Saturday, May 28, 2011

Level Up: DuckTales

Is it possible to have a game called “underrated” by so many people, that it comes to the point where it’s not really anymore? With the internet mixing in with nostalgia, people are able to go back and explain why games they used to like were good, even though not many other people talked about it. This causes other people to experience it, making them say its underrated because they never heard of it before. And because people want to hype it up so much (because it’s underrated) they may overlook some flaws, and with enough people doing that, wouldn’t it cause a game to actually be overrated? If that were possible, today’s game might be the best example: Duck Tales for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

I HAVE to start by taking about the flaws, because I don’t think some people address them enough. Also, I do still think this is a good game, and want to leave you with a good impression.

One thing I don’t see a lot of people mention are some of the sounds that really annoy me. For example, the level selection theme gets old quickly *plays a sample*. There’s also the fact that, when you complete a level, you hear music that sounds like beating a level in a Mega Man game; here’s the sound from Duck Tales *plays sound* and here’s Mega man *Plays sound* Seems lazy... Finally, the sound of an enemy dying drives me crazy *plays sound* Ugh… It may just be me, but that sound is at the right frequency to make me prefer scratching a chalkboard. Plus you hear it over *plays sound* and over *plays sound* and over… *plays sound*

You can argue that all that is just subjective and a matter of my person taste, but that’s not my only complaint. My biggest complaint is actually the controls. One of the actions you’ll have to use the most in this game is using your cane as a pogo. How do you activate this? Jump, then while you’re in the air, press down and B. Now, lets think about that. Let’s say you’re a 5 to 10 year old kid when this game first came out and you rented it. Your friends never played (cause it’s underrated), there’s no internet and you weren’t given the instruction manual. HOW were you supposed to figure this out? In Mario you just jump on the enemy, but here that kills you. In other games like Zelda, you just press B, but here that doesn’t do anything. In the sequel, you just have to press B in the air, which is so much better (you can even hold B THEN jump to activate it). This just really could have been better planned out, especially considering the target audience. It’s a good (and fun) gameplay mechanic otherwise.

Now, at this point, some of the fans of the game are expecting that I mention that the game is too short as a flaw. Honestly though, I think that it’s the right size, considering you can’t save or have any continues, and I’m about to explain why. The only thing I don’t like about the small number of levels is that you have to visit Transylvania 3 times.

As I’ve already said, I like this game, and the one thing I like most about it is how big the levels are. Your main goal in this game is to find the 5 treasures and become rich. Or, “richer” in Scrooge’s case. To do this, you can follow the natural flow of the level and just rush to the bosses. However, if you do this, you probably miss a good 40% of the game. Adventuring off, you get to see a lot more and find a lot of secrets. Also, you pick up various diamonds along the way, which also add to your total, so if you adventure a little, you might be able to significantly add to that total. While I’m talking about the diamonds, I suggest covering the whole area, because there are tons of invisible items to find. Also, each enemy you beat has a chance of leaving a diamond behind (I don’t want to know where the gem is coming from though). So this game is all about exploring and getting money, just like the show was at its base.

Duck Tales is a really fun NES game, and it’s easy to understand why so many people keep suggesting more people play it. It has multiple endings and big levels to explore for a platforming game, so it feels ahead of its time. I also can’t forget to mention the great look of the game (which is on par with Dr. Mario) even if Scrooge is a wearing his coat from the comics instead of TV show and Dewey decided to wear Louie’s clothes on the level select screen. And of course, this game is praised for its music (especially “The Moon” theme), which isn’t surprising since this review has been another *Capcom Time*. Now, we can look back at it and say that it was a lot of fun, but with the odd controls and big maps, making it a little difficult to figure out, it’s easy to see why this game wasn’t as big a success when it was new. Still, very recommended though. I give Duck Tales for the NES 8.5 Levels out of 10.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Level Up: Pokemon Blue (Part 2)

Time to continue my review of Pokemon Blue and the first generation of Pokemon games. If you haven’t read to the first part, please do so since one goes with the other.

Now we get to the most important aspect of any game; the game play. Pokemon mostly revolves around collecting new Pokemon and training them. To capture Pokemon you have to weaken them in battle, then use a Poke ball on them (if you’re successful it’ll stay in the ball). However, this isn’t the only way to get new Pokemon. Some are only obtained by “evolving” another Pokemon, either by training it to a high enough level, using an elemental stone on it or trading it. Some Pokemon you get under special condition (which is all I’ll say so you can have fun figuring it out). Finally, I return to the fact that not all Pokemon are present in one game; for example, Mankey, Growlithe and their evolved forms aren’t available in Pokemon Blue. This is where the trading comes in; find someone with a copy of Pokemon Red or Yellow and trade some other Pokemon for the ones you’re missing. When playing for the first time, it could actually be exciting to find new Pokemon and try to figure out how to get each one.

Though you can say half of the games are about finding all of the Pokemon, the other half would be fighting. Pokemon is a turn based RPG, meaning that you and the enemy Pokemon are given rounds in which you chose an action, including attacking. If you pick attack, whichever Pokemon has the best speed will attack first, damage will be given, and repeat until one Pokemon runs out of hit points. However, each Pokemon is classified with a type, such as Water, Psychic, Rock and a bunch other, so battling is not so simple. Attacks are also given types which cause that kind of damage to the opposing Pokemon. This is very important because each type has its strength and weaknesses, like an Electric attack will have a major advantage over Flying Pokemon, but is completely useless against ground types. Also, each Pokemon has a different move set and stats, so keep that in mind. To summarize, battling is more than just smacking each other around; there’s a fair bit of strategy and good judgment needed.

Sadly, for all the praising I’ve just done (in both parts) I now have to talk about the flaws, and the biggest one has to be the way the Pokemon look in this game. I’d elaborate more, but Adamant Ditto has already done it in a video on YouTube, and I got permission to play some of their best examples (Here's the Youtube Link: HERE) The game looks great otherwise, but that doesn’t matter since the majority of the game is spent looking at the other Pokemon, so THAT needs to be given the most attention.

I don’t have much time left, so I’ll sum up the rest of the complaints quickly. First, Pokemon not with you are kept in boxes, and these are just a pointless hassle with capacity limits. Next, each move has a certain limit to how many times you can use it, but the enemy Pokemon’s moves don’t, meaning you can run out of power, but they never will. Finally, there are balancing issues with some moves, such as hypnosis or wrap, because these stop a Pokemon from attacking, so someone can just keep using it.

Lots of people I know have these same complaints, so I don’t think I’m nit-picking: these annoyances shouldn’t have gotten in this game in the first place.

Getting to the end, the last thing I would like to mention is the music, which is catchy and of good quality. Other than that, I covered everything I always wanted to talk about. Pokemon started off great, and the flaws (which may just stick out BECAUSE the rest is so good) were fixed over time (including a remake of this generation). This game is the product of a great idea that was well pulled off and amazingly marketed. But as much as I like this game, I have reasons why I can’t give it a perfect score. So, let’s say I give Pokemon Blue for the Game Boy an unofficial 10, but an official 9 levels out of 10.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Level Up: Pokemon Blue (Part 1)

I’ve already talked about Pokemon on at least 3 different occasions on this show. By now, you should get that when it first came out in the late 90’s, it was huge. Everyone had to watch the show, play the card game and get the toys. But of course, it all started with the video game. The first Pokemon games showed up in Japan in the year 1996, as Pokemon Red and Green, however when they were exported, they became Red and Blue (according to my research, Blue was the special edition in its native land, while the rest of world got Pokemon Yellow, which was really a tie-in for the Anime). So, to restate myself, the whole fad, craze and series really originates from these games. But what is it about them that make them so enjoyable that the series is still going strong (with now 5 generations) to this day? The more I thought about that and the more I thought about writing a review on Pokemon, the more I realized that it wouldn’t be possible, or fair, to present it all in my normal time frame. So, in this 2 part Level Up special, we are taking an in-depth look at the first generation of Pokemon for the Game Boy.

The first thing I should mention is that I’ll be reviewing this game mostly using my copy of Pokemon Blue. At this point, some of you less familiar with the series might be asking what I’m talking about, constantly mentioning colors and generations. Main series Pokemon games come out two at time, with a 3rd game following normally within a year. The games would normally be named after colors that coincide with each other, like Gold and Silver or Back and White. A generation, for the Pokemon games, would be the group of games that go with each other, the first one being Red, Blue and Yellow, the second one being Gold, Silver and Crystal and so on. While the games in the same generation have their slight differences, such as different Pokemon, the game is basically the same: same total number of Pokemon, same map, same Gym leaders, etc… (I’ll get to all of these eventually).

You’re probably asking “Well what’s the point of releasing the same game at the same time?” Truth be told, it’s because of the Pokemon. No one Pokemon game ever allowed you to catch all of the Pokemon available in that generation; every game has some purposefully missing. This is because you’re meant to find other people who have the other versions of the game to collect the total (which in the first generation was 150, 151 if you count Mew). With the use of the Game Boy Link Cable, you could connect the two games and trade (or fight) Pokemon. As a matter of fact, not only where some Pokemon only available in the other versions of the game, but some could only evolve if you traded them. This idea of having to trade to be able to really complete the game was actually inspired and is one of the things that really helped the Pokemon series cement itself.

The plot of the game is pretty basic: you’re a 10 year old kid (the original target audience obviously) who starts off his Pokemon journey and desires to become the very best trainer. You’re told you need to beat 8 gym leaders and the Elite 4 to accomplish this goal. You’re then given your first Pokemon and off you go. Simple, yes, but this probably one of the best examples of “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” that I have seen. Sure, you’re always fixed on your goal to drive you forward, but along the way you’ll develop a sub-plot with your rival, travel through numerous caves, climb up a haunted house and even take down Team Rocket, an organization that uses Pokemon for evil (among other events). Even after you defeat the Elite 4, you get the quest for the world most powerful Pokemon. And along the way you have fun with the catching and training Pokemon, so there is no lack of things to do in this game.

The story calls out to the adventurist in you to set off and discover the land in a very nomadic fashion (truly what kids think of when they picture an adventure). But what really holds it all together is the world. The game creates this reality where kids can play with monsters and become famous for it, twisting the familiar into a fantasy, so we can easily slip into the main characters skin. What can I say except “we bought into it”; you become a Pokemon trainer, you have to beat the Elite 4 and you gotta catch’em all. Pokemon is a great example of a world you can get lost in that you want to get lost in.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Level Up: Sonic Spinball

Know what I find kind of sad? Pinball is slowly disappearing. I know a lot of gamers complain that arcades are going away, but while I still commonly see arcades near movie theaters or see those ticket style arcades, seeing one that actually has a pinball machine in it is becoming rare. However, some may argue that it’s influence on video games will keep that memory alive, and I can’t think of video game character that was more influenced by Pinball then Sonic the Hedgehog: if bouncing back and forth off springs rolled up in a ball doesn’t give you that impression, then look at any of the casino levels with flippers on them. But, how would a full Pinball video game based on Sonic work out? Well, in 1993, Sonic fans got to experience it firsthand. Here’s Sonic Spinball, available on the Sonic Mega Collection (as I’ll be playing it), but originally available on the Sega Genesis.

The story in this game… doesn’t even try. Quite frankly though, it doesn’t really need to: this is a pinball game, which was never meant to have any plot. The story goes something along the lines of Robotnik building a new machine that Sonic must destroy from the inside, but who really cares.

This does lead me to an interesting point though: this game has levels. It has boss battles. It has a full story, which means it includes a beginning, middle and an end. Think about that; those of you who have played pinball in the past should know that there shouldn’t be an “end” to pinball short of losing all your balls and running out of quarters. Yeah, this is a pinball game you can actually finish. In most other contexts, that’s like someone saying they’ve finished the internet. To paraphrase Screw Attack’s video game vault, being able to finish a pinball game, which you shouldn’t be able to do, is awesome.

As expected, the game plays similar to Pinball, but with some twists. By that I mean that most of your time will be spent sending Sonic up wards with the use of flippers, bumpers and other normal pinball devices. However, as previously stated, you play as Sonic and you’re on a mission. That means that, while on your regular course of bumping around for points, you must find a number of emeralds by hitting certain triggers and accessing areas, which will then let you in to the boss room. After you beat the boss, you get to play a mini-game, then it’s onto the next level, lather, rinse and repeat.

Not only is there the constant change of location and goal that makes this a little different from regular Pinball though; you also get to control Sonic. Back in the days where Pinball was popular, there was an act called “bumping” or “tilting”, where you would hit the pinball table and make the ball go in a desired direction (this was called cheating by some, which is why tilt sensors were installed in so the flippers would deactivate if it was done too vigorously). This game, however, seems to encourage bumping: a simple press of the D-pad and you can sway Sonic’s direction. Sure it’s not as influential as his platforming games, but it can mean the difference between beating the level, and a game over.

There are a few other platforming elements that help make this Pinball game more unique, but they come up less frequently and I think you get the basic picture.

So that’s pretty much Sonic Spinball; a unique take on a classic game. I didn’t talk about the graphics cause I don’t have much to say; yes their good, but the overall look of the game is rather “meh” (it’s modeled more after the Sonic SatAM show, which I found looked too serious). The music is close to the same story: sure it’s good, REALLY good in fact, it’s just not memorable at all and, despite liking it as I play, I forget it the instant the game is shut off. But all and all It’s about the game play, and here’s where I have to point out one fact: this game is not for everyone. I know you can say that for most games, but this one especially. This is not a Sonic game, so don’t think that you’ll like it just because you’re a Sonic fan. Also, with the goals, different locations and other additions, this is far from a normal pinball game, so pinball fans looking for something fun and mindless with also be alienated. I hate saying that because I really do like the game, and think more people should give it a shot, but looking at it logically, I have to question it. I give Sonic Spinball originally for the Sega Genesis 7 Levels out of 10.