E3 – Metroid: Other M Impressions

2 06 2009

SamusAranSamus is back and in a whole new dimension

Toward the end of the Nintendo conference earlier this morning, everyone had seen just about enough of charts, tween games, and odd peripherals (vitality checker?) — WTF indeed.  Thankfully, Reggie himself stepped onto the scene and introduced the core gamers to a variety of games, the last of which being the most surprising of them all.  No it wasn’t the fact that it was Metroid, we knew it was coming; it was how it was presented that stunned us.

Third person perspective?  Team Ninja? Voice acting?

Woah.

The newly titled Metroid: Other M seems to take place after the Metroid Prime Trilogy, with the emphasis on a possible new Metroid fighter.  The title “Other M” seems to indicate that Samus may be replaced in this new adventure, or perhaps step out of the spotlight for a bit.  Glad to see a Nintendo character that is willing to avoid the limelight for a while; yea, I’m talking to you Link and Mario.

Anyway, on closer inspection one can see that the game will take place in a third person perspective, with a mix of 2D and 3D elements surrounding the environment.  This is a welcome change, as the Metroid franchise was originally supposed to be a third person side-scroller/adventure.  Now I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy the Prime series (well maybe Corruption), but it is good to see the franchise return to its roots (in some ways).

teamninja

With the recent news of Itagaki and most of his team leaving Team Ninja, it will be interesting to see how to remaining staff do with Other M.  From the trailer, it looks like several mechanics from Ninja Gaiden are already present in the game.  That being the advanced storyline and the acrobatic moves that Samus shows the first few minutes in.  Ridley looks bad-ass and better than ever, and the visuals, though unpolished, look to be some of the best the Wii has to offer.  As said earlier, it seems that Nintendo and its second parties are the only ones who can truly draw out the full power of the system . . . lazy third party developers.

The game is still far from completion, so there will definitely be more to come.  In the mean time check out the trailer from the game shown at E3 earlier today — definitely some hot stuff here.

Thanks to Youtube for the link.





Retro Review: Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

5 05 2009

zeldamm

Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 64)

Original release date: 10/25/2000

You’ve got a plan that could never go wrong. Taking a long vacation away from the world you just fought so hard for is what the doctor ordered. Exuberantly, you get on your steed and ride into the horizon. Yet darkness always waits unsuspectingly for the great Hero of Time, no matter the circumstance. Trekking slowly into an enchanting realm within a lush forest, you seem to detect something, but pay it no mind. There are ethereal spirits and wisps fluttering about the night sky creating an unsettling feeling, as if this is no ordinary place. You are finally coming toward your destination when your horse suddenly rears, sending you flying. An eerie creature grabs your belongings and rushes off ahead, leaving you in the dust. Taking heed, you quickly rush off toward the demon to confront him. However, things don’t go over so well when you finally corner him. In an unspeakable manner of sorcery you are suddenly thrown into a vision reverting you into a pitiful Deku scrub.

Could this be a nightmare?

Luckily, one of the two fairies that was traveling with the odd sorcerer is now left behind with you. Wanting to be reunited with her brother and the dark being again, she joins up with you for the moment, giving helpful advice along the way. Finally, after you make your way back to town, you confront a jolly man who seems to be a mask collector. He is determined to transform you to your former self as long as you retrieve a particular mask for him. By his description, it is the same mask worn by the very monster that put the curse on you. As you begin your quest to return to normal, you notice the moon, but it has a terrifying face. A strange premonition comes over you, and through hints and clues, you find out that the star will crash into the planet in three short days — better get moving.

Putting you in a dire situation in a dark new world is what one would think of as a positive addition to the Zelda line. Majora’s Mask is really the first title in the series to go down a separate path, rather than the tiresome “rescue the princess” charade. So, in an astute sense, it is the story of this game that drives it along. However, it is the supposed sequel to the timeless classic, Ocarina of Time. How on earth can you bounce back from such an enormous hit? Of course the idea seemed simple enough. Put Link in a completely different world and situation but keep the main elements of the original Nintendo 64 classic in tact. While it all sounds well and good, one cannot shake the sense of mediocrity emanating from the overall design. Majora’s Mask certainly tries to be innovative, but takes on the curse of trying to do too much at once.

On a positive note, the battle system from Ocarina of Time is used again in this installment. With the lock-on targeting system in place, combat has never felt more in depth. The fluid movement and simple controls coincide with an excellent camera that brings everything into an incomparable unison. But, one cannot help but feel a pre-emptive sense of déjà-vu throughout the progression from area to area. What makes matters worse is the fact that this new land feels much smaller than Hyrule, and the people that inhabit it are nearly identical to the citizens of such. Even though there are new towns and different environments to progress through, it is safe to assume that Nintendo overused the copy and paste button a bit too much.

This assumption is made apparent again as you journey through lands inhabiting previously seen races. The rocky Gorons, plant-like Deku, and enchanting water humanoids known as the Zora make their appearance again and it makes you wonder — are these the only beings in existence? What makes you forget about these troublesome rehashes is the fact that you can actually play as them. With the arrival of each new mask, the fundamentals of play from the original seem to slowly vanish, bringing a somewhat fresh element to the table. All in all, there are four temples in the game with intriguing puzzles and platform situations that help contribute to the use of these masks. At times you may have to transform into a Goron to roll over that narrow hill, engage the Deku scrub’s helicopter technique to cross a canyon, or use the boomerang fin trait of the Zora to hit a far-off switch. The classic puzzles that have become a staple in the Zelda series are all here, and the timing of them in each dungeon brings together a feeling of balance.

The other half of the proverbial pie for this series has always been exploration. From the early days on the NES to the fairly recent release of Wind Waker, sighting new territories and searching through every nook and cranny has always been part of the series’ tradition. However, as much you may want to explore this unique world, your concentration will always be distracted by one controversial detriment. This being, the falling moon and the time system deriving from it. Why, oh why do you add something like this into an adventure title that just begs to be seen? Maybe it would be easily ignorable to some, but that constant pressure of being rushed really speeds up the play, and shortens the value much more than it could have been.

That’s not to say there aren’t options available to deal with this nuisance though. Using your ocarina, you can slow and speed up time, or play unique songs which help contribute to puzzle solving. The essence of the clock moves in a similar fashion to games like the Harvest Moon series. Meaning a couple minutes in the real world is an hour or two in game, adding up to maybe five or six hours before the third day strikes. Learning how to control the clock at the right moment is interesting, but with one slip you can end up wasting a lot of time just trying not to lose your belongings. This correlates the save system to the balance of time, and you will need to revert to the first day to save . . . every single time. In the process you lose minor items such as arrows, rupees, and bombs, in addition to the people you met in that particular run forgetting your face. Also, certain events will only happen at particular moments, meaning you may have to wait prolonging periods of time, in boredom, until the situation eventually occurs. Yet, if there is a saving grace to this variation of ups and downs, it would have to be the boss fights.

From the enormous mechanical beast Goht to the maniacal sword toting shaman Odalwa, the confrontations do not disappoint. In fact, ignoring the simple enemies and ongoing ticking of the clock is key if you desire to get to these epic clashes. Each antagonist has their own style of combat and the masks play an integral role in finding unique ways to damage them. Think of Ocarina of Time‘s bosses but with more strategy involved and much more concentration required on your part. The bosses are even replay-able after you conquer them, which is an option its predecessor could have benefited with.

The music truly mirrors what is happening on screen, and definitely keeps you entranced throughout. Brand new ocarina tunes can be heard echoing alongside the classic Zelda theme, which was disappointingly absent from Ocarina of Time. The slow, melodramatic notes that play within the various temples will keep you on your feet, while a new remix of the Kakariko Village theme helps liven the consistent visits to Clock Town. Sound effects remain the same as the game’s predecessor; with sword slashes, bomb explosions, and deku nut flashes all sounding like they normally would. There isn’t any voice acting and the inclusion of a few more fresh ocarina songs would have been nice, but overall the audio certainly doesn’t falter.

Another impressive feature that Majora’s Mask has going for it is the ability to update your weapons. While you may remain a kid throughout the whole duration of the game, it is the sword upgrades that make up for this. And the missions behind their creations help bring about the only sense of challenge that coincides with the time rush. So it may just be worth it to continue progressing along, no matter how much you may dislike the new game-play system.

Majora’s Mask is truly a double-edged sword. The dark and overshadowing theme mixed with excellent boss fights and great battle mechanics bring the short-lived experience alive. Yet, the menacing time system and abundantly reused character models bring down the charm a bit. If you have never played Ocarina of Time, then by all means play this one first. The similarities may get to long time fans of the Legend of Zelda, but newcomers will not be affected by this in any way. And while it may lack polish and seem like a rushed effort at times, it is the mere point that it is a quality Zelda title that drives the force behind a confident recommendation.

Verdict – 7/10





Retro Review: Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

5 05 2009

zeldamm

Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 64)

Original release date: 10/25/2000

You’ve got a plan that could never go wrong. Taking a long vacation away from the world you just fought so hard for is what the doctor ordered. Exuberantly, you get on your steed and ride into the horizon. Yet darkness always waits unsuspectingly for the great Hero of Time, no matter the circumstance. Trekking slowly into an enchanting realm within a lush forest, you seem to detect something, but pay it no mind. There are ethereal spirits and wisps fluttering about the night sky creating an unsettling feeling, as if this is no ordinary place. You are finally coming toward your destination when your horse suddenly rears, sending you flying. An eerie creature grabs your belongings and rushes off ahead, leaving you in the dust. Taking heed, you quickly rush off toward the demon to confront him. However, things don’t go over so well when you finally corner him. In an unspeakable manner of sorcery you are suddenly thrown into a vision reverting you into a pitiful Deku scrub.

Could this be a nightmare?

Luckily, one of the two fairies that was traveling with the odd sorcerer is now left behind with you. Wanting to be reunited with her brother and the dark being again, she joins up with you for the moment, giving helpful advice along the way. Finally, after you make your way back to town, you confront a jolly man who seems to be a mask collector. He is determined to transform you to your former self as long as you retrieve a particular mask for him. By his description, it is the same mask worn by the very monster that put the curse on you. As you begin your quest to return to normal, you notice the moon, but it has a terrifying face. A strange premonition comes over you, and through hints and clues, you find out that the star will crash into the planet in three short days — better get moving.

Putting you in a dire situation in a dark new world is what one would think of as a positive addition to the Zelda line. Majora’s Mask is really the first title in the series to go down a separate path, rather than the tiresome “rescue the princess” charade. So, in an astute sense, it is the story of this game that drives it along. However, it is the supposed sequel to the timeless classic, Ocarina of Time. How on earth can you bounce back from such an enormous hit? Of course the idea seemed simple enough. Put Link in a completely different world and situation but keep the main elements of the original Nintendo 64 classic in tact. While it all sounds well and good, one cannot shake the sense of mediocrity emanating from the overall design. Majora’s Mask certainly tries to be innovative, but takes on the curse of trying to do too much at once.

On a positive note, the battle system from Ocarina of Time is used again in this installment. With the lock-on targeting system in place, combat has never felt more in depth. The fluid movement and simple controls coincide with an excellent camera that brings everything into an incomparable unison. But, one cannot help but feel a pre-emptive sense of déjà-vu throughout the progression from area to area. What makes matters worse is the fact that this new land feels much smaller than Hyrule, and the people that inhabit it are nearly identical to the citizens of such. Even though there are new towns and different environments to progress through, it is safe to assume that Nintendo overused the copy and paste button a bit too much.

This assumption is made apparent again as you journey through lands inhabiting previously seen races. The rocky Gorons, plant-like Deku, and enchanting water humanoids known as the Zora make their appearance again and it makes you wonder — are these the only beings in existence? What makes you forget about these troublesome rehashes is the fact that you can actually play as them. With the arrival of each new mask, the fundamentals of play from the original seem to slowly vanish, bringing a somewhat fresh element to the table. All in all, there are four temples in the game with intriguing puzzles and platform situations that help contribute to the use of these masks. At times you may have to transform into a Goron to roll over that narrow hill, engage the Deku scrub’s helicopter technique to cross a canyon, or use the boomerang fin trait of the Zora to hit a far-off switch. The classic puzzles that have become a staple in the Zelda series are all here, and the timing of them in each dungeon brings together a feeling of balance.

The other half of the proverbial pie for this series has always been exploration. From the early days on the NES to the fairly recent release of Wind Waker, sighting new territories and searching through every nook and cranny has always been part of the series’ tradition. However, as much you may want to explore this unique world, your concentration will always be distracted by one controversial detriment. This being, the falling moon and the time system deriving from it. Why, oh why do you add something like this into an adventure title that just begs to be seen? Maybe it would be easily ignorable to some, but that constant pressure of being rushed really speeds up the play, and shortens the value much more than it could have been.

That’s not to say there aren’t options available to deal with this nuisance though. Using your ocarina, you can slow and speed up time, or play unique songs which help contribute to puzzle solving. The essence of the clock moves in a similar fashion to games like the Harvest Moon series. Meaning a couple minutes in the real world is an hour or two in game, adding up to maybe five or six hours before the third day strikes. Learning how to control the clock at the right moment is interesting, but with one slip you can end up wasting a lot of time just trying not to lose your belongings. This correlates the save system to the balance of time, and you will need to revert to the first day to save . . . every single time. In the process you lose minor items such as arrows, rupees, and bombs, in addition to the people you met in that particular run forgetting your face. Also, certain events will only happen at particular moments, meaning you may have to wait prolonging periods of time, in boredom, until the situation eventually occurs. Yet, if there is a saving grace to this variation of ups and downs, it would have to be the boss fights.

From the enormous mechanical beast Goht to the maniacal sword toting shaman Odalwa, the confrontations do not disappoint. In fact, ignoring the simple enemies and ongoing ticking of the clock is key if you desire to get to these epic clashes. Each antagonist has their own style of combat and the masks play an integral role in finding unique ways to damage them. Think of Ocarina of Time‘s bosses but with more strategy involved and much more concentration required on your part. The bosses are even replay-able after you conquer them, which is an option its predecessor could have benefited with.

The music truly mirrors what is happening on screen, and definitely keeps you entranced throughout. Brand new ocarina tunes can be heard echoing alongside the classic Zelda theme, which was disappointingly absent from Ocarina of Time. The slow, melodramatic notes that play within the various temples will keep you on your feet, while a new remix of the Kakariko Village theme helps liven the consistent visits to Clock Town. Sound effects remain the same as the game’s predecessor; with sword slashes, bomb explosions, and deku nut flashes all sounding like they normally would. There isn’t any voice acting and the inclusion of a few more fresh ocarina songs would have been nice, but overall the audio certainly doesn’t falter.

Another impressive feature that Majora’s Mask has going for it is the ability to update your weapons. While you may remain a kid throughout the whole duration of the game, it is the sword upgrades that make up for this. And the missions behind their creations help bring about the only sense of challenge that coincides with the time rush. So it may just be worth it to continue progressing along, no matter how much you may dislike the new game-play system.

Majora’s Mask is truly a double-edged sword. The dark and overshadowing theme mixed with excellent boss fights and great battle mechanics bring the short-lived experience alive. Yet, the menacing time system and abundantly reused character models bring down the charm a bit. If you have never played Ocarina of Time, then by all means play this one first. The similarities may get to long time fans of the Legend of Zelda, but newcomers will not be affected by this in any way. And while it may lack polish and seem like a rushed effort at times, it is the mere point that it is a quality Zelda title that drives the force behind a confident recommendation.

Verdict – 7/10





Retro Review: Shadow of the Colossus

16 04 2009

Due to the recent announcement of the Shadow of the Colossus movie (which I will hold back comment on for now), I’ve decided to go ahead and do a review on the epic adventure title.  Check it out.

sotc1

Shadow of the Colossus (PlayStation 2)

Original release date – 10/18/05

Shadow of the Colossus represents a unique approach to the action/adventure based role-playing genre, but honestly, it is one that should be used a lot more often. How many titles have we played where leveling up was a requirement? Going to a certain area and tediously acquiring experience just to keep up with the AI is very lame, as is stopping to fight ridiculously boring and meaningless enemies such as skeletons, ogres, and slimes. Once in a while though, a game comes along that tries to break that boundary of repetition; Shadow of the Colossus is that game. The developers that brought forth the innovative classic Ico have done it again and have presented us with a game that paints a picture unlike any title in the oft-debated genre has done before.

As the game introduces you to the main characters, you can take a guess as to what seems to be the problem. You see a young man and his horse Argo, slowly walking through a massive temple, carrying the body of a lifeless girl. His purpose at this destination is to attempt to revive this woman, who appears to be a lost love. After some discussion with a mysterious spiritual entity, your mission becomes clear, but at the same time perhaps not as clear as you’d like it to be. The voice states that the only way to restore the girl’s soul is to destroy sixteen idols. The idols, statues that lie in the temple, cannot be destroyed by a mere mortal such as yourself. So, take up thy sword young warrior and journey into the land. There you will meet sixteen gigantic creatures known as colossi; kill them all and the ritual will be complete.

Quickly mounting on your horse, you venture out into the vast landscape, and if it isn’t truly a sight to behold. And even though the graphical quality may not be too impressive at first glance, it is the superb art direction that makes Shadow of the Colossus so breathtaking. Lush valleys spread across rolling green hills, windswept deserts, and articulately crafted ruins will all be some of the sights to take in as you progress throughout. Using your sword, you will be able to locate each of the gigantic beasts simply by raising it into the sunlight. As you do so, a luminescent beam will appear and point to the colossus you are currently seeking.  Finally, as by tradition, a health and fatigue bar will keep track of your endurance, allotting you a certain amount of acrobatics and sword swings. Yet, this is as close to a traditional action game as you’re going to get; from here on out it is nothing like you have seen before.

You will understand this statement the first time you lay eyes on the colossal beings. These beings, consisting of ancient technology, as well as some living elements, tower over their respective domains. Nearly every single one stands at least ten stories high and will make your warrior feel like an insect in comparison. Whether it be running frantically from a club-wielding giant to soaring thousands of feet up on the back of an angry bird, the colossi are as diverse in appearance as they are in their furious attack patterns. Patterns that you will have to stop with the help of just three things: your bow, your horse, and your sword.

Impossible.

That is what I told myself when I was face to face with the first of the colossi, glaring at the meager amount of resources I had at my disposal. Luckily for our protagonist, each monster has a weakness, and finding this weakness is half the battle.

Now perhaps I can hit his leg with my bow, thus giving me the chance to begin the climb toward the weak point on his head.

Then again, maybe I can circle him with my horse and provoke him to attack my current position. While he is taking the time to recover, I can acrobatically jump from the horse to his leg and weaken him from behind; allowing me to climb up his back-side and begin my attack from there.

The options are seemingly endless and help keep the combat both intense and fluid at the same time. Execution of your predetermined strategy makes up for the other half of the battle and it is the resultant of that plan that will be the difference between his defeat and yours. And believe me when I say that each colossus will not make it easy for you. Regardless if you know the key to beating them or not, each foe will try to keep you away through a series of attacks. Several of which have such force behind them that they can injure or disorient you, even if the attack didn’t hit you directly. The realistic physics and hit detection really make it feel as if you are right alongside these creatures, with an experience furthered with the dual shock option kept on. Accompanying the exhilarating encounters is a brilliantly orchestrated theme that helps complete the dramatic scenario brought about by the “David versus Goliath-esque battle.”

If you happen to bypass the offensive barrage then you will have to deal with the trouble of staying on each of the colossi, as they shake violently to get you off. Keeping your grip, all the while watching your fatigue bar, requires a great deal of attention, providing several frustrating moments as well. Just try not to break the controller if you happen to fall off the creature, when you have him at his last few hit points.

So, you’ve downed your first colossus and you’re feeling quite good. Instead of making your way to the next one, take a time out to relax and explore the great outdoors a little. Notice the detail of a sunbeam resting on the forgotten ruins in the forests just north of the temple or the tremendous body of water situated beneath the series of diversely shaped canyons. Another element that sets Shadow of the Colossus apart from the crowd is the quaint feeling of barrenness that encompasses its enormous world. No other soul aside from the main character, his horse, the maiden, the colossi, and the mysterious spirit reside in this peaceful plain, save maybe a handful of birds or reptiles. This means no random thugs or barbarians, no ecto-plasmic blobs, and no pointless mini-bosses. Nothing but you and your primary objective, a situation that truly lets you sink into the role of the character you’re playing. And giving you an incentive to succeed and help the troubled hero accomplish his ultimate goal.

After everything is said and done and you are treated with a brilliant finale, the game opens up a new dimension of play, that being the time attack mode. Thought it was difficult downing the colossi before? Try doing so with a timer in front of you, ticking down second by second, giving you a greater sense of urgency, and providing a manly challenge. The game-play is considerably tougher in this mode and will test the type of gamer that enjoys the combat portions of their particular adventures. This is what makes Shadow of the Colossus so rewarding; catering to a range of gaming styles, while bringing something completely new to the table, that actually seems to work. Such a feat is rarely accomplished and it is what makes this gem seem so much more.

No game though, no matter how great the experience, is without a couple of minor quibbles, and Shadow of the Colossus is no exception. First off, the controls, especially when on the horse, feel a little too loose. Turning corners or attempting to climb up a particular surface will sometimes be troublesome due to the weight you have to apply on the control stick. This becomes a further inconvenience when the camera decides to be stubborn. Though it is not often enough to be looked at as a negative, the views you receive when climbing up the colossi for instance, can make it hard to see what you are doing. Especially since you are pressed for time when hanging on for dear life. Nevertheless, despite a subjective mis-queue or two (that anyone could adjust to with time), Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most error free titles I have ever had the privilege of playing; now if only I could say the same for the other “innovative” titles out there.

In the end, the hardest thing to deal with is in knowing that the game will eventually come to an end. Shadow’s brilliance lies in its desire to be different from any other game out there. Even without a plethora of characters to interact with or additional itemization with which to equip your hero, the game succeeds because it lacks these features. It is as if you have been handed a blank slate, a world to do with as your own, and been given the chance to explore the possibilities as you see fit. From the epic confrontations with the impressive creatures themselves to the tiniest attention to detail, Shadow of the Colossus is far and away one of the best games of this or any other generation; ultimately providing a gaming experience I’ve not felt since Ocarina of Time itself.

Verdict – 10/10 (As a reference, 10 does not mean perfect)