Saturday, July 30, 2011

Level Up: Yo! Noid

I think I made it pretty clear at this point that when I plan on writing my own reviews, I read, watch and listen to other people’s reviews on the same game. I do this to see what other people felt was important to mention (in case I overlooked something) and how some people justify a good or bad game. The reason I say this is because there are some games where the opinions are basically split. But I am not exaggerating when I say that I have checked out dozens of reviews on today’s game and for each that says it’s good, another says it’s bad. So now I’m going to put my opinion out there on Yo! Noid for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Coming out in 1990, Yo! Noid is an “advert-game”, meaning that it was basically made as promotional material. In this case, it’s for the Diminos pizza company, since their then mascot, the Noid, is the player character. However, to give you a quick history lesson, this was never the subject of the original game. This is a localization of a game known as “Kamen no Ninja Hanamaru” (which, according to Wikipedia, means “Masked Ninja Hanamaru”). Though the game was completely re-skinned, changing the settings, plot and characters, the game play was pretty much left intact.

This is basically your usual platformer where you move from left to right to get to the end of the stage. Along your way, people will be trying to attack you, but you can eliminate them by using your yo-yo. But that’s not your only defense: as you’re playing along, you’ll be collecting scrolls, some of which you can open with your yo-yo to get a new power. By pressing up and the attack button, you’ll use whichever skill you have equipped (which will normally get rid of all enemies on screen). This is all important to know because the Noid can only take one hit before having to restart the stage again. Luckily continues are easy to get and the game is not all that hard.

To mix things up along the way, you’ll get levels with slippery floors, flight stages, moving stages and a skate-boarding level, but the boss battles would have to be the most unique aspect. Every second level ends with a boss battle/pizza eating contest (its part of the plot). The way that works is that you and your adversary are given 16 numbered cards which represent how many pizzas you’ll eat. Your adversary will choose a card and then you choose one. Whoever has the highest number will be given point equal to the difference. Your goal is to prevent your opponent from filling up his meter. You’re given the advantage of special cards that can either multiply the number of pizzas you want or make the other guy lose some pizzas. However, the special cards will mostly be invisible items found in the platforming stages, so look around. A fair bit of strategy is required, or you’ll be frustrated by these.

This game has some major programming flaws though. Remember I said there were flying stages? These work kind of like if you were constantly jumping: press A to bounce up, don’t press anything to go down. However you’ll be bouncing the whole time making it ridiculously hard to get through a tight spot. Another ruined stage hazard is the skateboarding: you can’t use your yo-yo on this one, so the only way to kill enemies is by jumping on them. Sadly, if you hit them at just the wrong angle, you’ll kill yourself. But I think the thing that annoys the most people is in the first stage: you’re on constantly rising and lowering docks some will lower you into the water. However, the line between when you can land on a platform and when you it’ll kill you is a little unclear. Along with the fact that there’s a level timer, you might make a wrong choice while rushing. This is just a horrible first impression for the game.

So there’s Yo! Noid; a game with its share of flaws and a stupid plot that’s basically an ad for a pizza chain. However, I don’t think it’s a bad game. The flaws mostly just come from the level hazards, but the core game play isn’t all that bad (other than the boring and lengthy bosses), the plot never becomes too intrusive, the graphics and sounds are more than acceptable and unlike really bad games, I wanted to (and could) beat this game. Really, I think a lot of people are pre-judging it based on the fact that it’s an advert-game, but that never bothered me. Since I don’t think this game is bad, by default, I think it’s good, but I am aware of its flaws and why some people don’t like it. My suggestion is to play it and make your own opinion on it before getting it. And if you can’t do that, this game is pretty cheap. I give Yo! Noid for the Nintendo Entertainment System 6.5 level out of 10.

And yeah, I got through this review without mentioning Adam West!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Level Up: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (SNES)

Power Rangers, I am so sorry. As I’ve said in the review of the Genesis game, they are one of the biggest figures in my childhood. And yet, the first time I talk about them, I bash the game they’re in? As much as I know it wasn’t their fault, I think they deserve better. So, to make it up, here’s the good game I was talking about: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

I am glad to say that this is NOT a fighting game like the other one and rather a beat-em-up. The Power Rangers (like the Ninja Turtles, another childhood icon) are perfect for this type of game. However, if you play this one, you might notice something a little different that I couldn’t quite put my finger on until the Happy Video Game Nerd pointed it out: this game is played on a single plain when fighting, no walking up or down. It may seem like that would be highly noticeable, but it’s surprisingly really subtle (at least in my opinion) because the rest of the game was based on it.

Now, because of this, I feel like this game should be called a beat-em-up platformer. Of course, this isn’t the only reason: there are other moves you can do that I’ve only seen in platformers. For example, there will be times when your ranger needs to bounce off the wall, as in Batman NES or Buster’s Hidden Treasure (and if you’ve heard those reviews, than you know I think that ability is awesome). You’ll also have to grab under certain platforms to advance in levels, something that is very well done in this game. As a matter of fact, I think developers Natsume might have even put a little bit more effort into these sections than the combat (which takes up most of the time). This means that most of the game is a quite easy (this was based on a “kids” show after all) but still really well done and super fun.

The story is your typical Power Rangers stuff: Rita Repulsa sends monsters to attack earth and the Power Rangers have to stop them from… I dunno, freaking people out? This time though, there’s much less plot involved than the Genesis version. I don’t know why, but it seems less is more. I partially think it’s because when you keep things this simple, you don’t mishandle anything, like way the Green Ranger part was clumsily done previously. This gets me to my next topic.

The earliest release date for this game is late 1994. At that point on the show, Tommy Oliver had become the Green Ranger. However all we have is the original team. It’s possible that the game makers just wanted the first 5, but Tommy is in the Genesis one, which came out at roughly the same time (and a level based on when he joined the team where you have to fight him could have been good). I’d honestly think that, since they were making this for a show that was still on TV for “kids”, you’d want to make it based on what was currently going on, not to confuse them or so it would feel as current as the show. But even Zordon and Alpha don’t appear in this game. However Bulk and Skull are seen at the end. I just don’t know what they were thinking.

To talk about the graphics, they actually look consistent this time around. However, not even comparing them with the Genesis version, I have to say they look great. They have a cool semi-cartoon style that, while still resembling the actors, makes them fit very well in an SNES game. Though, I like how EVERY ranger looks muscled to the max when they morph.

However, it’s the sounds I really enjoyed. To be fair, I will compare the theme songs again. Here’s the original *plays for a bit* and here’s the in game version *plays for a bit*. I’m surprised at how well that translated to the system. But honestly, every level music is just as awesome. One last note about the sounds; as I’ve said in The Death and Return of Superman, a punching sound effect is key, and this one has two great ones, one for civilian mode and one for ranger form.

There. That was the good Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers game. Unfortunately, this is one of few the Rangers in general will ever have, which is sad since it’s so short, easy and a forgettable experience for these reasons. Because of this, I have to take off a couple of points, but that doesn’t mean I recommend this game any less. If you’re a Power Rangers fan, than you should probably look it up. And if you’re just an avid fan of the SNES, this is one of those games that fit the system perfectly in my opinion. I give Mighty Morphin Power Rangers for the Super Nintendo 8 level out of 10.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Level Up: Double Dragon

Double Dragon was a popular arcade beat-em-up game. The point of it was to fight through hoards of enemies to save your love interest. Like any popular arcade game of the late 80’s, it was ported to countless home consoles: Commodore 64, Ataris 2600 and 7800, the Amiga, Sega Master System and so on. As a matter of fact, there’s even a remake for the iTouch. Sadly, I don’t own any of these versions, so I’ll be talking about the one I got: here’s Double Dragon for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

I already pretty much covered the plot in the intro, so let’s get right into the game play. Then again, I almost completely covered the game play in the intro too: it’s a Beat-em-up like most other beat-em-ups. Punch and kick enemies enough that they fall and blink out of existence and hope no one does it to you. If you like these kinds of games, than you’ll like this. If you don’t, then you won’t.

However, there is some originality. As you’re punching thugs in the face, you’ll be given experience (depending on what kind of attacks you’re using). Once you reach one thousand, you’re given a heart signifying a new skill level. With each new skill level, you obtain new abilities, such as the jump kick, head butt and hair grabs. This is something that I don’t see represented much in games from 1988 (at least not to my knowledge), but I do see in later games, mostly of the Action RPG genre. Basically what I’m saying is that, in this way, Double Dragon was actually ahead of its time.

As usual with home ports of arcade games of the time, this game has a significantly downgraded visual quality. But, not even taking that into consideration, this game doesn't look at its best: Billy (the player character) looks skinny and not macho at all. He also has a minimum of shading, meaning he comes out looking flat. The worst part about this is that it was obviously a design choice by someone at either Technos or Tradewest since, in the 2 player battle mode, he looks much better. Of course, the poor graphics aren’t limited to Billy: there are enemies with faces that just look like random black pixels, others with weird proportions and some make poses that make you wonder “WTF?” Though, the backgrounds are very, very nice, but that makes me just a little more aware of the bad character sprites.

To quickly mention the music, I’m actually a minority in the sense that I don’t like the music in this game. Personally, I think it’s too busy, trying to play too many notes, while at the same time not using a wide enough range. But, I’m no musician, so what do I know? Like I said, a lot of people disagree with me.

If there is one thing this version of Double Dragon is probably most famous for, it would be its flaws: some of the glitches are so famous and well know, they are considered legitimate strategies for beating this game. Though those are quirky and can be helpful, the flaws that I feel like mentioning (which I believe are just as well known) make this game a lot harder than it should be. The first one is the jumping. You have no control while you’re in the air, meaning if you misjudge a jump, you’re gone. This isn’t helped by the ledges that are easy to fall off of and the fact that, when you land, you have a second of recovery time for your enemies to hit you. Also, jumping is essential to beating the game.

Even without that, this game is hard, but 75% of the difficulty can be attributed to one obstacle: the walls that greet you on level four. These knock you down and hurt you, and once you get back up, they can, and will, hurt you again! It has no pattern or frequency, it only takes 4 hits to kill you and has 8 chances of striking you down. A friend of mine and I have both beaten this game, and we both agree, that those walls are simply unfair.

If you think that I don’t like this game because I spent most of the review pointing out its flaws, I don’t. Honestly, these were things I felt I needed to mention. However, the graphics and music never bothered me and I did eventually figure out the jumping and how to get past the walls most of the time. The core gameplay is honestly just so good that it’s easy to overlook anything that might bug you. The controls work well, the hit detection is accurate for the NES and it’s really just a classic. Again, if you don’t like beat-em-up, then this won’t change your mind, but if you do like them, then you won’t regret getting this. I give Double Dragon for the NES 9 levels out of 10.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Level Up: X-men 2: Clone Wars

Once again it’s time for a Canada Day special, but unlike last year, it won’t be a Superman game. Superman, as a character, is generally known as an American Citizen. But, there is a Canadian super hero that is almost as well known. And not only is he Canadian, but it comes up a fair bit, and a few stories starring him has brought his team to the great white north. He’s also a major bad-ass and one of my favorite heroes. I’m of course talking about Wolverine of the X-men. So, for Canada Day, I’ll be looking at X-men 2: Clone Wars (no, it has nothing to do with Star Wars) for the Sega Genesis, bub.

The game begins throwing you right into a level. I’m not even exaggerating: you put on the power, you see the Sega start up screen and then you’re playing. You only learn the actual plot of it all after the mini level. What’s happened is that an alien race, the Phalanx (which sounds too close to phallus for my liking) has invaded earth and is attempting to assimilate the earthlings in order to rule to world (M. Bison: OF COURSE!). They’ve also kidnapped and cloned some of the mutants in order to run experiments on them. Only a handful of X-men are left: Cyclops, Gambit, Beast, Psylock, Nightcrawler and, of course, Wolverine! It’s pretty much up to these 6 (and later on, Magneto) to save both human and mutant kind alike.

I enjoy the story, its classic comic book or super hero cartoon type plot. The path to destroying the alien invaders takes some twists and turns, and though some of it could seem pointless, it gives the game more variety. Where I have to criticize it, though, is in its presentation. There are no real cut-scenes or images to advance the story: all we get is communication text between Xavier and Cerebro. It’s about as interesting for the eyes as text only adventure game, but without the interaction, and it just comes off as lazy, bub.

The game play is nothing too amazing, but does have a few intriguing elements. You start off with the basic platforming stuff: you run from one point to another and enemies along the way that will try to stop you. Then they give you the twist of being able to use mutant powers, such as Nightcrawler’s teleportation or Cyclopes’ laser. But beyond just that, each character has been given individual stats and some non-power related skills (example: some X-men like Psylock have a double jump). What holds it all together though is the design of the levels; there will be some times where you need to change your way of going through things. If you read any Walkthrough or guides, you’ll find that no two suggest the same route; one person might tell you to pick Beast before a certain section to bash through all the enemies, while another will suggest picking Nightcrawler to teleport past them and avoid conflict. I really like this for some reason; it feels like problem solving with more than one answer and it’s almost like giving your own person touch to the game, bub.

This video game is mostly based on the 90’s cartoon series more than any other X-men property (which is why I’ve been using Wolverine cartoon quotes in this review), and the game’s sprites reflect that. Now, I have this problem with how some super hero cartoons looked before Bruce Timm came along and really shook things up; a lot looked too stiff and too much like the comic books of the time. And sadly, that has translated into the game. The character sprites are really big, which can hinder the game play a bit. That being said, the graphics in this game are amazing. Everything is incredibly well detailed and it all looks like it’s supposed to. The backgrounds are also done in the same quality making it all that little bit more immersive, bub.

X-men 2: Clone Wars is a good game, but I wouldn’t say great. The gameplay (by concept) is fun, the graphics (taken for why they look like they do) are of good quality and the plot should be interesting, considering it’s a very “super hero” happening. However, these are cancelled out by somewhat clunky controls, sprites that are too big and based off a source with stiff looking characters and the poor presentation of the story. The sound doesn’t have a high point, but neither a low point. What saves this from being too average a game is how immersive it is though. As I’ve said, with the choice of 6 X-men (and eventually Magneto) and the well-designed levels, you almost get to add your personal touch to game. After it’s said and done, this game ends up being an enjoyable experience if you can see through to the end. I give X-men 2: Clone Wars 8 levels out 10.