maanantai 28. helmikuuta 2011

REVIEW - Assassin's Creed (2007)

Genre(s): Action
Released: 2007
Available on: PS3, X360
Developer(s): Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher(s): Ubisoft
Players: 1

It's one of the biggest open-world, third-person action franchises of the decade, centering on stealth and murder... and I've only gotten familiar with it recently. Of course, I'm speaking of Assassin's Creed. I don't know what it is that kept me away from the series for the longest time. I was about to purchase the second major game in the series when it came out, but then I heard that all the games share same delicate plot threads, so I decided to wait for the PS3 version of the first game to become cheap enough to compensate for the lack of Trophies and the mixed reviews written about it. Before I knew it, there was a third game coming, and I kind of gave up on ever getting too interested in the series. The first Assassin's Creed title doesn't really suffice to promote my interest any further, but it's a decent trip to be had once.

Breaking all Three Tenets of a fully functional game

STARRING
Philip Shahbaz : Altair ibn La-Ahad
Kristen Bell : Lucy Stillman
Nolan North : Desmond Miles / Abbas
Phil Proctor : Warren Vidic
Peter Renaday : Al Mualim
Haaz Sleiman : Malik A-Sayf
Jean-Philippe Dandenaud : Robert de Sable
Ammar Daraiseh : Tamir
Jake Eberle : Talal
Hubert Fielden : Garnier de Naplouse

Desmond Miles is a former assassin, but he's given up his old ways and is now trying to live his life as a simple bartender. However, generations of valuable genetic memories flow through his veins. Desmond is kidnapped by the Abstergo Corporation, who have built Animus - a highly advanced device that can read the memories of the user's ancestors. Desmond comes from a long line of assassins; the information Abstergo seeks is connected to an ancestor of Desmond's named Altair, an arrogant but efficient assassin who gained infamy during the Third Crusade in Israel. Desmond must step into the shoes of Altair in a virtual recreation of the past and search for the one lost memory Abstergo needs to go ahead with whatever it is they're planning.

First of all, I love the plot of the whole series. It's phenomenal, and definitely original. There's a strong Metal Gear Solid vibe when it comes to both graphical and thematic detail, but for the most part, there's never been a storyline quite like in Assassin's Creed, or one that would seamlessly continue over the course of many games like this. That's right: if some games scream for a sequel, Assassin's Creed's ending holds the gap wide open to welcome a second game. It's more or less a cliffhanger. I believe that's the reason a lot of players came around to welcome the second game and enjoy the hell out of it, 'cause this game really isn't that good. Think of all the great third-person action games and sandbox games that have come out since Grand Theft Auto III in 2001. I won't even list them. If none of those games existed, Assassin's Creed would rule. But, they do exist, and Assassin's Creed ends up being a mediocre title on the genre's scale... a mediocre game with the best possible storyline and a magnificent setting. You're a freakin' assassin in a white hooded robe, you look like an angel of death. You have incredible senses, the tendency and skill to scale any wall with the slightest edge or gap, and an open world to explore, so what goes wrong?

Before going into those things, let's spend a little time analyzing the audiovisuals. The graphics are sufficient. Definitely not the best of the current generation, though; a lagging frame rate and largely plain close quarter surroundings take care of that. The style of the game is a winning formula, though; they managed to combine the Matrix-like special effects and the very simple present-day gameplay, and the otherwise historical look of the game without making it all look tacky - you sometimes even forget the game's true story while running through a very authentic Jerusalem, circa 1191.

The music is good, although quite rare. The score was composed single-handedly by Jesper Kyd, who is quite known for his work on stealth action franchises such as Hitman and Splinter Cell. No wonder I haven't heard much of him before this, though: I'm not a big fan of either series. It's funny that I have owned both Hitman 2: Silent Assassin and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow on the PS2 - critically acclaimed games - and I sold them both back in the day 'cause I found them to be overrated crap. Off-topic, huh? Well, the voice cast is absolutely awesome. Subtitles would've helped to understand it better, though! And, the conversations repeat themselves more than a wee bit. But. A large sum of the lesser Israeli characters are actually voiced by Israelians. Kristen Bell - who still hasn't answered my marriage proposal - lent both her voice and likeness to Abstergo scientist Lucy Stillman. That face model does one of the most beautiful women in the world no justice, but just listening to her voice makes me smile. Nolan North, a.k.a. Nathan Drake, nails another one of his trademark characters in Desmond Miles. Not quite as spontaneous and surprising in his oral performance as Drake, but a great character nonetheless. Philip Shahbaz, who voices Altair, sounds like an asshole. Which brings us to the next issue.

These leaps of faith are cool, but as it is with
every other feature in this game: you've seen
one, you've seen them all.
Altair is really not likeable. I mean really. In the beginning, he's an arrogant asshole and can't even back his big words up with action like Kratos in God of War, so you can forget about a bond between yourself and the main character from the get-go. You not liking the character bears no effect on the gameplay, but his overconfidence is a very important plot element. There's a plot twist near the beginning of the game in which he is humbled by his superiors. You start the game off with full abilities, but after this twist, you start from scratch. The thing is that in the introductory mission of the game Altair breaks the Three Tenets of the Assassin's Creed, three directives the brotherhood lives by, and his mentor thinks it's best if he's taught a bit of a lesson in humility. These directives affect the gameplay a little, although before long, you will find yourself breaking about every rule with no punishment: 1. Stay your blade from the flesh of an innocent. 2. Always be discreet. 3. Never compromise the Brotherhood.

OK, so here are the Three Tenets of the Stealth Action Game's Creed for good measure: 1. Have decent control. 2. Have stealth mean something. 3. Do not repeat yourself more than necessary. Assassin's Creed breaks them all.

Before telling you the specifics of how the rules of a great game of its kind are broken, I should probably tell you how Assassin's Creed basically plays out. You start off as Desmond, and you can exit the Animus any time you like to interact with the modern day environment as him. For the most part, you can't do anything but talk to the two scientists poking your brain - listening to Kristen talk is like music to my ears, so I do it more often than I need to. But I digress. In Altair's time, there's Kingdom, which is a large plain that connects the inhabited areas of Masyaf, Acre, Damascus, Arsuf and Jerusalem. In other words, your playground - new areas, bladed weapons and helpful abilities are unlocked as you make progress in the storyline. It's a semi-open world in which your main objective is to assassinate a bunch of important people, but you can also do a little sidestepping by collecting different flags from all the different areas, and completing other bonus objectives which have an effect on your maximum health and overall potential to succeed. You also need to do a few of these objectives in each area to be able to locate the Assassination Memory from the program and move on to the main course. To find these objectives within a certain radius all at once, you need to scale a certain type of building called a view point and use your "eagle vision" to pick up hot spots down below.

Too bad there ain't that much different bonus objectives, actually so few that you'll be bored of them in no time: informant challenges, pickpocketing and interrogating henchmen and eavesdropping on them, and helping out innocents. Especially since there are no Trophies to be had for payment for your whoring services. Or any other rewards, except for good, old-fashioned spirit and some vigilante back-up you never need. Seriously. You need to do 15 of these "additional memories" of any sort to gain just one single, permanent perk to your maximum health. Boring? I thought so.

My personal rule number 1 is the most important of them all. The unnervingly complex controls are quite awkward and clumsy on top. The game gloats on having simple, dynamic one-button gameplay. Well, that's not exactly the case especially when it comes to "dynamic". You need other buttons to accommodate its "one-button" functions to use more advanced fighting techniques which are rarely actually needed, and all of the left stick, R1 and X to simply start climbing a wall. Just try to climb a wall in a hurry (which you usually are in), and you'll most likely just kick the wall, and in the worst case, kick yourself back straight into a bottomless pit. Finding the correct spot to trigger your transition to the next ledge while climbing a wall can sometimes be ridiculously precise, and if you've got bastards on your trail, you're easy arrow fodder all the while you're trying to put your hand into that next gap you oh, so clearly see, but just can't make contact. Fighting large groups of people head on, which you need to do from time to time, is very tiring. It's nearly all about mashing that one button, and hoping that the alert phase will come to an end during this century. Escaping's always an option, but not when you've travelled hundreds of miles in search for a view point, which you have finally found after letting the crappy compass lead you to a number of dead ends for the last hour, but can't climb it due to alerting enemies to your presence. Fighting's pretty much your only option if you don't want to stray too far from your target and be forced to spend even more valuable time in tracking your way back to it.

On to breaking rule number two. The importance of stealth varies throughout the game. The Animus icon tells you the sort of situation you are in. If you're close to an enemy, it has this little dot that blinks red and makes a beeping noise. This is when you should switch to low profile and walk slowly past the enemy. This way, he won't take note of your presence and lets you pass, HOWEVER he might still yell out something like "Kill him!!!", and I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty intimidating to me, so I immediately switch to high profile and start running for my life, only to find that it was some sort of a glitch. Well, too late to figure that out, now every bastard stationed here is after me. Making progress within the Kingdom area, in particular, is awkwardly slow. It's the one place in which I'd like to go out and explore, but it's filled to the brim with enemies, so I need to walk slowly virtually all the time, both on foot and on horseback, to avoid a whole series of tedious confrontations. In the cities, it really doesn't matter what you do. It's easy to escape any enemies within the city limits since there are so many buildings and hiding places, and even if it proves to be hard, you can just say "fuck it", turn around and mashkill every one of your pursuers before taking your sweet time to find a spot to hide in (if the cautionary phase is still on). No problem, no punishment. What would you do in a game that turns from a passable stealth action game into a repetitive borefest quicker than you can spell the word "assassin" - do everything by the book and avoid from even bumping into anyone by walking at the speed of a snail, or just run through the whole thing and kill a bunch of guys, since it really doesn't fuckin' matter? You'll get the job done either way, sooner or later. If you go for the first option, it's probably later. Much later. There's not even a stat screen to sum up your failures, so why bother spending 15 minutes on what you can do in five? It's the result that counts, not the execution. Not very becoming of stealth action.

Relax. It's just a knife in the throat.
I kind of explained broken rule number three already. The game unceremoniously repeats itself, all the time. The main objectives themselves are copies of each other. The bonuses are exactly the same throughout. There might be 12 citizens in need of your blade's assistance in one city, and helping them out always plays out exactly the same. There are no variations, they even keep thanking you for your aid with the very same stretches of monologue. Helping out citizens gives you the chance to sneak past guard posts disguising yourself as a scholar, or the chance to use a bunch of vigilantes as kind of a smoke screen when you escape from guards and templars. Everything else is done to gather information about your main target, and just this once more: you only need to do a couple of these objectives to be ready to get your hands on 'em. Towards the end of the game, I doubt you'll do much more than necessary, the game is so repetitive. Looking for those flags in every area is just about the most tedious and unrewarding task the game has in store. You don't need truckloads of health to beat the game, and good spirit doesn't quite cut it for me. A million other games have taught me to be greedy; where are the unlockables, Trophies (and not just PSN Trophies, but some sort of an in-game trophy system?), or even some sort of a stat screen? This is one incomplete game you just run through, and probably just because you won't be able to enjoy the plot of the second game to the fullest without it!

It's easy, too, since it never gets any more difficult. All the cities are pretty much the same, the Kingdom area's rather small, and the game doesn't set any challenges truly worthy of conquering. None of the main assassination missions pose a lot of challenge, nor do they differ from each other, nor are they as interesting as they are on paper to begin with. And once again, no Trophies to be had in the PS3 version, since the game was deemed too old and too unremarkable to be patched with support when the Trophies launched.

I went over a lot of the game's cons here, never really touching the pros. There are some, but the bottom line is that we've seen a lot of better action games of both types that are combined in Assassin's Creed, before and after its release. It's not a bad game, it's just what we Finnish people call something along the lines of "one pissed while running". Assassin's Creed has a great concept; there have been many games in which you've been cast as an assassin, but not many which have a storyline this magnificent. The story and Kristen Bell - hey, baby, what's your number nowadays? - are pretty much the only things that really kept me pushing on here. And, of course the fact that Assassin's Creed II, a way better and more rewarding title (or so I've heard), continues right where this one leaves off. So, it's pretty much a game you must limp through before touching another game in the franchise. Smart move by Ubisoft, commercially speaking.

Graphics : 8.0
Sound : 8.5
Playability : 6.6
Challenge : 7.0
Overall : 6.7

Trivia

GameRankings: 78.82% (PS3), 82.51% (X360)

The game was re-released exclusively for the PC in April 2008, as Assassin's Creed - Director's Cut.

Altair's attire is an unlockable costume in Konami's Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.

maanantai 21. helmikuuta 2011

REVIEW - Resident Evil 2 (1998)

Genre(s): Action / Survival horror
Released: 1998
Available on: DC, GCN, N64, PC, PS1, PSN
Developer(s): Capcom, Angel Studios, Factor 5, Sourcenext
Publisher(s): Capcom, Virgin Interactive, Nintendo
Players: 1

Resident Evil 2 was to be the first sequel to Capcom's most critically acclaimed and commercially successful game of the decade, so yeah, you could say creator and producer Shinji Mikami was under a lot of pressure when he promised a bigger, better, badder and scarier Resident Evil with a truckload of more zombies, as the game's production began right after the release of the first one. Wanting to stay one hundred per cent true to his word, he unceremoniously canned the whole project when it was about 70% done, and ordered director Hideki Kamiya and his team to start from scratch. After over a year and a half since it began taking form and a near dive into development hell, Resident Evil 2 finally hit the shelves in January, 1998. It turned out to be everything Mikami promised it to be, and more - no less than perhaps the best traditional survival horror game in history.

The serious disorder of the keepers of order

STARRING
Paul Haddad : Leon S. Kennedy
Alyson Court : Claire Redfield
Sally Cahill : Ada Wong
Lisa Yamanaka : Sherry Birkin
Jennifer Dale : Dr. Annette Birkin
Rod Wilson : Ben Bertolucci
Gary Krawford : Brian Irons / Robert Kendo
Diego Matamoros : Dr. William Birkin

Over the course of one night, just few months after the mansion incident at the Arklay Mountains, Raccoon City turns into hell on Earth. Umbrella Inc.'s most advanced type of virus, labelled G, spreads over the city like wildfire. Claire Redfield is a young, motorcycle-riding tomboy come to search for her brother Chris, who's been missing for some time. Leon S. Kennedy, on the other hand, is a new recruit at the Raccoon City Police Department, which has become somewhat of a hive to those infected by the G-Virus. They may be strangers to each other, but they must work together to survive the viral outbreak and escape the city.

Leon... or a newly rendered Max Headroom.
Back when Resident Evil 2 was announced, I was just getting to know the fabulous world of the Internet, and for about a year, I scooped up the latest on Resident Evil 2 every chance I got. If I got no more than five minutes online, I sacrificed it to Resident Evil 2. I don't remember anticipating any game, ever, as much as I anticipated Resident Evil 2. When they announced the project had been rebooted several months into production, I wasn't disappointed; I was more fired up about the game than ever! I thought the first version looked fantastic, and if Mikami abandoned it 'cause he thought it was boring, then what could they possibly be brewing up now? I didn't have a PlayStation at the time, but I had been promised that when Resident Evil 2 came out, I would get to borrow the game from a friend, and the PlayStation from another source. This did happen... the thing was, I didn't get a memory card. Still, I managed to beat the game. Or, I mean, one scenario of the basic four. I tried six times. I died in the final boss four times, out of those six. How could I muster up the energy to play through the whole game that many times during one week, or just actually a few days? That, I don't know. But I do know one thing: if there was something I loved in a video game, it was shooting a guy's head off with a shotgun. In other words, I loved Resident Evil 2; I loved it so much that I wanted to play it, with or without the ability to save. I still love it. It's lost some of its beauty and original appeal, but it still manages to scare the player more positively shitless than most of 'em, and it still packs quite the standard-setting survival horror challenge. And shooting the heads off of four to five zombies with a single blast from a customized shotgun with amazing recoil is still a gas.

The game begins with a disclaimer: "This game contains scenes of explicit violence and gore." To my recollection, Resident Evil 2 was the first game I ever played that had this disclaimer, since the original version of the first game didn't. The first time I saw the disclaimer on the screen, I sincerely said to myself, and to my brother who was giving me some parental advisory - or just enjoying the show - that "the game doesn't even need to be good, it just told me a good reason to play it anyway." But, it turned out to be a great game, and it did cash in on that promise. Still does. Unlike the first game, this one has endured the fangs of time quite neatly and its detailed, gory violence is still quite remarkable; the game remained one of the best-looking games on the original PlayStation right up until the end of the platform's lifespan. The character polygons stick out from the pre-rendered backgrounds with a lot less volume, and although the FMV models are ugly and doll-ish by today's standards, watching them in action is oh, so much easier on the eyes and mind than suffering the previous game's ridiculous live actors, or their nasty lip syncs.

This guy totally missed the landing zone.
One evil remains extremely resident: horrible voiceover work. The first Resident Evil is a classic when it comes to bad voiceovers, but overall, it didn't have that much dialogue. Resident Evil 2 features a lot of interaction between characters: the two leads, the other survivors and the crazy villains. Back when this game came out, the script sounded like a masterpiece compared to that of the previous game, but it's almost just as bad. The lines are dope, and the cast is just another bunch of grade F actors summoned to the studio from the street. I don't have any "favourites" here, though, except for Sherry, who's a kid in a survival horror game and that says it all. I do have a couple of lines in mind, such as Claire's discreet "You're a cop, right?"; she's sitting next to Leon, who's in a complete police uniform, and driving a police car, so my guess would be: "UHH... YEAH!?". Or Leon's repeated line: "Ada, wait!". Why doesn't he ever run after Ada? Can a chick in high heels really outrun a young, buffed-out police officer? Man, I tell you, the state of law enforcement these days... on a lot of occasions, Leon strikes me as being just as dumb and oblivious as Chris was in the first game. The lead females have at least some potential, it's just the awful lines that do them no favours; no wonder Alyson Court and Sally Cahill got to reprise their roles in later installments of the franchise.

The music by Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama and Shun Nishigaki is exceptionally good. I didn't pay a lot of attention to the score of the first Resident Evil game - Ueda was the only person of the three to work on that one - but here, it's less ambient. Dark, melodic, intimidating, very piano-driven stuff that you'd expect to hear in a Japanese horror movie. And no tacky guitar rock this time around.

Resident Evil 2 comes on two discs, and that should already give you an idea of what length, variety and visual goodness we're dealing with here. The first Resident Evil had two different scenarios - one for Chris, and one for Jill - and that was it. End of story. If you could meet certain criteria, you could play the game again using different clothes and even using a rocket launcher with infinite ammo, but there was nothing concretely new about your second round. In Resident Evil 2, both characters, Leon and Claire, have two different scenarios each. It depends on who you start out with - if you start the party with Leon, you'll first have to play through Leon A and then, Claire B. You'll then proceed to the reverse order - Claire A, Leon B. The B scenarios are a bit tougher, since a lot of stuff you do in the A scenario has an effect on the B scenario. Just an example: if you find a machinegun in the A scenario and decide to take it, it will not be available for the character in the B scenario, since the scenarios both take place simultaneously.

Leon and Claire bump into each other a few times during the game, but they both have their own ways to reach the end, and their own problems to deal with. Most of those problems are brought on by the other friendlies they meet on the way. That's right, there are two additional characters, one accompanying each from time to time, and who are even playable in choice situations. Leon has to deal with a very mysterious woman in red named Ada Wong, who has supposedly come to Raccoon City to look for her missing hubby who works for Umbrella, and Claire has to suffer the remarkable pain of looking after a lost little girl, the daughter of two Umbrella scientists who have seemed to go missing as well. If you haven't figured it out by now, children and teenagers always spell trouble in games. Especially survival horror games. Resident Evil 2 is no exception. As a matter of fact, it more or less started the trend. As much as I'd like to cut down the points due to that fact, I can't. 'Cause it's a great fuckin' game.

The streets are crawling with zombies, and the
chief of police is a grade A nutjob. I love this
town.
The gameplay's almost identical to the first game, and that unfortunately means the extremely annoying inventory limit is still intact. Once again, by default, Claire has more space than Leon, and now I'm pretty positive that this is some kind of a sexist joke by Mikami. It's definitely the bra cups. There's a very welcome special item in this game - the side pack, which adds two inventory slots, and therefore, in my mind, it's a natural choice for Leon. Don't go thinking it spares you any tedious backtracking, though. You need to sacrifice space for four spark plugs to open a certain door, there are a million herbs which you will most certainly need but you just can't carry them all, some weapons take up two slots, you still need those stupid ink ribbons to save the game... hell, why am I even explaining it? The inventory limit is straight out of the retard zone in every possible way! A limit this strict was obsolete even before it was introduced in the first game! Well, at least this time the small keys, exclusive to Leon, stack. There aren't a lot of them, though. Why's the female lead always the master of unlocking who doesn't need this shit?

I won't go into the inane logic of a police officer not able or willing to break into a closet or a drawer even in an emergency, this time around, and besides, the small keys are very useful. Not only do you find ammo from drawers, but also parts which you can use to upgrade your weapons. For example, your basic handgun can be equipped with a stabilizer and rapid fire to make it a much more efficient tool for killing. Which is good, since there are a lot of downright excellent weapons such as the bowgun and the machinegun, but you rarely find ammo for them. Ammo for the more basic weapons is available in large amounts - you shouldn't be TOO trigger happy, though, since there are a lot of zombies in this game. And things that are much worse.

Lickers replace Hunters, and man, these bastards do know how to make an entrance. Not only are they scary as fuck to begin with, but they can kill you with just a couple of slips of their tongues if they are close and precise enough. Without a shotgun or something better, you'd better pray when there are more than one of these guys after you. The bosses range from a giant sewer alligator to different abominations spawned by just a drop of the G-Virus, to a colossal, seemingly immortal guy in a trenchcoat only known as Mr. X, who is also a fan of big entrances. I seriously almost crapped my pants the first time this guy made his presence known. He is most definitely one of the creepiest dudes I've ever seen in a video game.

Since I've managed to play through both Leon and Claire's A scenarios without a memory card back in the day, it's not that hard to figure out that it's not impossible, in fact it's quite easy. But it's not the point. The first scenario of the game is, for all intents and purposes, only the first quarter of the game. You can't say you've beaten the game after just one scenario because there are so much details and crucial events that won't be unlocked until you've beaten all four scenarios. Doing this takes about 20 hours from the most seasoned player, so yeah, we're dealing with a lengthy, challenging game lightyears ahead of its predecessor on this front - the first and only Resident Evil game that took full advantage (and more) of having two main characters. You could say the team put a whole lot more effort into Resident Evil 2 than they should have. The next couple of games were bound to disappoint, since they were stripped of a lot of small elements that made Resident Evil 2 so great.

X, dude... can't we just talk this through?
If you consider yourself a seasoned player of Resident Evil 2 and want to push yourself to the very limits, you could try unlocking three additional game modes - it ain't easy, though. The 4th Survivor is a bonus mission which puts you in the boots of HUNK, a special agent of Umbrella who is mentioned in a couple of notes. The To-Fu Survivor is another bonus mission, a parody of The 4th Survivor, in which you play as a walking block of tofu. Japanese humour at its best and worst. Extreme Battle is just what its name implies, and to my knowledge, it's only unlocked if you've beaten the game to the hilt, and both Survivor missions. Not only do you need to beat the game in order to unlock the Survivor missions, you need to get the highest possible rank in each scenario. Now everyone who still believes in their bullshit about this game being easy, put your hands up.

I had a lot of trouble coming up with a decent written review of Resident Evil 2. I was actually considering of just rating the game. The biggest problem was that I couldn't really put my final opinion on it into words. The game was so fuckin' awesome when it came out, and it still is, but after a million playthroughs and the more recent games which are not thematically as good, but have incredible gameplay, parts of it make you want to quit in midway and just remember the game as the flawless masterpiece it was. A friend of mine, who's probably the biggest fan of old-school Resident Evil there is, managed to inspire me during an MSN conversation and I'd like to end this review by flat-out quoting him. "Resident Evil 2 was the life and death of true survival horror. There will never be another game which is as genuinely scary and action-packed at the same time. They tried with Nemesis and Code: Veronica, but they lost balance. Then they stopped trying." Might sound harsh, but that's about the way it is.

Graphics : 9.1
Sound : 7.7
Playability : 9.2
Challenge : 9.5
Overall : 9.3


Trivia

a.k.a. Biohazard 2 (JAP)

GameRankings: 79.75% (DC), 63.30% (GCN), 86.77% (N64), 79.59% (PC), 92.57% (PS1)

Strangely, the game was released in North America first, and even more strangely, the Japanese version of it is notably easier and features less explicit violence.

The scrapped version of the game is known in the Resident Evil fan community as Resident Evil 1.5, a title coined by the development team. Leon S. Kennedy was the male lead, but he sported a totally different, more militaristic look. College student Elza Walker was the original female lead; her love for motorcycles is the only characteristic carried over to Claire.

Members of the original development team have expressed interest in totally remaking the game in the same fashion the first game was remade for the Nintendo GameCube in 2002.

maanantai 14. helmikuuta 2011

REVIEW - Tales of Monkey Island (2009)

Genre(s): Adventure
Released: 2009
Available on: MAC, PC, PS3, Wii
Developer(s): Telltale Games
Publisher(s): LucasArts
Players: 1

By late 2008, LucasArts had finally been convinced that point 'n' click was coming back and they began to reflect on the possibility of remaking two of their most successful titles, The Secret of Monkey Island and its first sequel, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. Telltale Games, on the other hand, was planning to resurrect the Monkey Island series with a whole new game divided into episodes, similar to their Sam & Max sequels. LucasArts joined in on this project. With Dave Grossman directing the whole thing, franchise creator Ron Gilbert working as an advisor, Michael Land as the composer, Mike Stemmle as a co-writer and most of the classic voice cast reprising their roles, what could possibly go wrong with Tales of Monkey Island? Well, sadly a part of it's just further proof that the franchise would've been ready to be laid to rest after the third game. Tales of Monkey Island is a funny, nostalgic trip, but the true magic that made the first three games some of the best in history, is all but gone.

Mermen, manatees and the joys of the afterlife

STARRING
Dominic Armato : Guybrush Threepwood
Alexandra Boyd : Elaine Marley-Threepwood
Adam Harrington / Earl Boen / Kevin Blackton : LeChuck
Nicki Rapp : Morgan LeFlay
Jared Emerson-Johnson : Marquis de Singe
Roger Jackson : Reginald van Winslow / Galeb / Hemlock McGee / Bartender
Alison Ewing : The Voodoo Lady / Kathryn "Kate" Krebbs
Gavin Hammon : Stan
Denny Delk : Murray
Andrew Chaikin : Murkel Trenchfoot / Captain McGillicutty / Coronado de Cava / Bugeye / Ted

Guybrush Threepwood has faced some amazing challenges in his life, but now every odd is stacked against him. His arch nemesis LeChuck has been turned into a human and he has Guybrush's wife Elaine. Guybrush's hand is possessed by LeChuck's evil spirit, which spreads to every pirate he comes in contact with. He's stalked by a mentally twisted French surgeon deeply fascinated with his extraordinary voodoo handicap, and a beautiful mercenary hired to kill him - but who is also his biggest fan. No, being a mighty pirate is not easy.

Things to do on Flotsam Island when you're
stranded.
When Telltale made the first episode of Sam & Max Save the World in 2006, nobody knew what to expect. Some people just disregarded the fact that the whole game was made by some of the same people that made Hit the Road in 1993, and why? Because the LucasArts logo was missing. However, what started as a simple web project to pay homage to the classic adventure and get people talking, became some sort of a cult phenomenon among point 'n' click fanatics. "Season two", Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space, did even better critically.

I believe that it was after the final episode of season two, that I personally started thinking how cool it would be if Telltale brought back other LucasArts franchises; I was never a HUGE Sam & Max fan, but I was a huge Maniac Mansion and Indiana Jones fan back in the day. Oh, and there was also the very, very tiny case of a minor game called The Secret of Monkey Island. That game had a couple of decent sequels too, if I remember correctly. All modesty aside, when I heard that Telltale WAS actually bringing back Monkey Island, in co-operation with their former employers, I was soiling myself from here to the Caribbean. When I saw the first screenshots, I knew that this series would wipe the floor with Escape from Monkey Island. Well, not the whole series. Tales of Monkey Island is like a rollercoaster of quality. Some of it's really bad - or just so far fetched it hurts to think about it - and on many occasions, just when it's about to really pick up, it falls flat again. It has strong characters, some very good character-driven storylines, and a whole shipload of juicy references to the history of the franchise, but the whole thing just keeps cracking apart due to restrictive one-button gameplay, occasionally ridiculous puzzles and plot elements that just aren't welcome to the Monkey Island mythos if you ask me.

The character design is way better than it was in Escape from Monkey Island. Guybrush is kind of a mix between his incarnations in Monkey Island 2 and The Curse of Monkey Island; I love the goatee. LeChuck looks like LeChuck this time around and not the THING he was in Escape. The graphics are good and dynamic all around, a bit glitchy as is the sound bank, but all in all, the game is one of the best looking games on the PlayStation Network. The music's classic stuff by Michael Land; almost every vintage Monkey Island tune makes an appearance with the exception of "A Pirate I Was Meant to Be".

Guybrush kicks unusually nice butt.
The quality of the voice acting is pretty 50/50, or should I say 70/30. Dominic Armato, Alexandra Boyd and Earl Boen know what they're doing, but Boen isn't even here for the whole time; Adam Harrington does LeChuck's voice in the first chapter for some reason, and Kevin Blackton does the human LeChuck. Denny Delk reprises his role as Murray, and the demonic talking skull totally redeems his crappy appearance in Escape from Monkey Island with one that might be even better than his very first appearance in The Curse of Monkey Island! Nicki Rapp is a very welcome new addition to the cast as pirate hunter Morgan LeFlay, she's such a loveable character. All in all, the voice cast is good, but two characters that would've been better off if they were axed from the script altogether are the Voodoo Lady and Stan. Yeah, they've appeared in every Monkey Island game and some would say a Monkey Island game isn't the same without 'em. Now we can say with certainty: no, it isn't - who are these people? Even the midget version of Stan in Escape was more believable than this one, at least he talked like Stan. The Voodoo Lady's accent is so weak and fake, I can't even listen to her. Oh yeah, then there's the "French" dude. I think overexaggerating a French accent is a bit of an old joke; actually, I think Peter Sellers' inspector Clouseau was the first and last funny French character in any media, and over 30 years have passed since the last (decent) Pink Panther movie. It's not just the accent, though; that de Singe guy drives me insane. Apparently that's the point, but if it is, a little less screen time would've sufficed.

I think we're done with the characters, but I'd still like to mention that I'm a bit thrown off by all the magic and hoodoo in the whole game. Many lengthy and complex puzzles are based on some sort of voodoo spells instead of real logic, like the Feast of the Senses and Diet of the Senses near the end of the whole thing. I believe I made my opinion on these sorts of puzzles very clear when I reviewed Escape from Monkey Island, and when nearly whole chapters of several hours are based on some stupid plots of tinkering with the size, weight and volume of a magical sponge (correct) using the power of voodoo, you can imagine I did not fully enjoy my long-anticipated return to the Monkey Island franchise. I wish it would've only been all the voodoo, but there are also plot elements which just don't belong, such as the merpeople in chapter two, the lovestruck manatees in chapter three, and the whole La Esponja Grande business. I just don't buy it. I have to give the developers some credit for the final chapter, though; despite a crappy main puzzle (the Diet), I loved the script. Too bad it took this long for the game to truly make an impression. Chapter three came quite close, thanks to Murray's ultra-strong performance.

I hate the French.
Each Tales of Monkey Island chapter somewhat differs from the last in style. The first two chapters, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal and The Siege of Spinner Cay, are about the same style and size, but in the second one, Guybrush gains an "auto-item" which can be used in several different situations and stays with you to the end, it's pretty hard to remember you have it with you. The third chapter, Lair of the Leviathan, is the favourite chapter of many fans due to its whole host of great new characters, as well as Murray's long-anticipated return. In this chapter, you also learn the ways of the face-off, this game's equivalent to insult swordfighting and... *sigh*... Monkey Kombat. The fourth chapter, The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood, has you standing on trial for the most part, and doing the Feast of the Senses puzzle to cure the Pox of LeChuck. The fifth and final chapter, Rise of the Pirate God, is indeed my favourite of all the chapters even though the stupid Diet puzzle gets on my nerves. I really, really can't explain anything that goes on in this chapter, it's something you have to witness yourself. I'll just say that the whole chapter's probably the most epic stunt Guybrush Threepwood has ever managed or will ever manage. It leaves a great aftertaste, even if all of the last 15-20 hours haven't been that great.

The humour works throughout the line, even some age-old jokes like the ones about the three-headed monkey and fine leather jackets appear at the exact right moments, and with the exact right amount of variation to still catch a well-deserved snicker or two. However, it was great atmosphere and gameplay that used to support the humour, and vice versa, and atmosphere and gameplay are exactly what's missing from Tales of Monkey Island. To put it simply, Tales of Monkey Island works like Escape from Monkey Island without all those command lists. Movement's in full 3D. One button controls the inventory, in which you can still combine items as always. You can switch between hot spots with the push of one button. What's wrong, then? Well, automatic function's what's wrong. There's one single action you can perform on each hot spot. For example, if you need to switch something on, you can't simply look at the switch, you automatically press it. There's so much in this game you can accomplish simply by lighting up all the hot spots on the screen and going through them one by one. "I don't know what the solution was, I don't even know what the puzzle was all about, I just kept pressing buttons." This can happen, at least in the early chapters. In the final chapters, the puzzles become so kooky that it's amazing if you manage without a walkthrough. I had to resort to a walkthrough once and I seriously would've liked to see the look on my face when I uncovered the solution. It took the next hour from me to come up with some inane logic to what just happened, and what I had to do. Once again, this relates to the Feast and Diet puzzles.

A sad excuse for a Stan.
It lacks logic, or to be more specific, it incorporates some extremely strange logic, so yeah, Tales of Monkey Island is pretty hard. The first two chapters are of moderate difficulty, and shouldn't pose much of a threat to veterans of the adventure genre, but from chapter three onwards, the going gets quite tough and chapter five really puts your brain to a test with its supernatural puzzles. The whole game has a Trophy set of 55: that's five Bronzes, five Silvers, and one Gold per chapter. Not bad for a game so cheap; what is it these days, $8? What sucks about the Trophy system is that each chapter is listed separately in your Collection. Quite an ugly clutter in my opinion. The Trophies are extremely easy to obtain, I think my lowest total from a single chapter is 80% at the moment. About a half of a single chapter's Trophies comprises of story trinkets, while the other half comprises of completely extra stuff, such as talking to someone or interacting with an object an excessive amount of times.

There are highs, there are lows, there's stuff caught in the middle, and in the end, you don't rightly know what to make of Tales of Monkey Island. As much as I'd like to tell you how well Telltale and LucasArts restored the franchise nearly a decade after the lukewarm Escape from Monkey Island, the restoration just doesn't hold throughout the whole game. Some of Guybrush Threepwood's best personal moments are experienced during the course of Tales of Monkey Island, there are some great characters, both new and old - but the thrill is gone. How about remaking this game in SCUMM? It wouldn't remove the stupidity of the puzzles, but it would make them more fun.

Graphics : 9.0
Sound : 8.2
Playability : 7.5
Challenge : 8.0
Overall : 7.7


Trivia

GameRankings: 86.67% (PC), 86.29% (PS3), 80.58% (Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, Wii), 80.60% (The Siege of Spinner Cay, Wii), 85.00% (Lair of the Leviathan, Wii), 84.00% (The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood, Wii), 81.57% (Rise of the Pirate God, Wii)

The only game in the series in which Monkey Island is not visited once.

The game has the largest body count out of all Monkey Island games.

REVIEW - Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge (1991)

Genre(s): Adventure
Released: 1991
Available on: Amiga, MAC, PC
Developer(s): LucasArts

Publisher(s): LucasArts
Players: 1


I'd so like to be critical towards it, I'd so like to pick every single minimal flaw and make a humongous deal out of it just to fuck with the system, but there's just no way around it; when Ron Gilbert & Co. were working on Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, they harvested each and every error of judgement they made with the previous game. They came up with perhaps the funniest and most surreal dialogue in any game, ever. Every single puzzle in the game might not be very logical, and it ends somewhat abruptly, but from every other possible angle, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge is the best game of its kind - a masterpiece.

Don't fuck with LeChuck

Guybrush Threepwood travels the Caribbean in search of the fabled treasure of Big Whoop, promoting himself as the mighty pirate who defeated LeChuck and having LeChuck's beard with him at all times as proof of his greatest accomplishment in life. Guybrush's ego turns against him, when he crosses paths with Largo LaGrande, LeChuck's right hand man. Largo easily manages to steal Guybrush's trophy and resurrect his former boss, since all it needs to bring such true evil back to life is one piece of living tissue from his body. In spite of his zombified arch nemesis breathing down his neck, Guybrush continues his treasure hunt and almost reunites with his lost love.

Not a very sanitary joint, but the only bar in
town.
I find it very hard to come up with stuff to say about Monkey Island 2, since I reviewed its Special Edition for the PlayStation 3 a long time ago, and because it's the kind of game that needs to be played; I know some people don't understand how a simple SCUMM game can be notably better than every other game of its kind, since they're all more or less identical when it comes to gameplay - the first two Monkey Island games, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and Day of the Tentacle - they all utilize a similar version of the engine. It's the world, the atmosphere, the characters, the dialogue, the puzzles - simply the best LucasArts quality money can buy. Monkey Island 2 is one adventure game I simply cannot get enough of.

The graphical style of the game ranges from extremely dark to extremely light in a heartbeat. The occasionally gloomy look of the game contrasts its non-stop slapstick humour in a deliciously surreal way. The environmental design is pure genius. The music is a bit more ambient than it was in the previous game; it's a good solution considering that you'll inevitably be spending several minutes standing in the same spots, but I kind of miss memorable music. The alternate mix of the Monkey Island theme song is freakin' groovy.

Monkey Island 2 is a very non-linear game which defies the usual restrictions of the genre. There are no optional puzzles, but you can pretty much do stuff within one chapter, or act, in any order you want. After the first act, you can actually travel freely between three different islands. Your main objective in the game is to find four pieces of a treasure map, held by four pirates that have been missing for years, all the while wondering what that crazy zombie ghost pirate LeChuck is up to, now that he's returned - after all, the game is called LeChuck's Revenge.

The final battle is a unique combination of
wedgies, voodoo dolls and dead parents. Et
cetera.
I've completed Monkey Island 2 more times than it has really been necessary, and I know its puzzles and even most of the dialogue by heart. I'm trying to return to the time I hadn't beaten it yet. Yes, I think the game was quite hard, if you didn't play on the Monkey Lite level, the "difficulty level for game critics". Most of the game's puzzles are very logical, even in the dumb fashion of the previous game, but a few of them are admittedly plain stupid; I don't know what was going through the designers' heads. The "final battle" is extremely tricky and even frustrating; of course you can't die, but you need a quick mind and quick reflexes to be able to win the very lengthy and complex puzzle. What you'll receive as a reward for your hard work is one of the most abrupt and surreal game endings ever, which some consider disappointing. Maybe it was a bit disappointing 20 years ago when we had no idea if there ever was to be a Monkey Island 3, but I've always loved it.

Yes, it has flaws. So does Final Fantasy VII, so does Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, so do a lot of more games which I would deem perfect of their kind without a shadow of a doubt. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge is exactly that; a perfect adventure game, almost matched by its successor, but there's just a certain magic to it that cannot be competed against.

Graphics : 9.3
Sound : 8.5
Playability : 9.7
Challenge : 9.2
Overall : 9.6


Trivia

GameRankings: 89.60%

World of Monkey Island has an extensive list of all of the game's numerous references to pop culture.

sunnuntai 13. helmikuuta 2011

REVIEW - The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)

Genre(s): Adventure
Released: 1990
Available on: Amiga, Atari ST, CDTV, MAC, PC, Sega-CD
Developer(s): Lucasfilm Games
Publisher(s): LucasArts
Players: 1

Every once in a while, it's nice to return to a familiar, warm place and exchange greetings with a an old favourite from the dark past. It's been some time since I've last played the very original The Secret of Monkey Island. Even the one I currently have's not technically the first version of the game, but the VGA version which was released some months after the original one, so it's sort of a re-issue with no changes to the core gameplay, just a slightly enhanced look. Written by Lucasfilm's dream team of Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer, The Secret of Monkey Island is perhaps the most important point 'n' click adventure game of all time. It's not the best game in the series, it's a little rough around the edges, but it's capital nonetheless.

A tale of swordplay, thievery and, uhh... treasure huntery!

A young man named Guybrush Threepwood washes up on the shore of Melée Island. Besides the ambition to intentionally annoy everyone he sees, he has a burning desire to become a pirate, one way or another. While he trains to become a pirate in his own unorthodox ways, a dreaded ghost pirate by the name of LeChuck stalks the island's beautiful governor Elaine Marley with the intention of stealing her hand in marriage. When Guybrush himself falls in love with Elaine, he inevitably becomes a target of the most feared undead pirate of the Caribbean.

The graphics still look awesome in their own way, and back at that time, the game had more motion, visual depth and diversity than any adventure game that preceded it. Objects are well highlighted, and there's very little in terms of total obscurity which would make hot spots hard to make out from the background. The music is absolutely classic stuff - the kind that sticks so bad that you'll have trouble sleeping. The Monkey Island theme song is one of my all-time favourites.

The SCUMM Bar. Like a second home to the
most foul, dirty, grog-swilling pirate bastards
you've ever seen. I love this place.
The very first lines in this game tell of its true nature. The Secret of Monkey Island is almost non-stop, timeless hilarity from the beginning to the end. If you appreciate surreal humour, you'll know you're playing the right game when you find the nightwatch of Melée Island to be blind as a bat, or that grog is actually potent enough to melt solid steel. No, it's not all in the dialogue. Humour is what makes the whole game, including its puzzles. Even the most difficult questions might have ridiculously easy answers; you'll just need to think about the dumbest thing you can possibly do, and it usually works! Take Guybrush's legendary drowning scene, for example. This is the only spot in the game in which you can actually die, but since Guybrush can hold his breath for 10 minutes, you have exactly that long to try to figure the puzzle out. OK, so you're tied to a statue by your leg. There are all sorts of tools to cut the rope with, scattered around the ocean floor, but of course, just beyond your reach; they repeated this joke in The Curse of Monkey Island as an even better version. Anyway, all you need to do is pick up the statue and climb back onto the pier. Like I said, simple answers to the most difficult problems!

The Secret of Monkey Island introduced yet another, extremely comfortable version of SCUMM that went on to be used in several games, with pretty minor changes, including Monkey Island 2. There are 12 verbs - 10 in the CD version - which you can combine with anything in your inventory, or anything in the playfield. The list of commands takes up a lot of fine space on the screen, but ultimately it isn't very distracting.

Not many guys meet the woman of their dreams
by robbing her house.
The Secret of Monkey Island is not a perfect game. First of all, it has an irritating "minigame" called insult swordfighting. It's an initially funny chapter in the game in which you need to challenge pirates roaming around the island, to learn insults and appropriate comebacks to them, 'cause a good swordfighter's tongue needs to be as sharp as the tip of his cutlass. So, the primary agenda is to become a better insulter than the reigning sword master of Melée Island, it's a part of Guybrush's "training program". Learning all of the insults, especially the comebacks, takes unnecessarily long and the whole chapter repeats itself. Besides the swordfighting bit, there are a few other phases in the game which I don't particularly like. I absolutely hate the purely dialogue-based puzzle in which you have to bargain with Stan, and I'm not a big fan of the whole chapter that takes place on Monkey Island. It's full of tedious backtracking, and I think even the puzzles are not on the same level as they've been up to that point.

Although being dumb in a clever way will most likely help you in conquering The Secret of Monkey Island, it is by no means an easy game. I actually consider it to be the most difficult Monkey Island game, due to its fair share of complex and delicate puzzles. It might not be absolutely perfect of its kind like its first sequel is, but it is a classic game which every gamer needs to experience at least once, in my humble opinion. It redefined adventure, and made it one of the most important game genres of the 90's.

Graphics : 9.2
Sound : 9.0
Playability : 8.7
Challenge : 9.3
Overall : 8.9


Trivia

GameRankings: 81.25% (PC), 63.33% (Sega-CD)

World of Monkey Island has an extensive list of all of the game's numerous references to pop culture.

perjantai 11. helmikuuta 2011

Good vs. Evil - Guybrush Threepwood & LeChuck

Guybrush as he appears in
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's
Revenge
(1991)
GUYBRUSH THREEPWOOD
a.k.a.
Seepgood, Tweephood, Peepwood, Mr. Brush etc.
Voice actor(s): Dominic Armato
First game: The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)
Latest game: Tales of Monkey Island (2009)


We've had countless heroes and antiheroes, alpha males and females, swordsmen, gunmen, angels of death, ladykillers... and then, we've had Guybrush Threepwood. In 1990 A.D., Ron Gilbert brought us The Secret of Monkey Island, in which a slim, seemingly half-witted, and most definitely annoying teenager armed with nothing but the stupidest name in the world, and the curious ability to hold his breath for ten minutes, washed up on the shores of a pirate-infested island deep in the Caribbean with the burning desire to become a pirate for no apparent reason. Despite of his very thin and awkward potential to be a pirate, Guybrush became one by being clever enough to bend just about every rule there was, using a little bit of MacGyverism and having incredibly good luck. He also won the heart of Melee Island's beautiful governor Elaine Marley. No one knows why.

Guybrush's actions, especially towards Elaine, captured the attention of a man that was soon to be his nemesis, the dreaded Ghost Pirate LeChuck. With the help of a voodoo expert, Guybrush whipped up a batch of root beer brewed especially for busting ghosts and with it, he managed to defeat LeChuck. Proud as a man can be of his literally incredible accomplishment, he kept LeChuck's beard as a memento of his victory. Some time later, Guybrush waved it around in the absolutely wrong place and inadvertently made LeChuck's resurrection as a Zombie Pirate possible. This time, LeChuck won and trapped Guybrush inside his Carnival of the Damned, located on Monkey Island.

Another while later, Guybrush (accidentally) sunk LeChuck's ship and its captain with it, and had seemingly rid the seas of his nemesis forever. He finally proposed to Elaine, but with a cursed voodoo ring that turned his beloved into a solid gold statue. Another quest followed, and in the end, Guybrush had to face LeChuck once again, this time as a Demon Zombie Ghost. Guybrush and Elaine married, and LeChuck was in turn trapped (under ice) inside the Carnival... forever?

No, LucasArts had a deal for one more Monkey Island game, which saw LeChuck resurrect and disguise himself as Melee Island's new governor, Charles L. Charles. Guybrush and Elaine, who had been deemed deceased by LeChuck and his Australian partner in crime, Ozzie Mandrill, had to go to great lengths to smoke their enemies off their island - even as far as to discuss the subject with a group of lawyers. They failed, and Guybrush was once again unceremoniously dropped off to Monkey Island. Guybrush was just about to give up when he found a way to once again escape the dreaded island of horror, and defeated LeChuck in the most epic Monkey Kombat confrontation in the history of the noble sport.

After spending many years on the sidelines and enjoying his reputation as the most memorable and funniest adventurer in gaming history, Guybrush made his return in Telltale Games' episodic adventure Tales of Monkey Island, in which he was met by some of his biggest challenges yet: his biggest fan - who had been hired to kill him. The most ghastly reincarnations of LeChuck yet - an irritatingly polite human being, but ultimately, an evil pirate god. A rather dangerous handicap - a possessed hand. And, a sudden case of death. But, it was not the first time for Guybrush, so naturally he... just got better.

The very first actually talking Guybrush
Threepwood from The Curse of Monkey
Island
(1997)
Jumped the shark?
My favourite one of all Monkey Island games is without a shadow of a doubt, Monkey Island 2, and I believe Guybrush's very best moment is somewhere within the confines of that game. When I think of the most outrageous thing Guybrush has ever done, my thought first wanders to the point in which he needs to rent Captain Dread's ship and Largo LaGrande has just robbed him of all his money. Guybrush figures he needs a job, and that there would be one available at the local bar if he somehow managed to get the cook fired. So, he gets a rat, goes to the kitchen window, drops the rat into a kettle full of vichyssoise and goes to ask the bartender something along the lines of "So, how's the soup today?" The bartender goes to the kitchen, all hell breaks loose and he fires the cook. So, Guybrush gets the job. After receiving his payment in advance, he just goes to the kitchen and climbs out of the window, knowing he probably will need to explain himself to the bartender some day. He just doesn't care, 'cause he's Guybrush Threepwood.

Hit rock bottom?
Two words: Monkey Kombat. Guybrush isn't quite himself for the duration of the whole game of Escape from Monkey Island, but him engaging in that Monkey Kombat shit is just that, shit. It was just never meant to be. Even the worst jokes in that game bring more of a smile to one's face.

---

LeChuck as he appears in
The Secret of Monkey
Island
(1990)
LeCHUCK
a.k.a. Fester Shinetop, Chuckie, Charles L. Charles, Ghost Pirate LeChuck, G.P. LeChuck, Zombie Pirate LeChuck, Demon Zombie Ghost Pirate LeChuck, Pirate God LeChuck etc.
Voice actor(s): Earl Boen, Adam Harrington, Kevin Blackton
First game: The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)
Latest game: Tales of Monkey Island (2009)


True evil can never truly be killed, so Guybrush Threepwood made a poor choice of an arch nemesis in LeChuck. LeChuck simply doesn't die... not until there's absolutely no potential for another Monkey Island sequel. Whether he's a ghost, a zombie, a demon, a human, or all of them in one less neat package, LeChuck is pure evil with one single purpose: to make Elaine Marley his undead bride. LeChuck was originally killed in a wreck near Monkey Island while searching for its fabled "Secret" (no one still quite knows what it is) with the purpose of impressing Elaine, and death made him even more unpleasant than he already was. Although LeChuck was considered the most dangerous undead pirate of the seven seas, even his unholy powers weren't a match for a flask of makeshift root beer, brewed by Guybrush Threepwood.

In Monkey Island 2, LeChuck returned as a zombie, thanks to Guybrush himself, who had unknowingly boasted about his grand victory to LeChuck's most trusted henchman and let him have possession of LeChuck's beard. Any tissue from LeChuck's body was enough to bring him back from the dead... again. LeChuck devised a plan which led Guybrush to search for the treasure of Big Whoop, and hypnotized him to think of himself as a child, and LeChuck as his brother - trapping him inside his "abusement park", the Carnival of the Damned, and once again going after Elaine.

In The Curse of Monkey Island, LeChuck's foul-smelling zombie non-life seemed to end when his ship sank, thanks to another lucky effort by Guybrush. His spirit remained in a pair of boots, which were scavenged by a couple of unlucky pirates. This time, LeChuck returned as a demon. In the end of the game, it seemed he had finally won - he had managed to capture Elaine, and neutralize Guybrush. However, the lovebirds pulled through, trapped LeChuck under a block of ice and finally married.

LeChuck's first of three forms in Tales of
Monkey Island
(2009)
In Escape from Monkey Island, it was revealed that a devious land developer by the name of Ozzie Mandrill had released LeChuck from his icy tomb and made him run for the gubernatorial spot on Melee Island, where Guybrush and Elaine first met. Once again, LeChuck's delusions of grandeur were thwarted, but this time, he didn't explicitly die. There always was potential for some fashion of a sequel, and it just so happened that Tales of Monkey Island arrived in 2009. Once again, we witnessed what seemed to be the end of LeChuck, but time will tell what the fates have in store for everyone's favourite evil demon ghost pirate from Heck.

Jumped the shark?
I really, really can't decide between his whole character in Monkey Island 2 and The Curse of Monkey Island, especially not after the release of Monkey Island 2 - Special Edition, in which voiceovers were added for extra atmosphere. When LeChuck speaks, the player listens. He's such a treat to listen to when he makes those long speeches just to irritate Guybrush and of course, hear himself talk.

Hit rock bottom?
I think the final Monkey Kombat sequence in Escape from Monkey Island featuring LeChuck was passable in comparison to the rest of the minigame, so I'll go with Tales of Monkey Island - I didn't really dig LeChuck's human form that much. It was a good idea to introduce a whole different LeChuck, but the more I advanced in the game while LeChuck was still human, the more I found myself craving for his evil, piratey ways.

REVIEW - Mario's Early Years! (1994)

Genre(s): Edutainment
Released: 1994
Available on: SNES
Developer(s): The Software Toolworks
Publisher(s): Mindscape
Players: 1


Even after two commercial and critical disasters, The Software Toolworks still thought they could accomplish something with educational Mario games. In fall of 1994, they released a series of three more Mario games, in the vein of simple preschool edutainment that was very common and popular on home computers. Only these three games were EXCLUSIVE to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Capitalism is no longer an issue - stupidity is. The SNES was meant for playing GAMES!

At least they're being honest this time

Exactly the same what I thought just before I lost
my virginity. Just kidding.
I've reflected on this for a while now, and come to the conclusion that I really should not review Mario's Early Years!. I've just simply outgrown its possible potential by well over 20 years, and definitely passed the point I could see the world through the eyes of a small kid. I'll just tell you about it instead, and from a purely political standpoint. For the first time in history, I will not rate these three games; just their audiovisual values, so let's start from those.

So, these three games are all exactly the same. The sprites are a kind of a mixed bag - this time, they aren't just imports from Super Mario World, instead they're literally from all over the place. The games probably look fine to a kid - there are lots of colours and funny faces to simulate a pleasant learning environment. The very narrow list of songs once again contains about a million remixes of different themes from Super Mario World, and they're really starting to get on my nerves; it'll probably be a long time before I take on the masterpiece again, all thanks to The Software Toolworks.

Since the games were made for very young people who might not have learned to read yet - and Fun with Letters doesn't really teach them anything concrete either - full digitized speech is a notable feature in all three games. Back when the games were released, it must've sounded so grand and fancy, but today, it strongly reminds me of the awkward waiting room slur in Twin Peaks. "YOU PICked THAAA foUR!", "YOU PICked THAAA da-da, DDDEE, DINOsaur!", and so on.

He hid his shroom stash.
For over six-year olds, the games hold no value whatsoever. Maybe even targeting six-year olds is exaggeration; American kids start school at the age of four, whereas at least us Finnish have to wait until we're seven. Let's say the games are targeted at kids between three and four years of age. Kind of a small target group, don't you think? I, for example, started playing video games when I was four. I wasn't that "late" because video games were not that common in Europe in '88, but it was because at that age and before it, I liked to watch rather than play. About a year ago, I dated a woman (not a girl, a woman) who had two kids. Her daughter was the same as me as a kid; she liked video games, but she liked to watch her brother play. She was more or less afraid of the controller although otherwise, she fiddled with just about everything she could get into her tiny hands - tapestry, the TV remote, ashtrays. God, she was irritating. But cute.

Anyway, getting back to the subject, what exactly did The Software Toolworks and Mindscape hope to accomplish by releasing three separate games targeted specifically and exclusively for a very small, and fast-changing group? Home computers would've been one thing, you could program any game in your very own home if you had the skill and the hardware to do it - but producing three commercial Super Nintendo games and releasing them back to back wasn't very cost-efficient in my opinion. Moreover, these games are so small they could've easily fit into one single 24 Mbit cartridge, and be released under the collective title of Preschool Fun. Again, I'm not making any statements whether the games are fun or not. I must compliment the developers for one thing, though - at least they didn't disguise these as real Mario games.

I would seriously go insane sooner or later if
Toadstool was my preschool teacher.
The worst thing about the whole of trio of games is that I used to work at a kindergarten and I've seen many good educational games. They didn't have Mario, or any other host of familiar video game characters, they had generic storybook heroes to just colour it up, not divert attention, and kids loved the games because they were FUN, truly educational, and informative. Hell, even I enjoyed watching the games and solving their puzzles together with the kids although I was 20 at the time; I even envied the children since there were not much games like that when I was a kid, I never went to actual preschool anyway. These Mario games are just so damn shallow, they don't really teach you anything. There are lots of numbers and letters, but what's the point in having them if you don't really have to do anything with them? There are very few puzzles, and even fewer of them are of any challenge to a kid that has passed a certain age.

After Fun with Numbers, Fun with Letters and Preschool Fun, The Software Toolworks' licensing agreement with Nintendo expired - about fuckin' time. Today, you can get perfectly fine educational programs for your home computer, completely free of charge. 17 years ago, you had to pay an approximate total of 200 dollars for this series of three games, that your kid never played after his first day in school. Not so fun with numbers, huh? Har har! Oh, how the world turns.

Graphics : 6.5
Sound : 4.0
Playability: -
Challenge: -
Overall: -


Trivia

GameRankings: 59.00% (Fun with Letters), 54.50% (Preschool Fun)

All three games were released exclusively in the United States.

REVIEW - Wario's Woods (1994)

Genre(s): Puzzle
Released: 1994
Available on: NES, SNES, Wii Virtual Console
Developer(s): Intelligent Systems, Nintendo
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1-2

Wario's Woods on the NES is a game I've wanted to play for a long time for two reasons; the first and most important one is, that I more or less hated the SNES version, which I already reviewed a long time ago. It was so out of control, and I firmly believed that the NES version would be much less chaotic. The other reason is, that being the last official game released on the legendary Nintendo Entertainment System in North America, Wario's Woods possesses extremely high cult value. Without further due, let's take a walk in the woods one more time. Win or lose.

How much wood would a woodch... ah, forget it!

To spare you - and myself - from an unnecessarily long litany of supposedly funny anecdotes about what sort of feelings I have for the original 16-bit version of Wario's Woods today, and what my feelings were going into the NES version, I'll just get right to the point, and explain things very simply right off the bat: the NES version of Wario's Woods IS better than the original. Is it essential to the puzzle genre? No. It's a different puzzle game, it's pretty much mandatory for Mario completists, but even in its most playable form, the game is simply not good enough to rise above the average of its kind. The main reason? Bad controls.

Graphically, the game is like the SNES version after an acid rain. It's the same all over; just the sprites are smaller and of course, the colour palette is different. The music is just as pleasant as you'd expect from an 8-bit puzzle game that the developers didn't really put that much thought into.

To do a quick recap: in this game, you control Toad. You pick up bombs and monsters ("blocks") of different colours, stack them in any direction and try to blow up lines of monsters with a corresponding bomb. Instead of simply stacking the bombs and monsters horizontally or vertically, you can also stack them across, and use different tricks to speed up your progress. For example, if there are two monsters stacked across, you can pick up a bomb and hold it in place where it would make for the third block if stacked, and get rid of the line that way.

In the SNES version, the controls were way oversensitive. Same goes for the NES version. There's a bit more traction, and of course, the control scheme itself is limited - but Toad still keeps running like a maniac, picking up the wrong stuff very easily, and a huge problem comes along when you accidentally fall into a deep gap, can't get rid of whatever it is you're holding, and all the blocks which form the "walls" are different, meaning you can't just wait for blocks to stack and blow the walls around you to hell. There's just no way to get out except the good old Reset button. It takes forever for the screen to flood. This game isn't over until the whole screen floods, not just one vertical line.

For a puzzle game enthusiast and/or a cult follower of the Mario franchise, Wario's Woods is certainly an experience. Personally, I won't speak of an experience impossible to ignore, since I still don't understand why Nintendo couldn't just have settled with a standard puzzle game instead of a chaotic, caffeine-soaked variation of Bomberman. It's a bit more playable than the SNES version, but surprisingly not that much. That's why I preferred to keep this review short; I think I pretty much said everything else there is to the game, last time around.

Graphics : 7.1
Sound : 4.8
Playability : 6.2
Challenge : 7.5
Overall : 6.5


Trivia

GameRankings: 67.50% (SNES)

The NES version was re-released as part of the 2001 Nintendo GameCube game Animal Crossing.

REVIEW - Yoshi's Safari (1993)

Genre(s): Shooter
Released: 1993
Available on: SNES
Developer(s): Nintendo
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1-2


Super Scope was released for the SNES in 1992, to very rough response from the public who found the much-anticipated light bazooka painful to use, and expensive in the long run - the thing practically ate through a total of six of even the most durable batteries in hours. In an attempt to save Super Scope, Nintendo came up with the concept of a rail shooter starring Mario and Yoshi, possibly selling Yoshi as the main character to avoid watering Mario down if something went wrong. Whatever the commercial plan was behind it, or whether there was any or not, Yoshi's Safari is not a great game - however, as the only shooting game in the whole Mario franchise, it's an unavoidable curiosity for a serious completist.

Fire. Fire. Rapid fire. Jump. Rapid fire. Jump. Fire. The end.

Gonna pump you full of... blue balls.
For once, Bowser has left Mushroom Kingdom alone, but instead invaded the neighboring kingdom of Jewelry Land and stolen the 12 gems which make it one, and kidnapped its two rulers, King Fret and Prince Pine. Princess Peach sends Mario and Yoshi on a journey to return the gems and make Jewelry Land whole again.

What makes Yoshi's Safari a very hard game for me to approach right off the bat is that it requires the Super Scope to function. Unlike T2 - The Arcade Game, which I reviewed some time ago, gave the player the option of using the SNES Mouse or a standard controller. The game sucked, but at least it had less painful control options available. In this day and age we have emulators, which allow players to use a mouse to simulate a Super Scope, but back in 1993, Yoshi's Safari was pure agony. Not only was the Super Scope an expensive torture device which picked your arm and shoulder apart piece by piece, Yoshi's Safari was a game that had no save feature, and it required quick and precise aiming. It's one of the few games I've played using a real Super Scope, and just 45 minutes of continuous gameplay were enough to flare up my neck and shoulder area for days. By using a mouse, anyone can beat the game in that same time. It's the Scope itself that made the game so hard.

Once again, we're dealing with a Yoshi game that isn't really a Yoshi game, just like Yoshi and Yoshi's Cookie before it. Yoshi's depicted as the sole protagonist in the box art, and of course the game's title is Yoshi's Safari, but Mario's the one holding the virtual Super Scope and the leader of this little field trip. So, it's another Mario game, and my very strong guess is that Nintendo wanted this to be a Mario game to its very title, but didn't want to sell it as one just in case they fucked up real bad, so they placed the potential blame on Yoshi. Poor dinosaur - well, he's the one that laughed last when the masterpiece Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island finally came out.

The game utilizes Mode 7 to the absolute maximum, which leaves the sprites and the far background kind of flat and shallow, but all in all, the game looks all right - the large, good-looking boss sprites compensate for the lamer elements. There are no credits at all, but I can say for sure that neither Koji Kondo or Soyo Oka had nothing to do with the soundtrack. There's no classic Mario music at all, and the original soundtrack is uninspired and unmemorable. Hell, even everything released under Mario's name by other game developers have more real spirit in them. Yes, even all the crap made by The Software Toolworks.

Wizardry doesn't stand a chance against good,
old-fashioned fire power.
There are rail shooters which I liked as a kid, and still do. None of them were released before the era of the 32-bit consoles, though, and in the big picture Yoshi's Safari is no exception to the strict rule of the earlier ones being bland games with no longevity. Nintendo's always had the tendency to try to colour up even the most black 'n' white genre in any way they can, in better and worse, so the stage layout's quite unique in comparison to any of the game's peers. Yoshi navigates the paths automatically, while your job (as Mario) is to shoot everything that moves. Every once in a while there's a chasm or some other hazard which you have to leap over by aiming high and using the cursor button. Sounds easy, but success is frustratingly random. As long as you have coins in your possession, you won't lose a life by falling into a trap. Some enemies spawn with the sole purpose of pushing you into water or a chasm.

Mario's Scope has a pathetic power meter in the beginning, which practically means that you can't use rapid fire too much before overheating the thing. The power meter is upgraded by collecting fire flowers. There are many other power-ups, but none which would upgrade your actual fire power.

One of the greatest video game villains from
a different perspective, it's cool.
Each stage has a boss, and perhaps a sub-boss as well. The game is divided into two parts. The first part takes place on the larger of the two continents of Jewelry Land, and has Koopalings for bosses. The second part features other classic bosses such as Kamek (who is still known by his previous name Magikoopa), Big Boo, and of course, Bowser himself. The boss fights are perhaps best of all that Yoshi's Safari has to offer. They're not all just of the simple variety of aiming any single spot and raping it with rapid fire; they range from picking your opponent apart piece by piece, to taking a more strategic approach and keeping an eye on other targets on the screen besides the boss and figuring out how you could use them to your advantage in the fight.

Like I said, the difficulty of Yoshi's Safari is mostly based on how hard and tedious the Super Scope is to use, and the fact that there is not even a password system that would let you rest your limbs every now and then. Playing the game on an emulator and using a mouse sheds a little light on how much easier the game would've been if the Scope had been more like the classic Nintendo Zapper.

Yoshi's Safari might provide some light entertainment to the most dedicated Mario fan, but even the familiar characters and atmosphere don't make it any less of a bore than any other rail of the fourth generation.

Graphics : 7.7
Sound : 5.0
Playability : 6.0
Challenge : 5.5
Overall : 5.9


Trivia

a.k.a. Yoshi's Road Hunting (JAP)

GameRankings: 75.00%

The first game in which the Princess was referred to as Princess Peach.

The last official Mario game to feature the seven Koopalings until Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (2003).