Saturday, December 17, 2011

Level Up: It's Mr. Pants

Once again, the holiday season is upon us and it’s time to talk about a game I got as a gift. Here is one I never had any interest in beforehand. This is due partially to the interesting art style, but also because THQ is involved, which I have now come to know them as the B-movie equivalent of video games. However, they are balanced out by the developers; the (once) awesome rare. This game has some history behind it due to its timing. See, Rare was once a developer for Nintendo, making such classics as the Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie series, until they got bought out by Microsoft, ending, for many, the “good” stage in Rare’s lifeline. But they still had an assortment of half produced games for Nintendo, one of these apparently going to be called “Donkey Kong Coconut Crackers”. With Nintendo owning the rights to Donkey Kong, that wasn’t going to happen, so Rare put in their “mascot” instead. So, he d├ębuted on the Game Boy Advance in a puzzle game called It’s Mr. Pants.

Since I already mentioned the art style of the game, might as well start with that, and frankly… I think it sucks. I get that they chose to make it look that way, but it still sucks. The game seems like it was drawn by kindergarteners. Lines are shaky, colors pass outside the lines, things are left as stick figures and so on. Again, I get that it was meant to look like that, but it was just a terrible choice. Luckily, the blocks you HAVE to look at aren’t done in this style and have a smoother look, comparable to any puzzle game.

As for the music and sound effects, I find them equally poorly chosen. The sound effects for making blocks disappear are random animal cries. The music is too wacky and distracting while playing (though that might be the point, it’s easy to mute the system).There are also music tracks where Mr. Pants is annoyingly singing along. Now, to say something positive, I did find Mr. Pants’ voice funny to start with. However, I tired of it quickly, as you hear him read out menu items when you go on them. Plus, the voices can overlap, and if Mr. Pants is singing too, then it just becomes way too much…

Like Tetris has you making lines and Dr. Mario has you matching colors, It’s Mr. Pants game will have you making squares and rectangles. You’re given shapes of 1 to 4 units, and all you have to do is connect at least 6 units of the same color into a full rectangle or square, which will eliminate it from the screen. You are allowed to freely move the pieces on the space given and rotate them, and you’re allowed to place new colors on top of old colors, but you can’t place pieces on top of its own color. There are 3 modes of play. The first one is puzzle: you are given predetermined shapes to try to clear the board. The next one is called eliminate: the board will randomly be covered by shapes, and you’re given an unlimited amount of pieces to clear it within the time limit. And finally, there’s marathon: you start with a blank slate and are given an unlimited amount of random pieces to make as many points as possible in a time limit.

So what do I think of the game style? I really like it. It rewards creativity in that you have to really think outside the norm to make some of the shapes work (puzzle mode helps see this). This takes the classic puzzle game formula of fun colors and shapes, but gives it a slightly more intelligent twist to it.

I was surprised by how much I liked It’s Mr. Pants. The game style succeeds at being something new and creative. Puzzle mode is good for the goal oriented, while the marathon mode is perfect for those who just like going for high scores. However, the audio/visuals are unappealing, and I can’t help but wonder what it would look like as Donkey Kong Coconut Crackers. But really, the reason I think this game is flawed is because of how complicated it can get. It’s not too hard, but more so than the usual puzzle game. Now, consider the target audience here: the game has lots of bright colors, a loud character, silly sounds and a goofy looking mascot. It seems this was made for younger kids than who I think would actually appreciate the puzzle system and they would probably just be frustrated by it. It feels like a mix of Sudoku and Tetris to me, so if you like those two things and can find this fairly cheap, you might want to think twice before passing it up. I give It’s Mr. Pants for the Game Boy Advance 7.5 levels out of 10.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Level Up: Viewtiful Joe

If there is one thing Capcom is infamous for, it’s teasing their fans with the Capcom Vs series. For those of you who don’t know what this is: can’t you just figure out it from the name? But to those I need to explain it to, it’s basically when Capcom crosses over with another company for a fighting game, in which they select an amount of characters they own to make up half of the roster. The reason this is a big tease is because eventually Capcom forces itself to rely on using older series. An example I recently talked about is Firebrand and Arthur, who appears in the latest addition of Marvel vs. Capcom, but haven’t been seen for years. Now, today’s topic isn’t as old, but it’s teasing since they announced they have no current plans to revive this series. For this edition of *Capcom time* I’m talking about Viewtiful Joe, eventually released for the Playstation 2, it was original exclusive to the Nintendo GameCube.

The tale of Viewtiful Joe starts off in a theater, where Joe has taken his girlfriend, Sylvia, to see a movie starring his hero, Captain Blue. However, the movie doesn’t quite go as expected as the aging Captain Blue is defeated by the film’s antagonist. If that doesn’t seem strange enough, the villain actually reaches out of the movie and abducts Sylvia. Joe is forced to enter the film and go in after her. Once he’s in “movieland”, Joe gets to meet his hero Captain Blue, who gives him a watch to transform into his super hero form. With his trademark red helmet and tights and long pink scarf (cause real men look more macho in pink), and powers that come with it all, Joe sets off to save his girlfriend.

The plot is simple, but with enough of an original twists that it can’t be called uncreative. This is good, as it A) leaves rooms for developments and twists and B) doesn’t steal the focus from the game play. But what I really enjoy here is the potential for where Joe can adventure, as we’re in a fictional movie land where anything can happen really. And this game actually uses that potential well, as the settings are well varied, but never drastically changing so that it all has an organic flow.

The game play is pretty much based on retro 2D action platforming. However, it’s a little bit more than that. First off, being on the GameCube, it couldn’t be left as 2D and had to go what’s called 2.5D. Though, a subtle difference to some, this is show by moments where you walk around corners or strike objects in the background and so on. One could argue that actual game play is still 2D, but now we’re trying to split hairs, so let’s move on to what’s really unique about this game.

Viewtiful Joe has 3 “super powers” based on famous film techniques: slow-mo, mach speed and zoom. We’ve all seen slow-mo before; with movies, it makes everything seem more intense, such as punches hitting harder and bigger explosions, so everything does become more intense when using it. Mach speed is used to emphasize quicker movement, so when using this, Joe does become faster. And zoom is used to show off fancier moves, so Joe’s moves will become a little more complex and powerful. They’re already all pretty cool and using them to fight off bad guys is fun, but the level designs is where they really shine. There are actually a fair number of puzzles in this game that your skills are used to solve. Let’s say there’s something flying by propellor: if you use slow-mo, its blades are no longer turning fast enough to stay in air. These puzzles really add something much needed to some of the levels and to the game as a whole.

Viewtiful Joe is a great game all around. It has a retro feel to it, but with game play elements never seen before. The plot is well suited and does the same thing: stays classic, but makes it unique. The graphics are wonderfully cell shaded to get that movie-super hero feel and the voice acting is great. It’s a shame we haven’t gotten a new game in the series for a while, but at least that the recent Capcom vs games show they haven’t forgotten about Joe (unlike Power Stone, who barely gets a cameo in a fighting game…). But I digress. My only real complaint is that the game could take itself a little more seriously; it comes off as a joke for a good part, but it should just stay campy action. Also, I feel like there’s potential to improve the puzzles or gameplay element, but instead they tacked on a bunch of stuff people will rarely use. But don’t leave thinking these are a big complaint at all, it’s a great game and can be found very easily. I give Viewtiful Joe for the Nintendo GameCube 9 level out of 10.