Saturday, July 31, 2010

Level Up: Gun

Once again, had to cut a whole paragraph due to time limitations on the audio version. So, for those of you actually reading this, you get EXTRA CONTENT!

Let me talk about the game companies I’ve mentioned on this show. So far, I’ve said some pretty big name: Nintendo has come up at least half a dozen times, EA games has popped up on a few occasions somehow and Capcom has been reviewed so frequently I had to create the Capcom time. But none are my favorite game company: that would be Activision. I don’t know how it hasn’t come up sooner, maybe I’m saving most of their games cause they’re so good, but I feel bad for not having them come up sooner. (Which isn’t fair, because they had something to do with the PC port of my first review, Earthworm Jim, which was the version I played.) I really like this company, they’ve been around for over 30 years and they’re now stronger than ever: from Tony Hawk to Call of Duty, from Guitar Hero to Marvel Ultimate Alliance and from Pitfall to Transformers: War for Cybertron (which I haven’t played but I heard is ridiculously good). So, with that out of the way, here’s an Activision creation: Gun, available for the X-Box, PS2 and PC, but I’m playing the Nintendo GameCube version.

I love the story and it’s definitely the biggest reason to play the game. This is a western based game, and I’m going to throw this out there, I haven’t seen many western films, which might be why I like this game so much. Here’s the story, straight from the horse’s mouth (not literally of course). (Clip: 5 seconds) The game takes off when the steamboat Colton and Ned (Colton’s father) are travelling on gets attacked and Ned goes down with it. Colton then manages to find his way into Dodge city, where, like any Sandbox game hero, he is asked to do everything for the people. Coincidentally though, this moves him towards his personal goal: find out why the boat was attacked and why his father was killed. He eventually falls into series of lies, deceits, betrayals and cover ups. This leads to some interesting plot twists, dramatic moments and real suspense. I also want to point out that this game was written Randall Johnson, a Hollywood writer probably most famous for writing the Mask of Zorro in ’98. Though the story mode is short on its own, it’s so well written, you might not even notice.

For those of you who haven’t guessed by the game’s title, this game is a shooter game, third person most of the time. You end up having a total of 5 gun types: a pistol, rifle, shotgun, sharpshooter for sniping and a bow and arrow. Like most games, each weapon does something different and is useful at different times, but I’m just going to mention the pistol. With this gun, you can activate the quick draw mode, which is essentially bullet time, but trust me, you’ll be using it a lot. Of course, you do upgrade your weapons as you go along, but that requires money, which gets me to the main talking point of this game. As I’ve said, this is classified as a sandbox game, meaning in between the story check points, you can adventure around, get more stuff and improve your stats. The activities you do can be taking on bounty hunting missions, help out as a ranch hand or even play poker for some extra cash. There are a lot of different side missions and all will not only give you money and improve your stats, but also train you in certain skills needed to finish the game. What I’m getting at is: play these. Not only do they help in long term, but they turn what would be a short game (with a great story) into a journey to becoming the best.

Despite this game being beautifully written, I will admit it is not beautiful to look at. Graphically speaking, a lot of things look flat when they shouldn’t, some of the more complicated images seem blurry and objects pass through other objects they shouldn’t. Another thing is that the animals look a bit 2D, kind of like if they were in Doom or Quake. The music also doesn’t add much; though it suits the cowboy theme and keeps it low key in the moments it should, the moments where it should enhance the feeling, it fails to do so. Neither of these really stop you from enjoying both story and gameplay unless they really bug you, which I know some people will let it get to them. Just try to ignore it and concentrate on what really matters.

Gun just blew me away. It’s a horse riding, gun slinging, whiskey shooting fun of a game. I like this game so much that I haven’t really had the time to get into all the little thinks I like, but just take my word, this is a great game: I enjoyed the experience through and through. This is one of many Activision games I’m going to recommend, and it’s not hard to find, I see at least one copy for one of the consoles its available for every time I go into a used game store, so next time you see it, pick it up. Now I can’t leave you with the sound of failure as I usually do, I think we need some appropriate rock to finish this off. I give Gun for the Nintendo GameCube 9 levels out of 10.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Level up: Sonic Advance

I’m not sure how many of you paid attention to E3 this year (and since you’re listening to THIS podcast, I’d say you probably did), but there were a lot of interesting games this time around. I mention this because I want to bring 3 to your attention if you didn’t: Sonic colors, Sonic Colors DS and Sonic 4. Once again, new Sonic titles are announced and once again, they all promise to bring Sonic back to his 2D days, especially in the case of Sonic 4. Now, I’m not sure if I mentioned this in my Sonic Adventure 2 Battle review, but this is promised every time a new Sonic title is announced, with the exception of Sonic Unleashed (no one would have believed that about the WereHog game). My question is why? The “return” of 2D Sonic has been around for a while now. Sure, it disappeared for a bit after Sonic CD, but they revived it with Sonic Advance for the Game Boy Advance. Let me tell you what I mean.

The game tried successfully to return everything back to classic Sonic. Not only do we have 2D levels once again, but the layout is similar, with multiple paths to the end and the speed traps littering the levels. It does take a slight new direction though, giving you the option between 4 characters. Granted that Sonic 3 & Knuckles gave you three to choose from, but this time, the character you choose makes a BIG difference. Sonic can be called the average in this game; nothing too frustrating about him, but nothing special either. Tails and Knuckles are better; with Tails’ flight ability and Knuckles wall climbing, both give you a greater ability to explore the levels and find the bonus stages. Lastly, there’s Amy Rose, definitely the worst character since she doesn’t have a spin dash move; a necessity in Sonic games. But, really they’re all fun to play as and it is cool to see how differently you’re able to control each character in the same area.

Beyond the normal stages, there are two bonuses that I really like: the tiny Chao garden and the chaos emerald stages. In this game, the emerald stage is accessed by a special spring located somewhere on the stage. Once you hop on it, you’ll be transported to a tunnel where you can freely move to catch the rings coming at you; catch enough, you get the emerald. It’s hard, but not ridiculously so; a perfect balance if you ask me. Locating it presents the real challenge, but even that is easy once you know where to look. The tiny Chao garden is a one on one version of the ones seen in both Sonic adventure games, but overhead and 2D. Pretty simple, make sure it’s fed and happy. You also get two games to keep things interesting if it does need feeding or stimulation. Nothing really special, except it allows you to train your Chao better and portably, plus you can transfer the ones from the two Adventure games back and forth to it. It really got me into the whole Chao thing.

I want to talk about the graphics; I really like them. First off, they look sleek, slender and really make the characters look fast, as they should. Secondly, it really demonstrated the difference between old and new sonic (i.e. pre and post Sonic Adventure), making the old one look rounder and more cartoon styled by comparison. Finally, it changed the look of part of the internet comic scene. See, there’s this category of online comics called sprite comics in which people use pre-made character animations and paste the still images together to make their comics. They can be custom made from scratch, but for the most part, it was taken from video games, and for some reason, Sonic was the one used most often. When this game came out and someone ripped the Sprites, tons of people were using the Sonic Advance look to make their comics.

Sonic Advance is a pretty good game, but I’ll admit, there’s something that feels a bit hollow about it. Maybe it’s the music, which is pretty bland by Sonic standards, lacking in a certain catchiness and whimsy (though the remake of older songs were nice). But really, I think it’s the lack of difficulty this game presents that disappoints me. Sonic 3 still gives a challenge now a days, but this, I find really easy. Most of the levels are pretty short and some of the bosses are a joke. It also plays it safe and doesn’t seem to take many risks, just sticking with recreating the feel of the old 2D games. But all and all it’s a fun game. If you’re a fan of the old 2D Sonic games, you owe it to yourself to play this one if you haven’t yet: the levels are as great, the gameplay is in tack and it’s just what Sonic should be. Not bad for the first original Sonic game on a Nintendo consol. I give Sonic Advance for the Game Boy Advance 8 Levels out of 10.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Level Up: Rayman Raving Rabbids 2

Video games are fun. Parties are fun. So you’d think video games at parties would be fun, right? Well, not always. First off, you have to cut out all the one player only games. Then, take out all the long ones, because some people might just stand around complaining they haven’t had a turn, and frustrating ones to avoid fights. Also, you don’t want anything too different from the party mood to distract people from it or not want to play the game. And something as fun to watch as it is to play would be preferred. With such a conundrum, it’s no wonder the aptly named “Party games” category has received a fair bit of attention over the past few years (the release of the Wii also helped). So I’ve decided to throw a party of my own with Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 for the Wii. Let’s me talk about it before the guests arrive.

This game seems to say “Meh, you don’t need to know the plot” to anyone who plays it. I guess it is appropriate since with most party games, you’ll want to get right to playing, but still you think they’d make it more obvious since they bothered with it. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know there was a plot until I started doing research for this review. See, during the starting credits, the Ubisoft video comes up (sfx plays) since they made this game. Now, if you’re like me, when you see credits and stuff at the start of games, you just press A or start to get to either a startup video clip or the game. It turns out when the Ubisoft animation thing comes up you wait, static will come in (static) and it will “cut” to a news cast for the plot for the game. Seriously, is it just me, or did they try to hide the plot? I mean, this is the only way to see it and it’s very skippable. Why even include a plot if you’re going to hide it?

At this point you’re probably thinking “oh just get on with it”, so I’ll just tell you what it is. We learn from the news cast that the Rabbids (who are hyperactive rabbit looking creatures) are taking over the world. Wanting revenge from the events of the last game (which I’m not going to explain more of not to activate another spoiler alert), Rayman sneaks into their HQ to find out their plan. He dons on fake ears and eyes to and puffs a balloon of helium to sound like them (though really it’s so all the characters sound the same, since you mostly play as Rabbids in this game). While spying, on them, Rayman sees the Rabbids plan to take over the world so they can do things like… eat burgers, play baseball, watch movies and be rock stars… Ok, why they felt the need to take over the world for this is beyond me, but whatever. After crashing through the roof and successfully convincing the Rabbids he’s one of them, Rayman is sent off with them to 5 locations to take them down from the inside. Exaggerated? Yes. Pointless? Yes, but whatever, it’s a party game.

The games themselves are pretty fun. They’re basic enough that anyone with two working arms and a sense of coordination and timing should be able to well at them. They range from a shaking a can pop to get the biggest burp, to being the first one to correctly identify a criminal to having to play a song at the end of each area by shaking either wii-mote or nunchuck at the right time (kind of like an even simpler Battle of the Bands). By the way, though I like those song games, the song selection could have been done better; I didn’t need to hear Smoke on the Water in chipmunk voices. Unlike the last game, you can play two players right from the start. Though you can’t chose to play any game you want, you can still take on the areas two players to unlock them the same way you would one person. This is a great improvement over the last game, where one person had to play before anyone else to get the multiplayer available. All and all, this is just a pretty fun mini-game collection.

This game is all around enjoyable. Though the plot suffers from the fact that it’s a party game, it’s a party game, so no one will really care. The games are fun and easy, the graphics are really well done with what looks like real photos used in certain places and the game makers actually made me want to unlock most of the stuff in the game, which there is a lot of. I think this is a good game by yourself, but get together with some friends and it becomes great fun. I give Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 for the Nintendo Wii 8.5 Levels out of 10.

I’m Leo Melanson, and now y- (knock knock knock) Oh, that must be the guests, hhold on a minutes. (Chair sneaks, food steps, door knob turns) Hey glad you could-(Music stops) Wait, I didn’t invite you. (One rabbid yells, followed by several joining in. Stamping footsteps. Glass shattering. “Papa’s got…” plays.) Don’t touch that, it was my grand-father’s! But that out, I can’t stand the smell. Ack, use a coster. And you two, get a room, this isn’t one of those nature films. Don’t play with that, it’s a delicate instrument.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Level Up: Zelda Phantom Hourglass

(Sorry for being a day late, I'm having major internet problems at home.)

We’re now 30 something episodes into this podcast, and so far I’ve touched on some pretty big names in the video game world. There’s been Mario, Sonic, Pokemon and even Spyro the Dragon, but there’s one series I’ve avoided talking about until now: The Legend of Zelda. With how much people love this series, why haven’t I talked about any of the games? Simply put, I’m not a fan. Now, before you all hit that “unsubscribe” button, let me explain: I don’t hate the Legend of Zelda, I just think it’s overrated. Let me show you what I mean with The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for the Nintendo DS.

The story for this Zelda title follows directly after the events of Wind Waker. This is one of those rare times that a Zelda game is easily put on the Zelda time line, but once you play it all the way through, you learn it’s a throw away game, so it could be placed anywhere really. Anyways, still adventuring on the great sea, Link and Tetra (this game’s Zelda) come across a ghost ship. Tetra does the obvious thing: jump right aboard. (Though that seems stupid, I do like Tetra over the “sit and do nothing” Zeldas from the past.) Hearing her scream for help, Link tries to jump after her but then falls short and unconscious. Instead of drowning in the water, Link wakes up to (HEY!) a god damn fairy, making me wish he did drown. Anyways, he find out he’s lost his ship, all his items are gone and he’s washed up on a strange new island, so he has to start adventuring all over again to save Tetra. And, that’s pretty much all you need to know to start off, the rest you piece together as you go along.

Since this game follows directly after Wind Waker, they also used the same look. Which was annoying mistake number 2, the first one being (HEY!). See, when Wind Waker was first announced, people made ass fun of the way it looked and continue to do so today. So why, in hind sight, would you make another game that looks like it, especially with a throw away game? The vibrant colors aren’t my issue except for the fact that the water looks like a big tarp, but I found that the people look creepy. Also, since the DS can’t quite match the GameCube’s graphics, down grading them caused some problems (as usual). One thing I noticed was these gray lines that appeared sometimes when one object covers another. Since this game has an overhead view most of the time, being nitpicky about the 3D graphics might be a little petty, but know what? This is my review and it did bug me.

Annoying mistake number 3 are the controls. Since this is the DS, they had the ability to make the entire game playable with the stylus. So, that’s what they did and gave you no other option. To attack you tap on an enemy, to walk you move the stylus around, to talk to people you tap on them, etc… This wouldn’t that big of a complaint, except that it’s totally unnecessary and I don’t have to option to turn it off.

But this is a Zelda game, and what really counts is the exploring. Over world adventuring is tedious, since, once again, you’re on a ship travelling on the ocean. You draw a line on your map and watch it go, but you can’t just leave it because you might get attacked by enemies, which makes the whole sailing experience annoying mistake number 4. The dungeons are pretty good though, if not a little easy, but that’s nothing really to complain about. But annoying mistake number 5 comes from the temple which you find the Phantom Hourglass, because you can’t just visit it once, you have to do it over and over and over again. Each time, you get more time in your hourglass to go farther and your new items help you do that too, but literally having to do the same stuff again and again like that was irritating.

I’m not gonna say that this game is a bad one, but it’s annoying to say the least, with 5 reasons BIG reasons. It comes off as painfully average, which is what I’m trying to say. Sure, this is no Ocarina of Time, Link to the Past or Link’s Awakening, but few in the Zelda series are. What I’m getting at it: maybe the Legend of Zelda isn’t that great as a series, but some of the individual games are. As for this one: it’s annoying and obviously marketed towards more casual players but has its moments of charm and some okay dungeons. It pretty much comes off as a very basic Zelda game. I give The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass 6.5 Levels out of 10.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Level Up: The Death and Return of Superman

Proudly made in Canada by the way. With Canada day having just passed us, I want to talk about one of the most famous Canadian related characters: Superman. Don’t believe that he was technically invited by someone born in Canada? Check out the Heritage Moment (clip plays). I don’t blame you if you didn’t know this though, since part of his slogan is fighting for the “American” way. (Kind of appropriate that this review comes between Canada Day and the 4th of July.) So with how big of a legend Superman is, naturally there are tons of games based on him, and yes, I am aware of the god awful ones like Superman 64, but today I’m talking about The Death and Return of Superman for the Sega Genesis. Is it comparable to it? Keep listening and find out.

From my understanding, this video game is based on the comic event of the same name. Actually even that’s debatable since the original title didn’t include the “return” part (mostly since it gives the ending away). You start off as Superman, doing your basic “save Metropolis” duty. This time around though, Doomsday appears, an adversary actually able to match Superman’s strength. In the final strike of the battle, both of them go down for good by the looks of it. After the city mourns the loss of their protector, 4 heroes calling themselves the new Superman appear: Super boy, The Man of Steel, the Eradicator and a Superman Cyborg. Not only do they claim to be able to replace Superman, but also that they are him in one way or another. Who will fill his shoes? Are any of them actually him? Well, I’m not gonna tell you, get the game or read the comic.

This game is best described as “Basic Brawler”. Basically you walk around, jump if the mood calls for it and repeatedly punch people in the head. This isn’t inspired, but can be fun is done well enough, and this game does is it well enough! Not great, but still well. The enemies are fun to smash, the layout is well done and it just feels like what a brawler should. Of course, you get a few extra abilities thrown in for flavor, such as a laser shot, which doesn’t cause much damage but stuns enemies, the ability to fly by pressing jump twice, and a grab, which I love in this game; Superman smashing people against a wall is just kick ass. There are also these occasional side scrolling shooter levels, which are mostly pretty easy, but still fun and a nice change of pace, and the constant destruction can be pretty awesome.

And that’s pretty much all that’s awesome. That’s where we hit the game’s biggest fault: you just don’t feel like Superman. When you get hit or see Superman fall, it just makes your heart sink a bit at how weak he’s portrayed. Also, your only super powers (punching not counting as one and invulnerability missing) are the weakened laser eyes and flying: where’s the ice breath or the super speed? It may be a lot to ask for, but when I think “Superman” I expect a certain degree of kickass. Anyone else in this game would look amazingly strong, but because its Superman characters, it just does the opposite.

I’m gonna make this part short, but the graphics are quite good. Once again, I’m talking about Genisis version, but what I’ve seen from screenshots for the SNES version, they’re better. I want to point out that the comics came out during Superman’s “mullet” phase, but luckily it’s not apparent in the game sprites. (Who decided the symbol for all good needed to look like Billy Ray Cyrus anyways?). And though the music is forgettable, I love the sound effects. When you pick up certain items, it sounds like Mystic Quest, which I found weird, but it’s all about the punching sounds in beat-em up. The sound of making contact has to have a certain crack to it, and this game has it.

Is this game fun? Yes! Does it do justice to Superman? No. But does it defame him? No, it’s far from the disaster of Superman 64. It’s almost like developers Sunsoft and Blizzard Entertainment knew they couldn’t make something as awesome as Superman, so they decided just settle for something fun. If you like Brawlers, this is a perfect stress reliever. It’s challenging but not “hard” for the wrong reasons (for example, you get unlimited continues, balanced out by a need for life budgeting). My disappointment for the lack of “super” in this Superman game is really the only down side, and there aren’t a whole lot of upsides, but it still comes off as a good brawler. I give The Death and Return of Superman for the Sega Genesis 7.5 Levels out of 10.