Archive for April, 2008

Graduis III

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

I played Life Force an awful lot, even though I’m really bad at those kind of games. But I ended up liking Life Force in spite of my inadequacy at it, mostly because the developers were kind enough to include a code to let me have 30 tries at completing it. A few years later, I learned about the sequel, Graduis III, being developed for my new (at the time) pet system, the Super NES.

This game is more like Gradius, Life Force’s prequel, than Life Force itself. But all that really means is that you’re not flying around inside some giant space creature, and there is a mysterious preponderance of Moai statues. Other than that, the game is pretty much functionally identical, but it looks a whole lot better.

I rented this game a few times, but never really managed to make a good amount of headway. I did OK at it, and every time I played, I made it just a bit further, which is good, I guess. But I never made it past stage 7 (out of 9, if you’re keeping score at home). Once I made it that milestone, I just got bored with the thing. I’d seen the first couple of stages well over a hundred times at that point, and stage 7 twice. I just didn’t want to play through those first few stages again just to make a few more inches worth of progress in the game. So I kind of gave up on it, thinking that I would come back to it someday.

That day hasn’t arrived yet.

Vegas Dream

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

While growing up, a weird little casino game made its way around the neighborhood called Vegas Dream. It was pretty much your standard casino game fare, play virtual games with virtual dollars and try to virtually strike it rich at the casino’s games. Although this particular casino has a paltry selection of games, four to be exact: blackjack, slot machines, roulette, and keno. They’re all pretty much self-explanatory, except for maybe keno (which isn’t too complicated). But the little wrinkle comes in the… we’ll call them ‘events’.

Occasionally while you’re gambling someone will walk up to you and strike up a conversation. There could be someone downstairs that wants to talk to you. Do you meet them, and go down the perilously steep stairs? You might fall down them and end up in the hospital or you might find out that you have gotten an inheritance to add to your bankroll. Some guy propositions you to buy some ‘hot stocks’. Do you take him up on his insider information? The stocks could be big winners or big losers. It’s real similar to the stuff that happened while playing Vegas Stakes. Except that in this game whatever happens will end up on the local news. How a tourist falling down the stairs, getting married, or buying stocks is newsworthy is beyond me, but I found it to be pretty hilarious.

I guess I didn’t realize it at the time, but the goal here is to make a cool ten million by using your gambling moxie. And since I don’t really have any of that, I didn’t quite make it that high. I would run out of money quite frequently, betting it all on a lousy hand of blackjack, dumping it in the slots, betting on all the numbers on the roulette wheel all at once, or picking all the wrong numbers in keno.

Once you run out of money, which I did all the time, you get your ‘one last chance’ to pull a slot machine and not walk away a complete loser. I hit it big on the final slot one time, won big, then immediately lost it all to the keno table. Then the guy that actually owned the game moved away and I never had the chance to play it again.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Friday, April 18th, 2008

When I got my Genesis, it came with a special deal. It came with the first Sonic the Hedgehog game, and I could send off and get one of several games. I chose Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Six weeks later and my padded envelope arrived in the mail.

The game is a whole lot like the first one, but more refined, slightly better looking, and slightly more complicated. One of the biggest additions was a secondary character, Tails. He pretty much just follows you around, but if you have a second player throw a controller in, then he can be controlled.

The other big difference is in the bonus stages. In the old game you just had to navigate a ridiculous maze. In this one, you run down a danger-filled tube and have to collect rings while avoiding dangers. This part was actually pretty good.

That’s not to say that the rest of the game wasn’t good, it was. It was just kind of like a more refined version of the first one, which was pretty good in its own right. But I spent six weeks playing the first one to death while I waited for the second one to arrive, and didn’t get any other games for my Genesis in the meantime. So by the time I finally got my hands on this game, I was kind of burned out on the series for a while. So I found out what the ‘debug mode’ code was, used it to cheat my way through this game, too.

One of these days I should probably go back and test my skills again.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

A lot of hubbub was made in the 90s about the 16-bit ‘console wars’. Super Nintendo or Genesis? Well, which one? You gotta choose. One’s better, right? I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t take Nintendo’s side for most of the time, but that was for two reasons: 1. I had to buy a lot of my own stuff and could only buy one system and 2. some of my friends has access to Sega hardware, so I could play games on both sides of the fence.

Sonic the Hedgehog became kind of the unofficial mascot for the Genesis. He was a blue hedgehog who ran to the right real fast. Something that, if the advertising was to be believed, the Nintendo console just couldn’t do. Of course that’s false, but Sonic is real fast, so that’s something, I guess.

The game’s plot is pretty much immaterial. All you need to know is that some evil scientist is turning animals into robots and using the robots for nefarious purposes. Sonic has to defeat the scientist and rescue the woodland creatures.

Now, there are sections of certain stages where Sonic is able to do that thing he does (running real fast), but they’re kind of spread out over the various stages. Unless you know precisely the path you want to take, you’re going to be going a lot slower than his maximum speed. In fact, when you’re going at those crazy-fast speeds you’re basically just holding ‘right’ on the d-pad while you watch Sonic run real fast, up and down hills, through loop the loops, and that kind of thing. Noninteractive speed is probably the best compromise, though. If you actually had to do stuff at that speed, I’m not sure that any normal human would have the reflexes to do so.

I, after getting a job delivering newspapers, finally picked up a Genesis when I could get a complimentary copy of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with it. So I ended up playing this game a whole lot. Mostly because it was 50% of my game library. And as much as I played it, I don’t remember ever completing it. Mostly because the game was really long, even if you knew what you were doing and where you were going, and I certainly didn’t. Combine that with the fact that, at the time, I had an attention span roughly equivalent to that of a chihuahua that’s eaten twice its body weight in coffee-flavor ice cream. So I found out what the ‘debug mode’ code was to see all the levels, cheated my way through them, and then moved on to Sonic 2.


Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

A while back I made a brief mention of a strange little game called Plok, but didn’t really do it justice.

I don’t remember the story very clearly, but I’m fairly certain that it did exist. The… being known as Plok inhabits some island or other and all over this island are flags that were placed on the flagpoles all over the place. His grandfather’s flag, an heirloom, was stolen and he has to get it back. Once he does, his island is taken over, so he has to somehow liberate it, too. Compelling stuff, eh?

Plok has the interesting ability to fire his limbs at his enemies. He gets them back once they hit their target… most of the time. Sometimes he has to use them to flip switches or sometimes they just kind of get lost. Arms are kind of not that big a deal, but once he loses his comically large legs, then he has a slightly tougher time moving around.

I saw the game a lot in Nintendo Power and EGM for several months before it came out, and once it finally did I gave it a look. Turns out that I was right. The game was pretty fun.

Problem was that the game was two other things: lengthy and difficult. Neither one of those things would be too bad, except that the game has no save mechanism. No passwords, no battery backup, no nothing. So you have to finish the game in one sitting. That’s kind of a tall order since once you know what you’re doing finishing the game can take a couple of hours. And if you don’t know and are only renting the game for 24 hours? Well, then you can make it to about stage 4 out of… way more than 4.

The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

I’m actually in kind of a unique position. The first Zelda game that I ever played was actually the second game in the series, The Adventure of Link. Maybe it’s because of that that my experience wasn’t clouded by fond memories of playing the first game in the series. But I actually liked it quite a bit. A few years later, when I got my first Internet access, I would quickly discover that a lot of folks consider this game to be the red-headed stepchild of the series for some reason.

The game is a direct sequel to the first Legend of Zelda game, which is actually a rarity for the series. Link has to revive Zelda from her mysterious slumber by traveling the land and sticking jewels into statues that are in castles hidden all over the landscape. Oh, and stopping Ganon from being resurrected while you’re at it.

But the game breaks with some of the mechanics from the first game, most of them are pretty negligible, but there are two that stand out: the side-scrolling adventure mode and the experience point system.

The original Zelda game was top-down only. We’ll go in depth with it another day, but basically everything happened on a giant grid that you had to explore. In this game the overworld is pretty huge, but it looks more like a map than anything else. When you walk along anything that’s not a path these shadowy things appear. Touch one of them and you’re whisked away to what amounts to a sidescrolling platform game where you do your fighting.

Similarly, the castles, towns, and dungeons are all presented in this way. They’re pretty much the same as the ones in the previous game except laid out in the opposite dimension. And all that really means is that you have to enemies being higher or lower than your sword (dimensions are fun!) and there are some places where Link will have to jump (*gasp!*). This, I don’t have a problem with.

The other big change is the experience point system, which hasn’t made an appearance in any other game in the series (that I know about). But, essentially, every time you kill an enemy you get a certain number of points based on how tough the monster is. Get a certain number of points and you can increase an attribute (attack power, life, or magic) which just gives you slightly more and makes you a bit stronger. This is a little bit different from the old game where you just found better stuff, and didn’t have discrete levels. But, since I hadn’t played that game, I didn’t have a problem with this either.

Towns were also added in, which, looking back, was pretty nice. The first game had Link as the only person in the world, besides the old men that lived in caves. This made the game actually feel like there were more people in the world that might be affected by the story. I don’t know if anyone really disliked the towns, but I thought they were appropriate.

I played this game a whole lot when I first got my hands on it. I loved being able to walk around on the giant map screen and then to zoom down the extreme closeup of the action stages. Even when I managed to jump directly into pits instead of over them about half the time. I reveled in finding the hidden secrets and figuring out how to advance the game. This was pre-internet and pre-strategy guide, so I wandered around the countryside for ages trying to figure out where the town was hidden in the forest, or how to make the river monster move out of the way, or why I would lose life when I was in a certain area even though nothing was there. Each time I did it, I felt like I was on top of the world for a few picoseconds, until the next head-scratcher.

I did finally, finally make it to the end of this game after months upon months of playing it. But I was only able to beat the thing one time. One time I was able to take my paltry allotment of lives and brave the labyrinthine final castle. One time I was able to thwart the evil within, defeat my own shadow, save the princess, and win the day.

And I’m going to cling to that one time for the rest of my days. It might be my epitaph: “This guy, he beat Zelda 2 that one time”.

Zelda Gravestone - MS Paint Style

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Monday, April 14th, 2008

This past weekend I finally sat down and played a marathon session of Twilight Princess. I still haven’t actually finished it off, but I’m in the final dungeon right before the final encounter, so unless my prize for winning is a grey screen that just says ‘The Day Is Save!’, I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp of the experience.

Not the real ending

I bought the game shortly after it came out, and was pretty excited about it. It was supposed to be the game that really showed off what the Wii could do. You got to run around swinging your arm around in real life which equated to swinging the sword around in the game. And while that sounded pretty awesome it didn’t quite work out how I had envisioned somehow, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

I was told that this game took place between the Ocarina of Time and the Wind Waker games, but I didn’t really see very many references to either of those games in here. But, it’s a Zelda game, they’ve always been pretty loose with chronology, so it’s not that big of a deal. But the game stars you, as Link, on a mission to figure out what’s going on with this mysterious ‘twilight’ that’s taking over the land.

What all that means is that you’re going to be doing a lot of collecting things.

I guess that the Zelda games have always been about collecting things, so this shouldn’t have come as too big a surprise to me, but the collection was just starting to feel tedious. For instance, the first set of three things you have to collect sends you to to these odd parallel versions of certain areas. In those areas you have to collect something like 20 bugs before you can even get to the dungeon where your real quest item is located. Sorry if that sounds a bit vague, but I’m trying to not spoil it for the three or four people that have yet to play this game.

As much time as you spend collecting items, you’re going to spend about as much time doing puzzling fetch quests. For example, I just finished some dungeon or other and went back to the Castle Town to see where the next plot point was. They told me to go to the village (which is a good several minutes away). I go there, have a small cutscene and am told to go back to the Castle Town to talk to the same person that told me to go to the village. A few minutes later I’m on a scavenger hunt for a statue in the town that I have to take back to the village. I was able to warp around at that point, but even that has some pretty obnoxious restrictions. Chiefly that I couldn’t do it when people were watching me, and in populated towns, that’s kind of difficult.

I really had some troubles in this game with the controls. Swinging the sword doesn’t really work like I thought it might. The actions on the screen don’t match your motions with the Wii remote, but that’s actually probably a good thing. Instead you just kind of waggle the controller around a bit and Link swings away. You can also waggle the nunchuck around to do the classic ’spinning attack’, but I couldn’t get it to work more than about 20% of the time. You also unlock this ability to smack people around with your shield by thrusting the nunchuck forward, but I could only get that to work about 20% of the time, too. In fact, trying to do the shield bash triggered the spin move more often than anything. I didn’t figure out until about 30 hours in (!) what the problem was: I was being too vigorous with the nunchuck. It turns out that while you’re in the heat of a battle that wildly flailing the nunchuck around is not the way to actually do moves. You have to kind of lazily bob it forward or lethargically swish it from side to side. Doing things lazily is not something that I really excel at when I’m trying to make an elf-guy kill off three armored lizardmen all at once.

I also had a real problem picking things up in this game, for some reason. When you get near enough to something that you can interact with, a little yellow arrow will appear over it as your cue that you can press the ‘action button’ and something will happen, usually that you’ll pick it up. Unfortunately, that little arrow doesn’t mean that you actually will do anything once you press the button until you’re in some kind of ridiculously short ‘range’ of the item. This is a little maddening since there’s a puzzle kind of early in the game that has you killing monsters that turn into lit bombs. You have to run up to them, pick them up, and then place or throw them into the right spot to continue. I would walk up to and it looked like I should be able to pick it up, but I couldn’t. I’d either roll forward at it or not do anything at all until it was too late and the bomb exploded in my face. After I died a few times because of that I went ahead and finished the dungeon but didn’t come back to the game for a few months.

There’s also this whole thing where Link turns into a wolf for parts of the game, and later you can (and must) do it at will to make progress. It’s kind of a cool idea, but I just found it to be tedious to have to switch back and forth all the time to move on. What’s really weird, though, is that you use the wolf form pretty extensively in the beginning of the game, and by the end it’s almost an afterthought.

But once I let a few months go by and picked the game back up I still wasn’t smitten with the game like I had been with past incarnations of the series. The dungeons were way too long, the overworld, while absolutely huge, had precious little to do, unless you like running a few miles through mostly empty fields on foot.

Beyond all that, though, there is a solid game in here, even if it is a little bit on the long side. And for all the hullabaloo that GameSpot raised when they gave the game what amounts to a B+ in their review, I’m going to have to agree with them, though for slightly differing reasons.

Ren and Stimpy: Veediots

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

Like a lot of folks I was a bit of a fan of the Ren & Stimpy show, and during its heyday it had more merchandise than you could shake several sizable sticks at. Including the obligatory video game tie-ins.

I only played the Super Nintendo tie-in, and that I could only stomach to play once. I don’t even really remember the premise of the game other than you have to take either Ren or Stimpy through stages that are extremely loose interpretations of episodes of the show. But, since there aren’t very many levels, the levels that are there are extremely long and fairly hard. Kind of a cheap ploy to make the game seem longer than it actually is.

The developers were kind enough to include some voice samples from the show to make it seem more like you were actually playing the episodes in question, but they’re so compressed that it sounds like you have Billy West calling you with a broken telephone from his summer palace in Australia, but he has a cold and is doing the voices through a pillow that’s over the mouthpiece of the phone.

During the short (but not short enough) time that I rented this game, I don’t actually remember finishing any of the levels. I just kind of petered out before I made it to the end of any of them. Not to mention that they were too hard for me to finish. They’re really not that hard in the traditional sense. If you memorize the entire level, they’re actually not too bad, but there’s stuff just off screen that kills you, and you don’t know it’s there until you jump right into it, lose your last life, start the stage over, get to the same point again, jump into the same enemy again because you forgot it was there, and then break your controller with a nine-pound sledge.

And then you take it back to the rental store.

Goof Troop

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

I guess Duck Tales kind of spoiled me for decent cartoon shows with competent video game tie ins. That’s not a bad thing, though. The partnership with Disney and Capcom produced a few more solid games based on some fair shows.

I never really watched much Goof Troop, even though some of the old Goofy shorts are some of my favorite Disney shorts. It just wasn’t my style.

But I’m a sucker for a game based on readily recognizable mascots, and especially so when I was late to the rental store and all the good stuff was taken. So I gave Goof Troop a whirl. The story goes something like this: Keelhaul Pete has kidnapped Pete and his son, so Goofy and his son have to traipse around an island trying to rescue them. Now how one of Pete’s alter egos can kidnap him is anyone’s guess, but we’ll run with it.

What you end up doing mostly in this game is running around the various screens and trying to solve some puzzles to make progress. The puzzles are pretty simple, and they’re mostly the ’slide the blocks around the stage until they land in the right spots’ kind of puzzle. Which, as it happens, I’m really bad at.

Since this game was geared to pre and early teens, the puzzles were simple enough for me to solve, thankfully. I made speedy progress through the game, and in the short time that I had it I managed to get to the last level. I would have probably finished that too, but I ran into a problem. I got to the video rental pretty late on the night I rented it, so I didn’t get a lot of playtime with it that evening. And the next day it was due back in the early evening, so I didn’t quite have it for the full 24 hours. As a result of that I had to take it back instead of finishing it off. And I never bothered to play it again. I figured that buying the game just to play the last couple of hours would have been a waste of dollars. Yeah, I could have rented it again and finished it off, but my two bucks could have also gotten me something else that would keep me entertained for far longer. So the choice was pretty obvious.

Animal Crossing Wild World

Friday, April 11th, 2008

I got the original Animal Crossing game just because I could use it to play old NES games. It would turn out that the game was pretty enjoyable on its own merits, so that sweetened the deal a bit. And though I didn’t play the game every single day for the whole year, I did put a lot of hours into it.

A couple of years later, though, and I would have a DS for my very own. The crazy handheld with wifi capabilities. One of the first games I heard about for the system was a new game in the Animal Crossing universe. One that promised to let you visit your friends’ towns over the Internet. And since visiting other peoples’ towns in the GameCube version of the game was simultaneously the best and most tedious feature of the old game, this was pretty exciting for me.

So I bought the game a couple of days after release day and settled in. It still features you as the token human moving into a town populated by humanoid animals. You still have to take out a loan to buy a house from the resident loan shark Tom Nook (the Crook), and you still run around the town doing menial tasks for your neighbors.

I really wanted to like this game more than I did. They did add a few things: your guy could change hats, the game world isn’t broken up into discrete ‘acres’, you can acquire emotes, and the promised wifi abilities are all in there. But, really, the game is largely the same as the GameCube offering with a little bit of polish in the right places. But since I had already played that one to death, I got bored with this one pretty fast.

I did hook up with the folks I knew and we had little meetings of all our Animal Crossing towns every time we’d have a get together. But they had the habit of playing a little, then saving, then moving the clock ahead, then playing again, then moving the clock ahead, and so on. So the little synchronized events that were supposed to take place between our towns didn’t exactly work very well. Not to mention that in my town it would be Winter and I’d go visit a town and it’d be Summer or some such. Not a big deal, I guess, but it was a little annoying.

The other thing that I thought was pretty lame was that all of the old classic NES games that were in the original game were nowhere to be found. You could still collect Nintendo themed furniture and that kind of thing, but you couldn’t just pop over to play Excitebike or something for a few minutes. And since that was the biggest draw for me, I didn’t really have much of a reason to keep visiting my town. Yeah, unlocking new couches and closets is great and everything, but it’s just not the same. Especially since I already did most of this stuff a few years ago.