Archive for October, 2007

F-Zero X

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

In the Super Nintendo days, I had heard of F-Zero, but I only played it for about 15 minutes when someone brought it over to my house for my birthday party one year. A few years later when a sequel was coming out I decided to refamiliarize myself with the series.

F-Zero is a game about racing hover-vehicles really fast. The original had four, so it was kind of tame. This version bumps it up to 30. 30 hovercars with aggressive drivers racing extremely quickly on progressively narrowing tracks means that this game gets frantic (and quite frustrating) quickly. There are few things more frustrating than running a race for three minutes or so at breakneck speed only to lose it at the end and crash and burn.

There were two things that drew me to this game, the super fast racing action, and the track editor. My understanding is that the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive (that never materialized here in the States) would have opened up a mode where you could design your own tracks. But there is a mode, once you’ve made some progress, where the computer will randomly generate a track. Which makes it extra tough to win, since you can’t practice the tracks beforehand. However, it’s pretty awesome when the computer randomly generates a track with some curves so heinous that even it can’t finish the course.

Although I invested enough time into this game that I unlocked the random track mode, I never did finish all of the difficulty levels. I just didn’t have the reflexes for it.


Saturday, October 20th, 2007

Flicky… Due to its presence on the Sega Smash Pack I assume that it was in at least one arcade at some point, but not in any that I’ve ever been in.

What is it? It’s a game about rescuing birds from cats. There are little yellow birds around the levels, and you have to go collect them. Once you do that they’ll follow you in a line. Lead them to the door and get points. You get more points if you have lots of birdlets following you. Problem is the cats. If the cats touch you, you=dead. If they touch the birdlets, your line is broken, and you have to go rerescue them. It’s almost easier to show how it’s played rather than tell so:

Honestly, I see games like this and I wonder how the industry survived long enough to make anything worth playing.

Hula Girl

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Yet another game in the After Dark Games collection was Hula Girl, a ridiculously simple game that wasn’t really much of anything. You, as the titular Hula Girl, must travel down a series of platforms that scroll up from the bottom of the screen. If you go off the screen in any direction, you lose a hoop. If you run into your nemesis, you lose a hoop. If you fill up your ‘yukometer’ by running into gross things you lose a hoop (you can run into nice things to empty your meter). Run out of hoops, and it’s game over.

Hula Girl

Like most of the games in this collection, this one’s pretty forgettable, and dead easy. You get bonus hoops and nice items to empty your meter so often that even with the worst of reflexes you’ll be playing this one for a while without a whole lot of effort. There are better games in the package to waste time on.

Bionic Commando

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

Bionic Commando is the sequel to Commando, a game I never played. Although, I don’t really think that matters much. All that connects this to the first game is that your character has to rescue the hero of that game, Super Joe.

What makes this game really weird is that the hero can’t jump. He makes up for this with a grapple attached to his arm that lets him grab onto things, swing around, climb on things he wouldn’t be able to normally, pretty much all the things you would thing a guy with a grapple attached to his arm would be able to do.

In each stage you have to find a wiretapping station and the boss. Compounding your mission is the fact that the levels are very large and very hard to maneuver in. Even better is that you will eventually find multiple radios and multiple items. You have the chance to take one radio and one item into the stage. Only one radio will work on a particular stage, the other ones will only get you garbage. It’s not imperative that you take the correct radio in, the information that you get is nice, maybe how to defeat the stage boss or something. What is slightly more important is the item you take with you. If you’re going into a cave, you better take your lantern, otherwise you’re fighting in the dark.

I found out many years after I’d moved on from this game that the story was pretty heavily altered to make this square peg of a game fit into the round hole of Nintendo’s censorship policy at the time. I don’t know that having the original story in place would have enhanced the game at all, but it does explain why the last boss bears a striking resemblance to Adolph Hitler, who you have to hit full in the face with a bazooka. It’s uncharacteristically brutal for the heyday of the NES, but it’s at the very end of a pretty tough game, so there’s not a lot of people that are going to get to see it, unless they cheat. Or know where to search on the Internet.

Final Fantasy VII

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

I know I’m going to catch a lot of heat for this, but I’m going to get it out of the way up front. Final Fantasy VII is not the best game ever made. What is? I don’t know. I haven’t played them all, so I don’t feel qualified to make that declaration. What I do feel qualified to say is that this game isn’t the best Final Fantasy title, which would automatically disqualify it from being the best game ever made.

Now, I’m not trying to say that the game is bad, far from it. It’s a solid Final Fantasy experience with a few flaws that still bug me today. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The storyline of this game is ridiculously convoluted. It starts out with your character hired by some rebels to destroy a power reactor. It seems that a giant corporation is powering the technology that most civilized people use with the life force of the planet. Through a series of events we learn that the evil company has done more evil things, including weird experiments on humans with alien DNA. One of the experimentees goes a bit crazy and tries to destroy the world. Our protagonist, also an experimentee and reluctant leader, is inexorably drawn into the conflict and has to (*gasp*) save the world.

Believe me, I’ve only just barely touched the surface of this game. If you decide to play it, I’d recommend that you take notes, but without a large amount of luck (or a walkthrough) you’re going to miss out on a large chunk of the backstory. This is a pretty big flaw. For a game with a story as massively convoluted as this, a great deal of the backstory is only available in optional side quests. In fact, most of these quests are subtly hidden and if you don’t know where to look (or aren’t obsessively scouring the game) there’s a good chance you’re going to miss them. I suppose if you don’t really care about the storyline, or the huge amounts of exposition, or the hows and whys of your mission and the world at large then this won’t bother you much.

So why, then, do people adore this game as much as they do? I’m not sure. It could be that the main character is an angsty loner with an unrequited love. Or it could be that folks just like the guys with huge swords.

Sephiroth with Sword
Cloud with Sword

Or it could even be that they liked seeing the giant summonable monsters and the new-fangled cutscenes. Or, just maybe, people like confounding overblown storylines, so they can discuss the minutiae and try and unravel the mysteries.

Oh! What game in the Final Fantasy series do I think is better than this one? Final Fantasy 6. But that’s another entry for another day.

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

After playing through Circle of the Moon I kind of shied away from the Castlevania series on the old portable systems. Not for any reason other than the portable games in the series, while usually pretty solid in their own right, are all kind of similar lately.

I was a little slow in getting games for the DS, so I missed Dawn of Sorrow on its first release. About a year later, during a particularly pronounced portable game drought I found that the game had been rereleased for a pittance, and at that time, since I had in my possession exactly one pittance, I decided to give it a go.

Turns out that this game is a lot like Circle of the Moon, which is a lot like Symphony of the Night. This isn’t really a bad thing, just more of the same. With one major change: it’s on the DS, so the touch screen is used. The touch screen is used for exactly two things: Clearing away items that impede your progress, and making seals. Clearing the items on the screen to continue is just a nuisance. Once you proceed so far in the game, you gain the ability to scribble away special blocks on the screen. Lame.

The other use for the touch screen is a bit more engaging. As you progress through the game, you will get the ability to draw seals on the screen. This becomes pretty important pretty quickly, since you can’t defeat any boss monsters without them. It works something like this: You beat the monster to near death with the weapon of your choice. It doesn’t quite give up the ghost, but a circle will appear on the screen. Draw the correct seal on the circle and you seal the monster away. It’s a kind of neat concept, but I found myself fumbling around for the stylus and then repeatedly failing to draw the symbol correctly (the later symbols are extremely unforgiving, you have to do them quickly and extremely accurately). Fail to draw it correctly and you have to bludgeon the boss some more before you get another chance.

I should probably mention that I managed to finish the main part of this game in a marathon play session the day I got it (got it in the morning, and finished it up that evening). It was, like most Castlevania games these days: moderately challenging until the final fight, where the difficulty ramps up to a ridiculous level. Then you get some unlockables that entice you to play through it again. Standard stuff.

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

Monday, October 15th, 2007

I have a hard time keeping up with the chronology in the Castlevania series. The series now spans over a thousand years and represents several generations, locales, and families and is so convoluted that you’re almost going to need crib notes to keep up with it all.

Thankfully, you can understand the gist of what’s happening without knowing the ins and outs of the mythology: Dracula’s been resurrected and you, the descendant of a vampire hunter of old, have to kill him… again. Like most of the games in the series since the 1997 Symphony of the Night, the games have been of the ‘run around exploring a huge castle, fighting monsters to get stronger and having random bits of dialog flesh out the story’ variety.

While you travel around the dungeons, you come across cards which have strange magical abilities, which you can combine to all kinds of things. But the game is really about exploring a gigantic castle, killing things that are already dead with a whip, and deepening your understanding of a storyline that gets significantly more convoluted with every addition to the series.

Pokémon Puzzle League

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

Let’s say you have a game that has the word ‘Tetris’ in the title, but doesn’t really involve Tetris at all. Let’s also suppose that you have a massively popular game franchise with highly copyrightable characters. It might occur to you that you want to mix them together. The result would have been something along the lines of Pokémon Puzzle League.

This game is a lot like Tetris Attack. There are only two real differences, and the first one is cosmetic. You can pick which Pokémon you want to represent you in your match, which doesn’t do anything other than change what sounds you get when you do combos and chains. The other difference is the addition of ‘3D mode’. It’s just like ‘normal mode’ except that it takes place on a giant cylinder. It’s kind of a neat novelty, but pretty worthless. Once the game speeds up a bit, it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on all parts of the cylinder, and the sheer amount of tiles on it makes it much too easy to do combos and chains.

I should also mention that this game has a mode where you can create your own puzzles and challenge your friends, which is pretty neat, and the timings have been tweaked a bit since the Super NES offering, but you won’t really notice unless you were a real Tetris Attack aficionado. The game was good on its own, but adding the Pokémon characters ensured that people would buy it was a pretty obvious gambit. Thankfully, a version came out some time later with no mascots of any kind.

Wario Ware Twisted

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

What would you do if you had a game that was built on the concept of having lots of smaller games grouped together in a package? A game that became pretty successful because of its accessible nature? Why, make a sequel of course!

But you don’t want to make just any sequel. You need a hook. A way to draw people in. Let’s say that you have a cartridge with the ability to detect rotational motion. Let’s further suppose that you decided to make a bunch more micro games around this concept. Now we have the makings for a sequel! Twisted is a lot like the first game, you have a bunch of characters with mostly unrelated stories, and you have to play through these microgames to see the stories to their conclusion. Normally, not a bit of it would make any kind of sense, but in the game’s universe, it all kind of works… somehow.

From the video, it’s kind of hard to tell, but you’re playing by rotating your GameBoy, and in later games occasionally hitting the ‘A’ button. Yes, this will make you look quite foolish if you are playing this in public, but I found that to be a small price to pay. The games in this one are just as addictive as in the first one, and it is possible to unlock the first game if you play this one long enough. So it’s almost like getting two games. But since each of the two games has well over 100 games inside, it’s like getting 200+ tiny games for your dollars, which is pretty hard to beat.

Narbacular Drop

Friday, October 12th, 2007

With the release of Portal eminent, I took a quick look at the game that spawned the idea, Narbacular Drop. Ridiculous name aside, this game is based on the concept of using portals. You have the ability to create a pair of portals, which can be entered in either direction, to solve the puzzles and move forward. Even though this isn’t much more than a game demo, I had a real hard time wrapping my brain around it. I don’t know that I’m fully able grasp the physics of a portal system just yet. Check out this video to see what I mean:

Yeah, sure, it looks cool. But my brain was fried after about an hour, and I didn’t even get to the end. Can I handle a full game made from the same general idea?

Signs point to ‘no’.

Get it here if you’re brave and you like free things.