Sunday, February 22, 2015

Level Up: Xexyz

There’s sometime a lot of talk about people buying games just based on graphics, cover art or a licence. However, I have bought a game based on nothing more than the name. Try to pronounce this: X – E – X - Y – Z. According to Wikipedia it is either pronounced “zeks-zees” or “zeks-iz” (I go with the second one). If you’re like me, you just gotta find out what type of game lies behind the name. Let’s find out in this review of Xexyz for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
This review was chosen for Valentine’s Day so there is a damsel in distress. However it feels very tacked on and unnecessary here. I mention this now, because it doesn’t come up in the following summary.
So by the title Xexyz, have any of you guessed that this was a sci-fi game? Taking place in the year 2777, the earth has been changed to the point where only five islands exist. Together, they form the nation of… Xexyz (yay for title explanation)! Not only is Xexyz home to humans, but it also fairies and other spirits, all under the rule of a king. One day Xexyz is attacked by an alien named Goruza (who I assume is related to Garuda from Shadow of the Ninja). Goruza sets up a mechanical fortress on each of the 5 islands, kidnaps each of the island’s queen, kills the king of Xexyz and kidnaps the king’s daughter (damn, normally bosses only one of those). You play Apollo, a battle-soldier fighting back in a “space battle suit” (because it’s not sci-fi unless you needlessly put space in front of something).
Again, the romance doesn’t play much of a part in the story, but the game IS named after the setting. That’s where I feel was the focus here: the world you’re in. It actually creates a neat theme of balancing the old ways (the peaceful but defenseless fairies) and the over bearing but powerful technological future. Apollo, who lives with the fairies but enhances himself with technology, walks the line between the two. Or maybe I’m over thinking a game with a last second romance shoved in there.
The game play of Xexyz is an interesting mix. For the most part it’s a platformer adventure type thing comparable it to Zelda 2, but not quite. You’ll walk around the main area jumping and shooting monsters to get money in order to buy upgrades and better weapons (essential in later stages). You also can’t just walk left to right and get the boss: there is some exploring that needs to be done. As previously mentioned, each island has a fortress. To get into this fortress, you need a star. In order to get a star you need to find the proper room and beat a sub boss. In order to find that sub boss, you must find the correct star block (there are many in a stage) and shoot it five times. All that, THEN you’re ready to enter the castle, and NAVIGATE your way around it to find the boss.
However, that’s the main part of the game play. In between platforming levels, you’ll have side scrolling shoot ‘em up ones, which seems very inspired by Gradius. It’s pretty much your typical shoot things before they hit you affair. While they have their own level numbers, they’re done much faster and pretty much just serve as a means to get you to the next island and mix up the game play. But if you think this change feels jarring at all, then you’d be wrong. You know how modern games have physics, and you can take its engine, put it in a different game and it still feels the same? Yeah, that’s what these sections are like. While the game play is switched, it still feels like the same game.
I was pleasantly surprised by Xexyz. While it can come off as a space rip-off of Zelda 2, the game play works really well and it does make it more engaging than a typical side scrolling platformer. The graphics and music/sounds aren’t anything to rave about (in some cases, kind of bad) but for the world that developer Atlus and publisher Hudson Soft tried to create, it’s fitting enough. There are also some moments where it can get pretty frustrating, like when you need to start collecting money for an upgrade you lost while dying, finding the right star blocks and navigating the castles. But all together, Xexyz is one game where my curiosities about it really paid off, and it comes recommended for any NES collection. I give Xexyz for the NES 8 levels out of 10.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Level Up: the Cave

The earth has rotated around the sun once more since I have been born and I am reminded of my mortality: and I celebrate this by reviewing a PC game! Yaaaaaaay! This year is a little different though, as I’m reviewing my first steam game. And by that, I don’t just mean that it’s the first time I talk about a game available on Steam, but also it’s the first game I bought on there. As a matter of fact, the game was even released to Steam on my birthday in 2013. Let’s take a look at The Cave.
I typically make a purpose of mentioning the companies involved in the making of a game, in this case Double Fine Productions are the Developers and Sega is the Publisher. I do this not just to give credit to them, but because it can give people an idea of what type of game you might be in for. In this case the name Double Fine might have been a hint, but I think it would be better to mention the game was created, directed and written by Ron Gilbert, who is mostly known for his work on The Monkey Island series and the Maniac Mansion games. That is pretty much the linage that leads us to this game and heavily influences the style, but I might be getting ahead of myself.
The game stars 7 archetypal characters: a Hillbilly, a Knight, a Scientist and so forth. You start off at the entrance to a Cave knowing practically nothing about them. However, The Cave itself is apparently magical (and sentient), as it promises that it will deliver what you desire most. However, as you adventure into the cave, you’ll find that there is a section that represents a scene from the past of each character. Here’s where you learn about the characters one by one and what they have done to land them in the Cave. There are also cave paintings which show these scenes in better detail. As there are 7 characters, the stories don’t run TOO deep, but it is enough to give you an idea of how different the Aventurer and the The Knight are.
Package all that with puzzles and NPCs full of just odd humor, and you get a weird story that kept me coming back for several playthrews.
While the game has 7 characters to play as, you only pick 3 characters to use per game. This means having to play at least 3 times to see the full game (as the sections for the characters you aren’t playing as are locked off), and as every character has a good and bad ending, you’ll need to play through at least 5 times to see all of them. However, since this game is sort of a point and click adventure, parts of the game you’ve already played through will go faster making each run shorter due to already knowing what needs to be done. Yeah, while there are 4 sections of the game that are mandatory no matter what character you are, there are only one or two times where something  feels like a chore.
Also, some of the characters can help make those sections easier. While most of the time, your three characters are like pawns- strategically placing them so that they can get the most done the fastest, having them carry items and interact with their environment- each character also has a special skill you can use. All of them are used heavily in their respective sections, but people have found ways to use them creatively to skip certain sections of the game. While not all are as useful- the Twins’ power don’t have much use while the Knight is almost invaluable- they do have their moment and change the game enough to keep things interesting, even if it is just for one section.
The Cave is one of those games that I have played over and over again and keep enjoying due to the quirky humor of it. The game play balances having to think and having to do well for a point and click inspired game. True that the characters might as well be chess pieces in some cases, just to be set in certain locations. But, in a way, that’s what I enjoy about the game: controlling the characters, placing them in the right spots and using their skills the right way. The graphics also look pretty good (making the characters look like figures, back to the chess pieces thing) and it even runs well on a relatively bad computer like my old laptop was. It may not be a perfect game, but I think I’ve proven with Spider-man Shattered Dimensions that I’ll take a really charming game, fun game that makes me want to play through again and again, over one I can’t find a flaw in. I give the Cave for the PC 10 levels out of 10.