Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade - A Review

On Friday, I went to a screening at the Sundance film festival of the movie Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade. You can read a description of it here.

The movie is a documentary focuses on Twin Galaxies, an arcade located in the small town of Ottumwa Iowa, and the video game champions that came there in 1982. The men and boys that arrived were the best of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Berzerk, and many other classic arcade games. The movie follows their lives from the Life Magazine feature on them in 1982 to the present.

The movie mixes the historical and the personal. It briefly touches on how video games became popular and then focuses on the bigger games of the early 80s. It has interviews with the players that had high scores in those games and why they played them and what their strategies were. It also follows the huge events of the time, including Buckner and Garcia's "Pac-Man Fever", the 1982 Video Game world championship filmed by ABC's "That's Incredible", to the attempt to create a league of professional video game players, to the mass closing of arcades just a few years later.

The movie then focuses on several of the video game champions who were at Twin Galaxies in 1982. These people are asked what happened to them, how did being great at video games affect their lives, and what lessons did they learn. These characters are extremely colorful, such as Billy Mitchell, Rob Mruczek, and Roy Shildt. Perhaps most interesting is Walter Day, founder of Twin Galaxies. He definitely comes from the 1960s Berkeley culture, has had a variety of interests in hobbies in his life, and most impressively, after establishing Twin Galaxies as the authority in video game high scores has a keen insight into the importance of video game history and how it should be preserved.

Chasing Ghosts decides to take a very light approach to the subject matter. It plays up the fun, funny, and wacky side of video games and video gamers. It really takes you back to your childhood when you felt anything was possible and you could be an astronaut, or president, or a world famous video game player. This approach really works, because even though there are serious storylines touched on, the people in this film were doing it for their love of the game and that comes through. At one point in the movie, I was worried that the movie was focus too much on the bizarreness and social awkwardness of the characters, just playing on the easy stereotype that video game players are hopeless nerds. This feeling was soon allayed by showing that these people, despite any quirks, still have families that they love, friends that they cherish, and ideals they pursue.

The film was very well done and very well put together. The film mixed interviews, news footage, old photos, and computer-created rendering of the old video games to always have something on screen to catch your eye. The documentary created its stories well, did a good job of showing the impact of video games on these people and the world, and left you a little sad at the death of arcades.

While I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about the history of video games, I was born in 1979 and so I missed quite a lot of the arcade culture, only hitting the tail end of the classic arcade culture in my childhood before the tournament fighting games took over. Thus, I learned a lot about what arcades were like during the early 80s and gained a better appreciations for the video games I already loved like Ms. Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. I saw seven different movies at the Sundance Film Festival this year and, unlike most years, I enjoyed all of them. This one, though, is probably my favorite. No other movie kept me as rapt or as entertained as Chasing Ghosts and I would rate it a 4.5 out of 5. Anyone who appreciates a good historical and personal documentary will enjoy this film and for anyone who is interested in the history of video games it is a must see.

What made the experience even better is that the producer, director, editor, cinematographer, and Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day were there at the screening and stayed around afterwards to answer questions about the film. The people who made the film, while not hardcore gamers, really showed that they were eager to make this film. Mr. Day was a mini-celebrity and fielded many questions and handled them all well.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Fire Emblem - Chapter 26x: Night of Farewells

The Fire Emblem series (along with the Wars series) originally started on the Famicom (NES) in Japan. Like Advance Wars, it didn't make its first appearance in North America until the Game Boy Advance. After playing both the games, I can say without a doubt that we in North America were screwed. This game is awesome.

The game is more similar to Shining Force than Final Fantasy Tactics. Each character is highly specialized and has only a few things that they can do. The real trick in this game is putting your characters' strengths against the other enemies' weakness. Oh, and the biggest feature of the series is permanent death. Yes, if one of your characters dies, they are gone and there is no way to revive them. Gone for the rest of the game. Of course, if one of the three main characters dies, it is game over, so you have to redo the level. Otherwise, you just lose the use of the character which is cool because it changes aspects of the story.

I have a problem in that I can be a bit of an anal retentive perfectionist sometimes. In Fire Emblem, this means that I want to finish the game with every character that I recruited still alive. So if one dies during a mission, I have to restart that mission (there is no way to go back to an earlier point in a mission). Chapter 26x was long. I mean, really long. There were tons of enemies and they were strong. So, it took me a long time to complete this mission. Really long. I would get halfway through and then mistakenly leave a character out on his own. He would get swarmed by enemies and die. And I would have to restart. This must have happened over a dozen times. And it was very frustrating. I almost considered bending my rule and just letting a character die.

But no, I persevered and finally last night I completed the mission. I'm actually not sure if this rewarding of my obsessive behavior is a good thing.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap - Review

I had a disease and the only prescription was more Zelda. This game didn't disappoint. Since the Game Boy Color Oracle games, Nintendo has allowed Capcom to handle their portable Zeldas and Capcom has done an admirable job. Minish cap is a classic 2D top-down Zelda game that has almost all the spit-and-polish you could ask for.

The story tells of the legend of the Piccori (or Minish) - miniscule people who came to help Hyrule in its time of need by supplying it with the Piccori sword which the great hero used to defeat the monsters. On an anniversary commemorating this event, a wizard named Vaati wins the swordsmanship tournament for the right to touch the Piccori blade. Turns out, he is looking for the light force power used to destroy all the monsters in times past and ends up breaking the blade and releasing monsters back into the world. Princess Zelda is turned to stone and you, her friend Link, must seek out the Piccori to reforge the blade and bring peace back to Hyrule. Along the way you find Ezlo, a Minish wizard who was Vaati's mentor, but was turned into a hat when Vaati seized the power of the great wizard hat. He accompanies Link (on his head) as they seek out a way to defeat Vaati and lift the curse on Zelda, Ezlo, and Hyrule.

The story is fairly cliche and doesn't have much development, but it serves fine. It is most interesting because it doesn't mention Gannon or the Triforce. This, along with several other factors has led those who try to put all the Zelda games on a timeline to speculate that this is actually the first game, chronologically, in the Zelda timeline.

The gameplay is absolutely what you would expect for a 2D top-down Zelda game. You choose from your inventory of one object to assign to the A button and another to assign to the B button. You start with just your sword and your shield. You can swing your sword, keep it out in front of you, or hold it down to charge it up for a super-360 degree slash. You gain more techniques as the game goes one by training with different swordmasters and collecting elements from the dungeons. You also always have the ability to pick up and throw various rocks and pots and to do a quick roll. As the game goes on, you acquire other items like the gust jar, the roc cape, and the cane of Pacci. These items help both against monsters and environmentally. Your sword slices through grasses and trees, bombs blow up unstable rocks, the roc cape lets you jump over gaps.

The biggest addition to the traditional 2D Zelda formula is the ability to shrink down to the size of the Minish. At certain rocks trees, or pots, you can hop on and be shrunk down. You then navigate the world in a much different way. Grass and rubble that you could easily walk through at normal size become unpassable. Vines that would never hold you before and passages previously mouse-size are now new paths to take. Especially in the main town of Hyrule, this gives you the sense of their being and extra, smaller world.

The game world consists of a large overworld map with over a dozen distinct geographic areas. Each of those areas houses plenty of enemies and secrets to uncover. Indeed, like many Zelda games, much of this one consists of returning to areas you have been to with new items to uncover new secrets in them. The game is on the low side in terms of dungeons - there are only six in the game, but because there is so much to do in the overworld, it doesn't feel that short. The dungeons themselves are full of puzzles that must be solved, both with new items and old. They puzzles never get really difficult, but some require you to think outside the box a bit, especially in the later dungeons.

Though there is a Minish town, and a few other isolated people in houses, huts and caves, Hyrule town is where you do most of your interacting with people. Here lives the main swordsman who teaches you a good number of techniques. Here is the lady whose chickens have escaped who rewards you for returning them. Here is the man who makes figurines of people and monsters in Hyrule that you can win by gambling shells. Here is the main shop where you can replenish items. Hyrule town definitely feels like a bustling community with just a ton of stuff to do there.

Hyrule town is also where you learn about and do most of your kinstone fusions. Kinstones are colored, circular pieces of stone that are broken in half. You collect left halves and people in the game hold right halves. When you come to a person (and an occasional special stone in the wilderness), they will indicate that they have a kinstone to fuse. You can then pull up your screen of kinstones and if you have a left half to match their right half, fuse them together. This unlocks a secret suck as a new cave or passageway or monster of treasure chest somewhere else in the world. You are shown where on your map so that you can go and check it out. Finding and making all of the kinstone connections was one of my favorite parts of the game as I was always curious to see what secrets I uncovered.

The monsters in the game are colorful and varying as Zelda monsters should be. From the old-school octoroks, tektites, and leevers (I can't type that without thinking of this much beloved commercial for the original Zelda) to newer enemies and bugs and insects that assault you when you are Minish-sized. Many enemies cannot be beaten with your sword alone and require a special item (though often you have quite a bit of choice in which special item to use). At the end of dungeons you fight a large boss. These aren't very difficult until the later dungeons, but they are quite fun, especially the ones that are giant versions of regular enemies because you are fighting them while Minish-size (the giant octorok is probably my favorite).

The graphics are crisp and clear. They are full of bright colors and are almost cartoon-like while not being stylizes. The animation in the game is very smooth and it really seems like great detail was done to the make the game look gorgeous and take as much advantage of the Game Boy Advance as possible. The sounds also seem to push the Game Boy Advance speakers to their limit. While not known for quality, the clangs and cries and explosions are all very clear. The music is mostly retreads and variations of older Zelda tunes, but it is very well done and sounds great.

This game is certainly one of the most polished game that I have played for the Game Boy Advance. The graphics, sound, and gameplay are all very well done. The biggest complaint I have about the game is the lack of originality. It is a Zelda, and so you know what to expect, but they really didn't do a lot more than that. The story is also unmemorable, and while story in a Zelda game doesn't have to be important, it is another notch off of it. Ultimately I was pleased with this game and think it great, even if I had wished for something slightly more. That still doesn't prevent me from recommending it to anyone with a Game Boy Advance.

Rating: 9 / 10

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap - Beat the Game

The final dungeon was much easier than I thought it would be. It took me three tries to beat Vaati, but he didn't seem all that hard. The ending was nice and the variation on the Zelda theme at the gave me shivers. I do find it lame that you get a special item to help you against enemies after you've beaten the game. What's up with that?

Those are my only comments. I just don't have much to say about this game.

Contact - Review

Contact was billed as a game that would bring a breath of fresh air to role-playing games. No more cliched plots, spiky-haired kids, or same old battle systems. This game would be different and special! Early screen shots showed an aesthetic that was similar to Earthbound, a cult classic for its humor and presentation on the Super Nintendo. Thus, I came to this game with high hopes, not even dashed by the luke-warm reviews it received.

Contact certainly is innovative, especially in the story department. It is post-modern in that it involves you, the guy pushing buttons on the DS, in the game. There is no fourth wall here. When the game starts, a professor has been sending out messages and makes contact with you. Your DS gives you the ability to communicate with him and you begin telling him about yourself. You two are interrupted when his spaceship is attacked by an unknown force and crashes on the nearest planet. While doing so, it picks up a local boy, Terry. Once the professor and Terry recover, the professor realizes that the energy source for his ship, cells of the mysterious element 117 are gone and scattered all over. Terry agrees to help the professor find his energy source. Then the professor has a private conversation with you where he tells you that you should control Terry and help him along and figure out where to go. As the game goes on, you find another group, the CosmoNOTs are also looking for element 117, and are responsible for crashing the professor's ship. Apparently they want to use it for some nefarious purpose.

As stories goes, the one in Contact definitely holds your interest because it seems to unfold like a mystery. You slowly learn more about the CosmoNOTs and their plans. It kept me going so I could see what happen. I was disappointed that, even at the end of the game, the motivations of the professor and the CosmoNOTs are still not clear. Certainly, neither is presented as purely good or evil at the end of the game, but I wasn't much closer to understanding what their eventual goals were.

While the story itself is fairly good, the localization of this game is amazing. Clearly, the guy from Atlus that localized this game put a lot of effort into making the characters understandable and sympathetic. Oh, and funny! There are a lot of great uses of language ("He put his eyes on the prize and used his thighs!") and plenty of inside jokes which admittedly may not stand up so well many years on ("Hit his weakpoint for MASSIVE DAMAGE!", "I wish a base like this belonged to us."). Still, when the text of a game that is very Japanese in origin makes me smile like this, I know it is doing something right. I mean, Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime also had a great and roughly equivalent localization, so for a much smaller market game like Contact, I am impressed.

The gameplay consists of you controlling Terry, either with the D-pad or the stylus. Occasionally you also use the stylus to interact with something on the bottom screen (such as shaking fruit off of trees). When you encounter an enemy, you can press B to go into combat mode where Terry will periodically whack the enemy with whatever weapon he has equipped. Because combat is real-time and there is no menu system to choose what to do, positioning Terry in battle and choosing special attacks at the right time is important. The game doesn't rely on reflexes so this isn't an action RPG, but it does make the game different from a more typical menu-based system.

Terry has a variety of statistics such as health, stamina, strength, wisdom, blade proficiency, blunt weapon proficiency, blade resistance, fire proficiency, fire resistance, courage, karma, cooking, fishing, and thieving. You raise these statistics by using them. So, attacking an enemy will raise strength, aim, and blade proficiency (if have a blade weapon equipped). Getting attacked increases agility, and if you get hit, health, stamina, and resistance to whatever kind of attacked hit you. Thus, Contact is different from the traditional RPG by eschewing the level system in favor of skill increases.

Throughout the game, you will acquire various costumes. The costumes you wear changes your stats in various ways and gives you special powers you only have available by wearing the costume. For example, the Knuckle Mole costume increases your hit points, slows you down (I think), and allows you to dig and make special earth-based attacks. The more you use these earth-based attacks (or weapons that include an earth component), the more your earth proficiency goes up and when it goes up enough you get new earth-based skills and attacks.

Besides being a costume for each level, there are three "job" costumes: Mr. Cuisine, Fisher King, and Shadow Thief. Mr. Cuisine allows you to cook. In the game, you restore health (and raise attributes) by eating various kinds of foods. These foods also fill your stomach to a certain extent and take a certain amount of time to digest, so you can't just keep eating. Cooking is the art of making one food into another. You may cook meat and turn it into tasty BBQ. Or cook lettuce and tomato to make a salad. Fisher King allows you to fish when you are near water. When fishing, you wait until a fish yanks down your bob then pull up. If you have enough fishing skill for the fish that bit your line, you will reel it in. To be honest, I never found fishing to be very useful. Finally, Shadow Thief allows you to pick locks. This gives you access to extra treasure chests or rooms.

The game also makes use of decals - stickers you can peel off and use. ? Decals are ones that boost Terry's stats. You will find them in treasure chests and monsters drop them. You then peel them off to find out what they do (such as +2 Strength and +1 Defense) and then choose whether to attack or discard it. There are also super decals that have special functions in the game. Some have utility like recovering a cell or returning to the ship, but most effect the enemies on screen in some way.

The game world is divided into a series of islands. The professor has attached his ship to an old galleon and you use it to sail around to the different islands to find the cells. Islands do not show up on your map until you have heard about them. Generally, you go around a new island talking to anyone on it, figure out where you are supposed to go, then trek through the "dungeon" of that island (the dungeon may be a pyramid or a military base or a huge store). There are quite a lot of people to talk to in the game and various side quests you can do involving them. The island dungeons themselves are put together well and fun to explore, though you generally won't get too far on your first time through. You'll trek through, raise some skills, then have to retreat. Eventually you'll be able to make it to the end, fight a boss, and then get a clue as to where the next cell is. The Habara dungeon is clearly the best of the game, putting Terry into 8-bit video game worlds.

The biggest problem with Contact is the tedium. RPGs have long since passed the day where you need to spend hours fighting and leveling up before progressing on to the next area. Some grinding can definitely be required, but it should not detract from the game. The game is very difficult early on and it can take 20 tries to finally get through the second dungeon. This necessity to sit and fight enemies instead of progressing seems intended to length the game as there are only six major dungeons in it. Beyond just fighting, plenty of other things seem to just serve to take time unnecessarily. If I want to fish while the ship is crossing the ocean, the time it takes to get from place to place is fine. But if I want to just get there, the only way to skip ahead is to save. And saving takes time because, after you actually save the game, you then have to play with Mochi (the professor's dog) for a period of time. Cooking, which becomes necessary later on to make the health items you'll need to survive in dungeons also has an unskippable animation. This may have been the first negative paragraph I have written in this review, but it is a huge issue. The game just ceases to be fun when you have to pound monsters for 10 minutes before progressing or wait forever when traversing between islands to complete a side quest.

The graphics in this game are quite nice. As mentioned, the graphics of the professor and Mochi in his spaceship are a nod to Earthbound. They have a very minimalist stylization. The rest of the graphics are a mixture of nice 2D art and 3D modeled-looking art. It works very well and makes the game colorful and detailed. The sound in the game consists mostly of the grunts and slashes of you or enemies attacking. Each type of person has their own sound they make when talking. Sound is used nicely in cut scenes, but otherwise in forgettable. The music is appropriate for each area you are in and helps set the mood. It isn't incredibly memorable as it took me awhile to remember anything besides the music in the professor's room.

I'm sure some people enjoy RPGs where you need to grind through enemies to raise your stats. I don't mind that as part or as a side quest in a game, but to me RPGs are about exploring new areas, interacting with people, and strategizing over how to beat new enemies. They are not about killing the same enemy a hundred times so you are powerful enough to move on (or at least they haven't been since Dragon Warrior). This game is very clever in parts and the costume system and stat raising system are fairly unique touches. The story kept me going so I could find out more about the characters (and I was disappointed I never did) and the localization kept me smiling. I didn't really have to force myself to play through this, but I was never looking forward to playing it either. If you want to try a quirky RPG, you might give it a try, but be prepared for some monotony.

Rating: 6 / 10

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap - Completing Loose Ends

Sometimes I get obsessive over fully completing a game. Especially if it involves exploring everywhere to discover every last whatsit. As long as doing so doesn't make me tear my hair out in frustration, I am all for it. So, before I ventured into Dark Hyrule castle, I wanted to get all the things I could. I needed to do all the kinstone fusions, get all the pieces of heart, and collect every figurine.

I succeeded in this, but didn't do it all on my own. I was able to get down to 3 kinstone fusions left before I broke down and had to check where they all were. I got all but one heart container piece without having to look up where the last one was. As for the figurines, I had to read about and use the recurring 20 rupees to get enough shells to get the final 8 or so figurines.

The most frustrating thing was probably doing all the chicken rescues. Man, especially the last one was ridiculously hard. But I did it and now the woman has all her cuccos back.

Time to take on Vaati.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap - Acquired the Wind Element

I am making this post, but I really don't have much more to say about the game than I said in my last one. You kind of know what to expect in a portable Zelda game and that's what you get here. It is well done, but it isn't amazing.

The wind palace up in the clouds definitely gave me one of my hardest times in the game, but part of that was me being stupid. For a long time, I just blocked on what the items in my inventory would do to get me past a certain area. And then in another part, I just completely could not see the solution to a puzzle. The solution was new and novel, so I give myself some slack since I never had to do it before, but it must have taken me a half hour of going back and forth through the level before I figured it out.

The kinstone system remains one of my favorite parts of the game. Tingle has told me I have five left to fuse, but unfortunately I don't see where those would be. I guess part of this game involves going back through previous areas and using new techniques or items, but I really feel like I have been everywhere and just have no clue where the remaining five could be if they aren't in Hyrule Castle.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap - Acquired the Water Element

With Contact done with (yes, I have decided I am done with it - review upcoming), and Astro Boy: Omega Factor recently beaten, I decided it was finally time to give in to my Zelda craving.

Not long ago, I watched this video which attempts to place all the Zelda games on a timeline. This got me jonesing to play a Zelda game and also interested in playing them in this order. So, it was time to finally dig into The Minish Cap.

I actually have almost as much experience playing portable Zelda as I do on home consoles. I have played and beaten Link's Awakening and Oracle of Seasons and enjoyed both quite it a bit. Otherwise, I played and beat the first two Zeldas and got about halfway through A Link to the Past before being distracted by other things in college. So, I am mostly familiar with top-down, 2D Zelda games and that is what I think of when I think Zelda.

Really, all the handheld games have built on the successful formula of A Link to the Past (which, yes, was based on the first game). The innovations in The Minish Cap are the ability to shrink down into the world of the small and the collecting of kinstones which are halves of stones that you match up with people and things to reveal secret areas. I wonder if, when I eventually get to A Link to the Past in the chronology of Zelda games if I will be disappointed by it because it feels primitive. A friend of mind first played The Minish Cap and then attempted to play A Link to the Past (never having played it before) and didn't enjoy it (though he claimed that it was becaused of "bad graphics" - pfft, whatever).

I don't love the Zelda games, but I do always get high enjoyment out them. They are always well put-together. I find it interesting that (so far at least), Link's Awakening is my favorite of the portable Zeldas and that is the only one developed solely by Nintendo and not in collaboration with Capcom. I think it is because Link's Awakening had the best story of the ones I've played. I mean, the other Zeldas play well and are, in a way, more innovative in their gameplay, but I actually felt for Link's plight in Link's Awakening. I mean, he wants to get off the island and go home, but the only way to do that is to wake the wind fish. If he does that, and the island is truly just a dream of the wind fish, then everyone on it will disappear. The Minish Cap and Oracle of Seasons have much more traditional "defeat the big bad guy" plots.

One thing I really like in this game are the kinstones. Basically, they are half of a circular stone you can find by defeating enemies or in treasure chests. You then find villagers that have half of a stone and offer to match up with them. If your half and their half complete a circle, then a secret is revealed somewhere in the world (the game shows you where). This just works perfect for my love of exploration. It is things like this that spur me to 100% completion without getting frustrated.

Being a Zelda game, you can't say too much for the challenge. The joy is in figuring out the puzzles and where to go next, and not usually in the difficulty of fighting enemies or impossible puzzles. No puzzle has stumped me yet, though on a few I had to go out of a dungeon/town and come back in again with a fresh perspective. And, prior to the end of the water dungeon, I had only died once and that was because I was just being careless. The giant Octorok at the end of the water dungeon was the first truly challenging enemy of the game and I now have a total of three deaths because of him. If the rest of the boss fights are at his level, I will re-evaluate my position on the challenge of this game.

Still, so far a really enjoyable, well-done game. I'm thinking not much will change from my preliminary judgment of the game being great.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sonic Rush and Puyo Pop Fever - Two Player Versus

One of the great things about portable systems is that you can play them in line. Every time I line up an hour (or more) ahead of time for tickets to a movie or concert or show, I always bring my portable system. It helps kill the time and, it a friend has one, is lots of fun for you. Of course, if other people are around, they may get annoyed, but screw them - you're playing a fun game.

Anyway, this morning my friends and I got in line for the Best of Fest tickets for the Sundance Film Festival. Another friend had his DS. We were without Tetris DS or Clubhouse Games, but we both had Sonic Rush, so we decided to give that a try.

Without looking at the instructions, the only two-player game we could see was a race through the level. Since I hadn't played Sonic Rush yet (and neither had he, I believe) only the first level was available for racing. Apparently, I am quite bad at racing through a Sonic level. My friend beat me twice and then he passed the DS to another friend who soundly beat me.

The racing, and especially only on one level, didn't hold our attention too much so we moved on to one of my favorite action puzzle games, Puyo Pop Fever. I'll be honest and say that I may even like this game more than Tetris. I first played it as "Puyo Puyo" on my Mac (I think a friend from high school showed it to me) and then as xpuyo on my university's Suns. If you are unfamiliar with the gameplay, two connected blobs of various color fall down the screen. Once they get to the bottom, they stop and other connected blobs fall, all stacking on top of one another. Unlike Tetris, their connection is week so if you rotate the blobs horizontally and place one on a tall stack of blobs, the other blob will detach and fall down until it is directly over another place blobs. If four or more blobs of the same color are touching, they disappear and all the blobs above them fall down. This can cause other groups of four or more touching blobs, and thus chains or combos are created this way. When playing against another player, clearing blobs sends special gray blobs to your opponent's side, clearing a lot of blobs and especially chaining combos sends even more. Just like Tetris, when the screen is filled up, you lose.

I have played this game quite a bit and consider myself pretty good at it, so I was not surprised when I won my first game against a friend who had never played it before. I then handed my DS to another friend to play. It was his first time and I watched him as he just simply connected the blobs. His opponent was doing the same thing, so neither's board was filling up. Then, suddenly, he went into Puyo Pop Fever mode where his screen he was working on was replaced with a new screen with blobs set up for big combos and a blob-pair dropping to take advantage of the built-in combos. This lasted for a few seconds and he built up a trully staggering amount of gray blobs to send to his opponent who quickly lost.

I then attempted to play against him and was doing pretty well - but then he got in Fever mode again and just killed me. Another friend tried it. Again, they started pretty slowly. Then the one who had been winning got Fever mode. His opponent got it quickly after him, so I figured this would stay close, but no, my original friend won again.

Finally, I had enough and vowed that I would beat him to show just how much I rocked (I mean, if I can school everyone at Tetris, which I am not nearly as good at, I have to do well with Puyo Puyo). So, I tried my hardest, setting up as many combos as I could and filling his screen as high as possible. It looked liked I had him... and then he entered Fever mode. So I tried my best to keep up and survive all the crap he was dropping on me. And I managed to basically shut down his fever mode by dumping a crapload of gray blobs on it. So then when he got out, his board wasn't so high, but mine was pretty open as well. And then I entered Fever mode. There was nothing he could do and I made short work of him. Ah, that was glorious.

Anyway, even though it has seen a million iterations on every console since at least the 16-bit generation, Puyo Puyo (or Puyo Pop, or Kirby's Avalanche or Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine ) is one of the best 2-player versus puzzle experiences you can have.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Rogue Galaxy - Demo Disc

When I got my Playstation 2, I registered it online and signed up for the Playstation Underground and Gamers Advisory Panel. I really had no idea what that entailed except that it gave me the chance to get free stuff. Sometimes that free stuff includes demo discs and that is how I got my hands on the Rogue Galaxy demo disc.

I hadn't heard much about Rogue Galaxy before this. I knew that it was an RPG developed by Level 5. And the only thing I knew about Level 5 is that they make beautiful games (I had seen Dark Cloud 2 before and played Dragon Quest VIII). I also knew that the game features pirates... in space! And the demo came with a poster! And a pirate flag!

All of that was still not enough to get me to check out the demo. Unless I am incredibly hyped for a game, I'll just wait until it is released, check out some reviews, and then decide whether to pick it up. So, what got me off my butt to play the demo? An e-mail from Sony saying that they were giving away 10 copies of the game to people who played and reviewed the demo. A free game, is definitely enough to get me to play.

Most demos typically show you a piece of the game. They'll let you play one level or a portion of a level. This also seemed to be what Rogue Galaxy did. Upon booting up the disc and seeing some beautiful images that Level 5 is known for, I was given a choice of two scenarios to play. Either I could explore the village and the woods around it. Or I could fight the forest beast.

I picked the first one (exploring the village) first and it began loading. I was a bit nervous that I had no clue what the controls were. No instructions were included with the demo. A screen did pop up with a controller and labels for all the buttons saying what they did, so I hastily attempted to memorize eight different functions and promptly failed. Still, I figured, once the game loaded there would be some sort of tutorial telling me when I should press the buttons.

So the game loads and I see my characters and I begin walking around. I run up to the guys standing in front of the village gate. There is no clue for what button i press to talk to him, so I try X because that is usually the default button. I continue exploring the town and find some items in treasure chests. At one point I get an earring so I decide to see if I can equip it. I go into the menus and fiddle with them for awhile and then... the screen fades to black. I get a message thanking me for playing the Rogue Galaxy demo and to look for the retail version in January, 2007.

So wait, the demo is timed? I mean, the demo obviously isn't the full game. They limit where you go and I doubt I could ever get off the planet. Supposedly I'm supposed to be looking for two people so logically the scenario would end when I find them or some other story-triggered event happens. But no, I don't even get to do that. Instead after some amount of time (twenty minutes, maybe?) I get booted off.

So I try again, this time not bothering with the village and just going to look for the two people I'm supposed to find. I exit the village along a path and am eventually met by some monsters. My party enters combat and I still have received no clue as to what the right buttons to press are. I remember from the loading screen that X is primary attack and square is secondary attack so I try those a couple times. By mashing the buttons, I managed to defeat the enemies (the party members I don't control probably do most of the work). I continue on the path and fight more enemies, still pretty-much button mashing. I get to a waterfall which I think is where I'm supposed to go. I swim around, can't find anything and then am booted back to the main screen again.

Third time, go through the village a different way, take some different paths, and come upon a crashed ship that triggers a cut scene. "Ah, this is what I was looking for... maybe" I think to myself. Then the cut scene ends... or does it? It seems kind of abrupt. Regardless, I am booted back to the main title screen again.

Deciding to give that up and just fight the big enemy, I choose the second scenario this time. I head to the middle of the arena and figure out that I am supposed to use the cursed mask there. I do and this big rhinocerous-looking beast appears. The big fight begins in earnest and the character I'm controlling promptly gets shellacked. The other two party members fight, but I can only control that guy, so I go to the menu and use a revive potion on him. This time, I am a lot more careful to avoid the rhino. I still pretty much only know to jump in and hit. Every so often another character asks what they should do and I tell them to use a special attack. These are graphically impressive and do a lot more damage than my pathetic attempts to hack at the beast. I then realize that my character probably also has a special attack and spend a couple minutes playing with the menus figuring out how to do it. I eventually do and the battle resumes. I think I've figured out a good pattern to beat the rhinocerous... and I get booted back to the main screen again.

Now, I like the concept of space pirates. I'm sure the battle system is fairly deep, but I have no clue how to use it. I'm sure there are all sorts of interesting things to explore and try, but there is a time limit. I just don't feel I'm able to properly review the game part of this demo. The demo as an experience I can review to say it sucks. But the game? Seem okay, I guess I'll just wait for it to come out and read the reviews...

Contact - Beat the Game

There are some things Contact does really well, and others it does poorly. What it does well is entertain me with its story and dialgoue.

The basic plot is that the CosmoNOTs are attempting to acquire crystals of elements 117 to use for an unknown, but apparently nefarious purpose, and the mysterious professor is attempting to recover the crystals, which are apparently from his ship. The fact that there is a mystery as to peoples' motivations makes it interesting. The CosmoNOTs seem to be doing bad things, but perhaps nothing too awful. And the professor seems benevolent, but you never really know his motivations. At the end of the game, you don't really learn much more, so the game left me with some blue balls, but at least it didn't disappoint me like Chrono Cross. The ending was just kind of weird, and didn't make a ton of sense, but did leave me feeling sorry for Terry, the character whose actions you control (literally, you don't take the role of Terry, you are yourself, controlling him through a device known as the DS).

The excellent part of this game is the localization. This game was more than just translated, each piece of text was lovingly gone over by someone who understand both Japanese and English and modified to always make sense and often be funny. Yes, the humor in this game is quite high. From internet in-jokes ("I wish a base like this belonged to us" and "Hit its weak point for MASSIVE DAMAGE!") to clever uses of words ("He kept his eyes on the prize and used his thighs!"), it is hard for me to lavish much more praise on the localization of this game. This is the second game I've played recently (the other being Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime) that has had such an amazing localization.

The gameplay itself, unfortunately, is just mediocre. While changing costumes is a nice touch and I like the way you build up skills, actual combat is fairly boring. To build up job skills, you have to repeat a lot of boring tasks.

There are a bunch of side-quests and extra things to do after beating the game, and overall I enjoyed myself, but I think not enough to do them all. That means, unlike Metal Gear Solid 3, a review will probably shortly follow.

Contact - Reached Akumojo Castle

So, after acquiring the Shadow Thief costume, I went back to pick the locks of all those treasure chests I couldn't open before. I used to like this mechanic in games. In the Dragon Quest games, after getting new keys, I would enjoy going back to all the previous towns and seeing what they unlocked. I have become less enamored of this game mechanic in more recent times. Partially it is because games are much bigger, so remembering where all the possible doors to unlock are is tough. Also, there is generally more travel time required to get to them (Contact is especially bad for this, because in order to go to another island you must set course and then either wait for a period of time, or save your game which is shorter but still takes time).

Anyway, after acquiring all the new stuff and selling off some extra items I had, I did indeed have enough money to purchase the song and so I set off to Rizo isle to replace the Stormy song with the Blue Sky song.

I now head to Akumojo Castle.

Alert: Semi-exclusive game information coming up

The name Akumojo Castle seems to be a reference to the Castlevania series. In Japan, the games are called Akumojo (or Akumajo) Dracula, which roughly translates to "Demon Castle Dracula". So, why would the castle be named after Castlevania?

Apparently, the game designers wanted to reference Castlevania. In the Japanese version of the game, the castle was called "Belmontal Castle", where the Belmont family are prominantly freatured as the vampire killers in most of the Castlevania games. As the man in charge of localizing the game writes*:

In the Japanese version it was "Be-ru-mon-ta-ru" Castle. The translators wrote it as "Vermontal" which I couldn't figure out the reference of. So I did a little katakana-magic of my own and read it as "Belmontal." Doesn't sound right, but I do like Belmonts. And "mojo" is a funny word.

So I did a play on the Japanese title for Castlevania, as you guessed. Akumojo Castle.

*No, I didn't actually interview him. He posts on the message board I read and posted that in response to someone asking if Akumojo Castle was supposed to be a Castlevania reference.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Conatct - Acquired the Shadow Thief Costume

Contact prides itself on being "quirky". One of the ways it does that is in the costume system. Throughout the game, you acquire various costumes. In your room on the ship (your main base), you can change costumes. Each costume you wear gives you different abilities. Some give you elemental abilities (Knuckle Mole, AquaShot, NitroBoost, and FlyBoy). Others let you perform certain jobs (Mr. Cuisine for cooking, Fisher King for fishing, and Shadow Thief for stealing and lockpicking). In some ways, these are like the jobs or classes of more traditional RPGs, where switching ot a new job or class adjusts your statistics and skills. The main difference is that in most RPGs, when you change jobs or classes, you keep the skills of your previous ones (a Cleric changing to a Fighter can still cast healing spells, for example). In Contact, you don't - it's a straight up change. While you have certain special skills that can be used no matter what costume you are wearing, others can only be used in the appropriate costume.

So, feeling like I'm near the end of the game, I realized I have yet to acquire the final costume - that of the Shadow Thief. I haven't figure out how I should do this yet, so I had to look it up online. Another way Contact is quirky is that it forces you to use the stylus to do a few things. Up until now, the only thing I knew I had to use the stylus for was knocking fruit out of trees. It turns out I also had to use it to scare a bird into dropping a map to the island where the guy you would give me the Shadow Thief costume lives.

So now I have the Shadow Thief costume and can go back and pick the locks on all those chests I passed up before. I'm currently at 6000 of the 10000 gold I need to buy the tune to get past Rizo island, so hopefully I'll pick up the rest while acquiring the items in the chests.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Metal Gear Solid 3 - Beat the game

Man, I stayed up way too late last night doing this. At first it was midnight and I figure, I'll be done in an hour. Before I knew it, it was 3am when the final credits rolled and I was exhausted. But it was totally worth it.

The chase scene after defeating Volgin was awesome. I mean, it felt just like a good chase scene in an action movie. EVA is driving all erratically and you look around and guards are running in from everywhere and you have to aim and shoot to get them out of the way. Meanwhile, you are being jerked left and right as EVA attempts to dodge the huge, walking tank that is coming after you. It was just so hectic, frenetic, fast-paced, and most of all cinematic. Hideo Kojima, the creator of the Metal Gear Solid series, has always attempted to inject a sense of cinema into his games. Most game developers do this just with cut scenes, but Kojima has attempted to put it as in-game as possible. And the motorcycle chase scene totally served well.

After that, the boss battle with the Shagohod (walking tank) and Volgin again were kind of anti-climactic because they were so easy. I think it only took me two attempts each to beat them - actually, I think I may have beaten the Volgin/Shagohod combination on my first try. The next chase scene after that just wasn't as good as the first one, but still fun. And the final stealth part was just an excercise in using up all the tranquilizer darts.

The final boss battle with "The Boss" (yeah, that's her name) also didn't have quite the impact as some other boss battles. It is much more open than other battles. There is no right way to beat it, you can go hand-to-hand, or snipe from afar. It almost seems more laid back than other battles. Certainly this is because stealth plays more of a role. Aside the The End who tries to find a position to snipe you from, every other boss knows exactly where you are. In this battle you can camouflage yourself and hide in the flowers, waiting for The Boss to come in range. I found this worked best as I would crouch near where the tranquilizer bullets were, find the boss, and then shoot her full of tranquilizer from my silenced gun so she wouldn't find me.

And then the ending. Yes, the typical Metal Gear Solid ending, long on dialogue, especially expository stuff. The story is still interested, sets up all the conspiracies, and shows where this prequel fits in with the other games. The scene where Snake puts the gun and flowers on The Boss' grave was particularly well done.

Anyway, I finished it as a no alert, no kill game thus attaining the rank of Chameleon. I am very tempted to play through it again to attain other special ranks and get other special items. Of course, there is also plenty of bonus material I could play through as well - playing all the boss battles in order, the snake vs. monkey missions, or even the original Metal Gear or Metal Gear 2. I've beaten this game, but I don't think I'm done with it. Hence, I'll probably wait a bit on the review.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

One month in

So I'm approximately one month from the time that I started this journal. I guess now is the time to reflect on that time.

Really, my only thought is that it has succeeded in its goal: getting me to stick with games. I have, so far, finished four games that I was on the crux of beating. I was currently playing Soul Blazer, so it isn't like it inspired me to play that more, but it did make sure I go back to Cybernator, Fear Effect 2, and Astro Boy: Omega Factor. I also got back to Metal Gear Solid 3 which was a game I had been totally stuck on a little over six months ago and I hadn't gone back to since.

In this time, I also got a hankerin' to play my beloved NES and so I played and beat a fairly easy, but enjoyable game in Vice: Project Doom.

Anyway, I'm really pumped that I've been inspired to get by game backlog out of the way. Once I'm done with Metal Gear Solid 3, I think that puts my backlog down to three games: Phantasy Star II, Lost in Blue, and Super Punch Out.

That probably means Lost in Blue should be my next focus after Metal Gear Solid 3 because I don't like having multiple outstanding games for one system. After that, I should probably finish up Contact or Fire Emblem. Then, finally I will feel more managable.

Metal Gear Solid 3 - Defeated Colonel Volgin

Let me just say that I love the sneaking in this game. More than either of the first two Metal Gear Solids, I am totally getting immersed and feel like I'm sneaking around. Planting the explosives on the fuel tanks while avoiding the guards was great - hiding behing corners and under vehicles. Totally real. I just saw the movie Children of Men and the scene where he is sneaking out of the Fishers' compound totally reminded me of it.

I think part of what makes the sneaking in this game more real is the lack of radar. When you could see the enemy's cone of vision, it just seemed more like a game. Now you have to hope you are far away or out of their sight range. Also, the new camouflage mechanic in this game means that you are crawling on your belly a lot more (less likely to be seen / blend in more with the environment) which also makes it much more realistic. All I know is I could picture myself crawling on the floor, looking around for guards, taking out people with tranquilizer shots, and hiding under tanks waiting for guards to pass.

The fight with Volgin was pretty nice too. At first, I feared it would be like the fight with The Fury. That I would just require luck to finish it. But then I saw that I was doing progressively better each time and eventually was able to finish him handily. I played a little of the motorcycle chase scene after the fight and that seems like it will be very fun.

To recap, the bosses I've fought so far include:

  • A somewhat effeminate and animal-like dude with a fascination for old revolvers
  • A dude who controls bees, using them as a shield and as bullets
  • A chameleon-like guy who has an unnatural ability to blend in with his surroundings, but must eat often because of that
  • An incredibly old sniper who can photosynthesize
  • A former astronaut gone crazy who is now a pyromaniac with a jetpack and flame thrower
  • A dead guy tormented by his own death who can commune with the dead and brings back everyone you've killed to torment you
  • A Russian Colonel with 20,000 volts running through him who can electrify himself and you in various ways

I think I have a fight with a tank that can move through any terrain and the ultimate special forces/martial arts woman left. Isn't this game great?

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Metal Gear Solid 3 - At the waterfall

My frustration with battling The Fury made me forget how much I love this game. Heck, I've loved all the Metal Gear Solids. Their stealth action, out there villains, and wacko stories totally do it for me.

Let me also say that the sequence where you have to escape from Groznyj Grad without any of your camouflage was a pain in the ass. Granted, I am going for a zero alert, zero kill game, but man. You are just so exposed out there. The biggest problem was the first area right outside the prison. I could make it to the door to the Northeast, but then there are four guards to get past with no cover. The hole in the northwest wall seems like the right place to exit, but there is a freakin' guard there that never moves. With no way to hide and no way to knock him out, me getting by there was pure luck. I even looked at some FAQs for help, but none of them acknowledged that there was a guard there. Not even the extreme mode FAQs (and I'm only playing on Hard). Eventually I managed to distract him and sneak around, but I totally feel I did that by pure luck.

Anyway, on to the rest of the game.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Vice: Project Doom - Review

This game was either created as an homage or a rip-off of Ninja Gaiden. Either way, it comes off as not quite having the polish of the series that inspired it. It isn't bad, indeed I mostly enjoyed myself while playing it, but just a little bit is missing. I don't think I can write this review without several comparisons to Ninja Gaiden - not because I love that series so much (which I do), but because this game takes so much inspiration from it.

The story of Vice: Project Doom has a decidedly Blade Runner feel. It is the future and bioengineering and robotics have created all sorts of new beings. Unbeknownst to anyone, the world's largest mega-corporation is responsible for creating clones and hybrids. One of these accidentally gets loose and starts causing chaos in the city. You play detective Hart, dispatched to the scene to investigate. Throughout the game you attempt to discover where this creature and weapons it had came from, taking you from the city, to factories, to the jungles of Central America, and finally to the mega-corporation headquarters.

Now, I don't think that an action game like these needs a good story in order to be good. If, however, you are going to make story such a big part of the game by using the innovative cut scene conversations that Ninja Gaiden helped pioneer, then the story should be interesting. The story does start off decently, having a creepy guy talking during the prologue (reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden II) and then quickly introducing your character and throwing you into an action sequence, and then not actually showing the main title screen until after that. This is a great addition to the movie-presentation style of Ninja Gaiden.

Unfortunately, that is as good as it gets. First of all, since the game is focused on its story, all of the story should be in the game. That doesn't happen and if you don't have the instruction booklet, you don't know that aliens crashed on earth and took over the mega-corporation making clones of themself to keep running it or that Hart's partner recently went missing. Since none of that is introduced in the game, when suddenly the game makes reference to those things, you have no clue what is going on (who the hell is Reese?) Another bad point for the story is the poor translation (at least I assume so - it is possible the original script was poor). I mean, it tries to take a sort of futuristic film noir detective story tone, but there is more style than substance and it is hard to figure out exactly what is going on. There is very little character development and while I guessed there were romantic undertones between Hart and Cristy, the dialogue made it impossible to tell until she blurts out that she loves him when she is dying (sorry, spoilers).

Okay, so the story is kind of annoying, but what about the game? Well, it plays just like Ninja Gaiden as a side-scrolling platformer where you attack bad guys. You move and jump, but there is no clinging onto walls like Ninja Gaiden. Instead of using a sword, you have a whip. It is a bit shorter than a sort but it also hits enemies immediately behind and above you. Besides the whip, you can use a very limited range gun or lob grenades. You have a limited number of bullets and grenades, but plenty of enemies drop them when defeated (and also if you run out, you seem to regenerate a few after a couple seconds). Most of the game you will use the whip. The gun is useful in a few situations to hit enemies and for the second-to-last boss. The grenade I only ever found useful for the final boss (where it was the only way I found to damage him). Enemies also drop coins (collect 100 to get an extra life) and health power-ups. You can take about 16 hits before you die, though bosses usually do more damage to you than regular enemies. The control is crisp and doesn't feel slippery or stiff, although there is an odd delay in between when you can throw grenades.

The level designs are pretty nice and one of the better parts of this game. The placement of enemies and platforms requires precise jumping and attacking at just the right time, which is what you expect of a game like this. Except for one level, there aren't many times when enemies are attacking you as you are jumping, so you won't often get hit and then fall to your death. The enemies have quite a bit of variety, from simple guys that walk back and forth, to those that shoot projectiles, to birds and robots that fly at you. Some levels have environmental hazards like conveyer belts and rushing water that pushes you along or occasional blackouts. It all combines to form some nice platforming gameplay.

Besides the side-view levels, there are also driving levels and shooting levels. The driving levels are right out of Spy Hunter. You drive a car with front mounted guns and have to avoid obstacles and other cars on the road while shooting enemies. You can also switch gears and this apparently speeds you up, but I couldn't notice any appreciable difference. The driving levels are pretty fun, which is why it is a shame there are only two of them. The shooting levels take place from a first-person perspective and are straight out of Operation Wolf. You have a crosshairs that you move around the screen and press B to fire your gun and A to lob a grenade. Enemies still drop bullets, grenades, health, and coins and move pick them up by moving the crosshair over them. These sequences are merely okay, and again there are only two of them in the game.

There are ten levels in the game, divided into two or more parts. At the end of each level is a boss battle. These again are very reminiscent of the Ninja Gaiden boss battles. The boss moves in some sort of pattern, hurls some sort of projectile at you, and then you need to get close enough and whack it with your whip a couple times. Generally, it is pretty easy to dodge the projectiles and the boss battles aren't too challenging, but they are usually fun.

One area where the game comes up short is challenge. Sure, the Ninja Gaiden games are notorious for their challenge, but I was able to make it to the second-to-last level in about an hour of playing this. Sure, the game has unlimited continues, but I really didn't need to use them that much - at least not for more than stupid mistakes. One problem with the challenge is that I don't remember any enemies in the regular levels doing more than one damage. When you have a health bar with sixteen bars and no enemy does more than one hit, it is very hard to die from damage. You are much more likely to die by missing a jump or getting hit with an enemy in the air and falling to your doom. Even these deaths don't happen that often, except on one level. The bosses, with the exception of one and the final bosses just aren't that hard either and shouldn't take more than two tries to beat. The car levels are also very easy because you have a health bar - no one hit deaths like in Spy Hunter.

Probably the biggest area where the game shines is its graphics. This game has some of the best NES art, certainly on par with the Ninja Gaiden games that inspired it. The art is dark as befits the atmosphere of the game, but detailed. The backgrounds in the levels are exquisite and the sprites are also well-refined. The cut scenes also feature very nice graphics and good effects. I don't have the same praise for the sound. While the sound effects work well, the music is nothing to write home about. It is unmemorable, repetitive, and uses few instruments. I don't fault it for not being up to Ninja Gaiden's amazing musical standards, but really the best thing I can say about the music is that it is not annoying.

I love Ninja Gaiden and so I wanted to like this game. At first I was put off by how much it copied Ninja Gaiden, but then I realized that really wasn't my problem with the game. The problem is that the game is flawed. The story is incoherent. The driving and shooting levels are only used twice. The other weapons in the game are nearly useless (if only the gun had a longer range!) The game is not very challenging.

Despite these flaws, the platforming sections are enjoyable and flow smoothly. The bosses may be easy, but they are well-designed and fun to fight. There may only be two driving sections, but they are a blast to play. There is definitely good in this game. In fact, I was torn as to whether I would consider this game to be good, or merely above average. Finally, the decision came down to whether I would ever be tempted to play this game again. I had fun with it, but I don't see myself touching it now that I've beaten it.

Rating: 6 / 10

Metal Gear Solid 3 - Defeated The Fury

I cannot tell you how many tries it took me to defeat this guy. I had put this game on hiatus last May when, after trying for several days, I could not beat him. Of course, I was playing the game on hard, but still. It was just getting frustrating because I could get him down to about 1/4 health but then no further. No other fight previously in the game was as difficult for me.

A lot of the games I have been playing recently are about boss fights. The Metal Gear Solid series basically took boss fights into the third dimension and did it quite well. Still, there is a difference between the 2D and 3D boss fights. Metal Gear Solid boss fights seem more organic. That is, it feels more like you are fighting something with some intelligence than fighting something that has a pattern. This is, of course, not true, but I think that with three dimension to move in, the pattern may be less noticable. Or maybe there is just more randomness in the movements in Metal Gear Solid boss battles.

I do so enjoy this series. It's like the perfect blend of action and story, even if it can be out there. I am so relieved to be done and past it.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

New Year's Eve was a Karaoke Revolution

This post is two days late, but I just realized that I should count all games played, not just ones I do solo.

So it's New Year's Eve and I'm a friend's house who live a block from me. I've had quite a bit of alcohol by this point, though I'm not sure if that would change anything. Music is on and people are dancing. Fun is being had, but it could be more fun. Someone pipes in with, "Where's the karaoke?"

Half the people in the room nod their head, realizing that, yes, karaoke would be totally awesome. It is time for me to step up.

"I have it at my house," I say. "I can go grab it and be right back."

And so it is on, after a delay to walk the dog and grab some beer, the Playstation 2, two microphones, and three volumes of Karaoke Revolution are brought to the party and the fun begins.

While I haven't exactly hidden the fact that I have karaoke games (My friend Melissa and I played it when she was in town and I mentioned that I could bring it when I was considering going up to Idaho on my birthday), this was the first time I had exposed it to everyone and it was a great success.

Since I was the owner of the karaoke, it was my job to start off the evening, and I believe I did so with Don't You (Forget About Me). Songs then progressed so that ABC, Careless Whisper, I Got You Babe, Unchained Melody, New York New York, Billie Jean, Broken Wings, Chain of Fools, Complicated, It's the End of the World As We Know It, One Week, Red, Red Win, Son of a Preacher Man, When a Man Loves a Woman, You're the One That I Want, Every Breath You Take, and Jessie's Girl Were All Heard From. I even tried to get a full "annoy the hostess" set going with Love Shack, Celebration, and Sweet Home Alabama, but she was already passed out by that time.

Anyway, tons of people got involved and everyone loved it. Karaoke will definitely be making its way to future parties.

Vice: Project Doom - Beat the Game

Man, I never realized how good the translation for the Ninja Gaiden games is. I mean, if you are going for pure action, all the story is kept in the instruction booklet. If you have cut scenes between the levels, they better make some sense or they really detract from the game.

As predicted, I beat the game today. I guess that doesn't say a lot for its difficulty. I mean, if I compare it to the Ninja Gaiden games, this game is a cakewalk. I guess for someone who wanted the play-style of Ninja Gaiden but an easier time, this would be a good game. As for me, I like them difficult.

It did leave my fingers twitching and I have no clue if the strategy I used for the final boss is the best one, but I ended up running out of time the first time I tried it.

I'll have to let this sit for a day before reviewing. It's not a bad game, and I had fun, but I'm waffling between calling it good or merely above average.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Vice: Project Doom - Level 9-1

I kept trying to be clever with the beginning of this post, but the funny isn't in me.

When making this game, Sammy Corporation obviously had the intent of making Ninja Gaiden plus. They took the side-scrolling (and occasionally vertical scrolling) platform levels where you defeated enemies with a sword (whip) and occasional ninja magic (bullets and grenades) and the cinema scenes and added... a driving and a first-person shooting level.

Yeah, so you can't copyright the "look and feel" of a game, but man they took everything from the Ninja Gaiden series. So a platformer with a sword isn't the most original concept, and having cut scenes between levels was quickly adopted in many games, but come on, there's one level here where they combined the train level and the lightning level of Ninja Gaiden II.

Still, the immitation is the reason I have this game. I love the Ninja Gaiden series and heard this game was similar. I didn't quit realize how similar until playing it. It's a little weird that game seems almost exactly the same, but the gameplay is still pretty enjoyable. It does have the sheen of most imitations by not feeling quite as polished as the original. I'm not exactly sure what it is either - maybe the animation isn't as smooth? The graphics are top notch, but the music is much more generic than Ninja Gaiden's amazing soundtrack. Oh, and the dialogue could have used some better translation. I realize that what is going on is a mystery meant to be slowly revealed to the player, but why the hell are all these monks and mutants and creatures out to kill the protagonist?

As for the different types of levels, well I got to stage 9-1 and only encountered one of each so that seems like a wasted opportunity. The driving level is basically Spy Hunter except you have health and there's a boss at the end. The shooting level is straight out of Operation Wolf. The driving level was pretty fun, the shooting level only okay (though it took me awhile to realize that I was chucking my grenades instead of shooting my gun).

The game also doesn't have the difficult of Ninja Gaiden. I haven't looked up how many levels there are, but I got to 9-1 my first time playing and I can't imagine there are too many more. The boss at the end of level 3-2 and the platforming in level 5-2 were the only things that really gave me trouble. Like Ninja Gaiden, this game also has unlimited continues, but you don't use them nearly as much.

As an aside, I mentioned in my post on classifying games that the NES Ninja Gaiden would be an action game, but I realize now I was wrong. Getting the jumps right in that game is key, just as much as defeating the enemies (and indeed the enemies and platforms often combine to make it more of a challenge). Hence, I realize it is a platform game under my classification system and even though you don't stick to walls in this game, it still relies on making crucial jumps and so will also be put in that genre.