Saturday, January 30, 2010

PS2 Look - Silpheed: The Lost Planet

There's no question that I love 2D shooters of all types. While I tend to prefer the arcade titles there's still a lot of neat & interesting ideas to be found in console releases. Unfortunately I have no love for this game. Actually I'm not so sure I can call this a game as it's more likely that it's just an experiment.

Developed by Treasure and released by Working Designs this is one of the Playstation 2's many launch titles that fell through the cracks. In fact I think it was Treasure's name that gave this release any sort of notoriety. Nevertheless it's the standard tale of man vs alien set over the course of seven stages with a ton of cinematics in-between.

Before each set the player is allowed to set their weapons of choice. The ship is capable of holding two weapons and while at the start only two are available(a forward shot and a V-shaped spread) as the game progresses more are unlocked. Both weapons can be fired at the same time or independently but otherwise that's the extent of the ship's offensive capabilities. There is a shield that is capable of taking 10 or 5 hits(depending on difficulty) so for the most part it's pretty difficult to actually lose the game(though this changes towards the end).

The entire scoring system revolves around one simple concept: The player must be as close as possible to an enemy when it is destroyed for the maximum bonus. It's a simple concept to grasp and in practice Treasure found a number of inventive ways to make it work. This can be a bit tricky however as the graphics are fully-3D and thus it's a bit difficult at times to tell whether the ship is close enough to an enemy without taking damage. Each of the seven stages creates a variety of situations for the player to discover new ways of maximizing their score.

That's about it really. The biggest problem with this shooter is that there isn't really anything else to it aside from the scoring system. The level structure is all over the place with some stages being little more than a couple fights and a boss, or just a very long boss-fight. The entirety of The Lost Planet seems more interested with creating situations that use the scoring system rather than allowing them to come out naturally. Sure their are a number of weapons to play around with but it still comes off as a very methodical title and is ultimately incomplete and not entertaining.

This is why I consider Silpheed: TLP an experiment. It has a good idea but rather than building upon it simply shows off a bunch of ways that it can be used effectively. There's a complete lack of cohesion to the whole affair and while each encounter is structured well there's no flow that builds them up properly. The player is just sent from hot-spot to hot-spot and has to rely on the cinematics to tell the story rather than the game itself(if there was a game in here).

Another problem is that even the concept itself isn't enough to build a game around. 2D shooters have multiple methods to achieve a highscore and the player must use all of them effectively to master the game. Take Battle Garegga for example. The player can achieve better scores by collecting medals, destroying secret objects, taking apart bosses piece by piece rather than going directly for the core, and so on. On the other hand with Silpheed all that matters is being as close as possible to an enemy. When a developer is making a game that runs about 30 minutes or less in length the last thing they can afford is to have it come off as shallow.

While Silpheed: The Lost Planet isn't worth playing the concept itself is still pretty good and has seen better use in titles like Mushihime-sama Futari and Treasure's own Ikaruga. While the implementation has changed slightly the concept remains the same and when used properly it can enhance games. As far as this title is concerned however I wonder what would have become of it if Treasure chose not to adopt such a concept...

X360 look - Test Drive Unlimited

Today I'm looking at the open-world CARPG Test Drive Unlimited. What is a CARPG? It's my vain attempt at making up a clever phrase that doesn't work. Seriously though it's a racing game with RPG elements. My first experience with the sub-genre was Genki's Tokyo Xtreme Racer and I've been a bit of a fan ever since. While the mechanics and design of a traditional racer are there the pacing and method of progress is more along the lines of the typical RPG.

Since the developers couldn't be bothered with giving the game a storyline I had to make one up myself. The star of this game is PepsimanVsJoe. He's arrived at Oahu to solve the mysterious murder of his parents. This is accomplished by driving all around the island giving rides to top-models and their boyfriends, test driving expensive race-cars, and buying multiple dream homes. The problem with PepsimanVsJoe is that like most RPG heroes he has severe mental problems. Aside from amnesia he suffers from two different personalities. While one is trying to focus on the task at hand the other is obsessed with material gain and only cares for owning more cars, motorcycles, and clothes. While the island offers many opportunities for both sides of PepsimanVsJoe in the end he never figures out what happens to his parents and is soon lost to a world that never sees a drop of rain or even the moon.

Seriously though the player starts by selecting one of several characters to represent them. Upon arrival they're given a house, some spending money, and the freedom to go anywhere they please. Oahu is a very large island but thankfully exploration is a breeze thanks to a GPS system. Aside from giving step-by-step directions to every destination this system is also capable of transporting players to any previously visited spot on the map. Aside from dealerships to buy new cars one can expect to find other facilities like clubs to organize games with friends, restaurants for taking on multiplayer challenges, and a variety of clothing stores for playing dress-up.

The bulk of the game is in the various racing modes. As expected there are race and time trial challenges(beat the rivals or beat the clock). There are also speed challenges where the play has to pass numerous cameras at over a certain speed to attain a particular average. There are other missions to take on as well which can be lead to some very good money. All of the challenges are arranged quite well and though they can be repeated to gain money as well as beat the best times on the leaderboards, it's usually not necessary.

All of the challenges have particular modifiers. What this means is that some races might have traffic while others have a bar that decreases whenever the player drives off the road or hits an object(which leads to penalties). There can by any number of combinations to each challenge but for the most part this is a pretty easy game to complete. This is mainly due to the fact that while some skill is necessary if the player has the best car available and its fully upgraded they will most likely finish the race. Races with rival AI cars are exceptionally easy as they tend to slow down far too much at the turns. That said though there are still some rough ones towards the end and it can be frustrating to lose a 7 minute long trial because the player bumped into another car.

Usually the player-character in open-world games goes on to become a homicidal maniac but here in Unlimited they're limited to being just a jerk. While other motorists dot the landscape there is no penalty for crashing into them(outside of a race of course). Oh sure the cops will show up but in all my playing I've yet to get pulled over. I guess they couldn't care less that I smashed a pick-up truck because I ran a red-light while driving 200 mph. It's a good thing pedestrians didn't make it into this game cause I have a habit of driving on the sidewalk. This can be useful for avoiding traffic while maintaining speed on straightaways though.

I've heard some mixed impressions of the way cars handle in this game but for the most part it doesn't really bother me. Unlimited definitely has a more arcade-feel to it than sims like Forza but it's not to the point of something like Outrun or Ridge Racer. Since the player is likely to go through driving many different cars I guess it's best not to put too much effort into the way they handle. It's supposed to be a pick-up and play kind of game not one where the player has to fight just to stay on the road. Then again I'm not an expert on cars or even car racing games. I couldn't care less about concepts like the "feeling of weight" cars have and when it comes to setting things like suspension and gear ratios I just look up a guide. The pacing is also very relaxed even during challenges. I'm kind of disappointed cause in terms of music that means my Eurobeat goes to waste so instead I gotta listen to Jamiroquai or something similar.

Unlimited is what I would consider a great example of an open-world racer. Despite the numerous challenges available none of them take place on the same stretches of road and exploration feels rewarding as there are dealerships and other challenges not shown on the map. There's also a very intriguing multiplayer side to it as other players can be seen and interacted with. Course like seemingly all multiplayer games these days the chances of finding players can be pretty low. Still though it's a very impressive feature especially for a game that launched at only 39.99.

As an experience I can't recommend Test Drive Unlimited enough. It's a very easy game to just cruise around to and makes for something relaxing in-between sessions of my favorite 2D shooter. Also since in real life I doubt I'll ever buy a car nicer than a Ford Focus or even go more than 55 mph with no risks it's always handy to have a game that does both. As a game I'd still recommend it cause the way progress is handled is very well done and understanding the driving model can be very rewarding. I really wish there was a way to change my character from a man to a woman though...nevermind.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

To-Do List

I've decided to put every game I plan on looking at on this list. This is mostly just for reference and don't expect to see reviews of all of these games any time soon.

Viewtiful Joe
Devil May Cry 1
P.N. 03
The Red Star
Echo Night Beyond
Taito Legends 1 -April-
Taito Legends 2 -April-
Midway Arcade Treasures 2 -April-
Activision Anthology
Megaman: Network Transmission -March-
Megaman 1-9 + 10? -March-
Shadow of the Colossus
Sega Classics Collection -April-
Gradius V
Bladestorm: The Hundred Years War
Mushihime-sama Futari -April-
Ninja Gaiden 1-2 and most likely NG:Black as well
Castlevania 2, 3, Super, Rebirth, and Rondo of Blood when it finally hits US VC
Red Faction: Guerilla
Project Sylpheed
Namco Museum Virtual Arcade -April-
Fatal Frame 2
Raw Danger
Bionic Commando (360)
Fallout 2
Might & Magic 1-5
Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers
Dragon Quest 5
Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 + Expansions
Data East Arcade Classics -April-

I also have quite a few XBLA/XBLindie titles to get around to as well. There's also some other games though for those I don't think I currently have the means to play them(Take my Saturn for example, I'm missing cables, I don't have a Genesis or a Dreamcast yet I have several games between them as well).

Whoo I really gotta cut back

It's that time of the week again.

Bionic Commando - This is that new one that was developed by the now-defunct GRIN. No I'm not talking about the remake of the NES game. This is that new NEW one with the 3D Graphics and whatever whatever. Heard some good things and hey it was cheap.

Viking: The Battle of Asgard - Heck I dunno why I bought this myself. Maybe I'll have some fun with it at least.

Divine Divinity - Since I don't do drugs and very rarely drink that leaves action-rpgs as my one real addiction. I could always quit videogames but action-rpgs? Hmm doubtful. It's either this or installing Diablo 2 for the billionth time so hey might as well try something new.

Might & Magic 1-6 Collection - I like dungeon crawlers so this obviously got purchased.

I'm really going to have to do something about all these game purchases. I still want to make room for a Playstation 3 and Good Lord have you seen the scheduled releases for March? Sega's Yakuza 3, Tri-Ace's End of Eternity, and Square-Enix's Final Fantasy XIII all on the SAME DAY. Absolute madness I'm afraid to say.

Course knowing myself chances of buying all of these games at the time they come out is slim to none. Still though I gotta focus on getting my backlog looked at and possibly gotten rid of before I can even think of purchasing anymore games.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

X360 Look: Way of the Samurai 3

Acquire's latest has all the makings of what should be the best Samurai game out there but at the same time it has a number of glaring faults that bring down the total package. Regardless fans of the first two games will find little reason to skip out on this one.

Way of the Samurai 3 tells the tale of a small piece of land that is little more than a speed-bump on Nobunaga Oda's road to becoming ruler of Japan. That is of course until a Nameless Samurai survives a horrifying battle and decides to do something about it. Course like the prior games WoTS3 has many endings and solutions to the persistent problem and the player can find themselves aiding, defying, or even simply running away from Oda.

The biggest disappointment however is that you'll never actually meet Oda. In the game he's more of a force of nature that helps to move events along. More likely you'll find working against a man by the name of Shuzen Fujimori. He's a corrupt and ambitious person who just might prove to be a match for Oda if a Nameless Samurai were to come along and assist him. Fujimori isn't the only important person in this tale as there is also a disgraced Samurai, a princess in hiding, and a number of other characters who are instrumental to the future(s) of Japan.

Much like the other games progress revolves around traveling through a rather small game world viewing events and making decisions. While the world resets to square one everytime the player starts a new game all equipment & money is carried over as well as certain other things. For the most part however whatever decisions the player has made will not carry over to future games. Thankfully the average playthrough takes a couple hours at the most so no matter what happens there's never a serious investment of time lost.

Really though I've just described Way of the Samurai 1. Let's talk about what's new in this game. The biggest addition is the ability to take on jobs. These quests are very easy to complete as they consist almost entirely of "find this and kill or collect it". The problem is however is that there's no sense of progress for these missions. They are handed out seemingly at random and can repeat quite often. The most maddening aspect is that almost all of them just aren't any fun. Some play out more like "Hide & Go Seek" as important NPCs find new crevices to tuck themselves in. There are a few missions that focus on the fun stuff like killing but some(like pushing an old lady nearly 100 feet) are agonizing in their tedium.

Combat has also undergone a few changes. One of the newest features is the ability to perform an insta-kill attack after a successful parry. While this can only be performed on weaker enemies it can be chained into a special QTE system. After butchering one person with this attack nearby hostile NPCs will run up to the player in an attempt to break the chain. I'm not sure why they'd want to rush towards a Samurai destroying everyone in single strokes but eh videogame logic. This ability is very necessary as a lot of ending paths involve fighting through waves of foes and there are even a few jobs where the player must kill 100 enemies.

Weapon building is certainly quite a bit more fleshed out than in the first Way of the Samurai. While everyone still carries a weapon the player can also find or purchase weapon parts to put together their dream sword or spear. These weapons can then be strengthened by the blacksmith to create something truly awesome(I'm partial to the two swords I named Dodonpachi and ESP Ra De myself). The character customization is also a bit more robust as there are a ton of playable characters as well as accessories to outfit them with. The biggest problem I have with this though is that I'm not exactly fond of kimonos and sandals, which happen to be what most everyone in the game wears. I understand it's supposed to match the period but they still could've tried to mix it up a bit with some western-themed outfits from around the same time.

A lot of money is required in order to get the most out of this game and depending on the nature of the player this can either become extremely tedious or just flat-out broken. The biggest issue is that if you kill a shopkeeper after purchasing something from them they drop your money. Needless to say I gutted everyone I did business with because doing the jobs is such an incredible bore. Some people don't agree to playing this or any game in such a manner but with the open-ended nature of the game it really doesn't matter. After enough upgrades the player will become all but invincible so the only real goal afterwards is in unlocking everything.

This to me is where the game truly falls apart. There is such a thing as having too much content. A lot of the times when there's "hundreds of weapons, thousands of moves, infinite possibilities" that just means a lot of the same content only with very slight variances. Almost all of the endings are a page of text with a still image, and some can only be acquired by doing a ton of jobs. What this eventually comes down to is a loss of focus as I spend more time filling up charts, spending time at shops purchasing scrolls to mastering weapons(as opposed to actually using them), and generally doing things that would make more sense in an Accounting sim than a Samurai sim.

If there was more in the way of unique characters or creative encounters I'd have more of a reason to focus on the entertaining qualities of Samurai 3. There are a lot of people to fight with in the game but many go down with little trouble and certain moves are so devastating that they don't have much of a chance. There are some very interesting abilities like a moveset geared entirely towards fighting bare-handed but since one can not parry without a weapon it only becomes useful after reading enough match skill scrolls. With nearly a thousand moves to match it's easier to just buy them all rather than going up to an enemy and parrying a move potentially several times just to match it. By the time I finally master something it's such an exhaustive ordeal that I lose interest in actually using it.

The thing is though is that I'm at a bit of a loss when it comes to suggesting an alternate idea for a future Way of the Samurai game. It's pretty clear what direction the series is going in and even though I believe it lacks focus all the same it's not something that can be easily changed. Paring down the number of weapons and abilities might help a bit. Sure die-hard fans might cry foul but do we really need seventeen flavors of vertical slices and thirty swords designated by different colored pommels? Put some of that energy into creating fights that are more than either one-on-one duels or 100+ men battles. While I'm at it why not pursue more entertaining encounters? I'd be partial to Samurai vs Pirate battles myself.

Even ignoring all that at least fix the job system so that there's some semblance of progression to it and the jobs don't consist of finding randomly-placed objects or people. I can't believe that the exact same person is causing trouble in the exact same place two times in a row. There is really no excuse for such a badly designed system.

Still in the end this is pretty much the only thing still going if you need your Samurai fix. Despite my numerous issues it's still a decent enough game and while the combat can be very shallow there is some satisfaction in spilling the blood of others. Maybe I just spent too much time on this game and allowed myself to become jaded as a result.

VC Look: Final Fight 3

We're all familiar with the beatemup classic Final Fight. While not a good game on its own it had a lot of great qualities that found their way into truly great titles like Streets of Rage 2, Bare Knuckle 3, and obviously Capcom's future beatemups like Cadillacs & Dinosaurs and Battle Circuit. Strangely enough while Final Fight debuted as an arcade game all of its sequels(ignoring last-gen's Streetwise) were on the SNES only.

Metro City is once again in trouble. In fact things are so bad that a wannabe dictator is attempting to take power and even the cook of a local restaurant has gone rogue. It's a riot zone out there and only the mayor Mike Haggar, his Bushido-buddy Guy, and a couple of nobodies can make things right. What follows is the standard format that practically every arcade beatemup goes by. There are six stages with a boss at the end of each and filled with thugs. Unlike most beatemups however there are optional areas to find(basically hidden rooms with 1ups or other goodies) and even an alternate path with a couple different stages and a different boss.

Final Fight 3 has four playable characters though you can rightly assume that the ones I didn't name in the last paragraph are useless. The game employs a number of interesting features like special moves that are performed with controller motions(like any fighting game) but for these two other characters their moves just aren't any good. Couple this with a lack of good combos and crowd control moves and you have a serious lack of character balance. To compare Haggar has an extremely useful and safe spinning pile-driver while Guy has a fireball special that can be easily comboed for quick and easy damage. The other two guys rely on slow special moves that leave them open to damage and can miss easily.

While the genre has been no stranger to repetition and a general lack of variety Final Fight 3 turns that dial all the way to the right to create one of the most bland beatemups I've ever went through. The strategy for every foe in this game boils down to walking up to them and punching and/or throwing them. There's one guy that moves around a lot, a big guy that charges, and a woman that does backflips. As far as the regular fodder is concerned this is all of the variety in the game. The bosses aren't much better either as it seems like the easiest way to become a boss in Final Fight 3 is to have a weapon. Bosses are also distinctive by using a move that allows them some invincibility after being knocked down so the player simply can't stand on top of them and pummel them as they get up. Something as simple as jump-kick is out of reach for 90% of the enemies you'll face in this game. This is absolutely pathetic for a genre that's life-blood is in creating interesting encounters. As expected the level design is non-existent but I guess when the fights themselves wouldn't benefit from anything in the way of traps or other objects it doesn't matter.

This game is also lacking in terms of challenge. First off it seems that with no matter the difficulty setting I always start with five lives. 1ups also happen to be very frequent and the only real tough spot is the fifth boss due to a number of cheap attacks. I'm not even sure what the settings really affected aside from maybe making enemy health meters a bit longer. Adding some new enemies or even throwing in more of them in each level is probably a bit too much of a hassle. Even the game itself lacks the impact that most beatemups have(including Final Fight 1). There's no satisfaction from perform devastating attacks on a foe and everything feels weak and lifeless like people were clobbering each other with wiffle-bats instead of actual bats.

Really I can't think of anything nice to say about this game. It's really one of the saddest efforts Capcom has ever put forth and the only reason it has the title of "Best SNES beatemup" is due to the complete lack of competition. Really if you're looking for a respectable beatemup and have already played everything you're better off giving everything a second play cause this game is pathetic.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Yikes - Games I really shouldn't have bought

Every now and then I end up with a game that I simply can not hope to wrap my head around or they're in a state that's pretty much unplayable. To me even the worst game isn't a waste of money because there's still something I can learn from playing it. With these games however what else can I say aside from...oops?

Die By the Sword - I read a bit about this game way back and thought it sounded really interesting. It's an action game with a unique control system and customizable movesets. It also has features like the ability to hack limbs off of an enemy and watch them hop around helplessly(though the same can be done to you so you can do your best Black Knight impression). Unfortunately it's probably my lack of a dedicated 3D graphics card because this game is unplayable. Maybe I'll give it another go in a few years.

Redneck Rampage - I guess you had to be there to appreciate games like this. Basically it's your typical tale of hicks vs aliens and includes all of those wacky redneck stereotypes like pork reins, shootin' aliens instead of shooting, and some hillbilly tunes to jam out to. I gotta say though the highlight of the game so far is the soundtrack. Otherwise this game looks and runs quite terribly. I think I'm going to avoid 3D-card games for awhile.

Guilty Gear Overture - I try to stay open-minded but even I don't have the mind for this game. I couldn't care less that it isn't a 2D fighter but a Real-Time Action Stategy game just isn't for me. I can only guess that Arc Systems accomplished whatever it was they were trying to do here cause even after running through the glorified tutorial that is the story mode and trying a multiplayer match(which froze my 360..thanks) I'm almost as lost now as I was when I tried the demo of the JPN version a long time ago.

Divine Divinity - The best thing about this game is most definitely the soundtrack. One of the nice features of is that a number of the games available have downloadable soundtracks in mp3 format. As a pizza delivery guy I go through a lot of music so this is always welcome. The soundtrack to this game is beautiful and atmospheric, some of the pieces even remind me of the music to Blade Runner. This game on the other hand feels like a dated Diablo 1.5. It tries to capture the mood of the first game while employing the features of the sequel. Unfortunately I got hit with a crash-bug early on and I can't figure out how to get around it. Oh well it's probably not worth the time anyway, the first 10 hours I spent with the game haven't really blown me away.

Metro 2033 - Good game but I have absolutely no time for it. Life is short and I gotta prioritize so this game had to go.

Dragon Quest V - While the story is charming and the characters are endearing the game itself just wasn't enough to hold my interest. I guess I'm getting tired of the traditional JRPGs or maybe it's just the wrong time of the year for it. Whatever the case I wasted my time on this one and got maybe a 1/3 of the way through it. I'm sure others will love it however as it's a quality game.

Ultima Collection (I-VIII) - Like a lot of things this seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately I came to the realization that I'm getting older and one day my ability to play action-oriented games will have all but faded away with time. Maybe I'll come back to something like this when I'm seventy and can devote that kind of time to hundreds of hours of Ultima goodness. If that doesn't happen well..who cares?

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory - I heard this was an absolutely fantastic Stealth game. Problem is I continue to forget that I don't care for stealth games. On the bright side at least I was only out $4.

There'll be others in the future so feel free to keep an eye out.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Xbox 360 games

Here are all of the X360 games I've looked at thus far:


Two Worlds 2
Fallout 3 : Game of the Year edition
Mass Effect 2
Deadly Premonition
Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad
Ninja Gaiden 2
Magna Carta 2
Viking: Battle For Asgard
Tales of Vesperia
50 Cent: Blood on the Sand
Sacred 2
Test Drive Unlimited
Burnout Paradise
The Last Remnant
Ninja Blade
Tomb Raider: Underworld
Raiden IV
Raiden Fighters Aces
Condemned 2: Bloodshot
Way of the Samurai 3
Assassin's Creed 2
Bladestorm: The Hundred Years War
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Fallout: New Vegas
Resonance of Fate
Lost Planet 2
Resident Evil 5

Xbox Live Arcade

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2
Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
Pacman CE DX
Radiant Silvergun

Xbox360 Indie Games

Mamotte Knight

Warning! Doing some construction

I just got my computer(yay hurray) so first thing's first I have to do a number of updates to account for all of the new looks I've been doing. Please excuse the mess for the time being.

Right now the big plan for me is going to be Freeware February. Yep if Arcade Appreciation April and Genesis June didn't bug you enough now I'm gonna hit you off with nothing but looks at great free PC games. Then again the first game I decided to load up (Blue Wish Resurrection Plus) hit me with a BSOD during the first boss fight. Not sure what's up with that but I'd rather not kill my PC so quickly after buying it. I might do something different like finish up a number of games that have gone unlooked or maybe go through my GOG/Steam accounts for stuff to play.

It'll take me a little while to get everything up to speed though so eh whatever.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

X360 Look - Burnout Paradise

With a lot of videogame genres I'm more inclined to play them when they're "arcade-style". Racing games in particular are a huge one because personally I can't stand simulations like Gran Turismo and Forza. What it comes down to is if I can't have a car do slightly unrealistic things like powerslide the racing game just isn't worth the trouble. For example Sega's Daytona USA series is the only reason I even tolerate the existence of Nascar.

Unlike most arcade-based genres the arcade racing game is still alive and well. Unfortunately some signals must have gotten crossed cause when people think arcade racing games they think of titles like Motorstorm and Burnout. To me arcade racing has always been about dodging rival cars, weaving through complicated turns, and finding that perfect line through every track. I'm not sure how this translated into: smashing rivals off the road, doing insane stunts, and getting involved in highly detailed massive wrecks. Still they're fun games and admittedly I've grown to become quite a fan of the Burnout series.

In the past Burnout was fairly traditional in that each race took place on a different track. Some of the games used the Grand Prix style where players would run through a series of races trying to accumulate the most points(by placing 1st or close enough). Burnout 3 introduced the Takedown system which simply put gave the player the ability to cause their rivals to wreck. This feature would become a fixture of the series and while it has issues it does lend the game a bit more identity outside of "racing in traffic".

Paradise takes the basics of Burnout but tosses the individual tracks for a free-world where the player enters events at the various stoplights located throughout. Each race starts from said stoplight and ends at less than ten different locations. Aside from the road rage challenges that focus entirely on smashing rivals each race is simply about getting to the end in 1st, under a certain time, or even simply in one piece.

Despite the lights and constant presence of traffic Paradise feels a bit dead to me. I guess this is due to the fact that there is nobody driving in any of the cars. I know this was touched on quite a bit when the game first came out but it's still rather bizarre. Granted it is tough seeing somebody get caught in a mangled wreck of car and I doubt the technology was there to do it any sort of justice but it still couldn't hurt to have someone in the car in-between crashes(I noticed they did this with the motorcycles but it seems to be purely for aesthetics). More jarring is the lack of life outside the cars. Little things like a moving ferris wheel would have added so much to the atmosphere. Instead it feels like I've entered a ghost town where the power hasn't been cut.

Having working lights in this city is necessary because everything goes by so quickly the player will have to rely on certain indicators or else they will suffer constant horrible crashes. No matter the time of day approaching cars have their headlights on and every little shortcut, ramp, or otherwise is marked by bright colors and lights. Unfortunately this can really take away from the track design since the player will be more focused on following the lights than paying attention to the actual track. It doesn't help matters that like most cities Paradise isn't much fun to race in. The biggest problem is that the city is mostly just a bunch of crisscrossing straightaways with the more mountainous areas throwing in a few hairpins. Since most of the races start in the city and end on the outskirts the races become predictable as the player quickly understands what to expect. This is further compounded by the fact that roads aren't locked away while participating in a race. I myself tend to focus more on whether I'm going the right direction than the track itself. While icons pop up telling the player which street to turn onto next they can get delayed at times or pop up too soon. So the player is forced to either memorize the streets of a fictional city or by always keeping one eye on the mini-map. Neither option is well-handled and though races rarely see beyond two minutes in length it's still massively frustrating to take a wrong turn at the very end and be forced to restart.

The greatest failing of Paradise is that it doesn't even try to hide its repetition. While racing games are no stranger to repeating tracks(heck I've put an absurd number of hours into the pitiful amount of tracks in Daytona), Paradise feels that it's necessary to repeat everything. Progress is handled by a license system where after the player accomplishes a number of challenges they get a new license and the game gets more difficult. There's about 100 challenges to this game(barring expansions) but realistically one can expect to complete them about 150 or so times. This isn't even accounting for the simple fact that a lot of them are just filler. The Road Rage challenges are simply about running rivals off the road. Aside from a different part of the city there's nary a difference between all of them. This extends through all of the other challenges as well and simply becomes more of a grind than anything.

Furthermore while it takes only a few minutes to drive from one end of the city to the other it takes even less time to pick the next challenge out of a menu. I don't mind the free-roam nature for finding new challenges but there really should have been a menu for selecting previously discovered challenges instead of driving back and forth all the time. I couldn't even fathom playing this game without the retry option(to think this wasn't available when the game came out).

It might seem like I'm doing nothing but bashing Paradise here and well..yeah. I'm sorry but I'm drawing blank as to things that make this game worthwhile. There are quite a few selectable cars but when they're constantly looking like heaps of scrap they're not all that different from each other aside from stats and type. The only reason to even switch cars is to complete challenges anyway, making it feel more like working off a checklist instead of driving a car. The city is nice to look at but as I mentioned it's dead. As a bonus while there's a lot of exploration to do it seems the developer couldn't get enough of billboards to smash, jumps to find, or shortcuts to discover. While all of these are handy in the actual modes I tend to forget about them as everything whizzes past at 200 mph and I'm too focused on dodging lights or reading the mini-map to keep track of potentially useful shortcuts.

The word disappointment springs to mind when talking about this game but I think there's something else to it. I've noticed lately that with some franchises even if I think the latest sequel is disappointing I find myself unable to enjoy the prior games. Maybe it's some new feature or some particular ideas that keep me from going back, or maybe the past games have aged worse than I imagined. Whatever the case while I'd like to go back to something like Burnout Revenge or even Burnout 2 (before all this takedown craziness) I'm not even sure if I'll be able to enjoy the games anymore.

It's also possible that Paradise simply wasn't meant to be an open-world racer and either the nature of the system is flawed or Criterion failed at implementing it properly. There is a bit of truth to both sides I think and if the next game worked towards focusing on either aspect it would be a substantial improvement. If nothing else at least try to focus on the track design so it's not always about keeping tabs on a map and following color-coded lights.

To end on an unrelated note the soundtrack to Paradise is pretty terrible. Granted this is all personal preference and I'm sure somebody will have something to say about the soundtrack I came up with for Paradise which includes Prince, Smashing Pumpkins, Lady GaGa, and ABBA.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Deathsmiles is US-bound

The first big news of 2010 arrives thanks to Aksys games. Deathsmilies is one of the rare horizontal shooters Cave has released(next to Progear No Arashi and Deathsmiles 2). This is big news as this is the first Cave shooter released on US consoles.

Since I'm no good at regurgitating several day old news I may as well list my latest purchase:

Magna Carta 2 - Yeah I heard the first game wasn't so hot but hey apparently the sequel is better. Other than that I don't know much else about the game.

I also went to a few arcades and boy what a depressing sight they've become these days. I'll save it for another day maybe the second annual Arcade Appreciation April! Can't wait for that right?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gamecube Look - Evolution: Worlds

Here we have an RPG by the developer known as Sting. These guys have put together a number of games that rely on fairly standard genres(most commonly the RPG or SRPG) but offer so many creative twists that they turn out to be something quite unique and compelling. On the other hand I'm here to talk about Evolution: Worlds, a game with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

This game is a rogue-like which means random dungeons, random loot, not at all random encounters, and a typically high level of difficulty. Actually scratch that last part out because Evolution has little to no challenge. As the story goes a very young adventure(15 years old?) wants to solve the mystery of his missing father. Toss in the requisite mysterious girl(14 years old?), hottie bounty hunter(mid 20s, essentially making her an old lady), bitter rival(13? Oh and it's one of those tomboy types), and evil villains(30s and 40s) and you have yourself the storyline for what is actually two games in one. For those who don't spend all day on videogame messageboards Evolution: Worlds is composed of two Evolution games that were on the Dreamcast. How this was accomplished was by shortening the first game to what is essentially cliff-notes and putting much of the focus on the sequel. I'm really not sure how this was supposed to work out because in the six or so hours I played this game I found myself hopelessly lost in the narrative.

Like many other similar games in Evolution there is one big town, a series of regular dungeons, and a randomized dungeon that is for the most part optional. In-between dungeons the player furthers the story, buys junk, and recruits party members for the next trip. The dungeon is the main focus of the game and unfortunately it is deadly dull.

I'm not sure who the audience was for this game because while the story has enough jokes that keep it away from the kiddies the difficulty is probably best suited for toddlers. Encounters are the standard turn-based affair and while starting out can be rough before long the enemy is lucky to even damage the party. The game tries hard to make the battles entertaining by giving an MP system that gets replenished every round(thus meaning more special abilities) but when the enemies can't so much as dent the party it falls flat.

Yes one could make the game harder by getting less experience but that leaves out the matter of being able to buy/improve equipment. In fact I'm not even sure the game wants the player to avoid encounters because the dungeons are designed with narrow hallways and aggressive enemies, thus getting around becomes a chore. During dungeon exploration all three party members are visible and as long as the enemy touches one of them the battle will commence. This is a very bad idea obviously since that makes for a very large target.

The only real highlight of this game is the creepazoid general the party runs into. Early on he captures the mysterious girl and says something to the effect of "a flower is most beautiful just before it blooms". Actually I'm not so sure that this is a good quality, in fact that's actually really disgusting and probably the first time I've ever seen a pedophile in a videogame before. I guess the ESRB didn't catch that metaphor since the game carries an "E Rating" for comic mischief, mild language(I think I caught a "dammit" or two), and violence(about on the level of the average cartoon).

Otherwise the only thing this game has going for it is the main character uttering "I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!" everytime he takes damage. The delivery is absolutely perfect and he sounds more like a villain whose plans were just foiled than a young adventurer. Seriously though if you played Knights of the Knightmare, Yggdra Union, or any of Sting's other games and are looking for something else, don't bother with this at all. When the best things I can say about this game are either really disturbing or just completely awkward that's the most telling reason to stay very far away.

PS2 look: Tsukiyo Ni Saraba(10,000 Bullets)

While the PS2 has had no shortage of great action games I can't remember much in the way of great 3rd person shooters(aside from Resident Evil 4). These days it's one of those dime-a-dozen genres but I guess it's fair in a way since last generation it was action games that were all too prevalent. I'm not sure why I brought this up as 10k Bullets is not a great shooter but eh I guess I needed an intro.

The storyline is your average tale of Hitmen, crime lords, betrayal, and occassional wackiness. The star of the show is a man named Crow. He's in dire need of some charisma and possibly revenge against the man that killed his lady and ruined his life. He's joined up by Alice(the typical cutie), Dragon(the typical karate master), and Boris(the typical Russian badass who is also a woman). Through Crow's mastery of his dual pistols and the occassional assistance of his partners thousands of thugs and a few bosses are going to meet their untimely death.

This game is a very arcade-style of 3D shooter. As the player runs through linear environments they will be accosted by groups of bad guys that spawn out of nowhere or via the many doors placed throughout. Foes typically arrange themselves in formations where they can be easily taken down with style and to keep combos going. At the end of each stage the player is given points depending on how well they use their character, how fast they complete the stage, their remaining health, and so on. This is the kind of stuff one has grown to expect from the genre and with a talented developer like Taito everything is handled quite well.

As a hitman Crow is quite effective with his pistols. He can quickly lock-on to any near-by enemy or if the need arises a explosive barrel(which is always placed near a crowd of enemies). He also has the standard tools for evasion like a jump and a dodge which is necessary for all of the bullets flying around. Further rounding him out are special attacks that make him an even more effective killer. One of his most important tools is his critical shot. When locked onto an enemy the crosshair changes in shape every other second. By timing the shot properly this leads to a critical hit and usually kills an enemy instantly. This is also the only way to effectively take down the bosses.

The thing is though is that since everyone Crow faces is capable of using guns that means a lot of bullets are going to fly his way. Most of the time the only way to dodge them is through bullet-time. Activating this ability slows down everything to the point where bullets crawl at a snail's pace and bad guys stay in the air long enough to have entire clips shot into their fresh corpses. This tool is very necessary since otherwise the bullets fly so fast Crow will be dead in less than a minute.

The other playable characters have similar roles although Boris differs in that she's very slow and relies on a shadow-step to get around quickly. Dragon is oddly enough a melee-only fighter. His karater mastery makes up for it though and thanks to bullet-time he can handle entire groups of thugs with ease. These other characters aren't really a factor in the first playthrough since Crow ends up doing most of the work himself(thankfully in subsequent playthroughs everyone is playable from the outset).

While the level designs never really manage to get past long hallways or large rooms with bad guys in them there's usually enough of a variety in enemies to go around. Mobsters with guns are common-place but expect to see sword-wielding dudes, typical strong-men, rocket-launcher guys, and so on. Much of the diversity is found in the bosses as they cover the gamut of what one could expect from a shooter. There's the guitar case wielding Desperado, the Chinese woman who blocks bullets with a fan, some guy who dresses like a J-pop star and attacks with lightning, and a very annoying Crime Boss that is apparently near immortal because he recovers his life several times over the fight. These bosses showcase a lot of great attacks though they have the annoying tendency to get knocked down after taking so much damage. I guess this is to give the impression of each boss having multiple phases where they gain in power and use new attacks. Unfortunately more often than not this just tends to break up the pacing.

The biggest flaw with this game is on the technical side. Simply put the framerate is terrible. For a game that relies on bullet-time one can expect to play much of the game in slow-motion. This isn't too bad on its own but a number of stages rely heavily on particle effects(like a bar that has no shortage of bottles to break) and this kills the framerate(which tries to stay at 60 fps). Between the slow-motion and the horrid framerate the slowdown simply becomes agonising and can potentially induce headaches. Graphically it isn't much to look at anyway so maybe if there was a way to turn off certain filters or special effects it probably would have helped the framerate immensely.

The other big problem with this game is that today there's more than enough 3rd person shooters to go around. The only real quality that helps Tsukiyo separate itself from the pack is that it's Japanese-developed. It's pretty bog-standard otherwise and the frame-rate does it no favors. I guess if I had played this game when it came out it would have been something special due to the genre being relatively un-touched at the time but today there's not much I can say that makes it worthwhile. But hey if you're like me and have to play everything just go for it. It's really a harmless game and the music is pretty good, shame about the absolutely dreadful cutscenes though.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Oh and yes I did hear about that Xbox 360 "Game Room"

As big of an arcade fan as I am it's only natural that'd I be excited about the 360's upcoming "Game Room". Unfortunately the launch library isn't much to look at but apparently over a 1,000 games are expected to release over the next three years. Hopefully any or all of these companies throw some support at this service:

Sega - Admittedly I'm not sure how this'll work out since they seem pretty keen on porting arcade titles to XBLA but I figure with this service they'll consider throwing in stuff like Shadow Dancer, maybe some racing games, and hey maybe Golden Axe Revenge of Death Adder. Then again I'm not sure if they'd be willing to de-value the original Golden Axe XBLA since RoDA would be about $2 cheaper and about a hundred times better.

Capcom - Another obvious choice. Again these guys have a couple titles up on XBLA but I think with this service they'd be more willing to put out their shooters and action games. Toss in the few beatemups that aren't tied down by licenses(like Battle Circuit) and it could turn out very nicely.

Konami - Actually these fine folks have already announced a few titles for the service. However one can only hope they consider putting some of their good games out there. It doesn't help that like others they already have a number of titles on XBLA. I gotta say though it would be very nice to have Xexex or...Xexex on the service(It'd have to be the JPN version though cause the US one is pretty bad).

Irem - While their flagship shooter has already seen a port/remake in R-Type Dimensions there's always titles like R-Type Leo, GunForce, In the Hunt, and a few others.

Taito - This is an obvious choice. With Taito/Square Enix's tendency to release remakes/new games on XBLA and similar services I figure Game Room is the perfect place for all of their older arcade titles. Course on that same note it may be difficult to justify buying many of these titles when Taito Legends 1 & 2 can be had for less than $10 total.

Raizing/8ing - This is more wishful thinking on my part since there's hardly any reason for these guys to allow anything to be ported to the service. On the other hand since much of the porting work is handled by a particular team I don't see why anyone would turn down the easy money.

Midway - Are these guys even around anymore? Well if so there's a lot of stuff that could be ported(and yes this is accounting for their games on XBLA).

Cave - More wishful thinking here. Like I said though it's free money and having titles like Dodonpachi, ESP Ra De, and even Dangun Feveron floating around would give some incentive for shooter fans to consider importing their newer games. Then again if anything I believe Cave will go the XBLA route.

SNK/Playmore - Considering that a number of titles have already been put out on the Wii's Virtual Console I figure Game Room support is obvious. There's a big problem with this though as VC NeoGeo games are typically $9. Compare that to $3-5 and well I'm not sure how that'll work out.

Data East - While there is an upcoming compilation on the way it's rather empty(15 to 20 games?) and missing a number of key titles like Midnight Resistance. I expect they'll fill in the blanks somehow through a combination of Virtual Console and Game Room.

Namco/Bandai - These guys are never one to turn down easy money. I fully expect to see every arcade title possible getting a port.

Unfortunately the possibility of any or especially all of these companies doing Game Room support is slight at best. In fact considering many of the titles announced for launch consist of Atari 2600 and Intellivision games I figure that a large number of future releases are going to be in the same vein. Still though with over 1,000 games I figure at least a few great ones are going to make their way over.

Still playing Bayonetta.

After nearly 30 hours of play time I've got to say that Platinum Games/Sega have produced the hottest action game this gen. I still have a ways to go as there's a third difficulty setting I need to complete as well as assorted weapons & characters to unlock. For now at least I think I deserve a break and I'm going to focus on some of the other games I've picked up lately.

Speaking of I have two more additions to my rapidly growing library.

50 Cent: Blood on the Sand - I've heard a lot of great things about this game. Admittedly this comes as a great shock to me and I figured what the hey may as well give it a shot.

Bladestorm: The Hundred Years War - Going by the art-style and Koei's previous titles I was expecting another Dynasty Warriors game except I'd be playing as Joan of Arc or....Joan of Arc. Yes I pretty much forgot everything I ever learned about the Hundred Years war. Maybe playing this game will inspire me to do some reading like Dynasty Warriors got me to read Three Kingdoms. Where was I again? Oh yeah Bladestorm is a Tactical Action game. Winning battles is more about thinking on one's feet and properly applying tactics than pressing buttons and relying on reflexes to get by(though there's probably a bit of that as well..hence the word "Action" in the description). I managed to get a good deal on this game via ebay and it'll help me kill time until the next big game(which knowing me is either Data East Arcade Classics or Milestone's Illvelo...provided either of them actually release).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Picked up Bayonetta!

Yes indeed I've finally gotten this game and yeah it's really sweet. It's a bit easier than I expected considering most of my deaths have been due to the stupid QTE segments. I'm up to uhhh..chapter 10 I believe so I'm moving pretty quickly. Granted this isn't accounting for additional difficulties and all that other good stuff but hey I'll figure all that out when I get there. So far it's great stuff.

Also while I was at Gamestop I found P.N. 03 for....$3. Pretty swell eh? So with DMC1, VJ1, and PN03 I've covered all the bases and can focus on how these games have influenced each other and whatever whatever.

Course that's all going to wait until I can get my new PC up and running as well as play through all four games. At least I think things will be quiet up until the release of Mass Effect 2. Then again I'm not so sure if I'm going to get that game(the aspect I'm most looking forward to in ME2 is the soundtrack if you can believe it).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Wasted more money today...

I finally got around to purchasing a PC. Granted I'm not sure when it'll arrive and I haven't heard much of anything regarding its status but well yeah a PC. To celebrate I threw away more money on games.

Echo Night Beyond - From the makers of King's Field comes uh..well I have no idea what this is. I'm guessing it's an adventure game set on a spaceship and its more about messing around with ghosts than slaying beasts. It was 3.99 so at least I'm not out much if it doesn't turn out all that hot.

Castlevania: Rebirth - Dunno why but I've been on an "old-school" Castlevania kick. So far I'm finding this game to be very enjoyable.

Final Fight 3 - I heard a lot of great things about this beatemup so I took advantage of the fact that it was just released on the Virtual Console yesterday. At the moment I'm not really feeling it. I'll give it some more time but ehhh...yeah.

Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires - My highly sophisticated taste in videogames should prevent me from continuing to play games from the Warriors series. So much for that I suppose.

I'm also supposed to pick up Bayonetta today but I'm kind of conflicted as to whether I should beat Devil May Cry 1 and Viewtiful Joe first.