Saturday, April 20, 2013

Level Up: Serious Sam

First person shooters are a touchy subject now a day. Whenever the topic of the stagnation or lack of creativity in the industry comes up, first person shooters (or FPSs) are normally the first to be targeted. I’ve had some people say that they like “modern” games less simply because of this genre’s popularity. However, this wasn’t always the case: the old FPS games (like Doom or Wolfenstein 3D) were regarded as some of the most innovative of their time simply due to how it was pulled off. But things changed with GoldenEye 007 and the explosion of 3D gaming. The game I’m reviewing today is a 2001 release, but inspired more by the earlier games of the genre.  Let’s looks at Serious Sam for the Microsoft xBox.
The releases of Serious Sam honestly confuse me. The version I played on the xBox is known as Serious Sam. However, the original on the PC was released in 2 episodes (“The First Encounter” and “The Second Encounter”). This confused me when I heard about Serious Sam 2, as I wondered if that was “the Second Encounter”. Furthermore, the GameCube and PS2 got “Serious Sam the NEXT Encounter”. Is that just the Second Encounter, Serious Sam 2, a wholely different game or just a port of the original?! Well upon looking it up, it seems to be an original game exclusive to the two consoles that don’t have any other Serious Sam game on it. What genius came up with that? Boy, I didn’t think I’d ever have a hard time figuring out where a game with no numbers or subtitle falls within its release history.
The xBox version wasn’t just notable for packaging the two episodes into one; there were obviously going to be some other changes. One that may have been necessary was cutting the size of the levels (however, I have to say that it doesn’t feel small on its own). Also Serious Sam looks different than in the first encounter, no longer wearing his sun glasses, has a T-shirt instead of a muscle shirt and seems generally redesigned in an ironically less serious manner. This is mostly all done to look less like Duke Nukem, and I feel it fits the tone of the game a lot better (he looks and acts a bit like Rocko from Undergrads now actually). They also added a life system (though I was never low on lives), tweaked the save points, put in auto-aiming and did a few other things to polish up the game a bit.
This is obviously not the deepest game ever made. However, it does have a lot of personality and that goes a long way. Serious Sam is just hilarious every time he gets to talk. Again, much like Rocko from the Undergrads, it’s funny when things don’t quite go as he expected. He’s not an over cool guy like Duke Nukem, but he tries. For many reasons (most of which were laid out in the Jimquizition’s “Too cool for cool” episode), this makes him a much better character. You really want to help this guy succeed, because even though it would seem it would come to him, you know he needs a little effort put into it.
Likewise, the game play isn’t astounding, but it is very likable. You’ll walk around and shoot whatever gets between you and your goal (in this case stopping the alien overlord Mental). However, the aliens are a lot of fun to kill, mostly because they are designed in very creative ways or are at least entertaining to look at. The weapons are fun to use too: you get everything from just a pistol to lazers. It’s satisfying to mow down a whole rush of enemies or take down the big guys with these tools. However, stronger level variety could have helped this even more: though there are some ice, fire or alien invasion levels, too many of the ones I remember are basically a desert or field. The levels themselves are very well designed and laid out though, and hide enough wacky secrets to encourage replay.
What else can be said about Serious Sam after saying that Developers Croteam and publishers Gotham Games made a great affectionate parody of Duke Nukem and other popular FPSs of that time? True, the graphics aren’t amazing, but it could easily be claimed that it was to make Serious Sam look like the game it was emulating. Also, the enemies are still unique and distinguishable amongst each other. The music is always fitting for whatever moment is going on, and the voice work for Sam is hilarious in terms of acting and timing, so the audio gets a big plus from me. The plot isn’t very deep, but sometimes you just want to be entertained; if there’s such a thing as a “popcorn movie”, there’s gotta be the same thing for games (I ate cheezies while playing this, can “cheezies video game” be a thing?). Though it could also use more in terms of cut scenes or level variety, for what we get, I’m seriously satisfied. I give Serious Sam for the xBox 7.5 levels out of 10.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Level Up Confessions: Dig Dug

*Regular Level Up theme starts, five seconds in, static hits and it stops. Video game confessions theme song starts up.*
“This is Stephan. Stephan works at a 5 star restaurant called the Pixel Palace. There, some of video game’s most popular characters come in to have a drink. Sometimes, they share stories, and even secrets. For as we all know, what the bartender hears is confidential. Isn’t it?”
So I’m sitting there tending bar when in walks in someone I see from time to time, Dig Dug. Well, I didn’t really SEE him walk in, fella’s kind of short, but I did hear him come up to the bar. Feet walking, make a distinct sound for some reason. I told him once he should get it looked at, but he just doesn’t really see the problem.
Anyways he sits on a bar stool, orders a mudslide and just sits there. Normally the chap is quite chatty but today he was just looking in his drink. So, I decided to ask him “something on your mind, buddy?” Well he just let out a big sigh and tells me “today I killed again”.
Now, this was a side I hadn’t seen of the guy. I know he kills dragons and… tomatoes with scuba gear or something, but I didn’t know it could get to him. So I lean on the bar and I say “Well lots of video game characters kill, it’s in their programming or something- not to sound racist, but I don’t know how it really works with you guys”
Dig Dug stops me and goes “Oh no, not in my game, I LOVE doing that.” I go “Oh.” He keeps on going “Pumping the dragons full of air until they blow up to bits, guts flying everywhere, nothing left where a monster once stood.” I had never thought of how violent the game could actually get. Can’t think of a worst way to die now.
“No” he says to me “I killed someone who was just at the park”. I stood back straight up and asked him “Well why did you do that?” Dig Dug was deadly silent, his face shifted from sad to serious, looked me straight in the eyes and said “he called me Funnie”.
“Excuse me?” I said, I cocked my head a bit “You killed a guy for calling you funny? Sounds like a complement to me.” He says “No, not funny like a clown, I didn’t amuse him. ‘Funnie’ as a last name. He called ‘Dig Dug Funnie’” I was still confused, “Dig Dug Funnie OOOOHHH!! ” I said “Like Doug Funnie from the show on Nickelodeon” I started doing the theme song, you know *imitates it* but at that point he hopped on the bar and threatened me with his tire pump.
He calms down a bit and then sits down and starts explaining to me. Apparently once the Nickelodeon show came out, anyone with the name “Doug” was mocked because of that show. I said “But your name’s not Doug, it’s Dug, as the past tense to Dig. If anything people should referencing that dog from Up!” “They did” he says “They would randomly look away and go ‘squirrel’, and they asked me to inflate their balloons too.” Cause, you know, he has the tire pump. But apparently they forgot about that Dug and “Doug Funnie” stuck. It was on the air for over 8 years apparently. Can you believe that? I mean, I know it was owned by Nickelodeon, and then Disney, but I thought it was pretty boring. And the characters designs… just bizarre.
Dig Dug goes on “And I WISH people still made jokes about that dog; that dog was interesting, he was a hero. What was Doug Funnie?” I stopped a bit and thought of the best way to describe him. “A loser?”. He shouts “EXACTLY! How would like for people to hear your name and all they can think of is a loser.” At that point I sort of understood.
“But to be so enraged as to kill someone?” I ask him “That’s… that’s a bit of an overreaction. I mean, you said so yourself, people make that joke to you all the time. You need to find a better way of dealing with it. Plus, if people hear why you killed those people, it’ll just spread the word about the joke more and you’ll hear it from everyone”
“That’s ok” he said “After that latest ‘incident’ in the park, I figured out a way to deal with all these emotions. See,” he says leaning in “I invited someone here tonight.” I looked around the bar wondering who could help here. And that’s when I saw him walk in; Doug Funnie himself.
Of course it was a little hard to recognize him at all. I mean Doug just looked TERRIBLE, unshaven, dirty clothes- a real wash-up. I lean to Dig Dug and I ask him “he’s the guy you invited over?” He says “Yeah, but he don’t know it’s me, it was anonymous on his answering machine.” Which makes me think Doug is doing quite badly, because it was “answering machine” instead of “voice mail”. But I don’t know, do people still use answering machines now?
Anyways, Doug is standing around, looking for someone to signal him. Stumbling quite a bit, didn’t seem to know where he was- I think he was “on” something if you know what I mean. Dig Dug and I watched him for a bit before I got curious and asked him “Why did you invite him here anyways”. “Because I knew” he says “I knew he’d be even more of a loser now than he was before. Now, who cares about Doug Funnie? And since his TV series was split between two companies, do you think he’ll see money from that easily? He has almost no legacy.”
He goes on “Me, I gots a legacy. My original game is going to keep getting remade and rereleased over and over again; game collections, Xbox Live Arcade, Virtual Console, whatever. Plus all the other games in my series AND I have a side series, Mr. Driller. My game is a classic, I was even in Wreck-It Ralph; that is some good Disney coin there. Doug, who was owned by Disney, is getting nothing from ‘em”.
I nodded my head and put my arm on his shoul der. He said “I know, no matter what people call me, I am not that loser.” It was a beautiful moment of self-realization. I would like to think he grew past it all at that moment. … Of course, after a few second of silence, he jumped off his stool, a shoved his tire-pump into Doug Funnie’s behind and popped him like a cheap balloon.  He starts yelling “Not so Funnie anymore” and “This is for years of hearing your name!” He kept going on like a crazy person until the bouncers had to drag him out. So much for the moment of self-realization…
At that point my shift was over and I traded off with Dominique. He saw a bit of what had happened and asked what he missed. I explained it to him and… he seemed to understand. I mean, I don’t quite get why someone would be that mad, but Dominique did. Maybe he knows someone who went through something similar, I don’t know.
What I do know is that you see a lot of strange things as a bartender and you see a lot of strange things at the Pixel Palace. So, I see a lot of strange things as a bartender at the Pixel Palace, and that aint no lie.