Archive for September, 2007


Thursday, September 20th, 2007

If you’ve been reading my last few entries, it might seem that I hate every game I play. That’s not exactly true. I hate a lot of games that are lazy or otherwise poorly executed but there are some games that I do like. Games like Banjo-Kazooie.

The story in Banjo-Kazooie is a little convoluted, but the gist of it is this: Banjo, a honeybear wearing tight yellow shorts, and Kazooie, a ‘Red Crested Breegull’ that lives in his backpack, have to rescue Banjo’s sister, Tootie, who has been kidnapped by the resident evil witch, Gruntilda, for the express purpose of stealing Tootie’s cuteness.


To achieve your goal, you have to make your way to Gruntilda’s castle, but the way is blocked. To unblock the way you have to find golden jigsaw puzzle pieces, called ‘Jiggies’ to complete pictures of the various stages. Each stage has 10 Jiggies to find, and several of them are hidden pretty well. You have to solve the puzzles in each level to get the pieces, use the pieces to complete the picture that opens the way to the next level, and so forth.

Each level presents unique challenges. You have a level set on an island where you search for buried treasure, you have a level set in the woods where you have to climb trees, an obligatory ice level, a desert level, and so forth.

You also will get some help along the way in the form of Bottles the Mole who will teach you different moves that you’ll need to continue, Mumbo Jumbo the witch doctor with the ability to change Banjo into different animals to help you find some Jiggies in out of the way places, and Gruntilda’s nice sister Brenthilda who will tell you some of Gruntilda’s secrets (this comes in handy toward the end of the game).

The game is a solid package. It’s pretty entertaining, has a reasonably engaging storyline, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Makes it a winner in my book.

Space Shuttle Project

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

I have no doubt that the astronauts that pilot the space shuttles are highly trained, and exceptionally competent. Space flights are exercises in precision, and tiniest mistake could result in disaster if not properly diffused. While I’ve never actually participated in an actual space mission, I have sent a few virtual pilots into space, and if real spaceflight is as boring as this game, I feel very sorry for the technicians.

Just like real astronauts, you have to ride the elevator and flip various switches outside of the ship, then go get your crew and load the ship in the time limit. This is as exciting as it gets, it’s all downhill from here.

Once the ship is launched you have a few tasks to do: pitch so many degrees, release the ballast, etc. You do this in one of two ways, either stop a line advancing across a meter in the ’safe zone’, or mimic one arrow with your arrow. It’s kind of tough to explain, so I’ll let this excruciatingly boring video illustrate.

I understand that there are other control methods as you progress in the game, but I never got much past the first mission. A game about launching a space shuttle should not be boring, tedious, or annoying, and yet this game manages to be simultaneously all three. An impressive feat. Not impressive in the good way, though.

Smash TV

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Lots of people make predictions about the future, most of them pretty bleak, painting society as blood-thirsty, inhumane, or just plain crazy. This game is no exception. In the not-too-distant future, Smash TV is the most popular television show going. It features up to two ‘contestants’ going up against and killing a ludicrous amount of enemies in an effort to win fabulous prizes… with heavy artillery. It’s almost surreal to commit what appears to be genocide and pick up a new VCR in the midst of the bloodbath.

That’s the way it goes in this game, kill things, collect cash and prizes, kill things, collect weapons and powerups, and kill things. This game is quite violent, and at one time boasted that it had the ‘most kills per hour’ of any game on the market. But all this mayhem comes at a cost: this game is HARD. Even though your guy is armed to the teeth, he’s still going up against several thousand enemies, often around a hundred or more at a time. It becomes a chore just to keep track of where your guy is in all the carnage.

The controls bear mentioning, it’s actually pretty easy to move and shoot at the same time. This game used two joysticks, one for movement and one for shooting your weapon. This made it much easier to maneuver without having to concentrate too hard.

This game is totally beatable, but if you try, I’d suggest bringing along several dozen dollars’ worth of quarters. Or better yet, playing it on one of those ‘retro arcade game’ collections where you get as many credits as you can stand. You’ll need them.

Jr. Pac-Man

Monday, September 17th, 2007

So, what do you do if you have the license to distribute Pac-Man, one of the most popular games of all time, but don’t have a sequel to throw to the masses that are waiting anxiously for the Next Big Thing? You make and distribute a totally unauthorized sequel, of course!

Jr. Pac-Man stays pretty close to the formula laid down by its predecessor: ghost-shaped monsters chase your little pac-person through a maze, said pac-person must eat everything in the maze except the ghost-shaped monsters. Pretty standard stuff as far as the pac-universe goes. Though there are a couple of significant differences.

The maze is about 2 regular screens wide and will scroll back and forth to show you the action. The obvious problems with this setup include: you can’t keep an eye on all four of the ghosts if they are off the screen and it’s tough to find that one dot that you missed in order to clear the stage.

The other main problem is the bouncing fruits, though they aren’t so much ‘fruits’ as they are ‘tricycles’, ‘kites’, and the like. But they do two notable things: when they pass over a dot, they make it slightly larger, and when they collide with a power-pill they self-destruct, taking out the power-pill as well. Since the pills are your only line of defense (other than your lightening quick reflexes and exceptional cunning, of course), this makes things slightly more difficult, but the real kick in the pants is the slightly-larger regular dots. They net you slightly more points when you eat them, but slow you down slightly (since they’re so big, I suppose) as you’re chewing through them. Throw in a cluster of slightly embiggened dots, reduced power-pills, and some relentless ghosties that you may or may not be able to see, and you have a game that becomes frustrating very quickly. I managed to see the first act, two stages in, and that’s about when my stamina ran out. Permanently.

Wario Ware: Mega Microgame$

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

This article originally appeared on my main site in March of 2004. Enjoy!

It’s really hard to classify a game like Wario Ware. It’s what I like to call a Metagame. It’s a game that’s made up of a lot of smaller games, kind of like the Mario Party series, except that this is (mostly) a one player experience.

So what is it exactly that you do in this game? Well, storyline aside, your goal is to progress through ‘courses’ of micro-games, each one with a distinct theme and a boss-game every so often. The controls for all of the micro-games are different, but they are fairly intuitive, and they have to be. You have about three seconds to figure out what you’re supposed to do and then do it before the next game starts.

The micro-games that this cartridge offers is where the game really shines. There are about 200 of the things locked away in this cartridge, and while there are some similarities between some of them, they are different enough that each one seems like a whole new experience. The games are broken up into themes (or courses) that are presented be the characters in the game. Jimmy with the gigantic afro has sports games, Mona rides a scooter and presents the weird games, and 9-Volt the grade-schooler presents the old-school games just to name a few.

The graphics in this game are extremely varied. They range from extremely simple, to photographic quality. Every one of the games has a distinctive look to it, which is quite a feat considering the amount of them that there are. The scenes that play out to tell the story of the game are particularly well done.

Running through the courses of the micro-games isn’t all there is to do in this game. The game offers a practice mode where you can hone your skills at a particular game (as well as unlock some of the game’s secrets). There are some full versions of some games that you can unlock that have a Wario flavor to them such as Dr. Wario and Sheriff (an very old Nintendo arcade title), there are some extended versions of some of the micro-games and there are a few two-player games that require both players to use the same Game Boy. Definitely an interesting experience.

Wario Ware is one of those games that is perfectly suited to the Game Boy. It’s a game that’s got an incredible amount of variety, it’s easy to pick up and play, and it’s a good game to play in between other games, or on road trips or wherever. This is one of those games that you absolutely can not go wrong with.

WWF Wrestlemania

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

I’ve followed professional wrestling in one form or another for most of my life. It’s a weakness, I guess. But I’m willing to suspend a great deal of disbelief when watching the shows or playing the games based on the shows. Unfortunately, with WWF Wrestlemania, I’m not able to suspend nearly enough.

I won’t bore you with the nit-picky details, but I will say that this game is absolutely terrible.

Your characters only look vaguely like the people they’re based on, which is understandable given the limitations of the hardware. But the rest of the game? Inconceivable! Your characters can move in the four cardinal directions, but not on the diagonal. There are allegedly special moves, but I could barely figure out how to do more than just punch or kick. There’s no crowd of spectators, which is half of the spectacle of wrestling. There’s no kind of single player mode outside of a tournament. Inexplicably, a health restorative will slide along the top of the screen to collect (sunglasses for the Macho Man, what looks like a port roast for Andre the Giant, and so on).

This game is just… so… bizarre and bad that it’s almost worth playing once so you can marvel at its sucking power. Then you’ll never want to play it again.

Clay Fighter 63 1/3

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Clay fighter 63 1/3 is the last in a series of not very good fighting games produced by Interplay. A company that decided that it would make a name for itself by producing a series of forgettable games with the hook that the games would be rendered in claymation (a.k.a. stop-motion photography).

I followed the development of this game for months before it came out. The screenshots and preview videos I saw made me salivate for the opportunity to play it. The stages looked amazing, the cartoonish characters had a variety of over-the-top special moves, and the game was voiced by such heavy hitters as Charles Adler, Jeff Bennet, Michael Buffer, Dan Castellaneta, Jim Cummings, Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille, Rob Paulson, and Frank Welker.

Unfortunately, the game didn’t live up to the title that I had produced in my head. The game is a parody of fighting games, and incorporates a version of the combo system found in Killer Instinct. This basically means that you can string attacks together to create combos, which are appropriately violent. The fighters are clay (“hit ‘em, smack ‘em, they don’t care”) so they look predictably cartoony. There is a clown, a snow man, a disturbing portrayal of a Chinese chef, a bionic rabbit, Earthworm Jim, Boogerman, a token blob character, a shirtless Santa, and some more oddities. There were some other characters that were all over the previews, but didn’t make it in for one reason or another. Which led to a major problem, the game was incomplete.

The game had stages for the characters that were left out, the story had gaping holes in it since the characters had gone missing, the stages had nonfunctional objects that look like they should have done something, the hit detection was way off at times, the characters that were in the game moved and interacted with each other stiffly, etc. Lots more etc.

Some of these problems were fixed in the rental-only (and very rare) Sculptor’s Cut version of this game that fixed almost all of these problems, at the expense of the ‘insane combos’ (300+ hit finishing maneuvers). Unfortunately, since you couldn’t actually buy this version (the good version) what you’re left with is a slow, plodding, unfinished mess of a game.

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

Being a Belmont is hard. You live only to kill Dracula. This wouldn’t be quite so bad, except Dracula has a tendency to not actually stay dead. Simon Belmont had it especially rough, he killed Dracula in the original Castlevania, but due to being cursed, had to locate and destroy Dracula’s body parts.

How Dracula’s body parts got scattered around the countryside, each in a different castle, I can’t say. But you have to find them. The body parts, and the castle. Castlevania 2 is not the linear game that its predecessor was. You get free reign to go wherever you want from the get-go, exploring the countryside, looking for mansions and clues, chatting up each town’s locals, and battling monsters. When you start playing this game, a few problems become immediately apparent.

Just like the previous game, your sub-weapons are powered by hearts. Each time you use one, a certain number of hearts is consumed. But, these hearts are also the currency for the game, so you must choose between killing enemies at a distance, since you’re initially relatively weak, and and getting uncomfortably close and bludgeoning them with what amounts to a slightly al dente wet noodle in order to conserve your hearts and buy better weapons.

The mansions, without some sort of guidance, are nearly impossible to find. The townsfolk will give you some clues, grammatically bankrupt and unfathomably mistranslated clues, but clues nonetheless. Clues that will tell you that if you possess (sorry, ‘prossess’) a certain crystal and kneel at the edge of a certain body of water that you will suddenly make stairs appear in the water, allowing you to not drown when you jump in. Or a clue that will tell you that if you want to get to a certain mansion you have to jump on the riverman’s boat and cross it, but stay on the boat so that you can cross it again, and then back again to get to the correct shore.

It is fortunate, though, that most of Dracula’s body parts that you will eventually find turn out to be useful. You can use his rib as a shield, and his fingernail to break certain bricks with your whip. This gives you some incentive to actually go into and attempt to complete the mansions, which is much more difficult than it sounds. The mansions are thick with enemies, enemies that reappear if their patrol area scrolls off the screen, invisible platforms, and blocks that look solid, but actually aren’t. Top all of this off with a boss at the end and you can get to the crystal ball that holds the body part, which you can claim if you have an oak stake. Yep, I hope you found the incredibly inconveniently-placed stake salesperson. No stake, no body part, and if you leave the mansion for any reason without claiming your part, you get to fight the boss again to get it.

Make no mistake, this game hates you. Hates you with a fiery passion. If you dare attempt to plumb its depths, prepare to be mauled by its brutality. After investing weeks trying to wrap my head around it, I put in a cheat code, finished the game, and got the worst ending possible. Interestingly, this would be the best ending I would ever get at this game.

Milon’s Secret Castle

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

It is not necessary to understand the plot of Milon’s Secret Castle to glean all the enjoyment out of it. All you really need to know is that Milon has to muddle his way through a castle to:

  1. Find and defeat a series of dragon-type monsters
  2. Collect crystal balls to gain power
  3. Decipher incomprehensible clues and, if you’re lucky
  4. Rescue the princess

This all sounds easier than it is, this game is unforgivingly tough. Milon’s weapon of choice is bubbles. Bubbles that don’t go far, and don’t do much damage. This is slightly unfortunate, since there are bubble-resistant enemies infesting the rooms in the castle. You kill them and they come back in a few seconds. You can get stronger bubbles by defeating the dragons that inhabit the castle, but if you’ve ever tried to kill a dragon with bubbles, you know how difficult that can be.

Compounding Milon’s troubles are the rooms themselves. To solve the rooms, take the treasures, and find the exits, you’ll have to do the most nonintuitive things: shoot an empty place in midair to make a necessary item appear, hit a block from underneath to make a collectible item pop out, or my favorite, push a block on the ground for about 4 seconds to make it slide out of the way, then shoot the place where it was to find a door to a shop, where the shopkeeper will sell you ‘clues’.

I will admit that I did quite enjoy this game when I first played it in the early 90’s. The thrill of exploring the castle was pretty intense. Once I realized I wasn’t actually making any progress, I shelved the game until many years later when it became available for the Game Boy, where I bought it (never can pass up a chance to purchase a piece of my childhood), and finished it within a few days. If you enjoy plodding through the game like you’re blind, uncoordinated horse that got drunk off of some fermented apple juice, then go for it. Just make sure you have a walkthrough handy for this one, it’ll help ease some of the pain.

Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

I never had the chance to play the original Pirates!, but I had heard that it was a pretty good game. It let you play as a pirate, doing all kinds of pirate-y things, and, really, who doesn’t want to be a pirate?

Fast-forward a few years and the game is remade and released for the PC. Fast forward a couple more years and it hits the bargain bin. The game was, by all accounts pretty good, so I decided to pick it up.

The short version of the story in this game is that you’re the son of a well-to-do family, who is kidnapped and/or slaughtered. Your character is taken into servitude on a pirate ship where he grows up and eventually snaps under the tyrannical captain, mutinies, and takes over the ship. Then you get to be the captain of your own pirate ship, with all the benefits. From here you can do pretty much what you want: search for treasure, smash the boats of other pirates, woo a bride, swordfight, dance, infiltrate towns, manage your resources (money, food, weaponry), and search for the remnants of your family.

As great as all this sounds, I just couldn’t get into this game. Sailing (and you’ll be doing a lot of sailing) is incredibly tedious, the combat with the other boats is kind of interesting, but it’s still fighting in boats (i.e. sailing in circles, firing cannons). When you do finally board, you are presented with a scripted fight where you pick out what moves you want to do to gain the advantage. It’s kind of fun, but gets pretty boring since you don’t really have direct control over your character.

You will eventually start to build up a crew which you must feed, keep happy, and eventually split the loot with. One of the more interesting things about your crew is that after a period you have to pay them their share of the booty, and disband them, otherwise they get frustrated, and mutiny. This creates a bit more tedium since you have to rebuild your crew every so often. Not as fun as you might think.

I did manage to seek out and find one treasure. It was pretty funny watching my group of salty seamen traipse across the landscape and become overjoyed when I found it, but it wasn’t enough to let me get into this game. I ended up shelving it after about 2 hours. If you can get more enjoyment out of it, then you’re a better Pirates! player than I.