Saturday, February 9, 2008

Dark Castle - Beat the game on Beginner and Intermediate

The Mac was never a gaming platform. It never had a large userbase and Apple was uniformly awful at courting game developers (and sometimes the developers themselves are a little unreasonable). But, despite having far fewer games than its early Commodore 64 and Apple ][ brethren and later the industry juggernaut PC, it did have some gems.

One of those gems was released early in the Mac's life in 1986 and was called Dark Castle. This game, like many early Mac games was fairly revolutionary for its time.

First, the animation was incredibly smooth and life-like. It was a pleasure to watch the protagonist, Duncan, run, jump, and fall. This was three years before Prince of Persia with its rotoscoped animation (but after Karateka which had similar animation principles). Duncan's walking, running and jumping animations were quite realistic, but the game also had a good sense of humor by adding cartoon-like "hovering over a pit, then looking down and falling" and "banging your head and getting dizzy and
spinning around" animations.

The second major innovation to this game was its control scheme. The game is a platformer and the character is moved around using the keyboard (with WASD as the default keys). The character's main attack is throwing rocks and this is accomplished by aiming with the mouse. Yes, that's right - moving with the keyboard and aiming with the mouse, the same control scheme used by all PC-based first-person shooters today was pioneered by this game back in 1986, almost ten years before the system was first used in a first person shooter (Marathon, which probably not coincidentally was also for the Mac).

So, the announcement that the third Dark Castle game, Return to Dark Castle is finally coming out (it has spent 7-8 years in development) inspired me to go back and replay this game.

It is still a lot of fun, but like many games of my youth, it is a lot harder than I remembered it. I seem to recall being very good at this game and having no problem beating it, but I must have only been playing it on Beginner difficulty. I jumped right back into this game on Advanced difficulty and got my ass-kicked hard. Humbled, I started back at Beginner and relearned the game. I was able to beat Beginner and then Intermediate modes without much difficulty. Advanced is still insane. It took me luck, using all of my ammunition and about 16 tries to finally get the shield. I then died while attempting to get the fireball.

Still, this game brings back great memories. The sound effects are ingrained in my brain - Duncan's grunt as he jumps, his "Whoa, whoa, whoa, wrmmmbrblblblblblb" when he smacks his head, the mutant's taunting, the raven's caw, and the wizard's mumble. Despite not having many games, the early Mac had some good and unique ones.

Monday, February 4, 2008

No More Heroes - Finished the game

This game was an incredible experience. Someone said it best that this game is sort of like Blaster Master or Ninja Gaiden for the NES - games that weren't perfect but that were incredibly fun to play and everyone had to have. The difference is that both of them games had really compelling gameplay (okay, so Ninja Gaiden also sold itself on its story) to go with them. Here, the visceral feel of the gameplay is great, even if it isn't necessarily deep. But the story and game execution and details are what sells it.

I mentioned previously that the city of Santa Destroy feels lifeless. More than that, I share the opinion of other that is one of the worst level-select screens ever. While there are some neat details scattered around Santa Destroy (references to other games and punk music), having to drive in your bike from one location to the next is just tedious. Especially when you just want to earn some money at the side missions.

It is also probably a good think that the game doesn't try to pad itself out too much. The combat feels great. The graphics show your character performing all sorts of neat combos. The kills slice guys in twain and send blood splattering everywhere! You can mow down entire groups of enemies! You can send them to their doom with professional wrestling moves! Despite all that, the combat isn't very deep. There's high and low attacks and dodging and occasionally throws, but there isn't much meat there. You start feeling this a bit on the later bosses that have a ton of health where you just have to do the same thing over and over in order to defeat them.

All that said, I really enjoyed this game. Any adult who has a Wii and is more of a core gamer should check this out. The game is fully of crazy action and over-the-top entertainment. It is a send up of action movies and video games and just absolutely feels right. This is like one of those movies you start talking about immediately afterwards with your friends and say, "Did you see that? It was amazing!"

I usually don't hesitate to post spoilers because it is assumed here that I will be talking about my progress in a game which can include anything I have seen. But since so much of the enjoyment of No More Heroes is discovering the story and references in it, I feel I must put in this intermediate paragraph.

That said, there were so many great moments I experience in playing through this game and encountering all the bosses:

Destroyman was hilarious. A postal worker that thinks he's a superhero, complete with nipple guns and crotch rockets? And the way he makes Travis fall for his obvious tricks is a delight.

The death scene where Holly puts the grenade in her mouth and her head explodes is a classic 'oh my fucking god I can't believe that' moment.

The hilarious brain machine contraption in the next fight was just classic and sort of reminded me of Terry Gilliam or Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I knew that this fight would end before it started, but I figured Travis (or the machine itself) would be the one to do it.

Rank 4 might have been my favorite fight. Half the level is a dream sequence where your character is the space ship in a shoot 'em up sequence. And the boss fight was probably my favorite in the game (only Destroyman comes close). It is just staged so well. From the set up as a date at the theater between Travis and Sylvia to the boss performing an on-stage magical act and you acting like an actual member of the audience to the fight itself which involves the magician turning the screen upside down and includes an interlude where you are put into and escape from a magical trick box, to the cinema after defeating him. As I said, it is staged incredibly well.

My favorite answering machine message from the video store is the one where they say that instead of returning the porno you rented, you instead returned a copy that cuts off two minutes into it.

If I had my suspicions that the boss fights in this game were a send-up of Metal Gear Solid, the final boss fight confirmed it. First, the games finishes demolishing the fourth wall by having Jeane comment on how if she told you her story, it would increase the game's rating which could delay it... and then they might have to call the game No More Heroes Forever (a classic video game in joke). Then Travis says to just fast forward through it. So you literally get a fast forwarded scene through tons of expository dialogue where Jeane reveals a life of abuse, incest, whoring herself out, training to be a killer, and getting her revenge. It was great.

Then in the "real ending" after defeating Henry, Travis argues that he can't reveal new plot now since the game is over and they have a great conversation about how the game should end to some totally kick ass music.

As you can tell, I found No More Heroes to be a great experience.