Friday, March 30, 2007

Super Metroid - In Maridia after acquiring Gravity Suit

The "wrecked ship" portion of the game, which I just went through was neat, though flawed. The concept is that the power is out when you go there, so the map and save point don't work. Once you find and beat the boss, the power goes on and new places open up to you and you can save and get a map. Before that, you have to figure out where the boss is. It isn't too hard, but it also isn't obvious. I was slightly annoyed in having to search for it.

I think my main problem is that I second guess myself. When an area seems like the one you are supposed to go to, it generally is. That is the genious of Super Metroid - it can be played non-linear, but there are plenty enough clues to nudge you in the right direction. Twice, for me, when something wasn't obvious in an area, I went back to all the other possible areas.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Super Metroid - In Norfair after acquiring Grapple Beam

This game makes me nervous... and I like it.

There are always options about where to go. Should I continue exploring the current area or move on to a new one? Should I go back to a previous area with the new item I acquired, or contnue exploring? In general, I like to explore everywhere in a game and want to find everything. In Super Metroid, with no clear "correct" direction to go in, I feel like I may be missing things. Perhaps I'll progress too far without picking up the things on the side. Maybe I'm just going to lead myself in a big circle and accomplish nothing. I love it!

I also had my first negative experience in this game last night. I got to the part where you learn that you have the ability to wall jump. While learning how to do the speed booster jump from the ostrich was fairly self-explanatory, the guys who show you wall jumps weren't helpful at all. They made me aware that I could do wall jumps, but how wasn't exactly clear. I kept attempting to do them in a NES Batman way and was only occasionally successful, thus frustrating me greatly. Eventually, I just looked up the right way to do them.

I also had a fairly difficult time figuring out where to go. I thought that going back to Norfair seemed reasonable, but I couldn't successfully make the jump to get back there. With the high jump I now had that I didn't have the first time there, I would hit the ceiling and lose momentum. Fortunately, after twice exploring other areas for awhile, I went back for a third try and managed to make the jump (I think with the help of a wall jump). This and the above negative experience were minor setbacks, but I am still fairly in awe of this game.

Also, every time I have a grappling hook ability in a game, I expect it to work like Bionic Commando. Not that other ways of working are wrong, but, well, Bionic Commando just has so many awesome memories for me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Super Metroid - In Brinstar after acquiring Ice Beam

Man, how do you describe where you are in a game like this? I guess listing the last item you acquired is probably the way to go.

A few days ago, I decided I wanted to play an all-time classic game. One that either inspired future games or stands up today as still amazing after all these years. Since I most trust the opinion of those on the Talking Time forum, I asked them. Super Metroid was the clear winner out of the eight choice, garnering a near-majority. After playing it, I can see why.

When I played Metroid: Zero Mission, I thought to myself, "This is a great remake of the original Metroid, but the fact that it tells you where to go next ruins some of the fun of exploration and makes it a bit too easy. I bet if it just gave you the map and didn't tell you where to go, it would be perfect." Lo and behold, that is what Super Metroid does. Having a map (and being able to save) means you don't get frustrated like the original Metroid, but you still get the wonderful sense of freedom and exploration.

In a sense, this game shows what the apotheosis of the non-linear 2D platform game is. You see things that you can't get past now, and later acquire new abilities that will let you pass them, so you want to come back. But there are plenty of other places on the web you can go to hear about "Metroidvania" style games, including this week's Retronatus Bonus Stage which neatly puts them to rest.

Also, it is Metroid so you get the awesome bounty hunter in space theme. So far, I have found nothing to complain about and am having a blast.

Castlevania III - Stage 7A with Sypha

Since the game isn't that long, I decided to try it through with each character and see all the different stages. At some point during this stage, though, I decided I'd had enough. Castlevania III is a good game. I've come around on that. But I'm really ready for something else. Maybe I'll come back to it, but probably not. I mean, this is the last unique stage that I hadn't seen and the boss at end is one I've fought before so... I have no great desire to finish the game.

As for characters, Sypha falls right in the middle of Grant and Alucard for usefulness. She has no special platforming skills and swinging her staff does require some wind-up, but it seems to hit enemies in a short arc in front of her, making it better for bats and birds swooping down. Also, her sub-weapon magic is incredibly powerful. The ice attack will take care of any regular enemy. Her other two are very powerful against bosses and can take them down quickly.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Review

The witness sits on the stand, giving his testimony. As he mentions the time at which he supposedly observed the murder, something seems off. You yell out "Hold it!" and press him on this issue. He flinches and mentions that he definitely heard the time so the television must have been on and he heard it spoken. You have him here - this is a clear contradiction with the facts. You pull out the power company records showing that the power was out at the time he says he heard the time on the television and yell "Objection!" into your DS microphone, startling your dog into getting up and coming over to see what is the matter.

Such is the life of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. As a defense attorney fresh out of law school and working for a small firm, Phoenix Wright must prove himself as a lawyer and starts out by taking on a murder case. In fact, all of his cases are murder cases - this guy doesn't get any easy stuff. As you progress from case to case, your reputation increases. You meet familiar, recurring characters and develop relationships with them. The game always takes a fairly lighthearted tone, even when dealing with serious things like murder and blackmail.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is an adventure game divided into two gameplay sections: Investigation and Trial.

During investigation, you check out various locations pertinent to the crime in order to gather evidence that will help your client be exonerated. You are given four options: Examine, Move, Talk, and Present. Examine lets you move a cursor around the screen (using the directional pad or the stylus) and check out objects there. Sometimes these objects are added to your "court record" (inventory) to be presented later. Other times, examining them triggers important story actions. The rest of the time, you get a description and a fun dialogue between characters about them. The move command lets you go to different locations. Sometimes you have to talk to people or acquire certain items before a new place is available to go to. The Talk and Present commands are used when there is a person present on the scene. The Talk command lets you ask them about various topics and the Present command lets you show them items you have.

The investigation portion is interesting at first, but you quickly realize that you cannot progress past it until you have acquired all the items needed for trial and heard all the important information. While it is interesting to see the case unfold and find out the new information, the lack of options for things you can do during investigation makes it feel less like the puzzle-solving typically present in adventure games and more like exhausting every possible option. Still, twists and surprise evidence for the trial are found during investigation so it is important and rewarding to pay attention, even if very little game playing goes on then.

The trial portion of the game is where it comes to life. The witnesses get up and the stand and give their testimony. Then, you get to crossexamine them. The point of crossexamination is to find a contradiction in the witness' testimony so that you can nullify anything negative they had to say about your client. During crossexamination, you see their testimony section by section. At each section, you can choose to press them on that to see if they might reveal a bit more. Once you come to the section of their testimony that you feel reveals a contradiction, you have to find the correct evidence in the court record that contradicts that and present it to them. As the trial progresses, you may be put on the spot to come up with theories as to why you think the witness is lying or other reasons Phoenix Wright gives for why the witnesses testimony is faulty. These are often presented as multiple choices options, but sometimes you are forced to present some evidence. Presenting the right evidence or choosing the right dialogue option moves the trial along, but performing the wrong action results in a penalty from the judge. Five penalties and the judge declares the trial over and your client guilty.

The DS version of the game (the original was released in Japan for the Game Boy Advance) adds a new fifth case that makes more use of the DS' features. You use the stylus to rotate objects, reassemble a broken jar, and even pause and rewind a video to find evidence. In the regular game, the stylus can be used to point to an object on the screen instead of using the directional pad. Also, instead of merely using a button, you can yell "Hold it!" or "Objection!" or "Take That!" into the DS' microphone when pressing a witness or presenting evidence.

The stories and characters in the game can best be described as whimsical. None of the stories in the cases are particularly moving or high literature, but they are well enough done that you could imagine them in an episode of Law and Order or a typical legal suspense movie, or even a John Grisham novel. The dialogue and text contains a fair amount of jokes and commentary, and they work well to amuse you while playing along. The localization effort is pretty good in the main cases (particularly the character who talks in l33t-speak), but is a bit shoddy in the fifth, added on case.

The game is quite logical and so the puzzle of figuring out what evidence to present when can almost always be worked out. While the investigation portion can sometimes feel frustrating because you are just exhausting every option, the trial portion is appropriate tense because of your limited chances to make mistakes. You get a sense of sweating over where to object to the witness' testimony and what evidence to present then. The ability to yell "Objection!" into the microphone when you think you have the witness nailed to a contradiction becomes incredibly satisfying. The fifth case is, again, not quite as well put together in terms of the logic of how and when to present evidence, but it doesn't detract much from the case.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is really and interactive legal novel. You follow Phoenix as he attempts to prove his clients' innocence. Along the way, you help him ask the right questions and examine the evidence carefully. In court, you let him master the trial and confound the rival prosecutor. The game is mostly reading text and honestly not a lot of game playing, but the game playing present, especially in the trial scenes, just feels great. For anyone interested in adventure games, Phoenix Wright gets it done.

Rating: 8 / 10

Castlevania III - Beat the game with Alucard

Someone once remarked off-handedly (I think it was Jeremy Parish in a retronauts podcast) that playing with Sypha in Castlevania III was like playing in hard mode. Though I have yet to beat the game with Sypha, I have played the first five or so levels taking her path and I must disagree. Hard mode is playing with Alucard.

Easy mode is most certainly Grant. His high-jumping, ability to control jumps in the air, and sticking to walls basically breaks the Castlevania platforming paradign allowing you to do things that weren't ever intended. His dagger is slightly less powerful than the chain whip and doesn't have nearly the reach, but he attacks fast - there is no need to wind up his attack so when you press the attack button, the knife goes out right then.

Alucard does give you the ability to get out of some tight jams with his ability to turn into a bat and fly around, but I only found that useful once. Most of the times, the extra platforms you reach by turning into a bat generally aren't worth the hearts wasted in getting to them. His attack is the weakest of all the characters. While it has good range, there is only a small subset of enemies it kills in one hit. You can upgrade it, so that you get two or three balls of energy, but they are all pretty weak so that often two of them have to hit an enemy to kill it. Also, the only sub-weapon he can use is the stopwatch.

I figure I may as well beat the game with Sypha now so I see all the levels.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Castlevania III - Beat the game with Grant

I think one of the reasons I wasn't so into Castlevania III is that there is a significant lull in the middle levels. The early are work well. They aren't too challenging and get you used to what is coming up ahead. Also, the music is pretty nice. The late levels also work very well and have some of the old school Castlevania challenge that I am used. I had a ball on the final level and in beating Dracula in his various forms. Also, there the music definitely improves (even if some of it is remakes of tunes from earlier games).

Anyway, I adored the final level. It had just the right amount of pattern recognition and staying on your toes that I want in a platform game like this. After having such a good time at the end of the game, I am sorely tempted to go through it again with a different helper. Probably Alucard, since I haven't tried playing with him yet.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Castlevania III - Stage 8

I'm slowly coming around on Castlevania III. It still doesn't feel as fun to me as the original game. This isn't nostagia, because I didn't play the original Castlevania until 2002 or 2003. I still can't put my finger on why the game isn't doing it for me as much as it should. Part of me wants to say that it is the difficulty. It is a difficult game, but in a way that is different from the original Castelvania and thus is actually harder to me.

I started the game over from the last time I played and picked up Grant this time. Now I have a character who has different platforming moves from Trevor Belmont. Grant's ability to grab onto walls, jump higher, and even control his jumps while in the air make some sections much easier. There are other parts, though, that were designed to be gone through with Belmont-like stiff jumps and trying to jump through these with Grant can be fatal.

I took Alucard's path to get to Dracula's castle. Level 6 was the first level that required many tries to get through it, but I did. Level 7, though, almost had me tearing my hair out. The level has a ton of platforming elements. From navigating a room of blocks as acid eats them away, to jumping from moving platform to moving platform as bats fly at you, to climbing up blocks as they fall down on you, to navigating the flipping floor while medusa heads fly at you, to attempting to climb up the screen before it scrolls upwards and sends you to your doom, this level is tough.

I finally got through it and level 8 is an awesome remake of the first level from the original Castlevania along with the original music. Thus, the level itself isn't too difficult. The difficulty is the end of stage boss(es). You face the grim reaper, and while I have managed to beat it with some health remaining (Grant with axe and double shot rocks), you immediately face the next boss (a floating skull) that always gets me because I only have enough health to take one hit.

If this game follows modern Castlevania convention, facing the grim reaper means that I am almost at the end of the game. So, I may only have one more level before the showdown with Dracula. And after that? Do I want to attempt to beat the game with Sypha and Alucard as well?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Beat the game

Man, that last case is a long one. I certainly have no complaints about the length of this game after going through that.

The last case also seems a bit less well put together than the previous ones. It was made just for the DS version of the game. It has some neat features, like manipulating evidence and dusting for prints that make use of the touch screen. However, I also noticed about the same number of typos/grammatical errors as in the previous cases combined. And there were many more moments when not only was the right evidence to present at the right time in a case not obvious, it didn't even make that much sense once I'd done it.

Still, a very fun game and the best classic adventure game I've played in awhile. Too bad the sequel isn't supposed to be as good.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts - One Credit Challenge, Level 3

This is definitely an old-school game where you can memorize the sections and, in that way, find the best way to get through a level. The randomly spawning enemies just make it that much more difficult.

I greatly impressed myself by getting to level 3 on one credit. Getting the right weapon helps tremendously. For pretty much all of Level 1, I like the bow. For stage 2, the axe is probably the best weapon in the beginning, though just about any weapon but the bow will do (unless you have one of the armors that powers it up). In the second section of level 2, the dagger is definitely where it's at. The dagger remains pretty good for the beginning of stage 3, in the second section you want the bow again.

After losing my last life toward the middle of stage 3, I continued and kept playing until I beat the stage. Stage 3 actually isn't that difficult and I have hope I can make it to stage 4 on one credit before the week is out.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Finished Turnabout Goodbyes

This game has a definite charm about its characters and their actions. I think a lot of that is because the game, even though supposed moved from a Tokyo setting to a Los Angeles setting, still feels very Japanese. Not only are there some concepts that weren't localized for a North American audience, sometime the way the characters speak or interact feels more Japanese. After having played two DS games recently with amazing localizations (Contact and Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime), this game is a little disappointed. It isn't bad, and I only noticed two typos/grammatical mistakes in the game, but it prevents total immersion.

Still, presenting the cases in court is a blast and the tension you feel when having to figure what is the right piece of evidence or the right conjecture is great.

The next case is the special, new DS-only case that takes more advantage of the DS features. I am looking forward to it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Super Castlevania IV - Review

Castlevania's first foray onto the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was a fascinating one. It was a remake of the original game. Well, remake may not be quite the right word, perhaps reimagining is more correct. There are several more levels and few follow the layout of the levels in the original. The bosses from the original are pretty much all there, but not on the same levels. The "story" as it is, is the same: Dracula is terrorizing the countryside and only Simon Belmont can take him on. The gameplay, though, is quite a bit difference due to one major change.

Since the story in Super Castlevania IV is nonexistant, the gameplay is what drives it. Like previous Castevania games, you jump and whip. Candles in the levels give you points, health, hearts, subweapons, and a few other goodies. The subweapons (knife, axe, holy water, cross, and stopwatch) are (with the exception of the stopwatch) all distance weapons that let you hit heart to reach enemies. They deplete your hearts (which are not health) when used.

The control innovations in this game over is predecessors are twofold: First, you have some some control over your jumps. You can turn around during them and have some influence on how far you jump after you are already in the air. Second, and most hugely, you can now whip in any of eight directions around you. For those who didn't realize how huge this is, previous Castlevanias only let you whip horizontally. Which meant that a good part of the challenge of the game was figuring out how to get next to enemies and hit them without getting hit/falling. In a way, the omnidirectional whipping makes the game much easier. You can take out foes above (and to some extent below) you without quite getting to their level. It really changes how levels and enemies can and should be designed. Along with the omnidirectional whipping, they decided to take a page out of Bionic Commando's book and provided certain hooks in the game that you can latch onto with your whip and swing from.

The levels you trek through are very reminiscent of older Castlevanias. The first few levels are outdoors as you work your way toward the castle. Then you head indoors and move through various parts of the castle. Finally, you climb the tower and approach the final battle with Dracula. The levels have the block platforms and stairs familiar to older veterans. Many levels, though, involve more organic elements. The ground you walk on and paths you tread aren't always discrete blocks. There are gears, conveyer belts, spiky mashers, decaying platforms, and flipping platforms that return from earlier games. There are new environmental hazards, like quicksand-like ground, falling rocks/spikes, and large moving portions of the levels. There are also the new hooks that you must whip onto and swing from and many levels have unique elements such as huge swinging chandeliers you cross, a spinning razor blade that chases you upwards, and a room that rotates around you.

The enemies generally show less innovation than the levels. The bats, skeletons, axe knights, and medusa heads all return from previous installments. There are some new enemies such as slimes, ghosts, and gargoyles. Since most enemies are dispatched by a crack or two of the whip and since you can whip in many directions, it is generally not difficult to defeat them. Still, there are quite a few sections that combine precise platforming and enemy killing that work very well, even if there is only so much inspiration in the enemies. The bosses, though, show great inspiration. The remakes of the original Castlevania bosses all have very nice touches added. Frankenstein's monster now hurls potions. The giant bat is now made of gold and gems. The new bosses are all very bright and colorful. Some are not much bigger than you and are just expert swordsmen or axemen. Some are huge, taking up a good portion of the screen. Some take advantage of SNES effects to grow and shrink or appear and disappear. Like many games of this ilk, the bosses are the highlight.

Largely because of the omnidirectional whipping, this game is much easier than its NES counterparts. I didn't really start to have any trouble until level 7. Level 8 is where the levels start being downright difficult and level B made me pull my hair out. Fortunately, despite the initial challenge, the game is quite fun. You feel accomplished when you are taking down enemies and jumping from platform to platform.

Part of what makes this game so entertaining is the amazing graphics and sound. The enemies are all crisp, clear, and detailed. The bosses especially so. The levels are crafted with care, with details and animation in both the foreground and background. The game makes great use of transparency in both enemies and backgrounds to achieve amazing effects. There is also plenty of Mode 7 (sprite scaling) used. To complement the beautiful graphics, the soundtrack is, as usual, wonderful. At first, I was a bit put off by the music. Not because it wasn't good, but because it wasn't the gothic style of the NES games. Many of the levels sounded like they would be dungeon or cave music in an RPG. They are extremely well done compositions and once I got used to them, I greatly appreciated them. The remixes of music from previous games at the end also worked well.

It really amazes me that this was one of the early releases for the Super Nintendo. Konami must have put all their programmers into figuring out how to get the most from the SNES. While the gameplay has its downsides, especially the uneven difficulty, the entire package of the game is quite impressive. Super Castlevania IV is still great to play today.

Rating 8 / 10

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts - One Credit Challenge, Level 2

The GnG series (Ghosts 'n Goblins, Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, and newcomber PSP game Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins) is notorious for its difficulty. Really notorious. The games are fair, but they are frustrating because they require such precision. Hence it is this week's one credit challenge.

So what makes these games difficult? Well they pretty much all have these play features:

You start out in a suit of armor. One hit from any enemy removes that armor and reduces you to your boxers. Another hit kills you. Also, these games require you to fully commit when you jump. Once you hit the jump button, you are jumping and will land in the place decided by your direction at the time, facing the way you were when you jumping. This isn't a Mario game - there is no way to adjust the trajectory or direction of your jump mid-air. Also, there are always randomly spawning enemies on a level so you cannot purely memorize where everything is, but must be cognizant of where the randomly spawned enemies are.

The game is bright and colorful. It has great music and a variety of weapons you can use. It is fun, but it also makes you throw your controller at the wall in frustration.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Elite Beat Agents - Review

A 17 year old girl has got her house to herself. Her parents are out of town and she's invited over the guy she's been dating, Don. He's a star receiver on the football team, but beyond his rugged jock exterior, he's really a sweet guy. He is definitely worth exclusivitiy and she wants to go steady. While Don is recounting last night's game and she is working up the courage to ask him, disaster strikes. The doorbell rings and it is one of the neighbors that she babysits for. Something has came up at work and she needs the girl to babysit her three kids for a few hours. Babysitting is the girl's primary source of income and she doesn't want to sully her reputation, nor does she want to leave her neighbor in the lurch. But what will Don think? He came over, thinking he would be with her. He certainly didn't expect to have to put up with three kids and deal with changing diapers, feeding them, and general rambunctiousness. How will she be able to handle looking after the kids and furthering her relationship with Don?

Fortunately, the Elite Beat Agents are here to help. Their commander has been monitoring the situation and sends these men in black out to give the girl the inspiration she needs to make it through the day. By dancing along to a song and cheering her on, these men will help her take care of the diapers, the food, and the noise. Because she is so motivated and professional about her job and because, quite frankly, he likes her, Don also helps out when he can. By the end of the day, the kids are calm and she is going steady with Don.

These are the types of scenarios one is presented with in Elite Beat Agents. On a map of the world, one sees various situations with people calling out for help. By completing these scenarios, more are opened up. The scenarios are almost always of a positive nature, such as helping a lost dog return to his home, helping a little girl deal with the grief of losing her father, and even at the end of the game literally saving the world through the power of song and dance. Portrayed as a series of panels, like a comic book, these scenarios work because of their believability and identifiability. Even when the scenario is far-fetched - like a fire golem attacking an amusement park - the people in it are not. You really feel for the former baseball star that lost his drive, feeling that saving the kids from the golem is his chance to redeem himself. There are two scenarios that ring a little hollow - one where you are helping obvious nods to Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie survive on a deserted island by wooing the animals into helping them and another where you are helping an oil tycoon who lost his money get rich again so he can once again be with the gold-digging wife who kicked him out of the house when he became poor. Despite these two missteps, the rest of the scenarios are utterly charming and really make you want to help the people. Some are even a bit emotional.

During these scenarios, you control the Elite Beat Agents as they dance along to whatever song is playing for that scenario. The songs are all, pretty much, US pop songs. They include such varied titles as Queen's I Was Born to Love You, Avril Lavigne's Sk8er Boi, David Bowie's Let's Dance, Sum 41's Makes no Difference, and Ashlee Simpsons's La La. Oftentimes, the songs are picked to go with the scenario, like Chicago's Your the Inspiration when helping the young girl cope with the death of her father and Madonna's Material Girl when helping the material girls on the deserted island. Many people are turned off by some of the artists included in this game. I was initially leary as well because no more than a third of the artists in this game would ever be in my album collection. What I found was, regardless of my opinion of the artist or song, it really worked well with the game. While I would never be caught dead voluntarily listening to Ashlee Simpson, I thought the use of her song in its scenario worked well. It also helps that people will know a lot of the songs which helps one to play the game. It should also be noted that all of the songs in the game are covers as it is much cheaper to obtain rights to perform the song than to obtain a recording of it. The covers are all fairly close to the original and the only song where I thought having a cover really detracted was the Jackson 5's ABC.

The way you control the dancing of the agents is by tapping on the screen in the rhythm of the song. Dots will appear on the screen as the song is playing. Hollow circles will also appear around these dots and gradually gets smaller. Once the hollowed circle completely encloses the dot, that is the right time to tap it. If you know the song, you will pretty much know by the rhthym or lyrics what time to tap it. Still, the visual of the shrinking circle generally works fine up until the harder difficulties when you have many dots to tap in rapid succession. Fortunately, the dots are usually numbered. A particular phrase or portion of the song will have dots in all the same color that are numbered sequentially. You get points for correctly tapping on a dot - more for how close to the rhythm you hit the dot. In addition to dots to tap, there are sliders that require you to drag the stylus on the screen following a ball as it moves between two dots. Once or twice a level you will get a spinner which just requires you to rapidly move the stylus around the screen in a circle. The spinners are the most annoying par of the gameplay as they are not related to the rhythm of the song and spinning fast enough can be very frustrating.

While you are progressing through the song, there is a health bar of sorts at the top of the screen. The health bar is constantly decreasing as the song progresses. Hitting the dots to the rhtyhm keeps the Elite Beat Agents dancing and increases the health bar, failing to properly hit the dots causes the agents to fall down and decreases the health bar. If the health bar is ever depleted, you fail the song, get to see a failure animation, and can choose to play the song again or try something else. When not depleted, the health bar has two states: "yes" and "no". Besides telling you that you are near failure all the health bar being in "no" means is that you get negative animations at various breaks in the song and the agents will look like they are about to collapse. Once you complete a song, you are given a score and a grade. Your score is based on how close you hit each dot to its beat. Hitting several dots in a row increases a multiplier for how many points you get for correct beats. You also get a rank which is based solely on percentage of beats hit perfectly, near perfectly, barely, and not at all.

The game has four difficulty levels, two of which are available at the start of the game. The other two must be unlocked by beating every song on the difficulty level below it. You can also unlock three songs. To do this, you must achieve a certain point total. The total points scored in all songs is your point total and upon achieving certain point totals, you achieve new ranks and at some ranks come new songs. The easiest difficulty level features songs with few dots that are on screen for a long time before you need to tap them. Also, the health bar decreases very slowly. As the difficulty increases, more dots appear on screen, the interval between needing to hit them is shorter and health bar decreases more rapidly. The easiest difficultly should be completable by just about anyone. Once you get to hard difficulty, there is much less margin for error. At the highest difficulty, the only way you can successfully complete a song is by hitting the dots near perfectly.

The game is incredibly addictive. It is one of the few game that I wanted to complete 100%. What makes it so addictive is the feeling that you can get better if you try just... one... more... time. You always feel like you are getting better. You do a little better at a song every time you try it. Once you complete a song, you want to see how well you can do at another one. Even once you know all the stories for the scenarios surrounding the songs, you still want to see if you can complete that song on the harder difficulty. Really, the only time I got frustrated and felt like I really wasn't getting any better at songs was for two songs on the hardest difficulty.

Elite Beat Agents has charming stories drawn in comic-style art that make you smile. It has gameplay that keeps you coming back for more. It has songs that, while you might not love them, are great choices to tap the rhythm too. Elite Beat Agents is the first game for the Nintendo DS that I would recommend to anyone, regardless of their general taste in games. At first, I was a bit surprised Nintendo made this part of their "Touch Generations" line of games which are intended to be games anyone in the family can pick up, play, and enjoy. After experiencing this game, I can fully agree with that decision.

Rating 9 / 10

Monday, March 12, 2007

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Finished Turnabout Samurai

Yet another game that I'm way late on the bandwagon for, but if it helps I actually bought this game before I owned a DS. This is back when it was incredibly scarce, so I paid full retail for a copy I managed to find. It has since had two more printings and is being clearanced at Circuit City.

Anyway, I'm really glad that the DS is bringing back more honest to goodness adventure games. While I know this game original appeared on the Game Boy Advance in Japan, I feel like it never would have made it over here if not for the DS. It works on the DS too, despite being a retooled GBA game. Though I never use the touchscreen controls, being able to yell "Objection!" into the DS microphone is all kinds of awesome.

The premise is pretty awesome because how many games let you play as a defense lawyer? That is a definite advantage of adventure games - they can pretty much adapt themselves to any setting. In this game, you get to question witnesses, gather evidence, badger people on the witness stand, and confront them with their filthy lies! It is all very endearing and it works very well. The reason it works is because the story is good. There is a reason text adventures are nowadays referred to as interactive fiction. The story drives games like this which is why when discussing Indigo Prophecy, I waffled on whether that game was actually an adventure game or more of an interactive movie - I think I eneded up sticking with adventure because it had puzzles to solve.

The gameplay is divided into two modes - evidence gathering and trials. If I weren't a defense lawyer (and weren't always playing as the same character), I'd swear I was playing a video game adaptation of the popular television series Law and Order. I know there are CSI games, but the courtroom drama is really what makes this game. In the evidence gathering portion, you can't lose - you just can't progress unless you have done everything required of you. This is fine - all the good latter day adventure games don't let you screw yourself over at the beginning but only find out later on. The problem is that there are only limited things that you can do while gathering evidence and so it feels more like you are just exhausting all possibilites here instead of cleverly solving puzzles.

The courtroom scenes totally make the game. The witness is up on the stand giving testimony. Do you press them on their statements hoping they will crack under pressure? Or will that make you look bad and them clam up? Can you figure out which piece of evidence contradicts their testimony? Get it right and their testimony and credibility will start to unravel. Get it wrong and your credibility will be called into question. Get it wrong too many times and the judge will decide you have no case. Plus, did I mention yelling "Objection!" into the microphone?

I was going to comment that the game seemed short, but then I realized that I have put about nine hours in so far and am only 60% done. So if the game does end up taking 15 hours to complete, I will have still paid $2/hour for good entertainment. That is far better than most movies I see in the theater.

Also, I really hope the Japanese justice system doesn't work the way it does in the game or there are a lot of innocent people in jail there.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Elite Beat Agents - Achieved Lovin' Machine Ranks

Unlike, say Fire Emblem, this game isn't as detrimental because of my obsessive tendencies. Actually, I rarely try to 100% complete games, but this one was definitely an exception. Playing through the levels is just fun. Sure, the later levels basically require memorization, but that just makes me harken back to the NES days when plenty of games did that and were still pretty fun.

So yeah, this game is awesome. A must buy for the DS. For anyone. I don't care if you can't stand Cher or Ashlee Simpson or The Village People. In this game, it doesn't matter - it is just that good.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Fire Emblem - Chapter 27: Cog of Destiny

Is it appropriate to play games in public?

I had a doctor's appointment today and my doctor is always running late. I decided to bring my DS in order to alleviate boredom while waiting. I got there on time, checked in, and took my seat. I realized a little late that Elite Beat Agents would not be an appropriate game to play in a doctor's office since it requires the sound, and even if I had headphones, I wouldn't want to miss my name being called. Fire Emblem was the game in the GBA slot, so that's what I ended up playing.

I couldn't help but feel a little self-conscious. I mean, no one was staring at me, that I could tell. Mostly people were either having conversations or reading the material available there. Still, I felt like I was a little weird for playing a video game in the doctor's office. Is it just not done? Is it that video games still have a stigma of being for kids and I was too old? Maybe it was just that my DS was pink.

I didn't finish the level while sitting in the office. I had to wait to come home before I could devote the time to beat it without a character dying. Fortunately, this level was much better than 26x. I really enjoy this game, but it is a flaw of myself - the need for perfection - that prevents it from being amazing.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Sword of Vermilion - Stow attacked by monster

So this game isn't too bad in short doses, but I can't imagine playing more than about an hour at a time.

Also, have I mentioned the music is excellent? I'm sure some famous Sega composer did it. Wikipedia claims that this is the first console exclusive game that Yu Suzuki did. If that is accurate, that is a neat bit of trivia.

Elite Beat Agents - Completed Cruisin' difficulty

Besides being charming, this game is also incredibly addictive. I have stayed up way later than I should have or taken 15-minute work breaks to play this game. It has that pull that makes you think if you play the level one more time you can beat it or get a higher score. Which is awesome if you don't have to worry about your productivity falling.

On the higher difficulties, you are more required to follow the beats of the vocals rather than just the rhythm of the song. This can be really difficult in more syncopated songs like Jamiroquai's Canned Heat.

Anyway, this game is awesome. It's the first DS game I've played that I would recommend anyone with a DS check out.