Saturday, October 20, 2012

Level Up: Rampage Total Destruction

In video games, you mostly play as the good guy, and though I know there are a few exceptions, most of the time if you play A bad guy, you’re not THE bad guy. Take Manhunt for example: though you murder people, you are taking down someone who does much worse, so it could be argued you’re still “the good guy”. There are also games like Mortal Kombat where you can chose a bad guy, Sonic Adventure 2 that had a bad campaign or any number of games with a morality system. But naming a game series where you unambiguously play as the villain is doable in two syllables: Rampage. So for the first review of this October, let’s start off with the latest in this monster mash of a series, Rampage: Total Destruction available for the GameCube and PS2, but I’ll be playing the Nintendo Wii version.
Rampage is a series where you play as giant, Godzilla-esque monsters to destroy cities. You can climb up buildings, hit them, jump on them, whatever. And you get more points the more destruction you cause. However there will be policemen, SWAT members and other people shooting at you (they’re hard to notice sometimes, but the damage does add up). This game adds new elements (such as the Rampage meter) but the series hasn’t changed much at its core. Simple? Yes. Fun and satisfying? Oh yeah!
New to this game (I believe) are the missions, power ups and unloackable content. The missions are optional tasks (such as “eat X amount of skaters”) which you can do for either extra points or a power up. The power ups are abilities that your monster can learn. Note: you’ll need to earn it for each monster (something to keep in mind, since they have unique stats). For unlockable content, what could be better than more monsters? Some are really cool, like the Shark or Bull mutations, while others are simply hilarious, such as the Poodle or Worm. By the way, the Wii version has the most creatures.
Of course, talking about the Wii, I always feel the need to mention the controls. Despite being a really simple game, you HAVE to play with the Wii-mote nun-chuck (you can’t even use a GameCube controller, despite there being a version for it).  You also need to shake the Wii-mote for some actions that could have been assigned to a button. It’s a minor complain, but I would have just liked the option.
On the issue of the graphics and audio, this game is nothing special. The GameCube and Wii versions look quite similar, so I don’t think they put effort into upgrading the graphics. That being said, the look is still pretty smooth, but some textures look flat. The frame rate isn’t that bad either.
The audio… is kind of lame. The music is nothing much, but it’s good destruction music worthy of an action movie based on the same subject. The sound effects are very “stock” and sometimes goofy, but the common ones do their job. But I think my biggest issue is the voice clips: every now and then a random citizen will pipe up and give us a line. But there are too few, so it becomes annoying to hear some of them over and over again, and some are just hack jokes.
Rampage Total Destruction is not the deepest game ever made, both in terms of gameplay and story (just something about pop turning people into the monsters, but who cares?) and it feels kind of like a budget title (I’m not sure if it was or not). However, Rampage: Total Destruction supplies one thing a lot of people are looking for in a video game: stress relief. After a hard day’s work, what can relieve the tension better than turning into a giant Lizard and leveling half of San Francisco? It’s also kind of game that a gamer of any skill level can play, and with the multiplayer, it works well if you’re having a Halloween party and just want to goof around with friends. I also need to mention that the two first Rampage games are included on the disk, so if you’re a fan in general, this might be worth picking up just for those. The game is pretty shallow, it can be annoying with its bad jokes and farts and if you play one person, you might get bored of it quickly, but when you’re in the mood to just smash something, this is the title you should be reaching for.
I give Rampage Total Destruction 6.5 levels out of 10.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Level Up: Earthworm Jim Menace 2 the Galaxy

Well guys, it’s come to this; with the 3rd anniversary of Level Up now here, it’s time to look at the 4th and so far final title in the Earthworm Jim series. As with Earthworm Jim 3D, this game also came out in 1999 (less than a month later), but I can’t find information to if this game’s development was also put on hold or if it was just cranked out quickly. Jim also has a completely different team of developers and publishers once again: David A. Palmer Productions and Crave Entertainment respectively. Let’s take a look at Jim’s last adventure with Earthworm Jim Menace 2 the Galaxy on the Game Boy Color.
The game’s story is the standard “kidnapped princess” plot, but with Evil Jim (a character from the TV show) being the one who kidnapped Princess What’s-her-name. Queen Slug-for-a-butt does make an appearance along with a few other classic baddies, but there’s never any focus on a story (much like the original games) so might as well just get right into how you play the game.
Earthworm Jim has returned to his original 2D perspective, and while you can still run, jump and shoot your gun, the lack of a third button means there is no head whip. However you’ll constantly jump if you hold down the jump button and you can also jump higher just by pressing up at the same time, which are honestly two changes I greatly appreciated.
Another change is that you’re allowed to select the order of the levels. I think this is because the makers were inspiring themselves from the big 3D platformers at the time, which allowed you a little wiggle room in the order. Also possibly inspired from 3D platformers is the focus on collecting items to advance, and here is where we meet this game’s biggest flaw. First off, this is VERY tedious and goes on for the whole game (unlike the original 2 games, which would switch up the game play regularly). Secondly, while the 3D games used a full game total for what you collect, Earthworm Jim Menace 2 the Galaxy does not (in other words you can’t collect more than you need on one level to put that towards a level you find more difficult). But the biggest issue I have is that you need to collect everything in one life to advance: dying makes you go back to the start of a level with 0 items and pit falls kill you instantly.
Level design rarely helps with the frustration either. Some of the levels are linear, and you might find most of the items on your way to the exit. However most of the time though they’re big maze like affairs, where you can easily get lost, turned around, fall into a pit by accident or forget where the ending is. I’m telling you, there is nothing more frustrating in this game than finding the exit, realizing you’re short on the required items, go look for more, find some, forget where the exit is and fall into a hole trying to find it again. And that is just one of several frustrating scenarios this game pulls out.
Unfortunately, I do not really like Earthworm Jim’s final game. I don’t hate it, I don’t think it’s terrible, but I don’t think Earthworm Jim deserved this. The game play is simply far too unbalanced as players are expected to collect too much and only given the minimum of a chance to actually pull it off. If you could kept items that you collected until you lose ALL you lives, had access to a map or the pitfalls didn’t instantly kill you, I might think this game was actually fair. Unfortunately, what we have here is a frustrating game with redundant or pointless moments and a fraction of the original personality Earthworm Jim is known for. However when the occasional level came along that wasn’t designed in a frustrating manner, this game actually could be fun, and a fraction of Earthworm Jim’s personality still goes a long way. The awesome graphics, cool looking levels and catchy music also help this game a fair bit. I honestly don’t think this is the game that killed Earthworm Jim, but if it were actually a great game maybe he could have been given another chance. Unfortunately, the team behind it has a track record of poor performances (just check out the other titles Crave has been behind) and I feel as if they didn’t quite know what to do with our wormy hero. There have been rumors of a new title for some time now (apparently a cancelled PSP game was in development), and I think in a time where games like Rayman Origins are coming out, we’re ready for Earthworm Jim’s return. But I digress. I don’t recommend this game for most gamers, but if you must play every Earthworm Jim game like I wanted to, then just be ready for some frustration. I give Earthworm Jim Menace 2 the Galaxy for the Game Boy Color 5.5 level out of 10.