Thursday, June 14, 2012

Catching 'em All for Charity

TheSpeedGamers have become something of a charitable juggernaut since their humble beginning in 2008, with their first marathon raising  $1,090 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Their achievements have only been growing, with some of their top marathons raising over fifty thousand dollars. Their grand total is over $300,000!

100% of the donations are given to the charity. They make no profit, and regularly take money out of their own pockets to pay for prizes to raffle off and give away during the marathons. They've done Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Earth Bound, Mega Man, Pokemon, and more

In 22 hours from the time of this writing, they will be starting another grand journey to catch them all, playing through the Pokemon games for a week straight to raise money for ACT Today.  Their goal this time is $50,000 and I'm confidant they'll make or even exceed that goal.

Their marathons are always a blast to watch, and I urge everyone to stop by.

The marathon begins Jun 15 at 7pm EST and ends Jun 22.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

Chunsoft aren't new to the world of visual novels. To the contrary, Chunsoft are credited with creating the only visual novel that's received a perfect score in Famitsu and they've made great strides in the rogue like genre with the titles such as Shiren the Wanderer and the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games. Even with their accolades the success of 999 was a miracle for Chunsoft as what was once a minor title released by ATLUS to target a small niche for a minor profit ended up selling out within it's first week, causing high demand from the games fans for a reprint (The same thing happened with the similarly great DS game Radiant Historia). But why would a visual novel be ranked up there with some of the best games on the DS?

Since visual novels are less interactive than other genres (to the point where it can be questioned whether they deserve to be called video games at all) these games rely of strong character that drive a story through to a satisfying conclusion. The story of 999 revolves around 9 characters separated by 9 rooms with 9 doors (duh). The protagonist is Junpei, a mild-mannered teenager who finds himself kidnapped by a mysterious masked man known only by a codename: Zero. After escaping his quarters he meets 8 more people who share the same situation as him. The rules of how to escape are established and it's up to your character to survive.

The premise is set up well enough (echoing back to the criminally under-rated S.O.S: The Human Escape) but it's the characters that make the game truly unique. The character designs are done by Kuni Nishimura who some people might recognise as the artist behind the characters from Street Fighter III and the upcoming Code of Princess for the 3DS. The characters don't really fall into any archetypes of characters you might expect from an animé inspired visual novels and they don't succumb to the tropes that makes 95% of the games in the genre insufferable to get through.

ATLUS really does deserve to take the credit for such a brilliant localisation of the game, to such extremes that it makes you wonder if all of the critically panned visual novels before it (good examples are Time Hollow and Lux Pain) were suffering from bad translation, leaving an entire genre untapped because of laziness. The most interesting parts of the game are when the characters are given room to have general conversations that manage to weave exposition about the current events of the game with interesting accounts of events happening in the games mythos (that allow the player to follow a series of clues hinted at in these scenes as the story progresses).

The game isn't restricted to a series of moral choices as most Visual Novels are or pixel hunting expeditions of the LucasArts variety. The game features puzzles that can best be compared to the Phoenix Wright style of crime investigation where you look for objects that either help uncover more about the game's world or allow progression through the story. Like most visual novels or other games that focus on a strong narrative the game has multiple bad endings along with one 'true ending' (which without giving anything away is arguably the most metatropic ending since Yu-No). Without devolving into spoiler territory, all of the endings contradict each other which makes sure that each playthrough shown an interpretation of the conclusion as though it were a real event rather than a mere story progression.

Like Chunsoft's previous visual novel Shibuya 428 which got a perfect score in Famitsu, 999 has gone on to receive critical acclaim most noticeably from Western audiences who suddenly found themselves in enamoured in a once dead genre. There are some legitimate criticisms that can be applied to the game such as the aforementioned endings that make some of the plot twists in the endings seem rather cheap with no foreclosure and the character designs may not appeal to everyone (Lotus in particular is especially divisive). That being said, this game has some of the finest example of writing I've seen in a video game and it deserves more attention than it's already been given.

Find 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2010-11-16
Publisher: Aksys
Devleoper: Chunsoft

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Review: Metroid Fusion

Metroid Fusion was arguably one of the must-have action games for the Game Boy Advance. It was also my very first experience playing a Metroid game, and made me a die-hard fan of the series.  Metroid Fusion is one of the few games in the series that actually aimed to tell a narrative story via text and short, animated cut-scenes, something new to the series.  Tie that story in with the gameplay, and you truly have something special.

Fusion was developed by the same people who made Super Metroid for the Super Nintendo Entertainment system.  These developers wanted to create an all-new Metroid experience, instead of just a simple re-hash of previous games.

So enter Metroid Fusion.  In the Metroid storyline, this is the last game in the whole series.  So, Samus has been sent back to planet SR388 (the same planet on which Samus found and destroyed all of the remaining Metroids except for one) however, she encounters a new organism, the X parasite, and it nearly killed her, as she lost consciousness and  crashed her ship in an asteroid belt.  Luckily, the Space Federation was able to recover her and save her life with the last bit of Metroid DNA.  This new DNA fused with Samus', and as a result, she is now part Metroid, sporting an entirely new suit design.  Over the course of the game, Samus will investigate and find out what is truly going on within the darkest depths of the research station.

This is definitely one of those Metroid games that focuses more on the storytelling, but that does not mean that the gameplay suffered at all.  In fact, players ended up getting a rather difficult and long journey, clocking in at least eight hours of gameplay on the first playthrough.   The gameplay is typically classic Metroid, but with a few twists.  The game no longer leaves the player a massive world to explore and has them figure out what to do.  Instead, Samus' new ship's on-board computer gives the player various objectives to complete.  It is all up to the player on how they reach their objective.  At first, the game is going to feel very linear, which is a good way for newcomers to learn the basics.  Over the course of the game, Samus will obtain and learn new abilities.  The more abilities Samus has, the more places that she can go, which means that players will be more free to explore the further they get into the game.

The other new change is the fact that Samus is now part Metroid.  So, she is faced with many new challenges as a result.  She can no longer tolerate the cold, which is the Metroid's biggest and most fatal weakness.  The Metroid's weakness is what drives fear into the player.  Samus was close to death, and she barely had time to recover.  She is weak, and she faces a powerful adversary: the SA-X, an X parasite that absorbed Samus' old suit and reanimated it.  The SA-X is definitely a foe to fear, as for a majority of the game, all the player can do is just run from it.  And the SA-X is no pushover, possessing Samus' old Ice Beam, which can destroy her energy reserves in a matter of seconds. This causes the player to fear this new enemy all the way to the very end of the game.

This fear is something that follows the player, and it is not exactly centered around the SA-X.  The whole research station is becoming more and more unstable as the game progresses.  So who knows what dangers lie behind every screen?  Environments that the player once knew were fine before, but the next time they visit, it could be a pile of ruins.  These changes mixed with the fear that slowly becomes confidence is what made the game come to life.  It is what kept the player connected to it.  Who knew something so complicated came out of a game in a small cartridge?

All in all, it was a blast to re-visit my favorite GBA game and watch as the memories came flowing back.  Christmas weekend, going in a complete Metroid frenzy (which is now a tradition of mine that I follow each year) and playing anything Metroid that I could.  Metroid Fusion was truly a masterpiece in the Metroid universe, and in the GBA world.

Find Metroid Fusion on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2002-11-19
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer:  Nintendo R&D1

Friday, June 1, 2012

Review: Ninja Cop/Five-O

Growing up in the 80's and 90's as I did (Yes, I'm old), and being a connoisseur of action films of the lowest budget and highest epic content amount.  American Ninja, Maniac Cop, Ninja 3: The Domination, Karate Cop... When I think back to the movies that a younger me loved, full of cheese and violence and incoherent plots, two words pop up over and over, words that excite a young male in ways that only "dinosaur," and later, "cheerleader," could really match.

Ninja, and Cop.  With rare exception the two of these separately meant that you were either getting black clad acrobatic butchers with explosives and swords, or a lone cop playing by his own rules stacking up bodies like he's going for a high score in lawsuits against the force.

"Through simplicity, awesomeness." - Lao Tsu

It was this training that made me stop when I saw this game, and wonder, can such a thing really live up to the title?  Can a thing called Ninja Cop really be as epic as all of my 80's film experience would have made me expect? Is it, in short, awesome?
No. No it is not.

It is facemeltingly fucking awesome.  The name itself evokes images of gangs with ninja taking hostages for no reason, stalked and killed by a masked, sword-wielding police officer who is honed to the edge of being a pure killing machine, and that's what you get.  It's like Shinobi, only far better.
Yes. I said that.

Railing kill!

Ninja Cop (known as Ninja Five-O if you get an NTSC region copy) is literally what you'd expect if a Cannon-era action film was made into a gameboy game.  You play the Ninja Cop Joe Osugiand get a choice at the start of three levels: Bank, Harbor, or Airport.  Each level is split into 3 regular stages and then one boss, in a fairly typical arrangement with enemies to slice and dice, hostages to rescue, and keys to attain to unlock the end of each stage.  Each level is filled with the sort of multicultural gang that could only form in a video game: Men in suits with guns and knives and TNT; terrorists with machine-guns and ski masks; Ninja of various outfit colors (none black), and giant 9' samurai robot... things... with boomerangs and cannons.  You show me another game so bad-ass and insane that they give samurai robots cannons.  And make no mistake, these guys will mess you up.  If you get blown up, expect to get treated to your wrecked, ON FIRE, body slowly cooking as a reminder of how hard you just failed, grasshopper.

Smell that? It's your failure!  As well as your cooking flesh.

Fail you will, too, because this game is not easy.  Most enemies follow simple move, aim, shoot patterns, but some take hostages which forces you to hit them when they lean out to shoot.. or if you have enough health you can decide to kill both of 'em.  None of the enemies take many hits, but most are put in spots that force you to decide on a good approach... the standard "badguys" keep steady fire up when they see you, the samurai can utterly wreck your ninja in a few hits... and the enemy ninja simply assault you with swords, leading to some really fast and flashy combats with swords and ninja stars flying everywhere.  It is a game that isn't just a straight slaughter, and there's a level of satisfaction in very kill.

No caption. Just giant samurai robot awesome.

The controls are tight and easy to get used to, the ninja leaping, climbing, and attacking right on cue. If it looks like you can grab something, you can, so levels are a breeze to clamber through.  If a thing is too high, or an approach is too dangerous by foot, there's a grappling hook you can use, allowing you to swing, flip, and attack from it. The grappling hook will take a bit to get adjusted to, but in the end is what really makes the game amazing.  The first time you hook a floor, flip up and over a platform, flip off the hook, land, and slice a guy sending him falling over a railing... if you don't take pause and go "Oh, wow." You have no soul, or were never a 10 year old boy watching ninja movies.

Yes, I yelled Kiiiiya! Don't judge me.

Did I mention sword hits will send people spinning away like in a Hong Kong flick? Because they will. It's awesome.  All this game needs is a guitar for you to wail on.

Weapons are what you'd expect. Ninja stars can be upgraded to fireballs, and the sword can be used to slash or in a sort of rotating leaping slash like Ninja Gaiden.  They're not innovative, but like everything else in the game they're effective and well implemented.  Once you get the hang of the controls and the hook, you'll be slicing through levels with ease.  If it doesn't show, I can't recommend this game enough.  From the tight controls, bright and entertaining graphics, to the crazed and chaotic fights that come up, this is one of the best games I've played on any system.  In terms of platformers it's a work of art, and ranks up with some of the true classics, reminding me of some of the Sega greats like Shinobi.  If you like ninjas, cops, or platformers, get this game. Get this game NOW.

First upgrade - Faaaabulous outfit. Second upgrade- Fireball to kill people who make fun of purple.

It is a fun, fast, and simply satisfying game that shows how good a simple concept can be when its done right. You NEED to own this game.

Because if you don't, Ninja Cop will know. Ninja Cop will find you.

Find Ninja Cop on ebay | Amazon | Get a reproduction on

Released: 2003-04-15
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Hudson Soft