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

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.

Pokémon Diamond

July 6th, 2008

I kind of implied it in yesterday’s entry but you just won’t get a lot of mileage out of My Pokémon Ranch if you don’t have a copy of one of the DS games to connect with it. But, shocker of shockers, I certainly do have one of the DS games to link up with it.

You might be asking yourself why on Earth would I want to buy another Pokémon game. And to that I can only say that you apparently don’t know me very well. I just kind of like the series, that’s all. The games are as deep as you want them to be, and I have the opportunity to catch innocent wild creatures and force them to do my bidding, satiating my God complex… Okay, not really. I just like goofing around with it, trying out the different moves, checking out the variety of monsters, and generally trying to create my super-awesome nigh-unbeatable team… which actually usually turns out to be quite beatable.

There is a story in this game, but it really is just kind of a framework for you to work in that slowly introduces you to the world, its inhabitants, and the bizarre organized pokémon fighting culture that has somehow pervaded its world.

Or you could catch them and dress them up to participate in contests instead of fighting them. Or you could dispense with fighting completely and navigate the underground network and attempt to find hidden treasures.

But probably the most interesting part of the game is that it takes advantage of the DS’s wireless capabilities to connect to the Nebulous Internet. You can use this newfangled tech-a-nology to trade whatever you’ve collected with other folks around the world. The interface could use a little work. You can’t, for instance, search for something unless you’ve seen it first. This makes it kind of tough to ‘catch ‘em all’ since lots of the ones you’ll need to actually do that will never cross your paths without some… creative shenanigans.

You might remember that the DS, on the bottom, has a slot that will accommodate one Game Boy Advance cartridge. Once you reach a certain point in your DS adventure, you can utilize the kinda super-secret transfer method to move your monsters that you worked so hard to get in the Game Boy titles over to your DS game. Which certainly will help speed things along, but will definitely leave your prior-generation title bereft of all your hard-gotten uber-characters, which would make it kind of tough to go back and play it… if you were so inclined. Which, history has shown, will happen from time to time.

Of course, if you have a family member who gives you a copy of one of the GBA games that she found in the parking lot of some school, and the game was run over a few times, but still worked fine. Then you would probably not have any qualms about taking all of that kid’s monsters.

At least, I didn’t.

My Pokémon Ranch

July 5th, 2008

The games in the main Pokémon series are usually pretty good. The spinoff games, though, are pretty much hit or miss. But I feel this odd compulsion to try them out anyway.

With the introduction of WiiWare, Nintendo created a conduit where they could funnel games directly to me at a cheaper price, and since one of them had Pokémons on it, I guess they’d figure that they could make lots of sales on the thing, so long as it was passably mediocre, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the portable Pokémon adventures you capture and train little creatures to fight battles for you with the ultimate goal of being the best in the land. Problem is, though, that there is an ever-growing menagerie of creatures for you to capture, but the problem is that if you want to “catch ‘em all” you’re going to quickly run out of the kind-of limited storage space that you’re afforded in the games. The solution, then, is to buy some kind of add-on game that lets you satiate the desires of your inner pack rat.

Which is essentially what My Pokémon Ranch is. It’s just a massive storage utility in the guise of a ranch that you can send your pokémon to so that they can rest, relax and have fun. You can also send your Miis into the ranch to interact with your little critters. But you don’t really do much of the interaction. You just kind of watch them as they mill around and do their thing, which is every bit as exciting as it sounds.

So the ‘game’ kind of goes like this: you catch a whole bunch of beasties in your game, you transfer them to the ranch, then you just kind of sit there and watch them. Occasionally some ‘toy’ will fall into the ranch and you can bust it open to let the wandering pokémon play with it. And that’s pretty much the extent of your interaction with the game. Occasionally your monsters will do something spontaneous like creating a totem pole or something like that, but that’s not really interactive. Mostly you’re sitting around watching what amounts to a virtual terrarium.

But there’s a hook. A nefarious hook. The ranch-master, Hayley, will bring different pokémon to the ranch depending on a number of factors. As it happens, one of the conditions is that you deposit 1,000 pokémon into the ranch, and she’ll bring to you one of the super-rare and highly sought after creatures, Mew. Which really seems like a whole lot of work for the payoff, but I guess I’m going to end up doing it anyway.

Gotta get some kind of reward for my ten dollars.

Super Smash Bros. Melee

July 4th, 2008

The original Super Smash Bros. game was pretty fun and ended up getting a lot of play at my house. So when I heard that a new game in the series was coming out, I was pretty jazzed.

The new Smash Bros. game takes the premise set forth in the original game and just kind of polishes it up a little. There are more moves, more stages, more crap to pick up, and way more characters. After unlocking all the characters you have almost twice as many as in the prior game, representing a slightly wider cross-section of Nintendo’s history.

Oh, and some of the gameplay mechanics have been tweaked a little bit, but not in any way that most folks are going to care about. All you really need to know is that this game is just an excuse to have Nintendo characters beat each other senseless while they try to knock each other out of the arena.

Also introduced in this game were ‘trophies’. Which are little models of characters from just about every corner of the Nintendo universe. There are hundreds of the things, and they could pop up pretty well anywhere. So you have this meta-game of trophy collection to do while you’re engaged in the main game of pummeling characters senseless.

And the pummeling each other senseless really shines as a multiplayer game. It’s super-easy to pick up and just play, but actually deep enough that you can spend a lot of time plumbing its depths to learn the intricacies of combat. I never really made it past ‘passably mediocre’ at this game, even though I’ve invested over a hundred hours into the thing so far. But I’m not complaining or anything. I had at least as much fun reveling in the Nintendo nostalgia as I did actually playing the game. So it’s win-win, really.

Double Dragon II: The Revenge

July 3rd, 2008

You go through all the trouble of rescuing Marian in Double Dragon only to have the evil Shadow Clan come back around and kill her off for some reason. Needless to say, the Double Dragons are a little bit cheesed off. So they decide to get some revenge on the Shadows by wandering headlong into their ranks and slaughtering them all using their martial artistry.

Somehow the game manages to have a slightly more violent premise than its predecessor.

But it’s also a whole lot like the first game. You walk slowly in the direction that the disembodied hands tell you to go bludgeoning thugs with whatever you can find, though your fists and feets work pretty well if you can’t find any goodies. What’s kind of different, though, is that you don’t have to bother with that ridiculous experience point system in the first game to earn your best moves. You can do all of them from the outset… assuming you can figure out which combinations of buttons to pull them off.

Like the first game, this one’s got four stages, and, also like the first game, the game isn’t too tough until you get to the end of the game, where it ramps up in difficulty so far that you’ll get lightheaded from the sudden dip in oxygen.

It’s about that point that you’re going to be really glad that the NES controllers were made out of some kind of space-age plastic that’s nigh-indestructible… unless you have those new-style ‘dog bone’ controllers that just kind of feel flimsier. Then you’ll have to start exercising some self-control. Though they do feel flimsy enough that your controller might disintegrate on impact with your TV, but I wouldn’t recommend trying it.

Battle Chess

July 2nd, 2008

For a time when I was in middle school I was a member of the Chess Club, and while that didn’t really bring me the fame and adulation that I really wanted, I did have the chance to play a kind of interesting video game version of our chosen pastime.

Battle Chess is actually a pretty humdrum interpretation of the ubiquitous board game. So there’s really nothing to say there. The thing that makes this stand out is the battling. See, in normal mundane Chess you capture a piece and just gets taken off the board. But in Battle Chess the pieces actually fight it out (to the death, even) and the winner captures the square. Not that the battles have any actual bearing on the results or anything. It’s just a silly way to make the game a little more exciting. Well, as exciting as playing Chess on a computer in the early 90s could be, I guess.

I only played Battle Chess one time after school during a Chess Club meeting. And I didn’t even get to finish my match because I had to leave the meeting early. But what I did play I thought to be reasonably entertaining. Mostly because I was never really that good at Chess, but I got to see characters representing my little Chess-guys get brutalized in the name of a fun after-school activity, and that’s a hard thing to accomplish any more.

San Francisco Rush 2049: The Rock

July 1st, 2008

At first glance you’d probably think that the San Francisco Rush games would be about straight up racing, and you’d be kind of right. It is a racing game, but it’s kind of a backhanded slap to your racing game sensibilities.

Now you could race around the tracks against the computer-controlled opponents, but that’s not going to do you much good. Your car, for some reason, is absolutely incapable of attaining the same top speed as your opponents, which makes the race kind of tough to win. To make any kind of headway you have to make exorbitant use of the shortcuts placed around the track. But the thing is, these shortcuts require ridiculous amounts of dexterity and a little touch of luck to successfully maneuver through them. That’s all assuming you can even find the things. The shortcuts are frequently placed in apparently inaccessible or in insane places to get to so you kind of have to race around the track a few times just looking for places to drive off the beaten path to find the correct combination of secret passageways that you have navigate with ridiculous amounts of skill to maybe not come in last.

Translated that means that this game is going to cost you a lot of money to get good at.

Yeah, you could race through the game and not hit any of the shortcuts and have a degree of fun with the game. But also in those shortcuts are these weird coins that you can collect. Collect enough of them and you get to unlock stuff like extra cars. Of course, it’s an arcade game, so there’s no way to save your progress, right?


This game asks you to put in a 10-digit PIN (like your phone number) to use when you’re sitting at that particular machine. And what that did was to track some stats on that machine. Which was actually pretty awesome. Once you go through the registration process one time, every other time you sit at that machine you could just throw in your phone number and away you’d go with your stuff unlocked that you’ve worked so hard to get. Of course that also meant that you’d be spending a lot of time at that particular machine unlocking everything, which was really only good for lining the pockets of the arcade owners. Which I was willing to do fairly regularly.

Spy Hunter

June 30th, 2008

If there’s one thing that the spies have that’s really cool is access to the cool cars. So you take just that aspect of spydom and make a game about it, and you will get something like Spy Hunter.

Spy Hunter is about driving a vehicle down the course as quickly and accurately as you can. While dispatching enemy cars before they can do the same to you, and sparing innocent lives whenever possible. To do this you have some heavy weaponry at your disposal to compliment your super sweet spymobile.

You start out with a machine gun that never runs out of bullets, which is pretty awesome, but occasionally a weaponry truck will come down the road and give you some kind of other different kind of awesome. Like an oil slick, or a missile launcher, or a smoke screen. All designed to take cars that are being driven by not you off the road. Any time you do that you get some points, unless of course you blow up some innocent car. Then you’re barred from scoring points for a while, so don’t do that.

But if you get tired of driving the super awesome car, you can take a turn at the super awesome boat. The boat is pretty much just like the car except that it rides in the water (duh) and the waterways are a lot more constrictive. But other than that? Still awesome.

One of the troubles with this game is that you can go really really fast, but to do that you’re going to have to get closer and closer to the top of the screen, which means that you’re going to have almost no time to react to anything. And that means that you’re going to crash a whole lot. But that’s OK, kind of, because you have 999 game seconds to play the game with unlimited lives. Pretty awesome, eh? Until the timer runs out and then your lives become extremely limited, and then the game gets far tougher.

Unless you do what I did one time. In the boat level I somehow managed to get the boat maneuvered so far over to the side of the screen that it was actually straddling both the left and sides at once. That meant two things: 1. I suddenly had a super awesome Land Boat(tm) and 2. I was completely untouchable and indestructible.

Which is kind of cool for a while, since you can actually put the controller down and be successful at the game, but that does get kind of boring after a while, even if it’s the easiest thing in the world to continue, once you’ve managed to do it. But I eventually wanted my NES back so I could play something else. So after a couple of hours I maneuvered the boat back on course and finished up my game and put something else in that was a little more interactive.

Contra III: The Alien Wars

June 29th, 2008

I think I played the original Contra game so much because the developers were kind enough to include a magic code that gave me enough lives to be able to finish the game without too much trouble. But that also had the side effect that I got reasonably good at the thing. A sequel did come out a bit later that I didn’t actually spend much time with at all, for some reason, but then a sequel to that came out for the then newfangled Super NES, and I decided to give it a shot.

I don’t really know how Contra III fits in with the whole Contra timeline, I thought I remembered blowing up the queen alien’s heart at the end of the original game, several dozen times, in fact. But, maybe the events in Super C, the one I didn’t actually bother with, actually explain things… but I wouldn’t count on that.

But, in this game the aliens are alive, well, and are decimating the planet. So you have to take control of your shirtless musclebound hero-type guys and walk headlong into the gaping maw of the alien army invasion. Of course your Enmuscled Toughguy(tm) perishes if he’s so much as grazed by pretty much anything, so you have to use your fantastically honed reflexes to guide him unerringly toward the end of the stage. The only tools at your disposal, other than acrobatics, are the various forms of heavy artillery that just kind of float into view every once in a while. Which is actually pretty much the same as the first game, but this time you can hold two of the SuperGuns at the same time, and can switch back and forth between them as the situation dictates, which is actually pretty awesome.

I didn’t actually find this game too much harder than the old NES game that I cut my Contra teeth on, but I had a whole lot more trouble with it, and I’m pretty sure that it’s because there was no way to get a ludicrous amount of lives to kind of nullify the challenge a bit. The most you can start with is seven. Combine that with a limited amount of continues and the game suddenly gets a little bit tougher.

On my rental, though, I did manage to plow through the game on Easy mode, only to be greeted with an invitation to try a tougher difficulty level. Kind of a letdown, but OK. So I tried my hand at the next tougher difficulty and immediately got my head handed to me. And then, before I really got started on ‘Normal’, my time with the game was up. Though I understand now that I would have had to have bested the game on ‘Hard’ to fight the real end boss and see the actual real ending, so I’m not too broken up about it.

Mystery Quest

June 28th, 2008

Mystery Quest is one of the few games that I would buy secondhand that I actually had the manual to. And, even though I’ve gotten rid of the game and its manual at this point, at the time I had some idea of what was going on.

Hao, some magician’s apprentice, has to go out into the world and find four treasures that are hidden in four castles throughout the land. The thing is, though, that the castles themselves are also hidden. Compounding the issue is that Hao is pretty fragile. He can’t swim, diving into deep water is instantly fatal and touching shallow water hurts him. He also steadily loses his vitality (unless he finds some magic item). But it’s OK. He has magic bubbles to defend himself with. Combined with his razor-sharp intellect, there’s no end to what he can do!

Eh, I may have overstated that a bit.

I actually invested a lot of time into this game. I got pretty adept at finding the hidden castles and the treasures within, only to be greeted with a screen of failure each time I did so. I couldn’t understand it, why am I getting the bad ending for doing what I’m supposed to do? I even beat it three times in a row to see if there was another different ending to be had. And you know what I found out? There wasn’t. So I ended up trading this game off for some other NES game or other and hadn’t given it a second thought until today.

Today, I find out that if you want to see the ‘real ending’ for this game you have to beat it four times in a row. Four! One more than the three that I did previously. Do you have any idea what this means? It means that I’m probably never going to know how the game ends properly now. Because I can’t find evidence of the alleged ‘good ending’ anywhere on the Internet. I’m actually beginning to wonder if there actually is a good ending, and that the game is really just a giant joke on NES players. One that you can’t actually win, no matter how hard you try.

That’d be low.

And it would make me jealous that I didn’t think of it first.