Saturday, March 26, 2011

Level Up: Amazing Island

Let’s talk about a game called Amazing Island, which I first heard about in Nintendo Power. Coming out in 2004, publishers Sega told us in the article that this game would let you design your own monsters which you would then have to play as to save an island from an evil force. Nintendo Power also showed examples of what kind of creatures you would create, emphasizing the creativity of the game. And then… nothing. Honestly, after reading that article, I have never heard this game mentioned by anyone else. This confuses me, since the idea of creating your own monster sold me. Is this game really underrated, or are people not talking about it because there’s nothing to talk about. Let’s look at Amazing Island for the Nintendo Gamecube and find out.

The game starts off after the protagonist, Andy, discovers a book called “Amazing Island”. It tells him the tale of the Maboo and how they used to live in peace with monsters. That was, until one day, a Black Evil appears and “curses” the Maboo tribe, until there are hardly any left (where the peaceful monsters are at this point, I don’t know). Andy then goes to bed and hears someone calling for help in his dream, before seeing a mysterious island. He wakes up from his dream to find out that the story was true several centuries back, and he has been asked to be the new savior of the island.

The plot tries for something along the fantasy styling of The Neverending Story or even Little Nemo, in the sense of a kid discovering a new, fantastic world. The problem is, this type of tale needs dedication that this game does not have. None of the characters seem to have any emotion when it comes to what is happening around them, and quite frankly, neither do I.

The monster creation system itself works pretty well, mostly since it’s a process. First, you chose a frame. Then, you draw a 2-D drawing of what you want the parts of the body to look like, inflating each part to a desired width. After that, you chose skin color and texture, eyes and a voice, topping it all off with any other accessories you desire. As you play, you’ll unlock more of each option so don’t think your options are anywhere near limited.

After you’ve created your monster, you take it to play some mini-games. These range from “pretty fun”, like this basketball one I enjoy, to “frustratingly annoying”; ones where you need to run around, shoot creatures and get points, all within a time limit with unfavorable controls. This wouldn’t be so bad if I knew how to edit a creature in favor of certain games, but you can’t since you don’t know its stats until it’s done. Of course, this is assuming that the stats have an effect, which if they do, the game fails to make the player feel it: running with a creature of a speed in the 800s feels similar to running with a creature with a speed in the 1300s and practice seems to be the main factor in how well I did.

However, if you happen to have the Nintendo GameCube - Game Boy Advance Link Cable (something I’m not sure if I talked about before), you could hook up your GBA to Amazing Island and play Monster Cards. To me, this was the real reason to get this game. Think of it as a simplified version of most trading card games, where your creature has certain stats and abilities it must use to reduce the enemy’s life down to zero. It’s all based on a mana point system, which you either gain or lose depending on your attack. It’s actually pretty fun and I’ve enjoyed playing it a lot.

Amazing Island is what I call the “potential game”. It has the POTENTIAL to be something great: each element of it has the potential to be the main aspect of a great game. However, all together, it just doesn’t work: the creature creation doesn’t feel like it’s affecting the mini-games enough and the battle card game seems to out of place. Parts of the game feel stiff, it fails to make any kind of connection with the player and some of the control choices are just wrong. However, I will admit that I did have fun with the creature creation, some of the mini-games and the battle card system individually. It also looks pretty good for a game where you make the player character in full 3D. If you really want to play this, I suggest trying to find it cheap. I give Amazing Island for the Nintendo GameCube 6 Levels out of 10.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Level Up: Donkey Kong Country 2

(UUGGHH! Blogspot, y u no post image right?)

Alright, let’s get right down to it: Donkey Kong Country 2 for the Super Nintendo. If you haven’t listened to my review of the first Donkey Kong Country, please do it now, because I will be referencing it a lot.

The game starts off sometime after the first game left us off: as a matter of fact, the first level of the game, Gangplank Galleon, is a representation of the final level of the first game (where you fought King K. Rool). The plot starts off with Donkey Kong getting kidnapped by Kaptain K. Rool and held up for ransom for the Banana Hoard. Diddy Kong, who was second banana and the last game, doesn’t want to give into the croc’s demands and leads in on a quest to save DK (hence the subtitle “Diddy Kong’s Quest”). Of course, he doesn’t rush in alone: he enlists the help of his girlfriend, Dixie Kong, recognizable for her pink wardrobe and long ponytail. Together, the two must venture into the strange land of Crocodile Isle, save Donkey Kong and stop the evil Kaptain K. Rool.

Now, I know what you’re probably wondering: is King K. Roll the same person as Kaptain K. Rool? Thought it’s not spelled out for us in the game, the instruction manual implies that most of the Kong family believes that, yes, it’s King K. Rool going under a different title. (Quote: "I thought we'd seen the last of that old rascal for a while") However, I can’t find any reliable source quoting Nintendo or Rare saying that they are the same person in black and white. It’s possible that the Kongs were referencing another incident we don’t know of where they faced the Kaptain and that he’s the King’s brother or other close family member. But, since there’s no implication that he’s a different croc, I’m going to say that they’re the same person.

Remember all those good things that I said about Donkey Kong Country’s gameplay? The smoothness, life system, rolling, barrels, all of that? Well, believe it or not, this game adds to it! Completely new to this game, you have the ability to throw your partner, which is used for a lot of puzzles. When you press the A button, the monkey you’re currently not playing as jumps on the back of the other, which allows you to throw them. This means you can get items and reach platforms that are out of reach. It only takes a short time to master, works great and adds so much to this game.

One thing that I didn’t have time to mention in the last review was the bonus areas: secret rooms you could enter for the chance to get bonus lives and bananas, and if you wanted the full percentage of the game, you had to find them all. The problem for me was they sometimes just seemed pointless and the definition of what was a bonus wasn’t clear. In DKC2, the line is a lot more clearly drawn: you get a title card telling you what your goal is, a timer and various music cues telling you “you are in a bonus”. I’m glad they changed this, because they had to; the bonuses serve a more important purpose now, which are the coin prizes you get.

There are three kinds of coins in this game: banana tokens, Kremkoins and the DK coins. The banana tokens are the only unlimited ones: these are used for things such as saving at Wrinkly’s college, getting a lift from Funky or having Cranky give you a few tips. The Kremkoins are your reward for beating a bonus, and you eventually use them to cross over to the “Lost World” (which is required to see the true ending). The final DK coins are just an extra challenge submitted by Cranky: there is one hidden in each level and your job is to find it. Again, all of this just adds to the amount of fun that the original Donkey Kong Country already set up.

Donkey Kong Country 2 is a prime example of how sequels in video games should work. It takes everything you know from the original game and just adds onto that; more animal buddies, new skills, the coin challenges, etc... The graphics remain just as good and the music has the same quality, but everything seems much more atmospheric due to the slightly more serious nature of the game. The settings are also more diverse, with an amusement park, volcano and haunted world (the most diverse the original game got was a glacial level). This game is SO GOOD! If you liked Donkey Kong Country, you’ll go ape for this one: it’s now available on the Wii Virtual Console and it’s been ported on the GBA. I give Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest for the Super Nintendo 10 out of 10 levels (I told you there was a reason for not giving that score to the first game).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Level Up: The Legendary Starfy

One effect I find the Super Smash Bros. series has is to suddenly boost a character’s popularity. One famous example would be Ness: originally unknown to most of North America, appearing the first game made many people actively search out Earthbound. As the Smash bros. series would progress, the addition of trophies and stickers would expose more unknown characters to oblivious players. But what I found most interesting in the latest addition, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, were the assist trophies. To me, these were characters Nintendo basically said “We like these guys so much, they need to be in the fight, but they aren’t popular enough to be playable characters.” One of these Assist Trophies was called Stafy; someone I had never seen before. This came to confuse me even more when I saw he released his own game under a different name about a year later. Out of sheer curiosity, I had to get it: The Legendary Starfy for the Nintendo DS.

Here’s a little history lesson for you (I love doing these). Starfy, who was originally known as Stafy in Japan, was created by TOSE, a company known for two things: developing various games for Nintendo, such as the Game & Watch Gallery series, and rarely crediting themselves, earning them the title of “Ninja developers”. One day in 95, Yasuhiro Minamimoto, (TOSE’s producer) approached Nintendo’s producer, Hitoshi Yamagami, with the idea of creating a “floating platformer”. (I’ll get to this later). This was reworked several times until eventually they settled on the concept for a game planned for the original Game Boy. However, the Game Boy Color was coming out soon, so TOSE was asked to revamp the game for the new generation. They ended up changing things until the year 2000 came around and TOSE was given similar orders: upgrade for the Game Boy Advance now. It would then take two more years for the game to be released: Densetsu no Stafy, which came out for the Game Boy Advance in September 2002, but only in Japan. The reasons for why it never got exported aren’t very clear, but generally it seems like no one was certain how the North American public would receive this game. But, Stafy’s first game was actually a success in its native land: so much so that it released two more games the next two years on the Game Boy Advance and a fourth one on the DS in 2006; all Japanese only releases. However, in 2009, the 5th game starring the star would finally come to North America.

The game play in The Legendary Starfy is… well, easy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent enough platformer, but remember how I said that the concept for this was a “floating platformer”? Well this is achieved by having the player character under water for most of the game. There are parts above water and you can sink to the bottom, but the real enjoyment is with swimming about in every direction. This makes most enemies easily avoidable, so dying isn’t much of a concern. There are other skills available in this game, but the ones that are actually required often are pretty easy to master. I know it sucks when a game has a sudden difficulty spike, but this is a bit too far in the other direction for me.

You’re given some transformations for Starfy at certain points, but it’s so limited. You can use them how you want, but only in a certain area, so it kind of takes the challenge out of puzzle solving. It’s not like in Kirby 64, where you’d search for the right power to use at the right time. This is more like when you’d be forced to hop on King Dedede’s back: sure it’s awesome for the time being, but REALLY limits your freedom. It’s also few and far between, making me ask “What’s the point, really?”

My final complaint here is actually about the controls: the button to go fast underwater is a different button than to run on land. Why couldn’t there be just one “go fast” button? This gets frustrating when I run into the water only to have slowed down to first gear, or I shoot out of the ocean and start trotting along. It suddenly stops the momentum, and in this type of game, that’ll just irritate the players.

The Legendary Starfy is a decently made game. The graphics are cute and that’s generally the mood it’s trying to set. The music is alright, never really over bearing but definitely good. The story is typical cartoon adventure stuff, but has some good structure and decent enough characters. But the difficulty (or lack thereof) is what really puts me off recommending this game for most people. Starfy ends up coming off as a Kirby clone (especially with the transformation power), but aimed at a younger audience. Also, except for swimming most of the time, I don’t find it did much that other platformers haven’t already done. I ended up finding most of the treasures and secrets during my first run and barely had to back track. Of course, players not used to platforming might not agree with me. So, that’s where I’m going to leave it: if you want something easy or for that roughly ten year old demographic, maybe check this out. I give The Legendary Starfy for the Nintendo DS 6.5 Levels out of 10.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Level Up: Final Soldier

I realized that today’s subject touches on two big things I have yet to talk about through the run of this podcast: shoot-em-ups and the Wii Virtual console (the latter being the reason I chose this game for the review). It took me a while to realize how good the Will Virtual console can really be. Let’s put aside the fact that it lets lesser known publishers still make games, and just concentrate on the game already in existence. Let’s first consider that some of the older consoles are hard to find, so this lets you play the games at least. Same thing can be said for some games; even though you have the consol, rare games can cost hundreds of dollars, but are relatively cheap on the Wii. But finally, the main reason I like the Virtual Console is because not all games initially had global releases. This allows gamers to experience some games (not originally available in their region) for the first time! This is the case for me with today’s subject: Hudson Soft’s Final Soldier, originally for the TurboGrafx-16.

As I’ve already mentioned, this game is a shoot-em-up (or “Schmup” as some people say) and I believe this to be the first time I review one here on Level Up. The core game play of many of the types of games very rarely changes: you are an object (normally a space ship of some kind) on a moving screen while you shoot whatever enemies come towards you. Some of the best examples of these types of games would be Gradius, Xevious or 1942. Though, one big difference I noticed was how much easier Final Soldier seemed compared to these especially factoring in the infinite continues. This is a possible deal breaker if you are hard-core a shoot-em-up fan (who normally enjoy the challenge), but if you go in the options, you’ll see that you can only make this game harder! Also, I thought the ending was a good enough challenge.

Anyways, back on the subject of the game play. Most of these types of games feature upgradable weaponry, and Final Soldier is no exception, but it features what I like to call “side stepping”. See, if you collect a canister of the same power you currently have, it will power up, but if you collect one of a different color, it’ll stay the same level, just switch powers. It’s pretty much the same system as the Adventures of Batman and Robin, but with only 3 levels of power and about 5 different weapons, so it’s easier to appreciate. The thing is though, your power level represents your health; getting hit decreases your power and a hit on the weakest level is a life gone. Knowing how to power up is essential to surviving: best learn this quickly.

To finally conclude talking about the guns, most of the powers and the missiles can be customized in the options menu. Example: do you want the bubble power from the blue L canister, or do you want the spears? Choose wisely, because you’re picking for all three power levels (which is a complaint of mine, because the demo shows the most powerful). But there’s no real wrong choice, both because it comes down to player preference, and because every different power is awesome to watch and use.

The graphics are all pretty good, being that they were on the TurboGrafx-16, and unlike some Shoot-em-ups, the character sprites are generally pretty big and the backgrounds are well detailed (though seizure/nausea inducing at some points). The soundtrack is pretty kicking, but not amazing in my opinion. It does get you in the mood for a space shooting adventure though and evokes the feeling of flying high, across space. The sound effects aren’t really great; sometimes the explosions and shots feel dulled down or held back (but that could just be me). None of this is really anything to scoff at and definitely don’t hinder the game any.

This is all I have to say about Final Soldier, and I honestly should have paired it with another review since I mostly just talked about the game play. But in this case, that’s all Final Soldier has: the fact that it’s a game. I don’t know the story since its both part of a series and in Japanese (the Wii virtual console doesn’t translate non-essential information, PLOT being one of them apparently).The graphics and sound do contribute to it just fine, but generally it’s all about the game play. It’s a little basic, but that’s what’s fun about shoot-em-ups: you just get right to the fun stuff. It’s also easier the some of the more popular games of its type, so that might be a selling point for some people. If you’re willing to spend the points, I think you should check it out. I give Final Soldier played on the Wii Virtual Console (but originally for the TurboGrafx16) 8 levels out of 10.