Archive for February, 2007

The Adventures of Dino Riki

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

I’m not sure what drew me to this game. The game masquerades as an adventure starring a big-headed kid in a brown leotard that throws Implements of Doom at prehistoric flora and fauna. However, the game is a shooter starring a big-headed kid in a brown leotard that throws Implements of Doom at prehistoric flora and fauna. The difference is small, but it’s vital.

Shooting games (Shoot ‘em ups) typically star your character piloting some kind of vehicle, typically one that flies. This gives the game an excuse to constantly move the screen forward: no forward momentum, you crash. Dino-Riki, on the other hand, just moves inexorably up until he either kills or gets killed by the giant dinosaur waiting for him at the end of his path. Why does he walk toward the dinosaurs instead of going the other way? What drives him? If I had a manual and knew his backstory, would that have made the game better? Probably not.

There really isn’t too much memorable about this game except for its mediocrity. It’s not bad enough to avoid entirely, but not good enough to seek out, either.

Blaster Master

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Blaster Master for the NES is one of the finest games for the platform. The catchy music from the first stage alone is enough to bring back memories to any NES aficionado worth his salt. The story for the Americanized version of the game is supposedly demonstrably different from the original Japanese version, but finding accurate information to corroborate that statement is itself an exercise filled with high-adventure. As it stands, then, we are saddled with the story of Jason, Jason’s frog, a box of nuclear waste in Jason’s back yard, and a sink-hole that reveals a tank and power suit.

Pure gold.

Backstory insanity aside, we have a pretty solid, and fairly challenging game. Like many games your tank starts out with just enough firepower to gun down errant mutated mosquitoes, but by seeking out and destroying giant brains, giant frogs, giant crabs, and giant… mobile blocks you gain the missing components of your tank. Toward the end of the game, your tank becomes actually somewhat useful. It can scale walls, hover, dive underwater, and… unlock doors. However, getting to that point is so ridiculously difficult that most people will never achieve it. You get 3 lives and 5 continues, 15 chances to navigate a meandering maze of insanity.

The different areas are all distinct and have a different feel. As long as you don’t question why there are forests, giant technology centers, and sky in a supposed sinkhole in some kid’s backyard, then it’s quite enjoyable.

Sequels and spinoffs were made for the Genesis, Game Boy, and PlayStation. Of those, I’ve only played the Game Boy sequel, which certainly tried hard to capture the feeling of the NES original, but fell short for some reason that I can’t quite grasp.

Fable: The Lost Chapters

Monday, February 26th, 2007

I’ve been intrigued by the work Peter Molyneux has done on games since I first saw Black and White, a game where you take on the role of a deity who oversees your followers. It was interesting in that your actions in the game directly affected your appearance and the development of those around you. Unfortunately, I never actually played Black and White or its expansions and sequels, they weren’t quite my style, but I was interested in the good vs. evil subtext going on behind the scenes. Fast forward a couple of years and a game called Fable appears on the XBox that has this same kind of character development, but more in an adventure setting. I’ve never actually owned an XBox, so I didn’t really seek out any information about this game until a couple of years after that when the game was expanded (i.e. finished) and released on the PC.

I picked up the PC version on the cheap in the Summer, and though it wasn’t as expansive as I would have liked, it was still an enjoyable experience.

One of the most talked about features, at least in the reviews that I read, was the good vs. evil thing going on. In a nutshell, every time you do something good, you get Good Points, and every time you do something bad, you get Bad Points. The points move your reputation along a spectrum, the further you go in one direction, the more ‘good’ or ‘evil’ you become. It’s interesting in concept, but my experience showed that people just react to you differently depending on your position on the spectrum. Well, that and the appearance. Just like in Black and White, the more good or evil you become will affect how your character looks in game: lean toward good and you’ll get light hair and a faint halo, lean toward evil and you get dark hair and faint horns. On top of that, however, virtually everything you do has an affect on your character’s appearance. For a time my character didn’t wear a helmet (they’re all pretty ugly), and he got smashed in the face with a large rock. It hurt, and my character had a gash across his face. It healed into a pronounced scar that would fade slightly, but would always be visible.

I found the story to be good, with some nice twists, but even with the additional content it felt a little short. In fact, it was extremely obvious where the old content ended and the new content began. The game felt like it was over and then, oh wait, here’s four more hours of stuff to do.

As short as it felt, the game was enjoyable enough to warrant a complete play though, maybe two to experience both ends of the good/evil spectrum.

Gunstar Super Heroes

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Several years ago it became necessary for my circle of friends to choose different brands of consoles. Partially out of personal preference, but mostly because we each could only afford one console each. This worked out well, since we could play the games on the proverbial ‘other side of the fence’ on the cheap. Since I was destined to become a Nintendo person, I took every opportunity to exchange time on the Super NES for time on the Genesis. One of the games that I distinctly remembered from these exchanges was a fantastic game called Gunstar Heroes. Of course, now that I’m older and actually have a Genesis and the means to buy back pieces of my childhood, I set out to locate the game, and quickly discovered that I’m apparently not the only one that thought this game was totally rad, as the asking price is borderline pretendous.

Imagine my surprise when the team responsible for the game (and, curiously, the fantastic Super Castlevania IV) got back together and produced a sequel for the Game Boy Advance. I was fairly excited about that, but then promptly forgot about it until about three weeks ago. I was trolling around my local Toys ‘R’ Us for bargains and happened on a stack of them for $9.98.

While not completely identical to the original game, it’s a suitable surrogate. It is a sequel, after all. The controls are a little wonky, but once you get used to them aren’t too bad. I especially had trouble standing in one place and shooting, for some reason.

The story and graphics are very similar to the original game: You, as either special agent Red or Blue have to save the planet from various villainous characters named after the colors of the rainbow and their hordes of disposable minions. It’s decently fun and challenging. The only thing missing is the two player option. The original was a good one-player experience and even better with two-players. But it’s good for a few hours, at least.

Secret of Mana

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

I received a copy of Secret of Mana for Christmas in 1993. By December 31st was calling Nintendo’s Game Counselors because, though I had managed to complete everything else, I couldn’t figure out how to win the final encounter. I explained this to the person who answered the phone and all he could muster was a, “You got that for Christmas, and you’re already there?”, before he told me what I needed to know. In retrospect, the solution was rather obvious (I won’t post it here for spoiler reasons, although after 13+ years, it should be old news).

I would end up playing through the game at least half a dozen more times that year. Each time I was impressed not only by the depth and breadth of the story, but also by how the game as a whole came together. Okay, I’ll admit the story isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking: unlikely kid turns out to be predestined to save the world from an evil empire (complete with its own resistance movement!). But it is lengthy. It introduced me to a wide variety of characters, and taught me the word ‘aegagropilon’. The word is so obscure that I could only find out a definition by using the school-owned, six-inch-thick, unabridged dictionary of Crazy Words You Never Thought Existed(tm).

Fun Fact: With a multitap, you can have up to three people play this game at the same time. However, it’s my experience that having more than one person in control of a character drastically slows down your progression.

The graphics at the time were quite impressive, each character was distinct, colorful, and well animated. They still hold up well today. The soundtrack is nothing short of amazing. Nearly every track is memorable, and they all ‘fit’ exceptionally well. This is one of the best examples of the kinds of sounds that the Super NES was capable of producing.

These days finding the game in any condition is nothing short of amazing. Even assuming you can find a copy, the cost is going to be borderline ridiculous. This means that the game is either rare, sought after, or both. It’s certainly worth seeking out to play, so long as you can find a copy within your price range.


Friday, February 23rd, 2007

I recently finished up a very peculiar, but thoroughly enjoyable game that goes by the name Chibi-Robo! (The ‘!’ is actually in the title, I’m really not that excited that I finished a game). Chibi-Robo! might be one of the singularly least-violent games that I’ve ever played. Even calling it a “game” is a bit of a stretch.

Your character, appropriately named Chibi-Robo, is a diminutive robot with the goal to make his family happy. How do you make your family happy? By cleaning up stains, picking up trash, and doing ridiculous tasks for the inhabitants of the house. Just the first two tasks alone will take up a significant portion of your time as all the members of the family are complete slobs. There’s mud, sticks, cookie crumbs, candy wrappers, soda cans, and assorted miscellany absolutely everywhere. You’ll gladly clean up every piece of trash and scrub every floor to gain ‘happy points’ and raise your ‘Chibi-Ranking’ to get the carrot dangled in front of your nose since the beginning of the game: to become the number one ranked Chibi-Robo in the world, Super Chibi-Robo.

The house that is your domain is split up into six distinct rooms. Curiously, a bathroom is not one of them. That may not sound like a whole lot, but remember that you are playing the part of a robot that’s only about three or four inches tall. Something as seemingly simple as navigating a staircase becomes nigh-impossible.

The tiny house is chock-full of things to do. It’s quite easy to rack up a dozen or so hours doing silly little side-quests, without touching the main story (yes, there is one). You don’t even have to touch the main story if you don’t want to. Overall, I’d expect the average player to get about 20 hours out of the whole thing.

20 non-violent, making people happy, cleaning the house hours. If this game isn’t family-friendly, I don’t know what is.

Dungeon Siege 2

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Last night I began, for the fourth time, a new character in Dungeon Siege 2. Not necessarily because I have an unhealthy affinity for the game, but every time I start one up, circumstances conspire against me and for one reason or another I can’t complete the game. The furthest I’ve gotten was Act 2 (out of what I understand to be four three). That was quite some time ago, and that character and the three that followed were consumed mostly by my apparent inability to perform a proper backup. (Yeah, I know. No backup, no whining). I even bought the expansion pack for this game to be my impetus to actually see the game all the way through, but I keep getting distracted… Usually by something shiny.

It strikes me each and every time that I begin one of these characters how much it unabashedly resembles Diablo II in almost every conceivable way, right down to the swag being named “The (Adjective) (Noun) of the (Attribute)”. Indeed, the loot tables seem to have been crafted someone with a tenuous grasp of balance, as ‘the good stuff’ seems to drop all the time. I frequently find myself running out of room in my backpack and must either tediously run back and forth to town to sell the weapons and armor that carpet the forest (and why is a giant spider carrying a breast plate anyway?) or feeding them to my pet.

I’ll admit that feeding a pack mule my entire inventory of magical swords it simultaneously bizarre and intriguing, that too gets old quickly. To get your pets to the optimum stats, you have to feed it only the best stuff, which coincidentally also sells for the most money. So you have to make the trade-off between having a nice bankroll or a combat pet that’s actually worth having.

Maybe I can finally see what the 2nd half of the game looks like.