Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Elite Beat Agents - Completed Breezin' difficulty

Why didn't anyone tell me this game was so freaking charming?

I mean, wow, I must have smiled for at least half of the scenarios and two of them were downright touching.

I had heard that this was supposed to be a great rhythm game - and it is. The beats that you have to hit line up perfectly to the rhythm of the songs and feel like a part of it. You have to be quick, accurate, and with the rhythm.

So the whole rhythm part is good, but I never could have imagined how much I would enjoy the stories that accompany the songs. They are often relatively trivial things - a director is being pressured to make a hit movie, a dog is trying to travel home to get to its family, a washed-up baseball player is trying to save kids from a fire-breathing golem (okay, maybe that isn't so trivial). It is the way these stories are told in comic book-like panels with minimal, but appropriate animation and with little touches that just make you smile. Not since Parappa the Rapper has a rhythm game attempted such an endearing story. And this one may be better than Parappa's.

Heck, the game is so charming, it almost makes me forgive the inclusion of Avril Lavigne and Ashlee Simpson songs.

Sword of Vermilion - Got ring from Deepdale

I can't stands no more!

One of the main reasons I started this blog is to compel me to actually finish my games. What do I do when a game bores me? Sword of Vermilion has a bunch of random encounters and the battles just aren't that interesting. There isn't much challenge and not a lot of magic use required other than healing. There aren't really any puzzles to solve and talking to the villagers isn't that interesting. While my initial impressions might have put it to average, the boredom has probably lowered it to below average level.

I'm going to have to take a break from this or at least play another game concurrently. Fortunately, this week's one credit challenge is Elite Beat Agents, which is a game I've been dying to try.

Sword of Vermilion - Grinding around Parma

I have a friend who tends to look to me for all his retro-gaming advice. When new games arrive or are announced for the Wii virtual console, he generally asks my opinion of them. My problem is that while I am well-read on a lot of older games, unles they are on the NES, I probably haven't played them. So, when Sega announced four games were coming to the virtual console, he asked my opinion of them. Sonic Spinball is generally thought of as a nice idea that doesn't work too well, Beyond Oasis is a well-regarded action RPG, and Vectorman was Sega's answer to Donkey Kong Country that, while pretty hard, I think holds up better as a platformer. But Sword of Vermilion? Other than knowing it was an action RPG, I had heard nothing of it. I decided to rectify this.

There is a reason I had never heard anything about Sword of Vermilion. It isn't particularly good, but neither is it particularly bad. It is just kind of mediocre and seemingly forgettable. It has an interesting mish-mash of gameplay modes. Towns are top-down, exploration is first person, and random encounters with monsters place you on an otherwise empty screen with up to eight monsters surrounding you.

The first person exploration is kind of neat. You get a map of the area and that is displayed so you will never get too lost and don't have to break out the graph paper. Before you get a map, like in caves and such, the map area of the screen only displays the squares directly around you.

What isn't so great is the battle system. Since this is an action RPG, combat takes place in real time. You move your character around and the monsters move from an overhead view similar to The Legend of Zelda. Unfortunately, the reach of your sword is almost nothing so you have to get right up next to the monsters to whack them. You get no period of invincibility after being hit by a monster either, so you can take a lot of damage quickly if you are surrounded by monsters, which can often happen if the random encounter decides to give you seven or eight of that particular monster. You can also use magic here, but I have yet to buy any. A heal spell would be really nice.

The game seems to borrow heavily from the Dragon Quest (or Dragon Warrior for most of its time in the US) series. Not so much in gameplay, but in the names and types of items and the role of the church (saving, uncursing, curing poison). Also in some of the menu commands. All that said, the town I am in right now is Parma which seems an obvious tribute to the Phantasy Star series - that's the name of one of the planets you visit in the Algol system.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Castlevania II - Review

I have yet to write a review of an actually bad game. This is probably because I tend to only pick up games that I have heard or good. But sometimes I'll pick up games just because I like other games in a series. And sometimes my opinion just differs from others.

Castlevania II is a direct sequel to the first NES game. You play as Simon Belmont after he has defeated Dracula. It seems that Simon has discovered that, just he died, Dracula placed a curse on him that would cause him to die early. In order to break this curse, Simon must collect all of Dracula's body parts, reassemble them, and then defeat Dracula once and for all. The story itself isn't presented much in the game except for villagers occasionally referring to Dracula and his minions.

Castlevania II also attempted several innovations over it predecessor. While the original Castlevania was a fairly straightforward level by level experience, Castlevania II allows you to roam freely throughout the game world. While the game is still a side-scrolling affair, leaving the edge of one area takes you to the next area. By doing this you can find new places, including towns with villagers to talk to and buy equipment from and mansions which house Dracula's body parts. Castlevania II gives you the ability to hold several different items and choose between which ones to use. You gain hearts by killing monsters and use these to buy items, and by killing enough monsters, you level up and gain more health/take less damage from monsters. Castlevania II also implements a Day/Night system where monsters get much tougher at night and start roaming in villages while many villagers go inside and lock their doors.

All of these innovations could be really interesting, if they were done well, but they generally are not. The fact that the game features quite a bit of exploration should generally be a good idea. You can pretty much go anywhere from the beginning of the game, although you will have trouble with the monsters in some areas. You can also, generally, tackle the mansions in any order although you may often need the right item to progress far. This is one of the big problems with the exploratory aspect of the game. In order to get certain items or progress in areas, you often have to do random things like kneeling in a certain place with a certain item. In most games of this sort, the villagers would give you clues to help you figure out what to do. In this game, the villagers often give you red herrings ("Get a silk bag from the Graveyard Duck to live longer"). You can be assured of getting truthful clues by finding the books in mansion, but these are often incredibly obscure ("A FLAME FLICKERS INSIDE THE RING OF FIRE.") I'd be amazed if anyone were able to finish this game without getting any outside help.

This game retains the play control of the original game. You whip horizontally in front of you. When you jump, you have a set height and distance and have no ability to change your trajectory in mid-air. These things basically worked in the first Castlevania because it was designed around them. Sure, it was frustrating to attempt to jump over a pit and have no way to kill the Medusa head about to hit you and drop you into it, but for the most part, that game didn't require mid-air acrobatics. The sequel focuses much more on platforming to its great detriment. There are several jumps in the game that require you to wait until the last second to jump in order to get maximum height and distance. If you make a mistake and jump too soon you are often dead. Dying because you are a pixel off makes the game feel cheap. The play control in regards to attacking feels pretty good and works well. It is a shame they made jumping so important.

There are a good variety of enemies in the game, at least in the outdoor portions. All sorts of skeletons, ghouls, wolves, spiders, and more make up a pretty good gallery of enemies. The enemies are never too tough so long as you have regularly been buying whip upgrades. Once inside the mansions, the enemy variety drops significantly. All the different mansions have basically the same enemies so you lose variety. Because of this lack of variety, you learn the enemies well and they cease to be too much of a challenge. Also, only two of the mansions have bosses at the end of them (three if you include Dracula at the end of the game) and the bosses are incredibly easy to defeat.

Challenge in general is a big issue in this game. In the first Castlevania, the challenge was largely on how to defeat the enemies without getting hurt yourself. Here, the enemies themselves are easy. The bosses are ridiculously easy - Dracula can famously be defeated before he has a chance to move. The challenge comes in figuring out what random item to use in what random place by deciphering clues or figuring out which of the villagers to listen to. It also comes in making incredibly precise jumps with an annoying jumping mechanic. So basically, the challenge comes from the unfun parts of the game, while the fun monster-killing stuff hardly presents any challenge.

Where this game somewhat redeems itself is in the graphics and sound department. The NES Castlevania series always had some very impressive artwork in the characters and backgrounds and this installment certainly lives up. The outside enemies are colorful and well detailed as are the forest, lake, and other areas you explore. Once inside the mansions, the color palette basically consists of grays, but at least the art is still very detailed, especially in the rooms with Dracula's body parts. The music is absolutely amazing. There is a reason that most video game cover bands do some Castlevania tracks. While the first game had some really good tracks, this game gets all it can out of the NES' 4-channel sound chip. The theme that plays while outside is just incredible and one I would happily have on my CD player.

So, in the end this just isn't a good game. Not because they changed the Castlevania format, but because it isn't well executed. Wandering through the outdoor areas and killing monsters can be fun, but the act of attempting to finish the game isn't. It is even worse than the random exploring required in The Legend of Zelda or Metroid because you are required to do more random things and may actually be led astray. Once you decide to just look up where to go and what to do, the game becomes incredibly easy save for frustrating jumping elements. In such a storied series, this version is definitely a mis-step. Fortunately, most of the of series' fans realize that.

Rating: 4 / 10

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Super Castlevania IV - Beat the Game

I finally passed the hell that is level B-2. It is a totally a Battletoads level. You just have to memorize exactly what to do and when.

After beating it, there is an end of game boss rush where fortunately when you continue you generally only have to beat the boss you just died fighting.

The Dracula fight was interesting. It wasn't hard to figure out what to do (his pattern is pretty easy to see), it was just hard to execute. Sort of like the fight with Paula Abghoul and Fred Ascare, except there you feel like the way jumping works hinders you a bit where versus Dracula, it is pretty much all your fault when you get hit. Really, only when I got greedy did I take damage.

After you beat the game, it starts over in "hard mode". I played it a bit to see the differences. Basically, it seems that enemies are tougher, do more damage to you, you have less time, and there are some additional enemies in places. I enjoyed this game, but it is definitely not worth going through it again.

Super Castlevania IV - One Credit Challenge, Level A-1

I really shouldn't always die on this level. I generally have at least 3 or 4 lives left when I get here. I just always do something stupid like miss a jump on a rotating gear, or mess up when swinging from the moving whip holds. Oh well, at least I can get most of the way through the game on one credit.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Guitar Hero II - Completed all songs on medium difficulty

I know I am late to the party, but this game is freaking awesome. You can truly feel like you are shredding through some hot rock and metal songs.

In college, I decided to learn the guitar. I had a few lessons the summer before I left and then pretty much tried to teach myself during my freshman year. I learned to play chords and can do that pretty well, but plucking and playing individual notes was always a bit beyond me. I'm sure if I had really dedicated myself to it, I could have done a bit better. I took piano lessons for 10 years and eventually got decent at that. Given all the other distractions at college, I never progressed beyond chords and frankly was fairly happy with that as I could sing along.

Still, I always envied my freshman year roommate who had more guitar skills than me. I dreamed of being able to recreate Slash's guitar skills in Sweet Child O' Mine (okay, this was largely prompted by a girl I was into once proclaiming how sexy that was). Now, thanks to Guitar Hero, I can pretend I'm jamming with the best guitarists.

The game is more-or-less set up like Dance Dance Revolution, having to strum the right fret when it hits the bottom of the screen. This means that two skills really help with this: hand-eye coordination and rhythm. Fortunately, I have both to some degree so Easy mode was genuinely easy for me. Medium mode is requiring much more skill and getting 5-star ratings on all those songs seems like it may take awhile, but I will remain diligent just because I want to rock.

I read an editorial worrying about whether games like these would discourage people from experimenting in actual music. For me, at least, that is poppycock. Playing this game has only made me want to pick up my actual guitar and hone my skills a bit. As much fun as it is pretending that I'm jamming some great songs, I know it would be much more impressive if I could actually do those things. Until then, I'll have to pretend it really is me shredding up Freebird.

Super Castlevania IV - Level B-2

Unfortunately, I didn't get any further in this game on one credit than the last time I played, so I cannot count this in that category. I did want to see what else the game offered, so I continued playing.

One thing I discovered is that levels apparently count in hexadecimal. After level 9 comes level A. Kind of funny.

The awesome thing is that once you get to level A, the music starts being remixes of classic Castlevania tunes. Yeah, that rocks.

The not awesome thing is that while level A is hard, level B is downright ludicrous. At the beginning you are climbing down stairs and have a slim hope of dodging the guys. After that you cross a crumbling bridge with bats chasing you (but there is a trick to passing this without taking a scratch that took me a while to figure out). Level B-2 is where the hell starts. There is a spinning razor at the bottom of the screen that moves upwards so you have to always be moving upwards faster than it. This wouldn't be so bad if the way to do that were not to have to jump on stairs the start crumbling as soon as you set foot on them. Even if you pass this section, you get to a section where platforms appear from the bottom of the screen moving diagonally up and to the left. You have to move between them without jumping too high so you don't hit the spikes on the ceiling as you are working your way up. This section of the game reminds me much of Battletoads.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Super Castlevania IV - One Credit Challenge, Level 9-2

This week's one credit challenge over at gamespite.net's talking time forums is Super Castlevania IV. So far, it seems there is a good chance I can beat the game without continuing, just like Kid Icarus.

Yeah, I had never played this game before, but man it is so much easier than the NES Castlevanias (with the possible exception of II). One big thing that contributes to this is omni-directional whipping. In every other Castlevania (including future ones from all I've read), you can only whip horizontally in front of you. In this one, you can whip in any of 8 directions around you. This makes things like bats and the flying medusa heads so much easier to deal with. You also start with more lives and, well, it just takes awhile before there is too much challenge.

Still, it is a very good game. The play control is tight and the jumping is a bit easier to handle than previous Castlevanias. It also has taken a completely different musical direction than the previous games in the series. While previous Castlevanias had a kind of gothic hard rock vibe to them, this one moves to a much more classical feel in its music with more light instruments. Many of the levels sound like they are from a 16-bit era role-playing game, rather than Castlevania. I still like the music, indeed it is quite good. Just different from the Castlevania music I expect.

Apart from taking me forever to figure out what to do when the room spins around you, I had no real trouble with the game until level 8. That level is full of pits, spikes, deadly liquid, and tough enemies. If you aren't killed immediately, it is pretty easy to be taken down. There is also a part with a bunch of platforms that appear and disappear that you must cross. I couldn't figure out any real pattern to their appearing and disappearing and so feel pretty lucky that I passed that.

At some point, I'll just continue after where I left off so I can see more of the game, but it was already past midnight when I got up to level 9-2.

Castlevania III - Stage 5A

The reason I'm on a Castlevania kick is because there were good indications that the next one credit challenge would be Super Castlevania IV. I have a slightly obsessive thing I do where before I play a game that is a sequel in some series, I like to play all the games that have preceded it. More specifically, I like to have beaten all the games that precede it.

That won't happen with Castlevania III. This game seriously kicks my ass.

I guess I'm just thinking that because I'm coming from Castlevania II where the gameplay portion is pretty easy. So going back to a Castlevania as difficult as the first one takes some getting used to. It also doesn't help that my first time through, I picked up Sypha as my companion and he provides none of the platforming help that Grant or Alucard do.

What finally got me to give up was the section in stage 5A where you are climbing the tower and it starts moving downward by itself. This means you have to frantically climb to the top before the screen scrolls past you and you fall to your doom. This is a fine gameplay device and I would enjoy it if it weren't for the fact that I get to one point and there seem to be no platforms I can reach. All of the platforms are too high to jump to and there are no stairs. I looked up some FAQs and they mention nothing specifically about this, so I assume I must be missing something, so after about six tries I gave up. I then tried to start the game over and get Grant, but I wasn't into it.

Most of the internet's Castlevania fans seem to believe that III is an amazing game, but I'm just not feeling it. It is probably due to my frustration in that one point. It certianly isn't the difficulty, because I really enjoyed the first Castlevania despite its difficulty. I think the fact that you can acquire another character who has different abilities and there are different paths to get through the game are neat, but... it just isn't seeming quite as good.

The music definitely seems to be a step down from the first two games, which is a bummer.

Maybe I'll grow to like it, but I'm moving on to Super Castlevania IV

Monday, February 19, 2007

Indigo Prophecy - Review

Indigo Prophecy is in some sense a difficult game to review. It starts out seeming like an adventure game with action elements doing story scenes and ends up pretty exclusively as an interactive movie. It also starts out with an awesome and intriguing story and ends up completing falling all over itself in the end, losing its focus on the characters to try to make the plot world-encompassing.

The story "stars" Lucas Kane who regains consciousness in a restroom after having stabbed a man to death and carving strange symbols on his hands. He has no clue why he did this and has to cover his tracks and escape quickly before he is found out. I put "stars" in quotes there because right after this scene, you take control of police officers Carla Valenti and Tyler Mills who are investigating the murder that Lucas committed and attempting to find who might have done it. Seeing the story of the game from both sides works very well and really makes you feel for each character, even sometimes having to play against yourself. You want Lucas to succeed and find out what happened to him and what made him murder that man, but you also want the officers to solve the case and put the murderer away. The storytelling really works. It is just too bad that the story takes a rapid turn toward the end of the game from a well-told horror story into something bizarre that just tries too hard.

The gameplay consists of adventure sequences and action sequences, sometimes mixed in with each other. In the adventure sequences, you control one of the main characters. You can walk around and when you come upon an item you can do something with, icons appear at the top of the screen along with a diagram showing which direction to move the right analog stick in order to perform that action. For example, in the first part of the game you need to hide the evidence of your murder so that includes hiding the murder weapon and the body and cleaning up yourself and the floor. The adventure sequences are generally never too tough. Many times just wandering around until you find all the icons and apply them all (except ones that are obviously counterproductive) is enough. There are slightly more involved puzzles as well, but I'm generally not very good at traditional adventure games and I never had to consult an FAQ. Even if you don't solve every puzzle or find everything that generally doesn't stop your game, but may deplete your health (described below).

The action sequences are where the game plays like an interactive movie. Theses are pre-rendered sequences where you don't actually control your character, but instead must press buttons in a certain pattern. Sometimes, you may have to rapidly alternate between pressing the L1 and R1 buttons, much like the old Track and Field game. At other times, two circles appear on the screen superimposed on the action. These circles have their top, bottom, left and right quarters colored differently. As the sequence proceeds, the quarters will light up and you must quickly press the corresponding analog stick in that direction. It is all very similar to the toy Simon. Sometimes the action sequences are do or die - failing them ends the game and you must continue. At other times, failing them only decreases your health.

So there is health in the game, but it is actually conceived as mental health, not physical. The few physically threatening situations you are in are generally action sequences that result in your death if you fail. Your mental health, though, fluctuates throughout the game. At the highest level you are calm. You can fall to stressed, depressed, and devastated. Losing all mental health ends the game, either by going crazy in Lucas' case, or having to quite your job in the case of either of the police officers. Actions you take can have positive or negative mental health consequences. Getting yelled at by your boss or fighting with your girlfriend will lower your mental health. Sleeping, showering, eating, or having sex will generally raise it.

The game itself doesn't take very long to get through. No one part is incredibly hard and shouldn't take too long to complete. There are a couple "stealth" sequences and the first one anyway can be very annoying. Not only does it distract from the story, but it is also frustrating as it can be hard to tell exactly why you failed sometimes. Since the game is often a movie and a story, any additional gameplay would probably just feel like dragging it out. It is paced well. It is a shame that, while there are three endings to the game, only one is good and it is quite easy to choose between them right at the end of the game as opposed to earlier actions having lasting consequences.

The graphics are fair. I imagine they would look much better in the X-Box version of the game, but on the PS2 they look a little muddy and blocky. The characters animate pretty well, and usually there is no problem, but on occasion the lack of detail in the graphics actually detracted from the story. The voice acting is extremely well done and a pleasure to listen to. The music is another high point. It is appropriately moody and varied and spooky. The sound completely helps to put you into the story of the game.

Indigo Prophecy definitely has its flaws, perhaps the biggest being that if you bought it at full price, you wouldn't be getting a lot for your money. Ultimately, it is an interactive movie and movies can only last so long. Still, it is quite enjoyable while you are experiencing it. You really feel like you are moving the story along through the things you do and not just going through the motions. Indigo Prophecy is really more of a pleasant experience than a game. If you enjoy stories and ways of storytelling, it is quite fascinating for that.

Rating: 7 / 10

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Castlevania II - Beat the game

Wow, um, so that's Castlevania II. Yeah. And they say Zelda II is the black sheep of the Zelda family. It may be, but at least it is still a decent game. Castlevania II? Not so much.

I generally dislike games that are tedious and frustrating without a walkthrough. Castlevania II is nigh impossible without one. To progress, you must do esoteric things like kneel with a crystal at a certain place or throw garlic in a specific location. You are often (though not always) given a hint by the villagers about what to do, but it can be damn cryptic. This would be bad enough, but half the villagers are damn liars. Yes, they tell you things that just plain aren't true and it is up to you to figure out if it is just another cryptic clue or a complete fabrication.

Also, I remember Castlevania being a damn hard game. In its sequel, the monsters are fairly pathetic. Oh, the ones outside can occasionally give some trouble (especially those damn slimes). Inside the mansions, there is very little variety in enemies and they are all easy to take down. The only challenge comes when they are placed such that it is nearly impossible to go up or down a set of stairs without hitting them. This feels cheap and unfair, not challenging. And why are there only three freaking bosses in the entire game (including the final battle with Dracula)? And why are they all ridiculously easy? One would think the Grim Reaper and Dracula should possess some challenge, but apparently the developers thought differently (Dracula can famously be defeated before he has a chance to move).

You may be heartened to know that there is some challenge that will cause you to die. Unfortunately that comes out of frustrating jumps. In Castlevania II you have absolutely no control over your jump once you commit to it. The designers apparently thought it would be fun to have several places where platforms are placed exactly at your jumping range such that jumping just too early has you fall to your death. They were incorrect, it is not fun. It feels cheap and wrong. So, yeah, the biggest challenge comes from annoying jump sequences.

The music does rock, though. Maybe that is enough to redeem. If I were enough of a nerd, I would know the name of the piece used as the outdoor day theme. Bloody Tears maybe? Regardless, it is awesome.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Indigo Prophecy - Beat the Game

So, if I'd known there were about 5 more minutes left in the game where I last left off, I would have kept playing.

Besides the plot just becoming wacky at the end, the game also devolves into almost pure interactive movie. I like the controller sequences in the middle of action in most of the game, but by the end I was done with them. Yeah, so this game totally peters out by the time it ends.

Still pretty good. I'd be pretty happy if there were more games based on this concept.

Kid Icarus - Review

I guess since I just played through Kid Icarus, I may as well put up a review of it. It was also recently released on the virtual console (which is a reason I was playing it), so my four or so readers may be wondering if it is worth getting for the virtual console.

Kid Icarus was released along with Metroid for the NES and it seems they were intended to be sister games. They both came in similar packaging, they both allowed you to resume your game where you left off (by password in the US, by saving on the Famicom Disk System that they original came out on), and they were both designed by Gunpei Yokoi (who would later go on to create the Game Boy and Virtual Boy). While Metroid introduced more revolutionary ideas like open-ended exploration and showing players areas they could not reach until they found a new item, Kid Icarus stuck a little closer to the platformer roots, but attempted to add a little more story and characterization with items that could be found and used along the way.

In Kid Icarus, you control the warrior Pit, a loyal servant to the Goddess Palutena. Palutena is kidnapped by Medusa and imprisoned in the Sky Tower. Pit escapes from his underworld prison and must traverse through the underworld, overworld, and skyworld to reclaim the three sacred treasures and becomes strong enough to take on Medusa. This plot is all from memory, so it may be slightly inaccurate. One of the interesting things attempted by Kid Icarus is story through gameplay. While some games had taken the approach of having characters talk to you between levels or otherwise in between action, in Kid Icarus, you see the story unfolding as you progress through the levels. Let me quote from alexb on the gamespite.net forums:

When the game starts, Pit has just broken out a prison at the bottom of the Underworld. So you make your way through three vertically-oriented stages. In the first level, everything's very dead and brown, but as you progress through these early levels, the surroundings gradually become more verdant, showing that you're getting closer to sunlight and the overworld.

After you beat the first fortress, you find yourself finally in the overworld, in a bright day scene. In contrast to the climbing underworld levels, these next three levels are completely horizontal. They're also longer, suggesting that you're traveling a very long distance. In fact, over the course of these three levels, the sky changes from day to night. The enemies here give you a lot more money than they did in the underworld and the rooms where you can receive upgrades are also more numerous. Now that Pit's broken out of prison, he's regrouping, regaining his strength. Reaching the end of the overworld, you've got another dungeon.

And then the sky, another set of vertically oriented levels. As you continue up, there are more and more Greek-style buildings, suggesting you're travelling back into Angel Land and nearing the Sky Palace. After taking out the final dungeon, you finally get the Sacred Treasures and become an armored, flying badass. This last level is basically a set piece level, one of the earliest I know of. You totally obliterate all opposition with your new toys. You then make short work of Medusa, and, depending on how well you played, are rewarded accordingly by Parthena, the goddess you've been fighting to save.

The gameplay of Kid Icarus is a platformer with some twists. It was the first NES game (well, again, concurrent with Metroid) to scroll veritically upwards. Basically, you move and jump to get to the top of the screen. The jumping in Kid Icarus takes a little getting used to. You don't have nearly as much in air control of your jumps as in typical platformers. Also, you have momentum, so you will take a step or two forward when you land. Pit is equipped with a bow and arrows with which he shoots enemies. You have a health bar and lose health by getting hit by enemies or certain environental hazards. Throughout the levels, you will find various chambers you can enter that may hold shops, treasure rooms, enemy rooms, and more.

Kid Icarus was one of the first platformers to have an inventory system and some RPG elements. You can collect bottles of life that will automatically restore a bar of your health if it goes to zero. You can collect feathers that will give you a short period of flight if you fall to the bottom of the screen. You generally get these items by buying them in the shops you come across throughout the levels. The currency in Angel Land is hearts, which are dropped by defeated enemies. The RPG elements comes into play because the game keeps track of how many and what types of enemies you have killed and if you do enough, you get health upgrades at the end of levels or can upgrade your arrow strength in certain rooms.

Most of the game takes place in scrolling levels, that scroll upwards in worlds 1 and 3 and horizontally in world 2. These levels are typical platforming affairs which you do while avoiding enemies that come at you. At first, you only face a few different types of enemies, but the variety gets much greater as the game goes on. The signature major enemies you face in world 1 are the grim reapers. These guys (possibly your jailors?) take many hits to kill and if they see you, they freak out and send the reapettes after you.

At the end of each world is a fortress. These are labyrinths of individuals rooms that take up the entire screen and do not scroll. You can pick up a map to help you find yourself through them, although you will have to purchase the torch and the pencil from the shopkeepers to make good use of it. Fortresses generally feature completely different enemies from the levels. The marquee enemy in the fortresses (besides the boss in the final room) is the eggplant wizard. These enemies are big and tough like the grim reapers. These guys fling eggplants from their staves and if you are hit, you turn into an eggplant with legs. You cannot fight while an eggplant, only run around and so you must seek out a nurse who can cure your condition. In the fortresses, you can also use the mallets you have acquired during your journey to free the centurions trapped in stone around the fortress. These centurions then come and help you during the boss battle.

Kid Icarus has quite a charming art style. It is more or less taken from Greek mythology, but a decidedly Japanese video game take on Greek mythology. The characters are certainly all present in Greek mythology, but their stories are completely ignored so as to basically mash them all up in one game. There is quite a bit of attention to detail in the background graphics of each level, plenty of which serves no practical purpose but to set the mood. While the sprites aren't as detailed as in later NES games, each one does have plenty of details, such as faces with expressions or other quirks. The metroids in world 3 are a nice touch.

The sound in this game is polarizing to many. All music was composed by Hip Tanaka who is well known for his Metroid tunes. Kid Icarus music is more experimental. There are some very interesting harmonies in the music and it is often chromatic. All that said, a lot of the sound is very high-pitched. Sometimes annoyingly so. Until a few days ago, I had forgotten how the title theme (which I love as a theme) is incredibly high-pitched in this game (which I don't love so much). If your ears are sensitive, this game can make you want to stab an ice pick into them.

Kid Icarus is good. It isn't great, and it isn't a game I would say every person who owns a NES should have. It is at least as good as the original Metroid and has stood the test of time better. I'll grant that I like my platformers to be challenging and Kid Icarus certainly lives up (though once you pass the first fortress, it becomes a lot easier). Kid Icarus shows the evolution of platformers and is interesting for that alone. Fortuantely, it is also a good game.

Rating: 7 / 10

Kid Icarus - One Credit Challenge, Beat the Game

It is done.

I have beaten Kid Icarus without dying.

I passed the reapers in the first world. I passed the annoying thieves that steal your weapon in the second world. I passed the metroids in the third world. I sang the tune I had somehow made up at age 9 when the phrase "Pit equipped himself with the three treasures" appears before world 4. I owned Medusa in possibly one of the easiest final boss fights in history.

I consider myself done with this one credit challenge. Oh sure, I could keep playing until I have the max number of points (999,999) or just keep looping through the game again until I collapse from exhaustion, but I think this is it. I got the best ending, anyway. Giant Pit and kiss from Palutena FTW!

Anyway, this was a ton of fun. I'm glad I stumbled across this opportunity.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Kid Icarus - One Credit Challenge, Level 3-4

So, over at a forum I read, they have started a weekly series called "One Credit Challenge". Basically, each week they pick an older game (generally one that is available on the Wii's virtual console) and people see how far they can get in the game without continuing. I find this idea very compelling as it presents a completely new way to play a game that people just don't do anymore. The first game in the series was R-Type for the TurboGrafx-16, a game which I love but had only played in the arcades previously. Not actually owning the game, I found a way of playing it, but using my computer's keyboard just isn't the same.

Kid Icarus is different. It is a game I do own. In fact, it is one of the first games I owned for my Nintendo. It is also incredibly difficult. Since my parents had gotten me the Nintendo Deluxe Set, I didn't have Super Mario Bros so Kid Icarus was the first serious platformer I had. As if figuring out jump height and momentum (which is a little wonky) weren't bad enough, there are a huge varieties of enemies that come after you and you will get hit. You have a life bar, but this only helps so much. The game has unlimited continues, but since you always start off at the beginning of a stage and they are long, this only helps so much.

One of my clearest childhood gaming memories is finally beating stage 1-2. After a fair amount of attempts, I could beat the first stage, but the second seemed absolutely impossible. Whether it was missing a jump and falling to my death or, more likely, getting beaten down by enemies, I just could not advance much past 2/3 of the way through the stage. Fortunately, I was persistent. It was summer and I was going to a summer day camp. I would get up at around 6:45 each morning and wait for the van to come pick me up around 8. I often had about a half hour between finishing breakfast and the van coming and would often use that to play Kid Icarus. One day it just clicked. I was carefully jumping up the platforms, dodging the enemies swarming around me, and suddenly I realized I was farther than I had ever been. I managed to get the next level and was furiously writing down the password while the van was honking its horn outside.

That was kind of a watershed moment for me. After beating level 1-2, I suddeny "got" platformers. Not that they no longer held challenge for me, but I now knew I could overcome their challenges. It didn't take me nearly as long to beat level 1-3 and I know I managed to beat the game that summer (granted, the game gets significantly easier once you reach the second world).

I had beaten Kid Icarus many times before, but this was a new challenge. Could I do it without dying?

I will repeat here my post in that forum:

Argh! I should have had it.

I made it through 1-4 to the hot spring, and after that it was smooth sailing. I breezed through worlds 2 and 3 to the fortress at the end of 3. And then I didn't remember where the boss was, so I wandered around. Without warning, I managed to find the boss' lair... as an eggplant. My only hope was the one Centurion I had, but he didn't last long.


So, world 3-4. So close.

For those of you having trouble progressing, here are my suggestions for getting so far. (There may be some game mechanic spoilers, so don't look if you want to figure out how everything works for yourself.)

Kill all the enemies you see and don't progress too fast. Generally, every time a new enemy group appears on screen, it appears as a group of four. If you kill that group and take all the hearts from it (or they disappear), the next group of four appears and there will be four such groups of four. Keep killing them for experience (gives you more life at the end of the level and gets your arrow upgrades in special rooms) and hearts. However, if you scroll to fast, the groups will stop appearing and you won't get the whole group of four.

At the beginning of the game, the patterns of the enemies are pretty simple. The little snakes with wings shouldn't be too hard. The red eyeball things float back and forth as a wave and at some point will swoop down toward you. Learn when this is as it is when you can fire vertically or horizontally and hit them. Also, I find that if you are at the far left or right edge of the screen, they will almost always swoop down at you when they hit that side. You should probably also kill the grim reapers. You can get two shots on them when their backs are turned, but watch out as they do quick turns to check behind them every so often. If she calls the reapettes, I have no good advice, but if you are at a spot where you can move between the right and left edges of the screen, it makes dodging them a lot easier.

In the first regular shop, buy a life bottle. In level 1-3, when your life bar should be two bars long, then buy the chalices you have less than one bar of life. Buy a feather when you can as well. Basically, I try to always have a life bottle in reserve. If I have one, I try to at least have one full life bar. If I have that and don't have a feather, I'll get a feather. Two feathers is probably the most you'll ever need. Oh, and the black markets (shops that sell life bottles and feathers at a markup and sell barrels) the only thing you want is a barrel. Unless you are truly desperate or swimming in cash, don't buy anything else there.

Unless you are going to look up the patterns for how to always get all eight treasures in the treasure rooms, they should probably be avoided. You lose five hearts for each treasure you shoot at.

The monster rooms (with the groucho marx glasses enemies) are great sources of hearts. Enemies basically either fly from top left to bottom right and back or from left to right and back (occasionally, you will get a bottom right to top left). Concentrate on not getting hurt over killing enemies so you can collect their hearts. I try to fight my way to the bottom left and from there it is easy to take out any enemy that comes near me. Then I work my way out, taking them on one at a time.

Be sure to get the arrow upgrade in the room toward the end of level 1-2. At the end of level 1-2, you should get a life upgrade (20,000 points) and at the end of level 1-3, another one (50,000 points). Also, be sure to do the challenge with the columns (I always thought they looked like mirrors) that fly at you in the room about 2/3 of the way through 1-3. Choose the rod, as after you beat the first fortress (and recover some health if necessary) you will have two orbs spinning around you that damage enemies.

Anyway, once you beat the first fortress, the game becomes significantly easier. I was never in danger of losing all my health (or even less than two bars) past the hot spring in level 2-1. I did fall twice, so my feathers came in handy, but that was that. Enjoy the metroids in world 3. Just be sure to cure your eggplant condition in the world 3 fortress before wandering into the boss' room. :(

Friday, February 9, 2007

Indigo Prophecy - Heading to Wishita Base

Every review I read described Indigo Prophecy as an adventure game (or as "the next evolution of adventure games" or something similarly absurdly profound). It definitely has many adventure elements. Having to find items and use them correctly is a key adventure mainstay and there are many sections of the game that play like that. Still, there are also several sections of the game that play more like an interactive movie. There are basically prescripted sequences and while they are unfolding, you must press the analog sticks in the same directions that the colored lights show you. Or maybe quickly alternate between pressing L1 and R1. These sequences owe much more to Dragon's Lair than, say, King's Quest. I won't be changing the genre I put this game into, but if indeed this does represent the evolution of adventure games, it is an intriguing direction.

Also, just about every I talked to who had played the game said that the story is really good until the end. Being at pretty much the end, I can concur. It starts out as a mystery that takes on a horror bent. All that seems fine. The fact that I am heading to this military base in order to save the world? Yeah, not so much.

Oh, I guess I just gave a minor spoiler. Yeah, the reason I subtitle each entry is so you can see where I am in the game. I consider anything I have experienced up to that point in the game to be fair game for these entries.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Indigo Prophecy - Vision in Lucas' Apartment

Indigo Prophecy was hailed as an attempt to bring back pure adventure games. Like any good adventure game, it does indeed focus on story, exploration, and puzzle solving. It also has several sequences that rely on reflexes. These are little mini-games that involve colored lights flashing in various directions and then having to press the analog sticks in those directions. When I think of an action/adventure game, I think of an action game with adventure elements. This is much more of an adventure game with action elements. Plenty of adventure games have some action sequences. I'm thinking of the fights inIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade or the train sequence in Heart of China. Still, the reflex mini-games required to pass certain areas seem to make this game a little more of a gray area. Not enough that I won't label it adventure, though.

The story is really cool. You start the game as a Lucas Kane, a guy that has just murdered a man and has no idea why, but realizes he needs to act fast so as to not get caught. Once you clean up enough evidence of your deed, the next sequence of the game has you play the two cops who come to investigate the murder and you have to find all the evidence you have previously hidden. Further sequences in the game aren't nearly as clever in their juxtaposition, but playing as the guy trying to figure out what is going on with him and the cops attempting to solve his crime is a great idea.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode - Review

Golgo 13 was of those games that was released on the NES in America that was based on a Japanese manga - before anyone in the US had any idea what anime or manga or anything like that really was. It stars Golgo 13 (also known as Duke Togo), who is a super-spy in the mold of James Bond, but grittier and tougher. It translated pretty well (both literally and figuratively) to the US and gave us a game with a variety of gameplay modes that ended up pretty fun.

The story of Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode is that a CIA helicopter is shot down while carrying the experimental Cassandra-G virus. An M-16 shell (Golgo 13's weapon of choice) is found in the helicopter, making it look like Golgo 13 was responsible for its shooting. Wanting to clear his name and find this virus before it is used for nefarious purposes, Golgo 13 hears about the international spy group FIXER who believes not that the KGB or Golgo 13 are behind the attack, but another super-secret organization known as Drek is behind it. A man named Condor in East Berlin may be willing to help, so Golgo 13 travels there, meets up with a FIXER agent known as Cherry Grace and proceeds to embark on an adventure that will span the globe from Germany to Greece to the Amazon to Antarctica, meeting up with all sorts of people until finally confronting the head of Drek.

Golgo 13's story is very convoluted. I'm not sure if this is a fault of translation/localization or the way it was originally written. The thing is, despite it being hard to follow, it works. We are used to ridiculous plots from James Bond and this one isn't any more far-fetched. What the connection is between some of the agents and people you meet may be tenuous, but the game maintains the veneer of a spy story throughout and you can go with it. The translation actually seems pretty good as there is no glaring Engrish and what the characters say makes sense for what they are. The game also features a decent amount of violence and implied sex which is surprising given Nintendo of America's censorship policies at the time.

There are about six different gameplay modes in the game which helps keep the game fresh as only one of the modes is really well done. Throughout all of the modes you have both a life total (which goes down when you get hit) and a bullet total. The main mode is the side-scrolling levels where you walk left or right and can jump, shoot, and jump kick. In these levels, you explore the cities or other locations you are in, often being able to move to other areas by going all the way left or right or pressing up in front of a building or passage. These levels are rarely complicated. Occasionally there are two levels of platforms that you can jump up or down to, and there are occasionally pits (that don't kill you but send you back to the water), but platforming itself is not a significant portion of the game. Meanwhile, enemies will often come after you. At first they are fairly normal things like men wielding guns or guys on motorcycles. In later levels you face martial arts women with guns, guys with flame throwers, and men on hovering platforms that shoot odd triangles at you. These side-scrolling levels are also used in the underwater enemy bases. There are some issues with the play control in these scenes. When you shoot your gun, you have no control of Golgo 13 for a short period of time, making you pretty vulnerable. Also, the jumping is a little odd to control. Fortunately, enemies don't tend to do too much damage to you and you get health back when you kill them, so the awkward play control doesn't hurt you too much.

Some stages place underwater when you have scuba gear on. These parts are side-scrolling, but you have full 2D movement as you are in water. You can shoot straight ahead to defend yourself against enemies such as sharks, octopi, and other divers. There are also environmental hazards such as deadly seaweed and mines.

In other stages, you are in a helicopter and the stage plays out like a shoot 'em up. The screen automatically scrolls horizontally while enemies come at you from all sides. Again, there are only three enemy types here - fighter jets, bombers, and weird circular things with balls spinning around them. These levels are the smoothest in terms of play control. They feel really nice to play and I wish more of these stages and more varieties of enemy were present.

In any of the above three stages, at certain points you will experience a shot on screen and go into a first person shooting mode. In these, you control a crosshair with the directional pad and have to shoot at all the enemies that appear. These stages are somewhat reminiscent of Operation Wolf. You can scroll left or right in 360 degrees (very useful when underwater and divers are swimming toward or away from you). Enemies appear on the ground (soldiers, tanks, ships) or in the air (helicopters and fighters) or in the water all around you (divers and submarines). These scenes work pretty well, although the screen scrolls slowly so you will often take a hit before you see an enemy. Also, some enemies fly off the screen and can be hard to find. This is ameliorated somewhat by an arrow pointing you in the direction of the last enemy when there is only one left.

Another major part of the game are the labyrinths. These are first person sections where you move one section at a time and turn at ninety degree angles, similar to old RPGs like Wizardry. Occasionally an enemy will appear in front of you and you press A to make your crosshair appear then move it over the enemy and press A again to shoot. Walls sometimes drop down in front of you and you have to blow the open with a grenade. You start with three grenades and can replenish them by defeating enemies. One more hazard that sometimes presents itself are laser beams that shoot down from the ceiling. With infrared goggles you can see them and attempt to pass by when they are not firing, otherwise you will take damage when passing through them. The final obstacles are typical maze obstacles - pits that drop you to the level below and doors that may be locked and require finding a key. The first few (and surprisingly the last few) labyrinths you enter are pretty easy to navigate. Some will definitely require making a map (or checking the internet).

Finally, there are two sniping sections in the game. These just involve moving your scope until it is over the target then zooming in and firing.

Golgo 13 isn't an incredibly hard game. Once you learn enemy patterns, the side-scrolling sections aren't that difficult. The same can be said of the helicopter sequences. The first person shooting sequences can be tough if you don't kill some enemies right away as they involve several enemies shooting at you at once. Really, the only way you die is if you start a section with low health and get hit by enemies before you can kill them to regain more health. You have unlimited continues and you start over at the beginning of each section so you aren't set far back by dying (though you only have as many bullets as you had when you died). I died a little less than a dozen times before reaching the final boss. Once at the final boss, I died more than a dozen times. He is legitimately difficult and it took me a long time to devise a good strategy to beat him.

When you evaluate the total gameplay of Golgo 13, it probably is just about average. The graphics too, aren't anything special. They are servicable, and the backgrounds in the story scenes are well done even if a lot of work wasn't put into the characters. The sound effects are no great shakes. They are servicable and aren't too annoying. The gun shots sound about real, but all the other sound effects are fairly beepy and bloopy. The sound of the laser beams can be grating. The game doesn't have much music, but what is has is moody and fits well. There are even set moments when certain music plays giving it a sort of cinematic feel.

So, the gameplay is average, and the graphics and sound aren't anything special either, so is this game worth playing? Yes, I think so. It has a certain coolness factor that just makes you want to keep playing. It tells its spy story well, even breaking it down into acts with names like "The Moving Target" and "From Here to Eternity" and "And There Were None". The storytelling, done in a proto-Ninja Gaiden fashion, just works. You feel like a super spy and the sex with the ladies and fighting cyborg Hitler clones just add to the atmosphere. Style can go a long way with me and it pulls this game into fun territory.

Rating: 7 / 10

Friday, February 2, 2007

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode - Beat the game

Golgo 13 is the Nintendo game notorious for one thing: sex scenes. You play a sexy James Bond-esque spy and meet several female spies during the course of your adventures. At two points during the game, you meet up with a female spy in a hotel room, exchange information about the case you are working on, wax philosophical on life, war, and spying (well, she does anyway. Your typical respones is "....") and then the scene cuts to outside the hotel where you see two silhouettes come toward each other, embrace, and then the light in the hotel room turns off and your health is restored.

Here you see Duke Togo seducing the sexy Cherry Grace - or is it Eve Christy? Or Maria Lovelette?

Of course, while Golgo 13 (and its sequel as I am told) might have been most explicit about characters having sexual encounters back when Nintendo was sensoring swearing, smoking, drinking, and blowing up hamsters, there is at least one other game with implied sex and it came from Nintendo themselves. You can't tell me that, in Zelda II, the lady in the red dress that invites you into her house isn't a prostitute. She even restores your health, just like in Golgo 13! (And I don't want to think about what happens with the old lady who restores your magic.)

However, Golgo 13 has another distinction that is rarely mentioned. Mostly because to see it you need to get to the end of the game and that can be pretty difficult. When you do, you find that the leader of the Drek terrorists is Smirk, a man with a striking resemblance to Adolf Hitler. He is producing countless clones of himself that have the feature of their head detaching and flying at you once you kill them. Once you take out the machine producing the clones, the final scene involves you shooting Hitler's brain with a sniper rifle. How cool is that? This makes Golgo 13 the second NES game I know of that involves destroying Hitler at the end. (The other one being Bionic Commando.)

Anyway, review coming shortly.