Sunday, June 27, 2010

Level Up: StarTropics

And it’s now officially summer time. In the northern hemisphere that is. That means it’s time to relax, go somewhere warm, maybe the tropics. Startropics that is. Here’s Startropics for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

You play as Mike in this game, who goes to the fictional “C-Island” to visit his uncle, Dr.Jones. But once he gets on the island, he finds he’s a bit too late, since his uncle was kidnapped and dragged through a dungeon with some monsters. The island Chief gives Mike a Yo-yo and since he’s an “Ace baseball pitcher”, he can turn it into a weapon. (I would hate to see what Barry Bonds could do with it.) After he emerges from the first cave, he still hasn’t found Dr.J, but he finds his sub which also has a tracking beacon on it to locate him. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens next.

Now I’m going to activate the first ever spoiler alarm (which I don’t have a sound FX for since it’s the first one) to talk about something that bugged me. In the last level, you learn that it’s aliens that have done the whole thing. This comes straight out of right field. I think it was supposed to be some kind of twist or something, but to me it just feels incredibly tagged on. Otherwise, the game’s story works through and through: its low key but still creative and everywhere else you visit feels really organic.

When I played the game, everyone who never saw it before said the same thing: “Hey, that looks like Zelda.” Other then the graphics looking like Zelda 2, but overhead most of the time, the game play itself is quite similar to Zelda: I can remember one really happy video game nerd describing it as Zelda with a Yo-yo. Most of your time will be spent in dungeons, killing enemies and figuring out the puzzles to get to the end. There are few differences from Zelda though. First, unlike most of the Zelda games I’ve played, this one is entirely linear. This limits the over world adventuring but increases the dungeon crawling. This can make the game either better or worse depending on your point of view. Also, this game puts an emphasis on jumping, which made them have to make the game mapped out entirely on a grid. You can jump a max of two squares ahead if needed, and though simple, they make some really neat puzzles with it. I can really describe it, you just have to experience it first hand, but trust me, if you like the 2D Zelda games, even though there’s a fair bit of differences, this should be up your alley.

Now I want to take the time to talk about something that this game is famous for, the “immersive letter”. This was a letter that came with the game that seemed to provide no purpose. That is, until a certain point in the game, where you receive a clue about putting a letter in water. If you took it and got it wet, 3 numbers would appear on the bottom and you then had to enter the code in the game. This was pretty cool. Unless you got the game second hand or rented it. In that case, you had no idea what the game was talking about and would have to resort to the internet to find out the code. I can only imagine that before the internet was readily available that you’d have to hope that one of your friends knew what to do, especially since it’s a 3 digit code, which would mean there are 1000 different combinations. On the Wii virtual console version of this game, there’s apparently an animation of the letter dipping revealing the code, so it’s good they fixed that. The point I’m trying to make is 747!! 747!!!

This game is a must have for your NES collection. And I don’t mean you should get it on the virtual console if you can; it has that feel that only works on the NES. The music is catchy, the graphics are good and the gameplay all comes together so nicely. It’s oddly underrated, even though it’s made by Nintendo. On that subject, I find it weird that there’s no mention of it in Smash Bros. I mean, I don’t expect Mike to be a character, but a song, a trophy, a sticker, something. If the Ice Climbers can get in with their one game, then Startropics should get a reference since it has more depth and has spawned a sequel. But I’m getting off topic. Anyways, this game is hard and has its flaws (such as constantly only getting 3 hearts after you die, no matter how many your max is), but still, it’s a really solid game that’s lots of fun and not really like anything you’ve probably played before. I give Startropics for the NES 8.5 levels out of 10.

Level Up: Bully Scholarship Edition

Well everyone, it’s official: I am done my course in college. Yes, after 7 years in elementary school, 5 years in high school and 2 years in college (plus a couple of university classes one year), I am done my education process for now. If I ever wanted to experience it again though, I can always play a video game about going to school. How can a game like that work you ask? Well developers Rockstar games took the same approach to it they did with Grand Theft Auto and real life: give people the chance to do things they know they shouldn’t. So they decided they’d give everyone one the chance to be the tough guy on campus in a game called Bully: Scholarship Edition for the Wii. Now I’m going to address this right away: yes this is a Wii port and no I haven’t the original game. From my research, the only differences I can find are a few extra classes and Wii-motion controls which I’m not planning on talking about, so let’s say that this review is also applicable to the original game.

With a game title like “Bully”, I was honestly not expecting much of a story going in, but I was actually surprised at where they went with this game. You play as Jimmy Hopkins, a trouble maker son whose mother is going away on a yearlong honeymoon, so she left him in the care of Bullworth Academy. Upon arriving there, he’s quick to make a few enemies, such as a principal of the school and a few of the clicks around campus. So Jimmy sees one goal in mind; make the geeks, preps, greasers, jocks and everyone else see that he should be respected or else. And that’s pretty much all I’m going to say, because for a plot that’s basically “rule the school”, the road to accomplish this sees some interesting twists. I was actually interested to see where the game was going with it.

The reason I got this game was because of the Nintendo Power article. It promised freedom and what you’d do would affect where you go. That was the biggest lie about this game: you’re on a prechosen path. I was hoping that you kind of had a meter to which click you most fit into, and that determined which mission you could do, but nope, the “points” they have for it don’t really serve as anything except to put a number on something you can’t really measure. Here’s my best example of how the freedom is an illusion: you can “chose” not to go to class. But, if you don’t, the hall monitor, police officers and such will try to make you every time you skip one. Furthermore, some of the missions are unavailable during class time and if you go to class, you get bonuses. It’s like playing Old Maid against a four year old: it’ll stick out the old maid card and block you from taking the other cards when you go to pick, so might as well take it just to make him happy.

The missions (and I’m counting classes in the mission category) are definitely the highlight of the game. Since you’re on the prechosen path, it seems that the makers of the game put a little extra effort to give you variety in what you’re asked to do: you got stealth missions, shooting missions, flat out fighting, collection and even ones with odd skills, like photography. I do want to quickly mention the side mission though, that add extra playtime to the game, but I don’t think much more. All of them pretty fun, but sometimes the reason you’re doing it is questionable, like this time I found myself in the girls dorm collecting their underwear for a teacher. I guess doing things you know are wrong is part of the whole allure of the game.

I think this game accomplished what it probably set out to do: supply a tamer GTA based on the relatable school setting (since pretty much everyone went to school). I was disappointed in the lack of freedom, but I think that was more Nintendo Power’s fault, so I’m not holding it against the game. I enjoyed the variety of the missions and the story, though some of the control elements were questionable (constantly pressing A to peddle was annoying). All and all, it’s pretty fun for a realistic game, so here’s what I say: you will probably enjoy this game if you also like Grand Theft Auto AND The Sims. However, I want to make it clear that word “and” in that sentence is probably not as important as the word “like”. I give Bully: Scholarship Edition for the Wii 7.5 Levels out of 10.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Level Up: Jackie Chan's Action Kung-Fu

And who’s the man? Jackie Chan! Yeah that’s right. We all know the Chuck Norris list jokes, but really that’s all they are, jokes; Jackie Chan could kick his Texas Walker ass. Jackie Chan could take care of a room full of people with automatic weapons with coat rack, a woman’s shoe and a regular table, all while looking like he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. He’s a man who insists on doing most of his own stunts, even in the awesome animated series, I’m sure he found a way to the stunts himself. So of course, hearing he’s the Karate Kid’s mentor on in the new movie instantly interested me and made me forgive him for “The Spy Next Door” (haha, no I haven’t seen it). That being said, I need to honor this with a game that’s as awesome as he is, and the only way I can do that is with a game with him in it. Here’s Jackie Chan’s Action Kung Fu for the Nintendo Entertainment system.

The story of the game is impossible to figure out without the game manual or this thing called the internet that I have never heard of. This is mostly contributed to two things: one, the game has no text or dialog in it, so you never know what’s going on, and two, it’s not based off of anything Jackie Chan has ever done really (though he could go out and do everything in this game in real life, just saying). The manual explains that Jackie Chan and his twin sister Josephine (which from my research, he doesn’t have) are China’s greatest Kung Fu warriors together, under the guide of their master (and though it doesn’t say it in the instruction manual, it seems implied that this happens a long long time ago). Believing they aren’t as strong if separated, their master’s rival, known only as Sorcerer, casts a spell to make Josephine disappear, then uses his magical ability to set up a series of monsters and trials to stand in Jackie’s way. But Jackie is stronger than the Sorcerer knew, and together with his Master, Jackie sets off to save his sister. Though this has nothing to do with Jackie Chan in real life or any of his movies and that its little more than a Kung Fu twist of the “Save the girl” story, I really like it. It tells the tale of an underdog, courage, determination and would be a great plot to any Kung-Fu movie.

This is a platforming game, and like Donkey Kong Country, it’s not so much what it does, but how well it does it. I am serious, this is such a smooth game, and that means a lot since it was on a system known for its blockiness and hit or miss performance. The basic controls are that you can jump with the A button and attack with the B button, and as I’ve said, both respond really well and exactly like you want them to. Also the levels are really well designed, adding to fun of the excellent controls. There are also special attacks you get by collecting certain orbs with arrows on them. You activate these by pressing up and attack. Doing this can guarantee a kill for most enemies, but I found most leave you vulnerable for a short period afterwards. Also, you have a limited amount, so you might want to think about saving them. You also have psycho waves you can use by holding down attack, but you only have a maximum of 5 and they aren’t that useful. One thing I have to mention though is that your recovery time in this game is ridiculously fast, once causing me to die cause I didn’t notice I had just gotten hit 6 times in a row. At first I though it was a mistake, but then I realized: IT’S JACKIE CHAN! He’s DOESN’T stay hurt for long!

This game is awesome, and once again, I say it’s all cause of the Chan man. This game just shows you how awesome he is: if he kicks you, you will crystalize into an orb. Sticks in the water don’t flow unless Jackie Chan wants them too. If Jackie doesn’t like the weather, he can just kick the clouds in the eye until it goes away. He can hit a phoenix so hard, it doesn’t want to rise from the ashes in fear it’ll get hit again. He is the J.C. that I worship. You just gotta respect Hudson soft for being able to not only make a game that honors his greatness, but also contain all of it in one cartage, though this might be why its so disappointingly short. Also for being short, it can be easy at time, but you know what that is? YOU’RE PLAYING AS JACKIE CHAN! It WOULD be this easy for him. Last thing I want to mention; there’s a code to get 99 continues and its available in the instruction manual. I think that’s cause Jackie has 99 lives. I give Jackie Chan’s Action Kung-Fu 9.5 levels out of 10.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Level Up: Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins

Without a doubt, calling any Super Mario platformer game underrated would be idiotic, but there are some that stand out and other that just aren’t are popular. While most people would be quick to say Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario 64 or similar games are their favorite, you don’t meet many people who say either of the Super Mario Land games is theirs (not counting the third, which was really a Wario game). And I don’t know why that is because they can definatly stand their own. So today I’m going to talk about my favorite Mario platformer, Super Mario Land 2 for the Game Boy.

The game play is pretty much the standard Mario platformer game play. And if you don’t know what I mean by “standard Mario platformer game play”, please stop listening to random video game based podcasts and go actually PLAY a video game. Most of you should know what I’m talking about though: the jumping, the coins, the pipes, the power ups, etc… But, also like every Mario game, this has its differences. The most noticeable one this time around is the map. Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World did have maps, but still kept things pretty much linear in their levels. In this game, you have access to all 6 levels right from the start, and you can tackle them in any order. This is really cool, though something has to be said about this messing up the difficulty curve, but this means if you’re having trouble with a certain level, you can go someplace else and come back later, while in the others, you weren’t given as much of an option.

The other most noticeable difference is the carrot upgrade, which gives Mario rabbit ears. This is the equivalent of the raccoon leaf or cape feather for the game, but you don’t get to fly, it just slows you’re decent. Though both of the other items could do the same, this one does it at an even slower pace, which I honestly like a lot more then flying.

Other than this, differences become pretty much cosmetic, like hearts instead of green mushrooms for extra lives, and standard changes between games, ending level bonuses and new enemies that do the same things the old ones do. The only other thing I feel like mentioning is that enemies and coins do something different. The amount of enemies you kill are kept on a counter, and once you get 100, you get a star. The coins never go away and are saved to use in a roulette type game to get lives. Otherwise, like I said, pretty much standard Mario gaming, so if you like that, you should still enjoy this game at the very least.

The story starts up right after the first Super Mario Land. Without giving away any spoilers from that game, we learn that all the events were just a distraction so that the mastermind could come in, take over Mario Land and put all its inhabitants under a spell to hate Mario. Who could this evil genius, who made an entire game just to distract our hero and is making his grand debut in this game possibly be? (WARIO! HAHAHAH!) Yes, this game is the grand debut of the future iconic Wario, who did all this out of jealousy of Mario’s fame and fortune. To stop him, Mario has to collect 6 golden coins across the land to unlock his castle and face Wario mano a mano. The places you go through are as follow; a forest level, the inside of a turtle, a horror zone, a giant clock-work Mario figure, THE MOON and a regular house where Mario is shrunk to the size of a mouse. I’m sorry, I think this is the most creative variety of places Mario has visited until Super Mario 64, and that’s saying a lot with only 6 zones. As I’ve said before, once you have all 6 coins, you can face Wario, but you better not lose, because once its game over, you lose all your coins and need to face all the bosses again. You don’t have to do the entire worlds, but you will need to do the level the boss is in. This may seem inconvenient to some, but I really like it: it’s a serious punishment for letting your life counter reach zero. Besides, it’s not hard to keep collecting lives, so don’t let it keep you from getting this game.

This game is Mario at his prime! I’m sorry for saying that about a game that wasn’t created or even directed by Mario’s creator Miyamoto, but it’s really how I feel. It took everything I like about Mario, improved on it, gave me options on it and made the game feel more organic in a way. I also think it should be placed right by Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3 in the great Mario game category. It should also be noted for being the first game to feature Wario, who is now a staple in the series. It was also the second Mario game to save (first one being Mario World), the second game in the Mario Land series and now the second game I give a perfect score to. I give Super Mario Land 2 for the Game Boy 10 out of 10 levels.

Level Up: Xiaolin Showdown

I have to admit, Xiaolin Showdown was a guilty pleasure for me, mostly since when it came out, I was a little “too old” for the show by society standards and because most of my friends thought it wasn’t that good anyways. None the less, I liked it, with its different settings, interesting villains and kid friendly kung-Fu. The magical items, the Shen Gong Wu, just tied it all together, making me look forward to seeing what would be discovered and how it would be used. One day I saw in Nintendo Power that they were going to make a game based on the series. “Cool,” I thought, “can’t wait to see how they use the Shen Gong Wu in it.” Somehow, that was the last I heard of it, until I saw it in a discount bin and picked it up for 10 dollars. So, let’s talk about Xiaolin Showdown for the Nintendo DS.

The game starts up, and you have the choice of selecting one of the four monks. What’s the difference? There pretty much seems to be none other than cosmetic. Attacks do pretty much the same damage, but look different, and any difference you might notice is probably psychosomatic. Other that, or the differences are so small, they can be mistaken for psychosomatic. The first level you’re thrown in is pretty much the mandatory training level, where you’ll see what you’ll do most of the game; move around, jump, kick and punch. In this game though, there is the chi meter; the more you attack your enemy, the more it fills up, letting you launch an elemental attack or use a Shen Gong Wu. Most of the Wu are just projectile attacks, but different kind, and the few that aren’t don’t seem to last long enough to be useful.

If it sounds like I’m disappointed in this game’s game play, it’s because I am. With all the Shen Gong Wu there was available and how they’re used this could have been a great adventure game where you could use the Wu to get further, as in games like Zelda. This would of probably also made for more interesting boss fights then the bland ones of “trigger an event, then punch”. Seriously, this subject is prime for a Zelda rip off, but instead we got a copy paste beat-em-up, which just really let me down.

To talk about the graphics, this game looks weird. There are some jagged edges at really random places and some of the colors just off, with some skin tones looking very gray. Probably doesn’t help that the camera looks oddly framed and you can’t change the angle. However, some of the enemies are really well done, and the 2D cut scenes and random images are perfect remakes from the cartoon, but since you’ll be mostly looking at your character fighting on the 3D area, it’s not really worth it. The music left no real impression on me. I can’t say I found it bad, only because it was so ignorable. It’s bland to say the least. The other sounds are pretty standard for beat-em-up, with the addition of the voicing while challenging each other or launching attacks. I gotta say, I thought it was cool that every character actually said whatever item they were holding, like in the show. Final point: the audio visual of this game is as disappointing as the game play.

This game was a disappointment. But hey, I shouldn’t be surprised; buy a cheap game, and don’t be shocked to get a cheap game. For a bit, this game made me question the subject in itself; was it lame enough to deserve a game like this? I mean, back when I watched it when it was new, it was good, but I also didn’t see that they used a different spelling of “Shaolin” (… poor literacy) (I gotta stop stealing Linkara’s jokes). But then I kind of looked at it again; it’s not all that bad, just not good as it could be. I mean, nothing prevented me from beating it (other than one glitch one time) and I didn’t feel like I was suffering while I was playing. I think that if (publishers) Konami would have released a similar game for the SNES in 2D, it would have been one of those “underrate games” for the system. But now, we have higher standards for our graphics, game play and mini games, and expect more than one easily erasable save file. I can’t say this game is good, but it’s not all bad, just severely disappointing. I give Xiaolin Showdown for the Nintendo DS 5 levels out of 10.

Level Up: Hogan's Alley and Virtua Cop

I feel like talking about a special breed of games today: peripheral gun games. Now a days, you mostly see them in arcades or on the Wii, since first person shooters are more popular (though technically, this is shooting in the first person). A while back, it seemed every system needed one, but now, this quote unquote gimmick’s time has passed (Guitar Hero proves though, peripheral games will never die). So let’s take a look at some of these games that put the gun in your hand with Hogan’s Alley for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Virtua Cop for the Sega Saturn.

Hogan’s Alley uses to iconic Zapper gun, which most people would remember playing Duck Hunt with. The way it worked was pretty cool: when the trigger is pulled, it gives a command that changes the current screen to black and white ones (you probably noticed a flash when you shoot, this is it). White squares will replace the objects you can shoot, one on each frame for each target. The white light should be received by the zapper if you were aiming properly giving a signal to the game. There are issues though: this doesn’t work on LCD or plasma TVs, at a certain distance, it sometimes stops working and if you aim it at a light bulb, it can mess things up, probably in your favor.

The game was pretty much a shooting range for the NES. In the main mode, three cardboard cut-outs would appear and you’d quickly have to asses which ones to shoot before time runs out. There is another mode where tin cans come on screen and you have to shoot them to the other side for points. That’s pretty much it though, and I can’t see much fun in it, outside getting together with your friends and seeing who has the best draw. Though, for such a simplistic game, its legacy lives on: it has been referenced in the Wario Ware series and part of Wii Play. I guess there’s something about it that people just enjoy.

Virtua Cop, on the other hand, is a different story: I found it fun on my own and had a point to it, but seems to be forgotten despite having 2 sequels. The big problem here would have been the system: the Sega Saturn (not counting for the arcade versions in this review though). To talk about how the gun works, when I pull the trigger, I did notice a flash of white, but then I saw on the “name input” screen that it knew where I was pointing without having to pull the trigger. I can only assume (since I can find how it really works) it took the technology of the zapper, and improved on it. It actually feels a lot more accurate: I can normally always get my shot while in Hogan’s Alley, I sometimes miss for no reason. But what I really like about this game is that you don’t NEED the gun to play it! You could play Virtua Cop with a just the regular controller, unlike Hogan’s Alley and other such games. However, moving your cursor around to shoot can sometimes just NOT be done quickly enough, and I strongly recommend getting the gun. It helped my game.

To explain the story as Fairly Odd Parents would put it, you are (a loose cannon cop who doesn't play by the rules) . You go around shooting bad guy who will shoot at you given the chance (green circle around them) to eventually get to their boss. You’ll move rail-shooter style through three locations depending on your difficulty: the docks, a quarry and business tower, all very typical action cop movies. I guess that’s why I like this game, it has a Die Hard feel to it, and taking out six bad guys with six bullets makes me feel like I could be John McCain.

Well, I hope you liked this look at two peripheral gun games. They seemed to have disappeared outside of the Arcade, seemingly sometime during the last generation of gaming. The Wii seems to keep this notion alive, but it’s diluted to say the least. Both games have good graphics for the system they’re on, but I really dig Virtua Cop’s music and it feels more like a game then a toy. I give Hogan’s Alley for the NES 6 and Virtua Cop 8 Levels out of 10.

Level Up: Mario Kart Double Dash

The Mario Kart series is something to be admired. No offense to all of those who like the other types of racing games, but before Super Mario Kart came out in 1992, a lot of them seemed rather boring a too realistic. Mario Kart changed that with wacky weapons galore, more emphasis on the racer and not the car and just simply the fun that comes with Mario, it wasn’t long before it not only took off as a series, but was also getting copied left and right. Mario Kart 64 took all of that and ironed out what the Super Nintendo couldn’t quite do, but today, I’m talking about Mario Kart: Double Dash for the Nintendo GameCube. Why? Cause it takes it a step beyond. Also, because it’s the only one I own…

The controls are pretty much the typical ones for the Mario Kart games: A accelerates B brakes or backs up, L and R drift and X and Y use your items. But wait, doesn’t the GameCube controller also have a Z button it can use. Well, that’s where the Double Dash comes in. In this game, you play as two characters at once; one drives the vehicle and the other uses the items. Z switches both characters’ positions, and since each character can only hold one item as a time, it makes it so you can have two, or if you already do have two, you can just switch to the one you want. I found this skill easy to master and crucial for the more difficult settings. The one down side is that this gives people new to the game a huge disadvantage in most modes, unlike previous games, which were pretty easily mastered from the get go.

As mentioned before, you play as two characters, and this gives the game most of its personality (the rest is contributed to the Mario Kart series in general). As you’re picking your characters, keep two things mind: each character has different weight class and special items. The special items are something new to the series and are pretty much self-explanatory: every time you hit an item box, you have a chance to get said item, whether it is Mario’s fireballs, Yoshi’s homing egg or DK’s giant banana peel. The weight class is nothing new to the series, but affects the game in a new way since you not only chose what characters you want, but also which kart you’ll use. Weight limits your choice and to put it simply, you pick a kart in the weight category of the heavier character (i.e. if you have a light character and a heavy character, you will need to pick a kart to suit the heavy character). This means the only way to get the lightest karts is to pick two light weight characters. Beyond that, each kart has its own unique states in the categories of top speed, acceleration and weight. I’m really glad to say that unlike other games with similar differences, it’s really noticeable in this one, and you’re selection of kart can make or break your victory.

Now, I could talk about the graphics or the music right now, but neither are all that special. Graphically speaking, it’s not the worst game, but probably not the best. It’s smooth in a way, but has its obvious polygon corners. I will say though, that I am impressed by the how well the characters hanging off the back looks and sways when you move left and right. The music is pretty much par for the course for the Mario Kart series, which means it’s fun, energetic and suiting while not distracting or over powering. What I do want to mention though is the secrets in this game. This is really the first Mario Kart game with a noticeable amount of unlockables, and that’s because almost every circuit on almost every difficult will unlock something. What you can get includes new characters, new cars, new circuits and new arenas for the 2 player mode. I really like that, because it gives incentive to play the game all the way through, and not just attack the more difficult modes and call it a day.

This game was a great addition to the Mario Kart series. The ability to mix and match your racer was great: there’s just something about taking Birdo and Wario to race in DK’s car on Luigi’s track. The courses are also really fun, each unique with interesting elements to them. But of course the main reason to get this game is the doubling up of the characters, a great game play element. The only down side is that it limits the ability to play two players, since you’ll need to give other players a chance to learn the controls before playing. This is a minor detail, but in a series like Mario Kart, it’s a big deal. None the less, this game is worth finding and playing through and through, even if you’ll only do the 1 player mode. I give Mario Kart: Double Dash for the Nintendo GameCube 8.5 Levels out of 10.