Saturday, November 26, 2011

Level Up: Dragon Warrior

When I did my review of Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, I mentioned that it was actually the 25th anniversary of the series along with several others. Honestly, that was just a coincidence; when I picked the game to be reviewed, I had no idea. I’m admitting this because it turns out I did it again with today’s game. Though, some people might not know this because of the ambiguity of the name. We celebrate the original release of the first game of a series; so we normally go by the Japanese title if it was ever changed. So, while in 1986, Dragon Quest was released in Japan, 3 years later, North America would see the same game as Dragon Warrior. Now, I’m aware that there are differences, but not enough to call them two different games, so this is indeed a review of the first game of the Dragon Quest series, just the North American localization of it. Here’s Dragon Warrior for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Ok, so one thing you might have already noticed is that I am not using the game’s music as I usually do. The reason is because it just put me to sleep. It’s so non-thrilling that it makes me suddenly narcoleptic. Even playing midafternoon, I still felt like I needed a nap after 10 minutes. Even the battle music isn’t exciting, so I had the TV on mute most of the time. (What we’re listening to here is a song from one of the later games of the series). The sound effects would be called “stock” if this were another game. However, this game is so early in RPG history that it’s really not; most of the other games that use these sound effects would come later, and so I’m thinking this game created the stock.

As for the graphics… they really don’t look good. Sadly most everything looks way too flat, as I don’t think there’s any shading. The character sprites could have been made bigger with the space they had to work with to give them all a little more detail (instead, some stuff just looks odd). The monster graphics are big enough, but some of the designs are used too frequently with a minimum of changes. Finally, any attack you use, even spells, all basically look like random flashes on screen. I know, it’s a little unfair to hold the game up to some of these standards being such an early RPG, but I’m just letting you know what you’ll be getting into if you plan on playing this game.

The game’s plot is pretty simple. Basically, you start off arriving in a castle and you’re asked to save a princess. And that’s basically it. Sure, you have to kill the evil that kidnapped the princess, but that’s to be expected. There are also other stories thrown in, but are little more than hints to puzzles.

Here’s where I have to point out something very different about this game compared to many modern RPGs; it feels more like one big area. Sure, you have different towns you can visit, but really, they’re just a reason to get better weapons and armor. There are sections where the enemies get noticeably harder, but never a clear line. As a matter of fact, if you pack enough herbs, you can probably just go right for the boss. However, you will be weak and will lose. And so we get to the main game play element: grinding. This game is nothing but a test in grinding. With little story and lack of real levels, the only thing you need to do for 99% of the game is beat down enemies until you’re strong enough. And know what this game made me realize? I really like level and gold grinding. Now, of course this isn’t the case for everyone, so if grinding in RPGs annoys you, you’ll really want to stay away from this game.

Dragon Warrior made amazing advances in the RPG genre, but I stop myself from calling it “the first modern RPG” because I’m not 100% sure on the history behind it. However, it’s easy to understand menus it made it suddenly more accessible to a lot of people. It also input the idea that “the more you play, the better you become”, which put everyone on an even field, unlike platforming games at the time where some people proved to be naturally gifted. That said, this game has clearly NOT aged well: the graphics are flat, the music is boring, the sound effects have been heard a thousand times since, the menu maps aren’t intuitive and the game play will get dull. I’m aware of what the game did and it’s place in history, and as much as I love bringing you guys that kind of info, that isn’t what I score the games on. Really, this is only recommended for the serious gaming historians or lovers of grinding missions. I give Dragon Warrior for the NES 7 levels out of 10.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Level Up: Banjo-Kazooie

I have reviewed some disturbing material in the past. I mean, October just finished 3 weeks ago, and in that I reviewed games where you kill people in cold blood, shoot down reanimated corpses and deal with the dark arts. Even in the past, I reviewed games like Mortal Kombat, which partially created the ESRB rating system, Bully, which takes light of a serious childhood problem, and Gun, which caused some stir over the depictions of the Apache. But no game have I ever played been sicker, more perverted, more twisted than today’s topic. It’s a game sometimes just shocking and I’m surprised it doesn’t come up more often as a case to ban video games all together (though, I figure it’s just to avoid bringing up this disgusting thing). What’s worse is this somehow got an E rating in 1998 when first released on the Nintendo 64 and has been rereleased on the X-Box Live Arcade to spread its depravity. Cover your ears cause I’m talking about Banjo-Kazooie.

The game wastes no time with its corruption as it instantly promotes witch craft and unhealthy body images. One of the first things we see is Gruntilda (also known as Grunty), the witch antagonist of the game, asking her cauldron if she is the most beautiful person around. Just like TV and advertising, the cauldron tells her no, ruining her previously high self-esteem and compares her to someone much younger of a different species (meaning they don’t have similar genes, so she can’t expect to live up to the expectations). Frustrated by all of this, Gruntilda resorts to body modification with the use of a machine. This particular invention relies on child abduction and exploitation. What I’m referring to is the fact that Grunty needs to kidnap the girl who was deemed prettier than her, a bear cub named Tootie, and put her in the machine to steal her “beauty”. Kazooie (one of the titular and playable characters) hears the struggle and wakes up Tootie’s brother Banjo (the other titular and playable character). This shows a complete lack of respect for the justice system, as there does seem to be some kind of society in the game. Banjo and Kazooie then sets off on the rescue mission. This is where the game begins.

As I just mentioned, the game is played as both Banjo and Kazooie. The way this works is that Banjo does most of the moving while Kazooie is in a backpack until she is needed. Here, we face issues of anti-feminism and animal abuse. First, are supposed to believe that a bird (the species at the subject of the phrase “free as a bird”) chose to confine herself into a small packback? Next, the idea that Kazooie is only allowed to come out to “assist” Banjo or when he calls on her is quite demeaning to women. I also have to point out that Kazooie’s skills far surpass Banjo’s, as she is able to shoot eggs, fly, become invincible, jump high, walk through hazardous obstacles and run much faster (though most of these skills are only learned as you play the game), but yet Banjo is the one getting top billing in the title.

To end on a common note in video games, you will be collecting stuff here. However, unlike others, this one far passes an acceptable limit, as you collect music notes, little bird creatures (again with the abuse), missing skulls, golden puzzle pieces, eggs, feathers and so much more. It crosses the border from “harmless collecting” to “outright problem” in a hoarding, kleptomaniac, addicting and obsessive manner. A line must be drawn somewhere, and I think this game far passes it.

Ok, I’m done. Hopefully, enough of you saw through that satirist joke that I’ve always just wanted to do. Truth is Banjo-Kazooie is a very innocent game, with an adventure setting, a fairy tale type plot and enough modernization to keep it relevant (think like Shrek, but not as many pop-culture jokes). That being said, there are a lot of innuendo and mature jokes that some of the kids won’t get, which makes playing through this game as fun as an adult (sort of like catching the naughty moments in Animaniacs). The game play is 3D platforming with a strong concentration on collecting (that alone provides hours of fun) and makes use of a lot of unique skills. Every music track is also highly memorable, and there’s nothing at all wrong with the graphics. My only complaint is that some of the levels feel lacking, as if it never has a real ending; this is probably due to the non-linear game style and lack of real bosses. Also, the sequel to this greatly outshines it, showing what this game could have really accomplished. But, don’t let this deter you from playing one of the must experience games on the Nintendo 64; Rare really got things right here. I give Banjo-Kazooie for the Nintendo 64 9 levels out of 10.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Level Up: Justice League Task Force

I put off doing this review for a long time, I really did. There’s just so many ways I can say “I’m not a fan of 2D fighters”. Sure, I like them enough, at least more than other genres (like sports games), but to me, it just seems like it was the easiest thing to do for a time. If you had a license with enough characters remotely fighting related, you could make a fighting game. You just pick a move set for the characters made of random buttons, give them slightly different stats and add in the textures. Because of this, I prefer original fighting games like Mortal Kombat; at least then it seems like they’re trying, and that often leads to innovations and decent story. Otherwise, you can up with Shaq-Fu. Luckily that isn’t our topic; today’s game is Justice League: Task Force for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Surprisingly, this game has a plot. I say surprisingly because (as you may have guessed), most of the playable characters are DC heroes, so getting them to fight one and other within a story should seem kind of weird. The options that come to mind on how to get this to happen is either don’t make it happen at all (like with Power Rangers Genesis) or come up with a really stupid reason why all the good guys want to fight you. They go with the second option here, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

The game starts off with a Newspaper image saying that Darksied is attacking earth. Your chosen hero decides to contact the other members of the Justice League. However, once they find one, they get attacked by them. We quickly learn that they are in fact robot clones put in by Darksied who has kidnapped the other heroes. Immediately this brings up plot holes; why wasn’t he able to catch this one hero? Why were the others unable to fight back? Do the heroes have no other way to contact each other rather than visiting each other face to face? Really it just doesn’t make sense and gets repetitive quickly, as your hero goes through the same lines every time.

It also doesn’t make sense depending on which hero you choose; the idea that Superman was captured by Darksied and the Green Arrow saves him a little ridiculous. In your roster, you have Superman, The Flash, Aquaman, Batman, Green Arrow and Wonder Woman in heroes and Darksied, Cheetah and Despro as villains (though you can’t choose them in story mode). And yes, I suppose you can say it’s cool to see who would win between Wonder Woman and The Flash, but when it comes to the point where Superman is made not so super, it takes away from all of that.

The game play isn’t at all bad really. It’s just not innovative or anything new at all as I’ve said. They basically took the usual fighting game format (two health bars pressing random buttons against each other) and skinned it with DC Heroes. However, I did look up the move list and found that a lot of the moves are easy and follow the same pattern of doing a quarter circle followed by either a punch or a kick. Now, having a few moves and characters that follow this wouldn’t be so bad, but after a while it gets pretty predictable. It doesn’t help that the move list is actually quite short for most characters (surprising given the material to deal with here). Again it takes away from the characters, but it also takes away from fighting games, as most fans of the style would prefer to be presented the challenge of having to learn new combos. Though, I do theorize that it could be for people new to the genre, but even then, the default difficulty would be too hard for them, so I don’t think that’s the case.

Justice League: Task Force is a game developed by Sunsoft and Blizzard Entertainment and published by Acclaim, and it pretty much feels it (Blizzard and Acclaim worked on Mortal Kombat, but then you throw in Sunsoft’s ability to produce “meh” titles). This game does look really good though, with each character looking bad ass and heroic, and the backgrounds are well detailed. But if you’re a fan of the DC heroes, you will be disappointed, as they don’t feel nearly as strong as they should be in relation to each other. However, I do not think this is a bad game, as I remember having lots of fun with this as a kid, at least to a certain point. It’s just easy to tire of quickly due to its small character roster and their limited and easy to learn moves. Nothing tips this game towards “bad” or “great” really, it remains a pretty ok game; and that’s why I put off talking about it really, because there’s nothing much to it. I give Justice League: Task Force for the Super Nintendo 6 levels out of 10.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Level Up: Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut

When video games went from 2D to 3D, game series that would have a minimum of plot would suddenly have a lot more. I think it would be because with levels and game play more complex, the plot had to evolve with it. However, this would complicate some game series, as previous, almost plot-free games now had characters with much more personality, so it seemed like different characters all together. I bring this up now because of Sonic Generations, which matches “classic” (2D) Sonic with the “modern” (3D) Sonic. The passing from 2D to 3D was a sort of “silent reboot” for the series, as it was never specifically addressed. So, in honor of the first Sonic game I feel like getting since Sonic and the Secret Rings (god, I hated that game), I’ll be reviewing the definitive line between the generations; Sonic Adventure, originally for the Sega Dreamcast, it’s been rereleased as Sonic Adventure DX; Directors Cut for the Nintendo GameCube.

The plot is actually pretty good, at least as far as Sonic games are concerned. It starts off with a boss fight between Sonic and “Chaos 0”. Soon after winning, we learn that Chaos is an ancient god like creature revived by (who else) Dr. Eggman (called Eggman for the first time in this game). Eggman has learned, through scrawls in a temple, that if given the 7 Chaos emeralds, Chaos will change into his “perfect form”, in which nothing should be able to stop him. Eggman has also built a flying fortress to survive this, in the hopes that after Station Square is destroyed, he can build Eggmanland on top of it.

Now, this story does have its plot holes, like how is Eggman planning on literally controlling Chaos, or why does he want to build Eggmanland on top of Station Square, when there’s miles of prime real-estate available. But, I have to give kudos to how the plot is presented. As with Sonic Adventure 2, to get the full story, you’ll need to play from multiple view points, but here you have 6 sides to the story, not just 2. They each have their personal goals and you see why it becomes important to the overarching plot. Each character is given its own “moment” and a good resolution. Sadly, I can’t go into specifics without spoiling anything, but you will see things as certain characters that the others don’t see, and it explains details that are otherwise confusing.

As I just mentioned you play as 6 characters. They all have their different style of game play and it really mixes things up; Sonic is the usual platforming-adventure levels, Knuckles hunt for emerald shards, Tails races against Sonic, Amy Rose has to outrun one of Eggman’s robots, E-102 Gamma (a rogue Robot created by Eggman) has shooting levels (like Tails and Eggman in Sonic Adventure 2) and Big the Cat fishes. No joke, he fishes. It’s a change of pace, but still sort of fun, like a mini-game.

One thing I really enjoyed is the fact that characters DO visit the same location as others. Despite it always looking and feeling like the same area, it’s clearly been changed enough to better suit each characters’ game style. The stages themselves are all pretty cool, no matter what version of it you’re on, as it uses a lot of good platforming elements. Finally, running (an important part of Sonic) is fun, as you seem to be able to reach ludicrous speeds: it looks so unreal and loose that it’s gotta be enjoyed.

Sonic Adventure is THE 3D Sonic game (as for THE Sonic 2D game, I’ll get to that one eventually), and the new “DX” features do nothing but add to it, with an extra mission mode and unlockable Game Gear games. True, it has some of the same flaws as the original Dreamcast version (namely the graphics) but that’s a minor issue (especially when the music makes up for it, as with most Sonic games). The plot goes pretty much all out and is well done to naturally encompass 6 playable characters. All of the levels are fun, diverse and well designed. Again, this is the first REAL 3D Sonic game; it’s amazing they got it so right the first time, and a little sad they never managed to quite match it again yet. Anyways, to wrap this up, I can’t really think of anything negative to say about this game; if you haven’t played this one, you’re missing out on one of the best “first 3D games of a pre-existing series”. I give Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut for the Nintendo GameCube 10 levels out of 10.