Wednesday, March 31, 2010

AA Look - Sega's Other Games

You guessed it. Here are some looks at Sega arcade games we may never see on consoles.

Arabian Fight

You wouldn't know it considering this is Sega but Arabian Fight is perhaps one of the worst beatemups ever. While it's an impressive showcase for the System 32 hardware(which also powered the likes of Golden Axe: Revenge of Death Adder and Outrunners) this is just a disaster on every level and it only succeeds at doing absolutely nothing right.

There's an evil wizard by the name of Sazabiss? Or is it Snagglepuss? Maybe it's Bagapiss? Anyway to show how evil he is he kidnaps a princess to sacrifice to his evil god. Sinbat the Sailor(Shouldn't that be Sinbad?) some tomboy, a burly dude, and a Shaolin Monk must go through several stages to gawk at some neat animations and engage in some of the worst beatemup design ever.

Right off the bat the mechanics are among the worst ever in a game. If you ever wondered how one can fail at mechanics this is the game for you. Most of the player's attacks won't connect to anything and even when they do enemies have a habit of ignoring punches and just going into whatever attack they choose. There's a block but it's worthless and the jump-kicks available to the player are even worse. When enemies are knocked down there's no guarantee that they'll actually hit the ground. Some will just pop back up in mid-air and resume fighting like nothing happened. There are some options for mixing up attacks like performing an uppercut that knocks an enemy into the air. Of course when the mechanics make absolutely no sense it just becomes another worthless attack. When it comes down to it the only way to progress is to just flail away and keep putting those quarters in until the game finally ends.

The enemy variety isn't that bad considering the genre but there isn't a single one of them that isn't completely laughable. The pathetic mechanics lead to nothing but clumsy fights and the stilted animations lead to some silly attacks(like golden skeletons that perform cartwheels, except there's no animation for it so it just looks like they're standing sprite rotating). The bosses are similar in this respect in that they are horribly done. Even if the mechanics are competent these bosses would be little more than dull and frustrating. In a way having the game be such a miserable piece of work actually makes it a little enjoyable. Even when you die you know it isn't your fault because the game is broken so you can chill and just have fun with it.

The only redeeming quality is if you're the kind of person who gets enjoyment out of making fun of terrible games. I promise you'll have a field day with this one as it only manages to get worse with each passing stage. Thankfully fans of Arabian Arcade games still have Arabian Magic, which is a fine hack & slash and certainly not a total embarrassment like Arabian Fight. They also spelled Sinbad right.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

AA Look - Data East's other games

Here I'll be looking at Data East games that will most likely never see a re-release.
It's hard to screw up a concept like Robocop. He shoots criminals in the face with a huge gun. The man is nearly unstoppable so the bad guys have to constantly up the ante and create new and exciting obstacles for Murphy to overcome. He's not perfect by any means since due to his bulky armor he's a bit slow and clunky. For better or worse Data East captured all of these aspects in their arcade game.

The game follows the plot of the movie...well aside from Dick Jones being at the Narcotics Factory which must be a translation error. The game is about what you'd expect. Thugs pile in from both sides of the screen, the windows, platforms above the ground, and then they start firing. You're basically getting shot at from every angle and you respond in kind and then move on. This is a very slow-paced game as moving too far ahead can lead to getting overwhelmed and killed very easily.

The main cause of this is unlike his movie counterpart, Robocop is a pretty fragile. Merely touching an enemy will take a little bit of health away and weapons will take 1/10th to 1/3rd of Robo's life. This is also one of those games where there are no invincibility periods after taking damage. The player also only gets one life so ehh..good luck with that.

The way health works in this game is perhaps my biggest annoyance with it. It leads the game to becoming more about trial and error and since Robocop is designed for dodging things very effectively he must kill the criminals before they can even fire a shot. This isn't always possible since they're coming from every direction at once so the player has to prioritize. This is definitely an older style of arcade game and doesn't feel it necessary to play fair.

Overall it's an okay game but not the sort of thing I'd play in lieu of something else. Thinks were different back when this game first came out but today there are just far too many better options to consider.
Robocop 2

Strangely enough the inferior movie sequel gets the superior game sequel. Robocop takes the fight to Cain in a new perspective that looks more fitting in a beatemup than a shooter. The basis of the game is still in shooting everyone although here it's more about managing space and evasion. In some ways it's like a hack & slash only with guns if that makes any sense. Robocop can also punch as well as body slam almost any foe he can get close to. This is necessary for when he battles other cyborgs as they're impervious to bullets.

One of the things I like about this game is that it has good pacing. The entire game isn't bogged down with relentless hoards of foes or repetitive areas that were included solely to pad the length of the game. Robocop 2 switches game styles a few times and freshens up the enemy variety every now and again. It certainly helps that this is a rather short game at a little over 20 minutes.

This game shows a proper usage of telegraphing and mechanics. Enemies that use melee weapons don't just strike Robocop as soon as they get close. They have to go through the swinging motion in order for the hit to connect. For enemies that carry guns the guns will actually flash before they fire. These useful touches make this game a bit easier to handle. The hit-box is also sufficient in that Robocop can dodge a lot of things just by moving slightly out of the way.

Fans of the movies will also enjoy all of the references. For example in part 2 there was this one criminal who was a big Elvis nut. Oddly enough the movie never mentions what happened to him. Apparently in the game he fell in a large vat of acid and turned into a mutant. ED-209 also makes a re-appearance though he serves as little more than a tutorial for jumping & shooting(which is required for the last boss). Pretty much every scene from the movie is in the game one way or another. Even the arcade which inexplicably manages to have nothing but Data East games is accounted for.

The only real problem with the game is that it's a shallow. The only real spot where it'll take some effort to master the game(aside from the beating it without continuing and/or dying) is in the bonus rounds. Otherwise there's little in the way of advanced techniques that'll lead to some ridiculous score. Then again considering the genre I guess it isn't such a big deal. In any case it wouldn't hurt to give this game at least one playthrough.

Monday, March 29, 2010

AA Look - U N Squadron

Capcom is at it again with more of those 2D shooters. This time it's based off an anime I think...something called Area 88. Never watched it and probably never will but it's enough of a reason to deny a re-release of this game today. For once this isn't a huge loss cause UN just isn't that great. It's got some neat ideas but the execution just isn't there.

First off the player selects from three available ships. I always go for the token female character because I'm just that kind of guy and I seem to have more trouble with a game when I play as a male. Afterwards we're introduced to the shop. Here we can purchase weapons that are useful for the current stage as well as the ability to have a slightly longer energy meter as well as shields. Yep here we go again with those health meters in 2D shooters. Thankfully this isn't a common practice cause developers never seem to get it right. It's never really consistent as to what does how much damage and the odd-shaped hitbox(it's a rectangle as opposed to a square) makes dodging shots fired straight ahead much easier than anything approaching from an angle.

The real issue with every player-ship is the cruddy main weapon. While it can be powered up it seems to be more for looks than anything since it doesn't seem to make any difference aside from a slight increase in range. What really bugs me about the weapon is that while I can hold the button down for rapid-fire after a couple seconds it stops and I have to depress the button to resume firing. This is a real nuisance in the middle of firefights cause I forget to press the button again and collide with a kamikaze ship. The range also doesn't amount to much when it only fires straight ahead. The secondary weapons are helpful but I tend to get mixed up when trying to fire them while making sure my main weapon is firing.

As far as the levels go they're unremarkable fluff. It's the standard collection of tanks, enemy placements, and things that fly and there's little in the way of enemy firepower flooding the screen. Most of the damage is going to come from unexpected objects from the back. The bosses are just a mess really. Their patterns are incredibly simplistic and take all of a couple seconds to figure out. The difficulty balance is also kind of all over the place as the second boss turns out to be a bit harder than most of the others. This is more due to the bad placement of its weapon system as its missiles are so close to the player that when they can finally see them it's hard to avoid damage.

There are a few bosses like bases and battleships that the player must make multiple passes at to finish off once and for all. Neat idea but again the execution falters. There are spots where the player can't do anything as they can't reach any of the weakpoints. Thus the only solution is to sit around helplessly and dodge bullets until another pass can be made. Having some kind of standardized bomb weapon would be nice as like Darius and Gradius it would provide a reliable means of taking care of enemies on the ground. One of the characters actually has their main weapon set up like this but it's very poor since the damage is effectively halving, making even one-shot enemies take more than one hit to destroy. It doesn't sound like much when you're firing 60 shots a second but it makes all the difference when out on the field.

Even with all this in mind UN Squadron isn't a terrible shooter. It is however not really worth the effort as there are other games that more effectively use their various subsystems like Capcom's own Forgotten Worlds. Maybe if the level design wasn't so pedestrian, the weapons were better balanced, or if minor things like the hit-box were tightened up we'd at least have something worthy of merit. All in all it's forgettable, just forgettable.


Everyone is familiar with Konami's landmark shooter franchise Gradius. Some are even aware of their lesser-known series's like Parodius, Twinbee, and Salamander. Fewer still know about XEXEX, released back in 1991 though it didn't see a reasonable port until a PSP re-release of the Salamander Collection. To date XEXEX is one of the most visually impressive games I've ever seen and there are numerous moments of wonder and amazement throughout the game's seven stages.

At its core XEXEX is best compared to Irem's R-Type series. The game revolves around using a special pod that can destroy enemies as well as protect the player from bullets. In fact quite a bit of XEXEX's game design takes the best from R-Type. Though the player has options for every situation the chances of survival are highest when the player knows what is coming and they make the best decision to counteract it.

This isn't clear early on as the first couple stages can be handled rather easily just by relying on the player's dodging skills. Stage 3 however is where things take a turn to more trial and error aspects as enemies frequently fire from off-screen and such more firepower flies around that it's impossible to dodge everything for long. To counteract the player must use their pod to its fullest effect. When the pod is attached to the ship it attacks as a frontal shield. Since most attacks come from other angles the usefulness of this is limited. However when the pod is released it grows an arm that waves around. This arm catches bullets very easily and the pod itself will home in on enemies to destroy them. Some pointers to keep in mind however is that the pod doesn't protect from lasers or certain other attacks, plus since it has a mind of its own it can also get itself trapped behind structures, where it can't help the ship.

With this in mind stage 3 & 4 become quite a bit more manageable. By the fifth stage however the proverbial gloves come off and soon the screen is filled with bullets, forcing the player to react quickly to the immediate threats rather than worry about destroying everything. The scoring system in XEXEX is nonexistent so survival is emphasized over all else. Stage 6 is where the trial and error aspects come into play and it becomes quite easy to die if the player doesn't know what's going to happen(expect large ships to appear suddenly from behind). Stage 7 is where the hands come off and reveal claws. This stage is absolutely brutal and even for gamers who have given up on that 1CC and wish to just see the ending more than likely their patience will die long before the final boss.

Just to give an example at one part a near-endless line of enemies rolls in from off-screen. If the player ignores them they will eventually take the player out with all of the bullets they fire. The obvious solution is to use the pod to block them and destroy the enemies as they roll in. However thanks to the way this area is structured the player will be unable to bring their pod back immediately afterward to deal with cannon placements, a small battleship, and really annoying enemy ships that appear from out of nowhere. If the player doesn't block the hole they have a 10% chance of survival at best, with the hole blocked that chance only jumps up to about 25%. Due to the nature of the game and the genre it's not like you get a lot of time to decide either.

The bosses in this game are weak. There's no two ways around that really. They're more like a break the player gets after surviving such a hard stage. Most of the time it comes down to allowing the pod to reach the enemy's weakpoint, and then dodging whatever happens to fly their direction. Since this game uses a checkpoint system the player will probably end up facing the boss with no power-ups. Obviously it's a great thing that the bosses are easy.

Overall the difficulty of this game tends to work against it as unless the player has been through the game several times over all they'll see is their ship scattered to pieces. On subsequent replays they'll find they have little difficulty with earlier sections and may even become slightly bored as there are no methods for scoring extra points or doing things that might better prepare them for the later stages. It's a very situational game in that a lot of what happens is exclusive to a particular stage. Even if you can master the first six stages there's really nothing that can prepare you for the final stage.

Still what it does right is worth mentioning. The mechanics are absolutely solid as the pod proves itself to be an invaluable ally and the various weapons are suitable to multiple play-styles and situations. It's obvious what kills you even when it isn't entirely fair and the ability to hold down the fire button for rapid-fire while the pod is detached is a very nice tough(when the pod is attached the player can use a charge cannon, another R-Type reference).

Unfortunately as it stands the likelihood of seeing a legal non-portable version of this game is rather low. I figure this game would be a good candidate for the X360's Game Room but I believe if it does happen there's a chance it'll be the US version of XEXEX. This is a very very bad thing.

To start off with the US version of XEXEX makes a number of changes. The weapon-system has been dumped in favor of power-ups that merely allow the player to fire more bullets as well as the addition of homing missiles. I have no idea why they did this(were they fearful of being sued by Irem? Yeah having a Spiral Laser compared to R-Type's Ring Laser might be a bit much but c'mon). That isn't the worst of it though as the game institutes an entirely new system of life and death. In XEXEX US there is a health meter. The player only gets one life with this meter and chances are if the player gets hit with something big they'll lose all their health. The US version also triples the amount of enemy firepower which extends to the bosses as well. The player's weapons are either much weaker or everything has gotten a massive hit-point boost as well. This leads to bosses that take forever to kill. Was this kind of thing done to appeal to people who just want to throw away quarters on every other game? I can't imagine it was done for anything else because this version of XEXEX is flat out broken. The brilliant visuals are still intact but US version ruins everything that made the original a good game.

Still if you can get a hold of the original and are willing to tolerate trial and error game design you'll find a lot to love about XEXEX. Personally I could have done without the checkpoint system as I'd rather lose one life and get past the chokepoint over losing 100 lives just to eventually figure it out. Granted the latter is a cop-out response and I apologize for the laziness. I can do at least the first four stages of XEXEX without dying if that accounts for anything but the seventh stage is still a bit of a brick wall to me. At times I sort of wish I could get a health meter too.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

So....Arcade Appreciation April

When I first started this blog the plan was to only talk about arcade games. Sure I screwed that up pretty early on but all the same I think it has worked out for the best. I've played more games to completion now than I ever have before and I've actually managed to deal with the backlog problems that have plagued me ever since I started making more money than bills alone could cover. Still all that stuff about other games is going on the back-burner indefinitely because I'm back to discussing what I love most about gaming and that is the arcades.

Actually strike that I'm not so much a fan of arcades as I am a fan of arcade games. Besides have you been to an Arcade lately? Oh sure I bet they're great over in Japan but every one I've gone to in my area? They're ghastly sights. There are so many games from around the year 2000, they don't even work, and the clerks there are expecting a dollar a play. The only reason nobody has bothered to dump those hunks of garbage is because there's not a landfill out there willing to take them and the noises from the attract screens keep the clerks from falling asleep. To me at least arcades have died and an infinite number of sticks and strings couldn't prop that corpse up to be anything more than that.

Arcade games on the other hand deserve to be remembered and cherished. From the outset they have been designed with one goal in mind and that is to make money. Yes I'm afraid I can't lie and create some honorable goal that every game designer wishes to achieve because in the end the mark of a great arcade game is that it can make money. This part is tough because anyone can tell if an arcade game is bad in five minutes or less and it only costs between 25 cents and a dollar to find out. Word of mouth travels quickly in a single room and before long this bad arcade game is shuffled off to parts unknown to wallow in infamy until some random no-name blog heralds it as a classic.

I'm not here to play the part of the bitter elitist prick. I have no interest in pushing others away because they don't share my viewpoint and they couldn't care less about whatever random arcade game I gush about. Still if you're here expecting me to talk about Metro 2033 or some other current game I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere. As of a few days ago until whenever I run out of arcade games this is all I'm going to be talking about. It has always been my first love and my source of instant gratification whenever I'm worn out with playing through 50 hour RPGs, 20 hour first-person-shooters, and well anything else that requires more than an hour to see an ending. If you were around for last year's Arcade Appreciation that's great and I look forward to your continued support. If not then welcome and I hope you stick around.

This year I'm expecting to discuss the following:

Sega "Classics" Collection - For the unaware this infamous compilation puts together ten games from Sega's early Sega Ages line for the Playstation 2. This set is best known for its horrendous version of Golden Axe. I'll not only be discussing these remakes but also the original arcade games.

A look at Toaplan - I mentioned this developer way back when I did my look at Fire Shark. They have released a number of titles you may be familiar with and in terms of 2D shooters they carried more than their fair share of influence. After all it was due in part to Toaplan that we saw the likes of Cave and Raizing. This is no mere remembrance of days long past as many of their games are still very playable today.

Taito Legends 1 & 2 - For Taito fans these compilations are obvious pick-ups. I've gone over bits and pieces from each set in the past but this time I'm going to complete the exploration of many of the titles that made Taito such a stand-out Arcade developer.

Data East Arcade Classics - Data East has been no slouch when it comes to the development of good arcade games. I'm a bit disappointed that it took this long to put together a compilation. While it isn't nearly as complete as I had hoped it's still a worthwhile set and I'm looking forward to talking about it.

Namco Museum Virtual Arcade - Like the Taito sets I've explored parts of this set in the past. This time I'll cover the rest.

Midway Arcade Treasure 2 - Did part 1. Why not do the sequel?

Mushihime-sama Futari and ESP Galuda 2 - I should have looked at these games long ago but hey whatevs.

Atari Anthology - I don't talk about the older arcade games often enough do I? There's a reason for that as I'm not exactly the biggest fan of them. All the more reason to give them a go now eh?

Arcade games that'll most likely never be re-released - This one I'm not so sure about because it's going to cover the gamut of licensed games, releases from now-defunct publishers, and well everything whose future is in the realm of improbable. I won't say impossible cause stranger things have happened but I simply can't let great, good, or even bad games fall into the ether as long as they can provoke worthwhile discussion.

Final Fight Double Impact - Capcom is putting out their XBLA/PSN release of Final Fight & Magic Sword the day after my birthday(April 14th). As my thanks to them I will give Final Fight another look and hopefully find more reason as to why I think Magic Sword is so good.

X360 Game Room - Much to my chagrin apparently there's word going around that more games aren't going to be released to this service until towards the end of April. While the service has problems I think there is at least some merit to it as it gives the chance for arcade games to reach a wider audience. Since all games can be demoed only expect me to write something about the ones I've bought(like the three I talked about in the past few updates).

Whatever else I can manage to dig up you can be sure I'll talk about it here. Fans of fighting games do note however that I won't be discussing them. Yes fighting games have been instrumental to the success of arcades but I simply don't play them anymore. Life's short enough as it is and believe me if I was someone else I'd be living in a temple doing nothing but mastering Virtua Fighter. Instead this is how it must be so eh oh eh well whatevs.

AA / 360 Game Room look - Shao-Lin's Road

Despite my issues with the Xbox 360 Game Room service I find myself drawn to giving it monetary support which is really all that matters. Rather than discuss my hypocrisy I'd like to talk about this obscure little number by Konami.

Shao-Lin's Road or Kicker is considered a sequel of sorts to Yie-ar-Kung-Fu. While that game was a 1 on 1 combat game(I hesitate to call it a fighting game) this one is more along the lines of platformers like Bubble Bobble. The goal is very simple as all the player must do is perform kicks(standing or jumping) on all of the thugs. These baddies are your garden-variety karate dudes and they'll attack in kind with jump-kicks, thrown-weapons, and a few other attacks. Every other stage the player contends with a boss of sorts though usually all this means is that he/she has a couple more attacks and takes several hits instead of just one.

One thing I've noticed about a lot of older arcade games is that at times it feels like the gamer should have at one time played the game in the past in order to immediately get any enjoyment out of it today. It's not a matter of nostalgia so much as it's about accessibility and appeal. Shao-Lin's Road does not fall under this classification as despite my never playing it before I discovered that's fun and features just the right mix of challenge.

Challenge in an arcade game should be a balanced mix of the difficulty it takes to beat a game as well as the skill and knowledge required to master it and attain a high-score. Some games force all of the challenge into simply being able to complete the game and for me at least that just isn't good game design. If you fail to beat an arcade game and have to start over you should be able to put the things you learned in later stages to make earlier stages go by faster and collect more points. This constant feeling of progress will only lead to more enjoyment as it gives incentive for gamers to work for more than just an ending.

Shao-Lin's road is a perfect example of this thanks to its scoring system. Kicking a bad guy while standing only gets the player 200 points. However if they perform a jump-kick, kick multiple enemies in a row, kick thrown objects or enemies in the middle of an attack the player will gain more points. In the early levels the player can focus on situations where they can put the more advanced moves to work while on harder stages they can play it safer until they get a better understanding of when to go for score without threatening their chances of survival. Shao-Lin's road is a fairly easy game if the player ignores the scoring system and it's still entertaining as the player isn't forced to score well if they're expecting to have any fun.

If you haven't already I highly recommend giving this game a look. At the most it's ten minutes of your time and while it won't knock you over with incredible game design it's comfortable with what works and it's fun on any level.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

X360 Game Room - Initial Thoughts

I'll get to the point here and now. In its current state The X360 Game Room isn't worth it. I expect improvements over time and maybe after awhile it'll turn out pretty decently but at the moment it's just not working out.

First of all I'll start out by saying I love the concept because I love arcade games. There's not enough services out there that focus on such a thing and a unified service where people can get together and play for highscores is a great thing. The first problem however is that The Game Room isn't just for arcade games. Right now gamers can access Atari 2600 and Intellivision games as well as arcade titles. This is just my opinion here but they should have focused entirely on arcade games. Instead it seems like we're expecting to see Genesis games, Turbografx-16 games, and other games from other systems, most of which don't have a place on this service. Still we'll see how it goes and maybe it'll all work out. Whatever the case I feel that they should have just stuck to one thing and ran with it.

All of the games are released in packs. I really hope this is only temporary because I can't imagine it working out for very long. Even if I only want one game I still have to download a 70 meg package to pick out what I want. Is it going to be like this every week? Can I expect that in a year or so I'll have to shell out for a bigger hard-drive? This isn't a good idea in the slightest. I have no interest in wasting my precious space on six games I dislike just so I can hold onto the one I actually purchased. I can see where they were going with this since I can demo the games I'm not interested and maybe consider a purchase. Still this won't last and Krome Studios/Microsoft would be crazy to attempt to keep it the way it is.

One of the biggest problems with this service lies with the emulation itself. I'm not terribly picky when it comes to this sort of thing. I realize that I can only expect as much as the price I'm willing to pay. If I'm throwing $3 out for an arcade game I can't expect something on the level of a console port by Cave or one of the Sega Ages releases by M2. However I can expect that my game will run flawlessly. This is not the case because in the time I've spent in The Game Room I've noticed constant pauses and hitches that are a serious detriment to my enjoyment. These pauses take less than a fraction of a second but they're enough to cause me to screw up. To add to this frustration there seems to be a slight bit of input lag. This is something I normally wouldn't notice but when deaths pile up because my command didn't register fast enough to save my life there's a problem.

The key reason for these problems most likely lies with the front-end. It's neat certainly as anyone can customize their very own arcade with machines and useless trinkets. Really it's just too much. I wouldn't mind if it was entirely optional and I could play my games through a simple menu. As it stands however I can only imagine how much in resources this front-end uses. If these constant pauses are due to loading some avatar animation it's absolutely inexcusable. Seriously if this keeps up maybe I'm just better off running MAME whenever I want to play some arcade games.

MAME is another key factor when dealing with this service. Granted it's only supposed to be used for educational purposes and my very mention of it puts me on sticky moral ground but it's not something that can be ignored. If you can read this blog you have a PC that's capable of running MAME. If your service is going to be competing against the biggest and most popular arcade game emulator around you gotta at least have your games working properly and some interesting features that MAME simply can't compete with.

One of the good ideas about this service is that not only does it provide leaderboards but it also offers replays for all of them so players can see just how the top-scorers got where they are. The downside to this is that the leaderboards only account for the top 20. To me this just seems absolutely silly. For one it frustrates people who rely on leaderboards to determine sales and for another there's just no reason at all for it. Take a game like Amped 3 for example. For a game that was launched at around the same time as the X360 it features full leaderboards for the near 200 events available. This is possibly just nitpicking but c'mon, it's ridiculous exclusion.

While MAME is lacking a unified setup it's not lacking in options. For the people willing to put forth even a little effort it can do replays, customize controls, cover an endless array of video options, and any number of other things that Game Room doesn't even make an effort to work towards. The lack of control customization is another big problem in Game Room. I can choose from a handful of controller options and that's it. If I prefer certain buttons or controllers I better hope that there's an option that gets at least close to what I want. There's simply no good reason for this. I also hope full online-play becomes available at one point or another. There are a handful of two-player only games on the service and I see no reason why friends can't enjoy a game of Outlaw online. Heck if we have reason to believe there'll be seven games a week we'll hit those four-player coop games before too long. It would be quite a shame if they were all local-play only.

I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here and I'm not even sure if the Game Room service is capable of running anything beyond early to mid-80s arcade games. If I can't get Asteroids Deluxe, Centipede, or even Yars Revenge running flawlessly I figure something more up to date like Konami's Vendetta having an abysmal performance. I've read complaints that a game like Tempest doesn't even properly emulate the full screen. This means something like stage 8 is unplayable because both sides of it are cut off. This is the kind of stuff that frustrates me to no end because it makes no sense at all.

The 240 point price for one game doesn't really bother me. To add to this I have little interest in having a copy available to me on the PC for another 160 points. I can imagine everyone sharing a similar sentiment. Simply put the premium pricing to have one game available on both the 360 and PC is an absolute sham. All this does is give PC-only gamers an easy reason to stick with MAME. Sure the ethics are questionable but for a massive percentage of gamers it absolutely doesn't matter. The $3 cost should have covered both the PC and 360 version.

All this said I still have a positive outlook on the service. The launch itself wasn't anything resembling good or even competent but if everyone involved is serious about it things can only go up from here. I'm glad Krome Studios can recognize the importance of the arcades it's just right now I wish they'd focus on the arcade games. The front-end stuff is charming but if I have to go back to MAME just to guarantee that the games will work properly the service is a bust.

In any case I feel like I'm stuck with supporting this service through the worst because it caters to arcade games. To me arcade games are precious and they're not something I would ever want to see become irrelevant let alone forgotten. To me any service that provides gamers the experience of arcade titles is welcome. Far too often everyone falls back on terms like "nostalgia" or phrases like "I wasn't around then" as an excuse to ignore older games. I also appreciate this service as it has the potential to shine a spotlight on more obscure titles that even hardcore arcade gamers never got around to before. I'm hopeful that this service will work out for the best but at the moment hope is all I've got.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

AA / Game Room Look - Asteroids Deluxe

Yes I know you've played Asteroids. Heck I bet you've even played Asteroids Deluxe. Who cares? It's worth playing again. It takes all of thirty seconds to figure out and the replay value is through the roof if you even remotely enjoy the concept of playing games for score.

By now we all know what Asteroids is about. There's a field, a ship that turns in either direction and uses thrusters to get around, asteroids that break into pieces, and those damn UFOs. Deluxe mixes things up a bit by providing the player with a shield that can take a few hits instead of the wholly unreliable hyper-speed as well as adding an asteroid that behaves more like a cluster of homing missiles that follow the player.

Where Deluxe really shines is in how it redesigns certain aspects. The UFOs will typically focus on either the asteroids or the player. This can work in a number of ways since the rocks are just as much of a threat to UFOs as they are to the player and at the same time they can create chaos as the player is trying to focus on something else. Asteroids has never been the kind of game where one can just blindly fire away at everything and expect to survive. In fact it's easy to get overwhelmed if someone allows the screen to be filled with tiny rocks. Survival is tied to asteroid-management and even when the player can contend with that the wild-card that is the UFO can ruin everything very quickly.

This depth is what helps Deluxe remain a classic for all these years and its excellent controls make it playable even today.

AA / X360 Game Room look - Centipede

Game Room has finally launched and while there have been some headaches(which is kind of unsurprising) the interface is really neat. I can customize my own personal arcade, decorate it with random junk, and even have little mascots like a centipede running around. Actual useful features include the ability to save and watch replays as well as leaderboards. From what I can tell the emulation is at least competent though there's the occasional pause every now and again. It's for a less than a fraction of a second and it isn't enough to throw me off my game but all the same it's there. Still I'm sure it can only improve with time. But enough about all that let's look at the first game I purchased for this service.

Centipede is a classic. As far as early arcade games go this is one of my favorites. Like many other titles it's deceptively simple in that all the player has to do is survive while destroying the centipede. What makes this game brilliant is how dynamic it is. While some situations are similar you're never really guaranteed to play the same game twice. With a lot of arcade games enemies come in waves and it's typically the same types every time. What keeps Centipede so fresh is the layout of the mushrooms. When the player destroys a piece of the centipede a mushroom appears in the spot it died. Fleas drop lines of mushrooms wherever they fall, scorpions poison mushrooms which cause centipedes to fall straight to the bottom, and spiders eat the mushrooms.

The mushrooms affect a number of things. While you can only fire one shot at a time if it hits a mushroom that means you can fire your next shot again. This can be very effective when trying to destroy the centipede when it has invaded your play area. By carefully manipulating the mushrooms one can also create a funnel that'll make the centipede run in practically a straight line making it easy to take them out. Obviously maintaining this funnel isn't easy when so many factors are working against the player but it is a very effective means of scoring.

Centipede remains a challenging shooter even today because it forces you to watch the entire screen. With some games all you do is directly stare at your ship or the general area around it to make sure you're dodging everything. In Centipede you can't direct your focus at any one thing. If you're not paying attention to the top half the centipede will be in your playfield wrecking havoc, if you're not paying attention to the area around you it'll lead to lives lost from errant spiders. There's patterns to everything in this game and grasping everything every enemy is capable of can only take a few minutes. This particular aspect is very well done since knowing the enemy's behavior allows the player to keep track of whichever is the biggest threat at the moment. Even when centipedes enter the playfield they can only move in one direction and only turn at the ends of the playfield or at mushrooms. Having a field clear of mushrooms is essential but difficult since again any centipedes destroyed will leave more.

My only real problem with this game is due to the control setup. This game is best played with a trackball and at the moment there isn't one available for the 360. This game has exceptionally tight mechanics and being able to get to just the right quickly as well as accurately is most effective with a trackball. For the moment at least other control methods are tolerable.

Whether or not you purchase Centipede through this service or play it for free off some random site do yourself a favor and give this one another go. It's nearly thirty years old and still holds up incredibly.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

X360 Look - Mass Effect 2

Shepard is back again for another round of wacky adventures in space and it's your job to guide him or her to a conclusion that is at least partially satisfying. Bioware's latest is about what one would expect out of a sequel. If you've enjoyed the first game it's obvious that you'll follow up with this one and if you didn't care for the original...well that's just too damn bad.

After discovering the truth about the big bad threatening humanity Shepard is sent off to do paper-work or something equally mind-numbing. This all changes and we're back to exploring the galaxies, picking fights with aliens, engaging in inter-species romance, and possibly figuring out just what the heck is going on. That last part isn't guaranteed but eh it's an excuse to shoot things and that's all that matters.

If you haven't played the original game that's no big deal. If you're remotely familiar with squad-based shooters like Gears of War, Rainbow Six: Vegas, or one of the 100 or so similar games released this generation you'll pick up on this one in no time. You move with the left stick, look/point at things with the right stick, and then you hit the R button to shoot them or A button to interact with them. Each area is very linear and consists of hallways or more open areas dotted with objects that Shepard's Squad can take cover behind. This is pretty much the basis of all of the combat sections in the game. There are some towns to explore but most of the time they're only good for gathering quests, purchasing upgrades, or listening to jokes(which somehow makes up 90% of the casual conversation in this game).

At the start of the game you can either start fresh or carry over your Shepard from the last game. Unfortunately this doesn't do much aside from carrying over decisions you made in the past and your appearance. You get some bonuses as well but nothing that'll mean much in the long run. You're given a choice of six different classes and this part is especially important because you're stuck as this class for the entire game. We're looking at about 40 hours of game-time here so if you pick something generic like the Soldier class(which is pretty much all guns all the time) it's likely you'll get bored before long. My advice is to specialize, you can always rely on your squad to fill in the blanks.

Your squad consists of two other people and they're with you for the entire game. Deciding on your squad members is important because even if you don't care for some of them due to their actions or behavior they're more than suited for taking out anything in your way. Fair warning however while you can give them orders and directions for which powers they should use you can never directly control them. If you die and they're still alive it's still back to the last checkpoint. Like so many of these other shooters Shepard works on a shield/life system. Take a lot of fire, get behind cover, allow your health/energy to recharge, and get back to fighting. It's predictable sure but it keeps things moving in this game.

RPG fans will be more than a little disappointed to see how scaled back the RPG elements in this game actually are. While the player can gain levelups they don't mean much aside from giving some health bonuses that feel meaningless and additional skillpoints to put into various powers. There's also little in the way of weapons and armor as they serve solely to cater to individual play-styles. This means that you may favor certain pieces of armor for the health bonus they give over the weapon strength. The powers follow this same rule as they can be developed to do a lot of damage to one enemy or lessened damage to multiple enemies. In fact it's fair to say a number of decisions made before battle won't make the difference between life and death.

Much of the focus in this game is clearly on the battlefield and preparation means very little. I prefer this style of play as I've always enjoyed games that focus more on testing my skills over knowledge and equipment. Thankfully difficulty settings can be changed at any time for the rare possibility that the player hasn't developed a character that can properly handle every situation. I can't imagine something like this happening except for maybe on the Insanity difficulty setting though.

Still it can be imperative for the player to seek out upgrades. These are doled out with some regularity and they can only be unlocked via purchasing them in stores or by collecting enough materials to research them. These upgrades run the gamut of abilities like stronger shields, more health, and so on. Credits are self-explanatory as they are awarded through completing missions. Materials on the other hand are slightly more complicated. Through the many systems of this universe there are galaxies filled with planets. Each of these planets can be mined for the needed materials.

Planet-mining is as simple as it is tedious. The player scans the entire surface of the planet and sends out probes anytime they catch a spot with a lot of activity. This sort of reminds me of the old game Starflight(which was also published by EA). Although with that game the player got to drive a vehicle around collecting materials. I guess considering the alternative Mass Effect 2 could have brought back the Mako from the first game but I think this kind of works better. Still I would have preferred to see a method of gathering materials that was at least slightly entertaining but I'll still settle for the option that takes less time. Best advice for dealing with planet scanning though is to only do it when it's actually needed, like if you have a lot of upgrades to purchase.

When not engaged in combat or scanning the player will be engaged in conversation. There are multiple options available for nearly everything Shepard says. Usually the options are simple. Renegades are more likely to put the mission first while Paragons are seemingly more concerned about the wellbeing of others. There are some that can attempt to play it directly down the middle but at critical points this can prove to be in-effective. Conversation is a bit too simple since the game has a habit of pointing out which options will provide the player with the desired response. It's not a deal-breaker by any means and it serves well enough as a showcase for some of the great writing.

The direct approach seems to sum up all aspects of Mass Effect 2 rather well. Problems are usually solved with people getting shot in the face, enemy-installations are best handled with large explosions, and there's little reason to not play to one side or the other. While this is fine for everything outside of combat in the middle of battle it becomes a bit tiring. In a roundabout way I'm referring to the lack of options on the battlefield. While there are numerous squad members to choose from they're all just a bit too similar to each other. They all share the same basic actions like taking cover and shooting and their powers usually go only as far as what Shepard is capable of. When faced with an enemy you'll either shoot it or use biotic powers to blow it up or toss it around. This leads to a lack of creativity in battle as the enemies themselves provide little in the way of variety. They too will shoot, use powers, or simply run up to perform melee attacks.

The bosses are also disappointing as when it comes down to it they're nothing more than regular enemies with quite a bit more health and some extra ability. Worse still these bosses could just be very large flashing weakpoints that can summon minions to do their dirty work. It's stuff we've seen already and it's very dated game design. At least the first Mass Effect tried something with a handful of the boss battles, here the impact is severely lessened when the boss is little more than a thug with a bunch of health meters as opposed to one. Give them some unique powers, make them fly across the battlefield like a Ninja if they have to, just do something instead of repeating the same stuff over and over for thirty hours.

For a sequel that focuses so much on the combat Bioware could have also put a bit more effort into making the firefights more satisfying. They're entertaining as they are don't get me wrong but there's a certain lack of impact from every bullet or special power. To me the most fun ability is the Vanguard's charge. There is nothing like running into a pack of enemies and sending them flying. Problem is there's just not enough of that. Enemies have too much of the "meat-shield" effect going on so when they're killed they just fall over like a havok-puppet. Krogan's can wield shotguns that would break the arm of a human if they tried to fire it, somehow the results of someone actually getting shot with one of those monsters just doesn't add up. Even something as simple as making an enemy's head split open like a cabbage after getting shot in the head with a sniper rifle would have gone a long way.

On a note I don't usually dwell on I have to say that the story was also a disappointment. It starts out great but before long I found myself involved in finding crew members and their troubles instead of that whole fate of humanity or whatever. The events that attempt to force the story back on track just kind of fall flat and while a cliffhanger ending is somewhat expected(this is part of a trilogy right?) here it just feels that everything was forced just a bit too hard. It's also aggravating that despite all of the mysteries surrounding the universe I don't think I got to solve any of them. There was no build up and whatever discoveries I made had no merit. It feels like one of those RPGs where everyone else has all of the answers and they're just dragging you along for the ride. I'm not expecting much from the story in the third game cause at the rate this is going there are just going to be too many characters and too many things are going to be introduced that it'll just fall apart entirely. Still I'm sure like this game there will be a number of memorable characters and oft-times witty and humorous writing to keep the experience quite pleasant.

Building relationships in this game is as simple as the conversations. Unfortunately this aspect falters in the lack of relationships characters have with people besides Shepard. We have all of these squad members that represent various races, ideologies, and factions yet they rarely interact with each other. The potential here is severely untapped as there could have been some great opportunities to really learn about the characters and how they develop.

There's one game left in this series(ignoring the possibility of spin-offs/prequels) so one has to wonder what Bioware has planned for it. If it was left up to me I'd dump the planet scanning entirely. While it can be fascinating to read about different planets it's a bit of a kick to the junk to not actually be able to explore them. This isn't Star Control or one of those space-exploration sims so I'm alright with scaling back on that aspect or even dumping it entirely. I'd like to see the towns far more involving, at least on the level of previous Bioware games like Baldur's Gate 2. Maybe that's a bit too ambitious but I think it can be done. If Bioware wants to make the combat such an important aspect of the game they really should work on it. It's definitely an improvement over the first game in terms of design and mechanics but it's still lacking creativity. This could be an easy fix provided that Bioware is willing to take some risks. Create more abilities, design powers that can dynamically effect the entire battlefield, or even create entirely new strategies that focus on style of combat that aren't limited to taking cover and shooting.

More directly all I want is for the next game to take risks. Yeah I'm well aware that's expecting a ton and I'd probably be better off waiting for one of those spin-offs but all the same this is the kind of series that could really shine if the developers were willing to think outside of the box and allow their imagination to override what "works". Cause while this game does what it sets out to do it never goes anywhere beyond that to create a truly memorable game which to me is quite a shame cause the game's Universe is fascinating and it's being on such traditional and dull game design.

Still I played through it and I enjoyed it. That counts for something I imagine.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Latest threat to productivity - Perfect Dark XBLA

I'm really loving this game. I owned it on the N64 but having a version that runs at 60 fps and at a resolution of 1080P is just amazing. The online play is tolerable despite the near constant pauses and hitches(which I assume will be ironed out in a patch) but more importantly it's just good addictive fun.

Problem is of course is that I really should be focusing on other games. I'm about halfway through Metro2033 and while so far I think it's great at the same time I'm too busy with Perfect Dark to go back. There's also Mass Effect 2 which is a substantial improvement over nearly all aspects of the original game. Yet instead I'm spending more time blowing people up with proximity mines than focusing on something at least mildly productive.

I'm sure it'll all sort out eventually and I'll hopefully have something worth talking about before April hits. Cause with Arcade Appreciation month it's going to be nothing but Arcade games.

Slightly speaking of a new game arrived today:

Atari Anthology - Yeesh these compilations are such a ridiculous value. Let's see now I get 67 Atari 2600 games and 18 early Atari Arcade games for $10. From what I can tell the emulation is at least competent and it'll give me some idea of what games I want to pick up for when Microsoft's Game Room hits next week. So between Activision Anthology, Atari Anthology, and Intellivision Lives maybe in May I'll do another themed month and give it some Unfunny title.

Course I dunno. April is starting to look pretty stuffed now and that's not even considering the possibility of more arcade games being released through the Game Room service. I might just devote both April and May solely to Arcade games.

Still trying to find a Playstation 3. No luck...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Putting an End to Mega March Muh Muh Monster...ugh forget it

I have an ear infection at the moment so I've decided against continuing to play through these Megaman games. Yes oh darn what a tragedy oh man I was so looking forward to playing through more of those games. So instead let's talk about new plans for the rest of the month.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is finally hitting the US Virtual Console today so I'm definitely going to give that a go. There's also Metro2033 which I've already preordered and hopefully I'll be playing it tomorrow. Other than that I dunno really as I have nothing that I'm even close to finishing.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mega-busted - Megaman 7

I thought it would get better after part 6, I really did. Let's look at the facts. This game is on the SNES and features impressive graphics, special effects, more exploration, a bunch of new items(like the ability to use Protoman's shield), and even the ability for Rush to dig up hidden items.

Unfortunately this is all superfluous garbage and this game is the worst in the series thus far. Usually I wait a day or two after playing a game before I put together my thoughts on it so I'm not filled with the kind of rage that'll color the entire review. You know what though? Screw it. I hate this terrible game so it deserves whatever bile I manage to cough up.

Rather than stay in jail and spare us this awful game Dr. Wily organizes a plot to bust out and wreck havoc again. Megaman is called to the scene and yikes what in the world happened here? The sprites in this game are HUGE. They're well-detailed and almost ridiculously animated to the point where you can easily tell every move that happens next. Is all this really necessary? Now whenever I face a Sniper Joe(those green-shielded guys) I can tell exactly when they're going to fire cause their eye flashes.

So start with did we really need these huge sprites? All they're good for is making Megaman a large target. To add to this Megaman's window of invincibility is considerably short, so if he runs into a big enemy he'll likely take a second hit before he can get away. All of the large sprites also cut down on the amount of content that can actually fill the screen. There are less enemies, less traps, and overall just a more constricted environment that leaves no room for any truly inspired level design.

In regards to level design most of the appeal is in finding the secret items. The levels themselves are a walk in the park and the only time I was remotely impressed was when Quickman's lasers made a cameo(for all of one screen). Most of the time I didn't even notice or care what was going on in the stages. I avoid the spikes, shoot the bad guys, and eventually get to the boss without anything resembling a challenge. If I died it was most likely to something I had never seen before(which is extremely rare in this game) or the bosses.

The bosses in Megaman 7 are either pathetic or frustrating. Their patterns are either amateurish or ridiculous. The damage they can do is either minuscule or insane. There's no middle-ground here and none of the fights ever approach anything resembling fun. First off the system has been revamped so that whenever a boss is hit with a weapon they're weak to they get stunned for a second and then go into a particular pattern. Most of the time this simply renders the boss impotent as their patterns are usually so ineffective they may as well not have done anything. A couple bosses like Slashman on the other hand will continue on like nothing actually happened. It's wildly inconsistent especially with Slashman as he's most dangerous after being hit with his weakness. Maybe it was supposed to be a new idea but Capcom forgot to follow it up properly? We'll never know.

In this game there is also a shop where Megaman can buy 1ups, energy tanks, and...well that's about all worth buying. I preferred the old system where energy tanks had to be found and they were pretty rare. Due to their scarcity I was more likely to hold onto them and actually learn how to beat the tougher fights without relying on items. Instead I got lazy and force-fed my way through a lot of spots that may or may not have been problematic. Chances are if I actually did bother with not using them I'd just have more things to complain about cause I'd be stuck on them for several minutes.

Still none of that really matters cause the game is a very smooth ride up until the final boss. Now usually Wily is a bit of a wimp when it comes to the end of the game. He has some big vehicle and then maybe a smaller ship. This game is similar in that respect but both of his forms are night and day. His second form is crap, complete and utter crap. It has a couple weaknesses but they hardly matter when Wily is too high for any of them to reach. His first attack is a spread of bullets that home in on Megaman's general direction. These can either freeze him which does damage and leaves him open to attack, burn him which drains his health, or just do regular damage. It's not like any of that matters really cause unless you know the pattern you're going to take damage. In fact even if you know the pattern that doesn't guarantee anything. Megaman is a large target trying to dodge four fast moving bullets all coming at him at the same time. I've never seen anything like it myself in a Megaman game. This is where the game completely falls apart.

To explain this scenario let's go over the basics. The final stage is predictably a fight with all eight robot masters and then Wily himself. At this point I just want the game over with. I hit Wily's second form and suffer a crushing defeat. It's bad enough that so much of this stuff is hard to dodge but if Megaman gets caught by anything he's likely to lose 1/3 to half his health. This is also one of those battles that ends in 30 seconds with Megaman dying or 5 minutes with Wily dying. It's like that final battle with Dr. Robotnik in Sonic 1 except the bullets are three times as fast and Robotnik always uses the pistons that are out of Sonic's reach.

But hey what's the worry? I have nine lives in stock cause the rest of the game is so easy. I also have a full stock of four energy tanks and some super tank that refills all of my weapons and energy(which in hindsight is actually kind of useless). The funny(or sad) thing is that I burned through them all and I couldn't even bring the guy to half health. So at this point I've hit a conundrum. I have eight lives left but no energy reserves. I could spend quite awhile attempting to beat this guy, I could reset the game, buy up all of the stuff I think I'll need, or I could just not bother at all and never play this game again. Obviously you know which option I went with.

A critical error in game development is giving an easy game a ludicrously difficult finale. If I was playing one of the first two Megaman games this final battle would have been a bit more fitting. Instead it feels more like somebody was trying to save face because their latest Megaman game was a mere shadow of its former self in both challenge and good game design. Okay wait that doesn't make any sense. Why would anyone inflict such a horrendous design decision upon this game? It completely wrecks anything the game might have had going for it.

If the final boss isn't consistent with the rest of the game why bother ever replaying it? Consistency is not something that can be overlooked. All games must attempt to rise to the level of the player to sufficiently challenge their skills as well as their understanding of the game's mechanics and design. It's quite alright for the final boss to be a bit harder than everything else in the game because that's the final test for the player, the culmination of everything they've learned over the course of the game. This is extremely important in determining whether a person will play through the game again or not. If the finale is a mess it will ruin the rest of the game to a point where the player will never touch it again. What else are they going to do? Just play through the game but quit at the final boss? That doesn't make much sense. It's not like the very end of the game is going to take several hours or even several minutes to complete.

How can I play Megaman 7 without thinking about that final boss? It's not like the game gives me sufficient reason to think about anything else. There's no level of challenge that even comes close to approaching Wily's second form. The worst part however is that this actually continues in other Megaman games. For the unaware I'm specifically talking about both Megaman Legends games. Although at least those games have some things going for them and are quite good, this game however is simply a wreck.

Anyway at least I only have three games left. If you plan on holding my disinterest in completing part 7 over my head feel free to do so cause I couldn't care less. Hopefully part 8 is better as I can't imagine it getting any worse.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mega March Madness - Megaman 6

Slowly but surely all of these Megaman games are driving me insane. I've been working on this blog for close to a year now and this is the first time I've ever looked forward to not playing a videogame. I really do think if I keep at this series it's going to break me. These aren't bad games but they're so similar to one another that I wonder if it's even worth bothering to continue.

Nevertheless now I'm up to Megaman 6 and surprisingly it's a bit different. There's eight more robot masters and a mysterious Dr. X to contend with. I'm not even sure why Capcom bothers cause for one this Dr. X is obviously Dr. Wily and for two the level themes just feel so uninspired. So okay I'm going to fight a guy named Knightman. Wouldn't his stages have Knights? They could have at least tried to put together a decent medieval theme. Megaman could jump on moving javelins, dodge boiling oil, and Knightman's weapon could have been the black plague or something. Instead he uses a mace. It's not even a cool mace either like the ones that swing around. It's just the ball and it travels a short distance before coming back, sort of like Ringman's weapon from MM4. This weapon is used against Centaurman and yes there are no centaurs in his stage. I hate this game.

Rush has been completely revamped and now he works as armor to attach to Megaman. There are two sets of armor, one that allows Megaman to throw punches that break walls, and another that allows him to fly for a short period of time. If you've played Ranger-X the jet's mechanics will be instantly familiar to you. Whenever you fly a small meter quickly drains, which only nets you a couple seconds of air time at the most. When you touch the ground the meter refills almost instantly. Using these two armors will allow Megaman to access alternate paths to find all the pieces of Beat. I didn't find Beat and that's because I hate this game.

The reason I hate this game is simple. Megaman 6 is really not interested in being a Megaman game. I figure Capcom knew this was going to be their last NES Megaman game so they shuffled in all of the ideas they had been playing around with even if they wouldn't make much sense in a Megaman game. The end result is something that reminds me of Darkwing Duck or some other Capcom game that uses the Megaman engine but isn't a Megaman game. Thus it is very clear that this game suffers from a lack of identity.

How is that possible? Megaman 6 has all of that other stuff from Megaman 1 through 5. It's got the same jumping controls, the same weapon properties, Megaman still climbs ladders, and there's all that other junk we've come to expect. The key problem here is that there is no challenge. Throughout all of the Megaman games whether it was purposeful or accidental there was always challenge. Certainly some of the games are much easier than others but at least they were open-ended to the point where the player could make them difficult if they wanted to. In this game however there are no obstacles to overcome, there's nothing resembling the seemingly insurmountable, and the odds are always in your favor.

The robot masters feel like an afterthought in this game. Aside from being among the most uncreative and unexciting the bosses themselves barely worth noting. They're an inconvenience really. I probably would have been better off if the stage simply ended, heck they wouldn't even have to give me a weapon. I wouldn't need it because the game is such a walk in the park and it'd probably turn out to be useless anyway as is the case with most of the weapons.

The alternate paths are a nice touch but most of the time all it adds up to is meaningless replay value. None of these alternate paths do much to provide a challenge. Some of them require the jet armor to get through but the level design doesn't do anything. There's some platforms that can only be reached with the jet and towards the end a couple clever sections that actually require some understanding of how the system works. 90% of the time there's no follow through so we end up with useless clutter. The power armor is probably the greatest example of this. If there were no breakable walls in this game you would never use the power armor. Actually I take that back there is one boss that the power armor is recommended for.

You might think me a hypocrite but this is one of those times where the last thing a Megaman game needs is new ideas. There's enough material for one to create a better game simply by improving on what's already available. Instead I'm pausing the game every few screens to switch to the jet armor and then a few screens later I'm switching to some other armor. Every switch is coupled with a short cutscene which I presume was done to give Rush some face time. This really feels like the kind of sequel where everything I've learned playing the past games has been squandered. There's no reward for beating this game other than a pretty major incentive to never play it again.

Although I'd be better off if I dropped this series while I was ahead I have already started work on Megaman 7. Rather than leave anyone in suspense I'm just going to sum it up with a line I heard from a famous Caveman once: "Ugh".

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Party like its 20XX - Megaman 5

Here we are again with another Megaman. What can I say about this one? Well the charged shot has been revamped slightly as it is now wider and seemingly a bit more powerful. There is a new character named Beat who acts as a weapon but since I didn't collect all eight of the tokens(which spell out "MEGAMAN5") I didn't get to use him. Maybe I could go back to find him but eh it's not worth the trouble.

Actually "Not worth the trouble" does a fair job of describing Megaman 5 as a whole. There are some improvements over part 4 like the useless Rush Marine getting jettisoned but the game itself is so predictable and so easy that it actually comes out to be a worse game overall. Then again I'm not even sure if that's right cause if I played Megaman 5 before part 4 I'd say 4 is the worse game. What kind of sense does that make? It's almost as if they're interchangeable in quality.

To be fair Megaman 5 does try a new thing, a vehicle section. I'm well aware that this is a sign of the end times and I apologize if you ruined your keyboard with vomit upon reading this. There is a vehicle section in this game and while it is short it doesn't paint a bright future for the franchise. The sequences involving the Rush Jet could be considered vehicle sections but for the most part those are optional and Megaman is free to jump off whenever he feels it's necessary. However in this one all that happens is that Megaman is in some futuristic jetski mindlessly firing away at dolphins and mines while other guys on jetskis approach from both sides. This is very dull and actually kind of frustrating cause you don't really expect it so you're bound to lose a life. Otherwise this is an incredibly easy game. There are still various ways for the player to make the game more difficult but at this point it's pretty clear that Capcom doesn't want to take any chances that'll scare away newcomers or even the "veterans" who have grown more attached to the characters than to the game itself.

It's possible that I'm going about this the wrong way. Back then these games came out once every one or two years. That left plenty of time for gamers back then to play through other games including easier ones that might have allowed their skills to deteriorate or have forgotten about of a number of the traps each game has. I've been playing these Megaman games practically back to back. So whenever I come to something familiar I'll remember exactly how I handled it the last time and go from there. Yeah that's right maybe it's my fault. Videogames are only becoming bland and predictable because I play too many of them and start expecting change from a series already in its fifth iteration.

Still I think one thing Capcom could have done is include some kind of difficulty setting. Unfortunately videogames back then really didn't have much in the way of difficulty least the most memorable ones. Secondly how could one properly design a good harder difficulty for this game? Sure the easy way out is to just have everything do more damage but that always struck me as the laziest way to make a game harder. It should be about making the game harder to win instead of making it easier for the player to die. This would mostly be to the effect of having more enemies in different places, having more traps in the levels(even if that means more spikes), giving the bosses faster or even new attacks, and so on. Problem is not many people were doing this kind of thing at the time. If they were it was in second quests(Zelda 1) or even new games(Super Mario 2 Japan..which was practically unheard of at the time). In any case making Megaman 5 a harder game would be rather tricky. I guess having more spikes is an option. It's a pretty dumb one but I figure eventually every Megaman game is going to be nothing but spikes as far as the eye can see no might as well prepare gamers for it. Actually changing the structure of the levels would probably be too much trouble. Megaman 3 did do a nice job of it with the four revisited stages though.

The one thing to keep in mind however is that Megaman 5 is not a bad game. It's about as solid and well-designed as one can expect from the series. It just seems like Capcom has little interest in not phoning it in and they're most likely not interested in rocking the boat with an entry that'll scare away fans. On the other hand the alternative could be stuff like the later Megaman X games. It's an extremist view maybe but after playing through 5 I don't have the optimism necessary to believe otherwise.

I will say also that Megaman 5's revamping of the charged shot is the best thing to ever happen to it. It's a far more useful weapon and the level design doesn't try so hard to force its usage(like with enemies that only charge-shots can kill). There are some out there who don't like the charge-shot but I think with this entry it proves itself as a good addition. The regular shot is fine for almost every situation but if I'm fighting a boss or something where I can't easily get a shot in I'd rather use a weapon that'll do decent damage when the opportunity arises. Some people don't like the slide either which is something I can't possibly begin to understand.

I just noticed that one of the weapons in this game is actually called Power Stone. Kind of weird considering that Capcom made a couple of games called Powerstone several years later. Unfortunately this about the only thing I'll remember from Megaman 5. Part 6 could fare better as it has a couple new ideas but I dunno, this whole Mega March thing I'm doing is starting to feel too much like work. Eh well can't quit when I'm already half-way done right?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Yet again with these random game pick-ups

PGR4 - It's cheap, it's kind of arcadey, and it looks good on my monitor. Do I need anymore reason to pick this up?

Intellivision Lives - I was an Atari guy back then so I never got to play this nor the Colecovision. Should be an interesting trip down memory lane...even though I have no memories of this system...

Mass Effect 2 - I liked the original game despite its numerous flaws and Amazon had a good deal going.

Valkyria Chronicles - Yes I'm well aware I picked a helluva time to be interested in a PS3 but all the same I'm sure I'll get a hold of one eventually. In preparation I picked up this game cause I've heard innumerable great things about it. Now all I can do is watch and wait.

Don't Rush, Don't Roll, Charge! - Megaman 4

To mix things up a bit we're introduced to a chap by the name of Dr. Cossack. His motives is simple, build robots that'll crush Megaman once and for all. Predictably this is all part of Dr. Wily's diabolical plot but who cares? It's time for some more robot busting and spike-pit avoiding action.

Megaman 4 introduces the ability to charge the Mega-buster. These charged shots do a bit more damage though unfortunately for this installment it comes off as more of a gimmick than anything. While the slide has many uses and is a constant important tool the charged shot is really only useful for certain enemies. The robot master Dive Man is a good example as he fires multiple homing missiles. A charged shot will go through all of these and damage him, making for a great weapon during this particular fight.

Then again at times it's better to be a gimmick than to be completely useless. Rush is back and while his Jet and Coil are still very handy his Marine ability for traversing underwater is a waste. Oh yes there is an underwater stage and even a couple underwater sections but they're actually easier to traverse with just Megaman. In an annoying change the Rush Jet moves forward automatically. While Megaman has slight control of its speed as well as the ability to move upwards or downwards he can't turn it around or use it for any kind of tricky navigation. As a bonus if Rush collides into a wall he'll take off, leaving Megaman to fall into whatever pits or spikes he might be flying over.

I assume this change was made so that the two new items would be more useful. Yep apparently a dog with multiple forms wasn't enough so now there are actually multiple paths with new special items at the end of them. The first one makes floating balloon platforms while the second uses a grappling hook to take Megaman straight to the ceiling. These really don't come into use until the second half of the game and in fact they're quite optional. Frankly I'm not sure why so many items were necessary.

One of the strengths of this game is that it takes on more inventive level designs. There's actually a sense of non-linearity to the stages with some having alternate paths or dead-ends that reward the player with goodies like extra lives and energy tanks. There are platforming sections that involve giant grasshoppers, a pit of quicksand that has to be traversed, and even an autoscrolling section. Still there are a number of areas that'll seem familiar to Megaman fans. There's an underwater section that feels almost right out of part 2 for example. The problem with a lot of these more creative areas is that nothing is really done with them. In one section Megaman must flip switches while jumping to reveal platforms he can safely land on. The game never tries to push this obstacle to create for some hard scenarios. There could maybe be some rock-dropping pipes in-between pits or something else. Instead it just comes off as gimmicky...a word that's already starting to become overused in my discussion of the Megaman series.

The fights with the Robot Masters feel a bit clumsier than they should be. In fact a lot of the damage and subsequent deaths are going to come from the boss bumping into Megaman. Sometimes this is intentional like with Dive Man's charging attack but usually it feels like there isn't any real pattern and Megaman just ends up trapped. This is very frustrating when many of the boss-fights are based on pattern recognition and learning to exploit it. On the other side of the pond there are bosses like Toadman that are absolutely pathetic. All you have to do is get close, move under him as he tries to jump on you, fire, and repeat the same action over and over until he dies. I guess this was Capcom's idea of giving the robot masters some amount of rudimentary AI but for the most part it just leads to more exploitable patterns. This makes for a difficulty setting that's off as it'll take longer to get the boss-fights going the player's way but with practice they can be done in very easily.

The weapons are very uninspired. While the earlier games had some clever uses for particular weapons this game doesn't really do anything with them. A lot of these weapons behave as little more than regular shots with an extra effect and there's not much of a benefit from experimenting. It's also annoying that the regular enemies feel very ineffective in this game. I'm not sure if it's their poor placement or general lack of damage but I don't really recall any times that I felt I had to work on particular areas due to how the regular foes behaved. The bosses are certainly tough but a more uniform level of difficulty would have helped this game immensely.

This is also the first Megaman since part 1 that allows the player to replay the robot master levels. This idea is expanded upon far more in the Megaman X series as at least in this game it's mostly good for stocking up on extra lives and energy tanks. It's a nice addition I guess but without the ability to leave a completed stage at any time it just becomes a nuisance having to reach the end of the stage or burn through all of the player's remaining lives to get back to the stage select.

To summarize this is a Megaman game with a bit too much useless fluff, uneven difficulty, some creative level designs that don't really go anywhere, and simply feels like it could have used a bit more development time. It's still worth a playthrough at least cause it is a fun game and like every other Megaman it'll put your skills and reflexes to the test. It's just that this game is a bit of a disappointment. Nothing major really and Capcom has done quite a bit worse so I guess it's not that big of a deal. Hopefully Megaman 5 is a return to a form.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Fighting for Everlasting Peace - Megaman 3

In a shocking twist Capcom released another Megaman game. This time we're introduced to a handful of new characters and a new ability that has made its way in some form or another to every future Megaman game(with some exceptions). Eight new robot masters are ready to get their powers stolen and even the bosses of Megaman 2 join the fray in an additional four levels for the biggest game yet.

The first new character is the mysterious Protoman. He's Megaman's older brother and while he comes off as a mid-boss in the game he's actually there to teach the player how to properly use the slide. His pattern simply consists of running from left to right though when he gets close to Megaman he jumps and fires bullets at the same time, prompting the player to slide in order to avoid damage. Granted a narrow passageway could achieve the same result but at the same time Megaman's slide is more than just a gimmick. I'll discuss it a bit more in-depth later.

The other new character is Rush. There's something poetic about a robo-boy and his robo-dog. Rush is the replacement for those special items from Megaman 2. Now instead of using one item to make platforms the player can summon Rush to get a high jump, ride a flying jet, or even take a ride in the sea. Rush is a good addition to the series as his appearance and abilities make for a more cohesive experience. In addition while Rush uses energy it is only expended when Megaman actually uses the mutt's abilities. So while using the jet the player is free to jump off and take care of business without costing energy. This is important for a late-game stage.

Most important however is the slide itself. While Megaman is short and a decent runner there are times when an extra boost of speed and an ever so slightly smaller target can be a real boon to survival. The dash is not only effective in terms of speed but it also allows Capcom to be more creative and dynamic with the boss battles. This means a greater variety of attacks with new ways to evade them aside from jumping or running out of the way. This extra bit of versatility makes the slide one of my favorite additions to the Megaman series.

The game itself also marks a change in the amount of levels. While the first couple games were about 12 stages long this one throws in four more. These four additional stages are patterned after four of the first eight but feature new level designs and traps. In addition a special robot serves as the mid and end-boss. These stages are probably the toughest part of the game for me as they contain the most traps. Thankfully in this game energy tanks can be saved even after a game over. Unfortunately this starts to become reminiscent of Resident Evil 4. I held onto so many herbs throughout that game thinking I'd save them for an emergency. Most of the time however I found it was easier just to die and restart the section than to use a healing item. There are players that will disagree with this sentiment obviously.

I think I should mention that Megaman games are frequently very clever about enemy placement. Usually this is a cut and dry affair when it comes to action platformers. For example you always gotta make sure there's the flying enemy waiting by each pit to knock the player off while they're trying to jump. In Megaman games you see a lot of that even with robots that aren't designed solely to home in on the player. Some enemies have patterns they're limited to but can become a serious threat at the critical moment to defeat the player. Like other early action-platformers like Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden caution is always the best course of action. Though at the same time if the player knows what's coming they can clear dangerous areas looking just a bit more stylish.

The level structure is also a bit more improved in that the hardest parts of the stage are right before the boss where they should be. It's not like in Megaman 1 where at times they were near the beginning or in Megaman 2 where they are just kind of all over the place or dominate the entire level.

One remarkable aspect of Megaman 3 is that this game marks a drop in difficulty for the series. While it's expected to still die many times as well as see the game over screen every now and again overall it's quite a bit easier than the first two games. This isn't really a bad thing in my eyes since the games start to become better balanced to account for players trying new challenges to get more life out of the game(like fighting every boss with just the mega-buster or without energy tanks, heck some people are even able to beat the game without dying or even taking damage). It's a tall order for most gamers but it's good to see that the series is getting the refinements it needs to stay relevant and entertaining.

Overall this is a solid entry in the series and certainly worth a playthrough or several. It marks a good middle ground between providing a decent challenge while at the same time having enough accessibility for any gamer. One could argue that this is the point where Capcom started getting lazy but that discussion can wait for Megaman 4.

March of the Megamans - Megaman 2

With the sequel Capcom managed to fix every flawed aspect of the original game and in the process delivered a classic. The levels are more consistent in their design yet they also contain more variety and situations that are better balanced as well as more challenging. Furthermore the bosses have been revamped so that damage done by both parties is more balanced and the fights themselves are more creative and unique.

This time around there are eight new robot masters to steal powers from and a brand new Wily castle to conquer. The level designs are more centered around creating some absolutely brutal situations. The one that everyone remembers is Quickman's stage. Practically the entire level is a vertical drop where the player must evade giant lasers that roll across the screen. Contact with these lasers is instant death and most of the time getting away isn't as simple as a straight drop. The Megaman series handles vertical scrolling differently than most other action-platformers in that it is screen by screen. It's kind of like the original Zelda where the screen scrolls in and then the enemies appear. Here it isn't any different as Megaman has a brief moment to scan the area for anything he should look out for before he starts moving and the traps start to appear. In any case these lasers are the deadliest part of the stage(though Quickman himself is also a real jerk) and quite a bit of dying will be involved until the player figures out how to navigate the section. Thankfully a weapon can be used to circumvent this but it's a weapon Quickman is weak to. This usage of vertical scrolling is also explored in one of the Wily stages. After jumping into some water Megaman will come to a vertical shaft lined with spikes. Contact with spikes is of course fatal and the shaft will shift ever so slightly from screen to screen.

The weapons vary in usage though in this game some are far more useful than others. The buzz-saw for example can be fired in eight directions and is so cheap on the energy cost Megaman can use it in lieu of the mega buster. Some others like the tornado are great for the walker-type enemies as a direct hit will destroy them instantly. Then there are weapons like the crash bombs. These can blow up walls certainly but the main reason anyone remembers them is for that lousy Wily stage where the boss is nothing more than a bunch of orbs taking shots at Megaman that he can't avoid. The only way to kill this boss is to blow up each orb with a crash bomb. Most of the orbs are blocked by walls and there are also walls that must be circumvented by using the items that help Megaman get around(like a platform that moves upward a short distance). This fight has zero room for error so one wasted crash bomb and it's all over. This is a terrible battle.

The hop(tap the jump button) is a more essential part of Megaman's repertoire in this game. A platform in Quickman's laser section requires it while Bubbleman's stage features a spiked ceiling to punish players for holding the jumping down. These sections are good since Megaman's hop has other applications as well(like dodging smaller attacks that are fired in quick succession). It wouldn't be good game design to have these sections in otherwise as it would come off as gimmicky. Granted for a series that has spawned over 30 games a gimmick can slip by every now an then but at the same time no matter the level all of the features it puts to the test should also be applicable in other scenarios.

This game also marks the inclusion of energy tanks. These are an interesting staple in that when used they replenish all of Megaman's health. The catch is however is that since completed stages can't be repeated in this game that means one must conserve the tanks for the longest battles. All of the fights in this game can be beaten without energy tanks so it's more of an easy out for players having a hard time. Getting a game over causes the player to lose all of their energy tanks. The following sequel rectifies this which is a good thing because it offers a more accessible experience to gamers who like the series but find it too difficult as well as others who seek more ways to challenge themselves.

The biggest problem with Megaman 2 is that while the level design is more consistent the challenge isn't. One example is the dragon boss of the first Wily stage. He's an impressive guy certainly and his appearance will definitely catch first-time players unaware but when it actually comes down to fighting the guy he goes down in seconds. I guess I should be thankful for this as the platforms Megaman is standing one are of the one block variety so it's very possible one hit could knock him into a pit. On the other hand tacking on an extra block to each platform could have made a dramatic difference in how the fight plays out. It might have been worth trying to fight the Dragon fairly as in by not using Quickman's weapon to get it over with in a hurry but since one mistake could send me back to the beginning of the stage I figured it isn't worth the trouble. The hardest part of the dragon boss is really the auto-scrolling section with all of the one block jumps. Some of the Wily stages are also rather shallow in that they are more geared to replenish Megaman's energy stock rather than to create a good challenging stage. Why this game simply didn't restock all of Megaman's weapons after each stage never made any sense to me especially since it's a constant throughout the series. The absolute final boss is also a bit of a joke but I think that's because it was actually supposed to be a joke, a way to ease off all of the pressure from just getting through an encounter with all eight robot masters plus a Wily ship with two forms.

I should also point out that sending the player back to the beginning of the stage on Wily or other related stages is kind of a bad idea. While the bosses of these sections are more reliant on certain ideas instead of established patterns like the robot masters it's still unexpected what's going to happen and kicking the player back to the beginning of the stage even if they have lives remaining is unnecessary. I'm well aware that these stages are only a couple minutes long but it still takes the player out of the moment. On the other hand some bosses can only be damaged by a certain weapon so being stuck at the boss fight without any way to kill it isn't good at all.

A lot of this is just nitpicking although many of the aspects will continue to persist in future games. Thankfully it never gets to the point where it completely overwhelms the game and ruins it. Of course as sequels are wont to do Capcom will continue to make additions that may or may not be beneficial to the series. But we'll save all that for the look at Megaman 3.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Megamania look - Megaman 1

With every classic videogame series there's always that humble first game. It's usually not the best of the series and it's clear that there's either major issues or ideas that just haven't been perfected yet. The ideas are there at least and everything is in place to deliver an excellent game eventually. Megaman 1 is the purest example of this ideology.

The Megaman series is rife with standards and tropes that have become a part of nearly every game. To start off the player chooses from eight robot masters to face off against. Okay strike that in this game at least there are only six(The PSP remake known as Powered Up adds two new robot masters at least). All of them are based on everyday things only now they're associated with deadly robots. Cutman fights with what looks to be boomerang scissors, Elecman fights with electricity, Fireman uses fire, and well you get the idea. After choosing a robot master the player goes through a stage based around whatever the robot represents so expect lots of slipping around in Iceman's stage as well as lava to play in during Fireman's stage.

The structure of each stage for at least the first six games is very straight-forward. There are horizontally scrolling areas broken up by one-room sections where the player climbs a ladder or something so it's not just one straight line to the boss. There's one mid-level checkpoint and another before the boss. These stages can include any or all of the following:

-A variety of different enemy robots to destroy. These robots can leave behind powerups that restore health/energy or even 1ups.
-Bottomless pits
-Spikes on the floor, ceilings, and walls. These are always instant-death to the touch.
-Some stage-specific gimmick like disappearing blocks, some kind of moving platform, and so on.
-Parts of the stages either recommend or require a special item. Megaman 1 has one in the form of the ability to create platforms for crossing large gaps or climbing vertical shafts when a ladder isn't within reach.

At the end of the stage the player will face off with the boss who always has a certain pattern to their attack. At this point the player can choose to fight with their regular weapon(or Mega-buster as it's usually called) or they can use the weapon the boss is weak towards to end the battle quickly. In Megaman every robot master that Megaman destroys will give him a weapon. All of these weapons require energy to use and are useful depending on the scenario and application. More often than not however these weapons are used on bosses that are weak towards them. It's a great system since more skilled players will fight without weapons as the mega-buster is decent enough for any situation. After defeating all of the robot masters Megaman will enter Dr. Wily's lair which is another four or so stages. There are also bosses at the end of these stages and even a final encounter with every robot master towards the very end. Unlike prior stages these masters are all fought one after another with maybe an item to replenish some health in-between. Of course since the player has all of the weapons they're more than capable of making short work of everyone.

Megaman himself has also gone relatively un-changed for every game. Though he gets a handful of moves in the sequels he's most dependent on the basics like running and jumping. His jump is of the standard "tap to hop/hold to jump higher" variety and he can't speed up like Mario or some other platformer characters. He can't duck and his mega-buster fires three shots at a time. For all intents and purposes Megaman is perfectly designed as far as controls go. The levels are designed around these basic actions and transitioning from moving to jumping to shooting is flawless.

So now that all of the boring stuff is out of the way let's talk about the first game. I hate to say it but this one just isn't any good. There are many problems that range from level design to the boss battles. However let's start off with the most apparent flaw. Why is there a score? This has always struck me as the most bizarre aspect of the first game. Here we have a game where each stage can be replayed an infinite number of times. The person with the highest score is always going to be the one who has absolutely nothing better to do. Furthermore there are even items that add to the score at the end of each stage. I'd rather have healing items drop than these useless things. It never really made sense in Super Mario World and in other similar games, though at least those had some benefit for scoring(it served as a means to an end when you jumped on enough bad guys to get a 1up y'know like: 100, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000?, 8000, 1up). Getting a highscore in Megaman 1 is worth nothing. Thankfully this was ditched in all of the sequels though it would re-appear in some form for spin-offs like the Megaman Zero series.

Really though that's just nitpicking compared to the very poor level design. Megaman 1 is very repetitive and it just doesn't make any sense. There are some very clever situations to challenge the player like jumping between platforms that fire bullets but there are a few areas that are simply carbon copies of prior sections but with maybe a new enemy or an additional power-up. The structure is also poor most of the time. For example in Gutsman's stage the hardest section is at the very beginning. There are these moving platforms that fall when crossing certain sections of the belt they're attached to. Once the player figures those out the rest of the level is extremely easy in comparison. The worst part about these challenging sections is that the game never really does anything with them. Once the player successfully gets past one particularly challenging section they'll most likely never have to deal with it in the future. What we've grown to expect from these games is that we'll see certain sections again but with more enemies, less platforms, or some other obstacle to give the area an extra challenge so the game can keep up with the knowledge and skills we've acquired while playing.

The one standard that holds true for all Megaman games is that trial and error plays no small part in getting through them. Learning the patterns to bosses, escaping the toughest traps, and surviving anything usually comes down to dying until the player gets it right. Death is never any huge punishment as the stages take about 5 minutes to beat anyway and over time the player will eventually be able to master each stage to the point where they never die and possibly won't take damage at all. Thus new challenges and different ways of handling every situation should be a constant in every Megaman game. This is where the first title truly falls apart as the level design just doesn't hold up in terms of challenge or creativity. It's not all bad though as some situations allow for the player to use weapons to bypass obstacles. For example the trickiest part of the Iceman stage can be almost entirely avoided by using the item that creates platforms. Furthermore jets of fire in Fireman's stage can be frozen with the ice weapon for easier progress. Still at times it's obvious these ideas were still in their infancy as a lot of them crop up again in the Wily Stages to serve as glorified keys.

The other major flaw is in the boss-fights. While these robot masters have patterns they either do too much damage or too many attacks are unavoidable for the player to do nothing but use whatever weapon the boss is weak towards. This makes the boss-fights come off as one-dimensional as some weapons can kill a boss in three hits. These same bosses can also kill Megaman in three or four hits. Sure one could take the chance using only the mega-buster but with odds like that it's not worth the hassle. Heck with a boss like Fireman I'm not sure how anyone can expect to dodge his relentless waves of fire.

On the bright side this game gets practically everything else right. Megaman controls spectacularly as he has just the right amount of momentum to make the trickiest jumps and while he can't jump his small-size provides enough room to dodge attacks. This game also manages to remain a fairly decent challenge to the very end even if the stage design becomes predictable although this might be more due to certain bosses than anything.

Regardless everything is definitely in place to create a good or even great game. All that needs to be done is to work out the problematic areas and sure enough Megaman 2 arrived and in most respects it's a class act. I'll get to that one later.