Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Game of the year Awards

Everyone else does these silly awards so I figure I better join in.

Best Soundtrack for the Worst Game - Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

The soundtrack is fantastic but it is wasted on a miserable pile of drek. I understand the game has fans and everything but it's most likely because of the great music that improves anything it accompanies.

Least-talked about Game of the Year - Protect Me Knight

This absolutely brilliant game is going almost entirely ignored and honestly it kind of bugs me. Well I'm done talking about it so whatever.

Favorite character - Francis York Morgan

The star of Deadly Premonition makes the game work via his quirky behavior and excellent characterization.

Worst story - Metroid: Other M

It'd be one thing if the storyline to this game was merely terrible. However what we have here is a story that completely destroys Samus Aran's credibility. This excellent article deserves a read.

Most pain-inducing game - Final Fantasy XIII

It hurts to play this game. Everything from the story to the characters just makes me wonder why I even bother with videogames.

Least-played Game of the Year - Dead Rising 2

Since the original Dead Rising is one of the best games I've ever played I figure a sequel that improves upon it in every way should be at least a GOTY contender. Problem is I've yet to beat the game, heck I've put less than ten hours into it so far. How depressing.

Honorable mention - Super Mario Galaxy 2

How else can I put this...oops?

Most over-played Game of the Year - Phantasy Star Portable 2

All that time I could have spent playing real GOTY-contenders was instead spent getting phatter loot and raising levels in this masterpiece by Sega. The new features and abilities are amazing additions and all but wow...who cares? I should be talking about Red Dead Redemption, Starcraft 2, or some other game I have no interest at all in.

Lifetime Achievement Award - Cavia

I love these guys. It's such a shame that they're no more.

Best game of 2010(or at least current best because I'm playing it right now and it's a lot of fun) - Just Cause 2

Oh man! This game is so much fun. I just love zipping around on a grappling hook and soaring away on a parachute to get out of danger. Plus there's like a constant stream of objects to blow up and rewards to collect and that's always cool.

Friday, December 24, 2010

AA Look - Konami's other games

Missing in Action
Sending a single Green Beret or two into the heart of Enemy Territory isn't enough. You gotta send that man out there with just a knife and he has to be the type where if an enemy so much as breathes on him he collapses and dies. The mission? To rescue five POWs. If this kind of bravery isn't worth a salute I'm not sure what is. Missing In Action is the follow-up to Rush'n Attack and it's all about rushing forward, stabbing everyone that gets close, and occasionally picking up some weapons to even the odds just a tad.

The mechanics are definitely one-sided in this game. If the player runs into an enemy the player dies, and even if the player steps on an enemy's skull the player dies. There's a certain appeal to it I guess as it forces the player to be extra cautious. It's difficult to be cautious considering the player is repeatedly assaulted by enemies from both sides. Oh well whatever it's still a fun game.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Whoa...I've been sick.

This is my latest excuse for the lack of updates lately. It's been a rough weekend and it takes me forever to get up to speed after getting hit with the flu.

Anyway I think I purchased a few games...uh huh here we go.

Just Cause 2 - This is a lot of fun.
Lara Croft & The Guardian of Light - Also really good.
Super Meat Boy - Would probably be great as well except I can't get it working on my PC. Oh well maybe when I get a new computer.

The plan for next year is...well I dunno exactly. I have quite the library to work with for awhile and my two major purchases for January and February are Littlebigplanet 2 and the Pink Sweets / Muchi Muchi Pork double-pack. I guess I'll just play it by ear and see where it goes. I'd also like to look into a little self-promotion...y' get my name out there so this blog can get more readers. I don't know the first thing about any of that stuff though so *sigh* oh well.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

AA Look - GunForce 2

These days it seems like everybody is trying to put the "hell freaking yeah!" in a videogame. Go on the Xboxlive Indies service and seemingly every day there's some game that promises explosions, stuff blowing up, and death. One day developers are going to figure out how to make games where the hero dual-wields an M-40 and a hot blonde. In the movie Predator, Dillon gets one of his arms chopped off by the dread-locked hunter so he has to reach for the big-ass gun strapped around his other arm. That's the kind of macho-action I'm just not seeing games. At the rate videogame technology advances the way it should be is even if the main character is little more than a head covered in scars he's going to be oozing so much testosterone that he'll be pulling the trigger with his tongue and suplexing aliens with his eyebrows.

Yeah it all sounds ridiculous but that's the point. Sometimes the manliest games are the ones that are able to poke fun at themselves. Japan has always been a bit ahead of the curve in this regard because after all they created Contra. You can't really question the masculinity of Rambo and Dutch teaming up to take on an entire alien armada by themselves. Gun Force 2 (or Geo Storm) is a game in a similar vein. The big difference here is that the two main characters carry guns in each hand. At first I thought it was a fair fight but it's clear that the mutant cyborg aliens have no chance at all.

The story goes something like this: There's a big hole where a city used to be. I think that's really all that needs to be said. It's like punching somebody back because they gave you a black eye. No wait it's more like punching that person so hard that their head explodes. Gun Force 2 is all about taking it to absurdity. Both of the main characters will shoot in every direction, put bullet-holes into every possible object, and rescue nothing but hotties in skimpy clothes. They also collect medals and are then rewarded at the end of each stage for their effectiveness at getting riches and slaying baddies.

The first stage starts of with the good guys hopping on the back of a train from their armored truck. The truck basically explodes for no reason and makes one of those ridiculous effects where the explosion goes all over the entire screen. The truck doesn't explode from crashing into the train, no it explodes when the main character lands on the train. It's like getting out of bed with such intensity that the bed disintegrates. This more than anything sets up exactly what you're getting into when you start this game. Since real men(and women) don't get shot at all the heroes of Gunforce 2 die in a single hit. Sure it's rough but hey that's what run & guns are all about.

The entire game goes along this same course. It's like the guys at Irem went stir-crazy and just started cramming in anything explosive they could imagine. Somehow though they let the odd gag slip by like the beginning of stage 2 starts with a fence being climbed over instead of being blown up like it was a fence made out of combustible barrels. Half the time I'm not even sure why everything is being obliterated but it's all fun stuff and my brain is free to leave town for the next 30 minutes.

Most anyone could enjoy this game even if they ran face-first into every bullet. It may not be the best way to play any game but for some that sort of thing doesn't even matter. Still it's easier than similar games in the genre and those games don't seem to throw in heaping bundles of kaboom every few seconds. Though the pacing never really seems to move past "kill a bunch of stuff, move forward, then kill a bunch of stuff" it always feels different somehow, like the enemies are new, maybe there are vehicles involved, and so on. Fans of high-scores will have to keep an eye out for hidden hostages but other than there is little if any complexity to this game. Furthermore this seems to be one of those games that could probably loop forever if the player is really serious about their score.

Really I have nothing else to say about this game. Check it out, blow stuff up until you're bored, and maybe give it a serious play by trying to stay alive the next time around. It's about as deep as the average Metal Slug and it certainly won't require you to understand calculus like some shooters but eh who cares? Maybe all you really want is to see everything blown to pieces.

Game rating - 3.5 out of 5
My rating - 4 out of 5

AA look - Detana!! Twinbee

One of Konami's popular 2D shooter franchises was the Twinbee series. They're charming games that focus on bright colors and smiles while providing that hot shooting action we all crave in the genre. This particular entry won an award for best shooting game in the Japanese magazine Gamest. Yeah it's totally impressive stuff, even though Metal Black was robbed. Can you believe that? A ground-breaking and intelligent shooter that is an artistic achievement and one of the most brilliant games the genre has ever seen, and it was beaten by some happy-go-lucky kids and their bell-collecting adventure.

I...I...I don't think I can continue this review right now. I'm clenching my teeth so hard the enamel is starting to peel off. I bet even Sonic the Hedgehog won an award over Metal Black. At least Metal Black didn't defile whatever legacy it had by having a sequel called Metal Black 2006. That would be a wonderful sequel. It could feature a Black Fly, a Silver Fly, and a Blue Fly. The Silver Fly could have telekinetic powers and the entire game would be an unplayable mess.

Anyway Detana Twinbee...oh...Detana!! Twinbee (sheesh) is also known as Bells and Whistles over on this side of the pond. The plot involves rescuing a queen from an alien invasion and that's about it. The hero Light pilots the Twinbee while the heroine Pastel controls the Winbee. There's also a Gwinbee who helps out provided a power-up is snagged. This is also one of those shooters where it's probably best to play with a friend since through the power of friendship players can stick together and gain more attack power. There's also a charged shot for crowd-clearing and the ability to hit the ground targets with bombs. This aspect is similar to Xevious though there's auto-targeting which makes it more convenient.

The most unique quality of this game revolves around the bells. Fans of Parodius understand the importance of these bells as they bestow goodies depending on their color. In this game the goodies include power-ups like improved weapons, shields, and points. There's a medal...uh...bell-chaining system in place where the point-gifting golden bells can be continually collected for up to 10,000 a pop. This is obviously something to look out for as any lost bell drops the value back down to 500 and that isn't any good. The bells fall from clouds and will disappear off-screen unless they are juggled by the player's fire. This also causes the bells to cycle through their various colors.

With a system like this death can become extra punishing as it requires recovering all of these different power-ups while at the same time doing the best one can with a lousy pea-shooter. There's seemingly no rhyme or reason as to what the colors of bells will be so like a lot of early Konami shooters the solution is to simply not die at all. At least this game isn't particularly hard outside of some trouble-spots and even then the patterns are pretty obvious so on the next go 'round players should have a handle on it.

For a game where the enemy-designs are both cute and nonsensical I was pretty well thrown off when the final boss turned out to be some freaky alien-brain. This guy is pretty dang sick but he dies very quickly. Unfortunately his appearance sets the pace for the rest of the game. Detana!! Twinbee is one of those second-loop kind of shooters and Konami decided not to mess around at all. There are double the enemy aircraft, double the enemy fire-power, and heck they even release more bullets when you kill them. Veterans of this game probably get pretty bored when they have to spend nearly half an hour of playing to get to the real challenge. This also serves to further embarrass me as currently I've yet to see past stage 3. The second boss with his spinning oars keeps nailing me. The really sad part is I know that if I can get past him and hold onto my cool weapons I could sail through the next few stages with no trouble.

Despite it all it's very easy to see why this Detana!! Twinbee is an award-winner. This game is very approachable for all fans of the shooter genre and the scoring system is absolutely awesome. There's enough of a challenge in the first loop to keep anyone occupied for days as the combination of air & ground targets as well as the bell managing strikes a perfect balance and is very rewarding. I really like the music and to a lesser extent the art. I guess the only thing that really bothers me is that I have no idea what the regular enemies are supposed to be half the time. They're like some strange combination of evil food and vague threatening-shapes. Oh and I'm still slightly bitter about the raw deal Metal Black got.

Note - I went with the X360 Game Room version of this game. While it doesn't support TATE the video options are still decent enough plus there are other features like replay saving, dynamic leaderboards (like Geometry Wars 2), and even an instant-rewind so I can figure out why I died and how I could have avoided it. It's really not bad at all for $3.

Game Rating - 4 out of 5 stars
My Rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

AA Look - X-men

Today marks the release of Konami's arcade classic X-men on the PSN service. Tomorrow X360 fans will get their chance to team up with friends to take on Magneto and his Minions. Over the course of nearly twenty years gamers have developed an opinion about the game. What made this game remarkable is usually attributed to nostalgia these days. I'd wax poetic about the glory days of blowing my school lunch money on games such as these but I know nobody wants to read about it. As it stands X-men is an important release because while flawed and a bit dated it is still a remarkable game and its release gives us hope that future titles such as Aliens Vs Predator will see a competent re-release.

First off let's talk the PSN/XBLA release. It was handled by Backbone and certainly shows. The new art is pretty tacky (which says a lot considering the X-men's look at the time) and while a smoothing option is nice there's not enough in the way of good video options. The real kicker is that the online-play suffers from input lag. Sure players that host won't notice but unless the ping is below expect 50 expect to notice a slight delay with every move. This will put off the more serious players who actually put forth the effort to use less continues and not just button-mash everything. At least the PSN version offers six-player local coop. The trophies are very easy aside from one requiring a completion time of under 25 minutes and I have no idea why scoreboards are included because X-men is probably the easiest arcade game to exploit for points.

Anyway let's talk the game itself. X-men arcade is seven stages of action where the six heroes punch and claw their way through legions of Sentinels and face off with a handful of different villains. On the surface it's pretty standard fare with its large number of enemies and an emphasis on moving around and positioning oneself correctly to take them out. Each of the six characters have mostly the same attacks though they can have slight differences in range, power, angle (for jumping attacks), and so on. Each of the X-men also have their own unique power that is better for particular situations. These cost mutant power orbs and they can be collected by defeating pink-armored sentinels. By the way power-ups are exclusive to the Japanese version of X-men which is included with this release, personally I'd never play the US/World version. With the JP version there are more opportunities to restore health and mutant power, which helps in the pacing of the game and adds to the fun.

Where X-men really works is in the multiplayer. Sure beatemups are always better with a friend but with X-men it becomes something more. There's a certain organization to everything and usually the best players pick their roles and carry them out effectively. Sometimes it's all about protecting a certain side of the screen or being the main force behind attacking a boss, with the rest of the team providing back-up. Furthermore thrown enemies can actually damage other players so disorganized players have plenty of opportunities to beat themselves up. This is not something anyone will see in 99% of the X-men games played online but it's rather brilliant if everything comes together. Beating the game without continues is still a distant dream for the most part but smart and efficient players can get through quite a bit of the game with minimal losses. However without that kind of team-work it just becomes messy as players chew through their mutant powers and waste all of their energy doing very little damage.

Those who go solo will miss out on this particular dynamic but the game is still solidly put together. The bosses could stand to be a bit more creative with their arsenal and there are quite a few cheap hits but in the end it's about as decent as anything Konami has put out in the early 90s. Still if you're waiting for that really great beatemup you may as well keep waiting. There's enough of a challenge to this game but some may prefer a bit more style and finesse. Still if you decide to pick it up give it a serious effort and work towards becoming good at the game. It's a more fun and rewarding way to play, even for a port like this one that relies so heavily on nostalgia to get sales.

Game Rating - 3 out of 5
My Rating - 4 out of 5
Port Rating - 2 out of 5 (Online-play needs work. In fact if online-play is the reason you want this port you may want to skip it unless local is an option)

Monday, December 13, 2010

AA Look - Blade Master

Blade Master is one of those arcade games where you actually have to complete it before it tells you the story. A fair maiden who also happens to have the powers to seal/release a King of Darkness was captured by an Evil Army to do their bidding. The heroes Roy and Arnold must save the day by fighting through these Phantom Soldiers. Roy and Arnold? From the looks of this game it takes place in ancient realm completely unlike anything in this world, so why the generic names? Arnold is a big dude so I figure he takes after Arnold Schwarzenegger. Roy is a smaller guy so he must be uh...Roy Scheider? Look just forget I said anything.

This game belongs to the hack & slash genre. It uses the conventional setup of a beatemup with its belt-scroll style of level-design and masses of foes and bosses to put down. Where the genre differentiates is in its usage of weapons and different style of mechanics to create something similar but quite unique. The Blade Masters specialize in close-quarters fighting and though the player is free to swing wildly at anything that approaches there is a level of depth to this game that makes it interesting. When a player's attack collides with an enemy's their weapons will meet in a clash. From here the the player can stab at the enemy they blocked for good damage, attack an enemy approaching from behind, or even devastate the stunned enemy with a jumping attack. It's a neat system since it promotes an aggressive style not seen in the genre, which is more about maneuvering so that the enemies are properly "herded" for easier disposal.

The really useful aspect of this technique is that it works on bosses, making them something more than just a very large target with a lot of hit-points. However this can also make bosses too easy since a large number of them can't so much as get a hit in when the player can safely deflect their blows. So to keep things challenging Blade Master plays the numbers game. That is the player will be frequently outnumbered in each encounter. A friend can and probably should join in to even the odds as towards the end everyone attacks in pairs, even the final boss. Still this can be an extra layer of challenge for those going in solo and if they can manage to defeat the final bosses with little trouble that's a very respectable achievement.

The most unfortunate aspect to this game is that it gets repetitive. Yes I know this is the kind of complaint that gets thrown at the genre as a whole but with Blade Master it has more to do with the level-design and bosses. This game doesn't wear itself down with ridiculously long stages but there's usually not enough to differentiate stage 6 from stage 1 or 2. This has less to do with the enemies and more with the stage layouts, which do little in the way of traps or other factors that keep things moving. There's the occasional pit and even a section with what looks to be a staircase but it's not enough. The bosses also repeat and just because there are more of them doesn't quite excuse the fact that they're the same guys with the same attacks. Still the game moves very quickly so this complaint never really occurred to me until after I completed the game.

In the end the appeal of Blade Master depends on the player's affinity for the genre. It's easy to write this and similar games off as shallow button-mashers that exist solely to eat quarters and even fans of similar games like TMNT: the arcade game and Capcom's King of Dragons might just ignore this one anyway because it's too obscure. Personally I find it to be a solid title deserving of recognition as it captures all of the aspects that make the genre fun while adding a bit of technique to keep things fresh. Definitely give this a look if you have the time.

Game Rating - 3.5 out of 5
My Rating - 3.5 out of 5

Sunday, December 12, 2010

AA Look - Undercover Cops

In the year 2000-something criminals think they can just do whatever they want in a post-apocalyptic world. Obviously that sort of thing can't fly in the face of justice and a trio of Undercover Cops are brought in to restore order. There's the karate-dude Zan, the football-player Matt, and the hot blonde Rosa who for whatever reason does a flying butt attack in lieu of a jump-kick.

This traditional cast of vengeance-seeking heroes has to face off with a rather untraditional cast of freaks, villains, and some things that are just plain sick. It's all good though because rarely has it been so satisfying to clobber the ugly out of these jerks. Each of the three characters has a handful of combos, grabs, and even some super-special health-draining attacks to get things done. Furthermore instead of swinging around some lame bats or pipes the heroes swing girders, stone pillars, and even toss some cars and motorcycles around.

There is not much in the way of fancy tricks and while a finesse rating rewards players who perform lots of moves there's nothing in the way of unique combos. To keep things fresh over the course of the game a number of different themes are introduced over the course of each stage. Things such as pitfalls and unique enemy types keep stages moving but at the same time their inclusion can also throw off the player. Without a real strategy or knowledge of how to defeat certain enemies the player can get stuck on encounters as their attacks are knocked away and they chew through lives just to get a hit in. When it comes to design beatemups tend to favor either aggressive or defensive tactics.

I'd like to say Undercover Cops is for the aggressive but the enemy tends to get priority on most attacks due to longer reach and number-advantage. Grabs are probably the most useful technique as they can be used on nearly anyone but getting close requires an understanding of what an enemy will do in a given situation. It becomes frustrating as enemies will go into an attack depending on their location and without a dodge-roll or block, the player either has to stop the attack before it happens or have predicted it to the point where they're safely out of the way. To some extent defeating enemies may require a bit of baiting so that they perform these attacks that'll give the player room to breathe.

Though the game has only five bosses the difficulty curve is very sharp. The first boss is absolutely pathetic but the final boss is practically impossible. Everyone in-between may be susceptible to grabs but they can also slap a good 1/3 of the player's life away in one hit over the slightest mistake. It's a bit of a raw deal as the bosses are easily the least fun part of the game. It's also the kind of game that favors playing along with friends. Scores may suffer but at least sanity won't have to.

Still this is a beatemup you want to play. When everything comes together this game stands up to some of the best in the genre and overcoming the different style of play is rewarding in itself as it isn't too hard to go long-stretches without a death as the enemies pile up. This game is especially fond of its high enemy counts and any time a fist makes contact with more than one person in a single punch is a thrill that hasn't gotten old for close to thirty years. Undercover Cops delivers in its own way with a unique style and a level of brutality that isn't seen enough in the genre.

Game rating - 4 out of 5 stars
My rating - 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, December 11, 2010

AA Look - Irem's other games

Battle Chopper Mr. Heli - Even Irem's "cute-em-ups" are a kick in the nards. "The Muddy" is out to take over and or destroy an earth-like planet and it is up to some cutesy copter to stop him. The goal of this game is to collect crystals, buy power-ups, and blaze a trail through seven levels. This is a bit of an interesting twist on the standard side-scrolling as some sections allow the player freedom to move forward and at other times scrolling is forced like any other shooter.

The main problem I have with this game is the challenge level is a bit on the rough side. I expect a challenge sure but Mr. Heli's doesn't seem quite right. Frequently enemies will fire without so much as a warning and health is drained far too quickly. Furthermore it hurts especially bad when I die because not only do I lose all my weapons I also lose all my money so I can't buy new ones when they become available.

As for the rest of the game. Well I'm not sure what to think. It's a neat twist and all but things like being unable to drop bombs unless sitting on the ground is very frustrating(enemies love to come from below) and way too much time is spent digging in the ground for money. On the other hand maybe I'm not playing the right version of the game. One of the most frustrating aspects of arcade games involves region-differences. I mentioned this way back when I reviewed XEXEX by Konami. While the Japanese version is a great game but the US release is unplayable. I doubt it's quite the same situation with this game but all it takes is a few slight changes to make something either far more enjoyable or not fun at all.

Cosmic Cop - The original name for this game is something to the effect of Armored Police Unit Gallop. What we have here is a combination of the methodical style of R-Type with the fast-pacing and nards-out style of...well..whatever the opposite of R-Type is called. It's a jarring combination to say the least.

The concept is interesting since depending on where the ship is on-screen the level moves by slower or faster. Speed is imperative to a high-score and the level-designs are good enough for that sort of play. The weapons are similar in that there's a high-powered forward cannon and a weaker but area-clearing laser available at all times. Power-ups are available as well but they can be lost if the player bumps into walls.

As the game progresses however the memorization aspect starts to become more pronounced and while the ship's hitbox is smaller than the ship itself it's little comfort when the ship itself is freaking huge. There are those that can get around this and clear the game with little trouble but uh...I dunno, I just can't get into it at all.

Dragon Breed - Oh joy another checkpoint-based shooter by Irem. Imagine how different everything videogames would be without the checkpoint? Just think next time you die in some FPS you don't end up redoing the entire section as you'll respawn instantly. This is how I feel a lot of the time when I play games such as these. Yes I'm well aware that dying showcases my lack of skills and I haven't memorized the level enough but come on. I'll do better next time so just let me move forward!

With that rant over with let's look at the game itself. You're a wimpy little dude with a crossbow who gets to ride on a large invincible dragon. It's a pretty sweet deal until you realize that draggy can be effective at nullifying bullets he only offers to join in the killing with power-ups. A simple fireball would have sufficed because the hero's pea-shooter is sad, sad, SAD. At certain points the hero is free to jump down from the dragon to battle on-foot. I'm not sure why this is included but the hero gets a pretty sweet three-way shot when on the ground and that's just not fair. Also when the dragon gets the yellow power-up it can wrap itself around the hero and do a different attack occasionally. This is really useful but apparently it only works with the yellow weapon, thanks a lot.

The checkpoints are also badly done. I die at the boss so obviously my weakness is the boss. Logically the checkpoint kicks me back to about the last 1/3 of the stage. While I guess I'm supposed to be grateful to get the chance to grab some power-ups these checkpoints feel like they were added after the game was completed. A better idea would have been to throw out some power-ups just before the boss and have the checkpoint sitting there too but man that's just too generous. Irem may as well give out unlimited lives while they're at it.

Dragon Breed was also unique in that it had a sit-down cabinet. Maybe I'm just imagining things again but it was pretty neat and the sound-system was loud. Every time the player died the noise would blow out one's eardrums. It was pretty awesome.

Friday, December 10, 2010

AA Look - Air Duel

In the year 2004 a mad mother computer known as "Enemy Chief" gained control of an army vast enough to destroy the world. It was in these dark times that two heroes arrived to save the day. Though their rickety ships were frail and their limited arsenal was pathetic they had courage and skill which is more than enough to cover for any weakness. This is just one of many entries Irem has made in the 2D shooter genre.

Every 2D shooter needs a hook or a gimmick to draw the player in. It could be anything from the concept to some unique power-up and sometimes it doesn't have to mean anything at all. It was a sign of the times back then since arcades were filled with so many similar games all looking to attract quarters from somebody. Air Duel allows the player to use a regular ship that fires peas in a straightforward fashion or a helicopter that can turn slightly to fire peas at an angle. That's the extent of it really. Sometimes one ship is more effective than the other and at other times more power in the firepower is better than more firepower. It's an interesting relationship and the player can swap vehicles at the beginning of each stage if they feel the need.

Yes these peas are not of the literal sense but that's probably because actual peas would be more effective. All that pea juice could seep into the engines of enemy aircraft and cause them to explode. Instead I am referring to the "pea-shooter" trope. These days everyone plays those crazy games by Cave where the default weapon is hyper-mega-beam so the pea-shooter has long been forgotten. Air Duel makes the pea-shooter into something of an artform by essentially making it the only weapon the player can rely on. Sure there are bombs and while they're great for damage and clearing enemy-fire they're also limited. Fact of the matter is in order to survive Air Duel the player has to deal with their firepower having pitiful range. As a bonus a single-death will send the player's weapon levels back to 0 which just makes everything harder.

Some of us got out of the old-school for a reason and Air Duel is a clear example. It's the kind of rough & nasty game where the insurmountable odds just aren't enough and an extra layer of pain is necessary to get the maximum effect. There's no fancy tricks that'll summon fairies who hand out gold coins and bullets travel at a speed that actually makes sense. You play a shooter like this because you're tired of fighting huge battleships that for whatever reason were built to do nothing but fire thousands of pink bullets that don't go anywhere. You're also probably sick of little girls yelling "POWAH UPPOOO" and that's completely understandable. Sometimes I like to play a game where I don't start yelling "NO! My medal-chain!" and the screen doesn't look like Willy Wonka threw up on it. Air Duel is basic, bland, and would probably win an award so nondescript nobody has any idea what it's for. But y'know that can be pretty alright sometimes.

Game Rating - 3 out of 5 stars
My Rating - 2.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Irem Arcade Hits is out and about

I guess I should get out more seeing as how a compilation of Irem Arcade games flew right under my nose.

Irem Arcade Hits is a pack of 18 great to terrible games for the PC. Yes I know I say arcade and PC and everyone says "well I'll just stick with MAME then" in response. Still while the set has some kinks that need working out it's a pretty swell deal for $10 and some patches are in the works. I figure I'll give it a go and post some impressions in the near future. At least this is a serviceable explanation as to why there's been a whole lot of nothing about Irem re-releasing their library of classics.

Read more about the compilation over here.

A shmups forum thread where somebody has already purchased it and posted their impressions.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

PS3 Look - inFAMOUS

In the world of game balance you have to make sacrifices in order to keep the game playable. Sometimes you go in with all these ideas about enemies, level-designs, and powers but when it's all over you're left with a small fraction of what you started with. Sometimes you just have to let it go and move on and other times you feel you have to make up for this drop in content in other ways. Say you wanted to make a planet with mountains, deserts, forests, and oceans. When the cuts(time, budget, etc) come around you lose the forests and the oceans. So in response you make two planets, one with mountains and one with deserts. This is what it feels like to me when I play Infamous, a content-light game that goes for just too long.

What you've just read is for the most part an assumption. I did not complete Infamous and I have no intention of doing so. I'm just one of those guys who didn't follow the development process of this game and merely bought it at a whim for $10 because I liked the demo. Furthermore since this review has already started on a negative note you may as well stop reading as what follows is a bunch of fluff and then finally a low score.

The story involves a man named Cole surviving some horrific attack and gaining super-powers as a result. There's a bunch of stuff involving a corrupt-government and a lot of nonsense about karma and doing what's right or wrong but really it all works out to be rather dull. The whole karma aspect really bugs me because in this game it's the most black and white decision imaginable half the time. In the first instance Cole is given the choice between allowing starving people to eat or killing starving people so he can eat. It probably would have made at least some kind of sense if in the game the player had to eat to stay alive. Therefore the only reason to even choose one way or the other is for the power-ups available. Good guys have access to slightly different abilities than bad guys.

Given the choice I should have went with being a bad guy because doing good is more of a nuisance than anything. The cities this game takes place in are about as bad off as one can imagine. Just to give an idea there's no food, apparently the water makes everyone sick, thousands of people are just lying on the street dead or dying, and there are gangs everywhere shooting helpless civilians indiscriminately. Cole isn't really affected by all that because as long as there's electricity he can just fly around, zap people, and just ignore the plight of the city until he gets bored. If anything Cole's dealings with the people really have no effect on himself. He just does bad because he wants to be a jerk. Karma is meaningless so what it all comes down to is whether the game should reward or punish me when my errant bolt of electricity blows up an old lady. Oh sure further down the line Cole's friends may dump him and the city will be even worse off but how would I know or care when I didn't bother to finish the game?

The reason why I didn't beat this game is simple. I saw what was coming for once. Way back when I reviewed Viking: Battle for Asgard on the 360 I noted that it was essentially the same thing a few times over. I arrive at a new country, complete a bunch of tasks and upgrading my powers as I see fit, take back territory from the enemy, and then engage in a climatic battle with the enemy army to restore peace. If I had played infamous first I likely would have beaten it and not finished Viking. The problem with Infamous is that they made it far too obvious so I knew exactly what was coming so I got out and saved myself a lot of time. I completed the first third of the game which involved much of the same stuff as I retook a bunch of territory, did some repetitive missions, and had a completely mediocre boss-battle to cap things off. Both games even share a similar overworld structure in that the player will be overwhelmed if they attempt to go deep into enemy territory. The areas that Cole shouldn't access yet have no power so he is weakened severely while the enemy territories in Viking are heavily patrolled and far out-number the player.

Infamous can be considered a well-made game as the powers are developed properly and enemy encounters have a solid and functional design to them but it's all so stiff and boring. There's never enough in terms of chaotic action and at the same time not enough reason for me to go back in case I feel like I gypped myself for quitting. Just as soon as I arrived on the second part of the game I felt like I was back at square one, like I was replaying the entire game but at a slightly higher difficulty and with most of my powers unlocked. The same could be said about Viking but that got a pass because it was my first-time dealing with such a setup in terms of game progression.

When my best comparison is a C-level game nobody remembers there's really no reason at all for me to continue going on about this game. It's a fine piece of software that won't throw garbage in your face but at the same time it keeps itself just a bit too clean and too structured to be any fun. All I can say is better luck with the sequel.

Game rating - 2.5 out of 5

My rating - 1 out of 5

Monday, December 6, 2010

360 Look - Prototype

Every now and then we gotta have a game where we can just let loose with tons of ridiculous powers and kill friend and foe alike until we turn blue and fall down a flight of stairs. For those of us whose only real concern is how many people we can gib in a single attack there's Prototype. From at least one of the guys behind Hulk: Ultimate Destruction comes an adrenaline-soaked Super Anti-hero story about some guy who gets a couple hundred super-powers and decides to kill until New York floats away in a river of blood.

I'm the kind of guy who can appreciate Michael Bay movies so Prototype's brainless plot is right up my alley. Alex Mercer is a man on the run who discovers that he has incredible powers. Without the incredible responsibility to balance things out however he's no better than Elizabeth Greene. This woman suffered the most horrible haircut ever and in response she plans to infect an entire city with some virus that mutates everyone in hulking beasts. The government does what they do best and sends the Marines to solve this mess. The solution shared by all three parties is to kill until one stands alone. This isn't the entire story as some room has to be left for the twists and turns that are commonplace but for the most part players never have to worry about thinking.

Mercer's said incredible powers read like the sort of things I would have come up with back in elementary school. Aside from insane speed, strength, and agility, Mercer is considered a shape-shifter. He can alter his appearance, consume people to gain access to all of their thoughts, turn his arms into several different weapons, and generally do things with his body that...well...there's a reason why I never went around telling classmates about all these ideas I might have had. Given enough time Alex can learn to hurl cars over a mile, power-bomb civilians from thousands of feet in the air, elbow-drop tanks, and latch onto helicopters to steal a ride.

For whatever reason this just wasn't enough as Alex can also snag military vehicles, use guns, change his skin into armor, and even perform a cannon-ball dive that'll explode anything he makes contact with. It's not always imaginative but it's pretty clear that the developers took the time to come up with all kinds of neat ways for Alex to get the job done. While the player can get away with completing the game using only a fraction of them that's all the more reason to keep coming back and trying out different moves to get through the same situations in other ways.

The first five minutes of Prototype basically gives away all of the opposition Alex will be facing. The military is your bog-standard guys with guns, tanks, and helicopters while the infected are the hunters, zombies, and other beastly guys who just like to clobber everything. Dealing with these foes is easy enough at first since early on Alex is practically invincible. Over time however both sides start employing tougher resistance and higher numbers, forcing Mercer to get creative with his encounters and evolve his technique. Since Mercer is the only hope of straightening out the mess in Manhattan he will also have to work with and against both sides. This adds a very interesting dynamic as while exploring the player is bound to see military and infected forces squaring off against one another while the unfortunate civilians get caught in the middle.

This game is all about its fast pacing and its ferocity. As the intensity ramps up the player will have to contend with multiple attacks coming from all possible angles. This means moving quickly, changing directions, managing forces, and being able to do so in only a short amount of time. Health is recovered fairly easily by consuming or destroying but it can also be lost very easily thanks to the multitude of tough enemies such as higher-level hunters and a plethora of rocket-launcher soldiers and their fancy Mercer-killing equipment.

It's a rough game in all meanings of the word as a lot of the time it looks like things just aren't going to work out for the player. The missions can become very frustrating as they'll involve everyone's favorites such as escort and protect as well as an infinite and constant barrage of enemies while trying to focus on important matters like bosses or even just getting some breathing space. The bosses are absolute drek as while the concept can work most of these guys just stack on some absurd additions like countless enemy troops or just completely ignoring most of the player's attacks. When so much of the game is spent in control these times that require patience can really tear it all down.

The mission design leans towards the really bad later on as optional missions become all but impossible with everything going on. Infiltrating an enemy-base is cake early on but towards the end there's simply no way for the player to get in without setting off several alarms at once. After taking out a dozen choppers, ten tanks, and over a thousand troops the player will come back and find the base no worse for wear. Early on it may have been too easy to be sneaky as everyone is apparently blind to a guy running up walls and throwing cars everywhere but towards the end Mercer can't even cough without an entire nation of soldiers discovering him.

It's too bad really because when this game is good it's damn good. The good aspects align and connect to create a constant source of exhilaration and excitement but all it takes is the slightest slip and I feel like I'm playing Ninja Gaiden 2 again. I just feel like some impotent chump flailing about while a constant stream of rockets kicks me around town. Losing momentum can happen in seconds and Prototype isn't really designed well enough for the blame to lay squarely on the player when things don't work out.

Take the "War" line of missions for example. The goal is to kill a certain number of enemy troops while protecting the troops the player is working with. So for example if I'm working with the infected that means I have to deal with tanks and the like. My only real option at times is to steal a tank and go from there, as destroying tanks through other means tends to take too long and lead to too many casualties. Problem is Whenever I fire a shell at a tank there always seems to be several of my guys nearby, thus costing me dearly. Yeah restraint in these situations is important but with the odds the way they are I don't have a choice. If I do things any other way I either run out of time, leave myself open for other enemy tanks, or my allies just get killed off anyway. It's just one set of side-missions but issues such as these tend to come up whenever the game really tries to push itself beyond just "invincible dude killing things for fun".

The controls are another issue since while for a number of other action games they'd probably be okay but for everything that goes on in this game the player just doesn't have the options. An evasive roll is always handy but in this game there's no invincibility period tied to it. Getting out of the way of danger is a constant but the most effective means tends to be predicting what will happen and going from there. Even a block would have been helpful since it'd give the player a last minute opportunity to minimize damage. Sure the armor and shield abilities have their uses but what it comes down to is that the player can't counterattack when they're pinned down. They can probably escape without too much trouble but getting just out of range and creating an opening tends to be sloppy and ineffective.

Prototype can be a really fun game when everything comes together but it doesn't have the right design, the proper usage of mechanics, and even a handful of hidden variables to really work on multiple levels. Sure I've done a lot worse with $10 but if you're looking for something more than an excuse to kill innocent people you may as well look elsewhere.

Game rating - 1.5 out of 5

My rating - 2.5 out of 5