Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Diary Entry #33: Spider-Man Riding Helicopter Blades and Terrarian Impressions

             Shifting away from my current Alien obsession, I started looking up Spider-Man games for no apparent reason. In this day and age, Spider-Man games are all web-slinging through big city affairs, with the occasional DS exclusive Metroidvania thrown in to spice things up. These are a far cry from the Spider-Man games of my youth: silly platformers and beat-em-ups that just happen to feature the character.

             One of the more popular Spider-Man games of the time was the Amazing Spider-Man for Game Boy. At the time, Game Boy games were pretty threadbare, largely twenty minute experiences like Super Mario Land that pale in comparison to their home console counterparts. Surprisingly, Spider-Man dispels that myth, featuring an lengthier gameplay experience that challenges throughout.

             The game starts with Spider-Man in full garb answering his home phone, which actually looks more like a high school gym locker with an antennae on top. Whatever villain informs Spidey that he's captured Mary Jane, the long-time girlfriend of our hero. Spider-Man puts down his locker-shaped walkie-talkie and gets to some ass-kicking.

             The ass-kicking in this game follows the same formula as the NES classic Kung Fu: walk to the right, punch someone, walk to the right, kick someone, until you finally reach the boss. It's actually much better than its inspiration, featuring more varied level design and the ability to shoot web glorbs.

              Boss battles are equally satisfying, requiring you to memorize a simple movement pattern and start punching away when the opportunity arises. Many of the bosses constantly fly around the screen or pop around the screen randomly, connecting blows whenever you make an error. It's run-of-the-mill 8-bit action stuff, but I can't think of a better example of it on the Game Boy.

             There are two building climbing and roof top levels. The former sections require you to scale a building, punching baddies who pop out of windows and dodging random junk that falls from above. After reaching the top, the roof portion immediately begins, stealing the show with web-swinging action. If you thought Spider-Man 2 on PS2 featured good web-swinging, get ready for some 2D push-the-jump-button-twice-to-engage excitement.

             One of the less loved parts of old-school action games are the common usage of small enemies that hone in on the player. Castlevania had its Medusa heads, Mega Man II had its Stack O' Cans, and Spider-Man has bats and giant mosquitoes. These can be particularly tricky in the rooftop sequences since one touch can knock you off the web, causing you to plummet to the unforgiving concrete floor of New York.

             The only thing I really dislike about the game are the between level cutscenes. They always feature Spider-Man hopping on his walkie-talkie to briefly mince words with the next boss. Why are these superheros and arch-villains always so personable? They get some sick, twisted pleasure out of calling someone a "Spider-fool" or a "bowl brain". I'd simply call my rival an asshole and be on my merry way.

             Mary Jane really needs to lay off the crack. I guess Spider-Man likes her. The following discussion ensues:

             You know, based on how often Spider-Man gets on the phone with all of his enemies, it would seem that they're all pretty good friends. Stupid story aside, Spider-Man is a great game and a classic of the Game Boy's infancy. Play it now.

             I tried Amazing Spider-Man 2 and 3 for Game Boy, and both were awful. The sprites are really small and enemy hit detection is far wonkier. Levels are much larger and open-ended, but lack the satisfying straight-forward gameplay of the original. Evidently it features more adventure elements, although Spider-Man 3 starts with the incredibly stupid "kill this many muggers" setup that kills any sort of engagement in a game. Are there only 20 muggers in the area, or does Spider-Man have a quota he needs to reach before he takes off?

             The Amazing Spider-Man for DOS is more up my alley. An underwhelming title screen that asks how many colors I need. I opt to go with the flashy 16 color VGA mode. While a little too high-tech for my blood, I figure you've stared at enough grayscale images for one diary entry.

             At the beginning of the game, Spider-Man has to jump on the spinning blade of a helicopter to scale this building. R2-D2 casually maneuvers about his office on the top floor of this factory.

             Around the factory are many closed doors. In order to open them , Spider-Man must touch various buttons located throughout the facility. In this sense, the game quickly becomes more of a puzzle platformer than an action game. Enemies like the robot in the picture are in some areas, yet they rarely do anything aside from walking back and forth. You don't even have a way to attack them, ridding the game of any action pretensions.

             Levels start off in areas with a giant clapperboard. Standing on the floor gems heals Spider-Man, requiring you to head back multiple times per level if your evasion skills are lacking. As you can see, Spidey also has the ability to climb up or swing on his web, a key feature in several platforming sections.

             I love the bloody crucifix, but these wide open areas and many screens are hampered by one glaring issue: Spider-Man is the slowest creature on Earth. Altering DOSbox's emulation speed did little to fix the problem, even making the game slower once I reached a certain point.

              Moving about this room, experimenting with each button, figuring out whether this or that door needs to be opened, everything takes a lot of time. It probably will take me hours to get through the game, and with no save feature, there's no way I can play this for the next few weeks.

             Overall, Spider-Man is an 80's PC platforming dream. Considering all you really do is push buttons in sequence, the puzzles are surprisingly engaging and incredibly approachable. This combination of simplicity and complexity is something I've never before seen in PC/video games, and I'm eager to find more button push-em-ups in the future.

             I also watched my girlfriend play Terraria yesterday while I finished up Aliens: Colonial Marines. I don't even want to talk about how disappointing Colonial Marines was. I came in expecting a 2/10 game, and I got a .5/10 title. I'm about to start X-Men Destiny, and I hope and pray it's a better game. Anyway, here's some notes about Terraria.

             This game looked like crap at first. It doesn't seem to let you really play with the crafting like Minecraft did, simply giving you a variety of stuff you can craft with the raw materials you have. This at first was pretty disconcerting, but there still is incentive to find materials to make cooler items.

             Crystal slaughtered this teeny weeny bunny with an axe. It was pretty cool.

             Crystal decided to explore this tree when she realized there was a deep pit going down the center of it. The side-scrolling perspective makes finding underground areas pretty easy, which is good for those who love to dungeon crawl. 

             While exploring the tree, Crystal discovers this random room. Who made or lived in this nook is uncertain, but they hopefully won't miss their chairs, table, or treasure chest.

             Rope is a pretty useful tool. It can be thrown pretty far from where you stand, making most unreachable areas accessible. Unfortunately, it didn't protect Crystal's life. 

             After rebirth, Crystal starts creating a small abode near her spawn point. Note the tables, chairs, and chest stolen from the random room. Crystal also toyed with the crafting, eventually making fancier candles, colored torches, and a fireplace. Lots of fire stuff.

             It's fun to make your own platforms! Getting around is as easy as clicking your mouse button to lay some dirt on the wall. Crystal preferred to block off this area, lest an enemy zombie sneak in and gain access to her new abode.

             As in Minecraft, you just have to hole up for the night sometimes. Crystal figured out that buildings only become homes when stone wall tiles are placed on the walls, which inspired...

...the creation of this small town. Crystal built a bunch of homes that people will eventually move into, and she can even start assigning houses to specific characters. Residents often have a variety of occupations, ranging from painters to merchants to demolition experts. 

             It's unclear how deep this dungeons go. The game's vertical space seems much incredibly tall, although the game is probably just over-compensating for the fact that it lacks one of Minecraft's dimensions. Once we start playing multi-player, I'll absolutely adore all of the exploration.

             Crystal expanded her home, adding a cute little basement with a barrel, a garbage can, and a wood cutting table. Although quite the hodgepodge, real basements were designed to have random junk stored in them, so why not Terrarian basements.

             I recently played through the Deadpool game, a spotty but mostly good combo-driven beat-em-up/third-person shooter game. While short, I felt like the game's brevity did the gameplay justice; by the time Deadpool had run out of interesting new ideas, it was about to end. That's the sign of a well made game. In addition to buying X-Men Destiny today, I also got Neverdead, which the store clerk told me features tons of dismemberment. I'm very excited about this. On to X-Men Destiny!

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