Saturday, November 28, 2009

Level Up: Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage

(Audio will no longer be posted here, I'll explain soon)

I have to admit, I like Spyro the Dragon. Even though he’s marketed towards younger kids, I still enjoy most of his games. So, today I’ll be talking about one of my favourite Spyro games; Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage for the Playstation.

The game starts with Spyro saying that he needs a vacation (from what, I have no idea) and goes through a portal. However, instead of reaching the sandy beaches of Dragon Shores, he ends up on the distant world of Avalar. There he meets Elora, a faun, Hunter, a comic relief type cheetah, and the Professor, who built the portal to get Spyro there. He also meets Ripto, an evil sorcerer who was also accidentally transported there by the professor. Ripto has taken over most of Avalar and the one thing that can stop him is a Dragon (for some reason), and although Spyro is small for his species, he’s up to the task.

The levels are well designed. It will normally have you have to follow the residents of the land around once, help them out so you can continue and reward you with a talisman needed to eventually move on and finish the game. However, the levels are not linear. There is the path that you have to follow at first, but afterwards you’ll see there is a lot more space to explore. There are 400 gems and a few orbs for you to collect in most levels, and though some are on that first path, most aren’t. Since they both eventually become necessary, you’ll want to find most of them. Though the gems are just found on the ground, most orbs are not. Most of the time you’ll have to talk to a citizen of the level and do a favour for him and he’ll reward you with an orb.

The levels grouped and divided into areas called home worlds. These also have orbs and gems to collect, but no talisman to find. They are also significantly bigger than most levels. These home worlds make it so you can adventure around the levels available in any order you want so long as you complete all of them so you can move to the next home world. At the end of each home world is a boss (otherwise, there are none in the game). The bosses are a piece of cake and shouldn’t be a problem for most gamers.

All this is fun, but I have to say the best things about this game are the controls, which is important in platformers (especially in 3D). In this game, Spyro has the ability to breathe fire, jump, glide, run and ram stuff. The L and R buttons are used to adjust to camera and this game works with the analog stick Playstation controllers. I highly recommend using it by the way because the analog stick gives you better control while running. Running like that moves the pace of the game to a whole other level so you will want to use it most of the game.

If I had to say I had a problem with the game, it’s that this game is too easy. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since this game seems made for kids, but it takes away from the replay-ability of the game. See, in a game like this, the replay-ability lies in finding all the orbs and gems in each level and home world. But this game is often so easy that you can easily find everything on your first visit to a level if you just adventure around a bit (exceptions for when you need a skill you can only use later in the game). Like I said, this isn’t a bad thing, but when I beat and find everything so easily the first time, it doesn’t make me want to play it again after I finished the game.

This game is great. It’s a great 3D platforming game that makes you want to get everything right away, since you often know you can. The animation is also fun to watch, making up for the Playstations graphical limitations with cartoonishly exaggerated movements. The only downside is its lack of a challenge so I feel I have to take away some of its score. I give this game 8 out of 10 levels.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Level Up: Mario & Luigi: Partner's in Time

I always like talking about underrated or over looked game during Level Up, but there’s one game that surprises me that’s overlooked like it is: it was made by Nintendo, stars the Mario bros and is part of the popular Mario RPG side series. I’m talking about Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time. I don’t know why this game isn’t all that popular, but I can tell you why it should be.

The game opens to our heroes in Princess Peach’s castle as she hops in a time machine. When it returns, the princess is no where to be found. It ends up that Peach had gone back to the past when an alien invasion was taking place. Speaking of the Mushroom Kingdom of the past, guess who else was in the castle? Baby Mario and Baby Luigi! Luckily, right before the aliens (known as the Shroobs) attacked, Baby Bowser kidnapped them and Baby Princess Peach. Of course, the Baby brothers fight to get the Baby princess back. (Sound bite: Chili’s Baby Back Ribs) Anyways, back to the future (to reference one of my favourite sci-fi series) where a time hole to that same time has opened up. After Luigi accidentally falls in a Mario jumps in to save his brother and possibly the princess, the plumbers meet up with their younger selves and team up to save the Princess and the Kingdom of the past from the Shoob invasion.

I just have one problem with the story: it makes Swiss Cheese out of the time continuum. As someone who is intrigued by the concept of time travel and a fan of Back to the Future, this bugs me beyond reason. (Sound clip: Back to the Future) Not only was there an entire alien invasion that no one remembered, but there are many plot holes that stem from characters interacting with themselves. Although it was sometimes clever, these moments are few and far between. This is a big downside to the game that I always try my best to ignore to just have fun.

Battling is probably where you’ll have the most fun. Like in the rest of the Mario RPG series, the battles are turn based and give you a variety of choices on how you want to use your turns. However, during your opponents turn, you have to opportunity to either dodge their attacks or even counter them using a sense of timing and by studying your enemies. As a matter of fact, you’re never really sure which brother the enemies will go for unless you figure out the hints they drop. This turns the battles into a mix between classic RPG and platforming.

While you’re not battling, you’ll be adventuring around both times as, not only Mario and Luigi, but as their baby forms, which they carry on their backs. (Sound bite: Chili’s Baby Back Ribs). You’ll want to keep the two pairs together if you plan on battling, but when they go their separate ways, they get to use different abilities to reach new areas. A mastery of these skills is required to get to where you’re going and it’s this concept that really gives the exploration in all Mario and Luigi games its allure.

As for why this game is the less liked of the Mario RPG games, I have a few theories. First off, maybe it’s because it’s too childish. I’m not just talking about the fact that this game stars babies, but also that the game holds your hand and makes sure you understand everything perfectly before letting you use any of your skills. This isn’t a bad thing, but can turn off some veteran gamers. Also, the humour is pretty childish, like both young and adult Luigi constantly crying, or young Toadsworth unknowingly fighting his older self to get the baby Princess Peach back. (Sound bite: Chili’s Baby Back Ribs). (Leo interrupts) NO! That joke’s getting old. Another reason why it wasn’t liked might be because it offers too much of the same. Sure we have the babies added and it’s a new story, but otherwise most game play elements are the same as Mario and Luigi: Super Star Saga which came out two years prior. Not that it’s a bad thing, it just seems like Partners in Time is trying to be a bit too much like Super Star Saga.

None the less, this is a fun game. Despite its flaws, the story is fun, a little cheesy in a good way and has a few twists along the way I was not expecting. Most of the game play elements were taken from Mario and Luigi: Super Star Saga, and that’s a good thing since it was a great game (but that’s a review for another day). All and all, if you loved Super Star Saga, you should at least like Partners in Time.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Level Up: Pokemon Stadium

When I was growing up, there was probably no bigger fad then Pokémon. It was a hit TV show, a great game and had tons of other merchandise. Everyone I knew had to have one of the first games, either Pokémon Blue or Red. So, when we learned there was going to be a Pokémon game in 3D, we lost it. Enter Pokémon Stadium.

Seeing all the Pokémon of the time in 3D was the big reason to get it. Personally, having watched the show before playing the game, there were certain Pokémon, like Koffing or Ghastly, that just made me go “what have they done to you?” or “no, that’s wrong” when I saw their first pixalized forms. When I saw them in Pokémon stadium I went “Yes! That’s right! That’s what a Pokémon should look like!”... Except for Pidgey, it took until the Game Boy Advanced games for him to look right...

Pokémon stadium was pretty basic; it just gave fans the ability to fight with their favourite Pokémon, but in 3D! It might not seem like much, but to 10 year old kids riding the current fad, this was awesome. There were many areas of the game to play in, such as the different cups and the Gym Leader castle, where you had to beat a bunch of trainers, and the Battle Now feature, where you were thrown into a fight with a pre-chosen team. There was also the Free Battle, a personal favourite of mine where you could just fight for fun and chose which rules you wanted t go by.

Another feature that made this a must have for anyone who had the Blue, Red or Yellow Pokémon games was this games use of the Transfer Pack Accessory (you even got one with each copy of this game). This was a device you could insert a Game Boy cartridge into and then plug it into you Nintendo 64 controller. With this game, you could put your Pokémon Blue, Red or Yellow game into the Transfer Pack, start playing Pokémon Stadium and use your Pokémon for some of the fights (if they meet the requirements). Otherwise, you had to “rent” Pokémon, which meant they weren’t always fitted with the moves you wanted. You could also visit the GB Tower and play the game in your Transfer Pack on your TV screen (which saved on having to buy countless batteries for your Game Boy). Also, you could visit Prof. Oak’s lab to view the stats of your Pokémon, keep some on your N64 instead of the Game Boy or trade them around with other games. These are only some of the many ways that Pokémon Stadium took advantage of this neat accessory.

But wait, what if, god forbid, you ever got tired of battling? Pokémon Stadium though of a solution for that: The Kids Club. This area of the game was a collection of 9 Pokémon themed mini games. Each one was fun and made use of different Pokémon: there were games where players had to make their Magikarps hop, race their Rattatas and throw hooped Ekans around Diglettes. These games were not only fun, but I can clearly recall some days where me and my friends popped in Stadium just to play these games for hours. As a matter of fact, I found that the music from one of these games, Thundering Dynamo, best suited the mood of this review. Listen… aren’t I right? It’s one of the first games I’ve played to feature optional mini-games completely separate from the main game, and one of the best.

Pokémon Stadium might not have seemed like much at first glance, but once you scratched its surface, you could spend a long time figuring everything out. There were many modes to play in and lots of stuff to unlock. It made excellent use of an otherwise little known accessory and made it so every Pokémon fan needed this and at least one of the Game Boy games. Upon thinking about it, Stadium seemed a little hollow with out owning Pokémon Blue, Red or Yellow, and there were a lot of reasons to get Pokémon Stadium if you already owned those games. It’s kind of like if you could buy shoes separately: they would still be comfortable on one foot, but to get the full feeling, you need both. None the less, this was a great contribution to a rising game series.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Level Up: Little Nemo the Dream Master

Little Nemo: The Dream Master is another awesome licensed game by Capcom for the NES. At the time of its release, this was a winning combination (DuckTales, Chip n Dale Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck...). This is of course not an exception.

The game play is fun. You feed candy to animals, then use them (in a very Kirby like fashion) to find keys all around the level and continue on. Each animal naturally does something different: fly, climb walls, jump impossible heights... Only a few animals can kill enemies, which is still an improvement since Nemo can only stun them using his candy. Some animals also temporarily increase your health bar, so you’ll want to have one most of the game. They’re always found at the same spots and regenerate if that spot leaves your screen.

This game seems to embody childhood. First off, you're a kid running around a fantasy dream land. Even with everything trying to kill you, it's still a joy simply to be there. The magic of it all sort of stems from the locations you’re in: a giant mushroom forest, a toy land, a cloud city, etc. 8 levels of wonder. The music also supplies a great deal of the mood; its fun and light hearted. It makes it so that no matter how frustrating a moment might be, you can’t really get angry for long. Another area that captures the mood is the colors of the games; it has a lot of purple and aquamarine neon type colors. It gives the feeling for the surreal nature of what a dream land should be.

The levels can be challenging, since you do need to cover most of the map to find the keys to move on. You have possibilities of non-liniality, but generally, there seems to be an order in which most of the levels can be figured out: i.e. you need the bee to get to the end, you need the lizard to get to the bee, you need the gorilla to get to the lizard... It's kind of like a puzzle, figuring out the order of things. This kind of reminds me of DuckTales, in the way you can adventure around, but there’s still really only one path to the end.

As for figuring out the path, it can be a little challenge, but once you start getting into it, it starts getting simple. This brings me to the challenge rating of this game. I’ve heard a lot of people complain about how difficult this game is. For a game staring a little boy, its harder then would be expected. But is this horribly out of reason? No, this is far from being one of the most difficult games on the consol. Sure, it’s not as easy as other “child” oriented games, like Felix the Cat or DuckTales, but it’s defiantly not as hard as StarTropics, Batman or even Mario. It still offers a challenge, without it being a cakewalk to anybody.

This game is simply fun. It embodies childhood in almost every aspect of the game. Like most Capcom games of that time, it’s unique and original, even though it’s based off a movie based off a comic. If you enjoy most platformers like Kirby, Mega man or the licensed Capcom NES games mentioned earlier, this game is a must have.