Saturday, February 25, 2012

Review: Mega Man Zero Collection

The Mega Man Zero series was a radical departure from both the Classic and the X games, bringing Zero into the spotlight. Gone was the typical Mega Man formula, and in its place lied a more linear story progression, lack of typical boss weapons, and the difficulty was ramped up even higher than before, but this doesn't necessarily mean that the Zero games were bad.

Actually, they were quite the opposite. Thus, Capcom saw this and brought all four of the Mega Man Zero titles to the DS, continuing their tradition of compiling a series when it's over. Is it a worthwhile endeavor?

Upon starting the collection, you're presented to a rather nice opening consisting of concept art from the series. Admittedly, it's a bit rough. It lacks fade-ins in some places where they could have been easily implemented, which would have made it look quite a bit more polished. Overall, it's nice, but nothing special. 

The menus, to be quite honest, don't look very good. They lack any sort of art other than the background, which is one of two: a completely black void, or a circuit ripped from Zero 4's save screen. They easily could have been done on the GBA -- and in fact, the collection makes almost no use of the lower screen. Three new things come to the collection, however: Wallpapers, Mod Cards, and Character Cards. Each is accessed via the "Collection" option on the main menu. Wallpapers are generally pointless pieces of concept art that are obtained by completing the four titles on the collection outside of "Easy Scenario" (which I will touch on later). These pieces are the same pieces that are displayed on the bottom screen during play, which is a nice touch rather than having a completely black filler screen. Mod Cards are a feature specific to Zero 3, which makes it feel like it's the main attraction of the collection. The Mod Cards aren't anything new, really -- they're repackaged versions of the Japan-only e-Reader cards that were sold for Zero 3. They apply several effects to the game depending on which one you choose, ranging from obtaining stronger weapons to cats roaming the Resistance Base. Character Cards are character profiles obtained by completing "Easy Scenario" (yet again, I will touch on later), which is almost the only reason to play on that mode.

Now, for the meat of the collection: the games within.

For playing the games, you have two options -- "Easy Scenario", which allows you to play through all the games in one large, interconnecting set, and the typical selection mode where you play each game separately. Easy Scenario is a huge disappointment; as the name indicates, it's severely gimped in the difficulty department. You have the effects of all of the Cyber Elves (this series' power ups) right at the start, as well as quadruple defense. It would have been much more satisfying to be able to select your difficulty for this mode. The other, much more preferable option is playing through the four games separately. The collection has not reduced their difficulty for this mode, thankfully, and there isn't really anything to lose as the Easy Scenario doesn't provide any transitions between games. The titles are presented in their original, un-stretched aspect ratio, which means that there are black bars along the top and bottom of the screen, and concept art is displayed on the bottom screen, varying depending on what weapon you are using and which boss you are fighting.

New to the games is an awkward way to reconfigure the controls -- as they're simply emulated, there is no direct support for the DS's X and Y buttons. You have to map them awkwardly on the bottom screen. Instead of assigning them to specific actions, you choose which buttons they emulate.

Overall, the collection is a nice way to enjoy the games, but if you already have at least two of them, it's a better option to pick up the other two games used. However, if you have a DSi, DSi XL, or 3DS, this is the best (and only) way to play these must-have titles.

Find Mega Man Zero Collection on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2010-06-08
Publisher: Capcom
Developer Capcom 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Rhythm Heaven

While the original Rhythm Tengoku didn't sell very well in Japan, a statistic that likely contributed to the game never getting an overseas release, Nintendo's President Satoru Iwata stated that the game has a very good commercial reception by consumers. With Nintendo looking for franchises to be given a second chance on their new handheld platform, Rhythm Tengoku seemed like a natural fit.

The game follows its predecessor's structure of having four different games in set blocks with a remix mode at the end that combines elements of the aforementioned mini games. Along with bumping up the number of mini game sets from eight to ten (fifty mini games in total but some of the later games are themselves remixes of individual games), the big change is the way the games are played. Rhythm Heaven puts the DS's features to full use in its games. The entire game is controlled with the touch screen (There's one game which involves the R button but it's minuscule in comparison to the rest of the game) and it makes great use of it with the controls feeling natural in the context of the game.

As an example, the very first game puts you in control of a mechanical arm that has the ability to push pins across a straight line like a gun firing a bullet. Two squares with holes appear from either side of the machine with both of them overlapping the gun at the same time. The game tells you this occurs in the So part of the Do-Re-Ma-So-La-Ti-Do sequence. After this piece of knowledge there is no further need for a tutorial and you are tasked with firing the beg when the two holes cross at the right time. This mini game serves double-fold as an introduction to the game as well as being a microcosm of everything to come. You learn what the game requires from you when it changes the tempo and you have to keep up your timing as a consequence. At a later point the whole screen turns black except for a tiny point of light where the line sight of your gun meets up with the intersection of the holes. This demonstrates the key feature of the Rhythm Tengoku franchise that causes it to excel over many other games in the rhythm genre: the ability to play the game through rhythm alone.

Going back to my talk of DDR in the previous review, in DDR the only way you would be able to complete the game through rhythm alone would be to memorise the dance patterns in sets to the rhythm of the music. While this style isn't inherently a bad thing, there's a hue of falsehood to it as you are not necessarily dancing to the music but dancing to a progression that coincidentally has a song playing in the background. the Guitar Hero/Rock Band model does this better as you have physical feedback from the equipment to attempt to replicate the melody however it still feels like an arbitrary progression. Rhythm Heaven on the other hand creates a perfect marriage of the music and the game play where the player is the medium to reiterate the music that the game is producing back into the game in a continuing cycle that's only byproduct is fun.

In my Rhythm Tengoku GBA review I said that I consider the GBA original to be better than the DS version. After having replayed the DS version I still think this is true, the mixture of mini games is a lot less consistent than the original varying from neat distractions to flawed masterpieces and while the control system is definitely more suited to a rhythm game, the GBA version does seem to shine in its minimalism while the DS game makes a great effort to transfer that effect to the DS hardware. The sequel Rhythm Heaven Fever is out now in North America and is being released soon in Europe and since Rhythm Heaven is the only game in the series to be previously released in English there's not better time to try it!

Find Rhythm Heaven on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2009-04-05
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo, TNX

Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: 10 Second Run

Some people play casual, easy-flowing games to pass the time and unwind. Others enjoy a more meaty experience and regard games as a serious form of entertainment and/or art. Then there is the more niche group of individuals who crave challenge, those who play games like I Wanna Be The Guy and Super Meat Boy, where the death count climbs more quickly than the views on those adorable kitten videos taking up absurd amounts of Google's server space. To these iron-willed (masochistic?) gamers, I recommend 10-Second Run.

I was hesitant to throw two dollars down for this game due to it's minimalistic approach to graphics and simple gameplay. Players control a red stick figure and can do nothing more than move and jump. Gravity is turned up to eleven, so precision is necessary as there isn't much room to adjust for badly timed jumps. The game is simple and resembles many an online flash game, but that alone isn't enough reason not to give it a chance. After all, N started as an online flash game and later made it's way to the DS as N+, so I decided to take a minor gamble.

The game features 50 levels, many of which take nowhere near the full ten seconds to complete. The beginning ones are extremely easy, but that's just to get you used to the mechanics of the game. Of these 50 stages, I only found the latter half to be significantly challenging, taking me anywhere from 1 to 48 attempts. The earlier stages gradually ramp up and introduce obstacles one at a time as to not overwhelm the player. These include blue fire, moving platforms, disappearing platforms, and moving spiky ball-things. 

The levels are challenging because they're cleverly designed, and don't rely on lazy trial-and-error traps. The stage select screen grants a view of the entire level, so you can get a good idea of what needs to be done to get to the end, but death is expected. All stages are open from the get-go; there's no need to beat the current stage to advance. Level difficulty doesn't necessarily consistently increase. It might just be me, but I had two deaths on course 41, and 32 deaths on course 37.

This game will get you angry. You'll resist the urge to crush your 3DS while dying over, and over, and over again. But there is payoff! Complete each stage and ten new stages with a one-second timer will be unlocked. I actually had an easier time with these than most of the ten-second levels. Each of these 60 levels can be replayed for a better time, but the real test lies in the game's Marathon Mode. This mode has you race through all 50 levels back-to-back, and records your final time. Aside from these 60 levels and marathon mode, included is a 10-second timer. Press the button and a counter starts incrementing as a tick plays for each second passed. The numbers fade to white, the ticking stops, and you try to stop the timer on the 10-second mark. It's about as much fun as trying to stop your microwave oven on 00:00. Finally, there's training mode, which lets you practice each individual course for the marathon.

I got about two hours out of this game. It was satisfying to complete each level, and there is definitely some replay value in trying to improve one's times. Another good motivator for continued play would have been an online leaderboard for marathon times, but I guess that might be too much to expect from a budget indie title. For anyone looking for a cheap, challenging game, 10 Second Run fits the bill. 

Released: 2010-09-20
Publisher: Gamebridge
Developer: G-mode 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Review: Solar Striker

From the mind of the late Gunpei Yokoi, Solar Striker is the first and only scrolling shoot 'em up published by Nintendo. It's a fairly short game, only featuring six levels, but is challenging enough to make it worthwhile.

The game controls well and didn't notice any slowdown, even during boss fights with the screen full of bullets. Your shot can be upgraded a maximum of three times by collecting the floating powerups. The first upgrade only requires one powerup, while the rest take two. Unlike some other shooters such as R-Type, this one doesn't punish you too severely for dying. You respawn right where you died, and your weapon is only degraded to the previous level. The game starts you off with three lives, but you're rewarded with an extra life with every 50,000 points. These come in handy in the final levels, which send impossible-to-kill, high-speed ships careening down the screen one after another and also add mid-bosses into the mix.

The boss fights are all fairly unique in their patterns. I found the level four boss to be the hardest, taking me three tries to beat. After that the levels got much harder, but the bosses felt easy in comparison. The game has a good sense of balance overall, with the harder levels offering more powerups. These are always in the same spots, and are not obtained from killing enemies. There are a sizable variety of enemy ships and insects for you to blast away which all have unique patterns. It gets pretty hectic when there are three different enemy patterns swarming around and shooting at you.

Overall, this feels like a fun little popcorn game, good for a quick play-through here and there to break up the monotony. I was pretty impressed overall and wasn't expecting it to be as challenging as it was. For an even greater challenge, hard mode is available by pressing select after beating the game and returning to the main menu. The music's pretty good, and the game looks nice on a Game Boy Color/Advance on the black and yellow color setting.

Find Solar Striker on ebay | Amazon

Released: 1990
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Minakuchi Engineering, Nintendo R&D1

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: Escapee GO!

Escapee GO! is exactly the type of game I want to see more of. It's simple, fun, and has high replay value. You play as Claire, a woman who wakes up in a room next to a dead body with no memory of anything but her name. A mysterious voice starts speaking to her from inside her head. It serves as her guide during the escape process, telling her exactly where she needs to go and what objects she needs to find. The first room is simple, you collect a red keycard, walk a few steps, and open the door. This is the general format for every level. Find an item or flip a switch and make it to the exit. It sounds like a simple game because it is, but it's the parameters the developers put in place that make it fun.

Stamina is the main resource, and should be managed well. There are a number of pursuers searching for you throughout each maze, and without stamina, you can't run, and they'll gain on you. Claire's vision is also limited. The game only allows you to see what Claire sees, not the entire field. Every corner turned is a risk. Spend too much time in a long corridor and chances are you'll be spotted from afar. Like Pac Man, it helps to turn corners often.

There are sixteen levels in all, with the early ones featuring fairly simple mazes, enemies that do no more than run, and no powerups. As you progress, various new enemies join the mouse hunt, and powerups are introduced one at a time. Claire's pursuers include an FBI agent, a soldier, and the huntress. FBI agents are the fastest of the bunch and I suspect they're also better at tracking, though I haven't played the game enough to be sure how sophisticated the AI really is. Soldiers will shoot nets to stop you in your tracks, and the huntress can stun you with her psychic ability. Claire is also psychic and can use a number of abilities by collecting powerups. These temporary powerups strengthen her vision, slow down all pursuers, teleport her to a random location on the map, stun pursuers with a screech, give infinite stamina, or increase speed.

Time is the other major resource that needs to be managed. Sure you can save time by running, but will you be able to escape the pursuer right around the corner once your stamina's depleted? It's a constant juggling act, and it kept me on edge the entire time. I actually jumped the very first time I was spotted. The music is frantic and really drills in the feeling of urgency, making it that much more rewarding whenever you successfully guide Claire to the exit.

The game features the standard three difficulty levels of easy, normal, and hard. It took me around an hour to play through it on normal. The later levels are fairly large and complicated to navigate, and some took me nearly half a dozen tries to complete. After escaping the sixteenth level, the game records your final time, inviting you to try for an even better one. Also, Survivor mode is unlocked. Here you can choose to play at any one of the sixteen levels, but instead of going for the exit, your goal is to survive as long as possible while collecting orbs to increase your time and avoiding the multiple trackers on your scent. The game supports four player local wireless play, but each person has to have their own copy. This isn't a big deal seeing as the game only costs two bucks. Even if you have nobody to play against, there's still plenty to do in single player. 

Released: 2010-01-25
Publisher: Gevo Entertainment
Developer: Gevo Entertainment 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Review: Elite Beat Agents


If ever a game was quirky, Elite Beat Agents is one of the quirkiest. It's a music-rhythm game, but you won't find arrows or colored gems here. Instead, you'll be tapping and dragging your stylus along the bottom screen while fun comic book-style animations play out on the top screen. What's that? It sounds goofy? Kiddy? Bereft of challenge? WRONG. This. Game. Will. Make. You. Its. Bitch.
Being able to survive Through the Fire and the Flames on expert in Guitar Hero 3 means nothing in EBA, which deviates wildly from other games in the genre. Numbered circles pop up on the bottom screen, surrounded by rings. These rings begin to shrink, and you need to tap the circles in order when the size of the ring equals that of the circle. You'll also drag your stylus along curved paths and occasionally spin a wheel by frantically circling your stylus. This is all synced up with the beat of music, and controls perfectly. It's very intuitive, but takes time to master, and if you want to beat the game, mastery is mandatory.

In most rhythm games, your success meter drops only when you miss notes, but in EBA, it's constantly decreasing. It's pretty manageable in most stages, even on the hardest setting, but the final stages are where the game breaks you. The bar drains so quickly that five seconds of inactivity would mean failure. Missing a few times will likely end the game, and you'd make all those people you're trying to help very sad. I forgot to mention the premise of the game. You're a group of agents, the Elite Beat agents as it were, under the order of commander Kahn, sent out to help people in distress using the power of music, and killer choreography. Anyway, not only do you need to hit virtually every tap, you need to hit them accurately. You need to score as many points as you can as quickly as possible to stay out of the red. Expect to fail more times than there are songs in the game.

Each song is broken up into a number of segments. If you're success meter is above the danger zone at the end of the segment, a favorable event for the character you're helping will be animated, and an unfavorable one otherwise. There aren't any notes to hit at these moments, so you're free to enjoy the animation, but you'll miss whatever is on the top screen while you're playing because it's impossible to watch without breaking focus and subsequently taking a huge dive. The game does offer the ability to save one session per song for you to go back and re-watch, so you can enjoy the full animation there or use it to see where your rough points are.

The song list is pretty diverse, including songs your parents are probably more familiar with, like The Village People's “YMCA”, or “Jumpin' Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones. A decent list, but there's a lot of room for improvement. The gameplay more than makes up for it though. Hell, this game would be fun to just about anything. Elite Beat Agents: Nursery Edition.

Three difficulty modes are available in the beginning: Breezin', Cruisin', and Sweatin'. Hard Rock will have you play as the Elite Beat Divas, and can be unlocked by finishing the game on Sweatin', and is when you'll want to be sure you've got a box of tissues handy. Your performance on each song is ranked and your points from all modes are added to a main score. As this score rises so does your rank. I was recently promoted from “God of Groove” to “Four-star commander” and still have 1.8 million more points until the next rank.

Elite Beat Agents is a unique, highly-addictive, extremely fun game, and is one that every single Nintendo DS owner should have in their collection. 

Find Elite Beat Agents on ebay | Amazon


Released: 2006-11-06
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: iNiS

Review: Resident Evil: Revelations

I am going to be pretty straight forward with this.  Resident Evil: Revelations is truly a masterpiece on the 3DS. The funny thing about this game is that I was never going to buy it day of release.  The game originally went for the price of $49.99.  That is a little too high of a price for a portable game I thought.  Then I got word that Capcom pulled some strings to lower the price back to the normal 3DS game price of $39.99.  I then started re-watching trailers, and did some research on Raid mode.  I then went to pre-order the game, along with the Circle Pad Pro attachment.  I must say after beating this game, and if I knew what I was getting myself into from the get-go, then I would have gladly paid the full price of $49.99 for it.

Yes, the game was THAT good.  It has been already reported that the game was supposed to return back to its survival horror roots, and mix in the new Resident Evil formula in there.  What you get is such a well thought out experience.

The game consists of a total of four chapters, with each chapter being composed of three episodes, for a total of 12 episodes in total.  The campaign should take at least 10 hours to complete, give or take your experience with previous Resident Evil titles, or shooters in general.  You play as Jill Valentine, a BSAA member who is tasked to investigate  the Queen Zenobia, a cruise ship which acts as the location for the majority of the game.  The setting of the game is just perfect.  You are on an abandoned cruise ship during a dark and stormy evening.  It is infested with B.O.W.s (Bio-Organic Weapons) called the Ooze.  The Ooze can  pop out of anywhere, due to their ability to liquify themselves.  So, not only do people hate narrow places, but they also hate things being unpredictable.  Throw in the lack of ammunition and supplies, and boom, horror game at its best.

The bad news, you will find yourself with a lack of ammunition quite frequently.  (Especially after fighting one of the game's bosses.)  The good news is that exploring and searching for supplies is actually fun.  The Genesis scanner can scan enemies to help create a herb, or to find hidden objects.  It reminded me of scanning things in the Metroid Prime series, something that was incredibly fun for me in those games.

Now, even though the game's (and series') best moments occur on the Queen Zenobia, the game does like to take you away from it a bit.  You see, each episode is divided in cutscene, Stage 1, cutscene, Stage 2, results screen.  In the segments that you are away from the Zenobia, the game adds in elements from the newer Resident Evil games: survival action.  You are given plenty of ammo, so you just need to go to town against a large group of enemies.  Although it is a good way of providing back story and giving you a break from the game's survival horror aspect, these action segments were very bland in how they were designed.  Enemies spawn, you kill them, move on.

Speaking of survival action, wait until you see the game's Raid mode.  Unlocked after completing Chapter 1 of the game (Episodes 1-3,) you will unlock the game's multiplayer aspect.  Now, you CAN solo Raid, but I advise you play with others, as it benefits your campaign, plus you have fun while doing so.  Raid mode has you equipping yourself with a wide range of weapons that can be obtained while playing through Raid, or by visiting the game's shop.  This is your chance for you and a partner give enemies that troubled you in campaign a run for their money.  Surprising enough, mowing down through all of these enemies is very fun and addicting.  I would play Raid mode in two to three hour sessions online almost every time I play the mode.

I mentioned that playing Raid mode helps out your campaign.  However, there are many other things that can help out your campaign.  When you first start up the game, it will ask you if you want to activate Streetpass.  Do it.  Doing so will allow you to receive supply drops from people you have played Raid mode with.  Supply Drops act as a Mission that you can obtain for extra ammo to help you with campaign.  This will no doubt assist you in completing the game's Hell mode.

Missions act as the game's achievement system.  By meeting certain criteria, you will complete the mission. The game will notify you of doing so, so all you have to do is visit the mission menu (which can be accessed by pausing the game, or by returning to the main menu) to redeem your prize.  There are campaign specific missions or Raid specific missions, with each mission helping you out, especially the campaign missions.  Missions can unlock you Raid mode, new weapons, new parts t customize your weapon with, or even ammo drops.  All in all, missions were a nice aspect to add in.  They give you something to work for.

This game was incredibly fun.  You will be doing yourself justice if you miss out on this must-have for the 3DS.  Everything works and flows well with one another.  You can tell that Capcom took a lot of care into making this game, especially if they were originally going to offer this game for a higher price.  After watching those credits roll, I knew I had made a good purchase.  I felt as though I had finished watching a movie, but it also felt like a game, if that makes any sense.  (Think Metal Gear Solid, but without half-hour long cut-scenes.) Resident Evil: Revelations is a great way to kick off the start of the year for the 3DS.

Find Resident Evil: Revelations on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2012-02-07
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Review: Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins

We've all come up against that game we just could not beat. You know the one: it's ruined controllers, cost you countless nights of sleep, sat on your shelf, taunting you, daring you to beat it, laughing when you fail. For weeks, months even, this demon acts as a constant reminder of your failure.

But what about 15 years? 15 years ago, Clinton was president, the internet was a stunted infant and the Game Boy was the shit. I remember the first time I encountered a Game Boy - and Super Mario Land 2 - as the defining experience of my childhood. My next-door neighbor/best friend (remember those?!) was the luckiest son of a bitch in the world, as far as I was concerned, because he had a Game Boy and I didn't. So for weeks after I met this wonderful device, all I wanted to do was play Super Mario Land 2 on his Game Boy. Presently, I worked my way up to the last level...

"Oh, don't play that one dude. You're not losing all my lives."

I think I played Wario's Castle once, maybe twice as a kid. I saw Alien for the first time around that time, and that last scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit... And let me tell you, nothing could compare to the stress and terror present in the last level of Super Mario Land 2 at that point in my life. The rest of the game? No sweat. I mean, shit, I could handle it at 6 years old. But Wario's Castle? No fucking way, man. Precision platforming, waves of enemy fire, split-second timing and no checkpoints.... I conceded my friend's point about losing lives and never went back. Years past, and I pretty much forgot about the game until a few weeks ago when I bought an original Game Boy (my first!) and a lot of games. The fact that I recognized the overworld theme (unique, I believe, to SML2) after all these years instantly should speak volumes about the amount of nostalgia packed into this little cart for me.

Now, I'm not the biggest Mario fan in the world. I think the 3D games are tedious, the original is boring, and all the 2D ones they're coming out with these days are just attempt to cash-in on the formula without any real innovation. Sure, they're fun, and they're clearly well-designed games, but they're just variations on a theme that, at this point, has been done to death. But their worst sin, as far as I'm concerned, is that not one game since Super Mario Land 2 has been able to rival its brilliance. Blasphemous, I know, but there's a laundry list of things Super Mario Land 2 did better than any of its sequels.

First of all, Super Mario Land 2 lets you save anywhere. Beat a level? Saved. Checkpoint? Saved that too. Lose a life? You bet your ass Super Mario Land 2 remembers. That's right: Super Mario Land 2 remembers how many lives you have. Not only that, but it also remembers how many coins you had. I was absolutely floored when I loaded up my save game in Super Mario Galaxy only to find that I was back down to 5 lives... But that brings up another point.

Lives actually matter in Super Mario Land 2. In SMG, I could probably play the entire game without ever going out of my way once for an extra life, and never see the game over screen. In fact, I don't even know what the game over screen looks like in that game! Now, I know what you're thinking: "If you get a game over in Super Mario Land 2, you must seriously suck ass." And that's mostly true, but those lives serve one purpose and one purpose only: stomping that castle-stealing bitch Wario into the ground. As far as I'm concerned, SML2 doesn't even start until you find all 6 coins and storm your own castle. I literally died more times on that last level than the rest of the game combined. Super Mario Land 2 has 30 tutorial stages, and the gauntlet bastard of a final level that is Wario's Castle.

Super Mario Land proves that the 1-Up Mushroom, Bullet Bill, Goombas, or, hell, even Miyamoto aren't what makes the games special. Sure, Goombas and Bullet Bill are still here but SML2 also introduces a whole cadre of bizarre enemies, ranging from ants to bees to umbrellas to cowfish. Super Mario Bros 2/Doki Doki Panic catches a lot of flak these days for mixing up the Mario formula with weird enemies, but you know the real reason that game isn't fondly remembered? Because it sucks. The real bread and butter of Mario is tight controls, tight level design and interesting power-ups, and they're all at their peak in Super Mario Land 2. It stands out every bit as strong now as it did all those years ago.

Now, if you've skipped to the end to see if you should play this game... What the hell are you doing?! You've never played Super Mario Land 2? You were deprived a childhood, and it's time you started catching up.

Find Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins on ebay | Amazon

Released: 1992-11-01
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo EAD

Friday, February 10, 2012

Review: Rhythm Tengoku

With the release of Rhythm Heaven Fever! in North America on February 13th, many people will most likely look towards Rhythm Heaven to get themselves interested in the series (Rhythm Paradise in Europe and Rhythm Tengoku Gold in Japan). While my experience of Rhythm Heaven is limited, Rhythm Tengoku remains as not just one of my favourite rhythm games but one of the most creative video games Nintendo has made this past decade.

While the game play is fairly minimalistic, with only the A, B and occasionally the D-pad used in the game, it's the way the game refreshes the mechanics for each game and yet remains incredibly accessible for even the most inexperienced of gamers (This is helpful as the entire game is in Japanese!) The game was made by Nintendo SPD Group No.1 who are most famous for the Wario Ware series, and while this does have a similar format to the aforementioned series, Rhythm Tengoku provides it's intuitive design through a sense of rhythm that permeates each game uniquely rather than relying on adaptations to new scenarios that Wario Ware does so well.

The mini games come in sets of five. When a passing grade is achieved in each game you unlock another set of mini games as well as a remix mode. The remix mode is one of the games best features as while in Wario Ware the game play revolves around each mini game being a surprise to the player, remix mode already knows that you how to play each of the mini games and it masterfully strings them together to create a familiar, yet new experience. It does this through the rhythm that each game has, rather than being a sequential order of games patched together to create a longer game, the remix presents a piece of music and then places segments of the games together with the song, allowing you to add extra beats to create a new piece of music entirely. This feature separates it from other rhythm games that give the player no control of the outcome song (DDR is the best example of this) and rhythm games that have an incomplete song and require to player to fix it (Guitar Hero didn't start this trend but it did help continue it).

Having great music and controls would already fulfill the criteria for a fun rhythm game however what pushes Rhythm Tengoku to become truly great is the visual variety in the game. It helps that it has some of the best visuals and sound that the Game Boy Advance can offer but it's the way that Rhythm Tengoku weaves the two together that makes it special. As an example, the first mini game let's you play as a karate student, as soon as objects start flying towards your character it's almost instinctive to press A as soon as this happens and doing so causes the character to punch the object out of the way with a bizarre English pop song playing as you do so while the second game is a game where a pair of tweezers cycles an onion growing facial hair with the task being to pick the hairs out. This is followed by a game where you have to follows the orders of a general of your army while you and your cohorts obey (the general looks like Fassad from Mother 3 which isn't surprising as both these games came out in 2006), a baseball simulator the zooms in and out of the box your in orbiting space (on a side note, the Mode-7 effect that replicates what SNES games used to use such as Actraiser and Secret of Evermore to replicate perspective is pure genius) and a game where you play as a monkey in a group clapping to the rhythmic beat. These games are just the tip of the iceberg of the postmodern insanity that the game reaches.

The biggest problem with Rhythm Tengoku was its lack of a release outside Japan. It can hardly be blamed on poor sales figures as the game sold well enough to warrant two sequels and it's not as though the game was too "Japanese" for western audiences as the sequels were localised. The most likely reason was the slow death of the Game Boy Advance and possibly for the same reasons that were given for Mother 3 not being localised (The vocal tracks in the game were licenced by Nintendo themselves but this might not apply overseas). That being said the game is intuitive enough to be played without any knowledge of Japanese and along with the endless re playability of learning the rhythm of each game a bit better, there's challenges peppered throughout the game such as perfecting certain mini games in a given amount of tries that go away forever if they are not beaten and little playable toys that bear resemblance to the extras available in Wario Ware: Touched. Overall Rhythm Tengoku is not just one of the best Game Boy Advance games but also one of the best rhythm games ever made.

Find Rhythm Tengoku on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2003-08-03
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo SPD Group No. 1, J.P. Room

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review: Power Quest

With the powerful handhelds we have to day it's easy to forget that there was a much simpler time, a time when portable gaming consisted of two buttons and an 8-bit processor. You're not going to find a deep fighting game on the Game Boy Color, but there is Power Quest.

Power Quest is primarily a fighting game, but tries to do more and throws in an overworld and story. Kids all over town are swept up by the remote-controlled model battling craze, and you want to join in but can't afford one. Luckily, you're a contest winner and are able to redeem the model of your choice from the model shop. The first issue I have with the game is its lack of playable characters. You have a measly five models to choose from. First there's Max, an all-around decent fighter focused on punch attacks. The lone female model, Speed, is the quickest of the bunch with powerful kick attacks but not much range. Lon focuses on martial arts and has some weird, quick attacks but is somewhat difficult to use effectively. Axe is an all-around decent fighter with high attack, and Gong is a slow powerhouse with high-priority attacks. I've read that there's an additional model you can unlock but I can't confirm that as I didn't play through the entire game.

After you get your model you're not given any idea as to what you're supposed to be doing. There are four different areas around town you can fight in, each with varying difficulty levels. You can switch your model any time in the parts shop, as well as use credits to buy new attacks and upgrade existing ones. If you enter the tournament building, the announcer will tell you the tournament's beginning soon, so naturally you want to find out how to trigger this event. You'll go around town, battling different fighters trying to trigger story events, not sure if you're missing something and wasting your time. The tournament director will hunt you down once in a while to put you in your place. For me, these fights lasted ten seconds. He just annihilates you.

Some of the more difficult CPUs fight at a level seemingly impossible for a mere human to reach, countering instantly and pulling off super moves with ease. Each character has your standard punches and/or kicks, as well as three unique moves and two super moves. I tried many times to execute a super attack, but no matter how many times I hit the correct sequence of buttons I couldn't pull it off. Don't let that be a reflection of the game though, I probably just suck at it. Overall the fighting feels pretty solid and combos are possible.

After a while a gang will appear in town. Defeat them and they'll retreat. Now if you visit the playground they'll be there, along with their leaders. You can fight them again, but they gimp your model with a radio device which disables your attacks and reverses your movement. The model shop owner will paint your model with a special liquid, enabling you to fight back. Defeat them and they run off. At this point you can battle the creator of the device in his house, which was previously empty. He's insanely powered up and will kill you in about five hits. You can defeat him (and most other fights) by using an attack that knocks the opponent down, timing it correctly so it hits them as soon as they get up, and so on. If you lose, you lose credits and he tells you to get lost. If you win, he mocks you for thinking you could beat him and gives you ten credits. I made it further back when this game was first released, but I couldn't stomach it this time around. Playing through the story feels like a chore. Passwords are used to record your progress and you can skip right to the tournament if you'd like. There are plenty of codes online. The game also supports multiplayer, which is probably the most fun you can have with it if you miraculously know someone with a copy of their own.

It wasn't bad for its time, but there are plenty of superior fighting games available on handhelds these days. I think it would have been a much better game if they cut out the overworld and included more characters and an arcade mode. With that said, it's not a bad game by any means and might entertain you for a little while.

Released: 1999-12-31
Publisher: Sunsoft
Developer:  Sunsoft

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: Solatorobo: Red the Hunter

Are you fond of robots? Anthropomorphic animals? What if I told you you could play a game with both of these? That's right, in Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, you play as Red Savarin, a dog-person who fights with his robot, Dahak. From the minute I saw the box, I knew this game was going to be a unique experience.

If you enjoy atmospheric games, Solatorobo is right up your alley. It's the video game equivalent of a Miyazaki film. The world is full of detail, with birds flying in the foreground, water tricking in the background, trains chugging by, the list goes on. In one area, there's a TV set in a shop window in the foreground, and it's very close-up. The set is on, displaying an image, and it flickers. It may sound trivial, but it's this attention to detail that makes the game that much more engaging. The music is simply beautiful, and the cut-scenes are stunning.

Okay, so the music is great and the world is full of detail, but how does it play? Well, the gameplay itself is alright. If I had to arbitrarily break the game down and rate each of it's components separately, gameplay would be on the lower end of the spectrum, but games are experienced as a whole, so they should be judged that way. At first, I was a bit disappointed with the gameplay. "Lift and throw... That's all?" I thought. Fortunately, variety is later introduced with new robot forms, each with its own strengths, weaknesses, and attacks. Your robot has stats for attack, defense, hydraulics, mobility, and revive. Damage dealt, damage received, lifting power, and percentage of health revived upon dying, respectively. These are not upgraded by leveling up, but with part customization. You insert different parts into a grid to upgrade your stats. They're all different shapes and sizes, and you'll find yourself rotating them around trying to figure out the best combination. All those hours spent playing Tetris should serve you well here. Much of the grid is locked to begin with. Space can be opened by using "Power Crystals," which are littered across the world's twelve different locations and can also be obtained by completing quests. Some crystals, once missed, are gone forever. This is one way the game rewards you for exploration.. The leveling system is very simple. You get a set amount of experience for each type of enemy, and once you reach the experience goal for the current level, you're health bar grows and is fully restored.

Solatorobo's expansive world really is a treat to explore. I found myself talking to different NPCs often, eager to see how their dialogue changed in light of recent story events. Aside from crystals, you collect musical notes to unlock music and pieces of ripped photographs, stolen by a punk gang of kittens, to unlock artwork. These are game-long quests assigned by NPCs who will reward you as your collection grows. Most of your exploring is done on quests. These are the backbone of the game. They advance the story and are the major way to earn money (rings) in the game. There are fetch quests, battle quests, collection quests, scavenger hunt quests, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary here. I commend the developers for their implementation of the quests. It all flows very nicely. Some games have you go to some remote location to do something, but then you have to manually make your way back to point A to claim your reward. For the majority of the quests, the NPC will say something like "Let's start heading back," and it cuts back to point A. The travel is implied.

Solatorobo is not a hard game. I didn't die a single time, and only came close to dying on the very last levels, which were only mildly challenging. The light puzzle-solving portions you'll encounter now and again are also devoid of challenge. Explanations are wordy. They wanted to be absolutely sure you know to use that drill right there in front of you to drill through the rock wall. If you did have to worry about dying and losing your progress, you wouldn't lose much of it, as there are manual save points at every quest counter, and an auto-save feature that prompts you after the completion of every quest, as well as after some major story events or before boss fights.

While not a very difficult game, it doesn't grow stale. There are multiple styles of gameplay to keep things interesting, such as harpooning giant hermit crabs that take up residence in wrecked ships, a Mario Kart-esque air-race segment (which can be played at any time from the main menu, alone or with up to three others), a free-flight area, and staged fights with special handicaps imposed. The quests also vary quite a bit, and I eagerly completed each one as soon as it was available instead of going straight to the next location to advance the story, which, at it's core, is nothing we haven't seen before, but it does its own thing and has some neat twists along the way. In a nutshell, Red has been chosen by Elh to help stop the Titano machine to save the world as they know it. Elh is an immortal paladin whose life is devoted to this single task. The current anthropomorphic species is going down the wrong path, and the Titano machines are there to correct things. They're there to wipe the slate clean. This is a very text-heavy game, and fortunately it's also well-written and interesting. I won't go too much into the story here but I encourage you to play it for yourself.

For me, Solatorobo was an eighteen hour breath of fresh air, and I can safely recommend it as one of my favorite Nintendo DS games.

Find Solatorobo on ebay | Amazon

Released: 27/9/2011
Publisher: XSEED
Developer: CyberConnect2 

Review: Retro Game Challenge

February 10, 2009 was a very special day. More special than most other days for one very special reason. One very special RETRO reason. In retrospect, it isn't very special, because nobody knows the significance of this especially under-appreciated day. It's quite sad, and you should all be ashamed of yourselves. 

February 10, 2009 marks the day Retro Game Challenge or Game Center CX: Arino's Challenge as it's known in Japan, was released to us, courtesy of XSEED, for the Nintendo DS. I can't find the sales figures, but I can tell you this game was vastly overlooked. This is most likely due to the retro factor, which is a shame, because I think it's something even non-retro game fans can enjoy, if for no other reason than to take a glance back into what the 80s were like. I wasn't alive then, but this game did a hell of a job making me feel like I was part of the NES craze. 

Retro Game Challenge is based on Game Center CX, a Japanese television show in which a man by the name of Shinyo Arino assigns himself timed retro gaming challenges. In the opening, we learn that Arino's been utterly dominated at every current gen multiplayer game, and his desire to win grew strong enough to spawn a digital version of himself. He decided to haunt gamers around the world with challenges, and you're his next victim. But he's not playing fair, oh no. He's giving himself home-turf advantage, the 80s. 

You're transported to his living room where you meet him as a child. So you're playing games with Arino in the past, all the while being issued challenges by the digitized future version of Arino. At this point you might wonder why you can't just strangle the kid with the controller and save yourself the hassle. Anyway, you befriend the not-yet-insane Arino and sit down to play some games. He interacts with you while you play, berating you if you mess up, cheering you on when you do well, and so on. There are thirty-two challenges split among eight games as well as one final challenge (to beat every game). After this, Arino warns you that if he continues to suck at games, he'll be seeing you again. Credits roll and you get to shoot his giant head to pass the time. The games are: Robot Ninja Haggleman, Robot Ninja Haggleman 2, Robot Ninja Haggleman 3, Rally King, Rally King SP, Guadia Quest, Star Prince, and Cosmic gate. These are fictional NES games, but they very well could have been released at the time. Believe me when I say these are NES games at heart, lovingly programmed to be that way down to the most minute detail. I'm talking bad-translation, sound, graphics, slowdown, nonsensical story, cheat codes, easter eggs, etc. It's all there. The only difference is their length. These were so true to the style that it's easy to forget you're playing a game within a game. 

They developers went above and beyond the games though. They include manuals, schoolhouse game rumors, and even a fictional magazine, complete with fictional articles and fictional editors. It's perfect. You'll feel nostalgia for the 80s regardless of your age. Now for the games:

Cosmic Gate 11/08/1984
This is the Galaga of the game. Alien insects swarm in and drop bullets on you while you take them out one at a time like a champ. There's a two-shot limit per screen, unless you get the power up, which turns every third shot into a missile that tears through enemy files like a cookie-deprived cookie monster on a cookie cake. Challenge stages are thrown in to mix things up. Destroy as many asteroids as possible for 1k points each. Giant asteroids net you 15k. Warp zones can be uncovered by shooting certain blinking enemies. Take too long or accidentally hit another enemy and it disappears The game features sixty-four levels, and while not as challenging as Galaga, it's not a walk in the park. Overall, it's a pretty faithful tribute to the predecessors of the schmup as we now know it and is worth playing multiple times.
Robot Ninja Haggleman 09/13/1985
I don't think this one's emulating any specific game, but it seems to draw from Mappy, Mega man, and Super Mario Bros. You play as Haggleman, a robot ninja, and are trying to save the princess. You battle through 8 different floors. With each floor, enemies and level design grow more difficult. The controls are simple. A to jump and B to throw ninja stars. Depending on the enemy, you can hit them with a star or jump on them to known them down. Kill enemies by jumping on them while they're down, or by flipping red, blue, or green colored doors on them. Each time a door is flipped, it will cycle through to the next color. Every door of the same color will also be flipped. Powerups can be obtained by killing enemies or looking behind doors. Included in these are bigger ninja stars as well as longer-ranged, faster ones. Collect three colored scrolls to unleash a screen-wide attack from one of Haggleman's friends. To advance to the next floor, defeat the boss located behind one of the doors. To draw him out, kill every enemy, or discover which door he's hiding behind. Haggleman can take two hits before death, much like Ghosts and Goblins. There are eight floors total, and on the eighth you'll fight Dr Wil-- I mean some evil robot mad scientist. Destroy him to be reunited with the princess. But wait, “Your adventure is not end!” She's kidnapped yet again by the mad scientist and you battle through eight additional floors. Only then will you see the “Happy End."
Rally King 11/21/1985
This would be the RC Pro Am of this fictional 80s, and it's a blast to play. You and nineteen other cars compete for first place over three different courses. The game gives you a bird's eye view, so you can't see what the next turn is going to be. An arrow indicator shows up, giving you just enough time to react. Littered across the tracks are puddles of water/ pits of sand/ sheets of ice that will spin you out if you don't quickly right yourself, ramps to launch off of, and potholes that will slow you down. You start in last place and have to work your way to the front. The other cars are much slower than your own, and they often bump into walls. Hitting cars and walls will deplete your health bar. If it reaches zero, game over. There are also two special cars driving around the track for you to hit. One fixes your car, and the other gives you points. The crux of the game is it's boost mechanic. Release your finger from the gas for a fraction of a second on turns to start a drift. Hold it long enough and you'll rocket off. This combined with the multiple pathways on some levels and road hazards make for an intense white-knuckled experience.
Star Prince 06/03/1986
Star Prince is a fun, challenging, well-designed tribute to Star Soldier. Vertically scroll your way through eight levels, destroying countless waves of enemies, and collecting one-up tomatoes and the letters to spell PRINCE along the way. Each stage features a mid boss and a final boss. Four different powerups are available to aid you. Use them or shoot them enough times to detonate them, obliterating everything on screen. Hold down the A or B buttons to put up a bullet-absorbing shield. Every three shots absorbed releases a shower of bullets. There's not much else to say about this one. It's simply a fun schmup.
Rally King SP
The fictional GameFan magazine ran a contest and offered this game as a prize. It's virtually the same exact game as Rally King. Some levels have been changed and fictional product placement for Cup o' Chicken Noodles can be found throughout.
Robot Ninja Haggleman 2 12/10/1986
Robt Ninja Haggleman 2 makes the first completely obsolete. It features better music, overhauled visuals, and MUCH more difficult level design. You can also store your scrolls for use whenever you choose. It's the same sixteen level formula as before, but with an epic boss battle as an additional seventeenth level.
Guadia Quest 09/11/1987
Guadia Quest is a retro JRPG in the vain of Dragon Warrior. To make a short story even shorter, you play as a trio of tiara-toting heroines enlisted by the king to save the princess. You begin in Centraan and make your way to The Dungeon of Darkness... you get the idea. It's your standard RPG. Mechanically it's pretty good. You have your standard attack, item, magic and flee commands. With regular attacks, there is a bit of luck involved. Each character has a wheel with different symbols scrolling through. Depending on which symbol you stop it on, your attack will vary among a complete miss, a mediocre hit, a critical hit, or a best hit. You're also able to recruit the help of creatures called Guadia. Every once in a while it'll attack enemies. Overall, it's a pretty solid game.
Robot Ninja Haggleman 3 07/21/1989
The third installment in the Haggleman games completely reworks the series. Unlike the first two games, this is a true platforming game. Heavily inspired by Shinobi, Haggleman 3 consists of three episodes. This is one of the fullest experiences Retro Game Challenge has to offer. The stages grow pretty lengthy, with the final one sending you on a labyrinthine journey through various sets of doors. Powerups return in the form of special weapons. The evil robot scientist returns, this time to help. Defeating enemies and break floating boxes to collect nuts, which can be used to purchase gears from the wily old fellow. Bosses are massive, taking up the whole right side of the screen. This is something I could easily see as a standalone $5 release on the 3DS e-shop. It's a fun game complete with the characteristic NES difficulty we've come to simultaneously enjoy and hate.

If you couldn't tell, I have nothing but love for this game. To the two of you reading this: Buy it. If we're lucky they'll translate the sequel. Spread the word. Threaten people. I don't care. Just do something.

Find Retro Game Challenge on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2009-02-10

Publisher: XSEED
Developer: indieszero