Saturday, April 24, 2010

Level Up: Pokemon Puzzle Challenge

When you think about Nintendo franchises, what comes to mind? Mario? Zelda? Kirby? A bunch of big names that you would see in Super Smash brothers. Well, a quick visit to the Wikipedia page for it and you’ll see a few more titles that just seem a little different. One in particular caught my attention, the “Puzzle League” Franchise. I happen to own one of those games, so I thought I’d not only take a look at the game, but a bit about the franchise itself. So, let’s look at the Puzzle League series, as well as Pokémon Puzzle challenge for the Game Boy color.

This series is a puzzle game series, but not like Dr. Mario or Yoshi. This one is more along the lines of Bejeweled: you have to connect 3 blocks of the same color to make them disappear by switching two blocks at a time. That being said, there are many differences. First off, the blocks don’t come back and you have no time limit in most modes. Instead, the blocks keep going up, and when they reach the top, you lose. This also means that the entire screen isn’t full of blocks. Another thing that separates this from most versions of bejeweled I’ve played is that you don’t have to switch two blocks: if you want to move a block to an empty space go right ahead. What makes this more even though is that you can only move blocks horizontally, and not vertically. This requires sometime having to be creative.

Beyond the “marathon mode” of playing until you hit the top, most version of puzzle league also came with a challenge mode. Here, you’d have to eliminate all the blocks in a set number of moves. You can say that one mode trains you for the other or vice versa, but either way, they complement themselves rather well. We also can’t forget the two player mode, which is like marathon, but whenever someone makes large connections or combos, they send blocks over to the opponent’s side. This mode is both fun, and a little frustrating.

Now, the reason you may or may not have heard of this game series before is because of its naming. In Japan, Panel de Pon (sorry if I mispronounce anything by the way) and when it came to North American Super Nintendo’s, it was called Tetris Attack. Though it carried the name Tetris, probably to get more people to play it, it was obviously very different. After its eventual port to the game boy, we reach the generation I’m talking about, the Pokémon Puzzle League. I find it odd that we jump to a Tetris branding to a Pokémon plug in. Eventually, most versions of this game would simply be called “Puzzle League”, even if it’s molded directly after the game known as Tetris Attacks. This is just to let you know: Tetris Attacks, Pokémon Puzzle Challenge, Puzzle League or Panel de Pon, it’s pretty much all the same game.

Now, Pokémon Puzzle Challenge works pretty much the same way as the gameplay I described to you. There’s a puzzle mode and a few marathon modes, but there’s one mode I really like, the challenge mode. In here, you’ll go from gym to gym from the Gold and Silver games, and fight their leaders. This works similar to the two player style I described earlier, but different. This time, you don’t have someone playing against you; you just see an enemy health bar. All you have to do is keep making specials, and it’ll go down. This encourages the player to think more strategically, unlike before where you could just aim to survive and hope the enemy sucks enough he just loses. But still, you’ll somehow be getting blocks dropped on you.

The Pokémon add NOTHING to this game. Sure, you pick Pokémon as avatar while you play, and there are unlockable ones that you can challenge yourself to get, but really, the title was just a tie in. And… I guess it worked, considering I bought the game because it had the name Pokémon on it. But, whether it does or not, Puzzle League is a great series, and anyone who likes these types of puzzle games (I’m looking at you casual gamers) should check it out. As for this particular version… Well, that game play was kept in tack with an extra neat mode added. Everything looks really good, but the music jumps from too slow to too fast sometimes. But, there is one thing I really like about this: it’s portable. I know it’s weird to say the best thing I like about it is the system it’s on, but these kinds of games were made for travel. Yes, I did play the N64 Pokémon Puzzle League; still think this is better just because it’s nomadic. I give Pokémon Puzzle Challenge for the Game Boy Color 7.5 Levels out of 10.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Level Up: Crash/Spyro Superpack

Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon seem to have a lot in common. Not only have they always had the same publishers, but both are mascot type characters originally exclusive to Play Station with platforming games where a floating partner is their health and living in worlds of talking animals. It seemed natural that they would have a cross over, and in 2004, developers Vicarious Visions and publishers Vivendi Games made this a reality. They made two games: Crash Bandicoot Purple: Ripto’s Rampage, and Spyro Orange: The Cortex Conspiracy (Anyone else hear Pokemon ripped off with the color title by the way). In 2005, both were made available in one cartridge, the Crash/Spyro Superpack for the Game Boy Advance. Let’s take a look at it.

The game starts out with the villains, Neo Cortex and Ripto, discussing how they plan on getting rid of their respective rivals by creating genetically enhanced Riptocs, and disguise them as Crash and Spyro, so if they meet, they’ll fight each other. This back fires when not only do Crash and Spyro heroically team up, but they start bickering among themselves. With Crash and Spyro working together, they travel through a few worlds until eventually, they realize the best way to beat Cortex and Ripto is go to each other’s world in a very surreal moment. Ok, so the story is typical, but the moment where that happens makes it pretty much worth it. Also, between the two games, there are naturally SOME difference in the story telling, but none that makes any difference. Yeah, you’ll hear that a couple more times this review.

The game play on both sides is pretty much the same, so, having these two platforming game stars on the GBA would make you think that this is a grand Platforming adventure to test your skills. Disappointingly, it is not. Platforming represents about 25% of the game play. The other 75% is in mini games. Throughout a level, there are 5 mini games that you must beat in order to move to the next level, and though it does take SOME platforming skill to get to all 5 and the exit, a minimum is required. The mini games range from the fun break-out copy, to the annoyingly long side-scrolling shooter inspired ones. It’s suffice to say that the game play misses it’s mark, but has some fun instances.

If I had to recommend either version on top of the other, I would have to say go with Crash’s game instead of Spyro’s, mostly due to the mini-games. Crash’s games are original and have a better variety, while most of Spyro’s are the side-scrollers. Also, you’ll have to play Spyro’s mini-games 3 times to unlock the last level, which I am telling you now, so you don’t have to walk back to the start (since there’s no map system) and do it all over again, like I did the first time. Crash avoids this by having the player find or unlock gems, which means he also has more games available. Even graphic wise, I’d go with Crash over Spyro, since Crash still looks like himself, but Spyro looks like one of the Donkey Children from Disney’s Pinocchio painted purple. Granted, you can’t say that one should be much preferred over the other since they’re pretty much the same, but if you really need to just get one, and I mean REALLY need only one, go with Crash Purple.

What is with these what should be epic crossovers becoming nothing more than a collection of mini-games? Not only is there this, but when Mario and Sonic finally meet up it’s for the Olympic Games. Sorry for going off track, but it’s a concern, especially since this would have made such a great adventure game. None the less, it can be really fun; so much so that I have beaten both games twice. Plus, the pure fact that they did this crossover to begin with is reason enough to play this game. As I’ve said at the start, this was originally released as two games and later combined into one, but I honestly would not suggest you get these games separately and just get the Crash Spyro Superpack like I did. This is also why I’m only giving them one rating, and also because they’re so similar, the difference would be half a level. I give the Crash Spyro Superpack for the Game Boy Advance 7 Levels out of 10.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Level Up: DBZ: Budokai Tenkaichi 3

Alright, before you start reading, you should know, there are A LOT of difference between this "transcript" and the Podcast. This is due to lines I forgot to include before I did the recording and inserted them at the last moment. This also meant having to edit stuff from before to fit it, since it set me over my time limit. So, for my full thoughts on this game, read this AND listen to the podcast.

Dragon Ball Z has had an amazing impact on pop culture. Whether you know it from actually viewing it or have seen the parodies, were a fan of the anime or manga, if you’re in my age group, it’s hard to avoid exposure to it. Naturally, there’s a ton of video games based on it to. Like the show’s episodes or any merchandise based on it, it can be pretty much hit or miss. One of the biggest hits has been the Boudokai series, eventually turning into the Tenkaichi series. The latest in the series would be Boudokai Tenkaichi 3, the game I’m reviewing today. But don’t take my word for it, Goku, what game am I reviewing? (Clip: Goku saying the game title) for the Wii (as well as the PS2, but that’s not the version I have). Oh, and speaking of the pop culture parodies, this means I get to reference my favorite meme.

The game play in this game is really something to be enjoyed. It’s a fighting game, but far from what you’d normally expect from one. You get to fully move in a 3D area; and when I say fully, I mean that you can not only walk around the ground, but also fly upwards, adding more DIMENTION to the gameplay, hahaha. Your basic controls include attacking, blocking and quick dashing. Of course, the main attraction to this game (and DBZ in general) is the energy attacks. You charge up attacks to a certain point, and then using a button command, launch attacks at your enemies. I have to say though, I am really impressed by the fact that each character has unique attacks, and there are A LOT of character. I would have expected some repetition after a while, but it still keeps it fresh.

The last thing I want to mention about the gameplay is that you can play with either the Wii-mote nunchuck or the Gamecube or classic controllers. I originally tried the nunchuck, but this required having to do specific movements for each different ki energy move. This is a sever handicap in fighting games requiring split second attacks. If you don’t have one yet, I you should really get a classic or Gamecube controller to play the Wii version.

As expected, there is a story mode in this game that follows closely with the original Dragon Ball Z story as well part of the Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball GT series. These are condensed to say the least and skip a lot, such as much of the Ginyu team fights. Though you could whine about how these fights were entertaining and still quite possible, I really like the condense version supplied. This is mostly because it skips most of the filler from the series: once you cut a lot of it out and get the basic of the series, you see it for how good it actually is. It involves excellent sci-fi, deep conflicts in personal pasts and father-son relations. I forgot how good it really was, lost in all the screaming of “powering up” and this really reawakened my fandom for it.

Now, this technically being a fighter game, I was expecting that once I finish the story mode that I wouldn’t have much to do on my own. Know what? I was wrong! First off, there’s the world tournaments mode. This seems to take it a slight step beyond the normal tournaments by only letting certain tournaments be available at certain times and making each one unique. There’s also the Ultimate battle mode, which contains one “sim” like training mode and another mode with specific team battles, and finishing them all is as fun as the story mode. There’s also the evolution Z area, which lets you upgrade and customize each character, and with so many available, it can keep you busy for a while. But I think what might keep most gamers interested are the Dragon Balls. You collect them randomly by fighting (or sometimes as tournament prizes) and when all 7 are together, you get to make a wish. This is how you unlock certain characters and stages, so if you want the full experience, get ready to play. So, surprisingly, this game defiantly has more to offer then just fights to it, and will probably keep you playing for a while.

Developped by Spike and Published by Atari, I think this is currently the DBZ Fighting game to get. Not only will the modes keep you entertained, but find someone else to fight and you’ll both be entertained a good long while. Wi-fi helps this a lot to. I also can’t forget to mention that this game has a roster of 161 character. HOLY CRAP! If you’re a Dragon Ball Z fan and have a Wii (or PS2) you owe it to yourself to get this game. If you’re just a gamer, I don’t know if you’ll like it as much, but I sincerely suggest you check it out. I give Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 8.5 levels out of 10.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Level Up: Donkey Kong Country

I have a special connection to the game Donkey Kong Country: it is the video game that I have owned the longest. It’s not the oldest game I’ve owned, but it is the game that started my entire video game collection. And why should I keep holding on to it? This game ROCKS! So much so, I can only justify it with one music. (Rock music should start) Let’s just get right into it: Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo.

I’ll admit, the story is weird, so I’ll keep this part short so I can talk more about the awesome stuff. The Crocodile ruler, King K. Rool has stolen all of the banana loving Gorilla Donkey Kong’s Banana Hoard, so he’s going to go through all of Kong Island to get it back. Not much, but truly classic, and only in video games could be the basis of something so fantastic.

The gameplay is platforming PERFECTION! The main thing that can be said about it is that it’s not so much what it does, but how well it does. I have to say that this might be one of the smoothest and well controlled games I’ve ever played. Though part of that could be contributed to the graphics just making you feel that way (which I will talk more about later), a better part is probably just that… it’s really, really well done! I can go entire levels without having to stop and still find all the secrets and such in them.

That’s not to say though that the gameplay doesn’t bring anything ORIGNAL to it. First off, you play as two primates; DK and his nephew Diddy Kong, pretty much simultaneously. They’re used as a health system; if one of them gets hurt, he runs off and the other one takes his place, and if there’s only one, well you better not get hurt. Furthermore, they are both different; Donkey Kong is able to take out stronger enemies, while Diddy is quicker and amazingly brings the pace of the game up a notch. You also get Animal buddies, who work much of the way of a third member, but I have so much to talk about, I have to skip them.

Another main attraction to the game play is that of Barrels and Rolls. (Do a Barrel roll!) Not, these are two different things. Rolling is an action that either simian can do which sends them rolling forward. Might not seem like much, but once you get a handle on it, you can kill enemies or use it to jump further (both could easily save your lives). The barrels are found throughout the game’s fantastic level design (which I would love to explain further, but can’t due to time limitations) and come in a variety. Most of which are simply used to throw to kill enemies or discover secret passages, but the best ones are the blast barrels. These will make you have to use a sense of timing to get from one point to another by shooting yourself out cannon style.

And yeah, there’s a lot more about the game I would LOVE to talk about, I just don’t have the time.

As I’ve said earlier, the graphics actually added a lot, and this is one of those times where I really do think it matters. They are AMAZING, especially looking at most games on the SNES that just looked really flat. I didn’t quite get how it was done at the time, but I slowly started to understand. From my understanding, they used full 3D polygons to make the characters and then made them 2D. It was revolutionary for the time and blew my mind. Though not as fantastic, the music for the game is great to, sounding so deep and fitting for every level. Some truly classic gaming score for Nintendo, such as the Jungle Japes theme, come from this game. So, even while just not even playing this game, it’s a pleasure.

I’m glad I finally get to share my thoughts on this game with the world, and I’m only sad about the fact that I had to condense it so much to fit it all in this one podcast. Later, there would be 2 direct sequels and a DK game for the N64. After that point, Rare ware, who was in charge of the DKC project, would part ways with Nintendo, and Donkey Kong just hasn’t been the same: mostly racing and pounding his bongos now. Still, Donkey Kong Country will never be forgotten; it has been ported onto the GBA and the Wii Virtual Consol. But even with those options, I will continue to hold onto my copy for the good ol’ SNES and treasure it. I give Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo 9.5 Levels out of 10. *Music stops* Now wait! You’re probably asking “If you love this game so much, why doesn’t it get a perfect 10?” *Music continues* Well, let’s just say, I need some where to go with future DK games.