Monday, December 22, 2014

Level Up: Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes

The holidays have always been a time for togetherness, and what says that more than a standard RPG adventuring party? The standard group is an icon of being together, not just out of usefulness, but due to their similarities. As much as it’s always handy to have a rogue to pick locks or a cleric to heal wounds, the backstory and reason they’re all going on this quest is normally about a sense of adventure or duty that they all share with each other. Or… I suppose people could be working selfish angles… or it could be a marriage of convenience… Ok, I really didn’t have anything for this game beyond that I got it as a gift and that fits my criteria. Here’s Dungeon & Dragon Heroes for the Microsoft xBox.
I’m not a D&D fan myself, but I’ll be honest when I say that I never quite understood how things like a movie could be based ON D&D. I get that certain creatures, spells or other details like that could be referenced, but it seems weird to base a structured narrative on a game about creating your own story.
Not to say you don’t know what to expect with the D&D name: it’s going to be something medieval themed, potentially involving sorcery, powerful artifacts, the end of the world and a fight of good against evil. And if you assumed all that you’re right. The story starts with the legend of the evil wizard Kaedin, who sought amazing power with 5 magic gems, each powered by an element. After destroying many towns, 4 brave heroes were called in to stop Kaedin. They stop and kill him, but with his final breath, he kills them right back (which… I don’t know why he wouldn’t do that sooner). 150 years later, a group of evil clerics believe that they can channel Kaedin’s powers for their own use. That backfires, and it brings Kaedin back from the dead. Knowing the best way to stop him is with the same heroes who stopped him last time, the 4 legendary heroes are also revived to fight the evil wizard.
The intro about needing a party and coming together is not completely a joke. My personal experience with this game is that I actually had to start it twice. The first time I decided to play it, I got passed the first boss. However, my rogue character could not get passed the onslaught of enemies that were right after. The boss fight also used up a good portion of my potions, so even going back was not an option. I was stuck. The second time, I played the game with a friend. Granted, I decided on a different class too, but it changed the game so much that I don’t believe that it would make a difference. This is all to say that I don’t think the developer and publisher Atari envisioned this as a one player game, much like how D&D is a better experience at least a second person in the party.
And obviously this game is very much D&D based, but like I said before, I don’t get how things can be based on D&D all that much. Yes, some of the game mechanics do mimic some of the aspects of D&D, such as the skill tree that you get to allocate points to (with the classes having different skills), the different stats, equipment and inventory management, optional quests, etc… The issue is that all that stuff is now very common in games. It doesn’t matter if video games originally took it from D&D, in the video game medium it just doesn’t stand out. As a matter of fact things that are missing from D&D could have added to making this game stand out at the time, such as being able to select your race, more classes or having luck decide some of your stats. It’s still a well done hack and slash style RPG, as I cared about certain aspects of my inventory (since it felt like it made a difference). There’s just that little spark missing to it.
The biggest fall of Dungeons and Dragons Heroes is that, because so many RPGs have evolved from the base of D&D, it sadly makes it seem generic. Considering that over the years so much has been added to the RPG formula, they were sort of painted into a corner. Along with the fact that I don’t find this game being much fun one player, there a lot of the games in the hack and slash RPG genre that are easier to recommend. That being said, saying that a game is generic or hard doesn’t mean that it’s BAD. It still works fine and it’s easy to really get into with a group of fellow adventuring friends. The only other problem is that the last boss was so disappointingly easy, but if you’ve gotten all the way to the end of a D&D style RPG game, it has to have been holding your attention to that point. I give Dungeons and Dragons Heroes for the xBox 7 levels out of 10.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Level Up: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Last episode, I talked about Mega Man being a popular request for Super Smash Bros. But while people were clamoring for Mega Man since Snake was announced, people wanted to see Sonic the Hedgehog fight Mario pretty much since the first game (I recall seeing fake screen shots of him in Melee before its release). The rivalry between Mario and Sonic is incredibly iconic for anyone who remembers the Sega and Nintendo console wars of the 90’s. While I sided with Nintendo, I did enjoy playing some Sonic on Genesis when possible. And the game that first struck a chord with me would have been Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Let’s take a look at that one, shall we?
After the events of the first game, the villain, Dr. Robotnik (who would later become known as Eggman), picked himself up after his defeat. However, he doesn’t try the same thing; rather he comes back with the Death Egg: a Star Wars lawsuit waiting to happen that could kill everything in its path if Dr. Robotnik could power it. However, he would need the mystical Chaos Emeralds to power it. This is where Sonic comes in, as he is determined to take down Robotnik and his Death Egg before he is able to find them. Robotnik isn’t the only one who developed in between games though, as Sonic is getting a little help from his new friend “Tails”.
The story is actually a lot better than what you’d expect. Unlike games such as Mario which are content keeping their characters still between games, Sonic and Dr. Robotnik did stuff. It’s not like they took a life changing trip to Tibet or anything, but it’s enough to see they aren’t just 2 dimensional characters living a cycle: Dr. Robotnik tries a new tactic. Though the story doesn’t really come through much in the game play, the levels where you see the Death Egg or hop aboard it, you get that sense that it’s an urgent threat. This is the game where Dr. Robotnik goes from just a goal to beat to a character.
While the addition of Tails might not seem like much plot wise, it would greatly affect pretty much every game to come. For those of you who don’t know, Tails’ nick name comes from the fact that he has 2 Tails, and he can use these to fly by rotating them like helicopter blades. It seems pointless at first you play as Sonic, but this game actually has a simultaneous 2 player option. Someone can take the player 2 controller and control Sonic’s pal. While he might not be as fast as the Hedgehog, he can keep up, and he becomes very useful by killing baddies and accessing new areas. This is, however, a second player in a one player mode, so the screen still only follows Sonic, meaning there will be times where player 2 might be completely lost off screen. It’s still cool that there’s a 2 player simultaneous story mode option (something Mario wouldn’t do until relatively recently)
As for the gameplay itself, I’d say this is really where Sonic started to become Sonic. I’ll get into the first Sonic the Hedgehog game someday and why it’s still a good game, but while that one could be considered a little generic in some ways, there’s no doubt with the tight level design and fast moving sections that this is a Sonic game. The levels even seem to have a lot more personality added to them, with some of them since becoming icons of the series such as Chemical Plant Zone, Death Egg Zone and the first appearance of the Casino Night Zone. The levels are well laid out and the game play is tight, but fast. What else can I say?
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a great game and really could have started making Genesis fans out of Nintendo fans boys. It’s well designed, handles great and even did right by the characters. As a Sonic game, I’d actually recommend THIS as a starting point for anyone who wants to get into the series, as the game play changes less from this game onwards and due to the levels (both in theme and layout) simply feeling more like a Sonic game. …However, this is not the definitive Sonic game I talked about in my Sonic Adventure review. Yeah, it’s unfortunate, but there are just a couple of things another game did better that’ll talk about later on. Beyond that, a lot of people have complained about the special stages (with Tails being more of a bane than a boon there) and it being rather difficult in the later levels (and with no save feature in the original, that might be an issue for some). But let’s not end on a negative note. Like I said, it was enough to make me want to play some Genesis when I got the chance and made Sonic from an attempted mascot, to a gaming icon. I give Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Genesis 9.5 levels out 10.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Level Up: Mega Man

So November is now here, and like any Nintendo fan, I’m excited for Super Smash Bros. on WiiU. Sure, I’m still enjoying the 3DS version, but Smash Bros. just works so much better on home consoles (plus the 50 facts video did get my hyped). But whether it’s on WiiU or 3DS, there’s a new character to Smash that people have been requesting for a while: Mega Man. And why not? He’s just as recognizable as most of the cast and probably more so than the first 3rd party character introduced: Snake. Plus, he got his start on a Nintendo console, which is what we’ll be looking at today. Here’s Mega Man, originally for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but I’ll be playing it on the Mega Man Anniversary Collection.
To get this out of the way, the biggest down point to the first Mega Man is that it’s missing a lot of things that later becomes standard in the series: no Rush, no password, no charge shot and a bunch of other things. As a matter of fact, this game only has 6 Robot Masters, 2 less than the other games.
That being said, since this is the first game, it has established more than any other single game from the series. Things like the run and gun platform game style, the Rock-Paper-Scissors motif, the ability to select any stage, the Wily level after beating the others, etc… Really, all of the other standard things add to it, but putting this game into perspective, you don’t feel like you’re missing out at all.
This even applies to the Robot Masters, as despite there only being 6, they are overall the most recognizable group. This might have to do with the fact that they were first, but Gutsman alone was brought back at least 2 more times, Cutman is always a favorite and Elecman is an assist trophy in the new Smash Bros, that’s already half of them. They’re all well designed for both powers and look, and just that right level of challenge (expect for Iceman, he’s a pushover).
It should go without saying that this game did establish the basic look for Mega Man, along with how robots look in this world, Dr. Wily and a few other aspects. That being said, remember how I said in another Mega Man review that some of the graphics looked like they were too soft, or full of air? Well this game seems to be on the other side of that spectrum: some things seem too small or scrawny. Perhaps I’m spoiled by future games with half screen wide sub-bosses and other bigger enemies to that identify themselves as being tougher. I also got to mention some of the coloring: yeeesh. I don’t know what you’d call the color of Cutman’s stage, but “nauseating blue-green” comes to mind. But these are just nit picks for the graphics. As a matter of fact, I have no nit-picks I can think of for the sound: it’s all well placed, good and the sound effects have become iconic.
I guess at this point you’re wondering what the plot of Mega Man is. I mean, the series is so big that the first game has to have started an amazing plot, right? Well the story actually goes that that Dr. Light and his assistant had created a total of 7 humanoid robots together, all to serve different functions in society. However, Dr. Lights’ assistant, the now infamous Dr. Wily, grew disloyal and reprogrammed 6 robots to help him, you guessed it, take over the world *OF COURSE*. The 7th Robot, originally called Rock Man, but localized as Mega Man, was sent in to take care of the situation. That’s right, Dr. Wily and the Robot Masters started about working for Dr. Light. A twist for anyone who thought the Robot Masters were always evil, but other than that the game is a simple “Villain trying to take over the world” story.
The original Mega Man did exactly what it needed to do: be a great game and set up the ground work for a series. It’s always been fun to play, with the platform gunning style, and the weapon copy and Rock-Paper-Scissors Robot Masters makes it easy to see why this would catch on and why a another game would soon follow. However, playing it now a days, it feels quite lacking. It might be unfair to the first game, but I can’t help but wish I had a couple more Robot Masters, the ability to continue via password or a charge shot. It’s just so ingrained into how we play Mega Man now. That being said, don’t think I’m holding anything against this game, because I am NOT. This is one of those must play games of the NES and one of those series starters that still holds up today. I give Mega Man originally for the NES 9 levels out of 10.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Level Up: Evil Dead & Army of Darkness Defense

So it’s Halloween again. Alright, so I guess I should review another Evil Dead game… The only console one I have left though is Hail to the King, and I haven’t played much of that one yet. Should I review it anyways, or should I wait… oh right, there are the mobile games which I have played through! Sweet, get to procrastinate another year. Let’s start off with the appropriately named Evil Dead.
Unlike the other games, Evil Dead is actually a retelling of the first movie, at least to start. It’s pretty much now become a classic story, the “cabin in the woods.” A bunch of University students go up to a cabin for their spring break to party. However, after the students play a recorded reading from the Necronomicon, strange things start happening; demonic possession mostly. And while the game tells that story fully, it then goes beyond with a second “chapter” about the cult that made me the book. It’s not really something I really wanted to know about the Necronomicon, but it does make sense on how to continue the story using only the first movie.
The game is a pretty basic action game. You play as a big headed version of Ash, typically armed with an ax, but you sometimes get a gun. You’ll have to save yourself and your friends from attacking plants and Deadites. But while I know this might be a bit too obvious to say about a mobile game, the best way to describe this experience is “cheap”. There obviously wasn’t a whole lot of effort made into making this feel like a fun, smooth experience; hit detection can feel off and getting into fights fells cheap no matter whom is winning. Adventuring is also shallow, as the levels aren’t very big and don’t have a whole lot of variety. There are some paths you can take that are optional, which might lead to a hidden health pack or gun, so it doesn’t completely miss its mark. It just feels small and restrained.
Moving from a mobile game based on the first movie, we now have a mobile game based on the 3rd movie. Here’s Army of Darkness Defense.
Yeah, the name probably gives it away: this is a defense game, where you will have to gather resources to be able to prevent a certain amount of enemies from getting to what you are defending (in this case, the Necronomicon). However, you’re not just some random army leader that doesn’t get his hands dirty: you actually play as Ash in this game too. Beyond being able to summon peasants to fight for you, Ash can rush in and use his boom stick or chainsaw to kick some Deadite butt, or use 1 of 2 powers you can select before going in. This comes at the cost of a second loose condition though: not only do you have to keep the Deadite army from reaching the book, but you also need to keep Ash alive. Luckily Ash heals over time.
Again, this is a defense game, so you’ll be given resources to build an army. As time goes on, the blacksmith automatically produces metal for you to recruit army members, and you can pick some from defeated enemies. You can also collect coins from fallen Deadites that are to be used to upgrade your army members and abilities between rounds. All simple enough stuff, with the only really negative thing about it being that there’s only one direction enemies can come from, making the game pretty simple with no strategy really required.
The two mobile Evil Dead games are not the best representations of the series, nor the most enveloping games based on it. However, it is nice to see the other 2 movies in the series get their video games, as most of the time all the focus falls on the on the second movie. Both of these games are pretty short, simple and make great use of movie clips. However, while Evil Dead is a game that’s kind of expansive, it makes itself feel small, while Army of Darkness Defense, which has the smaller map, feels like a bigger experience. Plus Army of Darkness Defense is free, while Evil Dead costs a dollar, though it does have a free demo. I say maybe play the demo for Evil Dead first, but you probably won’t get it unless you’re an Evil Dead fan. Army of Darkness Defense though, is a pretty all around good mobile game. I give Evil Dead 5 and Army of Darkness Defense 6.5 levels out of 10.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Level Up: New Ghostbusters 2

2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the GhostBusters, a series so great that I talked about it one of my first episodes. But while the first movie is pretty universally liked, the second one has its haters. What do I think? Well, for a while I actually enjoyed it more than the first, and while- *BOO!* HEY! HEY! OK, I DON’T ANYMORE! *Booing stops* Yeah, eventually I got around to seeing how much of a weaker movie it is compared to the original, but it’s still Ghostbusters. It also has a game based on it that’s actually pretty fun. Here’s The New Ghostbusters 2 for the Nintendo Entertainment system… kind of.
So let me get this out of the way: this game wasn’t released in North America. However, it was released in the PAL region and Japan. If you live in those regions or have a top loader system, I believe that means you can play this. If you’re like me, it means you need to emulate it to get the chance. *Producer speech* I know, I was getting to that: Level Up and all people affiliated with it do not encourage the ROMing, Emulating, Burning or modding of any games or systems, or any illegal distribution of video games. At first I thought it might be bad to talk about the NES version, as there is also a Game Boy version released, and the Game Boy is not region locked. However, upon looking it up, the two games seem like very different experiences. Now onto the game itself.
To start the game, you pick 2 of 5 Ghostbusters (yes 5, Louis Tully gets a shot of the action here)! One uses the proton pack, while the other works the trap. Simply press  and hold A to stun and hold a ghost with your proton stream and then press B to capture it.
Seem a bit easy? Well there are a few catches. First off, you get killed with a single hit. While one ghost might not give you any problems, having multiple around you might cause some difficulties considering you catch them one at a time. However, one of the really cool things in this game is that you can move while holding a ghost. Of course, you don’t want to keep it held for too long without capturing it, as after a few seconds, your proton stream will shut off.
I can’t say much more as the game is pretty simple. It’s so smooth, since it has that free roaming “StarTropics 2” feel (despite not being able to move diagonally) and the proton beam will move slightly if needed. It’s just one of those games that doesn’t do much, but everything is balanced so well.
The graphics in this game are… well, HAL. Yeah, you know how a couple of episodes ago I said that Capcom had their own way of making sprites look good? Well, HAL Labs (developers and publishers) also had their own style. For them its very round and cute looking (think Adventures of Lolo, Earthbound or even human in Blaster Master). This game has that same cute style to it. Does it work for the game? Well yeah, kind of. Considering the simple game play, it’s hard to say that a simple look wouldn’t be suited. On the other hand, when the game does get difficult, it’s hard to take it seriously and be aware. It’s also hard for things to get scary, and issue considering it’s, you know, GHOSTBUSTERS.
Now it’s time to talk about the sounds… Which always hard when talking about the Ghostbusters, cause the theme song will outshine everything. Though the level music does do a good job at paying homage to it. It does hit a few of the same notes, but generally it’s good, wacky, but restrained music. The sound effects aren’t great though: lots of high pitched sounds from the ghosts and your proton beam. It can get grating since there are so many ghosts to catch and you can go quickly once you get a hang of things.
The New Ghostbusters 2 is one of those games I feel didn’t need to be Ghostbusters, but I do admit that I wouldn’t have played it if it wasn’t. It’s a simple game that does everything so well that it’s easy to get addicted to. Granted, there isn’t much to the game so you can pretty much breeze through the it in about an hour. Most enemies don’t pose much of a threat either, with the second to last boss being the only point where I found there was a real difficulty spike. But that’s just nit-picks, as the overall experience is very well crafted. I give The New Ghostbusters 2 for the NES 8.5 levels out of 10.