Thursday, April 30, 2009

AAA looks at: King of Dragons

King of Dragons by Capcom is what is commonly known as a "hack and slash". These games tend to share the same perspective as the typical beatemup but the gameplay tends to focus more on sword-swinging than punching. There's less usage of grabs and success is more about positioning and playing defensively. I've decided to look at King of Dragons partly because it's one of the games featured on Capcom Classics Collection volume 2 and it's a good game for discussing mechanics.

Mechanics as I've probably already mentioned before is simply about making sense. If an attack looks like it misses then it definitely should. Even then however mechanics are allowed some leeway only when it benefits the player. The player has enough of a disadvantage in that he must clear an entire game with only 3 to 5 lives and is only allowed to take a varying number of hits tied to those lives(or depending on the genre only one)

With that in mind let's talk about King of Dragons(or KoD). A great red dragon decides to be evil and it's up to a group of five archetypes(Wizard, Fighter, Cleric, Dwarf, and Archer) to put an end to him and his followers. The game takes place over the course of 16 stages of varying length. Most of them happen to be rather short as you'll go through a few encounters with regular foes while collecting treasure and then face off with a boss(some stages have more than one and some even have none). 

KoD features a unique feature in that as your score rises so does your experience level(like an RPG). This however is a smoke-screen as even though you gain more HP your strength doesn't increase and for the most part you can still only take about three hits before passing away(this varies depending on your character, obviously a fighter or a dwarf can take more hits than a wizard or archer). Most of the time levelups are beneficial for the slight health increase they provide and a couple seconds of invulnerability. And since health-restoring food is scarce your main method of survival is simply by taking as little to no damage as possible. 

This is a tall order to be sure but I can assure everyone reading this forum that most gamers will see at least 2/3rds of the game on a single credit. The trick to this is that the player must understand positioning. Mechanics as mentioned earlier should always benefit the player and KoD understands this well. Obviously getting in an enemy's face is asking for trouble but if you were to move just a little to the side of them you'll find that their attacks miss you completely yet you can still hurt them. Another trick to work with involves the shadows the enemies cast in the game. Unless their shadows are aligned with your body you'll find that you can avoid a lot of damage, making most regular encounters a breeze. 

The bosses on the other hand are a different story. For a game that has little depth on the surface(you have an attack button, a jump, and a special health-draining special attack for emergencies...and maybe a block depending on the character which is done by pressing back on the joystick just before an enemy attacks) much of the challenge in this game is via the bossfights, who all have different movesets, patterns, and strategies. The first boss is quite easy in that you simply have to stay directly in front of him at all times(he wields two ball &  chains that will pass harmlessly by you as they're both on his sides) but other bosses differ quite a bit. Fortunately all of their attacks are telegraphed in one way or another so it pays to closely observe their mannerisms and animations. Even the later bosses give a fair amount of warning before they perform their move so the player can react accordingly. Some bosses(like a fight with a group of spiders or an encounter with sickle-tossing wraiths) mix things up a bit as you have to watch multiple enemies.

Your jump in KoD is an important move as well, since it can avoid almost all ground-based attacks and can allow the player to get in multiple strikes while in the air. Like attacking from the ground however the player must know exactly when to do one or the other has they're helpless while performing these actions. Hack'n'slashes are all about finding openings and you're just as likely to leave one for the enemies as vice versa. The block however is very useful for the characters that have it as even if two enemies surrounding him attack at the same time if he manages to block on the other will pass harmlessly through. This is obviously a flagrant disregard of mechanics but since it benefits the player it can be ignored. The block can deflect a surprising variety of attacks(from mere weapon swings to large bosses lunging themselves at you) so it's definitely worth holding onto.

So anyway check out King of Dragons if you haven't already, it's a pretty decent game.

Monday, April 27, 2009

AAA looks at Midway Arcade Treasures 1 part 2

Defender - Some people claim this to be one of the hardest videogames of all time. They're right. In a future where aliens threaten mankind you must defend the humans from being abducted and bred into mutants that'll hunt you down.

Like any other early arcade game progress is broken up into waves. To advance to the next wave you have to kill all of the aliens while keeping the humans alive. The levels take place in a wraparound style where there are no ends of the playfield. Thus you could pass by an enemy, keep going forward and eventually you'll run into them again. The most recent example that I'm aware of that uses this style is the Vanillaware game Odin Sphere. 

Your arsenal consists of a laser cannon that shoots straight forward, smart bombs that eliminate everything currently on the screen(but will ignore everything else on the field), and a warpdrive that when pressed will place your ship elsewhere onscreen at a random spot. This can be used to get out of sticky situations but don't surprised if it lands you in stickier ones or worse..killed outright. Your most important tool however is your radar. It keeps track of your currently viewable area, the aliens, humans, and even enemy fire. This must be monitored closely as you can only see so much of the screen at a time.

Your enemy consists mainly of landers. These guys will shoot at you while scanning the horizon for humans to pick up. If they grab one they'll head straight up and if they reach the top of the screen they become mutants which are much harder to kill(and worse still the human is lost). If all humans are lost every enemy turns into a mutant and it's doubtful you'll survive much longer. There are other enemies to that exhibit different properties but your main focus should be on the landers as they represent the bulk of the threat in this game.

Now if you shoot a lander while it's carrying a human you have to catch the human as he's falling to earth and before he smacks into the ground(though if they're already close to ground when you shoot the lander they'll land safely without your help). Doing so will lead to bonus points(even more if the player manages to get close enough to land to drop off the human). Though you can pick up multiple humans be well aware that if you get killed you lose them so that means no bonus points and no end of wave points for their survival(plus the chances of mutant takeover increase)

Just to quickly put into perspective how hard this game is. Most Robotron players will start to feel overwhelmed by the time they reach wave 9. Defender? More like wave 3. You really have to keep track of everything going on around you as aliens are gunning for you, and the ones that aren't are going after humans, and so on. Your survival is linked to a number of different factors and if you ignore even one of them you'll see a Game Over before long. There's no complicated bullet patterns to avoid but when an enemy fires there's a good chance it's going to be aiming straight for you or worse it's going to be aimed at where you're going. You can't really depend on your smartbombs as they're extremely limited(you don't even get a fresh stock if you die) so once those are gone you're left with the wildly random warp. Even then if you're too busy fooling around trying not to get blasted there'll be landers on the other side of the map making off with precious humans. Even if you can get past all that after a certain amount of time tougher aliens known as baiters are going to appear right next to you firing wildly, leaving little time to screw around. Oh and shooting the humans for any reason is a bad idea as it's just as bad as letting them get destroyed by the aliens.

I should also point out that this game is very impressive in its use of audio cues. Audio cues are a very useful tool for letting players know what's going on around them even if they don't(or in Defender's case can't) see it happen. So everytime a human gets picked up you'll hear a very distinct sound thus making it quite clear that you need to rescue them(same goes for many other aspects of the game, despite being so difficult the game is more than fair with its constant warnings of danger). Defender is still above all else a fantastic game. Certainly it's one of the hardest but it can be immensely rewarding and the game is flawless in its execution of an innovative(especially for 1980!) concept. 

Defender 2 - Released in 1981 this sequel isn't too great of a change from the first but it manages to stay true enough to its roots and deliver a worthwhile followup for fans who have mastered the original. New to the game is a warp hole. If humans are in trouble you can take the warp hole to appear next to endangered ones instantly. You also get an invisoshield that makes you invisible and invincible for a short amount of time. These two factors should make the game a bit easier but it's balanced out by the enemies packing more firepower and everything being more troublesome than in the last game(in fact it's safe to say D2 is quite a bit harder than the original). There are a larger variety of enemies to supplement this as well, making things more hectic and dangerous. The scanner has also been given a slight upgrade as it'll keep track of various things like how many humans are remaining and so on, giving you updates when necessary. The last new addition is the ability to warp forward a few waves by collecting 4 humans at once and entering the warp hole. While this results in quite a few points(especially since all surviving humans on the warp phase are worth 2,000 points each) I think more players do this so they can reach the harder waves faster(as they find the earlier ones too easy). Overall while it doesn't do a ton of new things at least unlike Joust 2 it doesn't add a bunch of needless complications that ruin the core experience either. All the same it's a solid sequel and definitely a must for Defender fans.

Marble Madness - For fans of losing their marbles this is the game of choice. While originally designed for trackballs the PS2's analog stick is a decent enough way to play this title. Lead a marble through an obstacle course filled with cliffs, pits, and a large number of wacky things that have an unexplained hatred of marbles. It's a challenging title certainly as there's only so much time to complete each stage but there's a very useful tool worth remembering. Though falls from great heights will kill, falls from not so great heights can save precious seconds. It's about the only tool the player has though aside from manual dexterity and possibly knowing what's coming next. Considered one of the classics of the arcade genre I can't help but agree. I'm absolutely terrible at it though.

Paperboy - Another one of those classic titles. This time you're a paperboy out to raise hell in the Suburbs by getting your bike and tossing papers through windows, at burglars, into flowers, and possibly into somebody's doorstep or mailbox. Stages are separated into days and in order to succeed you have to keep and gain as many subscriptions into possible. Though you can move as fast or as slow as you want due to pedaling you have to keep in mind that all houses with a subscription must be accounted and you must be careful not to damage their property.

Oh and there are of course people trying to kill you for one reason or another. Cars, kids on bikes, remote control cars, and well most anything you could imagine in the suburbs is somehow out to get you. Most of them can be slowed down or taken out with a well-aimed newspaper and aim is the key word because your supply of papers is rather low. When you reach the end of the street you get to do a bonus stage and hopefully score some extra points(or fail horribly).

Paperboy is considered a classic because it delivers a neat concept, good execution, and a lot of challenge and rewarding gameplay to back it up. This is another title worthy of your time.

Root Beer Tapper - As the bartender it's your goal to keep the customers happy. Angry customers will start making your ways towards you via four bars. By slinging them root beers you'll knock them away a short distance and hopefully out the door. If not however they'll swig their root beer and throw the glass back at you. So now you've got a glass to catch and you'll have to toss them another root beer. If somebody reaches the end of the bar you're sent for a ride and then you're out one life. You're also out a life if you send out a root beer and nobody's there to catch it. This makes for a pretty tricky game and it's pretty easy to screw yourself over by sending so many beers out that glasses are coming down all four bars at once, rendering you nearly helpless.

Thankfully in a smart bit of game design even if you run all the way to the end of one bar to collect a glass or some tip money you can still jump instantly to the next bar and right back to the other end. This is important to remember as it can quickly save time. The real challenge however is making sure you'll always send the right number of beers. Either way it's a decent little time waster.

Rampart - I've never been very good at this game. You select an area, erect a castle, and then defend it from invaders while the game periodically pauses for the player to rebuild walls and add additional cannons. I'm simply no good at this game but I'm sure it has many fans. It's probably a lot better for multiplayer as well.

Rampage - Become a giant monster and terrorize cities, eat people, and destroy the military until you run out of health. There's really not much else I can say about this one is that while I find the concept appealing the gameplay somehow manages to quickly get old even if I'm sticking to using one credit per play. I find this pretty odd since there are a number of other titles in this collection with even less variety but I find them more entertaining and addictive. Then again it would probably help if I could play this game with friends, as it becomes several times more interesting then.

AAA looks at: Midway Arcade Treasures 1 part 1

Now I'm going to look at Midway Arcade Treasures 1 for the Playstation 2. If you haven't already picked this up it might be worth your while since it can be had for less than $5. It isn't perfect or at times even decent unfortunately but I'll get to that later.

720 is an odd beast as it's a Skateboarding game. You start off in a skate park filled with an assortment of stunts and obstacles to avoid, you're on a timer to buy whatever equipment you need to boost your stats and score enough points to get tickets for the next trial. Running out of time causes a swarm of bees to chase you down, once you're caught it's game over. 

The trials consist of what you'd expect from a skateboarding game. There's the ramp for doing stunts, a slalom which is short but in order to get a good score one has to do it quickly and hit every flag-gate, and two trials for mastering the spin jump. Doing these well also nets cash for upgrades, which makes accomplishing tasks easier. Overall this game is really not for me but I can see why it has fans. For what it is it's exceptionally well done and I see little fault to it.

Joust - This classic has a simple concept. Like many older games this one is broken up into waves of increasing difficulty. In order to win you must run into enemies while flying higher than they are. Doing this knocks them out of the sky and their buzzard and turns them into eggs. Collect the eggs while they're still in the air for more points or when they're on the ground for less. If you wait too long eventually the eggs hatch back into enemies and a buzzard will come by to pick them up. 

Like many simpler games however the difficulty more than makes up for the lack of complexity. Joust uses a rather rudimentary momentum-based system for the controls. So if you fall for a long distance you'll have to hit the flap button much faster to regain altitude. Also though it sounds like a good idea to "ride" the ceilings by keeping yourself near the top to be invincible to nearly all challengers the game takes care in causing you to bump off of ceilings somewhat like a pinball and thus become easy prey for the buzzards. Wasting too much time on a wave causes a pterodactyl to appear who is neigh invincible unless you can nail it directly in the mouth with your lance(easier said than done of course).

While this is essentially the game I would be lying if I told you this wasn't a classic in every sense of the word. Unfortunately everything great about this game is pretty much ruined by its sequel.

Joust II never reached the same level of success Joust I had in the arcades and after playing it I can see why. J2 adds a large number of additions to the game, perhaps too large a number. There's so much to keep track of now that the addictive and well-designed gameplay of the first game is largely ignored.

Okay first off you've got this transform ability where you turn from a flying ostrich to a flying lion. It sounds great at first except with the lion you're mostly just a larger & slower target that can't hardly fly. One would think that using the lion to get kills would result in more points but that's not the case at all. Each wave now consists of brand new level designs. Variety is great sure but most of the level designs are quite poor as they feel more like mazes than arenas, thus making the game feel cramped. That's not even considering the traps that feel more like an excuse to take lives away to show off the new continue system that's been added in(yes you can insert coins to continue in this game, unlike the prequel).

It only goes further downhill from here. The vultures are the same as they ever were, except now they've taken on new properties. Originally if an egg fell in the lava it was gone and you were out a bunch of points. In this game? Now the egg causes some mutation that creates a super buzzard. Sure he's not much harder to get rid of than a regular buzzard but was this really necessary? Some stages have a lot of lava and the player can't be expected to keep getting attacked by buzzards over not being able to grab all of the eggs. Also when an egg hatches instead of being helpless the enemies will swing their lances around causing death for anyone silly enough to attempt to collect them. Again all this does is add needless complication instead of depth(actually you're supposed to be in lion form to collect these guys..but still is all this really necessary?). Really this is one terrible sequel and should be avoided at all costs.

Blaster - I've got one word for this game: Yikes. If you can somehow make sense of what's going on in this game(if the building is shooting at you chances are it's not a building) then feel free to let me know if it's any good. But from what little I could play before I got sick of it and quit it seemed absolutely atrocious.

Bubbles - You're a bubble and you go around collecting ants, crumbs, and other icky things until you grow large enough that you have a face(!?) and can seep into the drain for a ton of points. Sharp objects, roaches, and other much nastier things will be out to kill you though. Old ladies with brooms will sometimes come around to sweep up ants and build up a large amount of bonus points(and possibly giving you a broom to take out one roach) and that's about the extent of it. I imagine this game was originally played using a trackball as playing with the analog stick is rather difficult. Otherwise I guess if you really have absolutely nothing better to do you could look at this game. It's certainly an improvement over the last two games I talked about.

Klax - It's the 90s...or at least 1989 so everyone must play Klax. Like any falling block puzzler success is measured by how good you are at matching similar objects together. In this case tiles flip their way down a path and you have to arrange them horizontally, diagonally, or vertically in at least three in order to score points. That's not all though as the game is broken up into missions where you have to accomplish particular tasks. Whether this calls for X number of diagonal tiles or survive for so long it doesn't really matter as they're pretty easy to figure out. If you missed this game the first time around almost 20 years ago why not give it a shot? It's not bad at all.

Smash TV - I've talked about this game before but I'm only mentioning it again in this post because the Midway Arcade Treasure's version is really not a good port at all. There are severe framerate issues and they make the game simply too difficult to get anywhere. If you're interested in the game(and by my opinion you should be) I'd recommend the Xbox live Arcade version.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

AAA looks at: The Fairyland Story

As much as I talk about Bubble Bobble creating this entirely new subgenre(The action-puzzler) it was in fact a game that came out a year before that started things off. The Fairyland Story is the story of a cute little witch and her dealings with nasty beasts, priests, and other wacky things. While Bubble Bobble popularized turning bad guys into sweet goodies TFS goes in a different direction by supplying the witch with a magic spell that turns everyone into delicious chocolate cake.

Scoring in TFS is very easy to figure out. Using this magic spell(which has a fairly short reach but good range as it's about the height of her entire body hat excluded) the trick is turn one bad guy into a cake and then use that cake to crush unsuspecting badguys below by pushing it over a ledge. If that isn't an option the player can simply cast enough spells on the cake until it along with the bad guy disappear. Killing a number of bad guys with a single well-timed cake causes coins to appear which are worth tons of points. Another way to get good points is to lure enemies into getting caught by a worm(careful the same doesn't happen to you).

One really neat aspect of this game is how bad guys react to each other. This isn't like most other games in the genre where bad guys pass through each other. Here they'll bump and shove each other around. This is important as if you're to pushing a cake off a ledge a bad guy could show up trying to stop you. Since the baddies can also escape from their cake if left alone for a short period of time it's beneficial to simply shove the cake over(taking care to throw the occassional spell on it to keep the bad guy trapped) and before long you'll send the cake and the bad guy pushing it the other way over the edge, making for more points. Also if you zap a foe in mid-air if they're at a great enough height they'll smash as soon as they hit the ground, making for some interesting scoring opportunities. However if you're really careless you could find yourself smashed by your own cake.

Another neat aspect about this game is that if you're stuck in a pit or in another situation where you can't get to the bad guy after awhile they'll simply disappear and you'll move onto the next stage. Though a better idea might have been to not include such situations or give the witch a way out of them I still think it was a great way to handle the problem without leading to needless frustration.  

Overall this is a worthwhile game and I recommend giving it a look.

AAA looks at: Don Doko Don

For fans of Bubble Bobble Taito's Don Doko Don will look awfully familiar. Each level is a single screen populated by monsters of all shapes and varieties and featuring some basic level design with the goal being to destroy the monsters and get a ton of points in the process. Powerups also spawn which give players additional abilities, a special attack that clears the stage, or simply more points.

In Don Doko Don a princess is captured by the bad guys and two old carpenters(?) grab their hammers and set off on a whimsical journey to save her. This hammer has a short range sure but it stuns enemies and gives the player a chance to grab them and toss them into walls and through enemies, turning them all into fruit. If the player is not fast enough the devil(who can not be killed) will appear and chase down the player until he catches and kills them or they finish the stage. Players can also accrue lots of points by smacking a group of monsters with his hammer and then scooping them all up until he has a massive tower of bad guys. The disadvantage here is that all of the extra weight keeps them from jumping as high as usual and slowing them down. 

The concept is solid and from the makers of Bubble Bobble and other similar releases you'd expect great things from Don Doko Don. Unfortunately this just isn't the case as Don Doko Don has a number of issues that keep it from being considered competent, let alone good. To start with the super carpenter brothers are very slow. Though they gain powerups that increase their speed they're still at the mercy of their adversaries. Also these Dokos suffer from having terrible range for their hammers. Although the lack of reach is understandable the Dokos are such large targets that they don't balance well with the hammer and tend to get clobbered more often than not. Larger enemies are also a hassle since if any part of them touches any part of you you're a goner, even if they jump for a platform and don't quite make it. The range on your hammer doesn't give you any means to combat this so most of the time you're on the defensive, which is something that doesn't really work for a genre like this.

Worst of all however is that the level designs simply aren't any good. Most of them feel cluttered or clunky, with either too many platforms or they're organized in such a way that scoring and at times even survival is just a frustrating endeavor. Although the levels feature some impressive bits of variety as there's a fair number of new foes and new traps to look out for most of them come off more as new frustrations instead of new challenges.

Overall this game is just a frustrating waste of time and you can do so much better with the original Bubble Bobble or any of the other spinoffs/sequels/clones. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

AAA looks at Ultimate Shooting Collection

Ultimate Shooting Collection is a compilation of three 2D vertical shooters by a developer known as Milestone. The three games are Chaos Field, Radilgy, and Karous. All three games have multiple things in common as they feature the ability to cancel bullets via sword, shield, or even weapon fire(all very rare things in a shooter), they're all five stages in length, they're all one-player only, and they share similar scoring systems that tie to limited use abilities that can be frequently chained in order to achieve high scores.

Chaos Field has something to do with the future and mankind needing to be saved again(or so I assume, I never pay attention to storylines in 2D shooters). Like any other shooter you have a selection of three ships each with their own movement speed, weapons, and special abilities. The weapons and speed are self-explanatory as they are suited to the individual playstyles of the gamer. The special abilities on the other hand are a trickier matter as they represent the bulk of the scoring system. Though these abilities vary depending on the ship they generally consist of a special that targets multiple points on an enemy and another that is directed entirely towards canceling bullets. Doing either of these things raises a combo meter while destroying objects drops items that add more stocks to special abilities.

One of the more unique aspects of Chaos Field is the fact that this game is essentially nothing but bossfights. Typically in shooters a stage will consists of a variety of air and ground-based enemies and then ultimately culminating in a bossfight. Shooters that are nothing but boss battles are extremely rare(the only one that comes to mind at the moment is the freeware game Warning Forever, which you should check out if you haven't already). So instead of the typical level design found in other shooters this game is broken up into a couple of minor bosses followed by the real boss of the level. All encounters are timed and as expected killing bosses faster equates to more bonus points, though you may find more success in creating as high of a combo chain as possible before destroying the boss for potentially even more points.

Also unique to Chaos Field is...well..the Chaos Field. By tapping the L button on your Classic Controller(you do have one right? I wouldn't even touch this game without it) you can enter a different field of play where your weapons are more powerful but your enemies fire more bullets and even ones that can't be canceled by your special weapons. It's pretty easy to figure out from here that there's more risk and also more reward. Overall this game is fairly simple to figure out.

I don't like it though. First off I'm not very fond of the boss battle shooters in general. This is partly because bosses in 2D shooters are always my weakness but mostly due to that it doesn't really work for this game. The bosses are broken up into multiple parts and if you pretend you can imagine them as regular enemies flying in(as with all of the bullets flying around you're more likely to focus on your ship and a few feet around you at times anyway) Also this game does a rather lousy job of getting the player into the game. After going through the basic ingame tutorial(standard for the arcade shooter genre) you're thrown into your first encounter without any time to really figure it out. It doesn't help matters that all three ships are really ugly and clunky looking, which aside from aesthetic issues also makes determining where your hitbox is and how to avoid taking a bullet in it a frustrating endeavor. 

Most inexcusable however(and this is actually a flaw in the collection itself) is that apparently high scores in Chaos Field aren't saved. Now I can't say I'll ever put out a score worthy of remembering but it's always good to know where I stand but if all I have to look at everytime I start the game up is the default scores why even bother?

All in all I'm just not feeling it and apparently neither did Milestone because their next two games were designed to be similar to most other shooters.

Radilgy(or Radio Allergy) has something to do with viruses and emails and some girl with glasses, also the world or at least Neo-Tokyo has to be saved(again I skip everything story related cause I couldn't care less). Instead of three ships this time you've got one and you decide your weapon, color & speed, and whether or not you want to recieve emails from other characters(which doesn't affect the gameplay). The game is designed like any other traditional shooter. You go through the stage fighting a combination of air and ground-based enemies, some larger and with more firepower than others, contend with a boss at the end and so on and until you complete all five stages(or lose all your lives, which is several times more likely). The usual assortment of weapon powerups can be gathered and ground-based enemies leave behind food or other sweet items which are worth points.

This time in order to score well the player must learn how to keep their bars up(which looks exactly like something you'd see on a cellphone). Depending on how many bars you have the points you get for destroying enemies is multiplied by up to 16 times. How do you get bars? Well unlike real life you get more bars from getting as much interference as possible. At the top of the screen is a meter that keeps track of your interference, filling this up fills up the multiplier. Filling up the interference bar is done through catching bullets. When not firing the player gains a small shield in front of them. Every bullet caught in this shield gives a tiny amount of interference(though not all bullets can be caught). Obviously you're going to get a ton of bullets flung at you so there's plenty of scoring potential to be had. This shield can also be used on enemies(you can't be killed by colliding with an enemy ship as you'll just fly through them) and can lead to the interference bar being filled up rather quickly(or at least keep it from draining, since if you're not collecting interference it will go away along with your multiplier)

The other way and the one you'll be using more often is through a special shield that can only be used when another bar at the bottom of the screen is filled up. By hitting the L button a larger shield surrounds the player giving them temporary invincibility but more importantly the chance to gather a very large amount of bullets. This bar can fill up very quickly if you can properly chain certain powerups. These are blue in color typically and it's important to hit them with your sword to keep them on the screen and to eventually turn them into special powerups that fill your bar up instantly. By doing this successfully one could potentially chain their way entirely through the stage canceling everything and racking up 16x bonuses. A particularly nice aspect of this shield is that after it runs out it briefly cancels every bullet on the screen,which is helpful as it gives you a clean way to get out of a sticky situation(though your invincibility runs out almost immediately afterward, leading to many deaths to the careless).

My opinion on Radilgy is that it's pretty decent. It's certainly an improvement over Chaos Field and I find that for the most part it's a smooth ride and unlike the previously talked about Darius Gaiden the bosses go quickly if not easily. The only aspect I really would have done away with is on stages 3 through 5 there's a midboss encounter. These midbosses have more or less the same patterns to them(though they get more difficult depending on the stage) and it's pretty redundant fighting them. Why Milestone didn't do this for only the 5th stage or maybe found some way to mix these encounters up is beyond me. Still though I think Radilgy alone makes this set worthwhile(also highscores in this game are saved).

Finally we have Karous. This game drops the emails but you can still send worms to your enemies and there's something going on about feathers, data encryption, many shades of grey, and nevermind you get the jist of it right? Anyway like Radilgy you have a ship with a sword, a shield, and a main cannon. Unlike Radilgy and Chaos Field however there's only one ship, no selectable colors or speeds, and no other main weapons to choose from.

Scoring in Karous is handled through an experience system. Many shooter fans are familiar with Treasure's Radiant Silvergun and for the most part the same applies to this game. By destroying enemies with your cannon, sword, or shield you gain experience for that particular weapon. The similarities pretty much end here though as while Silvergun has many other factors to consider in Karous it's almost too simple to figure out. As with Radilgy you get a special shield that requires a full bar(which again fills up quickly and almost constantly) and by using it when you destroy enemies you can gain even more experience than by just destroying them without. The combined levels of all three weapons acts as a multiplier for your score(while at the same time making your weapons stronger, tying together both aspects of scoring and survival). Thankfully there are less bars to keep track of in Karous and helpful on-screen indicators keep track of every possibility, leaving you with more attention to what's trying to kill you.

I prefer Karous to Radilgy as the scoring system is a bit simpler and there's less of a delay when switching from the cannon to the shield. Aside from those two minor differences they're pretty much equal in quality.

Overall this collection is worth a look as at least two of three shooters are pretty good and while they don't stand out as some of the best in the genre they're competently designed and are a good fix for 2D shooter fans starving for something else to check out. However more hardcore fans of the genre will be disappointed in the lack of extras for these three games(mainly since previous versions on other systems had extra modes), the issue of Chaos Field scores not saving, and from what I hear the problematic implementation of TATE(though I haven't tried it myself due to not having the TV for it). On the other hand this set can be had for less than $20 which does make it an attractive buy for those not interested in the much more expensive superior versions.  

Planning to buy a Japanese Xbox 360.

With the recent announcement of Mushihime Futari 1.5 for the Xbox 360 in Japan I believe I have no choice but to import one.

Sure I own an Xbox 360 already but the problem lies with the fact that the games aren't region free so importing them is out of the question unless of course I own a Japanese console. What about localization efforts you ask? Well this is where it gets difficult.

Although Raiden Fighter Aces is set for a US release on May 5th of this year no matter how successful it is I am convinced that this will in no way affect the status of Cave's as well as 2D shooters by other developers. Furthermore I also believe that the chances of Cave or some other developer considering releasing their older titles on Xbox Live Arcade or a similar service are absolutely nil.

First off Raiden Fighter Aces is going to be released in the US at the ridiculous price of 19.99. Sure it's a fantastic deal as it's a compilation of three of the best 2D shooters of all time and to top it off they're absolutely amazing ports, however what does 19.99 say to Publishers? It essentially says "we know we don't have a chance in hell selling this otherwise". This is the sad truth facing the 2D shooter genre. If you want to publish a shooter in the US at a respectable price you have to account for a large number of factors. Gradius V is perhaps one of the most polished shooters around for the PS2 and a fantastic game in its own right. In Japan it went for full-price. Here? 29.99. Still for some that's too much. Same with the similarly priced Shikigami No Shiro 3 which was again full-price in Japan. At least that game could boast that it's fully voice-acted in English(yes I'm not quite sure how that's boast-worthy but effort is effort). Ultimate Shooting Collection(a compilation of three Milestone shooters: Chaos Field, Radilgy, and Karous) suffered countless delays and dropped from 29.99 to 19.99 a little over a month after finally releasing. Worst part is those have been the only examples I could come up with over the past few years. Nobody wants to support the genre in the West because basically it's only good for throwing money away. 

Even after all these years 2D shooters still can not shake the stigma that's attached to them. They're less than a half hour in length and all you have to do is rush through it with an infinite number of continues and you're done. Part of the reason Ikaruga did well at all(aside from having the Treasure name attached to it) is that the way it's designed makes it obvious to how the game should be played. If your ship is black you shoot white things and if your ship is white you shoot black things, it's basic, easy to understand, and in the context of the game it works perfectly. You try to get someone into some of the other shooters out these days and you may as well hand them a thick strategy guide because most of the shooters depth is not nearly as easy to figure out. So in the end reviewers pick up the game, play through it once, twice if it's by a well-known developer, and then give it a mediocre score. The people who do pay attention to reviews will read them and the game will instantly fall of their radar if it was ever there in the first place. Then when you consider that most shooters(due to their vertical alignment) simply won't work with widescreen HDTVs and you're stuck with a genre that simply isn't going to reach people anymore.

So how does one hope to get around that? Well that brings us back to Raiden Fighter Aces at 19.99. Put that on the shelf next to a $70 Cave release of a single game like Death Smilies or the upcoming Futari and see what happens. Heck that's not even fair, let's drop that sole Cave release down to 19.99. Is that honestly going to happen? Not hardly. For a company like Cave if you offer to publish their games in the United States but at a fraction of the price you'll be out the door on your face before you can even finish your proposal. Can you really blame Cave for that? They develop shooters that take maybe 20 minutes to less than an hour to playthrough yet it's not uncommon to see fans play the games for a longer amount of time than most RPGs. Cave is pretty much the biggest game in town and with acquisitions like the director of classics like Battle Garegga and Bakraid they're eventually going to be the only 2D shooter company worth looking out for at least when it comes to arcades. This is also a company that can thrive on releasing nothing but arcade games. A number of arcade devs are the same way and even today when we can enjoy console hardware that's as strong or stronger than what's in the arcades we're still lucky instead of expectant to hear about announcements of ports. Chances are today if an arcade game gets a console port it's either A) very unpopular or B) six months to over a year old and has already made most of the money it's going to make. If Cave isn't that interested in supporting consoles in Japan just how in the world are they going to be interested in working with the West for even less money?

So we go further down the chain to downloadable services. Now how is that even going to work? Say Cave releases the Dodonpachi on XBLA for $10. Then Xseed, UFO interactive, Valcon games, well somebody releases the sequel to Dodonpachi into retail for $20. How do you go about explaining to the average joe why this Dodonpachi should be worth $10 more than that Dodonpachi? The $20 Dodonpachi only has five stages while the $10 one has six! Sure there's a several year difference between both games but whose to say that actually means anything? Oh certainly you could throw in Ketsui and maybe even Death Smilies in with that $20 Dodonpachi but then what? You'd probably have been better off putting all three of those games on XBLA. Now I know you know where this is going but let's continue. Now gamers in Japan are wondering: "okay so while I'd have to pay 7,590 yen for a copy of Death Smilies somebody in America could buy it off XBLA for a measly ten dollars?" Then before anyone can say anything Cave is angry, gamers are angry, and the whole thing is just a massive failure.

So requiring nothing short of a miraclous alignment of the stars or somebody willing to eat a large sum of money just to make fans of a niche genre happy all I can do is start saving up for a Japanese 360 so that one day I'll be able to enjoy titles like Raiden IV, Death Smilies, Dodonpachi Black Label, Otomedius, Shooting Love 200X, Ketsui, and of course Mushihime Futari.

And if you're looking at these games and wondering what the heck they are feel free to check them out via google or check back in six months to a year when I finally put together enough money to buy them all.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Websites to check out for April '09

As expected here are my recommended links for websites you've probably already been to. - - This is the home of Angry Video Game Nerd. Essentially it's a series of videos where a Nerd plays Video Games and gets Angry about them. Definitely worth checking out if you haven't already.

El Miqueo - - A good blog for staying updated with gaming-related announcements. Just a warning though as the site is in Spanish. That's nothing a little google translate and/or learning the language can't fix though right?

Shmups! - - If you're familiar with the 2D shooter genre you've already seen this site. Regardless maybe you could see it again. Heck I dunno.

Super-Play! - - Website filled to the gills with people kicking butt at a great number of games(mostly arcade). Definitely worth checking out but please be kind and follow the rules on the site.

Ben Shinobi - - In the same vein this is the home of the fantastic gamer Ben Shinobi. Feel free to check out his many videos where he shows off his impressive skills in a variety of arcade games.

50 Great Arcade Games #10 - Cameltry

For those familiar with Super Monkey Ball, Cameltry will seem quite familiar. In Super Monkey Ball the played manipulated a 3D playfield to guide a ball filled with monkey into a goal while gathering bananas for bonus points and in Cameltry the player manipulates a 2D maze to guide a blue marble to a goal while breaking blocks for bonus points.

The similarities more or less end there. While for Monkey Ball players their greatest foe was falling off the playfield fans of Cameltry know their greatest adversity is time. In Cameltry the game is broken up into four different courses(training, beginner, expert, and special) and players must complete all of the stages within the time limit(though they get bonus time everytime they complete a stage or break certain blocks). The mazes themselves are filled with traps that can cost valuable time(both in score & survival) and although arrows are constantly pointing out where to go time can be lost needlessly bouncing off of walls and just generally getting stuck. A single button is used for both gaining momentum(necessary for speed and breaking blocks) and it can also serve as a jump button when you're really stuck. All of this is secondary though to the field itself. Since you can't directly control the ball(outside of that single button) you must move the entire playfield around(ever play those Sonic The Hedgehog 1 bonus rounds? yeah this is similar except you're not controlling Sonic)

The beginner courses aren't particularly hard but expert and special will have you kicking down walls as the multitude of traps will send your marble(s) all over the place and eating up tons of valuable time. Every now and then if you're not doing so well the game tosses you opportunities to win some extra time and even if you run out you still have one last chance provided you match the winning number. The game is more than fair for gamers of all skill levels.

The game does a particularly fantastic job of always yet subtlely letting the player know where they stand. Throughout the stage numbers depicting a countdown are placed to show players how close they are to the goal so they can consider whether or not they should grab nearby time bonuses or hit particular spots for extra points. 

While the game is optimally played with a paddle the PS2's analog stick is a decent enough subsitute. Unfortunately some of the tricks the attract mode pulls off seem well out of my reach due to the controller which is quite a shame but I guess that's one of the difficulties of adapting a game to a unique control scheme. Regardless this is an excellent game with a lot of depth and completely worthy of this Best 50 list.

AAA looks at: Darius Gaiden

Released in 1994 Darius Gaiden is the third game in Darius's 2D shooter arcade series. While the series has had multiple spinoffs and sequels on the consoles(like another Taito series, Bubble Bobble) the arcade entries are the most well-known.

Darius is essentially the basic tale of mankind fighting back against an alien menace, except this time the enemy is all manner of alien fish. While most of the regular foes are forgettable the bossfights are bizarre and quite impressive(and as a series tradition all of the bosses have wacky names and are introduced in text before you fight them). The stages you play through are organized in a setup similar to Sega's Outrun in that you have to pick your next stage after defeating each boss. Darius stages are organized in a semi-alphabetical order so your average playthrough will look something like: A B D G K P Z (this is also the easiest possible route in Darius Gaiden and outside of some exceptions the highest scoring one as well..which doesn't make any sense)

Darius Gaiden features fairly standard gameplay for a 2D shooter. You have the Silver Hawk which has three flavors of powerups:

The cannon always fires forward and over time develops lasers, huge waves of fire, and even two tiny ships that fire bullets that lock in on enemies. It takes three red powerups to gain a level for this weapon but only one death to lose a level. I should point out here that the default firing rate in Darius Gaiden is actually not considered the optimal one for playing. In fact most noted highscores use a much faster rate of fire, which makes the game far easier. Gamers interested in playing Darius Gaiden in this fashion will have to invest in either a turbo controller or the Saturn version of Darius Gaiden(as it has options for changing firing rate). Also of note is that the attract mode for Darius Gaiden shows the ship firing at a rate much higher than in the game.

The missiles are another essential aspect of the Silver Hawk. These fire downward at a curve and as they gain in strength(every three green powerups) they become more powerful and pretty soon you'll be able to fire above and behind you and eventually gain homing properties. Unlike the cannon the missiles will never level down no matter how many lives you lose.

Finally the shield. Shields are rare in 2D shooters, especially ones that are capable of taking up to 5 hits(though when you first get a shield it starts at 3 hits). However a hit can mean any number of things. A single tiny bullet counts as a hit but getting hit with a laser could count as multiple hits. Crashing into a wall may as well count for an infinite number of hits because you will die no matter what.

Also of note is the bomb. This bomb is a good last resort for getting out of bad situations(though your score will suffer as number of bombs are tallied by the end of the game along with remaining lives and number of captured enemies).

And before I go further I should mention that in most stages you can aim for a special orb located on particular creatures that when destroyed will allow you to use the creature to fight by your side for a little while. This isn't really much use but it becomes a huge factor in G. Darius, which I will look at another time.

With all of that out of the way lets look at Darius Gaiden itself. For those more familiar with the "Bullet Hell" or "Manic" sub-genre DG will seem oddly quaint by comparison as you'll rarely find yourself in situations where you have to dodge through immense waves of bullets. Actually in situations where you seem to be overwhelmed you're more likely better off seeking a safe spot(of which there are many but you'll never find them on your first playthrough). Also unlike most bullet hells all of the enemies and bosses tend to have unique patterns and abilities outside of filling the screen with bullets. Though I tend to prefer Manic-styled shooters I find a certain appreciation for the personality that the more intricate designs in DG bring.

The level designs for DG are for the most part very simplistic. Though you'll only see a portion of the game in every playthrough for the most part you'll hardly run into anything fresh or unique to each stage(in fact many of the stages share the same bosses). Sure there's one stage that has you face off with a giant battleship(a popular 2D shooter cliche) and another where you have to keep particular enemies alive so they'll drill holes in walls you can safely pass through but otherwise you'll be content with dealing with the waves of enemies instead of figuring out the "gimmick" of the stage(if you're craving a shooter filled with gimmicks I'd recommend Gradius V but that's for another time).

Unfortunately there's little else that differentiates Darius Gaiden from the rest of the genre, and there's nothing that would help it stand out as one of the best. Also unfortunate is that if you stick to the basic firing rate you'll discover that boss fights go on for simply far too long and even regular encounters become a major headache because enemy fire will flood the screen before you can get any kills in. Playing at the optimal rate however might just make the game too easy for some(Darius Gaiden with the optimal rate is the first arcade shooter I've ever 1-lifed). It's still a decent enough game otherwise and one of Taito's best(Next to Metal Black, Layer Section, and G. Darius) but without any sort of identity to the gameplay or some other unique aspect to its design all it has left to fall back on is wacky bosses and amazing music. Basically it falls somewhere inbetween "could be better" and "could be worse".

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

AAA looks at: Capcom Classics Collection 1 part 2

1942 - The first in a series of WW2-inspired shooters by Capcom. There's really not much I can say about this one as it's very basic. You're in a plane, you shoot other planes, there's one seemingly only one powerup, and you get more points for shooting lots of things down. The game is broken up into 32 stages but if you're like me you'll be bored after the first one and will find more entertainment in putting a bunch of naughty words in the Top 5 list(since unlike most arcade games you can actually put your entire name in the list if you get a hi-score instead of just your initials). One feature unique to the series is that if you're in a jam you can do a roll to get out of it. The trick is however is that you only get a couple of these.

1943 - This update adds more powerups and a very unique property..a life meter. Unlike most shooters where you get a stock of three lives which are gone in a single hit this game gives a constantly draining health meter that can be filled by grabbing power-ups and drained quickly by enemy fire(with some attacks doing more damage than others). Also new is that at the end of every stage you have to take out a particular enemy(like maybe a fleet of ships) in sort of a bossfight. You have to defeat the boss in a rather short amount of time or else you have to retry the entire battle. Problem is however is that the initial weapon is very weak and even though you can get weapon powerups(like a weak spreadfire, a powerful but close range blast, and narrow but with a high rate of fire missiles) they only last for 20 or so seconds and thus tend to disappear when you need them most. Interesting sure but further sequels improve on the formula.

1943 Kai - Now this is a good update! Essentially it's 1943 but with a number of improvements. Now as long as you're collecting weapons more time for them will be added to the total. Granted it peaks at least than a minute and a half total but you're more likely to spend time with a weapon than without one. Everything else simply feels substantially better. Sure the number of unique enemy-types is rather limited but they all take on new patterns and properties as you progress. This is definitely one of the better games on this collection(though the much later 19XX smokes this game and is my pick for best of the series...unfortunately it never saw a homeport). There was also a 1942 game released for the XBLA/PSN services but I can't recommend it at all. It seems to stick to 19XX as the biggest reference point(fans of that game will catch a lot of similarities) but it's inferior in aspects such as level design and well...everything else. Unless you're like me and need an easy shooter that you can beat without continuing to make you feel good about yourself I'd avoid that one at all costs. 

Bionic Commando - Wow this game is a mess. No really this is one of the worst designed games I've ever played. As soon as you start it up the game drops you seemingly in the middle of a stage with no rhyme or reason whatsoever. Even in arcade games which average half an hour in length you're supposed to be given some sense of progression(consider the first couple minutes a mini-tutorial to help the player get their feet wet) but here the game just throws a dozen things around at once and expects you to sort it out. The Bionic arm which is the focal point of the game feels really stiff and you can't use it while falling(which would be useful if you move off of a ledge to find out it's a bottomless pit). Touching an enemy no matter what they're doing will kill you and bigger guys take far too many shots. Sometimes if you're not 100% on the mark when you grab onto an object with your arm you'll find yourself falling off of whatever ledge you grabbed and into another pit. Really I could go further but really what's the point? Rather then drag this out I'll simply recommend that you pick up the phenomenal Bionic Commando Rearmed for XBLA/PSN/PC. This remake of the NES Bionic Commando(which improves on the arcade version in every way...partly because it's practically an entirely new game) is fantastic.

Commando - Way back when Taito made a little game called Frontline. You're a lone soldier behind enemy lines doing what he has to do to survive. Capcom's Commando is essentially the same deal but better in every way. Though Commando is vertically oriented the game doesn't constantly scroll upward. However this means that the player must always be moving forward or they will be overwhelmed by enemy forces. This makes for an interesting bit of design, especially since even though you can shoot in eight directions you can only throw grenades directly forward. It's a bit of a tricky game to get used to and deaths by enemies coming in from the sides is an all too frequent occurence(nothing worse than getting ran over by a vehicle you can't see coming) it's still worth a look. 

Exed Exes - Really not worth bothering with at all I'm afraid to say. If you manage to find any merit in this game let me know I'd love to hear about it.

Forgotten Worlds - This is a really good game. In the future two guys who can not be stopped by Paramecian alone decide to go through some bizarre(some would even say Forgotten) worlds destroying egyptian deities, Gods of War, dying dragons, and so on while buying new weapons and powerups at shops. FW is a side-scrolling shooter that features two unique design decisions. First off there's a health meter(which doesn't drain constantly like in 1943) and instead of always facing forward the player can rotate 360 degrees to blast things coming at them from every direction. Imperative to survival is the satellite. Not only does this serve as an important weapon it can also catch bullets. The catch(ugh) to this is that while the fire button is held down the satellite stays in one place, while leaving it alone will allow the player to move it where they'll need it most. Though it's hardly possible to get the twin-stick setup the arcade release had the Dual-shocks analog sticks make a decent subsititute(certainly an improvement over using two buttons to rotate either direction, which was the case for past home-ports). Another neat aspect is that despite the large size of the characters the only spot they can actually be damaged is their chest, which makes surviving quite a bit easier. FW is actually a fairly easy game. I was able to reach the final boss on one credit(though unfortunately his I couldn't dodge his laser spreads) and I really never played this game very much. Still I guess one could make the game more challenging and attain higher scores by spending less money(since all zenny is added to their final score at the end of the game) so in essence maybe it isn't all that easy. Either way this is one of the best games on the collection so give it a shot. Also check out Omega Five for XBLA, it's a pretty decent title even though it runs quite short(only 4 stages).

Gun Smoke - While this game has all the mechanics of a 2D shooter you can't really approach it as one. As a cowboy sent in to collect some fat bounties off of the typical gamut of wild and crazy bad guys your sole weapon is a pair of revolvers. The trick to playing is that since enemies can come from multiple angles you have multiple buttons you can press to fire at them. By pressing any combination of buttons you can even fire in opposite directions to take out guys on both sides of you. The powerups are kind of lacking(don't expect any lasers) but thankfully the foes boast similar firepower so you're never really outmatched. One really unfortunate aspect is that you can't shoot behind you, so when bad guys get behind you all you can do is keep dodging their fire until they eventually get scrolled off the screen. Oh and whoever did the attract demo for this game was hopefully fired. The guy dies in the first five seconds! Yeah that's really going to get people interested in the game.

Legendary Wings - I'll sum this game up in a single word: Yikes. This is one of those shooters where you can bomb objects on the ground while taking out foes flying at you(like Xevious any a number of other titles) but really this isn't worth bothering with at all. The game tries to mix it up by throwing in side-scrolling areas where you're on foot and shooting bad guys & climbing ladders while wandering around but these are just plain terrible. I really can't recommend this game at all. There are no redeemable qualities to be found.

Mercs - You wouldn't know it by the looks but this is actually a sequel to Commando. This game adds a ton of new features like levels that scroll in multiple directions, boss fights, mega-bombs for those tough moments, a variety of weapons and powerups, and a health meter. Despite all of the additions and changes the basics are very much the same. If you want to survive you have to keep moving and you can only fire in the direction you're facing. It's interesting that Capcom would still require the player to be facing the direction they wish to fire, especially in light of titles like Smash TV and Forgotten Worlds. I think they didn't go with the twin-stick method as at times it's best to go with game design that creates an identity. If Capcom went with a twin-stick setup they'd have to design the entire game to support it, changing many of the properties in the regular enemies and the bossfights, making for an entirely different game. Would it have turned out better? I don't think so, it would simply be different. In fact it'd probably end up being too similar to other games. Aside from that I think maintaining an identity is the most important aspect of game design. The last thing this industry needs is a bunch of games that all play the same(Capcom thought the same way too I imagine when they released Resident Evil 5, a game that still maintains its "can't shoot while moving" design decision, helping it stand out in a sea of dual-stick FPS and third-person shooters. But yeah Mercs is one of the better titles in this set.

Pirate Ship Higemaru - There are pirates on a ship you toss barrels at them to win. The stages are set in a variety of mazes and you get more points for nailing multiple pirates with a single barrel. I immediately lost interest in this game due to the sloppy controls. Movement doesn't exactly feel 1:1 and if I'm having trouble moving around in the tutorial how could I even survive an actual level? Other than that it's just not very interesting.

Section Z - Sometimes there are games that even though there are a number of aspects I should properly explain the gameplay is so bland that it's just not worth the trouble. I guess it's neat that bullets and bombs are relegated to a single button but this game really suffers from the "enemies out of nowhere" syndrome. It's all too easy to get beaned by a foe coming from behind. Though the game emphasizes not to sit at either end of the screen(by allowing the player to switch directions to fire behind him for example) there's still no warning where something is going to fly in from. Also although you can increase the power of your gun your bomb's rate of fire remains really bad, making it frustrating for ground-based enemies. Other than that there's really not much else to say, it's just not worth playing.

Son Son - Most people are more familiar with the Marvel Vs Capcom 2 character instead of the actual game. Son Son is a bit of an odd one. Inspired by Journey to the West you play as Son Son or her friend(or both if you have a friend) and travel through 20 stages. The field is broke up into multiple paths that can you jump between by pressing up or down. Enemies that exhibit many properities like jumping between paths, flinging spears bar your path and you use a short range cannon to take them out. There's also a lot of food to gather. Most of the food is worth very few points but there are ones posted on signs worth major points. Also of note is the POW sign. Grab this and all enemies are turned into major point foods. This is a tricky game to get used to but it can actually be pretty fun. Oddly enough this game allows the player to continue if they run out of lives. I'm not sure why this was done because the ending certainly isn't worth the trouble. Also odd is that after beating the game it restarts from the first stage. Usually when this happens the game becomes much harder but from what I've played of the second loop it felt as difficult as the first..very odd but eh if somebody can manage to play Son Son for that long more power to them I guess.

Trojan - In a desolate future one man with a sword & shield can make a difference. Trojan reminds me titles like Kung Fu and Vigilante. You walk from left to right, foes rush in, you bash them out of the way with your sword. The shield is an interesting tool in that while it can block most enemy attacks there are some that if you attempt to block will simply knock your weapons away(though you can pick them back up). It's an interesting addition but it does little to make this game a worthwhile play. The most frustrating aspect is the fact that enemies are only hurt by the sword. If they're too close your sword will simply pass through them. Though I appreciate the importance of mechanics sometimes they should be ignored when they would benefit the player. Son Son did this by allowing the player's bullets to go through the ground when they jump between paths, thus giving them the ability to take out foes that might be between paths. At the very least it'd make Trojan move a bit quicker since one doesn't have to worry about adjusting their distance to guarantee a kill. Anyway in the end this game is forgettable.

Vulgus - The only unique aspect of this game is that you have a limited use cannon that does immense damage and can destroy rows of enemies for extra bonus points. Otherwise it's limited, frustrating(enemies will get behind you and there's nothing you can do about it) and just not worth bothering with at all.

One thing anyone can take away from Capcom arcade titles is that they contain a lot of secrets. Secrets aren't exactly a strange occurence in games but Capcom really takes it to the next level with their releases. It seems in almost all of their non-fighters there's something you can shoot, strike, walk over, and pretty soon you've stumbled upon some random item that'll boost your score or award you a powerup. These are always good for promoting replay value but one has to wonder if they're perhaps too abundant. Sure most of these items aren't going to make the games too easy(in fact more likely you may be required to find these if you want to have some chance of beating the game without continuing) but having to memorize dozens of secret locations to maximize score and survival doesn't sit well with me. Sure in the end we'll all have to memorize games if we expect to master them but it just feels too obvious to me, even perhaps a bit shallow. Regardless I think Capcom pulls off this aspect quite well, as their games are more than enough challenge to compensate for all of the hidden bonuses and even then the hidden ones that aren't good for score can be ignored entirely for those seeking mastery.

All in all Capcom Classics Collection volume 1 is a decent enough compilation. Though a rather large number of games can be ignored some may find them interesting simply to unlock the various extras which are gotten by accomplishing certain milestones(i.e. beating the game, getting a high score, finding a particular item, etc). It helps that most if not all of these games were ported from various Capcom Saturn/PSX compilations in the late 90s and the emulation is for the most part competent(though Forgotten Worlds has awful sound balance, the music is constantly drowned out by your own weaponary). 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

AAA looks at: Capcom Classics Collection 1 (part 1)

In the effort to look at as many arcade games as possible I have to consider the multitude of arcade game compilations that have been released over the years. Sure not all of them feature perfect emulation but generally they're good enough at serving their purpose.

With that in mind I'm currently going through Capcom Classics Collection volume 1 for the Playstation 2. With over 20 games at less than $20(or even $10 these days) it's a pretty decent value.

Ghosts & Goblins series - I might as well get this out of the way. I think the G&G games are poorly designed. Some people complain that arcade games are designed to be extremely difficult solely to take all of the gamer's money in the process. I don't agree with this but going through the two G&G games I have to wonder about that. 

The story is simple enough: The valiant knight Sir Arthur (in his underwear) is hanging out with the Princess(in a not at all compromising position) and devils steal her away, thus prompting him to throw on his armor and save her and the day. The gameplay is also simple enough. You move from left to right tossing javelins(or one of a number other weapons) at enemies while dodging them & their attacks, climbing ladders, jumping from platform to platform(whether they're moving or falling, per the platformer tradition) and engage in a bossfight at the end. For those not in the know G&G games are also notorious for making the player play through the game twice(the second time usually with some special weapon) in order to reach the final encounter and actually complete the game.

I don't particularly see the big deal with having to play through a game twice(provided the length of the game is reasonable enough). Many arcade games are known to have two or even more loops. These can be good for players who have already mastered the first loop and are looking for a greater challenge as well as the chance to attain a higher score. Even the idea of the second loop having an exclusive final encounter doesn't really bother me as games like Dodonpachi frequently include an ultimate boss.  I apologize for the diversion.

Anyway Ghosts & Goblins titles are also known for their difficulty. Though Sir Arthur can take two hits before dying(the first hit knocks off his armor) it's still very easy to die, many times, over the course of a single stage, maybe get a few game overs as well, actually make that several game overs, and well you get the idea. Thing is though is that while most difficult games still have some semblance of fairness to them(Robotron 2084 makes it very easy to get extra lives) G&G just kind of ignores that.

The mechanics to both games are incredibly sound. In fact I was amazed at all of the things that didn't kill me. Capcom really nailed character interaction right down to the pixel and the only things that will take you out are direct hits. Though the arcade G&G games are still poorly designed I can't fault them for the mechanics, they're extremely impressive.

The problem is however the game throws together so many elements that will lead to deaths. There's no real onslaught of enemy fire to dodge or hundreds of bad guys filling the screen at any time overwhelming the player. It's more like when you're running along you may or may not suddenly run or jump into something that'll kill you. Or maybe things just don't seem to align properly and before you know it you're dead. It's the little things that don't add up in G&G that kill. I'll cite an example in Ghouls & Ghosts: In the first section of stage 2 Arthur has to dodge turtles that bound across the screen(at varying heights) while at the same time killing or running away from the ones that come out of their shells to spit projectiles. For what should be a fairly simple area to understand there's still an element of randomness due to how the creatures spawn and the way they move across the screen. They're easy to dodge but it's still possible to get crammed into a bad situation. It's hard to explain but usually when the player is killed or about to be killed they realize what they did wrong to put them into that situation. At times I believe when I got killed in the G&G titles it was because I was unlucky. 

Even more inexcusable is the very next section of that stage. Arthur has to cross sandpits(with the requisite sandlions waiting to chew them out and the pits themselves which are instant death if he falls in) via a series of shoddy-looking bridges. As expected these bridges will break but unfortunately the problem here is two-fold. There's no indicator of which parts of the bridge will break and you're not given a warning or even a second's worth of time to respond. The bridge will collapse, you'll fall, and you're either beaten up by the sandlion or drowning in the sandpit. How does one get pass this bridge then? Trial & Error. 

This to me is the aspect that destroys the G&G games. A videogame that emphasizes that the player will have to die or take damage to figure out the solution to any obstacle to me is simply not good game design. Even if one can get past the randomness that pervades the series I wonder how anyone can think it's a good idea to create situations where the player doesn't know what'll happen. Sure when someone sees a poorly built bridge in a game they expect it'll fall apart when they attempt to cross it. But to not know when the bridge will come apart or be given enough time to respond accordingly I can't imagine why a section like this was designed for except to get gamers to spend more money.

Final Fight - Next to Double Dragon many consider this game to be one of the forefathers of the beatemup genre. As an early effort Capcom has done a rather exceptional job with this game but like most of their early titles I have multiple issues with the game.

To start with the biggest issue in Final Fight is the sloppy mechanics. Mechanics not only considers if something should hit but in a beatemup it should also consider what it'll do to the player if it connects. The sloppiness comes from the fact that the damage varies all too wildly. A punch from one guy might do a tiny fraction of damage while a punch from another guy(a single punch mind you) will take off a third of the player's life. This other guy isn't a boss either(where it would make some sense), it was from a minor thug(unless I missed something and the guys with the heavy jackets that block are supposed to hit that hard). Another mechanics-related issue is the damaging area of a foe's attack. The first boss for example as a punch that can hit you even if you're standing by his shoulder when he pulls it off. I'm well aware that games tend to make allowances for things that aren't 100% sensible but even with arcade games the rule should always side with the player and not the game itself. If it doesn't look like something should hit then it won't, that's how it's supposed to work. 

Another troublesome aspect is the enemy's lack of telegraphing. Telegraphing is essentially a warning that the enemy in a game is going to make a move. These are always subtle as enemies typically don't have a large range of animations so you can't see them wind up for a punch. You will however notice them pausing for a second or loss, maybe taking on a more aggressive state, or moving around in a suspicious manner(like backing away). This is done because the average human needs enough time to react to something unexpected(if you've ever taken a driving course and somebody tosses a pen at you with and without warning you get the general idea). While Final Fight does this sometimes it doesn't do it all the time. While it's expected in a beatemup that if someone is walking towards you they're going to throw a punch you're hardly ever in a situation where you can read the enemy's movements without contending with other surrounding foes. There has also been times when enemies completely ignore their telegraphing and simply attack as soon as they come on-screen(like the ninjas who slide). Over time Capcom would improve on these aspects(and as a result produce some of the best beatemups ever like Cadillacs & Dinosaurs and Aliens Vs Predator). 

I do believe however that Final Fight is the first beatemup to introduce the standard "special attack that hits everyone surrounding you at the cost of a little health" move. I believe that without the creation of this move the beatemup genre would died out well before its time(as there really isn't anything good about getting surrounded by two guys and punched to death with no way to respond). In the end however Capcom as well as other developers have went on to create better beatemups.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

50 Great Arcade Games #9 - Shinobi

You simply can't go wrong with this one. The original Shinobi is definitely an arcade classic. There's so much to absorb in every playthrough and the attention to detail and smart game design is groundbreaking. It's no wonder the release of this game prompted a bunch of developers to release clones/similar-styled games. 

As the ninja Joe Musashi you fight through five levels to take down the leader of the criminal underworld known as Zeed. All of these levels are broken up into stages with a bossfight at the end. Your only weapons are your limitless shurikens, your karate, maybe a gun & a sword, and even some ninja magic. 

HOWEVER if you want to get the highest score possible you need to forget about your shurikens, gun, and magic. Cause at the end of every stage you're given huge bonuses for not using any of those things. The only way to not use a shuriken(since you only have one attack button) is to get as close as possible to an enemy. This is tricky business because they'll punch you, shoot you, stab you, and all those other nasty things(especially considering you can only get hit once). Figuring out the best way to take out everyone as well as doing it in the limited amount of time you have really makes the most of this game.

If that wasn't enough Sega devised a number of really interesting scoring techniques you're not likely to pick up on during regular play. Sure most of them won't affect your chances of survival(you've got enough problems as this is one of the harder arcade games) but they're certainly interesting. Even little things like how you choose to rescue hostages can lead to some large bonuses.

Though the stage variety comes up short compared to later console-only Shinobi games you'll hardly complain as all five levels feature crafty design and are a constant challenge. The bossfights take what you've learned in the stages and dresses them up to make some memorable fights. Bonus rounds between levels where you attempt to kill the ninjas before they get to you is a good source for 1ups as well as points. This all helps to further round out the package, constantly forcing you to keep your guard up.

The sequel Shadow Dancer adds an interesting concept(a ninja dog!) but for the most part the game is just like the original as you'll recognize many of the mechanics at work. It's a good game but just not quite as good as the original. It's also in my opinion a fair bit easier.


So okay you read the last update where I mentioned Time Crisis 3 and now you're thinking: "First he faults Time Crisis 3 for having multiple weapons though only one is perfectly suited for scoring but then he praises Shinobi for having the same? What a hypocrite."

I'll go ahead and point out the difference right now. In TC3 your handgun while it doesn't have the pure destructive force of the rocket, the ammo clip and rapid fire of the machinegun, or the large area that the shotgun covers, it still has a decent enough clip and can handle any situation even if you have nothing else to turn to.

What exactly is Joe's close-range attack good for? Close range and that's about it. In fact you actually have to go out of your way and make the game harder just to guarantee you'll be able to punch/sword certain enemies. If you screw up you're likely to throw a shuriken which'll cost you serious points or worse you'll get killed since there is really no room for error. In essence you switch from shuriken to close-range to make Shinobi much harder and you switch from machinegun/shotgun/rocket to handgun to make Time Crisis 3 normal difficulty. 

So how exactly does one go about making Shinobi harder? Well take this into consideration. There's a guy with a gun standing behind a crate firing away. With a shuriken you can take him out either while he's reloading or even when he's shooting(provided you remember to duck or jump out of the way as well). A punch, kick, or sword? Well now you'll have to work your way around him(though thanks to the multiple plane system this is usually not that hard) and take him down from there. This is a simple scenario but obviously one can expect they'll get more complicated as the game progresses(especially when enemy ninjas are introduced).

Thankfully Shinobi introduces a very important design decision in that simply bumping into enemies won't kill you(just don't bump into their weapons and attacks). Instead you'll be knocked harmlessly away(or not so harmlessly if you happen to be standing next to a pit) along with the foe, allowing you a chance to strike. Rolling Thunder has somewhat similar gameplay but touching a foe instantly drains half of the player's life away(while a bullet or other weapon will take it all). This is all well and good until one realizes that they could be killed from enemies walking in through doorways and other needlessly frustrating issues. I bring this up because Rolling Thunder came out in 1986 while Shinobi hit in 1987. It's entirely possible Sega noted the issue in enemies running into the player and devised this design. I think it worked out quite well in that a number of action games that followed Shinobi use similar designs in their handling of the player colliding with enemies. I'm not sure if I would call it groundbreaking (though I'll be the first to point out any action game worth their salt requires that the player can not be killed or even damaged by running into an enemy) but it did inspire other developers in the arcades to follow the same route(especially since a number of them put out clones of Shinobi). 

It should also be noted that not using magic or shurikens to gain the most points is a mainstay of the Shinobi series(even the console-exclusive titles do this..except Shinobi PS2 I believe). Also while titles like Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi 3 added health meters one can still get a substantial amount of bonus points for not getting hit at all. 

50 Great Arcade Games #8 - Ghost Squad

Ghost Squad has got to be one of the deepest gun games out there. Never before have I seen such a large number of weapons(all with varying attributes, with the harder-to-use ones having higher scoring potential), trick-shots, and the variety in gameplay is matched only by Point Blank.

Cause really if you strip all of that stuff away Ghost Squad is a pretty easy game. In fact I wouldn't be surprised to see people 1CC it the first time they pick it up. GS however is perhaps one of the few arcade games that uses a leveling mechanic in a manner that's good for arcade play. From a fresh character you only have access to the easiest versions of missions. As you successfully complete these three missions however you can up the difficulty level. Upping the difficulty adds more objectives while making them longer and more difficult. Some objectives will have you protecting people, some others will have you engaging in CQC, and still others will have you disarming bombs, sniping, and doing a variety of other things(The bossfights are similar, as they have you doing besides the "just shoot a big guy over a thousand times"). 

Aside from fulfilling objectives the best way to score lots of points is learning the various trickshots. The Justice shot from Virtua Cop(where you aim for the enemy's gun or hands to take them out of the fight) is still there but has been joined by a variety of other shots. Whether it's by shooting a series of people without missing, taking out two guys with one bullet, or a number of other ways to effectively fight terrorism. Finding the best combination really does add a lot to the depth of this game.

With Sega's attention to design and execution to supplement everything else you end up with another classic in the gun genre.


Really I think the level setup in Ghost Squad is the best thing about it. For some it may seem weird or even poor design to lock away most of the game to first-time players but personally I think it's brilliant and I'm surprised more gun games aren't picking up on it. It actually feels more rewarding being able to complete the game on your first or second play and then move on to a slightly harder difficulty than to attempt a go at a "full" game and die on the first boss, second boss, and so on. Then again I'm probably biased as I always start with easier settings in games and then work my way up. I find it better to know what I'm going against while dealing with additional challenges like less health, more enemies, etc that higher difficulties bring than to hit a wall everytime I run into a difficult encounter with something I haven't seen before.

I also think it's good that after you decide on a weapon you're pretty much stuck with it for the rest of the game. All of the weapons have their own strengths and weaknesses(like the shotgun which shooters a large number of bullets over a large area, great for hitting terrorists and civilians...oops or some of the more powerful rifles which can shoot through multiple foes but have very little ammo before requiring a reload). Although I wish that the game featured scoreboards that focused on every gun(since some are simply better for scoring than others) I still think it's a better system than Time Crisis 3. While I regard Time Crisis 2 as a classic, TC3 suffers from having multiple selectable weapons at any time. It's supposed to promote one particular of game design by requiring the player to have the right tools for job but even in a short game one will more likely find themselves hoarding everything and never using it...which makes the system rather pointless. I also suspect that in order to score the most points in TC3 one has to use the handgun anyway, which relegates the other weapons to some form of "real-time difficulty switching" instead of being an important part of scoring and thus mastering an arcade game(there's a chance I am wrong though so feel free to correct me if so).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

50 Great Arcade Games #7 - Outrun 2: Special Tours

Outrun 2: SP is everything Outrun 2 is and more. The most obvious changes/additions are that the game is slightly easier(hitting a wall is less likely to kill your game) and you can slipstream to gain additional speed. Couple that with an entirely new set of tracks to drive on and you essentially have the definitive version of O2.

I shouldn't really have to go over what makes O2 great because it's all very easy to figure out. You get a team together known for great mechanics and solid game design(in this case AM2). You build upon the foundations/ideas set by past racing games(And with Sega you've got some of the best). Most of all however you put together a game that's accessible to anyone. 

Outrun 2 SP offers a multitude of cars and tracks that vary in difficulty. The more skillful players will choose faster cars with tougher handling, and race on the most difficult tracks to show off. Gamers interested in just having a smooth ride and enjoying the wonderful sights and sounds can go the other way. It's certainly a refreshing change of pace when compared to the Initial Drifting Wangan Tokyo midnight grind-a-thons where you have to spend more than your car payment to get a decent ride.


I guess I should go further into what this game is all about. You're in a Ferrari with your girlfriend and you have to impress her by driving well. Aside from dodging traffic and smoothly drifting through turns you'll also have to contend with other Ferraris on the road(referred to as Rivals). Passing rivals is a bit more difficult than any other car but they're worth far more points. So in fact going fast is required not just to get a good time but also to get a score, plus it keeps you from running out of time. While the lower difficulty might make the game too easy for some the greater scoring possibilities allow for some true masters of the game to really show off. I for one kind of prefer this direction.

In the end though it's not a terribly deep game in that there's some complicated processes you have to know in order to get some really amazing times and scores. Even the heart attack mode which throws in little minigames during each track are simple to understand and complete since they rely on the same basics that are involved in finishing a race. 

I should also point out that Outrun Online is available on Xbox Live Arcade. It's a decent enough port though it only includes the Special Tours set of tracks and no Challenge mode(which consisted of a lot of minigames with tons of unlockables). If you want the complete edition you'll have to hunt down a copy Outrun 2: ST for the original Xbox or Playstation 2. Warning though the PS2 edition has framerate issues and the Xbox version has some annoying bugs when ran on a 360.

Some people prefer vanilla Outrun 2 as well(which is Xbox only). I'm not exactly sure why that it is because all it offers is a slightly higher difficulty and the removal of slipstreaming(and only one set of tracks as opposed to the two in Special Tours. Although Outrun 2 does have the Scud Race/Daytona USA 2 tracks so I guess that gives it a point for curiousity's sake.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy Birthday...

I guess I should mention that I turned 28 almost four hours ago. Woop.

AAA looks at: Growl

Growl is not a great arcade game. I'm not even sure if it can qualify as good. I will however say it's definitely competent and totally worth playing.

Like most Taito games the story is absolute nonsense. In what looks to be the 1940s evil poachers are capturing animals left and right and the government sends in an Indiana Jones lookalike and three of his buddies(all with varying stats) to set things right. Setting things right is done by...of course...killing them all.

I use the word competent to describe a game that doesn't particularly do anything wrong but it's still nothing exceptional in terms of design, mechanics, and execution. However Growl is maybe 15 minutes in length and you could definitely do alot worse than check this bad boy out. 

First off this game really loads it up on the enemies. Typically in a beatemup you'll somewhere between 2 and 5 bad guys on the screen. Growl triples this as you'll likely see 15 or even 20 guys gunning for you at the same time. To balance it out the good guys have access to some serious firepower(like grenades, rocket launchers, guns, etc). On top of that every now and again animals will come by to give the player a helping hand.

Secondly there are a ton of moves. Most of these are context sensitive(as in depending on where you are in relation to your foe you'll pull off different moves). So don't be surprised that you might grab a guy and knee him in the face several times or actually crouch down and punch his teeth in. Or maybe you'll grab him by the neck and slam him multiple times(which takes down surrounding foes). You can also perform a couple special moves by pressing both the attack and jump buttons together. There are few things better than spin-kicking through a dozen foes at once.

Third and most important this game doesn't give a crap about anything. If you're the kind of person who thinks body parts should go flying whenever someone is shot with a rocket this is your game. If you think trains have to run over people and send them to pieces this is also your game. Women in short skirts pulling grenades out of their shirts? This game has them by the hundreds. Bosses that inexplicably explode when you kill them? Uh huh. A giant spike ceiling that crashes down whenever you continue during a bossfight? You didn't ask for it but it's in there. This game is absolutely ridiculous and yet makes for a very thrilling ride.  

Also this game introduces a neat idea that will be seen in future games. The lone platforming section in the game allows you to stay on platforms as long as you don't jump. Thus you don't have to worry about walking over the edge before you make your jump. Sure one can argue that this game really didn't need a platforming section at all but I think it's nice that they were thoughtful enough to go with this design decision. 

Unfortunately the only problem is neither the Taito Memories nor the Taito Legends 2 releases have this game in its uncut form. So when somebody gets blown up they simply disappear instead of spreading flaming bits of themselves all over the landscape. Those interested in playing this version will have to seek out an alternative. Sure more violence shouldn't make a game better but trust me, would you watch a G-rated version of Robocop?

So yeah I think this is one game you won't regret it. Even if you hate it it's still less than 15 minutes of your life. You can even quit before the admittedly terrible second form of the final boss.

AAA looks at: Nastar

This sequel (though the game takes place before the first Rastan) to Rastan is not what you would expect. The popular adage "Bigger and Better" does not apply here. Well I guess it can be argued that this game definitely has bigger sprites. It is unfortunately worse than Rastan in every way(and as I mentioned earlier the original game was not all that great either).

Nastar's world is certainly a bit different looking and populated by a more unique and stylizied set of creatures. They also happen to show more unique behaviors and even some semblance of personality(in other words your foes do more than blindly rush at you swords swinging). Nastar also happens to be a bit shorter and suffers from some terrible level design. One particular section is simply a long enemy-filled corridor with nothing to punctuate it. The lowest points however are the jumps. While Rastan had simple and effective platforming Nastar attempts to mix it up by creating some devious jumps, some of which the player simply won't be able to figure out on their first attempt. Some of these require the player to stand at the very edge of the platform(we're talking so far along that both of the player's feet are standing off the edge of a cliff) while the hero pauses for a fraction of a second before he jumps(which helps prevent slipping off an ledge) it is still frustrating at best determining how to properly get through an area.

Another problematic aspect of this game is the combat. Most enemies fall to a single hit(though larger foes can take a few more). The bosses however can take tons of hits while your hero can only take a few. Though the game offers weapons(provided you can hold onto them as they disappear when you die) and a "Level" statistic(you get a levelup after you beat each boss. These may or may not have an effect on your strength). The problem is of course the fact that you have to survive the awful platforming to get to the bossfights. Eventually you could probably memorize how to handle these areas and breeze through the game but why bother? There's better games to be playing.

You need every ounce of power you can grab because as I said earlier the bosses can take an insane amount of damage. You however are stuck with a time limit. One grating scenario in particular is the second boss. While you can easily jump and stab the creature in the head and avoid her attacks with ease, you'd be hard-pressed to finish her off without running out of time. Sure on one hand if you can reach her without continuing you'll have that extra level of strength(and possibly a better weapon) so it'll be an easier bout but again this game really does nothing that feels rewarding to the player that goes out of their way to master it.

There are so many other aspects of this game that only serve to frustrate the player. Some examples include:

An item that increases the player's speed. Why not simply make the player faster from the start? Aside from that why does the character jump and fall faster as well? All that's good for is screwing up their timing for difficult jumps.

Two-player mode. Co-op is always welcome sure but this really isn't the game for it. 

A special ability that causes enemy-killing orbs to surround the player. Unfortunately this replaces the far more useful fireball or lightning ability if the player already has those. Why even bother?

Swinging ropes can only be grabbed from a particular spot(it's discolored making it easy to notice) however that still doesn't guarantee the player will actually grab onto the rope when they jump for it.

Sometimes the screen doesn't scroll properly. As in if you jump on a swinging vine the screen doesn't scroll to show what's ahead of the player. How did something like this even pass Q/A? It's absolutely horrendous.

The one good thing the game has going for it is the very impressive blocking system, which is done well and is more than useful for the various encounters the player will run into. However on the other hand it's simply not worth dealing with the poorly designed aspects. All in all best to skip this and go on to Warrior Blade, easily the best game of the Rastan trilogy. Unfortunately the only honest way to play that game is via one of the Taito Memories sets(which will set you back nearly $40). Maybe one day I'll pick up that particular set and figure out if it's actually worth the money(since like with the other three releases 20+ other games are included).