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.