Monday, July 21, 2014

Diary Entry #38: PC Prospects and GOOD GOD MY GIRLFRIEND IS AWESOME!

             Brace yourself: my girlfriend's awesome artwork that is strewn about my blog is also now featured in Game Informer magazine as the art contest winner for this month!

             This is awesome! Note the picture of Henk Rogers and that Tetris creator guy on the bottom left. I'm honored that my girlfriend's artwork is published on the same page as Henk, author of the early JRPG The Black Onyx. Evidently we're supposed to get a box of goodies from the "GI Vault", which I'm guessing means they'll throw in a bunch of review copies of random games. Suffice to say, I'm totally giddy with anticipation.
Christopher McKenney sucks
             After finishing Inindo: Way of the Ninja, I had no idea where to turn. I felt like I needed something epic, so I undertook a PC gaming odyssey the likes of which have never been seen. Through the dusty meadows of sleazy Russian tactics games and into the dystopian wastelands of licensed first-person shooters, I found some goodies and some stinkers that I'll outline, in alphabetical order no less!

Earth 2150: Escape from the Blue Planet

             Developed by Polish company Reality Pump, this game has the distinction of being one of the first 3D real-time strategy games, although Homeworld precedes it by a year. Unlike Homeworld, it plays exactly like every other 2D real-time strategy game except with a lot more options for perspective. The camera can move anywhere, and as you see above, you can have three camera viewpoints on screen at any given time.

             The game plays alright, but it sort of winds up being much more tedious than even Dune 2. Many missions are all about slowly gathering resources until a random objective is posed. For instance, the very first mission starts with one simple goal: collect a few thousand in ore/gold/whatever. Seemingly out of nowhere, the game tells you to start running around killing enemies you didn't know were there. They don't even have a base, so you have to simply slog through the entire map until you slowly pick them all off. Forget this crap.

Heroes of Annihilated Empires

             This game has one of the coolest names of all time. From the title alone, you can tell it's an RPG made by some random European company, this time from the Ukraine. GSC Gameworld has created several prolific series, including S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Cossacks. I really want to try a game from the latter series, which offers up an interesting take on the real-time strategy genre.

             Heroes of Annihilated Empires itself offers an interesting genre-blend: an RTS/RPG hybrid. You control one dominant unit, but many other units will fight alongside you as well. It's not really like Warcraft 3 or the Warlords Battlecry series because there's little resource management and barely any troop management, instead focusing on almost a solely RPG approach. Your main characters equipment and abilities are really the only factor determining success.

             Not only does it play like an RPG, but the grandiose presentation makes it feel much more faux-epic than it really ought to. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it makes everything feel a little too sleazy for comfort.

Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler's Green

             Being a horror film junkie, I'm surprised I'd never even heard of this game. I'll play anything that's supposed to be scary, whether it's The Beast of Torrack Moor for ZX Spectrum or Bram Stoker's Dracula for NES. Or y'know, Dead Space or something stupid.

             Regardless, I really enjoyed the Land of the Dead movie, being more of an action film starring John Leguizamo than anything else, so my hopes were high going in. Little did I know what lurking horrors awaited me in this unremarkable game. Lurking boredom is probably more accurate.

             First off, you're this guy. A guy who sits in his dark house eating two slices of white bread and some yellow glorp for dinner. What is that supposed to be? Scrambled eggs? Corn? Yellow Jello? I already don't like this guy based solely on his dietary habits, and I'm supposed to play as him for the next several hours.

             Checking the fridge, I find...more white bread and yellow glerp, accompanied by some beers. Couldn't they have left that out? Cinematic games require just as much suspension of disbelief as an actual film. Half-Life would not have been such a tour-de-force if every fridge Gordan Freeman looked in had such a carb and slime heavy entree.

             I'm not even going to show any shots of the action. It's little more than run ahead and shoot the zombie in the face, although you have to be at point blank range to actually shoot their heads off. Instead, here's an awful picture from the corn maze sequence of the game. This is what I had to look at for ten minutes of my life. I don't care who made this, it's terrible.

Rage of Mages

             This game is awesome! Russian-based company Nival developed this RTS/RPG classic back in 1998, long before they made other real-time classics like Heroes of Might and Magic V and Silent Storm. Not only that, but they made the great turn-based Kings Bounty: The Legend, my personal favorite RPG of this millennium.

             This game's far more basic than any of those titles: it plays like an RTS, but it's really an RPG. There's no resource management, no base building, and a lot of inventory management and stat-building. Sometimes you'll need to hire troops in town to easily accomplish a mission, but they disappear after a single battle. 

             I picked the warriors character, who is always accompanied by a healer. For the most part, as long as I keep my healer close enough to heal my main hero without being anywhere near the enemy units, my hero will slay everything with little consequence. A cool game, but I already broke it. Next!

Return to Krondor

             This game really sucks. A point-and-click adventure game pretending to be an RPG. Although there's a certain charm, it's difficult to tell what that charm actually is. I intend on returning to it sooner than later just to experience something a little different.

Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood

             Real-time stealth goodness, sort of like Commandos if it was all about melee combat. Armin Gessert's Spellbound Studios made this back in 2002 and it hasn't aged a day since. Just look at that swash-buckling action!

             Again, most of the game is stealth-oriented. Here, I cling to a vine-covered wall near two castle guards. If one of them turns around, I'm toast, but I fully intend to knock one of them out and quickly dispatch the other in more honorable battle.

             Check out that sweet knock-out fist. I probably could play the entire game sneaking up on guys and punching them in the back of the head.

             But what fun would that be? Here, I battle three men at once in an effort to save the poor knocked out fool on the bottom right. Although the battle system is incredibly basic due to the automatic blocking, the real challenge comes in working through these scenarios. Through careful side-stepping and well-placed attacks, I am victorious!

             The guy I saved sort of runs away without any thanks. When I eventually make my way to the village, he rewards me with some nice equipment. Only in a video game.

             Of all the games I played, Robin Hood is easily the most fun. Spellbound made a similar game called Desperadoes, which is sprinkled with tons of spaghetti western references and some satisfying gunfights. I need to play that some more, too.

Star Wolves

             Not really good or bad, this Homeworld-meets-RPG title by X-bow Software is fun enough for me. The interface is simple and the core idea is solidly executed. You pilot a giant spaceship known as a Star Wolf, which has lots of little units that come out of it to attack enemies. Each unit represents a character that you can upgrade as the game progresses. Probably the least complicated space-RPG of all time. 

Sword of the Stars

             And this is one of those complicated space-RPGs that you do see all the time. I like 4X games that are fun, not ones that have twelve options for the planet Mongo. Evidently this game is a 4X/RTS combo, but I never would have been able to tell that from my experience. I couldn't even figure out how to move my ship!

Zeus: Master of Olympus

             I'm familiar with some Impression Games software, most notably their weird ass strategy games Lords of the Realm 2 and Lords of Magic. This is part of Sierra's City Building games that Impression Games developed several titles for. This title is really big on giving you tangible objectives from the get-go, such as defeating a Gorgon or getting prepared for a possible invasion. SimCity never spoon-fed me this much.

             In my first go around, I struggle trying to figure out how to succeed. Trading ports aren't easily opened, and I waste the majority of my cash on trying to perform well in various Olympic games. I was hoping my prowess in Metropolismania would lessen the learning curve, but then again, maybe not.

             Eventually, I figure out that I need to build city walls and beautify the city enough for my people's dwellings to naturally improve. Only after I've reached the second tier housing can I develop and army and defend my town. I eventually am tasked with defeating the Gorgon, although I'm required to summon Hercules by building a large shrine in his name and getting more followers. I stopped caring around that point.

             And those are my PC adventure! There's a game or two that I might have skipped over, but forget 'em. 

             Currently, I'm back on my PS3, this time playing Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2. It's got a killer battle system that totally rips-off Quest 64 in more ways than one, but it is incredibly embarrassing that my three must-play PS3 RPGs are this game, Time and Eternity, and Record of Agarest War 2. Don't tell anyone.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Diary Entry #37: Moorhuhn Madness and Other German Budget Crap

Moorhuhn, German budget game superstar, is confused.
By Crystal Mielcarek.
             After playing through a Koei classic, there's no better way to clear my gaming pallet than play a bunch of European crap. I've got Risen 2 for my PS3 which I can finally play with my new HD TV, and I hope to get an import copy of Arcania: Gothic 4 soon. I love sleazy Euro-RPGs.

             Prior to obtaining my HDTV though, I was exploring the Moorhuhn series published by Phenomedia. In 1999, Moorhuhn was like the Elf Bowling of Germany, played by everyone despite looking absolutely awful. The original game was a Duck Hunt style shooter, but after releasing four or five games within the same genre, the company opted to make different kinds of games starring the German shovelware star. Exploring the list of games available on, I opted to try Moorhuhn Kart, a typical kart racer, Der Fluch des Goldes, an adventure game, and Moorhuhn Schatzjäger, a platformer.


             Pumpkin is the coolest character ever! Reminds me of the classic Game Boy Color game, Halloween Racers. Honestly, everything looks pretty good for some 2002 budget PC title.

             The four tracks leave a little to be desired. No jumps, no obstacles, no nothing. You can fall off the track occasionally, but this barely affects anything. All the races are solo, and while there is another character at the starting line, your time is all that matters.

             There are multiple sequels to this game, including console titles. A special edition version was released the next year called Moorhuhn Kart Extra along with a PS1 port developed by Danarias, Manfred Trenz's development team. Moorhuhn Kart 2 and 3 introduce a variety of new multiplayer options, and generally just look better. Moorhuhn Kart Thunder (PC), Moorhuhn Fun Kart 2008 (PS2), and Moorhuhn Star Karts (DS) were all released in 2008, making this garbage series quite prolific. 

             Der Fluch des Goldes is actually a sequel to the first Moorhuhn adventure game, Der Schatz des Pharao. This one seems to have some pretty high production values considering how bad Moorhuhn Kart was, and considering myself a bit of an adventure head, this game sounded pretty good.

             Thankfully, I took years of German in both high school and college. Although I don't practice speaking and writing German nearly enough, I still can fluently read it. Now if only I could read French/Italian/Japanese/Russian, I could play almost every game I find.

             Okay, this room looks good. CGI, a point-and-click interface, and some interesting items is keeping me engage for the first thirty seconds.

             After spending ten minutes exploring this castle, I quickly realize that EVERY ROOM LOOKS THE SAME. There are different items in the background, but every room has that globe and book in the foreground, a stupid mounted, a chest, an hourglass and candle on the desk. This game's sub-Nancy Drew She Interactive sludge! I don't think I've ever uninstalled a game faster in my entire life.

             Thankfully, Moorhuhn Schatzjäger made up for it. A platformer that's on the easy side, the game is in the very least competent and at the very most fun sometimes. There are only twenty-one levels advertised on the website, so I decided to rush through the game quickly.

             There are three sections to the game, each made up of seven levels presumably: a jungle, a pyramid, and the lava-filled depths. Each gets a little more difficult, with the pyramid filled with a variety of spike and crush-traps littering the level. The lava world is probably the most difficult part of the game, as a missed jump always means instant death.

             The only way to die is if you're totally reckless. In my rush to complete the game, I did occasionally get crushed and fall into some lava pits. The game allows you to continue from the start of the area, which isn't the biggest favor since most levels take less than two minutes. Still, it's probably good for all the little German kiddies who played this game upon its release.

             If all Egyptian temples are filled with lava on the bottom, wouldn't they eventually start to eat through the crummy brick rocks holding the entire thing together?

             Unfortunately, I think there's literally a section of the game that's impassable. Eventually, you reach a skeleton warrior standing in a small hallway. The skeletons cannot be shot at, meaning Moorhuhn must somehow get on top of him in this dinky little hallway. I spent several minutes trying to figure this out and even started the section over in case this was just some glitch. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

             After trying endlessly to jump on the poorly placed skeleton, my life was over. In anger I quit the game, but not before this crazy advertisement popped up:

             What the hell? Half are Moorhuhn games for the kiddies, and the other half are softcore porn. Leisure Suit Larry - Kühle Drinks und Heiße Girls is some mini-game collection based on the series. I've played through the original seven adventure games, but had to stop after beginning the awful Magna Cum Laude. Lederzwerge appears to be a game where gay lawn ornaments have sex with each other, while Sven Kommt! is part of a seven game (!!!) series about a male sheep that porks a shepherd's flock.

             Sven Bømwøllen is the first in the series, released in 2002 by Phenomedia. The first four games appear to be the same, while Sven Kommt! is a platformer that probably uses the same engine from Moorhuhn Schatzjäger. German developers find some interesting ways to make money with minimal effort.

             So the sheep are all sad until Sven comes. That's a double entendre if I've ever heard one. Unfortunately, the game's not very fun. Sven humps some sheep until the level ends.

             And that's Sven 1. There's probably a lot rape culture-obsessed people could say about this game, but all I can say is that it isn't even on par with what Popcap games put on their website back in 1998. A disappointment, although I will be trying Sven Kommt! soon. A platformer about sheep sex is better than plain old sheep sex.

             My next post might be about all the random Russian/German RPGs I'm trying out, or it might be about Alundra 2, which I recently picked up. It will be the first PS1 game I try on the HD TV, though I'm sure it'll probably look like crap. Right now, I'm going to check out Kung-Fu Heroes, an NES game that I've ignored for decades. As Sven would say when trying to ditch one of his many, many, many four second stands: Tschüss.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Diary Entry #36: Inindo > Every Other SNES RPG..Maybe

             In the past few months, I've discussed many games by HOT・B and Koei. With the former, I went so far as to post the only piece of North American fan mail HOT・B ever got, but the latter I neglected a little.

             The problem with discussing Koei games is that they're both complex and simple, with most of their historical simulations featuring the same formula with slightly different battle/resource systems. What I failed to acknowledge was that Koei dabbled in many other genres, toying with their grand strategy formula and sometimes totally abandoning it for the sake of experimentation.

             Of these, I've previously discussed Gemfire, but I've always had my eye on Inindo: Way of the Ninja for SNES. It does many things different from Koei games: the setting is non-historical, it plays more like a traditional JRPG with huge sprawling dungeons and small combat parties, and it features a lot more freedom in terms of where and what you can do.

             Your goal is to avenge the death of your family by killing Oda Nobunaga, a historical figure who unified Japan centuries ago. Although Koei usually casts him as a heroic figure, Inindo characterizes him as the biggest jerk in the universe and one who simply must die.

             At first, Inindo plays like any JRPG. You buy items, you explore dungeons, you fight random encounters, repeat until it's over. Interestingly enough, very little can be accomplished using this pattern. The first problem is that you need to recruit two companions, but they'll only join you if there's a certain level of trust. It's totally different from Capcom's Destiny of an Emperor, where the characters are recruited on a whim or for cash. If you really want a specific character to join your party, you'll have to follow them around Japan, talking, battling, or simply saying hello to them. While some characters will request to join your entourage, they usually suck, so be prepared to do a lot of running around.

             The main quest of the game involves going into several dungeons and fetching an item. When this is completed, an old guy will bestow more magical abilities unto you, ranging from the puny Flame to the mighty Super. As the magical abilities become more powerful, the dungeons' difficulty goes up astronomically.

             I loved every second of dungeon exploration. Warps and holes are the only real trick, but they're used throughout the dungeon to great effect. I spent quite a while walking into different warps, mesmerized by all the different ideas. In the end, you rarely see the same room pattern twice.

             The earlier dungeons offer up a decent amount of items to find, but as the game progresses, the dungeons get larger and the collectibles become scanter. I ripped through the first five dungeons in several hours and spent nearly three times as much time getting through the remaining seven or eight.

             The main reason for this is how difficult the battles become. Depending on what items are at the store, different character classes go from being great to worthless and vice versa. Swordsmen are pretty crappy all throughout the game until you get the Kusanagi sword near the end. At various times, Ninjas are totally worthless because their magic won't work in the next two dungeons, but a couple hours later when your onto the next set, their Blaze and Super spells become absolutely essential. This means that in order to always dominate, you'll need to find new and better recruits as the years go by.

             Don't forget the fact the game is on a timer, because if you waste twenty years, it's game over. I freaked out when I first heard this, constantly rushing to the next dungeon and even resetting if I meandered about too much. I managed to beat the game with six years remaining, a much shorter time than I ever expected, especially with how long it took to reach the final dungeon.

             Most of the game can be played assuming it's a simple JRPG, but near the end, you're told that you absolutely must conquer some of Nobunaga's territory. At this point, daimyos were vying for control of Japan, attempting to unify it under their banner. There are about ten daimyos you can support, Nobunaga excluded. You need to befriend them in order to give them suggestions, which ultimately leads to a full-scale war.

             The war portion is similar to the battle systems in other Koei games with some key differences. When you join in a war, any generals that exist in the friendly state come out with you. If a state only has one general in it or one daimyo, that means you've got fewer units. This doesn't usually matter, as your main unit and one of your party members are the real indicators of success in battle.

             Battles must be declared near the beginning of the month and are fought on the month's last day. Convincing the daimyo means offering expensive or rare items as gifts, and when you get their love for you over 80, you can get them to attack virtually anything. This also requires that their armies are high and their adjacent enemies are low. The former takes a lot of effort, but by going to the opposing city and sabotaging it over and over again will cause your enemy's men to dwindle quickly. I sabotaged Mino's castle probably twenty times before I even attempted my attack.

             In actual battle, the wars are ridiculous. It's sort of styled after Koei's other grand strategy games with various stats that dictate the pace of battle, but the use of magic makes everything ridiculously easy at the higher levels. Why get anywhere near an attacking unit when you can cast Blaze or Dragon from several spaces away?

             After all of the bloodshed, the long boss fights, the trudging through dungeons and so on, you finally get to Nobunaga's dungeon, which contains four boss fights, incredibly strong monsters, and Nobunaga himself is capable of whacking off over 300 hit points if he critically hits you, which he frequently can.

             Beating this game is a real testament to either your skill or perseverance. You can beat this game around level 40, stocking up on healing items and using your judgement to determine the best course of action, or you can probably grind up another ten levels and kick some ass. I opted to take the former route, if only to make time for some other games.

             Inindo is one of the greatest games I've ever played. By mixing their signature style with both the narrative-driven JRPG and the more open-ended nature of the WRPG, Koei creates a strange beast like no other. Supposedly Uncharted Waters and Taikou Risshiden are also a part of Koei's "Rekoeition" series, named thus because the designers are "recreating" the Koei style by experimenting with genre. I gush over anything that plays with genre, so hell yeah!

             I've also recently acquired a variety of other cool games. Hellboy: Asylum Seeker is a very, very late PS1 title, and also one of the most ridiculous survival horror games I've ever played. Rather than having a gun, Hellboy punches everything in the most cumbersome way imaginable. Martian Gothic: Unification takes the three character adventure premise from Day of the Tentacle and injects it with some much needed survival horror action. The Saint, a strange Wii shmup published by UFO, is probably next to be played, mostly because I know I can put it down. In addition, I dusted off my copy of TMNT: Tournament Fighter last night and it was totally awesome. I've also turned in my second Hardcore Gaming 101 article and already got my next proposal accepted, so there's more writing to be done.

             I've also recently acquired several games in the Moorhuhn series, a long-running series of casual games starring a crazy chicken. Evidently one of the Wii games was brought stateside as Crazy Chicken Tales, a ridiculous platformer that combines elements of Crash Bandicoot 1 and rail shooters. I need this game! Y'know, after I play through all these other ones. Today I'll be checking out the bookstore for new vintage game books and board games, so wish me luck!