Stopping By

29 04 2009

Been busy today, so I haven’t had time to update the blog.  Hope to get some more material on the site tomorrow, but in the mean time I must ask something . . . “why are you still on the internet?”  Banjo Tooie is now available on the XBLA, so go pick it up.  Do it now!

And for you kids that weren’t around in the Nintendo 64 era, below is a video that highlights the game:

Truly one of the best adventure games of the nineties.

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Nostalgic Music 4

28 04 2009

This time on Nostalgic Music, we go back to the early nineties.  Konami truly outdid themselves with the transition from Gradius II to III, and the end result created some of the finest music I’ve ever heard from the genre.  Though no tracks are available, the following video showcased the sounds from the very first level of the game.  Fantastic stuff.

Thanks to Youtube for the link.





Retro Review: Wario World

28 04 2009

Now, for a while my retro reviews have been for solid games.  Today, I look at a game that didn’t quite measure up to that standard.  Oh, what am I talking about, it sucked.  Bask in the negativity as we delve into Wario World of the Gamecube.

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Wario World (Nintendo Gamecube)

Original release date: 06/23/03

Alas, there is someone who has always been in Mario’s glorious shadow and it is not his brother. No my friends, that spot belongs to the plumber’s unfortunate and obese rival, Wario. From the early days of his ventures on the Game Boy to his release on the Gamecube, the tubby gangster has always been a part of an incredibly simple and linear based game-play style. One such example would be the immortality that he possesses through most of his titles. However, Wario World ditches the “live forever” aspect, but in turn takes in another attribute; that all too familiar feeling of just plain sucking. It is quite a shame because I really wanted to like this game, but it let me down in every way imaginable.

In a land of gluttony and greed, poor Wario has lost his fortune due to a curse from a horrible black gem. The gem’s power has turned all of his gold into monsters and expelled him from his kingdom. It is up to this man, clad in purple and yellow, to simply take out the opposition, destroy the essence of the gem, and reclaim all of his treasure. From this generic aspect of story-telling, we are eventually lead to the main view of the game, which ends up being another platform-based collect-a-thon. Now, in your mind, picture the collective themes of Super Mario Sunshine, but factor in many more incredibly boring item themes and an inescapable repetitive nature. What made other percentage-based platform games a success was the free roaming exploration, which is unfortunately absent in Wario World. For encompassing this strange land is a set of 3D environments in a linear 2D side-scrolling fashion.

As soon as you begin the game, you will notice four worlds, with only one being accessible at the beginning. Within each of these worlds are three stages, each with their own treasures, puzzles, and bosses. Your main objective in each stage is to collect treasure, after treasure, after treasure, along the way having to fight incredibly stupid AI, and going through a series of mind-numbingly easy puzzle sequences. From tedious platform hoping to hitting switches a couple feet away from their resultant, it is quite obvious what age group Nintendo was aiming at. The difficulty of the game hardly ever improves and some of the later tasks could best be described as time consuming. Primarily because a large chunk of what you are collecting in this game is absolutely pointless and only goes toward getting a perfect score (which you will never have the desire to complete anyway.)

I can say one thing though; originality among adversaries was never a primary objective for the developers. In each level you will usually come across about two or three enemies and they are among the most intelligent devoid creatures I have ever seen. For example, in the first stage there are these small dinosaurs that will try to attack you by slashing. I ran up to and stood in front of this creature for a few seconds and then walked behind him. And to my astonishment, he was still winding up his fist for an attack in the direction I was previously standing. The enemies also appear extremely calcium deficient, as the majority will usually take one or two quick slugs each to drop.

The repetitiveness, however, comes from the usage of identical enemies in later levels. That’s right they are the same enemies with the same traits, but in order to make them seem different, they gave them each a graphic change. In world one, we have the slow witted lizard-like “magons,” and one level later the generically named “clowns.” Point is, they move exactly at the same rate, have the same attack patterns, and are taken down in the same amount of hits. You will go through the game constantly confronting characters who are practically the exact same thing as previous level foes and sadly there are very few of them.

Being plump has to have some advantages, eh? Well, old Wario certainly knows how to throw his weight around, as you have a couple of various moves to implement upon your dim-witted challengers. Using the B button will allow you to throw a couple of quick punches, while holding it will let you do a linebacker style charge. Meanwhile, the shoulder buttons will prove useful in ass-slamming your foes into the dirt. Moving Wario himself around is relatively simple and he controls well for the most part from stage to stage. The only thing that throws a wrench in the whole system is the previously mentioned 2D game-play in a 3D environment. You will constantly find yourself jumping incorrectly off cliffs and ledges and running right past your enemies. The loose controls and unmovable camera angles will definitely grate on your nerves after a while. To make matters worse, the unrelenting challenge of keeping the power of your Gamecube turned on, with this game in it, is the only difficulty to speak of.

Sad I know.

As said before, treasure hunting would be a lot of fun, if this world was expansive. Unfortunately with everything moving in a side scrolling environment, it is just a matter of time before you run into everything. Small sprites, regular treasure, coins (which you can use to buy lives and continues), and lastly red gems, sum up the available loot. Earning said gems will force you to take on “puzzle challenge” stages, which could have been something unique. Yet they pale in comparison to the challenge levels in similar platformers and require no more than the IQ of a hair dryer to complete. One mission actually required me to pull a lever and then jump up just three platforms to reach the item. Others required simple timing of hoping over slow moving obstacles. The sad thing is that even if you fail there is no consequence, but to jump back down and try again.

With the lack of effort put into the enemies, obstacles, and puzzles, the boss confrontations have to be worthwhile right? Well, yes and no. I did find the boss fights to be somewhat entertaining, but their premise is shallow as expected. After the first few attack exchanges you will know their pattern and proceed to wail on them, while confidently laughing at your full set of hearts.

To complement the rushed game-play, Nintendo decided to humor everyone with outdated visuals as well. Everything looks very bland and the textures on objects like bridges and trees look extremely muddy. The character designs are very generic and as said before are merely cosmetic to hide similar enemy patterns throughout levels. Hell, it looks as if they just copied and pasted character models and environments, did a color change, and called it something else. Practically every puzzle level looks the same and the majority of obstacles such as the spike-balls are used over extensively. All of this barely compares though to the look of the individual world entry levels in the main lobby. Notice the adequately cardboard cutout shaped design of the backgrounds and how they resonate in front of the motionless sky.

As terrible as this sounds, it is the very sound itself that remains one of the few positive features to Wario World. The game is filled with some catchy beats and the same thing applies to the boss music samples, however, both are short and repeat quite a bit too soon. The puzzle level samples are repetitive as well and offer nothing special to the already empty table. To top it off, Wario is terribly annoying and his fake Italian accent is enough to make you want to pull that little white plug out of your television’s audio socket.

Beneath all of the trash there is one feature included that is quite interesting and that is the Game Boy Advance compatibility. If you have an SP on hand, you can connect it with the system in order to transfer a sampling of WarioWare Inc. to it. The fun little mini-games here are humorous and interesting, but you are better off just picking up the full version. Quite sad when the only credible factor in a game comes from something that has nothing to do with it.

At the end of the day Wario World is as an empty serving that leaves you with nothing but high cholesterol. The most this game encompasses is about ten hours and that is if you can stomach the first few stages. With the simplistic graphics, repetitive game-play, and bogus challenge, it is obvious that the game was intended for young audiences. However, I would not recommend this pile of garbage to even the smallest adolescent out there. It is a shame that Wario’s first outing in his own advanced console game was such a poor one, resulting in being nothing more than a dusty old box in the corner of my drawer.

Verdict – 2/10





Virtual On Coming to the XBL Arcade

26 04 2009

virtualon

Gundams on Acid

I can faintly recall spending hours and hours with this game in the early stages of the new millennium.  The Nintendo 64 was entering its last run, the PlayStation 2 was making headlines, and the Dreamcast was just getting its foothold in the gaming industry.  A game that made up for a lot of my Dreamcast play time was Virtual On: Ontario Tangram; you know, that game you always saw in the arcades.  Whether it was at the local bowling alley or at home in front of my crappy television, Virtual On exemplified everything cool about video games: giant robots and huge explosions.

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“Even after nearly a decade, VO: OT still looks sexy.”

Well, fortunately for us, Sega has decided to throw us old-school folk a bone.  Virtual On: Ontario Tangram will be arriving on the XBLA April 29th for 1200 MS points.  Now a lot of people have been complaining about the higher game prices, but get over it people; 15 dollars for action like this is totally worth it.  Whether you are an arcade junkie or a fan of the Gundam series, Virtual On is certainly worth it for those who lost their old Dreamcast copy.

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“Get your waggle on”

Oh, and yea the 360 controller will probably suck control wise, but that’s why arcade controllers exist.  If your local game store doesn’t have a 360 arcade stick be sure to look at some imported units.  You’ll thank me later.





Retro Review: Goldeneye 007

26 04 2009

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Goldeneye 007 (Nintendo 64)

Original release date: 08/25/97

A tremendous earth-shattering explosion is heard from miles around. Surrounded by towering mountains, the echo is so forceful it feels as if the very fabric of time itself is collapsing. Reality seems to stand still as a bullet train speeds by, all the while slowly being engulfed in a crimson flame. Bodies are hurled across the barren tundra, overshadowed by the ominous night sky. In the midst of the chaos, a shadowy figure rises from the ruined aftermath of fiery scrap, unscathed. Turning off the sensor on his wristwatch and sliding the PP7 into his pocket, the cool and confident agent walks along the tracks where carnage had just ensued. The barely conscious soldier stares in bewilderment, and ponders just who this man is. He is the character who wields an enormous array of weaponry, and courageously participates in missions that take him around the world and back again. His name is Bond, James Bond.

Goldeneye 007 will definitely take you back. It is the title that took everyone by surprise and defined a genre that had been swirling in a vortex of mediocrity. Putting it into perspective, it was clearly that something I was looking for to draw me into this genre. First person shooters have always been a staple for those multi-player meetings, where friends can blow each other apart for hours on end. However, alongside a monumental party experience is an engaging one player adventure that helps to complete the already remarkable package. Rare took on an idea based on a movie, which nearly always leads to trouble, and transformed it into a masterpiece, with a charm clearly deriving from the brilliant execution.

What also made this little installment tower above the rest was the diverse and ever-changing environments. Unlike most renditions today, which feature overused rooms and repetitive looking hallways, everything in this classic installment seems fresh; due in part to the excellent level design and incredibly balanced stage structure. For example, the missions which took place outside seemed to last far longer than their indoor counterparts. Thus allowing for more freedom and the ability to take in all of your surroundings – while you are busy sniping away at those unsuspecting guards. And even after all of this time and playing it alongside far more technologically advanced shooters, the visuals still continue to impress. The great fog effects and view distance all help build, not only upon the scenery, but on the depth that coincides with the engaging campaign.

Nothing more enjoyable than walking into a room full of guards and showing off all the impressive toys you brought along. Now while Bond is usually known for stealth and interrogation, it seems that was knocked aside to bring the full spirit of the first person shooter into account. That is not to say you still cannot creep lightly behind the clueless schmuck and knock him senseless with the end of your rifle. Cheap, yet strangely satisfying. What exactly would a first-person shooter be without the weaponry? Goldeneye certainly doesn’t falter in this department, and you have easily over fifty options to use at your disposal. From the spurt firing power of the RCP-90 to the startling DD44 Dostovei, each gun you find along the ground is cooler than the next, with the cream of the crop waiting for those who prove their worth.

The combat is certainly exciting, but will not be the only task you undergo. As you prepare to take on a certain stage, the game will prompt you with three difficulty settings: Agent, Secret Agent, and 00 Agent. As you continue to hone your skills, you will be able to glide past the easy objectives and more into dangerous territories. Thus, the more you move up in rank, the harder the enemies, the less damage you can take, and the more objectives you have to tackle. For example, you may only have to remove the security device on a computer terminal in Agent. All in a simple day’s work right Mr. Spy? However, while on 00 Agent, you may have to grab a top-secret video tape, make a copy of a key, and escape within a time limit, as well as completing the previously mentioned task. The challenge is executed flawlessly, and by the time you finish the easier difficulty settings, you will be ready to meet the next surreal obstacle in your path.

What will stand in your way the most in your road to completion will not be in the form of an opposing antagonist or stumping puzzle, but that of a woman. Reminiscing back to earlier titles from the past, computer oriented buddies are a little more trouble than their worth. Constantly getting into tough spots and biting off more than they can chew, thus resulting in you failing your mission. The same can be said here and the woman being referred to is Natalya. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to save someone who thinks they are invincible. Moving from point to point, you will open your mission folder to suddenly find a “Mission Failed.” How did this happen? Well, almost every time, you will find it to be her fault; with her inability to confront enemies being the most frustrating aspect of all. Though the enemy AI is usually a bit clueless in most cases, it seems that it all comes back to them when you bring an ally along for the ride.

This derives from the fact that the opposing force is always shooting your friends instead of you. And it would seem that they prefer watching you blow your objectives than actually eliminating you. The best example for this scenario occurs in the later “Control” mission, which is far and away the most annoying level in the history of gaming. You play the bodyguard for the ditsy girl who is trying to stop a diabolic threat from happening, and you must fend off an endless stream of guards for five minutes. Words can’t describe how many times you will replay that level, only to see Natalya die again and again. What a pain in the ass. Thankfully, the most stressing levels are late in the game and only appear for a short time. This means it’s back to your lonesome again for some more espionage orient missions devoid of annoying sidekicks. For you are well aware you can easily handle those numerous hardships on your own.

Give me a minute to reflect back . . .

Ah, I can faintly recall staying up past the midnight hour one Saturday night. The room is constantly flashing due in part to the sparks emanating from within the television. Mountain Dew and other caffeine induced drinks being consumed to heighten the already robust adrenaline circulating throughout the room. The sounds of the rocket launcher and dual wield weaponry resplendently shatter the moments of lurking around dark corners. And finally with one false move that trademark red screen of blood folds over our screens. This is truly what multi-player was all about, a competitive madhouse of carnage, all racing toward that winning score. While it may seem like it is lacking in certain aspects because of its age, Goldeneye really is still at the top of its class because of the freshness felt when it first arrived. The classic nostalgia apparent in virtually every nook and cranny reaches even deeper than Bond’s predictable charm towards the ladies.

There is certainly no dullness noticeable in the battle mode and the customization you can set up for each event is seemingly limitless. Options such as: the type of weapon selection, allowance of body armor (shields), and the never-ending list of character choices, all surely satisfy if you are a seeker for large quantities of content. Up to four players can throw down at one time thanks to the split-screen display and the level selection is not too shabby either. Though each environment feels and looks different than the next, one thing generally stays the same, the desire of learning the locations of the best weapons and armor. From small corridors to hidden doors which coincide next to familiar wall patterns, each stage has something that makes it unique. Even team battles can be set up if you and your buds want to break from the FFA action for a little bit. There is plenty to do, and grabbing a large party of friends to compete and explore all the possibilities offered, really is the best way to play Goldeneye. And in comparison, nothing even comes close.

Even after all of these years I can still pick up this gem and fall prey to the excellent single player mode or the remarkable multi-player. Despite running through today’s FPS giants such as: Halo 3, Crysis, and Call of Duty 4, there is something about Goldeneye that puts it a step above the rest. Maybe its legacy derives from the fact it literally defined first person shooters on the console or it could be that I am poor and have no other games to play. Regardless, if you still have not wrapped your fingers around this little number, you really are missing out on something captivating. Though it may seem a little dated by today’s standards, as all Nintendo 64 games do, there is still so much charm to be found it easily bypasses the minor quirks. It truly is a shame that no other Bond installment that has emerged can hold a candle to this one and I can safely say that none ever will.

Verdict – 10/10





How Massively Multi-Player Online Games Have Affected the Gaming Industry

24 04 2009

A small re-write of my article on online multi-player games.

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It is quite amazing how far gaming has come over the last twenty years or so. What was once a field full of arcade shooters, platformers, and side-scrolling adventures, is now populated by first-person shooters, yearly sports titles, and of course, MMOGs. The most popular of the MMOG genre is the MMORPG, which is an online role-playing game where thousands of people collaborate together in an online world. At first, the genre seemed like any other, but the concept of online play has definitely put the MMORPG into its own classified area of video gaming. Role-playing itself is very addicting, but adding a live virtual world full of real people definitely adds to that addiction. It is a genre that can lead to dangerous happenings if not managed correctly, and is a genre that truly has affected the gaming industry; both in a good and bad way.

Now we see the positives of a fun online world where players can consistently play together, but there are some problems with the genre. First off, the most glaring weakness in the game-play is the repetition or “grind” factor. Ever wonder why people play these games for such a long period of time? It is because the character progression is that of a level-based system. Every level requires a certain amount of experience points to advance to the next one, with new monsters, items, and objective along the way. Combat is generally very simplistic, requiring only one or two unique attacks to dispatch foes. While this might not sound so bad, the problem is that you will have to kill hundreds or even thousands of these same type of monsters to continue gaining more power. And after a while that progression will feel like trudging through a swamp based on the extremely slow pace.

Yet people continually pump out monthly fee after monthly fee, primarily due to their addiction to their virtual character or “avatar.” This is bad for the gaming industry in a way, because these same people will neglect other games. Based on previous experience, I can safely say that when you are involved in an MMORPG, you will not bother with any other game. No matter what the quality of console single-player games that emerge, you will be so addicted to that online world that every other game will feel awkward by comparison. Does this mean the MMOG game is perfect and has no flaws? The answer is no. The games in this genre are probably more flawed than any other genre. Repetitive combat, lack of good music, and mediocre graphics are usually the culprits, and one would think just how these people can play these games for so long. The answer is simply mental . . . a mental addiction.

No matter the case, MMORPGs effect on the genre has been good in that it has pushed the bar for future online games. Yet at the same time bad because of the attention it draws from other quality titles in different genres. Online gaming uses tempting lures like free trials and invite-a-friend to get you into their world, where they then hook you with the bait. Online gaming is a continual “carrot on a stick” facade that keeps you playing with additional content; giving you the expectation that you will one day get the best gear and become the most powerful player. However, it is all for naught. Online games are a huge time sink and are not really worth the money and effort. Despite this, games are all about fun, and as long as you manage your time correctly, any title and any genre can be worth giving a shot.





Retro Review: Ice Climber

20 04 2009

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Ice Climber (NES)

Original release date: October 1985

As I was playing through Super Smash Brothers: Melee the other day, the thought occurred to me on just what game the Ice Climbers were from anyway. It seemed like they were the only characters from the list I had never heard of. On further inspection I found out they had their own game on the NES, so I got me a copy and had a go. Now Ice Climber is a very innovative approach at the platform genre, with its one unique trait of moving vertically, rather than horizontally. Your point here is to chisel your way up the level with your trusty hammer, all the while avoiding crazy obstacles. Now while there are several fun parts to this game, Ice Climber is generally kind of limited in its game-play, but the wonderful uniqueness of the game all but make up for it. That should throw away any doubts of the game being worse than the Ice Climbers are in Smash Brothers, right?

The real points of the game here are hammer and jump, hammer and jump, oh…and hammer and jump. There are a total of thirty-two different mountain stages for you to get through, all working against a time limit. This time limit will hurt you or help you depending on how fast you work and the timing of your jumps and attacks. The strangeness ensues as you fight pterodactyls and seals during your long climb to the top of each stage. The seals are not only a pest in that aspect, but they sometimes re-freeze the ice above you, causing you to chisel some more. Other obstacles include falling icicles and of course the hover cloud, which will help you on up the stage with good timing skills. When you finally make your way to the top of the peak, an odd little bonus game will begin. You have around thirty seconds to collect all of the vegetables on the screen without falling to your doom. What are the vegetables you say? Well, they happen to be hot peppers; it must be what keeps these little guys going in the cold environment.

Odds and Ends

The time limit is probably the thing that you will have to work the hardest against. If you allow it to continue too far, madness ensues as you begin to be chased by a large polar bear, the horror. Well, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, but the oddities in this game continue to appear throughout the game, and will keep you in a state of befuddlement. The one thing I do commend the game for is its well balanced difficulty level. The first few stages are simple enough that you will have the gist of it in no time at all, and it goes at a nice pace. I found the game difficult but not so much so that I was taking my system and throwing it out the window. With the praising aside there is one thing that was probably the most bothersome, the play control.

Now as said before there are many things which contribute to the difficulty in the game; the falling icicles and diversions, ground and flying enemies, and the time limit. However, the primary difficulty I had, had to do with the tight control movement. As you progress along up the mountain, early sections you had passed will disappear, leaving nothing but the holes you made while chiseling. If you fall through those holes you will lose a life, now that may not seem so bad, but I found myself in trouble more with jumping than the enemies themselves. The problem with the jumping is that even when you jump at an angle, you will jump straight up and slightly toward the direction you were facing. This pushes a lot more on the aspect of being right under the platform in order to successfully jump to it. This is not too much of a burden at first, but when you fall down that hole for the twentieth time, you will begin to get a little frustrated, not enough though, that it will make you give up of course.

You may be wondering if this game looks any different than the traditional NES games out there, well I have to say the graphics are quite impressive compared to most of them. The character and enemy sprites all look very good, with each being nicely recognizable and full of color. The mountain and platforms all look a little less flashy, but they are detailed enough to let you know they are there. Good, clean-cut visuals and no general slowdown whatsoever all allow for a better focus on the game itself. On top of that the sound is just fine going at a steady pace that is not too distracting, which was also quite surprising to me. You have the minor beeping sounds of the jumping and smashing that are very quaint and correlate just fine with the game-play.

Probably the greatest part of this game is the literally cool two player option. What I liked about the multi-player is how team work is utilized so well, and once you get in “synch” with each other, things run a lot smoother. Climbing up the mountain levels with your friend, bonking seals and birds, and avoiding confrontation with polar bears, what could be more fun? Well, several things I am sure, but this option makes the game all the more enjoyable. Another handy option is the battery save feature, which will allow you to save your progress, just in case you want to take on a particular mountain down the road. This feature is one that some disappointingly do not have, and it is very frustrating to work towards beating levels, only to have to repeat them again. Anyway, if you can grab a friend to tag along, the two player mode is fun enough that you will probably play the whole thing through.

Well, with its strange sense of characters, innovative platform approach, and fun two player option, Ice Climber is a warm spirited game beneath its cold setting. It does get a tad monotonous as you move further along and it lacks a real sense of depth, but for all its worth, it is better than most of the platform based stage to stage games out there. The moral here is, the quicker you get the hang of the controls, the longer the game will stay in your console. Believe me when I say that while most NES games do not age well, Ice Climber seems to be one of the few that actually has. It’s on the Virtual Console now, so go pick it up.

Verdict – 8/10