keskiviikko 23. lokakuuta 2013

REVIEW - Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin | DS | 2006

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: November 16, 2006

How to prevent Castlevania from going stale? Adding a wi-fi co-op twist. Sound fascinating and fresh enough? I suppose not. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin does not add to the Sorrow storyline, instead it's a continuation of the 20th century story arc that started with the cult Genesis game Castlevania: Bloodlines (The New Generation) back in 1994. I was not a huge fan of that past development, but coming fresh off my disappointment with the Sorrow storyline, I'll take anything else.

Same picture, different colouring

An elderly vampire with an artistic side, named Brauner, has recreated Dracula's castle by using the souls of those passed in the fires of World War II. He's drawing power from the castle, storing it in the alternate dimensions contained in his paintings. John Morris' son and current - yet incapable - wielder of the Vampire Killer, Jonathan Morris, and Charlotte Aulin, descendant of the Belnades clan with a talent for magic, storm the castle to put an end to whatever it is Brauner's planning. As if we didn't know already.

Let's start with a short recap of this game's true predecessor - Castlevania: Bloodlines. Back at the time I reviewed that game, I simply didn't get it, but mind you that it was the New Generation version - the one watered down for Europeans for God knows what reason. I recently finished the North American version with quite a smile on my face - BLOOD. Gallons of blood, more than enough to justify for the Bloodlines subtitle, and more than enough to make my seat a lot more comfortable than it really is, and keep me glued to it. Playing Bloodlines made me realize that I didn't give that game enough credit. I mean, it was interesting 'cause it was the only Castlevania game ever released exclusively on a Sega system - and I might add it was a hell of a lot better to begin with than its SNES successor Dracula X - and when it comes to gameplay, it was a classic Castlevania game, nothing more and not much less. It was the lack in the European presentation that bothered me, that and the bit too colourful graphics... and across all versions, the stupid-ass plot which made a sudden jump from the medieval times to World War I, and starred an American muscle john instead of a usual hunchbacked Belmont from an undefined rural part of Europe. He was marketed as a descendant of the Belmont clan, which first made me question the logic behind the bloodlines and nationalities of Castlevania characters. Not nearly as much as the point when just about everyone in the series turned Japanese, though.

Well, turns out John was not a direct descendant of the Belmont clan after all - an explanation, how about that! - and that is actually an important plot point in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. He's been dead for years, for causes that are first unknown to the player; his son Jonathan has inherited the Vampire Killer, but cannot use it to its full potential. Again, I must take a sarcastic turn here - it's a whip. Just whip it. And whip it good! I guess he hasn't read the ancient tome... every Super Castlevania IV lover out there knows what I'm talking about. His partner/fuck buddy/half-sister/all of the above/whatever, Charlotte, has much stronger ties to the past clans, which somewhat makes her the "stronger" character, storywise. In practice, one's really not better than the other. It's all about personal preference... to a point. It's not like in Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, where alternative playables were kept secret and using them was totally up to the player, or Castlevania: Bloodlines where I think Eric was squeezed in to diversify the usual experience (even more), or even Nintendo 64's Castlevania which was also ultimately so indifferent between the two scenarios that I think Carrie was meant to be played by girls. No, here your partner tags along all the time. It has its moments.

Spot the right path in less than a second. Go.
It's the golden age of multiplayer games. It feels like a game can't survive the harsh market without some sort of multiplayer mode, and what's worse, it feels like developers think it's enough for a sequel to have a multiplayer mode to succeed, both critically and commercially. That feeling's exactly what I got from the first few minutes into Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. The moment I realized you can switch characters at any time, even have them both on the screen at the same time if you wish, and absolutely need the other character from time to time to solve some puzzles which require two people, I realized I'm not getting the experience I'm supposed to, here - I know, since I've tried Harmony of Despair alone. That game wasn't good even in co-op mode, though, so let's cut Portrait of Ruin some slack right now. So, what can I gather from all that's NOT related to the wi-fi co-op? Well, even though the game has some moments that rather remind me of Castlevania games that came before Symphony of the Night than anything more recent, it's really quite similar to the Sorrow games. Having no souls to devour doesn't mean that you couldn't gain abilities from enemies, and even though Portrait of Ruin was marketed as kind of a throwback game instead of a Metroidvania game, the Metroidvania-style map is still very much intact. It's not that much of a usual Metroidvania experience, though - it's much more straightforward. Some will like it, some won't. I'm still struggling between the two ends.

Perhaps the audiovisuals are the most stand-out snag here to be hit. Yeah, that's got to be why I'm not entirely feeling this game - you give me a Metroidvania game and I'll enjoy it. No matter how familiar it feels. That's always been the case, but Portrait of Ruin, not that much. The music's really not that good, it's somewhat offbeat stock, and at times so overcooked that it sounds like three or four tunes are playing at the same time. It's menacing, not in a good way either, and in turn the levels are huge. With numerous sorts of 3D effects, the game takes a lot more out of the DS than its predecessor, I suppose, but I don't know if the rest of the game really needed to look as scruffy as it does. Or if the backgrounds really needed to be so damn confusing. It's nice to have detailed graphics, but it would also be nice to see where I can go, and where I am supposed to go.

It's actually kind of sad how much Portrait of Ruin reminds me of the Nintendo 64 installment Legacy of Darkness. The first game on the Nintendo 64 was quite decent; if they had truly focused on weeding out its weaknesses when they made the "remake" Legacy of Darkness, they might've ended up with a good game. But... no. Legacy of Darkness was a capitalist game with a shit plot and a shit protagonist, but ironically, the mode that was unlocked after the first playthrough - the actual remake of the first N64 game - was quite entertaining, what makes it all the more ironic is that it didn't differ from the original all that much. It was just a refreshing throwback, due to the main game being so damn lame - if you didn't own the original, Legacy of Darkness was the one to get, after all. I think I took a harsh turn there, and I know this sounds like Portrait of Ruin is an awful game, but it's not. It's just as stale as they come, just what it was not supposed to be.

Bless me father, for I can't whip it.
The reason why I made the comparison is that the main game may seem like quite a drag, depends on how much you love this franchise really. I kinda like the idea behind two playable characters working together, but it's not the same without co-op. Secondly, no matter how much they try to colour things up with stuff like the actual levels in the game being hidden in miscellaneous types of paintings (Super Mario 64!), which almost automatically freshens up the usual Castlevania level design, they have the same types of enemies, the same problems with the much too detailed backgrounds, it altogether feels the same throughout. It's the same stale game throughout, only the scenery changes. And the music. And they're not much to celebrate about.

But then, when you've beaten this game, you have a chance to take on some really interesting game modes, that are challenging yet reasonable enough to attract even casual fans, it's not of the usual "hard mode" schtick. First is the Sisters Mode, a short prequel to the game, where you take control of two mages whose spells are controlled and aimed with the DS stylus. It's a totally different game, which makes it at least interesting. Then, there's Richiter Mode (yes, I spelled that "correctly") where you'll go all old school and take on the challenges of the castle as Richter Belmont, with the second player strapping on Maria Renard's boots. My history with Richter as a playable character is not filled with very positive colours, but I know how much long-time, dedicated fans love this character, so it's surely interesting to some. Finally, there's a single-player mode in which the player takes control of an Axe Armor enemy. Haven't tried that one, sounds like a novelty mode which, again, some players might find fascinating. All in all, I think Portrait of Ruin lives on its different game modes, while the main game is the weakest Metroidvania I've come across.

Stale and a tad confusing, not bad, when it comes to the bottom line with the main game. Everything's in order when it comes to basic gameplay, but the thing is that everything good about it was invented years back. The new stuff fails to make an impression on me - might be positively different with a friend, I'll give it that benefit of a doubt, but until proven otherwise, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is the weakest Castlevania game of the last decade.

+ The extra modes are interesting
+ The basic gameplay - although there's really nothing new to it

- Not the best plot arc to pick up from
- A stale game in comparison to its predecessors as it is, feels even worse as a single-player game
- Scruffy and confusing display...
- ...And ridiculous grammatical errors which make the game look cheap ("Charotte" and "Richiter")
- Lackluster and/or irritating music

< 7.0 >

sunnuntai 20. lokakuuta 2013

The Great Big Monster *Crash*

What up?

It's funny that even the best plans can sometimes go to shit. Like in this case, the Monster Mash which was supposed to feature ten games, ten games which I still have written down, it wouldn't be too late if I was one hell of a supergamer like I was maybe five years ago, but the way things are now, it looks like this is going to be the shortest Monster Mash in history, with only three proper Monster Mash reviews made - and the third's still on its way. Well, at least I got the three new systems out of the way, as promised. I've suffered from a terrible flu/fever/flu outbreak for the last three weeks, and I've just barely managed to get myself up to go to work. I've played very little; in general, I haven't been able to concentrate on a single game more than perhaps 20 minutes at a time. My best friend whenever I'm sick, however, is my laptop, and I've made huge progress with VGArchive for the last week or so. You can check it out if you like, but the actual progress I've made with the design cannot be viewed just yet. Just what I've added into the collection lately. All of the game page links that seem broken actually indicate the pages I have completed, so as you can see I've been very busy with that. That, and sleeping. I've never appreciated sleeping as much as I have for the last few weeks. Oh yeah, I also added a category for PC games - some would say "finally" - only because of one particular game that has always had a place reserved in my shelf, be it a PC game or not.

So, I'm off duty for a couple of more days. I'm trying to get that one review done during that time, and I'd prefer to get another one done as well, so this Monster Mash wouldn't go to complete shit just because of the physical state I'm in. On Friday, the final stretch of 2013 begins, as Batman: Arkham Origins arrives. Secured myself a Collector's Edition on that one on a very short notice, and I'm sure it will make my next weekend, while the one after that is surely made/destroyed by Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. After those two games have been dealt with, I'm moving on with the dozens of things I've ranted on about for the last year.

Keep calm and kill the flu, it's comin' to get ya as well!

torstai 10. lokakuuta 2013

REVIEW - Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow | DS | 2005

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure / Platform
RELEASED: August 25, 2005

The last system on the list is none other than the best-selling handheld game console of all time - and one I've often criticized - the Nintendo DS, which was launched as a successor to the Game Boy Advance in November 2004. What I never liked about this thing was the touchscreen technology. I cursed at game developers for making so many good new games and remakes exclusively for the DS - I just couldn't imagine myself playing on a DS, let alone buying the thing. I thought having two screens, complete with the stylus, was distracting and too technical, and playing anything would feel as awesome like poking a Game & Watch with a toothpick. Well, as it happens, I became more receptive towards touchscreen technology late last year, upon getting myself a smartphone. I'm not kidding, that's exactly when I really started digging through the DS libraries (and probably stopped telling well-placed DS jokes) and eventually found some potentially fantastic games that could no longer be avoided - I think the DS will be a strong addition here. To prove it, I first dug up Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, the critically acclaimed sequel to the equally acclaimed Game Boy Advance title Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, which I have often named one of my favourite Castlevania games, perhaps second only to Super Castlevania IV. It pretty much sports the same short flaws as its predecessor, complete with a few more relating to the use of the stylus, but it also retains everything that was great about Aria of Sorrow. Though it doesn't really present itself as a credible next-gen game compared to its predecessor, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is another very good game.

Return of the not-so-Dark Lord

It's the year 2036. A year has passed since student Soma Cruz escaped Dracula's castle with the knowledge that he is the reincarnation of the prince of darkness, and is living peacefully, believing that his dark powers have been lost and he is no longer threatened to be taken over by them. A Dracula-worshipping cult led by a woman named Celia Fortner is not so content with Soma's decision to live out his days in peace and seeks him out to assassinate him, so his powers would be granted to another host. Agent Arikado advises Soma to not pursue Celia, due to the risk of his dark powers emerging. Stubborn as he is, Soma travels to the cult's base, which is non-surprisingly built to resemble Dracula's castle, and comes face to face with Celia, as well as a couple of hopeful candidates to inherit the dark lord's mantle.

The "evil mastermind" from Frankenstein: The
Monster Returns
... well, returns.
OK, first of all "Soma" means "cute" in Finnish, which is probably a coincidence, but a fitting one. The character bios describe several men as "strikingly beautiful". How is that even relevant?! This game is even more Japanese than the last one - everyone's beautiful, especially men. I'm sorry for such an irrelevant start, but I grew up with a localized Castlevania. I just can't get used to the anime style... but I guess games like Aria and Dawn are not from the most horrendous end, what I have hated most is when they've re-stylized the old games, like when they remade the first game as Castlevania Chronicles years back, before these games' time. To this day, I haven't been able to bring myself to play that game. Just looking at it, what they did to Simon, and listening to the remixed music tracks on 'Tube, are quite enough to nauseate me. However, the Japanese style of storytelling - optimistically called "endless imagination", realistically "anything as long as we can somehow make a game out of it" - does a further number on these couple of games. I hated the plot in Aria of Sorrow, I sincerely loathed it. Especially since it was force fed, as if it truly mattered; I seriously found myself missing the first Castlevania game's pure and simple setting of "Here's Dracula's castle. You're a vampire killer. Enter. Kick ass. Leave." whenever the never-ending stupid dialogue set in and kept scrolling and scrolling no matter how fast I kept tapping that OK button. The very same thing happened to me with Dawn of Sorrow, countless times - especially in the beginning when just about one of the lead characters knows what's truly going on. The others keep reflecting on the very same fuckin' mysteries over and over again, as if to recap the stupid story every two minutes, AND make the solutions to those mysteries extremely clear to the player as early on as possible, so the characters can go on making fools of themselves for the next five in-game hours, totally oblivious to the obvious and unfamiliar with the big book of cliches.

Now that we got THAT out of the way, let us reminisce on how great Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow was from every other angle. Seriously no less than the second-best game in the franchise, if you ask me, and the best "Metroidvania" game of 'em all. Everything that was great about Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (the first, classic Metroidvania), and that game's Game Boy Advance successors Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (non-canon) and Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance, was carefully noted when they made this game called Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. I don't remember what originally drove me to that game, in fact I can't even imagine what it was, 'cause I wasn't much of a Castlevania fan back then - I'd had more bad experiences with the series than good ones. I had always loved the music in the early games, but that was pretty much the limit of my love towards Castlevania. I hated the games that were coming out on major platforms back then, since they were such blatant copies of Devil May Cry, and they didn't have even the slightest magic left. In other words, the music sucked. Whatever it was that prompted me to try this game, Aria of Sorrow blew my mind in five minutes. I might as well give credit to that game for making me a Castlevania fan, finally. The stupid plot didn't really matter, 'cause whenever the dialogue (finally) ended, the next tens of minutes were about bashing monsters, stealing their powers and using them against other monsters and/or to get ahead in the Metroidvania style, all to some great music and level design straight out of Symphony of the Night. I'm glad to state that everything I said just now, could just as easily be said about Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. Glad, still a bit disappointed of course since all that I just said was not all good. And, Dawn of Sorrow does bring a few more sorrows to sulk upon.

The graphics and sound are where Dawn of Sorrow hits the first snag. This has nothing to do with how even more Japanese it looks like than the previous game... although it does, and it's distracting 'cause it's based on the original continuity of the series, and I once again grew up with caucasian Castlevania, in illustrations of which at least the American and European characters didn't look Japanese. Whew - I think that's it. The problem with the graphics is that I constantly find myself searching for any visual reasons this game could not have been accomplished on the Game Boy Advance. I mean, there's a certain gameplay element that requires a DS base, but in the beginning, there's really no concrete visual proof that you're playing a next-gen sequel to Aria of Sorrow. Well, then come the huge bosses with their flowing movement, but let's say that about 70% of the game looks like a bit more detailed Aria of Sorrow. The level design is very good, and for the first time, I can comment on how they managed two screens. The upper display either shows Soma's stats developing in real time, or you can set it to show the map in real time with just one press of a button - which I always do, this is seriously my favourite development in this game since I've always hated menu toggling, particularly in Metroidvania games. It's a bit distracting and making out doors from that small display is extremely hard on the eyes, but it's a fantastic development that allows smooth progression through another copy of Dracula's castle (how every bad guy besides Dracula has the ambition and resources to quickly build one for each game is beyond me).

That fist's coming down, and it's coming down
Sound's been very important to the Castlevania series since the dawn of time, and once long-time producer Koji Igarashi has even admitted to have missed that part a few times during his tenure with the series, especially when it comes to Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance on the Game Boy Advance and Castlevania: Lament of Innocence on the PlayStation 2. Even if a Castlevania game wasn't that good - which Harmony of Dissonance was, though - the music can save a lot. Look at Castlevania II: Simon's Quest back in the day. I kept pushing forward with my feet stuck in a pile of crap 'cause it had such kick-ass tunes to defend its honour. Dawn of Sorrow features some beautiful music by Masahiko Kimura and Michiru Yamane - somehow I can make out the difference between the compositions, my dislike for Yamane's signature once again rears head - but it lacks power and originality. When the best tunes hit and loop for just a couple of minutes, you might find yourself whistling along, and switching the tune at some point without realizing it, to some earlier Castlevania tune. The best tunes here were basically invented ages ago. And they still wouldn't bluntly remake some true classics - I think I would've appreciated that more.

In case you missed Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, my first advice is to correct that outright mistake - but, if you insist on continuing to miss it, here are the deets. You play as Soma Cruz, a teenage student who runs around killing monsters just like the Belmont and Belnades families, Nathan Graves and Alucard before him, but unlike his fellow Castlevania protagonists, he has the power of consuming the monsters' souls, which allows him to copy their abilities for combat or navigation. For example, killing a set amount of skeletons allows him to throw bones, and killing a flying boss might grant him the ability to glide - or as the game puts it, slow down his fall by having the spirit of the boss "carry" him. This feature was one of the main draws of Aria of Sorrow, the one that set it apart from each Castlevania game that preceded it, and it's gloriously duplicated here, even though some of the abilities are just as completely useless and even ridiculous as the enemies you stole them from. However, in Dawn of Sorrow, you can trade any excess abilities for weapon upgrades. Some abilities which have no use to you per se, can turn out really powerful in the weapon upgrade department; this is one of the best new things about this sequel.

You can assign four different abilities at the same time thanks to the increased amount of buttons (and a little later, you can assign two different ability sets to be switched at the press of a button); Bullet, Guardian, Enchant and Ability, one for each category. "Bullet" essentially means "secondary weapon", powerful projectiles to compensate for the short range of Soma's light weaponry and the low speed of his heavy one. The passive, supportive "Guardian" abilities usually accommodate Bullets or work as tools for navigation - Flying Armor with the glide ability is one of these. "Enchant" usually offers you a real-time perk, such as an increase in basic strength. "Ability" - you gain these as you progress in the story; just like in Aria, these sooner or later allow you to swim, do a double jump and even manipulate the environment with the DS stylus. Yeah, they had to throw that in somewhere... besides its main purpose.

The stylus and touchscreen are most used to (re)create Magic Seals, and if may be frank, if this feature's the reason why this game was made for the DS instead of the Advance, my respect for the developers just got a little spike. You absolutely need Magic Seals for most bosses. You can bash them to your heart's content, but they just won't die, not until you've used a Magic Seal at a scripted moment to "seal and capture" their powers - probably, since I really didn't pay attention to the dialogue. A Magic Seal is any type of simple figure composed of straight lines, such as a pentagram, to come up with an advanced example. When you gain one, you need to pay attention to the direction and order of the lines as they are drawn on the screen. When you open a door to a boss room, it's shown again, but when you have the window to use it on a boss, you need to have it memorized and be extremely quick to draw it on the touchscreen. I would've said "with the stylus", but that's almost impossible, the time window's so small that you need to try your luck with your finger, which the touchscreen is really stingy to register. Fingernails work fine, but 1. I have really short ones, and 2. I really can't recommend prolonged use of fingernails on the screen. Yeah, these Seals are a nice enough idea to support the DS' cause, but once again, was it necessary to make this game for the DS if there's really nothing fundamental to break into the new generation with? Oh wait, there's the map on the second screen - now that WAS a good idea.

That's what going to church every Sunday
will eventually do to you.
I was just about to return to the smooth flow of the game when I realized I haven't mentioned Hammer yet, then I realized that these things really go hand in hand. In the previous games, shopping was always a little sloppy. Either you had to backtrack your way to the one shop in the game (and back again) even if you were in the whole other end of the castle, or seek out one of the few warp rooms in the game and still be forced to backtrack some to get to a shop to stock up on some very basic wares like Potions; won't survive without 'em. Well, in Dawn of Sorrow shopping (among other things) is made much comfier. There are many warp rooms scattered around the church grounds, clearly marked on the map, and you can use any of these rooms to return to the Lost Village (the "front yard") at any time; the Hammer shop is located at just a few steps from the warp room there. The bad news is that you'll have to endure Hammer's endless bad dialogue every time you've done something to really make progress in the story, and it's usually related to his severe crush on Yoko who keeps her upgrade shop across the yard, but the good news is that he usually has new stuff in stock every time, which makes the trip back even less tedious.

As always, conquering the whole map is a huge journey to undertake, and it comes with the usual ups and downs. The ups are obvious - it's Metroidvania, as it's taken form since Symphony of the Night. You don't need to make huge overhauls to make that work every single time. In fact, just designing a new set of levels and simply working on some bigger problems of the past is sometimes enough. The downside that still bothers me after all this time is how the game registers a small corner of the room fully explored once you take one step within its invisible borders; there might be a powerful item you aren't able to collect without some further upgrade, and when you finally gain that upgrade, you won't necessarily remember to travel back to get the item since the corner's marked explored on the map. Even back in 1994, Super Metroid mostly fixed this problem by having HUGE rooms - you couldn't even reach the borders of those small corners without a serious jump/speed upgrade.

Just like its RPG-like predecessors, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is pretty much as challenging as you want it to be. You have so many choices. With the aid of the real time stats, you can easily spot rooms that are good grinding grounds, and keep running back and forth between them to get to high levels quickly. You can easily stock up at Hammer's nearly any time you wish. Or, you can do it all the hard way and just keep pushing forward, looking back as rarely as it's possible with your current set of upgrades, and make do with the items and equipment found on the field. It's Castlevania, so I usually play it safe; since the first games, I've found myself dealing with bosses as recklessly as the game allows me to. These Metroidvania games have health items to allow me to often wipe my ass with strategy. You can be strategic if you want, but in the case of this particular game, I find it kinda pointless since you aren't able to really kill the bosses dead without those damn Magic Seals.

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is a very good game, and a good sequel to its frankly groundbreaking predecessor, but it's even less of a superficially satisfying Castlevania experience, and secondly it isn't a very justified DS game. I think they could've just as easily removed those touchscreen features and toned down the bosses by just a little bit, and they would've ended up with another awesome Game Boy Advance game; of course, then they would've been accused of self-repetition and/or being stuck in the past. What can I say, being a developer is never easy or a straightforward deal.

+ It's classic Metroidvania, and retains most of the elements that made Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow the best game of its kind - the most notable of which is feasting on those souls
+ Comfortable, smooth navigation thanks to the option to use the whole map in real time, and the decreased need for backtracking
+ You can acquire powerful weapon upgrades with excess abilities, neat!

- The story's taken a turn for the slightly better, but the cast of characters is still a waste
- The music's a bit disappointing; this IS Castlevania, am I right?
- The stylus features feel planted in, and altogether the game doesn't really feel like it's that much advanced from its predecessor, technically or practically

< 8.4 >

lauantai 5. lokakuuta 2013

REVIEW - Star Wars Arcade | 32X | 1994

GENRE(S): Arcade / Shooter
RELEASED: 1993 (Arcade)

Next on the list is the ill-fated 32X - but just because of the 32X's ill fate, there's only a total of 40 games in its library, and I can't seem to find the one and only 32X-exclusive game that fits the Monster Mash bill (Night Trap). So let's replace it with another game, which serves as a slight return to another one of VGMania's most prolific and comprehensive marathons - Star Wars Arcade. Back to 32X for a moment; the Sega Saturn was launched in Japan in November 1994, and the scheduled launch in North America and Europe was still seven months away. To tide non-Japanese followers over, Sega developed the 32-bit 32X add-on for the Sega Genesis. One of its launch titles - as well as one of its only console-exclusives, and more successful games, somewhat naturally - was Star Wars Arcade.

Remember to wipe!

See? Looks much better than a lot of newer
games that have this very same battle in them...
for now...
The game is set in the decisive battle of Episode IV: The New Hope (although it's a bit weird that it starts from a re-imagining of the opening sequence...). You, and possibly a friend, take Luke Skywalker's place as the rebel pilot who gets the honour of the famous one shot at Death Star.

This slight return to Star Wars was truly more than a bit unexpected, and I'm not necessarily in the right zone right now. Well, this game is so simple that you won't need to be in any sort of zone. You just need to make sure that your right thumb - the shooting thumb - works. May luck be with you.

It's a 32-bit game, so of course they wanted to show off a little with digitized graphics and sound back in a time they weren't that common to experience at home. The music actually sounds quite good, and the song even changes a few times during this three-level game (yep). The theme song's there, as well as the "Imperial March" and the cantina song, which plays on the leaderboard. The "voiceovers" are legendary; I think this game is most famous for Admiral Ackbar's repeated, monotonic "Wipe out enemy fighters" line, which he says in the beginning of each level (well, that IS what the game is all about). I truly cracked up in the start of the last level when he says something like "Attack Death Star.................................... and wipe out enemy fighters!" Wiping, that's the one and only important thing to remember here.

Don't I always.
The in-game graphics are really good, no sarcasm there. Of course it's a very limited game; one can't really criticize level design when there's hardly any design at all, it's 90% space. Although the polygons are rough, animation is smooth... until you get to the Death Star surface which naturally serves as the third and final level of the game. It's really hard to keep track of what's going on there, especially since TIE lasers seem to vanish into cyberspace - still hitting you, of course - and it might take you a while to realize there are some cannons shooting at you as well, they're camouflaged by technical issues so damn well.

On paper, there are a few options of how to go at the game available to you - in reality, there are only two. Either alone, or with a friend, in the weirdest and most useless mixed setting of a vs. and co-op game in memory. Which you can also play alone, by the way (wtf...?). Regardless whether you take on the arcade version or the Super 32X version, it's the very same game - I think you need to wipe out a few more enemy fighters (bang-bang!) in the "Super 32X" version, though.

Yeah, I have a bad feeling about this. This is
about the last flattering screenshot you can
In the first level, you're thrown into one giant vacuum of a pit, it's your X-Wing versus a set amount of TIEs. You're already introduced to the game's stupidities, such as it telling you to slow down when you can't actually control the speed of your vessel in that way; even "speeding it up" just seems to speed up the level around you, not your X-Wing or your approach to an enemy vessel. Weird. Anyway, once you've shot down a certain amount of these, R2 sets up autopilot to the next level, where you're pitted against double the TIEs, and indestructible Star Destroyers. Those Destroyers are so far away that their lasers are quite easy to dodge - once again, your actual mission is to wipe out enemy fighters (bang-bang!). Once you've done that - not as easy because of the damn time limit - you progress to the final level. And then you will probably lose the game, 'cause like I said, there are all manners of technical issues taking place on the surface of the Death Star. If you somehow do survive this mess, congratulations - you've beaten the game. In exactly ten minutes, or less if you were quick about it.

Having a (desperate) friend along might speed up the process to a total of five minutes. So this is how it works: one of you controls the vessel - in this case, Y-Wing - and you both shoot shit up to benefit each other. However, at the same time you compete for a high score, AND as I said, you can just ignore the other crosshair and go at this mode alone. I'm missing a whole handful of points here, the Y-Wing isn't even any different from the X-Wing when it comes to controls and they're indistinguishable from each other when you're using first-person view. Oh, I get it - this game is just fucking boring and useless. Clever!

Yeah, that's exactly what it is - short, boring and useless, but just like the subject of the previous review, a somewhat endearing novelty item I'm sure a sad lot of Star Wars fanatics have risked life and limb for... and quite frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out the 32X's better games.

+ Ackbar's hilarious
+ The digitized music and graphics are of surprisingly good quality for such an early 32-bit game

- Just three levels and practically just one game mode
- Lasts for a strict maximum of ten minutes (the total time limit of the game)
- The final level's a graphical and technical mess, which is the only thing that makes it more difficult than the first two

< 5.0 >

keskiviikko 2. lokakuuta 2013

REVIEW - Ghost House | SMS | 1986

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: April 21, 1986

The first on our list of systems to break is the Sega Master System, an 8-bit classic launched over two years after Nintendo's Famicom, contrary to a surprisingly common belief that the Master System was the first 8-bit home console; actually, on an even further trivia note, the Master System was released in Japan almost at the exact same time as the NES already made its way to the North American market. I didn't have to think too long about an appropriate game to break in the Master System with and get started with the Monster Mash the same time; there was this 1986 game called Ghost House on the list of releases, a game based on an early arcade game by Sega called Monster Bash (!). It sounds like more than a perfect game to kick it with, it looks the part as there are a few sorts of b-horror ghoulies to punch (?!), and it's shitty just by the right amount to be mildly entertaining. Ghost House.

Leprechaun vs. Dracula(s)

Mick's apparently sick and twisted grandfather has just informed him that he's to inherit the family jewels. There's a catch, though; Mick has to survive a mansion in which those jewels have been hidden for years, and which has also been the resting place of Count Dracula and his family for an equal number of years. Sounds like a Hammer movie, but it's Ghost House by Sega.

Let me just say that I'm not taking this review too seriously - I'm taking it just as seriously as you can possibly take this game. It's just as endearingly crappy as its plot and its non-existent connection to the title - there's not a single ghost in this game. There are these blue ghost-like dudes walking all around, but they're actually referred to as "Deaths", as in a family of Grim Reapers. Yeah, everyone has a whole family in this game, to explain the short abundance of different sprites. Everything's pluralized. No, they're not vampires - they're DRACULAS. In addition, there's an endless swarm of bats and these really annoying, fat firebreather-monster-thingies. From the second level onwards, there are also mummies. And that's truly it for the different sprites.

That bat's got to be a Dracula. You know, 'cause
he's bigger than the rest of the bats. Note: _a_
Your character is called Mick, and that could be a clue to him being Irish, because judging by his size, structure and his pointy ears, he could be a leprechaun. (That, or he's just as random as they come.) He also has gigantic fists, which he uses for his basic attack. Jumping on, and even merely touching enemies damages them too, strangely enough, but you as well. The walls are decorated with candelabras (shades of Castlevania before Castlevania's time), jumping at which springs a knife trap. Jump on the knife, and it's yours to use as a weapon for five successful hits, before it vanishes into thin air. Cool.

The main point of the game is to beat five Draculas - let's just call them vampires from now on - in "each level" (I'll get to it) by getting a key, found at a complete random, using it to open a coffin you'll find scattered around to wake up a vampire and then just unleash hell on 'em. Yeah, these vampires are somewhat different as they sleep at night. From the second level onwards, you'll need to beat one of the five vampires twice - I didn't want to say this out loud, but he is referred to as "True Dracula". Yep.

What's so bad about such a simple game? Well, for starters, the game is extremely boring in general. There is one single level in this whole game. The sky in the background changes colour (from dusk 'til dawn) but structurally it's the very same level; an endless loop of a three-story mansion. It's not really getting any harder, either; the introduction of one single new enemy and that damn "True Dracula" are the only things to spice the difficulty level up after the already boring first level. The truly hard parts of this game are to figure out how many screens there actually are before the loop early enough, and work around the less-than-fluid gameplay.

Why is there always a lava pool or river of fire?
Mick isn't the most agile guy around, and his punches have a ridiculously short range. Besides - and I have indeed asked this before - who the hell walks around punching ghosts in the face? Is that even effective? Hmm. The vampires are highly annoying enemies you don't want to get close to. Even if it's possible to punch them to (second) death, I dare not approach the coffins before getting myself a knife, and refraining from using it on anyone. Well, at least killing one of these bastards always refills your life bar; even though the game's not basically that hard, it's easy to die for various reasons that have nothing to do with challenge. Here goes...

1. The sometimes total lack of collision detection to go with your annoyingly short range, especially evident with the vampires and those stock firebreather monsters - a.k.a. the two enemies that can harm you by essential amounts from any range. 2. Falling through stairs (Castlevania again!). You won't die from falling, but you lose some energy - and if you fall to another screen, the enemy is of course fully recovered once you get back to him. 3. Whenever there's an enemy on the level above you when you're climbing a ladder, he'll approach the ladder and walks back and forth on it, meaning you'll have to take damage from him to make it up there.

Ghost House is definitely no Ghosts 'n Goblins, but I know enthusiasts of the retro arcade style who I believe would be crazy about this game, at least on a theoretical level, as it represents the golden era of arcade gaming - too bad that era had passed a few years before this game's release, with the launch of the first household gaming systems. Like I said it myself: it's crappy, but endearingly so.

+ The title tune/boss music is awesome!
+ An endearingly crappy plot
+ Simple arcade-style gameplay...

- ...Which is not too fluid
- There's a whole new meaning to "boring level design"
- Surviving technical issues is way more challenging than the game itself

< 6.0 >

tiistai 1. lokakuuta 2013

With great power comes great frustration

Fuck off, it doesn't work. And it's your fault.
This is my last Grand Theft Auto V-related update before I'm finally ready to move on.

So, played GTA Online yet? ...Lucky you! I've been trying to log on all day to just one short avail. I was able to create a character and try out the solo session - the "story mode" of GTA Online. Well, the game crashed five minutes into the session, so "trying out" really isn't the correct way to describe the "experience". Despite all the hype and even a countdown I set up on my phone's calendar towards the launch of GTA Online, I think I'll let it rest for a while, until Rockstar finds a way to work around the countless problems reported from around the world. They always do, unlike many of their peers. I think the time has come for me to let Grand Theft Auto V rest a while as well - only the most consistently frustrating bits of the franchise stand between me and the 100% mark. Those, of course, being the stunt jump challenges and the new plane stunts, which are pretty much the same as the last, you just need a plane for these (duh...)

There has never been a better time to let GTA rest, either. About a month ago, this local guy opened a record store just around the corner, and I heard from a friend that he sells some games too. Well, not just any games. There's a "game room" inside the shop, where customers can go and sit all day, playing classic games on the NES, SNES, the Nintendo 64, the original PlayStation, Genesis, Dreamcast, just to name a few - and all those systems are for sale. He sells hardware and games for the price of eggs - I dare not to buy new hardware at the moment just because of my personal lack of space, not even a SNES as much as it hurts me to make a pass on that, but I stop by every once in a while to browse his collection of games. In the last month, I've bought five NES games, all of them of at least decent quality, for a total price of just under fifty euros. He just posted a pic on Facebook of 28 of his most recent additions, and I'm definitely going back tomorrow. There are quite a few games there I used to own as a kid (StarTropics is a fucking classic!), or seriously wanted to own as a kid (Little Nemo: The Dream Master). I can already smell my NES collection growing by noon tomorrow.

Here's the most important bit of this update. I was doing a lil' bit of budgeting (is that a disease or sumthin'?) yesterday and figured that not one, but two games are released next month, with just a week between them, right around the time I should be doing the Halloween Monster Mash. So, doing the Monster Mash as planned is a no-go - instead, I will start doing it right now, and it'll end by October 25th. Since I already promised to break in the three new systems next, I will have to change the list of games for the Mash as well; I believe there's something on each of the three systems that fits the bill.

Finally, the Marvel marathon will continue by the end of the year - or rather, it will be briefly rebooted, then continued. A couple of games from Marvel franchises previously dealt with have come up during the last month, I think it's better to get back in touch through those games before carrying on with the new ones.

There have been a lot of questions about other past marathons which may or may not have been "completed" back in the day, such as "Will there be a Disney marathon, part 2"? The answer to that question is a definite yes, and I think it will come sooner than expected - I actually have Disney reviews finished and ready to go on my computer, I just haven't figured out the right niche for them. One guy - who obviously is quite new to this blog - recently asked me about a Warner marathon, which I have mentioned numerous times in the past. That one's also been under some serious consideration as of late, since it wouldn't include too few or too many games, it would be just right for a month-long marathon - but right now, at this moment, my blog-related priorities lie in the final releases of the year which I have any thought for, the Monster Mash, taking care of loose ends, and somewhat revamping this lot. Thanks for the suggestions and support, anyway, and here's to hoping you'll enjoy the Mash - to me, it's always a hoot.