Archive for November, 2007

Super Return of the Jedi

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

I may lose a couple of points on my Geek Score Card, but I’m going to go ahead and admit it, I never really got that into the whole Star Wars series. I watched and enjoyed the movies, but never really felt some great connection to George Lucas.

I suppose, then, that I only played Super Return of the Jedi because it looked cool in my issue of Nintendo Power. It’s more arcadey than some of the Star Wars games that I played on the NES, and it even came with a high score table (which reset itself when you turned the power off, such a buzzkill).

The game itself has you taking the characters from the movie in generic levels reenacting the different scenes of the movie. I’m sure that if I’d have obsessed over the movies more I could spend hours pointing out how the minutiae of the levels differed from the minutiae of the movie, but I won’t bore you. I just assume that liberties were taken to make the game more interesting to play than a straight port of the movie scenes and leave it at that.

I should have known that this game would be exceptionally hard. Lucasarts hard is a special brand of difficulty that I’ve only experienced in Star Wars games. Without fail the games in the Star Wars universe have been mind-bendingly, tortuously, diabolically difficult to progress in, and even tougher to complete. This game is no exception. I don’t really remember how far I got before I gave up on it, mostly because the developers were kind enough to leave in some cheat codes to allow me to play any stage that I wanted. So what I did after a couple of days of making non-progress was to use the codes, see all the stages (and fail at them horribly) and then start on the last stage repeatedly until I finished it. I’ve seen the ending to this game, and that makes me happy.

Jumping Flash!

Monday, November 19th, 2007

I only played Jumping Flash! one time at my cousin’s house. I didn’t come into possession of a Playstation console until several years afterward and had, by that time, nearly forgotten everything about it.

I never bothered to find out what the story was or what my motivation was, but I do remember that you see the action through the cockpit of a rabbit-shaped robot as you use your ludicrous jumping ability to collect things around a variety of stages.

I guess I just remember this game because it was such an early 3D game that developers didn’t know what to do. A lot of those early games just had landmasses floating in the air for no real reason and weirdness for the sake of weirdness. This game at least tried to make it fun, and it was oddly compelling. And it made me want to pilot a giant rabbit robot. Which still makes my shake my head when I think about it.

New Super Mario Bros.

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

The original Super Mario Bros. is just about as ubiquitous as video games get. The series has diverged a bit from its roots, so it’s nice to see a game that goes back to what kicked it off: somewhat simple, straightforward fun.

Story? Nothing too unexpected, princess gets kidnapped, Mario has to save her.

There are some new additions, like the mushroom that makes Mario huge, and the blue turtle shell that he can duck into and slide around.

I don’t really have a whole lot to say about it except that I really enjoyed it. Much more than Super Mario Sunshine, but we can get into that another day.

The Falling Sand Game

Saturday, November 17th, 2007

I don’t know if this game has a name or anything, but most places I go to just call it the Falling Sand Game. What it is is just a game where different types of a sand-like substance fall from the sky and you can draw other types of materials on the playfield to interact with it.

There’s really not any point to the game, other than to goof around and see how the stuff interacts with each other. Water causes the Plant material to grow, for instance.

Just fooling around with this game is oddly therapeutic. Even if you don’t have a goal in mind, it’s pretty relaxing to just goof around with. Don’t believe me? Go check it out!


Friday, November 16th, 2007

We only had 3 games for our TI99/4A (and some personal datebook thing, but that barely qualifies as a useful tool, much less a game), so it kind of goes without saying that what games we did have got quite a bit of playtime.

Parsec is a game about a ship shooting enemy ships. You constantly fly to the right and have to kill everything in your way. You fight alternating waves of ships that try to crash into you and ships that fire back at you, eventually having to navigate through a field of asteroids that appears on the planet’s surface, and then you get to start again, with slightly harder enemies. You also have to keep an eye on your fuel consumption and laser temperature. Run out of fuel, and you get a nice closeup of the terrain from your cockpit. Overheat your laser and your ship lights up the night sky, costing you a reserve ship.

Periodically, when you’re running low on fuel, the game takes a break from all the genocide and forces you to do some ridiculously precise flying through a tunnel to get more fuel. You can use the lift settings (which determine how fast your ship moves vertically) to make it somewhat easier, but those tunnels get a bit tougher as the game wears on.

One of the coolest things about this game, and one of the things I never got to experience, is the speech synthesizer. We got our TI second hand, well after they were no longer available in stores, so we never could get one. But thanks to videos like the above, I can finally hear what my computer sounds like, and for being on such a dated system, doesn’t sound half-bad.

One thing to notice is that the ships are all composed of outlines, and are easily distinguishable. Contrast this to something like Red Alarm that came out years later with a similar visual style and is virtually unplayable, to see just how far ahead of the curve this game was.

Now all I want is this game on the Wiiware channel.

Stinkoman 20×6

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

I’ve mentioned this before, but most of the games on the site are pretty forgettable, and hardly worth playing, but there are a few gems if you’re willing to look hard enough.

It would take me entirely too long to explain everything about this game but hitting a few highlights: This game is an homage/parody of the 8-bit games of my childhood. Days when games were ludicrously hard, poorly translated, easy to pick up and play, and often loads of fun.

The game is pretty simple, run to the goal, smash everything in your way, encounter a super-tough boss monster, repeat. Some of the stages change it up a little bit, but nothing too hard.

In fact, the only bad thing about this game (other than the unrelenting difficulty) is that the game has been out for a couple of years now and is still unfinished. In fact, it’s just missing the last level, which sticks in my craw… whatever that means.

Play it here!

Diddy Kong Racing

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

I have to hand it to the guys at Rare, they managed to create a kart racing game with a plot, something I didn’t think was necessary. Does it make a whole lot of sense? No, not really. But it’s reasonably fun, so that’s what matters.

It turns out that there’s this giant sorcerer-pig on the loose on Diddy’s island. There’s a giant blue elephant-genie that can help Diddy defeat him, but not without making him do a ludicrous amount of work. So Diddy calls his friends and they have a series of races. There are several areas of the island, each with a theme. Each time you win a race, you get a balloon. Get enough balloons and you race the boss of the area (a giant creature of some sort). Keep on winning and you get to go to the next area where you get to do it all over again. I should mention that you don’t just race karts, depending on the stage you can also race airplanes or hovercraft.

Diddy Kong apparently has a lot of friends, friends who are in other games (like Conker the Squirrel and Banjo the Honey Bear) and friends who make their sole appearance here (Pipsy the Mouse, Bumper the Badger, and Timber the Tiger? Anyone?). I have a feeling some of them were all put in there because they’re totally marketable, I’d probably spring for a Tiptup action figure.

Eventually you will race the big bad Wizpig himself. He cheats (he is a villain, after all). If you win the race, you defeat him for good. How does that work? I’m supposing you somehow use the power of the balloons you collected, but my supposition skill needs work.

Bust A Groove

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

For a while, you could hardly walk around your local video game store without tripping over Dance Dance Revolution knockoffs. You might have even picked up one or two, thinking, ‘This can’t be totally terrible.’ And if that game was Bust A Groove, you’d be right.

I only played the game a couple of times, so I don’t really know the whys behind this game, but there are several people, all with dance-related superpowers, who compete in dance-offs. Presumably to save the world from some kind of rhythm-less fate.

It’s kind of hard to see what’s going on if you’re not familiar with the game, but each measure that goes by has 4 beats (4/4 time, I believe). You have the first 3 beats to input the arrow commands, and the fourth beat to input the selected button. Eventually you get the choice between two different sets of arrows, and the more complicated one will get you more points. You also charge up your special move meter and do the occasional super move in an attempt to trip up your opponent.

Since I didn’t play the game more than a couple of times, I didn’t really get familiar with its intricacies, but I did get familiar with the soundtrack, which it turns out that I liked a whole lot. Other than that, the game was pretty mediocre. Though it was good enough to spawn a sequel, which we’ll get into another day.

Double Dribble

Monday, November 12th, 2007

“Bubble Bibble” greeted those of us that decided to play this game. It doesn’t really sound like much these days, but in the NES days, it was pretty amazing to hear any speech coming out of the little grey toaster.

As far as a basketball game, this one definitely is. I don’t pretend to know that much about them. Even being from Indiana, I never really followed the sport very much. But here, take a look.

Whenever I played this game I did two things: tried to make half-court shots and did slam dunks to see the sweet animations.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

I suppose it’s a tenet of video role-playing games that they have to be so inexplicable and have a story so mysterious that you’re not going to fully understand it until you play it several times over. Then you get to go on message boards and debate with other people who played the game what the significance of the scene with the chickens was, and whether or not the love interest was justified in giving the protagonist the cold shoulder.

The story in this game wasn’t particularly convoluted, but it was weird. The best I can remember (without spoiling too much for you if you ever decide to play it) is that at some point something catastrophic happened that made the earth uninhabitable and destroyed the world’s oceans, so some floating islands became the last place where people can live. It’s cool, though, because most people have ‘wings of the heart’ that let them fly around a little bit. The Empire (the bad guys… or are they?) have developed machines to help them with their everyday life so they don’t have to rely on outdated notions like ‘wings of the heart’. (Science vs. Faith, eh? Riveting!). Kalas, a young man with only one wing (outcast, you know), had his brother and grandfather killed by the Empire and is trying to avenge them by any means necessary. The plot takes lots of twists and turns to get you there, but that should get you started. What’s interesting is that instead of you taking on the role of the main character, you’re what’s known as a ‘guardian spirit’, a creature from ‘another realm’ that watches over the main character and provides advice (and some special powers). Occasionally Kalas will turn to the screen and address you directly, asking what he should do or what you think of the situation at hand. I thought that was a clever
way to draw the player into the story.

Story aside, it’s a pretty typical console-style role-playing game. You wander around the landscape talking to people, solving insipid puzzles, developing your characters and generally trying to work your way toward the next plot point. The battles take a different tack than what you might be used to, though. In this universe, there is a weird technology that allows folks to put items on cards called Magnus. Everything gets put into Magnus form, weapons, food, medicine, pretty much anything that’s not alive. What this means is that each character carries around a deck of cards to use in the battles. When your turn comes up, you pick attack cards to attack with, when it’s the enemy’s turn, you pick defensive cards to defend with (natch).

There are lots of problems with this system. Each character has their own deck of cards that you have to worry about. In the beginning this isn’t too big of a deal, but once you make some headway into the game you have over half a dozen characters, each with a maximum deck size of around 60 or so. You end up spending lots of time tweaking your decks to get the right balance of attack, defense, and healing cards. The other big problem is that you’re constantly at the mercy of the cards to dictate what you can do. Your turn to attack and all you have in your hand is defensive cards? Too bad. Enemy attacking you and all you have to defend yourself with is a hand with nothing but bananas? You get smacked pretty hard. Depending on your relationship with Kalas, some better cards might come up a little more often, just for him, but it didn’t seem to work very well for me.

The other big problem with this game is making money to buy upgraded items. In most games when you beat the native fauna to death they’re inexplicably carrying large amounts of game currency. Why? Don’t worry about it. But this made getting money a nice side effect of level grinding. In this game, though, things are a little different. When you’re building your deck, you have to put in special ‘camera magnus’. When these come up you run up to the enemy, usually in the middle of a barrage of sword swings, and take its picture (“Say cheeseburger!”). You then take these pictures to the shops to sell, and then use that money to buy what provisions you need. Of course, the rarer the picture is, the more it’s worth, so pictures of bosses sell the most. So part of your strategy is to avoid getting stomped into a bloody smear long enough for the camera to come up, take the picture of the boss, and then hope that you didn’t waste too much time and still have enough good cards in your deck to kill the thing.

The whole magnus system is weird, but it does have some kind of neat effects. Food that you get will eventually age and change forms. Grapes will eventually turn into sour grapes, which will eventually turn into wine, which will eventually turn into vinegar. Each of the stages does something different, so it keeps you on your toes and makes you have to fiddle with your decks more often than you would probably like. And you have to keep buying food all the time because yours keeps going bad, so you have to go out and take lots more pictures.

You’re also going to notice right away that the sound in this game needs a little more work. There is a ton of spoken dialogue, which is normally great, but it sounds to me like the folks at Namco compressed the audio a bit too heavily to get it all to fit on the disc. As a result, everyone sounds like they’re speaking inside pipes. It’s a little jarring and breaks the illusion a bit.

Those issues aside, the game is actually not too bad. I’m pretty jaded when I play these kinds of games anymore, but the plot twist in the middle I completely didn’t see coming, which was kind of refreshing. And to think, I almost didn’t play this game. I found the sequel (which we’ll talk about another day), thought it looked decent, then I realized it was a sequel, then sought out and found this one. I’m pretty glad I did, and that I finished this one first, since the stories dovetail nicely with each other.