Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sin and Punishment - Finished the game on Normal

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 4, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zone of the Enders - Destroying the EPS generator

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

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

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

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

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