Sunday, September 29, 2013

Level Up: Viewtiful Joe 2

Once again, Level Up’s anniversary has comes around. With this being the start of our fifth year, I have run out of Earthworm Jim games. I suppose I could talk about ports, but that’s clutching at straws, so I’m gonna start a new anniversary series. At first glance, this series might not look similar to Earthworm Jim, but both series kind of had the same path: a beloved first game, a sequel, an overlooked handheld game and a really different 3rd home console game. They even both had a TV series, which influenced the game series. For these reasons, I’ll be reviewing the Viewtiful Joe series. Since I already talked about the first game, let’s move on to Viewtiful Joe 2 available for the PS2 and Nintendo GameCube (as I have it).
It shouldn’t be surprising that Viewtiful Joe 2 is a direct sequel to the first game, but when I say “direct” I mean there has been no time passed between games. Picking off where the last game ended, we see Joe and his girlfriend Sylvia talking with Captain Blue (Joe’s mentor) about how he has 2 more adventures planned for them. This gets thrown right out the window though, since aliens that were not a part of Blue’s plans kidnap him (though personally, I think this might have been done to excuse the lack of a third part) and announce they’re searching for the Rainbow Maguffins- I mean Oscars. This means Viewtiful Joe and Sexy Silvia must now journey through more of Movieland in order to stop them from claiming the power of the happy ending (yes, that’s what the Rainbow Magoscars do).
Like with the last game, I do like the setting of Movieland and I am glad they keep it there, as these is once again a lot of potential for where Joe and Silvia can adventure to. I’m not sure if it is used as well in this game though, and I feel like Clover Studio may have used their better ideas on the first game. For example, one of the recurring baddies in this game is a T-Rex, but that choice seems obvious in a “what haven’t we done yet” sort of manner. As for the aspect of the alien invasion… well normally I would call it cheesy and group it with the dinosaur, but it works in this game, as it’s played in a tongue and cheek manner, never focusing on a “whoa, they’re ALIENS”. They’re just used as a new baddie.
The game play is a lot like the first game, but I’m not sure if I explained what it’s like as well as I should have in the first review. Back then, I called it a 2D platformer, but in retrospect perhaps “2D beat-em-up” would have been better. A lot of your time will be spent hitting enemies, but they often make it a little more complex than just being able to hit them, since you can dodge their attacks and make better strikes at certain times. Also, I should note that the powers I talked about last time are also useful during fights as well as moving about levels. The combat really is a well done element that I should not have glazed over, as the super powers were made to both compliment it and the platformning segments in equal parts, and that might be what makes them so fantastic in these games.
The major change in Viewtiful Joe 2 is that you can now play as Silvia, and she even has a new super power: instead of Mach Speed, she has the playback ability, which will repeat whatever hit was “recorded” three times. This doesn’t feel as creative or as natural as the Joe’s powers though, as puzzles that require this ability are often labeled with numbers one through three on them. Beyond this, Silvia is a slightly faster but noticeably weaker version of Joe, so chances are you’ll only bust her out when you need to use the replay power for puzzles.
Replaying this game for this review made me remember why I like the Viewtiful Joe series so much and why I would like to finally get a “Viewtiful Joe 3” for some more *Capcom Time*. The game play is a great and creative balance between fighting and platforming, the story allows for almost anything to happen and takes that to its advantage, the cell-shaded graphic style makes for something unique to look at and all around it’s a good game really unlike anything else. However, this game sequel falls into a trap that a lot of movie sequels fall into: when talking about the plot, it’s a bit too similar to the first one. There are some notes that are just repeated and it makes the whole thing less interesting. The addition of Silvia also adds nothing, and while the last game had a great flow between worlds, this one feels so disjointed with it’s sudden movie switches in the search for the Rainbow Oscuffins (which I wasn’t really invested in finding). All around a great game and a decent follow up, but it feels like they either didn’t try as hard as they did with the first game, or they tried too hard. I give Viewtiful Joe 2 for the GameCube 8 Levels out of 10.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Level Up: Rayman Advance vs Rayman Origins

Here’s an episode I’ve been waiting to do for a while, mostly because I’ve been waiting for Rayman Legends to be released. Of course, I wouldn’t have had to wait so long if the game wouldn’t have been delayed! But, now the game is out and I can be happy… if I just had a WiiU now. Initial reviews for Rayman Legends are pretty positive though and I can’t wait to experience it for myself since I loved Rayman Origins. Rayman Origins took everyone by surprise since a series that everyone thought was doomed to party games was suddenly being nominated as one of the games of the year (which is saying a lot for the year Skyrim came out). However, the original game also turned a few heads at the time too: it decided to stick with 2D at a time (and on the console) that seemed to be saying “3D or GTFO”. And unlike other platformers, it took a slow and steady “discovery” approach to the levels rather than the fast pace style that games like Mario and Sonic had been establishing for years. So, why not look at the both side by side? Here’s another Classic vs Comeback: Rayman Origins for the Nintendo Wii vs Rayman Advance for the Game Boy Advance.
Now, I have to start off by back tracking a bit already: yes, I am reviewing Rayman Advance, a PORT of the original game. However, being a port onto a handheld console naturally comes with some changes. Though some of these do affect the game play (such as starting with more lives, longer flickering time and keeping items after death… according to Wikipedia), the most noticeable ones seem to be on the technical level. As with most ports on the GBA, the screen seems to have been zoomed in, Rayman has been made a little bit bigger and the music is of lower quality. Though I don’t think this will affect my opinion on the game, I want to put out my possible biases in case it does (so yeah, feel free to call me out on any). And there are a lot of other versions of this game due to ports changing the content (much like Earthworm Jim), so I will try to make it so my opinions on it can apply to most versions.
And since I just talked about the graphics and music, let’s start out with those. I already mentioned that Rayman was a 2D game at a time where 3D was the new craze, but that doesn’t mean this game looks 2D. Kind of like Donkey Kong Country, Rayman pushes 2D to it limits with smooth character animations and shading that makes him look near 3D. Even with the GBA port, the quality is still more than noticeable (unlike the Donkey Kong Country GBA games). Rayman Origins takes almost the exact opposite approach to this: at a time where 3D HD technology is available, they made Rayman look as flat as possible.  This isn’t a knock against Origins though as it was clearly a stylized choice and it really works. The light hearted cartoon matches the new fast paced game style and allows for expression and emotion when Rayman gets hit or something. Bottom line: a great amount of time and effort was put into both of these game’s looks, and they fit the tone of each game perfectly.
I guess I do need to point out that Rayman’s look has changed a bit in between games beyond just the graphics style. The look of the entire first game was obviously meant for younger kids, and that’s reflective of its very child friendly designs in everything. Rayman himself is kept so simple a kid could have drawn him up: a ball with a head, feet and arms. However, he does have some obvious influences of the mid 90’s: his hair looks like what some of the teen idols were wearing and he has a red bandana. However, the same argument could be made for the new look: his purple hoodie with a red hood and “bed head” style hair is much more now, but I would argue that it’s the more timeless of the two looks (though only time will tell). This might also be because it’s clear they were going for a more teen and young adult’s crowd. My proof of that? Just look at the differences between Betilla’s costumes.
However, the music is where I can say I greatly prefer one over the other. Again, it comes down to the style fitting each game. Rayman Advance has a game play that is focused a lot on handling things as they come, pacing yourself and searching for secrets. Also, since everything in this game is done is a sort of majestic, Wonderland feel, the music reflects all of these things: the music is slow to not wear itself out quickly over time and amplifies the magical element of each odd area you’re in. The music for Rayman Origin fits its style: quick and fun. This music is upbeat, happy and makes you want to rush through some levels. So why is one so much better than the others? Well, the ones in Rayman Advance are very forgettable and too few, so the ones you do remember, it’s because you hear them too often (despite being made not to be annoying). And yet somehow, despite being vague and working for many levels, I can’t see me possibly listening to it in everyday life because it only works WITH the levels. (Also, the music cuts and stops weirdly when you pause the game.) The music from Rayman Origins? Anytime, anywhere, all day, every day… Except for Lums of the Water, that’s the most annoying track ever.
Now, I’ve been talking about the differences between game styles a lot in this review, and it’s time to address it head on. Now, there are some similarities due to certain trademarks that Rayman has. These include a wind up punch and his “helicopter hair” that he can use to glide. Also, both of these games are platformers so there are the general similarities that most games have in the genre: walking, running and jumping, collecting object, finding hidden objects, attacking, etc... However, if the two games didn’t have the same hero, it would be really hard to tell that they are part of the same series.
The original Rayman takes things a little slowly, but not in a bad way at all. Most of the levels are kind of like the first Sonic the Hedgehog: it’s more about figuring out how to get through the level and then doing it. Sure, there are straight up simple areas, but it’s pretty rare that you won’t see a gimmick or trick you’ll have to figure out. Things are still rather linear as far as platforming goes, but you are encouraged to stray off the path and find secrets.
Which gets me to what you’ll really be doing: finding Electoons. There are cages filled with these creatures throughout the game(6 per level) and you’ll have to stray off the usual path to find them. Some are REALLY well hidden though, and the zoomed in GBA screen doesn’t help. I’ve been told by some people that they have found all of them on their own, but I honestly didn’t have the patience to do so after I replayed the first level until I had 99 lives and yet was still missing a couple. (Yeah, I ended up reading a guide.) This wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s necessary to find them all just to unlock the final level. And I don’t mean some secret 100% ending boss, I mean the regular, run of the mill last level.
Rayman Origins has the electoons too, but they are optional just to unlock more bonuses within the game. Not only that, but in most levels you only need to search for maybe 2, as there are always the same few challenges: one for beating the level, 2 for getting a certain amount of “lums” throughout it and one for the time trial challenge. Most of the electoons go towards unlocking character skins, but you also need them to unlock the treasure chase levels: a hard level you need to beat in one try in order to get one of death’s teeth. Getting all 10 of them gives you access to the hardest level of the game:  Land of the Livid Dead. So yeah, you play a bunch of levels, to unlock some levels, in order to play another level… Joking aside, I do like that you are rewarded with more content for playing and searching this game, rather than forced into it.
Most of the game play in Rayman Origins is designed to keep you moving though. Though the layout of the levels has a bit to do with this, it’s mostly because of Rayman’s abilities. For example, you can now attack in several different direction and ways, including while running to not lose momentum. This is important to master, as another ability he has is to run up walls is he is going fast enough. To get up some other walls you may also have to wall jump. You can still use your helicopter hair for jumps too, but you can also swing on ropes where available. All of these skills and more are all designed to keep you constantly moving (which is required for some level). If an obstacle comes your way, an immediate solution should come to your mind on how to get around or through it. It’s aspects like these that made this game play so easily adaptable into the mobile “Rayman Run” game.
This isn’t to say this game is easy though, as some levels require a mastery of all the skills. However, you can make this game a lot easier by playing with friends. Up to 4 people can play this game simultaneously and, though you may sometimes hit each other while attacking, it gives you more chances to find secrets, a higher lum total at the end and if you die, another player can revive you at almost any time. This game is fun on its own, but I still suggest you try out multiplayer at some point.
So that’s Rayman Advance and Rayman Origins. Both are great platformers that are really worth a play through for any fan of the genre, but the reason to play both is because they are very different. Because of this, it’s easy for me to choose a favorite and, I think I made it obvious from the start, it’s Rayman Origins. Nothing against the original, but Origins is just a lot easier to have fun with, even with friends thanks to the multiplayer. That being said, Rayman Advance was a lot more fun than I had remembered: the game play is smooth, it controls well, the levels are well designed with great obstacles, well hidden secrets (perhaps too well) and everything has a lot of creativity put into it. However, having to collect EVERY electoon is a big counter point to it as it can bring your game to a grinding halt. And I feel I can’t over state this, I DID play the GBA version, so the zoomed in screen may have hurt my experience. But even without that, I think Rayman Origins knocks it out of the park. I give Rayman Origins 9.5 and Rayman Advance 8 levels out of 10.