Archive for May, 2008

Harvey Birdman Attorney at Law

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

A lot of shows on the Adult Swim programming block are pretty terrible, but they do somehow manage to air a decent show occasionally, like the reimagining of the Birdman character as some kind of attorney for other characters in the Hanna-Barbera universe. The show ended its run not too long ago, but a game of sorts was made based on it. I somehow missed that it came out on the Wii until this past weekend when my local Best Buy had the thing on sale for $20. So, I decided that there were far worse things in the store that I could spend $20 on and grabbed it.

The game is a whole lot like the show, and in fact, without the ‘gameplay’ moments, could actually pass for a few episodes. You have to take Birdman through several cases each with ever-decreasing levels of sense. You have to interview witnesses, collect evidence, go to court, examine and cross-examine witnesses, and try to win cases. It’s kind of like Matlock-lite.

The thing is, though, the game is presented in (almost) nothing but movie clips and static backgrounds. You watch a clip, answer a question, watch another clip, search for ‘evidence’, watch another clip, present evidence that proves or disproves some testimony, and then watch the end clip. Some cases are longer than others, but that’s the gist of it. And, with the exception of the cross-examination part, it’s impossible to lose at this game. Answering the questions correctly (guessing works just fine) when they’re presented is a no-brainer. Finding evidence is also pretty much a gimme. You have this static background and a magnifying glass which ’snaps’ to anything you can pick up. Which you do, and it’s off to trigger the next cutscene.

But that’s not to say that the game isn’t fun. It just depends on your definition of ‘fun’. This ‘game’ is pretty obviously targeted to 1. fans of the show and 2. people who don’t play a lot of games. What you’re really buying here is a collection of a five slightly expanded episodes of the show wrapped around an interface that barely qualifies as a game. Which makes this thing a very niche title.

I have to note, though, that the game is very short. I was able to make it through the game in about 4 and a half hours. Had I paid the full $40 for it, I’d have been a little disappointed. But at $20, I got roughly the equivalent of a 4 hour DVD (with interactive features!). And that’s far more palatable.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

The first couple of Zelda games were pretty good and everything, and even though I liked the second game well enough, I’m relatively certain that I’m in a significant minority. So it’s no big surprise that the game would return to the kind of game that started the series, some kind of overhead-viewed adventure through some dungeons.

The game also tried to give the backstory to the series a little more meat. It established where Ganon came from, told where the ’seven wise men’ came from, and lots of other little tidbits that tried to kind of kick the Zelda mythos into high gear. You can get everything you need to know just from playing through this game. There’s plenty of exposition in just the right places to keep you going.

The game starts on a dark and stormy night (fancy!) with Link getting a telepathic message from the Princess in Distress, Zelda. Link’s uncle also got the message, and he sets out to rescue her first. Incredibly, though, uncle-guy fails at his mission pretty much right away and it falls on Link to take up the family sword and shield and figure out what’s going on.

Eventually, you find out that there is this evil wizard who’s kidnapping girls for some reason, and to get to him, you have to get the Master Sword, and to get that you have to get three pendants hidden away in three separate dungeons all over the known world. Once you get all of that you have to find and rescue each of the kidnapped maidens who are being held in seven separate dungeons in a parallel, corrupt version of the real world.

But, that’s all fine because each time you go into a dungeon you get a special item that you are almost guaranteed to have to use to defeat the master of that dungeon, and just generally gives you more stuff you can do, which, in turn, will let you get to areas in the overworld that you couldn’t get to before. It’s an elegant design, really, the world expands slightly every time you get one. One of the early dungeons, for example, has you finding these gloves that let you lift rocks that were once too heavy to move. Then you think back to a rock that you saw with some tantalizing goodie behind it, and you go back to get it.

I rented this game one time, and was impressed by it. There was no part of this game I didn’t like… with the exception of one puzzle in the Ice Dungeon, it’s got a pretty circuitous solution, but it is solvable. But the rest of the game? Pure gold. Heck, possibly even platinum. The guy that went in with me to rent the thing and I stayed up most of the night playing it, but we weren’t able to fully polish it off. I was not to be deterred, though! I would rent the game again (though from a different place) and play (mostly) though it again. After that I decided that I needed to actually purchase the game to finish it off, and since I didn’t have any kind of money or cash flow source, I decided to get the next best thing, the strategy guide.

I pored over the strategy guide for months, studying all of the nooks and crannies of the game, learning where the hearts were and how to defeat Trinexx and what the names of the enemies are (knowing the difference between a peahat and a leever might come in handy some day). Finally, I was able to finish the game and cross it off the list. But it didn’t really end there. A few years later I found the game in a bin of games on Teh Clearance for a paltry sum, and since my wallet contained exactly that amount, I brought it home with me, and played through it again.

And I never once questioned why Link had pink hair.

Superman 64

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Games where you get to play as Superman should be awesome, but they’re not. Frankly, I’m amazed that you can have a guy that is real strong, real fast, nearly invulnerable, can fly, can see through things, and has other powers that manifest when needed, that you can base a video game on, and then somehow make it an absolute chore to play.

Superman 64 takes place in the Superman universe that was portrayed in the cartoon show of the 90’s. The story is something about Lex Luthor having trapped Jimmy, Lois, and… someone else in a virtual reality environment, and Supes has to find them. How does he find them?

By flying through rings, or carrying something while flying through rings, or some other menial task. And to add to the… special flavor of this game, whenever you fail at something and start it again you get treated to the same voice-clip, “Then there’s no time to waste!”

The flying is just about the most uncontrollable thing that I’ve ever tried to do in a video game. I got immediately frustrated at it, and I couldn’t stomach playing the game for longer than five minutes. And, thankfully, I didn’t feel obligated to play this game any longer than that. I only played this game one time in a demo station at my local electronics store. And, I’ve got to say, it’s a good thing that the controller was bolted to the display, otherwise it might have sailed across the store and become lodged in the screen of the display laptops.

It’s the kind of game that I wake up some mornings and breathe a sigh of relief that I didn’t actually pay any money at all to play this game.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

I liked the Roger Rabbit movie well enough, and was pretty well enamored with the concept of a game based on the movie, for some reason.

I don’t really remember much about what the story was in this game, but it’s pretty safe to assume that it’s a pretty loose interpretation of the movie. You take control of Eddie as he travels around the city gathering clues and trying to find out where the evil judge has gotten off to. You do this by talking to people and figuring out where the next item is that you need to proceed.

But that was boring.

I had lots more fun just running around and punching people. See, Eddie’s main weapon is his fist. And if you tap the punch button, Eddie does this kind of weird dance thing and charges up his punch. When you let go he unleashes all of his pent-up fury, and if someone’s in the way they get sent flying and their head starts to rattle. Then they get mad at you and refuse to give you their non-helpful clues, which isn’t really that big of a loss.

I tried to play through this game a few times, but never really got very far. Mostly because I’m not that good at figuring out obtuse clues. But that all changed the day I figured out The Password.

I probably got it in Nintendo Power or some such, and I still remember it LL, a bunch of Hs, 3B. I don’t remember how many Hs, but you stop with two spaces left to put in the 3B. Once you put that in, you start with everything you need to finish the game, and can pretty much go straight to Judge Doom and smack him around a bit. Once I got my hands on that, I applied it liberally to this game. Then, after I beat him up a few times, I decided that I was done with the game and took it back to the used video game store.

Blades of Steel

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

I can tell you over and over that I don’t really care much for sports games, but a cursory glance around here will tell you that I’ve played my fair share of them. And it’s not because I have some kind of secret affinity for them or anything, it’s mostly because folks I pal around with buy them and then I’m obligated to give them a try.

Blades of Steel is a hockey game. And puts you in charge of one of two teams and you hockey around trying to score more goals than the other team. Pretty bland stuff, really, and to be honest, I didn’t really pay that much attention to it. What I did pay attention to was the fighting.

When two guys bump into each other enough times they end up throwing off the gloves and having an old-fashioned fist fight. The loser of which goes to the penalty box. Which isn’t really that much like real hockey, but it makes the game way more interesting.

In fact, when I played this game, the guy that brought it over and I did nothing but get our little hockeydudes into fist fights. It turns out that that was the most fun part of the whole game. I guess if you’re some kind of hockey aficionado or something that there would be more stuff in here to get into. But since I’m not, I just found it to be a kind-of-okay fighting game hidden behind a very clunky interface.

Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour

Friday, May 16th, 2008

As a rule, I don’t like much golf outside of the miniature kind, and even that I can only take in smallish doses. As boring as it is, though, it’s slightly less boring to play… unless you’re talking about video game golf, then it’s slightly more boring to play, somehow. I suspect that because in Actual Golf(tm) if you want to thwack the ball harder, you swing the club faster, but in most versions of Fake Pretend Video Game Golf(tm) you just tap a button to start your swing and tap the same button to stop your swing, and if you’ve timed it just so, you don’t hit the ball out of bounds.

So I usually stay pretty far away from most video golf games. Until I went to my local Toys ‘R’ Us one day. There they had a kiosk set up with the (then) latest Mario Golf on it, and since there were no little kids in my way, I decided to give it a shot. After what felt like ten minutes my arms cramped up, my neck became sore, and I had played the front nine holes on a course. It turned out that far more than ten minutes had passed, if my joints could be believed, and if I lose a big tract of time like that to a demo copy, just imagine what would happen if I brought it home.

And that’s what I did.

The game does play a lot like every other golf video game that I’ve ever played. Pick your club, and then press the ‘A’ button with proper timing to hit the ball. The better your timing is, the better you hit the ball. The system isn’t based in reality so much as it is based on there not being a really good way to simulate swinging a golf club without actually swinging something that resembles a golf club. But the system works well enough for this game.

But when I got a few rounds under my belt, I was a little disappointed. Like a lot of games, you don’t get all the goodies all at once, you have to earn them. You have to earn the ability to play as the different characters, and on the various awesome courses. The commercials showed you playing on fanciful Mario-themed courses, with Chain Chomps in the sand traps, and courses in the treetops, and that kind of thing. But you start out with some generic plain grass number that’s just… well, plain. I even unlocked two or three courses, which got a little harder, but all seemed kind of ‘blah’ to me, maybe the cool stuff comes in toward the end, I don’t know.

So I kind of gave up on the game after I couldn’t unlock anything else. I couldn’t unlock anything else because I had some troubles finishing the tournaments in a position higher than last, and that happened because my timing and judgment of simulated 3D space has apparently become highly suspect in recent memory for some reason.

Castlevania 64

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Castlevania games, even though they look pretty different from each other, are a lot the same. They all have something to do with Dracula, someone related to the Belmont family line, and whips. But, it’s not as kinky as it sounds.

Every single Castlevania game I’ve played has been Good Times ™, with the exception of this one. It stars you, as one of the Belmonts (I forget which one) or some girl with magic hands. And you have to guide him or her to kill off Drac and his minions.

Since I like some good whipping action, I chose the Belmont as my character, and started in on the game. I made it through the first area outside the castle with not too much difficulty, but when I made it into the castle I had two big problems. One was that whipping in 2D space is pretty easy. Whipping in 3D space is really hard. I had a really hard time aiming my whip slashes, and that made it hard to kill things (though the enemies had no such problems). The other problem, which was huge for me, was that due to the wonky camera angles in the game, I had a big problem judging where the ends of platforms were. This, admittedly, wasn’t that big of a problem until I got to a place where there were bottomless pits. Then it turned into a significantly larger problem. Especially once I got to a place where I’d fall into a pit, then suffer a setback, then spend fifteen minutes getting to the same hole, which I’d misjudge again, and then get set fifteen minutes back AGAIN. Then I took the game out of the 64 and haven’t yet put it back.

Donkey Kong 64

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

I thought the original Donkey Kong Country game was pretty good, but I never got any of the sequels. They were a whole lot like the first one, or so I understood, but they each expanded the universe a little bit. Eventually, though, I got a system with snazzy new 3D graphics, and after I had that for a while, a new game set in that Donkey Kong universe came out. So I gave it a shot.

Donkey Kong 64 is a lot the same as the older Donkey Kong Country game. It still stars Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong searching around their home island for bananas stolen by King K. Rool. Only this time, they do so in three glorious dimensions! Oh, and they have three more Kongs to help them this time around.

See, to progress in this game, you need to fight the various bosses that are in each of the stages. To get to the boss you need to collect a certain number of bananas that are scattered all over the stage. There are 100 bananas per Kong per stage, and you need increasing numbers of them to proceed. The kicker is that although you can see all the bananas, you can’t collect bananas that belong to the other Kongs. So you have to traipse through each stage at least five times to get enough bananas to fight the boss. But that’s not all!

You also have to find and collect Golden Bananas to open up new stages. These you get for doing certain Kong-specific tasks in every stage. But, it’s just more collecting. If you like running around giant 3D stages and gathering stuff, then this game should give you your fix.

But who are we kidding? The real reason anyone got this game was because of the Monkey Rap.

Yeah, the Monkey Rap was pretty hilarious. And the boss fights were pretty awesome, but all of the mind-numbing collecting in between the awesome bits was really really tedious, and kind of made the game feel artificially lengthened. Especially toward the end, when you unlock the whole Kong family, and then have to go back to the first few stages and collect a few hundred bananas that you couldn’t get to before. Bleh.

But the game also hides within its depths versions of the original Donkey Kong game and Jetpac. And even though Jetpac wasn’t anything special, Donkey Kong was a nice surprise.

I keep thinking that I want to play through this game again, but I just can’t work up the motivation to collect the few thousand bananas that would entail.

Killer Instinct

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

2D fighting games are very similar to each other. The basic formula is two characters beating on each other until one runs out of stamina. But the variations that the developers use to differentiate them make it worthwhile to play more than one of them.

Killer Instinct tells the story of super corporation Ultratech and their mysterious fighting tournament that they put on. See, Ultratech has fantastically advanced technology and dabbles in genetic engineering, cybernetics, capturing aliens, opening interdimensional portals, you know, regular stuff. They put on this tournament apparently to test out their projects against whoever wants to participate.

So, pretty standard stuff. But where the game really sets itself apart is the combo system. In other fighting games, if you’re good, you might be able to pull off a combo of 5 or so hits. In this one, lengthy combos are the name of the game.

Nearly every move in this game can be chained with other moves to produce combos. For instance, you do your opening move for two hits, then hit the ‘autodouble’ button for three more hits, then hit the finisher for two more. MASTER COMBO! Longer combos have more impressive names, and are harder to pull off. They culminate in the over-20-hit Ultra Combo that usually finishes your opponent off. This is all mitigated by the combo breaker. The guy getting pummeled has a move that interrupt the combo, and the longer it goes, the easier it is to pull off (you have more chances).

There’s more to this game than that, though, no mercy moves, humiliations, general silliness that I won’t go into here. I ended up playing this game a whole lot in the arcades, mostly because it was similar enough to Street Fighter that I could pick it up really easily, and different enough that I really enjoyed it. It also didn’t hurt that at my local arcades the game was ridiculously popular for a long time, and there were often crowds gathered around. And crowds meant that you got to play against real actual people, which is absolutely the best way to play any fighting game, and, in the days before the Internet, the best way to pass around notes and learn everyone’s moves and finishers.

Later on, I would actually be able to purchase this game for my Super NES. Normally arcade to Super NES ports suffer greatly, but this game came through remarkably similar to the arcade version, which was no small feat. But the real icing on the cake was that this game was compatible with the XBand modem. And what that meant is that even though the players in my neighborhood quit playing this game pretty much as soon as they started I still had an entire nation of willing opponents, each ready, willing, and able to flog me repeatedly. Which kind of sounds like it’d be a frustrating thing, but it really taught me a lot about the ins and outs of the game by collaborating with real actual people. Strange, I know, but that’s how we did it way back in the ’90s.


Monday, May 12th, 2008

Given Tetris’s immense popularity, it should come as no surprise that there were tons of spinoffs and clones done by people trying to either cash in on it, or to discover the ‘next big thing. When you combine that with my apparent lust to put a copy of Tetris on everything I own, you’ll discover that I’ve tried lots of these knockoffs in an attempt to sate the urges between releases.

Blockout is, supposedly, the next logical step to Tetris. I won’t bother explaining how Tetris works, I’m pretty sure you already know. But imagine, if you will, that instead of looking at the playfield from the side that you’re instead looking at it from above. And further imagine that you gain the ability to rotate the pieces on both the X and the Y axes. You’d, of course, have to imagine new pieces that would be possible in this strange new space. And then you imagine them slowly falling into the bucket, or pit, or hole, or well, or whatever you want to call it, and your goal is to arrange them so that they complete layers instead of mere ‘lines’. Then you will start to have a grasp on this game.

This game was really hard for me. The different layers are color-coded, so that’s a plus, but I had three big problems with it. One was that my brain just doesn’t seem to work in a way that allows me to see how these 3D pieces need to be manipulated to fit properly in the 3D space. The normal pieces are pretty easy to deal with, but the corkscrew-like pieces just screw with my head, and I invariably panic and put them in the wrong spot. The other problem I had was that I couldn’t keep track of where my gaps were in the puzzle. So if I had a partially-unfinished layer, and had to start another layer on top of it, and then had to put yet another layer on top of that I pretty much forgot where the gaps were in the second layer, and the bottom? That may as well not exist as far as my brain is concerned. The last problem I had was with the perspective. I’m used to playing classic Tetris by lining up the piece where I wanted it and then driving it home, but I just have a real problem doing that with any kind of accuracy in 3D space. So I ended up making lots of bad drops, which makes for a frustrating time.

At least one of those problems could probably be somewhat alleviated by practicing the game more, and there’s a practice mode just for that where there’s no ‘gravity’ and you can play as quickly or as slowly as you like. And I had a degree of success with that. But not being able to reliably keep track of where the gaps were made it difficult for me to really make any kind of headway. But I’ve grown to accept that my brain just doesn’t quite work that way, I can’t even reliably solve one side of a Rubik’s Cube. But I still have fun trying.