Saturday, August 28, 2010

Level Up: Lego Batman the Video Game

This final submission in Batmonth has some deep nostalgia for me because it mixes together three of the things I clearly remember enjoying the most as a kid. The first would obviously be Batman and the second would be video games. The third thing this week’s game mixes up is Legos. Yeah, I enjoyed the little bricks as a kid and a few years back (mostly with Lego Star Wars) they’ve made a big uprising in video games. So let’s take a look at Lego Batman the Video Game for the Nintendo Wii.

I personally enjoyed the story in this game, but I think it’s more the way it’s told then what it tells. The basic plot is pretty much the same as last weeks; a bunch of villains escape, they cause crimes and it’s up to Batman and Robin to stop them. This time though, they didn’t cheap out on the villains with a total 15 baddies divided up in teams with leaders Riddler, Joker and Penguin. All three have their own plans and every character shines with a bit of their own personality. Here’s the thing though: no one can talk in Lego land. I should probably consider this a good thing when you think about how Batman sounds in recent adaptations. (Clip from Joker Interrogation scene spoof) (chuckle, I still love that video). Instead, the game relies on extreme body language to tell the tale, which is AWESOME since they are Lego! It’s exaggerated to a comical point and I think it’s something you have to see. However, when you have limited facial expression and have to show directly what you’re thinking with actions, it makes it so there’s absolutely no depth to the characters. But, this is Lego Batman the Video Game, you really shouldn’t be expecting all that much depth anyways. What has to happen happens and the message that needs to get across gets across, all while still being entertaining. What more could you ask for?

Now, I haven’t really played any other Lego game developed by Travellers Tales (I’ve maybe played all of 5 minutes of Lego Star Wars) but, from what I’ve seen, the game play isn’t too different from game to game, almost becoming its own sub category. Mostly, it’s the regular adventure platforming type game where you beat enemies and solve a variety of puzzles with game play mechanics. However, there is one main game play element I think is pretty unique: destruction and building. Since your world is made of Lego, you can destroy objects and rebuild them into the device you need. By the way, just gotta mention this sound: (bricks rattle). Get used to it, because EVERYTHING you destroy makes this noise! Play this game too much and you’ll eventually hear it all the time. And you will be destroying a lot of stuff, not only to figure what you need to build, but also cause you get the form of money in this game by breaking random crap (the idea of a millionaire, dressed a protector, going around smashing windows for more money is disturbing to me). There’s a lot to collect and buy, so yeah, you’ll be trying to break everything.

However, the game play tries to mix it up sometimes. First off, in every “episode” there’s at least one vehicle level. I have to say, I don’t like these: they aren’t the “refreshing change” they were going for like the shooting levels in The Death and Return of Superman. I find they mostly feel like the same thing, but with a big character that has a hard time moving around. I’ve seen a lot of critics say they like these, so maybe it just me, but I just found it to be a sudden road block in the game play. One other “mode” (for want of a better term) that I do like is the ability to play the villains side of the story. This is not only because playing as the bad is normally always more fun, but because you keep changing characters in villain story mode. This means, you have to keep adapting to different abilities ever level. As Batman and Robin, you’re given different costumes throughout a level, but it’s just not the same thing as such a permanent and drastic change.

This game was fun and definitely lived up to the expectations my nostalgia put in place for me. Though it has a few flaws; it can become mindless quickly, it’s easy to go in circles if you don’t know what to do and it’s too easy making it impossible to get game over (almost the exact opposite problem the other two Batman games had). But all of this is pretty easy to ignore due to how much fun simply playing as Batman characters in Lego form can be. The game’s look is really cool, the music is awesome, actually using Danny Elfman’s amazing scores, and the game play is overall enjoyable. And out of all the Batman games I’ve reviewed this month, this one is probably the most loyal to its source content. The only people I can see not enjoying this game are those adults who refuse to have any type of inner child. I give Lego Batman the Video Game for the Nintendo Wii 8.5 Levels out of 10.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s August theme of Bat-month.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Level Up: The Adventures of Batman and Robin

Since we’re in Bat-month, I want to give my thoughts on the whole “Joker” argument that came out with the movie The Dark Knight (yes, I know it’s an old issue, but I’m going somewhere with this). A lot of people were arguing the case of either Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson. While I sided with Nicholson, he just wasn’t the Joker I remembered. Cesar Romero is close too, but not my favorite Joker. For me, the perfect clown prince is portrayed by Mark Hamill who voiced the Joker in the Batman animated series. That series is how I remember Batman and it is the Dark Knight I grew up with. This gets me to my point: there were games based directly off of that series for video games. Here’s one of them: The Adventures of Batman & Robin for the Sega Genesis.

Blah blah blah, Joker, Two-Face, Mad Hatter and Mr.Freeze escape, start causing crimes, regular Batman plot. Let’s just skip the story and get to what I really want to talk about the game’s difficulty.

The game is HARD! And I don’t mean though like Batman from last week, or tough like a well done steak. If I had to compare this game to a steak, I would say that this game is like gnawing on a pierce of still frozen meat. I am serious, if you don’t pay constant attention and know what you’re doing, this game will be quick to kick your ass. I started up this game to refresh my memory to review it, and I couldn’t get past the first area! I remember having beaten this game once, but I can’t for the like of me see how that happened. Though, the same way that a steak will eventually thaw out after gnawing on it, this game does seem to get a little easier after a while. I don’t know if it’s because the levels get easier (the layout of Two-Face’s levels makes it easy for me) or if it’s just because to simply get past the first level you have to get so used to the game that you seem to enter its “mind”. All this just to warn you: this is a hard game with no way to really make it any easier, so better get ready.

This game is what’s described as a “run-and-gun” game. It would be very easy to make a platform or brawler game based on Batman, so this decision really stands out; considering Batman doesn’t use any actual guns, it seems weird to have something that seems quite similar to Contra. What’s even weirder is that Konami, makers of Contra, actually handled the SNES Adventures of Batman and Robin title, which was more of a platform/brawler based game, while this version was published by Sega. I am just looking too much into this?

RIGHT, game play… basically, move from left to right while taking out bad guys, mostly by throwing these weapons. You have to stand still to fire, but you can shoot in 8 different directions. You have three category of weapons, and although there are more technical terms for them, I just call them red, green and blue, since those are the colors representing them. As you upgrade each one, you’ll notice they each do something different. Though I could elaborate on what it is they do, I’d rather explain to you how you make your attack stronger. Let’s say you start off with the red power (since you do) and you see a weapon icon (often dropped by enemies or hidden in items). If you collect it while it’s red, then your power will go up. However, if you collect it while it’s green or blue, then the power level stays the same, you just change weapons. Basically, try to constantly collect the same color to stay as powerful as possible.

This game looks amazing. Quite frankly, it’s the backgrounds; they are well handled, multi layered and perfectly colored to suit the feel of the show. Though, I have a problem with the character sprites; they’re just too small. Although you can make out who all the characters are, I feel as though there isn’t enough definition to them and they look a little faceless. The music is also really good. Probably not as good as the NES Batman game from last week, or even close to the Danny Elfman works, but still suits this game just fine. It has a certain excitement yet mysteriousness to it that just says “Batman run-and-gun game” to it. Yeah, hard to believe any music could say that, eh?

Though this game is fun once you get past how hard it is, it’s pretty disappointing as Batman game. The similarities between the show and this game are shallow (a common theme for Batman so far), the gameplay was oddly chosen and plot is basically non-existent. It’s a really good looking game and it does handle well, but it just feels a little empty and mindless. Also, I have to say it feels short, using only 4 bad guys (5 if you count Harley) out of the Batman repertoire which includes over a dozen. I guess what I’m getting at is that it’s a good game, but far from how good it could have been, especially considering the source content. Still, you might want to not overlook this game. I give The Adventures of Batman and Robin for the Sega Genesis 7.5 Levels out of 10.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Level Up: Batman

Alright, I think the time is right… I now declare the rest of august to be… BAT-MONTH! (nanananananananana, BATMONTH!) That’s right. I decided that every august I would dedicate a good part of the month to reviewing games that all fit a certain theme. This year I’ve chosen to review three games based on Batman. I’m going to review them in chronological order of when they come out. First up is Batman for the NES.

This game came out in 1989, same year as the movie it’s based off of, which also has the same title… Batman. (1989 was a good year, eh?) Honestly though, the similarities between the movie and video game are very minimal. Here’s what it has in common: Batman is the main character, it ends with a showdown against the Joker and there are a few random cut scenes in the game from the movie (though with no other similar events, it’s just disjointed and random). Other than that; nothing. This game honestly looks more like someone came up with their own game, made all the enemies, level design, etc… then at the last moment, slapped a Batman license so it would sell better. This doesn’t hinder the game play, but they could have definitely made a creative way to feature more things from the movie in game.

I have a lot of thoughts about the game play. The first thing you will notice is that this game can feel a little stiff. First off, Batman seems to move slow, but if you watch the movie, he’s not exactly speedy in that either; he mostly just walked slowly up to enemies, freaking them out, then take em out. This game should also be approached with a similar sense of confidence. The second reason it might feel stiff is because of the jumping. Unlike most platformers, like Mario, Sonic or Earthworm Jim, you have very little control of Batman while he’s in the air. From what I understand, developer and producer Sunsoft were going for a more “realistic” type of jumping in their games at that time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it takes some getting used to. Remember: look before you leap.

Speaking of jumping, this game also gives you the ability to wall jump (usually compared to the same way Ryu from Ninja Gaiden also does that). Simply put, jump, hit against a wall, you bounce off in the other direction. It’s a simple game mechanic found in a hand full of game (including Buster’s Hidden Treasure) that’s often used in some pretty unique ways. In this game, the wall jump was pretty easy for me to master, but there are a lot of points where you will need to be very precise so you’ll still need to be careful.

The last worthwhile ability that Batman has is the ranged weapons. Instead of just punching, you can use Baterangs, a gun or a triple shuriken. To use these, you need to pick up ammo that enemies drop. This is both good and bad. Good, because if you use less than 10 ammo to kill a bad guy and he drops a pack, since each are worth 10, it becomes really worth it (with the alternative being losing health). This is bad, because it means you can run out of ammo (which doesn’t make sense for the baterangs since they come back to you). In short, you’ll have to use your own good judgment to know when to use a ranged attack.

However, switching to ranged weapons is something interesting, which gets me to my final point: the button layout. To rotate your ranged weapon, you press start. Now, get what I mean here: you don’t pause the game to switch weapons, pressing start goes to the next one and select pauses the game. At first, I thought this should be reversed, until my roommate pointed something out to me; the start button is on the right hand side. This makes it easier to quickly get your weapon out without stopping the action. The problem comes though when you want a weapon three presses away while enemies are close by: that’s when I would like a weapon select menu. Also, I always get fooled when I go to pause. Anyways, that’s the game play in a nutshell, all coming together to make something fun and interesting, like the dark knight himself.

I’ve said it a couple of times in this review, but this game is interesting. It has near nothing to do with the movie or character it’s based on, but it’s still pretty fun. It’s a pretty tough game and feels a little stiff, but in a way, that just adds to how bad ass Batman can seem. The music is pretty cool and the game has this dark cartoon style (it gives the same feel as the movie, but does so while looking differently). All and all, I would recommend this game to any fan of platforming games, but reluctantly so to people who are just fans of Batman. I give Batman for the Nintendo Entertainment System 8 levels out of 10.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Level Up: Pokemon Snap

If you’ll remember from my Pokémon Stadium review, I mentioned that it was great to see every Pokémon at the time in 3D for the first time. In that sentence though, I made sure to mention “every” Pokémon, because there was a game that came out before Stadium that had part of the original 151 in 3D. That game would be Pokémon Snap. As odd as it might sound, it’s a Pokémon photography game, but like I said, it was 3D and also the first Pokémon game on a non-handheld console. Naturally, we all wanted it. How does this game hold up in hind sight? Let’s find out as I review Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo 64 this week.

You play as a professional Phokémon Potographer- Pokémon Photographer (say that 10 times fast) hired by professor Oak to take pictures for a Pokémon report. For some reason though, Oak is only interested in the Pokémon found on this particular island, which excuses the game to only have around 63 of the original 151 Pokémon there were at the time. The professor gives you this vehicle to ride in called the Zero-One, which follows a rail, but can float in the air and over water and… I don’t know how it works. Anyways, this turns the game into a rail shooter (mind the pun) since you can’t stop the Zero-One, pick your direction or change your speed (until you beat the last level at least).

However, this does not mean that this game is entirely un-interactive, many times to get pictures of certain Pokémon you’ll have to make certain events happen by interacting with the Pokémon’s environment. You’re given three devices to achieve this: food, the pester ball and a poke flute. Sometimes it can be rather obvious how to get some Pokémon, like playing the poke flute near Snorlax to get a distinguishable shot of him. Other times it’s just experiment and see what happens, like for the Garydos picture.

Also, don’t think you can get away with taking an off-centre picture of a single Charmander 10 yards away: despite this game’s otherwise simplistic nature, Professor Oak’s rating system is somewhat sophisticated. He rates you based on what’s going on in the picture, how big the Pokémon appears, if there are any addition Pokémon of the same species in the photo and if it’s centered or not. It’s scientific, yet artistic at the same time: once you can SEE why he gives you certain scores, you can figure out HOW he’s going to rate your picture. So, all and all, the game play is less boring then perceived by concept alone, but probably less fun then it could have been.

Since this game is all about taking pictures of Pokémon and that the big hype was it was the first 3D Pokémon game, the graphics are pretty important. I have to say they live up to the expectations, but definitely don’t surpass it. For example, Slowpoke and Slowbro look really good in this game, though close enough you can see they’re made of polygons. Electrode is one I had a problem with, since he’s supposed to be perfectly rounded. Also, his eyebrows really look flat and pixelated. But generally, the Pokémon looked really cool and like what I expected them to (as I’ve said for my Pokémon Stadium review). The sounds in this game are amazing. The environmental ambiance is perfect for the scenic view and the music is just at the right level to complement it but not over power it. Also, the Pokémon in this game say their names, like in the show, but unlike most other games. This was an interesting choice, but I’m glad they went in that direction: it makes this game stand out just a bit more.

Pokémon Snap was a fun game, but it definitely hasn’t aged well. Its real weakness comes from its concept; I mean, Pokémon PHOTOGRAPHY? But, as stupid as it sounds, it’s also what makes it so unique and fun to play every once in a while (though, since it severely lacks in reply value, you’ll usually start a whole new game when you do). This was a good way to tide the Pokémon fans over until stadium for their 3D fix, which kind of makes me surprised there was never a Pokémon Snap 2; it would have been a clever way to tease the fans with some second generation Pokémon and would sell well if it did that. Anyways, I’m getting off topic. The gameplay is good… for what it is. You really get immersed in the environment and it’s all really well pulled off even though there were less than half of the Pokémon at the time in this game. If you grew up with this game, then you know how nostalgic it can feel, but if you didn’t, you’ll either find it lame or like how unique it is. I give Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo 64 7 levels out of 10.

I’m Leo Melanson, and I promise, next time I talk about a Pokémon game, it’ll be one of the actual main series games.