Sunday, December 31, 2006

Astro Boy: Omega Factor - Review

Many have lamented the lack of original properties for the Game Boy Advance, but when you come upon a gem like this, the sheer amount of sequels, ports, and rehashes don't seem to matter. Astro Boy: Omega factor is a near-perection of the side-scrolling action genre. Of course, the game is made by Treasure who is known for their excellence in 2D action games, and it really comes through here.

This game is based on the character created by Osamu Tezuka. More specifically, it is based on the new Astro Boy anime that came out in Japan in 2003. I was not familiar with the character at all before playing this game, but the story in the game gives a good sense of it. It seems that a robotics expert, Dr. Tenma, created Astro Boy after losing his son. Tenma rejected Astro Boy after realizing he couldn't replace his son and Astro Boy eventually found himself under the care of Dr. O'Shay in the ministry of science. Astro Boy is different from other robots because he has the Omega Factor - something that allows him to experience emotions and understand people better. Astro Boy decides to dedicate himself to helping everyone out, saving people, and bridging the differences between humans and robots.

Astro Boy has quite of lot of abilities at his disposal. He has a punch which turns into a four hit combo that ends with a kick. He can also go straight to the kick which sends most smaller enemies flying across the screen. Another standard attack option is his finger laser which fires horizontally across the screen damaging any enemy in its path. Learning when and how to use each attack is crucial. Most enemies are stunned by punching, and once kicked across the screen, they will collide with other enemies also sending them flying. Using punches and kicks strategically will give you a breather from enemies' attacks. Sometimes though you need to damage enemies as much as possible and the finger laser is key.

Astro Boy also has two super-weapons. One is a spray of bullets that shoots from your butt. This damages all enemies on screen, often stuns them a bit, and wipes out all projectiles on screen. The other is a super-laser that shoots out like the finger-laser, is wider, and does massive damage but it still leaves you susceptible to enemies and projectiles. You have a limited number of these weapons, but you can earn them back by scoring enough points (basically beating up on enemies).

Besides weapons, you have several maneuvers at your disposal. You have the ability to jump, of course. You also have the ability to fire your rocket boots. You can do this either to extend your jump and move upwards or to dash across the screen. While your rockets boots are firing, you are invulnerable and using your rocket boots to avoid enemies and especially bosses is again key.

Most levels are rather simply designed. You certainly wouldn't call this game a platformer. Generally you just move to the right some until the enemies appear on screen. Then you need to figure out how to defeat them all while taking minimal damage. The enemies are typically robots of various designs, although occasionally they are humans or aliens. They follow a Treasure tradition of using the same sprite at several different sizes. At first, beating standard enemies during the level is easy as you can just kick them around. After a few levels, the enemies get better projectiles or more resilient to your attacks. There are some levels that involve a little more exploration and a little more moving up and down, but generally the move, fight, move paradigm holds up. Besides the side-scrolling action levels, there are also levels where you have your rocket boots permanently attached and can only fire your finger laser. These levels play like a shoot 'em up and are very well designed.

This being a Treasure game, the boss battles are what it is all about. While figuring out the enemies during the regular parts is fun and challenging, figuring out the bosses is a pure joy. The bosses are huge, often taking up most of the screen. They can do all sorts of different things from jumping to growing to transforming. Their patterns aren't always easy to figure out, but they all make sense and you want to keep trying until you can finally defeat them. They aren't just at the end of the level either, there are several mid-bosses that are usually just as good as any others you might face. The sequence of fighting the best robots in the world is just sublime.

One other unique aspect this game adds is the Omega Factor. Astro Boy's ability to experience emotions and understand people is represented as a grid that is filled in with each special person (or robot) that you meet. Often times you meet these people in the normal course of the game. They are the friends or enemies you encounter in your way. At other times, the special characters are hidden. You either have to go to an out-of-the-way place to find them or break some piece of the level to find their hiding place.

What does adding these people to your grid get you? Well, the game has an aspect of customization. When you start, you have four points to assign to your attributes of punch strength, laser strength, health, rocket strength, bullet strength, and another whose name I'm blanking on, but it helps you detect hidden people. You get additional points to add to these attributes when you meet certain people and add them to your grid. Thus, it is in your interest to find all the people you can to make you stronger.

This game has yet another cool feature that once you beat the game the first time, you get a very sad ending and the timeline is changed so you get to go through the game again, but the story is a little different and there are some slightly different enemies and levels. You also get the ability to go back to any level part that you have beaten and you need to do this to talk to different characters in a specific order to get information to find new characters and levels.

Another way this harkens back to most Treasure games is that it is challenging. I started playing the game on Hard mode and eventually had to just give up because I was finding it impossible. Frankly, I was also finding it unfun because it seemed I just had no chance against the enemies. Once I decided to restart the game at Normal difficulty, I realized this was the perfect way for me to play it. The game gives you unlimited continues and you need them. Most levels are broken down into four parts and you get to continue at the beginning of each part. This gives you a chance to master the patterns of the enemies at each part and gain a good amount of satisfaction. While the level portions often only took one to three tries to get through (though the shoot 'em up sections were a bit more tough), the bosses took no less than three tries. Still, it is an enjoyable difficulty because you get a little bit further or learn from your mistakes each time.

The graphics are crisp, clear, and what you would expect for a well-crafted game. The original Astro Boy had a profound impact on Japanese art (often credited with starting the anime aesthetic) and this game has colorful anime colors, characters, and great backgrounds. The music is also cheery and appropriate for a game like this and the sounds are catchy pop, pow, bam, and other explosions.

This game grew on me. I got frustrated with it when I was playing it on hard mode, but once I switched to normal I found it fairly great. The sheer amount of options and attacks you have makes the fighting in this game feel very strategic. The boss battles are some of the best you can get. The story integrates well into the game and helps increase the interest. I almost felt like I was playing through an Astro Boy movie. I highly recommend this game to anyone who has the ability to play Game Boy Advance games (that means anyone with a Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, or Game Boy Player for their Gamecube).

Rating: 9 / 10

Friday, December 29, 2006

On rating games

I was a bit troubled when I wrote up my Soul Blazer and Cybernator reviews by the scores I gave them at the end. Not that I necessarily thought the scores were wrong, but that I gave them both a 7, but couldn't really think of games that I would give an 8 to. This made me consider the numerical system I used to rate games.

There are basically two philosophies to how to rate games (and other things). One is to do a kind of checklist - does the game do this? Does it do this? Then, you tally those up and give the game a score. This is the method most major sites use for their reviews and it leads to relatively high scores. Since just about any game that gets published has a certain amount of QA that it goes through, games will rarely get a score below a 5 (on a 10 point scale) and 7 is probably average. Okay, I'm probably being generous by saying that this is the reason IGN rarely gives a score of less than 7.2, but this is what places like this say about their rating systems, anyway. It may just be rating inflation to ensure exclusives from publishes, but I won't go there.

The other philosophy is that the center of the scale should be average. On a 10 point scale, 5 means that a game is about par for what you will find on that system, with some spectacular gems and some stinkers. 1up and its paper counterpart Electronic Gaming Monthly have made a concerted effort to use this sort of rating system and many other gaming review sources are making an effort to move toward it, probably in an attempt to defray criticisms of ratings inflations.

The second philosophy is what I like. If you have a 10 point scale, you should be willing to use all 10 points on it. That means that games that work fine, but just aren't that special should be in the middle and everything else should go around them.

Knowing this, I sat down and thought about what each of the numbers on the 10 point scale I use (really 11 because 0 is an option) means to me and what games I have played would fall under those numbers. Here it is:

10. Outstanding
A game that scores a 10 is not perfect, but is a shining example of what games on the system can do. It should transcend the time and place of its conception and be as great to play today as it was when it came out. These games are gems. As examples, Dragon Warrior IV on the NES is about as good as a Japan-style RPG on the NES can be and indeed is still a great example of one of the best. Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising is an amazing strategy game that allows a multitude of tactics and never gets tiring.

9. Great
These games (along with the 10s) are ones I feel that everyone who owns the system should own. They are very well done, and examples of how to make games. They are prevented by being 10s by having some part or feature that works, but doesn't work great, such as a tedious portion or slightly off controls. This is the score I will give to Astro Boy: Omega Factor as that game just works so well and is such a delight to play, even though it does have some portions that aren't as great as others. The NES version of Bionic Commando would also fall in this category as it is a great, unique game that I will always replay, despite the fact that the adventure portion of the game could be a bit more polished.

8. Very Good
A game that gets an 8 is a game that I would recommend to anyone who has the system. The game isn't a 9 or 10, because I don't think it is so good that almost anyone would love it, but it has enough good stuff going for it that it probably belongs in your library. Kid Icarus is a NES game that I beleive falls in this category. It's got some really unique and fun play elements and puts them together pretty well. The original Castllevania would also get an 8 as while it has outstanding music and an awesome concept, the play control and challenge are just a bit off.

7. Good
Notice that we're at 7 and games here are still considered good. They still do most things well, but perhaps not well enough to distinguish themselves from the pack. Games that get a 7 are solid and worth playing, but not the first things you should check out. A game that I give an 8 or above to is a game I would recommend to anyone while at 7 I would probably only recommend the game if the person likes other games of that type. Aside from the games I have already reviewed with this score, I think Ice Hockey for the NES deserves this score as it is a solid, arcade-style hockey game with enough strategy to entertain two players, but you would never want to play it alone. Metroid II: Return of Samus for Game Boy is another example. It is a nice platform shooter with interesting weapons and skills, but the level design could be better.

6. Above Average
A game that scores a 6 has something that distinguishes it from other games, but only enough to make it interesting. Games with this score are fine to play and work, but you feel they could be better. Or maybe they have one great thing going for them and several mediocre or poor things too. Star Trek 25th Anniversay (the NES game, not the one for PC and Mac) would fall into this category as it's a decen action/adventure game that relies a lot on the license for the pull. The puzzles are pretty good, the action is okay, and the story is also pretty good. I'll also probably incur the wrath of a thousand fanboys by giving Chrono Cross this rating because, while the game had some of the best graphics and music the playstation could offer, the story was incomprehensible, the world was tiny and incoherent, and the battles and character customization were only okay.

5. Average
A game with this score is about what you'd expect for most games on the system. Either because it does just about everything okay, or because it does some things really well and some things really poorly. Besides Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix which I have already written a review of, the NES games Elevator Action and Mega Man 6 would get this score. The former is a competent arcade port of a game that can be fun but doesn't have too much to it such that you want to come back again and again while the latter is yet another rehashing of the Mega Man formula that still plays fine, but doesn't add anything.

4. Below Average
Here we come to games that do not live up to standards expected for games of the system. Many times these games haven't aged well, or just generally had something that didn't work quite right. The NES game Kung Fu falls into this category as, I suspect, would many launch titles that were playable when they were all you had, but don't stand up when better games come out. Another examples is Justice League: Injustice for All for Game Boy Advance. It has nice graphics (though strangely 3D-rendered), and fine play control, but the unique character abilities are rarely, if ever used and the game is short and easy.

3. Poor
Starting here, games tend to be flawed in some way. At this level, they are still playabale and you may even play them through, but they are missing something noticable. The Rescue of Princess Blobette for Game Boy is one such game, that while retaining the same basic gameplay of the NES original, lacks a plot or motivation to do much in the game. Pinball for NES is a slightly different example as it was a passable video pinball simulation that has just aged horribly as the physics are so poor.

2. Bad
While games that receive a 3 may still have something that warrants playing them through, once games receive a 2, you don't play them beyond initially checking them out. Or maybe they start out playable, but reach a point where it isn't worth your effort to continue. Gyromite for the NES is interesting as an oddity and one of two games that used R.O.B., but otherwise isn't worth playing. Having tried, playing with R.O.B. doesn't really work and while you can play with just controllers, it loses its challenge or fun. Another NES game, Star Trek: The Next Generation, couldn't overcome its flaws. The combat was poor and annoying, the mini-games to transport things or re-route power weren't that fun, and once you got to the mission where you fought the Borg ship, it just became frustrating to complete.

1. Awful
These games just aren't worth playing. Their play control is poor, or they aren't interesting. I can't think of any commercially released product that would actually get this rating, though I'm sure I've played some shareware games that fall under this or nowadays some flash games.

0. Unplayable
A game that gets a 0 is impossible to play - figuratively, if not literally. Generally games that get a 0 rating have some bug (or several bugs) that prevent any sort of meaningful play. Bionic Commando: Elite Forces for GBA had a crippling bug in many versions that would freeze the game upon encountering a truck (my copy did). The new version of Bubble Bobble for the DS also had a bug after a certain level that stopped the game and had to be reissued.

Astro Boy: Omega Factor - Beat the game

At long last I have saved the humanity and robot-kind alike, not to mention the Earth. I did it all using my rockets boots, my finger laser, and my Omega Factor - that which allows me to empathize with others.

This game, created by cult favorite developer Treasure totally grew on me. To be honest, I can't remember why I decided to first start playing it since reviews I'd read had been positive, but not glowing, and it didn't seem like a game that I would love. And I didn't at first. It was fine, but it felt pretty tedious to get through each level and at one point, I just had to give up.

That's when I realized I was playing it on hard mode.

Most games, nowadays, I find to be quite easy and it is on hard mode that I feel the true essence of a game comes out. Plus, if I've beaten NES games like Battletoads, Ninja Gaiden III, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then surely I can handle what any game has for me.

With Astro Boy: Omega Factor, I was wrong.

This game was designed to be played on normal mode. Hard mode basically just increases the damage enemies do and decreases the damage you do to an extent that takes the fun out of the game. It is plenty challenging on normal mode and still takes several tries to get past a level and especially any sort of boss.

So, I restarted the game playing it on normal mode and I really began to appreciate it. The thought and detail that went into your moveset and how you affect enemies and how enemies affect you and how everything interacts is just amazing. I'm not as hyped up on Gunstar Heroes, as many people out there, but I can see Treasure's brilliance and they definitely lent it to this game. And it's a licensed game, no less.

This is another game that's hard to put in one of those categories I made a few posts ago. It is sort of a run and gun without the gun, and more of a beat em up on a single plane. There are also almost as many levels that are just shoot em ups. Since the game doesn't totally feel like a beat em up or a shoot em up to me, I decided to just use the generic action label.

Review will be coming after I've put some more thoughts (and probably a post) into what the numbers at the end are supposed to mean.

Contact - Rizo Island

The more I play Contact, the less it enchants me and the more I'm finding it pretty average. It's a shame, because I want to like it. It's quirky! Quirky games must automatically be better than normal ones! Alas, this is not the case. The suit-changing mechanic is probably the best of the quirkiness, and I do enjoy picking the right suit for the right occasion. Otherwise, the cooking and decals are merely okay. I'll grant that I probably don't use the super-decals as much as I should. Maybe I'll try that.

I finally got the fisher king costume so now I can fish. A friend of mine recently commented on fishing in video games and this is one of those cases where it doesn't quite live up to expectations. It's okay, but I'm not loving it. Perhaps I just need to level up my fishing skill a bit so I can catch some big ones.

I did love the video game worlds in Habara. Moving around in the early-mid 80s style arcade games was pretty cool.

And what's up with the professor acting like I'm about to be at the final level? Is the game really that short? I mean, I guess the grinding I'll have to do to earn the 10,000 gold to buy the song will lengthen it...

Cybernator - Review

It took me a little while of playing this game to realize that its closest video game analog was that of Contra. The game has a lot of spit and polish and so many things you can do, it is almost overwhelming. Underneath it all, however, you are basically moving around on platforms and shooting at guys which makes it fall in the much-beloved category of run and gun.

In Cybernator, you play Jake, the pilot of a large mechanical humanoid robot (or mech). You are on one side of a war for the dwindling natural resources of earth. Your side isn't necessarily the "good" side or "right" side (though apparently you do adhere to the rules of war and attempt to minimize civilian casualties) which is an interesting twist. Your role is that of the weary soldier, loyal to his side but not fanatical and really just wanting all the fighting to be over. At least, that's what comes through in the dialog. This game's plot was notoriously clipped. Apparently there is also a romance between you and the communications officer, a kinship between you and your fellow mech pilots, and more of a rivalry between you and Beldark, but none of that really comes through. In essence, this kind of makes you feel like you are watching a badly dubbed Gundam anime.

Your mech is chock full of maneuvers. In addition to being able to move left and right (and up and down in zero gravity environments), you can jump, apply booster rockets after jumping to lift you up more or keep you from falling, and dash. The play control isn't precise, but it seems intended that way. You are controlling a multi-ton machine and your inertia logically carries you forward, making it impossible to turn or stop on a dime. The somewhat-sluggish control seems logical and works well. You won't be deftly jumping over all the bullets, but rather have to plan your moves to avoid where the bullets will be. Fortunately, you also have the ability to shield yourself from minor projectiles in the front (though I rarely used this) and you can take a few shots before you are destroyed.

You have multiple weapons which you can shoot in any of 16 directions. You use the D-Pad to determine where you shoot which can also mean that you accidentally move while aiming. This is solved by the ability to use the L button to lock your gun pointing in its current direction so that you can move about and still shoot in the direction you want. This ability is absolutely necessary in frenetic boss battles where you need to dodge projectiles and still want to be pointing toward the boss. You start with two weapons - the vulcan cannon which is relatively weak and can fire across the screen and a punch which is stronger but can only hit enemies in front of you. You can pick up other weapons such as missiles and a laser throughout the game and you can also pick up pods to upgrade the power of your existing weapons (each weapon has three power levels).

Most levels consist of moving from left to right, destroying enemies, and occasionally moving up or down to a platform. They are all well-designed and pretty much feel like the futuristic space station, asteroid field, or militarized city that they represent. Some levels are very bare bones and just involve straight left to right movement with enemies interspersed. Others involve more exploration and have multiple paths. These paths all eventually lead to the same place, but the more out-of-the-way ones involve weapons and health power-ups. Some levels take place in a zero gravity environment (or with your booster rockets permanently attached) meaning that you can move up or down at will and jumping becomes less important. There are even a few levels that automatically scroll, making them like shoot 'em ups. The variety is nice and really elevates the gameplay experience.

The enemies are also well-designed. They are what you would expect for a futuristic mech game like this, being robots, turrents, other mechs, or occasionally even people. They take a different amount of damage to destroy depending on what they are (people die in one shot, mechs take multiple). For the most part, they are cannon fodder, but every so often an enemy has an interesting movement or shot pattern that gives it some personality. Every level ends with at least one major boss. These bosses are one of the best parts of the game. They are all huge, taking up at least a good portion of the screen if not multiple screens. They each have their own individual quirks and patterns. Sometimes they are rockets or engines or large structures and at other times they are other mechs. They are pretty uniformly awesome. Except perhaps for the first boss, it takes at least one death to figure out the pattern and be able to survive your way through it. The multi-part last boss is a particular treat.

The game in general is fairly difficult, as run and gun games should be. It adheres to the old school philsophy that you get to a new area, try a few things, die, and then next game get to that area and do better because you are more aware of what you are doing. You have one life, so once your energy runs out the game is over, but you get three continues so you can think of it as having three lives. I have to admit that I used the cheat to get the napalm for the second level and even with this super-weapon, the game was still challenging. I can't really imagine how difficult it would have been if I had to destroy early enemies with a weak vulcan cannon or punch.

One place where this game really shines is the attention to detail. The graphics are big and bright and anime-inspired. The levels, especially those that take place on space-ships or space stations have highly-detailed background graphics that show thought was put into the design of these structures. Additionally, the movement of your mech and enemies is well-animated. Other little details, such as your bullets leaving marks where they hit the wall or pilots ejecting from vehicles that you destroy add to the feel and there are several mode-7 explosions to liven it up. If you have seen the detail of Metal Slug, this game is quite similar.

Remember how I said above that the story feels like a badly translated Gundam anime? The music adds to that mood. It is very Japanese giant robot anime-ish if you know what that means. If not, know that it doesn't stick with you, but feels appropriate to the game. The sounds tend to be minimal. They are limited to industrial, futuristic, robotic things like tank treads, metal clashing on metal, and explosions. They are quite nice and generally complement the graphic detail without distracting from it.

This game is well-designed and has a spectacular attention to detail. It is also ridiculously difficult and not terribly innovative. Most of the time, I really had fun with the game. It isn't too long and I had a constant sense of progress, never getting stuck on one level for too long. The ridiculous graphic detail can totally pull you into the world and for several days I had fantasies of driving my own giant mech and blowing stuff up. It definitely impressed me enough to want to check out its Genesis prequel, Target Earth. So, I generally had quite positive feelings toward, but the game itself didn't seem that special.

The issue is with the number. In my head, a 7 means that the game is good and recommended if you like that genre. An 8 means that a game is very good and something to check out if you get the chance. I gave Soul Blazer a 7, and I think that is appropriate. The game is fun, but isn't something I would recommend to everyone. Cybernator feels about the same way to me and yet I feel like it might deserve an 8 as it would be probably be on a list of top games for the system, albeit at the bottom. I'm guess I'm not too clear in my mind on what the difference between 8 and 9 in my mind is. I'll have to sit down and think about this. I also find it silly that I am spending so much time on picking the right number when I could have made this much easier for myself by cutting the ratings to a 5 point scale. It is an obvious 4 on that scale, but once I expand it, I have to decide what slot it fits into. I guess I'll just give a disclaimer that numerical ratings given up to this review are subject to change.

Rating: 7 / 10

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Contact - Reached Habara

So now that it's the holidays and I'm visiting my parents, my gaming will be pretty much confined to games that are portable. On the plane ride, I played a bit of Animal Crossing: Wild Word, but I am really getting burnt out on that, so I figured Contact woud be a good break.

I mentioned in my last post about Contact, that while it has several quirky elements, it still feels like a fairly typical modern 2D RPG. One thing I do appreciate is that you can see enemies so you can choose whether to fight them or avoid them. It's a bit like Chrono Trigger in that sense as you don't have to fight an enemy unless you get too close to it.

Some of the quirky things that are supposed to set Contact apart work well and some don't. I like cooking, but it frustrates me when I attempt to combine things and it tells me "You can't make that yet." I want the freedom to experiment and if my cooking skill isn't good enough to make it, just have me fail. Also, some of the super-decals seem really gimmicky. I can't figure out what use calling Mochi is, and have been desperately playing with him every time I save. The balloon blowing also seems ridiculous.

Still, I'm enjoying this game as a fairly light-hearted romp. The plot is still way beyond me. I can't figure out what the CosmoNOTs are up to or what their motivations are. The professor seems benign, but I wouldn't put some sinister motivations past him. And I'm really clueless on where the natives of this planet fit in with regards to the outer space people or why Terry is so special. Having me be a character in the game makes plot developments even more interesting and makes Terry being a silent protagonist less of a cliche.

I didn't get it from the name, but once I arrived, I immediately realized that Habara island was a tribute to the geek neighborhood of Tokyo, Akihabara. What with all the people there looking for video games and toy figures. Very cute. The translation on this game is top notch. "Hit its weakpoint for massive damage!" and "I wish a base like this belonged to us." being highlights.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Cybernator - Beat the game

This game really grew on me as I played it. At first, I just found it kind of average. Of course, at first I played it without realizing what all the controls did. So at first I was just playing around with a limited subset of the game. Once you realize that the game is much more than jumping and shooting, what with rushing, being able to hold your shot angle while moving, shielding yourself, etc. That along with the different weapons you can use and the fact that while you don't have tight play control, it makes sense because you are controlling a huge mech and the momentum should keep you going and prevent you from stopping on a dime.

The final boss was especially very cool - so huge it took up three screens, different parts to destory, and patterns that are learnable but not too easy to dodge.

One thing I do wish is that the story hadn't been so obviously cut on this game. Yeah, too much talking can be frustrating in a game like this, but the half-assed translation and obvious cutting of dialog makes it more annoying. I want more of the romance behind Crea and Jake. I want to care more about Apollo when he dies. And I would love to see the ending seen that was cut from the US version, but I've heard it was too violent to make it past Nintendo's censorship policy at the time.

Anyway, this is the second solid SNES game I have played since starting this journal. Never having had a Super Nintendo, I'm really loving the system. The graphics are crisp and sharp (especially in S-Video) and there are some quality games I missed out on. Yes, I still haven't played some of the big ones like Super Metroid or The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, so I have a lot to look forward to.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Cybernator - Final Boss

So I do this whole long post about classifying games and then immediately the next game I play is one that's hard to classify. In Cybernator you pilot a giant mech with various weapons and capabilities. You can jump and fly. It is close to Contra in gameplay, but there is a bit more jumping and moving around. I guess if I had to put it in one of my current categories then Platform would be the right genre for it, but all the shooting and blowing stuff up makes that seem a little off. Plus there are 2 or 3 sections that are like a shoot 'em up. I could just lump it in Action and that's what MobyGames does. Or I could give it multiple labels (that's what they are there for) like Digital Press does (Action/Platform/Shooter). Or make up a new one for Contra-like games (typically called "run and gun"). I like the Digital Press method the best, but the whole point of giving these genre labels to games is so that people can search for all games in one genre. I don't see any way to show all posts with both labels "shooter" and "platform" with blogger, so I'll abandon that and just create a new Run and Gun label. Typically, overhead shooters like Commando and Ikari Warriors also fall into this category and even though I find them quite a bit different from side-scrollers like Contra and especially Cybernator, I guess I'll live.

Ignoring that whole aside, Cybernator is a pretty slick game. The graphics and attention to detail are pretty amazing and it just feels smooth. For whatever reason, most mech games totally suck, but this one really works. I thought I read once that this was based on an anime, but can now find no corroborating evidence of this, so I will assume I am misremembering. The game certainly feels like some Gundam cartoon, right down to the bad dubbing (the translation is notoriously chopped and censored).

Anyway, I dig it quite a bit and it is certainly a difficult game. Despite doing the trick to get the napalm at the end of the first level, I still have not beaten it. Like any good run and gun, you practice and learn the patterns and make it further. I made it to the final boss this time (so my first entry on the game is not me beating it - yay!) who is, predictably, a huge mech. The fight it pretty awesome and I got close to beating it, but couldn't quite do it. I have a fair bit of confidance that next time I play, I will beat the game.

This game is totally recommended if you like run 'n guns and/or giant mechs.

On classifying games

When you hear about a game for the first time, you want to know what it's like. When you have a bunch of games, you want to categorize them in some way. My idea when I first started this journal is that entries would only be tagged with the name of the game and the system it is for. Then I got to thinking that just in case the readership of this expands beyond, say, half a dozen, I might want to have another way to group all the games I've talked about. This is so that if someone reads about a game and is interested in it, they can click on the category label of that game and see all the games of that type.

I decided to call this genre and even started a link list for them on the right side of the page. I'm not sure genre is the right word ( is down at the moment, so I can't analyze its meaning) but that's what a ton of the professional game sites call it, so I'll leave it at that. At first, I wanted to have very simple options for genre, something along the lines of Action, Adventure, Role-Playing, and Strategy. That immediately began to feel off when I put both Soul Blazer and Fear Effect 2 in the same genre. I didn't quite want to put Soul Blazer in the Role-Playing genre because I pictured Role-Playing as being games that didn't focus on reflexes. I didn't want to put Fear Effect 2 in the action category because the game involves quite a bit of non-action-oriented puzzles.

Remembering that gametz had quite a few genres in which to list a game, I checked out their list and culled what I think will be a pretty comprehensive list of what I use. It isn't perfect - I still don't have a great idea of where Grand Theft Auto 3 falls, but I think they'll do for now. Here they are with comments for what falls into them:

  • Action - This will be a catch-all category for any game that relies on reflexes and doesn't fall into another category. Examples: classic arcade games like Joust or Donkey Kong, Ninja Gaiden (the NES one, anyway), Katamari Damacy

  • Action/Adventure - A game relying on reflexes but that involves a significant amount of puzzle-solving and/or item manipulation. Examples: Zelda, Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

  • Action/RPG - A game relying on reflexes where your character has statistics such as strength, magic, hit points, etc. These should increase after killing a certain number of foes and after wielding better weapons or wearing better armor. Examples: Secret of Mana, X-Men Legends

  • Adventure - A game involving puzzle solving and item manipulation that doesn't rely on fast reflexes. Examples: Space Quest, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst

  • Beat'emup - Since I don't want the Action genre to be too huge, I chose a few (mainly 8 and 16 bit) sub-genres to break it down into. A beat 'em up is a game where your character has various moves such as punches and kicks and takes on bad guys that come at him. These games are generally on a 2D plane and the bad guys generally take more than one hit. This category will also often include hack 'n slash games (though those will sometimes be in the Action-RPG category) where you have weapons and the view can be overhead or side-scrolling. Examples: Double Dragon, Final Fight, The Warriors

  • Board/Trivia - Any game that resembles a more traditional board game or a trivia game, even if some video game action is required. Examples: Monopoly, Mario Party, Wheel of Fortune

  • Fighting - A tournmanet fighting game. Examples: Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Soul Calibur

  • First Person Shooter - A game that takes place from the character's perspective and has you attacking things directly in front of you. Note that games that involve a slightly 3rd-person or over-the-shoulder view could also fall into this category. Examples: Doom, Halo

  • Flight - Often a first person shooter in the air. Enemies come at you, you move up, down, left, and right and the view is generally from the cockpit, though occasionally from behind the plane. Examples: After Burner, Top Gun, Wing Commander

  • Interactive Movie - A game where the action pretty much plays out in front of you, but you can take actions to make the story branch or change it somewhat. Examples: Dragon's Lair, Night Trap

  • Platform - An action game where moving around the environment is just as important, if not more so, than defeating enemies. Examples: Super Mario Bros., Bionic Commando, Donkey Kong 64

  • Puzzle - A game where you try to fit things together, create combos, or otherwise use your brain to think about where things are on the screen. Examples: Tetris, Puyo Pop, Boxxle

  • Racing - A game where you try to be the fastest one to get to a certain goal. Examples: R.C. Pro-Am, Super Mario Kart, Gran Turismo

  • Rhythm/Reflex - A game where you have to press buttons in time to the patterns or music on the screen. Examples: Parappa the Rapper, Amplitude, Guitar Hero

  • Role-Playing - A game where your character(s) has statistics such as strength, intelligence, hit points, etc. These increase after killing a certain number of foes and after wielding better weapons or wearing better armor. These games do no rely heavily on a player's reflexes. Examples: Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior

  • Shmup - An action game on a 2D plane where you are usually in a ship of some sort shooting at enemies that come at you while the screen automatically scrolls. Called "shmup" as an abbreviation for "shoot 'em up". Do proto-shmup games like Galaga and Centipede fall in this category? I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. Examples: Gradius, 1942, Ikaruga

  • Simulation - A game meant to simulate some real world process such as business, city management, or farm life. Examples: SimCity, Railroad Tycoon, Harvest Moon

  • Sports - A game based on a sporting competition. Examples: Madden NFL 07, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, Mutant League Hockey

  • Strategy - A game where you manage resources and make decisions, typically in order to win battles or take over the world. Examples: Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Advance Wars

  • Strategy/RPG - A strategy game, as above, but that also involves characters with statistics that can be upgraded by leveling, and equipping new weapons and armor and also typically involves more story. Examples: Shining Force, Disgaea

You may also have noticed that I am trying to include links with each game I mention. These will typically be broken links, but if, at some time in the future, I write a post about a certain game these old posts will automatically link to it. Whee!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fear Effect 2 - Review

The Fear Effect games obviously owe a lot to the Resident Evil franchise. Both games involve wandering around in 3D, shooting bad guys who are often undead, and solving puzzles. Fear Effect attempts several things to be unique: It has an anime/cyberpunk story (and look), it uses streaming animation for the backgrounds, and it makes the puzzles more in-game. The first Fear Effect seemed like a fairly typical 3D playstation action adventure game to me and the second is pretty much more of the same.

The second Fear Effect is actually a prequel to the first one. You find out how the gang all met up (to give it away, the wonderfully cliche "a powerful person set up each of their missions"). It also introduces Hana's girlfriend, Rain. Apparently, the advertising for the game hyped the presence of lesbians to an incredible extreme, but you may be disappointed to find out that kissing and suggestive dialogue is as far as the game goes. So each of the characters was hired to get some part of an AIDS-like virus. Then, once they all bring them where they are supposed to, they encounter demons and ghosts and the whole Chinese mythology part of the game takes place.

Like the first game, this one is very anime cyberpunk inspired. The story of a virus killing a large swathe of the population and the anti-hero(es) discovering what is really going on seems like your typical anime. Also, there is copious amounts of gore, blood, and violence as well as demons and Asian mythology. The feel to the game is definitely done right. Another anime similarity is that the plot becomes overblown and incrediby convoluted with some scenes dedicated to ridiculous exposition. The first game's story was, at least, graspable. With this one, you just kind of say "uh huh" and tune out.

The game has the incredibly annoying Resident Evil-style controls where people drive like cars, pivoting on an axis that goes through the middle of them and then moving forward and backward. This was never a good way to control someone, just probably the best the creator of Resident Evil could come up with. That it was used in so many 3D games is inexcusable. Since there is a lot of action in this game, including a lot of people shooting at you, the fact that getting in position and moving where you want is so hard does not help. The shoulder buttons are used to run, sneak, do a 180, and somersault and all must be mastered to avoid dying in this game. The control system is learnable, but is something you must overcome, rather than helping you play.

You have an inventory of both weapons and items. The weapons you use for killing enemies both human and demonic. The items you use like a typical adventure game to solve puzzles and give to people. You scroll through your items using the square and circle buttons and this generally works fine, except that the game doesn't pause while scrolling through them. This means that, in the middle of a firefight when you are trying to switch weapons, you may end up with the wrong one. While running from an enemy and trying to open a door, you need to not only find the spot where the item can be used, but then scroll through to the correct item. This means you need to switch between looking at the screen and down at your inventory all while being shot at. I have a feeling the developers thought having to choose inventory items in real time (and put away your weapons before you can use an item) would make the game more realistic, but it actually just makes it more annoying.

The gameplay consists mostly of killing enemies and solving puzzles. The fighting takes place using the flawed control system mentioned above so it can be frustrating. Thankfully, there is something of an automatic lock-on with your guns so you mostly just need to face in the general direction of an enemy. Also, there is a nice crosshairs that appears to let you know when you are targeting someone. It doesn't always work and sometimes you are frantically turning your character trying to figure out why you aren't targeting a guy.

The puzzles come in three forms: timing puzzles which require moving your character in the right pattern to avoid lava, electricity, etc., adventure puzzles which involve putting the right item(s) in the right place(s) and puzzle screens which are more or less logic puzzles you solve to disarm locks, turn off electricity, or satisfy Asian gods. The boss fights themselves often fall into the action puzzle category, requiring noticing the pattern of the boss' attacks and figuring out when you can attack. Except for the end of the game, the adventure puzzles generally make sense and you never have that much stuff in your inventory that you can't just try it all if you get stuck. The puzzle screens are generally the most annoying as you often have no idea what the goal of them is so much of the time you are trying random things while figuring out what to do. They also often make little story sense, so they feel like they were thrown in there just to add another level of challenge to the game.

The game itself really adopts the "try and die" school of gameplay. The save points are pretty frequent and you will often die, reload and move through that part again, this time trying not to repeat your mistake. As much as it may distract from the realism of the game, I can be a fan of this type of gameplay. However, every so often the save points are spaced far enough apart that you have to get through several hard challenges before you can save again. You end up having to repeat the timing puzzle to get through the difficult fighting sequences again just to die because you weren't ready for the two enemies on the other side of the door. It's not awful, and the spacing is usually fine such that figuring out how to get through each section feels like an accomplishment.

The graphics are probably the most interesting and one of the best parts of the game. All of the backgrounds in the game are basically short animated movies streamed from the discs (this is why there are four of them when the game is maybe ten hours long). This means they look really good and make the game look like an anime as well as feeling like it. The in-game character models have a sort of proto-cel shaded look. They are 3D models with anime-looking features mapped on to them. Generally, I find first generation 3D games, especially Playstation ones hard to look at. At least with old Atari games, the large blocks are clean-looking rather than fuzzy. The art style in this game really helps it stand the test of time and I think it looks fine and probably great considering the hardware.

The sound is neither here nor there. The sound effects are servicable. The voice acting is actually pretty good. Given that the story and writing are fairly B-movie, the voice actors do a fine job with what they are given. The music is also functional and appropriate, but eminently forgettable.

I didn't dislike playing this game. Oh, it was annoying at times - the control scheme, the inscrutable puzzles, the ridiculous story - but it didn't turn me off. You definitely feel a sense of accomplishment when you move through the game. You figure out how to get by the enemies, sneaking up and killing them, positioning yourself to fire on them, rolling out of the way and it feels good. The timing puzzles are generally good mind/reflex tests and if you can figure out what you are doing, the puzzle screens can be enjoyable logic games. But then right after that you get killed by an enemy because you can't turn around fast enough, or you can't figure out what a puzzle wants you to do, or you get some gobbledeegook expository dialogue. At the end, you get through the game and left feeling somewhat empty. You beat it, but did you get anything out of it. It's not that the game is wholly mediocre, it's just that its bright points are countered by its failings so it averages out to mediocre.

Rating: 5 / 10

Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix - Beat the game

So, the point of this journal is to share my thoughts as I am going through a game and talk about the beginning, middle, and end. Unfortunately, I happened to start it right when I am at the end of two games so it looks like I just make an entry after beating the game. I assure you this isn't the case. In Soul Blazer I started that night half way through the second-to-last level. With this game, I was right at the end of Glas' flashback sequence.*

This is definitely one of those games I beat only because I am somewhat obsessive about beating all the games I own. I played the first Fear Effect and found it decidedly mediocre. It held my interest enough to play through, but by the end I was doing it just to get to the end. I don't know if I started playing this game because I wanted to see if the sequel was any better or I wanted to see the continued story or... who am I kidding, I think the only reason I played this is to see what all the lesbianism was about. Well, it wasn't that special and this game is also mediocre (though I don't remember the mechanical insect cunnilingus referred to in the IGN review).

I'll do a review of the game in my next post, but I wanted to touch on the differences between the first game and this one. It isn't worth my effort to review the first game, but you can rest easy in knowing it would get the same review score I will give this one. The graphics in the second Fear Effect do seem slightly improved, but the story is so convoluted and ridiculous that I didn't bother following it and the puzzles seem a bit more arbitrary, so all-in-all, it's a wash.

*For those curious about other games in my pipeline and where I am in them:
PS2: Metal Gear Solid 3 - Fighting the astronaut/pyromaniac
SNES: Cybernator - I can get to the last level using all the continues
SNES: Super Punch-Out - I've been trying to beat this for awhile, but my reflexes just don't seem to be good enough for the second-to-last guy
GEN: Phantasy Star II - I can get through the last dungeon to the boss, but he kills me every time
GBA: Fire Emblem - I just finished the mission where you get the girl from the spy organization
DS: Contact - I just posted on this

Monday, December 11, 2006

Contact - Got Third Cell

I had a conversation with a friend recently about our choice in video games. He said that, now that we are older and have played all the standard games, we are much more likely to pick up quirky games, because, even if they aren't any more fun than normal games, they are at least new and different. This was in my response to my describing Contact to him.

I'm enjoying Contact just fine. It is a good, solid game. But it really isn't any better than a traditional good, solid Japanese RPG would be. It's just different.

It breaks the fourth wall by involving you, the player, in the game. It is generally real-time with you telling the main character what to do and him doing it. The main character wears different suits to give him different abilities and can apply decals to increase stats and make other things happen. While the main screen has more traditional RPG artwork, the professor, his dog, and his spaceship look straight out of Earthbound.

All of this quirkiness is nice, but it doesn't really make the game significantly better than something like Golden Sun (well, except that it doesn't have uninteresting dialog that drags on forever). Still, I'm having fun with the game. There was a slight hiccough where I couldn't figure out the thing I had to attack as the boss of the third cell, but now I've done that and am moving on the next area.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Soul Blazer - Review

When I first had the idea to create this game journal, I decided that, while normal entries would just chart progress through and thoughts on a game, after finishing a game I would give a review of it. I then had to decide what format the review would take. Would it be a GameSpot/IGN-style story, gameplay, graphics, sound review? Or would it be an Insert Credit-style Hunter S. Thompson new games journalism stream of consciousness review? While the latter can certainly be entertaining, it usually just isn't me. We'll get something in-between, but I think we will hit on all the mainstream review points.

Soul Blazer is a very traditional "adventure" video game. I put "adventure" in quotes because it has a very different meaning for console games than for computer games. With computer games, you mean King's Quest IV or Secret of Monkey Island. With console games, you mean Zelda, Battle of Olympus, or even the Atari 2600 classic, Adventure. I've seen Action Adventure as another genre to describe these and nowadays, the term Action RPG is used (because collecting items and talking to people totally makes it an RPG!) Screw it, I'll use whatever designation mobygames gives the game and leave it at that.

The story is that the king is greedy and makes this genius scientists Dr. Leo invent a machine that will contact the Lord of Evil. The king makes a deal with the ruler of evil to exchange each soul in the kingdom for a gold piece. The king gets rich, but everyone disappears (because their soul is taken) includuing, eventually, the king. The Master (i.e. God, or a close facsimile) sends you down to free the peoples' souls. Even though there are people to talk to, they generally say useless things and you never get too much more story. You free the soul of Dr. Leo's daughter early on and each other area has someone close to him (his dog, his dolphin) until you get to the royal castle. At that point, you get some more story, a tacked on romance, and then play the final level, beat the game and get a full-fledged ending plus epilogue. The story is fine, just not well told. Part of that is probably the fault of the translation, but just about none of the characters, besides maybe Dr. Leo's daughter had any sort of personality. Oh well, it's not that a story is key to a game like this anyway - the early Zelda games never had a great story.

Each of the seven areas in the game starts off barren. There is just you, and maybe one other living thing there. So you have to go into the dungeon and defeat a bunch of monsters. Every so often, after defeating a group of monsters and stepping on the gem that spawned them, you will release another soul. This will appear as a person (or some other living thing - you can talk to any living thing in this game) in the town area. The souls you free sometimes come with their own architecture or other landscape-changing feature. This is the most original aspect of the game, and probably the most fun. The sense of building up the town is great, and I really liked knowing that I was creating more people to talk to. Instead of just putting all the items in treasure chests in the dungeon, you may now have to talk to certain people to get them, or even run errands or solve puzzles related to them. The world-building really gives the game a good sense of exploration and kept me wanting to push on to free one more soul to see what he would give me.

If the term Action RPG were around when this game came out, it would fall into that category. You have a bunch of stats like strength, magic, and hit points. As you kill enemies, you gain experience points and when you gain enough you level up. You also get different swords as the game progresses. Most of the time, the new one is strictly better than the old, but a few of them have interesting powers. The same is true of armor. There are magic and items you equip as well and I'll get to those later.

Like Zelda, the game takes place from an overhead perspective. Your main weapon is your sword which swings in about a 180 degree arc from your lower right to your upper left. This makes it pretty easy to hit any enemy that comes in your general vicinity. You can also stick your sword in one direction and by holding down the L or R button, keep facing in that direction with your sword out and impaling various enemies. That is almost never useful except against bosses (maybe just one boss?)

You also have magic. Well, you have a soul orb that circles you and you fire magic from this. This can be tricky as the orb is constantly circling you and so you need to time when the magic should fire from it. There are various spells you get during the game, from a single bolt that fires in one direction from the soul sphere, to an omnidimensional one, to tornadoes and fire pillars. The magic that shoots out in all directions is really the only useful one (until you get the Phoenix at the end of the game, and that doesn't use your soul sphere). In fact, Magic in the game is nearly useless. Your sword defeats just about all the enemies fine and the only time it is beneficial to use magic is when you are absolutely forced to - when the enemy is on the other side of a wall. Magic requires gems to use which you get from defeating enemies. It feels so wasteful to have this magic system that is never used, but the game is pretty fun just slashing guys, so I didn't mind too much.

The soul sphere, which you get at the beginning of the game, also acquires other powers as you go through levels and talk to the right people. Unlike magic, these are actually useful like letting you see in the dark or see invisible enemies or passages.

The game really cements itself in the adventure genre by the sheer number of items you collect. Sometimes, these help your stats, other times they do something useful like restore your health or save your gems. Plenty of times, they are just used for fetch quests. Give the acorn to the squirrel or the VIP card to the guard.

As I've mentioned, the gameplay consists of going into a dungeon, fighting enemies and releasing souls, and then going back to town to talk to people so you can explore new dungeons that have opened up. This culminates in the final dungeon having a boss you have to fight and then you can move on to the next area. The play control is fine, though it feels a little stiff. You cannot move diagonally ever and you can't move while attacking. It doesn't detract from the game, but it definitely feels dated. The enemies themselves are well-designed and present the variety you would expect from a game like this. There are some that are really quick, some that move unpredictably, and some that shoot things at you. The levels are also designed well. They typically have obstacles that are removed by defeating a group of enemies. They don't have an incredible amount of exploration, but they work well. One thing that is very nice about the game is that even though there are areas where you go through an area, go back to town and get something, and then go to that area again, there is never a tedium in this. There are always teleporters or soul crystals that take you near enough where you need to go.

My only other gameplay complaint besides the stiff controls is that the game is a bit easy. While the enemies aren't always that easy to kill or avoid, the damage they do to you is never very significant and there are plenty of opportunities to restores your health. The biggest challenge comes with the bosses. It is true old-school gameplay where you have to learn the pattern and the right way to kill them. While I died maybe twice when not fighting the bosses, I died several times when fighting them. Thinking back, I guess it wasn't so easy because of my deaths - I guess maybe part of it is that the penalty for death is so low. All that happens is that you lose all your gems and start from the main room of the area (which generally has a teleporter right back to the boss). Since, like I said earlier, you rarely use magic, losing your gems means absolutely nothing.

Here is the standard graphics and sound paragraph. The graphics are bright, colorful, and distinct, though not amazing. They do the job and look pretty enough, but there are few amazing effects. The music and sound is similarly well done, but not spectacular. There are actually quite a few good musical pieces in the game, but they are a bit short so they repeat a lot. The town theme can be especially annoying in how often it repeats. The sound is generally just there for what it needs to be. The sound effect for slashing, killing, picking up items, etc. are fine, but not memorable.

I feel like I may have been quite down on this game in the review without getting across the point that it is quite fun. The action is good and well-paced and it is enjoyable to figure out the right strategy to beat the monster groups. You always feel like you are figuring things out and making progress. The unique soul-releasing mechanism really works well as you feel like you are building the world and creating more places to explore. The game feels non-linear despite the fact that you almost always just go from one place to another. In short, it's a bit like a Zelda light. Not quite as engrossing or as well put-together as your typical Zelda game, but pretty damn fun.

Now here's the part where I'm supposed to quantify how much I enjoyed (or didn't) the game. I thought of several systems, with maybe the letter grade system making the most sense (as, if a game gets an F, it doesn't really matter if it is bad or extremely bad), but when I listen to my heart, I really want to use a 0-10 scale where 0 means the game is fundamentally broken, 10 means it is pure delight to play (though not necessarily perfect) and 5 being average. So, here we go.

Rating: 8 / 10

Soul Blazer - Beat the game

I decided to play this game because of Zelda. Specifically, I saw this video that attempted to place all of the Zelda games on a historical, game-world, timeline (actually two timelines, but you'll have to watch the video to see that). It inspired me to want to play all of the Zelda games in the order presented there.

Unfortunately for me, the first Zelda game they mentioned was the Game Boy Advance game The Minish Cap. The reason that is unfortunate is because of my peculiar game play habits. I try not to have too many outstanding (unbeaten) games for a system at once. That is, I don't want to have too many games that I start, put a significant amount of time into, and then leave "unfinished." I put unfinished in quotes because sometimes I can feel done with a game even if I don't beat it, and many times there isn't really a meaning of beating the game.

Anyway, I currently have two portable games that I have put some time into, but have not finished. The first is Fire Emblem for Game Boy Advance (which I love, but my obsessive-compulsiveness regarding to games is hindering how good it could be) and the other is Contact for the DS (which, to be honest, seems merely fine so far). Starting The Minish Cap would add one more portable game (not to mention that I would still be playing Animal Crossing: Wild World and that felt like too much.

I still wanted to play Zelda, so I decided to play a Zelda-like game. I have been curious about Soul Blazer since I acquired it, and on a superficial level it seems Zelda-like: overhead view, sword as main weapon, magic as secondary weapons, items to equip. So, I popped it in and began playing it.

It certainly owes a lot to Zelda, and I would call it Zelda-like, but not a Zelda clone. I'll go into more detail of what the game is when I review it (probably the next post), and for now I'll just give my feelings on it.

Basically, I like it more than its quality.

It has quite a few shortcomings - in play control, usefulness of items and magic, too easy gameplay, and the plot it tries to show (though I think this is mostly the fault of the translation). Despite them, I found I never grew tired of this game and kept wanting to play on. The reason is because the innovation of the game - freeing the souls in dungeons and having them appear as characters in the towns - totally gives me what I want in a game: a sense of exploration. While the dungeons themselves are fairly well designed, they are mappable in your head and so don't really require thinking about what direction to go in.

It is the freed souls, appearing in and transforming the town that make me want to keep going. I know once I exit the dungeon, I'll have more people to talk to, possible side-quests to perform, and maybe even a new dungeon opened up to me. Also, it is never hard to get back to the town. There is always a teleporter square or soul crystal willing to take you right back, so you don't have any tedium in having to trek back (and as mentioned, the dungeons aren't huge anyway, so you never have to go far). You are constantly moving, revealing, and exploring new areas. In a way, it makes the game completely linear even if it seems there is a sense of non-linearity.

I totally dug it, despite it merely being a good game. It fulfilled my Zelda longing and it had just the right design for me. I'm curious to try its spiritual sequels, Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Animal Crossing: Wild World - Making Money

Animal Crossing gets to feel like work. Especially when I am just trying to make the money to expand my house. Having to search all the rocks for the one that gives out money, and harvest and sell the fruit just isn't that interesting to do over and over again. I often feel like I'd rather play other games for their gameplay experience, but I feel like I should play Animal Crossing and perform all the routines.

I suppose I feel the payoff is worth it. I really do want to get the cool new items and to do that I need to play every day. And I need to do the tedious tasks in order to make money. Once I get all the house expansions done, the money-making tedium won't be nearly what it used to be. And I did just expand my house, so I have a new room to decorate.

I often feel obligated to keep playing a game because I have an urge to beat every game I play. With this game, there is no way to beat it, so I don't feel that. I like the exploration in the game - of seeing and doing new things and reaching new goals. It just totally feels like I am doing work in order to get there. I wonder if I should take a break and it will be better later or if this is always the way the "mid-game" feels?

Welcome to Bitstream of Consciousness

This blog will be a journal of my habits in playing video games. Each post title will consists of the name of the game and approximately where I am or what I have done in the game. The contents of the post may be impressions of the game, why I am playing it, or anything else I come up with. Hopefully blogger beta's labels will allow me to make a really good database so, for instance, you can see all SNES games I have written about. There also hopefully won't be many non-game related posts like this one.

Ah, so that's the what. Why a game journal? It all boils down to this: I have Attention Deficit Disorder for games.

When I was young, I would get, at most 5 new games a year. Usually it was closer to 3. This meant that there was a limit to what I could play on my Nintendo Entertainment System. Because of this, I would really focus on each game. There was nothing else for me to do but devote my efforts to beating Ninja Gaiden or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I had help from various game magazines like Nintendo Power or Game Players, but that still meant that my time was devoted to beating these games.

Now that I am older and have more disposable income, I have almost every Nintendo game I ever wanted. Not to mention Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Playstation, and Gameboy game. So, I seem to start playing one game, lose interest in it, and then move onto another. I rarely end up playing a game to its completion anymore. I have to motivate myself to explore everything about a game and just get through it. Also, most older games had no way to save your progress, so I really have to have several hours to devote to a game if I want to finish it. (Yes, I realize this is an argument for emulators, but those just aren't the same for me.)

This game journal is meant to help in my motivation to fully explore each game I play. By writing down my thoughts that come up when I play a game, I hope to keep my interest alive. As I go through a game, there will be impressions, memories, and probably an eventual review for each game. I don't promise that I won't skip around - in fact I'm sure that I will eventually do that - but this journal will help get me back on track with where I was.