Monday, March 24, 2014

Review: Beatmania GB

When thinking of rhythm games, most gamers see images of fake plastic instruments and greedy publishers. Guitar Hero and Rock Band peripherals are the radioactive waste of gaming, populating every yard sale, thrift shop, and dumpster nationwide. We tend to attribute the falling gem style of gameplay to GH, but the truth is there existed a series with this style of play long before we got to pretend to be rockstars. 

Beatmania is the star of Japanese rhythm games and came to the scene in 1997 courtesy of Konami, roughly eight years before Guitar Hero's debut. Beatmania started in the arcades and has since seen ports to home consoles, including the Game Boy Color. Searching "Beatmania" on Youtube will bring up videos of arcade-goers hammering away at a control pad with almost inhuman speed. These versions of the game are considerably more intense than the original as they feature much more quickly scrolling gems and two additional buttons, but this handheld port of the original arcade version, like any rhythm game worth its salt, will wear your fingers down to bloody stumps by the end of it.

Beatmania GB condenses the arcade panel from five buttons and a turntable to the Game Boy's layout perfectly. Left, Right, and Up on the D-Pad along with the A and B buttons represent the five main keys while Start takes the place of the turntable. Anyone who's played a rhythm game will be able to clear the first few songs on Normal mode without much trouble, but may have to retry the last one a few times. Those not familiar with the genre or don't care for the layout can tailor the game by adjusting the difficulty or reducing the number of buttons from five to two or three as well as rearrange their configuration in relation to the columns of notes. 

A music game on the Game Boy may sound odd to some given its relatively primitive capabilities, but there's a reason the hardware has taken on a new life as a digital musical instrument. Its distinct sound represents a time when games were transitioning from primitive worlds with barely distinguishable blips and bleeps and crude visuals to more fully-fleshed entertainment experiences with lively soundtracks them all the more engrossing. The melodies within Pokemon Red/Blue and Tetris are some of the most iconic tunes in gaming, period. Beatmania GB beautifully represents this hardware with over a dozen tracks spanning classical, jazz, reggae, j-pop, techno, and more. You may have listened to Mozart hundreds of times before, but you haven't really heard it until it's been synthesized on a Game Boy and pumped out through a grainy, coin-sized speaker. 

There can't be more than thirty minutes of audio among all of the game's tracks but as it is with any rhythm game, Beatmania GB is endlessly replayable. Until every song can be completed perfectly with not a single note receiving anything less than a "Great", there is still work to be done. Even after this mastery is accomplished, it's no less enjoyable to replay your favorite songs. If that isn't enough, there is also support for two players via link cable as well as a challenge mode where notes disappear before shortly before reaching the bar. Tapping away on the tiny buttons of a Game Boy in time to a tune is oddly satisfying. The game dishes out notes in surprisingly tricky sequences at times and doesn't fail to make the player feel like they're playing the song despite the fact that only two thumbs are being engaged. Beatmania GB, as well as games like Elite Beat Agents and Rhythm Heaven prove that we don't need elaborate controllers modeled after real instruments to enjoy a rhythm game as they are all equally effective at satisfying our deeply rooted rhythm centers.

Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: December 1997

Find Beatmania GB on ebay | Amazon

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Club Nintendo Feb. rewards are here

This month's Club Nintendo offerings are Kid Icarus of Myths and Monsters, which, if its difficulty is at all comparable to the original NES title, will provide much more than 150 coins worth of enjoyment abject misery. On the other hand, 200 coins is enough to purchase Number Battle, a game which appears to have not a single gameplay video on Youtube, but is some sort of turn-based game played on a board by linking number tiles in some fashion. It actually looks like something worth dropping 200 coins on, which makes this month a pretty solid bet for 3DS Club Nintendo downloads.

Friday, March 7, 2014

More cheap Android games in Humble Mobile Bundle 4


The Humble Mobile sub-category of the Humble Bundle offerings contains strictly Android games, so there no Steam keys to go along with the titles found in the fourth iteration of this bundle, but nevertheless you can't go wrong when you name your own price. This time around you'll be able to get Catan, Vector, Riptide GP2, and Zombie Gunship for however much you wish to pay. Beat the average and BADLAND Premium as well as Breach & Clear will also be thrown into the pot. As always, your purchase can be split however you wish among developers, Humble Bundle, and the EFF and Child's Play charities, and we can expect additional games to be revealed for those who beat the average as the bundle draws nearer to a close. As it stands, there are 10 days and 15 hours remaining.

Review: Shantae: Risky's Revenge

I had some unkind things to say about the original Shantae on the GBC, but given the game’s wonderful presentation and charm, I had high hopes for the sequel, Risky’s Revenge, released for DSiWare in October of 2010 and then on iOS a year later. It didn’t disappoint. The problems I had with the original - the tiny reach of the protagonist’s main attack combined with an overlarge, confusing and brutal overworld - have been addressed in the sequel. Risky’s Revenge is an improvement on its predecessor in almost every way.

The story picks up right after the first game, with Shantae working as the guardian genie of Scuttle Town and her piratical nemesis Risky Boots crafting a new plan to conquer Sequin Land and take her revenge on Shantae for foiling her the last time, so Risky’s Revenge is a pretty fitting title. This time around, Shantae must traverse Sequin Land to acquire three magic seals to keep Risky from gaining the power of an ancient magic lamp. Of course, it’s all an excuse for Shantae to go off adventuring again, and as far as excuse plots go, it does its job of fading into the background without completely disappearing.

Stylistically, Risky’s Revenge shows an imagination and aesthetic drive equal to its predecessor, but with the help of almost a decade’s technological advancement. The soundtrack is a combination of tunes from the original - updated to modern sound technology - and completely new tunes, and they’re all catchy and memorable. Graphically, Risky’s Revenge is beautiful, with great visual design and smooth animation, although it is a bit puzzling that characters’ in-game sprites show a different shading style than their dialogue portraits.

The gameplay is largely the same as the first game with several small but significant changes. First, Shantae’s hair actually has respectable range this time, and second, there is an option to automatically run instead of having to hold down the attack button. Animations for Shantae’s transformations have also been shortened, making changing forms feel like less of a chore. The action also pauses this time around when Shantae is performing her transformation dances, meaning you won’t get blindsided by enemies while helplessly transforming. All of these changes, along with a greater attention to level and enemy design and placement, make the gameplay in Risky’s Revenge feel fluid and satisfying.

On a more big-picture scale, Risky’s Revenge is a metroidvania platformer with a wide world to explore and plenty of secrets to find. The game puts me in mind of a side scrolling Zelda game (no, not like Zelda II, sit down) with its macguffin quest and structure of an expansive overworld interspersed with dungeons and side areas. There’s one mechanic in which some areas have multiple “layers,” and in certain places Shantae can jump into the foreground or background to access a different layer. It feels unintuitive, and makes some areas feel more confusing than they really are. Once you’ve wrapped your head around it, it’s easy enough to navigate different layers, but it nevertheless seems like an inelegant way of doing things. Still, it’s not enough of a sticking point to ruin the experience by any means.

All in all, Risky’s Revenge takes everything that was great about Shantae - the winning style and engaging dungeons - while weeding out or correcting the problems that held it back. I went through Shantae wondering when it would end, and I finished Risky's Revenge hungry for more. Risky’s Revenge is a great pick for anyone looking to scratch that classic platformer or metroidvania itch, and I eagerly await the next installment in the series.

Now, all of this is based on the DSiWare version, played on a 3DS. The game is also available on iOS, however, and I would be remiss in my duty as a critic if I didn’t issue a word of caution over this port. The game’s content is, as far as I can tell, largely unchanged, but touch screen controls have not been kind to Shantae. The iOS version uses a virtual joypad and buttons, and I, for one, could not get used to them. A game like Shantae requires a certain amount of precision in its control scheme, and it helps immensely to be able to tell what button you are pressing without having to look. Without the tactile feel of a physical button, the iOS port loses that feedback, and you’ll have to blindly guess where the buttons are and hope that your thumb is tapping in the right place. The iOS version is compatible with external controllers, however, so if you happen to have one, use it. The touch screen controls are just too fiddly and imprecise for me to really recommend Risky's Revenge on iOS unless you do happen to own an iOS compatible controller.

Find it on Nintendo eShop | iOS

Developer: WayForward Technologies
Publisher: WayForward Technologies
Release Date: 10-4-2010