Saturday, September 22, 2012

Review: Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure

It's easy to be cynical about the modern games industry. It was only over a decade ago that groups such as Nintendo, Konami and Capcom were at the peak of their creative output, releasing games that would become classics in their respective genres. In the past couple of years the true sides of these companies have come on display and it shows through their output of games that lack any sort of imagination, crushing people's hopes of continuations of their series (or in Capcom's case outright cancellation of them). Out of all of these companies SEGA seems to have come out better than anyone. They mostly get decried for their handling of Sonic and some rather silly decisions (cutting content of Yakuza 3, refusing to localise Yakuza Kenzan etc.) but in creating original IPs they still put out a rather surprising amount of great content even post-Dreamcast, Exhibit A: Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure.

There are certain motifs that can be traced throughout SEGA's history that give their games a character that non-SEGA games lack, the most obvious one being bright blue skies to replicate the feeling of a summers day. Despite being a 2012 release Rhythm Thief is probably the most unapologetically SEGA game yet with colourful characters, a vibrant soundtrack, large presence of primary colours, and most importantly: lots and lots of blue skies.

With all this in mind Rhythm Thief is very story-driven for a SEGA game. The main character Rapheal conceals the persona of Phantom R, an art thief who steals priceless works of art to discover the mystery of his missing father. For a plot that can be reduced to a fine bullet point it gives the sense of a sprawling adventure. Phantom R comes off through the game as one of the most elegant characters in video games since SEGA's very own NiGHTS, with an amount of sheen that is rarely found in modern video games.

These traits are complemented by the gameplay. The nimble prowess of Phantom R can be proxied for the player in the game's core mechanics. These are broken down into minigames that each have a different method of control, to mixed results (tilt controls = BAD!). It could be summed up as Rhythm Tengoku with a story but this does the game a disservice. It helps that Rhythm Thief is up there with Super Mario 3D Land for having the best 3D effects on the system and a vinbrance that other games lack.

My biggest criticism is the glue holding the mini-games together. The game has a Layton-esque map system to it that while providing complementary dialogue to give the game more of a sense of whimsy, it comes of as unnecessary, especially when the game gives you a puzzle than tells you where to go to solve it (I would have preferred a more Gitaroo Man approach of story telling). There's another problem with the music itself. While it isn't bad by any sense of the word, most of it is rather forgetful which is rather important for a game that is based around music. These problems sound major but you'll be so charmed by everything else that it doesn't seem important, and it isn't. It's a love letter to SEGA from SEGA and does it need to be anything else?

Find Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2012-07-10
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: SEGA

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review: Gunstar Super Heroes

While Treasure's almost two decade existence has provided a cornucopia of awesome games (good and bad), only a handful of titles have been picked up by the mainstream gaming media. The most famous of these is Ikaruga which might as well be a synonym for vertical scrolling shooting game with how often it's mentioned in comparison to other games (even when it's mostly unwarranted). Also notable are Sin & Punishment which was reappraised after it's Virtual Console re release and it's sequel which is the only good game in the Wii. Gunstar Heroes was the first game Treasure made and also one of their best. When it's sequel came out there was surprising minimal fanfare but how would the game turn out?

Multiple weapons have been a concept in video games dating as far back as R-Type. Treasure's innovation to this with the original Gunstar Heroes was to introduce weapon mixing. With four weapons this allowed for fourteen weapon combinations at your disposal. Gunstar Super Heroes gives you three fixed weapons to use that you can change between at any time. This seems like a step down from the original game until you realise that the game gives you two of the most powerful weapons from the original game so Treasure can make the game even more challenging than the original.

Thie third weapon is dependant on which character you pick. In the original the character you picked depended of whether you wanted to shoot in eight different directions or whether you wanted to shoot while running. There's been a clear effort to streamline the original game which makes this game a sequel by way of a remake. In terms of pandering to nostalgia Gunstar Super Heroes might be Treasure's most fan-service filled game yet. Most treasure games usually have references to their previous games whether their minor (Gunstar bubblegum advertised in the billboards in Astro Boy: Omega Factor) to significant (one of the playable characters in Rakugaki Showtime is Marina from Mischief Makers).

This game takes this a whole new level by not only remaking stages from the original Gunstar Heroes but also fully recreating stages from other SEGA games. A segment from the end of the second stage combines the game play of Flicky with the mechanics of Wario Ware: Twisted, the famous Dice Palace stage from the original provides a cavalcade of nostalgia and imagination from Treasure in the finest concentration of ideas that the team has ever done. These parts can come off as incredibly superficial and the claim isn't unwarranted. The game can't make up its mind on whether it wants to be a proper Gunstar Heroes sequel or Wario Ware as done by Treasure.

This doesn't detract from what makes the original so much fun in the first place. Gunstar Super Heroes has some of the best controls for any action on the GBA with controls being tight and rigid, the boss design remains some of Treasure's best work providing fun experiences that don't overstay their welcome and a soundtrack that sounds like the Mega Drive's sound chip at it's finest. Gunstar Super Heroes isn't one of Treasures best games and as a sequel, it could have been a lot more. But none of that is important as Treasure have managed to create another fun game that no other company is capable of as part of their goal to finally rid peoples minds of Light Crusader once and for all.

Find Gunstar Super Heroes on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2005-10-25
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Treasure