills", "Heal selves", "Heal other unions", and so on. Don't be surprised if not all of these pop up at a given time as the game will only allow you to give orders if they are deemed necessary. You can't give individual commands to party members so if there's certain weapon-skills you tend to favor it can be frustrating.

Skills cover all of the necessary things like killing and healing. They are learned during battle and gain in power from constant use. There are also character unique abilities like summons and special attacks. These are definitely useful and should be triggered whenever possible(though getting special attacks require certain conditions).

When two opposing Unions attack each other it is known as a deadlock. From there other Unions can join in to flank their enemies, assist from outside, and so on. Since many foes are capable of area of effect attacks it may be necessary to keep unions out of direct combat to heal others. Bosses and certain enemies tend to lead to multi-deadlocks. These can be a very bad thing because as long as the unions are involved in those the enemy can continue to make moves(this tends to be especially devastating depending on what attacks they are capable of).

It's definitely a lot to absorb but the game gives the player several tools to make things a bit easier. The Battle Rank is back and while it won't cause the player to miss out on quests it will lead to slight gains in enemy stats over time. The Battle Rank doesn't account for other factors like the Union's equipment or skills so no matter the rank the player should have little trouble with fights deemed to be below the player's level(as determined by the morale at the start of the battle). Obviously with these easier battles there are less stat gains to make so that means the player will have to constantly do tougher battles. At least they'll have more fun in the process.

All the same though I'd recommend being overpowered for certain story-related encounters. I say this because these fights can take over an hour just to complete and losing all of that progress because the boss wiped everyone out in a couple turns will lead to quite a bit of rage. The majority of the game will be spent in side-quests anyway and the story-related fights can only scale so much. Despite my misgivings with the battle rank it actually turns out to be well thought-out and the worst aspect of it is that maybe you'll find yourself slightly bored from destroying too easy foes for little gain. This can eventually become an annoyance if like me you decide to run away from enemies during exploration. Thankfully BR is pretty easy to control and as long as you don't revisit areas constantly it stays fairly level and very challenging.

Like many other recent RPGs there is a crafting system of sorts in The Last Remnant. There are tons of components to find and collect and certain parts will be used by union members to strengthen their equipment. It can be a headache to scour the world for a certain flavor of insect wing though.

All of the biggest faults with this game are in the technical sense. At least on the 360 you're in for a pain if you don't install the game on your HDD. Even then the battles are plagued by low frame-rates and stuttering. It gets tolerable after awhile but if you have the PC for it I recommend going that direction. As a bonus the game allows for players to make Unions filled entirely with Leaders. Aside from Leaders having more versatility and power than regular soldiers they also have their own looks and voices that lend a bit of personality to each battle(plus there's actually a Leader named Gabriel, can't go wrong with that right?).

I should also mention that this game is best played with the minor assistance of a guide. There are a handful of missable side-quests and in order to get the most out of the game every last one of them must be completed. Despite this game being one of the better JRPGs I've played this year I have to admit that missing out on these quests took a bit away from my enjoyment of the game. I'm also a bit perturbed by the lack of a clock that tracks amount of time spent on the game. Then again it's probably best that I don't know.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

PS2 look - King's Field: The Ancient City

One of the most pleasant surprises of this year is the success story Demon's Souls. Considering the nature of the game and how its designed I was quite shocked to see it sell as well as it did. Sure it's nothing incredible especially when compared to the likes of Infinity Ward's or Nintendo's latest it's still quite respectable.

Before Demon's Souls however From Software's mainstay Fantasy game was the King's Field series. These first-person RPGs feature a heavy emphasis on atmosphere, exploration, and punishment. Anyone who has played Demon's Souls can attest to the punishment aspect. It is a welcome part to the game because it's designed fairly and creates an experience that's a bit more unique than more traditional adventures. The only problem with King's Field is that most of the games are only available on the PS1 and tend to look very dated. Everything else holds up if you can look past that though.

The Ancient City is the sole PS2 King's Field game and is the best entry to start with for those interested in the series. In a land doomed by constant fear and death one man must take a mysterious idol to the bowels of evil itself to restore light to the kingdom. While The Ancient City's strength isn't in story-telling it's certainly in atmosphere. These games are very dark and somber experiences. You'll meet less than 20 living people throughout your adventure and almost all of them wish they were dead(and a few are even granted that wish). This isn't like the average RPG where there's always somebody to welcome you at the front gate with a warm greeting. Everyone in King's Field is depressed about something and their face carries an absolutely dismal look.

When the player looks at the world surrounding them they will also gain that feeling of hopelessness. The Ancient City is a horrible place filled with ruins, crumbling villages, lava-pits, and pretty much every dungeon design we don't look forward to. In what has become a sort-of tradition for the series one of the first things the player will do is fall into a pit of lava.

Death is a concept we've long grown accustomed to when it comes to videogames and The Ancient City does little to make it easy. While the game can be saved it is only through save-points and chances are good that the player will have to go for thirty minute or even hour long stretches without saving. Clearly the designers could have implemented a system where the game can be saved at any time but where's the fun in that? Progress is only gained by taking risks while at the same time approaching everything with caution.

The pacing in King's Field has always been very methodical. While some would say that this is simply a slow-paced game I think this is not something you can run through and expect the best. The pacing is everything here and every situation must be carefully handled. This is especially true early on since simple mistakes are usually fatal.

To explain this better I'm going to look at the foes of The Ancient City. These creatures come in all shapes and sizes and cover about everything you're bound to expect. The thing to keep in mind is that these monsters can hit very hard. If the player is caught off-guard or surrounded they will die. One of the very first dungeons is filled with poisonous slimes. If the player touches one of these the poison will kill them in seconds. Pretty much any mistake made in this game usually leads to death.

The way that combat is handled leaves little room for error as well. A melee-based first person perspective is enough of a challenge but King's Field brings it up a notch by requiring that the player is properly facing the enemy in order to hit them. To further complicate things a stamina bar determines how much damage they do with a swing. Stamina is drained by running and emptied entirely by swinging. In order to take down any beast it's important to watch for openings, play it safe, and always keep track of the environment. Not only is it possible to fall off a cliff while fighting with a foe there's the chance a player could run into a wall and get stuck just as the monster makes the killing blow.

The strangest thing is however is that as the player progresses the game will actually become easier. While the game strives to keep the level of challenge at a state where it grows with the player's skills and abilities after several hours things start to pose less of a threat. This is mostly due to the magic system in the game. As the player explores The Ancient City they'll come across magic crystals that teach spells. While they start off very weak through constant use they gain in levels and start to become very useful. In fact I would argue that some of them can potentially become game-breaking(like the healing spell). In a way though it is a good idea to be able to allow for more mistakes as the dungeons and puzzles become more challenging to solve. Every aspect of the game plays off each other naturally and when one aspect starts to become easy another aspect will jump in difficulty.

The Ancient City's greatest strength is the design of its world. It's seamless and unlike Eternal Ring each area is sensible and creative. There's no wandering nothing more than increasingly similar hallways to flip a switch or find a key. Every inch of the land feels meticously crafted to be just as real as a videogame can allow.

As far as replay value is concerned that's a tough one to consider. There's not much to this game in terms of optional content and the only reward for completing the game is an ending. It might be an experience worth re-living in a month or even a few years at least. Aside from that the player could challenge themselves further to abstain from certain spells or focus on using different weapons and equipment to progress. There's a bit of leeway in how to handle combat at least.

In any case The Ancient City is a worthwhile trek and is certainly worth a look for those seeking adventure or fans of Demon's Souls who want to explore previous games.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Xbox 360 look: Ninja Blade

One of my favorite titles from the Xbox days was Otogi 2. This action game by From Software featured large worlds that were almost fully destructible and had all manner of mythological Japanese demons to send flying into walls or through buildings. Obviously I was excited about Ninja Blade. Okay yeah the trailer wasn't too hot and the demo really wasn't that great either but when have those things been indicative of the final product? So I got the full game and gave it a go.

Like Otogi, Ninja Blade is a 3D action game that takes place over 9 very long stages(we're talking 15 to 45 minutes a piece). The hero is a rather dorky looking dude by the name of Ken Ogawa. The problem with Ken is he has serious Daddy issues. Over the course of the game his father betrays him and leaves him for dead. Yeah I know it sucks but Ken won't stop whining and complaining about it until he saves the day from a parasitic menace.

Assisting him in this endeavor is Michael Wilson. If you haven't heard of him that's probably because you didn't play Metal Wolf Chaos(a JPN-only Xbox game..yes I'm being "that guy" again). Michael is a future U.S. president and will one day control a giant mech to take back his country from a backstabbing vice-president. Why this guy isn't the playable main character of Ninja Blade makes little sense to me.

Regardless Ken is still a Ninja and has access to a number of different moves and blades. He's got the running, the jumping, the wall-running, the wall-jumping, basically all of the standard stuff. In terms of weapons he has a regular sword, a heavy sword for breaking things, and light swords attached to wires for grabbing onto faraway objects. Further rounding Ken out is Ninja magic. By using the elements to his advantage he can solve minor puzzles and find weakpoints on the bosses.

Weapons aren't much good without bad guys and Ninja Blade certainly has enough to go around. Oddly enough a lot of the foes are of the slow and lumbering variety, which is hardly befitting for the fast Ninja action we've grown to expect thanks to titles like Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden. There are some flying creatures and even encounters with enemy ninjas but for the most part it's boring freaks that like to leap on the player.

The bosses are at least slightly more interesting. They're huge and quite impressive. Most of the time they're also not content with waiting until the end of the stage to get killed. This aspect is handled very well and feels dynamic. Which is good because otherwise the level designs are terribly predictable.

I'm sure you know how it works right? You fight some bad guys of varying types, then probably do a bit of platforming, then go back to fighting. It's the same thing us action game fans have been doing time began. It certainly doesn't help that certain areas are repeated in other stages and the attempts at breaking up the monotony simply aren't thought out very well.

For example the chief method of introducing variety in Ninja Blade is through QTEs. While Ken is a loser he's highly skilled and amazingly creative in his handling of nasty creatures. Furthermore he's pulling off stunts several thousands of feet into the air. Of course doing all of this is handled with a bunch of button presses. I think this generation is overrated just as much as the next guy but surely I would have imagined that we'd be getting past that whole "mildly-interactive cutscene" nonsense.

What it comes down to is that when the player reaches the boss they'll hack away at it for several minutes while dodging its attacks. Then after the boss's health meter is drained they'll be stunned and then the player can finish them off with some finish that's several times more exciting than the actual fight or even the rest of the stage. There are a few creative stages like one that takes place on a moving airplane and another that has multiple paths. More of the stages should have had multiple paths as it would have helped the replay value a lot more than replaying stages to get a higher score(whic is fine too but these stages are pretty freaking long).

The only other bit of variety to Ninja Blade involves missions where the player shoots things with a gun mounted to a helicopter. I liked these sections when they were actual arcade games like Operation Wolf or Space Gun. At least those games made up for their weak concept with some amount of depth(plus you got to hold a sweet gun). In Ninja Blade you simply shoot things and maybe use your ninja vision to slow things down enough for particular moments. The Ninja vision can actually be used elsewhere in the game but I didn't bring it up before because most of the time it's a pain. It's a pain to use and it's also a pain for the eyes and possibly head as it drenches the screen in a bunch of special effects that make me feel like I'm going blind. Sure everything slows down and that's useful but it's at the expense of my vision and possibly my lunch.

The biggest problem with this game is that in the end it's little more than a clone. By now you've probably figured that this game is a God of War clone. Now it's been awhile since I've played God of War 2 but the resemblances are obvious. There's the unlikeable main character, swords attached to wires(instead of chains), bosses that can only be killed via QTEs, and oh yeah all equipment is upgraded by collecting red stuff. Yes I know that last one was cloned from Devil May Cry but that's another story.

But that's really alright. Clones can be good and if a clone is better than the originator then that's just wonderful. Ninja Blade is unfortunately not nearly as good as anything it cloned. It's terribly shallow, kind of buggy, has nothing in the way of interesting puzzles and the moments of actual brilliance tend to be squandered due to the ineffective handling of mechanics and level design.

In the end though Ninja Blade really isn't a bad game. I have trouble thinking of a single game I'd not want to play instead of Ninja Blade but still it accomplishes the basic goals. It is a playable game, it won't make you cry or hate yourself or even consider taking up reading. However it will leave you unfulfilled, empty, and probably depressed about the 10 or so hours that could have been spent playing something else. At least take the time to watch all of the cutscenes as they are pretty cool.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Xbox 360 look: Tomb Raider Underworld

Prior to Underworld my only experience with the Tomb Raider franchise was the PC version of the first game. In fact it was only the demo version and I spent more time manipulating the camera to see more of Lara Croft's curves(well at the time they were more like angles). Nearly a decade and a half later I find myself with the latest in the series and hey I even played through it.

Seeing as how I've missed about thirty games I'm not sure what the deal is with a lot of the characters in this game. I recognize Lara sure but apparently she has to deal with this rival named Amanda. Amanda is so goth she has her own Succubus which she keeps in a glass jar. Predictably tables are turned, crosses are doubled, and Lara has go to opposite ends of the world to find the tools necessary to stop the bad guys.

These tools are located in ancient ruins and are designed in a way where only the dexterous can reach its hidden treasures. In fact a lot of exploration in this game is tied more towards solving the various platforming puzzles than tinkering with pressure plates, messing with light sources, or finding various keys of all shapes and sizes.

Lara is definitely fit for the job because in her youth she was apparently a gold medal gymnast and her parents were great archealogists. Not only does she have that whole pressure plate stuff mastered but she can jump reasonably well, swing gracefully from the inexplicably large number of bars placed everywhere, and grab a hold of crevices that have conveniently made paths for her to easily figure out.

3D platforming has always been rather problematic and this game suffers at times from it. Early on the platforming is fluid and well put together. This is handled by using a sort of forced system where as long as Lara is facing the right way and/or is in the right position she will successfully make every jump. In a way there are no mistakes only miscalculations so as long as the player pays attention to the environment they can survive the most precarious of platforms. This is important because Lara is a bit on the fragile side and falling for more than 10 feet is usually fatal. Later on however the restrictions are eased to the point where the safe path isn't so obvious and I felt like at times what feels like the natural way to progress comes off as un-natural. This is a bit hard to describe so bear with me here. Late in the game I have to escape from a pit. There are some platforms I can't reach so to get to them I end up crawling on a statue to reach them. I'm not sure if this was how it was supposed to work or I cheated a little. All the same it felt very strange.

To help Lara along she has various pieces of equipment. There's the always handy flashlight but Lara will frequently make use of a grappling hook. This little number is necessary cause there are quite a few huge gold rings placed over chasms or nearby cliffs so Lara can swing across or rapple down. More than slightly useless are various other tools like cameras, sonar, and so on. The camera would be one thing if there was stuff worth getting a picture of and the sonar would help if the game wasn't almost completely linear and thus near impossible to get lost in.

Speaking of useless Lara also has access to a large variety of flips and rolls. I think these are done purely for style as I've tried using them for what might be their intended purpose(like dodging traps or avoiding enemy attacks) and ended up getting killed for my trouble. They are fun to watch and very well animated though. If the intended purpose was to show off well that's cool too.

Lara also really wouldn't be herself without her trademark guns. Yes of course I'm talking about her dual pistols that she takes with her on every adventure. These are handy for capping the various bats, bugs, giant spiders, humans, and whatever other nasties that happen to bother her. Before each new area she can even decide what secondary weapon to carry along(like a shotgun, a pair of uzis, a speargun, and so on). Thankfully there are no bosses to fight or anything because I'm not sure I'd be able to stand it. The combat in this game is pretty terrible. Every enemy takes several bullets to cap and they frequently like to double-team Lara. Her melee attack actually tends to be more useful than anything as it keeps enemies on the ground and unable to react.

Worse still is Lara's motorcycle. I'm not sure when the developers gave her one of these but it is one horrid piece of work. It also makes very little sense from a design perspective because some of the stages have ancient ruins designed around driving a motorcycle inside. Boy if those thousands of years old Ancient Civilizations didn't have ramps for Lara to drive her motorcycle over I'm not sure what she'd do.

Like any other higher power the camera in this game dictates the success and failure of the player. Unfortunately in this game's case it's more failure than anything. It's actually not too bad at first since some camera swinging is necessary to find the best way to reach the next area. At times the camera will even point out areas that Lara can traverse. Before all is said and done however expect countless moments where the camera is focused on her feet or some other location that probably won't save Lara from a horrible death.

In a way I'm thankful and also confused by the way Underworld handles death. The checkpoint system is extremely generous and I think the most progress I ever lost due to becoming a corpse was less than three minutes. What confuses me though is that there are medkits and health vials that can be used to restore Lara's health. I find this weird because Lara's health is restored when she dies. Now I know what you're saying, the healthkits are for the players who don't want to die. To this I respond with "why bother?"

The biggest problem with this game is that quite simply it's rushed. The first couple areas are great in that they feature beautiful locales, solid mechanics, and are fun to play through. Before long however the locales are dull, the level designs have become pedestrian, and worse still the mechanics simply start to fall apart. Towards the end of the game you will die and it won't be your fault.

The most unfortunate aspect of all is that for me at least the game never becomes truly terrible. The worst bits of the game are thankfully very brief(they all involve blue kool-aid that kills instantly) and the ending focuses on Lara's platforming rather than some terrible shoot-out. This disappoints me because I can't make up a bunch of clever analogies like "Wow she's great for the first couple dates but before long she sets fire to your bed and strangles the cat." This game turns into a pure mediocrity instead of a pure piece of crap. I guess something like "style over substance" would be more fitting but that's such a boring phrase. For that matter it doesn't quite fit as her style really isn't all that great either.

Still I think I might give Tomb Raider: 15th Anniversary a chance anyway. I've heard a lot of great things about it and apparently it's a remake of one of the few great games in the series. I can see where they're coming from here cause Underworld has its moments but that's all they really are...just moments.

Whoa dig the new look!

This blog was long overdue for an overhaul so I did the sensible thing and put black text to a white background instead of vice-versa.

Still not doing pictures though.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

End of the Year Awards for 2k9

Since everyone else is doing it here are my videogame awards for 2009.

Best download-only console game - Virtual On: Oratario Tangram XBLA - There have been a lot of great original titles this year like Splosion Man, Shadow Complex, and so on but for me at least a high quality port of one of the best games ever made is enough to take the top spot.
Honorable mention: Streets of Fury. This twisted combination of Pit Fighter and Guardian Heroes combines a great combat engine with solid controls, good music, and enough good-natured cheesiness to make any beatemup fan smile.

Biggest Disappointment - Way of the Samurai 3 - I really enjoyed the first game way back when and even not too long ago. This game however just adds far too much and refuses to balance any of it out. There's a job system where you can take on tasks for money but it's horribly implemented, there are hundreds of swords to earn and thousands of moves to learn but most of them aren't worth the trouble. To add to this the character designs are very bland and the game drags far too much and loses the pick up and play appeal of the first game.
Dishonorable mention: Raiden IV. Overall it's an improvement over Raiden III but that's not saying a whole lot and after Raiden Fighters it's impossible for me to go back.

Best game I wish I played when it came out - Breath of Fire 5: Dragon Quarter - I guess I was scared off by the various sub-systems the game employs so I missed the boat when it first came out. Playing it back then might have re-shaped my outlook on videogames and led to me not focusing on collecting DVDs for several years.
Honorable Mention: Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land - This game is a class act in every sense of the word. I think it was partly due to titles like the Dark Spire and Etrian Odyssey 2 that I gave this game a chance. I'm certainly glad I did.

Worst game I wish I played when it came out. - Eternal Ring - I probably would have been a lot more tolerable of this game if I had picked it up when the PS2 launched. Then again I was still into the Dreamcast at that time so it was probably for the best.
Dishonorable mention: Nanobreaker. At the very least I could share my frustrations with other forum members.

Best game I wish I was playing instead of the one I'm playing at the moment - Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 - There's a lot to like about Ninja Gaiden 2 on the 360. There's also a lot to dis-like. Due to my lack of a PS3 I can't rectify this by buying a version that apparently fixes a number of problems I'm having with the original. It's a darn shame really.

Best Xbox 360 game - Mushihime Futari - No doubt about it M2 put together quite a port of an absolutely excellent 2D shooter. While this game is so intense that I need therapy sessions in-between 1CC attempts it's still a serious improvement over the first game and one of the best titles Cave has ever produced.
Honorable mention: Red Faction: Guerilla - I don't usually play multiplayer games but this one was incredible and very addictive. Problem is of course nobody is playing it anymore thanks to Modern Warfare 2(boooo hiss).

Best Wii game - New Super Mario Bros....Wii - As far as 2D platformers go this is the one to beat. It's certainly up there with the likes of Mario 3, World, Yoshi's Island, and so on.
Honorable mention: Onechanbara. Yeaaahhhh..I didn't play many Wii games this year.

Best DS game - Retro Game Challenge - While none of the games stand out as exceptional on their own the package as a whole comes out to be something rather special. Shame we'll probably never get the sequel.

And uh...that's it!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mushihime-sama Futari has arrived!

It took a few weeks but finally Cave's latest console port is in my hands.

There's not a whole lot I can say at this point as I've barely spent a couple hours with it. It's certainly challenging as I've yet to even scratch the harder settings.

There's even a novice setting for when your newborn infant wants to play. Then again it'd probably be a bit too easy for him/her.

The arrange mode is a real oddball. It's also very easy but it puts a huge emphasis on scoring using an interest character-swapping/bullet-reflecting system. At the moment I can't make heads or tails of it but triggering fever mode is always a thrill.

Reko(the heroine) is certainly an interesting piece of work. For one I'm scared to say much of anything about her because I believe she's under-age. She may look 18 or so but I'm pretty sure that along with everything else she was designed to never age(despite this game has to take place at least a year after the events of the first). Everything else about her physically borders on the point of hilarity. For one her dress is designed to hug every possible curve, she rides a massive beetle while striking provocative poses, and she wears a bow on her neck with a ribbon that hangs low enough to be perpetually squished between her...well you get the idea.

Still it's good clean fun as the entirety of the game is spent dodging purple death while mashing bugs into stew and collecting copious medals. It is amusing how much the landscape has changed for shooters though. Used to be we'd all fly ships and blow up other ships or tanks. Now we control teenage girls in tiny outfits who let out high-pitched screams when their all too fragile lives are snuffed out. I guess I can't complain though as the games are still very good.

Anyway I'm going to keep playing this at least until ESP Galuda 2 hits the Xbox 360 in late February. Hopefully this release will be region-free as well.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Plans for the rest of the year.

I still have to get a new computer but I've decided to blow the money on a HDMI-enabled monitor as well as more games.

The Last Remnant - Really late on this one. So far it's very addictive and definitely reminds me of Square's Romancing Saga series in terms of progression and combat. Definitely liking this one.

Test Drive Unlimited - Kind of an MMO for car fans this game boils down to exploring a Hawaiian island, participating in races, and buying cars. I've put some time into this one before but in my opinion it wasn't enough.

Burnout Paradise - I've played Burnout 2 through Revenge yet I never got around to this one. This is another matter that clearly must be rectified.

Tomb Raider Underworld: I haven't played a TR game since the first one. I'm not exactly sure why I chose the last one to pick up but I'm not an entirely sensible person so whatever.

The Red Star - This forgotten number by XS games took forever to release only to quietly bomb and end with the death of yet another developer. I wonder how the game itself turned out.

Devil May Cry 1 - With Bayonetta coming real soon(or already out if you imported/live in Japan) I realized I never played through the first game.

Viewtiful Joe - Picked this up as well cause I never played it. Should be fun.

Guilty Gear Overture - This game was dead even prior to arrival cause it was everything but a new 2D Guilty Gear game. Thankfully for fans of that series Blazblue is available and it's quite nice. Regardless Overture isn't for the close-minded. This is probably the closest thing to a tower-defense game I'll ever actually play.

Tsukiyo Ni Saraba - In Europe this game is known as 10,000 Bullets. Why 10,000? I have no clue. Anyway this is a Max Payne-esque shooter with lots of slow-motion and thugs to shoot.

As far as I'm concerned this will be it for at least the rest of the year. There is Bayonetta on Jan 5th and possibly a couple other things but other than that my wallet should be relatively safe until March.

Not sure what else I'm going to do though as I can't guarantee any updates without a computer. I may have to consider using a library computer or something. A better option would probably be for me to shut up about all these updates I'm not doing but eh..

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Okay I thought I was getting my laptop back but guess what? It's dead. There's no saving it at this point so my only option is a new computer. Throw in the fact that I just replaced my car battery and those plans of buying a new HDTV/PS3/PSP/??? are slipping away rapidly. Looks like I'll have to put together a little ebay sale before long if I'm ever going to get out of this dinky 19" Sylvania TV that my room-mate loaned me.

But enough whining it's time for a look at what games I've picked up since the last update -

Rygar (PS2) - Like Ninja Gaiden this 80s game saw a revival in the form of a Devil May Cry-esque 3D action game. So far I can say I've done much worse for less than $5. The soundtrack is fantastic as well.

Sacred 2 - I've said before that I'm a sucker for loot-based action RPGs and Sacred 2 is definitely all about that. I actually just quit this game because I am sick of it. I'll explain myself just as soon as I can put together a reliable update again.

Bujingai - I'm actually not 100% if I even have this game yet. I'm still waiting for it to arrive and in fact its doubtful that I even purchased this game from a reliable seller. Too bad cause this game is by Red Entertainment and looks kind of interesting. Hopefully things work out.

Daytona USA: Championship Edition (JPN) - This is the second Daytona USA game that saw release on the Saturn. The main reason I purchased this was because I read somewhere that the JP version offers an option for the original game's handling. Unfortunately maybe it's due to being shipped to Japan or something else but the package has taken quite awhile to arrive. Maybe the Winter Haven Post Office doesn't have their stuff together. I wouldn't be surprised because they've lost one of my packages before.

Oh and how could I possibly forget about the biggest game of this month? That's right Mushime-sama Futari and it's out next week! Okay sure it won't arrive in my home until sometime in December but hey still hyped.

Hopefully my fortunes change in the near future cause I'm absurdly behind on this blog.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Still at it..

Although I'm uncertain as to when I'll be getting back to updating regularly I'm certainly not lacking for games. Expect some talk of the following games in the future:

Activision Anthology - I used to own this compilation but I think it deserves a second look. Essentially it compiles nearly 50 games that were originally released on the Atari 2600(or at least developed using that hardware). As expected these are very simplistic games but many of them are still quite entertaining.

Sega Classics Collection - This was Sega's aborted attempt at releasing their PS2 Sega Ages titles outside of Japan. Due to their low budgets these remakes are pretty dire-looking but some of them turned out quite alright when it comes to the game itself. That said this still isn't a popular compilation due to housing one of the worst versions of Golden Axe to ever exist.

New Zealand Story Revolution - I'm not sure what prompted this sudden interest in remaking Taito's older titles but I guess I can't complain too much. The original game was an action-platformer for the arcades that starred a kiwi and his equally cute friends. Just from flipping through the manual I see a double-jump has been adding along with touchscreen minigames and whatnot. Hmm...well at least it was cheap and I can't imagine it being that bad.

Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers - I still say this game has among one of the best concepts in history. A woman in a tiny outfit slashes up zombies and after getting bathed in enough of their blood she goes berserk and well...kills the undead more quickly. The story never makes any sense and the games have a history of not exactly being good but who can hate a concept like that? Anyway I have put a few hours into this one and it's definitely an improvement over the last game I played(which would be Onechanpon(?) the fourth PS2 game). I'll get more in-depth on this one....eventually.

I've also been playing Way of the Samurai 3. There's little else to say right now aside from that it is much better than the first game.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Videogame looks to uh...look forward to

Since the Wii isn't exactly the greatest thing around for updating blogs I'm continuing to buy and play games. By the time I finally get a working PC I'll be able to do dozens of updates, clean up some of my messier ones, and generally make up for a lot of lost time.

As I said before I'll get to looking at these titles eventually:

Castlevania III - Tough game. Dunno why I've been playing Castlevania again. I guess since I've talked about that game's particular style of action-platforming I should take another look at it.

Super Castlevania 4 - Not so tough game. There's somethings I'd like to discuss about this game but I'll save it for when I can start doing regular updates again.

Ninja Blade - From the Nightshade look one would assume that I'd be moving on to Ninja Gaiden. Well that ain't happening just yet. If and when I do get around to that series I'm going to start with the NES games. Besides this game happens to be by From Software. This is nice as I have been playing quite a few of their games lately.

Sega Ages: Fantasy Zone DX - I saw a good deal on this fab compilation so I immediately snapped it up. Aside from containing almost every Fantasy Zone game there's a very nice remake of Fantasy Zone 2: Tears of Opa Opa. I'm really looking forward to this one in particular as I loved the Master System version.

Way of the Samurai 3 - I ordered this earlier but as I predicted there's been some delays and between that and Amazon's free shipping I'll be lucky to have this in my hands by November. Regardless I'm excited.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

PS2 look - Nightshade

Shortly after the events of Hotsuma and the end of the Oboro clan a corrupt government(big surprise) sends in a super sexy Kunoichi(female ninja) named Hibana to retrieve the soul-sucking sword Akujiki. Rival forces like an evil robot and her former ninja clan get involved as well. This is essentially all you need to know about the story of Nightshade, Sega's followup to the excellent Shinobi.

For those who have already played Shinobi PS2 this game will be quite familiar. Some basic changes have been made to the structure though as the Stage 1A-1B style is chucked for a more standard Stage 1, 2, 3, etc. There are also more stages and they're longer to boot. The basics have gone unchanged as they revolve around the TATE system though the game offers a large number of additional moves each with their own particular uses.

Rather than bother with explaining every little detail I'm going to skip ahead to what's wrong with Nightshade. This is more important I think because for all intents and purposes it covers all of the necessities for a good game yet in the end the problems are so critical to the core game design that they ruin everything. This may be construed as an overly negative view of the game but I assure you that with every facet of the game there is at least one serious issue.

Most of the stages compare favorably with the first game. Hibana has to go through a linear stage where combinations of enemies get dealt with, power-ups are collected, and occassionaly locked doors must be handled through spilling blood or hitting floating objects. With such simplistic level concepts the focus should be on creating strong enemy layouts and providing good environments for the battle to take place in. Most of the time this isn't the case. Enemies are rarely arranged in any kind of order and their placement feels very clumsy. To compare if you were to make a Call of Duty game would you put the bad guys behind cover or out in the open? Given the chance I'm guessing the designers of Nightshade would do the latter. There's no sense of transition from foe to foe and even though they fall easily the occurences where the player is left scrambling to find other foes to finish the TATE are too often. This has no real bearing on the combat itself(which has issues we'll go into later) but the player should never have a problem reaching enemies.

While I'm on the subject of level design I'll point out that the stages are simply too long. The average stage can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Shinobi has stages like that as well but let's consider this: In Shinobi it took me 10 to 30 minutes to complete a stage because I died multiple times. Nightshade on the other hand I got through a stage without dying or running into serious problems and it still took me closer to 30 minutes to complete it. Like the first game Nightshade is very linear so it's not like I was getting lost. How did Sega manage to pull this off? I'm guessing it's due to the new structure adopted for most of the stages. While breaking each stage into sections is a good way to make the game more accessible to beginners it tends to ruin the pacing. Like with most other action games there's a gradual build-up of intensity through enemies and platforming(if the game has it) before the player contends with the boss. It takes Nightshade much longer to reach this highest level, which just leads to boredom.

If that wasn't enough there are some stages that take place on top of moving vehicles. While these stages are a little bit shorter they also aren't broken up into sections. This means that if the player dies towards the end of the vehicle-based stage that means they get to do the entire thing over again. This kind of flies in the face of that whole "more easily-accessible" stuff as these particular stages tend to be the hardest in the game. It doesn't help that they're rather repetitive and consist almost entirely of jumping between vehicles while killing vehicles for so long.

The combat in this game is a chore. I can't put it any more bluntly than that. The first game worked due partly to its simplicity as the player could cut down enemies with a single slice. In Nightshade it's not nearly that simple as while Hibana has a ton of new moves at her disposal they seem to be there just to accomplish the same effect. Thanks to the rather absurd enemy placement there are times where enemies are located too far apart for a single dash to reach them. Hibana has access to a flying kick to cover that extra bit of distance but that means pressing another button just to get to the enemy. Furthermore as the game progresses armored enemies will start to appearing. Removing this armor is typically done with a kick. This gets old very quickly as taking down a single foe requires several button presses. This isn't even considering other factors like multiple enemies, fights over bottom-less pits, and other potential problems that could crop up because the player is too focused on doing what amounts to a QTE for every little foe.

I also have to go into more detail about all of these additional moves. For one reason or another bosses have half the foes or less assisting them in battle. That means a fully-powered TATE is out of the question so the only possible way to kill a boss in one stroke is apparently through a special attack. This special attack is charged by performing a lot of hits. Getting more hits is accomplished via Hibana's twirling knives as they are incredibly weak. It seems that Nightshade trades effectiveness for style at every opportunity. Rather than having Akujiki and simply building a TATE to destroy foes the player must somehow build a full meter for this special attack over the course of the stage just to have a chance at wiping the boss out instantly. This isn't even considering that the boss will be doing more than just standing around waiting to be killed.

Oh but it doesn't end here. The bosses in Nightshade are just plain garbage. They're so bad that it's difficult to point out their faults. It's impossible to point out what could be improved to make them worthwhile. The developer would have been better off starting from scratch in all honesty. They're bad jokes compared to the incredible bosses of Shinobi.

The worst part about all of Nightshade's flaws is that they're interconnected. The nonsensically-long stages are compounded by the terrible enemy placement which highlights Hibana's ineffective abilities and culminates in some absolutely terrible bossfights. Usually there's one or two bad elements that ruin games but here it's a number of bad elements that come together to completely bury whatever quality Nightshade might have had.

In the end maybe I'm just being overly negative and with enough time the player could work around all of the problems but I don't see the point. Some could also argue that Nightshade isn't meant to be taken as a sequel to Shinobi and shouldn't be compared as such. That's fine and all but when I see a game that bases itself on the same concept, features much of the same game design only expanded upon, and heck for that matter takes place directly after the events of the first game I see little reason not to regard it as a sequel. As far as I'm concerned this is a major disappointment.

However I guess it matters little because Nightshade flopped pretty handily in all markets. It released around the same time as Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox...effectively passing the torch for the future of Ninja action games.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fried my computer again...

I have a bunch of updates that I need to do but guess what? No working computer.

Updates I need to do:

Gradius V
King's Field: The Ancient City
Crimson Sea 2
Silpheed: The Lost Planet
Midway Arcade Treasures 2

Anyway buy Mushihime-sama Futari for the 360 cause it's region-free.

Monday, September 21, 2009

PS1 Look - Jumping Flash! 2

I think the reason I never got around to playing Jumping Flash! 2 before was due to my fear of heights. It's so bad I get woozy just standing on a step-ladder. This fear extends to 3D videogames which makes it troublesome for me to get through quite a few of them(mainly platformers for obvious reasons). Surprisingly despite the concept and the level design I found myself not at all troubled by heights. In fact I was able to really push myself to make the game more challenging by trying new things.

The concept is very simple. As a Robbit the player must explore 11 massive levels to find four Muu Muus and then reach the exit. What makes this title unique is that everything is handled from a first-person perspective and Robbit is capable of performing three very high jumps in a row. As expected there's a lot of platforms of both the moving and non-moving variety to land on. To mix things up a plethora of enemies and power-ups await robbit. There's also quite a few bosses to contend with though for the most part they go down very easily.

First-person and platforming isn't my kind of thing. To help make it work the game offers a lot of visual feedback. Upon jumping a bar at the side of the screen gauges the player's ability to perform a second and third jump. After the second jump Robbit will automatically look downwards to show the player what's below them. This is especially handy for landing on tiny platforms and bouncing off of enemies. All of this is helped even further by the jumping & falling speed of Robbit. Though it gains some momentum if it falls for awhile it's still slow enough for the player to react accordingly. Even though I didn't so much as flip through the manual I was able to effectively pick up the game as soon as I started the first stage. 

In order to make a game like this work confidence in the level design, controls, and mechanics is required. JP!2 excels at all three by establishing the basics early on so when new objects are introduced they are sensible and give enough room for the player to react accordingly. Thanks to the open-nature of the levels the player can use all manner of short-cuts in order to accomplish goals more quickly. Aside from tilted platforms(which cause Robbit to slide off) and the possibility of nearby enemies there's always enough time to decide where to go next and it's very easy to recover if a mistake is made. 

Course on that same note it might also make the game a bit too easy. There's an additional mode that changes around Muu Muu locations and makes a few aspects of the game more challenging but otherwise there's only so much content to go around. On the bright side this game is at the right length to make it worthwhile for getting high scores and better times. What's also interesting is the inclusion of achievements. By accomplishing certain tasks the player can eventually unlock a mode which allows Robbit to jump six times in a row. These achievements can be simple like beating the game or they can be more complicated like "destroy 1 of every enemy in the game" or "find all of the Muu Muus in order"(since each one holds up a letter that spells EXIT). I find it funny that there are 12 of these achievements, which is the average number of an Xbox Live Arcade title.

In the end like many other games I've talked about on this blog, the future of Jumping Flash! isn't pretty. For one this game isn't even available on Sony's Playstation Network(the first game is though which is just odd). Aside from that the developer behind the game is probably no more or has moved on to something else. I'm not sure why it has to be this way since Sony could easily put together a new game. It could be on the Playstation 3 or even the PSP, feature level creation and sharing, and I don't know a deathmatch mode or something. 

While there are tons of 3D platformers out there I believe JP!2 stands well and above many of them. Even without the unique concept this game understands the importance of a solid foundation and makes for a game that's easy to pick up despite the perspective and abundance of tiny platforms. It also helps that the game is at a reasonable length for players who wish to beat their high-scores or simply test out new ways of getting around. 

Saturday, September 19, 2009

PS2 look - Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land

Back when men were manly and slimes were slimey there was the Wizardry series. Aside from being one of the most influential RPGs of all time Wizardry also practically created the dungeon-crawl genre. The basics are simple to understand. There's a town troubled by evil forces so the player puts together a party of six characters from various classes to tackle a massive dungeon filled with beasts, traps, and puzzles to hopefully save the day. Over the years sequels, spin-offs, clones, and all manner of similar titles would make their mark in the RPG world. The year 2001 marks the release of the last Wizardry title before Sir-Tech closed their doors. This year also marks the US release of Tale of the Forsaken Land, one of the few Japan-developed Wizardry games to see our shores. While Wizardry 8 took the series in new directions Forsaken Land stuck to the basics but offered up its own slew of differences.

The Kingdom of Duhan was once peaceful but that all changed after a disaster that nearly wiped out the entire population. Now all that remains are survivors who live in fear, adventurers seeking fame, glory, or good karma, and the remains of the castle which hold many horrifying secrets. A hero without a past arrives at Duhan seeking answers and they can only be found in the depths of a dungeon that wants little more than to consume the soul of every living creature foolish enough to wander inside. It's a traditional tale with many shocking twists and reoccuring characters whose lives are affected by the hero's presence. 

The game progresses much the same as similar titles. There is the single town, the single massive dungeon, and the tile-based movement. As soon as the player steps into the dungeon things become much different. While early games consisted almost entirely of walls and doorways the dungeon of TotFL is designed to resemble an actual location instead of just a maze. There are inside and outside areas, variations of walls and floors, and everything else that helps make a dungeon feel developed. While the maze-like qualities persist there are a variety of setpieces and unique objects that lend each floor personality. The next major difference is how enemy encounters are handled. In the past almost all fights were random. Here the monsters actually wander the halls and contact with them will trigger a battle.

The wandering monsters are very much a part of exploration in this edition of Wizardry since learning how they move and how to approach or avoid them is necessary to survival. Each wanderer consists of a ghostly form in the shape of a creature such as a bat, a spider, a humanoid, and so on. The shape determines what the player can expect to fight as humanoids are likely to be orcs, soldiers, ninjas, or even giants. The bats can be all manner of flying creatures or even simply just very large demons with wings. There's no set pattern for the wanderers as they will move and change direction at random. The game has a habit of not playing fair as frequently monsters will take up spaces the player needs to go, group together so the player may have to fight two or more battles in a row, and they'll even turn red and chase the player down if need be. Safe-spots in this game are rare and monsters will even go through doors if they feel like it. To further complicate things how a monster contacts the player can have an affect on the battle itself. If a monster manages to catch the player from behind not only will they get the first strike in battle but also the player's rows will be reversed. This means the fighters get moved to the back while healers/mages get pushed to the front, and since most melee attacks target the front this is a very bad thing. No matter how the player approaches a wanderer this never leads to their rows getting reversed though rarely the player can get a first strike of their own. Again this game is not fond of playing fair.

Combat itself starts off very basic. At this point the player has two other melee-based attackers and a healer so battles are very cut & dry. There's no real strategy aside from slashing things until they fall over and healing when necessary. Before long however the party system is introduced. After getting a tutorial the player is able to build a full-fledged six character party. They also have access to Allied Actions. AAs are the meat of Tale's battle system and it is only by using them effectively will the player survive. How an AA works is that two or more party members will work together to perform a specific task. For example two front-row party members can perform a double-slash which strikes a single enemy for double damage. Two back-row party members can use an AA that allows them to protect two front-row party members from melee attacks. All AAs are governed by a party level system which determines abilities by the loyalty of each party member. Raising loyalty is as simple as winning battles but it can also be raised by performing deeds that suit the party's alignment(Good, Neutral, or Evil) or through specific tasks like learning spells or disarming traps. Party levels take quite awhile to raise but they are very necessary to learning the strongest AAs. Enemies are also capable of using AAs so it's best to respond in kind.

What's interesting about Allied Actions is that most of the time each encounter can be handled through using a certain combination of AAs. Let's say there's a battle with a row of Ninjas in the front. Ninjas are capable of insta-death attacks so keeping them from performing melee damage is imperative. These ninjas are backed by a few mages who will pelt the party with spells so the player should use an AA that counters spells. The problem here is that using either AA requires two back-row party members so both can't be peformed. There are ways around this and other situations and once the solutions are figured out it becomes very easy to breeze through many encounters without so much as taking a hit. The AAs are the player's primary means of both offense and defense. On that same token however using AAs and backing up party members not protected by them with spells or other variables is just as important. Thankfully it's not usually that complicated and must encounters will be handled without a sweat.

Despite the AA system death is never far away in the Forsaken Land. In fact at times he just might come out and chase down the party. Depending on the location and time the Reaper himself will appear with the goal to possess one of the player's party members. The only way to get rid of this guy is to leave the current level but since that's rarely an option usually somebody will simply end up possessed. This status effect can be very dangerous since if the party member in question gets killed they will turn to ash. In Forsaken Land there are three levels of death. Being dead isn't too bad as the corpse is still around to be easily revived. Ash is another story entirely since if the revive fails the party member will be lost instantly. In fact while in a possessed state a particularly devastating attack could destroy a party member entirely, leaving not even the equipment to be handed off to a new recruit. 

Unlike most other RPGs Forsaken Land isn't friendly about saving the game. While temporary saves can be made in the dungeon the only saves that matter in case something goes terribly wrong are made in town. Shortcuts crop up over time to help the player get back to where they were quickly but for the most part whatever boss that did them in is still quite a ways away. That means having to run to wherever it is they were at least while dealing with whatever encounters they run into along the way. While potions are readily available to return the party to town in case things go sour it doesn't take long to realize what the game is actually doing.

Progress is always held back by fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Everything that happens in the Duhan's dungeon is done in order to provoke FUD in the player. The dungeon, the wanderers, the battles, and the reaper don't mean much on their own. It is through a combination of them that the player finds themselves to be in over their head and retreating to recoup. While this is fine and all going back is not moving forward and that's no way to see the end now is it? Thus in order to succeed the player must deal with the fact that the game simply does not want them to win and that means going for long stretches of time without the comfort of saving, the knowledge of whatever rare item they've uncovered, and what remains of the spells and items they've used to keep their party in a relatively healthy state. Even if everything seems to be in order and the player is handling all of the encounters smoothly it could just as easily end through a bit of bad luck or one too many bad decisions. It's probably all just in the player's head but that just gives the game more to work with. All of the wandering creatures make sounds while they move and in some areas where there are lots of doors opening and closing it can be quite maddening just hearing all of these sounds come together. One other thing that bears mentioning is the fact that the player won't level up and gain stats unless they go back to town to rest at the inn. Sure it's another incentive for going back but again it's at the expense of moving forward. Leveling up doesn't require much in terms of grinding so it's probably best to save that sort of thing for when it's absolutely necessary(like for a tough boss).

To round out the game and give the player some insight into the people of Duhan there are a variety of quests to take on. These usually involve finding somebody or something and are really quite simple. The rewards are worthwhile at least and they're a nice break from the constant sense of impending doom that the dungeon evokes. Then again some quests can trigger especially tough encounters that the player might not be ready for. Regardless the player must complete the quest if they accept it, as they can not be repeated if they are canceled. In the end though none of it will really matter because even after the land is saved another dungeon will open up, one seemingly without end and filled with beasts ever more dangerous. If nothing else the Forsaken Land tests the player's will to continue even when no reward or even a sense of accomplishment awaits them. 

So why put up with it? Well I think it's simply an excellent game. The mechanics of exploration are handled astoundingly well as moving around wandering monsters is very smooth and the dungeons allow for some deviation if it means avoiding a fight. The battle system is open to a few exploitable AAs but for the most part it's extremely well done and offers some variety for players willing to try new tactics. The dungeon design in particular is spectacular. While there are a few randomized dungeons the other eight are extremely well done and feature lots of secrets, traps, and even a few hidden sub-quests and special scenarios depending on the time of day. Learning new spells at first is a bit of a hassle as everything requires materials but before too long a material shop can be used to maximize spell output. The only real complaint I have with the game is that battles can run a bit slow at times since Forsaken Land opts to use full animations instead of still pictures for all of the enemies and attacks. While this can be impressive and atmospheric it can also make some battles drag a bit. Others might not be fond of the way the game handles locks and traps. In order to unlock or disarm something the player must input a series of button presses in a few seconds. At first these start off really easy but they can get pretty complicated depending on the level of the thief or ninja. I guess it's just as well though is that at least in some cases this Wizardry title is more action-oriented than any other since exploration happens in real-time.

Most importantly I think Forsaken Land really nails the importance of a great dungeon crawl. The most important aspect is always the dungeon and through a unique method of exploration and top-class level design this game provides one of the best around. Even non-fans of Wizardry-esque titles should give this one a look as it does enough things differently to create a unique and fantastic experience. Unfortunately fans of everything that Wizardry 8 brought to the table will be left out in the cold. In fact fans of the older Wizardry titles might not be able to get into this one. Maybe they'll be better off with The Dark Spire or something(which I'll look at eventually). It's also unfortunate that the quasi-sequel to Forsaken Land never saw release in the US. If you want to give it a go just look for Busin 0: Wizardry Alternative Neo at your friendly neighborhood import store. Be warned though it looks like a far more advanced game and I bet they balanced out the more powerful AAs. Maybe this is just the kick in the arse I need to start learning Japanese. 

PS2 Look: Crimson Tears

From the makers of Way of the Samurai and The Bouncer comes Capcom's Crimson Tears. In a future where android women wear hardly anything while punching the heads off mutant zombies two teams got together with a bunch of ideas to make something terribly uninteresting. This game is a combination of two genres. It has random levels and loot to collect like various roguelikes and a battle system more akin to beatemups than RPGs. Like with most games that attempt multiple genres rarely do they ever succeed. In fact not only does the game fail on a conceptual level but the execution is not any good as well. It's best to avoid this game entirely.

Still here? Well good because I blew seven hours on this game and I'll be danged if I'm going to devote only a single paragraph to discussing it. Anyway Crimson Tears takes place in the year 2049 and features three androids looking for Abel. I'm not sure what'll happen when they find him but chances are people will die and things will explode. This is accomplished by traversing through 8 areas with 4 or more levels each. 

At the start of the game and in-between areas the heroes lounge around their garage. It's here they can upgrade their combo abilities, swap characters, and store items they've bought or found. Outside the garage is a town of sorts where people whine about everything and a few shops offer various goods. Inside the garage there's also an interdimensional teleporter that sends the players's mech of choice to one of the 8 areas of their choosing.

The game uses randomized levels but really it doesn't matter too much. Each level is broken up into a series of rooms. The typical room may contain enemies, traps, treasure, or the portal to go to the next level. After clearing enough portals a boss will be fought and that's the end of that. You know how the story goes: cue the dull cutscene, introduce the next area, and repeat until the game ends. The game more or less sums up everything you need to know in the first area. Though the enemies hit harder and the areas get larger it's more a test of endurance as the player will go on until their supplies deplete.

Combat is a very simple affair. Like most every other action game of its time problems are solved by a repeated presses of the square and X buttons. The player can mix up the sequence these buttons are pressed to do combos though most of the time it hardly matters. There's a decent variety of weapons to work with at least. Most of the time the player will rely on close-range weapons like gloves, swords, and knives but guns can also be used(which annoyingly is necessary for a few enemies). There's a special attack which is handy for doing great damage but most of the time I didn't find a use for it. Every move that is made(even running around) causes the android to build heat. When heat builds up the android goes into a frenzy, moving very quickly while doing & taking double damage. This is something I try to avoid because it uses up a lot of health. Items can be used to counter the build-up of heat but it can be used to the player's advantage if handled properly.

Course as much as the game likes to emphasize combat the developers did a poor job of making it work. When it comes down to it the mechanics are competent if rather dull. Problem is of course is that like a lot of early beatemups the enemy doesn't telegraph their moves. While stronger attacks require a bit of charge time most enemies can smack the player out of anything as soon as they get close. Maybe this is supposed to be this way so the player will make liberal use of the block. The bigger problem however is the camera. Quite honestly it's terrible. Now I'm well aware I don't discuss the camera often enough when I talk about 3D games and that's maybe because I hardly notice it. In Crimson Tears however the camera is noticeable and it's godawful. The camera doesn't track enemies and there's certainly no lock-on button to keep dangerous foes within sight. The camera instead chooses to lazily shift around and what you see is what you get. This is especially aggravating with guns because you pretty much have to guesstimate what directions the enemies are coming from in order to kill them. Needless to say the combat isn't just boring but it's also badly handled. 

So with that out of the way let's talk about the RPG elements. This game allows the player to level up, find special items that raise their stats, equip and level weapons through repeated use, and buy goods. There's at least one problem with each feature. Leveling is handy but it's also rather slow. At first the curve is nice but before long enemies start to give little to no experience per kill. This is rectified by moving on to the next area. It's an easy game so this isn't too much of a hassle. Still it is very annoying because some later areas actually have less enemies than earlier ones, so the exp gain doesn't feel like enough. Some of these later areas have very large rooms with hardly anything in them, which just makes them a chore to wander through. The stat-raising items are almost exclusively in one area. Convenient sure but the experience is so lousy that it seems hardly worth the trouble(not to mention the possibility of not finding any stat-boosting items at all). So in the end after spending 30 minutes or more in a single area the player might get one levelup and possibly a stat-boosting item or two. Needless to say this is terrible. The weapon-system is kind of interesting as when the player uses a weapon for a long time it levels up. There's a crafting system as well to further strengthen weapons by building new ones out of them. This is all well and good but not all weapons can be crafted into better ones. It helps to carry numerous weapons at all times since some enemies have elemental affinities and the like. It's also important because weapons can be damaged and even broken. If the player gets hit often their weapons are more likely to degrade. This is a very bad thing because the game does a poor job of warning the player when weapons are close to breaking(a little easy-to-miss status box pops up). Weapons can be repaired at the shop but it gets expensive, leaving little money for buying new weapons or even supplies.

So not only does Crimson Tears fail at the combat that represents the bulk of the game, their RPG elements aren't exactly good either. Why in the name of everything did I bother playing this game for so long? Well it's pretty easy to explain as I am a sucker. I am a sucker for everything that has to do with random loot, gaining levels, and watching numbers rise. I'm the kind of guy who puts thousands of hours into Diablo 2, Phantasy Star Online, and a variety of MMOs. I'm also the kind of guy who falls for all of these action games with RPG elements. Typically they all devolve into finding fancier weapons that behave the same way but look extra cool and do maybe a bit more damage. In the long run none of it means anything but all the same it feels like I'm making progress when I finish leveling a sword I'll never use again. I finally had an epiphany after reading about someone describing their "completed" game of Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams. I thought it was disgusting to see somebody blow nearly 300 hours into a game just to max all of the character levels, all of the weapons, all of everything else and then some. Then I look at myself and I realize that I've been doing pretty much the same thing thanks to games like the Dynasty Warriors series. Sure they might be competent games but the only reason I was playing them was to see numbers rise and watch my guys get really powerful.

I swore I'd never get into that sort of thing again and yet here I am talking about Crimson Tears. I could have just as easily dropped this game at the first or second hour and have learned enough to put together a solid opinion because really there is nothing worthy of merit to this game. Instead I put a handful of additional hours into it just because I haven't been able to kick the habit. I have failed myself by wasting time on this failure of a game and to be honest I'm a little depressed about it. 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Quick thoughts volume 1

One thing I've noticed about the games I've been playing lately is that they're taking at least more than five hours to complete. Here's just a sort-of progress report about the games I'm currently playing:

Crimson Sea 2 - So far this game isn't too bad. There's not a lot of variety in the environments and it can kind of reminds me of Phantasy Star Online in that it uses different enemy combinations and the placement of a few key structures to keep stages different from each other. I guess it makes sense because apparently there are over 60 missions. 

Crimson Tears - Turns out this game is by Spike/Dream Factory. Spike assists in the development of the Way of the Samurai series and Dream Factory is responsible for that PS2 launch "classic" The Bouncer. Yeah I dunno how Capcom managed to get these guys together either. This game is the standard combination of action, random dungeons, and treasure. The dungeons are very bland and each of the 8 levels has maybe one or two unique qualities to them. Most of the time it's simply about beating up foes and moving on.

This game is probably the one I've spent the most time with so far. It's actually very addictive thanks to the RPG-esque sub-systems. This is a bad thing for me because I've been trying to get away from games that rely on these things to keep people playing. Basically I feel compelled to play simply to watch my numbers rise. Unfortunately the game-mode I'm looking forward to can't be accessed until after the game is beaten. This special mode basically sets the player's level at 99 and forces them to enter a huge dungeon with no equipment or items. This sounds like a interesting mode since it really gives off the roguelike vibe.

Midway Arcade Treasures 2 - I'm a fan of Midway's first arcade compilation but I'm not so sure on this one.  There's a handful of truly bad games in this set and some just happen to be far worse than I remember. I'll have to give it some more time. 

Kuon - If I had known this game was going to be closer to the older Resident Evils than Silent Hill I'm not so sure I would have picked it up. Luckily the only things that actually carry over from old-school RE are the relatively useless knives and the limited saves. The controls are much better. Haven't gotten far at all in this one though cause it's a Survival Horror title and I prefer to play those at night. Problem is I work nights and the last thing I need after a long one is to stress over getting eaten by demons.

King's Field The Ancient City - I played through this game before but that was a long time ago so I forgot practically everything. It still holds up rather well though fans of fast-paced action will hate this game. The pacing is practically glacial and even turning around can take a long time. Still though it's probably the most accessible of the series.

Shadow Tower - First thing I did when I started this game is fall off a cliff and die. No really I did a half-step to the left and fell to my death. On top of that I died three times just trying to find the first savepoint and then died a couple more times on a pair of skeletons. This game is very rough, unfriendly, and clearly doesn't want to beaten. I'll give it a go anyway cause I enjoy pain.

Wizardry Tale of the Forsaken Land - I'm nearing the end of this game and let me just go ahead and say I love it. That's all for now.

Shadow of the Colossus - This game still holds up very well despite the somewhat dated presentation. The framerate isn't really much of a bother either. Haven't gotten too far though as mostly I've just been goofing around and exploring the world. 

Nightshade - I'm only up to the 4th stage on this game(beaten it before) so I'm curious to see how it'll turn out despite what I thought of it in the past. I can tell right now though that the levels run too long and the three bosses I've faced kind of stunk. It has more content at least and the basics of Shinobi have been carried over nicely but I don't know.

Silpheed: The Lost Planet - Like most launch PS2 titles Silpheed got a bad rap. I'm not sure what people were expecting but I guess with Treasure at the helm it must have been Radiant Silvergun 2 or something. Regardless S:TLP isn't too bad. The scoring system is based on how close the player is when they destroy an enemy. This system was also used in that XBLA/PSN release of 1943 but in Silpheed it actually works. Otherwise I'm not sure what else to say.

Gradius V - Whoo boy I stink at this game. Currently on normal difficulty the farthest I can get is stage 4 which is less than halfway through the game(note that as expected of the genre I'm not using continues). It's obvious I won't be imitating any of those high-level plays on youtube anytime soon. Anyway this game is still pretty good. I need quite a bit more time with it though.

Monday, September 14, 2009

AA & X360 look: Raiden IV

To put it bluntly if you're reading this you're not playing Raiden 4. I've already talked about the Raiden Fighters series which is absolutely fantastic. Thing is though you're probably wanting more and if so I don't blame you. Thankfully UFO interactive decided to throw away a bunch of money so gamers like us can get a copy of R4 in America. While some may scoff at the $40 pricetag --especially since they got Raiden Fighters for $20 earlier this year-- it's still a good value and a worthwhile pick-up for 2D shooter fans.

Forget everything you know about Raiden Fighters because it doesn't really apply here. While RF provided numerous tricks, techniques, and secrets for achieving the highest possible scores, R4 keeps it fairly simple. Scoring is mainly based around how quickly the player destroys an enemy. From the swarms of little ships to large battlecruisers all of these foes can give up to five times their point value if destroyed quickly enough. Obviously this requires a bit of memorization to know where to be when the next ship spawns as well as the reflexes to dodge the seemingly endless parade of enemy fire. There's a special missile attack performed by letting go of the fire button for a couple seconds and then pressing it again. This volley of missiles is great for when enemies first appear and it gives out bonus points for every missile that hits. Aside from a secret or two in each of the seven stages there's not much else to worry about in terms of scoring. It also helps if you don't die or use bombs because both of your stocks can be worth quite a few points at the end of each stage(along with medals collected by destroying lots of stuff). This is important because this game is very difficult. It's definitely harder than any o the RFs thanks to increased rate of fire, longer stages, tougher bosses, and a second loop that drastically speeds up enemy bullets(that is if you can even get there the honest way). 

This change of direction might be more appealing to some fans of the genre. I understand there are gamers out there who couldn't care less about amassing some ridiculous score via memorizing everything. Some just want to know the basics and then rely on their reflexes to carry them through the game. All of the ships in this game are unique in what kind of attacks they do. Some ships fly in, fire a couple shots, and then attempt to strike the player from the side, others just float lazily around the screen firing waves of bullets, and so on. Once the player understands the basic enemy attacks it can be a pretty smooth ride. The bosses on the other hand are very rough as their spreads are fast and ferocious. Sometimes all it takes to dodge them is by being in the right spot but others can have the player all over the place. It's nothing shooter fans haven't already seen but R4 does it just as well as any other title.

Along with standard features like additional ships(DLC though) and a Boss Rush, R4 also has the double-play mode. If you owned Raiden III on the PS2 and/or saw VTF-Ino's Ikaruga double-play modes you'll know exactly how this works. Essentially a single player controls two ships. While there are advantages to having more firepower it can become quite an ardous task keeping both ships out of trouble. Regardless it's a neat feature and certainly worth a shot if you've mastered everything else the game has to offer.

There's really not a lot I can say about this game that really helps it stand out. As far as I'm concerned it's definitely an improvement over Raiden III as the ship feels a little bit faster and yet nothing in terms of challenge or intensity is sacrificed. There are some good ideas like the a sound effect whenever an enemy bullet shaves a ship(as in getting close enough to touch the ship but not destroy it). It's good as sort of a last-ditch indicator for avoiding death and allows the player to take just a little bit of attention off their ship. Early on one of the challenging aspects of learning a shooter is being able to follow enemy fire from where it appears to where it'll hit. Giving just enough freedom to concentrate on other things goes a long way here. 

Despite the additional bonuses the 360 port brings like a couple of new stages and different enemy arrangements it's still one 2D arcade shooter for $40. We've grown to expect these titles to appear on Xboxlive Arcade or not at all. It's a bit of a shame really cause despite the genre and niche appeal these games readily go for full-price in Japan. If we're going to have any chance at seeing releases from the likes of Cave or otherwise in the West we'll have to be more accepting of higher prices. Maybe there are ways to soften the blow like Collector's Editions or some other bonus to make up for higher than expected prices but that'll depend on how this game fares at retail.

All that said I don't want to hear any complaining about how the West never gets any 2D shooters if everyone picks this game up years or even months from now for less than $20. That's the cost that comes with supporting the genre. It's a great shooter no matter what and if you're willing to put the time into it I'm sure the investment will be worthwhile. The wonderful thing about 2D shooters is that despite their length it'll take potentially hundreds of hours to actually master one. Then again I don't know. Some people prefer to go through a hundred different stages over the course of many different games instead of repeating the same 5 to 8 stages over and over again and accomplishing little if anything in the process. Even if you're not a fan of the genre give it a rental at least as it just might grow on you. 

Then again you could also try Raiden 3 as it's really cheap now and it'll give you a pretty good idea of what R4 is like. I didn't find R3 very enjoyable though so whatever. 

PS2 look: Way of the Samurai 1

In about a month the long-awaited Way of the Samurai 3 will arrive on our shores. Niche titles such as these are important to gamers like myself. I'm not saying I can't enjoy the blockbuster mainstream experiences that are being put out these days but those will always be around. Without support games that fall outside of the norm are going to fade away. But enough about all that let's take a look at the actual game.

Way of the Samurai 1 takes place during the final days of the Samurai. A Samurai by the name of Gabriashi(or whichever name you prefer) arrives at a tiny settlement filled with bitter rivals and hopeless romantics pining for a return to the good old days of wandering around with a katana at their side. Through a bit of diplomacy and maybe some killing Gabriashi will carve a place in history via multiple endings. As a true master of the Samurai way he can also attempt to get the best ending.

Unlike most games saving the land isn't about cutting up enough people until all of the bad guys are dead. In fact solving most of the various situations Gabriashi runs into is handled by putting away his sword and using the right words. This ties into the unique method of progression the game has. The game world itself is quite small and broken up into multiple areas. All of these areas have scenes that can be witnessed depending on the time of day. Time only moves when either the play views a scene or they enter/leave an area where a scene would take place. It's confusing at first but it becomes very easy to grasp since the game is very short.

One of the more interesting aspects of WoTS1 is that it isn't a long game. After viewing and/or participating in a handful of events the final battle will play out. We're looking at maybe an hour to two hours of actual game time. To add to this the player is free to leave the settlement and the game at nearly any time. This can be done if the player feels they are not going to get the ending they're trying for or they've found a particular weapon they don't want to lose. 

It wouldn't be much of a Samurai game if the player didn't get to swing some swords around right? The controls are simple to grasp while the sword is sheathed. There's running, jumping, and a handy kick that can be used to break enemy defenses or easily grab items. By un-sheathing their sword the player will not only make themselves open to attack but they will be able to respond in kind. One attack button serves as a series of basic strikes which can be used to do slight damage or to create openings for more powerful attacks.  The other attack button is used for a multitude of powerful special moves. Blocking is also available though the guard can be broken by certain specials or deflected by a regular attack. Timing a block at just the right moment causes an awase. The Awase is a powerful technique as it causes the enemy's attack to pass harmlessly through the player, leaving a large window of opportunity for counterattack. To add to this there's a small chance that the player can learn to awase attacks without even touching the block. Given enough time the player could become practically invincible.

To balance this out the game offers somewhere in the range of nearly 100 weapons and each of them have their own set of attacks(though several of them can share attacks). Not all of these are katanas either as there are different types of swords, maybe a club, possibly a magic staff, and even a saw. Finding these weapons depends on the difficulty setting and they can have stats applied to them like increased maximum HP, offense, defense, and durability. Each attack that is performed can build heat. When too much heat is built up the weapon will lose one level of durability. A weapon with no durability is useless so that means using restraint when fighting and avoiding a constant series of attacks that enemies block or awase(though the player can also break their weapons to render them impotent). Upgrading stats can be done by either the swordsmith or via rare item drops. 

It's important to remember though that all stat bonuses and mastered awases are tied to the player's currently equipped weapons. If they die the game immediately ends and they lose that weapon along with any others they're carrying. To avoid losing weapons the player can finish their current game by leaving the settlement or getting an ending. These weapons are stored at the warehouse to be used for future games. It may seem a bit counterproductive to have weapons sitting on a shelf instead of being used and upgraded but that's a risk that has to be accounted for if the player wants to have really powerful weapons. Everything can still be seen and unlocked even if the player sticks to the lowest difficulty setting. 

At the time this game was unlike most anything out there and today it still holds true. The adventure game aspects are handled well despite the shoe-string budget presentation. There's a lot of variation in the scenarios and quite a few characters to interact with, annoy, and maybe even kill. Whether the player wants to experiment or goof around there's plenty of ways to make sure no two games are alike. 

While the better endings downplay the importance of combat the system in place is still really good. The button-commands for performing moves are simple and allows the player to focus on creating openings and doing punishing combos. Even when surrounded by multiple foes the player will only have to contend with one at a time. Multiple enemies can be struck at once but this is risky as it doubles the sword's heat. This game can be very tough on the harder difficulties as aside from food lying on the ground there's no ways to heal the player during a fight. Couple this with some of the more devastating attacks and a player could get destroyed and the weapons they spent a long time on would be gone. There's a lot of risk to this system but as we've grown to expect the reward is usually enough to make it worth the trouble.

Like with other Acquire titles there are tons of unlockables and even a handful of codes. The main character can be dressed using a combination of outfits and faces or the player can input a code to choose from any of the other characters in the game. Bonus features can be unlocked by acquiring points. Every completed game assigns a number of points depending on the player's rank. This ranking and number of points can be determined by the ending, how many foes they kill, how much money they have, and the difficulty. This is another good way to promote multiple playthroughs so players can really get the most out of this game. 

Overall I think it might be worth checking out. It's certainly cheap and if you can get into it you might be more interested in checking out the sequels. As far as the newest entry is concerned I definitely recommend reading this forum thread.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

PS2 look: Urban Reign

Urban Reign is Namco's only stab at the beatemup genre that I know of. Released late in the PS2's life this game is a 3D Brawler similar to titles like Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance, Spikeout Xtreme, Final Fight: Streetwise, and The Warriors(which all seemingly happened to come out around the same time-frame). Where Urban Reign differs from those games and practically the rest of the genre is that instead of having stages where the player treks through a variety of locales beating people up as their paths cross this game is broken up into about 100 stages made up of fights between 1 to 4 people. It sounds overwhelming but these encounters last maybe a couple minutes at the most making it a very easy game to pick up and play.

In a city where crime is rampant and gang wars threaten the innocent, one man in a snake-skin jacket can make a difference. You know how the story goes. There's the corrupt mayor, gangs from both China & Japan, a woman who fights in an outfit that shows off her perfect breasts, and even some ex-army dudes for variety. Luckily Namco threw in a handful of secret codes that unlock all of the characters & stages so you don't have to bother with the story mode if you don't want to. Personally I'd recommend it because the story mode is one hundred stages long and even though that's less than four hours it's still a long time with the same character. 

No matter what you decide you'll find that the cast of Urban Reign is well-equipped for brawling. These guys offer something for every style of fighting whether the player is looking for a good striker, somebody with excellent comboing ability, a more technical fighter, or just some monster. While many characters share moves and styles there's still varying stats to give them a bit of uniqueness. Furthermore some have a particular weapon they're good with.

My biggest problem with 3D beatemups is that a lot of the time they lose the ease of play that makes standard beatemups so entertaining. Sometimes the player has to lock-on to the enemy, get into some stance, memorize a bunch of silly combinations, and just make this complicated setup to punch a single foe a couple times. Urban Reign avoids this entirely by using a combination of context-sensitive moves and simple button commands to make fighting a breezy yet still immensely satisfying affair. There's one button for strikes(punches, kicks, etc) and by holding the d-pad up, down, or forward the player can attack the head, body, or legs. Another button is used for grabs and it works the same as strikes as it can also target different parts of the body. There's no jump button but there is a run which can be used to perform slides, jump-kicks, and so on. 

The one button players should really get used to however is the dodge button. There is no blocking in this game. Instead the player must effectively dodge attacks while evading grapples. Dodging strikes is easy since the player can just mash the button to dodge entire strings of attacks. Grabs are a bit more complicated though as not only must the player hit the button but they must also be holding the d-pad in the direction the opposing grappler is going for. Luckily the timing here is pretty loose so it's not too hard to break out of grabs. Special attacks however can not be dodged.

The special attacks come in four flavors. There's the one that hits all surrounding enemies to knock them away, a single powerful strike, a combo string that does great damage(though it can be countered by another special), and a charge move that gives the player a special ability for a short time. All of this is handled by a special gauge that rises and falls due to different factors. Like most fighting games this gauge will rise when the player gives and takes damage. Special moves can drain it but more importantly attacks that the opponent dodges cause the player's gauge to drop. The last thing the player needs is an enemy to dodge all of their attacks and then they respond with a special that wipes them out.

Rounding out the abilities of the player and their foes are the context-sensitive actions. Depending on the position of all parties certain attacks can be used. While attacking one enemy and another approaches the player can switch directions to perform a certain combination to push them back. When two characters approach one other they can do a double-team attack on them. However the one character can perform an attack that hits both of them if properly timed. There's more options like grabbing an enemy out of the air, evading a juggle combo with a very timely dodge, and so on. Despite everything going on the game is never bogged down by unnecessary combinations and it doesn't take much work to get fun out of the system. There's even a lock-on button just in case.

While there are other factors involved like weapons and the surroundings this is essentially all the game is about. There's no stealth missions or anything that involves not beating the heck out of someone. Since the stages are so short -- as I stated earlier all stages have 1 to 4 opponents -- the focus is on fighting with style. Like many other recent games it's not simply about surviving. To really master Urban Reign the player has to get a handle on the scoring system through a large number of factors. Beating the enemy quickly is a good thing but getting through fights without taking a hit is even better. Sure one could use the strongest characters for an easier time but weaker ones offer a higher bonus. There's also difficulty settings to further round this all out. It's a great system since it adds a layer of depth that will keep gamers interested long after the thrill of hitting someone repeatedly is gone. There's also a mode that plays more like a straight-up fighting game but as you know that's not really my thing. All the same it's a nice addition.

Even without that extra bit of depth in scoring the fighting system is still excellent. It's expected of course since this game is by the people behind Tekken but it applies so well to a beatemup format. Paul Phoenix and Marshall Law even show up as playable characters which makes me wonder why Namco doesn't just use the Urban Reign system for the "Tekken Force" modes that have popped in various console Tekkens. 

There's a lot to love about Urban Reign and unless you're not a fan of the genre I can't imagine avoiding this title. Even your friend who doesn't play these kind of games can easily get involved thanks to the excellent controls. Definitely pick this up anywhere you can find it.