Sunday, June 26, 2011

Level Up: Soul Calibur 2

In online gaming communities, there are a lot of series that come up as being popular, but sometimes you only hear mostly of one game. I’m talking about games like Silent Hill 2, Street Fighter 2, Final Fantasy 7 (or 6 in some cases); these games are said to be better then it’s predecessors and nothing that’s come yet has beaten it either. Today’s game is one of those examples: Soul Calibur 2. Despite having a couple of games in the Soul series come before it, and 5 different games after, no one really cares for those, but mention this one and you’ll get a lot of excited gamers. Why do so many people like this one? That’s what I’m going to try to explain in this review of Soul Calibur 2 released for the PS2 and X-Box, but I’ll be playing the Gamecube version.

In most fighting games, one issue I always had was that they were very boring when playing alone: all you normally get is an “arcade” mode where you fight enemies one by one. Soul Calibur 2, though, gives you Weapon Master mode just made for single players: you pick a character, complete missions and move across a map. Sure, the mission will always be based on the normal one on one fighting, but each time you’ll get new conditions: you may have to beat a series of enemies within a time limit, you may be forced to play as a certain character or you may only be able to damage your opponent using a certain technique (and the list goes on).

Of course, this is called “weapon master” for a reason. As you’re completing challenges, you’ll receive money and unlock new areas. In each new area there’s a shop where you can buy new weapons. Though each character has their basic weapon, like Asteroth’s ax or Mitsurigi’s katana, they can be changed with similar weapons with different effects (often affecting the defense or offense of the holder). You can use these weapons in Weapon Master and the “extra modes”, so that, even if you and a friend play for hours, you can keep things constantly interesting by switching weapons. All this to say that Namco figured out an easy, fun and simple way to keep people playing whether they were alone or not, which isn’t something a lot of fighting game developers seem to consider.

As usual for a review on fighting games, I have to take a look at the diversity in the characters, and I have to say, this is one of my favorite selections. In essence, we have a pirate, a ninja, a samurai, a knight, a fencer and almost 20 more characters. (This is of course not even counting Zelda’s Link, Tekken’s Heihachi and Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, which were exclusive to the games on the Gamecube, PS2 and X-Box respectively).You can argue that one of the characters is a random copy of another’s moves and 4 are composited from a selection of them, but their unique looks, designs and personalities more than make up for it. And when I say “personality” I don’t mean that metaphorically, like the impression I get from them. I mean that each character has their own personality and back story. While you’re playing some of the original modes, you’ll see some cut scenes that talk about the characters motivations and you also unlock full profiles for each person. If you’re just in the mood to play, don’t worry, the story never gets intrusive and everything can be skipped. But I, for one, really appreciate all the work that went in to making each fighter unique and 3 dimensional, and this is actually one of the few games I WANT to see made into a movie for this reason.

There are so many things I wish I could have mentioned, such as the graphics that blew me away and the dramatic soundtrack, but I just don’t have the time. So, let’s look back. Unique characters full of personality. A story that connects them all. Gameplay that makes both single and multiplayer fun and constantly interesting. Looks good. Sounds good. I can’t think of anything I don’t like about this game. It’s not hard to see why it outshines the rest of the series; having improved on the previous games, it set the bar too high for the next titles to reach, so the reaction wasn’t as impressed. This game falls really high on many people’s top 10 lists for Gamecube game and it’s not hard to see why. I give Soul Calibur 2 for the Nintendo GameCube 10 levels out of 10.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Level Up: Sonic Rush

Note: I start the review by playing the Sonic X theme.

Yeah, I could have used the Sonic X theme when reviewing any Sonic video game, but I think it suits this game best. The lyrics “gotta go fast” just make me think of how Sonic games seem to concentrate more on zooming, so by the time it got the DS, the blue blur really earned that title. Even the name of the game implies nothing but speed: here’s Sonic Rush for the Nintendo DS.

The story begins with the introduction of a new character (not surprising for any Sonic Game): Blaze the Cat. As her name would suggest, Blaze has the ability to control fire. As we play along, we learn that Blaze comes from another dimension, complete with its own version of Eggman (Eggman-Nega) and Chaos Emeralds (called the Sol Emeralds). Turns out the two Eggmans (Eggmen?) have been communicating and decided to work together with the goal to use the emeralds to conquer the two universes. Of course, Sonic and Blaze eventually have to team up and vanquish their enemies.

Sure, the story is a little cliché, but Blaze’s character development saves it from being too boring. Blaze is kind of a female Knuckles; the protector of the Sol Emeralds in her universe. However, when they are stolen, she feels dishonored and is determined to get them back on her own. But once she gets into Sonic’s universe, she meets up with Cream, who shows her nothing but affection. This is unfamiliar to the cat that tends to burn everyone who tries to approach her (“SYMBOLISM!”). As the game progresses, she gets to observe Cream’s kindness towards her and her mother, which is of course in direct contrast to how she reacts to Sonic. The Sonic side of the story is pretty weak, but I don’t mind it all that much; as a whole it’s making good use of a new character.

The game play seems changed up quite a bit from most of the other 2D Sonic games and its mostly due to the game titular technique: the rush attacks. Basically, this allows Sonic or Blaze to run at a boosted speed for a limited amount of time, destroying any obstacle or enemy in the way. Think of it like the spin dash, but can be activated at any time and runs on a meter. This meter can be filled by doing two things; either doing various tricks in the air or on a rail, or destroying enemies. This is probably the one thing that makes it so that this is one of the fastest Sonic games, but that makes it so there are a lot of speed traps, which are annoying.

Now, despite the fact that I like the rush attacks (because of the speed), the boss fights are one of the things that make me not want to play this game. To sum up the boss fights in a word, I’d have to say “bland”. The designs are uninspired and don’t have that Eggman feel to them. The boss areas seem really small and are too easy to figure out. As with anything I say in these reviews, it could just be me, but I just didn’t have fun with these fights.

However, the boss battles aren’t my only complaint. In this game you play as both Sonic and Blaze on two different journeys across the same land. However, that means that the levels are the same for both characters, just in a different order. There is minimal difference between Blaze and Sonic, meaning that you end up playing every level twice. I don’t know who thought that was a good idea, but it just feels lazy and like they’re padding the game.

I think Sonic Rush is a great addition to the Sonic library (especially considering the state he was in when it came out). The pace of the game is fast and fun, the story is decent for a Sonic game, showing good character development, and the soundtrack is of course great (this IS a Sonic game). Also, since this was on the DS, the graphics were rendered in 3D, so they look good, but when you’re playing, the characters sometime move from one screen to the other… don’t know how I feel about that. However, I really need to subtract points for how annoying having to play every level twice was and the boss fights that I hated. Still, I recommend this game for any DS owner or Sonic fan, especially since you can still find it new and cheap. I give Sonic Rush for the Nintendo DS 8.5 levels out 10.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Level Up: Wario Blast Featuring Bomberman

There are some games with concepts and game play so unique yet simplistic that you don’t think there’s any way they can keep things fresh without alienating the original fans. One that comes to mind is Pac-man; I haven’t played any of the new games that aren’t just remakes of the original, but the idea of adding power ups and missions into it seems odd. Another game I thought would have also fallen into this category would be the original Bomberman; simple enough to start and it seems the only way you could improve on it would make things too needlessly complicated. Surprisingly though, this series continued and did change things, with games like Bomberman Tournament, Bomberman Hero and Bomberman 64. And though I plan to get to those eventually, today I’m going to take a look at how well Bomberman crosses over with Wario in the game Wario Blast featuring Bomberman for the Game Boy.

This game starts off using the original Bomberman game play; you place bombs to blow a path through destructible blocks to destroy all enemies. However not all blocks are destructible, enemies kill you with one touch and you’re bombs blow up in a cross pattern meaning you can kill yourself. You can also get upgrades to place more bombs on the field or get a larger range. Now, taking this basic concept, Wario Blast makes it slightly more difficult by giving your enemy (either Wario or Bomberman, depending on who you choose to play as) the same abilities as you, and made them much more intelligent (instead of just going back and forth). This is evened out by the fact that there a max of three enemies on a level.

Another thing that makes this different are the boss fights at the end of every section. Not too much to say about these, typical platforming boss stuff; figure out how to hurt it, and keep doing it. What really mix this game up though are the permanent upgrades. I’m not talking about the ability to place more bombs or the stronger blasts, those are temporary. No, these are things like the ability to kick a bomb as far as it can slide or ram your opponent so they are temporarily unable to move. This may sound like you get a major advantage, but remember, the enemies also get these abilities and WILL use them, so you’ll need to get skilled with them just to keep up. I like that they make this essential to learn and not just optional, so you get the full game out of it. It keeps things… interesting to say the least.

The plot is nothing special. Basically, Wario inexplicably find his way in Bomberman’s world and decides that he’s going to get rich (somehow). However, this has no impact on the game what-so-ever (there’s not even an opening scene, I had to look this up on wikipedia) and it actually raises more questions: why is Wario fighting Bomberman to get rich? How did he get in Bomberman World to begin with? Why are there several copies of both Bomberman and Wario? Though these things are never explained, I might have an explanation. Turns out, this game was originally called Bomberman GB, and didn’t feature Wario. But when it was ported to North American, they added him in for some reason (I figure they thought it would sell better). Later on, North American citizens did get a Bomberman GB, but this was actually the Japanese Bomberman GB 2. Just a little something to add to that growing list of why you’re chronologically confused by video game sequel titles.

Wario Blast is not the best expansion on the Bomberman series, but it is decent enough game. The game play is changed up quite a bit in interesting ways that still work; you’re eased into things and the bosses, though very different, are well done for this type of game. But as I’ve said at the start, Bomberman succeeds mostly due to the simplicity of it, and this is one of those games where the formula was either changed too much or not enough (I’ll explain in later reviews how this works). The concept of having fewer, more intelligent enemies was inspired, but can only take you so far if you remove the old type of levels. Plus with this style of gameplay, it’s disappointing that there’s no 2 player option. But still, it’s good to pick up and play the first few levels every once in a while, and if you want to continue, the passwords are only 4 numbers long. Also, the simplicity will probably make you forget Wario contributes nothing to this game, so it kind of works out. It’s an altogether good experience; just nothing ground breaking or omg amazing. I give Wario Blast featuring Bomberman for the Game Boy 7 levels out of 10.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Level Up: Mario is Missing

You guys may remember how all the way back in my second review, Luigi’s Mansion, I mentioned another game. Let’s play that clip. *Reel effects + clip quote*. After saying that, a lot of people asked me what I considered Mario is Missing to be, and why it’s not a video game. I explained to several people that I consider it an “Educational Tool”, because games are SUPPOSED to be fun, while this feels more like homework. However, I guess it’s still TECHNICALLY a video game, since it’s on GameFAQs and people like the AVGN have reviewed it. So, let me tell you why it’s a failed video game at the very least. I have the Super Nintendo version of Mario is Missing, so I’ll be talking about that one.

The game starts off right away by messing up the Mario cannon; Bowser isn’t in the Mushroom Kingdom, it all happens in the same world as ours (so we can learn our geography). Bowser EASILY Kidnaps Mario, which begs the question why he never did that before. He also has no interest in Peach because- sigh- Prepare yourself for this stupidity. Bowser wants to flood the world by using a bunch of hair dryers to melt all the ice in Antarctica, which is where his castle is. Professor Chaos from South Park didn’t even have plans this stupid. Also, what is Bowser going to do with a world completely covered in water and where will he go during the floor? And Bowser is a reptile; being in the freezing cold just doesn’t work. As if that weren’t stupid enough, it gets even worse; to fund his plan, Bowser sends the Koopas to steal famous landmarks. Ignoring that someone is going to notice this, why doesn’t he just steal the HAIR DRYERS? And, where are the police in all of this? This is happening in our world, would we really let a bunch of turtles just take our monuments? I cannot believe I am saying that this series originally about a plumber saving a princess from a fire breathing reptile in a land composed 90% of fungus has been made stupider for education.

As I’ve mentioned in Luigi’s Mansion, this is the first game where you play as Mario’s bother, Luigi, as the main character. Upon entering Bowsers ANTARCTIC CASTLE to save Mario, Luigi finds a row of doors, so just take your pick. You’ll be transported to some place on earth where the Koopas are walking back and forth, instead of returning with the stolen landmarks. What you have to do is stomp on all the Koopas until you find the three items they stole. By the way, the physics in this game are off; when you stomp a Koopa that doesn’t have an item, you just pass right through him as he vanishes. Also, once you do find an item, you have to pick it up by standing over it and jumping (which is a poor choice for controls). That’s just as messed up as Luigi having to stand specifically on the sidewalk to go up or down a street, or else an invisible car will beep at him. And finally, I have to address this; some of the items the Koopas stole just don’t make sense. I get the oldest human skull ever found, or the slippers of a famous ballerina, but how am I supposed to believe that a Koopa was carrying the gate to a Chinese temple in bag while casually walking around the streets?!!?! –sigh-

With this much stupidity, now we get to the actual education. Once you have retrieved an item, you have to figure out where it goes, and give it back at the corresponding information desk. But the lady there wants to confirm that it’s the real item. You know, because there are so many people recreating the Sistine Chapel ceiling full sized! To confirm the authenticity of the item Luigi, is asked a few questions which you can easily answer by reading the information the receptionist gives you. So remember a few facts for a bit, answer the questions and give back the artifact. Horray, the game has thought me how to cram.

The last thing you need to do is figure out where you are and use the “Globulator” to send Yoshi to you, so you can scare a Pokey back into the pipe you came in from so you can go back (not questioning this, just want to finish this review). You do that for each door on the floor, and then one of Bowser’s kids comes out and runs back and forth; just stomp on him until he vanishes. By the way, I forgot to mention, you can’t die in this game; Koopas just walk past you and you don’t get hurt, so not being able to lose is another thing that doesn’t make this a game. Anyways, after a kid is defeated, it’s off to the next floor where you do the whole thing again twice more, and then you’ve won. Wooptie-doo.

This is what happens when you let an educational company like Mindscape use a loved video game icon; a barely game that doesn’t make sense and is boring and awkward to play. The big hook was that it’s Luigi’s first starring role, but it barely counts since this is so far from the Mario cannon. The only thing that can be called expectable would be the music and graphics, but that’s because most of it was lifted from Super Mario World (so we’re at least spared from Weegee in this version), but the backgrounds are really nice. Otherwise, this was just painful for me. I give Mario is Missing for the SNES 2.5 levels out 10.