Saturday, March 27, 2010

Level Up: Totally Rad

Totally Rad is one of my favorite games to talk about: not only is it a game that no one I know has EVER heard of, but among the few reviews I can find of it, the opinions are pretty much split (kind of like with Battle of the Bands). As with Battle of the Bands, which was probably quickly prejudged due to other rhythm music games, I think the people who don’t like Totally Rad are jumping to conclusions based on the title alone. Think about it; Totally Rad? Does that even sound close to the title of a good game? Well, let’s see why you shouldn’t judge a game by its title alone with Totally Rad for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The story of the game is that you play a kid named Jake, a magicians apprentice who… know what? No, you don’t care about the story; you are playing a game called Totally Rad. Yes, I know I just said you shouldn’t judge a game by its title, but think about it; they put that little thought into the name, what makes you think the story is anything deep? It’s pretty much standard with people telling you to save the world… because you have to. Though I have to say, you should still check out the cut scenes in between the levels, filled with so much radical lingo, you’ll wonder how anyone ever thought that was cool. Though I’m sure Linkara’s 90’s Kid would be quick to defend his native tongue… (Clip: 90’s kid)- But he’d just be proving me right.

The game plays like a mix of Mega Man and Metroid. I say Mega Man more the Metroid, because you can charge your shot like Mega Man, though this game came before he could do that, and because the levels and some of the enemies do make me think of the blue bomber. The Metroid aspect is mostly based on the twirly jump, which reminds me very much of Samus’ and maybe few of the enemies and background influences… maybe. The big difference between those two and Jake is that you seem a bit slower. I hesitate to say that the controls are “stiffer” since I honestly don’t have a problem with them, but I wouldn’t disagree with you if you think they are.

One aspect this game has that takes it beyond the regular shooting and jumping platform game is magic. I don’t mean like it’s a great aspect, I mean, literally, it’s magic. Most of his spells fall into the category of “Typical, but VERY useful magic skills”, like two types of healing (full and half-way), freezing the enemies, making yourself invincible and 4 types of attacking spells to either hurt or kill one or several enemies. But the most unique spells are the ones that transform into one of the three creatures (plus one spell for turning back) which reminds me of what I saw of Demon’s Crest. Unlike that game though, the transformations from this game are far from necessary (I know since I’ve finished the game without using them). So, it adds the option of making this game different from standard platformers without forcing it too, which I enjoy. It’s worth mention though that you have a magic bar, so use your spells sparingly; e.i. don’t transform too much if you plan on relying on healing spells.

The way the game looks is pretty interesting. It has a whole futuristic city type thing that’s kind of hard to explain. With the way the background and enemies are designed, it gives a bit of the same feeling as some of the Ninja Turtles games on the NES. Things are pretty well sprited; if I had to compare the quality of them, I think I’d have to put it somewhere between Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man. The coloring of it is probably what gives it its personality though. It can be described as neon, or as far as the NES can produce neon. The only problem is that these weird colors and designing might be another reason this game get prejudged like it does, but I think it’s a matter of opinion since I say it gives the game much of its flavor. Just remember, it’s not all about how it looks.

Totally Rad may not be the greatest game out there, but it’s still a pretty good game. I will admit it’s far from perfect though; there are minor issues thought out the game that you can easily get to you if you let it. The only one I’ve really had a problem with myself is the fact that you start way back at the start of a level, no matter how long it is, if you die any point during. This can cause big problems if you get to a boss. Still, I don’t think its worthy of the hate it gets from some people, and I can’t help but wonder “If it was under its original title or Magic John, would people like it better?” To sum it all up, I call this game the “From Paris with Love” of NES platformers; nothing astounding, but still pretty good for what you’d expect. Plus, you can get this game for like 2 bucks online, so if you don’t like it, it’s not a big loss. I give Totally Rad for the Nintendo Entertainment System 7.5 levels out of 10.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Level Up: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days

Kingdome Hearts is one of those game series that can intrigue you by the concept alone. The idea of adventuring around recognizable Disney locations and movies is appealing to a lot of people, whether it be out of nostalgia, the fact that you still fall into Disney’s target audience, or you’re just a fan of adventuring through different worlds in your video games. It also doesn’t hurt that SquareEnix, known for the epic Final Fantasy series, is the one making these games, and you know they’re going to put a bit of their style into the mix. I was able to find out just how good a job they did when I played Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days for the Nintendo DS.

Going in, I thought that I might have a hard time following the story, since the only other Kingdom Hearts game I played was Chain of Memories for the Game Boy Advanced, and the series looks like it’s heavily based on a continuing story. But I was happy to find that, despite there being a lot of elements of the plot based on other games (especially Chain of Memories in this case), that the story was still really easy to follow and can work on its own.

The game begins as a flash back to day 7 (though it’s quickly forgotten it’s a flashback), where Roxas (the character you play as) has his first memory. We learn he’s part of the Organization XIII that has the goal to release all the hearts into the sky and create Kingdom Hearts. This is done by you and the other members, who are all beings known as “Heartless” because they have no “Heart” in the figurative sense and believe Kingdom Hearts will give them one. After you learn all the basics from the game, things start getting a little mysterious; who is the new member Xion? Why do some people act so weird around her? Why is Roxas so important? Who is this person he keeps seeing in his head? I will admit that it can become hard to follow and the voice acting can be hilariously bad at some points, but it should still grip you in enough to want to play through just to figure it all out. Even if it’s not your thing, it doesn’t get in the way of the rest of the game play.

(See how bad that was?)

The setting of the Disney locations is used just as that; settings. I’m not sure if it’s like this in the other Kingdom Heart games, but the feeling of being in “Ahgrabah” (the first Disney world you visit) felt pretty superficial. You don’t follow the movie’s plot when you’re in there, you fight original in game enemies and you can’t interact with the main characters since you’re doing a secret mission. You do, on occasion meet with the “sidekick” characters, such as the Genie, Tinkerbell or Phil from Hercules, just because it wouldn’t affect anything, but I think it’s too little. They don’t even have any music from the movies, save for “This is Halloween”, which would have been an easy way to get that feeling. What I’m getting at is that if you were going to get this game based solely on reliving Disney movies, I’d look into that twice.

The gameplay was what really surprised me though. I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much, since I though the game was going to be heavily story based, and was going to get was a standard turn-based RPG system, much like Chrono Cross or the 2D Final Fantasies I’ve played. What I got was a fantastic mix between beat-em-up platforming and RPG. Instead of slowly waiting your turn, you’ll be frantically pressing buttons to attack. At the end of each mission though, you still get experience points, but the system of “Leveling up” and becoming stronger is once again something original. See, you’re given these “panels”, which you can unlock, find and buy more of as you go along. As long as you have the space to put in desired power-ups in the panels, you can put them in and become stronger and change your characters magic, attack pattern, items held and other skills. One of these panels is indeed the Level Up, which boosts up all of your stats. My only problem with the gameplay is that often so chaotix that having to go through menus for magic and items will probably kill you, so make good use of the 4 shortcut buttons you got.

This game surprised me; not that I didn’t like it or I liked it more than I thought I would, but in the sense that what I thought I would like, I didn’t, and vice versa. The Disney aspect was disappointing, but the gameplay was surprisingly innovative and fun to master. I enjoyed the story about as much as I expected, but for different reasons then I thought I would. And even after I finished, I actually kept on playing just for the fun of it all and to get the bonus stuff, so it’s not just one of those “play through for the story” games. So, if you’ve ever been intrigued by the Kingdom Hearts series, don’t be afraid to make this one your first venture into it. I give Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days for the Nintendo DS 8.5 Levels out of 10.

Level up: Kirby 64

Kirby remains probably the most unchanged Nintendo series still going today. Mario made a successful dramatic change to 3D, the same can be said for the Zelda series along with other changed gameplay over the years, Donkey went from Platforming to… everything else, so on and so on. Arguments could probably be made for other characters, but it’s always seemed that Kirby is perfectly ok moving in 2D Platforming levels and sucking up enemies as he’s always done. Any changes seem temporary, like games like Kirby’s Canvas Curse. As a matter of fact, he’s even gone 3D (or 2.5D) for a game, and even that was temporary. Today I’m going to look at that game, Kirby 64: The Chrystal Shards for the Nintendo 64.

The change to 2.5D wasn’t the only change made to Kirby in this game; he also had the abilities to have two powers at once. Now, I don’t mean he can store two powers at once and keep one in reserve, like in Kirby and the Squeak Squad, I mean that he can COMBINE two powers, making a new one. The 7 base powers you get in this game are Burn, Stone, Ice, Needle, Bomb, Spark, and Cutter. This means that you can have 7 abilities combines with 7 abilities, plus the original 7 on their own, making a total of 35 powers you can use in this game. Though I can’t help but frown that Wheel was left out…

The abilities HAVE always been the main attraction in the Kirby games, and with 35 powers to play with, this game is not an exception to that. But the one thing I really like it randomly combining the two powers to see what I come up. Sure, at this point, I pretty much know what I’m going to get, but the first time I combined Burn and Bomb to make fireworks, or turned Kirby into a curling stone with the Ice and Stone powers was more than pleasantly surprised(PS, curling rules, Silver and Gold medal for Canada!). This becomes a big part of the fun; finding new abilities and learning how to use them properly in your current situation.

Not only does Kirby get all these neat abilities, but he also has 4 friends to help him along the way. Though Waddle Dee seems just used a plot device, Ribbon just collects the shard and Adeleine will only give you the occasional life or tomato, the highlight of Kirby’s partner’s is actually his arch enemy King Dedede. Some levels, Kirby will hop on his back and go for a ride and he hops along and smashes anything in his way with his hammer of awesomeness. I had to mention this, cause some of the levels are worth playing over and over again just for these parts.

As with Pokemon Stadium (the only other N64 game I’ve reviewed so far), this game has a selection of mini-games. Though this time there are only three, they are still quite fun. There’s one where you collect fruit falling from trees and ram your opponents to get it, another where you hop along a path at either two spaces or one (depending on where the obstacles are places) and another where you try to remove the ground from below your adversary’s feet. The last one is my personal favorite because of how chaotic it can get while still having a sense of strategy to it, but they’re all pretty good, and once again like Pokemon Stadium, I can clearly recall times where my friends and I popped this in just to play the games. Though it’s better explained this time since it’s the only way you can get a two player mode.

Except for all of this, Kirby 64 was pretty much par for the course for Kirby, besides the collection of Chrystal Shards, which don’t offer much more to the game, even with the advanced ability of the Nintendo 64. Kirby would release one other game on a home console, a racing game by the name of Kirby’s Air Ride. Right now there are rumors of a Kirby game coming out on the Wii, but nothing is confirmed. For now, Kirby has moved back to his original home of the hand held systems and continued to pretty much stay the same… And we love him for it. Besides, as we’ve seen with Mario and Sonic, eventually, they would just come back to making him the same anyways. Kirby, don’t ever change. Unless it’s like into a wheel or something like that. The bottom line is, if you like Kirby, the you should defiantly check out this game, mostly just for the ability to combine powers. I give Kirby 64: The Chrystal Shards for the Nintendo 64 8 out of 10 Levels.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Level Up: Power Stone 2

Here’s a story from my childhood. There was a point where I actually discovered that I was a gamer, and this happened due to a friend I had who was also a gamer at the time. But, our opinions were divided on one thing: I bought a Nintendo 64, while he got himself a Sega Dreamcast. This was actually really good, cause it meant we could play twice as many games, until the point where we went our separate ways. This also meant saying goodbye to the Dreamcast, since I wouldn’t be able to afford my own for several years. Now, I have to look back and thank my friend for introducing me to a game that I probably never would have heard of before; Power Stone 2 for the Sega Dreamcast. Oh, this also means that it’s once again *Capcom Time*. Yeah, I’m not even big fans of Capcom, they just keep popping up in my reviews regularly since Dead Rising. They must be doing something right.

Power Stone 2 is a 3D fighting game. If you remember in my Thrill Kill review, I’m not a fan of fighting games, but when I find one I like, I REALLY like it; and this is one of those games. The basic premise of the game is to empty you’re opponent’s life meter by attacking them as much as possible, but what really set this game apart is the Power Stones. Once a character collects 3, he transforms into a super powered alter ego with devastating attacks. For those of you who’ve played Brawl, it’s kind of like the Smash Balls, but no guaranteed death since you only get one life to play with.

Another thing that can be compared to Brawl are the moving stages and stage hazards, where if you don’t react quickly enough, the stage will actually hurt you. This keeps the game from getting too boring and adds just that little extra more then if it were a simple BG. Plus, with only 5 stages to start, it keeps them from getting tiresome quickly.

So, now remove the interactive stage and remove the Power Stones; one more thing keeps this game really interesting. Items, and I am telling you, this game has no lack of those. Honestly, that’s good, cause the character’s attacks don’t seem to have much variation and otherwise gets repetitive. The items however, keep things interesting by randomly popping up throughout fights. They range from guns and swords to Thunder Dragons and ice rods (Clip: I WAS FROZEN TODAY!). As a matter of fact there are so many items that they actually made it so you have to “make” them in the items store, so it doesn’t start off in too much mayhem. Though sometimes finding a new combination to make a new item can be tedious, I find it’s often so worth it.

Now, what was that one aspect from Thrill Kill I liked that really sets fighting games apart? Oh yeah, the characters! Both games in the Power Stone series have interesting and diverse characters, which is awesome. This game gives you a total of 14 ones you unlock them all, plus their power forms, which means it’s technically more like 28. At the start of the game, you get 4 characters that are new to the series. There’s Julia, an heiress with an apparent split personality disorder, Gourmand, a chef willing to do anything to get the greatest recipes in the world, Accel, a gun singer with great fighting skills to boot, and my favorite, Pete, a marionette who came to life. A schizo, a cook, a cowboy and a puppet… and that’s just the newer ones people!

Power Stone 2 is a great game. It has interesting characters, fun stages and tons of items to constantly keep the mayhem going. Adding the Power Stones to the mix just adds the final icing to the cake. There are just a few things keeping me from giving this game a perfect 10. First its item creation can be very time consuming, especially to find a new mix. Next, for some reason, the characters voices weren’t translated, which seems simply lazy, especially since the announcer was translated. Finally, this relates back to my distaste for fighting game; playing this game alone can get boring rather after a while, since the variations between the modes is minimal. These are all minor complaints though, and really don’t make the actual gameplay less fun. I think this game is the number 1 reason to own a Dreamcast (unless you’re lucky enough to find an arcade version of it somewhere). I give Power Stone 2 for the Sega Dreamcast 9 out of 10 Levels.