Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sin and Punishment - Finished the game on Normal

The other night, I finally managed to finish this game on Normal mode without seeing the game over screen. That means I continued probably about 15 times, but since you have to earn your continues, that definitely feels like an accomplishment.

This game really has some epic gameplay moments. The later levels really kick this game up a notch. The boss battles and stages at the beginning are good. But soon it just starts ratcheting up. You get a feeling of it when you are inside the ship and chasing the monster that has stolen Achi. You are then blown away when you get to the stage where you are on the flying platform zooming around all the battleships with planes and monsters flying at you. It is hard to describe in words, but the action is just exhilarating. After this level, the tone heads down a notch, though still remains well done while you are fighting through the subway train. Then the action shifts as the final stage is played more like a 2D side-scrolling game. This then takes you to one of the best final boss battles ever.

In the final battle, it is you against the planet earth - the evil planet earth. Once again, the focus of the action changes as you hardly need to worry about your health in this battle at all. Instead, you need to concentrate on protecting the good planet earth as the evil fires all sorts of projectiles at it. While you are defending, you also need to get your shots in at the evil planet. If you concentrate too much on attacking the projectiles, you will not do enough damage and either time will get you, or you will lose as the earth's health is slowly wittled away by the projectiles you miss. If you concentrate too much on just damaging the planet, it's stream of shrapnel will quickly decimate the earth and you will lose. You must strike just the right balance, knowing what you must destroy and what you can let through to finish this battle correctly.

I am undecided on whether I will attempt this game in hard mode. Given it is the end of the week and I've played this game a lot this week, I think not. But that is no reflection of my opinion of Sin and Punishment which I give a rating of 'totally awesome' to.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sin and Punishment - Birth Model Ruffian on Long Island Subway on Normal

This is the first game I have downloaded on my Wii's virtual console. Not because I don't think there haven't been other games worth downloading. The fact that I own most of the SNES and Genesis games on the virtual console dissuades me from them, but there are plenty of good TurboGrafx-16 games. It's just that I can't seem to justify to myself buying virtual games when I have plenty of real ones. Sin and Punishment is different.

Sin and Punishment is a game that was never released on the North American Nintendo 64. It was only ever released in Japan. Those who imported or emulated the game claimed that we in the United States missed out. The game was made by Treasure - renowned for making great action games. It was amazing and it never came here until now. Clearly I want to support Nintendo releasing never-before-seen games on the virtual conole so I downloaded this the day it came out. I wasn't disappointed.

The game is truly awesome. It's a bit like Space Harrier or Cabal or Panzer Dragoon. It isn't quite a first person shooter nor a shmup. Basically, your character is at the bottom of the screen and can only move right or left. You use the analog stick to aim the crosshairs anywhere on the screen and shoot there. Additionally you can jump and roll to avoid projectiles. Sometimes you move forward automatically and sometimes you are standing in one place. The action is fast and frenetic and relies on your reflexes to get you through every situation. The game is Treasure at its best and it really is a shame that it never made it across the pond.

The story is all kinds of bizarre and messed up. It is sort of like if Akira was made by a low budget studio and then really poorly translated when it came to the US. Apparently in the future (2007!) there are these monster creatures that are loose in Japan and a militia was formed to fight them. But the militia has started oppressing the people and a resistance was created to stop them. This group is led by Achi, a woman with mystical powers who compels everyone she helps to rise up and fight against the militia. In the game, you alternately control Saki and Airan, two members of the resistance. Achi shared her blood with Saki to help him and that gave him incredible strength.

In the course of the game, basically everyone except Saki and Airan turn out to be bad. The militia turns out to be studying and encouraging the monsters, not actually destroying them. Saki turns into a mech-looking monster. Achi turns out to have given her blood to the leader of the militia, giving him super-powers. He in turn has shared it with and experimented on others. Airan goes inside Saki's head and fights monsters in the future with her daughter to regain his humanity. Achi gave her blood to the militia commander so he would create a big army which the new monster-Saki could fight. This huge battle would allow her to totally remake the earth to save her purpose and the final battle of the game is you protecting the old earth as the new earth attacks it.

Wacky story aside, the game is great fun to play. I managed to make it all the way through easy mode without getting a game over. The way the game works is that you start with some number of continues (3, I think) and for every 100 enemies you kill, you get another. On easy mode, I continued several times, but still had about three or four left over when I finished the game. Normal mode is proving to be a lot more difficult. I can only get through about half the game without getting the game over screen. I'm going to keep trying throughout the rest of the week to finish the game on normal.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Contra III: The Alien Wars - Wall-walking boss in level 3

I've been looking forward to playing this for awhile since the Contra games on the NES are definitely among my favorites. They are so well done in terms of level design and enemy placements and attack patterns. So I was excited to put this into my Super Nintendo. I was a bit disappointed.

It is enjoyable, but it just doesn't feel quite as good as the NES versions. I can't quite put my finger on what it is about it. Then again, Contra's sequel, Super C wasn't quite as good as the original either. And, at least for Super C I know that isn't nostalgia talking.

One really nice thing about this game is the weapons. The crush and homing missiles are very good additions to the Contra power-up arsenal and being able to have two different weapons and switch between them is great too. I would say that makes the game significantly easier, but then I've only gotten up to the third level. Still, all that is something I think the game does well.

What I think the game doesn't do as well is the platforming. The first two Contra games had different platforms that you could jump to, but it was rare that you had to constantly jump from place to place just in order to survive the environment. Contra III has that in the first level when the ground gets fire-bombed. There are various spews of fire and lava that you have to time your jumps to avoid and it just comes off as annoying. Contra's jumps were never meant to be as precise as those in Super Mario Bros.

The big addition to Contra III is the overhead stages that take advantage of the Super Nintendo's sprite-scaling mode 7 effects. Your character is centered on the screen and you use the L and R buttons to rotate the screen around you to effectively changed which way you are facing. It is certainly interesting and novel, but I don't think it is handled with as much care as the side-scrolling stages. I like that they are breaking up the action, but I think I prefer the behind-the-shoulder base stages from the original Contra.

I'm currently stuck on the wall-walker boss in level 3. I have to assume I'm just being dumb about it and next time I play, I'll be able to hit him while his eye is open without taking damage.

Zone of the Enders - Destroying the EPS generator

My first impression of this game was that it was kind of a tech demo/experiment/half-formed game created by Hideo Kojima that largely served as a vehicle for the demo of Metal Gear Solid 2. I recently learned that there's a bit more to it than that. Yes, the game doesn't quite feel fully realized, but apparently it's a pretty good giant robot simulator that was improved upon and made truly good in its sequel.

Several nights ago, I couldn't sleep, felt like playing a game to settle myself down, and decided that I would start with this.

It really does a good job of making you feel like you are controlling a huge, mechanical, man-shaped robot. The two analog sticks allow you a good sense of movement in three-dimensions and the ability to lock on enemies ensures that you will always stay in the action. There are a wide variety of attacks, including both long range and melee attacks and there are also a variety of weapons and other upgrades you can get for your mech.

All that said, the game taxes your fingers on the controller as you often have to hold down three or four buttons or sticks in order to do what you want. For those who have played Metal Gear Solid 3, this will seem par for the course of any Kojima game. I'm not really sure how it could be improved, but it definitely takes awhile to get use to all the controls and what they do.

I'm also wondering about the strategy of the game. I can't remember whether I'm playing it on normal or hard mode, but so far pretty much all of the enemies can be defeated by using the same technique. While I know the game is short, I am very curious as to whether I will ever have to seriously adjust my tactics. Then again, given I stopped playing after some normal (but level 4) enemies were totally kicking my ass, I think I may have found the answer to that question.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Adventures of Lolo - Finished the Game

My only complaint about Adventures of Lolo is that it was too short. It really had a great take on the moving on different tiles and pushing block puzzles on many other different games and even the few bits that rely on action and reflex are handled quite well. The ending to the game is truly epic with the best boss fight ever.

The other thing about this game that sets it apart from others is that you can take half-steps. That is, you can be half between one tile and another. This means that the solutions to many puzzles are different from other similar games and that you have to wrap your mind around new ways to do things. I must admit that it felt a little wrong every time I solved a puzzle using half-steps though I only had to do it about four times so maybe I just never got used to it.

Anyway, I'm quite surprised by how good this game is. Definitely recomended for logic puzzle fans.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Adventures of Lolo - Floor 9

This was one of those series that always looked intriguing to me back when it came out on the NES, but that I never got into. I'm kind of glad I didn't, because at age nine, I don't think I would have appreciated it.

Adventures of Lolo is a puzzle game where on each level, the screen is divided into a grid. Your character, Lolo, starts on one square of the grid and the other squares are populated by environmental objects like trees, water, and desert, enemies of various sorts, and items like emerald framers, heart framers, and the treasure chest. On each level, you have to figure out how to collect all of the heart framers and the jewel from the chest without being killed by enemies or trapped by either enemies or the environmental objects. Since enemies always behave the same, the game requires logical thinking of how to block them in/avoid them so as to get everywhere you need to go. A lot of the game is block-pushing puzzles (like Sokoban), but the addition of the enemies adds a new and more interesting element.

I'm generally a huge fan of logic puzzles and this game is very fulfilling in that regard. The ramp up in difficulty is very nice. Each floor has five rooms and, once learning the pattern of how enemies work, I didn't really have much trouble until floor 6 or so. After several hours of play, I've managed to get up to floor 9 where I couldn't immediately solve a room and took a break.

In all, I'm really surprised at how awesome this game is. I guess it holds up well since the game is mostly puzzles, but this will definitely make it into my Top 50 NES games list whenever I decide to make a new iteration of that.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Chrono Trigger - Achieved all major endings

I love Chrono Trigger. It may be my favorite RPG ever and it is definitely in my top ten all-time favorite games. I have fully replayed it from beginning to end four times now. It rocks.

I could go through all the reasons why it is so good. I could talk about the fact that there are no real random encounters. You usually see enemies before you fight them. Even better, when you fight enemies, you fight them on the same screen you were walking around on - no awkward transition to the battle screen. I could talk about how the game's battle sytem is great. It made the best use of Square's active time battle system by introducing dual and triple techniques - basically magic spells that require two or three characters to act in order to execute them. I could talk about how no grinding is required in the game yet the game is not too easy. The pacing is set up so that, as long as you don't run from/avoid every combat, you will never be overwhelmed by the boss battles but you will need to use the right characters and a good strategy to prevail. It also has a nice story with interesting characters and handles time travel and the mute protagonist cliche suprisingly well.

Anyway, I sadly do not own the SNES version of the game, but instead the Playstation version. Playing this on the original Playstation was supposed to suffer from horrid slowdown and be intolerable. I have only played it on my PS2 and there it is tolerable if not exactly good. The reason I bring this up is that the PlayStation version tracks which of the twelve major endings you get and unlocks various extras dependent on that. I have always wanted to check out the different endings of the game (I have only ever gotten the main one) and so having the Playstation version and this being the fun club RPG of the month inspired me to do so.

Some of the endings are short or just don't have much to them, but some of the alternate endings have a surprising amount of work put into them for things that are completely optional. The Oath, Dino Age, A Slide Show, and The Dream Project were all particularly memorable. Once again, I love this game.

Ice Hockey - Virtual Console Review

Yet another Virtual Console review of mine has been posted at gamespite. This one is about the NES classic Ice Hockey that is still an incredibly fun two player experience today.

Ice Hockey

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Super Mario World - Defeated Bowser with 96 Exits

Well I have seen and done all that this game has to offer. I managed to find 93 exits on my own, only having to look for help on Chocolate Island 2, Valley of Bowser 2, and... Donut Ghost House. Yeah, I feel like a dolt for missing that last one.

The final battle was rather anticlimactic. The levels leading up to it in Valley of Bowser were fairly challenging. And most of Bowser's castle (the front door section) was tough as well. But Bowser? I guess I died the first time I got to him, but after that it was a piece of cake. I guess he wasn't that difficult in Super Mario Bros. 3 either, but in my mind he put up a little bit of a challenge there.

I'm really glad I finally made myself play this game. Even though I think I will put myself in the camp of people who say Super Mario Bros. 3 was the best in the series, it is hard to find much fault in this installation either. It is a lovingly crafted platformer with a great difficulty curve and a great variety of things to do. I think after stewing on this for a day or two I'll write up a review here. Thank you GameSpite fun club!

Final Fantasy III - Met the Earth Crystal

I'm getting to the point in the game where going through it is starting to feel more like work and less like fun. It tends to happen to all older RPGs. Especially in ones that don't have interesting stories. You've pretty much explored everywhere there is to explore and so you know all the dungeons you will have to go through. It is just a matter of going through them all and the enemies there aren't exciting and aren't requiring anything significantly new in strategy.

This is one of the reasons that I skipped a little ahead of the proscribed path to get the earth crystal. I had just acquired the earth fang and I knew it would let me get beyond the statues, so instead of returning to Doga's mansion like I was supposed to, I decided to investigate to see what was beyond them. I encountered a dungeon and some enemies that seemed quite a bit beyond what I supposed supposed to be battling, but one room in I got to the crystal chamber. I now have access to all the jobs in the game (except Onion Knight).

I'm already contemplating what my final party will be. I'm thinking Dragoon, Knight, Devout, and Summoner. But I woud love to get a Ninja or Black Belt in there if I could.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Final Fantasy III - Traversed Cave of the Circle

Man, this game is so old school in its story. Besides your main characters being the "prophesied warriors of light destined to save the world" basically you just go into each town, someone tells you their problems and you agree to help them defeat whatever evil is ailing them. It's kind of charming in how simple and cliche it is.

My current party conists of a thief (who has been kicking ass since arriving in Amur), a Knight, a White Mage, and a Bard who I am newly exerimenting with. I like how it seems like any party can work in this game. Though I had no problem dropping my scholar when he started seeming weak.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Virtual Console Review

So another of my articles has been published over at gamespite, this one being a review of the NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the virtual console. The virtual console reviews are like regular reviews except that they take into account the modern status of the game - how it has held up today, how the save state capability of the virtual console affects it, and how it compares to other versions of the game that have been released (e.g., in compilations). Here's a spoiler for my review: not recommended.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Friday, September 7, 2007

Super Mario World - Defeated Larry's Castle

Some levels can legitimately be said to have hard to find alternate exits. Forest of Illusion 3 is not one of them. I am just an idiot for not checking a pipe at the end.

The ramp up in difficulty in this game is very good. I think I may have died twice before I got to the Vanilla Dome. Then it gradually increased until, by Bowser's island, it was taking me about three tries to beat a level. That's just good game design.

I also took on all of the special courses. Clearly they are meant to be the ultimate Mario challenges, yet still be beatable by anyone with practice. Tubular, Way Cool, and Mondo (I think - the one with the pipes, the ice surface, and the forest level) were clearly the most difficulty. And then, once I finally completed them all the transition to fall and the enemies is a nice touch. Even though I find I prefer the original look - the gimmick of enemies that look similar to Mario has worn off.

My exit count is at 90 and looking at the map, I think I can see every area that I need to find the alternate exit for. This assumes beating Bowser's castle gives you one. Now finding all the rest of these exits without a FAQ will be a feat. Especially Chocolate Island 2 where it has something to do with my coins and time.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Super Mario World - Forest of Illusions 3

I have a confession to make: I have never played Super Mario World before. That isn't completely true as I played a few levels of the Game Boy Advance version and also a few levels just to test the game when I picked up a SNES a few years ago. But I have never played a significant amount of this game. Certainly not much beyond the first area. My other secret shame is that I have never beaten the original Super Mario Bros..

So I finally got a chance to put some good play into this game and I it definitely live up to expectations. The game is so well made and so well put together. It is just amazing for a launch game and contributes to the Super Nintendo having the best launch in console history. The level designs have such thought and detail put into them with placement of blocks and koopa shells to placement of hidden exits to even background elements. Beyond just great level designs and tight play control, there are a lot of details that Super Mario World does very well. The way that the overworld changes and evolves when you beat levels is something I absolutely love. The relative non-linearity and sense of exploration is great too.

That said, I think I'm going to fall into the camp that Super Mario Bros. 3 was a more innovative game. Not that it's better. They are both very well done and near-perfectly executed platformers. But the raccoon tail and different suits in 3 seem a lot more exciting to me than the Cape and Yoshis of World. I do like that the cape has subtle flying controls, but I'm just not that into Yoshi. Both games have some great level design, but so far lack of giant world and Kuribo's shoe gives 3 the nod for me.

I decided to play through the game, attempting to get all the exits, without looking at a FAQ or anything. In a few hours the other night, I had gotten to Forest of Illusions 3, reached the Star Road, and unlocked the path to the Special World. I was having trouble finding the alternate exit to Forest of Illusions 3. I then got extremely frustrated attempting to reach the alternate exit of Cheese Bridge - I guess I need to master using the cape. I guess I could also take on Gnarly, but I want to save that for later.

You also may notice the fun club label at the bottom of this post. That is because Super Mario World is this week's alternate selection at the gamespite fun club. The point of fun club is to create a shared group experience of playing a game. Each week, Jeremy Parish picks a major game and an alternate selection. There is also a monthly RPG (which this month is the beyond awesome Chrono Trigger). Check it out!

Rebestar Tactical Command - Chapter 10: Rescue

When I first heard about this game, I was very excited for it. It was described as being similar to X-Com which is one of my favorite computer games ever. As more details came out, I learned that it was only going to be like the battle portions of X-Com and not the base-building, research, and alien discovery parts. That was disappointing since, much like ActRaiser it was the combination of game types that really made the game special. Once the game came out, it got positive, if not glowing reviews, didn't do well commercially and quickly dropped in price. I eventually found it for $15 at Best Buy.

Now I've finally gotten a chance to try it and I regret not doing so earlier. It does pretty much steal the strategy combat from X-Com completely. This gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside as I have fond memories of X-Com. So far, the combat also seems like the more forgiving combat of the original X-Com rather than the brutal, pull-out-your-hair difficulty of Terror from the Deep. The interface obviously isn't as good with the D-Pad instead of a mouse, but it is serviceable. It actually seems like they could have improved the interface more. Instead of adding a big menu system, they could have made the A and B buttons equivalent to the left and right mouse buttons and having L and R cycle through menu options.

I am enjoying the game so far, but I can see that all the combat like this might get tiring after awhile without the other aspects of X-Com.

I almost fell into the trap of not considering this an RPG just because it lacked swords and sorcery. While the original X-Com did have characters increase their stats when they survived battles, this game specifically gives characters levels and has them earn experience for hurting and killing enemies. It also lets you specifically choose an ability the increment when the character gains a level. Anyway, this aspect plus named characters and story is enough for me to call it an RPG as well as a strategy game.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bionic Commando: Elite Forces

I love the original Bionic Commando. It is one of my favorite NES. Swinging around with the grappling hook is just so fun and it was done amazingly well in a game that came out in 1988. The game had a Game Boy sequel which I also have fond memories of, though that may be purely notalgia as I haven't played it in awhile. This then, is the third Bionic Commando game as is the only one developed by Nintendo (their American NST division) rather than Capcom. It is kind of an odd synchronicity since Capcom developed the Game Boy Color Zelda games.

I actually only ended up playing this game because I forgot to charge my DS the night before I left. Thus, it's battery light went red about 2/3 of the way through my trip. Fortunately, I had also brought my GBA with me and so I stuck in Bionic Commando: Elite Forces.

I had played this game about three years ago. I didn't get very far because the used copy I had picked up had the save glitch that many copies of Bionic Commando: Elite Forces are known to have. Basically, if you save the game then it will freeze up next time your helicopter encounters a truck. Because of that problem, I gave up on playing the game despite the fact that I still loved Bionic Commando. A few months ago, I found a complete in box copy of the game for super cheap so I grabbed that up.

I still didn't know if the new copy I had possessed the save glitch or not. So I decided to try to play through the game without saving. After all, there aren't that many stages and I'm a hardened old school gamer. I actually learned within the game that every time you do a truck encounter, you get an extra life at the end. So, much like the original, you never need to start over at the beginning. However, I didn't really feel like grinding out lives so I decided to test my chops and just see how far I coud get.

I managed to get up through level nine or ten or so before finally dying. I enjoyed my time, but I didn't feel eager to jump right back in. Some of that was surely reticence to repeat all the stages I had gone through before. But even so, part of the reticence is that the experience hadn't been that great.

It had been fine. Being able to choose between a male or female commando was a nice touch, but didn't make any difference as far as I could tell. While the game seemed like less of a straight port than the Game Boy version, most of the items, weapons, and concepts were the same.

The biggest issue was that the game just didn't seemed to be designed to the size of the screen. The Game Boy (and later Color) screen was not large and could handle significantly fewer pixels than the television. This meant that some games attempted to have as large sprites as on the television making the viewable area of the level much less. This appears to have happened here. The original Bionic Commando had a few leaps of faith, but even in these cases you usually had enough time to react with your bionic arm. In this game, many of the objects you need to grab onto are just off screen and so when you swing toward them and the screen finally scrolls so you can see them, you have a split second to grab on or you will miss your target. Fortunately, most of the levels have been designed so you don't die when this happens, but it often means you fall a great distance and have to begin a long ascent anew. And that's not too fun.

I did enjoy my time, just not greatly. I'm sure with a few more play sessions I can finish the game. Or even quicker if I dare test if the cartridge can save properly.

Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand - Met the Solar Tree

Boktai was a game marketed with a gimmick - the cartridge includes a solar sensor on it and the gameplay changes based on whether sunlight is hitting the solar sensor. That alone intrigued me enough to look into it. The fact that it was also billed as requiring stealth gameplay and was produced by Metal Gear Solid's Hideo Kojima further enticed me.

After playing the game for a couple hours, my reactions are mixed.

I liked the stealth gameplay. It took me awhile to get the hang of, but having to avoid or sneak up on enemies rather than all-out assaulting them is a great touch. The way the game encourages you to use stealth is by having your weapon do more damage to enemies if it hit them in the back than in the front. You can take down enemies with a straight on assault, but it will take longer and they will see you - meaning they will shoot at or rush at you. Once I got the whole stealth stuff down, I found myself greatly enjoying it.

The rest of the pure game mechanics work nice too. I like all the items and inventory management. I like the different attachments and settings for the gun. I like that you have to store up energy for the gun and can only recharge it in certain ways. I like the isometric way and the different weapons and the way they fire. I also like that there is an element of exploration to the game - you can move between different areas and will have to come back to some once you acquire new items.

As for the whole solar sensor thing, it really seems to make playing it a bit of a pain. Perhaps it is the way that the DS's screen is designed, but I found that when I had a decent amount of sunlight hitting the cartridge, it was hard to see the screen. If I held the DS at just the right angle, I could see the screen well enough and get sunlight onto the sensor, but it was not very comfortable. Actually, it was a lot easier to position the DS when I was outside although screen glare was still a problem. I do want to try playing it with my GBA as I think (or hope) that its screen is more viewable in direct sunlight.

I also decided I was an idiot because I have wanted to try this game for awhile, but kept waiting until I was on vacation in Nova Scotia where there would be plenty of sunlight. Well, not only did the year I finally play it involve only three days of sun while I was up there, but I also finally realized that Salt Lake gets a ton of sun and there is no reason not to play it there.

I do enjoy the gameplay quite a bit and hope to come back to it in the near future. Besides you get to destroy undead with the power of the sun. How cool is that?

Final Fantasy III - Exploring Goldor's Mansion

I have recently returned from a two week vacation and in that time I did a lot of portable gaming. This was the game that I decided would be my main DS project and indeed it was the only DS game that was ever inside it during that time.

Final Fantasy III for the DS is a 3D remake of a game that was never before released in the US. Its advertising marketed it as a game never before on this shores that we had to wait over fifteen years for.

I was leary of them doing the whole 3D thing. I feared that the game would lose its charm. I feared that they would add too many modern RPG conventions. I worried that it just wouldn't be fun. Of course, I didn't really have any idea if the original game was fun. All I had played of it was a half-translated ROM ten years ago that I only got about ten minutes into before giving up over not being able to understand what was going on. So really I was just being a typical internet 'tard about how this game would be. I finally just looked at and read reviews, saw people liked it, and picked it up when Target was selling all DS games for $24 (Final Fantasy III being the most expensive DS game at $40).

Any fears that this older game would feel too modernized were allayed when I started playing. This game feels totally old school.

Despite 3D graphics (which, honestly, seem a bit unnecessary), a localization that is better than we would have gotten in 1990, and gameplay that feels a bit less grindy/super random encounter than what I might expect for an older game, I definitely feel like I'm playing an RPG that came out in the 8 or 16-bit era.

The plot is very simple. You are four warriors of light destined to restore balance to the world. So you go around to towns and kill bad guys. Really, the premise is the same as the first Final Fantasy game. That seems interesting because Final Fantasy II wasn't very good (and possibly not well-received) and so in its sequel they went back to the less story-driven style and also allowing you to pick your characters jobs.

Anyway, while the story isn't anything to praise and the gameplay is walk from town to dungeon to town, the gameplay mechanics are quite fun. Your characters get to take on different jobs such as Soldier, White Mage, and Thief. Unlike the first game, they can change these jobs at any time. The game definitely encourages staying in the same job for a bit because your attacks become much more effective the more you increase your job level (which is different from your character level). I am generally a big fan of such character customization and it totally works here. While you definitely get an advantage from training characters a lot in one job, there are parts of the game where you need a specific job or skills from a set of jobs so you will need to shuffle your jobs around. That works very well too.

I don't have much else to say except that I am quite enjoying myself. I didn't want a story-centric RPG, but rather a mechanics-based one and this totally fits the bill. It doesn't require too much grinding (I think I only once was not able to beat a boss the first time I encountered him) and it require a fair amount of battle strategy.

Currently I'm somewhat stuck because I can't figure out where to go in Goldor's Mansion. I'm sure there must be some false wall or something that I'm overlooking.

3 in Three - Review

I've joined a motley crew over at, the website of's Jeremy Parish. He has a vision to make the site a game encyclopedia. My first piece that I wrote for it was a review/retrospective of the Mac game 3 in Three. Anyway, I'll be linking from here to any piece I do there, so here goes:

3 In Three

For those who like numbers, I probably would have given it a 9 out of 10.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Guitar Hero - Complete all songs on hard difficulty

Last weekend, I visited my nephew who is newly obsessed with Guitar Hero, having had the game for the week. He was still playing on medium difficulty, so to make it fair, I played against him on hard even though I hadn't fully gotten through hard mode on any version of the game. Despite that, I still managed to beat him about half the time. This inspired me to think that I was pretty good at the game and want to play more of it when I got back.

While I initially thought I would go through Guitar Hero II first because there were improvement to the play (easier hammer-ons and pull-offs) and the ability to practice specific sections of songs. But I have also heard than, in general, the songs in the first Guitar Hero are easier than those in the second. So I decided I'll try to get through this one first.

I started not having done any songs on hard mode and got through the first four tiers with little trouble. I think it was the fourth tier where I first failed to get five stars on a song. In the fifth tier, I got a three star or two and may have actually failed a song once. By the fifth tier, songs were kicking my ass. I think I got three stars on most of them. Cowboys from Hell and Bark at the Moon owned me for several times and I was only able to pass the both with judicious use of star power.

It is my eventual goal to five star every song on every level. I can't imagine ever getting five stars on the songs at the highest tier. It isn't like when I wondered whether I would ever be able to make the transition from medium to hard. There, I felt that with practice I could five star the medium songs, but I wondered if I would ever get decent enough at hard mode to regularly pass songs. Here, I think I can probably pass all the songs on expert difficulty, but I still don't have any faith I can get good enough to five star all the songs on hard (let alone expert). I seriously am not able to strum fast enough to hit all the notes in rhythm and when I try to do up and down strumming it just doesn't seem to be registering it correctly. I'll be curious to look back on this if I ever manage to master the songs well enough to five star them.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Starflight - Finished the game

Well, this game is certainly short if you know what you are doing. I tried to play that way. I wouldn't go to a planet or area unless someone else told me about it. However, it is very early on that you can get information about the three items you need to win the game. I even played to get every possible (useful) artifact and it still didn't extend the game that long. The sense of exploration and discovery is much less when you play the game already knowing all there is out there. There really ends up only being so much to do. You can mine planets to get money to improve your ship, talk to aliens to learn the locations of artifacts on planets, and then go collect those artifacts. This is one area where Starflight 2 really improves on the original. Its expanded trade mechanism and... more interesting alien races and wider variety (even there are about as many spacefaring species) makes the game feel more epic.

One annoying thing that I forgot about this game was in regards to the Thrynn/Elowan conflict. I remembered that you couldn't have a member of the other species on your crew or they would be hostile to you. I also knew that if you became too friendly with one species the other would be hostile to you. I just didn't remember that "too friendly" meant talking to one before the other. I had about three conversations with the Elowan before talking to the Thrynn and basically lost all chance to get their conversations. So I had to start a new game and just get out to the Thrynn area so I could talk to them and get all the info they had to give before going back to my original game. It is really fascinating how game design like that was common back then.

I also encountered an apparent bug where, even upon returning their sacred artifact to them, the Veloxi weren't friendly enough with me to tell me where Sphexi was. That was the last location I had to go to before I destroyed the crystal planet, so it was pretty frustrating. I eventually looked it up and apparently they are supposed to tell you its location when you become friendly with them, but that never happened to me.

Another flaw of the game, not necessarily related to the Genesis port, is the complete absence of conflict. You never have to fight anything and are usually better off just running. A large part of the game is upgrading your ships' weapons and shields so this is a big let-down. Especially with the improved combat engine on the Genesis. Basically, the Uhlek are always too powerful for you to take on single-handedly, the Gazurtoid's immunity to missiles means you must fight up close with lasers so you will take a ton of damage, and with the Whining Orb (at least in the Genesis version), the Spemin will naturally be obsequious to you. Except for being attacked by whichever of the Thrynn/Elowan you don't befriend or the Veloxi after taking the Crystal Rod, you really never get into a fight that you shouldn't just run away from.

I'm being down on this game because it doesn't hold up as well, but its revolutionary nature still comes through. I still remember the great sense of exploration and discovery the game held when it first came out even if the universe feels small now. It set the tone for what a space exploration adventure should be, and though it wasn't perfect in its first incarnation, that is forgivable because of what it spawned. It is still a good game and I'm sure I would have had more fun if I had never played it before and knew none of the secrets. Still, it is dated, and the changes for the Genesis only helped a little bit (and hurt just as much).

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Starflight - Exploring the axe constellation

All the nostalgia brought up by playing Wing Commander inspired some nostalgia for additional older games I played. Through clicking around on some websites, I came upon a game that was near and dear to me in 8th grade: Starflight.

Technically I have the most nostalgia for Starflight 2. The second Starflight was the first one I played. I think I had just been flipping through a catalog of games for the Mac the paragraph on Starflight 2 really inrigued me. I remember I was debating between that and another game set in space and fortunately I chose this one. My Aunt and Uncle got that game for me for Channukah and I was immediately hooked. After finishing up Starflight 2, I pored through catalogs to find that the original game also got a Mac port and I think that was acquired for my birthday.

Starflight basically started a whole new genre of games. It more or less began the space exploration adventure genre that was pretty much realized to perfection in Star Control II (which I will say, without hyperbole, is one of the best games ever made.) The concept of Starflight was basically putting together a crew, outfitting your ship, exploring the galaxy, discovering new star systems and planets, collecting minerals, life forms, and artifacts, and interacting with new alien species. Starflight, its sequel, and then Star Control II just did such a great job of creating a great mood and atmosphere.

In Starflight, the four intelligent species on the planet Arth have recently discovered that they were seeded there by a colony ship from an old empire that was in danger of being destroyed by hostile alien races. This discovery also led to the rediscovery of faster than light travel and the construction of the first new faster than light ships. Interstel, a commercial organization, has agreed to provide you with a space ship and some intial capital so that you can explore the galaxy and bring back minerals and new life forms to further commercial and scientific interests on Arth. Shortly after your first voyage, scientists detect anomalies in Arth's sun and determine that in ten months, it will undergo a nova-like flare destroying all life in the system. Your mission now becomes determining the cause of this flare and finding a way to stop it. While doing this, you will encounter the alien species from the old empire and those that attacked it. You will discover the secret of the ancients, a species only known by its ruins, and their connection to endurium, the fuel used for faster than light travel.

Starflight succeeds largely because the exploration mechanic works so well. Each planet feels different, either in size, atmosphere, or biological or mineral content. In the course of exploration you meet aliens and must find the best way to (generally) befriend them and get information out of them. From these aliens, you get clues as to planets to search and locations as to where you can find new and wonderful artifacts to help your ship or your quest. The galaxy feels well-populated with planets and aliens and yet there is a key component of loneliness to the affair. You never encounter another ship from Arth (I think the instruction manual indicates that only about ten or so were sent out) so it really feels like it is you against the galaxy. Its vastness can be overwhelming, but by careful exploration and ingenious piecing together of clues, you can find all sorts of neat stuff.

This game was published by Electronic Arts back when they were interested in publishing unique and innovative games and when they became the Sega Genesis' largest third-party publisher, this game got a port. I was peripherally aware of the Genesis port because my friend Max told me about it and I knew that mining and combat were enhanced from the computer version. Upon acquiring a Genesis four years ago, it went on my list for games that I had to have. I was ecstatic when I managed to find a copy with box and instruction manual (although I didn't realize at the time, unfortunately without the map).

The Genesis version, so far, remains fairly true to the computer game original, although I was surprised to see that time hadn't treated the game as well as I had remembered. I was surprised since Star Control II is very similar and hold up fine to this day. I think the pacing, at least of the first Starflight, just isn't as great as I remembered it. A lot of time is spent going from system to system and planet to planet looking for minerals and there isn't a lot of reward for this. Star Control II starts out pretty much the same way, but there always seems to be something to buy with your mineral wealth or some more genuine improvements to make while in Starflight the improvements are fewer and less noticable. Also, the universe just seems to be emptier and a bit less interesting.

One thing the Genesis version definitely does improve upon from the original is the interface. After playing a bit of the Genesis version of Starflight and not finding it as fun as I had remembered, I thought maybe I would prefer Starflight 2 since I knew its story and aliens were better. Well, after playing with the DOS version for a little bit, I found I was fighting with the interface. You have to use the keyboard to select between different menus and are constantly hopping between menus for common things like maneuver, combat, land, and hail. I never realized how much superior the Mac ports of Starflight were with their mouse interface. Being able to click on the menus is so much easier. And it did away with the "maneuver" command, assuming that would be the default and you would always want to be maneuvering. The Genesis version does a similar thing in that you can always control your ship using the directional pad with no need to select maneuver in the menus. Also, the biggest improvement is that the game pauses when you bring up the menu. Getting attacked by aliens while trying to find raise shields or combat was always frustrating. The Genesis interface still isn't perfect as much of the commands can be streamlined away. This is evidence by Star Control II automatically communicating with a ship when encountered and then going straight into combat if that ship becomes hostile to you.

As I said earlier, the main enchancements in the genesis version (besides improved graphics) are in mining and combat. Planet landings in general are more interesting because you need to control the descent of your ship and you can move your main ship around the planet a bit without doing a full take-off and landing. You also now have a mineral scanner which can find underground deposits of minerals that your terrain vehicle can dig for. While the prettier planets and more maneuverability on them are nice, the extra mineral searching really doesn't add anything. I haven't experienced much combat, but the new variety of weapons and controls similar to Star Control II seem to make it much better.

One change that really bugs me in the Genesis version is that pretty much all the back story has been cut so someone going into the game will have little clue what is going on. There was never any elaborate back story immediately presented to you when you started the game, but the instruction booklet of Starflight laid everything out. It was presented as a briefing and gave you the history of the old empire as gleaned from the recent discoveries. You knew about why there were different species on Arth, how they got there, and a bit of what to expect outside. The Genesis Starflight booklet, while about as thick as its PC counterpart had all that backstory replaced by a short in-universe story by some science fiction writer. I mean, it's a good story, but it does nothing to motivate your exploration of the universe. Old-fogie rant: Why can't instruction booklets today have the same care and love as ones from even ten years ago?

There also appears to be some bug in the game as I have made the Mechans hostile to me and I have no clue how. I had a game saved just before an encounter with them. In the encounter, they were friendly and considered me to be the Noah 9 expedition. Every subsequent encounter with them has them attacking me with no chance to communicate.

So, this game isn't quite as good as I remember it, but the exploration and especially speaking with alien races is pretty damn fun. The game isn't that long if you know what you are doing. I'm playing as if I don't, but I've already discovered the three items I need to win the game. Now I just need to discover their locations or at least how to get to them.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07

The golf portion of Wii Sports showed promise, but didn't really deliver. All swinging the remote measured was your power. Still, it presented a game that could be fun. And it got me interested in the Wii PGA Tour game. But games are expensive and despite positive reviews, I didn't see myself picking up a golf game any time soon. Fortunately, my friend Dan loves my Wii and loves a laid-back golf gaming experience so he picked it up for his "eventual Wii" and I get to hold it until he gets one.

It gets the golf experience very close to being accurate. It measures not only how hard you move the remote forward, but whether you angle it off to the left or right for a hook or a slice. This makes it feel like you have a lot more control over your shot. You also have the standard golf game aspects of changing clubs, shot types, and positioning shots. Putting is similar to actual shots, except it is more about lining up your shot while the actual shot mechanic is about being patient with your putt backswing.

To be honest, it is the gimmick of swinging your golf club with the Wii controller that makes the game. Especially multiplayer, because watching people line up and hit their shot is great. Golf, in general, is a sport that I think works a lot better as a video game. Mario Golf: Advance Tour was one of my favorite games for the Game Boy Advance. I think that this game is another solid addition to a multiplayer Wii library. It is a laidback game that all your friends can sit around and play. I also think that next year's edition could serve to really get the formula right. Still, I can see my friends and I playing many games of this.

Excite Truck - S Rank in all courses in Excite Mode

There's something about this game that can totally suck me in. The mechanism to gain points are simple, yet there's a great give and take between gaining points in different ways and being able to control your vehicle and not crash. So, it may seem like you can gain easy points from tree runs, but you run the risk of crashing. Or easy points from drifting means you won't go as fast and won't get into first place. Or easy points from air means you want be getting any points from drift or tree runs.

And this game totally has the "just one more time" mentality. When you play a race and only get a B rank, you think that if you could just play it again you could do better... and you usually do. There's a sort of state you get into while racing where you are peripherally aware of the course and swerving this way and that and just trying to do what you could to stay in it and get the most points possible.

The multiplayer works very well too, especially once all people understand the mechanisms to get points. When I first started playing with my friends, it was always the case that the person that won the race was the one who won the match. Now, we are having races where the person who comes in second ends up winning because they have more points. This is just totally awesome because it means people can do well with different racing styles. Personally, I'm generally more concerned with coming in first rather than doing stunts to get points. But coming in first generally only gives me 15-20 points so it can be a risk if my opponent is very good at tricks to get points. Also, it helps that my friend Paul totally took to this game because it gives me some very stiff competition.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Wing Commander II: Special Operations 2 - Finished the game

Whew. I have now gone through all of the original Wing Commander games in all their glory. From here on, I played the actual games. Ah, freshman year of college.

Once again, Special Operations 2 continues the story left off by the previous game - Special Operations 1 in this case. At the end of Special Operations, even if you successfully completed the last mission on the winning path, you find out that all you've done was just play into the Kilrathi distraction for they have now gotten a foothold into Deneb sector. Special Operations 2 sees the Concordia (your carrier) heading into Deneb sector to help with its defense. In the first mission, you get to escort the prison ship carrying Jazz to its rendezvous with another prison ship that will take him to earth to be executed. Jazz was the traitor that framed you for the destruction of the Tiger's Claw and got you stuck on a backwater space station for ten years before you finally managed to get another chance to prove yourself and clear your name. So Jazz escapes, of course. The other plot point is that your former shipmate Maniac comes aboard the Concordia with his squadron of test pilots flying the new prototype fighter the Morningstar. Eventually, the society of Mandarin (the group of human - excuse me Terran - traitors working with the Kilrathi) steals a morningstar and you have to track them down to get it back before it gets into the hands of the Kilrathi.

Special Operations 2 really starts to feel like more of the same. The story is a bit better than the first Special Operations and its always nice to see Maniac. His appearance here means he has appeared in every Wing Commander game. The missions aren't particularly special - mostly the same sort of stuff and none of them feel very epic. It is nice when you get to fly the new Morningstar and pretty fun when you use its nuke. Still, there isn't a ton of challenge and I almost felt like I was going through the motions.

The most interesting part of Special Operations 2 is that it ends like the first Special Operations. That is, even when you've gone down the winning path, prevented the Kilrathi from getting a Morningstar, destroyed the rebel base, and killed Jazz, the final scene in the game is the Emporer and his grandson talking about how not getting the Morningstar and the destruction of the rebel base were minor setbacks. They were able to distract the Concordia long enough so that it could not help in the defense of the Deneb sector. The Kilrathi were able to destroy the sixth fleet and the Concordia is forced to retreat. This all makes some sense because through the whole of Wing Commander III the humans - excuse me, Terrans - are losing the war.

So, what now? Playing through Wing Commander III and IV again might be fun, but that would require switching CDs, which last I checked doesn't work in Classic mode of OS X. Wing Commander Prophecy is now the only major series game I haven't played. It was never released on the Mac, but I do have the Game Boy Advance version and that version is mostly true to the original, even if changed to fit the small screen, slower processor, and less storage space. I could also play other games in the Wing Commander universe that I have never played - most prominently Privateer. Or I could play the series that was the biggest competitor for Wing Commander in the space flight sim genre: X-Wing/TIE Fighter. Or I could just move on to something else. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Wing Commander II: Special Operations - Finished the game

When I was young, I always thought that Special Operations was a much lamer name than Secret Missions. It was so much cooler to be undertaking secret missions than special operations. When I got older, I learned that Special Operations was the name of a unit. Now this unit certainly conducted special operations, but as a unit it became much cooler because obviously the missions the special operations unit undertakes are secret. Anyway...

Special Operations is kind of all over the place in its story. It takes place immediately after Wing Commander II ends, picking up right where that story left off. This is in contrast to Secret Missions 1 and 2 which are written so as to possibly take place in the middle of the Wing Commander campaign. Because you could install and play them no matter where you were in the main campaign, they were more or less written as side missions (though Secret Mission 2 was sort of meant to take place when the Tiger's Claw wasn't undertaking anything else.) Regardless of where it starts, there really isn't a coherent theme to the Special Operations story. You are to join Paladin's Special Operations unit. Before you can, you must deal with some renegade pilots. Once you finally get there, you start helping out some Kilrathi rebels, but there is an interlude where you encounter the Kilrathi prince Thrakkath and learn of the Kilrathi political machinations. Finally, you do end up saving the rebels. Wing Commander II's story wasn't great, but it was satisfactory for the game. Special Operations is all over the place and ultimately unsatisfying. It also ends by revealing that your victory was for naught as the Kilrathi attack you thwarted was just a diversion for the real Kilrathi attack on another sector. That attack succeeded. This is presumably where Special Operations 2 will start, so it is totally setting up for and urging you to get the next expansion pack.

All of my comments on the improved difficulty levels of Wing Commander II go out the window in the final mission of Special Operations. Not only must you defeat a wing of four of the toughest Kilrathi fighters, but you must also take down two capital ships: two Fralthra that have antimatter guns and know how to aim them. You are in a Saber so being hit by one bolt of antimatter does serious damage while a second will kill you. So, if you don't get torn to shreds by the fighters and (given the AI's unfortunate tendency to try to shoot through you) your wingmen, you will likely get killed by the capital ships. I can't recall the number of times I must have tried this mission. I finally went to the internet for help. FAQs and Guides didn't help any. Going to message boards, I find this is considered possibly the hardest mission in all of the Wing Commander series (the mission where you need to protect the Ralari in Wing Commander 1 being its only competitor.) I also found a sort of cheat - a glitch that will allow you to lock onto the capital ship much further than usual and with this I was finally able to complete the mission. Even knowing that exploit, it still took me a half dozen tries.

Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi - Finished the Game

So Wing Commander II differs from the first game by having a cohesive story throughout, rather than just being a series of missions linked by a common theme. It isn't a great story. The hero is branded a traitor, or at least a coward by being framed for the destruction of the Tiger's Claw, his original carrier. The story is then that of his redemption by finally getting to fly pertinent missions again, reestablishing his reputation, clearing his name, and finding the real traitor. It all comes out as a tad cliche, but the plot would work for an action movie and this game is basically all about action. The Wing Commander III story wasn't that memorable either and, of the Wing Commander games I've played, only Wing Commander IV has one that stuck with me at all.

I last complained about how Spirit's voice actor in Super Wing Commander was just absolutely awful and killed the character. Well, Wing Commander II had a speech pack add-on and the version I am playing includes it. You fly with Spirit as your wingman and I am happy to report that her voice actor here is much better. She still has a Japanese accent, but it is believable here and her delivery seems much more natural. There isn't a lot of voice work in Wing Commander II, but it is all competent which is a far cry from that in Super Wing Commander.

Wing Commander II's difficulty is much more forgiving than its predecessor's. It isn't a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination, but each mission feels beatable. The biggest difficulty seems to be in getting through a mission without your wingmate ejecting. Maybe I'm just not protecting them as well as I should.

Anyway, Wing Commander II got the Wing Commander formula right, and the subsequent games just improved on the implementation of this formula with Wing Commander IV being the apex (granted I have not played Wing Commander Prophecy, but I have heard things). I really enjoyed playing through it and am glad I did. At least now I finally know why Jazz was such a bastard.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi - Destroyed supply depot in Novaya Kiev

Wing Commander II is an obvious step in the evolution of the series. It didn't yet feature the full 3D spaceship models or FMV of Wing Commander III, but it did get it a good chunk of the way there. The combat engine is improved from the first one allowing for more interesting manuevers and intelligent behavior. In general, the artificial intelligence of both your wingmen and the enemy is improved. Capital ships now can't be taken down by small fighters, but require dedicated torpedo ships. The gameplay just feels smoothers. And the story...

The story now takes center stage as it will in all subsequent Wing Commander games. Instead of sort of learning what is going on by talking to the bartender and wingmates at the bar, there is a guaranteed story scene in between each mission where you learn something that genuinely moves the plot along or fleshes out a character. Even the typical talk, mission briefing, mission, debriefing sequence is improved. The mission briefings are more detailed than go here, do this, and have genuine dramatic moments to them. Story elements can actually occur during the missions - with you receiving transmissions or new things happening to affect the plot and change the mission requirements. And the debriefings have more personality than just whether you succeeded or not and how many ships you and your wingman shot down. Really, with this game they refined to game down to what they wanted it to be - a fun arcadey flight sim with an interesting story as your reward for completing the mission. And you can still see different areas and have different missions based on you success or failure in the missions.

I'm kind of bothered that they used the "partner who is retiring in a month gets killed" cliche, but I guess I can't expect too much from my video games. Fortunately, the Simpsons brilliantly parodied this cliche. (Remember when The Simpsons was good?)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Wing Commander The Secret Missions 2: Crusade - Finished the missions

This post mosty contains two things that I meant to write in the previous post (or before that), but forgot to, but I guess it applies to all posts related to the original Wing Commander.

Secret Mission 2 is the first new Wing Commander content I have played. Super Wing Commander contained the same story and missions from Wing Commander and the first Secret Missions but then added a new story of tracking down and destroying the shipyards that created the Sivar instead of including Secret Missions 2 content. I really can't say why they did this and the internet provides no insight. Maybe they didn't want to do hi-res drawing/models of the bird-like Firekka. Whatever the reason, I think I prefer Secret Missions 2 to the extra missions in Super Wing Commander. They provide more of a change of pace (more escort, defense, and reconnaissance rather than all out attack) and set up the story for Wing Commander II better. More of a deal is made of the defecting Kilrathi named Ralgha nar Hhallas. Doomsday and Jazz are introduced better and the character portrait for Jazz makes him look decidedly evil which sets up better for his betrayal in Wing Commander II (When Max told me he was the traitor, I found it hard to believe as Jazz in Super Wing Commander seemed so inoffensive.

One reason why I didn't enjoy the original Wing Commander and Secret Missions as much as I could, besides their sometimes extreme difficulty, was that the awful voice acting in Super Wing Commander completely spoiled some of the characters and story for me. My friend Max redubbed the ship the TCS Morphine after hearing some of characters talk. Shotglass, Iceman, and Colonel Halcyon especially sound like they're on some super-downers and talk... so.... damn.... slow. Spirit is probably the worst of all because she sounds like they asked some American to affect a Japanese accent for her and it sounds so damn wrong and even borderline racist (Research revealed a woman named Christina Sauer did the voice.) Every time I read the dialogue that was given to the voice actors in Super Wing Commander, I can't help but hearing it in the awful voices and awful delivery and just die a bit inside. By not having actually heard any of the dialogue in Secret Mission 2, I can actually sort of appreciate it. It's refreshing.

Secret Missions 2 is also a lot less difficult than the first Secret Missions. There are still missions that I needed to try multiple times, but I always feel like I can get past it with skill, rather than luck. In fact, in Secret Missions, there are some missions where I feel I need good luck in order to get through it while in Secret Missions 2, it is more the case that when I fail I feel that it was bad luck. I actually would have thought that having to fly more patrol/escort missions would make the game harder since defending ships, especially transports, can be a pain, but the missions were all quite doable. One of the big innovations in Secret Missions 2 was that you get to fly a Kilrathi ship. The big let-down for me is that it was a Dralthi. Even upon first playing the game at Max's house, I thought they were the worse ships. Their shields and armor may be better than Salthi ships, but they are much less maneuverable and their pancake-like shape makes them a much bigger target. When Max told me you got to fly one in Secret Missions 2 I answered, "Why a Dralthi?" Anyway, despite still not liking them as a ship, it is a fun gimmick. The missions you fly in them can be difficult, but they are all doable. Definitely taking on two Rapiers (and three Dralthi) in a Dralthi was probably the hardest one, though it still didn't feel as hard as the mission from the first Secret Missions where you take on five of them in a Raptor.

One thing I have yet to mission is that, in my replaying of the Wing Commander series, I am finally playing them right. Well, I guess the most right way to play them would be with some sort of joystick, especially a flightstick-type one. But it seems you definitely want a more analog peripheral and my friend Max used the mouse so that is what I am finally using. When I first got Super Wing Commander, it ran very slowly on my Macintosh LC III and using the mouse just caused a lot of jumpiness. Plus, I probably still only had a one-button mouse at the time. So I used the keyboard so I could at least ensure that each keypress was a fine-grained movement. When I finally upgraded to a PowerPC, Super Wing Commander played fine but I was used to the keyboard so I kept at it. And I did the same thing for Wing Commander III and Wing Commander IV. Plus probably that whole one-button mouse thing. So now I finally am using the mouse to move my ship around the screen and while it isn't necessarily easier than the keyboard, it definitely feels more organic. Plus, it's a lot easier to plug a mouse into my laptop and play than a keyboard.

Now I have finally finished all the content in the first game of the series and it is time to move on to the true missing link that never came out in any form for the the Mac: Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wing Commander The Secret Missions - Destroyed the Sivar

Did I complain about the difficulty yet? Yes, I did but it's worth doing again. These Secret Missions are even more difficult than some of the later levels of the regular Wing Commmander missions. Just when I think I'm doing alright, my wingman will die, or I'll catch sudden fire from enemy ships and die, or an enemy ship will turn how I don't expect so we will collide and I will die. And if that doesn't happen, then the game will freeze up and this always happens when landing on the carrier, so it is always after I have survived a long ordeal in the mission and think I've succeeded. Oh DosBox, when will you finally get to version 1.0?

I have to admit that the insane difficulty and length of time it took to complete The Secret Missions has made my enthusiasm wane a bit. Since I have basically already done these missions in Super Wing Commander, it hardly felt woth the effort. The cut scenes that show in these games are better than those in Super Wing Commander and I now have bragging rights that I've beaten the harder versions. Still, I am very much looking forward to Secret Missions 2 where I will be experiencing missions I have never seen before.

Oh well, the dreadnought super-weapon that destroyed Goddard colony is gone. Long live the Confederation!

Update: I wrote this stuff about game control in the post on Secret Misssions 2 that I really meant to put here.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Wing Commader - Finished the game

You know what really makes this series? Besides the cinematics that show how you are doing, of course. The dogfighting. Getting a bead on an enemy ship, taking the right angle, shooting ahead of him so your shot gets there, firing the afterburners, and turning at just the right time to avoid a collision. One on one can be difficult enough, especially against a big gunship like a Gratha or Jalthi. But when there are two or three or even four other ships besides you and you can really only focus on one at a time, it's becomes a tense, teeth-clenched, white-knuckled moment. And I love it.

I don't necessarily love how much more difficult the original game is to the Super Wing Commander update that I played. Oh sure, that game made it too easy. I could complete nearly all of the missions solo. So I do appreciate that this game gives me a challenge, and I really don't mind redoing several missions over and over again. And if I were more willing to let my wingmate die or fail a mission, I would only redo the hardest missions once or twice. If you really want the best outcome - destroying the frigate or defending the ship with your wingman alive, it takes luck and skill. Well, except for the mission where you need to defend the Ralari. That mission is just impossible without cheating.

So, I managed to blow up the starbase that is the heart of the command for the Vega sector. I managed to do it without even any serious damage to my ship (even some armor damage). On the way, I destroyed a Fralthi and her escort of Krants. I destroyed the squadrons of Gratha, Salthi, and Jalthi before taking out the starbase. Okay, it helped that Hunter stuck around until the Jalthi squadron. Then I get back to the Tiger's Claw and Colonel Halcyon claims there is a ceremony for me above deck. And yet I don't even get the Terran Confederation Medal of Honor. Oh well, I'll have to be content with my three bronze stars, one silver star, and two gold stars.

On to the secret missions...

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Wing Commander - Finished First Mission in Dakota

Wing Commander holds many fond memories for. It takes me back to 8th grade and my friend Max. He had a high end 386 at his house and he introduced me to Wing Commander.

I was never much into flight simulators before then, and I'm still not, but there is something about Wing Commander that pulled me in. Wing Commander obviously took inspiration from Star Wars - specifically the idea of world war II in space. It presents an epic story of a conflict between humans and an alien race, taking place on the equivalent of an aircraft carrier. Wing Commander was crafted like a movie. Before each mission you can shoot the breeze with your fellow pilots, then the colonel gives a briefing and you are off flying in space. After the mission, you are debriefed, possibly given a medal or promotion or reassigned to another squadron on the ship. But what was really neat about the story is that your actions directly affected it. Successfully defeat a wing of fighters or defend the transport ship and your carrier would move into one system. Fail to destroy the enemy capital ship or have your escort get blown up and your carrier would move into another. This branching storyline even led to affecting the results of the war in the rest of the sector, and every so often you would see scenes of marines successfully (or unsuccessfully) storming an enemy base or a group of brave scientists thwarting (or being killed by) an enemy sneak attack.

The flying in Wing Commander appealed to me because it was fast, intense, and boiled down to the basics of what was needed to fly an attack craft. Basically, it took a very arcade approach to the flying. Still, the communication with your wingman, ordering him to break and attack, retreat, attack your target or whatever worked well to enhance a "you are there" feel of putting you in a war story. The fact that you could taunt and be taunted by enemy ships was a nice touch as well. The physics were always a little off. It was much more like you were flying in a gravity-less atmosphere than in space, but it worked fine and when you were dogfighting an enemy ship, maneuvering to get a good shot on him while avoiding his shots, you didn't notice it.

When I visited Max's house, I would only occasionally get a chance to fly. Most of the time was spent watching him fly and giving suggestions. The game was pretty difficult and I remember seeing him in the less successful systems, often flying desperate attempts to defend the carrier.

Having a Mac, I was disappointed that I could not get the game for my computer since it was so enthralling for me. Fortunately, an enhanced version of the game was released for the 3DO system and for whatever reason that version also got aport to the Mac. Super Wing Commander came on a CD, giving it better graphics and sound than the original, voices for all the characters, and included the first expansion Secret Missions and a new set of missions exclusive to it. It also ran at a speed approximating molasses on my LC III. But I didn't care because it was still the Wing Commander I loved. Despite the stuttering sound, the characters whose voice acting made them sound like they were on morphine, and game that played like, as my friend Max said when he saw, "a chess match" as you had plenty of time to plan your next move in between frames of animation, I loved it. I played through it again when I got a PowerPC that could actually run the game at an acceptable rate. I went on to play Wing Commander 3 and Wing Commander IV since they were released for the Mac and loved them.

A few days ago, I was reading about the new Wing Commander game set to be released for Xbox Live Arcade in a week or so and that gave me the itch. I had never played Wing Commander II before or its expansions. And, while Super Wing Commander had the same plot of the first game and its expansion, the second set of missions was different from the PC expansion. Not to mention that it was much easier - your ships had more missiles and the wingman AI was better. Thus, I decided that I had to play Wing Commander I and II and their associated Secret Missions and Special Operations.

I'm enjoying it just as I used to. For a PC game released in 1990, it is quite impressive. Sure the standard VGA graphics, especially the ship bitmaps don't look great now, but it is still a ton of fun. It is also a lot harder than Super Wing Commander, which makes it interesting. While I have made it further on the positive mission path (haven't failed any missions yet) than I remember my friend Max making it, some of the missions took a few tries. In Super Wing Commander I rarely had to redo a mission unless my wingman died.

And that brings me to the last mission I played. Knight and I were tasked with protecting two Drayman class transports. It was a brutally hard mission. A wing of Salthis and then a wing of Krants came after the first transport. Knight and I fought valiantly and I took a ton of damage, but we managed to see the Drayman off safely to its jump point. Then came the rendezvous with the next Drayman, this one carrying precious vaccines to help with the outbreak of a disease on a nearby human colony. Three Jalthi, the Kilrathi's heaviest fighters, came after it. I managed to lure one off and was dogfighting with it. Just as I finish it off, Knight radio's in that he's in trouble. I spin my ship around and fire on the afterburners to get back to him, but I'm too late. One of the Jalthi's finishes him off and he doesn't eject in time. Filled with rage, I pump the last of my missiles into one Jalthi and tear into the other from the rear with my guns. When I get back to the carrier, during the debriefing the Colonel laments Knight's passing and comments that it seems he just couldn't handle it out there. Bullshit! I retort that Knight gave all he could, including his life, to ensure that the transport made it in safely. But in the back of my head, I can't help but blame myself for his death. I had my Jalthi damaged. It was still a threat but not a great one and I knew Knight was tackling with two of them. I should have turned around quicker to help him, but instead I went for the kill. The extra 30 seconds it took to finish off the Jalthi are the time the other two needed to lay into Knight. A good man died, and I feel responsible.

That's why I love this game. No way am I reloading. I'm going to have to go through the game with that on my hands.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Mario Kart DS - Gold Trophy in all 50cc Races

Man, you sure couldn't tell that my advisor being back in town has decreased the frequency of my game playing, could you?

Mario Kart is a game that I've had for nearly a year now, but haven't really played yet. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that I am not overly fond of racing games. I appreciate a well done one, but the ones that go for all the realism and car customization just aren't for me. I prefer my racers to be arcadey and fortunately Mario Kart fits that bill. The second is that, to me, Mario Kart is a multiplayer game. I have fond memories of summers and playing Super Mario Kart and later rousing games of Mario Kart 64 with friends (mostly battle on the latter). Several nights at college were spent schooling people and getting schooled in Mario Kart 64. But playing it by myself? It just seems wrong.

Still, that shouldn't be a problem. Mario Kart DS was the first DS game to feature online Wi-Fi play so I should always have an opponent. But I had heard of rampant abuse of "snaking" (whatever that was) and other things making the game less enjoyable so I had stayed away. My play time in Mario Kart DS, thus consisted of maybe a half hour of single cartridge wireless play against friends one night. But I was determined to fix this last Wednesday when some people on a board I frequent were going to play some online Mario Kart. I figured that playing with people I had some familiarity with would be okay and it would be a good learning experience. Sadly, a mostly dead DS battery and Comcast were against me that night and I never got an online game.

I was, however, inspired to practice single player. I had heard that Mario Kart DS was one of the best Mario Kart incarnations and I can believe it. The game plays very smooth, the controls are responsive, the AI opponent's seem realistic and fair, and you can see yourself learning the strategies as you play. The courses are also very well built. The original ones are very innovative and have plenty of interesting features in them and the classic courses taken from previous Mario Kart games are awesome.

In playing, I got a chance to practice my power slide and speed boost and thus learned what snaking was. I honestly can't understand getting too pissed off by it, but then maybe that's just because I can't really do it. Oh sure, getting the speed boosts on turns isn't a problem, but on straightaways it seems much more difficult to pull off and get a boost in the right direction. I'm sure people who have practiced the game and know the courses inside and out can probably pull it off without a problem, but I don't know that I really have an issue with people that put that much time into the game doing better. It certainly doesn't seem as complaint-worthy as what I've seen.

Once you complete a set of courses (A cup, like the Mushroom Cup), you are given a ranking beyond just what place you came in. The ranking definitely seems to make the game more hard core since it isn't that hard to place first in a cup, but the ranking depends not just on place, but also time to complete the tracks and mistakes made. The ranking go from E at the lowest to A, and then to star, double star, and triple star. The best I have done is a one star ranking and that's at 50cc, the easiest difficulty.

I still want to finish up Pokemon Diamond so I don't think this game will replace it in my DS, but it is definitely a game I will keep with me on a trip to play when I want something different.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pokemon Diamond - Obtained the Icicle Gym Badge

I have continued to play this game, on and off, for the past couple weeks. I'm really starting to have bouts of loving and hating the game now. Going through areas often feels like a grind - the cave on Iron island definitely felt that way. The game can move very slowly, especially with battle animations and switching Pokemon and everything like that. This can make the game a drudgery. And yet, the exploration of new areas and encountering new Pokemons seems great. So... I don't know. It held my attention long enough to spend an entire night going through the snowy area to reach the town at the end, which was good.

I still feel that my Pokemon are a bit underleveled. The Canalave gym didn't cause me much trouble, and the Snowpoint City one was only a little difficult (and had one of the coolest puzzles in it). I guess as long as I'm winning, it doesn't really matter.

I also guess I'm near the end of the game's story, since there aren't any many places on the map that I haven't visited. This is good, as I'm actually kind of looking forward to all the stuff that opens up when you beat the elite four at the end. People on forums I visit have been talking about raising different pokemon teams for different battle types and I think that sounds like a hoot. I also want to try to capture every Pokemon in the Sinnoh Pokedex, so this game definitely still has pull for me.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Excite Truck - S Rank in all Bronze courses in Excite Mode

Wow, I'm not sure if I've ever gone so quickly from not getting a game to being totally addicted to it. I started playing this game when I got home from work today and didn't stop until just now, making about four hours of obsessively playing and racing.

I really just didn't get the game before. I had gone through the beginner tutorials, but that really wasn't enough to delve into what makes the game tick. I also sort of got the whole concept of long jumps and tree runs and other things like that giving you stunt points, but now I see where in the levels to look for these things, how to better achieve them, and the desire to push myself to do better stunts. The game also flows very well once you get into it. It totally drags you in.

The normal (Excite) races are lots of fun. Because you are ranked based on more than just where you place, you are encouraged to find all the best areas for jumps and tree runs and crushing others. This makes it so much more than just a racing game.

There are also Challenge races which I have tried in which you need to drive through gates or hit rings in the air. They each emphasize a different aspect of the skill needed to do well in the game. They are also fun and you feel like you could eventually S Rank all of them with enough practice (unlike, say the challeneges in ATV Offroad Fury 2 that just began to seem impossible.)

So yeah, I'm definitely keeping this game.

Excite Truck - Two Player, Nothing Unlocked

This is the third of the multiplayer games I have tried with friends. My initial impression is that the game is okay.

I'm not sure why I feel that way, given that one of my friends thinks the game is the best we have played. It could be my general bias against driving games. I've just never been that enthralled by them. Or it could be the fact that, while the controls are good, they aren't great. Steering is very sensitive and you definitely have to adjust to that. It could also be that there aren't many tracks or vehicles unlocked.

I got three games (this, Wario Ware: Smooth Moves, and Super Paper Mario at a Buy 2 Get 1 Free sale at a GameStop about an hour from where I live (it was right near a friend's wedding). The woman there claimed I could return/exchange the games at any GameStop within seven days so tomorrow is basically my last day to do so. And I am seriously considering swapping this game for something like Rayman Raving Rabbids. But since I have until tomorrow, I'll try to unlock some more stuff and see if I enjoy it more.

Wii Play - Playing Two Player

The reviews were fairly uniform: Wii Play isn't that great. It is more of a tech demo for what the Wii can do with motion sensing. Still, it is $50 for the game plus a remote while a remote by itself is $40. And everyone seemed to agree that paying $10 for the game is worth it. I'd agree with that.

When you first start up Wii Play, you have to start with the first game - the target shooting. Once you play that, you then move on to the rest of the games until you have played all ten. So basically, in a short period you "unlock" all of the games. I had to do this so that when my friends came over we could try any that we wanted.

In the course of doing this, I discovered that about half the games are worth playing: Shooting Range, Laser Hockey, Billiards, Charge!, and Tanks! Shooting Range gives you a crosshair where your remote points at the screen and you must shoot various objects that appear. It is enjoyable, but I am noticing that there doesn't appear to be much randomness to it. It seems to me that the same things appear in the same spots every time so that game may lose its luster after awhile. Billiards is a game of 9-Ball and works very well. It may be the best game on the disc. Charge! is a game of cow racing where you hold the remote horizontally and tilt it to turn and accelerate and can even quickly move it upwards to jump. While not as deep as Excite Truck, it works pretty well and the jumping gives it an added dimension. Tanks! is probably the best game on the disc. With the nunchuk attachment, you move a tank around the screen. A crosshair appear where the remote is pointing toward the screen and you can fire in that direction. Your shells will ricochet off a wall once so there is lots of strategy to planning your shots.

Laser Hockey, while not the best game on the disc, is the most interesting. Mostly because I really enjoyed it, but my friends did not. It took them awhile to figure it out and even then I'm not sure they totally did. The game is air hockey. Moving the remote up, down, left, and right does the same to the paddle. Twisting the remote clockwise or counter-clockwise rotates the (horizontal) paddle. I "got" this game the first time I played it, but others didn't. Regardless, I enjoy this game even if others don't.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wii Sports - Playing two player

So, I finally got my Wii last Sunday. My friends in Salt Lake are awesome and pooled their resources together to get me one for my birthday. Well, they put the money together to get me one. They weren't in stock when they were looking and it took a week before stores got in shipments again. Fortunately, people aren't crazy for them anymore so my friend and I got to Circuit City a few minutes after it opened and they still had about a half dozen left.

Wii Sports was the main game I played on Sunday and then ended up playing Monday and yesterday as well. Previously, I had tried it out at a friend's place and was very impressed by tennis and bowling. In fact, the quality of tennis and bowling is what inspired me to actually be interested in getting a Wii as soon as it had a few more good software titles (including virtual console downloads). So I knew Tennis and Bowling were good. I tried boxing and it was fun to watch and not bad to participate in against another player, but it couldn't say it was actually a good game. I'd heard baseball was pretty good too.

What surprised me was golf. No one I knew had talked positively about golf. There wasn't a ton of negative stuff said about it either, but it was never listed when people talked about the good games in Wii Sports. I can somewhat understand. It isn't very deep and it isn't really an accurate simulation of golf. It doesn't check the position of the remote when you would be hitting the ball and thus doesn't determine hook or slice that way. All it really measures is how quickly you move the remote forward. For all of this inaccuracy to actual golf, it is still a fun game. You still have to take wind, terrain, and slope into account when lining up your shot. Instead of having to press a button twice to determine power and accuracy*, you instead just swing the remote. If you put too much power on it, you will hook or slice. It is a very simple use of the Wii's motion sensing capabilities and yet it still really adds to the game. You can have a fun game of challenging a friend to several holes that requires moving about to determine your shots. It is entertaining to play, even alone, and lots of fun with friends. It certainly has made me consider looking into getting a Tiger Woods or other golf video game for the Wii that uses waggle.

Baseball is pretty nice too. You don't control fielding or base running, but for the most part I think that is fine. At first I thought it was all about batting, but the last game I played, my friend and I got into more of a pitcher's duel. The batting is pretty awesome, though. When I keep trying for home runs, I tend to fly out a lot more, just like in actual baseball.

So that makes four of the five games on Wii Sports being genuinely fun and I'd say that's a great ratio. Heck even boxing is fun when you have two players going at it and a bunch of people over.

*I know the modern golf games now use the analog stick(s) for power and accuracy, but the most recent golf game I've played was Mario Golf: Advance Tour for the Game Boy Advance so no analog stick. Before that, I think the last golf game I played was in 1993 or so.