Saturday, February 26, 2011

Level Up: Megaman 5

Of all the times I’ve featured Capcom, and of course *Capcom time* here on the show, it’s surprising that I haven’t featured Megaman, one of their most popular series (challenged by Street Fighter and Resident Evil of course). The game play in it is great, and considering I have the Anniversary collection that came out in 2004, I can review a lot of his games. So, it only makes sense to start with the first one. ... buuut for no reason what-so-ever, I’m going to review Megaman 5 today.

I gotta start off by saying the music in the entire Megaman series ranges from good to amazing and is pretty much well received by all the critics. So, each time I review a game from the main Megaman series, I’m going to try to make a medley (try being the key word here). To comment on the music from Megaman 5 specifically, it’s generally pretty good. It may not be the greatest music (standing unnoticed at some points), but you should still be audibly satisfied.

I also can’t critique Megaman 5 too much on the graphics, because they also remain pretty good and standard throughout the series. Where I can critique Megaman 5 is with its design choices. See, ever since Megaman 3, there have been some gradual changes to make the game’s look a little too “kid friendly”. In Megaman 5 however, they seemed to go overboard with it. Some backgrounds look more like playground rides with vibrant colors, made worse by the NES’ limitation. The Robot Masters also seem a little messed up: Waveman, Crashman and Napalmman have a somewhat bloated look to them. There are also a few other design choices I don’t really approve of, but I think you get the point. I’m not saying they’re bad or will hurt your eyes or anything like that, just that it seems some of it could use more work, or maybe they just couldn’t achieve what they were really trying to do.

Now is when I have to address the real issue with Megaman 5: it is stagnant. See, all the previous additions to the Megaman series brought something new to the table (I’ll address each case when I review the appropriate game). Megaman 5, however, presented a game with nothing new to its game mechanics. (You can say Beat was added, but since he’s a secret weapon, I wouldn’t count it.) You might not call that a bad thing, since Capcom already established so much, but by this point you’d expected something more. There’s a little tweaking here and there, but nothing spectacular.

This wouldn’t be so bad if the rest of the game didn’t feel phoned in either, but sadly it does. I’m not just talking about the odd robot masters or the lame odd graphics, but the level design seems also phoned it. Granted, I shouldn’t complain too much since you do get interesting elements, like reversing the gravity in Gravityman’s level and things like that, but the ones that don’t go all out feel hollow. To use an appropriate simile, it feels like a sequel to a movie you like; you know they couldn’t quite reproduce the feeling of the first one, but some of it is there, and it’s still nice they tried I guess.

Despite the plot not having anything to do with game, I feel obliged to talk about it, partially cause it’s THERE and partially cause I still need to fill in time. But it does present an interesting twist. This time, it isn’t Dr.Wily that appears with 8 robot masters to cause general mayhem; it’s Protoman! Of course this is quite uncharacteristic of him, especially considering how he’s helped the Blue Bomber in the past. I’ll now activate another SPOILER ALARM to tell you that it ends up not being Protoman, and that it IS Dr.Wily behind it all along. The problem I have though isn’t that it now returns us to the standard; it’s that the SAME twist is used in Megaman 4. *Spoiler alarm goes off again* what? Oh, looks like I ruined two games for you, sorry. Like I said, it doesn’t matter, because it can be skipped just as easily. All of this just to repeat my point that Megaman 5 is just doing what its predecessors did.

Megaman 5 is still a very good game, because it’s still a Megaman man game. It looks good, sounds good, plays good and about what is expected. The problem is just that though; when a game does “what is expected” it means nothing about it stands out. Megaman 5 feels phoned in, like it was following some kind of guide and didn’t have as much thought or heart put into it. It also stagnated the series for two games adding almost nothing new. I wouldn’t tell you to stay away from this game, but definitely check out other Megaman games before it and, if you want to skip it, I wouldn’t hold it against you. I give Megaman 5 originally for the Nintendo Entertainment System 7 levels out of 10.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Level Up: DJ Hero

(Originally intended to be posted January 8th)

First off, sorry about not making an episode last week, and sorry about my presence today; I have an explanation for both of those. See, last week was New Years, and me and some friends decided to get together for some drinks. One thing led to another and… well the party only ended 36 hours ago. Seriously, it was wild; we ate 42 large pizzas total, had a jello swimming contest and Jack made over 100 dollars returning the empties. I think there were monkey’s there too, but I don’t remember. Anyways, at one point, part of the party was around the TV playing a video game, and I need to bring you a review anyways, so might as well review it. DJ Hero, for X-Box 360, PS3 or Wii as I have it.

Alright, I’m not in the mood to beat around the bush today, to I’ll just be up front: this is a game published by Activision, and by now, you should know my thoughts on what that company is able to produce. This shouldn’t come as much of surprise though since it carries the “Hero” title, much like the famous “Guitar Hero” series that they became the publishers of. (As a matter of fact, there is a mode where a guitarist can play along to certain songs in DJ Hero.) The game play between that series and DJ Hero is quite similar: play music by hitting coloured buttons when they hit the target zone. However, there are many game play mechanics that would obviously have to change between the two series. First off, the turn table requires scratching: this is when you hold a button and move the platter up and/or down to make the desired sound (the prompt for this is a long section of the corresponding colors or arrows going either up or down). Next we have the fadder. Each song in DJ Hero is actually two songs mixed in one. To switch from playing both “records” to only one, you’ll use the fader bar (prompt represent when a row takes a sudden side step). Just move the bar to corresponding side or to the middle when needed so the mix continues rocking.

The rest of the difference may not matter as much, but some were necessary and others just cool. For example, instead of activating Star Power by tilting the controller, you have euphoria, activated by hitting a button that turns red when available. You’ll also be given the ability to rewind the songs at certain points. All you have to do is spin the platter backwards and it’ll spin the tracks and… spinning… Whoa, wait a second *barfs* Ok, sorry there, I’m good. Anyways, this gives you the chance to hit notes a second time and is a great way to assure you get the highest score possible. Finally, you also have free style zones, where you can press the red button to play selected sound effects (when the middle row becomes wider) or turn the effects knob to warp the sound of which ever track is glowing at the time. They may not be that useful for points, but if you learn to use it the right way… it just sounds cool.

Of course the make or break aspect of any of these music based rhythm games is naturally the music. Here’s my thoughts on this song selection; unlike games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, where you can hear the songs already on a CD or on the Radio, the mixes in DJ Hero are entirely original and you won’t get them elsewhere. And I have to admit this: I love Mashups. My theory on Mashups is that, if you like one song in the mix, a decent enough DJ would be able to make you enjoy it even more mixed (and they got some awesome DJ’s to make the songs in this game). For you not to like most of the mixes in this game, you would have to not like most of the songs used for them (which is bad news for you if you don’t like “Hollaback Girl” or any Daft Punk). All and all, I think the sound track for this game is great, and like Battle of the Bands, I think it’s worth getting this game alone.

All in all, I really enjoyed DJ Hero: though it is far from a perfect game. The graphics are a little weird (even though you won’t be looking at them anyways) even when compared to the way Guitar Hero has presented itself; it tries to be too “club” or something. Also, the whole concept might seem pointless to some people, since it’s just adding another peripheral game into the market. Speaking of the peripheral, the cost of getting it might also off put some potential buying costing about 100 buck Canadian for the game and a deck. But, as I’ve said, it’s the music that counts, and I love the mashups. Furthermore, the button layout on the platter makes me feel like I’m playing an arcade style game in some songs, so it still fun as a game. I give DJ Hero for the Nintendo Wii 9 levels out of 10.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Level Up: Popeye

Once again, Valentine’s Day quickly approaches. And as you scramble to find a gift for that special person in your life, just remember, video game characters have probably done a lot more for their lady love or gentlemen caller. This year’s example is once again lifted from a licensed story, but not one that’s commonly talked about now a day, similar to Felix the Cat. I’m not saying it’s obscure, because these characters rest in the back of all our minds. I think everyone listening knows who I mean when I talk about Popeye the Sailor Man. This is Popeye for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The story is of course as classic as Popeye himself, though has no meat on it so to say… kind of like Olive Oyl. As usual (for her), she seems to have gotten herself into trouble: this time it seems Brutus has become infatuated with her and decided to keep her from Popeye. Oh, wait, there’s a mistake here on the page, it says his name is Brutus; it should be Bluto. *Producer: whispers* Wait, he’s called Brutus in this game? *Producer: yeah* But that doesn’t make sense, from what I gather he was only really called Brutus for a short time in the 60’s. I have no idea why they would call him that in this game, but I guess his sprite does meet the fatter, less muscular look given to “Brutus”. Anyways, sorry for getting distracted by a name difference, but that is actually more interesting then the plot that can easily be described as “Popeye saving Olive Oyl”. Let’s move on from both now.

Originally having been released for the arcade, this game is a very typical “arcade game”, meaning that most of the game will happen on one, fixed-camera screen until the level is done and the true goal is just to rack up as many points as possible. To save Olive Oyl, you have to collect the hearts/music notes/letters that she lets fall until you’ve gathered enough to move to the next round (the higher up you collect the falling object, the more points you earn). Brutus is constantly moving around each level and if he touches you (or hits you with a bottle) you lose a life. (Be careful, because he can jump up or down a floor, unlike Popeye, who needs to use the stairs). Your only real defense is your fists, which can take out the Sea Hag’s bouncing skulls and the bottles, but aren’t so useful against the big Brutus. But as always, Popeye has his trusty Spinach to help him! There is one can per level, and when you grab it, you can temporarily take Brutus out of the picture. Again, there’s not a whole lot of depth to the game play, but it is good classic fun. There’s no flaw in it, because for everything that hinders Popeye, something else seems to help him, and it all becomes part of the challenge. I enjoyed playing this game.

Originally I was going to end the review here and pair it up with another video game, since this is all I really have to say. But while researching this game, I found out something interesting. Did you know that if it weren’t for Popeye, Nintendo’s mascot Mario might not exist? Popeye was originally developed and released by Nintendo for the Arcades around 1982. Turns out, however, that the original Donkey Kong game, released in 81, was supposed to have a Popeye license. Due to complications revolving around the copyright laws, Nintendo wasn’t sure if they would be able to use the characters though. Instead of just scrapping the entire game, they decided to just replace the characters with original designs: Mario taking Popeye’s place, Donkey Kong for Bluto/Brutus and Pauline for Olive Oyl (and might I suggest that the hammer replaces spinach?). It really makes sense the more you think about it. As you probably all know by this point, THAT game was a smash success, and the demand for another similar game was very much alive at the time. After having properly obtained the licensing, this game was then released. This explains why the general look is similar, has sort of the same feel and many of the sound effects are reused. So, Popeye cause Donkey Kong and Mario to exist and the Donkey Kong video game caused the Popeye video game to be made. The rest is history.

I enjoyed the Popeye video game, and it has its place in history, but I have a hard time recommending it, generally because it hasn’t aged well. There’s next to no plot (nothing new for arcade games though). The graphics are well detailed at some points, like being able to see Popeye’s tattoo, but the backgrounds are jokes, with the boat one looking like it was drawn by a 4 year old. The music is slightly bland, and has it’s off key moments. Finally the game play, though fun in its style, is repetitive and pointless since it doesn’t save the scores on this port. If you like old arcade games (such as Donkey Kong or Pac-man), do yourself a favor and play this, but as a general recommendation, I can’t give it as high of a score as I want to. I give Popeye for NES 7.5 levels out of 10.