Archive for July, 2008

Super Mario Bros. 3

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

A few years after the completely out-of-place Super Mario Bros. 2, we were treated to a new, proper, Mario game. One that felt more like the original game, which was already pretty good.

The story goes that somehow Bowser, the antagonist from the first game, has managed to somehow asexually produce seven kids. Each of which he sends out to a different kingdom in the Mushroom World to steal each king’s magic wand, turn him into some kind of animal, and then rule the kingdom, I guess. So the Princess Toadstool sends the Mario Bros. out to fix everything up (i.e. depose the Koopa Kids and return the wands to their owners).

They do this by utilizing their world-famous superhuman jumping abilities combined with their new powers of scrolling the screen right and left as well as up and down. Which actually becomes kind of important relatively quickly. Mostly because you get new powerups to play around with that let you do things that you could only dream about in other games.

Yeah, you have your mushrooms, your fire flowers, and your starmen, but you also have the Super Leaf that makes your Mario Brother grow an extra set of ears and a raccoon tail that lets him fly somehow. You also have at your disposal three super suits: a frog suit that lets you swim better, a Tanooki suit that lets you briefly turn into a statue, and a Hammer suit that lets you toss hammers like those crazy Hammer Bros. In short, four more kinds of awesome. There are a few more, but they range from the really lame (the anchor), to the normal lame (Jugem’s Cloud), to the kinda lame (the music box), to the almost kinda useful (the P-Wing), so I won’t bother going into them.

As you’d probably expect, the Mushroom World is a lot more expansive than the puny Mushroom Kingdom, so your view of the action is zoomed out a bit to a giant map that represents the Marios’ journey. Along the way there are, for lack of a better term, ‘points of interest’ that you have to clear. These could be your run-of-the-mill stages, power-up huts, minigames for powerups or extra lives, wandering enemies, or the like. Once you decide to take one of them on, you zoom in to a closer-up view with lots more details, and you get a finer-grained control over your Bro. It actually reminds me a lot of Zelda II’s overworld/action stage mechanic. Your goal is to clear a path to the castle to see what hilarious creature the king has been transformed into, then hop aboard the Koopa Kid’s ship, and then give the Kooplet what-for. Once you do that, it’s on to the next stage… Er, I mean Kingdom.

Once you finally clear the world of the menace that is Bowser’s Spawn, you get a stunning revelation that while you were out dealing with Bowser’s kids that he’s gone and kidnapped the unguarded princess.

The nerve!

So you have to trek through one final world to defeat Bowser, rescue the Princess, and win the day… again. It’s pretty hackneyed, I know, but that doesn’t really make it any less entertaining.

Super Mario Bros. 3 would actually be first game that I’d ever play that was an import. I remember that it wasn’t supposed to come out over here in the States for months, yet a friend of mine got the sole rental copy at the local game import shop. The cartridge, since the Japanese Famicom has a different design than the original NES, was about half as long as a US cartridge, and that meant that, even with the adapter, it was still shoved quite far into the NES, and would have been impossible to remove, had someone not had the foresight to attach a ribbon on the thing.

We played that game obsessively, and after a few days he was able to finish it, though I wasn’t around to witness it. For that, I’d have to wait until I got my hands on a copy. The problem was, though, that the game was wildly popular, and was out on rental just about everywhere I went. The odd (or sometimes very odd) friend would find it on a rental and let me play it for a few minutes, but I never really could make what you’d call ‘progress’.

That all changed when another of my friends found a copy of the game in the alley behind my house. Then the game got passed around a little bit and I finally was able to put enough time, effort, and determination into it that, several months after its domestic release, I was able to wrest victory from the gaping maw of defeat.

I think it was the waiting around and getting little tastes of the game here and there that made the final victory all the more palpable for me. And, in fact, it’s a feeling that I haven’t quite managed to attain since, which is kind of disappointing.

R.O.S.E. Online

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

In the in-between time after I played Final Fantasy XI and before I played World of Warcraft I got a whiff of another MMORPG that was under development. And since those wacky game developers needs lots of help in the form of real-world testing and feedback, that meant that this game was going to be free to obtain and free to play.

And free is one of my favorite prices.

Now, I don’t really know what the story in the game is supposed to be. Something about some goddess creating some planets, and then some other god wresting control of one of the planets for his own nefarious ends. So she sends out adventurers to the various planets in the solar system to… um… stop him somehow?

After I downloaded the game and went through the character creation process, I couldn’t help but notice how cutesy the game was. Just about all the player characters look like they’re prepubescent kids, and the tutorial island is full of ‘jelly bean’ monsters for you to cut your fighting teeth on.

This is all well and good, but not exactly my cup of a delicious warm beverage.

But I slogged along anyway. I took my training weaponry and my training armor and attacked the training enemies with gusto. But I was mystified by the controls, I had a hard time targeting anything. I was stymied by the dialog boxes, text broke in weird places and didn’t have impeccable grammar.

So, after I finally killed a bagful of jelly beans and made it off the training island, I made it into the world proper, and decided to log out for the day.

Then I never felt compelled to play the game again. It just didn’t do anything for me. The whole thing was kind of ‘blah’ to me. I think the hype around the game was pretty much due to the fact that it was a freebie, and not because it was any kind of ground-breaking thing.

But, I hear that it’s going to be free to play again real soon now, so that’s something going for it, I guess. Even though I don’t think I’m going to take advantage of it.

Kung Fu Heroes

Monday, July 14th, 2008

I sometimes miss the days when the plot of an entire game can be conveyed in one sentence. Kind of like Kung Fu Heroes:

Princess Min Min has been kidnapped by monsters and kung fu masters Jacky and Lee have to find and rescue her.

Now how do your guys rescue the princess? By navigating through lots of little rooms that are all a whole lot alike. Rooms that are filled with all kinds of highly destructible enemies, the kind that explode when they get hit with your specially-crafted punches. But to make it fair, your guys also go down with one hit from the enemies. Make enough enemies explode and the doors at the top open, and you go in, only to go to the next room and do it all over again with more enemies swarming on you.

I played this game quite a few times, but never really made much of anything that would resemble progress. There are apparently bonus items all over the place that you need to collect that are in the bricks scattered around the stages, but if you hit them too many times, then you get the anti-bonus that negates your accumulated bonuses… which didn’t actually make a lot of sense to me.

Not only that, but there were enemies that were seemingly indestructible unless you figured the precise micron you had to jump on to kill them, or the ones that were so indestructible that I couldn’t figure out how to kill them at all. And then you have some powerups that I couldn’t figure out how to utilize at all. So, even though I played this game numerous times, I never did make it much past the first dozen rooms. Then I got kind of bored with not making progress and went on to play something else.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

It still kind of amazes me that after over ten years Final Fantasy VII is not only still reasonably popular, but that it’s getting spinoffs, sequels, and prequels. I recently had the chance to sit down and play one of these prequels that kind of tries to flesh out some of the events that happened before Final Fantasy VII started.

If you probed all of the crannies in Final Fantasy VII you would have probably gotten a cutscene that showed this mysterious Zack character that Cloud ended up emulating for the majority of that game. And if you didn’t, well, here it is.

There’s a little more to it than that, and if you didn’t play Final Fantasy VII, most of that probably wouldn’t make any sense to you. Heck, even if you did play Final Fantasy VII that might not make that much sense. The game was full of crap that I didn’t really understand.

But that just makes Zack more mysterious, I guess. We never really learn that much about him or his motivations or anything. And that is probably why fans of the game are so ga-ga over him, because of his rugged good looks (hee!) and his mysterious past. And, keeping with the tradition of the tradition of Final Fantasy VII, he has a real big sword.

Zack Fair

And that’s where Crisis Core comes in. It takes place several years before the events in Final Fantasy VII take place, and throughout the game we learn a little bit about some of the principal players in that game.

You do this chiefly by running around and fighting things. In fact, I’d say that I spent upwards of 80% of my time in the game inside one battle or another. And it’s always you, as Zack, taking on throngs of enemies by yourself. You do this by directly controlling Zack as he runs around the field, jockeying for position and trying to KO whatever enemies pop up. This is actually quite the departure from other Final Fantasy games where you just kind of put commands into a menu-based system and let your guys just fight it out whle you take on the role of ‘team manager’.

Also in the battles is this thing called the DMW. It kind of looks like a slot machine in the corner and it constantly spins. Match up three portraits of the same character and you do a limit break (some kind of super-attack), further, match three sevens and you level up. Other combinations of portraits and numbers will make lots more stuff happen, but it’s not really anything that you can directly control, so what that means is that lots of random stuff will happen while you’re fighting.

As far as story goes, I won’t really go into it, since it’s pretty much all spoilers. But, it’s really kind of short. I was able to blow through the story in about a dozen hours. But there’s a ridiculous amount of ‘missions’, which are mostly just a set of scenarios that you’re presented with, and usually ends up with you killing a bunch of monsters, or a really powerful monster, or finding some item, or crap like that. I spent another half-dozen or so hours doing missions and barely made a dent in them. It kind of seemed odd to me that you can more than triple the length of the game by doing optional side missions, but there you go.

I enjoyed this game about as much as I did its progenitor. But I can’t help but thinking that I missed out on a lot of the story. I didn’t miss seeing it, I just don’t think I understood it all. There was just a little to obtuse and convoluted for my tastes. I’m sure there was a lot of subtext that I missed. But in spite of that, it was a pretty good time, so I suppose it balances out.

Midnight Outlaw: Illegal Street Drag – Six Hours to Sunup

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

This is a review that I originally wrote for this site back in 2005 that I also posted on Stage Select.


This Might Have Been the Worst $5 I Ever Spent
Score: 4 /10
(submitted by: basscomm ), 11/29/2005 10:29:45 PM

Do you ever get the feeling when playing a game that the CEO of the company you gave your hard-earned cash to is sitting in his overstuffed office chair laughing maniacally while you try in vain to extract any joy from the steaming pile they shoved in the box? This game makes me feel that way.

I really don’t know what Midnight Outlaw is all about. The two-sided card that came with the game decided to give me hints relating to the install process rather than mention anything about the game I was about to waste my time on. The back of the box proudly proclaims:

“Enter and explosive world where nitrous erupts and rubber burns. You live your life one race at a time and from midnight to dawn, the adrenaline is on. Feel the raw power of your super-charged engine as you punch the accelerator for cash and hard-won respect.”

Sounds sufficiently vague to base a game on.

You have three main activities in this game: you can complete races in the story mode, you can drive around the city gaining ‘fame’, or you can play with your car.

In story mode you will predictably race for various reasons around some random city in Southern California. Most of the time it doesn’t even matter if you win, since you will more often than not clear the mission anyway.

While slogging through the game, I was momentarily distracted from the white-knuckle racing by the streets with no pedestrians and the almost completely indestructable scenery. There is almost nothing in this game that you can damage, and of the stuff you can damage, it doesn’t really matter. Your car can take all the punishment you can dish out and the only negative effects will be that your speed is temporarily reduced to zero miles per hour while the camera pans to an allegedly more interesting angle and if you hit enough stuff your hood will eventually fall off.

Control is horrible. I could have probably gotten better control by plugging a banana into my computer and using that instead of my keyboard. The cars control like elephants on ice skates. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow I go, the car takes its time when it considers your suggestion that you might want it to change direction. Instead, your car will delight in hitting just about every stationary or moving object it can find both on and off the road.

Other cars on the streets are placed in the optimal path around the courses, ensuring collisions. They normally move down the highway at about 3 MPH or are parked… right in the middle of the freeway. But all of that doesn’t really matter, since no matter how damaged your car is, it’ll be fully repaired after the next cutscene.

From what I can tell, the majority of the tracks in this game take place on the same set of roads, just with differing routes sectioned off. They’re not sectioned off in a way that makes sense or is sane. In the races there are large blue triangles indicating the direction you are supposed to go. If you for some reason decide that you want to go some other direction, like turning left instead of right, what looks like a large red plastic square will slide over from the side of the road and impede your progress. The other cars on the road are not affected by these, so I can only assume that my car was built by Superman and the barriers are made from Kryptonite and Lex Luthor is forcing me to race down the roads he chooses.

Thankfully, through the alleged 50+ courses, there is only one song that plays in the background. You are treated to the same BOOM-CHA-BOOM-CHA-BOOM-CHA-*garbled female voice*-BOOM-CHA-BOOM-CHA-BOOM-CHA-BOOM-CHA-BOOM-CHA… etc. While I was digging through the sound files for the game, I came across a sound called Silence.wav. It was the best sounding file in the game.

I was never able to figure out what the ‘fame’ was for. I’d get fame for spending my ’scrilla’ on ‘bling’ to put on the car, I’d get fame for completing missions by losing, and I’d get fame for slipping and sliding around corners and managing to not hit anything. I took all the fame I got throughout the game and planted it in a hole I dug out in my back yard. I’m hoping that one day I’ll have a new fame tree out there and I can just go and pick all the fame I want.

Now we all know that people don’t play games like this to experience the driving or the storyline or anything else that could possibly be fun or interesting. They play it for the customization. You can customize your Phat Ride(tm) to the nth degree by selecting such options as hood color and window stickers. Of course the only thing in the shop worth purchasing is ‘Da Boosta’, which is apparently a gauge at the top of your screen labeled ‘NOx’ and lets you press the space bar to access what I like to call Disco Mode. In Disco Mode it looks like the ‘NOx’ gets injected directly into the passenger compartment since the colors go all streaky and I lose the ability to turn left until I crash into something, run out of ‘NOx’, or I “overheat my engine”.

This game is so bad, I need to go and invent a machine that will let me unplay it.

Pokémon Puzzle Challenge

Friday, July 11th, 2008

It’s probably become pretty apparent by now that I enjoy a good game of Puzzle League, and a good Pokémon game, so when a game comes out that’s a fusion of them both, I just kind of have to give it a try.

Pokémon Puzzle Challenge is actually more like the Tetris Attack game for the Super NES than Pokémon Puzzle League for the Nintendo 64. But what that means is that this game looks to be nearly identical to the Super NES one, but with different characters and sound effects.

So what do you do in this game? You have your steadily-rising pile of multi-colored blocks and can move them left and/or right to try and line up three or more in a row. Match more than three or set off chain reactions and your opponent loses health. When it loses all of its health, then you win!

But the thing in this version is that you have different Pokémon to choose from, each one representing a different element in the Pokémon universe. If you pick a pokémon that has a type that its opponent is weak to, then your attacks do more damage, and you’ll win quicker. Pick the wrong one, though, and you’ll have to do a lot more chains and combos to win.

I played this game a fair bit, mostly because it was an update to the old Tetris Attack game that I had nearly worn out on my Game Boy, plus it was in glorious COLOR! Which made it pretty ideal for showing off my Game Boy Color, and for practicing up on my Puzzle League skills on the go. Which I find pretty important. You never really know when an impromptu game of Puzzle League can break out, so it pays to be prepared.

Unreal Tournament

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

At about the same time that Quake III came out, it was directly competing with another game with roughly the same premise: Unreal Tournament. It came from the Unreal series of games that I never did play, but instead of focusing on some kind of single-player story, this installment was all about the multi-player deathmatch.

In fact, this game is a lot like Quake III. The main differences are that the characters look less ‘chunky’, the selection of weapons is different, and the physics are a little different. Superfans of each game might tell you that there’s more differences than that between them, and they’d be right, but the other differences aren’t really anything you’ll probably care about unless you’re one of those superfans, so they’re really not worth mentioning here.

What I found that was kind of weird was that the people in my area that liked First-Person-Shooter type games would divide themselves into two camps, the UT crowd and the Q3 crowd. I’d go to one LAN party (Pr0ject-X) and Quake III would be the game everyone would be playing, then I’d go to another (AsylumLAN), and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wasn’t playing Unreal Tournament. Well, either that or Counter-Strike, which was kind of popular no matter where I went.

But I never really saw the point of being a rabid fan of either game. I liked them both. They were each different enough that I could enjoy each of them in their own way. Which was actually pretty nice since one or the other seemed to rule the roost at the various LAN party events that I would go to.

And even though I played a fair bit of both games, my aim never really appreciably improved. I don’t really know why, but I suspect that, while I played each game for several dozen hours each, had I played each one for several hundred hours, I would have noticed some improvement. But I just didn’t have it in me to invest an amount of time that would qualify as a full-time job to get better at some game, when I had piles of other games sitting around waiting for me to play them.

Metroid Prime Pinball

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

I kind of have a thing for pinball games, especially ones that I can find on the cheap. And, wouldn’t you know it, I found a game that was simultaneously both of those things and it also had the extra ‘holy crap, I gotta get it’ factor in the form of a little Rumble Pak, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Metroid Prime Pinball is kind-of sort-of based on Metroid Prime, which we’ll talk about in-depth another day. But all we really need to know is that stuff in this game looks like stuff in that game, more or less.

Now, if you’re familiar with the Metroid series at all, you know that one of Samus’s most famous abilities is to roll up into a compact ball form. She’s somehow mostly stuck in this form for the majority of this game because you need something to bat around the playfield, and her unballed-up form just doesn’t roll as well.

So you thwack Samus around with your flippers in a variety of areas that, I assume, come from the GameCube game which, at the time I was playing this game, I had yet to play. So I just kind of accepted that. Like regular pinball games if you make Samus hit things then you get points, pretty simple, right? But unlike regular pinball you have a ton of stuff on the field to worry about.

Stuff like monsters that walk around the playfield and grab Samus or just get in the way of your perfectly lined up shot. Or big boss monsters that are just generally annoying. Good thing that you’re not completely defenseless, then!

If you crash hard enough into some monsters you can damage and/or kill them off, which gives you precious points and has the fantastic side-effect of getting them out of your way. You also occasionally temporarily get the ability to uncurl Samus from her ball-form into Space Bounty Hunter form and you can shoot bullets and missiles at your foes, which dispatches them far easier.

Now, the cool thing about this game is that it came with a Rumble Pak, kind of like the one that came with Starfox 64, which you cram into the bottom of your DS. It reacts any time you make Samus crash into something, or you fire your aforementioned heavy artillery, or you lose a ball, or any time you think something should make some kind of noise/reaction. Which, yeah, it’s kind of a novelty, but it’s exactly the kind of novelty that I go for. It kind of feels like you are actually carrying a tiny mechanical pinball machine in your pants.

Which, if you don’t think that’s awesome, I don’t think I can help you.

Big Mutha Truckers

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

It’s kind of hard to tell what Big Mutha Truckers is from looking at the box. All I could really divine was that it had something to do with semis and horribly overdone parodies of truck drivers.

The story of this game is pretty much nonexistent. It has something to do with Mama, the ridiculously obese matriarch of some shipping family, retiring and needing someone to take over the business. But she doesn’t know who to give it to. So, she organizes a competition. Whoever can raise the most money in some amount of time will become the winner! And presumably will become the new owner of the shipping cartel that exists in that universe.

You do this by traveling to various stops on your map and buying and selling your cargo. Your goal is to buy low and sell high, which will give you a healthy profit. Which you’ll need to not only win the game, but also to buy fuel and to repair your truck.

You need to repair your truck not only because you’re a horrible driver and have a tendency to crash into other cars along the road, but other vehicles will intentionally do you harm. It also doesn’t help that your semi controls like the wheels are made out of butter and the road is very warm, which pretty much ensures that you’re going to hit just about everything placed between you and your destination.

I guess if you play this game a lot, and take lots of notes to figure out what stops sell what cargo for what prices, and then if you learn how to drive a semi that controls like the road is covered with a layer of spent banana peels and canola oil, and you then somehow managed to not blow all your seed money on repairs and fuel, then you might actually start to get not awful at this game.

But that’s a whole lot of ‘if’s, and a whole lot more time that I was willing to spend on it.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Growing up, I absolutely adored the Chronicles of Narnia books even though most of my friends had never heard of them (they were all ‘Tolkien’ this and ‘Gandalf’ that). I therefore assumed that the series was just kind of an almost unknown treasure that I had found. I still have the box-set I got as a birthday present so many years ago, though it’s significantly more worn now.

Fast forward a bunch of years and books like the Lord of the Rings series are being made into movies and making me think back to those other fantasy novels I read as a young ‘un. So I start to look into my old standbys again and what do I find? That a movie is going to be based on the Narnia universe. And movies ultimately mean video game tie-ins.

Now, I’m fully aware that movie-based tie-in video games to movies are generally awful, so I was expecting the game based on the movie based on the book The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to be bad. I mean, it’s already two degrees separated from the source material, so any similarities to the actual novel would probably be the result of some kind of divine intervention, or a complete accident. But I was also aware that I would probably never again see a Narnia game again in my lifetime, so if I wanted to seize the opportunity to take two of my childhood passions and smoosh them together to see what I got, now would be the time.

And what did I find?

Well, that’s a great question, actually. The game is definitely based on the movie which is based on the book that I read. The four children are in the game and have to defeat the White Witch somehow. You do this by guiding the Pevensies around twisty little paths, all alike, in your search to kill stuff. Each one has strengths, and you have to switch between them to utilize them to their fullest. But the White Witch isn’t going to stand idly by and wait for you to saunter up to her palace and topple her from her cushy job. She sends wave upon wave of enemies to accost you at every turn, making you fight your way pretty much anywhere you decide you want to go.

Narnia: LWW

And that’s actually kind of a problem for me. Enemies constantly come at you, forcing you to either fight them or run away. If you fight enough of them you’ll eventually get stronger, but if you run away you’ll retain more of your precious health points. For some reason the kids start the game out exceptionally weak, and it’s just a lot of slogging through the enemies to proceed, assuming you don’t manage to get one or more of them killed off somehow. Then it’s spending time trying to figure out how to resurrect them while you’re trying to fend off a pack of wolves with what amounts to a slightly-sharpened stick with an eraser stuck on the point.

The other problem I had was that the featureless landscape of the ‘constantly winter and never Christmas’ landmass that you have to explore. I got a few quests from the indigenous creatures, but never could accurately divine where in the vast expanses of sameness I was supposed to try and go. Which led to three things:

  1. Me getting hopelessly lost
  2. Me running around in circles killing wolves with a Bonk Stick
  3. Me turning this game off, sticking it back into its protective case, and then dreading the day that the Prince Caspian game comes out.