tiistai 28. helmikuuta 2012

REVIEW - Ninja Gaiden Trilogy (1995)

GENRE(S): Compilation
RELEASED: August 1995

AVAILABLE ON: SNES
DEVELOPER(S): Team Ninja

PUBLISHER(S): Tecmo
PLAYERS: 1

What sells for up to five hundred and fifty bucks on eBay, and its sole purpose on this planet is to make you weep? Ninja Gaiden? Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos? Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom? Or a SNES cartridge that bears the curses of all of the aforementioned games? Welcome to hell. This time, there's a password.

Three times the slaughter

After Tecmo had finished making Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom for the NES and the "spin-off title" Ninja Gaiden Shadow for the Game Boy, Sega grabbed the Ninja Gaiden license from them for a spell. Tecmo had previously given them the license for a Game Gear installment simply known as Ninja Gaiden, and yet another game simply called Ninja Gaiden was released in 1992 on the Sega Master System. A 16-bit Ninja Gaiden for the Sega Genesis, influenced by the original arcade game, went in development around that same time, but it was never finished. In 1995, Tecmo took Ninja Gaiden back, and by the end of the summer, they fixed the error of not having a 16-bit Ninja Gaiden installment by re-releasing the NES trilogy on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

It's as fun as always. Can't stand the xylophone,
though.
The graphics and sound are honestly the only things that have been revamped about these three games, and not always for the better. The graphical facelift of the game is just about the most easy and quick facelift ever seen, the death tune in Ninja Gaiden II is strangely replaced with the death tune from some other game I can't name just now - it's REALLY familiar, it's like from a nightmare... which it most likely is - and the soundtrack is filled with some really awkward remixes of classic tunes. I was expecting some hot molten metal riffs to rip through the 4-2 theme in the first game, but no - it's a freakin' xylophone remix. Xylophone. This isn't a Disney game, this is Ninja Gaiden! Hiyah! Hack, slash, kill! Not bounce, yay, uh-oh!

Gone with the wind.
But, let's think things through, honestly and as unfocused on the audiovisuals of this collection as one possibly can - I mean, which child or young adult of the 8-bit generation wouldn't bash the collection for the audiovisuals? It's all about them, all of it. In terms of gameplay, the games are EXACTLY the same as they were before. Not even the controls have been changed, we're only using A and B. All of the three games suffer from the very same mechanical quirks that always plagued them, there's no raising the bar to Ninja Gaiden III's standards, or a whole new one. But, there are things that make them perhaps even more fun to PLAY - such as a password system, and the chance to pick your game instead of having to (attempt to) clash through all three of them. In Ninja Gaiden III's case, the fun doesn't end there.

Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom
returns better than ever.
The original U.S. version of Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom had an extremely unforgiving life bar, that had 16 health points on display, but only 8 in use. The difficulty level of Ninja Gaiden III in this package has been reverted back to that of the Japanese version, which makes the game a whole lot playable than it was on the NES. Not much easier due to many of the game's greatest challenges lying in the level design, but much more playable, and a better all-around game than the original, by many points. The same can't be said for the other two games. I think nothing can piss on the original game, so it's just as good as it always was despite some problems with the framerate (that recur throughout the trilogy), and the second one is just as lukewarm as it always was. Making just one game strike me as being better than the original is quite an accomplishment, though.

Ninja Gaiden Trilogy is one of the rarest SNES cartridges there is, and the irony of it all is that the collection was never released in Europe, until it was made an unlockable bonus item in the 2004 Ninja Gaiden reboot. I think a European release would've brought some sense into the picture. Why a collection, and not a whole new 16-bit game, I wonder? Whatever - it's good. Today is a good day to die dead enough.

UPS
+ One bonafide classic
+ One decent game
+ One game that soars to new spheres thanks to a seemingly small tweak
+ The simple password system 

DOWNS
- A quicker and more generic series of remakes than I thought, in comparison to other late 16-bit ports and remakes of the time (ie. Super Mario All-Stars)
- An occasionally slow framerate, and other miscellaneous graphical issues
- The soundtrack is botched with horrible remixes

< 8.4 >

REVIEW - Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom (1991)

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: June 1991
AVAILABLE ON: Lynx, NES, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Tecmo
PUBLISHER(S): Tecmo
PLAYERS: 1

The first Ninja Gaiden series came to a head with 1991's Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom. For the remainder of the 90's, Ryu Hayabusa went on to star in a few stand-alone Ninja Gaiden titles for Sega's systems, as well as a prominent playable character in Tecmo's popular fighting game franchise Dead or Alive - which, of course, is more famous for the measurements of its female characters. Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom never made it to Europe, and the name Ninja Gaiden wasn't really known in Europe before the series was rebooted in 2004. Thus one of the most sought after games for the Nintendo Entertainment System around these parts is somewhat of a return to form after the disappointing Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos... but man. Dude. It will eat your balls for breakfast. It will eat your balls even if you don't own a pair.

Dead enough

Irene Lew gets killed in action, seemingly in Ryu's hands. With no recollection of the incident, Ryu investigates a secret laboratory that has something to do with the case Irene was working on. An encounter with an enigmatic scientist leads Ryu to the trail of an old acquaintance of his, who's building an army of bionoids - superhuman doppelgangers that gain their life energy from the interdimensional rift formed after Jaquio and the demon's defeat.

This is what we're going for. Good luck.
Tecmo gathered up another team of developers to work on Ninja Gaiden III, to draw a clear line between the game and its predecessors, but to retain - or reattain - the qualities that originally created the Ninja Gaiden magic: crazy plot twists, with dramatic visuals to go with it. Also, they kind of wanted to retain the basic plot outline revolving around ancient demons, but spice it up with a heavy dose of science fiction. I think that considering they had just a little over a year to work on a different but familiar Ninja Gaiden, the new team did a good job. In the plot's case, they just eventually made the mistake of blurting out that Ninja Gaiden III was a prequel to Ninja Gaiden II, in which Irene is very much alive. Like we'd ever get to the part in which the revelation is finally made, 'cause Ninja Gaiden III is one difficult game. Like Ghosts 'n Goblins difficult. That's difficult. Ah, hell: hard as fuck.

The larger colour palette comes with more pixels and thick outlines. The game still looks good - actually this is the best that actual gameplay graphics ever looked in the original series, but the cutscenes take another turn for the worse. I seriously think the cutscenes in the first Ninja Gaiden looked better. The level and character design kept getting better 'til the end. The music's altogether improved after the bunch of leftover tracks they stuffed into Ninja Gaiden II, but the sequencing's kind of icky. I honestly think they paid most attention to making the legendary Game Over theme sound the best it ever has. Which would make sense, 'cause Ninja Gaiden III is one difficult game. Like Battletoads difficult. That's diff... never mind.

Believe me, quicksand is the very least of your
troubles in this game.
The secondary weapons are altogether easier to use, and moreover easier to get to work on certain types of enemies, and the wall clinging ability works as perfectly as it possibly can in an 8-bit scheme. You can jump straight onto platforms that are either above you or straight forward, and it's effortless to get Ryu to jump off the wall. All the fancy knick-knacks that made no difference in Ninja Gaiden II - I'm speaking of the "shadow warriors" (no pun intended), of course - have been completely ousted. This is good, old-fashioned Ninja Gaiden, just the way it used to be and was meant to be, even back then. Or is it...?

Let's hack through Act 1. OK, there are enemies coming from everywhere. Not nearly from all eight directions as in Ninja Gaiden II, and not nearly at an equally rapid pace. I'm getting along just fine, here. The controls are great - I can even hang from the bottoms of certain types of platforms and climb forward, what a cool new trick! OK, that was part one of this act, and I'm still doing just fine. Uh oh, now I'm really getting it. I'm dead, that's quite all right, that's expected. I'm forced to start over from the beginning of the act, which causes my brain to freeze - the previous games had checkpoints at the start of each new block. In the next two seconds, while lost in my thoughts of how the hell could they just ravage out checkpoints like that, I'm mauled to death by a couple of robots. In two seconds. Let's try one more time. Nope, can't make it past those robots, what the hell am I doing wrong and why does it happen so fast? Oh, I see. I have 16 ticks of health... of which only 8 mean shit!!! This can't be happening. This is a Ninja Gaiden game. There have always been 16 ticks of health. 16 health points. 16 chances to get through one level, to the ultimate checkpoint. Sure, Ninja Gaiden III has those 16 health points on the screen there - but make no mistake about it, even the slightest bump will decrease your health by two whole points. It's still a Ninja Gaiden game. You know what's going to happen if you have half the chance of survival you had before. Did they make the levels any easier, then? Fuck no! Ninja Gaiden III has got to be one of the most difficult games I've ever played, throughout and back again.

This looks like some place on Planet Zebes.
The most important question there ever was about an installment in this particular franchise is: is it fun? Yes, Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom is fun. Even more fun if you're into pain and torture. Not only are the checkpoints nearly gone - there will be a slight bit of forgiveness in that subject after you make it past the first act - but so are unlimited continues, as well as a password system. I know that you're thinking that Ninja Gaiden never had a password system, but it just so happens that the Japanese version of Ninja Gaiden III had one. The Jap version also had less enemies, unlimited continues and I'm guessing even the fast degradation of Ryu's life bar wasn't a problem. I never thought I'd witness an American localization going further in terms of difficulty than the original Japanese game.

What still it makes it fun and a slightly more interesting game to play than Ninja Gaiden II is the notably improved gameplay, and one focus being on delivering an elaborate and original story instead of just tinkering with some already used ideas, using the same basic outlines. Ninja Gaiden III is more of a real sequel, while Ninja Gaiden II felt like filler. Although I'm definitely not always in the mood of getting killed repeatedly like a regular Kenny before even reaching the third act and I'd rather go back to the first game any day to get my ass whooped, Ninja Gaiden III: Ancient Ship of Doom is a good secondary bringer of torture.

UPS
+ Has more original spirit in it than Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos, despite the different story
+ Notably improved controls and abilities
+ Good and smooth in-game graphics
+ Good music; lacking production, though 

DOWNS
- The cutscenes look good, but they looked better years back
- Whoever figured to reduce maximum health in Ninja Gaiden by a half was insane
- Limited continues, no checkpoints, no passwords; nothing to make you breathe easier

< 8.1 >

REVIEW - Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos (1990)

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: April 1990
AVAILABLE ON: Amiga, NES, PC, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Tecmo
PUBLISHER(S): Tecmo
PLAYERS: 1

Behind every good game, there's a potential sequel. Sometimes this sequel, even while praised by critics, just gets bulldozed by bad promotion. Take Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos, for example. This sequel to Tecmo's 1988 megahit was released in early 1990 in both Japan and the U.S., but got caught in a limbo for a total of four years, and wasn't released in Europe until the very final days of the Nintendo Entertainment System's lifespan, which means that the game is virtually unknown in this part of the world. So, this review is dedicated to my fellow Europeans. Ladies and gentlemen, Ninja Gaiden II - is it worth the search? Sure, but for more than just to please your curiosity? Depends on how much shit you can handle.

Too damn easy to die dead enough

One year after the defeat of Jaquio at the hands of the Ninja Dragon Ryu Hayabusa, a new evil overlord named Ashtar emerges from the Realm of Darkness with a plan for world domination. A member of the U.S. Army Special Intelligence Unit seeks out Ryu and tells him to travel to the Tower of Lahja, where Ashtar resides and is keeping Irene hostage.

Go back to bother Link.
First of all, I'm finding myself in my least favourite situation: having to correct my own mistakes. That's "having", it's not a choice. My rant on European imports in the previous review got praise from a Swedish reader, who's somewhat of an expert on game imports, but also some corrections, which have already been made to the previous review. I originally said that Ninja Gaiden II was released under its original title in Europe - that's only partly true. In fact, the game was called Shadow Warriors II, to make the connection between the game and its predecessor more clear - BUT that's not the whole truth. In fact, the game was precisely called Shadow Warriors II: Ninja Gaiden II. That puts a whole new spin of stupid into the whole mess. Thanks to A. for pointing out an even more crazy and retarded case of European publishing than I thought it was.

Since I pretty much voiced out my opinion on changing the title and the cover art of the game the last time around, this time I can purely concentrate on the game, and deliver you a relatively short and sweet (?) review on this curiosity item. I was ecstatic about this game, as I had never played it before and I had just (kinda) finished the first Ninja Gaiden, which I consider one of the finest games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. What I had heard was that Ninja Gaiden II was a really great, obviously overlooked game, and considering my factual knowledge on better gameplay mechanics and all-around smoother output, I was expecting a lot out of this game. Yeah, it's good - but if the old magic's truly there, and if the game's higher-than-life difficulty level smacks the player with anything else besides utter frustration almost half the time, I'm missing something.

The cutscenes are a bit different - somewhat more generic, all the way to Ryu's close-up model that's half blacked out by a shadow; altogether it seems like Tecmo attempted to steer players' attention away from fancy cinematics by toning down on dramatic camera and sound effects. In turn, they focused on level and character design. The enemies function a little less like robots, Ryu moves a bit differently, and there are many level-specific stipulations for one to conquer, for example wind. Let me say at this point that if there's any natural element that annoys me in a platformer almost as bad as ice, it's wind. The second level in this game is perhaps the worst case of it I've ever suffered from. The music is all right, I guess, but in comparison to the first game's best tunes, I must say we're taking a trip well below par here.

This might be the first game to have a moving
train for a level. Certainly not the last one.
The controls are better, at the very least on paper. Although it's still quite damn hard to simply get off a wall after clinging on to it, climbing any type of wall is possible, you can use your secondary weapons, and with a little bit of luck involved, you can even jump away from the wall and cling back to it - or make it to the platform directly above you. The secondary weapons are very different, and more efficient - with the exception of a weird item that multiplies Ryu for the duration of a level. Though it might seem cool to have one or two shadows of yourself following you around and repeating your moves, I haven't found a single good use for them. It seems that whatever they manage to kill multiplies by the second - having them along for the ride gives you comfort one tiny fraction of a second at a time.

You see, the worst thing about Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos is that it has such a high difficulty level it's simply not fun in this basic format anymore. The game doesn't give you more than one single level to train the basics - the first act is perhaps too easy, and pretty much a more multi-layered version of the first level in the first game, at that. Even the boss and the cutscenes pay tribute to the first game, as you will see. The second act's latter part and everything there on out is hell on God's pixelated green Earth. There's shit flying towards you from all directions, from balls of flame to those birds that were put into the first game as some sort of a misplaced joke - they're far from funny this time around. Narrow ways filled with things that will hurt you, and the hazard of getting stuck onto a wall as easy prey for everything, as well as the prominent hazard of the level itself, be it constantly flicking lights or wind. Extremely fast movement by bastards on the ground, or a firing rate that makes at least one out of three bullets impossible to dodge. You have to be on the move, constantly, or you won't last much more than ten minutes in the world of Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos.

How do you make the game look less like
Castlevania? Well, certainly not by putting in
a level that's got Castlevania written all over it.
Those types of players that have made it their lifelong mission to conquer every single highly difficult - as in FEARED - 8-bit game there ever was, will probably enjoy Ninja Gaiden II. The first Ninja Gaiden game was difficult, but it was a game with ways you could learn; kind of like the ways of a ninja. The rate at which enemies respawn in this game and level-specific elements make Ninja Gaiden II a very unpredictable game. That sounds better than it plays out, since it also means that luck is way much more of an important factor to your success than it should be. For example, you need not make a worse mistake than one badly timed, small jump in the end of the second act to get swept away by the wind, straight into a chasm, even if you've aced all the hazards brought on by direct attacks from enemies. It's an example of a disheartening moment in this game, the kind of which eventually will make you want to quit playing. There was no "quit" in the first Ninja Gaiden. You kept fighting, like a man, as there was always a small glimpse of hope - perhaps not all of that hope is gone here, but a lot of it. Thankfully Tecmo held on to the unlimited continues, and all of the other lifelines that came with it, such as checkpoints. Without them, Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos might be a game I'd never even try again.

The game's got kind of a hollow, subpar plot in comparison to the first game's elaborate story, the cinematics are not as good and although the gameplay mechanics are admittedly better, the game gives anti-compensation in the form of some really frustrating sequences, even whole acts, from the very beginning. Still, I can't help but to recommend this game to everyone who loves the first Ninja Gaiden as much as I do; if for not much else, it's good for broadening your horizons and general knowledge. 

UPS
+ Improved basic mechanics
+ Improved level and character design
+ Retains the first game's benefits of unlimited continues and relatively fair checkpoints
+ The game's English is even better 

DOWNS
- Downgrading the cinematics is easily comparable to Koji Igarashi deliberately downgrading the quality of the soundtrack in Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance; it eats away on some of the most important magic in the franchise, the magic that originally made it stand out perhaps more than anything else
- Although there are musical moments worthy of hearing, the soundtrack in general is disappointing and stale
- Simply crazy environments for which this improvement in mechanics is not nearly enough
- The game gets ultra-difficult way too fast for its own or the player's good
- Luck > skill, times ten

< 7.6 >

sunnuntai 26. helmikuuta 2012

VGTune of the Week : The Best Is Yet to Come

I haven't felt much like playing lately, or doing anything else that would require some brain activity besides my day job, which might explain why I haven't made any progress with the obviously pending/ongoing Ninja Gaiden marathon. I'll try to "get a grip" as soon as I can. At least there's VGTune of the Week to keep the blog on level weekly - and this time, I felt like I should lay down a ballad. It really fits my mood, and it just might be the best original ballad to be spawned by a video game. Rika Muranaka's "The Best Is Yet to Come" debuted in 1998's Metal Gear Solid, and made another key appearance in 2008's Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, in one of the most brilliantly written and executed gameplay sequences ever. It was one of the first truly memorable vocalized tunes to be featured in a video game, and it hasn't lost one slight bit of its edge in the last 14 years, which makes it the first VGTotW to have absolutely no need for a featured remix. Ladies and gentlemen, "The Best Is Yet to Come".

tiistai 21. helmikuuta 2012

REVIEW - Ninja Gaiden (1988)

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: December 1988
AVAILABLE ON: NES, PC Engine, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Tecmo
PUBLISHER(S): Tecmo, Hudson Soft (PC Engine)
PLAYERS: 1

In early 1988 Tecmo, previously most known for the arcade classics Bomb Jack and Rygar, published an arcade beat 'em up called Ninja Gaiden. In less than a year, Tecmo made an 8-bit "version" of the game, which actually shared only its name and promotional art with the arcade game. Ninja Gaiden for the Nintendo Entertainment System was lauded for being perhaps the most cinematically enthralling video game of that time. Ninja Gaiden is often considered an overlooked 80's gem, which was way ahead of its time from nearly every possible angle, as well as one of the most difficult games to ever break out of the Japanese market. It is indeed a classic - a game that just won't die. But you will. Countless times.

Don't stop 'til you die dead enough

"I will... but first..." "WHAT THE...?" BLAM!
Classic stuff.
Ryu Hayabusa, a young man trained in the ways of the ninja, travels to the United States to search for his father Ken's murderer, the only clue being a cryptic letter left behind by Ken. Ryu gets entangled in a plot involving the CIA, a demonic cult, and statues that maintain the universal balance of darkness and light.

OK, so when I was a kid, I knew this game by the very boring name of Shadow Warriors, which it was given in Europe due to the word "ninja" being somewhat taboo, and foreign, as in non-familiar; in case you didn't know, even the TMNT were known as the Teenage Mutant HERO Turtles around these parts, at that time. Even the box art was different than that of the other versions, it featured Ryu without his ninja mask although he wore it in the game. No matter what the game was called or what it looked like from the outside, it ruled. It was one of my favourite rentals, and one of my favourite games on the NES - I just never got around to buying it, probably 'cause my bro hated it for some reason. Probably for being too difficult.

Please let me land on the platform this time.
Back then, the Internet didn't exist in an average Joe's world, so every bit of information usually came from magazines. I read about some game called Ninja Gaiden, and I immediately confused it with a totally unrelated Konami game called Legend of the Mystical Ninja for some reason a little bit too odd for me to explain. Anyway, there were pics of Shadow Warriors linked to that story, and I was actually about to write to the magazine about that, if they had possibly made an error. Some guy or gal beat me to it, and asked about Ninja Gaiden, and if there was any connection with that game and Shadow Warriors. The magazine clearly stated that they're one and the same, AND that there were actually two sequels to the game - which never made it to Europe. They didn't state a sure, clear reason for that, but they speculated that the lack of decent promotion for the first game (which may have partly been caused by the title change), and the extremely high level of difficulty present in the sequels may have caused some concerns that they simply wouldn't sell here in Europe. This was in 1992; Ninja Gaiden II did see release in Europe in 1994, under the title of Shadow Warriors II. Too bad 1994 wasn't a really good year to be an NES game.

You're lookin' kinda pale, Walter.
When I read the editors' answer to the question was when I first realized that games that had the potential of being my favourite ones in the world were held back from me... sometimes, if they WERE released in Europe, they were watered down shells of their former selves, and they might've taken years after their actual release to emerge here in Europe. Look at Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. It came out in Europe THREE YEARS after its release in Japan - nearly a month AFTER Super Castlevania IV was released on the SNES around here. Castlevania III was a great game, but it bombed in Europe - not much of a surprise. I remember my friends going on and on about Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (also released in Europe three years late), and most of them owned the game - but they didn't even know of a third, way better game's existence. They actually thought Super Castlevania IV was the third game; they didn't really pay attention to the title. The more I think about the European video game market back in the early 90's, and the older I get, the sadder I feel. Alas, things have changed.

The time has come to seek out Yoda for guidance.
TMNT is TMNT. Castlevania: Bloodlines - previously botched as Castlevania: The New Generation in Europe - is listed as Castlevania: Bloodlines in every timeline, regardless of the region. In perhaps the most known example, all re-releases of classic Final Fantasy games have been blessed with the proper numerals to retcon their confusing past. Ninja Gaiden was rebooted in 2004 with a critically acclaimed Xbox exclusive, which brought the original series back into the spotlight, finally rid of the Shadow Warriors title which somewhat drowned the first game in the masses of bad and forgettable names for 8-bit games. Although the third game in the original 8-bit series always remained unreleased in Europe, people went to great lengths to dig it up along the rest of 'em, and voluntarily get their asses handed to 'em by what I consider perhaps the most difficult game in history. The sudden and massive increase in Ninja Gaiden's popularity was kinda surprising. What was even more surprising was that after so much time, the original Ninja Gaiden's revolutionary style of cinematic storytelling had retained so much of its magic. It had perhaps even more magic to it than when the game was released - when no one really knew whether to appreciate it or not.

Epic.
It definitely deserves appreciation; Ninja Gaiden is one of the most visually astounding games on the NES. The level design is simple, yet far from straightforward. The enemies (including bosses) are basically robots moving and acting on pre-determined tracks, but Ryu's movement feels more spontaneous. The cutscenes were cinematically amazing and completely unparalleled at the time, as was the game's fine use of the English language; there are only a few typos and bits of Engrish here and there. The soundtrack isn't the most consistent bunch of killer 8-bit tunes there is (that's Castlevania), but it's very good and includes a couple of true, overlooked gems, such as the Act 4-2 theme, which I brought up as the VGTune of the Week a while ago.

I have brought up Castlevania a few times for an actual reason, that being Ninja Gaiden's strange familiarity. It's reminiscent of Castlevania in numerous ways, but it has its own thing, too, besides the outspoken cutscenes - this thing can't really be compared to anything that came before. First off, Ryu was one of the coolest playable characters to emerge in those times - he felt more like a living person than most protagonists due to many factors, those being his relatively realistic movement and the dramatic events that carry the character-driven story forward. The fact that Ninja Gaiden is a story- and character-driven 8-bit platformer made as early as 1988 already separates it from every other game.

Besides his blade, Ryu can use a variety of secondary ninja weapons such as different types of shurikens and a flame bomb, or something like that. These weapons are usually used by pressing Up + B, just like in Castlevania, but one of the weapons directly powers up Ryu's somersaults, which means he can destroy or damage anything he jumps at as long as he has "Ninja Power" left. Since this is an 8-bit platformer above everything else, there's also an invincibility item that guarantees Ryu safe, destructive passage for a time.

It's Jason Voorhees' video game debut.
The coolest - yet also the most fatal, deceitful and downright frustrating - trick in Ryu's playbook is his ability to cling onto walls, and hop along two parallel walls to reach a higher ground level. Again, you will die plenty of times while playing Ninja Gaiden - and most of those deaths will most likely have something to do with those damn walls. You see, Ryu can't simply let go and drop down from a wall - he has to have a jump point. He can't jump back from a wall and somehow make it higher up that same wall - there has to be a point on the other side, either a platform or another wall. Sometimes your only choice is to jump down a chasm and hope that your luck's better next time and that you will make it high enough on the next first try. Ryu's also a bit reluctant to follow orders while he's hugging a wall - which makes him perfect prey for flying bastards. Oh yeah, now that I mentioned them, I guess I should also mention that Ryu makes an impressive jump backwards every time he's hit by anything. Yep, Ninja Gaiden follows Castlevania's guidelines in better and worse.

If you don't see it before, I'm betting you will see it once Act 2 begins; more wall-related fun, that is. The enemies in the game have a ridiculous respawning rate. Move away from an enemy you just killed by half a pixel, just to dodge his still live projectile attack, for example - or get hit, which leads to the aforementioned jump backwards - and there he is again. In Act 2, there's some sort of a hooded figure who throws shit at you, waiting on the other side of the chasm. There are walls beneath to supposedly save you from death - it's just that if you happen to cling on to the wall beneath that dude, there's no chance in hell for you to get back up, and back on track. The only real benefit that "save" has in store for you is the chance to study everything going on above, then intentionally jump to your death and try again, (none the) wiser. Seriously, surviving a lot of individual stipulations in Ninja Gaiden is up to luck, as well as the right kind of power-ups. There are instances you simply won't survive without invincibility, for example.

The humping monkeys from Castlevania have
gotten big. And much easier to off.
A game this hard and unforgiving has to have a password system, right? Yeah, sure there's one - in your dreams. You have to beat this one in a single sitting - however, Ninja Gaiden pays back in full for its level of difficulty in the best ways you can imagine out of the standard, hard as shit game. First and foremost, it has killer gameplay and an addictive story that will keep you wanting to try. It has fast tempo, and the levels are of the exact right length to keep most of the deepest frustration at bay. Also, there are unlimited continues, and even a Game Over simply means that you'll return to the beginning of the act, not the beginning of the game. The bosses are perhaps even too easy to study and kill - with the exception of the final one, who has brought many seasoned players to their knees and forced them to sail on a river of tears. Beating Ninja Gaiden is a true achievement - an achievement that is surprisingly fun to aim for, year after year. Even though it very often makes you want to feast on your own brain and smash the controller to a million little bits with your bare fists, Ninja Gaiden is definitely one of the greatest games of its time. Sure, it's hard, but it compensates for it more than most of its peers. How many times are you willing to die for Ninja Gaiden?

I'm yet to have beaten this game, but I will surely keep trying - just because Ninja Gaiden is so damn cool and exciting, a timeless action game. Playing it in 2012 beats the living shit out of playing many more recent games, even popular ones. You can't honestly say that about many games of the time.

UPS
+ A rare, elaborate story
+ Great graphics and unparalleled 8-bit cinematics
+ The soundtrack shifts between good and ultra-awesome
+ Core gameplay which is influenced by many, but has influenced many in its own right
+ Fast tempo
+ The game's extremely challenging, but also extremely compensating
+ The game is of what I would call perfect length, for a difficult 8-bit game without a password or save feature 

DOWNS
- Like I said, no password or save feature
- The wall clinging mechanics are far from perfect
- Even though the game compensates for most of its high difficulty, trial and error is never fun - not even in small doses
- (Most of) the bosses are way too easy opposed to the rest of the game

< 9.0 >

sunnuntai 19. helmikuuta 2012

VGTune of the Week : The Moon

You ask any man or woman of my generation about their favourite NES games, they'll probably mention DuckTales - one of the proudest moments in the history of licensed games. The same guys who worked on the Mega Man series worked on DuckTales, as well, which means - among other things - that the music was bound to shine. DuckTales had many catchy, memorable tunes, the most catchy and memorable being "The Moon". As per usual, here's the original track, as well as a synth remix done by SupraDarky, who has a terrific collection of video game music on YouTube.


maanantai 13. helmikuuta 2012

Once discarded methods...

...Are sometimes the ones that work best. The Top/Bottom lists have returned to their very original format. Some time ago, I renovated them so that the game with the higher average score would determine which game with the same conclusive rating ranks higher than the other. Although that was somewhat of a fair, politically correct method, it didn't work because I felt bad ranking Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater - as great as the game is - higher than Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Final Fantasy VI, which I consider better games by sense alone. Just an example, that one. When I adapted the new rating system less than a month ago, the Top/Bottom lists, as they were, were rendered utterly unfair and pointless.

One game for which a simple rating is just not
good enough. Super Metroid currently ranks as
the 21st best game ever made. I guess that's
enough... for now.
But, it's important to me to have them, 'cause they're cool. Also, some lazier new readers can use those lists to quickly gather some sort of idea of what kind of games I like. After giving it a lot of thought and trying out some wholly new - crappy - methods, I decided it would be best if I just blasted through the 354 reviews I've written, write the games' titles and conclusive ratings down, in order from best to worst - and when it comes to identical ratings, I'll just pit those games against each other in my head, measure their qualities in better and worse, and rank the all-around more comfortable game higher than the other.

What's a bit surprising is that the re-adaptation of this old method didn't change either one of the lists by a whole lot. I wanted them to change a little bit more to actually see some results - I deserve more after giving it so much thought - so I decided to expand the lists by ten games each. I could've went straight for a Top 100, but considering that I have written only 354 reviews, of which 8 are exempt from the count (plus the DLC Guides), that's a little too much. For the record, if I had done that, the lowest-ranked game on the Top list would've been Dead Space 2 (8.5), so we're not really talking about filling the gaps up with shit here. Still, the time is not ripe for an official Top 100. Not even close. It is also my agenda that the Bottom list would be filled with actual crap - if I expanded it too far, it would inevitably include playable games, that might have been rated low for some other reason than simply sucking ass. 40's a good figure - but don't you go making the mistake of thinking that anything between 4.6 and 5.9 would be too much of a game from any standpoint.

So here's how the Top/Bottom lists used to work, and will work from now on. Some of the ideas I had would've probably worked if this was an actual website which didn't have the limitations of a blog, but again, I like VGMania as it is - a blog instead of a website. Or like my friend says, it's a bit of both. It's back to reviewing games with me - I'm not quite sure of the next game myself as there are a lot of potential titles from the past and present (as you can see from the Now Playing gadget which I just updated), but I am sure that we'll all know soon enough.

sunnuntai 12. helmikuuta 2012

VGTune of the Week : Ninja Gaiden, Act 4-2

This one's literally the "tune of the week", 'cause it has played in my head all week long with such a volume that I even converted the metal version of it into my cell's ringtone. This song was composed by Keiji Yamagishi, exclusively for the NES version of the classic arcade game Ninja Gaiden (1988), which became known as Shadow Warriors in PAL territories - and was also the only Ninja Gaiden game of the original series that was officially released in Europe. The game is one of my favourite 8-bit cult classics of all time, although notoriously difficult - a trait which has carried over from generation to generation, all the way to the critically acclaimed third series, which is about to have its third official installment. It has good music, too, throughout, but nothing stands out more than this bombastic track from Act 4-2, of which there are many remixes available on YouTube - but user eman3624's (also known as "Benevolent Demise") metal version is one of a kind. So here are, once again, the original 8-bit version of "Act 4-2" from Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden, and the best available remix of the tune.


maanantai 6. helmikuuta 2012

REVIEW - Assassin's Creed: Revelations (2011)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: November 2011
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Montreal
PUBLISHER(S): Ubisoft
PLAYERS: 1, Online Multiplayer

Assassin's Creed II was a revolutionary stealth-action game that changed the face of the Assassin's Creed franchise for good and introduced us to one of the most charismatic lead characters in history in the young Ezio Auditore. A more mature Ezio went on to star in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, another great game of the same flesh which mainly focused on its new multiplayer mode, city simulation and the opportunity to train a small army of assassins by the ways of a very simple attack and defense simulator. By the end of Brotherhood, Ezio's story was far from over; as was the story of the franchise's original lead character, Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad. To finally be able to move on with a new storyline focusing on the franchise's true protagonist, the modern-day assassin Desmond Miles, Ubisoft made Assassin's Creed: Revelations, featuring both Ezio and Altaïr in starring roles, heading for closure. Three years, three major games - that's remarkable in terms of speed, quantity and company efficiency, especially when we're speaking of a franchise this huge. However, there is one thing that is more important than any of them, and that's quality. Assassin's Creed: Revelations does not lack it per se, but it has not come very far from the very basics that made the first game in the Ezio trilogy so good, and the main focus of the game is on the wrong things. As it progresses, Assassin's Creed: Revelations turns out the weakest offering in the series since the very first one, by one disappointingly long shot.

Assassin's Limbo

Desmond Miles is in a coma as the result of his encounter with Juno. To bring him back, the modern-day assassins place him in a special Animus program - the "Black Room", where he is able to develop a virtual consciousness. Inside the Black Room, Desmond finally meets Subject 16, who explains to Desmond that his mind has been broken due to the Bleeding Effect and he needs to mend it by finding closure as both of his ancestors, so that the Animus can separate his ancestors' memories from his own. As it happens, Desmond can find all the solutions he seeks in one place, as in his latest memory the aging Ezio Auditore sets sail to Constantinople, to investigate Altaïr's findings on the true purpose of the assassins.

Smile pretty for the hangman.
Let's start by recapping my personal history with the franchise thus far. Last year, I did a marathon of the first three games and it was actually the first time I played Assassin's Creed, after years of wanting to try it out. I hated the first one. It was already dated back at the time it was released in the endless sea of third-person action, not to mention the sea of sandbox games. It had some good ideas, and a good story, though, and it was the story that left me craving for more. Assassin's Creed II hit the bullseye. It had better and more immersive gameplay, just about every limitation that bugged the so-called sandbox experience of the first game was completely ousted, and it had an even better story - starring one of the greatest protagonists of all time, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, who we had the pleasure to get familiar with from his teens to his 30's, within the confines of a single game. There was no bullshit to be found in Assassin's Creed II - which apparently was perceived as a problem by Ubisoft. Next, came Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, the second chapter in Ezio's tale, which was a seriously great game, but it was amped with loads of forced ideas. Some of them were good, but some didn't quite work for the game's, not to mention the gamer's, benefit - and even with all its new ideas, the game didn't feel like much of anything besides an "upgraded" version of Assassin's Creed II. Brotherhood also introduced the highly popular multiplayer mode. Some fans and critics felt that was the main focus of the game instead of the story, which had been the heart of the franchise, even according to developers themselves - which makes Assassin's Creed: Revelations an even stranger experience. Although the story's promising enough, the developers didn't seem to know where to go with it - or care, since apparently the multiplayer mode is excellent, a huge improvement over Brotherhood's. Where do we single players stand, we to whom the franchise was supposedly created for? If this is the climax we've been waiting to happen for the last couple of years, I must say I am sorely disappointed, and will head to the upcoming Assassin's Creed III with reservations I never thought I'd have about this franchise again.

The in-depth part of the story just doesn't work anymore. The previous game was already full of far fetched riddles I believe even Ubisoft never came up with solutions for - confusion is weird, weird is confusing, confusion is exciting and weird is good. Or something like that. The threads here do not answer any questions, and the story just tramples on its spot instead of moving the least bit forward, leaving us the same confusing riddles to reflect on some more, if we're the least bit interested anymore.

Assassin's Creed: Revelations kind of returns to the roots of the series by being less of a dramatic, progressive and cinematic story, and more of a bunch of simple and simply scripted assignments aiming towards the same outcome, and given to you by mostly just one dude. This style, reminiscent of the original Assassin's Creed - which comes bundled with the special edition, by the way - does not really fit Ezio, who used to run around the city, helping out random people for random reasons, and delivering an amazing one-liner every five minutes. He's way too serious and on the mark in this game, I'm not sure whether to like him just 'cause he's Ezio and he does have a few of his old traits left, or just disregard the character as a mere shell of the man we used to know. Ah, damn, let's just face it - I still get goosebumps every time Ezio says "Requiescat in pace", and he shows a little bit more of his old ladykilling self in each of his encounters with Sofia, the game's extremely solid female lead. We even get a minor cameo appearance by a character from Ezio's past that is sure to do the most eager fans of Assassin's Creed II some service, and prove that inside that hard shell of his, "The Mentor" is still Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Still, the conclusion to his epic story that has spanned three major games will surely leave a lot of fans cold. It lacks a true climax, unlike the story of another assassin from the past.

I'm placing my bet on some blood and guts.
The most interesting character in the game - if you're not seriously into how the main plot involving Desmond twists up, down and around this time - is Altaïr. It's been a while since we've seen, moreover strapped on the boots of the original article in a major Assassin's Creed game, and considering that after Assassin's Creed II's release he's been completely cast aside from the spotlight, playing through the first game just to jog your memory a little doesn't seem like such a bad idea after all. On his adventure, Ezio finds disc-shaped keys left behind by Altaïr - these "keys" are supposed to lead him to the truth. In fact, the keys are some sort of early Animus technology, which allow Ezio to relive Altaïr's memories, within Desmond's memories of Ezio, which Desmond relives while hooked on to the modern Animus. Gone cross-eyed already? Well, anyone who's ever played the games knows what I'm talking about. Anyway, the first memory is an event some time before the events of the first game which kind of re-introduces the character as a way more fleshed out version of the old one, the second memory shows us what took place immediately after the ending of the game, and the rest finally reveal (ooh, Revelations!) what Altaïr's life was like after securing the Apple of Eden. You seriously don't have to confuse yourself by playing in tandem as both Ezio and Altaïr as I originally feared; the few segments with Altaïr are single missions, and each one takes about ten minutes to complete. They're well written and I enjoyed them more than most of Ezio's missions (!) which may turn out quite repetitive, although I must say the last thing the story needed was the revelation (ooh, Revelations!) of the actual Animus technology suddenly being nearly a thousand years old. Doesn't matter, though - like I said, the story has become really whacked, to the point it turns uninteresting. Ubisoft really needs to put some work into Assassin's Creed III if they want to get the wheels rolling again.

General graphics are OK, but not much of awe-inspiring improvement over the graphics in the previous year's Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. On this side, we have absolutely gnarly death animations. Ezio might be a gentleman, but there's absolutely nothing gentle about his profession or the way he professes it; we're talking both hidden blades through the opponent's chin, an axe to the head, a dagger in the eye, spear through the gut... this game is extremely violent and the combat mechanics have certainly improved. A little. On the opposite side, we have new facial construction for all three main characters. That would be only natural, if they looked even a bit like the old ones! Ezio looks completely different from what he looked like in the previous games, and both Desmond and Altaïr's faces have been slightly changed to somewhat look more like this Ezio. So the connection to the earlier games fades even further.

Those tutorials tend to show up in every single
turn. Except in the turns in which they would
be of some use.
Even the voiceover work is disappointing - it sounds like even the best, like Nolan North, who was recording Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, the pinnacle of voiceover work in video games, at the time, is here just to collect a paycheck. Roger Craig Smith's third and final performance as Ezio Auditore sounds forced and tired. Subject 16 (formerly voiced by Cam Clarke) and Altaïr (formerly voiced by Philip Shahbaz) have both got new actors to do their parts: Graham Cuthbertson and Cas Anvar, respectively. I seriously don't understand why Clarke didn't return for the clearly even more insane 16, since he pulled off the insanity angle perfectly in the previous games' puzzle monologues. This new guy doesn't sound anything like the 16 I've grown to know and somewhat idolize. I don't know why Shahbaz wasn't rehired, but I'm glad they replaced him with another actor with a similar ethnic background. Anvar kind of overplays the accent, though - Shahbaz had very little, if any accent. The middle's lost. The new characters Yusuf and Sofia are two of the easiest people to listen to in this game... and Sofia's cleavage is easy on the eyes, too.

Jesper Kyd's score is quite much the same it's been for the last few years, only a few clearly more dramatic tracks are added into the mix by Lorne Balfe, who mostly works on similar "extra scores" for movies. The score's at its best at the game's most cinematic moments; the background music will eventually bore the hell out of you. I think that having two or three constant background themes in a 100% on-foot sandbox game (oh, all right, 95%) is not a good idea.

So, yeah, even while the game has had some stylistic modifications which are there to somewhat remind us of the first game, Assassin's Creed: Revelations is still very much a sandbox game... for the most part. You see, all forms of exploring take place within one single city - and I can tell you, Constantinople or Istanbul or whatever the hell you call it ain't no Rome. While other games aim at a more and more epic setting, Assassin's Creed takes a step back - I do acknowledge that it's hard to outdo a 16th century Rome, but something near-equal such as Athens would've been bitchin'. Ezio visits some other locations in the beginning, middle and end of the game, but these little trips on the side are almost wholly mission-driven, and scripted, which in this case means that you cannot return to them. If you're after the collectables and miss the ones in Anatolia, that's just too bad. You'll have to start over a game which really isn't one of the most replayable ones around.

This game is coated with all sorts of side missions or additional ways to pass time from both sides of being fun. Buying properties doesn't mean anything anymore. You're not renovating anything, you're just buying up stuff for no purpose at all. All you get is lousy extra income and the Templars on your ass for buying a landmark for tens of thousands of valuable coin. The rep system indeed works a little differently. Every witnessed criminal action and general misbehaviour, such as entering restricted areas, running on rooftops, and indeed, buying up property results in the Templars becoming more and more "aware" of your presence in the city, and they will keep harrassing you at every turn - if their awareness is at zero, they don't even look at you if you pass them on the street, even in high profile, as long as you're not doing anything illegal or something to screw them out of their dominance. Although it's kind of realistic to have a warrant on your head for each monument, bank, store and pharmacy you buy, it goes without saying that before long, having to clear your name after each transaction by finding a herald to bribe or a Templar info agent to kill will seriously start pissing you off.

The hookblade - it's such a small thing, but it
makes your life so much easier.
Having to deal with an army of thugs after reaching total awareness is just the beginning. If you continue breaking the law after the meter turns red - which is kind of hard to avoid doing with all those annoying assholes just begging for your blade to stab them in the face - you might end up having to defend your standing in the city in a game of tower defense contextually called Den Defense. How surprising, huh? This was seen coming from miles away. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I do not like real-time strategy, and I like it even less when great games have these sequences pushed into them by force. Den Defense ain't so bad, though; it has ridiculous tempo unfitting for a strategy game, but it's very easy to assign the troops you want. The limit to the "currency", which in this case is your assassins' morale, is very forgiving and replenishes very quick. If it looks like the enemy's attacking with full force you can't possibly handle by normal means, you can also unleash devastating cannon fire on them to keep the enemy at bay until you have enough morale to hire new units. After training seven of your apprentices to the rank of Master Assassin and assigning them as Den Leaders, you no longer have to worry about this minigame, as the leaders are perfectly fit to control their own troops. So, you might not even have to take part in more than the single game of Den Defense which is part of the story - if you're ready to take on the guise of the almighty mentor in a much heavier training program that was a big part of Brotherhood.

Training assassins is one part of the Assassin's Creed: Revelations single-player experience that was truly focused on, and which can be quite fun for quite some time - it also takes quite some time to truly finish up with the job, and once you've done it, you'll be glad it's over with. Trust me. OK, so you run around rescuing citizens and recruiting them to your cause, that much is intact from the old. But, this time, some of these citizens will give you unique missions to carry out before they're prepared to put their different skills in use under your guidance (these "different skills" don't mean squat once they're actually part of the team, though - also, their appearance strangely changes by means of the face generator). In the vein of burning down the Borgia towers in Brotherhood, you need to claim the seven Templar Dens in the city for your own by killing the Templar in charge of the area, climbing the den and lighting a fire on top of it to scare the rest of the men of the cloth out. At this point, a Templar Den becomes an Assassin Den where you can manage all sorts of stuff related to your own faction, and at this point, the Assassin Den is vulnerable to counterattacks which lead to games of Den Defense. These counterattacks are once again impossible if you have a Den Leader. An assassin can become Den Leader at Level 10, but his den is only immune once he/she reaches Level 15 - Master Assassin. Once you assign a Level 10 assassin as a Den Leader, his/her unique training mission is unlocked. These seven two-part missions are the most important parts of Master Assassin training; the second parts are unlocked at the end of Level 14. Although the character generator for the assassins is very generic, these missions add a lot to teacher-student bonding that was totally missing from Brotherhood. Of course, Mediterranean Defense, in other words sending your assassins to the capitals of the world to take care of business for EXP and other benefits is still a very crucial factor in your assassins' training program, as is simply calling them for help any time. This time, they don't make things quite as easy as they did in Brotherhood; Revelations is just an extremely easy game in itself. So easy it's downright boring. The only thing difficult about it is unfortunately nothing new to this franchise.

"Fratello mio. Before I lay this city in your
hands, I must ask you a question that defines
you as a person: ...got weed?"
That's the difficulty of dealing with the controls. In the first game, the controls drove many a player nuts. The second game was much more dynamic, but it was made in 2009, and Revelations shows no general progress over it except for the combat. We've had some minor flaws in both II and Brotherhood to bitch about, and then they slap us with a game that is not only totally untouched when it comes to the controls, sometimes I'm reminded of the first game a lot more than I bargained for. Ezio certainly likes to jump out into the nothing even from the highest towers into his certain death, even though what you're doing is trying to get him to climb up, 'cause that's the natural thing to do, and there's an opening you can grab, right there in plain sight, highlighted from here to hell. Remember the age-old "wall kick of death"? That's possible too, and at times, very likely - way more likely than it ever was in the last two games. Besides the other glitches in this game (which are not amusing at all), the controls might even downright freeze from time to time, especially the shoulder buttons have a tendency of not responding. Playing as Altaïr from time to time doesn't make it any more difficult to believe that THIS is the real Assassin's Creed II, the game that was supposed to be released two years ago. I can honestly say that even while the game that ended up being baptized Assassin's Creed II lacked a lot of extra features that have come along later, that game is still amazing, better and much more fun to play than Revelations.

Swords. Knives. Poison. Even guns. Who can guess what comes next? What could possibly be added into the mix somewhat realistically in a game mostly based on 16th century events? That's right, bombs. You can't just pick bombs up, you have to buy them or craft them yourself using ingredients you can loot from ever-spawning chests around Constantinople and inside your Dens. Another idea that might be kinda cool, but is absolutely needless - there's absolutely no need for the bombs during gameplay. Zero, if you count out the bomb tutorial missions which are completely optional. Trophies and Achievements are of course afloat, but you don't need one single bomb to beat the game. Which is good, 'cause Ezio is simply not the bombing type.

Before taking a dive into this game's lowest depths, and in fact, some of the lowest depths any basically good modern game has sunk into in a long time, I'd like to throw in a little praise for a change. In a very early point of the storyline, Ezio's age-old hidden blade is replaced with the Constantinople assassin's weapon of choice, the hookblade, which is similar to Ezio's signature weapon, but has a hook on its end - duh. With the hookblade, you can jump and reach higher, make long jumps from a rooftop on one side of the street to another of equal height, and use ziplines for even faster travel between rooftops. What the hookblade means to the avid Assassin's Creed player is that navigation of the city is much faster and comfier than it has been thus far - though it would be even comfier if the controls were better.

The multiplayer even looks like it's been
worked on.
Then, to the real deal when it comes to the factor of stink. You know, many modern games have bad ideas applied to them. Some of those ideas turn out good, or at least you can easily get used to them. Assassin's Creed: Revelations has the exception which confirms the rule. There are 100 Animus Data Fragments hidden along Ezio's way. Collecting a certain amount of them results in a bonus, and collecting the first batch of a few tens unlocks a series of bonus memories, in which you are given the opportunity to fix Desmond's mind by engaging in five puzzle challenges on the virtual island of data he's stranded on. These very strange quests surrealistically recap Desmond's life from his childhood up until his abduction in the beginning of Assassin's Creed. This sounded awesome on paper, but I can tell you, there's absolutely nothing good about these puzzles - apart from the fact that they're completely optional. Oh, and those puzzles which did their own part in defining the greatness of the last two games? None to be had. These are all you get, and it's hard to like 'em. Console players need to remind themselves of the joy of a Trophy or an Achievement for each finished puzzle, constantly.

In fact, they're not puzzles. You know the solution, but you're gonna rupture a vein or two trying to get to it because the controls are so enfuriating and the sequences themselves are so damn boring! They're annoying bits of Ubisoft presenting how bad their judgment can be even in the case of a franchise that you'd think could afford a little experiment. You control Desmond - or some sort of data collective with his train of thought - in first person, in a labyrinth of raw data. Think of a more surreal and confusing version of Tron. Anyhoo, you need to form these platforms (that look like long Tetris cubes) and ramps to get forward in each situation. Things to watch out for turn up in the second memory, the first one's kind of like a tutorial; orange "read-only" fields that prevent you from forming blocks, and particle storms that move or elevate your blocks to each direction. Checkpoints turn up often enough, until you get to the more challenging (and long) bits, where you will be driven mad by sudden deaths and how much overtly sensitive controls have to do with them. Surely there are people who will find these sequences awesome, but I don't belong with those people... and I couldn't imagine anyone I know liking these. I was thinking of ditching them altogether after finishing the second one - since I knew it was only going to get worse - but I battled it out with the strength of a few beers, just to nail the Trophies. Even if I end up replaying the game, I'll never do these bits again.

This is what Desmond's Journey looks like.
Throughout.
In addition to the Animus Data Fragments which are the only main collectables in the game, there are also rare books to find and buy - finding the hidden ones is once again through a far fetched and pointlessly stretched "minigame" - as well as faction challenges issued by the assassins, Romanies (gypsies, in common language), mercenaries and thieves, beating which unlocks some non-essential yet cool special perks and weapons. I'm sure there are a lot of fans out there who are willing to make the effort of beating this game to 100%. I don't have the energy to do that - I'd be much more willing to go back to the previous games to take care of a few loose ends. Assassin's Creed: Revelations was a one-time experience for me, and it's very likely going to remain just that 'til the end of my gaming days.

These days, one simply can't milk a dead cow in the world of story-driven action and get away with it. Sure, Assassin's Creed II was a damn masterpiece, but we warned you, Ubisoft - we warned you of the consequences of hanging on to the reputation of a single game! The things wrong with Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood were easy to forgive. It might've been little more than an upgrade to the working formula of the previous game, but it was still a full-blooded, passionate, ambitious game. Assassin's Creed: Revelations very simply lacks that same blood, passion and ambition. It's just another annual attempt to raise money on the wings of a masterpiece. We players deserve more - Assassin's Creed deserves more. And Ezio damn straight deserved a better exit. 

UPS
+ The multiplayer mode (apparently)
+ Improved combat
+ The hookblade and the comfort it provides the player with
+ Training assassins is more interesting and personalized
+ You could deep-fry Ezio in butter and he would still be Ezio... somewhat
+ The Altaïr sequences
+ The Assassin's Creed II formula 

DOWNS
- The Assassin's Creed II formula
- Not much new questions when it comes to the main story, even less answers; with each passing game, interest in it seems to decrease
- Cinematics are disappointing, down to the voiceovers
- Repetitive missions (tail, tail, tail!!!)
- General controls lack just as much as they did two years back... if not even more
- Besides Trophies, everything extra is just that, extra, and not much more; "owning" the city holds close to meaning at all
- Desmond's Journey sucks ass, AND it is the game's one and only puzzle-oriented part
- Crafting bombs is mostly a waste of time and good storage space
- That damn annoying "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" song will probably play in your head a few times while you're playing the game

< 7.0 >

sunnuntai 5. helmikuuta 2012

VGTune of the Week : Bloody Tears

I'll start this new weekly feature with the explosive power of my favourite video game theme of all time. "Bloody Tears" first appeared in 1987's Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, although its first international appearance was in Haunted Castle, an arcade game based on the very first Castlevania game. Since, it has become perhaps the best known signature song of the franchise, and it has appeared in some form in most Castlevania games right up until 2010's Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. Many fans of the franchise still think the original version in Castlevania II: Simon's Quest is the real deal, and I find it hard to argue with that - although Michiru Yamane's heavy metal remix of the song in Sega Saturn's version of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night might be my official favourite, there's something about the original which always draws me back to Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, even if it's just for five minutes. On the other hand, there's also a well-known, improvised piano version of the song on YouTube, made by a fan - that one's so amazing that I can't pass it up. So, here are links to both - the original 8-bit tune and the piano version by user rey187.



keskiviikko 1. helmikuuta 2012

33 days left

Anyone who's been reading this blog for the last couple of weeks is sure to know what I did there. This entry ain't about it, though - see, I called it it, just to refrain from flooding the whole blog with its name. This is just a regular check-up on my activities. What seemed an eternal promise and not much else at first became reality just before the end of January - the first reviews of the year, with a modified layout. Surprisingly, there's been no feedback at all, not via comments or e-mail - well, I take it that silence is acceptance. What I didn't inform you of in advance is the total elimination of the voice cast and trivia sections outside of the reviews; I just felt there's no more use for them. If you want to know more or less interesting factoids about the games, check out IMDb or MobyGames, or whatever's your pleasure. They've got plenty, and I never could offer you much more than them. The only reason I hung on to the trivia section for so long was my personal infatuation with trivia.

"Nothing makes sense. An explanation would be
nice." Does Assassin's Creed: Revelations answer
our burning questions? I don't know yet.
I began this year with a quite obvious bang, it was just a matter of time before I'd delve into the Uncharted series, and I can tell you in advance that now it's finally time to delve into Desmond Miles' latest, and at the same time, Ezio Auditore da Firenze's final adventure - Assassin's Creed: Revelations. This review is turning out quite different than I first expected; I'm not giving you any of my thoughts on the game in advance, but you should stand prepared for a quite insightful, long, and perhaps surprising review. It will probably take a while to surface, but I assume that while won't last more than a week.

After I'm done with stabbing necks and getting my brain crapped on by Ubisoft's conspiracy theorists - for the next year or so - I'll see what I can do about the state of the Top/Bottom lists, and then, I'll try to deliver you as much reviews as I can before the release of it, which will most likely put me out of commission for at least a couple of weeks. It's possible you'll even see some minor retro dip this month, I've had a few games give me that certain spark as of late. But, before I go promising too much as usual, I'm backing off and going on with the business at hand. Cheers.