Archive for February, 2008

Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

The Carmen Sandiego games were always a bit of an anomaly to me. They’re games about tracking down and capturing criminals, but you have to use your wits rather than any heavy artillery. In fact, it’s also the only game that I’ve ever played that requires that you have access to an encyclopedic knowledge of just about anything… or just an encyclopedia. But that’s not even enough. You need to use the clues given to you throughout the case to identify the criminal, get a warrant, and find the stolen goods. Oh, and you have a fairly strict time limit. Catch enough criminals and you eventually have to try and track down the toughest criminal of them all, Carmen Sandiego… who happens to be a female. Yeah, a game featuring a female antihero that you have to defeat by merely using your razor-sharp wits? Yeah, I’d consider that an anomaly.

Each of the games in this series has a slightly different theme, but all that really impacts is the setting. This one, predictably, features you hopping through time trying to catch the bad guys. It only took one rental of this game to realize that I’m particularly bad at deducing things. Though I did think it was kind of interesting that I got a mini-encyclopedia to use along with the rental, I still did pretty horribly. I like to think that I’ve gotten better at deduction in the years since, though I’d probably have to play another game in the series to be absolutely sure.

Krusty’s Super Fun House

Monday, February 18th, 2008

There have been lots of games based on The Simpsons, and most of them are borderline sadistic in their difficulty. Krusty’s isn’t much different. It’s a whole lot like Lemmings… except without all the variety.

See, Krusty’s Fun House has been overrun by mice, and you have to take control of Krusty to clear out the vermin. The mice just kind of randomly mill around, turning around only when they hit something, and Krusty has to use various implements to lead them on to their eventual demise. Kind of like a Pied Piper without the flute or the tight pants. Though the mice don’t scatter or even acknowledge your presence, so why you can’t direct Krusty to just pick up the mice is beyond me.

For some reason I really wanted to play this game when it was new. I guess I just fell victim to the endless ads and the spread in Nintendo Power. When I finally got my hands on it I realized that the game isn’t all that fun, and even a little tedious. Most of the levels can only be solved one way, and if you aren’t quick about it the mice will go completely out of position rendering the level unsolvable.

I’m really happy that I only wasted a rental on it instead of the full purchase price.

Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

I’ve heard it said that the folks who worked on KGJPMLB, being based in England and all, had virtually no knowledge of baseball. Which, given the end product, is pretty interesting.

As you might expect, this game is based on major league baseball, which, here in the States, is the lifeblood of about 3/4 of the population. It simulates everything that you might expect in a baseball game: hits, pitches, fielding… bases. It lets you take your team on a complete 162 game season and all that.

The only officially licensed character in this game is Ken Griffey. The rest of the players in the MLB are in the game, but they have odd names. But! You have the ability to change their names, so if you have enough time and the ambition, you can have the complete roster from the year this game was created. Sneaky.

I didn’t really play this game too much, mostly because I was really bad at it. After a game you get to see a sports page of a newspaper detailing the results. Mine showed that I was ‘whipped’ by my opponent. Fairly disappointing.

It is worth noting that this game was compatible with the Xband modem. I only managed to play one game before I got exceptionally bored with the whole thing. A game could take upwards of 45 minutes or so, which isn’t exactly the quick action that I liked to see on the network.

I also hated getting by head handed to me in a protracted game. I can take losing in small doses. Losing a sub 5-minute match somehow hurts less than being down twenty runs in the fourth inning (with 5 more to go!).

The New Tetris

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

For the most part, Tetris is Tetris. But something compels me to keep buying the incremental upgrades. Maybe it’s that I can’t stand to have a game system that doesn’t have some version of Tetris on it, I don’t really know.

What makes this Tetris ‘New’ are three new play mechanics: hold pieces, t-spins, and ‘bonus squares’. Hold pieces are just that: you can swap out the currently falling piece for the one in your ‘hold area’. You can hang on to that long piece until you really need it, or any number of strategies. It’s so handy that I’m surprised it hadn’t been done before.

T-Spins are a little harder to describe, but basically you take a T piece and just before it hits home and is cemented in place you rotate it so that it fits where you normally couldn’t move it. this causes all of the pieces below the t-spin to crumble into pieces and fill in the holes left over from Tetris-gravity.

The squares, though, there’s where you have the chance to get ‘bonus lines’. Basically what you have to do is to make a 4×4 square out of the falling pieces. If your square is homogeneous, you get a mono-square, if it’s heterogeneous, you get a multi-square. Clear lines that include parts of the squares and your lines get multiplied, more points for the harder to make mono-square, of course. You also get a bonus for performing a tetris, and that can be multiplied as well, for all kinds of lines all around!

One of the kind of neat things about this game is that you use the lines that you win in the various modes to construct ‘wonders’ of the world. Every time you hit a milestone you get a new wonder with some interesting factoids and a new background and musical score to go along with it. The only problem I had was that to unlock all the wonders you had to clear 500,000 lines total. On a good day I can get about 2000 lines in a session. That means I have to play about 250 sessions. Each of those sessions takes me about an hour. So, rather than sink 250 hours into the game, fun as it is, I kind of quit playing it after I got a new system and a new version of Tetris to distract me. I keep telling myself that I’ll pick it back up one day and get the rest of those wonders, and maybe one day I’ll believe it.

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

Friday, February 15th, 2008

Little Mac is pretty well a textbook example of an underdog. He’s 4′ 8” and wants to be a world champion boxer. So he finds a trainer and works his way up the ranks, routinely fighting folks over twice his size… or more. The game is a little less polished than the Super NES version, but the main thing that’s different is the, for lack of a better term, heart system. You start out with a set number of hearts, each one representing a punch you can throw. If you connect with the punch then the meter stays the same. If you miss, the punch is blocked, or get hit by your opponent’s punches you lose hearts. Lose all of them and you temporarily lose the ability to mount any kind of offense until the regenerate. That’s pretty inconvenient.

The game culminates with a ridiculously tough fight against Mike Tyson (Mr. Dream in later versions). He was actually the only fighter I could never beat. I was able to play the entire game and get to him without getting so much as knocked down and then would have my head handed to me soundly every time. I even resorted to putting in the ’secret’ code so many times that it’s indelibly etched into my brain (007-373-5963).

So I consider the game to end when you beat Super Machoman, and the Tyson fight an optional boss-fight. This also means that I’ve never actually seen the ending, but I understand that I’m not really missing that much.

Feel the Magic XY/XX

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

If you’re a guy walking down the street and you see the woman of your dreams, what do you do? Try to woo her of course! But you can’t do it on your own, apparently, so you’re assisted by (what appears to be) a performance group called the Rub Rabbits. You then go through a series of exercises all designed to get you and your woman to be friends… or more than friends. I couldn’t really tell.

The game is kind of all over the place, and really random. Making a guy barf up goldfish? Saving your lady friend from a rampaging herd of cattle? Blowing out candles? Building fires on a desert island? Launching people from giant slingshot mounted to your car to hit and slow down another car? Yeah, all of those things are in there, plus more. Much more.

I have to admit, this game is oddly compelling. Its randomness just kind of works if you suspend enough disbelief, and it’s almost not creepy when you gently wash the dirt off your friend after a tumble.

And the music. Well, the music is ridiculously upbeat and catchy. It stayed in my head for a good day or so after I played this game. But it works in the game really well.

This was definitely one of the better deals I pulled out of the clearance bin.

Time Crisis 2

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

I don’t really know what the story is behind Time Crisis 2. This is partially because I never played the original Time Crisis, but mostly because the game was always turned down so low that the parts that explain what was going on were completely inaudible. But what I do know is that you take control of one of two guys in their quest to rid the world of a militarized evil by running around and shooting everyone that moves… and some things that don’t really move all that much.

The game is a rail shooter, which is a fancy way of saying that you see through your character’s eyes and run along a predefined path, stopping occasionally to shoot lots of bad guys. What’s kind of different about this game is that each person has his own monitor, and his own view of the action. Which might not be very exciting, but it’s actually pretty nice not bumping shoulders with the person you’re playing with.

Unfortunately, I never had enough of whatever arcade’s currency to actually finish this game, or to make it very far at all. So I never got to find out what happened to the protagonists, or why the crisis was a ‘Time’ crisis anyway. I have a feeling that it was just a (not very) clever way of saying that the problem needed to be solved lickety-split. Or the last stage could have been full of clocks.

I could buy either explanation.

Grid Game

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

I don’t really know if it has a proper name, but one of the silly little games that I wasted a fair amount of time on was referred to as simply ‘Grid Game‘. The concept is super simple: you have a grid with balls on it. The balls rotate clockwise and have crescents on them. You can rotate the balls by clicking on them, and when the lines of the crescents touch each other they move the one that they’re touching. The goal, then, is to set up the largest chain reactions that you can.

Grid Game

There’s really not much more to the game than that. I think I have just as much fun watching the chain reactions do their thing as I do trying to set them up. It’s no small wonder, though, I’m pretty awful at setting them up. So I just load up the game, click randomly a few times, and then move on.

You too can click randomly by clicking here (among other places).

Cameltry

Monday, February 11th, 2008

I don’t really know why, but I like games that make you navigate a marble through a maze. Cameltry is a little different from those other games, though.

Trying to explain Cameltry is a little tough, but the gist is that you have a marble in a maze and you have to guide the marble to the end. But you don’t control the marble directly, you control the maze. In fact, the only control you have is to rotate the maze clockwise and counterclockwise. Gravity always pulls the marble toward the bottom of the screen, but is a little more lethargic than the gravity that I’m used to. At any rate, it’s easier to show how this game is played rather than tell.

I only played this game one time, on a rental, and never could find it again afterward. The video rental store I got it from went out of business and the game went out of print right about the same time. I don’t know what any of that means, except that I’ve not played this game in several years, and that gives me a sad face.

Guild Wars

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

I’ve played a couple of MMORPGs over the years, but they’ve all got one thing in common: keep the player playing as long as possible to keep bringing in the monthly fee. Guild Wars is a little different, though. It still features hundreds, possibly thousands of people playing the same game in the same virtual world at the same time, but this one manages to do it without that pesky monthly fee.

Guild Wars really has two parts: story and battling. Story has you going through the epic tale of the kingdom being invaded by the evil Charr. You go through a series of missions designed to move the story along, but what’s kind of weird is that there are cities dotted around the landscape. These cities act as hubs where players can congregate, talk, organize groups, and where you can allocate your skills (more on that in a bit). The giant expanse of countryside between the cities is where you’ll be spending your time doing the missions and generally slaughtering evil, but the thing is that each group gets their own private copy (or ‘instance’) of the area. That way there aren’t folks fighting for resources, and your group gets to experience the story at their own pace.

The game, like other MMORPGs, is focused on getting people in groups and general socializing. So it allows you to take these groups, here called ‘Guilds’ (big surprise, eh?) to do your normal adventuring, but also for intra-guild fighting. And although you can fill up your group with computer-controlled folks for wandering around the countryside and killing things, you need to have people for the Guild battles. I never bothered joining a guild or tweaking my character for Guild combat. Why? Partially because I really only like playing with people I know personally, and I only know one other person who plays this game. Two people make a pretty shabby guild. The other reason is that I found the character customization to be a bit limiting. Early on in the game you have to pick two classes for your character, and each of the two classes comes with a laundry list of skills. And you can only have eight of them at a time. It kind of reminds me of Pok√©mon, where you get a couple of hundred monster choices, but can only use six.

So how does this game remain free? Unlike the ridiculously awful 9 Dragons there aren’t ads plastered all over the place, which is pretty nice. But what the game does have is a periodic ‘content pack’ and ‘expansion pack’ so that every few months you buy access to more game to while away the hours. Though if you buy the content packs every few months, you end up spending about the same that you would with the monthly fees of some other MMORPGs… but of course buying the content packs is totally optional. You can play as long as you like with the bare bones pack, so long as other folks are buying expansions and other goodies to keep the game afloat. And, since the last expansion was released in August of last year, I think there are plenty of folks doing just that.