Saturday, January 26, 2013

Level Up: Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine

This intro is going to be a little different. See, the reason I’m reviewing today’s game is because roughly 3 years ago, my dad passed away. Now, I think it goes without saying, many of us wouldn’t be gamers if not for our parents, and that’s the case with me, my dad is the one who got me my SNES with Donkey Kong Country (and like I said in that review, it’s what started my collection). Of course, he would also play some games with me when he saw I had something that interested him: he wasn’t a gamer by any means, but he would be up for Diddy Kong Racing or Wii Sports. But today’s game is the one I remember playing with him the most, and we would have tournaments that would last for hours or continue for weeks. He was always into Tetris and Dr. Mario style puzzle games, so this game was really right up his alley. Today’s review is Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine originally for the Sega Genesis.
Before talking about Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, I first have to talk about another series: Puyo Puyo. Kind of like Pokemon Puzzle League in relation to Panel De Pon, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is a re-skin of an already existing puzzle series to help it break into North America. As a matter of fact, this isn’t the only version of this game to come out around that time, as the Super Nintendo would get Kirby’s Avalanche. Eventually, the series would be released on its own in North America under the name “Puyo Pop”. Oddly enough though, the development rights to Puyo Puyo now belongs to Sonic Team, since Compile, the game’s creators, went bankrupt. However, this is because they helped first release the game into arcades, and not because of this game, which ties the two series together.
Another thing that makes this game interestingly tied to other sources is the fact that this is the only game that directly references the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog TV cartoon. It has many of the familiar characters like Coconuts, Grounder or Scratch and he other adversary robots used in the game also have the feel of the show. There’s even a plot- yes, a plot for a Tetris style puzzle game- that resembles the show (which is to say, it’s just silly). Dr. Robotnik kidnapped the “jolly citizens of Beanville” and put them in his Mean Bean Streaming Machine to make them into his robot slaves. But the lamest part is there is no mention of Sonic what so ever. In Kirby’s Avalanche, we clearly saw that you were playing as Kirby, so we are pretty much left to assume that you are playing as yourself in this game. It saddens me that this is the closest thing to a “Dr. Eggman game” that we have so far.
The Puyo Puyo game play works a bit like Dr. Mario, in which that you are given 2 blocks of random colors at a time and matching 4 of the same color together will make the blocks disappear. However, there are a few key differences. First off, there isn’t anything to clear, this just a competition game, so whoever can keep matching blocks the longest and not pile them to the top wins. There are also more colors, but those differences are really small potatoes; here’s where the game really becomes unique. First off, the blocks (which are called “beans” in this game or “slimes” in regular Puyo Puyo) aren’t stuck together as two, so if there is nothing under a bean when you place a couple, it will fall down. Secondly, you don’t need to make a straight line; as long as a bean is touching another of its color either horizontally or vertically, it will connect to it, and once 4 connect in any way, they will vanish.  Of course, this connection isn’t strong enough to keep the bean from succumbing to gravity, so if whatever is below a bean disappears, the bean will still fall. The rest is pretty much the usual; you can rotate the pieces to place them however you want, try to create combos to send garbage to the other ride, links of beans that touch garbage will take away the garbage and if your beans reach the top of the screen, you lose. I really think that this might make it easier to learn than Dr. Mario, but might be harder to master in terms of making combos.
My position on Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is a little complicated. I mean, obviously I love the game play, as it’s addictive, yet requires a fair bit of forward thinking to exploit it fully. However, there’s not a whole lot done with it in this game, just the competition and survival modes (I’m sure future Puyo Puyo games would do a lot more). I also don’t like how it labels itself as the only Robotnik/Eggman game there currently is and that it’s his crappy TV show counterpart that gets the spot light. However, I do understand that it got more people to play this game, and finding it on collections such as the Sonic Mega Collection (like I played it) or Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection and the ports on the Game Gear, Sega Master System or Virtual Console makes it so it still might be some people’s first exposure to the game. Not really a Sonic game, not the best version of the game, but still a lot of fun and it succeeded at what it wanted to do. I give Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine for the Sega Genesis 8.5 levels out of 10.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Level Up: Guitar Hero World Tour

Man, that was one hell of a new year’s eve party, only getting over it now. A couple of years ago I celebrated this occasion by talking to you about DJ Hero, a spin-off series from- Oh haha, spin off, that’s a joke-… Where was I? Oh right, Guitar Hero. That series really created a boom in music rhythm games; I’m sure they existed before, but now you could easily pretend to be your favorite rock star in your own home with a real fake guitar. For a while though, the name explained the big, obvious hole in the series: what if you fantasized about being the next Mick Jagger instead of Keith Richards? Well the fourth game fixed that by letting full band join in. Let’s see how that turned out with Guitar Hero: World Tour available for a bunch of consoles I don’t feel like listing off, including the Wii as I have it.
I now realize that I haven’t yet talked about the Guitar Hero series directly, only mentioning it in other rhythm game reviews. Like most of them, Guitar Hero will have you quote-unquote “playing” a song by hitting certain buttons at certain times to play “notes”. Continuously hitting correct notes will increase your score and make the Rock Meter go up, while missing them or hitting incorre6ct ones will make it go down and eventually fail the song. If you find yourself in danger of failing, you can activate Star Power (provided you’ve collected enough Star shaped notes earlier).
That’s the basic Guitar Hero format, so what’s new? I already mentioned the new instruments: they work basically in the same way, hit the right note at the right time to get a higher score. There are also some game play changes due to the fact that they wanted to concentrate more on allowing a bunch of people of multiple skills levels to join in. This includes shared Star Power (which I don’t like), a beginner mode, and the ability to change your difficulty at any point in the career mode (a great change).
Another new feature in this game is the song creator, where you can make your own music and send it out for other people to hear. Some of the ones I’ve downloaded are really good. Since I have the Wii version, there are a lot of great remakes of Nintendo songs (I don’t know if there are as many on other versions of this game). There are also a lot of covers of other famous songs, and a few original (which I doubt get as many downloads). However, this mode does have its limits, most noticeably that you can’t do anything with a microphone. I also find this mode to be a distraction at best (I seriously forgot about it until I wrote this review) and the controls for creating music a little user unfriendly. Not something I consider and attraction for the game personally, but some may have a lot of fun with it.
However, the final big addition is the custom character creator, and it’s the one that caused me the most problem, and I’ll try my best to explain why. See, for this version of Guitar Hero, the makers decided to give you the option of putting “yourself” in the game by creating an avatar. My problem is that in Guitar Hero 3, we got a story, and a very fun one at that, which they were able to make due to showing the rest of the band. However, since you can be the “rest of the band”, it’s also fully customable. So, they can’t be shown in any cut scenes (there are ones at the beginning and at the end of career, but it hardly counts as a “story”). You can play as the old characters too (and a few celebrities) but the game doesn’t seem to care for them and just makes the main focus your blank slate. And that’s where my main problem is: there is no “personality” to this game. There are a few other aspects to it, but basically it becomes “play the songs and move on”. It’s just so disappointing when the previous game (the one that got me into the whole music rhythm genre) did it so well.
Personally, I think Guitar Hero: World Tour was a misstep at a horrible time for the series. At the inevitable turning point, Activision published something that failed to really charm anyone. It also didn’t help that there were numerous issues with the instruments that came with it and a lot of compatibility problems with other instruments that made you rely on them. However, Guitar Hero: World Tour isn’t a  bad game, as it does build on the game play mechanics that came before it and provides more songs for people to rock out to (though personally, I’m not wowed by the selection). It also had all of the original recordings for the songs used, which they managed to do before Rock Band.  This isn’t a bad game, but by far failed to live up to what was required from it. I give Guitar Hero: World Tour for the Nintendo Wii 7 levels out of 10.