Wednesday, September 29, 2010

PSP Look - God of War: Chains of Olympus

Our wacky anti-hero Kratos is at it again as his insatiable appetite for vengeance and bloodlust is unlikely to ever be satisfied. It seems trouble is afoot in the world of Olympus as darkness threatens to envelop everything. It's a tale that has all the trimmings of a side-story and the game itself serves as a decent little stop-gap for those who can't get enough of the Ghost of Sparta.

Knowing my thoughts on the series I had no intention of buying this game, however since it came with the PSP I figured I'll do a good turn and give it a run-through. Clocking in at a hefty five hours even 30+ year old gamers with wives, children, and full-time jobs should be able to find the time for this adventure. The pacing is really solid with only some minor back-tracking and while many instances could be due to the hardware limitations of the PSP it's appreciated all the same. There's quite a bit less wandering, the puzzles aren't nearly as time-consuming, and tedium is kept to a minimum.

The controls are expectantly the most difficult aspect of Chains of Olympus. The analog nub just isn't all that great for QTEs that require moving in circles and dodging is done by holding both triggers and moving the nub. Still it's not saying much when like the previous games, CoO is very accessible. The QTEs in general however simply have to go. Most of them are tied to finishing off the various denizens of the underworld and most of them aren't even required. They're a bit of annoyance however as the button-prompts can be fumbled pretty easily if the player accidentally hits another button just after initiating the QTE. It's nitpicking probably but considering the length of the game even little things can account for something.

The framerate in particular is the worst thing about the combat in this game. It can vary anywhere from 60 to 10 fps and even with the generous timing for performing certain commands like parries it can make things a bit troublesome. This might also be the reason why Olympus is a fair bit easier than the first two games. The enemies are very one-dimensional in this installment has several can fall for repeat grab-attacks while others can be shut-down easily by a parry. There are a few bosses to contend with but these guys actually fare the worst due to the simplistic combat as they repeat the same few moves and get hammered as a result. As with the other God of Wars there are multiple difficulty settings though I figure it just means Kratos takes more damage from everything.

The highlight of the combat is the Gauntlet of Zeus. It seems like every time this game is talked about this weapon is brought up. There's a good reason for that as the Gauntlet is really fun weapon to use. It basically consists of punches and charging attacks but the impact feels really solid and it's fun just knocking enemies around. Only problem is that it's awarded with maybe 30-40 minutes left in the game. At least it can be taken along on subsequent playthroughs.

One odd thing that I noticed about combat is that the enemies will cease their attacks for a few seconds when one of their own has just been finished off with a grab-move. I'm not quite sure if it's a bad thing as it is kind of nice getting free time to wail on enemies, especially more annoying ones such as archers as they will simply stand around in shock and horror upon seeing their comrade get their intestines ripped out. It is a strange thing though, I guess maybe it was a workaround so that enemies didn't attack to interrupt QTE finishes and such.

As far as the puzzles are concerned the only one I actually got stuck on -- and I'm embarrassed to admit this -- was in one section where I had to pull out some stepping stones and then run behind an alcove that was revealed. It turns out I was simply going in the wrong direction. Other than that though the most convoluted puzzle just involves some basic light-source reflecting and it's more tedious than anything as it involves shuffling four statues around. I'm actually kind of glad there's a whopping one section that requires being underwater in the entire game. It's good that even when games are in the same series different ideas are thrown about in regards to emphasizing particular ideas and sections.

For being a game I might have never given a look otherwise Chains of Olympus turned out pretty alright. If nothing else it got me interested in considering God of War 3 and the new PSP game for a future purchase. I'm not sure how much I can recommend the game otherwise but hey if it falls in your lap somehow or another you may as well give it a go.

Game Rating 3.5 out of 5 stars
Comparing this game to other entries in the series is a bit unfair I think. It's a solid entry for what it sets out to do and while its lacking in extras and other aspects that would give it a lot of replay value it's a serviceable game for the five or so hours it takes to complete. Still I guess while it has some good ideas in regards to pacing and such it doesn't do all that much to differentiate itself from the other games. Not that this is a really bad thing as more of a good thing can't be hurt but somehow I think it would have benefited from some different direction or maybe some fresh ideas.

My Rating 3 out of 5 stars
Still there's nothing I can suggest myself. As much as I'd like to believe that I'm a fountain of creativity it feels like every good idea I've thought of has already been used in or was taken from an existing videogame. Like the other God of Wars I may find myself bored attempting another playthrough of this edition and yet I'm at a loss to think of things Ready at Dawn could have done differently. Still for what it is it serves its purpose well and I guess that counts for something.

I gotta say though I could have done without Kratos whining like a spoiled brat when he doesn't get his way. I think at one point he crossed his arms and scowled like mommy just took his Nintendo away. Yeah his life sucks and all but he's supposed to be living the dream of the alpha-male. All the women want him, all the men fear him, and he pretty much gets a free pass to kill and sex whatever he likes. The attempts to give him some sort of depth, character, emotion, or well anything of that sort tends to fall flat. Now I'm curious as to how he acts in God of War 3.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

October is Castlevania month?

Hey it sounds like an idea to me. There are certainly enough of those games floating around now that perhaps some interesting talk can be gleamed from them. Aside from that there's Lords of Shadow arriving next week and a pretty swank trailer was put out fairly recently. I'm still not sure what to think about the game but eh I think I'll do some trade-ins and give it a go. So yeah the plan is to talk about as many CV games as I can get my hands on..which is surprisingly pretty numerous because Konami has done a fine job of making quite a few of them available through various distribution services.

On the other hand I'm still way behind on reviews of other games. I'll try to pump the output up a bit cause the content has been a bit anemic lately. I guess we'll just have to see how it goes.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Genesis Look - Rocket Knight Adventures

During the 16-bit days there was the tumultuous sea of mascot-driven platformers that could have very well killed off the genre. Like the stories of so many Japanese games the platformer genre suffers an endless cycle of death and rebirth as while at its best it produces genius Mario games and the occasional brilliant obscurity more often than not it leads to "me-too" affairs that are almost comical in their lack of shame and talented game design. Even today there are still things one can learn from one of the classics of the genre. In this case it's Konami's Rocket Knight Adventures on the Genesis.

Opossums never amount to much more than road-kill in real life and the only other game that I can remember that ever starred one was the not-at-all Awesome Possum. Aside from being able to hang from trees with their tail what exactly can possums do for videogames? Konami answered this rhetorical question by dressing a possum up in steam-punk armor and giving them a sword and a jetpack. It's a concept that is about as outlandish as giving super-speed shoes to a Hedgehog. In any case Sparkster was born and the first of four games came out to little fanfare.

For whatever reason an evil cyborg-pig dictator has beef with possum hierarchy and does the first thing that comes to mind, sack the kingdom and snatch the princess. Sparkster has to go through seven stages of action-platforming to make things right. It's a simple tale but it works as the game does a remarkable job of building up to each new encounter and makes everything just a bit more intense and epic than what came before. The pacing is brisk and smart and game begins and ends perfectly in about thirty minutes.

Sparkster can jump, run (well it looks more like power-walking or maybe a knightly strut), and swing a sword. The controls are a bit loose and offer a lot of mid-air maneuverability. Also unlike some other Konami game on the Genesis the mechanics of jumping are handled properly. The sword is a handy piece of work as it throws a blade a short distance that does weak damage and the sword itself has limited reach but great damage. The most important tool of course is the jet-pack. This sets Sparkster apart from any other armored-chump as it lets him soar into the air or in whatever direction that works best for him. Charging of the pack can be done at any time and while flying the Spark is invincible (provided he doesn't fly into a pit). Thing is there are still more than enough openings for Sparkster to take damage and a mis-timed boost into an enemy nest is bad news all around. Despite the invincibility benefits there's not much reward to out-weigh the risk of the jet-pack. In fact a sizable portion of the game doesn't really require the pack at all. I'm sure if Konami felt like it they could just throw out some springs for Sparky to bounce off of to reach the next section of the game.

But that wouldn't be interesting at all would it? RKA is a good-enough platformer on its own but the potential that the jet-pack offers adds so much. There are many situations that while running and jumping works just fine rocketing through is several times faster and more stylish. Since charging takes a couple of seconds there's more than enough reason to use and abuse the pack to try all kinds of ways of getting past each obstacle. RKA might be completely linear but no two playthroughs will be the same depending on the ways and frequency the jet-pack is used.

The way I see it more platformers could benefit from giving their protagonist abilities that actually make them feel like they have a real advantage. Sure in the average game one can expect to gain access to double-jumps, hovering, super-speed, and so on but most of the time all of that stuff is required just to complete the stage. I understand it becomes a question of balance but if done properly it gives the player more incentive to replay the game as they'll have new ways of traversing obstacles or they'll try things a bit differently coupling what they already know about the stage layout with abilities they never really used before or thought they would work in that situation.

One of the smaller touches in this game that really adds a lot is the locations of certain 1ups. RKA is a fairly-challenging game, at least in comparison to similar titles so it's good that when certain trouble-spots appear there tends to be 1up close by(and unlike some titles collected 1ups re-appear when the player dies and retries a section of the stage). This is especially helpful later in the game where Sparkster faces off with his rival in a game of "Rock'em Sock'em" robots. This battle relies a lot on positioning and timing and Sparkster has none of his abilities accessible to him. Being able to retry that section as many times as Sparkster is able to collect the 1up is pretty necessary.

RKA probably isn't the kind of game everyone will enjoy. Every stage is broken up into sections that feel more like situations than anything. As in what would Sparkster do if he was riding on a mine-cart? What would he do while swimming through spike-filled caverns? What would he do about avoiding invincible robots that aim to crush him? No two sections of the game are actually like one another and there's none of the build-up of "same encounters and ideas but more difficult". This is also a style of game-design that not too many developers properly implement. Regardless RKA performs fantastically and every play-through is pure joy.

Still it would have been nice if the difficulty settings really made creative changes. None of the bosses exhibit extra attacks, there are no additional areas or new traps to deal with, and basically it all boils down to Sparkster becoming a heck of a lot easier to kill. Still I guess it's cool if someone wants to attempt to beat the game without taking a single hit. In this case most of the real challenge must be from finding new and different ways to apply the jet-pack in even the most limited of situations.

The weakest part of the game is that the magic that flows through the first playthrough will probably not be there in successive plays. In fact this game probably works best when its given a playthrough maybe once to a few times a year. Still for what it was in 1993 and what it is today it's a remarkable achievement and one of the best titles on the Genesis.

Game Rating - 5 out of 5 stars
A game that holds up for this long is worthy of merit. RKA's greatest strength is that it can still be fresh and entertaining even though it's been around for over fifteen years.

My Rating - 5 out of 5 stars
I really wish I could be more critical about this game but honestly I love it. It's a shining example of what can make an action-platformer great but it also pursues an identity that no game can hope to match. I am not denying the existence of better platformers but RKA is really unique and a very special game that will not be forgotten.

PSP Look - Phantasy Star Portable 2...part 2

Since my left thumb is in no condition to play PSP2 at the moment all I can do is talk about it. Now that I'm hitting the higher levels (level 80 and beyond) the rate of levelups has slowed down considerably and given me more time to focus on the class and battle system. While the class system is familiar to fans of the series as far back as the original Phantasy Star Online this edition makes a number of changes.

There are four classes available all with their own strengths and weaknesses. The hunter is best for close-range fighting, performing photon arts(aka finishers), and generally works by staying in every monster's face. The ranger is obviously a master of ranged combat and does the job of building up chains and generally providing support. The Force is all about the various techs that range from healing to buffs to attacks. The Vanguard is a bit of a mixed bag as it shares strengths with the other three classes.

The only aspect of character-creation that is actually set in stone is gender and race. Gender doesn't affect anything unless you're like me and must absolutely without fail have to look at a woman all the time even when playing games. Race on the other hand has some affect on stats and a handful of special attacks(known as bursts). CASTs are basically robots and work best as rangers, Newmans are essentially elves and thus force is their forte, Beasts have all the makings of a good hunter, and humans fit vanguard's "jack-of-all-trades" appeal. All that said it isn't too big a deal which race the player goes with because skill in the game can make up for any deficiency in the class/race.

The strength of PSP2's class system is in its versatility. As the player completes missions they are rewarded with points that go towards raising their class level. With each new class level comes a new ability like bonus stats, improved tech-usage, and so on. These abilities are limited as there's not nearly enough room to apply them all. However all classes can share abilities and since these aspects can be changed in-between every mission there's really no reason for the player to ever go in unprepared.

Combat in this entry revolves around the chain system. By stringing together regular attacks and low-strength techs an ever-increasing chain is built up. By performing a photon art the player finishes the chain with a devastating attack whose strength is proportioned to size of the chain itself. For example performing a photon art by itself does mediocre damage but with a mere three hits on the chain the PA more than doubles in strength. Larger chains lead to even more damage and will last for a longer period of time so characters can perform stronger PAs and even more than one. This is an essential tactic to learn as the game progresses because enemies tend to have a ton of HP. It's really one of the best additions to the combat system as it requires full cooperation from the entire party to get the best effect and it changes the dynamic of battle completely. By comparison the last Phantasy Star entry feels one-dimensional since most of the all time all it boiled down to was spamming PAs until things fell over.

Playing as a Vanguard reminds me of another aspect essential to Portable 2, positioning. Enemies can frequently come from multiple directions and even make attempts to surround and blindside the player. This is very important to consider because getting hit from behind negates the player's evasion stat and can lead to a critical hit more often than not. I didn't pay enough attention to this before but as a Vanguard I'm pretty well destroyed if I get hit from behind. There are ways to avoid this by maneuvering properly and working together with the party.

Still if all else fails I figure if I play a mission enough times I'll simply memorize every aspect about it. Phantasy Star Portable 2 offers a lot of missions to take on and the rewards are different depending on luck, rank(difficulty), and class. Since there are so many aspects of the character that can be upgraded there's always something to look forward to with each new mission. Still at times it can become a serious grind in regards to class points. Still it's not all bad as at least online or through ad-hoc multiplayer there's the chance of urgent missions popping up. These can be pretty rewarding though also pretty rare.

In the next update I'll discuss the multiplayer modes. I have no idea when I'll get around to that one though.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

PSP Look - Phantasy Star Portable 2...part 1

First off this is the game that sold me a PSP in the first place so the chances of me giving this game a bad review are pretty low. Second of all in less than a week I've already put over forty hours into this game...something I'm sort-of ashamed to admit. It's a good thing I don't have children I guess. Anyway PS:P2 is an action-rpg centered around the gathering of phat loot and the hacking of foes. It's my favorite as well as most-played genre and for now I'd like to discuss the single-player portion of the game.

It's understandable for most gamers to not even bother with the singleplayer portion. After all Sega has included an infrastructure mode this time around so everyone can get online and team up. Still single-player can be good for practice and there's the story mode as well...yeah..the story mode. Sega did a pretty fine job of giving incentives for PS:P2 fans to try every mode as there are differing rewards depending on the kinds of missions completed. Furthermore there's the return of the title system which essentially works as achievements. The player performs specific goals and gets rewarded with items. The rewards aren't nearly as cool as in PS:P1 but they're still better than nothing.

But before we get into all of that let's look at what's different about the game. PS:P2's biggest changes are in the actual design of the game. To start with the player can now perform evasive rolls as well as block. Furthermore instead of each weapon having its own pool of tech points that slowly refill there's just one pool of points that covers everything but refills rapidly. The enemies are also several times more aggressive, move faster, hit much harder, and all in all makes for a much more challenging and dynamic game than any of the prior online Phantasy Star titles. To add more spice to everything there's the addition of the Perfect Block. By defending at just the right time it functions somewhat like a parry as it negates all damage. This is great fun to perform as it can be used effectively for practically any attack.

The challenge is not to be understated. Enemies can frequently take anywhere from 1/8 to 2/3 of the player's health in a single hit. Sure it's possible to level up so much that the damage is lessened severely but a lot of the time the player will be challenging foes that are around the same level or even much higher. What keeps this balance in check is that since the tech pool has been changed so much anyone with a healing spell can survive provided they can get away from danger long enough to recover. In a way it feels similar to many shooters released these days where the player heals up if they can find a safe spot for a few seconds. For those stuck in the thick of it healing items are readily available but they're also pretty limited. Then again considering how quickly one can die it's still not recommended to jump into any situation that looks bad.

Story mode features a storyline that may as well have been in any other of the prior Phantasy Star Universe games. It's completely disposable and for most players will probably just skip through it. I uh..kind of liked it but that's because I'm a sucker for happy endings. More importantly story-mode introduces the player to all of the basics of the game and is set up so that enemies always stay at about the same level as the player. This puts the emphasis on learning how the system works instead of merely grinding a ton to survive. The player isn't alone at least as they're frequently joined by various characters from the story. Thankfully they're not nearly as inept as they were in prior PSU games as they'll actually seek out and attack enemies, heal properly, and even accept basic commands like "follow me" and "spread out". Still like the last game the biggest problem with the AI team-mates is that eventually they're just too weak to make much of a difference in the higher levels.

So far the level design tends to revolve around the type of mode being played. Story mode stages usually have some objective to account for and that can mean anything from finding a number of objects to protection missions. It's kind of a nice touch I guess though it's not something I have any interest in coming back to. Open Missions are pretty standard as the goal is merely to kill all of the foes and then the boss. They're very linear and short and there's more of a focus on finding cool new stuff to swing around. All of the open-missions have a difficulty ranking from C to S. Each bump in difficulty raises the enemies levels as well as makes them faster and more aggressive. I've yet to see the S ranking myself but even A can be quite rough when I'm not paying attention. It's very easy to get taken out even at this point but the game is still properly balanced so that enemies don't take too much punishment to put down.

Next time around I'm going to hopefully get around to discussing the multiplayer modes. I would have started on those already but my wireless connection is incredibly fickle. I've also barely touched on the real specifics of the combat in this game and most of my time was spent on the Hunter class. When I jump into multiplayer I'll probably end up rolling with a Ranger so I can better understand how ranged combat can work. Still at this point I absolutely love the game. I love it a bit too much at the moment however so I'm taking a break so I can get through some other titles as well.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

XBLA Look - Sonic Adventure

Wow this is just..disgusting.
I know it's been awhile since I played this game but I couldn't even make it past the first stage just now. Every little thing I did more often than not led to me flying off a cliff and into the ocean of death. Unplayable is probably the best word that describes this game. As a bonus the game has no screen-size settings so everything looks scrunched up and never mind I don't want to talk about it anymore.

It's really the saddest thing since Terms of Endearment.
Zero stars

TGS so far.

There's a lot of neat stuff being announced already. I'll go over the stuff that interests me thus far.

Radiant Silvergun XBLA - I'll get this out of the way. I'm not a fan of this game and in fact I think it's pretty dang messy. Still it has its appeal and being able to buy this game for less than a million dollars is really nice.

Phantasy Star Online 2 - First off Portable 2 is just fantastic so I'm very hopeful that this edition turns out well. Still something tells me this is going to be a very different game from all of the prior entries. Somebody needs to get on Sega of America's case about their treatment of the Phantasy Star games though. I'm getting tired of the ridiculously long localization times and cut/missing content.

Ryu Ga Gotoku (Yakuza) The End - From what I've played of the games they're semi-realistic portrayals of the Yakuza. This game is set to blow all of that out the window with Zombies, Tanks, Space-battles, and well who cares it all sounds awesome.

Fire Pro Wrestling XBLA - Yeah uh..Avatars? They're kidding right? I mean yeah it's a wrestling game franchise that offers so much depth in the customization that eventually somebody would have to drop the copyright hammer. Avatars just don't sit well with me..seems like the impact would be lost whenever big moves are performed. Still I trust Spike to pull something off.

Lots of Kinect announcements - Microsoft should take note because the stuff being announced lately is way more interesting than generic sportathons. The one to watch in my opinion will be Steel Battalion. The original game was one of the most hardcore mech-sims around as it featured a huge fully-featured controller. How From/Capcom expect to translate all that into a complete lack of a controller will certainly be a sight to see.

ICO/Shadow of the Colossus HD - Not a surprise in the least but confirmation is always nice. Plus it saves me the trouble of attempting to play through SOTC again on my crap-box TV.

That's about it for the moment I think. Looking forward to all kinds of great announcements in the next couple days(like more info on the new Earth Defense Force).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'm cutting myself off.

Yeah this is...the last of the game purchases I'll be making for probably the rest of the year. I just bought a new set of tires so I'm pretty well out of it and with all of the games I have now maybe I should beat(and review) a few of them.

Phantasy Star Portable 2 - Obviously this was getting bought. I liked the first one and this sequel is quite the improvement. It's surprisingly tough so far.

DJ Max Fever - A beatmania-esque game for the PSP. It was cheap and maybe one day I'll develop the skills necessary to actually play this game competently.

Oh wait Ys 3: Oath of Felghana hits in November doesn't it? Dang.

Monday, September 13, 2010

AA Look - ESP Galuda 2

With some games it feels like the less you know about them the better off you are. I've tried to familiarize myself with the finer points of this game by learning its scoring mechanics, its different modes, and even its story. Still none of this has had made me any better at the game and it may have in fact made me a bit worse at it. ESP Galuda 2 is one of the deepest and most difficult 2D shooters Cave has ever put out and whatever context I may have gained came at the expense of the possible enjoyment I can get out of it.

In the future there are wars between two factions that nearly destroyed the world...okay actually it's just a place called Soma. Apparently the best plan of action was to set up a test-tube baby facility so children could have freakin' sweet mechanical wings. I gotta say that I kind of dig the art-direction in this game. It's completely all over the place as most everyone seems to be part-human, part-mecha, part-angel(?), and well hell let's just say part-everything. I mean who can say no to things that explode and bleed at the same time. In the first game millions of Somaons watched in horror as some little kid flew around blowing them all away and turned their bullets into gold. Oh and as a bonus all of this was happening in slow-motion. How does this happen? Through an amazing ability called Kakusei (or Awakening so you don't scare your friends with random Japanese words) the player slows down everything in the vicinity to either escape a bad situation or capitalize and cash-in. After a certain point the player tends to forget that they're fighting for a better future and all they really want is a more impressive high-score.

In the end that's what it's all about really. ESP Galuda is an arcade game in its purest form. It has depth, accessibility, strong mechanics, and it is pure-fun. Unfortunately it's a representative for one difficult genre to get into. 2D Shooters, STGs, shmups(ugh), and whatever else people like to call them have just never gotten the appeal they deserve...well at least not anymore. Sure 1 in 5 gamers may be able to recall days spent on Gradius and they have at least heard of Ikaruga but beyond that? Not much. It certainly doesn't help that shooters typical cater to the high-end market. If you want to explore the best the genre has to offer you have to buy older consoles, spend a ton of money on import games, and if you have a 360 you're definitely going to need an arcade stick. Even then the chances of gamers getting the most out of the genre are nil no matter how much money they invest into it.

Fact of the matter is in order to get the most out of the shooter one has to spend time on it. Sure it may take less than thirty minutes to complete the average shooter but one can expect to spend somewhere between five and potentially unlimited hours just trying to beat let alone master the game. There is a difference between beat and complete in this case by the by. Beating a 2D shooter means no continues, completing it is what the average videogame critic does before they write their review saying "this game is too easy". Still while dedication is required it is not without merit. Being able to beat games where the player is so hopelessly out-matched is the most thrilling experience around for me. 2D shooters at their best tend to reduce me to a quivering mess but I'll never let them go as so few games deliver that same experience.

But enough about all that let's talk about the sequel itself. Things are about to go south again and the mecha-winged just can't catch a break. That's alright though cause the returning heroes from the first game have decided to step it up a bit. Okay maybe there isn't any increased firepower and the playable characters still die in one hit but now they can be more stylish and achieve even higher scores. While the last game featured the ability to turn bullets into gold (provided one has enough gems...which are gained from fresh enemy corpses), this game adds the ability to create bullets out of thin air and then turn those into gold. Frankly I'm not sure where these bullets are coming from. Are they the same bullets that passed the bottom of the screen several stages ago? Did they come from some 2D shooter in another dimension? Why aren't these kids creating world peace instead? It's best not to wrap one's head around context because everything about this game defies it.

For one quite a few of the bosses are kids. Sure they're apparently royalty, possibly evil, and they're definitely test-tube mecha-abominations but c'mon Japan throw me a bone here. At least slap another six years on these brats so I don't feel so bad when I slap them with a beam so powerful they are consumed by horrific explosions and collide into the ocean with such force that millions of mecha-angel-parts couldn't fix them up. I never should have bothered to look this stuff up on wikipedia. Still I tend to forget about all this when I actually play the game. It's one of those titles I get completely lost in and the music and setting set the perfect flow for the action going on.

Galuda 2 is some sort of melodrama that revels in its own absurdity. The music is about as riveting as techno + piano is going to get and the composer knows exactly when to pull the sound back to capture those perfect moments like the arrival of a mid-boss or a particularly intense section. After awhile I lose track of everything and I'm left wondering if the people my character is killing were once relatives or friends but the music and constant thrill of missing death by pixels in the pursuit of treasure makes me forget about all of the the unimportant junk.

The greatest asset to this game is its challenge. Sure the 2D shooter genre is never lacking in that regard but here it feels like real effort is required to get what makes this game work. There are spots that if the player knows what they are doing they can get a massive amount of points but knowing about them and even seeing them on a superplay video does not mean the player will earn them. Setting up these points where enemy bullets constantly respawn and provide huge 500x bonuses means nothing when the player runs into a bullet and it all falls apart. There's tons of risk/reward to account for here and all newcomers would do well to stick with avoiding that "create bullets out of thin-air" ability for quite awhile. This is one of those games where even if things are too hard for the player they'll still feel compelled to push the game further rather than play it safe. For some players all of that can be too daunting or more likely a bit tiring. For those players there's the ability to just use up all of the gems so that whenever the player triggers Awakening instead of everything slowing down everything will speed up. This is probably something to be avoided if you're still having trouble with bullets going normal-motion and especially slow-motion.

As far as content goes Cave put together quite a package for this game. There's the Arcade mode, Black Label, Arrange, and Omake. There are even tutorials and Novice modes cause anyone attempting this game needs all the help they can get. Each of the other modes have their own additions and changes to the core game and in short they're all pretty awesome. Personally I favor Black Label as it has an added mechanic where bullets that get dangerously close to the player suddenly slow-down to the point of practically stopping. This is good for those last-ditch escapes though it's not something that can be abused. Still it's good for me and my attraction to accidental 2D shooter death (something that has cost me way too many games). Arrange is also really good though it takes a slightly different approach in that the player must use the two differing shot-types to turn bullets into gems (instead of just turning the bullets into gold outright). It's a cool feature though again effort is required to keep the player from screwing themselves over. One feature that I'm especially fond of is that by pressing the select in most game modes the player can opt to restart their current stage, with whatever points and lives retained from the last stage they completed. It's great for practice since most of the stages are a few minutes long it's good to go over the sections I'm the weakest at.

There is a bit of a disconnect for me when it comes to this game however. The bosses just lack the dynamic spark that makes the stages they reside in so amazing. Over the course of each stage the bullet patterns are great, the Kakusei system offers so many different opportunities, and everything is balanced to the point of neigh-bliss. Then the boss hits and it's pretty much the same affair as most other shooters. There are some great boss-fights in the game (I'm especially fond of the fourth) but most of them go on for too long and there's not much to do aside from dodge bullet patterns more dense than the last. It's a weakness shared with ESP Galuda 1 but the last game was also easier so that it felt like the bosses didn't take so long. The final boss just plain sucks as well. The music is lousy, there are too many forms, and the last form is one of those "Screw-you! You'll never beat this game!" forms that I simply can't stand. My suggestion would have been to make the bosses a bit easier but offer up some other ways to build up some excellent Kakusei-based scores (like additional regular enemies). Hopefully the effect would be that the game would be a bit easier to beat but more difficult to master. Still this is very minor stuff and I should just play the game more instead of wasting time with complaints.

In any case if you're a 2D shooter fan you've already bought this game and if not well maybe you can find something cheaper to start off with. Whatever the case I hope that eventually all fans of the genre come around to checking out this masterpiece as it just about captures everything that makes 2D shooters worth playing.

Game Rating 5 out of 5
It's simple really. Cave delivered a crazy-deep game that is loaded with features and very tight design.

My Rating 5 out of 5
I still have a long way to go before I produce anything resembling acceptable progress in this game but every time I pick it up it's fantastic and engrossing. Sometimes I'm not even sure what I should be doing but all the same I'm having fun and slowly getting better.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hilarious Super Mario Bros. 2 videos

In the Something Awful forums a guy by the name of Dominic R did a series of videos for a Let's Play! entitled "Let's Suck at Super Mario Bros. 2".

Just Watch it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

For awhile I was actually thinking about starting a website

No, seriously. I was actually tossing around ideas for dumping this blog in favor of a full-fledged website with all the bells and trimmings. I think what eventually set me straight was the Giantbomb debacle. Thing is the main reason I even considered a website was because I thought I could make some money. Yes, yes I know I'm so very ignorant about this sort of thing because nobody wants to pay money to read about games. Going from a blog with zero ads to an ad-filled site would not be a graceful jump either I'm afraid.

Another highlight of this website problem is content. What exactly has the content been for this blog? There are reviews but they come more sparingly than they should and occasionally the rare feature. Oh and yes there's all those posts where I bring up all of the games I just bought. Clearly I'm the type of person who could easily start putting together videos, host podcasts, and do all that other fun stuff. I'll have to step my game up something fierce if I ever plan on moving beyond a mere blog.

Maybe if I had a website I could convince myself of some vague notion of legitimacy. Look at me everybody, I'm no longer just some bum pizza-guy with an over-inflated opinion of himself, I'm actually a legit game-critic. It'd be so great. Publishers would send me games and I'd give them negative reviews and then...well that'd be the end of that. Sorry if I can't buy into the notion that there isn't a publisher looking over my shoulder every time I sit down to write a review. Over the years I think I've done more in dissuading gamers from buying games (at least at full-price) than anything.

The biggest issue is time of course. The way I see it I put about 40 hours a week at my job, 10 hours a week into playing videogames, and maybe 2 hours into this blog. I bet if I didn't have to sleep I could totally set aside more time for running a site but I'm not about to sacrifice work over it. I could sacrifice the time I spend playing videogames but I'm not seeing that. Playing videogames is really the only hobby I have and I'd like to be able to enjoy it.

Really that's all I have to say on the subject. It was something I was mulling over for awhile but it just doesn't seem like a worthwhile effort. I won't let that stop me from becoming a better reviewer though as I enjoy the challenge.

More pick-ups

Ys 7 - I knew I was going to buy it eventually. I even splurged and got the special edition with all of the extras.

Blade Dancer: Lineage of Light - Look it was cheap okay? Besides one can never have enough turned-base RPGs right? Right.

Star Ocean: The Second Evolution - I loved Star Ocean 2 on the psx. I think the entire purpose of it was to simply take in the awful storyline and ridiculous characters and just break it however you like. I put about a hundred hours into that game and yet I never actually beat it. I did beat Star Ocean 3 & 4 though so hmm..gotta fix that.

Other than that there's not much going on. I've been playing a bunch of games but not completing any of them. It's a bit of a messy affair at the moment so here's a progress report:

Yakuza 3 - Still great
Ratchet & Clank: Crack in Time - Real good
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow - Good
Harmony of Dissonance - Okay
Circle of the Moon - Bleah
Ys 3 - Yikes
Rocket Knight Adventures - Still Class
River City Ransom EX - It's uh...huh
Spelunky - So good but oh look I died AGAIN.
Final Fantasy 1 & 2 & 4 (Advance) - Comfortable & haven't started & Well okay there it is.
Style Savvy - I can't put it down.

I also played a couple demos. Sengoku Basara 3 looks like a fine improvement on the second game though the voice-acting is absolutely horrendous. Usually I can ignore that sort of thing but nobody shuts up. Everyone has something to say about everything and it's hard to focus on my insane combos when some guy is reciting the Gettysburg Address during battle.

There's also Quantum Theory and uh...Wow? That's all I can really say.

I should probably give the Vanquish demo another look. I didn't quite get into it last time and I should probably do something about it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

X360 Look - Batman: Arkham Asylum

*Note: This look includes spoilers. If you're at all worried about this sort of thing it's probably best to not read this at all. Sorry!

While I've never read any of the comics I consider myself a pretty huge fan of Batman. I grew up watching the live-action series with all of its BAM! and ZONK!, own all three DVD sets of the original animated series, and obviously I've played quite a few of the games. I guess what has always made me a fan is that ignoring the cool gadgets, the ninja-abilities, and the bat-mobile, there's always been this balance of sorts. There always seems to be that point where Batman's will and pursuit of justice could be broken and he could end up just like the villains he continually locks away in Arkham. It's a dangerous but necessary relationship because to me it's his dealings with the likes of The Joker, Two-Face, and so on that keep him sane.

Arkham Asylum is where all Batman villains go to rest and recuperate before they come up with their next plan to get revenge on someone, take over the city, or just steal a bunch of money. This is pretty much the last place Bats would ever want to find himself trapped in and sure enough the plot of this game involves this very same concept. The Joker is once again up to no good as he's gotten his hands on tons of an experimental drug that gives super human strength at the cost of everything else. He's got an island filled with in-mates and even some transients which is far more than necessary to take control of Gotham. As a bonus The Scarecrow, The Croc, and Poison Ivy feel that they should get involved as well. Somehow Batman must straighten this mess out.

But you already knew all that didn't you? Arkham Asylum did get quite a few well-deserved accolades when it released last year and many critics have called it the best Batman game ever. It's pretty much a required play for Batman fans and worthwhile to practically anyone else. As far as myself is concerned I found it...lacking. The game I think is still really good but for let's put that aside for now and focus on the qualities that make this game.

The main campaign is split into four different styles of play. Exploration is necessary to get one from one place to the next and since Arkham is such a massive Asylum there's no shortage of secrets, alternate paths, and surprises to look for. One of the key tools to exploration is the Detective mode. The response to this ability has been mixed and for good reason. The team at Rocksteady put a lot of work into creating the perfect look for the Asylum and a lot of gets wasted when the player is running a filter constantly to look for clues. My take is that it in the end it is optional for the most part and it might be worthwhile to give the game another playthrough without relying on detective mode so much. Still it couldn't hurt for this ability to not be so invasive. The best aspect of exploration is the tools. This aspect is similar to games like Metroid and so on in that Batman will get new means of traversing the island at specific points. This also leads to more secret areas which lead to unlockables, achievements, and all of my other favorite carrots.

The atmosphere in general is easily the strongest aspect of this game. A large part of this is attributed to the Joker. Since he's in charge of Arkham that gives him every opportunity to berate both Batman and the in-mates he controls. He's always one step ahead of The Bat, or one step behind, or doing the two-step and in any case he's the perfect fit for this game. Still the game could have done without having so many unnamed guard corpses lying around. It reminds me of Fallout 3 in a way with its dead body on every bed. A lot of the shock value is lost here.

The aforementioned in-mates aren't actively hunting Batman down and for good reason. Batman is a master of hand-to-hand combat and stealth. The only way most of these low-lifes will ever have a chance at taking down the Dark Knight is through numerical superiority. It's not uncommon to reach a new area or revisit an old one and find a fresh batch of meat waiting to get their faces punched, their arms broken, and I guess anything just short of death. The melee combat is exceptionally good in this game because it showcases Batman's ability as one man who has no problem taking out potentially a dozen ruthless and armed thugs without a sweat. By properly timing blows and countering at the right moments the free-flowing combat feels effortless and rewarding as the combos rack up. I once read somewhere that somebody would have preferred a fighting system similar to Bayonetta's. Well Bayonetta wasn't out yet and eww? I'd rather have a combat system that feels unique to the game. Sure Bayonetta is great at what it does but it wouldn't fit a Batman game at all.

In certain locations a number of thugs get the bright idea to carry some guns with them and hang out together. This is bad news because even one guy with a gun can be too much for Batman. This game doesn't mess around when it comes to guns so Batman must employ stealth to take out all of the goons and survive. For the versatile and inventive however this aspect of the game can be all the more reason to really show off. There's a pretty simple take-down that can be performed by sneaking up on somebody and thugs can also be strung up on gargoyles, knocked out with explosives/debris, or simply be pushed to the edge as Batman methodically takes them down one by one. Each room is slightly different from the last thanks to a number of factors like level design, number of guards, and a few other nasty tricks. The behavior of each thug can change as well depending on the situation. Some guys will team up and cover each other's backs, and some will even frantically fire away at nothing at all. Detective Mode can also be used for seeing bad guys through walls and locating weak structures. This might take away from the challenge for some but the way I see it players who master these stealth battles will have already memorized the locations and movement patterns of every thug in the room anyway. I think these parts of the game are excellent.

After the exploration and combat we have...everything else in the campaign. As with any other story mode in a game there are elements that don't work in the context of a challenge and one must experience the entirety of the campaign to get the most out of everything. It's here the game is lacking because everything leads to disappointment. Rather than spoil the best bits of the game I'm going to spoil some of the worst. Earlier I mentioned that Joker got his hands on some experimental drug that gives superhuman strength. Basically this stuff can make even the most nameless of thugs become somebody on the level of Bane. It's interesting really because the player will actually face off with Bane early on in the story. Problem is pretty soon guys on Bane's level become an almost regular occurrence. Bane works on his own because he has to be taken on in a way that Batman can't defeat most villains by. It's part of what makes the Rogue Gallery work. Unfortunately however we end up with a bunch of guys that fight just like Bane and gets repetitive very quickly. What really gets me is that there's this excellent build-up between Batman and The Scarecrow but it all gets thrown away. This segue-ways into an encounter with The Croc that's more of an annoyance than anything. When the worst thing I can say about some guy who is more than 10 feet tall and weighs about a ton is that he's annoying and non-threatening it really highlights a failure on the part of the developers.

Still all of this pales in comparison to the complete throw-away of a finale. I'll accept part of the blame for this because I had all kinds of ideas for what the final battle with the Joker would be like. The earlier Batman games that I'm such a fan of aren't really Batman games either. Sure they star Batman and tend to be based on his movies or television series but the entire concept and style of game are rooted in the genre.

For example the original Batman on the NES is a favorite of mine. While it was based off of the first movie the game itself looked like Sunsoft was in the middle of making a completely different game and just switched a few things around. Batman looks like he picked a fight with an army of mutant cyborgs led by The Joker. The finale adds to the surreal as the Joker is able to summon lightning. Batman on the Genesis was also good and this time it didn't involve a robot army or whatever(though in one stage he shoots down apparently a battalion of helicopters). I wouldn't even know where to begin with a title like Batman & Robin for the Genesis as it's a run&gun styled shooter which means tons of huge bosses.

The point is all of these games were imaginative in how they handled certain encounters. The final battle with the Joker in Arkham Asylum fails due to a number of factors. For one it has The Joker use the Venom to become uh..Super Joker? Worse still most of the time he doesn't even fight except to attempt to scratch Bats a couple times. Most of the battle is just beating up thugs and waiting for an opportunity to punch Super Joker a couple times. I understand the game is limited by its need for context and sensibility. I'm not expecting the Joker to hop in a giant robot or suddenly grow multiple heads like a Hydra. I do however expect something that lives up to the all of the hype that was thrown around throughout the game. I'd be here all day if I just sat around coming up with alternate final battles so never mind all that. I'd be happy if they just gave The Joker a rocket launcher.

At least with the story-mode completed that leaves more time for me to focus on the great aspects of the game in the battle and stealth modes. Still I find it difficult to accept that the ball could be dropped so hard. I can't help but be a bit worried about the upcoming sequel Arkham City due to this. The stakes are even higher in this game and if the final boss turns out to be Super Two-Face I'm going to be throwing a game system out a window.

Game Rating 4 out of 5

As I've said before. Most of the elements that make up this game are really good. Some more varied fights would have done wonders though and detective mode tends to do a little too much hand-holding at times. Still I can see way this game is so beloved.

My Rating 4 out of 5

Although the story mode disappointed me to the point that I never want to play it again it was still quite good and Rocksteady did an amazing job with the presentation. I still have a long way to go towards completing the Challenge Mode so there's always that to come back to as well.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Style Savvy arrived today.

There's unfortunately little else for me to say at the moment. As a straight male I'm not sure what compelled me to pick up a game centered around designing and selling fashionable clothes. It must be a combination of things:

Style Savvy aka "Wagamama Fashion: Girls Mode" was developed by Syn Sophia. Originally these guys were known as Aki Corporation and had their hands in developing a number of the best wrestling videogames on the market. Yeah I really have no idea how they landed this gig.

Girls Mode was a pretty big seller in Japan for quite awhile. So the assumption is that it must be one of the best games at what it does. So if I must play at least one fashion-design game in the world it should be a good one.

When I play games that offer customizable aspects (like fighting games) I tend to spend more time playing "dress-up" than anything else.

The intro starts off with the player receiving a phone call from the clothing store they just got a job at. It's their first day so they have to get everything in order(Name, age, that sort of thing). I'm kind-of not sure where to go from here because judging from the interior of the main character's bedroom it looks like I'm supposed to be a young woman. Usually this isn't a big deal for me because for most games when given the choice I always go with a female playable character. It's a bit off-putting here because no such choice exists.

Oh well I guess I'll just roll with it and see what happens. I really wish I could have thought of a better name than "Jenna" though. It seems like I always go with that name when the option comes up.

So far it's fun. It's all about reading the customer and determining what would be the best look for them. I'm still in what looks to be the tutorial though so I have quite a ways to go.