Thursday, February 27, 2014

Diary Entry #12: Shopping Spree Stuff

                I've been playing Ultima V very erratically. All I really can do is wander to all the different towns, though I am very intrigued by the story that is unfolding. I've talked to a group of resistance members at midnight near a well, found a resistance base in an underground base, and even blasted a cannon through Lord British's throne room. There's a couple in depth descriptions elsewhere, so I'm not going to bother going into too much detail unless I find something that really piques my interest. I also played through the first level of Fade to Black, a feat that my dad was never able to accomplish back in 1996.

                For my girlfriend's birthday, we hit up a few hot shopping spots that we've largely ignored over the past few months. The cold winter has been pretty brutal, but it was good to get back out in my usual video game buying stomping grounds. The first place we hit up was Play 'N' Trade, which had some good deals.

                I really love handheld RPGs, so the Harry Potter Game Boy Color games have always been a most wanted for me. It probably won't be any Final Fantasy Legend or Sword of Mana stuff, but I needed it anyway. Next on my must-buy list: Animorphs, a Pokemon ripoff for GBC. This was a couple of bucks complete. I've only bought a handful of boxed Game Boy Color/Advanced games: Gunstar Super Heroes, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and Planet of the Apes. The latter is probably the weirdest, a Prince of Persia rip off where your only goal is to collect lots of flags.


                Also at Play 'N' Trade, I got Shenmue 2, .hack Infection, and Inspector Gadget: Gadget's Crazy Maze. I've already played through the European Dreamcast version of Shenmue 2, but getting the American version is a good excuse to replay one of my favorite games. Gadget's Crazy Maze looks like it's a Windows 95 game, meaning it's a game I'll love. .hack games have been getting more expensive on eBay, so I jumped at the opportunity to buy the first one. I guess it's supposed to be a poor man's Kingdom Hearts. Since I think that game sucks, maybe I'll find it to be the good man's Kingdom Hearts.

                I got the random CSI PC game at the Salvation Army next door. With all of the CSI and Law and Order video games out there, I'm sure there's some really good ones. I figure this random title from 2002 will be a good entry point into the licensed crime drama game genre.

                We also stopped at a vintage toy store, which had an interesting array of goodies. All the games were over-priced, but these Sonic books were too good to pass up. After browsing the initial chapters of Sonic X-TREME, I've determined that these books will make great bathroom reads. They follow the same continuity of the classic Saturday Morning Sonic the Hedgehog show, much like the Sonic comics that are still around today. Target reading level appears to be third grade, but whatever. After years of undergraduate and graduate level English courses, I think I've earned the right to read some elementary level stuff. I'll give in depth reviews as I read through them.

                I'm torn between continuing Ultima V and starting .hack. The former is a rich and innovative RPG, while the latter is ridiculous crap. I'm excited about both.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Diary Entry #11: He-Man on C64 and More GBA Garbage

                After playing OverBlood, I took a couple days off from video games. According to my girlfriend, it was actually one day, but it felt like more. The problem was I didn't know what to play at all, but now I have some pretty good ideas of what direction I need to take. The first thing I tried out: He-Man Commodore 64 games.

                The first game I tried was this really cool text adventure, though it didn't seem to have a whole lot of depth. He-Man and Skeletor border the screen at all times and a bunch of green text tells you the action. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of inventory items, with most of the areas either leading to other places or killing you almost instantly.

I should have gone east.
                When I die, Skeletor gives me this look like, seriously dude? You're He-Man and everything from tentacles to Evil Lyn is killing you instantly. I love the little computers that buttress Skeletor. I'm definitely returning to this.

                Masters of the Universe: The Movie is a virtually unplayable Gauntlet knockoff, though I really appreciated the Metal Gear-esque radio transmissions. I was evidently so disenchanted with the gameplay that I didn't get a single screenshot of it. There was a third game called the Ilearth Stone or something, a pretty straightforward action-platformer in the slowest way possible. 

                A few years back, I was obsessed with the side-scrolling RPG. While it was my favorite genre, not a whole lot of them really appealed to me. I hate some critically-acclaimed ones like Odin Sphere, yet I'd adore some random obscure semi-eroge PC98 titles. I picked up Kien for the Game Boy Advance praying this would be a lost gem, all the while ignoring the 1 star reviews Nintendo Power gave it. It's like super ghetto Maple Story, which the screenshot below can attest to. Maybe some day I'll replay it, but then again, maybe someday I'll cut my legs off.

                After dabbling in the MMORPG social experiment that is Twitch Plays Pokemon, I felt compelled to explore some potential Pokemon clones. I'm sure there are some great ripoff games that all of the Twitch people will need once they finish Pokemon Red. Medabots: Rokusho version will probably fill that void nicely.

The doctor is actually smacking me
in the image. Child abuse is common
in Pokemon clones.

                Unlike Pokemon, you have a team of customizable Medabots that battle one another. I'm starting early on, but from the picture below, it's probable that Medabot battles are 3 against 3. It also appears that players can equip different head, arm, and leg armors.  Five minutes isn't really long enough to unravel all of the game's nuances I'm sure, but I'm looking forward to it.

                Years of procrastination have led to this final moment: I will play through Ultima V. I played through I, II, III, and IV in a few weeks period, but V just feels impenetrable. A lot of people claim it's one of the greatest RPGs in history and I'm ready to see it through. I should probably also discuss the great Ultima III port for the Game Boy Color, which includes a difficult fanmade second quest! I love it.
I've got a lot of followers and a whole lot of nothing
else near Lord British's castle.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Diary Entry #10: OverBlood > Resident Evil 5

                After five years of ignoring Resident Evil 5, I finally bought a copy. Eager to play, I actually picked it up almost immediately after my last blog post. Resident Evil 4 is easily one of the crown jewels of its time, taking all of the classic elements of survival horror and remixing them into something bold and fresh. There's still limited ammo and healing items, but you have to use them a lot more often as the action elements of the survival horror experience are really stretched to the breaking point. If the game was any more actiony, it probably wouldn't be a survival horror game at all.

                Which is how I feel about Resident Evil 5. Since I've started, I've already been through three variations of the house scene from RE4, where droves of enemies come bashing through windows to attack you. I don't even think there's been one puzzle, a situation that's tarnished much of my experience. The adventure aspect of survival horror is really what draws me in. If I wanted to just blast away at everything in my path, I'd play Serious Sam.

                So I stopped playing after chapter 2-2 or something. Final thought: RE4 wasn't broken up into levels, right? The individual section setup in RE5 just makes the whole experience seem too linear.

                I did, however, recently enjoy Overblood. A survival horrorish game by Riverhillsoft, Overblood is more of an adventure game with some bad action elements tacked on. Much of the time is spent solving puzzles and finding paths around fatal traps, which makes it more akin to the developer's previous Alone in the Dark clone, Doctor Hauzer. Doctor Hauzer was released for the 3DO in 1994 exclusively in Japan, making Overblood the only real taste America got of Riverhillsoft's style.

An R2-D2 ripoff with an
arm on it's head.

                The death sequences are pretty amazing. At one point, there's a giant fan you can get sucked into, mauling you to pieces. My personal favorite is early on in the game, where you need to push a floating statue over before you remove the anti-gravity chip that keeps it afloat. If you don't, the statue comes falling on you head, leading to instant game over. Evidently Doctor Hauzer is just filled with instant deaths like this. I'm excited to try it out.

                The one thing I truly loathe in Overblood is the bland combat. Occasionally, a mutant will pop  up, jumping all around the room and punching you to death. Since this is the only enemy in the game aside from the final boss, these battles never get any tougher. Keep hammering the punch and kick button at the right times and your golden. Still, the puzzles and storyline definitely take precedence, giving Overblood a huge edge over Resident Evil 5.

                Recently, I've also been interested in picking up the worst games of the last console generation. Generally, most games nowadays are rarely declared terrible. If anything, they're labelled generic, given a 5 or 6 out of 10 rating, and that's the end of it. Back in the NES days, there was a strange allure to bad games. Take Athena for example: it's a terrible game, but it's much more fun to pick up and play than Aliens: Colonial Marines. My goal is to discover the so-bad-it's-good games, the ones that are great because they're so stupid.

Courtesy of Mobygames. Athena sucks
in the best way possible.

                On Wii, I've found Cabela's Survival and Cursed Mountain. The former is a rail-shooter mixed with ridiculous mountain scaling gameplay, while the latter is a Resident Evil 4 clone with absolutely no brain. Pickings on my PS3 are much more interesting, including Vampire Rain, Time and Eternity, and Terminator: Salvation. With it's hobo Metal Gear Solid approach, Vampire Rain is easily the crown jewel of this selection. I'll go more in depth as I actually get around to playing these games.

                Since I finished Overblood, it's a little unclear what I should play next, but I'm thinking it might be Dino Crisis 2 or some Game Boy Advance stuff.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Diary Entry #9: Rail Shooter Suckage and Inside Colorized Turok

                Lots of interesting stuff going on right now. I've been trying to catch up with my gaming wishlist, so I picked up Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, a rail shooter that retells the story of several Resident Evil games. After playing through the entire Resident Evil 0 section, I'm intent on returning the game. There's no challenge, no diversity, and no real skill required.

Screenshot courtesy of Wesker
gets ready to spin kick a zombie in the face.

                I was hoping it would be as well made as Dead Space: Extraction, but it's not. The success of that game is how it seamlessly blends story and action sequences together, a slick approach that the Umbrella Chronicles does not attempt. Instead, you occasionally fight some slow moving zombies. Even when faster enemies are introduced, you already have mastered the art of critical shots, so instantly killing everything is a non-issue. The worst part is that if a zombie grabs you, the game gives you the option to wiggle the Wii-mote to perform a counter-attack. This allows you to throw a grenade or spin kick a zombie without any damage to yourself. I'm trading this in for Resident Evil 5, although I really want to try Resident Evil: Survivor and Resident Evil: Dead Aim.

                I'm excited to try Dino Crisis 1 and 2. According to my friend Will, 1 isn't a great game, but 2 has an economy system in which killing more dinosaurs allows you to buy weapons from computer shops. Totally sounds like a Blue Stinger ripoff. I have the PC version which gets dreadful reviews, but I'm sure that's just because it's one of those sloppy PS1 to PC ports. As long as I'm playing PC survival horror games, I should get around to playing Curse: The Eye of Isis and Martian Gothic: Unification.

                I started Final Fantasy IX, which probably will take me a while. Compared to the ridiculously nuanced gameplay of Final Fantasy VIII, IX takes a very no frills approach to battles and storytelling. It feels like a welcome return to form after equipping magical abilities as items and waiting through two minute summon spell animations in VIII. Honestly, I probably should be playing Dragon Quest VIII for a really old-school JRPG experience, but to hell with it.
Stepping on a bunch of broken pink glass
in the ladies room alerts everyone.

                The Drake and Josh Game Boy Advance game is absolutely fabulous. It's a stealth game where you wander around a school with only one tangible goal: reach the end of each stage. While it certainly is interesting, I wouldn't recommend anyone play it. The stealth system is basic beyond belief, with enemies facing random directions while you casually walk around them. If you're lucky, an enemy might actually spot you and you'll have the pleasure of losing ten seconds of progress as you start the room over.

                Turok 2: Seeds of Evil for the Game Boy Color kicks off in a very, very strange way. As I mentioned in a previous post, the game starts in a bizarre level in which I'm totally unarmed. I avoid enemies that slowly move back and forth on the city streets until I reach an item that transforms me into Turok, Dinosaur Hunter. I then must kill all of the zombie-like entities until a mohawked dinosaur guy tells me what to do.

                 After this gonzo level, the game initially feels like a retread of Turok: Battle of the Bionosaurs, but it quickly shows off it's many improvements. The most obvious change is the improved level design. Levels feature a lot more exploration, switches that trigger teleports, secret areas, and a greater variety of enemies.

                 A notable addition are actual boss fights, with a triceratops and giant bionosaur entering the rogue's gallery. There are random forced scrolling challenges that find Turok alternately riding a raptor and pterodactyl as well. My personal favorite are some vertically scrolling levels where Turok is either running forward or paddling a canoe, blasting or dodging foes in the process.

                 The only downside is that the hub system is eschewed for a traditional level progression approach. I liked having to repeat some levels to recover special items, giving it an underdeveloped Metroidvania tinge. Despite this one qualm, Turok 2 elaborates and expands on Turok 1's formula just enough to make it a genuine hidden gem. Buy it!

                 I also began Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion, which features a more traditional beat-em-up style. Although it's probably a better action game, it strips all of the cool platforming away and replaces it with mindlessly stabbing stuff. I fully intend to play through it, but I'm going to keep playing Final Fantasy 9 for awhile. I'll trade in Umbrella Chronicles for Resident Evil 5 after work tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Diary Entry #8: Battling Bionosaurs and Quantic Dream Totally Sucks Now

                It's official: I'm playing the Turok handheld games. I chose to play them using a PS3 controller on my PC, but I do own all of games except the first one, Turok: Battle of the Bionosaurs.

                Like the N64 classic, Turok features several semi-linear levels accessed through a single hub area. You can enter and exit these areas to your heart's content, re-collecting guns for extra ammo or simply blasting through for fun. Actually, to receive the ultimate weapon at the very end of the game, you will have to replay the first three levels to retrieve the necessary parts. Being able to kill the final boss in a mere three hits is pretty wonderful, so I'd recommend collecting this stuff.

                The eight stages feel much more massive in scope than they actually are. The levels twist off and re-connect in surprising ways, begging to have every nook and cranny explored. Unfortunately, that's where the game's depth ends. There's only about five different enemies, every gun shoots a weird black ball, and there's a mere four boss battles spread across the entire game.

                Thankfully, the boss battles are pretty cool. The third is particularly memorable: a fire-breathing Tyrannosaurus Rex. All he does is walk back and forth while you shoot him in the face, and while you might say that's boring, I say every game needs a sequence like this. Knowing there's no way to top the Rex, the final boss quickly appears immediately afterward and the game ends with a flashy cutscene. I love it! Buy Turok!

                Speaking of flashy cutscenes, I guess I'll share a little about my Beyond: Two Souls experience. It's easily the worst game Quantic Dream has ever made, featuring tons of cutscenes and terrible QTE scenes. Putting it into perspective, Fahrenheit had some pretty epic quick time bits, even going so far as to feature extended four minute QTE guitar rawk. In contrast, I had my character in Beyond pick up a guitar and play some death metal. All I had to do was tap a button repeatedly. What the hell happened?

                There is no attempt on the game's part to make me care about the characters, and sometimes stuff just occurs out of nowhere. In one of the more interesting scenes, Ellen Page goes to a birthday party. I can get her drunk and stoned, have her kiss a boy, do all sorts of cool stuff. No matter what I did, however, Ellen's friends wind up getting pissed at her and throwing her into a closet. What unspeakable act of horror lead to Ms. Page's imprisonment? She gave her friend a collection of Edgar Allan Poe poems. Edgar sends teenagers over the edge, evidently.

                All of the choices largely feel superficial, ultimately leading to much of the same dialogue and yielding the same conclusions. This is why I couldn't get into the Walking Dead games: the only thing your determine through in-game choices is how the main character reacts to certain situations. You get to control the main character's personality, but fate otherwise locks them into a rigid story arc. Although I'm used to adventure games having set narratives, I don't see the point in pretending there are all these options. Whether I give the happy or sad response, the developers have already made the only real choices for you.

                Beyond takes a leap into the utterly absurd with some of its scenes, yet this continuous shark-jumping was probably what kept me playing. There's one random assassination mission in Africa that finds Ellen Page befriending a child-soldier, while another plot line focuses on an ancient Navajo spirit that torments a small group of farmers. We'll refer to the former as Game A and the latter as Game B.

                Game A plays like a featureless version of Splinter Cell, with your only options being to run behind cover or snap a guys neck, both of which can be accomplished by pushing only one button. With 50/50 options like that, you'd probably find more variation flipping a quarter over and over.

                On the other hand, Game B has a lot of fun stuff. You do chores, get attacked by spirits, ride horses, etc. It features some of the more interesting quick time events, so at least it plays like a game sometimes.

                I'd advise you to rent Beyond: Two Souls and then not have time to play it. Having Williem Dafoe in your game doesn't make it inherently good unless it's Platoon for the NES. Sunsoft will always trump Quantic Dream.

Actually, Dafoe's only on the cover.

                Quick non-gaming observation. Willem Dafoe is totally a bootleg Christopher Walken. Now if Walken was in Beyond: Two Souls, you'd have an instant classic. Just look at Ripper: crappy puzzles, crappy graphics, crappy storyline, but Christopher Walken's blatant over-acting saves the day.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Diary Entry #7: Tons of GBA Action Games and Ignoring Beyond: Two Souls Indefinitely

                Whoo-ee! I beat Beyond: Two Souls, but I really don't want to get into that until I have more time on my hands. Instead, I'll focus on the Game Boy-a-thon I had last night after I made my previous post. My hypothesis going into this: there are tons of great action titles for the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance that everyone ignores.

                First up is Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster's Bad Dream. This is a game I've been dying to play for years, but ignored it in favor of Treasure's more touted handheld games like Gunstar Super Heroes and Astro Boy: The Omega Factor. Buster's Bad Dream is a spiritual forefather of the latter, featuring the same beat-up-the-sprites-and-knock-them-all-around-the-screen, except dumber. Buster punches the crap out of everything and has no special skills whatsoever, though he can quickly call upon the aide of a friend. I liked Fifi, who shot a powerful skunk cloud that froze enemies.

                Treasure always adds little interesting features to the gameplay, and Buster's Bad Dream has one of the more interesting ones: when enemies are overlapping, any punch drains all of their health equally. So, if you get attacked by two jaguars and an over-sized snake, just make sure they're all on top of each other before you get those fists-a-flyin'.

Buster, just like in the TV show,
punches the hell out of two jaguars
and a giant snake.

                I got burnt out after two levels. All Buster does is punch the crap out of everything, and each level features two distinct enemies each. I spent five plus minutes beating up jaguars and snakes only to spend five plus minutes beating up bats. While the game must get harder as it goes on, these monotonous battles vary so little that I couldn't find any challenge here.

                I just had to move on, so I tried out Turok: Battle of the Bionosaurs. For a later era Game Boy cartridge, this is much better than you'd expect. The levels, like the N64 classic, are appropriately maze-like, offering up several areas for you to search and a lot of dinosaurs for you to slice. I'm definitely going to return to it, but this game just sparked an interest in the other Turok handheld titles.

                Turok 2 for Game Boy Color starts with a very strange scene where Turok is unarmed. Tons of strange mutant humans line the streets, and you have to walk past twenty of them before you reach a warehouse. Definitely weird and sorta cool for an action game, but I couldn't get over Turok's stupid pompadour. Again, I'll return to this very soon.

                Turok 3 starts with a sweet tank sequence that leads to an Ikari Warriors style level. I love old-school action games that adapt multiple genres like Golgo 13 and Wurm, so I absolutely need to play this. These have got to be better than the N64 games.

                In a total 180 from the deathmatch-oriented N64 version, Turok: Rage Wars is more single-player action. The first level alone actually out shined all of the previous titles discussed here. Now all I want to do is play Turok handheld games. My one fear: I'll play through the first two and get burnt out. I absolutely need to be focused on beating all of the handheld Turok games before I jump into them.

                Actually, forget all the aforementioned games. Turok: Evolution for the Game Boy Advance is like Dino-Contra on intramuscular steroids. Run to the right and shoot every person and dinosaur that gets in your way. Could anything be more awesome? Of the FIVE(!!!) Game Boy Turoks, this one is guaranteed to blow my mind.

                Another Contra/Metal Slug clone. CT Special Forces gets a lot of hype, so I gave it a shot. Unfortunately, it's no Turok: Evolution. It plays slow, enemies rarely shoot at you, and mini-bosses are very repetitive. You also get a lot of health and lives, giving it little of the immediacy and difficulty its influences have. 

                Expectations were low heading into CT Special Forces 2, which totally blew me away. The game starts out in this awesome overhead shooter section...

...moving into the Metal Slug clone gameplay. The game has a quicker pace, more enemies on screen, and a ton of new features. Like the tank portion. And the skydiving sequence. And these sniper section.

In general, just a lot more cool stuff. Below is the only screenshot I took from CT Special Forces 3, which didn't seem to introduce any new features. The first level feels like a real slog, just blasting through tons of enemies and jumping about a train.

                I was not expecting to enjoy Action Man for Game Boy Advance. More run-to-the-right-and-blow-stuff-up action marks this game. It's no Contra killer, but I couldn't put it down until I finished. Like CT Special Forces 2, it has a lot of novelty. There are radical 3D snowboarding sections akin to the Cliffhanger Sega CD game, but my favorite part is where I'm randomly a Gorilla that punches everything to death. 
                There are just so many boring, hackneyed games, ranging from Lemony Snicket to Tom and Jerry's Infurrnal Escape, that are virtually broken platformers that have no real value, why not just turn everything into Contra? Or Mario? The best handheld licensed games recall classics of 2Ds past. Wendy: Every Witch Way for the Game Boy Color harnesses the classic gravity-reversal mechanics of Metal Storm into something that might not breathe new life into a style, but it revives it long enough to keep you playing.

                Another solid example of this design mentality is TMNT. It channels the classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games with finesse, but I didn't really dig it at first blush.  A lot of people have touted this game as the best GBA title ever. It's alright. Why the other Ninja Turtle games for GBA aren't also arcade-style beat-em-ups is baffling, though they're fun in their own right.

                I played Super Army War, but it was a boring Choplifter game. Why I can't find any satisfaction in any Choplifter game is strange to me, since I generally enjoy most games. I'll play games designed for five year old girls and have more fun than I would here. Crystal's Pony Tales > Super Army War.

                Batman Begins is a pretty interesting stealth-action game. Unfortunately, a handheld stealth game doesn't add up to much. Just push up near a shadow passage or grab a random beam and you'll never get caught. There is a Splinter Cell game for the GBA that Nintendo Power seemed to adore, but if Batman Begins is any indicator, I'll stick with Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Actually, I love bad stealth games like Spy Fiction for PS2 and Vampire Rain for PS3/360, although those are more "so bad it's good" experiences.

                Casper sucked. Maybe if I waded through the intro dialogue I could have got a handle on what to do. I took a stupid screenshot that will hopefully dissaude you from trying it without a manual. I really love the Casper 3DO/PS1/GBC game, so this abomination cheesed me off.

                That was exhausting. No energy to discuss Beyond: Two Souls at all. Actually, I don't know if I'm going to discuss it at all. It sucked worse than Casper. We'll see how I feel about the idea tomorrow.