Archive for August, 2007

Sega Swirl

Friday, August 31st, 2007

A while back I briefly mentioned that Sega Swirl, a freebie game included with multiple Sega products. In saying that it was terrible, I gave it more space than it really deserved, but I suppose I should at least justify my position.

Sega Swirl is a clone of the old, also not very good, puzzle game SameGame. Simply put, you have a screen with different colored elements (balls, Sega logos, or what have you). If two or more of the same color are touching, you can clear them and the rest of the elements will collapse down and to the left. The goal is to make your screen empty.

Sega Swirl gameplay

Saying that this game is terrible may be me lashing out because I can’t think far enough ahead in the way required to win this game. I may be frustrated because my brain does not work in such a way that lets me see enough moves in advance to be successful. Or maybe I feel that the game is too inaccessible and can only be completely enjoyed by a fraction of a fraction of people, and is flawed as a result. But that would be silly.

Super Punch-Out!!

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

There have been two games called Punch-Out!! and two games called Super Punch-Out!!. They both appeared in arcades, but a home version appeared on the NES and Super NES respectively. Further complicating matters is that the arcade versions and the home versions are very different, even they both share the same character roster.

So, what is Super Punch-Out!! all about? Boxing. Cartoony, video-gamey, over-the-top boxing.

You play the role of Little Mac, an inexplicably tiny boxer out to win the WVGBA (World Video Game Boxing Association) boxing titles. Mac has to take on boxers who are easily 3 or 4 times as big as he is, and are often stronger and faster as well. Nobody said it would be easy.

Each of the 16 boxers in the game has a particular quirk, and identifying and understanding these quirks will expose a weakness and allow you even the playing field. Bear Hugger, for example, is real fat, so punches to his stomach don’t do anything. Narcis Prince is very protective of his face, but if you can hit it, he takes extra damage. Etc. Etc.

So you have to study your opponent. Learn his tells, punch, counter punch, dodge, parry, uppercut, and win! Okay, so it’s not that easy, but perhaps this video of me getting all of the opponents punch-drunk will give you some confidence.

Once you get good at the game, and learn how to fight each of the opponents, it does get a little on the short side. It’s totally possible to beat all of the circuits in about an hour, usually less. The real ongoing challenge is figuring out how to eke out a better KO time or a better score. This is one of the few games that I still keep my Super NES around for.

Super Buster Bros.

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

You see games with titles like Super Buster Bros. and you may think to yourself, “Was there ever a game called Buster Bros.? The answer in this case is ‘yes‘, but I haven’t actually played that one. It’s just as well, the two games are almost identical.

Buster Bros.

Super Buster Bros is pretty simple, you travel around the world, busting bubbles with your harpoon gun as you go along. Big bubbles burst into two smaller bubbles, and those bubbles burst into two smaller bubbles, and so on until they become small enough to burst completely. If the bubbles touch you, it’s game over, and it’s much easier to dodge a few big bubbles bouncing around than a bunch of smaller ones. Of course, popping the big bubbles also yields powerups, so you have to decide if you want to try and avoid the smaller bubbles in exchange for the ability to shoot them faster.

I’ve never been able to play this game to the end, I usually run out of steam or money at about the halfway point. Perhaps one day I’ll see the game to the end. It just won’t be today.


Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Nethack is a clone of Rogue, and is in a sub-class of games of games called Roguelikes. It’s not particularly important that you know the history of Rogue, but you should know that people that used computers in the early days were geeks, geeks with a lot of free time, a passion for games, and extremely limited computing resources. Using the primitive tools available to them, they created a game that is influenced heavily on Dungeons & Dragons, but with random dungeons, a plot, and a goal.

The goal of Nethack is simple: find and escape with the Amulet of Yendor. Achieving that goal is another story. Nethack’s simplistic interface belies its complexity. Here is a link to the guide book at the official site if you’d like a sneak peak at the burgeoning subtleties that lie just beneath the skin of the game, just waiting for you to scratch.

The problem is, though, that the game presents so much information to you all at once that there really isn’t a learning curve, there’s a learning wall with a curve at the top. So much stuff has been packed onto this game that nearly every button on your keyboard has a function, every character in the ASCII character set has a meaning, and you get to learn about it all.

I’m told that once you get into the game that each of its secrets beckons you deeper into its gaping maw promising greater riches for you to plumb the deeper you go. Which may be true, but I could never get into it.

I tried, I really did. Several times I’d install the game, read through the docs and dive in, only to be defeated by the control scheme and the pixelated, angular horrors that dwelt in the rectangular rooms. For those that traverse the dungeons and reap their rewards, I salute your perseverance. Your CON is higher than mine.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Like a lot of Americans I had never heard much about the Fire Emblem series until I played Super Smash Bros. Melee and was introduced to two characters from the franchise. Turns out that the series is hugely popular in Japan, and has had almost as many sequels as Final Fantasy.

Video of the tutorial mission.

Fire Emblem is a tactical strategy game that’s heavy on the story-telling. The story is nothing special, you take the last remaining heirs to the throne and assemble a rag-tag group of an army to overthrow the evil that is taking over the land. The story is mostly told in lengthy scenes between the battles featuring large portraits speaking with each other. Between these scenes you have battles, one of the defining aspects of the game. The flow is pretty simple: all of your guys move, then all of the enemy guys move. Generally it’s your goal to mow down all of the opposing forces, but there are some other chapters with slightly differing goals: reach a particular point on the map, keep someone alive for so many turns, and the like. You need to be somewhat of a tactician to maneuver your troops in such a way that the weaker units don’t get slaughtered. Unlike some other games of this type, once your guys fall on the battlefield, they’re dead forever. This can be especially devastating if you’ve invested a lot of time and resources into building up your guys, only to have them cut down due to a boneheaded move on your part.

During certain chapters various named characters will join the fracas. Some of these folks you can convince to join you if you manage to take the right character up to them and manage to talk to them before you kill them off.

One problem I had with the game is that there are far more characters available than I had the time and resources to build up. The difficulty of the game ramps up considerably, and I kept a team of about a dozen units fairly well buffed-up. I had another dozen or so units that were woefully underlevelled, and didn’t see much playtime.

The thing is, your units can support each other in the battlefield. Pair up certain units enough times and they will eventually give you the option to have them speak to each other. This both rounds out the characters significantly and makes them more effective in the long run. If you want to see them all and have the best units you can, it would behoove you to play through the game multiple times.

While I wouldn’t be opposed to playing through the game a second or third time (I understand you unlock some of the game’s secrets if you finish it multiple times) that first time took me nearly 30 hours, not including all of the time I lost after restarting a mission due to a miscalculation that led to the death of one on my units. I was eventually able to finish the entire game while keeping everyone alive to the end, and it was very gratifying. I would recommend anyone with a passing interest in ’stragery’ give it a look.

Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

This is a review that I wrote for Stage Select back in October of ‘05. If the following wall of text is too much for you to process, I’ll just say that the game was completely awful.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve enjoyed an RPG. I’m talking about the classic formula of taking one character or so on an epic quest laden with engaging story telling and perhaps a life-lesson learned along the way.

I decided to try and find the compilation of PSO I and II that was released shortly after the GameCube’s debut, but I was unable to locate any copies (stores don’t stock games that have been out of print for 4 years? Shame!). So I headed over to the game’s official site to see if I could glean some information about where I could get a copy of the remade Original Two. Almost immediately I was smacked square in the face with the realization that the good people at SEGA have taken it upon themselves to release a *FREE* RPG set in the Phantasy Star universe, and all I had to do was pony up the $8.95 monthly fee. Oh, and there’s a free trial… more about that later.

Since I didn’t really want the time investment that a MMORPG would have offered, I did some research and concluded that this was the kind of game that could be enjoyed either singly or in a group. Fantastic! A genuine console-style RPG, with server-side saving that I could play for a paltry $2.25 a week? Sounds like a winner.

Or so I thought.

Phantasy Star Online Blue Burst does indeed share a lot with its console cousins. One thing you will notice right away when you fire up this game is that the character models look like they were lifted straight out of the Dreamcast and plunked into your computer. Nothing here is particularly ugly or anything, but there’s nothing here that’s going to really push my video card, either. Well… the teleporting screens looked nice.

But hey, it’s free, and I can play online for free for two weeks. I can not, however, use my subscription to PSO III (which does incedentally work for episodes I and II) to play. I’ll have to shell out another $9.00/month if I decide I want to play them both. Yeah, not likely.

So I have two weeks to figure out if this game’s worth the monthly fee. Sounds doable.

So I fire up the game and get down to the business of creating my character. You have four classes of character to choose from, and then four types within those classes. Those familiar with the story of the game will no doubt find these choices to reflect on the rich lore and history surrounding the PSO universe. I am not particularly familiar with it, so I had to rely on the in game help. I decided that I would pick a class that was easy for beginners to play (according to the description), and out of those I picked the one with the lowest HP, on the asssumption (since the game told me so) that she would get some kind of neat-o techniques later. Fair enough.

Then I loaded up the game, and here’s where it started to break down. One of the first things you’re likely to notice is that the controls are the standard WASD layout that’s become the de facto control scheme for PC games any more. So far so good. It took me a few minutes of fumbling to realize that the mouse is not enabled in any way by default.

So, no, you don’t use your mouse to select people that you want to talk to. When people get in front of you, they become highlighted, you then can press the ‘Enter’ key to ‘Enter’-act with them (ugh, did I just type that?).

“So how do you control the camera, then?” I hear you asking aloud. Well, forget about using the mouse. You can press the ‘Up’ arrow to snap the camera behind you. That’s all you get, as the camera tries to stay mostly behind you anyway. Want to see if an enemy chasing you has broken off pursuit without stopping and turning around? Too bad.

“But,” I hear you asserting with an arrogant air, “there are three more arrow buttons.” Indeed there are three more arrow buttons. The ‘Down’ arrow being defaulted to ‘Attack’, the ‘Left’ one being defaulted to ‘Stronger Attack That Misses More’, and the ‘Right’ one is defaulted to ‘Healing Item’. Bear in mind here that when I say ‘Attack’ I do not mean ‘Auto Attack’, I mean ‘Swing Your Weapon’. Enemy encounters boil down to you repeatedly mashing the ‘Down’ button, and yelling at your character because she isn’t swinging the sword as fast as you’re slamming the keys.

Enemy encounters turned frustratingly tedious and difficult right out of the gate. Due in part to the abysmal control scheme and my character having the constitution of a soap bubble. My rough and tumble adventurer has a lifespan of about three hits. This worked out perfectly since the first enemies I encountered came in a group of three. Admittedly, that probably wouldn’t have been too bad of a problem until I found out that for some reason my character couldn’t kill them in less than six or seven hits each. Even that wouldn’t have been so bad had I been able to swing my weapon with anything resembling speed, but I couldn’t. By the time I got about one or possibly two hits in, all the creatures in the area would congregate around me and strike me all at once.

Then my character died. A lot.

I did manage to devise the strategy of picking a monster out from the crowd, thwacking it with my Bonk Stick, and then retreating to the safety of the… um… ’safe area’ at the beginning of the level until I had managed to dispatch the three creatures. All in all it was a process that took about half an hour. Then three more appeared. By this time I had blown through the meager allotment of health potions you start the game with as well as the paltry sum of money you are given to start the game (I blew it on health potions), and I had to do it all again.


Okay, pick an enemy, hit it once, run away. Pick an enemy, hit it once, get over confident and try to hit it twice, get slaughtered, revive at the hospital. Repeat. About ten times. After I dispatched the creatures I fully expected the sealed doors at the opposite ends of the play area to open and usher in the part of the game where the Fun begins. Instead, SIX of those crappy monsters rose out of the ground at once.

“Screw that!” I shouted at my PC. I then uninstalled the game, cancelled my account, and set the paper I printed out the control reference on ablaze.

And I never even made it to level 2. Pity, that.

Pokémon Snap

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

It’s been nearly 10 years since Pokémania has hit here in the states, and in that time there have been numerous games, spinoffs, and sequels covering almost every genre you can think of. Snap is technically what you’d call a rail shooter. Yes, you shoot Pokémon, with your camera.

You are the latest assistant to Professor Oak, preeminent pokémon guy in the pokémon universe. He wants you to go out and get photographs of all the different kinds of pokémon that inhabit an island. Your weapons: a camera, and eventually food, ‘pester balls’ (they look like they smell bad), and a flute. You have a car that’s on tracks and goes through an environment where pre-scripted events happen. You need to take clear photographs of the pokémon for the Prof to complete his book. You get points for the style of the picture. More points for a pokémon being centered, more points for it multiples of the same thing in a shot, more points for the pokémon in a cute pose, etc. etc.

The real challenge in this game is to use the tools at your disposal to get the best pictures possible, and to get the most points. For a time, Blockbuster would let you print out stickers with your pictures, which was kind of neat, but those machines are long gone.

It’s a pretty neat concept for a game, but it’s way too short. I ended up finishing all of the courses in a couple of hours, and finished the whole game in less than a day. You can play the courses over and over again to get more points and better pictures, but it does get kind of old seeing the same few scenes over and over again.


Friday, August 24th, 2007

Breakout is boring. Even when I all I had was a second-hand Atari and no other games that the dog hadn’t eaten, Breakout bored me to tears. I’ve never quite understood that fascination with this game, or why it seems to spawn so many clones. In fact, this shaky, cockeyed video of the arcade version is the best one I could find.

See, in Breakout you control a paddle at the bottom of the screen. Your goal is to bounce a ball against the wall of bricks at the top of the screen. Hitting a brick will make it disappear, make them all disappear and you win. Your only method of control is sliding a paddle across the bottom of the screen, bouncing the ball back into play. Allow the ball to fall off the bottom of the screen 3 times, and you lose. Then you get to go play a better game.

Double Dragon

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

When you think about characters in martial arts movies of the 1980’s you probably think of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. When you think of characters in martial arts video games from around the same time, I’ll bet you think of Billy and Jimmy Lee.

Double Dragon plays out just like a B-grade martial arts movie, light on plot but packed to the gills with face-punching action. The game starts with your girlfriend getting kidnapped by a gang of martial artists, and you take on the entire organization to get her back. You have quite the array of moves at your disposal, but you have to level up to use them. Every time you strike an enemy you get a certain number of, we’ll call them, ‘heart points’. Get 100 points and you learn a new move. From a jump-kick to the devastating back-elbow to the move where you sit on your foe’s chest and punch them in the face.

Did I mention this game was slightly violent?

You have to kill off wave after wave of identical foes, mercilessly slaying them with your twin fists, ‘Dynamite’ and ‘Iron’. You eventually make your way through 4 missions, through a city, a construction site, a forest, a series of caves, and eventually the gang headquarters where you end up fighting their leader, a guy with a machine gun. It’s quite the mismatch. After you beat him, watch out for the twist! Dun-dun-dunnn! Nah, I’m not going to spoil it for you, plenty of other sites will do that if you’re so inclined.

The thing about this game is that it’s unmercifully hard. You get 3 chances to finish it all. Period. No extra lives, no continues, no conveniently placed porkchops to restore your health. You fail 3 times and you get to start over at the beginning. It doesn’t help that the edges of platforms aren’t quite where they appear, or that your enemies have the ability to duck under your attacks and you have no such ability. It took me until fairly recently to actually finish the thing on my own, but it was gratifying.

Oh, and there’s a two-player versus mode, where you can play as the enemy characters, but I never got a whole lot of mileage out of that.

Elite Beat Agents

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

It’s a tough world out there. What do you do when you’re at the end of your rope? When you’ve gotten in over your head and don’t know what to do? Why, you call the Elite Beat Agents for help of course!

The Agents don’t help out directly, however. They stand on the side, dancing with highly choreographed moves to popular(?) music to encourage the people they’re assisting, letting them solve their own problems. You have to help the Agents out by tapping colored circles in time with the song that’s playing. Successful taps will help them dance better and be a better encouragement to the person in need. It’s much easier to show how this game is played rather than explain it, so…

I suppose I should mention that the situations start out normal enough, but eventually turn highly bizarre (i.e. Former baseball star working at an amusement park has to save some kids from a rampaging fire golem. You bet, kid!), all told through sometimes very silly but well done comic book-style animations.

The songs are all cover versions of semi-popular songs. They range from Avril Lavigne’s Sk8er Boi, to Deep Purple’s Highway Star, to Earth, Wind & Fire’s September, to Hoobastank’s Without a Fight. Yeah, it’s varied. Some of the ‘professional’ reviewers didn’t really care for the song selection, but I like it. Keeps things fresh… As fresh as you can keep a 20 year old song, anyway.

Even though I don’t really get into rhythm games that much, I really liked this one. It was silly enough to draw me in, and was well worth the time I spent with it.