Saturday, March 31, 2012

Review: Metal Slug: First Mission


The Neo Geo Pocket lacks a large list of premier titles, but Metal Slug: First Mission is certainly one of them. Everybody loves Metal Slug, but the series' primary blunder is that not everybody loves paying 1000$ for a Neo Geo AES Metal Slug cartridge. Metal Slug: First Mission isn't only a cheap alternative, it's a darn good one. The fast-paced wacky action the series is known for returns in this small-cartridge-big-game featuring high quality sprites, a variety of colors, and plenty of missions packed with a lot of variety. What SNK has managed to pull off with this game is amazing, especially considering the hardware limitations of the Neo Geo Pocket. While the game suffers from slowdown at times, it generally boasts silky smooth sprite animation, and a lot of it.


First Mission's biggest triumph is also its biggest flaw, however. This game sought to bring the Metal Slug console experience to the car ride, but without butchering the gameplay. This makes for an extremely enjoyable and impressive game on the Neo Geo Pocket, but it also makes for an inconsistent frame rate and some flat out annoying boss fights. The game strives to be more than it is, and as a result you will notice areas where the it lags in every level. Also, boss fights simply drag on for too long, despite handheld gaming being primarily used as a quick fix. Often times I faced off against a boss for ten minutes, following the same pattern over and over again as the its health depleted. Boss fights just do not fit in with the rest of the game, because the levels themselves are around five minutes in length. Again though, this game does pack a home console quality experience, and these flaws are hardly flaws at all.


In terms of gameplay variety, Metal Slug: First Mission has you covered. Along with the standard on-foot levels, this game also has a few enjoyable tank and airplane segments. While the tank controls are awkward, it is still fun to wreck everyone on screen with the tank turret. The airplane levels are really fun though, and they transform the game into a side-scrolling shooter. Controls in these levels are simple and work perfectly fine, and the difficulty is very low, allowing those new to the genre of side-scrolling shooters to enjoy these levels as well.

Metal Slug: First Mission is a must buy for the Neo Geo Pocket. It tries its best to be the Super Mario Land of the NGP, and it succeeds. The console quality gameplay and advanced graphics for its time make First Mission a mission you will definitely want to embark on.

Find Metal Slug: First Mission on ebay | Amazon

Released: 1999-05-15
Publisher: SNK
Developer: SNK

nD, An Open Platform For Indie Developers



A man locked in a room for 100 days straight, protesting the big N for not bringing his game, "Bob's Game," to the DS. Many may remember this as a foolishly childish endeavor, but it was actually a clever viral marketing campaign. Robert Pelloni is the man behind it all, and he spent five years creating his game. But that's old news. Now he's making a system to go with it.

The nD fits perfectly into the market. It isn't trying to compete with the juggernauts, because it doesn't need to. It's going to be sold at an estimated $10, because that's how much the materials used to make it cost. If he's making no profits on the hardware, surely he must be taking a nice chunk out of game sales right? Nope. Developers get 90% of the profits from their game sales. I think this is an ingenious model. Who wouldn't want to jump on board? Developers are already working on titles, listed at http://www.the-nd.com/games. Then of course there's Bob's Game. There should be a demo floating around somewhere if it's no longer at http://bobsgame.com. I thoroughly enjoyed the small portion of the game the demo showcased, and can't wait to play it in its entirety.

As stated, it's completely open, meaning no special licenses or spending thousands of dollars on an SDK. The nD's SDK is completely free, and can be found at http://www.the-nd.com/develop. The nD runs on C++ and uses SDL for graphics and sound. No monetary investment necessary.

As far as I know, the nD is supposed to launch around the same time as the Wii U. There hasn't been any official news on the subject since late last year. This is something I and I think a lot of other aspiring developers would like to see come to fruition, and I encourage anyone interested to give it a look.

Resources
Free C++ Compilers: Dev-C++ | Code::Blocks

If you're new to programming and find C++ to be a little intimidating, yuu might want to start off with something like Blitz Basic.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: Kid Icarus: Uprising

Kid Icarus has finally seen the light of day once again after a very long, 20 year wait.  Going from the Game Boy to the 3DS is one hell of a leap.  Sure, the young angel might be out of practice, but that does not mean that his return to the video game scene is lackluster.  In fact, this game is just brilliant in how it does everything.

So, let us talk about the game's single player mode.  The game starts off with a nice little tutorial video that sort of introduces the amazing cast of voice actors.  After the tutorial, you hear Pit say, "Sorry to keep you waiting!" before flying off and beginning his adventure.  The single player mode is composed of two types of gameplay styles: air and land battles.  Air battles always start off each and every chapter of the game. These air battles are on-rails shooting segments. Basically, the player controls Pit's movement and fires at wave after wave of enemies, while trying to take as little damage as possible.  These segments are usually the most impressive looking portions of the game, simply because it is breathtaking to fly at high speeds through the air over fields of grass or the enemy's fortress.  The places that these air battles take the player are both unique and very memorable portions of the game, mainly because they take you to places that the land battles cannot.


The land battles play like a third-person shooter.  This is pretty much where the nine weapon types' various play styles is going to really matter.  What weapon the player chooses is going to determine how Pit fights, and how the player is going to tackle enemies in combat.  Plus, the weapons get better: each weapon has its own different stats and abilities, and the player can even try weapon fusion to get a hold of better weapons and make something to their own liking.  So expect to spend some time just trying to find that perfect weapon and play style. Land battles are going to be the more challenging portion of the game for most players, and for a couple of reasons, the first of which is the fact that enemies are tough.  Most of them are pretty basic, but the fact that the player is forced to handle so many at once can get a little brutal at times.  However, just because something is hard does not mean that it is such a bad thing.  In fact, everything is manageable once the art of dodging has been mastered.  Plus, add in the constant chatter of the characters that gives you tips and tricks on how to defeat the more challenging enemies of the game, and the player is pretty well-equipped.  Now, as for the second reason as to why land battles are going to be more challenging is the controls.  

Not gonna lie, the controls are definitely something that the player is going to have to get used to. The controls do work flawlessly, but the learning curve to use them may scare off some players, or just give them the wrong idea about the game.  The good news about the controls is that the player can customize them to their liking.  So players are bound to find something that they will be comfortable with.  As for left-handed players like myself who want to use the Circle Pad Pro (sorry right-handers, but the Circle Pad Pro is a lefty thing only) just keep the movement selected to default, and the Circle Pad Pro can be used.

Now then, let us talk about what makes this game so special: the voice acting.  The voice acting brings all the characters closer to you.  They are never really at a loss for words, which helps a lot, as the levels would be boring if they only said something every now and then, or nothing at all.  These characters will always make the player laugh or give them plenty of game play tips to aid them in their journey.  This lighthearted talk is what makes the game's single player campaign special.  The player can miss some of the dialogue though, since the action can get pretty intense at times, but a pair of headphones coupled with subtitles on the top screen will fix that problem easily. 
Finally, it is about time for the multiplayer.  The multiplayer allows you to take weapons and abilities that you have earned throughout the single player story and bring them into multiplayer. The same can also be said about multiplayer:  you have the potential to earn some pretty valuable items, abilities, and idols (the game's version of the trophy system found in Super Smash Brothers) based on how well you do.  The player can battle with up the five other players in local wireless play, or choose to play online with friends or anyone.  The game's multiplayer is divided into two game types: a basic Free for All match, in which six players fight it out until time runs out, the player with the most points at the end of time wins, and Light vs. Dark, a game type that puts a spin on team play.  So, the good part about the multiplayer is that the game is only focused on finding the player a match if he/she selects With Anyone.  I am also pleased to say that the multiplayer is both fun to play and has very minimal lag.  Sure, lag happens here and there, and the frame rate might drop due to multiple players using abilities, but overall, its one of those multiplayer experiences that actually wants the player to keep on practicing so that they can receive the better prizes in it.

There is so much to do in Kid Icarus: Uprising that I do not want to spoil it all.  However, this is just one of those games that are so fun that you will just keep on coming back for more and more, as every time you play Kid Icarus, it is a new adventure.



Released: 2012-03-23
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Project Sora

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: Asterix and the Great Rescue


Asterix and the Great Rescue was originally released for the Sega Game Gear back in 1994, and is based on the long-running French cartoon and comic strip series Asterix the Gaul. It features platforming and exploration elements that puts you in control of the titular character Asterix, as well as his sidekick/best friend Obelix.

It is common for video games based on the Asterix franchise to feature crisp, well-animated visuals that almost look like actual cartoons instead of pixel work. Asterix and the Great Rescue is no exception, as it seems to take full advantage of what the Game Gear hardware can provide, with large (for a handheld, anyway) sprites, colorful stages, and well-animated characters.

There are flickering issues, but I chalk it up to the limited hardware. It's just annoying that the flickering is so noticeable since it's being used for a lot of effects: when Asterix is damaged, when he gets an invincibility powerup, and even with the fire pillars. Other than the minor flickering gripe, this is still hands down one of the best looking games on the system. Unfortunately, it doesn't play as good as it looks.

While there is a certain amount of exploration involved, Asterix and the Great Rescue is a platformer at heart. Like Super Mario Bros., you have to jump through bottomless pits, leap through walls of fire, climb moving platforms, and fight random enemies to get to a destination. It's certainly a good recipe for a fun game, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.


Obviously, there are control issues. Both Obelix and Asterix (you can switch between the two on the fly by pressing Up and Punch) are unwieldy and it takes a lot of effort to get used to their movements - with the large sprites proving to be a disadvantage, as it makes it easier for the characters to get hit by obstacles or enemies. Even the smaller Asterix is difficult to control smoothly, with the most frustrating situations finding you constantly falling through bottomless pits after bumping on the ceilings during crucial jumps.

Combat itself is problematic. Asterix is no Mario. You can't kill enemies by jumping on their heads. As soon as you touch enemies, you take damage. The only way to defend against the goons is by punching, which is completely useless. Both Asterix and Obelix's reach is so short that you will get hit by the enemy first before you even land a single punch. If you want to play the game, you have to go against your instinct and just avoid the enemies, effectively removing a large portion of the game mechanics.

Playing Asterix the Great Rescue as a simple platformer (trying to get to the end of the stage as fast as you can while avoiding the enemies) is possible with the right amount of skill and patience, but it doesn't feel fun and seems like a waste of your time, considering that there are better platformers on the Game Gear.


Find Asterix and the Great Rescue on ebay | Amazon

Released: 1994
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: CORE Design Limited

Cee's Blog

Friday, March 23, 2012

Review: Dragon Crystal


Rogue-like RPGs are notoriously difficult, and while they can be infuriating, many have an oddly addictive quality that will make tomorrow, yesterday. Designed to keep the player coming back time and time again for another shot at victory, Dragon Crystal is one of these games, and it wouldn't surprise me if the developers grew up torturing small animals.


There is no story to speak of in this game, at least, none that I know of. I haven't actually made it to the end, and for anyone that has, I salute you. As stated, it's a rogue-like, meaning you travel from map to map, defeating enemies, picking up items, and in general, trying not to die, because when you do die, that's it. Game over. Back to square one. Do not pass go. Players may spend an hour or more playing, just to lose it all.



Why bother playing then?” Some may ask, and it's not an unreasonable question. These types of games have been known to drive even the calmest of gamers to the brink. It's like building a house of cards, but once a sense of real progress is reached, it all falls apart. That's a big part of many rogue-likes, randomness. Complacency is a player's biggest enemy in Dragon Crystal. Never underestimate just how long a string of unfortunate events can be.






First of all, each map is randomly generated. The game starts our nameless protagonist in one of many rooms, which have a combination of items to grab and enemies to kill. The map is covered in grayed-out sprites which, when approached, either disappear to reveal the path or come into color to mark walls. My first time playing, I found myself backed against a wall surrounded by enemies with nowhere to run as I futilely attempted to cut a path to safety using a dinky dagger with nothing more than a cloth robe (which doesn't actually add any armor points) to protect me. There's also an egg that follows the player around, and will hatch and grow as the hero's level rises, turning into a dragon(ite). It doesn't attack, and can't die, but it serves the vital function of protecting one of the player's sides, always saving a space to move to. 






Dragon Crystal is like chess, but the board is much larger, the cpu has the standard set of pieces, the player's just a lowly pawn climbing the ranks, and for every single player action, the cpu simultaneously makes a move, with every single piece. Everything is on a grid, and for every step taken, the board shifts. Some enemies match player movement 1:1, some remain stationary, others move multiple spaces or randomly teleport. Attacks are performed pressing the d-pad in the direction of an adjacent enemy, then they return the favor, while others attack from afar or move. For every level grown, the hit point stat rises. I recommend killing everything possible, from the uninspired blobs to wizards that shoot confusion-inducing magic, completely randomizing the d-pad inputs, turning it into a game of pin the tail on the donkey.

It may sound helpless, but there are ways to combat these seemingly impossible odds. Players can beef up their hero with items found in rooms. Multiple types of swords, armor, books, staves, potions, and rings are randomly placed throughout the maps. Swords and armor increase power and armor class, while books, staves and potions can be used for different effects, including hp recovery, random teleportation, powerful elemental attacks on the enemy, and what seems like dozens of others. Rings can be equipped for sustained effects, like gradually restoring hp or reducing magic damage. Adding to the tension of never knowing if the next room's mob will be the last or if the next piece of armor turns out to be cursed and consequently significantly weaker and irremovable without a bless book is the fact that the names of everything but swords and armor are hidden. Instead, it'll read “Pink Pot,” “Silver Rod,” etc. The name is only revealed after use, so it's a good idea to use a duplicate in a safe situation to learn the effects. There's nothing worse than being surrounded by a mob bleeding hp and having to blindly use an item hoping it'll turn the tables.


In addition to equipment and items which can also be thrown for varying effects, bags of gold and food can be collected. After every six steps, actions, or a combination of the two, one point of food (max 100) is used. If it reaches zero, hit points will be drained instead. After death, gold can be spent to preserve the character's level and equipped items at the time of death. The higher the level, the larger the amount of gold needed to continue. Without this feature, the game would be virtually impossible. It's too random to not have a continue function. In Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer for example, there is no continue function, but the levels are laid out so you know you can make it to the next one if you just find the portal. In Dragon Crystal though, this is sometimes literally impossible. A few times, the game started me in a room with no exit. With no items to warp me to a random location, I had no choice but to reset or starve to death. At other times, the portal to the next level was in a room with no entrance. I played this on the 3DS virtual console, so I used a save-state for the sake of this review. I had one shift book left, and saved before using it. The room I needed to get into was only a tiny percentage of the entire map's area, and it took at least two dozen attempts before I got lucky.


The ability to continue saves this game. It elevates it from broken to playable, but entropic. For the sake of seeing more of the game I used a save state, but if I ever make it to the end it's going to be the old fashioned way, and only after it's thoroughly kicked my ass. 

Update: It's been brought to my attention that the scenario above doesn't leave the player trapped. There are points in the wall that can be broken through by attacking, so the game isn't as brutal as this review may have made it seem.
 
Find Dragon Crystal on ebay | Amazon

Released: 1992-12-22
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: SEGA

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: Space Invaders Extreme 2

 

Like it's retro-remastered counterpart Pac-Man: Championship Edition, Space Invaders Extreme was one of the most critically acclaimed games that Taito/Namco had released in years (so much so that it got a PSP conversion and a 360 port). Of course with their new found success, Taito did what they do best: sequelize it! Despite the rather bizzare decision to make a sequel to a game that didn't really need a sequel (People could play it for years perfecting their technique as with Pac-Man), the results couldn't have turned out any better than they did.

When you have a gameplay engine as finely crafted as Space Invaders, it's wise not to change much. SIE2 keeps the minimalistic control scheme of pressing a button to shoot and the D-pad to move but what it does change is some of the original games more superfluous features, for the better. One of the ways the original Extreme changed the Space Invaders formula was by introducing the Fever Time system.



As explained in my review of Extreme 1, when four invaders of the same colour are destroyed you are whisked away into an arena which gives you a task to complete in a finite period of time, with success rewarding you in Fever Time which gives you a directional laser and point bonuses for each Invader you kill. The top screen for Extreme 2 shows player stats but also the games most creative new addition: the bingo board.

The game takes notes on which colour of enemies you killed to get to the challenge and records it. If you succeed in the challenge then one of the squares lights up on the board. If you get three in a row then you enter Fever Time, where the multi-directional laser has been replaced with a gigantic pink laser and so many point bonuses fall down from the sky it's this games version of euphoria (and they now come in pink!). Each line formed causes a different event to trigger (getting the left hand side filled in is a different event to filling the middle line in).



This change may seem superfluous, but it also does the impossible and expands on the original games greatest strength: Flow. In the original game these challenges took you out of the game for the event. In this game the events are placed in the top screen while your main game continues. Through what may seem like a small change, Space Invaders Extreme 2 becomes even more extreme than its predecessor, always making sure that something is going on and that you always have to be able to react to any given situation.

To conclude, everything that was great about the first game is still here: the nice visual design, the amazing appropriate techno music (In Space Invaders of all things!), amazing boss battles that really push the game mechanics to their limits and so on but it is presented in such a dynamic way that it plays like a completely different game. On the other hand, the constant screen switching of the events are probably the reason this game never got a port while its prequel did. Either way, Extreme 2 remains one of the best titles in an already impressive DS back catalog and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Find Space Invaders Extreme 2 on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2009-10-20
Publisher: Taito
Developer: Project Just

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review: Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D


It can go without saying that Metal Gear Solid 3 is a great game.  First being released in 2004 for the PS2, the game saw a remake a year later with its Subsistence edition.  Not only that, but tack on the recent release of the Metal Gear Solid HD collection, and you will be wondering why they wanted to re-make this game for the 3DS. 

Well, the good news is that the game works better on the 3DS than the home console versions of the game.  The bad news is that people will most likely want to get their hands on the Circle Pad Pro accessory for the best experience. (Making a $40 game a $60 one.)

First thing's first: this is basically the same Snake Eater everyone knows and loves.  So everything will be familiar to veterans.  What IS new is the controls as well as some gameplay gimmicks that utilize the 3DS’ features greatly.  Not only that, but add in updated graphics and you get something that looks great.  It is not exactly Resident Evil Revelations status in terms of graphics, but the color palette looks much more vibrant than the original PS2 and HD remake of the game.
http://www.411mania.com/game_article_pictures/16110.jpg

The game’s newly revamped controls are a very nice addition to this remake.  No longer are people going to fumble through the once out-dated controls.  However, if people want to use the game without the out-dated controls, be warned: they are very awkward to use.  Circle Pad to move, ABXY to control the camera, L to aim, R to fire, and the D-Pad to perform special actions such as crouching and crawling and equipping weapons and items.  The Circle Pad Pro turns this once awkward control scheme into something very fluid and nice to use.  All of Snake’s actions are at your fingertips. 

Quite literally actually, since the game’s HUD is found on the bottom screen, thus eliminating any clutter on the top screen.  Which is good, as the screen is small, and Metal Gear’s HUD would take up too much valuable real estate on the screen.  You can now select items and weapons as well as certain menus such as the Cure and Camouflage menus without having the need to go through the pause menu and backing out of two screens every time you just need to do a simple heal or camo switch. 

There are two new gimmicks to Snake Eater 3D that make the most out of the 3DS system,  the first of which is the Photo Camouflage Maker.  This feature allows you to take photos with the 3DS camera and use a portion of said photos as an effective camouflage.  This tool can be a bit broken as times, since certain patterns in photos can cause Snake’s Camo Index to rise significantly more than the camouflage already found in the game at certain times.  The other feature uses the gyroscope function to let Snake keep his balance when walking on tree branches or wooden bridges.  Sadly, the gyroscope function can be annoying at times, as you do not want to be focusing more on keeping a steady hand whenever you are on the go with this game.

http://www.blogcdn.com/www.joystiq.com/media/2010/06/mgs3d618.jpg
This then leads into Snake Eater 3D’s biggest flaw: it is not really suited as a portable game.  With all the lengthy cut-scenes, the constant distraction of outside noise which can influence your sneaking at times, along with the fact that the game features no auto-save function, makes this game one of those portable titles that you’ll want to play by yourself in peace and quiet.  Nothing is wrong with this, as the game’s experience of sneaking through a jungle quickly becomes much more deep and involving.

Snake Eater 3D is a great game for those who are new to the Metal Gear Solid franchise, or even for those veterans who decided to pick up yet another remake of this great game. Although not really suited for being such a mobile experience, the game still delivers the whole Metal Gear experience in a better way than before. 

Find Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2012-02-21
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami, Kojima Productions, HexaDrive

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Review: Space Invaders Extreme


During the arcade era of video games, Taito was a company that ranked up there with the greats of the gaming industry. While this position could be argued because of their relatively inconsistent output in comparison to their peers (that being said, the Darius series has been consistently excellent), what they did during that era of gaming is consequential to almost every other game made since. While Taito made games such as Araknoid and Elevator Action, their most famous game without a shadow of a doubt is Space Invaders. Tomohiro Nishikado's creation became so popular it caused a 100 yen coin shortage in Japan and garnered over $2 billion altogether. So for Taito's 30th Anniversary, they paid homage to the classic with Space Invaders Extreme, a game that surpasses the original in every possible way.


The statement may sound bold but Space Invaders Extreme and Pac Man: Championship Edition encapsulate how to re-imagine a game for modern audiences (Both games also had sequels then manage to improve on the games even further). Both games take the simple mechanics of each game and revitalise them into a snappier, fast paced setting while still remaining very accessible.


If you've ever played Space Invaders then you know how the gameplay works. You are a small ship that has to fight against an alien horde that slowly lowers towards the ground. Extreme mixes this up by getting rid of the omnipresent shields in the original games and changing the colour of the aliens. When you hit four of the same kind of alien in a row then a powerup falls from that enemy to collect. This is important as it means you get the ability to pick and choose what abilities you want, along with adding a new layer of depth, timing your shots so you can continue your chain. The chaining system goes back to the idea of being easy to play, difficult to beat and hard to master.


The game uses the dual screens to great effect with the top screen used for statistics and the bottom screen for gameplay. However what makes this idea great is the action remains continuous and it doesn't stop for one second (this was pushed to an even greater effect in Extreme 2). The score display screen does have uses in the game other than statistics. As with the original Space Invaders, during the battle between the descending aliens, UFO's scroll across the screen that can be shot for extra points. Extreme has these as well but once in a while a gold UFO will fly by. Shooting it causes a roulette to appear on the top screen for opportunities for even MORE powerups so there's a risk/reward system for whether you want to aim for the UFO and risk losing your chain or to opt for a much safer runthrough of the game. The score you get also affects how you progress through the game. After the first stage, if your combined score between the previous stages is high enough, you get to choose whether to go an easy stage, or a hard stage (Think of the reverse pyramid in Outrun 2), which allows multiple playthroughs so stagnation doesn't occur.


 


The functionality of the dual screens really shines through in the boss battles. The first few stages start of as simplistic boss fights however as the game progresses you have to start incorporating tactics into your usual play style and learn to adapt to the patterns to survive. In fact the bosses work well as a microcosm of everything that's great about this game; adaptation and survival, risk/reward systems for new strategies and the large amount of fun you have from trying something new. It also helps that the gameplay is complemented by good graphics and amazing sound design, with each explosion, wave of enemies and laser blast adding to the music to create an experience reminiscent of Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Rez & Child of Eden.

Shooters these days are ever more niché than they were in their "golden age" with all shooting games being categorised as to whatever CAVE's put out recently however Extreme is not only proof that there are alternatives to the bullet hell genre (such as Taito's own Darius series), but also that there is still a large amount of versitlity that the genre has to offer, a fact that will be expanded upon in Space Invaders Extreme 2.

Find Space Invaders Extreme on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2008-06-17
Publisher: Taito
Developer: Taito 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ

A video game title more bad-ass than Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ is akin to an honest politician; it's just an absurd impossibility. 
 
Developed by EnjoyUp games, the slightly obscure Zombie BBQ is a far cry from fairy tale of your youth. Is this trip to Grandma's house worthwhile, or will you pray for the jaws of the Big Bad Wolf?

The game opens with a slide-show animation set to rock music giving you a general outline of the story which, by the way, doesn't matter. The important thing is you get to roast zombies with a flamethrower, which is one of the five weapons in your zombie-slaying arsenal. The basic weapon is the machine gun, or throwing stars if you play as Mamo Toro, a ninja from Tokyo aiding our hooded heroine on her quest to find the source of the evil plaguing the world. A shotgun, flamethrower, lazer, and bombs are also available to the player. Ammunition is limited to nine per weapon, except for the machine gun/stars, which are infinite.

This is a straightforward arcade-style action game, with a pretty intuitive control scheme. All attacks are performed using touch controls. The machine gun, flamethrower, and lazer will fire continuously as long as the stylus is in contact with the screen. While the lazer is firing movement is disabled, and it cannot be aimed. The others are aimed by dragging the stylus along the screen. Bombs are thrown by double tapping an area on screen, and the shotgun is used by tapping where you want to shoot. I accidentally double tapped the screen many times while trying to fire off another round or while trying to reload the machine gun, which is accomplished by lifting and replacing the stylus. An additional method I think would work well is to use up or down on the d-pad, which could aim the bomb to wherever the stylus is. If a zombie grabs hold of you, tapping your character will perform a slash attack, cutting them in half. At any other time, your character will duck.

Movement is limited to a row toward the bottom of the screen divided into seven squares. This is navigable one square at a time using the left and right directionals, which is the preferred method for the majority of the game as the stylus is free to gun down the oncoming waves of zombies. Tapping anywhere along the row with the stylus will quickly move your character to that position. There is a slight delay between input and action when it comes to movement. First the square is highlighted, then your character follows suit. It's easy to get used to and doesn't really hinder the gameplay much, but is frustrating during slowdown, which can be severe when the field is full of objects. This is more of a problem on harder difficulty modes which send larger numbers of zombies stumbling your way.

The game features seven worlds with two levels each, and a final boss. Obstacles include hands sticking up from the ground, fire, fallen trees, exploding barrels, and more. A few times per level, a cat chasing a fish skeleton will make its way across the screen. Shooting the fish then the cat will yield a health pack and bomb, but shoot the cat then fish or just one of them and you'll only find a health pack. Crates are also scattered throughout the stages, and randomly contain weapons. Health and weapons can only be obtained by shooting them, which I thought was a poor design choice.

The beginning stage, as you've probably guessed, has you on your way to grandma's house. The game typically has the player traverse a couple of levels before each boss fight. At certain times between levels, Riding Hood and Mamo Toto will exchange dialogue, furthering the story. After making it through the cemetery and woods, it's time to fight grandma, who is looking awfully green and evil. Her attacks include hurling furniture at you with demonic telekinesis, charging you, and spitting up wolves and sets of chomping dentures. The game's bosses span multiple fairy tales. You'll encounter a fratricidal Gretel, the Three Little Pigs, Sleeping Beauty, a very naughty Santa, and some others. You can probably guess what the final boss is. Each boss is unique and never feels boring or repetitive to fight. The same can be said for the many different types of enemies.

I'll save you some time and annoyance: if you want to see the full game the first time through, play on hard mode. Easy mode cuts you off right before the final boss, and you'll have to spend another 90 minutes or so going through the game again. Normal mode feels a bit easy anyway. After completing the game on hard mode, the extreme difficulty and a boss rush mode are unlocked. At the end of the credits the game teases you with an image of a zombie lumberjack. I haven't played the boss rush or extreme modes yet, but I'm assuming he's encountered in one of these.

Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ can be had at an affordable $7.99 on DsiWare/3DS eShop and around that same price for a physical copy.

Find Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ on ebay

Released: 2008-10-31
Publisher: Destineer
Developer: EnjoyUp

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: Custom Robo Arena


Ah, good old Custom Robo.  The first Custom Robo game that ever hit European and U.S. shores was for the GameCube, and it was a blast.  Custom Robo Arena for the Nintendo DS is no exception to that rule.

The game’s story is very cliché and is treated as an RPG of sorts.  You are the new kid in town, and you receive your very first robo on your first day at a new school.  Some kids try picking on your new friends and you find out that you are a talented commander (someone who controls Custom Robos). With your new friends, and a new school, you all set out to become the top Custom Robo team at your school.  Along the way, you will battle other commanders to earn money and experience in order to buy additional parts to customize your robo with. You start to meddle in the affairs of a dark Custom Robo gang who uses their robos for crime and other nefarious deeds.

Not much of a story, but Custom Robo truly shines due to its simple pick up and play style gameplay.   
Sporting graphics that bear a striking resemblance to the Nintendo 64 version of the game (a Japan-only release) Arena also boasts the same gameplay from previous installments.  The basics of the game are that you control 30 cm. tall robos, and you can customize them with various parts to fit various play styles of your choosing.  You can make a robo who specializes in traps and mind games, or you can make a robo that can take and dish out damage.  However you want to play is entirely up to you.

Robos are made up of 5 parts:  Body, which is your robo’s base stats and traits; Gun, which is your robo’s primary weapon; Bombs, which are explosive projectiles; Pods, which are explosive, moving traps, and Legs, which affects your robo’s movement.  There are hundreds of parts in total, which gives you a wide range of combinations to play around with. 



Now, once someone has a combination that they are happy with, they are ready for battle.  Battles consist entirely of one versus one battles that take place in various arenas, or Holoseums.  Every battle begins with the robos still in cube form.  They launch from one of two cannons.  Once the cubes have stopped moving, the cube transforms into the robo, and the real battle begins.  Each robo has 1000 life, and the goal is to reduce the opponent’s life down to zero first.  

The battles are treated like an action shooter.  Players are constantly dodging and returning fire to one another, waiting for the opportunity to knock their foe down for some free hits.  The action stays at a fast pace, and there is never a dull moment with all the fire raining down on the battleground. 


The game’s multiplayer also adds to the fun factor, especially if friends partake in the action.  There is a local multi-card type of play, as well as a DS Download play, which gives both players an extremely limited amount of parts to choose from, but it is great if a friend just wants a taste of what they will get if they purchase the game.  The best part about the multiplayer is that the game supports Wi-Fi play.  Since battles are only one on one, the game does not have too many troubles with lag.  Even though the lag can happen, it does not happen for very long, and isn't too severe.  Although the online community has diminished greatly over the years, there are still some Commanders online who will put anyone’s skills to the test.

All in all, Custom Robo Arena is just too much fun to pass up.  The addicting gameplay will surely get people to play for hours, whether it be with friends or alone.

Find Custom Robo Arena on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2007-03-19
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Noise

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: Jump Ultimate Stars


With the Upcoming release of Xenoblade Chronicles and the recent release of The Last Story in Europe, the game that most people are now looking forward to is Pandora's Tower, an action RPG developed by Ganbarion. It's easy to dismiss Ganbarion as a mediocre company, as at a glance their only prior productions are One Piece games of varying quality and an Azumanga Daioh puzzle game. That being said, their only 'original' series is the Stars! series that consists of Jump Super Stars and Jump Ultimate Stars, two of the most inventive fighting games ever made (I'll be reviewing the sequel since it makes the original game almost obsolete).

When I say 'inventive', it is easy to dismiss the games as "Super Smash Bros. but with animé characters" (although if you really DO want to play Super Smash Bros. with animé characters then import Battle Stadium D.O.N) but this barely scratches the surface of what the games have to offer. For one thing, the games contains 160 characters (34 playable) from 27 different manga series that have all been published in Shonen Jump! at one point in time but more importantly, the battle system is an innovative and unique system that makes me wonder why it hasn't been used in other fighting games since.



The game gives you a 5 by 4 grid of 20 squares. During the course of the game you can gain manga panels (referred to as koma) that represent a given character. These panels are shapes of various sizes that can be arranged in the grid to create your setup. There are three varieties of panels that the characters come in: Battle koma that are the playable characters who you can control and fight with, Support koma that provide additional special attacks and help koma that provide stat boosts to your battle characters (Help koma are one square, support's two & three squares and battle komas can range from four panels to eight, the idea being that you encounter new help panels and evolve them to other forms). In regards to winning, while it is possible to defeat the opposition the normal way by reducing their health bar to zero, the walls of the stages are themselves comic panels which can be destroyed when enough damage is done, making the game into a true Smash Bros. clone if you really want it to be!

The amount of combinations for teams in this way can be measured reaches into the tens of thousands. It allows for a large amount of flexibility in team creation and experimentation that is rarely given in video games, let alone fighters. Along with a Rock, Paper, Scissors relation regarding the battle character's attributes of knowledge, strength and laughter and the variety of stages and power ups makes sure that no two battles can be the same.



Ganbarion did an excellent job in terms of spritework. Each character is well animated and unique enough to stick out from the rest (No Mario/Luigi, Ryu/Ken types here!) and the backgrounds are nice looking portraits that do well to complement the stages even if they are quite static compared to the rest of the game. The music is mostly forgettable, but there are some cool sound effects, like an especially satisfying crunch from punching a guy so hard they fly off the screen.

It's doubtful that there will ever be a sequel to Ultimate Stars. It's likely that Ganbarion was mostly making One Piece games to finance a project as ambitious as Pandora's Tower and the quality of Ultimate Stars was likely their attempt of seeing what happened when they put some actual effort into their games rather than sticking to a chosen formula. That being said, their most recent DS game, One Piece: Gigant Battle has the same style of sprite work as the Jump! series and the same chaotic gameplay with the added bonus of having an English release, even though the game commands ridiculous prices on Amazon, I recommend checking it out to see why Treasure aren't the only people who can make a good fighting game on the DS.



Find Jump Ultimate Stars on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2006-11-23
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Ganbarion