tiistai 29. marraskuuta 2011

REVIEW - The Adventures of Batman & Robin (1995)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: 1995
AVAILABLE ON: GEN
DEVELOPER(S): Clockwork Tortoise
PUBLISHER(S): Sega
PLAYERS: 1-2


Both the late NES and SNES had been blessed with their landmark Batman games by the mid-90's - Sunsoft's Batman and Konami's Batman Returns, respectively. Both of these games were also made available on the Sega Genesis, but as very, very different and inferior versions. With the release of Batman: Revenge of the Joker, and of course, Batman Forever which sucked wherever it went, it seemed like the Genesis would never get a half decent Batman game to its name. Then came Sega's version of The Adventures of Batman & Robin; Konami's SNES version of the Animated Series license had come out a year before and while it wasn't a perfect game, it was the most authentic Batman video game experience of the time. The Genesis game was made by an utterly inexperienced group of developers calling themselves Clockwork Tortoise, and published by Sega themselves. Needless to say I was a bit worried when I started the game. Well, how is it? Was The Adventures of Batman & Robin THE Batman game the Sega Genesis needed or does it seal Batman's worthless legacy on this particular console?

A mere shadow of the bat

Mr. Freeze is working on a elaborate plan to freeze Gotham City. Batman and Robin quickly catch on, so in order to keep them busy, Freeze busts the Joker, Two-Face and Mad Hatter out of Arkham Asylum to wreak their very own havoc.

Why set fire to a bank?
Konami's take on The Adventures of Batman & Robin could've been an awesome game; it had the look of the classic animated series, some of the best graphics ever seen on the SNES and it had Danny Elfman's music to create some incredible atmosphere. However, it was not a fun game to play, as if having Batman's arch nemesis as the first boss wouldn't have felt awkward enough. It had a wide variety of great villains, though; my five favourites were all in that game, even though all of them were not given enough due. Joker, Riddler, Two-Face, Scarecrow, Catwoman. Who does the Sega game have? Well, it does have Mr. Freeze, who was elevated to whole new heights as a Batman villain by the animated series; he used to be a humorous filler character, but once his backstory was revealed in the 90's, it blew minds, and now he's regarded as one of the greatest villains in the franchise. He's great to have along, but otherwise, the rogues' gallery is an utter disappointment. Joker (w/ Harley Quinn) and Two-Face were already featured in the SNES game, and Mad Hatter was kind of an odd choice at this point of time. Four main villains, as opposed to the SNES game's nine. Doesn't sound like a good start to me.

The graphics are promoted as some of the best graphics ever seen on the Genesis. I find that quite plausible on paper, since the SNES game's graphics absolutely shined, how could Sega possibly fail one year later? Well, it seems that Clockwork Tortoise worked really hard to create some stunning effects, such as the whole of Hatter's level, but in turn, they deliberately downgraded the look of the rest of the game. It really doesn't look that special - when it comes to the greatest Genesis graphics ever, I have to name Earthworm Jim by a long shot in comparison to The Adventures of Batman & Robin. It doesn't even retain half of the animated series' look, actually it looks somewhat cheap. While Konami got the rights to Danny Elfman's tunes, Sega got Jesper Kyd to do the music. This was his first truly major title, and he went on to compose music to many Ubisoft franchises including Splinter Cell and Assassin's Creed, so I expected a lot, but the music is really not good, and moreover, this ambient electronica has absolutely no connection to any shape or form of Batman media.

Even before the opening cutscene is over, I'm seeing a lot of stuff that's bluntly telling me that this ain't going to be a good game. There's nothing that would prove me wrong, either. Next, we get a choice between Batman and Robin, which is like giving a choice between Mario and Luigi in some other game than Super Mario Bros. 2. It seems that Sega chose to listen to what fans had to say about Konami ditching Robin from the SNES game even though the game was called The Adventures of Batman & Robin, but they would've done well to listen to some other complaints (or praises), as well. Anyway, I'll go with Batman, of course.

Balloons, how scary. Oh, balloons with bombs
attached to 'em? Well, that puts a whole new
ring to it, doesn't it?
The game is an arcade-style run 'n' gun game. I know how ridiculous that sounds, but at least this time Batman doesn't have a variety of firearms he had in the previously reviewed game; he uses Batarangs and shurikens, which you can upgrade by collecting different-coloured icons with the Batman insignia on them. There's a meter in the upper left corner that shows how much spunk your projectiles have left; if the meter hits the bottom, they're really weak and you might want to resort to dropkicks until it goes back up. Otherwise, there are no real melée attacks. As you progress, the waves of enemies become larger and more difficult to dispose of, actually downright impossible. The game's crappy physics do not allow any elaborate tactics to be deciphered. You can collect power-ups from trash cans and such, but there's really nothing that would just stop your lives from running down a drain and stop you having to start whole boring levels over and over until you're lucky enough to make it to the end. I would've probably spent a few dimes on the game if it really was an arcade game, but on a home console, it simply doesn't work. It's not really bad - like Revenge of the Joker bad - but it's not worth much, and even if the SNES game wasn't perfect, it was considerably better.

I can't claim to be too disappointed with the game, I pretty much knew what to expect from it just by reading about it. It was the notable difference between this game and the SNES counterpart that prompted me to try it, nothing else, not even my infatuation with Batman. The Adventures of Batman & Robin is the best Batman game on the Sega Genesis, but that's far from an accomplishment considering its company. It's not real, there's no experience to it, it's near impossible to beat and even more impossible to truly enjoy. Nearly everything about it is highly awkward rather than truly awful.

GRAPHICS : 7.0
SOUND : 5.8
PLAYABILITY : 6.2
LIFESPAN : 5.0
CONCLUSION : 5.8


TRIVIA

GameRankings: 72.90%

Clockwork Tortoise also developed the very different Sega-CD version of the game, which was well received by Batman fans due to its animated segments in which several of the show's voice actors reprised their roles.

REVIEW - Batman: Revenge of the Joker (1992)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: 1992
AVAILABLE ON: GEN
DEVELOPER(S): Ringler Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Sunsoft
PLAYERS: 1


In 1991, Sunsoft broke all ties to the Batman movie license by making an original sequel to their 1989 NES classic. The game was called Batman: Return of the Joker, and it was a total flop. It wasn't only a very frustrating game, it also lacked a great deal of authenticity and it's often used as a prime example of a Batman video game gone horribly wrong. For some reason, Sunsoft saw fit to somewhat remake this game in 1992 for the Sega Genesis; in other words, they made a faithful 16-bit port of the game, but confusingly renamed it  Batman: Revenge of the Joker. Is it as bad as the original game? No, not at all. It's much, much worse.

Knightfall

The Joker escapes from Arkham Asylum and it's up to Batman and his variety of firearms to take the clown prince of crime out for good.

This particular type of plot outline is quite enough to tell everyone who didn't read my review of the original Batman: Return of the Joker why the game was such a disgraceful take on the Batman franchise. Batman DOES NOT USE FIREARMS. Ever. It's bluntly laid out by every story on Batman ever made. Overturning one of Batman's most unique personal traits was just the beginning for the awful game. There was the "golden Batman" that flew through the skies and shot everything in front to shit and all that. Every step you took in that game took you further from the truth. Well, all of that makes its return in Revenge of the Joker, which is a very faithful port of the game, not really a remake. It's just so much worse than the original game that I just had to review it to get peace of mind.

The aggressive colour palette makes me writhe in disgust. The opening "cutscene" portrays a moderately cool and chiseled Batman - who looks like he's taking a Bat-shit though - but perhaps the worst-drawn Joker ever seen. The NES game was one of the best-looking games on the platform, this version is far from being even a moderately good looking Genesis game. The level design's the same, but they're more compact while the sprites remain the same large size as in the NES version - it's really hard to simply move around in this game. The music's still good, but it isn't sequenced any better than it was on the 8-bit - the stiff mix actually sounds even worse!

Please kill me, you filthy degenerate. I seem to be
in the wrong game.
Let's get the only thing the game has on the original out of the way right now: there's a melée kick in Batman's repertoire. ...And? And what? That's it! You still have to rely on those God damn guns to make it forward, since the kick doesn't even help you one damn bit. I guess it was added in because so many people frowned on Batman having no melée attacks. It's all the same to have none than one that simply doesn't work.

The guns are crappy, the bullets are rarely optimized to actually hit, and enemies absorb a LOT of bullets before giving in. In turn, Batman's life bar is downright pathetic and when there are enemies (and/or projectiles) coming from all directions, the occasional automatic side scrolling sequence thrown in, and those infamous jumps which you'll survive at a 20% certainty, it's probably needless to say that the easiest thing to do in this game is die. Oh yeah, and if you stand perfectly still for a second and a half, like, umm, when you're waiting for the opportune moment to pass an obstacle, let's say a spiked ball (now how did I come up with that...), Batman starts posturing. He extends his body forward by something like a whole God damn inch, like he's waiting - CALLING - for that damn spiked ball to crash down and crush his God damn skull! This game was made for idiots, by idiots. 

Batman: Revenge of the Joker is a nearly unplayable game. You will have to be one ignorant person to enjoy this game, let alone treat it as a genuine, authentic Batman product. I seriously have to wonder whether Sunsoft really wanted to improve on the original game, or deliberately create an even worse game that would make the critically mutilated original shine. Either way, Batman: Revenge of the Joker is a joke, a very bad one.

GRAPHICS : 4.5
SOUND : 7.0
PLAYABILITY : 2.5
LIFESPAN : 1.5
CONCLUSION : 2.4


TRIVIA

a.k.a. Dynamite Batman (JAP), Batman II

GameRankings: 50.00%

A SNES port of this version was planned, but scrapped due to poor critical reception and sales.

maanantai 28. marraskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Batman Returns (1993)

GENRE(S): Action / Fighting
RELEASED: January 1993
AVAILABLE ON: NES, SNES
DEVELOPER(S): Konami
PUBLISHER(S): Konami
PLAYERS: 1

Tim Burton's holiday sequel to THE summer blockbuster of 1989 spawned many different video games for many different platforms, and I still think Konami's Batman Returns for the SNES is one of the best Batman games ever made, a notably better effort than what Sega managed with their share of the license back in the day. Before the release of the SNES game, Konami made one for the fading NES, and opted to use their highly successful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series as a kind of a blueprint. They squeezed out everything they could from the narrow NES control scheme to offer a playable experience even to followers of the previous generation instead of just making it for the money and rushing to get it out of the way. That's Konami, folks.

A game of cat and bat

Christmas time in Gotham City is far from merry. A group of hostile circus sideshows known as the Red Triangle Gang emerges out of the sewers to terrorize the citizens gathered in Gotham Plaza for holiday festivities. The police are powerless to stop the mayhem, so the Bat-Signal is lit to alert the Dark Knight of Gotham City. Batman saves the day, but it seems his work is not over. With the help of a corrupt businessman named Max Shreck, a disfigured, tragic being known to the people of Gotham as the Penguin suddenly becomes the hero of the city. Batman suspects him to be the leader of the Red Triangle Gang, and attempts to look into the matter, just to be constantly harrassed and slowed down by a sultry, mysterious, violent vigilante who calls herself Catwoman. When Penguin and Catwoman join forces to frame Batman for murder, Batman's in a whole world of mess.

Go for the legs.
I'm not ready to tell you about my take on Batman: Arkham City, but I can tell you something that most of you surely know already; the game seriously rekindled my interest in the Batman media franchise, like Arkham Asylum did with lesser impact before it. Upon finishing the game, I suddenly felt the urge to read a whole bunch of comic books, watch all... wait, MOST of the films, and of course, play a lot of older Batman games, were they better or worse. What better way to bring Batman back to the blogging fray than yet another game called Batman Returns? For certain, I had fears regarding this game. How could a game so similar to the SNES title work on an 8-bit console? Well, then I remembered that it's Konami we're talking about. Let's look at their 8-bit track record leading up to Batman Returns: Gradius, Track & Field, Metal Gear (the MSX game), Contra, Castlevania, Blades of Steel, Double Dribble, Tiny Toon Adventures, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series since it took a turn for the arcade style it's become known for. These were all great games in their respective genres, they're classics - classics that made Konami perhaps the best and most consistent third-party video game manufacturer of the 80's and 90's. OK, they also made mistakes, such as Castlevania II and Top Gun, so they were never perfect. Where does Batman Returns take Konami? Absolutely nowhere. It's not a fresh, new experience in any way, it's very much like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II with Batman for a lead character - but that just means that it's got to be a quite good game. And that's what it is - Konami could've easily not given a shit about the game and no one would have noticed, since 16-bit games were what made the numbers. Konami realized what most developers didn't; even if the NES' sales among CONSUMERS were going down, its popularity among PLAYERS wasn't.

Baby, when you're dressed like that, you can
do whatever the hell you want.
The game is very much like its following 16-bit counterpart, but being an NES game, it's very limited by way of comparison, and that's where a slightly modified 8-bit TMNT engine comes into play. The whole digital pad is utilized to squeeze the most out of the limited scheme. You jump with A, and attack with B. By pressing upwards and B, you use a gadget, which is selected with Select. By pressing downwards and B, you may block attacks. By pressing downwards and A, you execute a slide attack. By jumping and pressing B, you execute a dropkick. By pressing both A and B simultaneously, you do a special attack in the vein of TMNT, but in this game, you lose health by using it. Your mission is to punch and kick your way through six levels with two to three stages each, defeat the Penguin and save Gotham City from a whole lotta hell. It's simple, right? Well, not quite.

Just like the otherwise outstanding SNES game, Batman Returns does have many weaknesses, and most of them arise from the developers trying to break the monotony of a beat 'em up. While the grappling sequences that plagued the SNES version are not a problem in this game at all - since you mostly use the grappling hook just to break background items to gain power-ups - this game has some very frustrating platforming sequences in all the wrong places, and some standard, ranged enemy characters whose attacks are nearly impossible to dodge because of Batman's very slow movement. Also, the bonus sequences involving the Batmobile and Batskiboat are just useless diversions which as the complete opposite of the frustrating parts do not pose any challenge at all. Of course there's nothing wrong with a little sidestepping, but it could simply belong a little better.

The Shreck cat looks more evil than in the movie.
Breaking an age-old tradition, I decided to leave graphics and sound for last, and the latter is the reason why Batman Returns ultimately fails to shine as a forgotten 8-bit gem. Takashi Tateishi's soundtrack tells me how great Naoki Kodaka's effort in Sunsoft's first Batman game really was; it's basic Konami fistpump, there's no connection to the franchise or a slightest Batman feel to it whatsoever. It's got "TMNT leftover" written all over it. The graphics are good, but the otherwise awful Batman: Return of the Joker looked better - and the game was made two years before Batman Returns. It had great music, too, also written by Kodaka. So, was this game made to prove a point of gameplay making the game instead of audiovisuals? It's true, Batman Returns is a good game under its run-of-the-mill a/v, while Return of the Joker was garbage under its pretty exterior - but still, I would've liked the game to look and sound a little more like Batman. It's the whole package that matters.

Batman Returns for the Sega Genesis was abysmal. A simple beat 'em up or not, Batman Returns for the SNES is still one of the best Batman video games out there. Batman Returns for the NES is smack in the middle of these two games; its good qualities ultimately weigh it closer to its Konami-made 16-bit counterpart, but those in search for a whole Batman package on the NES should probably turn to Sunsoft's first game instead. Good and overlooked - for sure. A milestone of a Batman video game you simply can't afford to miss - not so sure.

GRAPHICS : 7.5
SOUND : 5.5
PLAYABILITY : 7.8
LIFESPAN : 7.0
CONCLUSION : 7.4


TRIVIA

GameRankings: 80.50% (SNES)

As explained before, many different games were made based on the Batman Returns movie license. The home computer game was developed by Denton Designs and Spirit of Discovery, and published by GameTek. This game differed from all console versions by a great deal, since it was more of an adventure game based on Batman's detective work than a straightforward action game. The Sega Genesis and Game Gear games were developed and published by Sega. The Sega-CD game was developed by Malibu Entertainment and published by Sega. The Sega Master System game was developed by Aspect and published by Sega. The Atari Lynx game was developed and published by Atari.

sunnuntai 27. marraskuuta 2011

The most awesome X-mas of all time...?

I seriously think I'm heading to my favourite holiday season of all time. Let me tell you why.

I've already told you that I'm planning on getting myself a few games for Christmas; it appears they don't necessarily have to be PlayStation 3 games, though. You see, I've also told you on numerous occasions that my PC sucks ass in just about every God damn way. It's not just a very incompetent gaming platform, it just simply doesn't fulfill any of my needs anymore. It's slow, unstable and old. The DVD drive is completely fucked up, I can't even get the hatch to open anymore. The whole computer emits an enfuriating, loud noise every time I turn it on or off. The battery is completely dead, meaning that even though this is a laptop, I have to plug it in if I hope to use it for more than a minute.

Yesterday morning, I just lost it. The repressed hate I have for this piece of shit just erupted for no particular reason, and I logged on to the website of the mail order company I get most of my stuff from due to their very fair terms of payment, to look for a new laptop computer. Well, I got more than I asked for right off the bat - there was an offer, right there on the frontpage, which I just couldn't refuse. In two weeks, I'll not only be the proud owner of a brand new computer, I'll also be the owner of the newest version of the Xbox 360, which came as a freebie on the laptop's side.

It's still coming. And it finally matters to me.
Me finally giving in to Microsoft means great things for the blog's future. There are still many great games I've never paid a lot of attention to since they've been locked away by Microbuck$. I can play Mass Effect 3 with my one and only Shepard once the game comes out. Hell, I don't even have to buy a lot of games, since nearly all of my best friends own an Xbox and vast libraries of different games. The reviews of Xbox games I wrote in the summer were more or less of a special feature, now they will become a solid part of the blog; and, with a new computer in tow, I can finally get into some more recent PC games, too. All hail diversity, the diversity some of you have been demanding for so long.

Now, it's time for me to start blasting the final reviews of the month and get ready for a December to remember.

perjantai 25. marraskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Power Instinct (1993)

GENRE(S): Fighting
RELEASED: November 1993
AVAILABLE ON: ARC, GEN, SNES, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Atlus
PUBLISHER(S): Atlus
PLAYERS: 1-2

Perhaps the best example of a gaming fad gone wrong is the swarm of one-on-one beat 'em up games that followed the success of Capcom's Street Fighter II and Midway's Mortal Kombat. Almost every game company that was somewhat prominent in the early to mid-90's had a fighting game of their own, and those that weren't, quickly cooked up some half-baked beat 'em up to get a leg up in the business; all fighting games sold themselves back in the day. In 1993, during the six years they had been active in the video game business, Atlus, who hadn't accomplished anything to tell future generations about, made an arcade beat 'em up named Power Instinct, a shameless Street Fighter II clone injected with a large dose of strange Japanese humour. Unfortunately, the game was successful enough to spawn a whole series of arcade and even home video sequels. Even more unfortunately, the original game was ported to both the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis in 1994. The most unfortunate thing about it all is that it ended up in my hands.

Come on grandma, let's boogie

Eight descendants of the Goketsuji clan of warriors spread all around the world take part in a traditional fighting tournament to determine the clan leader for the next five years. The story centers around the sibling rivalry of the clan's current leader, the 78-year old woman Oume Goketsuji and her younger sister Otane.

Back in the heyday of the classic fighting game, I was one of the idiots blind to the staleness of the whole genre. I used to play fighting games with my friend all the time, we used to even pretend being characters from Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter II. Whenever a new fighting game was reviewed by our favourite video game magazine, we kept on checking through the character profiles and drooling after the game until one of us got it. Then we would play it until we grew tired of it - which never happened until the "next big thing" came along. This horrible era came to its end with Tekken and its sequels; Tekken was the perfect beat 'em up. You couldn't do better than that at the time, it just wasn't possible. Everything that came after Tekken was a Tekken clone, just like every mid-90's beat 'em up had been a clone of either Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat, or both. In time, we realized what kind of idiots we had been, blindly following a genre that just played like a broken record for so many years. During those years, we played a lot of different beat 'em ups. Luckily we managed to avoid Power Instinct.

Even the battle stances, yes.
Although the music's of the most horrible kids' anime variety you could possibly imagine, everything from sound effects to standard character design, to graphical effects, to the background art, are ripped straight off Street Fighter II with no questions asked and no remorse shown. The game has a few gimmicks of its own, such as its prominent humour - which ain't too funny by any Western standards - and the expansion of the playfield upon slamming your opponent through a wall or some other barrier. I guess the graphics are OK by the most basic standards (not much more can be expected from wipes like Atlus), but not nearly as good as the graphics of its most obvious targets of plagiarism.

Nearly each and every character can easily be pointed out as a carbon copy of some dude or gal in either Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat. Let's see now, the final boss is an elderly woman, some sort of a wizard who can transform into any of the playable characters. Shang Tsung of the first Mortal Kombat game, anyone? The only differences between the characters are their gender and the fact that they really overplay Oume's age angle, by having her use her set of false teeth as a projectile weapon. The other "granny" character of the game, Otane, is identical to Oume; she just wears different coloured clothes and is much slower and weaker. Two grandmas, and we would've been fine with having none. White Buffalo... a large indian - T. Hawk. Thin Nen... a monk of some sort, capable of setting his opponents on fire - Dhalsim. He even shouts out something like "YOGA!" every time he sets fire to his opposition, and the "character in flames" effect is EXACTLY the same as in Street Fighter II. Reiji Oyama (R!) and Keith Wayne (K!) - Ryu and Ken, down to the core, and there's nothing else to say about them. I guess this is all enough to convince you that there's nothing original about this game, and if there is - such as this kind of quirky and enfuriating music in a genre game - it's nothing good.

It all boils down to the controls, which are quite OK, actually much better than in many bigger fighting games of the era, such as Clay Fighter or Fatal Fury - even the first Mortal Kombat game. They're very smooth, special moves are relatively painless to execute, although the game lives up to the golden 16-bit rule of do or die; meaning you will be in such a hurry to win that you'll easily resort to dropkicking your enemy to oblivion. They just won't let up, there are no opportunities for you to take advantage of. If you hesitate, you'll go down in flames, especially against Oume who will easily kick your ass in under five seconds if you try to be too much of a tactician.

Judge her by her age, will you, hmm?
The playability of the game is not all up to the controls, it's also up to the feel, atmosphere and longevity of the game, and there's simply none of those qualities to be enjoyed in Power Instinct. There are no rewards to it at all. You can change your character any time you want after a defeat, and some characters simply might have some opponent's number while some might not. In other words, you will beat a round of Power Instinct quickly, if you just find the right dude to beat some other dude's ass. It's all the same who you beat the game with, they all have the same ending in the console versions - the good old "Congratulations" ending that everyone loves - it particularly shined in the SNES version of Jurassic Park. The design is 90's Japanese video game design at its most whacked. There's no true, ball busting violence that made Mortal Kombat shine, there's no great music and great characters that made Street Fighter II a landmark, and the humour angle was much better used in the otherwise dull Clay Fighter. There are some extra "survival" modes for the enthusiastic to try out, but nothing too exciting, I assure you.

Power Instinct is a useless clone of Street Fighter II, and I can't believe this game went on to have so many sequels as it did. Not many made it out of the arcade halls, though, and none were ever exported from Japan, where they were some sizzling hot shit - ain't that strange. Good controls almost save the day.

GRAPHICS : 6.7
SOUND : 4.5
PLAYABILITY : 6.6
LIFESPAN : 3.5
CONCLUSION : 5.9


TRIVIA

a.k.a. Goketsuji Ichigoku (JAP)

This game is the only game in the Goketsuji franchise to see a Western release.

torstai 24. marraskuuta 2011

This is NOT a hiatus.

You can start counting the days 'til Batman
Returns
.
I've been logged off for the past ten days, and once again, I've been asked if I've started to give up on the blog, by my friends of all people, since they know I'm very much into a whole bunch of games at the moment. That's exactly why I haven't had time to publish anything. I'm working on no less than six HUGE reviews at the moment, and desperately trying to find time to squeeze a few more of those previously mentioned random games in between, keep my girlfriend happy and my paycheck in order. Also, I'm replaying a few favourites, as well as some games I might've not given enough due in the past. Skyrim beckons next month (it's a Christmas present), and that game will eat up so much of my time that I'm deliberately trying to get some Christmas reviews done in advance.

So, this is NOT a hiatus, I am playing games and I am writing about them, there's just nothing ready to be published at the moment. I'll try to put out a few minor reviews in the coming week, and I guarantee that December will be huge. Short, high-profile marathons, some favourites that are long overdue for reviews, and hell, maybe a few Christmas surprises. More details will be revealed later.

maanantai 14. marraskuuta 2011

Choices, and how making them has changed

EXCERPTS FROM THE NERD JOURNAL

November 15, 2011

Dear diary.

It's my payday today. After dungeon-hacking my way through the deadly labyrinth of bills, I'm left with an amount of cash just enough to get me through the next 30 days, and feed my soul at the local GameStop, located less than a mile away from my apartment. Yes, for the first time since I bought LittleBigPlanet 2 on pre-order back in January, I'm going to buy a game. Well, there was Dragon Age II, too, I suppose, but I didn't really plan that one, it was an impulsive purchase forced upon me by a couple of beers and the feeling of financial omnipotence they created. I'm skipping a trip to see my favourite band Iced Earth play in Helsinki because of this - and the fact no-one offered to tag along - so I'm definitely going to make this trip count. I'm going to buy two games, and while one of them's certainly Batman: Arkham City, I'm having real trouble in coming up with a "side dish". My mind is so full of alternatives that I wanted to do a story on them. Also, my mind travelled back to the 8- and 16-bit eras, how different buying a game or two was back then.

"This game stole my mind. Now I
want it back."
Back when I was eight or nine years old, I didn't care for reviews, not one bit, nor were there many actual reviews in the magazine I read back then; the magazine was more about promotion of Nintendo than true video game journalism. That being said, all a game needed to impress me was to have cool looking ads. Being somehow linked to an awesome movie also helped. I didn't care what real critics were saying about movie licenses - "LIES!" - I rented them anyway and at least pretended (to myself) to enjoy the games, just because the movies they were based on were so great. Sometimes, the worst case scenario became reality and I actually asked my mom to BUY me the game. That's how I ended up getting stuck with Total Recall for the NES, which is one of the worst games ever made. It had Schwarzenegger on the box. Schwarzenegger was the epitome of awesome. Schwarzenegger could have promoted cod-liver oil and I would've had my mom buy me gallons of the stuff. I don't know what exactly bombed my infatuation with Schwarzenegger the worst, the actual quality of the games his face promoted, or the movie Batman & Robin. I think it was Batman & Robin. That movie sucked even more than the Total Recall or Last Action Hero video games ever did, and that's a lot.

I lived in a very small town, and video games weren't as big as movies back then, so we didn't even have a store that would've specialized in video game sales. The town still doesn't have one; it did a while back, but the store was quickly closed down due to the lack of customers that had gotten used to buying games online. Back in the early 90's, video games were sold at supermarkets and home electronics shops. Due to the limited sales, only the biggest and most popular games such as Super Mario Bros. 3, plus some licenses based on some super-popular media franchise such as The Simpsons, were accepted for sale. That is why I rarely got any bad games for Christmas. Then I found the joys (and sorrows) of mail order. There was suddenly a whole cavalcade of video games right in front of me. You never knew what you were going to get when you bought a game that looked or sounded cool. There practically was nothing to give you a hint of what the game was about, or whether or not it was a quality product. We had the promotional magazine, and we also had Super Power magazine, whose editors at least attempted to write reviews. Super Power pretty much laid down the law for kids, and eventually for parents, when it first came out in 1993. But, again, they gave Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind 89 points out of 100; in retrospect, the magazine couldn't really be trusted. It was a very visual magazine, and many of my friends bought games that got bottom-end points just because they looked cool, so a single game's sales were still more about good promotion than critical reception. What's ironic is that some of the games Super Power basically slaughtered were very good, and are considered classics even today.

It's still one of a kind - a true classic.
I think it was the fifth generation of consoles (PlayStation / Saturn / Nintendo 64 / the rest) that showed the first signs of true changes in the video game industry. Games began to look more like movies, and in 1998, the release of Metal Gear Solid shook the foundations on which the industry was built on. All games that were to come were expected to live up to the cinematic standards of Metal Gear Solid. Now that the games had a cinematic standard, they all started to look the same. Not many ugly games followed. Now it was up to who had the better promotion. All of the even slightly respectable video game companies quickly met the standards in promotion. What was left to guarantee, or destroy sales? Critical reception, of course - something that game companies had dreaded for years. Many companies closed their doors and some got merged, or bought out. There were video game magazines to offer their critical take on games, there still are, but let's face it, most people turn to the bulk of online reviews, or if they're in need of an extremely quick rating with not much details involved, they turn to aggregate websites such as GameRankings or Metacritic when they want to know if a game is worth their money and time. That's what I'm doing right now.

I know a lot about games, and I pretty much know exactly what I should and shouldn't waste my valuable money and time on, but there are a lot of options out there, and I've sworn an oath to stick to the two-game limit on this day. Being that I decided on one of the games weeks ago, makes the choice even more difficult. I kind of miss the days when I didn't have these choices, or when I just bought games on instinct, win or lose. Then again, I don't; since I'm investing my own hard-earned money in a game, I need to know that it's good. No, not good - EXCELLENT. Also, since I've become a big fan of RPG's in the last 15 years, I naturally find myself putting very long and complex games to the top of the list. Bang for your buck, you know. In a nutshell, I'm much, much more of a tough customer than I was two decades ago. "Schwarzenegger?! You've got a deal!" has turned to "How are the controls? Slightly below perfect? Hmmm... well, how long does it take to beat the game and unlock everything in it? Less than 48 hours? Forget it."

I think his last adventure will be
worth the wait.
I compiled a list of games I could consider buying. I have a nearly instant explanation and reason for not buying some of them, but I wanted to bring them to light, anyway. First off, Assassin's Creed: Revelations came out today, and my friend is a very happy camper right now since he pre-ordered the Animus Edition of the game - remember all that talk about good promotion? As much as I'd love to see how the story of one of this generation's greatest video game characters ends, I know for damn certain that I'm going to have the chance before the end of the year, anyway, so I'll let ACR pass. If my friend doesn't let go of the game willingly, I'll just swing Arkham City around under his nose, and we've got a deal.

Then there's Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Some months ago, I decided I didn't want to own DVD movies that are numbered sequels to movies which I don't own, so I sold my special editions of Star Wars Episode III and Spider-Man 2, something I thought I'd never do. This principle very soon carried over to my video game collection - of course I won't sell any of my games, though. Anyway, while I do have Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, I never got around to buying Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, because I pretty much gnawed it to the bone when I borrowed it from the aforementioned friend. It's a numbered sequel to a game I don't own; to make it absolutely clear, having games like Fallout: New Vegas even though I'm missing Fallout 3 doesn't bother me at all. It's just the numbered sequels that do. Besides, I'm pretty certain I will get the chance to experience this game before the end of the year, as well, without spending any money on it.

Then, there's the no-brainer option, considering all I have said about making choices thus far - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. First of all, this game is an exception to my "numbered sequels" rule, since it's commonly referred to as just Skyrim, it's not that connected to the rest of the series, and I'm 100% certain I'm never going to buy Oblivion. I know a lot of people are asking "for the love of God, why?" It's simple. I dislike playing PC games (it won't run on my current computer, anyway), and the PS3 version of Oblivion is downright infamous for not having Trophy support, not even the 5th Anniversary Edition released just a while ago has it; I will NOT pay for a PS3 game that doesn't have Trophies, ever again. It's not that I'm a whore for Trophies, the lifespan of any game is just so much larger thanks to Trophy support that I think it's unfair to ask for the same amount of money for a game that doesn't have it. Anyway, back to Skyrim. Secondly, it meets every standard that matters to me when I buy a game: long life, guaranteed playability, good all-around style, and good word from my fellow critics. It's also a game I have aimed to buy ever since its name was announced. The only thing that's against Skyrim is my personal nihilistic attitude towards the whole Elder Scrolls franchise; I've always thought it's severely overrated. Great, for certain, but not really my tastiest cup of tea. Be that as it may, Skyrim is the strongest nominee for "the other game" at the moment. There's a game that would definitely offer bang for my buck... but is that buck a bit too large if I'm not completely certain I'll enjoy the game just as much as everyone else on the planet? That question rings true in the case of many other new games besides Skyrim - and that is why I'm also considering the option of buying some used, older game... or a bundle of some of the best games in the world at a budget price, developed further with HD graphics, better controls and Trophy support. Man, this is going to get hard.

Is it just me, or is Pip-Boy one of
the creepiest characters in video
game history?
The first game on this other list is Fallout 3, which was already mentioned in another context. The standard game has nothing to offer me anymore - I've done everything there is in the game, and nailed every Trophy, BUT ever since the Game of the Year Edition was released, I've busted my balls hunting it down to raise my Trophy percentage to 100, and enjoy the game to its fullest with the power of five add-ons. These add-ons were damn expensive when they were first released as digital downloads, and I never owned the standard game so there was no sense in purchasing them. I got the three worst-selling ones from PlayStation Plus, and my subscription to Plus has long since expired, so I can't play them. I have beaten none of them, I have never even touched anything besides the weak Mothership Zeta and that really pisses me off. The Game of the Year Edition is such a definitive Fallout experience that it's extremely hard to find nowadays; no one in the right mind wants to sell it. Every time I go to GameStop just to browse, without any money on me, the Fallout 3 GOTY's there, as if to mock me. Every time I do have money, there's some little more lucrative game involved, or they're simply out of pre-owned copies of the GOTY.

I could also go online and order two of my favourite games of all time, plus a reportedly amazing experience I've never had, plus two classic 8-bit games, in high definition, for less than a fifty. Yes, of course I'm speaking of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, which has only been released in Japan and North America for now. I'm not a huge advocate of this whole HD business, which has been an evergrowing trend in game development for the PS3 since the release of the God of War Collection, but I can't argue with the fact that if some bundle of games is totally worth its budget price (and more), it's Metal Gear Solid HD Collection. The problem here is that I own two of the games and I've hacked them inside out; the only reason for me to play them, personally, is Trophy support. This brings us to the God of War Collection Volume II, which has two games I've never played and would like to experience due to their solid placement in Kratos' story; one of the worst things about God of War III was that it was so much based on events that took place in Chains of Olympus, which I had never played. I felt so ripped off, because I was totally consumed by the story in the first and second God of War games; I was sure that a game simply entitled God of War III would be aimed at those millions of players who never played the handheld games. Because there were millions of such players, they made this collection - great service, BUT are two HD versions of handheld games worth as much as two HD versions of the greatest games ever made for the PS2, an HD version of a game that is considered PSP's finest, and two games from the 8-bit vault in their true MSX forms? Maybe, because it's God of War, but...

I think I've went over the most important points I wanted to make, here. In a nutshell, buying games has become way more strategic and difficult. Back in the day, you just bought whatever looked the coolest. Today, making a choice between games comes down to so many factors, with critical reception - that virtually didn't exist 20 years ago - being perhaps the most important one. It makes me feel I'm doing something important with this blog.

24 HOURS LATER...

And the winner is.
I ended up with... drum roll, please... Fallout 3 - Game of the Year Edition. There's still a collector in me, and I thought that if I don't buy the game now, I never will, and I'll regret it later. I'll get a new chance next month, and it's Christmas, so who knows, maybe I'm crazy enough to buy three games. I did ask the GameStop clerk if they had pre-owned copies of Skyrim, and realized how ridiculous the question was in the middle of the sentence. A brand new copy of Skyrim was a little bit too expensive, since I was already settled on buying Batman: Arkham City - which is pretty good, by the way. I got the Fallout 3 GOTY for about 35 euros; it was kind of expensive for a game of its age, as well, but it's a rare find at any retailer, so I'll forgive them.

I love GameStop more than ever. The guy who was standing in line in front of me had pre-ordered the Special Edition of Saints Row: The Third, and the Special Edition hadn't shipped yet while the Nordic Edition had. By ways of amazing customer service, this guy got the Nordic Edition FOR KEEPS to tide him over until his Special Edition has arrived. In other words, he could just sell the Nordic Edition right back to GameStop for a near-full price once he has gotten the Special Edition he was after. Then, it was my turn. I got much more of Batman: Arkham City I went to get, as the clerk just stunned me with freebies, with four Batman posters I thought they only gave out with pre-orders, and the Robin DLC I KNOW they only gave out with pre-orders; he said that they got some more of them Robin codes, so he thought "what the hell". Considering that all new retail copies of the game also have the redeem code for the critically acclaimed Catwoman DLC, this was quite a deal. I paid €64,90 for an amazing bundle of Arkham City that's easily worth something like 90 euros. Many kisses to GameStop, I'll never criticize your idea of customer service again.

I'm a very happy player right now, and what's best, I have two fine games here that I still haven't reviewed. Needless to say, you're safe to expect reviews of both games in the coming months. Thank you for your time.

Yeah, like I could resist the urge.

sunnuntai 13. marraskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Dragon Fighter (1990)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: August 1990
AVAILABLE ON: NES
DEVELOPER(S): Sofel
PUBLISHER(S): Towachiki, Sofel
PLAYERS: 1

The Software Engineering Laboratory, a.k.a. Sofel, is a Tokyo based IT company specialized in systems development for businesses. Like many IT companies, especially Japanese ones, Sofel wanted to try their luck with video games once upon a time. So, how did they do? Well... have you ever heard of 'em? Exactly. Among the approximately twenty games Sofel ever made was Dragon Fighter, an 8-bit side scroller that was totally devoid of distinguishing characteristics on the outside - such as a memorable name. Yet, on the inside, was a surprisingly good game!

Do not provoke me, man - I'm a dragon

Snowflakes, those evil creations of Satan.
An evil wizard by the name of Zabbaong dispatches an army of monsters to invade and destroy the peaceful land of Baljing, ignoring the citizens' strong belief and trust in a powerful deity that watches over them. This deity - the spirit of a dragon - possesses a statue of a legendary warrior, and embarks on a journey towards the wizard's keep on the mountains to avenge his people.

If I had any expectations at all, I was damn sure I would lynch and eat this game alive by reviewing it. I betted on atrocious gameplay, and if that wasn't enough, I could've always pulled the "ActRaiser already did this better" card on it. Well, the gameplay's in moderately good order, and Dragon Fighter actually came out a while before ActRaiser did. How do I like them apples? Hey, I'm all for surprises. Even though I would've loved to slaughter yet another innocent 8-bit game, it's refreshing to see a positive surprise, just as well.

Was this 1986? No, this was 1990, and taking the year of release into account, the game isn't much of a looker, at first. The level design improves on the go, as well as the backgrounds. The frame rate is also good, and the final level is probably the fastest side scroller ever seen on the NES; graphically impressive, utterly frustrating when it comes to gameplay. The music is amazing at its best, I would almost go as far as to place the soundtrack into the same grade of 8-bit awesomeness as Journey to Silius, which came out around the same time as Dragon Fighter did in Japan. Can't help hearing some bits ripped off something else, though. This was the only game that composer Ukkari Yumanishi worked on - a pity, really.

Dragon Fighter has all the ingredients of a frustrating 8-bit action platformer almost impossible to play, let alone enjoy; inescapable gauntlets of enemies and their projectiles taking good care that you enter each boss fight with one foot in the grave (and losing the fight, of course, takes you to the beginning of the level, and eventually the beginning of the whole game), EXTREMELY rare power-ups, lacking physics and random collision detection. Also, your health does not replenish to the maximum between levels, only between deaths. If you enter the final level with less than maximum health and no continues left, you can pretty much get comfortable with starting the game over. It's that unforgiving.

Let's put it this way. You're a flytrap, I'm a dragon.
I'd stop pestering me right now.
There are six levels with one boss fight each. Your character is a nameless warrior, or a magically animated statue of one. (He certainly moves like a statue.) The first level's some snowy field (where you'll be doing battle with demonic snowflakes...?!), then there's a cave filled with plants (from every game ever made), an aqueduct (with water currents strong enough to carry the weight of your character, as always), some sort of robot factory (ooh, the fine sense of context kills me), a haunted castle (what did I say about every game ever made just now?), and finally, the sky, which you'll be flying across at an incredible speed while fending off swarms of annoying enemies, as the game suddenly takes the form of a shoot 'em up. If you can somehow survive some thick skinned flying mermen shooting lasers from their eyes, you'll have to deal with dozens of birds (or insects, or whatever) flying at you from ALL directions at once. If you're lucky enough to get past them, the final boss will most likely be glad to hand you your ass. Don't expect no power-ups in this level.

Dragon Fighter is a very frustrating game, but it's surprisingly playable, considering it's such an obscure 8-bit game. It doesn't really have any more real flaws than your average NES title, and at the very least it offers the player a few chances to continue; a lot of games, not to mention a lot of longer games, don't have this feature. The boss design is quite damn good, the boss fights are all different, and a lot more complex than they were in a whole lot of other games of the era. Way to go, Sofel!

I saved the best for last, a very impressive gameplay feature, once again considering the times and the relatively small amount of money invested in the development of this game. By killing enough enemies, or collecting the rarest power-up there is, you gain metamorphosis power; once the meter is full, you can temporarily morph into a dragon. Unlike in standard form, you don't have to jump and crouch in an excessive, rhythmic and rapid pace, or charge projectiles, you just fly across the screen and shoot shit up. In both forms, you can pick up bottles which change your colour, as well as the type of your projectiles. In the final level, you play exclusively as the dragon, and as I said before, that's where the fun ends. The most important thing is that Dragon Fighter is fun for much longer than many games that shared its most annoying technical flaws back in the day. Strategizing will not save you, but it will help you, for a surprisingly long time.

Looks like my ex-mother-in-law's house.
In a gamer's utopia, beating Dragon Fighter takes less than 30 minutes. In the grim reality, it takes hours, 'cause you're going to see several definitive Game Over screens once you seriously start hacking through this forgotten piece of retro. The bosses' patterns - most of which change after they have suffered enough damage - are quite easy to figure out, but it's the paths that lead to the bosses that will force you to make a decision between fighting the enemies or just running away until you reach the final screen, hoping you'll have even a little health left when you face off with the big cheese of the level. Beating a boss increases your maximum health a bit, which is good, since it's a totally pathetic sum in the beginning of the game. You might even say the game gets easier after the first level, right up until the final one which is just blue hell.

Dragon Fighter is a strangely addictive curiosity from the NES vaults. Since it has only six levels, you're going to find yourself thinking that it can't be that difficult and retrying it from scratch, time and time again. You're wrong, it is difficult, but good luck and good spirits be with you anyway. You'll also probably like the music, if you're a sucker for 8-bit jingles in the style of Silius and hell, maybe even Castlevania. To put it simply, it is a surprisingly good and hearty video game effort by such a serious company not usually affiliated with the game industry.

GRAPHICS : 7.0
SOUND : 8.7
PLAYABILITY : 7.2
LIFESPAN : 8.0
CONCLUSION : 7.5


TRIVIA

The game was never released in Europe. Even the North American release was pushed as far as early 1992.

There was an European, totally unrelated fantasy game of the same name released on the Commodore Amiga in 1991.

REVIEW - Nox (2000)

GENRE(S): Action / RPG
RELEASED: January 2000
AVAILABLE ON: PC
DEVELOPER(S): Westwood Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Electronic Arts
PLAYERS: 1-6

The fantasy role-playing game Nox is one of the most anti-hyped and overlooked games ever, considering that it was conceived by two very prolific game companies. It drew influence from the most popular computer RPG's of the time, most notably Diablo and Fallout, but it also had its own gimmicks in totally shameless, consciously campy humour, and the opportunity to play as three different character classes through three different storylines. 11 years have passed, and this old favourite of mine has still got a lot of its old swag intact.

The forgotten alternative

STARRING
Joanna Cassidy : Hecubah
Seann William Scott : Jack Mower
Alan Oppenheimer : Captain / Necromancer #1 / Lewis
Susan Chesler : Tina
Mark Rolston : Horrendous / Guard #1 / Townsman #3
Ian Abercrombie : Horvath / Loproc
Lee Perry : Mayor Theogrin / Guard #2 / Rogue / Townsman #1 / Barkeeper
Neil Ross : Mystic / Guard #3 / Mine Worker #1
Warren Burton : Aldwyn / Mine Worker #2 / Morgan
Michael S. Booth : Gearhart

Ready to kick ass!
Jack is an ordinary young man from Florida that lives in a trailer with his girlfriend. One night, his TV starts acting up, reacting to strange energy emanating from a decorative orb placed near it. In reality, this orb is a magical artifact which a necromancer named Hecubah seeks to increase her power and be able to take over her world, the dimension of Nox. She is able to summon the orb back into Nox and within her range, but she also has to deal with Jack, who accidentally gets sucked through the dimensional warp along with the orb. Jack is quickly taken in by the people of Nox and trained to be its hero and savior.

I'll be damned if anyone at Westwood didn't have The Evil Dead trilogy in mind when they were making this game. The base story's got Army of Darkness written all over it, as it has a modern, all-American guy doing battle with mythical demons and monsters, being told that he's destined to be a hero even if he certainly doesn't seem like one. The humour is also similar to that of The Evil Dead; totally out of place, yet functional. Nox might strike players that are more into serious RPG's as awful satire - only made worse by the horrible voice acting - but once you get over the plot and are able to concentrate on the game itself, I think you're going to find a trip worth to take, an impressive alternative to the biggest RPG titles of the time.

Nox was one of the first non-point 'n' click PC games I got totally hooked on. The first version I had was a cracked one that omitted the cutscenes, as well as voice clips, so I had no idea what the plot was all about or how horrible the voice acting was. I fell in love with the gameplay, as it was so simple and accessible in contrast to my former beliefs of every PC game being hell to play. You could walk by landing the mouse cursor right in front of the character and pressing the right mouse button, and run by simply moving the cursor further away. The inventory was simple to use, and all functions, including using healing items and special abilities, were clustered to hotkeys easily in the range of your left hand, while your right hand was on the mouse. Excessive toggling through menus was not necessary at all. Nox was also the first totally new game that my old computer could run without any problems at all, so it truly felt like it was made for me. I liked the game so much that I eventually got the retail, and got slapped in the face by the dumb plot and the even dumber voiceover work. In time, I learned to appreciate the campy storyline progression of the game as the endearing mass of conscious idiotism and fantasy clichés it is.

On my way to the only place in the game where
my strapping warrior is even remotely prone to
have his ass handed to him.
PC is a platform that has masses of games with timeless graphics, ranging all the way from the early 90's to this day; Nox is one of the hundreds of games that still impress with their looks, since it doesn't have any polygons stamped with an expiration date. Character and level design is very good. The only thing that really bothers me is the large space your real-time inventory screen hogs up when expanded to its full size; it takes up nearly half the screen and obscures the action; it is a problem when you need to change your weapon in the middle of combat, for example. You will need to do it, occasionally, due to the degradation of equipment and the fact that some enemies require special weapons to be used on them, if you want to get rid of them permanently.

The soundtrack's composed by Westwood stalwart Frank Klepacki, who's also worked on franchises such as Lands of Lore, AD&D, Dune, and Westwood's flagship Command & Conquer. The score ranges from battle and mystical exploration music to cheery folk tunes, and it's all quite good, although a bit repetitive. As mentioned a few times, the voiceover work is wickedly bad. There are some known names in the cast, including Joanna Cassidy and Seann William Scott - who only voices Jack in some choice cutscenes, otherwise Jack is mute aside from his Schwarzenegger-like battle cries - but familiar names cannot magically make the awkward, overtly melodramatic dialogue better. As further proof of the game paying at least some homage to The Evil Dead, Ian Abercrombie - the wiseman in Army of Darkness - makes a prominent voiceover appearance as the Arch-Wizard Horvath.

Arguably the strongest hook of Nox lies in three very different gameplay experiences with different endings, determined by your class. Although the base story of Jack accidentally getting sucked through the dimensional warp and meeting the airship captain that guides him through his quest of hunting down Hecubah is the same, each of the classes has a unique 10-15 hour game with only one or two chapters bearing the exact same map and turns of events. Warriors start out near the fortress of Dün Mir, train to be a Fire Knight under the supervision of Horrendous the warlord, and do a few random salvage and rescue missions to prove themselves worthy to their superior and join him in the decisive battle against Hecubah. Wizards, on the other hand, start off as new apprentices of the Arch-Wizard at Castle Galava, where they're told that one of the most important rules of being a member of the circle is to piss on the Fire Knights' creed whenever they have the chance. In other words, wizards and warriors hate each other's guts in this game, which makes for some interesting confrontations. Conjurers, who start their journey near the village of Ix, are a neutral party, and similarly, they are just as adept in melée combat as they are in spellcasting; their exclusive, and most important talent is the ability to charm wild animals and creatures of low intelligence to do their bidding.

Lose the spiders, or no ale for you, conjurer!
As you might've rightfully guessed, having three different games in a technically outdated package means that the game is linear as an arrow. There's less than a minimal amount of true sidequests. Any seemingly random errand given by an NPC is nearly always supplemental to the main quest, which is divided into 11 chapters. You can forget about all forms of free exploration of Nox, too. You cannot enter certain locations except as a representative of a certain class, and once you've cleared a chapter, you're simply shipped to another location on the other edge of Nox from which you cannot backtrack. In turn, the forest paths, caves and dungeons have many complex traps for you to find your way around, plenty of secret rooms for you to discover, and a lot of fine loot for you to collect.

While seasoned players will most likely enjoy playing as a wizard or conjurer, a warrior's way is the only way to go for an absolute beginner like I was when the game came out. The warrior's quest is like a crash course to the game's most basic elements. All of the warrior's five different special abilities are gained early on, via simply leveling up. He doesn't have a mana meter like conjurers and wizards do, just a short cooldown period is needed for the abilities to be used again. Also, a warrior has such high HP he can easily dispatch large swarms of enemies by simply swinging his sword, axe or whatever he's got around like his ass was on fire. There's no real strategy required for anything except one of the final chapters in which he has to infiltrate the wizards' home base in the Tower of Illusion, and the final boss is also kind of tricky. In a nutshell, the few final chapters of the warrior's quest show a glimpse of what the conjurer and wizard's quests will be, pretty much from the beginning.

The conjurer's quest equals to Nox on medium difficulty. All of the conjurer's attributes are nominal, which makes it kind of hard for him to face certain kinds of challenges alone, but he has the ability to charm creatures he has studied by reading the scrolls hidden across the game, two to four of them, depending on their size. Once charmed, the creatures can be assigned tactics like any party members in any other RPG; for example, they can scout ahead for enemies or faithfully stay by your side as guardians. If you grow tired of their smelly company or find some better thralls to do your bidding, you can banish them manually any time you want. The conjurer has a spell table with 25 different slots, whereas the warrior only has those five special abilities - of which you really need only two - and nothing more. These spells can be re-organized in any way you find convenient. A few chapters into the game, the conjurer learns to summon bombers, monsters of his own creation that look like small penises with bras. These little buggers are set to explode upon contact with an enemy, and damage or infect them with one to three spells of your choice.

The wizard's quest is the final trial by fire, pure hell for beginners that started out this game by playing as a wizard just because of their undying love for magic, and not an easy first-time trip for RPG veterans either. Wizards have damn weak physical strength, and much less access to items and equipment warriors and conjurers have. Also, they have to rely on themselves, they don't have comrades or charmed animals on their side. Wizards do have access to a whole storm of fantastic spells, but it takes time and practice to find the meaning to them all.

What's up, you ask? Just hangin' with a giant
scorpion and robbin' graves. Nothin' much.
Nearly all equipment degrades over time, frustratingly fast in the later parts of the game, and in order to keep your armour and weapons in check, you need to repair them at merchants' workshops. At first it seems like you're getting quite enough spare equipment from the field, but it stops flowing at some point, and you shouldn't sell too much stuff either, since if you're heading into a tricky chapter with just one set of just slightly degraded equipment, it might just be that you'll finish that chapter completely naked and barehanded, with all of your equipment destroyed - if you finish it at all. Repairing your equipment costs a lot of money throughout the game, and whole new equipment sold by merchants sports some ridiculous prices. Looting valuable weapons you're not even able to equip just to sell them won't help you for long, since the inventory limit is so unforgiving, and in the end of the game, the dungeons naturally get bigger and it takes damn long whiles to get to just one merchant. Why couldn't they have given us the skill or option to repair and maintain equipment ourselves? There, some criticism.

Indeed, I don't have much real criticism for Nox. If I wanted to be a real bastard, I'd say it's kind of stupid to disguise the three storylines as "completely different", since they share many key points. Most of them are presented differently, but playing through the game with each class means that you'll have to do the exact same, long-ass Tomb of Valor quest a total of three times. It's like this game's Orzammar (an underground city of dwarves in Dragon Age: Origins, for those who don't know) - cool on the first time, but disappointingly similar on subsequent playthroughs, no matter what class you are. I would've also went for some REAL dialogue and not just listening to some retards speak irrelevancies, and given the player SOME choice in what his character was like. Nox isn't the most customizable experience around, especially not when it comes to being a PC game, but it's fun to play either way. Just because it can't stand up to Fallout or Diablo doesn't mean it's not worth a try.

Yeah, yeah, I'm a hero and all that, but could I
please buy condoms in peace?
Finishing all three quests and their accumulative total of 33 chapters takes about 30 hours, if you're quick about it. The multiplayer servers have been closed for years, so they don't offer any additional fun in the land of Nox, but Solo Quest became available in the final patch for single players who can't get enough of the game's core gameplay. You simply choose a class and make your way through 20 dungeons looting and killing, with not much actual plot involved. I could give the game's lifespan rating a slight nudge for the better, just because it's still so much fun to kill time with, after all this time.

It was fun to take the umpteenth trip to Nox, even with a couple of years and many much more new, intense and immersive RPG's, especially in regards to me getting to the bottom of the BioWare boom, in the between. Many might perceive the game as too straightforward and generic, but I think all of us that have played the game can all at the very least agree on Nox being harmless.

GRAPHICS : 8.9
SOUND : 8.0
PLAYABILITY : 9.0
LIFESPAN : 8.2
CONCLUSION : 8.5


TRIVIA

GameRankings: 81.45%

perjantai 11. marraskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Fatal Labyrinth (1990)

GENRE(S): RPG
RELEASED: 1990
AVAILABLE ON: GEN, PC
DEVELOPER(S): Sega
PUBLISHER(S): Sega
PLAYERS: 1


Fatal Labyrinth was among the few games released for the Sega Meganet in Japan. Sega Meganet was the first online service for a home console, ever. It was very expensive and awkward to use and it was discontinued in just a few months into its launch. Fatal Labyrinth was also among the few games that were remade for the Sega Mega Drive / Genesis for standard use. This roguelike RPG, partly influenced by Gauntlet, gained somewhat of a cult following that has lasted to this day. It has been re-released for three platforms of the current generation, and promoted as a bonafide Sega classic. Please, someone give me the definition of "classic" again. This game is God damn horrible.

Labyrinths usually have exits, you know...

Ghouls residing in the dark castle of Dragonia have stolen the Holy Goblet, an artifact which is used by humans to maintain the balance of darkness and light. It is now under the guard of an evil dragon. A villager named Trykaar bravely enters the castle to confront the dragon and save the world from eternal darkness.

I hate Gauntlet. I've always hated Gauntlet. It's one of the most overrated pieces of shit ever made. Although Fatal Labyrinth is a very different game, it reminds of me of Gauntlet in many ways, for example in simply being as horrible as it is. I had a bad feeling about it from the very beginning, but I was able to deal with it and press the Start button when (finally) prompted. Within a matter of minutes, I was convinced that whoever thought this game would be a fine subject for just one re-release must've been seriously high.

Actually showing equipped armour and weapons is a nice graphical detail, but that's the only remotely impressive graphical element of the game. Fatal Labyrinth must be one of the dullest looking games I've ever seen. Level design cannot even be spoken of, since the game is famous for being one of the first that had a random level generator - which makes it kind of an interesting title to start off this "marathon of the random" with. So, it's all about repeating textures in different orders. I'll tell you the best part in a bit.

As you can see, this random level's got an exit...
The music is simply unbearable. There's this one generic tune that goes on throughout the game, and it's bound to drive you nuts. The sound effects are equally horrible.

The idea of the game is extremely simple. You must make your way to the 30th floor of the Dragonia castle, by killing every monster you see (read: can), collecting items and equipment, and searching floors for a way upstairs. The best part of the level design I mentioned is that some of the floors do not have exits at all. Don't adjust the screen, you read absolutely right. Apparently, whoever designed the random level generator forgot to add the term of every random floor having at least a set of stairs. There's no way out, except death. If there are no enemies, dying is not possible, unless you just leave the game be until your character gets hungry enough to die of starvation (shades of Gauntlet, right there). If you don't have the patience to wait for that moment, you've just got to start the game over; simple, right? Maybe next time luck will be on your side. Hell, maybe next time you'll play a game that's worth your valuable time.

The item menu is extremely irritating. First of all, you have no stinking clue what any item does before you've used it. Also, you have no stinking clue of a weapon or armour's strength points before you equip 'em. Each time you equip or use something, you're just unceremoniously thrown out of the menu, back into the game. The inventory limit is more than unforgiving. All weapons of the same type look exactly the same on the field, and just as the levels themselves, they're generated at a complete random. You'd like to think that at floor level 26, you'd find a better axe than on floor level 1. Since you have run out of space for weapons, you throw away your large battle axe, just to find a small, pathetic rusty piece of shit that you couldn't even use to chop down the smallest tree. I have no idea how to use ranged weapons, and the game doesn't really help me with my problem.

Enemies' strength and agility seems to vary at a complete random. You have to find a sweet spot to hit the more challenging enemies from, or else 95% of your attacks will either miss or be parried. That's quite reasonable on paper, but you must take into account the fact that some enemies follow you around. If you walk into a narrow corridor with a dead end (which you can't be certain of before reaching the end of the corridor) with an enemy like a Ninja or a Robot on your tail, you'll be trapped in there. There's no way to get past the enemies except killing them, and you especially can't attack these enemies from the front. Tough luck.

...While this random level doesn't. Plus, I'm
starving to death, and I'm chased down by
a robot drone from the future. I'm fucked.
The game is saved - for the duration of one single game session - between every fifth floor. Reaching the fifth floor does not mean you couldn't fall back down into the fourth one through a hidden pit in the ground. I'm quite serious, the game has those too, to drive you further into the PIT of insanity. What could be done and dealt with within a boring hour will most likely take you another boring hour or two because of many instances of mandatory suicide, floors without any types of exits, and finally, those damn holes in the ground. It takes surprisingly lot of patience to play through a seemingly measly amount of 30 short levels.

Collecting gold in this game benefits you none, as there are no merchants, or shops, or anything. The only thing you accomplish by collecting gold is a better funeral. Yes, once again I'm quite serious; the more gold you have, the more people there are gathered around your grave (some damn rock) in the Game Over screen. What a shitty joke.

Fatal Labyrinth was awful when I first played it, but it's even more of a chore than I remembered it to be. It's playable for a few minutes, if you have absolutely nothing else to do, but as a commercial product, it's totally devoid of both value and point. It's like a demo of an independent game rather than a full-fledged Sega product. It's considered one of the greatest cult classics of the Sega Genesis by many people who like to consider themselves different from the masses, but in reality, it's got to be one of the worst Genesis games ever made.

GRAPHICS : 4.5
SOUND : 3.0
PLAYABILITY : 4.3
LIFESPAN : 3.0
CONCLUSION : 3.7


TRIVIA

a.k.a. Labyrinth of Death: Shi no Meikyū (JAP)

GameRankings: 46.67%

The game is considered a spiritual successor and update to a Sega Master System game named Dragon Crystal, which was released the same year.

The game is one of the 49 games included in Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in early 2009. The game was also released on the Steam service for home computers in late 2010.

torstai 10. marraskuuta 2011

For the love of everything random

After yesterday's update, I decided I should probably lay off traditional marathons for a short while. What's up is a sort of a marathon, but there's no common thread to the games besides being picked at a complete, utter random.

You see, THE LIST is divided into two categories: video game franchises, meaning franchises I have more than one game of, and the rest. Up 'til now, I've mostly clashed through the first category and let the rest be, although there are many, many games in there I'd like to review. So, I numbered the games - by using a very simple tool, I'm not enough of a database nerd to have done it manually - and for at least the next few weeks, I'll be using random.org's random number generator to lay down the law. Even I cannot foresee what hidden gems and the complete opposite are to come. I think this will be exciting, interesting, different and kinda frightening, all at the same time.

I have (the first) twenty games lined up, and I can tell you right now it's a mixed bag like no other - that's the glory of all random things. You're safe to expect a rollercoaster of genres and conclusive ratings, a few obscure movie licenses, and a few totally forgotten games in both better and worse. Time to get to work.

EDIT: Oh yeah, you all know what day it is. Happy 11-11-11, everyone - especially fans of The Elder Scrolls.