Sunday, October 31, 2010

Level Up: D

Let me tell you about a man named Kenji Eno. A child genius with an interest in video games and music, Kenji Eno (Ano) spent a lot of time playing around with programming, eventually winning competitions with games he made. After working for a few other companies, he would eventually band with other programmers and animators to form the company WARP Incorporated in 1994. This is where today’s game comes in. Kenji actually considered this is “opus,” his “masterpiece” of sorts. As a matter of fact, there are a few stories of how dedicated he was to this game.

Here’s one. First off, I’m going to tell you that it is a very disturbing game at some points, and that was ok in Japan (his native land) but would not fly by the manufacturers over in USA. That’s why Kenji made two version of the same; one without the story line, and one fully intact. He submitted the “clean” version, and it was approved. However, Kenji purposely failed to submit the master version of the game to the manufacturers in time, and the punishment was that he had to deliver the game by hand. While on the plane, Kenji switched the “clean” version for the full version, there by foregoing all censorship and allowed the world to be exposed to this horrible wonder.

This next dedication story may just be business sense, but I also think it shows how much this meant to him. See, this game (still not telling you the title before I start the review btw) was originally released on the 3DO. Yeah, not betting on the right pony there. Luckily, it was eventually ported to the Sega Saturn (probably the most popular version), the PC (as I’ll be playing it) and the Sony PlayStation. Most of them turned out alright, however, Sony was busy at the time of manufacturing the game and didn’t give it much priority; while the demand for this game was about 100 000 copies, they only promised 40 000 and provided only 28 000 copies. Eventually, sequels to this game and other WARP titles would never be released on Sony consoles and mostly stick to Sega.

Kenji Eno would eventually go on after this game to have a roller coaster career in gaming, including forming a few other companies and going out of the business for a bit, but this was probably the high point. This week’s game is the one letter terror of D.

The story in a nutshell is that Laura Harris is called to a hospital one night. It seems that her father, Dr. Richter Harris, has for some reason taken hostages and even already killed some people. The police are unable to help for some reason, and she goes in. Upon entering the hospital, Laura gets sucked into a portal to some kind of other dimension, which is mostly composed of a haunted castle. You now need to help her find a way out and figure what in god name is going on.

I honestly really had to force myself to play this game again, which is saying something since I’m currently locked in this place with nothing to do except play this game. The thing is, this game actually scared me so much, I locked it up with this DOS box in a dungeon (which I forgot about until I had no escape route from Piggsy). Man things make this game absolutely terrifying, at least for me. I think the main thing is the setting. As Laura, you are ALONE in this place, with the exception of your father and god knows what else. You’re also in an unfamiliar place that is creepy as all sin, and it doesn’t help that every now and then something freakily will happen for no reason or you’ll open a door and see something you just weren’t expecting. It doesn’t help that the game style gives you limted control of Laura anyways, continuing to make you feel like you feel like you just can’t escape anything bad thing that could happen to you. With the lights in your room shut off and with headphones (or the volume up high) you really get into it. Oh, and you do have to play it like that, it says so in the instruction booklet.

D’s main flaw is that is a very dated game. First off, it plays like the old type of puzzle/adventure game. You know, kind of like Myst where you go to a spot, then decide where to go or what to do at each point. (I think they are making a comeback on the DS though.) Also, the graphics look really lame, not even up to a Reboot standard I hold for 3D graphics; a lot of things just look stiff or half-assed. Granted, this was one of the first (if not THE first) completely CGI games, but still, you just know it’ll turn off some gamers. Finally, there’s this game’s length. To put it in perspective, you actually have a 2 hour, real-time time limit. Therefore, unlike modern games where you can just play and play and play, this one is over pretty quick. I counteract this argument though with the fact that the sheer suspense and creepiness should leave a lasting impression, much more then recent long and forgettable titles. I say, if you’re the kind of person who likes to watch old black and white horror movies, read scary books in the dark or are just a fan of these kinds of puzzle games looking for a scare, I think you should really check out this out. I give D for the PC 9.5 levels out 10.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Level Up: Manhunt

When it comes to “scary” games, you don’t always need things like ghosts, monsters and demons lurking around. As a matter of fact, some of the scariest concepts can be that a human could be able to such unspeakable acts (look at your 6 o’clock news). Today, I’m going to talk to you about a game where one person lurks in the shadows, killing anyone that’s dumb enough to turn their back to them, and what’s worst, you’re that killer. This week’s game is the first Manhunt game, for the X-box, PlayStation 2 and PC as I’ll be playing it.

The game starts off with James Earl Cash waking up after his execution. Obviously it was faked, but why? A voice from a speaker in the room he wakes up in tells him to put in an ear piece. The voice on the other end calls himself the director, and he wants Cash to be the star of his latest series of films. But Cash isn’t an actor, that’s why he wants a convict… to KILL. He informs his latest “Star” that he’s planted cameras everywhere he’s going to go, to produce a series of underground snuff films. Now you play as the lesser of two evils to take out people who will take him out if they get the chance, all just to please the entertainment needs of the director and his clients. There are also some pretty good twists along the way, and honestly, for a game that was mostly made for gore, I bought into it.

This is stealth game, but I’m just going to explain my two favourite game play elements: the assassinations and the radar. Starting off with the assassination, these were the main reason to get this game. Like with most stealth games, Cash isn’t that great with fighting and getting out numbered is pretty easy. The assassinations, however, make taking out enemies a lot easier: once you sneak up on someone close enough, you can kill him in a brutal way. The brutality will depend on how long you held the attack button, with 3 types of death with each weapon. You’ll pretty much be using these all through the game, not only because it make the game easier, but because they’re such a guilty pleasure to watch.

The radar, however, might not be something everyone enjoys as much as I do, mostly because I am partially an audio geek. See, the radar is based on sound: if you can hear an enemy, he will appear on your radar. This of course works the other way around; you make some noise and all enemies within earshot will rush to you. You’ll also know when this happens, cause you see how far you the noise you made went. So basically, you have make sure they don’t see OR hear you, adding another level to the game play, not that many other games use.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this in my Bully review or not, but Rockstar are not known for their graphics for a reason. In Manhunt, they’re probably less than standard for their time and didn’t age well. However, Rockstar did find a way around: this game was apparently “filmed” with low quality cameras, so the whole the whole game has this gray static filter on top of it. That doesn’t make it better, but makes it fit. What I really liked though were the sounds; they were great, they had to be. Not only was their entire radar system based on sound, but for the good, full effect of the gore, you need realistic sounds to accompany the visuals (just think about the horror movies you’ve watched). There is also very little music most of the time, which heightens the tension. Oh, and the character dialogs deserves to be mentioned, just cause of the messed up things some of them actually say.

This is a very controversial game, but also a good stealth game. However, when guns are introduced, it just becomes a shootout for the rest of the level, which I didn’t like. None the less, the assassinations will provide sick entertainment for people who can handle it, the sound design was just amazing and the stealth will make you nervous at the thought that a killer could be in the next dark corner you see. If this sounds good to you, get it… if you CAN: this game is actually BANNED in some places (sorry for teasing you New Zealand). I give Manhunt for the PC 9 Levels out of 10.

I’m Leo Melanson, and now you know the score.

*Knocking is heard* Oh not this again. Look, if this is James Earl Cash, I have nothing to do with Starkweather. *Pig squeals, chain saw roar* OH CRAP! IT’S PIGGSY! *Shuffling of papers, footsteps chair moving* what’s this? A door? *Piggsy breaks through, big heavy door moves open then closes with a bang, pounding against concrete and muffled pig squeals are heard, then fades* Alright well… Wait, I remember this place. Oh this next review is going to be something… *Footsteps fade away*

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Level Up: Killer Instinct

(Once again, blogspot flips this picture on its side, even though the original picture was not like this.)

Oh, just give me a second here, I’m nailing my door shut. After last week’s “guest”, I want to make sure it doesn’t happen again this month, what with the characters I’m gonna be talking about. There…

When selecting a game to review, it’s sometimes hard to choose exactly which ones to do. However, in a month with a Halloween theme, this week’s game definitely stood out, almost calling me and with it’s pure black cartridge and title. Those of you who have this game know exactly what I’m talking about: Killer Instinct for the Super Nintendo.

If you haven’t listened to my Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat 2 review, do it, because I’ll be referencing those two games quite a bit. This game is like them, in the sense that it’s a 2D fighter, but different in some key areas. First up, it’s the life bar: it doesn’t refill at the end of the round. In most other fighting games, once you knock out your enemy, a new round starts and both your energy meters refill. In this game, the damage carries over. You are given two full life bars and that’s it. Make it last.

This can be very hard though, because it’s easy to put the hurt on your opponent. I mentioned that in games like Street Fighter, pushing the right button combination for special moves can be difficult. In Killer Instinct, a lot of the special moves can be activated by pressing a two or three buttons. Even without this, it’s easy to pound your enemy with basic attacks, because this game allows for automatic combos. It only ends when your opponent either breaks it, or you launch him in the air. These are hard to explain, but the feel of it is great and they are fun to do.

Finally, you have finishing moves: either the No Mercy or Danger move depending on which version you play. This is honestly just a rip of Mortal Kombat’s Fatalities. (It’d be fair to point out that Midway games helped publish the Arcade versions of both titles.) However, they are a lot tamer in this game; remember this one is only rated T, while Mortal Kombat got an M rating. I can probably call this a flop as far as this game goes though. Other than these elements, this game is pretty much your basic 2D fighting game, where you jump around, hit your opponent and try not to take too much damage.

As usual, with fighting games, I gotta talk about the characters. This time around, there are 10, which doesn’t seem like much now a days, but back in 1994, it was just around average. As usual, what I like is the diversity, and I am not talking about this game during October for no reason. You get a few usual fighters: the token ninja and female. Then you also get a boxer and a dual Tomahawk user, which are two things you don’t see in many games. Finally, the other 6 are the true reason for playing: a werewolf, a dinosaur, an iceman, a man of flames, a skeleton and Fulgor, who I can only guess is a suit of armour based robot. Even with only 10 characters, all the different mix ups you can make with these diverse characters makes them one of the best aspects of this game.

This is another game developed by Rare, like Donkey Kong Country, so I found a lot of the graphics and music quite similar. Once again, Rare used the polygon technique for making their graphics, which suits this game perfectly. Though, I will admit, the Arcade version looks much better, especially with Cider. I have the same problem with the sound effect I have with most fighting games though: it’s easy to get audio fatigue from the constant shouting going on. The music, however, is pretty cool, and worth keeping the volume up on your TV. As I’ve said, this was developed by Rare, so it has the same quality as DKC. It’s kind of industrial in a sense, but really works at invoking one’s Killer Instinct.

This game is different from most 2D fighters, which makes it’s one of my favourites. But at the same time, I could see some of the more hard core fighter game fans not liking this game. This is good for people who play games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat by mostly button mashing, but for people who bother to memorize the huge button moves, this might not be enough of a challenge. Also, getting trapped in a combo might seem cheap to these people. But the big disappointment might come from the fact that this game is rated T, and for a game called “KILLER” Instinct, that’s a big problem. Still, the great graphic, music and monstrous characters should be enjoyable to anyone, even if the game play might be hit or miss for most people (and for me, it’s a definite hit). I give Killer Instinct for the Super Nintendo 7.5 Levels out 10.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Level Up: Super Ghouls N Ghosts

Hey there faithful reader: sorry, but I can't post up the transcript for this weeks review. Simply put, it is too long (5 pages), and that's a bit much. So, I will link you directly to the audio. For you deaf readers or people without speakers or headphones (even though they cost like a buck now), sorry again.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Level Up: Earthworm Jim 2

It’s now time for Level Up season 2. After a full year, I got to say, I’m pretty pleased with where it’s been going and how it’s turned out. And to think, it all started with a review of Earthworm Jim. Some of you might be wondering why I picked that for my first one? Simply put, I think it captured the feeling I wanted for this show (a little funny, but good overall). So naturally, with Level Up season 2, I have to pay homage to that first review. Here’s Earthworm Jim 2, once again available for a lot of consoles, but I’ll be playing it on the Sega Genesis.

The story is pretty much the same, but with the omission of Queen-blah-blah-Slug-For-A-Slug (yeah, so much for being the final boss, eh?). This time, Psycrow has decided to capture Princess-What’s-Her-Name just too basically be a douche towards our wormy hero. It’s pretty much standard, which I guess was the point since, like the first game, it was supposed to parody the other “save the girl games” of the time. The one thing I don’t like about the story is that it omits a lot of the funny characters (like Prof. Monkey-For-A-Head) and doesn’t add enough new characters. The few that it does add, like Pedro Pupa and Flamin’ Yawn, are a little faceless (literally in their cases). This game’s story just doesn’t live up to the expectations that the first game set up.

In my review of the first game, I mentioned that the levels have a lot of variety to them. This time, it’s more like the makers had a PHOBIA of repeating themselves. The first level you’ll ride up some stares using a chair lift at one point. Next level you have to dig though some dirt using your gun, then you’re a blind cave salamander floating in a digestive system, then you’re flying over a world on your pocket rocket, then you’ll need to save cows to get through and after that you’ll inflate your head to float to the top of a level. Seriously, those are the first 6 levels of the game in order, minus the Puppy Love intervals. This does demonstrate one awesome thing: only Earthworm Jim can get away with something like this, only with his games could the makers go “let’s just change Jim to a salamander” and still seem natural.

Of course, new levels were expected, so there are more changes. This time around, Jim has more guns, instead of just the one. He has a HOMEing missile (hopefully you’ll get the pun when you play) a three-finger shot (which is as awesome as it sounds), a bubble gun (which is as lame as it sounds) and a kill all shot called the barn blaster. Not only can Jim find new guns, but he can also find new power-ups which will give him extra continues or 200% health. Another change that was the addition of Snott. Basically, you’ll have to send Snott out of your backpack to swing off a ceiling or you can use him as a parachute to slow your descent. The problem is that Jim already had these abilities in the last game, so that change was just superficial.

In the last review, I didn’t talk about the graphics or the music and just grazed the sounds. This game pretty much matches most of those aspects, so consider this a make good. Seeing how ridiculous and cartoony the concept and characters already were, they decided to make that the look of the series. This is fitting, but doesn’t always work: some things will need to be more detailed and therefore clash, while others won’t have enough detail and look flat. The sound effects are pretty good in both games and haven’t changed much. It is however likely that you become annoyed by Jim’s repeated shouts of “tender” or “groovy”. But where both games really shine are their soundtracks, and honestly, I think EWJ2 has a better one, using a couple of classical tracks to round things out (noticeably, Funiculy Funicula, as used in the Puppy Love stages and the background music to this review). The original tracks are also great, but it’s just the juxtaposition of something so classical put in something so wacky has to be mentioned.

If it sounds like I’m disappointed with Earthworm Jim 2, it’s probably because I already talked about the first Earthworm Jim and, since nothing much else has changed, the tiny changes they did make are all I have to talk about, pretty much forcing me to nit-pick. Still, this is Earthworm Jim’s grand return and it was less then what I’d hoped for: it feels a little all over the place and the story seems dull this time around. All the good points come from the last game though: this is still a really solid platform game, it’s funny, the levels are fun, etc… To sum this up, if you liked Earthworm Jim, then you should still enjoy Earthworm Jim 2. Sadly, this would be the last game Jim’s original creators, Shiny Entertainment, would work on, which sucks, because I would have liked to see where they were going. I would probably give the first Earthworm Jim about a 9, so I’ll give Earthworm Jim 2 for the Sega Genesis 8 levels out of 10.

(Now I’ll have to track down Earthworm Jim 3D for next year…)