Archive for November, 2007

Super Monkey Ball 2

Friday, November 30th, 2007

The original Monkey Ball game was simplistic, but was a blast to play. So, a sequel makes its way out a few years later, and I bought it without hesitation (once it went on sale, natch). I figured, “How could they screw up a sequel?” And, shocker of shockers, they didn’t.

Super Monkey Ball 2 is essentially the same as the first game, but with more. More levels, more pretties, more bonuses, and a completely nonsensical story.

It plays exactly like the first game, you have to guide your monkey in a ball to the end of the course, the catch is that you can only tilt the maze and not directly control the ball. It’s almost unnerving, and quite finicky. And though the game starts out insipidly easy, the game ramps up the difficulty to a diabolical level.

And then it gets tough.

I’m not kidding, either. This game can be so tough that you’re almost going to want to get a few extra controllers, in case you give in to your urges and break one.

As tough as this game is, though, you know that each of the stages is possible. It gives the game that ‘just one more try’ appeal that will turn a quick game into a multi-hour affair. But the real fun comes in the multi-player modes.

There are a lot of games you can unlock, most of them are pretty forgettable, but some of them are quite fleshed out, and could almost stand on their own as full games. Monkey Golf is, just as in the older game, stupidly tough, and not that much fun. Billiards, though, is pretty solid, and the puzzlingly-named ‘Monkey Shot’ is a cooperative shooting game, which is pretty awesome to play.

I never could actually finish that single-player portion of the game, but I was able to unlock most of the multi-player stuff, and that multi-player stuff kept this game in my GameCube for months.

Neverwinter Nights

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

I’m only just familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, and I only know a couple of people who are. I thought about trying to learn about the game, but the rulebooks are quite the investment if you don’t really plan on using them for more than just reading through them a couple of times. So, I decided to get the next best thing, a game that took care of all the Dungeon Mastering and the Dice Rolling for me.

Neverwinter Nights is more than just a game. It’s a toolkit that you can use to create your own campaigns, and it’s a tool to use to play through them with friends without having to lug around all of those cumbersome dice, character sheets, and rule books. It also comes with quite the lengthy single-player campaign, taking you through an adventure trying to save the world from some kind of Mysterious Plague(tm).

I made quite the effort to complete the included campaign when I first bought this game (on release day, no less). I made a bit of progress before my hard drive does what my hard drive does and I lost my game save. So I tried again and just couldn’t get motivated.

A couple of years later and several more campaigns and expansions were released. Expansions that I thought that I’d like to try, but never went out and got. A bit later than that, however, a package came out that had all of the expansions with the original game for some crazy low price. So I got that and installed it, ready to finally tackle the game and clear it off my ‘to do’ pile.

It should be noted that the game is still on my pile, and that I’m still ready to take it on. Just… not right this instant.

Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Capcom really loves their fighting game franchises, and not without reason. I would bet money that if I say ‘Street Fighter’ and ‘Ryu’ that you know who I’m talking about. So it makes a certain amount of sense that the more popular characters from the more popular franchises would make it into other games, right?


Well, they do. In the Super Puzzle Fighter series, for example. This game is kind of like an amalgam of Tetris, and Kirby’s Avalanche. Multi-colored gems drop from the sky and you have to arrange them optimally so that like-colored gems touch each other. Then you have to use sparkly gems to make the normal gems disappear. Doing so will send garbage blocks to your opponent. Your goal is to make your opponent’s stack reach to the top of the screen, and then you win! Like most puzzlers, this game is easier to show than it is to tell how to play so…

Like a lot of puzzle games, I like it, but I’m not very good at it. Unfortunately for me, the computer is very good at it, and I did a lot of losing. I would have really liked to have had someone to crest the learning curve with, but it was not to be. And since there’s no single-player mode, and no practice mode, I gave it up pretty quickly.

Final Fantasy I and II: Dawn of Souls

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

The original game in the Final Fantasy series is kind of a legend. It was rumored that the company behind it was facing bankruptcy and could only make one more game. It was going to be a fantasy game, and the final game that the company would make. Then the game sold so well that it saved the company. I don’t really know how true that is, but I do know that this game was the genesis for a whole series of games, most of them pretty good, so that’s worth something, I suppose.

Since this game is more than 20 years old, I’m not going to feel too bad spoiling the huge plot twist, but you’ve been warned.

So it turns out that there is a group of four generic warriors who need to restore the light to four crystals. These crystals represent each of the four elements: earth, water, fire, and wind. Almost immediately they run into a king whose daughter was kidnapped, so you go find and kill the captor, rescue the daughter and continue. You end up battling your way across the world, fighting fiends that represent each of the elements. After that you end up having to travel back to the past because right before you killed the guy at the beginning the four fiends sent him back in time. In the past he sends them forward in time so that they’ll be there to send him back. Yep, we have a game that originally came out for the NES that contains a predestination paradox.

I didn’t manage to play this game until well after the NES had ceased to be. I held off because the used video game shops around here decided that this game was worth upwards of $45, and I didn’t think they were sane. So I waited until this game was rereleased for the Game Boy Advance (packaged with its sequel, Final Fantasy II). It would turn out that right about three or so hours into it, whenever I got the boat, I got really lost. What that means is that I fought lots of enemies, and what that means is that I got pretty powerful (overleveled, you might say). So the game ended up being a little easier than it could have been. I did enjoy it, though. Enough to play through the bonus dungeons at the end. They’re additional levels not in the original game that have boss fights from later Final Fantasy games.

In fact, I liked the game so much that I immediately went to play Final Fantasy II, it was on the same cartridge, after all, but thought it was pretty terrible. So bad, in fact, that I’m surprised the series made it to the third game, much less the upcoming thirteenth. The problem I had? The battles, and the story progression. And without both of those you don’t have much of a game.

The battling is the crux of any RPG, it’s where the player spends most of his time, and is generally rewarded with getting a bit stronger overall. In this game, as you battle with certain types of items certain stats rise. The problem becomes that what stat rises with each item used isn’t really intuitive and having to choose what items to use to have well-rounded characters is tedious. Tedium isn’t really fun.

The other problem is that in order to progress the story you have a set of key words that come up. Secret passwords and the like. You have to find the right person and tell them the right word to continue the story. Sounds kind of interesting, but what ends up happening is that you talk to every person you can find, ask each of them about all of the key words that you know, and pray that you happened on the right combination to move the story along.

And what is that story? Honestly, I can’t remember, and I can’t be bothered to look it up. It would be too traumatic for me to relive that experience. Playing Final Fantasy II has cost me 2 hours that I can never get back.


Monday, November 26th, 2007

Every once in a while you will run across a game that tries to straddle two genres. If done right, this can make for a slightly more interesting experience. Actraiser combines city building and side-scrolling action into a game that manages to do both passably.

The game is about a god who has to help his followers. I don’t really remember why, and I’m not going to bother looking it up, but I do remember that it has something to do with smiting evil. Such is the way of gods, I suppose.

Half the time you’ll be directing the development of your civilization, telling them where to build things, and taking whatever treasures they can find (powerups, natch). Occasionally you have to go down and take matters in your own hands. This involves sending your spirit down to inhabit one of the statues representing you and using it to vanquish the Threat of the Day. You alternate between the two styles until you’ve smited everything.

I guess the neatest thing I remember about this game is that when you go down to the statues, the game uses the Super Nintendo’s zoom to kind of fly down to the surface. I always thought that was neat. Other than that, the game was dead easy, up until the last couple of bosses, which you get to fight in a row, and where I gave up in frustration.

I should probably feel worse about that.

Alien Disco Safari

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

It would appear at first glance that I’m a huge sucker. I see a game on the shelf called Alien Disco Safari that I can just sense is going to be awful. Then I see a price tag of $6 and I start to think that the game might be hilariously awful and might be worth $6.

Turns out that this time the game isn’t actually awful. It’s not great, either, but it’s not awful.

The story doesn’t make any sense, something about a space probe got sent out to deep space with the sum of human information. Aliens found it and really liked the disco music, so they came to Earth and invaded. You have been charged with taking them out.

You do this with various forms of heavy weaponry in two kinds of stages: action stages and ship stages. Action stages just feature some kind of scene where aliens run around aimlessly. You have to shoot them, and various other targets, to get points. Get enough points in the time limit and you clear the level. In the ship stages you have several ships that fly overhead. You have to shoot down the ships to get points. Get enough points within the time limit (and don’t miss more than 5 ships) and you clear the level. It’s all pretty easy since the aliens don’t shoot back at you, so all you have to worry about it shooting and hitting things.

I can’t say that this game is great, but for a $6 game with a goofy title, it was better than I expected it to be. I ended up playing about halfway through the game before I got tired of it, but it’s decent enough that I might pick it up again someday. Or just any time I feel the need to shoot a few hundred cartoon aliens.

The Punisher

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

I’m not what you’d call a comic book fan by any stretch, so I don’t really know that much about the Punisher or Nick Fury, other than that they solve problems with large amounts of violence. Violence that seems like it would make a passable video game.

Like any good side-scrolling brawler, the story is largely irrelevant. This is a good thing because I don’t really remember what it even is. What I do remember is that you have to take the Punisher or Nick Fury (or both if you’re playing two-player mode) on a quest to kill a bunch of bad guys.

And boy, do you ever go around killing bad guys. You are constantly swarmed by throngs of identical enemies, most of whom are pretty weak. You use your fists, guns, grenades, and anything else you can get your hands on to end the lives of just about anything that moves. The game is a bit on the violent side.

This is the kind of game that you don’t have to think about too much to play. You just walk up, throw in a couple quarters, and blast away. As always, it’s more fun if you have another player to share in the mayhem, which I did every Saturday during the summer a bunch of years ago when this game was actually available in the wild where I live.

If you ever see it somewhere, you could throw a couple of credits into it, and I bet you wouldn’t feel too cheated by it.

Final Fantasy VIII

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

If there’s one good thing about the games in the Final Fantasy series it’s that even though there are 12ish games in the series, you generally don’t have to have played the previous installments to enjoy them. Each game is its own self-contained story, with some similarities thrown in so that you know it’s still Final Fantasy. So even if you, like me, couldn’t wrap your head completely around Final Fantasy VII you don’t need to do so to play VIII.

The story in this game is also quite convoluted and confusing, and I know I’m going to misremember and misinterpret some of it, but here’s what I can recall: You start out with Squall who’s a pointlessly rebellious guy in a military academy. He’s eventually sent, along with some of his classmates, on a mission to assassinate the ’sorceress’. The Sorceress is the latest in a line of sorceresses that have ill-defined magical powers and pass them down to some random girl every generation. The ragtag group of people, it happens, are all orphans that grew up together, at an orphanage run by what would become the current sorceress (and whose husband is headmaster of one of the military academies), but they don’t remember any of this because they have amnesia. Amnesia brought on by using powerful summoned creatures known as Guardian Forces. So the assassination attempt fails and two things happen: Squall’s new girlfriend becomes the new sorceress and a sorceress at some point in the future decides to do something called ‘time compression’ that makes all moments in time happen simultaneously. Oh, and there’s a side plot involving some guy whose daughter has the ability to send minds back in time to experience things, and things you do while in the past will influence the future.

Got all that?

Gameplay wise, it’s a lot like other Final Fantasy games. You run around fighting bizarre monsters while working your way to the next plot point. Where it differs is in how it handles stats.

Role Playing games are all about stats. Your stats determine your worth. Health Points dictate how much damage you can take before you die, Strength determines how hard you can hit, and so on. Typically, in a Final Fantasy game, you also have Magic Points. Each spell you have costs a certain amount of points to cast, and these come out of your pool. In this game, the developers have dispensed with this system in favor of the junction system. To gain magic spells in this game, you have to ‘draw’ them out of your enemies or from random points throughout the world. You then attach to your various stats for boosts. You are then immediately faced with a conundrum. The magic spells are typically some of your best attack and support avenues, and if you use the ones you have you decrease your stats. And an RPG character with sub-par stats is a pretty lame character.

The other problem has to do with the Guardian Force creatures. You use these creatures for extremely powerful attacks, but the attacks take a long time to play out. I fully understand that every time you do the attack that it always plays out to do the damage, but I would have loved the ability to skip them, especially when I got the longer ones.

Sure, they look cool the first couple dozen times you see them, but after seeing the same Guardian Force do the same minute-plus attack a hundred or more times, you just quit using them, opting for the slower, but much more interactive, mundane battle.

I’m the only person that I know that has actually finished this game, but I never felt compelled to play through it a second time. Or to complete any of the optional sidequests to fully understand the story. In fact, toward the end the it began to feel more like a chore than a game.

This would also be the last game in the series proper that I would play (not including Final Fantasy XI) since it was the last Final Fantasy game that would come out on the PC. Had IX, X, X-2, or XII come out for the PC, I’d have probably given them a shot. Not all of us own Playstation consoles, you know.

Atomic Bomberman

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

Most of the games in the Bomberman series are about one thing: getting lots of people in an enclosed area, giving them bombs, and having them try and blow each other up. It’s not as gruesome as it sounds. It’s all very cartoony, very intense, and lots of fun… assuming you can find people to play with.

Atomic Bomberman supports up to eight people in a tiny area, each laying bombs and trying to do each other in, all accompanied by some of the most abrasive voice acting I’ve ever heard. The voice work in this game was done principally by Charles Adler, who is very distinctive and whose range leaves a bit to be desired, and Billy West, who is also very distinctive, but significantly less annoying. Even the limited pool of actors and voice samples wouldn’t be so bad, except that the voices play absolutely all the time. My ears were bleeding within minutes.

Like I said, this game is only really fun if you have multiple players. You can have the computer stand in for any players you have missing, but it’s just not the same. I’m not that good at the game, but the computer is way better than me. I don’t think I ever managed to win. It’s also a bit difficult to trash-talk a computer. Another problem is that, although you can play this game over the Internet, by the time I got hold of it, there were zero games being played. Or, I assume that’s the case, there’s no way to browse for games (and the company that made the game is defunct now). The third big problem is that if you get the maximum of eight players in the match, there are far too many competitors. There are so many players laying so many bombs in so many places that it’s nigh impossible to keep track of them all, and you’ll invariably either die because you got blown up by a bomb that you didn’t even see or you’ll end up with a draw because everyone died because they got blown up by a bomb that they didn’t see.

The best thing about this game has to be that I didn’t spend more than a dollar for it.

American McGee’s Alice

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

A few years ago, due to some epic shortsightedness, I managed to move into a new house that had all the amenities: power and water. What was missing was cable, phone service, and Internet access. This was before I had a cell phone and before unsecured wireless networks were in every home, so I was essentially cut off from the world. The earliest I could get hooked up was over 10 days away, and as I was pondering what I could do to pass the time a friend helpfully suggested that I could read a book. I ended up not taking his suggestion and instead used the time in isolation to play through one of the more peculiar games that I’ve ever played.

American McGee’s Alice is a game set some time after the Alice in Wonderland books. Somehow Alice’s house burns to the ground and her family dies within, leaving her the sole survivor. She ends up at an insane asylum, clearly off her nut. As it seems, Wonderland exists within Alice’s head and since she’s so traumatized the world is warped, twisted, and barely resembles the Carroll tales.

So you have to guide Alice through the landscape and attempt to restore the order of things by brute force… brute force and a kitchen knife (named the ‘Vorpal Blade’). It’s a bit intense.

The game manages to be equal parts creepy, intriguing, and oddly compelling. I’m really glad that I took the time to plow through this game in a couple of days, because I just didn’t want to stop. The only problem? The ending! The intro to the game was well done, the backstory was fleshed out very well, and the game took me a good amount of time to complete. The ending? A 30-second clip where everything’s OK again. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was more than what I got. It was a huge letdown for such a well crafted experience to completely fall apart at the end.

I would still recommend this game to those interested in the subject matter, just don’t let the ending taint your experience.