Saturday, December 29, 2012

Level Up: Spider-man & Venom : Maximum Carnage

The holiday season is once again upon us. This year, I’ll be bundled up inside, by the warm glow of my television set waiting for a visit from one of my favorite persons wearing red: Carnage! Among my favorite villains ever, Carnage ranks pretty high (possibly even number one). His complete disregard for life, desire for chaos, lack of humanity and powers that can rival one of the greatest super heroes of all time makes him a force you surely don’t want to go up against. And when it comes to Carnage, one story always comes up that is said to demonstrate what he is all about: the 14 part series Maximum Carnage, where he pushes Spider-man to his limits as a hero. Or so I’ve heard, I haven’t read it myself, but I have played the video game Spider-man and Venom: Maximum Carnage, available for the Sega Genesis, but I’ll be talking about the version given to me as a gift, the one on the Super Nintendo.
Since it’s the first thing you’ll see in the game (and since I just played a clip from the song) it’s worth starting off by mentioning that the sound track was composed by the metal/rock band Green Jelly (and yes, it’s pronounced JELL-O; the umlaut makes the Y sound like an O. If Ke$ha’s dollar sign can be pronounced like an S, we can grasp this concept). This gives most of the music a pretty “hard core” feel, and for want of a better term, it sounds so “90’s”. Of course since the technology of the time wouldn’t allow for recorded music, we get computerized versions. The down sampling is obvious, but not enough to ruin it. As for the other sounds, they vary. Some of them boarder on stock, some of them are too goofy and some are 100% satisfying (I really do like the punching noises).
I also like the graphics too. They keep them comic book style, but not cartoon like and silly. I think I’ve said before it’s easy to make Spidey look too buff or too lanky, but here the balance is good (maybe a bit too many details around the pecks). The other licensed characters are done in this same “that IS what they should look like” manner. Obviously nothing is uniquely interpreted, which is good because this is based off the comic and should reflect what it contained. Speaking of which, this game has cut scenes directly redrawn from the comic panels and… I like don’t like them. They look authentic I suppose, but also flat and really pixelated. It’s nice that they tried though.
The game play is pretty much your standard brawler, with a few extra spidey skills thrown in. You’ll walk through areas and fight generic, pallet swapped bad guys with names like Bret or Billy. Who, with the hair, looks like Billy Bob Thornton? *Clip* How so? *clip* Okay, well sorry. Anyways, you can punch, block and jump like in any game, but you can also climb walls to attack from them or hide or use your web to swing into enemies, grab them from a far or tie them up.
Unfortunately, this game is only one player for some reason despite having two protagonists. I think it might have been to keep in line with the original story, but again, I haven’t read it yet. As fun as this game is, I could only imagine it would be a lot more fun if it was multiplayer. It would also be a lot easier because I found this game hard, almost up there with Double Dragon NES. There are secret recovery items, lives, assists and continues that you can find throughout the game to help you out though. Personally I had to find them all to be able to get a shot at finishing this, because this game makes you earn your fight with one of the best villains ever.
Spider-man and Venom: Maximum Carnage is a surprisingly good game. It’s fast paced, offers a challenge that will make you want to find all the secrets and its simple, classic, beat-em-up fun.  Being a direct adaptation of a story many people have enjoyed probably helps too. However, it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t a perfect game, and I’ve had people with legitimate complaints explain to me why they don’t like it: there is no two player mode, there isn’t enough variety among the super villains (though this was to keep it as close to the original story as possible), Spider-man being beaten up by random thugs is not something you want to see and the game can be too hard, with no save features, passwords or option to change the difficulty. However, I still say that none of these things ruin the game for me at all. This really is a title worth checking out, brought to us by developer Software Creations and published by…  LJN?! They made a game that’s not just ok, but really good? Who knew that was possible? Anyways, I give Spider-man and Venom: Maximum Carnage for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System 9 levels out of 10.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Level Up - Revolution X

Every now and then, it’s hard to say when a concept for a video game sounds awesome or just plain stupid. Now, you’d think that line would be drawn quite clearly drawn somewhere, but today’s game has the plot of “save Aerosmith and all of ‘Youth Culture’ from the hands of a corrupt government”. Along with tag lines such as “Music is the weapon!” and a contest to find the “baddest” player, it sounds like a quick shot at 90’s kid’s buck. *90’s kid: Duuuuuude-* But I must admit, there is a slight allure to something like this, as it sounds either a bit cool, or so lame it loops back to awesome. Let’s find out how it turns out with Revolution X, originally for the Arcades, but I’ll be playing a Sega Saturn port.
This game was initially developed and published by Midway, who, at the time, had a bigger arcade hit, Mortal Kombat. I mention this, because in terms of game sprites, a lot of Midway games had a “style”, and people who have played Mortal Kombat know what I mean. For those that don’t, it looks as if the makers of the game just dressed up people, took pictures or videotaped them and the pixelated it. The plus size is that it looks quite realistic, as it probably once was. The problem is that some things are just a mesh of indistinguishable pixels. You really can’t say “its style choice that makes things SUPPOSED to look weird” when something’s off, because we can tell what it should really look like. Also, this is a downgraded home port. I can only imagine it looks even worse on the Super Nintendo or Genesis ports.
As you could expect for the audio, there are a lot of Aerosmith songs used. These include Eat the Rich, Love in an Elevator, Rag Doll, Sweet Emotions and other classics. I just really wish I could hear it more, because this is one of those games where you will constantly be firing your gun. Since there’s no penalty for just holding down the trigger, all you’ll hear is the rattle of your gun. And enemies firing at you. And things in the background getting hit. And breaking, and shattering, and exploding, and thumping, and whirling-ugh! The constant noise gets overwhelming at a certain point.
As I might have already mentioned, this was originally a light-gun, rail-shooter game for the arcades. At its basics, it’s like most others; you follow a path, get to an area, kill the enemies before they kill you and then move on. As you play, you can find special weapons, power ups, hidden bonus items and secret paths. So what separates this game from others like it… besides Aerosmith of course? Well, one thing I really enjoyed is how much damage you can take. Unlike shooter games like Virtua Cop, where you need to be quick or else you’re out, in this game you have a pretty big life bar and can take many hits. Now granted, this was still originally an arcade game, so you can still die easily at some points. My point is that instead of worrying about not getting hit, reacting quickly and making sure you hit everyone before they hit you; you can just sit back, keep shooting and enjoy the blood splatters.
However, I’m talking about the port here, and there is a significant problem: it’s not compatible with the Sega Saturn Stunner (the light gun for the system). For some reason, when they decided to port this game to home consoles, they didn’t include that option. The game plays fine with the D-Pad and the cursor I guess, (I mean, I did beat the game) but it never felt as fast or accurate as a real gun. You can change the “looseness” of it, but no matter how you set it, you’ll probably be compromising.
Revolution X is the kind of game that I had a hard time taking seriously from the start, and quite frankly, that’s what saves it. If at any point I thought this game was taking itself seriously, I would just have to say that it fails. However, since it just seems to want to be a ridiculous game, I can only sit back and have fun with it. Granted, there are still a lot of things going against it: the graphics haven’t aged well, the sound just becomes noise, the game play isn’t really anything special and the port screwed up a couple of things. But like I said, it is fun, as I can just sit back and shoot some things while trying to be the dude that saves Aerosmith and youth culture. (Seriously, what about that last part doesn’t sound so bad, it’s good?) This is no Terminator 2 in terms of Arcade shooters by any means, and I will say the arcade version is a MUCH better experience. But for what this game has to offer, I think the fun overshadows the problems. I give Revolution X for the Sega Saturn 6.5 level out of 10.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Level Up: Pokemon Silver

I think it’s now time to take another look at the Pokemon series by moving to the 2nd generation. I got to experience it through Pokemon Silver for the Game Boy Color.
Imagine this: you’re a 10 year old kid playing Pokemon, trying to be a master by finding every one there is. You know the Poke Rap by heart, so it’s just a matter of time. Then one day you learn of a Pokemon you’ve never heard of before. Immediately, you need to find out what this means. Now, though we could look stuff up online, back then it wasn’t as fluid with information like now. We would have to wait a bit, but eventually the news came out: a Pokemon game was coming with new Pokemon.
This was a dream come true. I don’t know anyone at that time that didn’t make their own “Fakemon” (I still have sketches of some of mine). Some of the first ones we knew about included Togepie (who was in the anime), Snubble and Marill (or as we knew him, “Pika-Blue”). As the game came closer to release date, we frantically searched for any hint of what we could look forward to.
Sorry if this little Nostalgia rant bored you, but it really is the basis for my feelings on this game.
Onto what has changed between games. I’ll start with my big complaint from the last time: the graphics. There is a HUGE improvement, and I don’t just mean that there’s now color: the sprites have been redone, so the Pokemon look more like they should.  A lot of the unbalanced moves were also fixed and enemy Pokemon now have the same move limit as you. However, the PC boxes still suck.
So what’s been added? Well, I think you already got the hint that there are new Pokemon, about 100 more. But with these new Pokemon came two new “types”: dark and steel. Considering the combinations and strategies you could come up with before, just adding 2 added a lot. This is also the only time types have been added so far.
Of the new Pokemon, special attention was also given to “Baby Pokemon”. These are Pokemon that weren’t found in the wild and are “pre-evolution” of ones that could be. You would do this by using the new breeding system: drop two Pokemon at the daycare and if they’re compatible, you should get an egg with one of their most basic forms. Carry that egg around for a while to hatch it.
Another drastic change is the addition of time. A clock was put in the game meaning that certain events would only happen at certain times. An innovative change… but I don’t really like it, basically because setting an alarm to catch “morning” Pokemon annoyed me. Maybe I would have liked it if there was just day and night, (can you tell I’m not a morning person?).
Other new things involved new ways to evolve Pokemon, a Pokemon’s ability to hold items, a phone feature, the apricorns that you could get made into special Pokeballs and other minute things like the ability to see your experience meter and whether or not you caught a Pokemon while you battle. All just a bunch of things to really iron out and add a bit to the Pokemon gaming system.
So that’s basically Pokemon Silver (and gold), which is basically an improvement on Pokemon Blue and Red. However, if we are to be perfectly honest, I don’t like the 2nd Gen that much. Now, before you guys go for that unsubscribe button, let me explain: while I think it did advance the series a bit, it comes off as more of an “add-on” to the original generation in my eyes. It was like playing “Pokemon Blue and a half” to me. Now, don’t think that I’m going to say all Pokemon games after blue are just building on it and suffer for that (if that was the case, I would HATE the whole platforming genre except for Super Mario Brother). No, my problem is that it is TOO similar: it should have taken a giant leap forward, instead of a small hop. I felt like it was a new version of the same game. A very much improved version of a great game, but I had already played it. I give Pokemon Silver for the Game Boy Color 8.5 levels out of 10.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Level Up: Strider

And again, the portal that opened up at the end of Halloween just sent me back home. It actually fixed my studio too, which is sweet! Anyways, onto today’s show. The NES has a certain charm to it. Even beyond the great games everyone knows (Super Mario Bros., Megaman, Punch-Out), there are some games that just sum up the system. These games are mostly unpolished, platforming adventure titles revolving around sci-fi themes if you ask me, games like Totally Rad or Batman. Let’s go into*Capcom Time* and take a look at a game I think fits this, Strider on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
For every “so Nintendo” thing I just said, Strider is actually a port of an Arcade game… which actually might add to that, as those were also very common (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 and Double Dragon are known for being great NES Beat-em-ups, despite being ports). It was also ported onto the Sega Genesis among others, which might be the most popular version since it’s available for the Wii virtual console and ScrewAttack loves it. But the NES version seems to be the most different.
As a matter of fact, the plot might be where the games have the most in common, even though the NES games was more complex. In 2048, there is a group of ninja-like people helped by technology who call themselves “Striders”. You play Hiryu, who is of course the “special” one as the he is the youngest ever Strider to reach his rank. The game starts off when Hiryu is told he must kill his friend Kain since he has been captured by hostile forces and has become a liability. Immediately I thought I misunderstood something since why would they ask his friend to kill him and why not kill the ones who captured him instead? Of course THAT’S what Hiryu decides to do, but it gets even more complicated. Hiryu discovers conspiracies to takedown the Strider organization itself, but I won’t spoil it for you. However, this might be hard for you to enjoy since the game is not linear and the story is all presented in text that you can mostly read at any time. This makes it hard to know when something is a plot point or just some guy telling you where to find a power up. It’s also hard to recognize who is a good or bad guy since some are just introduced and say something that can be taken either way (like “kill your friend”).
Strider is basically your usual adventure-action-platforming game on the NES, but with some RPG elements added in. You’ll run around taking down enemies with your sword, but unlike most platforms at the time, you’ll have to back track, collect items and use special skills in order to advance. You have meter for both skill points and health which will have their maximum limits increased as you play . This makes the game play closer to Zelda 2 than other Capcom games like Megaman or Little Nemo.
However, the controls feel off. Firstly, jumping has that weird floating feeling and you always jump the same height, which can get really frustrating when you’re trying to make precision jumps. Hit detection is a little off too: it seems that it’s not enough that enemies get hit by the arc of Hiryu’s sword, but they have to be inside it sometimes. Also, slopes can be a pain; you’ll speed up or slow down depending on if you’re walking up or down-hill which is innovative, but feels sudden, incomplete, imprecise and clunky. But the most flawed game mechanic goes to wall jumping. Though my favorite skill, this game found a way to make it suck. Unlike most games where you’ll stick to a wall while jumping towards it and just press a button to bounce off, you just slide down as if it were a normal jump and you need to press the jump button and the opposite direction on the D-pad. You will probably just change directions midair and land back on the ground since you can’t tell when the right time is. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was just a skill to have as an option, but at one point it becomes the only way to continue.
As you can probably tell, Strider is actually a bad game; everything is glitchy and poorly executed. Despite trying to be unique and doing something slightly different with this version of Strider, fans were left disappointed and I really doubt that many new players were all that happy. However, I have to admit that this is a guilty pleasure for me. Like I said at the start, this game is a prime example of an unpolished NES game, and I have to say it’s very playable, despite its flaws (I call this the best most glitchy game, if that makes any sense). If you’re actually looking for a good game, then look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a game that’s bad but easy to like, I suggest giving Strider a shot. I give Strider for the NES 4 levels out of 10.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Level Up: Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick

Oh, and yeah, my sponsor had to drop me after they had to pay for all the damages caused by my sudden mutation. Interestingly enough, turns out a cure for it is readily available, which is why you don’t see any real monsters running around. Though my recording studio was totaled, which is why I’m recording in my back up studio in a cabin up in the woods. Speaking of which, let’s talk about the Evil Dead. Starting as a small independent project by Sam Raimi, the Evil Dead has become one of the most iconic horror series out of the 80’s. Its unique blend of horror elements and comedy in all three movies made it easily adaptable, seen in the long series of Army of Darkness comic books (which I am a fan of), a stage musical and 3 standalone video games to date. So let’s take a look at one of them with Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick, available for the PS2, but I got it for the Microsoft X-box.
The game plays out as a flashback with Ashley J. Williams (our hero and player character) telling the tale of what’s happened. Sometime after the movies, Ash finds himself at a bar in the town of Dearborn. By coincidence, a local TV show is airing a special talking about the Necronomicon, the book that caused all of Ash’s problems. Once they play a recording of passage from it, the dark forces are unleashed. Ash, with boomstick in hand, has to fight his way across town to the TV station and our adventure begins.
The plot is basic as it’s pretty much just “evil demons are attacking”, but my main problem is how different it feels from the movies. The films had an amazing amount of creativity, insanity and personality that made them memorable, but the story of A Fistful of Boomstick is simply lackluster. It really tries to play it too safe and sticks with things already done before. Sure, everything is accurately portrayed, but it feels watered-down. It really gives the feeling of a “fan game”, but from a group of people who did it just to make a game rather than out of love for the series.
The game play isn’t really anything special, but rest assured, it is still fun which is what I expect from THQ (especially given the source content). As Ash, you’ll walk around, talk to people for clue and try to complete goals. As the dead take over the town, you can use your trusty double barrel or a variety of other weapons you’ll find to mow them down. You also have spells that you can use to spice things up or make certain scenarios easier on yourself. Really, when you get down to it, it’s just a basic “ranged attack, close attack, special attack” set up, but with enough variety and well done puzzle-adventuring that makes it far from monotonous.
Where I do have to take off points is in the feel of the world, as it seems very fake. The houses, the streets, the amount of people… it all feels very “empty”. It sometimes kills your suspension of disbelief and sense of panic and fear when you’re walking down a street where the deadites have been attacking, but the building and streets are untouched, there are barely any other people and only the occasional deadite pops out. It becomes obvious that the makers of this game didn’t really give it their all.
As you can kind of tell, Evil Dead: A fistful of Boomstick isn’t the greatest game ever with it’s biggest flaw being that it plays it too low key. With something like the Evil Dead series as your source material, you really should go big or go home, but instead it seems like a cheap, hollowed out version of what could have been a much better game. But I have to admit, this game is right up my alley. Not only is it based on a series I have become a fan of and includes the voice of Bruce Campbell himself, but I enjoy the simple and basic game play sometimes. (Heck, at least the game isn’t pretending it’s something amazing, which annoys me more). No, this game isn’t the greatest thing ever made, but it really is a lot of fun in terms of game play with a story that will keep you playing and it has decent graphics and audio. Worth checking out, especially if you’re an Evil Dead fan. I give Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick 7.5 levels out of 10.