Sunday, December 22, 2013

Level Up: Karate Champ

We’ve once again arrived at the Holiday season, and as always I like discussing games I’ve gotten as a gift. However, in the past, I’ve always talked about good games and expressed how I probably wouldn’t have taken the chance with some of them (like B.O.B. or Maximum Carnage). However, with that risk of getting a good game, you also run the risk of getting a bad one, especially when it’s gifted from people who have no gaming knowledge and just pick something that looks interesting. Well here’s a game that I got, and if you know about it, you know what a lump of coal it is; here’s Karate Champ for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
The game quickly disappoints you with its poor graphics. The cover doesn’t promise anything great, with two poorly drawn fighters attacking the air in different direction, but the graphics are STILL a let down. They’re big, blocky and undefined, even worse than Renegade, the other Technos Japan developed game I’ve reviewed (though Data East are the publishers here). The characters just look like box people with big noses and while some of the backgrounds might be good (with shading and details added), they can be lack luster and are all at different angles, so I don’t know how in the hell we’re looking at the fighters.
The sounds are a little better, as the music is alright: it’s obvious they tried a sort of oriental influence, like something out of a kung-fu movie, and it’s decent. They also have digitized voices and I’ll admit for the time it was pretty good. However, every other sound effect is pretty grating, and they’re a lot more common. I’d suggest playing this game on mute, but that doesn’t help you with the graphics, or the fact that you’re playing Karate Champ.
Unlike what you’d expect from a fighting game, Karate Champ actually tries to stay true to the sport. Instead of just beating your opponent unconscious, you just need to be the first to reach 2 points. You earn points by making contact with your opponent and after every contact you go back to your corners. Some moves are naturally worth more than others, and there are multiple button combinations you can press to pull off different moves.
And that is where this game falls apart. Some of these moves have vague controls so I’m not sure if I’m doing it right, but I’m convinced that it just might not be programed correctly, as I’ve gotten two different moves from the same buttons. There is also the problem of DIRECTION. In GOOD games like Street Fighter, your character turns around to face the enemy. Here they decided to make turning around into a move! But, it’s maybe unfair to compare this game to one that came out almost a decade later… Is it fair to ask that the buttons respond when I press them? There’s honestly like a 1 second delay, and since most moves feature a painfully slow 2 frames of animation, it takes even longer. Plus with all of this, you have to have the hope that the contact counts. You can repeatedly punch with your fist going THROUGH your enemy, but it’ll never count as a hit for some reason. Everything about how this game controls makes me feel like I’m playing with boxing gloves on.
The really perplexing thing about Karate Champ is that, despite how awful it is, most NES game collections I’ve seen have it. Sure, it’s not a rare game, but people don’t seek it, they just tend to “have it” (maybe they all get it like gifts as I did). I’m sure that the timing with the Karate Kid movies helped produce an abundance or cartridges (as the second one came out right before this port), but I have one honest question; with the reputation that this game has gathered, WHY WAS THIS RELEASED FOR THE VIRTUAL CONSOLE? I am serious, you can buy it there. It was a neat idea to make something closer to the sport of karate, but every single aspect of this game failed in execution. This is not only the worst game I’ve reviewed so far, but among the worst games I’ve ever played. I give Karate Champ for the NES 1 level out 10.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Level Up: Digimon Battle Spirit

Back in Cheap Dam-month, I talked about Digimon Digital Card Battle and today I realized… This is somehow the only other Digimon game I own. The Digimon World games are quite rare and expensive, and the other games that have been released in North America and are at a decent price just haven’t interested me enough yet. I really do like Digimon, but I had an N64 instead of a PlayStation growing up, so I missed out on the games when I could have gotten them reasonably priced. Today we have a game that is for a Nintendo system: here’s Digimon Battle Spirit for the Game Boy Advance.
This game has references to the show, but it really doesn’t make any sense because it’s a fighting game so you got good guys fighting good guys. Well, maybe they’re under the control of black gears or a similar device? Well no, cause the enemy is Milleniummon, so how and why? Well, maybe despite being iconic Digimon, they’re just other ones without trainers? No, cause they’re seen with the trainers on the select screen, and Digimon like Wormmon reference their partner with their attacks. Well maybe they don't all know each other so they just assumed they’re enemies? Well I know for certain that Henry and Rika know each other. Whatever, the Digimon just come together and fight each other in order to get to Milleniummon and beat him before he destroys the Digital World. Doesn’t make sense, but again, this is a fighting game, they gotta fight for some reason.
Digimon Battle Spirit is a much different game than your typical Street Fighter type of stuff. As a matter of fact, despite being full 2D, I’d put it closer to Super Smash Bros. or Power Stone, as this is more of a platforming-fighter: you can move freely about huge stage, make big jumps, attack combos are simple and there are even items that you may use to attack. However, there are no health bars, damage meters or any way to ring out an opponent, so how do you win a match? Well, as you fight, you’ll notice that colored orbs (called D-spirits, so the title makes sense) fly out of a Digimon after it has taken damage. Your goal is to damage your opponent and then collect these D-spirits, and whoever has the most when the timer runs out wins. So is this a good or bad fighting system? I can’t really tell. At some times I really enjoy the different play style, and appreciate that it’s so unique. Other times, I feel it makes the game too stiff and slow, and that chasing after the orbs after damaging was a pointless step. I guess it really depends on your gaming preferences and mood.
However, there is one aspect I could always count on to make the game fun, and that was Calumon. As you should know, Digimon are famous for their Digivolutions, which transforms the Digimon into a more powerful monster. Touching Calumon will trigger this and turn your Digimon into a much bigger and more powerful one for a short time while also making you invincible, meaning you have a great chance to take the lead. Think of this like the Power Stones or the Smash Ball from the Super Smash Bros, but you only got one shot at it each round, so make it count.
Digimon Battle Spirit is a pretty unique fighting game based off of Digimon, and at the end of the day, I like it. It was good enough to warrant a sequel (which I’m probably never going to buy, since it has LESS Digimon, all based on the 4th season I didn’t like), but that seems to be as far as its popularity goes, as I never really hear anyone raving about it. The graphics are actually among my favorites on the Game Boy Advance, which is a bold statement since it never started a trend like Mario & Luigi or Sonic Advance (which is a shame, cause I would love to see Pokemon done in its style). The music is pretty good too, so over all it’s a good quality game. The game play is pretty mixed, as I can see why it would be easy to hate this game, get frustrated with it or get bored of it quickly after unlocking everyone. It’s probably best you only get this game if you really like alternative fighting games and if you can find it cheaply, but if you want something to just experiment with and like Digimon, I say try it out. I give Digimon Battle Spirit for the Game Boy Advance 7 levels out of 10.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Level Up: The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda: a series I have reviewed twice in the past. The Legend of Zelda: a series that I have said may not be as good as its popularity suggests. The Legend of Zelda: a series that I have never been interested in and often passed over announcements of new games. The Legend of Zelda: a series that I was completely wrong about. Yes Level Up listeners, today’s review is made just to say that I’ve been wrong when discussing this great Nintendo series. So what happened since my last review to change my mind? I’ve played the first game in the series, The Legend of Zelda originally for the NES, on my 3DS.
I never really had the chance to play the original Legend of Zelda until I got it as part of the ambassador program. However, even before playing  it I had respect for what this game had accomplished. A game like The Legend of Zelda might not seem that impressive now, but in 1986, it was a milestone for several reasons. First off, the game was so expansive and it took so much time that the game makers had to pioneer the save feature. An internal battery would allow this and within 10 years games without a save feature would have that as a mark against them.
The other thing I really respected about The Legend of Zelda was that it showcased what Nintendo was capable of. According to sources, the Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. were made simultaneously with opposite elements in mind: Mario would be side scrolling, Zelda would be top down, Mario would have a linear path, Zelda would have an open world. In retrospect it’s easy to say that both are great on their own, but at the time I doubt there was a better way for Nintendo to really show off their skills.
Most of the Zelda games that came out since I’ve been gaming have always been quite linear: Link needs to go somewhere, finds trouble waiting, needs to go into a dungeon to fix that trouble, finds item in dungeon, item helps him defeat the boss, going through dungeon fixes that trouble and the new item allows him to continue adventuring. It’s often either this pattern or one that omits the “trouble” for Link just being required to find objects kept in the dungeons (Nintendo has even made note of this pattern, stating that a Link Between Worlds will break it).
The Legend of Zelda doesn’t really have any of these patterns. You’re simply dropped into the world and you’re left to find where the dungeons are and how to access them on your own. I once entered the 5th Dungeon while looking for the second one, and what was the last Zelda game that would allow that? Though it can be difficult to figure it all out, there are enough hints to make it fair if you explore enough of the area.  To enter some levels you do need items, but they are rarely necessary to beat the dungeon they are found in, so you can miss them. And some (still necessary) items like bombs or arrows are not found in dungeons at all; they are bought whenever you want them. But I’ve gotten a little off topic at this point: what I’m trying to say is that this game has a much more open world feel than what I have experienced in most other Legend of Zelda adventures, and that made all the difference to me.
The Legend of Zelda really showed me what people like about the Zelda series: it’s the adventure of discovery. Yes, I’ve been told this before, but I don’t believe I’ve truly experienced it with Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time like others have, as I saw someone play through Link to the Past before doing it myself, and Ocarina of Time… well I’ll get to that one someday. But The Legend of Zelda, with its main focus clearly on making the player explore and discover everything, really made me feel like I was an adventurer (and having to make my own map in Excel helped too). I actually now put this game right behind Majora’s Mask for my favorite Zelda titles, and though I’m still not a “fan”, I am looking at Zelda games that I may have passed over and the new ones coming out (A Link Between Worlds does look really cool). So, if you’re like me and aren’t a fan of the Zelda games, I really suggest you play this as it might turn you into one. And if you are a fan but haven’t played through this, it might even give you a better appreciation of where the series came from. I give the Legend of Zelda originally for the NES 10 levels out of 10.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Level Up: Pokemon Rumble Blast

Pokemon X and Y came out last month and I’m apparently the only one with a 3DS that DOESN’T have it. I have nothing against it, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. But to scratch the itch that comes with everyone talking about a 3DS Pokemon game, I’ve been playing the first Pokemon game for that system. No, not the 3D Pokedex, I’m talking about Pokemon Rumble Blast for the Nintendo 3DS.
Pokemon Rumble Blast is a sequel to the Wii Ware game Pokemon Rumble. From my research the game play in Rumble Blast is quite similar and it has more features. For example, while the original game only included about half of the Pokemon that were known at the time, Pokemon Rumble Blast includes all of them in the 5 generations (so, maybe it was a test run, like the Pokemon Snap and Stadium thing).
Regardless, the game play of the Pokemon Rumble series could actually be described as a really simple beat ‘em up. And a Pokemon beat ‘em up is something that I have been wanting since I was 10. Granted it’s nothing like Final Fight, as they had to compensate to play as each Pokemon; they only have up to two attacks and you can even skip most of the fighting. The game play is at a sort of aerial view as you adventure around, and Pokemon will jump out to attack you regularly. You can choose to fight and beat them all, or you can just try to get past them. However, you will always have to fight a boss at the end of each level, and fighting Pokemon allows you to get newer and stronger ones, since your Pokemon’s power is predetermined.
And yes, you do capture Pokemon, but it’s VERY different. First off, you can carry all your Pokemon at the same time; however you can only get three KOs before per level. You might have trouble capturing the one Pokemon you want though, because unlike the main series, Pokemon can only be “befriended” certain times after you KO them. When Pokemon are wobbling, they are guaranteed to join when KO’d, and there is a Pokemon trait that makes them likely to wobble, but even then you’re not guaranteed anything. This is one of the more annoying aspects of the game, but with the simple and quick game play, I found myself playing some levels multiple times just to get one more Pokemon.
I guess since this is the first 3DS game I talk about, I should discuss the graphics and how the 3D looks. Now, the thing I’ve been tip-toeing around is that you don’t play as real Pokemon, you play as toys. The game play and story narrative are only really impacted when they need to shake things up, so you’ll mostly only notice it for the graphics. The toy designs are done to have them with big heads and small bodies (I guess developer Ambrella were fans of My Littlest Pet Shop?) and I feel like if they were real figures, they’d easily sell. It works to make every Pokemon roughly the same size so the game play isn’t affected when changing from a tiny Tynamo to a sizable Snorlax. Though I do admit, I can see people being turned off from the game when you get this instead of real Pokemon.
As for the 3D, it’s alright. As I said earlier, the game is seen from a mostly overhead perspective, and from that angle 3D has very little to offer. When switching out Pokemon, they do make it seem like it’s coming from the 4th wall, but other than that, there’s no real moment when something seems to come at you, nor does it help with perspective. It’s well done, but mostly unnecessary.
While Pokemon Rumble Blast was the first Pokemon game on the 3DS, I seriously doubt it would have held over the more hard-core Pokemon fans. I personally enjoyed it, and I’m sure some of the younger or more casual Pokemon fans did too, but it’s so very different from the main series. But this is still a pretty unique experience that I enjoyed for hours. And it might be selfish to say that I like this because it’s the game I wanted for a long time, but if I wanted a Pokemon Beat ‘em up, I’m sure there were others. Bottom line, if this sounds like a game you’ve ever wanted, than why not try it? But, if you just want a new Pokemon game, then maybe you should just pick up X or Y. I give Pokemon Rumble Blast for the Nintendo 3DS 6.5 levels out of 10.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Evil Dead Regenaration

Around this time last year, I started off talking about the Evil Dead series and said that it was easily adaptable and has three standalone games. A quick correction on that: it turns out the game I reviewed, “A Fistful of Boomstick” was actually intended to be a direct sequel to the first game, Hail to the King. However, A Fistful of Boomstick doesn’t really mention Hail to the King all that much, so if you’re like me and you played it before Hail to the King, you’re still fine. Anyways, we’re continuing our look at the Evil Dead games with one I’m sure stands on its own: Evil Dead: Regeneration, available for the PlayStation 2, but I’ll be playing on the Microsoft xBox.
Talking about the canon of the games and then looking at this story made me realize why the Army of Darkness might has been so adaptable: there so many points and directions you can take to continue the story. This game chooses to continue off the second movie (probably the most famous one) with Ash is in an insane asylum. He’s been blamed for the death of everyone at the cabin since… well the story would be hard to believe. Quickly, it is established that he has been set up by the doctor in charge of Ash’s prison” who is using it, and the necronomicon, for his own diabolical purposes.
The story might not seem like much, but it’s actually a lot of fun throughout and mostly for one big reason: all the characters have SO much personality. Bruce Campbell’s performance as Ash is great as always and common Campbell co-star Ted Raimi’s performance as the comedy relief sidekick is perfect. Along with all that, everything I complained about last time that made the world feel fake is gone; nothing feels phoned in or half-assed. The game takes itself at least as seriously as the movies did.
On the surface the game play might seem very similar to a Fistful of Boomstick: figure out the levels and beat up ghoul hoards with a gun and chainsaw (what do you expect from a main character known for exactly that). However, they feel very differently. A Fistful of Boomstick focused mostly on finding objects to continue on. Regenerations has more of a platforming and beat ‘em up feel to it. You’ll walk about a level and find an area where a bunch of deadites start showing up and you need to beat them all before continuing, or you’ll be stopped by an obstacle that you need to use one of your skills on. There’s a lot of little things that add to the different feels too, like the fact that you don’t need ammo for your guns in this game and more unique variety in skills.
Speaking of new skills, there’s one group of them that I feel the need to talk about: the ones that use your sidekick Sam. For example, Ash is able to kick this half-deadite half-pint into bad guys to stun them or over into new areas he’s unable to reach. You’ll also eventually get a skill that lets you take over Sam’s body giving you the ability to adventure into new places. Yeah, I could have talk about other skills, like the Rage power up, but this is a bit more unique and ends up being used a lot! There’s a reason why Sam’s on the cover too, and it’s not just because he and Ash make a great comedic duo.
Evil Dead: Regeneration is so far the best Evil Dead video game I’ve played because it fills both rolls rather well: it’s a great video game and a great representation of the Evil Dead series. The story has a lot more personality in it and does a good job at matching the humorous tone set by the movies (it seems developers CrankyPants games might have better known what Evil Dead should be like over the previous ones, as THQ is still the publisher). Sure, it focuses more on a journey through areas and not just on Ash fighting the forces of the Necronomicon, but I understand why that might have been changed for a video game. I also can’t deny that the graphics have been pushed to reflect all of this, and the voice work is top notch (again, we got Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi, I can’t ask for any more). If you’re an Evil Dead fan, I don’t see how you could be disappointed with this game, and even if you’re just a gamer looking for an introduction to the series, I say go for it, especially around this time of year. I really can’t think of many flaws within this game. I give Evil Dead Regeneration 9 levels out of 10.
I’m Leo Melanson, and I got through October’s without anything weird happened!
*Approach of the Evil Dead camera.*
What is that- BWAAAA!!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Level Up: Barnyard Blast

This is going to be a fun review that I just honestly want to get right into. I admit, I wouldn’t have played this game if not for the review from the Game Overthinker, and I’m really glad I did. It’s October, so I want to talk about Barnyard Blast: Swine of the Night for the Nintendo DS.
Barnyard Blast is either a loving tribute and parody of, or flat out rip of, Castlevania and Ghost n’ Goblins. You play as Robert Belmart (subtle reference), a pig out to save his son, captured by the forces of evil for… trying to tee-pee the ancient castle ruled by darkness. After grabbing all his weapons, Roberts sets out on a dangerous journey through lands such as “the Swamp Full of Disgusting Creepy-Crawlies” and “The Forrest in the Way”. Yeah, if you didn’t get the hint from the gun wielding pig on the cover, I think it’s pretty clear this is played for laughs and not really meant to be scary. And it’s pulled off in a very charming way. Like with Serious Sam, they obviously love the games that they’re referencing, enough to know what tropes make them noteworthy and how to poke fun at it. The first cutscene, for example, mentions how every small town seems to need an ancient evil castle nearby. They do a great job at juxtaposing any dark tone that could be established with something silly and it creates an atmosphere where you can just have fun. Even the joke not directly referencing horror games or movies are very well timed, and the references to other games (like Bad Dudes and Zelda) never feel forced. The game makers knew what kind of tone they wanted to set and committed to it whole heartedly.
The game play in Barnyard Blast is very similar to Castlevania and Ghost n’ Goblins, but unique enough that it warrants discussion. Like with both games, you’ll be moving slowly and defeating seemingly endless hoards of enemies, along with a boss and mid-boss in each level. However, unlike Ghosts n’ Goblins where you only had one weapon at a time, or Castlevania where you have a basic weapon and a side arm you found in game, Robert has 4 weapons available from the start. Your basic weapon is the pistol, the weakest of the bunch, but the fastest with the best range. His next weapon is the shotgun, a very strong attack, but you have to be ridiculously close to hit and it runs on randomly dropped ammo (I used this one the least). The only weapon that seems to be stronger than the shotgun is the dynamite, which although power, has to land before exploding, so you need to distance yourself well. It works well against stationary or slow moving bosses, so I’d save them for that. And finally, you have the whip, which runs on these blue hearts that acts like mana. The meter for it has two levels (light and dark blue) and if you’re in the dark blue, your whip is much stronger.
The whip isn’t the only thing that runs on the blue hearts though. As you’ll play, you’ll find special items. Some of these, like the HP Regen, do use the SP for their effect while others, like the Super Jump, do not. Making good use of these skills turned what was a challenging game to a much more manageable experience. And yes, I just said this game can be a challenge. Much like the games it’s based on, you’ll probably die a lot while playing this game (which is probably why it takes just 10 stars to get a new life), but once you know what to expect, how to deal with it and how to use all your abilities to your advantage, your next play through shouldn’t be too hard.
Barnyard Blast: Swine of the Night is a great game to play on Halloween cause I think it represents what the holiday really stands for: it’s about having fun with what SHOULD be scary. The same way vampires and zombies are played for joy around this time of year is the same way Barnyard Blast treats the tone of games like Castlevania. Beyond that, the game play is good, though a bit stiff and difficult at times, and the game is really short. The graphics and music are nothing to complain about, but admittedly very held back (the cut scenes, for example, have no animation). If this was ever priced like a Triple-A title, I would find that ridiculous, but since this is a budget title now going for less than 10$ (since publisher DSI Games has now been dissolved, though developer Sanuk Games still seems to be going) I recommend you pick it up. Yeah, it’s a throw-back based game that might have been for a niche audience when new, but at already 5 years old, playing this might be a throw back in and of itself. I give Barnyard Blast: Swine of the Night for the Nintendo DS 6.5 levels out of 10.