I'm currently looking for paid writing gigs, so if you might want anything written shoot me a message (craighats at hotmail dot com).
In case the contents of this blog don't make it obvious enough, I have something of an affinity for slightly "offbeat" titles, so if there's something out there that few others cover, there's a fair chance I'm at least somewhat up on it.
If there's any sort of (reasonable) inquiry you'd like me to address, please don't hesitate to be in touch.
Below are a handful of recaps and other links (oldest listed first by section), in case you're interested - asterisks mark promoted articles.
Yeah, I know – why can’t I be like any other sane c-blogger and post my reviews and such one at a time? Well, part of it is simply that I haven’t had the time or inclination to out-and-out “finish” either of these titles in a rush to get a new entry up, at the expense of ignoring the other, not to mention that posting several separate articles in rapid succession and clogging up the first page is something that I’d prefer to avoid if possible (I assume the site’s admins would probably approve). That said and done, onward to a pair of new games I’ve recently put some time into, and hopefully you’re interested in reading a bit about – Prinny for the PSP and Street Fighter IV on the 360.
Review: Prinny – Can I Really Be The Hero?
If you’ve been gaming long enough, I’m sure that you’ve occasionally experienced the elation of catching wind of a title that was seemingly made with your very specific tastes in mind – off the cuff, it almost sounds as if a developer somehow wrote down everything you’d like to see in a game, and then decided, what the heck, to go ahead and make it happen. The announcement of Prinny was one of those occasions for me – seriously? A 2-D, sprite-based platformer, featuring Disgaea characters, boasting a robust challenge, and appearing on the PSP to boot? As a non-DS-owning aficionado of the old-school and obscure, I couldn’t wait – now that the game’s been released locally, I no longer have to. So exactly how far did the title go in terms of delivering for me in the end – and is there a chance it could do so for you normal people out there? Read on, and I’ll do my best to let you know what the game is about – first, then, let me get the surface elements out of the way.
The basic contents of Prinny’s box have been revealed already by a fellow DToider, but I’ll add in a handful of other thoughts (having, like the aforementioned, bought only the “regular” package of the game, I can’t comment on the plushie or pouch included with the “limited” editions sold at Rosen Queen). The outer cardboard box, which contains the game case and OST, is basically a smaller version of the packages recently used for Mana Khemia and Ar Tonelico II, as you might expect. The OST itself (indeed bearing the title “Can This Really Be The OST?”) is 47 minutes in length, divided up into 20 tracks – most of the game’s music, composed by our ol’ pal Tenpei Sato, is very fitting for the game’s “Kook-ified Depths of Hell” setting, mixing dramatic, foreboding crescendos with quirky, squeaky accents, though I found much of it notably less listenable when it’s not working in unison with the onscreen action, strangely enough. I must also note the three vocal tracks present within the selection – while I found two of them (both with “Asagi” in the title, you’ll know them when you hear them) a ways too kawaaaaiiii for my liking, the third tones down the peppy j-schmaltz and comes across much better to my ears. Once the game is actually running, you’ll also be introduced to the English voice acting (oddly, there’s no Japanese language option) – while a bit over-exuberant in my opinion, it’s not altogether out of place. While we’re still dealing with the superficial aspects, let me mention how things look – though NIS’s old-school stylings and re-used assets might have looked especially outdated on the PS3’s Disgaea 3, things translate far more admirably to the small screen (even when it’s hooked up to a larger one), as everything animates smoothly and is blessed with a welcome dose of personality, right down to the “jiggle” on the succubi. Both the sprites and 2-D backgrounds are satisfyingly detailed and evocative, and the 3-D elements, while a tad jarring at first, soon fade into the scenery and fit the overall atmosphere just fine.
Now, on to “the game itself” – once again, another fellow DToider has touched on some of these “core” aspects, but pardon me as I take the opportunity to go a bit deeper. At its core, Prinny gives you a pretty basic set of moves to work with, but to fully grasp exactly what you’re dealing with here, I’m going to break them down one by one, as they quite literally define the entire experience. Remember the following things well:
Attacking – The square button prompts Prinny to pull out one of his ever-handy knives and deliver a short-range slash – hitting it repeatedly will bring out the full set and have him flailing wildly. In similar fashion to Strider, the faster you mash the faster he swings, and the quicker the damage piles up – the sword strikes reach a little above Prinny’s head and can fend off enemies coming in from certain angles, but attempting to oust a surrounding group by blindly whaling away will likely result in something sneaking through your makeshift Cuisinart and bonking you on the head. Additionally, attacking while jumping will temporarily freeze Prinny in mid-air and allow him to hurl projectiles downwards at a 45-degree angle – as your only reliable distance attack, you’ll be using it a lot.
Jumping – Hit “X” once to jump, and twice to double jump. Simple, right? Even moreso than you’d expect – remember the days when jumping in video games was “realistic,” i.e. you couldn’t change direction in mid-air? Well, they’re back with a vengeance, and if you don’t judge your distances perfectly before taking off you’re almost certainly headed for a bottomless pit with no way to save yourself. To be fair, this game isn’t quite as brutal in this area as, say, Ghouls n’ Ghosts once was – once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to “cancel” a jump by using either your mid-air attack (mentioned above) or a butt stomp (mentioned below), though there are plenty of situations where neither of those will be of any help to you. Either way, if you’re expecting Mario- or N-esque precision when jumping in Prinny, you’re in for a rude awakening.
Spinning/Dashing/Sliding – Hold the circle button to have Prinny do his trademark ballerina spin – it takes a second to get going, but once it does you’re invincible. Careful, though, since 1) You can’t move very far while spinning, 2) It’ll give out quickly, and 3) It’ll leave you dizzy and vulnerable afterwards. Mostly you’ll be using it to start up a dash – once spinning, let go of the button and hit either “left” or “right,” and Prinny will scurry off in that direction. From here you can either jump farther than usual, or hit “down” to slide a short, invulnerable distance. You’ll be dashing more often than you’d think – other than this, Prinny’s only movement speed is a constant, steady walk and his jumps are largely fixed-distance, so if you encounter anything that those can’t handle (and believe me, you will) the solution is probably a well-timed dash.
Butt-Pounding – Press “down” and the “jump” button while in the air to flip in place and perform a Yoshi-esque butt stomp. The main use of this move is to stun enemies – most bosses, in fact, can’t be hurt unless they’ve been pounded a few times first (though a handful of enemy types are invulnerable). The pound move is also connected to the conspicuous “combo” meter you see in the corner of many screenshots – unfortunately, it’s nothing noteworthy at all. You see, when you stun an enemy, the meter will partially fill up, and once it’s completely full you’ll be rewarded with the bonus item (usually some extra points) randomly displayed at the far end – the meter depletes very quickly though, so you have pretty much no hope of gaining any given bonus unless there’s a big enough group of enemies around. That said, you’ll still likely find yourself butt-pounding past groups of tough enemies without stopping to kill them, as you receive a bit of invincibility time after a successful stomp, while slashing affords you no such luxury.
Misc – Otherwise, you can use the triangle button to pick up and throw certain objects (and stunned enemies), and can also hold the appropriate directional button to grab onto the edges of platforms to pull yourself up. The former is pretty cut and dry, but the sensitivity of the latter is rather strict, so make sure your jump is high enough for you to grab that edge or you’re headed for the abyss. You’re also able to look up or down by holding the “R” trigger and pressing the appropriate direction, though unfortunately you’re not able to scan ahead to the sides, which means more leaps of faith into the unknown than you’d probably prefer.
Those are about all the assets you’re going to have at your disposal, straight on through – so what exactly are you up against? Well, for one thing you have the choice of “Normal” difficulty (wherein your Prinny can take three hits before a fourth kills him) and “Hell’s Finest” (wherein every single hit means instant death) – this setting can be toggled back and forth at will, as it doesn’t affect anything (including the game’s ending) aside from the amount of punishment your character (and you as the player) can take. On a “normal” play-through of the game you’ll have ten “standard” stages to conquer – the first six, while you can choose the order to play them in, get harder the later you select them, so if you stick with the easy stuff early on the harder stages will be REALLY nasty once you’re forced to pick them. While the levels do look nice, they’re somewhat disappointing in terms of design – none is very lengthy, expansive, or even just plain interesting in terms of the challenges it tosses at you (unless you find sadism in and of itself “interesting”) and once you’ve figured out exactly what a stage requires you to do via trial and error you can, ostensibly at least, fly through most of them in mere minutes.
“Trial and error,” incidentally, is what will make or break this game for you.
The whole concept of Prinny, in case you were unaware, is built on the key “joke” of the main character, namely that he’s so weak and incompetent that Etna decides to send a thousand of him (which translates into your huge stock of “spare lives”) to do her bidding in hopes that at least one lowly minion somehow manages to wend its way through the coming onslaught without being utterly demolished. While this running gag can be funny to observe when Prinnies are just one of your options for soldiers in Disgaea, it can get frustrating when he’s all you’ve got – true to form, nearly every enemy you encounter is stronger, faster, more agile, more resilient, better-equipped, and more advantageously positioned than you, and is able to foil your efforts at every turn, and make you feel a whole new level of inadequate, unless you know EXACTLY how to sneak past. So how, pray tell, do you figure out whether or not a “normal” double jump will be enough to get you past that enemy-spawning nest that rests just on the edge of the distant cliff you need to get to? Or precisely what trajectory your flight towards the next floating platform has to be, lest you end up stuck in a non-adjustable errant jump and booked on the next express flight to bottomless-pitsville? Or whether or not the left-hand corner of the room is a safe spot to wait to engage the boss during this particular attack phase?
How, indeed? You do the only thing you can do, of course - you try.
You try again. You fail again. You keep trying and respawning from the last restart point (thankfully, these are relatively plentiful) until you figure out exactly what you need to do, and then hope and pray that you can drag your half-dead Prinny to the next restart point before you die again, so you won’t have to do it over yet another time. In short, you are pretty much guaranteed to taste the agony of defeat when you encounter any obstacle for the first time – getting past a given challenge in Prinny without having already attempted it is not “very tough” to do, but all but impossible to do. The nitpicky distinction between those two aforementioned terms ends up making all the difference in the world as to how you’ll experience this title – it determines whether it is a “challenging but enjoyable” game, or an “endurance test disguised as entertainment.”
The key question for any aspiring Prinny player to ask himself is how willing he is to play a game which all but eliminates one’s ability to act “spontaneously,” in favor of rewarding carefully-executed plans of attack, arrived at via a heaping truckload of potentially infuriating repetition. That is to say: in most platformers, if you jump a little too far past a landing spot, you can “lean” back a bit and still make the jump – here, as mentioned earlier, all but completely unable to change direction in midair, you will almost certainly die and have to attempt said leap again, trying different takeoff points until you find exactly where you need to hit that button to clear that gap (and, come the next gap you encounter, you’ll likely be doing it again). In other games, if a boss suddenly charges at you, you’re likely able to hold down a “sprint” button to increase your movement speed and scurry out of the way – in Prinny, you’re only able to charge up a dash (or even the invincibility window before the dash) in time to avoid such an attack if you already know it’s coming. Moreover, after you’ve managed to stun said boss [again, after observing (and painfully absorbing) his patterns enough to know when a precious opening for a butt-stomp appears], how many seconds do you have to charge in full-tilt and hack away before the enemy recovers and becomes able to damage you again? There’s no onscreen indicator whatsoever, so the only way to know when to back off is via previous observation…which almost certainly involves some sudden, frustrating damage. Also, wait until you face the screen-high big baddy of stage 7 (slight spoiler ahead) – to damage him you need to throw bombs into a very small weak spot, and the only way to toss them far (and frequently) enough is to release them at the peak of a double jump, performed as close to your enemy as possible. The thing is, the boss’s weapon dangles overhead a little ways in front of him, so if you jump up too close you’ll take a hit and lose your bomb – your only hope is to, via painful trial and error, notice that the frontmost few pixels of said weapon reach beyond its hitbox, and proceed to exploit that vital bit of knowledge to its fullest extent. Yes, that’s right – once again, not only is the video game border between life and death defined by split seconds, but by individual pixels and seemingly innocuous design exploits.
The most potent example of what you’ll be dealing with altogether, however, is the final boss of the “normal” stage path – again, while I don’t want to spoil things more than is necessary, picture this scenario if you can. The battle takes place on a single, center-screen floating platform, so if you take a hit too close to its edge (which is where you’ll be spending much of your time, as said boss almost constantly floats above the pits to either side) you’re probably dead in one hit. The boss, like nearly all the rest, has a set pattern of attacks, which he’ll throw at you in the same sequence every time – none of the assaults are too difficult to survive on their own, but they’re not the only things working against you. You see, this boss, unlike the others, cannot be stunned, and must have his health bar whittled away bit by agonizing bit – moreover, this fight, in keeping with all before it, has a mere three-minute time limit, and if the clock runs out before your enemy is dead you’ve got to start the sequence all over again. Here, thus, is what the experience translates to – the player must memorize the boss’s entire attacking sequence, and know precisely what opportunities exist to attack, and from where, as remembering wrong will likely hurtle you off an edge and back to the start. During any such fleeting openings, once in position the player must mash the “attack” button as fast as he possibly can, as failing to do so will not deplete the boss’s health fast enough to finish him before the time limit expires. By the end of the fight, your brain, your eyes, and your fingers are almost certain to ache like they haven’t in quite some time.
If this is your idea of what a video game should be about, you are quite simply going to be in heaven playing Prinny.
I, myself, do not believe that this is what a video game should be about.
The above sound bite should tell you pretty much all you need to know about where I stand with Prinny when all is said and done – some of you might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the game’s sizable potential replay value (not even counting the unconfirmed possibility of DLC), which gives you opportunities to not only play through several different variations of the first six stages, but attempt to raise your scores and grades for each level, access a bonus area or two, fill up a selection of awards (sort of like Achivements or Trophies, except you can’t display them online for all to see), and even record short replays which can be shared with fellow Prinny fans. If you can see yourself playing Prinny for a long time, all of this stuff will only deepen its allure – if, like me, the central structure of the game frustrates you to the point where you hesitate to play it again in the first place, none of it will matter, as you’ll lack the motivation to slog through the game one time, let alone several. That’s not to say that the game has ZERO appeal whatsoever to anyone except outright masochists – Disgaea’s brand of humor and charm has definitely come along for the ride, and it’s hard not to crack a smile as Prinny walks in on a boss who’s in the middle of a grand evil speech, strolling right up to the treasure and interrupting with a matter-of-fact “mind if I borrow this, dood?” (At least now you know why he’s kicking your butt so hard.) Those who like being forced to solve a problem with a (figurative) gun to their head will also find it very satisfying to slowly happen upon “the trick” to beating a tough enemy or passing a particularly wicked section – once you stumble upon the solution to a seemingly impossible challenge, it’s as empowered as the game ever lets you feel.
Especially considering my overall track record in game preferences, my thoughts on Prinny will probably do even more to soil whatever meager reputation I have around here than my ruminations on LocoRoco did – I can already see the “BAAAWWWW”s making appearances by the dozens, alongside accusations that I “just don’t get it”, or “am blaming the game for my own inadequacies”. Maybe such sentiments are correct, as I’m hardly in a position to fairly judge – either way, I can only state what I honestly feel about the title, and to put things bluntly it simply isn’t for me. Despite its decidedly non-negligible good points, I just can’t see myself spending as much time as it would take to master the brazenly rigid, old-school brand of challenge that the game offers – it’s just not the sort of thing that I’ve ever been able to have much fun with, especially for anything beyond short stretches. If your tastes tend to coincide with mine, then I advise you to tread very carefully if you’re considering a Prinny purchase – rent it if possible, to taste firsthand what you’re in for. On the other hand, if you’ve been pointing and laughing scornfully at your monitor for the duration of this review (and possibly planning to take my lunch money), you should go out and pick up this game without so much as thinking twice – in the age of “casual” gaming, you’ll know what it means to love again.
For another local review from a different perspective, aside from the stuff I linked earlier, check here.
Impressions: Street Fighter IV
Remember that “half-review” I mentioned in the title? Well, this is it – there are a few reasons (aside from outright fatigue) that this one is more bite-sized than the earlier review. Most obviously, there have already been plenty of blog entries on Street Fighter IV on here, so in the interest of (hopefully) not repeating too much I’ll keep my thoughts on it pretty brief – mostly I’ll be detailing the contents of the “deluxe” box, as I did with Prince of Persia a little ways back. Ah, and I’m also awful at fighting games, as much as I enjoy playing them, so keep that in mind while you’re at it (and haven’t already used up all your ridicule in the Prinny section).
- For starters, yes, I coughed up the extra twenty bucks and sprung for the “Collector’s Edition” (on the 360, if it matters). Of course, the outer cardboard box of my copy had a sizable gash on one of the sides, but that’s just my dumb luck (and I’d rather not dwell on it). Since I reserved my copy at (Father forgive me) GameStop, I also received the pre-order headband as an additional extra – I haven’t bothered to take it out of its plastic bag, but it’s about what you’d expect, plain red except for a logo or two and a bit of artwork on it. Anyways, it’s free.
- The bulk of the box’s interior was taken up by the plastic “shell” which held the C. Viper figurine (IIRC PS3 buyers got a Ryu one instead). The figure is obviously pretty small, and nothing that will have space devoted to it in art museums (still plenty collectible though, I’m sure), but there was one thing I couldn’t help but notice about it – it might be my (sick) imagination at work, but the figure appears to show more cleavage than the actual in-game model, or any of the official artwork. Well, I guess that just comes with the territory of being a collectible figurine of a female character…or maybe I am just imagining things. I’m not even gonna bother with a photo comparison.
- Otherwise, I was semi-surprised to see that the remainder of the in-box space was taken up by not one, but two DVD cases – that’s right, the included anime feature, The Ties That Bind, gets its own case, so you can proudly display it, with original packaging, alongside your other movies. The film itself is a little over an hour long – while the overall production values are nothing beyond “decent,” there has certainly been FAR worse done to the license on the non-video game front, and it’s not a bad hour spent in terms of getting a little back story if you’re into that (I personally don’t mind it, if it’s not a MvC2-esque “why even try to put a plot here” situation). Most of the focus is on a half-dozen or so members of the cast, though there are cameos and references to a few of the others – while some will rightly mock the Dragon Ball Z-esque climactic sequence and the overplayed Ryu-Ken “bromance,” otherwise it’s nothing too offensive on the whole. I watched it in subtitled Japanese (there are five languages available for the subs, if you’d like to practice your Spanish or the like), so I can’t comment on the English voice actors, but either way they’re avoidable if necessary. In closing, there are also a few trailers for the game on here if you’re interested – and yes, the Thunder Grope is here in all its glory, though I do wonder if a relatively early scene (where a certain discovery is made in the jungle) was censored, as the cuts at that point came off as a bit awkward to my eyes.
- The soundtrack, on the other hand, is packed in with the actual game disc, via the ol’ plastic flap design – the music (under an hour total), as you were probably expecting, is almost entirely “high-energy” techno-ish “pump you up” tunes. While it certainly fits the game well, and in terms of overall quality is fine, I don’t see myself listening to it much when I’m not actually playing Street Fighter (as always, your personal mileage may vary). The other bits listed as “LE” bonuses were a redeem code for a few costumes (included on a flyer, which I haven’t tried to retrieve yet) and a “hint booklet,” which includes some of the special moves and whatnot for the new characters, accented by some Udon artwork (the guys doing the Street Fighter comics, in case you were unaware). Overall it’s not a bad set of extras for twenty bucks, though as always there’s nothing essential if you’re not an uber-fan of the series.
- On to a few quick things about the game itelf – first of all, to state the obvious, the bugger looks great. Even though I’m a certified sprite-ophile, if developers can implement a unique art style within a 3-D framework for other games as well as has been done here, I’m going to have a hard time complaining about them. Also, while some are probably complaining about the goofy expressions the fighters sometimes wear mid-match, I think they’re a hoot – I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t make a face like that when they know they’re about to get plastered by a big purple fireball? As of now, I’ve yet to acquire a fight-pad, so I will add my voice to the growing chorus insisting that you’d better get a superior pad or joystick if you want to play this in any meaningful way. I like being able to practice each character’s stuff in “Trial” mode, though as others have noted it’s unfortunate that there’s no way to see the move or sequence demonstrated by the computer if you’re having trouble getting the timing down. As far as the cast goes – 1) Sorry, but Guile is still the world’s most boring character, in both fighting style and “personality”. Yes, even more boring than Ryu. Flame me all you want, I will not relent. 2) Every new revision of Dan, on the other hand, is better than the last. It is simply The Way of Things. 3) Rufus – “His jiggling is hypnotic…like a lava lamp.”
Well, that’s about all I can think to say offhand, hopefully this review and a half answered a question or two that you’d been hesitant to ask.
(Just in case, I figure I also ought to credit this site for the Guile art.)