Sunday, June 30, 2013

Level Up: X-men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse

Once again I am here to celebrate Canada Day with an X-men game. Last year I talked about X-men Legends, so it only makes sense that this year I review it’s sequel. However, before I start on that, I want to comment on something I said in the first year of Level Up. Since this is a game again published by Activision, I want to talk about how Activision was my favorite gaming company. There WAS a time where I thought they were doing great (for most of the 6th generation in fact). However, there was a noticable change during the last generation. They used to release a variety of games, but it started slowing down and X-men Destiny seemed to killed it. I’m not exaggerating when I say I can’t remember the last e-mail sent that wasn’t about a shooter or Skylanders game. They did just release the Deadpool game and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game is set to come out, but it seems like big exceptions to their normal “shooters n guns” releases, rather than the mixed bag I think it used to be. Regardless, here’s one of their games that was part of a great series they published (with developers Raven Software and SuperVillain Studios): X-men Legends 2 - Rise of Apocalypse, available for the PS2, GameCube and PC, but I’ll be playing it on the Microsoft xBox.

The gameplay is quite similar to the last game. For those of you that need a refresher or haven’t listened to that one, here’s a recap. The game is basically an action-RPG where you use parties of four people and fight brawler style with each player able to actively control one person. You have your basic light and heavy attacks, and you can use mutant powers by pressing the R button and pressing one of the main buttons (this uses energy though). You gain experience with each person you fight and, once you level up, you can allocate points to make your character stronger. You can also equip items to them to help their stats and you cary a number of health and energy potions you can use at any time. You also collect money, which can be used to buy equipment or potion, as well as revive fallen x-men (otherwise, they stay down, but still gain experience). Caught up? Good, because there isn’t that much changed between games. Most of the mechanics have been balanced out though, and there are more mutants and abilities allowing for more variation.

In the last game, the X-men had faced off against Magneto, and though he’s their main villain, another game where he basically just went “I’m trying to destroy the world again” would have been kind of lame. This time, the main villain is Apocalypse, who decided that the “Age of Apocalypse” is at hand and starts kidnapping mutants for unknown reasons. However this time you don’t just get to play as the X-men, but also as members of the brotherhood, as they are trying to save their members and stop Apocalypse from enslaving all of mutant kind too.

This is played out rather well. The game starts out partially in medias res, so it immediately intrigues you to see Magneto and Wolverine working to free Professor X, and you’ll want to figure out what is going on. That being said, the ending is not all that satisfying, as it basically boils down to a fight, and then “back to the status quo!”

X-men Legends 2 is, in a way, a very typical sequel video game. It pretty much uses the same game play mechanics, the same characters, a continuation of the story, etc... but offers more of it. In a way, I can’t praise it much, because it only really did what was expected from it and didn’t take many risks. On the other hand, it IS still better than the last game, and the story shows significant improvement with the new direction they decided to take. The graphics aren’t noticeably better though (still fine... from a distance) and the voice acting has it’s ups and downs (though Josh Keaton playing  Cyclops is  BIG up!). Basically, what I’m getting at is, if you liked the last game, you’ll like this one too, but if weren’t a fan of it, this one won’t win you over either. I give X-men Legends 2 for the xBox 8.5 levels out of 10.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Level Up: Lilo & Stitch

Ok, I just got to admit this right away: I love Lilo & Stitch. This is one of those Disney movies that manage to avoid most of its tropes and yet still be great: it’s not fantasy based, there’s no princess, there’s no big musical number, etc… Really the story becomes about two of the oddest best friends who find each other. As someone who was often the “weird” one in school growing up in school with an unconventional family, I can also sympathize with what Lilo is feeling at the start of the movie. Beyond that, we’re dealing with space aliens for a good amount of the run time, which is cool and makes for some damn fine action scenes. It’s really the kind of movie that I think has a little something for everyone and I still enjoy watching it every time.  If you haven’t seen it already, please check it out. So yeah… Um… what was my point again? … RIGHT! Lilo & Stitch for the Game Boy Advance.
The game takes place sometime after the movie. Lilo and Stitch are playing one day when suddenly aliens come and kidnap Lilo *for no particular reason*. Stitch then grabs 4 guns out of apparently nowhere and faces off against what I call the “Space otters”. Ok, I joke about it, but I really like alien designs in this game, as it looks like something we might have seen in the movie.
The first level has you playing as Stitch to shoot aliens. At this point, you might think that the whole game is going to be something like Contra. Surprisingly, in the next level, you play as Lilo, which plays out more like a puzzle adventure. She can’t fight enemies so you’ll have to tactically avoid them and instead focus on triggering the correct sequence of events to go on. You’d think this would be a harsh change, but these two styles complement each other. First off, Lilo still controls much the same way as Stitch, so it doesn’t feel like two different games. Furthermore, it shows how different Lilo and Stitch are, which was kind of a theme from the movie, but they still manage to find a solution and be together.
However, it wouldn’t surprise me if you never get to see Lilo’s stages during a play test. The game starts out difficult, especially for something seen as a children’s cartoon. The game doesn’t really seem to get harder once you get used to it though, and the number of levels is pathetically small. You’ll probably have trouble simply getting started with this game and then you’ll breeze right through it (however to me, that was just motivation to play it again right away).
Graphically speaking, this game is gorgeous! You’d half expect flat looking characters with really thick outlines, but the colors are all well-chosen, the details perfectly handled and they’re all fantastically drawn, though perhaps a bit small. The animations are really smooth, but they don’t take up more time than is needed, so it doesn’t hinder the game play. As a matter of fact, the only animations I would have a problem with are the movie clips used, as the downgrade is really noticeable and distracting. The cut scenes between the levels aren’t good either, as they’re just still images with text. It’s not terrible, I know a lot of games do this, but for the effort put into getting movie clips in the game, there could have been some put into the cut scenes (though they are still gorgeous).
The sounds in this game though aren’t good. Again, the quality from the movie rips is noticeably lowered, seeming to clip when I listened to it. The sound effects are passable for the most time, but poorly chosen quite often; a lot of hard click or pop when the sound should be something smoother. But the real fail is the music. You’d expect either something that gets you pumped and ready for action, or something really up-beat and ready to have fun. However, the main track of the game (for example) seems to be a Hawaiian inspired number (which is appropriate) but it’s really more relaxing that anything else, which NOT what this game is (with its difficulty). This continues for most of the game.
Lilo and Stitch is a game that really surprised me, as I did not expect it to be this good. Of course, I bought it thinking that it would be passable, but when you deal with licensed movie games you tend to set your expectations low. When I managed to really get started with the game, I found myself praising Digital Eclipse and Disney Interactive for putting a bit of creativity in the game play and not just making a run and gun shooter. That’s not to say I can overlook the game’s glaring flaws though: it is difficult considering the target audience, the music is very ill-fitting, you could change Lilo and Stitch to original characters and NOTHING is affected and the game is way too short. This prevents me from giving the game a great score like I wanted, but with its fun game play mix, smooth controls and beautiful graphics, I still highly recommend it. I give Lilo and Stitch for the Game Boy Advance 7 levels out of 10.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Level Up: Roller Coaster Tycoon

Out of all the game genres, Sim games are the ones that divide my opinion the most. Some people avoid them with the reasoning of “Why would I play a game about real life?” Which I agree with, because even when you’re not doing something you do in your daily life, still you’re worried about the same kind of things: making sure you have money, keeping things clean, doing regular upkeep, etc. And yet, anyone who’s played them before will often admit they’re so addictive they’ve probably lost a full day in one gaming session. As a matter of fact, the back of today’s game is advertised as “Addictive! You won’t want to stop!” Let’s put that to the test with Roller Coaster Tycoon for the PC.
The designer Chris Sawyer took a great angle to the Sim genre: you take charge of something realistic, but yet very fun. Now, Spore is a cool concept, but it doesn’t really seem like a Sim game so much as a creature creator adventure. And the Sims has that problem I said in the start: it’s much like real life. Not to say that either of these games are bad, but if you set out to find a “fun Sim game”, Roller Coaster Tycoon does a good job at being both. Sim City, who came before it, also comes close, and it’s obviously the inspiration for Roller Coster Tycoon, but what sounds more fun? Worrying about roads and energy sources, or making roller coasters and watching people ride them?
So yeah, in Roller Coaster Tycoon you play the role of the owner of an Amusement Park. Depending on which campaign you picked, you’ll start with different conditions. You may want to start out with nothing at all, or you may want to turn something small but already started into a huge, national success. There are also “goals” in the game, but I don’t know anyone who actually played the game for them: you could go on and start building a whole new empire after accomplishing one, but most people I know grow attached to their parks and just keep building onto it.
As the owner, you get to pick what rides and attractions are placed in your park, and it is a very good feeling to place a new attraction and watch the little Sim people go for it right away. One of the main attractions Roller Coaster Tycoon offers for some rides is the ability to make custom tracks. So, if you’ve had an idea for a Roller Coaster you’ve been itching to see come to life, this is the game for you.
Of course, it’s not just as simple as “pick an attraction and watch people have fun”. Being in charge of everything comes with the responsibility of… being in charge of everything. You need to pick where to place the attraction, how much to charge to get on and how long the cue should be: all important to the success or failure of the ride. Beyond the rides you also need to make sure there are footpaths leading everywhere, decide what the entry fee should be, maybe do some advertising, take care of any landscaping that needs to be done, purchase land if you want to expand, make sure there are garbage cans for trash and hundreds of other little jobs you can probably think of. Oh, except for the cleaning, ride maintenance, security and entertainment: you hire people to do these things for you. However, since you’re also in charge of hiring, you do still play a role. While doing all this, you’ll have to watch your money and make sure people are actually enjoying themselves. Suddenly, this game doesn’t seem so carefree.
I consider Roller Coaster Tycoon a success of a Sim game for one big reason: I put off writing stuff about this game for several HOURS because I didn’t want to stop playing the game. Even with games I love like Mario & Luigi SuperStar Saga, I’m at least able to bring myself to save, write a bit and continue later. Roller Coaster Tycoon wouldn’t let me do that as I just had to keep playing and see what happened if I changed a price by a dollar. Next thing I knew it was midnight aaaannndd… I lost that save file… I’m playing this game on a newer Windows OS, so if you have the original game disk, you need to change the compatibility options to run as Windows 98 and disable the visual themes (this is done on the properties of the execution file). Alternatively, you can now download a deluxe edition (that includes the two expansions) on, and there is a smart phone port expected to come out this year. Though the graphics and sounds are nothing to rave about, they still more than get the job done.  The interface works fine which feeds your addiction even more, though it can open a lot of windows. True, sometimes you’ll just be waiting for money or to get a new ride, and it might seem more fun to be doing something instead of managing something. But if you’re into Sim games at all, you’ll never want to get off this ride. I give Roller Coaster Tycoon for the PC 9 levels out of 10.