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Discarded Couch Sandwich's blog

10:13 AM on 08.11.2009

Random Recommendations: The stuff I've been playing recently

The premise is simple. I like videogames and so do you, so I’ve had some fun compiling together some of the recent game’s I’ve enjoyed, not enjoyed, or are currently anticipating, and gave a couple of thoughts on each. Easy, huh! I hope you find something you like here; there are a couple of weirdo’s ahead that you’ve likely either forgotten about or have such bad memories of that they’ve burned out of your skull. (I’m looking at you, Geist) But anyway, please read on, and have a nice time with the ride!

Games that I started about an hour ago and have made me again realize how much I adore JRPG’s: Eternal Sonata

I haven’t played a proper RPG in a good while, but Eternal Sonata had been lazing on my shelf waiting to be played for so long, that I just couldn’t resist it any more. And the result: me sitting giddy on the couch, drawn in by its pretty graphics and enchanting musical score. That was within ten minutes.

There’s just something about JRPG’s which makes me want to gawk at the screen letting my mind wander free, and this game certainly began with it all. A beautifully realised fantasy setting, the typically stupid-yet-I-don’t-know-why-I-like-her-enthralling female character, lots of spiky hair, and a half-hour in even gave my first androgynous she-he (Beat) that I’m still not fully sure about. Yes, from the short hour’s play that I got this game already comes with a massive recommendation, bringing back memories of some of my old favourites; Lost Odyssey, Final Fantasy XII, and Tales of Symphonia, in the process.

I can’t wait to enjoy some more RPG’ing in Sonata’s world later on! If you’re a genre fan it’s likely either on your list or you’ve already played it. If not, it’s still possible to get a few laughs from the slightly silly dialogue, such as the bit where Polka asks her mother if she’s afraid to touch her any more *snicker* or the part in the moonlight where she asks Frederick to come visit her forest. *retarded guffaw*

If you put a letter "F" in the middle of Sonata, it also sounds a bit like Eternal Sonfarta, which has the word "fart" in it. This is funny, for some reason.

Games that I wish I could play right now because I’ve been drooling over pictures of the new ones but someone deleted my file: Pokémon Platinum

If you’re like me who obsessively checks every few days to see if any new information has come out, you’ll likely be lusting over pictures of the upcoming Heart Gold and Soul Silver release right now. I was, and it really makes me long to play my old games again! So off I went one day, down to the girlfriends occupied R4 card where my half finished save resided; only to be greeted with a message saying there was no existing game data. I asked her if she knew anything about this, to which she said the card had been recently acting up a bit. This was met with my screams of “YOU MURDERED MY MANAPHY,” some tears, some exclamation points, and ultimately me vying for her blood. Ten minutes later, we got in, I’d settled down a bit and I was fine.

Anyone who plays the game knows that losing a Pokémon save file is like losing a best friend. Actually worse,; it’s like losing six of them, and I’ll never understand the people who can just casually erase their file to start a new game, without spending three hours beforehand transferring their captured monsters to someone else’s DS or Pokémon Stadium. It’s just wrong! Or maybe I just have some kind of condition, I don’t know. All I can say for sure though is, the moral of this tale is that pirating games is wrong, and you should always buy a real copy if you want to be safe with your save.

On second thoughts, why should I listen to my girlfriends opinion on what happened here, when she’s a blatant buneary boiler.

See what I did there! Buneary Boiler! Oh alright, have a cute picture to make up for the terrible puns.

Games that are kind of a bit boring to be honest but I’m slogging through for the sake of finishing them: Geist, Madworld

Having earned a place in my Gamecube collection for about three years, but only being played for around three (sets of ten) minutes, Geist is one of those titles I’ve been determined to finish. It’s a little known title that was announced around two years prior to its release - looking a bit crap both then and there – and in that time gaining the notoriety of being the Gamecube’s big FPS. It never lived up to that notoriety, but what did surface was a decent little shooter with an equal balance of clever and utterly terrible ideas. It’s not bad.

You may already know that you play a ghost with the ability to possess people and objects, and if you didn’t, you do now. This leads the way for some smart puzzle-shooting game play, such as some nice moments where rats must be taken possession to find secret passageways to new areas, or some cool looking areas where you get to take part in a computer simulation. These are some genuine highlights you’ll experience while playing this game.

They’re also some of the only ones, considering the proceeding list of not game-breaking, but annoying problems nonetheless. For one, it looks the dog (and not a particularly attractive dog) apart from some of the texture popping moments witnessed in the virtual world. Gunplay feels clumsier than a ladder made entirely of bread, with headshots being about as effective as arching down and firing at your invisible legs. I always keep my DSi handy in case I need to check gamefaq’s to solve an obscure riddle –which is often – and the game is totally streamlined so you have no freedom to explore off the beaten path, for example, one “puzzle” wouldn’t allow me to scare a man by possessing a fire extinguisher he was staring directly at, unless I got him to move closer to it first. I’ve found at least one wall that I could run through, and regardless of all this, I still think it’s a decent game. It’s short, which is quite nice, and somehow engaging enough to keep me for a few hours at a time. Not bad, and recommended if you have absolutely nothing else to do.

This is one of the prettier screens. If it does nothing for you, you're a bit out of luck.

Now Madworld on the other hand, is the total opposite of that. It is a very nice game to look at, but I just don’t feel it to be engaging at all. I’d go as far enough to call it boring, which I hate, because I was really looking forward to playing this game back when it was revealed. Combat hasn’t gotten much more than swishing around at the same few guys while battling an awkward camera, and the primary reason I continue to play it is for the occasionally excellent commentary. This is unfortunate in that it has to continuously repeat itself. During a game of human darts, I had to listen to Greg Proops’ erotic tale of himself, a dwarf and a donkey no fewer than four times in around a three minute period, which made me wonder whether Platinum couldn’t have just put a limit (one) on the amount of times a line can be said, or at least spread out some of the more random lines that are uttered, rather than having a constant, filling barrage of the same thing over and over.

That said, I have only managed about three levels so far, only being able to play one per session without tiring of it. Maybe the story or the rest of the soundtrack will redeem it in my eyes, but so far, colour me unimpressed.

Who knew that murdering leigons of criminals with a chainsaw could be so tiresome.

Games I brought to fill in spaces in my collection in which one turned out to be alright and the other utter tosh: Donkey Konga 2, Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble

Before satisfyingly slotting in my latest two five-pound finds next to Donkey Konga and Viewtiful Joe 2 respectively, I thought it might be quite nice to play them. Donkey Konga first, which I thought was quite inventive back in the day. It plays just like Taiko no Tatsujin, but with charmless, four-frame images of the main monkey himself moving in the background instead of adorable little drum creatures. Plus bongos!

The only song I could recognise from the soundtrack was everybody’s favourite All Star by Smash Mouth, which I proceeded to play. Hang on a second though. The instruction manual says that this song is performed by a band called Squish Moth, not Smash Mouth of whom we all (Ben Stiller and probably Mike Myers) love. Yup, it’s another bunch of covers. Good covers, mind, and the game is still rather fun to play, even though it does lack terribly in its presentation. I’m glad I managed to find it all the same – and I just need two more pairs of the peripheral before I can bring four player bongo nights back!

Having seen the Japanese track listings now makes me want to import. Katamari on the Rocks in a Nintendo game! It just feels unholy enough to try.

Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble is a real shame. It’s a shame that the two excellent games that receded before had to be brought down by this sullied mess of a title. It’s a shame that half of the controls have been changed, so I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time. It’s a shame that the designers chose to go down the four-player beat-em-up route for their final console Joe, instead of completing the trilogy and addressing the twist ending in the last one. And it’s a goddamn shame that barely any of it is explained, just why?

A Smash Bros. alike Viewtiful Joe sounds great on paper, but it’s just one of those ideas that could never, ever be executed in an playable way. Four players, time-altering techniques, and massive explosions; yup, that’s what you get, and it’s barely possible to keep track of any of it! Within seconds of a four player match up you’ll lose your character on screen and have no idea what’s going on, not just because of the general clutter, but because nothing at all is explained. Sometimes you’ll be sprung into a quick time event which doesn’t even tell you the buttons you’re supposed to be pressing. Other times, you’ll have an objective that gets lost in the mess of the rest of the screen. It’s entirely pointless!

Then again, this game was meant to tie in with the animé (that wasn’t even released over here) which partly explains its reasons for being so awful. Come on Capcom, you can do better than this.

Can you tell what's going on? I can vouch that its ten times worse in motion.

Games that I find the spelling mistakes on the map screen quite amusing: Trauma Centre: Second Opinion

Every time. Every time you enter the map, which is before every single operation, there is one great, glaring mistake at the bottom of the screen. “Yuo will move automatically on the map screen.”

Now, I don’t know if Atlus is in on something big here, or if I’m just falling behind my New Words in the English language, but I’m around 87% sure that “Yuo” is a mistake for “You.” That, or it’s a way of abbreviating “Yu-Gi-Oh,” which makes little sense due to the distinct lack of card games apparent so far in the Trauma Centre series. Either way, I find it quite humorous.

Oh, and the game is really good too, by the way.

You'll know when you hit the learning curve. It's that early mission where you fail within seconds and have no idea how it happened. It hurts, hard.

Games I managed to preview in a dream last night: The Beatles: Rock Band

When I’m not dreaming about hot chicks, sports cars, being an international superhero spy for the government and various other things that men dream about, I’m probably dreaming about videogames. And fortunately for me, last night’s sleep-engaged escapades took me on a full tour of Harmonix Massachusetts office where I got an exclusive hands-on with their upcoming music game, The Beatles: Rock Band. What else can I say, but it’s shaping up very nicely!

I’ll start by saying that the dreamlike, feel-good style of The Beatles has been perfectly captured in the build that I played. Landscapes and colour schemes are constantly changing to the sound of the music, from the beautifully lush, 60’s infused paradise which performs in the background of Eight Days a Week, to the seedy alcohol-and-urine smelling bar scene in any of the songs where Ringo takes vocals. Yes, apparently one new feature is that you can actually smell the venue you’re i taking the series to brave new, oftentimes unpleasant levels. Also new to the series is the way the note highways move. Occasionally, mid song, they may switch from the regular Rock Band top-to-bottom style, to flying Donkey Konga-like from the left, diagonally, or even with symbols that aren’t even represented on the guitar which made my play session that much more confusing to carry on with. This perfectly captures the trippy style that the band took with some of their later songs, and I can’t wait to see more of it!

Also, if what I heard was correct as I was flicking through the completed setlist, there will be some Monkees songs in The Beatles: Rock Band. Yet another reason to purchase this game if you’re a fan of music in the 1960’s decade.

In fact, The Beatles: Rock Band was such a good game in my dream that my first instinct when I awoke was to check the Playstation Store and see if the Abbey Road DLC was up, so I could play it straight away! It wasn’t.

This is in fact nothing like how The Beatles: Rock Band will look, if my dream is anything to go by.

Well that about wraps up my first edition of Random Recommendations, which I thoroughly enjoyed putting together. Who knows, maybe I’ll make this a regular thing each time I play a set of new games, just to give some of those old titles the words that they deserve. Anyway now, I’ve gone on long enough. Until next time, ta-ta.

Bonus Points for remembering what classic trailer I stole that last line from!   read

11:02 AM on 07.09.2009

Games I Like (that you should too) Why Pokémon Yellow is indubitably better than both Red and Blue

I'm a whore for traffic that I don't deserve in any way, and everyone knows the best way to accumulate that is to vocally disagree with any Super Special Serious Sterling article that comes my side, scour the writing for five hours, and then high-and-mightily exploit all traces of possible bias, trolling, or being fat that I can find. In fact, my bowl of Alphabets this morning spelled a message saying that on this day I would bring great things to a community, and in those exact words! I believe it was my destiny to write this piece, and as such, I spent a very difficult five minutes of my life compiling a list of the many reasons why he is utterly wrong. I present the labours of those hardships to you now.

A few days ago, you may have noticed an article posted by Destructoid's very own Jim Sterling which was a vain attempt to prove that Pokémon Red was better than Pokémon Blue. As the intellectual readers among us will already know, this statement is indeed, completely false. In fact, regardless what the internet and many other sources would have you believe, I now know that the very existence of Pokémon Red and Blue was completely evaporated off the face of the earth, with the holy light of a new chariot, obliterating everything as it made its descent upon all participating retailers. Yes, I'm talking about Yellow. How can you compare two games that don't exist? Only a mad man could possibly achieve such a feat. Because he is mad.

If you need any more reasons why Yellow comes out on top and makes Red and Blue its eternal bitch, just read on for an education you require.

1.)Pikachu is the best Pokémon ever and the opinion of anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

If Pikachu isn't the best Pokémon ever, why is he the main character? It just makes sense. You can get Pikachu in everything these days: from a Pikachu shaped car, to alarm clocks, to creepy pyjamas, toothbrushes, cuddly toys, action figures, pregnancy tests, a strange pedometer thing you stick on your belt where he runs away if you don't answer his every move, even to a special edition version of the video game. Now why would the friendly business suits in marketing want to get the yellow rodent's face on every conceivable item known to man, if he wasn't the best? I mean, Ash even chose to have him in the first episode of the cartoon!

And, with no background research at all I can state that the Pikachu car probably runs on electricity, just like himself, which means that Pikachu is also a way of cutting back on fossil fuels and reducing the effects of global warming. What other Pokémon is good for the environment? Not Charizard, that's for sure.

2.)Pikachu could murder Blastoise and Charizard

Even a level 1 Pikachu could KO a Blastoise with a single Thundershock, because electric is good against water. Anyone who knows Pokémon knows that fact. And you think your so called mighty Charizard could stomp our little mouse into mush just because its a fire type and about eight times the size. Well guess again: when Charmeleon evolves it becomes dual Fire/Flying, fortunately for our hero gaining a new weakness against electricity. Pikachu could send volts through Charizard with numbers more over-the-top that Colonel Volgin's speech from Metal Gear Solid 3, which would surge through his body and blast torrents of claret out of those little stumps he used to call wings before he even had the chance to rear his foot. I saw that happen on an episode once. Probably.

3.)Venusaur is called Penisaur

And for those of you who are too cool for the pocket monsters on the box and are currently thinking, “well, Venusaur's earthquake, a ground type move, could easily finish Pikachu in one hit,” no, you don't get off so easily. Everyone knows that ever since an early age Venusaur has been plagued with crippling emotional difficulties triggered by unfortunately easy to associate nicknames. From when the kids in the playground used to point and call him Ballsaresaur he's always had it hard. Sure there were a good couple of years in his teens as an Ivysaur, because not many rude words rhyme with ivy, but as adulthood kicked in he suddenly became the rotten egg of his peers again. All Pikachu would have to do is remind him of these darkened times, thus sending him back to the bottle and making him an easy target.

And don't give me any of that crap about Pikachu's not being able to say anything but incessantly warbling their own name, because I have proof on the contrary. For one, Mewtwo in the film could talk, proving that Pokémon do indeed know English, and Mewtwo is cloned from Mew, who is the origin of all Pokémon (piss off Arceus), and Pikachu is the distant spawn from the origin so it all makes sense.

Digimon can talk too, which is probably relevant in some way.

4.)Heart Gold and Soul Silver allow Pikachu to follow you around

Confirmed! Heart Gold and Soul Silver force you to have Pikachu behind you at all times. By that I mean you can choose from all four hundred and ninety-three Pokémon which one you want to have trailing you, but I may as well say force here because if Pikachu is a option, why would you choose anything else?

Yes, they've finally brought the best feature from any Pokémon adventure back, which they wouldn't have done if they didn't acknowledge Yellow to be the best of them all. You can even turn round and see if it likes you, which if it is a Pikachu it always will, and also will have sex with you on demand. It caters to all of your needs, because it is the best.

5.)Jim Sterling is bias and a troll and he is wrong and blah blah blah...

I took a random sample of about ten people in Stoke-on-Trent today asking how many of them thought Pokémon Red was actually better than Yellow, as his article clearly stated. Fortunately, the many slur words for homosexual and bruises to my left temple and ribcage I received went right through me, because I knew in my heart of hearts that they were really all meant for Jim, since it was his article I was surveying for. A friendly young couple I sat down with in Costa told me to “piss off,” which I almost think sounds like “Crystal.” They clearly misunderstood which generation of Pokémon I was asking about, but all was not lost as I managed to sip their expensive coffee as I sat down with them.

To be honest, I haven't even recognized Jim's article since the beginning because I don't want much space to allow such wrongness to seep into mine. However, I still feel it ultimately necessary to briefly point out his bias towards/against Pokémon Yellow for you all, because every time I type bitter, hateful things about Jim Sterling it gives me an erection, which almost makes up for my tiny penis and underdeveloped pubic zone.

I put towards and against in there because I'm not sure which one is grammatically correct in this context, and tend to use them interchangeably. Whichever the bad one is though, that's Jim.

Picture unrelated

6.)Team Rocket is in Yellow. No, not those black shirted goons in all of them. The REAL Team Rocket.

If its not already the best game ever, the fact that you can actually battle both Jessie AND James, WITH their Ekans and Koffing, IN FULL COLOUR, is the icing on this cherry. If any sentence was deserving of random capitals strewn all over the place, it would be the one explaining just that. Playing on a Game Boy Colour allows you to take full advantage of James' campy good looks and Jessie's shocking red hair, increasing immersion and making playing the game feel as if you're watching their wacky antics unfold right in front of your eyes. Even Meowth is present, but unfortunately, doesn't talk like he did in the animé. I ask you to suspend your disbelief for a second now, to take in the knowledge that not even Yellow has everything. What it does have though is far better than any other Pokémon title out there.

R.I.P. Maddie Blaustein

7.)EV's suck

You know what sucks? EV's, that's what. The one part that has spoiled Pokémon for most people miraculously wasn't in Yellow version, because when I was about ten years old and playing that game I didn't think about them, therefore they don't exist. I never played Red – I had Blue instead – so I can only assume that they were present in that game, adding more burning fuels to the fire that is Jim Sterling's wrongness about how Red is the best game in the world.

8.)Yellow is easier to masturbate to

Lets face it: anyone who was between the ages of around seven and eighteen in the late nineties probably watched Pokémon solely because they had a major crush on the voluptuous enchantress that was Cerulean Gym's Leader Misty, and I am now proud to announce that in Yellow version, she was hotter than ever. For the approximately six seconds that her full colour sprite is on screen, you could engage in your Misty related fantasies better than was before possible. What is under those shorts, I know you're wondering? Well, with a bit of blue on them, as opposed to those smelly black and grey pixels in Red, maybe that tether on your imagination can be taken further than you've ever managed. With little mental work, you'll have that skimpy bikini ripped right off her smooth slender back, allowing entry again through the golden gates of all those childhood fetishes you know you used to have.

Alternatively you could turn safe search off and look on the internet for relief to these fantasies, which contains many hardcore pictures depicting various degrees of Misty being clothed which I wouldn't know a thing about.

9.)Pikachu has no anus.

Did you ever see that episode of the cartoon where Pikachu swallows the apple whole and the doctor has to reach down into his throat as if he were a mouse-shaped vagina and pull it out whole? You get a full 360 degree shot of the 'Chu at that moment, and he doesn't have anything on his bottom: presumably storing and regurgitating all of his food as if his entire race has bulimia nervosa. Wasn't that the best thing you had ever seen in your life!

10.)I've seen all the banned episodes of the cartoon so I know more than you and my opinion is better than yours

As the kind of person who feels the need to validate his own opinion by stupidly trivial means, I went and did what no man in the world has ever done before, and searched all of the banned episodes of Pokémon on Youtube. If you in America think you're better than me because you got to see a poorly dubbed version of the episode where James from Team Rocket has breasts, guess again. I saw that version too, thanks to the magic of internet. I also know how Ash caught all those Tauros which had previously left a huge gap in the English series, so now I'm twice as better as you for that. I didn't die when I watched that Porygon episode with the flashing lights either, which probably means I'm some kind of superhuman with Godlike abilities. You will now fear me, or my Blaizeken will tear your head off. He does that.

Well, that's all for why Pokémon Yellow is the far better game out of the first trio and how Jim Sterling's personally-offensive-to-many-article on how Pokemon Yellow was the worst thing to ever come out of Satan's arsehole is completely wrong in every way. Though I'm sure there are many more reasons as to how this was the best, notwithstanding that you can have all three starters from the first game in this adventure, if you so choose. So its practically Red and Blue morphed together, to make some kind of super game.

And on that final note, I'll take my leave. Then escape to another country in case anyone discovers that I couldn't actually find the Jynx episode that was considered too racist to broadcast because she/it looks like a cross-dressing minstrel. I hope you've enjoyed your education!   read

5:04 PM on 07.02.2009

Sandwichreviews: Alone in the Dark (movie) Or my first experience with Mr. Boll.

Have you ever seen an Uwe Boll movie? The passionate director has garnered a lot of criticism over the last few years for his occasional tributes to videogaming, but until a few days ago when ITV4 was brave enough to show his 2005 adaptation of Alone in the Dark, I hadn't actually witnessed a lick of his work with my own eyes. My knowledge of this notorious man's works had up to then extended as far as: one; he likes to punch-out journalists, and two; his films are particularly bad. So curious, as I'd expect most to be as they enter into a Boll flick, I stayed up two hours past my bedtime in order to find out what all this time he has been all about. Carry on for my completely honest, completely unbiased, and slightly dirty first experience.

Alone in the Dark is a movie, with a lot of things that movies have in them. It runs for about ninety minutes, is shot using movie cameras, and stars people who may have at some point been in other movies. The game and film's hero, Edward Carnaby, is portrayed here by unwitting actor Christian Slater, and Tara Reid from Josie and the Pussycats and that episode of Scrubs is also in it. So far, so good, and I was shocked to find that my approval of this film didn't end there.

The film opens with something that I don't know because I was watching Peep Show on the other channel, but the first bit I do remember was a brilliantly executed fight scene in which Christian Slater engages in a battle of anti-gravity kung-fu with a tall, bearded man. This was very entertaining, and I could tell that Boll had put a lot of thought into crafting a hero the audience could believe in. Caranby's Jesus-like ability to push off flat from the ground with zero momentum, and then bicycle kick his antagonist in the face was rather impressive: we can tell that this is a man whose hands the world will be safe in. His subsequent power to land two direct gunshots to the bearded man's heart, firing through a block of fucking ice, and then have the man get up without so much as a struggle, was equally as impressive. Watching this piece of cinema unfold in front of my eyes was a very fun experience.

This first fight is also a stage for Boll to show off his tricksy use of slow motion. It appears that a rule was set at the beginning of shooting this scene, that if the slightest hint of damage was caused during a frame, it would be then slowed down in editing. Case in point: every damn thing goes slow at some point. If Slater gets chucked through a window, its getting slowed down. Thrown through a door? Hit the slow button, but just for a second or so. Brush up the side of an archway while walking through? You'd better believe that this bit is getting slowed right to hell. You can see where this is going.

But its okay, right, because slow motion is always a good, clever technique?

Christian Slater: rarely seen without that long brown coat. Even in the middle of summer! I guess if he took it off his self-esteem couldn't take it.

There is also a plot that comes in at some points. A scene near the beginning which takes place on a ship, shows an old man with a coffin made of gold, accompanied by a group of youngish, more muscular men. An interesting twist then occurs, in which the coffin is stolen by the young men who appeared friendly before. However, as an audience we are tipped off by this betrayal prior to its happening, due to the young persons large muscles and sunglasses of the central one: a smart move by the director. The old man then gets locked in a cabin and begs for the young men not to open the golden coffin, because he is wise, and that's what all old men are in half thought-out film plots, but the young men open it anyway, because that is what villains do in half thought-out film plots. Thus an unspeakable evil is released onto the world, and it is up to the gravity defying hero of the tale to save it.

If you find you are too stupid to keep up with this story, there are also narrations given by Christian Slater every so often in order to keep you up to speed. These usually amount to subtle references to his character in the video game of the same name, just in case you had forgotten that this was supposed to be based off a game in the first place.

Up to this point, Tara Reid has been in the film, playing a character whose name I don't know and can't even remember being mentioned at all in the script. To be brutally honest, I can only recall her having any spoken dialogue about three times during the entire run (and even the last of that is a little sketchy), the first of which being a phone conversation in which she is supposed to sound intelligent. Unfortunately, we already know that she is Tara Reid, so even if her character was delivered with more energy than the effortless reading-lines-off-the-smudge-on-the-back-of-her-hand guff that is presented here, we would still hark back to that girl we saw in American Pie and various pornographic sources. Giving Reid this limp, lifeless husk to go with was the first criticism I found in film, and in the next scene while she stared at Christian Slater's bare, man-like chest as he slept, I wondered if Boll would make an attempt to inject some life into her character before it ended.

Tara Reid has less dialogue than Bakura! He is clearly very happy about this.

On the note of Tara's failed character came an ad break, which I found rather refreshing as it allowed me to play Picopict (Pictobits in the USA) on my DSi; something I had been longing to do since around fifteen minutes into watching the main feature. My experience with this was quite good, it is definitely one of the better “Art Style” series titles, and I would definitely recommend you download it. Various sized coloured blocks fall down the screen, and the aim of the game is to match the colours into groups of four or more smaller shapes, which wipes them away to form a classic NES sprite on the top screen. You move blocks around using the stylus, either by storing them for later use, or releasing them onto empty spaces for blocks to fall on to, hopefully linking them together and causing them to disappear. The real skill however comes from chaining your blocks for massive combos, which requires much precision stylus work and a lot of quick thinking. Clearing most of a massive block off the screen and knowing that it was your own work is an immensely satisfying thrill; better though is the games soundtrack, which is made up of remixes from old 8-bit Nintendo games. When I got to the final stage of this package I was amazed at how much content I had already gone through for a 500 point game (and at how much more there was to unlock!). There's no place better to spend half of the 1000 points you get free with the system, but even without that, you could do a lot worse for your three gold coins and one oddly shaped silver coin. Or five bucks.

The most intriguing thing I salvaged from this time though, was when my concentration was drawn to the sound of Donnie Darko 2 which I had no idea even existed. The original is one of my favourite movies of all time, and the idea of a sequel - past the prior thoughts of how they could fit Jake Gyllenhall back into it – was quite nice. I mean there's no way they could ruin something as great as Donnie Darko. After having his vision interpreted to cinema with acclaim and a degree of perfection in the first one, Richard Kelley would never allow that to happen. This was definitely something which demanded further research.

It's easy. Touch the blocks to store them, then release them when necessary! Simple! Yet it gets fiendishly tricky later on.

After about seven minutes into one of the difficult remixes of Picopict I realized that before I turned it on I was supposed to be watching a film or something. There had been no audio prompts for me to believe that there was anything but adverts on the TV, so I was very surprised when I turned my head up to find a sex scene, at what I fully expected by soundtrack alone to be one of those British sofa advertisements. It quickly became clear that one thing Boll cannot do for the life of him is appropriate music; when its possible to mistake the power and emphasis of a couple making love for a DFS advert, you must be getting something wrong. However, I have to hand it to him for this bit of audio trickery, because people watching his film on a station with breaks in between can enjoy playing their handheld console for a little bit longer and not have to be cued into watching these two planks of wood rubbing up against each other. With that, he's also just helped me come up with the perfect analogy for the film so far, so I must thank him again for inspirations sake.

The plot continues with Carnaby being given special bullets that can kill the evil creatures, and a special flash light whose illumination is tailored to keep them at a distance. Now, at this point I thought Boll had dropped the ball yet again. Its not as if the scientists creating this special light or special bullets had anything to test them on? They haven't exactly captured a demon to wave it around on and say, “here, this works.” No, all they can do is hope that what they've made is effective, and send Carnaby in there while they book their vacation for the next ten years! Am I really supposed to suspend my disbelief that far!

Then I had a thought. Well, how do scientists ever accurately predict how many billions of light years away a star is, or global warming, or how some of the planets are made entirely of gas? If they've never been there or seen it first hand, how can they possibly know? On that contemplation, I just sat back, realized I don't have the first clue when it comes to maths, equations and all that stuff, and just assumed that the scientists making these magic weapons had spend the better part of their lives studying demonology and had managed to devise an equation on the matter that just worked. I guess Boll won that round. He is deep in thought on these matters after all.

That placticine monster is really in for a killing now.

Sadly, not all of Boll's movie could be as engaging as it has been up to now, and when the director exemplified his lack of skill with audio as a group of military men enter the demon compound to the sound of heavy metal and gunfire, I turned my attention back to the DS and used its browser to look up Donnie Darko 2. I was in disbelief as I discovered it had been heard of since May last year, and was already available on DVD in the States! How knowledge of the film managed to evade me for this long was annoying, but a nice surprise at the same time. Not a nice surprise on the other hand, was the negative reception to its release. Its a shame it sucks, but I'll watch it nevertheless. How could they possibly make a decent follow-up to Donnie Darko anyway? On a side note, it appeared that the American title, S. Darko, won't be re-used over here, instead going with the shadier, more sequel-like Donnie Darko 2. I expect many people to feel disappointed after it is released in cinemas soon.

When I got back to the film everyone was trapped underground in some kind of cave. Tara Reid spoke the second piece of dialogue that I remember here, which is as she is translating some ancient squiggles on a rock, which directly say, and I quote, “Once you make it alive down here, you're already dead.” I thought this was a rather skilled way of showing why Reid's character is so hollow, as we now know that she must have lived her whole life as a shut-in working on somehow translating these old pictures into English words, that it sucked her dry of any personality she may have ever had. Next there's a bit where Carnaby is struggling to shoot a demon worm thing which I found hard to believe since he shot a guy with accuracy two times through a block of ice at the beginning, someone with their head split open which raised a chuckle, an old man I'm not sure if I've seen before goes nuts, and a follow through to one of the most hopeless endings that I've ever seen. Hopeless in the respect that its both quite a bad note to climax on, and that presumably the aliens/demons won and in that last shot where the camera zooms right into their faces, ripped them to pieces and ate their flesh. It would certainly make sense, since I can think of no other reason as to why Slater and Reid won't be associating themselves with the 2009 sequel, and instead have Carnaby and whatever-her-name-was be played by other actors. After they were feasted upon, some other people must have been born with their same names or something, and now they have to save the day. Or something.

I don't think either of them were entirely sure why they were there.

Final Thoughts

It sucks, and I cannot believe it. The thought that a sub-par Donnie Darko sequel exists in this world just hurts my heart. I just hope that the rumoured second sequel, with Richard Kelly's involvement, will receive better support than this one has. Yes, I will go and see it as soon as I can, and I really hope that I'll enjoy it. Its just sad to know that whatever shows itself to me on that cinema screen, has little to no chance of surpassing what is one of my most loved films, like I hoped a sequel would.

And buy Picopict. Its awesome.

There's a Nightwish song if you manage it to the credits. I guess his musical taste isn't completely hopeless after all.   read

3:31 PM on 06.21.2009

Games I Like (which you should too) I'll Tingle her Rosy Rupeeland edition. Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland.

Unwanted. Isolated. If you were a balding, middle aged man who regularly went out in a full green body suit and insisted that everybody called you “Mr Fairy,” these are likely the feelings which would be closest to you; so is with Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland.

From the first time you enter the acting hub-world Port Town, the game pulls an atmosphere which distinctly invokes the message, “no, we don't want you here.” Despair looms through the repeated melody as you make your stroll, characters slam doors behind after you've walked past, and nobody will give you a second word, or even a first, unless you pay them up front. You realize, if you don't have the patience to deal with the frankly disturbing townspeople, then there is no way that you'll be able to struggle through the long ordeal that has been sent to you.

But what an ordeal it turns out to be. Tingle is practically a superhero origin story; at the beginning we find out how the notorious fairy-man came about his fabled emerald costume, and the unwavering desire for rupees that have made his character. As it turns, Uncle Rupee, a man in the clouds who has the face of a giant rupee, transforms the hero of this tale (you!) into the green-clad protagonist Tingle, promising to eventually take him away to the magical Rupeeland; a place which exists riches beyond imagination and all the rupees one could ever desire. In exchange however, you must travel the world in search of rupees to fuel an ever growing tower, and the Master Rupee, which will make the jump to Rupeeland possible. So begins your quest: scaling treacherous mountains, overcoming terrible tribes, travelling plains of alien cows and barren wastelands belonging to fairy princesses, all in order to find the treasures required to realize your ultimate dreams. Sounds bizarre. Sounds amusing. It is both of these things. This is going to be one strange journey.

Here's one example of Tingle's sexual deviances. One of these guys is a woman. One of them doesn't have a mustache. Those two facts do not necessarily go hand in hand.

Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland is just one of those games. Its one of those rare titles where each of its seemingly terrible components (simple tap-tap fighting and annoying bargaining) miraculously come together and make something wonderful happen. At least, for some people. Tingle is a crowd splitter if you ever saw one: some may be immediately sent away by the presence of the flamboyant title character, others who are willing to give it a shot may be turned off by the seemingly impenetrable core gameplay system. Like its insane characters, the game's wacky world is designed to completely alienate the player from the get-go, allowing only the most dedicated audience to beat its initial inane design choices. Those that are willing to toil through the tiresome early hardships however, will learn very quickly that on the quest to Rupeeland, you will most certainly reap much more than you sow.

If you couldn't tell from that third paragraph, everything in Tingle's world revolves around rupees. They count as your life force, as well as your only means to progress through the game's many difficult challenges. You want advice from someone, you pay. Fight an enemy, you pay. Gain entry to a dungeon, you pay a real hefty amount. There's nothing Tingle wont do to replace you of your hard-earned cash, so the first question is, if this game is so insistent of taking away your money, how on earth do you earn it? Well, there are three main ways to go about this, which make up the core of the game.

Dash past the slightly creepy box-art and you're in for a nice surprise.

1.) Cooking

This isn't Zelda. You won't be slaying demonic creatures and looting the corpses for money they're for some reason carrying here, quite the opposite in fact: get into a punch-out with a pig in Tingle and you'll be the one losing the cash. Nope, Tingle favours menial handiwork to straight-out-scuffles, though it does bear at least one resemblance to the series it spun from.

Here's the deal: you get into a fight by moving on top of an enemy, and a comic-style fight bubble will appear (think Andy Capp or The Beano) showing your fairy fighter getting the living daylights kicked out of him. Tap the screen to attack your foe, and eventually, after losing many rupees, you'll (hopefully) have won. Now, you'll see that the enemy has dropped a number of odd-looking items, which you can then go on to use as cooking ingredients. Recipes are dotted about the land, and to the right buyer, they can go for quite a high price. But how do you store the completed goods, you ask? In none other than classic Zelda staple, the Empty Bottle! These make up one side of Tingle's inventory, (the other being ingredients) and you can expand upon your carrying capacity by finding more, making for less tedious trips to sell your products.

That's one way of making money. It sounds simple enough, but there's a little more depth to accompany that. For one, enemies usually only drop one item, but if you're quick enough and manage to chain enemies together by moving over them as Tingle is engaged in combat, more ingredients will be yours for the taking. Harder enemies who appear to suck your rupee counter dry will also require Tingle to hire a bodyguard to do the fighting for him, but they also come at a price. Its a system of balance; one which takes a lot of calculation and memory to solve.

2.) Mapping

This is my favourite, and one of the most rewarding ways to fill your wallet. Each of the game's eleven islands has a map, which you can purchase for a relatively low price, and scattered around each island are a number of distinctive landmarks. When Tingle stumbles across something which appears out of place, select “Mapping” on the menu and he can enter a pointless touch-screen implementation in which a circle must be drawn on the map to to register the new discovery. Its fun exploring the land on this mini scavenger hunt, but the best part comes from taking your completed map back to Port Town where the old woman will throw rupees at you for each landmark you've noted, amounting to a lot more than was paid for the original map in the first place. Then, sell the map to the old lady and be buried in the given wealth. Results!

The only problem is that when you sell the whole map, you lose it for good. That is, unless you decide to buy it back for a sum that is always slightly higher than you sold it for. In the end, you'll still have the benefits that each landmark gave you, but the money gained from selling the finished product is just a one time thing, there if you need it. Some of the later maps are essential for finding key items, and making even more money, so care is needed when you're deciding whether to sell a map on for the extra boost.

3.) Dungeon Crawling

This is what makes up the bulk of Tingle's adventure. There are five dungeons throughout this warped version of Hyrule, each requiring a large amount of skill, patience, and rupees to pass. After paying the toll, you'll be treated to a Zelda-style layout, with a number of classic puzzles often involving Tingle hefting around large objects with his protruding stomach. Manage to beat your way to the end and your reward comes threefold; first, the boss battles.

One thing I love about this game: the boss fights completely turn the mechanics of the game on its head. Instead of traditionally recycling bits of game that you've already played but making them slightly harder, Tingle presents some completely different scenarios to overcome before it allows access to its greatest treasures, though it can be said that these moments are a real treasure in themselves. One fight has you in a Punch Out!! style arena – complete with dodgy 16-bit caricatures on the top screen – throwing bombs at a giant 3D skeleton monster. Another encounter has Tingle flicking himself up the inside of a volcano, trying to avoid the twists and turns of a flaming dragon. Its always refreshing to meet a boss because they're so different from the core premise you're used to seeing.

And the reward for beating the dungeons master. Why, one of the five sacred rupees you need to unlock the final ultimate Master Rupee. Oh, and a boatload of cash to grab, which will make short work of the tower. Its a very nice prize.

Pictured: what Tingle would look like on an Xbox 360. Just be glad that Nintendo thought of this IP first!

Yes, Tingle will reward you greatly for accomplishing its ultimate toil, with some nice original experiences, and, well, some things that will be tapped later. But lets talk about the more annoying aspects to Tingle fore a second: I guess anything with the title characters association will have some kind of aspect that makes you want to punch it in the face.

The main gripe stems from the bargaining system. Its not broken in any way, as it does exactly what it was meant to do (assuming that was: “piss the player off immensely.”) for with each time you offer money to a character for an item, or advice you need, that money is gone for good. Sounds fair when put that simple, yes, but when you factor in that if you give them an amount too low they'll tell you jack-nothing and rob you of your cash, dealing with people becomes a whole different ordeal. The capitalist moral of Tingle's tale, is that grown-ups love money, and they'll stop at nothing to prise it from your hands. Bargaining games become a case of slowly offering increasing sums, resetting your DS, and repeating until the right amount is found. Be warned that if you offer too much, they'll take that too.

Its a different style of gaming, to have short bursts of play in order to store the best paths in memory to carry out later on, and for the most part, it does work. However, there are moments where you'll have progressed far past the game's single save point, and be offered a reward for carrying out certain characters tasks. These can get very tricky. The game is to ask for whatever amount you want, without being too generous or too greedy. If you're the former its possible to miss out on massive amounts of wealth, but three strikes of being the latter and you get nothing. I hit the internet for the best prices after one of these, and found out that I'd lost out on around 50,000 rupees. You will probably do the same.

For a Nintendo licensed game, you sometimes wonder how it could be so unforgiving (if you lose too many rupees and then save, it is essentially possible to 'fail the game,' or at least, be forced to grind for hours making low-pay recipe's to gain your money back). You may also begin to wonder how a relatively non-violent Nintendo game was granted a 12+ rating from the ESRB. Yes, we all know the story: Tingle is a middle-aged man in tights who calls himself a fairy, therefore he must be some kind of deranged sexual predator. And while the game doesn't actually confirm this as fact, it doesn't shy away from throwing the odd innuendo around.

The curious bridge makers for one, have the appearance of a cross between Japanese personality Hard Gay and the builder from the village people. Everything from the helmet, to the one-piece suit, to the way he thrusts his crotch in your face if you give him money invokes the thought process, “hmm, there may be something funny going on here.” Then there's Tingle's unique way of storing special rupees, which appear to gravitate towards his arse-hole after he does his funny dance. And no-one could look at the tower's growing between every level and not see the obvious phallic reference. It appears as if Tingle's ambiguous sexuality is following him at every turn, with sexual implications splashed all about the place. An excursion presents itself in whether you can spot them all, although the cleanliness of your own mind will probably play a part in whether you discover more or less.

Hard Gay: surprisingly not gay at all. He's kind of like a Japanese Sacha Baron Cohen, therefore he is already awesome.

The plot is lined with humorous subtleties. “Why is that Uncle Rupee strangely becoming more wealthy as I toss my money to fuel this tower?” you'll ask. “Whose the guy in the pink Lycra, and why does he have breasts?” will likely be the first response upon stumbling on sidekick, Pinkle. And “why does my dog also have a tingle suit?” are possibly things you'll hear yourself saying through playing this strange title. Only the most offbeat challenges are good enough for a Tingle, and regardless of what seems to be a disjointed nature, every strand of toil you've been through will come together in the end. A satisfying conclusion meets a game that you really weren't paying too much attention to story in the first place. Its a welcome surprise.

Looking at screens, its easy to come to the conclusion that the presentation is beautiful, with this being one of the brightest games to ever hit the DS. The occasional 3D sections also make it look even nicer, giving a vibrant, cartoony feel throughout. The only part missing is a musical score: you will hear sounds during your journey, but often these are just various forest sounds, and birds chirping. In fact, sweeping sound accompanies each time Tingle uses his trademarked balloon to descend upon an island – a sound that feels every bit as epic as any classic Zelda track – but after a few seconds, it stops. And all that can be heard is tweeting. Its quite disappointing, and the only part that detracts from an otherwise brilliant feel.

I have an erection!!!... is what you'll shout as the tower grows. To everyone about. If you're me. *is shamelessly immature*

The presentation says it all, really. Simple, but not lacking in depth. There are many layers to this bizarre property, and you'll gain a lot of entertainment discovering them all. From its ironic capitalist story, to its campy characters and situational humour, Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland is one of the most charming, off-the-wall, and downright impenetrable games that you absolutely must play. Your curiosity will indeed, be rewarded greatly with this one.

Now Nintendo, give us even more unnecessary immaturity and stupidity in the coming sequel!   read

9:41 PM on 06.15.2009

Things I Hate in games I Love.

So, I've recently come out of a play through of the new Prince of Persia, quite happily with the thought that yeah, that was a pretty darn good game. That's fair enough I guess, but it did feel a little strange for me to say, because it seemed that every time I sat down with that game I'd fall into a language and controller abusing rage of how much it frustrated me to my limits and the degrees to which I hated every thing in existence in this world. It's perplexing as to why my attitude changed so drastically after placing the controller down for the final time, so I wonder, what changed?

I understand that it would be very difficult for a developer to create a game with the perfect balance of satisfaction and frustration (i.e. latter: none, or little enough for the player to care) which is a shame because really, that is all our enjoyment falls down to. Ideas go into a large pot and get mixed round a bit, while some are good, but others are bad. Some of them will garner a nice reception from the public, while there will be some that aren't so lucky. Every game is just a combination of these positive and negative aspects, which is what I'd put my experiences with Prince of Persia to – it was lucky that it's good outweighed the abundance of annoyance present – and it is also where I would place many of my more annoying gaming exploits.

The only thing that can make a game perfect are our opinions, and the same goes for the means that can break a game for us. However, while many videogames offer experiences that can test our patience to its core, not all of them are bad enough to make us want to stop playing them entirely. This piece is dedicated to those games: the ones where some moments make us our controllers far in anger, before praying that they're not broken so we can pick up and play them again. Here's a run-down of five of my worst, and where better to start, than with the one which inspired this piece!

Zack fully endorses the content of this article, regardless of the absolute slating he'll be recieving later on.

Prince of Persia

The new Prince of Persia seems to treat gamers like magpies: as long as they're collecting shiny things, they're happy. Now while this can be true in some cases (I can remember having some nice old times finding coin hoards in Super Mario Bros.), having to backtrack every stage to satisfy my kleptomania was not fun. But still, I found myself doing it, every single time, as if the game had captured me with some kind of intrinsic trance. When you activate the game's fertile grounds, you're given two directions to go in. One leads nowhere, the other one doesn't. Both are dotted with shiny orbs. Cue running back and forth while hating self.

If repeating stretches of land and the same four moves to get around over and over again wasn't enough, Ubisoft have kindly included repeats of every boss fight too. Five times. Each.

That's four bosses, repeated five times, making for a grand total of twenty near identical fight scenes the player will have to bear through. Some of them can admittedly be quite entertaining, given you manage to off them quickly, but having to chip my way through the eternally difficult heath bars of the Concubine or the Alchemist was never, at all enjoyable. I don't know, there's just something I don't find satisfying about fifteen minute slogs in which attack damage is barely noticeable, reward isn't issued for successfully completing quick-time-events, and I have the painful knowledge that I'm going to have to do this almost another bloody half-a-dozen times! So yeah, beats me.

And I'm not to forget those damn flying/running up wall sections. While they look nice in practice, the fixed nature of them, combined with the fact that you can rarely tell what will knock you back to the start, makes them some of the most hair-tearingly frustrating moments I've ever had the misfortune to be placed in front of. It's basically trial and error without the awesome chiptune soundtrack and feeling that your mad skills can dodge bullets (exactly what makes Megaman great!) and when the sections are linked together without a place for Elika to pick you up, it becomes less trial and more error with dusty knuckles.

Oh, and forget about getting the “Be gentle with her” achievement first time around, because there are so many random deaths in this game that you'll lose it before the introduction level is completed. But seriously, that is all for Prince of Persia. It makes me wonder what I actually did enjoy about the game when seemingly half of the experience was laced in pure agony, but looking back, I see that the whole package of running about and swinging about on things was pretty good stuff. The graphics, the writing, the epic musical score, and the guy from Uncharted definitely helped alleviate my time with it too. Anyway.

I can fly! I can run up walls! i can jump around a bit... You probably wont enjoy much of it, mind.

Zack and Wiki: The Quest for Barbaros Treasure

To be perfectly clear, I could pick any level in Zack and Wiki, and use it to write a detailed description of why I hate that game so goddamned much, but for memory's sake, I'll use one that I've played most recently. Its the penultimate challenge, titled Mad Science for anyone in the know. After playing the stage for about five minutes I come across a large coffin with an energy field. I touch the energy field: dead. Start the level again. Slightly miffed. Next, with my new knowledge of not to touch buzzing deathtraps, I progress further and find a potion, which I use. This begins a ten second death countdown. Okay, I'm slightly worried now. Start the level again. After retracing my steps again, I finally realize what I was supposed to do! I mix the potion as was intended, and everything is happy. Then I come to mixing the second potion, exactly as I've figured, and... ten second death countdown. Anger is on the rise. Finally, I get the second potion right, which turns me invisible! Knowing exactly what to do, I merrily run back to the energy field coffin where it turns out that I'm still holding the beaker which the coffin can see, and it zaps me into oblivion yet again. Dead. The anger has now turned to a sort of white-hot rage I can't quite explain.

Fuck this,” I exclaim to myself, and go and do something else.

Upon its arrival, I saw critics praising Zack and Wiki for its unseen creativity, and opportunity to gather those fantastic feel-good “Eureka!” moments. Unfortunately, all I seem to draw from it are moments that include long strings of curse words, hatred, and citing a desperate need for gamefaq's to anyone sitting around me. The problem I find, is it that punishes the player for almost everything. Hard. It punishes you for not adapting to its particular brand of logic, it punishes you for not solving puzzles fast enough or in the game's right order, hell it even punishes you for trying to rid yourself of deaths common doorstep, by putting a big black mark on your overall score sheet every time you use a continue. Behind a visually beautiful exterior is a game that takes much pleasure in making you feel like an utter moron. Be wary of it.

“Hirame Q's,” otherwise known as the game's scoring system, are handed out with the performance of each task, more-so if you do it well. You never know exactly how you're expected to do it well, though. You may complete a challenge, feel good about it for a second, then be awarded with a small fraction of the total points, and left wondering exactly why that happened. It then turns out that you were supposed to hit the insignificant looking crank over there first. Annoying. The real face kicker though is seeing a sullen achievement of 100/75000 because you didn't get the game's obscure use of logic quick enough. Through many moments in Zack and Wiki you'll probably be asking yourself, “how was I supposed to know that would happen,” and it doesn't get any easier with each passing time. It is something to stick with however, because as I'm sure many people will know, there is a very good game lurking beneath. Such difficulties overcoming death are unfortunately, something that players will just have to get over.

Yes, I did eventually realize you can shower off that death countdown. By then, however, the pent up rage was so strong that I didn't care.

Fallout 3

It shouldn't come as a surprise, that a game whose glitches deserve their own top ten list shouldn't beckon a list of significant frustrations. Fallout 3 became one of those games where my enjoyment was marred by the fact that I was just waiting for it to spaz out. Case in point: you're walking along the Capital Wasteland, and suddenly get stuck in some scenery. It shouldn't happen, but at least a quick fast travel can fix that. Next, you're walking inside some derelict old building, and again, get lodged in some mound of dirt scattered about the ground. Now that sucks because you're forced to reload your last save, which hopefully will be not too far away from where you were.

The time after that, you're walking inside some derelict old building, and then suddenly, some massive black walls of pure glitchy goodness begin to completely envelop your person, obscuring your entire view and making you an easy target for all the mutants around. Then you get your leg caught on a stair-rail.

In Fallout 3, it quickly becomes mandatory game around the technical difficulties, which is never a practical position to find yourself in. Though they're not usually too frequent (but much more common than most games), and repeating your game due to a glitch-out never usually takes more than an hour, the fear will always be there. But its worth it in the end, simply for a fantastic game. It can be likened to the failure rate of the Xbox 360: when it isn't happening to you you'll have one of the best pieces of technology around, but on those few instances that it does come about, pissed-off at it will be the first thing that is felt.

This may appear to be someone's head exploding, but its actually a texture error in which his head was for some reason loaded with a red background, and in many disperging parts. Poor guy.

Pokémon Platinum

Pokémon was, still is, and always will be one of my favourite games of all time. Raising a team and developing a bond with each string of code that inhabits your team will always be a gaming highlight of mine: there's always a feeling that the ones you raise are you're Pokémon, and nobody else's. No two are alike, and that is what makes them so personal.

At least, that's what it used to be like, until these buggering hidden stats became a huge part of the game. Raising a creature to lv100 used to be a great achievement for me, but now it is something I rarely care to do. And why? Because now, I have the knowledge that even if I do battle my way through the Elite 4, and the strongest monsters in Victory Road enough to amass my ultimate team of death and destruction, they still wont be as powerful as they could have been, and this is all due to the fact that I didn't go back to the beginning and spend countless hours fighting lv3 Bidoof to get those much needed EV points, which I then would have to keep track of on a piece of paper myself because the game can't be bothered to do its job properly!

So I'm sorry, Charizard. I'm afraid that I will never raise you to the highest level, because I'll feel like I've failed you for doing so. Instead, you'll continue to live in that cold, dark box, surrounded by all my other favourite Pokémon I've abandoned for the very same reason. This is a victory for RPG depth and people that can spend hundreds of hours on a single game, but a great loss for the casual player who just wants to make a team they can fight fair with, and feel good about.

Also, 493 now, not including alternative forms? A bit overkill don't you think?

Banjo Tooie

The bulk of my gripe with this game can be summed up in four words and a comma: Fuck you, Canary Mary. That button bashing bitch caused me pain and agony, no less that four times during my most recent play through of Tooie, all because I'm klepto enough to have wanted all of those stupid Cheato pages. The last one was the worst; I can honestly see no other possible way to spin that bloody mouse round Cloud Cuckooland without pausing your game to take a rest every time your arm cant take anymore. For me, it took three rests to make it to the end, but alternatively to do it quicker, I guess you could just pass the controller to other people in the room. Of course, if they can take the pain of mashing the X button until their arm feels like its about to drop off.

Aside from stupid mini-games, my other complaint around this game has to do with the utter ridiculousness of its challenges. Checking my recent Banjo-Kazooie/Tooie play's against each other, the former weighed in at a nice six hours, while the latter managed to accumulate a massive twenty-three! Logic dictates that the value-for-my-1200-Microsoft-points award goes to Tooie, but of course that vote gets wavered when you take into account that the majority of that earth's-rotations worth of playtime was spent running around aimlessly without a blinking clue as to what the hell I was doing!

I defy anyone who can finish Tooie 100% without consulting a guide. In retrospect, it appears impossible to me. The beauty of the first Banjo lied in the simplicity of its platforming, but in the sequel, it appears to have been dropped in favour of a much larger, yet unmistakably convoluted mess of a world to explore. You'll still be collecting many pointless items, travelling the expansive level depths, which are now joined together, and pressing switches all over the place to try and put each piece in place, all while attempting to keep track of everything around you that is going on. It's as bad as Pokémon, in the regard that you'll need somewhere to write everything down on, and that is aside from the fact that missions have become much deeper in structure, often requiring you to traverse a number of fetch-quests before you're even rewarded a single jiggy. It is indeed a harsh mistress to toy with.

Pictured: approximately 17x more fun than actually playing most of Banjo Tooie.


We can traverse the impossible quest for that “perfect game” until the donkeys sprout wings, but it wont ever matter when there are so many vices of absolute perfection in front of us already. They'll all be different, relative to the player, and likewise each will have the common aspect that is in providing the purest extract of actual factual fun to the player. I know I have mine: to name a couple, Super Mario Galaxy, practically any Zelda after A Link to the Past, Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, and regardless of their long-winded, tedious running-about sections, the Ace Attorney series, because I only relate it to the brilliance of their plot. These are the games that I could just sit down with forever, and watch the rest of the world melt away before me, from the perspective of my own gaming nirvana.

If there was no evil in the world, then there could exist no good either, for we would have nothing to compare it with. I'll end with that age old quote, for I think it summarizes why some bad ideas ultimately turn into something so good. That is, of course, after the dire amounts of anger and frustration have subsided!

The moral of this blog: videogames are awesome!   read

1:33 PM on 06.11.2009

Games I Like (that you should too) My stick in your labyrinth edition. Kuru Kuru Kururin.

For every positive event, there is always a subsequent negative one to balance it out. No, its not something I'd like to believe could be applied to everything in life, but it certainly rings true when upgrading to your next-generation video games. Sacrifices have to be made. Fix the gloriously shiny new PS3 into that “main console” space on your shelf, and you lose almost a decades' worth of games to play at reach. Pack your Gamecube away for a Wii, and you've got, well, pretty much a Gamecube still, but with a continuous sense of foreboding that someone doesn't trip the protruding wires and smash it to the ground as they walk past. And so on.

The worst casualty that we have had to suffer in the past few years is the Game Boy Advance. It was a lovely little console back in 2001 on its release, with a terrible little screen which didn't seem much of a problem back then; we stuck with it regardless that 90% of natural light would decimate the ability to see the damn thing, and we enjoyed it. At the time, it was the best handheld on the market. Sharper graphics and shoulder buttons were enough to draw veteran gamers into it's field, but most of all, it kept the spirit of the SNES alive: a painful sacrifice that had to be felt on the dawn of 3D and the N64. Working as both a place for newcomers to introduce themselves to those 16 bit classics, and for the kind of brilliant ideas that for some reason or another never existed in the early nineties turn into reality, it was both a step back, and a massive step forward for the industry. It was a love letter to those with fond memories of the classic era, with titles such as Super Mario Advance, A Link to the Past, and even sequels like Gunstar Future Heroes leading its way. A good time to be a gamer, for your modern, retro goodness.

Kuru Kuru Kururin was a launch game for the console back then, and it sparked the thought, why don't we make games that look like this anymore? The Nintendo DS does its job at keeping 2D alive, but much of it's library rests in the third dimension now. Not to knock the quality of Phantom Hourglass, but I don't know if we'll ever see another Minish Cap styled game again: a great loss for gaming. There's just something appealing to the eye with your traditionally vibrant, brightly coloured sprite-work, and to see that there is no main console out there which specifically caters to this in mind is quite saddening. Kururin is a far cry away from the complicated, 3D affairs we're treated to today, which is part of what I adore about this title. Simple, beautiful, and brilliant, is this classic take on the puzzle/adventure genre, and I doubt you'll find a much more addictive experience after slotting it into your SP and giving it a shot.

You can make your stick even brighter by decorating it with styles, and little animal things, who try to clamber back on each time they're knocked off by an obstacle.

Likewise, you'll probably never find anything out now that remotely resembles Kuru Kuru Kururin. The premise is easy enough to explain: in it, you play a continuously rotating stick and you're in a maze. The goal is to move your stick from point A to point B around the maze without touching any walls or obstacles, each hit taking away one of your three heart points. And that is all.

I could elaborate on the story associated with this game. You play as some kind of blue duck thing with big yellow lips who pilot's said rotating stick thing, which is called a Heririn. Remember that Japanese Virtual Console title, Gley Lancer, which was named that over here as a result of translational error with the letter 'R' in the Japanese language. The same can be applied to the obviously helicopter-characterised machine that will be piloted through Kururin's worlds. Somebody in Nintendo's localisation department may be making a few slight oversights here. But none of these details will actually draw out the quality of this title, however amusing it is to highlight company missteps.

Japan sequel Paradise always did seem a lot brighter. ie: more pink.

Now, I'm not usually the type to go out of his way to buy a puzzle game like this, which is why I found it so perplexing as to how this game sealed itself on my “must-buy” list a few years ago. Only screens of the game released in magazines proceeded my opinion of this obscure title, and now I can pinpoint what it was that made this such a sought after gem: it is incredibly easy on the eyes. Kururin has absolutely striking use of colour, you cannot deny. Holding it in the palm of your hand is like grasping onto a labyrinth made entirely of rainbows. Looking down at it is like the warmth of those rainbows are leaping out of the screen and massaging your face. Usually only having your stick and the scenery on screen means that it is often very minimalist in its style, but the primary-coloured paradise which will envelop around the scope of your vision always manages to relax and entertain, even when the game's levels become rather frustrating. Which is all you can really ask from a puzzler. It's the perfect wind-down game.

Kururin's visuals are gorgeous in their simplicity; a simplicity which can be juxtaposed with the gameplay itself. The basics have been explained and sound easy enough, but as progression is made and the levels become more intricate, you'll find that darker mixes of colour and a ramped up difficulty will walk hand-in-hand. And it can be very difficult indeed: later levels where you find yourself scattered inside the deep blues of space, navigating around a map pointy golden stars quickly jumps to your 'hardest things to play, ever' list. Getting around can be tricky, but from wondering whether you will be able to arc your way through those tiny gaps fast enough for the speed run, comes the real challenge. Its a real test of man's relationship to his D-pad; the amount of precision required to pull off some of the most rewarding moves is immaculate. If you thought speed playing the Super Mario Bros. series was a true test of your intricate, two-dimensional prowess, try playing this.

You'll quickly learn that jagged edges are a right old bitch!

I'll reiterate that not once does this game deteriorate into annoying realm of frustration, regardless of its immensely-difficult, puzzle-genre status. It seems that effort was made to make sure the length of levels was always made to be just right, in order to dodge around this always potential problem. Getting near the end of a stage, then having your Heririn shatter to pieces on the final corner, isn't usually a problem, as it means you'll get to play the stage again. Surprisingly, replays are actually a lot of fun. The parts you found difficult at the beginning of the stages become a breeze when the practice is put in, without loss of satisfaction upon its continual completion. That impossible bit you spend ten minutes trying to weave around at the beginning, eventually becomes an excuse to show off your ninja abilities every time you're trying to reach the next struggle inducing section. It's a kind of punish-reward system which works quite successfully, much like the game's trade off between difficulty and level design. Like any era which can be hard to accept the loss of, there is always a positive outlook on the other side.

It goes unsurprising that the sequels to this highly obscure, brightly coloured Japanese title never left their home country, which was disappointing to those who were fans. The Game Boy Advance sequel, Kururin Paradise, was much better than the first, offering trickier level design, more types of obstacle, and a couple of tweaks to the actual Heririn itself. One aspect that I have yet to touch on with this game is that you can control the speed of your stick by holding a face button (or buttons if you want to go even faster). This helps when you're quickly attempting to run a course from one safe zone to another, while you're slowly rotating into the walls around. In the sequel however, holding the R button allows you to alter the speed of which you rotate at, adding an extra layer of depth to an already challenging game.

This was the Japan-only Gamecube sequel, Kururin Squash, complete with boss fights and all! It looks awesome. It is on my list.

The emphasis on moving obstacles in Paradise was likely reason for this change; wrapping around cannonballs or the oddly corporeal ghosts as they move from one side to another would be impossible with the basic controls. Heck, it is impossible if you don't have the timing exact in the game anyway. Just try playing it on the harder difficulties, where the stick is longer and you only have a single life. Some of those later stages are nigh on impossible.

Different difficulties are present – put the game on easy and you're practically walking yourself through a straight tunnel, while normal mode offers a nicely paced level of challenge – but that isn't the extent of how far extras go. A significant proportion of challenge rooms are present, which save the best three scores, and are worth playing just so you can get a gold star on each of the boxes on the select screen. You're rewarded a perfect round for not hitting any sides, which injects extra life into the charming title. Paradise also had a number of mini-games to try out too, some stronger than others. Using magnets on each blade to repel coloured orbs into a tiny hole is one of the low points that I doubt will bring back extended plays, but the monotonous sounding lawn cutting, and games where you have to bounce your Heririn up the screen and collect coins are very welcome distractions. Single-cart multiplayer race modes are also available, which would be great if you happen upon three people who are into this game. And have three link cables. It's quite an extensive package.

It's quite an extensive package that can be picked up for a surprisingly little amount, as long as you have a local classic game store/importer you can trust. At a low price, it is a great recollection of when the 16 bit era began again. The Game Boy Advance was never about Super Mario Bros. 2, or F-Zero: Maximum Velocity. It was about spinning sticks through mazes. Something different, and something that fans will be grateful for.


10:22 AM on 05.30.2009

Twenty years living with videogames. Aka A birthday story. Aka shameless (late) birthday plug

I was at home the other day, playing Banjo Tooie in front of my very elderly Nan, who, in her rare waking moment on the living room couch, decided to comment, “I remember when you used to play these games when you were young.” I paraphrase now, “Back when I got you that first old games machine, I didn't know whether I d done a good thing or a bad thing!” she remarked, just casually right then. And it dawned on me, backed with the weight of the toppling shelf of plastic cartridges, housed in my room. Bloody hell, it has been a long time hasn't it!

I've been alive two decades now. That's a good while. In my years, long enough for a chunky, monochrome set up to become a dual screened beauty as sleek as it is radiant, with touch input! and the magic ability to traverse the whole of the internet! Looking back today, that is quite a big difference! The stuff in the middle was also awesome, but its amazing where we've come in twenty years.

I always hated how when the contrast was turned down I thought it was broken. Mario land 2 was good though!

My stuff in the middle, well, I can say that most of it stems from when I was up my Nan's place in North Wales, and was given my first Nintendo Entertainment System. On my fourth (or fifth) birthday, I was for the first time exposed to the iconic bright blue background of Super Mario Brothers, totally failing at the game of course, but from there on in I was a changed person. I don t know what it is which at that point, made me grow up this way. Maybe the attractive bright colours, the childlike prospect of living in another world, or just plain kids obsession. Could have been a mixture of all three, but whatever it is, it completely shaped my life to where I stand today. And I couldn't have asked for any more.

Mostly every single important event of my life I can remember can in some way be linked to video games. Like semantics. The height of my thirteen year old youth can be attributed to that burstingly excited moment where my mum took me down to the old Woolworths and brought me a copy of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, on launch day. 1st of May, 2003 I believe it was: an early birthday present. Those blue skies, accompanied by the beautiful Dragon Roost Island theme, are now as iconic to me as Mario s flat coloured skyline all those years before.

Fun Fact: as soon as I got home from seeing Pirates of the Caribbean, I leapt straight onto The Wind Waker again for the first time in months, because I wanted to feel again what it was like to sail the endless surfaces of the ocean. And possibly be a bit like Johnny Depp.

I'm probably the brightest pirate youll ever see. Heck with Sparrow and his scraggy monotone.

My twelfth birthday came as early the same as my fourteenth, when I packed away my N64 and replaced it for a shiny new Gamecube, complete with Super Smash Bros. Melee and extra brother whupping controller. Disappointingly I didn't get that at launch, but I got a damn good deal out of it: only around Ł150 for all of the above (better than the Wii), and I only had to pay for half of it! Given that fact, I don t actually remember at all what I got on that birthday, probably blinded with the memory of kicking everyone I'd knowns arse with Kirby.

I'm still in disbelief that I didn't even have two numbers in my age the first time I played Ocarina of Time. That one was a life changer for me: it would allow myself to willingly be held in the grasp Nintendo forever. And make for some very nerdy playground moments.

Then there are some incredibly nerdy not-so playground moments. I've recently started watching Supernatural with the girlfriend, where I noticed that in one of the early episodes, there are two campers playing on a Nintendo DS. Therefore, when she turned to me and asked what year was this show made in, my answer would be “Well it has to be old because they were just playing on the old DS, so probably about 2005 I d say, because any later and they'd be on the Lite.” Yeah, anything can be attributed to the gaming time line. If I want to know the date of something, just look back in my memory, see what game I was playing then, and I can make a rough estimate. It's a handy system to have. Also, I am a massive geek.

On a sunny day this weekend we went down the local park, sitting in the shade of the trees, her reading a book and me having a sweet time on Pokémon Platinum. Except, every time I see the small droplets of light cast on the shadowy ground beneath a tree, it makes me think of how wonderful it felt that first time I made it to the end of the Lost Woods in A Link to the Past, how the animals crossed the path in front of you, adding to that sense of mystery, how the scrolling effects allowed the penetrating light to move as you did; how much power I realized when I first went up to that stone, read the ancient Book of Mudora, and wielded the Master Sword in my tiny, pixelly arms. I told her I wish I had my replica Master Sword with me so I could plant it in the ground and thrust it out, just to feel like that young boy in the forest again. I couldn't see her reaction, as it was staring in the opposite direction.

Its still one of my favourite pieces of artwork; the sleeping sword in the stone, encased in a mysterious mist with just a single beam of light highlighting its presence. Its so peaceful, yet represents so much energy. In a way, I think that this piece of art in the instruction manual did a better job converging a sense of story, compared to a lot of video games today.

Oh, nostalgia. How I will always be your bitch.

Writing down these thoughts, I realize that I'm humming the map theme tune to Donkey Kong Country 2, which in turn makes me remember that time a very long while ago, when I was sitting in back of the car, just on the way home from Toys R Us, gleefully examining the back of the box for said Donkey Kong game. This memory brings me back to my very first point. Bloody hell! Do I have any childhood memories that aren't connected to gaming!?

Well, yes, but the strongest ones have somehow manifested themselves into a corner of my brain as those which involve tearing off shrink wrap. There's nothing like it; a young mind having one of those twice yearly special occasions, and being greeted with a new game to get through, and become engrossed in, until the next occasion in which the process occurs. And when your parents deem you old enough to receive pocket money, maybe treating yourself to something fresh every few weeks. It keeps the variety going as you realise the years themselves now feel like an eternity. As a young, incredibly enthusiastic/obsessive game fan, that's how it was.

I loved this level. I also love how the way the picture formatting here almost covers the watermark! Much appreciated to anyone who can tell how to avert this issue.

I've heard it quite a bit from people just a little bit older than myself: Birthdays are just one of those things which get less significant as the years go on. I don't think that's true. Sure though, out of fear of this happening, and before willingly backing down, I asked my parents to hold off from giving me the DSi I knew they were buying until the actual day rather than two months prior, because I guess one of the main draws of having a birthday when you're young is in opening a bunch of cool shit to mess about with. Its not the same, going into the store and handing over your own Ł40 for a copy of Punch-Out!!, as it is to wait and receive it from someone else on your own day. There's just a kind of birthday magic that makes everything special. Its responsible for why Golden Sun will always be one of my favourite RPG's, and even for making Starfox Assault look like a competent title in my eyes!

Stuff changes when you get older – heck I'll never be able to call myself a teenager again, which I suppose is pretty big – but the awesomeness of Birthdays is always the same; there's still that special feeling around the day and its events that you'll remember for a long time. I know the only things that knocked it slightly this year are the things that will slot it into that special birthday vault of memories: getting lost for an hour and half within the labyrinthine streets of Manchester, and buying a copy of Mario Power Tennis for Gamecube that didn't have an instruction manual. I hate it when that happens! Still, not paying in an expensive Japanese restaurant made up for that unfortunate misstep nicely. And free saké!

Pictured: Gaming at its absolute finest. If you're five years old, living in 1994. And have just been given an NES.

Gaming and the culture surrounding it has injected itself into mostly every virtue of my life. I have something which defines myself and my memories, which I think is pretty sweet. It is also one of the reasons I currently write on here for. I joined Destructiod about two and a half months ago to celebrate Niero/the site's birthday, because I am amazed by what they have accomplished together. Now, I write as a part of that, to celebrate the memories that gaming has brought me, and share those experiences with other people. Its rewarding being a part of Destructoid, to say the least. So I'll keep it at that.

Where gaming has come in twenty years. Well, handhelds at least anyway.

Being a geek has brought so many cool opportunities to discover in life. And I cannot wait to learn more.

Here's to everyone who makes this community great. (which is pretty much, everyone) And to many more great years of making new memories.

/end nerdy loving fapfest   read

7:22 AM on 05.25.2009

Games I Like (that you should too) Hidden Treasures and arse guns edition. Astro Boy: Omega Factor.

British game stores are really quite nice. The clean purple tinge of every Game breathes an air of sophistication into this lifestyle/hobby/passion which we carry, while the dank, dungeon-like interior of most Gamestation stores is reminiscent of the kind of conventional atmosphere you’d probably sit down with a pad and play in, complete with its scraggy sense of artistry, games misplaced on shelves, retro trinkets, and overall tat; there’s something for everyone. Occasionally though, you’ll come across a store in which the short-cut clerk decides to let out a snicker when someone over age decides to buy something which doesn’t have at least a 16+ age certificate attached. Such an experience happened upon me when I brought Astro Boy: Omega Factor, for the Game Boy Advance.

Well, the last laugh will always go to the one who gains the most enjoyment, and also the one who doesn’t have to go home at 5:30 and continue with the paperwork for a messy divorce in his underwear because the laundrette on the bottom floor had stolen most of his clothes due to failure to pay rent, which for the purpose of this blog, I will assume happened.

Omega Factor came round about the time that the Astro Boy animé was in the process of revival for this generation’s newer, younger audience. Give this game to quiet a child whose a fan of the TV show however, and he’ll probably pain your ears with tears of frustration before he’s managed to defeat the second wave of laser shooting robot hornets on the first stage; what we have here is pure, Treasure style bullet hell action, only diluted by the ability to save and continue mid-level (thank god!) and for that reason, holds the crown of being one of the two games by the developer I’ve actually managed to finish completely. No, this certainly isn’t the kids’ game that the box would suggest, but potentially, it could be used for a purpose much bigger. Astro Boy serves as both an expertly designed leeway into the worlds of the quick-paced shooter genre, and an educational introduction into the works of the ‘Godfather of Manga,’ Osamu Tezuka.

The Omega Factor of the game’s title is what crafts the game’s story, as well as its many diverging character arcs. A hexagonal grid, detailing a gallery of characters you’ve interacted with during your travels, also happens to be representative of a significant proportion of the beings formed in Tezuka’s mind as an artist. Favourites such as Phoenix and Dr. Black Jack somehow weave themselves into a story of inter-dimensional and time travel, which grabs bites of Tezuka’s entire legacy to fill any empty pockets it might have had. This certainly feels like a complete experience, and a celebration of the authors work at the same time. Even if you don’t know anything about the history packed into this game, that’s great! Neither did I at first, but you might come out of this game with a keen interest in discovering the back stories behind some of its characters, hunting down translations of their lengthy animé and manga serialisations. It’s a fantastic starting point for people who desire to learn this history but haven’t had the time, or, if you simply want to be exposed to a number of new and interesting worlds, catered here from a single, entertaining source.

No I didn't caption that, but thanks Google images! This is a fraction of the Tezuka filled Omega Factor. Recognize anyone?

Of course, there’s also the actual game element to this being, which warrants some considering. If you’ve played anything along the lines of Gunstar Heroes, you’ll know what you’re up against. Little green or blue blobs of laser fall out of enemies palms filling the majority of the screen, and it’s your job to avoid them. This time, instead of being restricted to jumping and dodging, you have many moves and manoeuvres to make in order to release yourself from a quick trip to the scrap heap; most importantly, your super sweet jet boots. Activated with a double jump, these allow you to travel across the entire screen, invincible from danger, and will be your main release from the torrents of robot hellfire you’d otherwise embrace. On the offence are a surprisingly large number of robot assaulting attacks – more than you’d expect to see squeezed out of two face buttons, two shoulder buttons and a D-pad. Astro Boy can punch, kick, fly, smash, fire a mini screen crossing laser, fire a fat quarter-screen crossing laser, and finally, slightly disturbingly, he can release a gun from the depths of his own anus and blast everything in sight. A large selection of moves doesn’t mean this isn’t a tricky game to cross however, as you’ll often be restricted to regular punches, kicks and dodges until you manage to fill up a special meter. And in the least, the boss fights can be insanely difficult, sometimes filling up the space of about three miniature Game Boy Micro display's, and requiring some serious forward planning as to when the best times to attack and move into an empty space will become apparent. Others will merely cane your sorry self a few dozen times until their attack patterns and subtle tells are memorised, so that you can wear them down just that little bit more with each successive attempt. To say the save system is welcome would be an understatement.

On his own, Astro doesn't pack much power, but that in no way says that the simple ream of combat isn't gratifying enough. The key to quality brawling can be equated to how it comes across to the player, and here, there is certainly a satisfactory weight between each robotic punch dealt. Standard fists aren't up to much, but soften an enemy enough and you can deal a powerful kick which can send them flying backward into several others, accompanied by a tuneful clunk with each sucessive hit. Often, a large number of enemies will also create a non-intentional bullet time like slow down, which as far as glitches go, really assists in creating a nice combat pace for the game. Preventing spreads of bullets from making contact isn't the only reason you'll constantly be attempting to rack up enemy combos, when the feedback is this delightful. Realising this has also managed to inadvertently bring to my attention one of the Game Boy Micro's biggest design flaws, that is, constant mashing of attack buttons can often cause larger thumbs to fix themselves over its single, tiny speaker, suppressing any attempt at conveying a decent quality of sound. Its really quite a shame, because most of the music tracks in this game are an absolute blast to be hearing, whilst smashing your foes to pieces. Its catchy, and regardless of the focus being on staying not dead, you'll remember them far after you've stopped playing. Sort of in the 'try to recall the first few beats dropping into a level, then the whole track will play itself through your head' kind of way. Best played with headphones, or on an SP.

Jet Boots. Lasers. Robots. Explosions. Arse Guns. This has it all.

Released alongside a fairly guff looking, shiny coated PS2 title, Omega Factor harks back to the beauty of 2D gaming at its finest. Sprite artwork echoes from Treasure's best, showing around fifty classic characters rendered with utmost care. And not just characters themselves, but character. In a most impressive feat, each individual pixel of Astro's retracting gun arm can be clearly noted as he readies his super weapons for an attack. Its touches like this which display the kind of elegance and charms which high powered, 3D games can never attain. Moving cars constantly making their way across the background of the first level shows your classic parallax scrolling in practice, made increasingly more apparent by the inclusion of Gradius style stages in which Astro's jets are constantly on full, and his laser requires no reloads. Clouds will zoom past, daylight will fade to sunset, to night, and you will constantly be amazed at what you're witnessing on screen. Its stunning to see in motion; a true retro revival for the modern (well, in 2004) day. The kind of game that will be sorely missed, with the non-focus on the Game Boy, and a move to 3D and HD on every consoles part.

Its the same part of me that would rather see a new Minish Cap released than a Phantom Hourglass, who desires to see a revival of that classic, sharp standard definition sprite work.

Behind its many wonders, Astro Boy's biggest secret may be the force that splits opinions. Do you remember being incredibly frustrated, having to traverse through every previous level a second time in The Subspace Emissary? Yeah, Astro Boy makes the player tread its old ground once again at the half point, for better or worse. However, while this commonly used, heavily stigmatized mode isn't the most popular choice in expanding a games length, the execution of the feature this time around could be seen as a spark of genius.

I miss colour. If only all games had purples and blues and gold stars when you're blowing something up.

Essentially, the game doesn't begin until you've played through all the main levels and finally unlocked stage select, by which time it probably didn't even enter your mind that there was something other than a linear action game in your hands. And that's where the brilliance unfolds. Now, can you recall from before, about there being a time travel aspect to the plot? The reason for having a stage select in the first place is not just to pick out your favourite parts after completion, but due to it being an integral device toward the narrative. Stage Select is your time machine. And as you travel to previous stages, you're actually playing them in an alternate time line for the purposes of saving your own. Its an amazing revelation upon discovering this deep plot structure. Maybe you can go back to the beginning and meet someone you've missed interacting with, who might possibly be able to help you with events in the future. With other time travelling quirks to uncover though, its completely plausible to suggest that someone's past meddling has altered the course of history, changing what you thought you knew, into something else entirely. Its like a whole new game opens up, just when you think its all over. And even after putting that back together, there's still a heart wrenching final stage to play. Astro Boy just keeps on giving.

Remember playing through the same levels of The Subspace Emissary a second time, with little to no change in your fighting stance or experience; just tediously hacking away at generic enemies in search of little reward? The power up system, which activates each time Astro finds a new character for the Omega Factor, really makes those old levels worth playing again. There's nothing like heading to the start and decimating those old, troublesome bad guys with a fully enhanced laser. Not to say the game is exactly the same on the re-play: enemies get stronger just as you do, but your new abilities should be more than enough to take on and take out whatever armies of evil are sent your way.

Astro Boy: Omega Factor, is a game of twos. Twice the times you play it to reach the end, twice the plot to follow, and doubling from a shooter to an introduction to all things Tezuka; if you're interested in any of these, its certainly a game that you should have in your collection. And who knows, maybe as a newcomer, you will come out with a desire to seek out the fabled creator's classic works too. Its double the experience, both of which should not be passed up.

And if you don't like any of that, there's always the arse gun you might find interesting...   read

3:03 PM on 05.16.2009

Rememeber when Nintendo were all about connecting your consoles and handhelds? Yeah, that was pretty cool.

So, the Ghostbusters game won't be coming out for a while in Europe, unless you're lucky enough to own a PS3. That kinda sucks for those without. Like, Lost and Damned sucks, or, why the hell did I buy Fallout 3 for this damn piece of plastic when there's a 360 sitting right next to it kinda sucks. Well, that's totally my fault for not putting the research in beforehand, but still, its never nice to know that you're not getting the complete version of a product, due to high-end business deals you had no control over when you first made that hefty purchase.

The significance of Ghostbusters, for this blog's purpose at least, is that this is the one game where I genuinely thought that the Wii version looked the most appealing of the three that were to be released. The charming cartoon visuals just do it for me I guess, and the idea of shooting proton streams with the remote then trapping ghosts by sliding the nunchuck across the ground, invokes a more satisfying experience. Those big luminous laser things coming from my Wii remote are just sweet!

Anyway, enough introduction, lets get to the point. It begins with an interview in Official Nintendo Magazine I read over a year ago, with the Red Fly studios – responsible for the Wii version. Mainly however, that they messed around with the concept of implementing the Nintendo DS as a PKE meter, but in the end, “didn't have the time” to add that part in. At this point, the game was in that near completed stage where it was desperately in need of a publisher, and between then and now, has been resting around, unreleased, apparently doing nothing. So in that window, is it possible that the version of the Wii game could have been tweaked to actually have the DS connectivity added, before its actual release. Given that press releases would certainly highlight a feature such as this, my guess is probably not.

I don't know how developers work. Maybe they couldn't add this cool feature because they were expecting a publisher to come along sooner. Or what they had planned wasn't good enough. Alls I know for certain though, is that Nintendo's huge announcement for connecting hand held and console devices back about five years ago, fell off the radar quicker than the ghosts fell off the radar on the PKE meter that I'm not going to be able to use anymor... no I don't know where this is going, forget that analogy. The point is, what happened Nintendo! It was a great idea, made easier than ever now with wireless powers. And when used properly, it entailed for some really great experiences. Here are some of my favourites.

Billy Hatcher approves of Ghostbusters exclusivity deal. He must have a PS3.

Splinter Cell

I'm sure every kid gamer had their console wars back when they were young. Regarding the Splinter Cell series, mine went a bit like, “well the Gamecube one is made easier because it has a map.” Yup, it certainly did, and that map was all kinds of awesome!

If you were to plug a GBA into a copy of Splinter Cell, you'd find that Ubi Soft had kindly re-created every single level of the game as a top down, wire-frame compass, for your portable screen pleasure. While you're running around as Sam Fisher, traipsing down corridors and dodging enemies, on the Game Boy, you see a triangle running through a series of rectangles, trying to avoid the dastardly red circles. The whole process is entirely lag free, which was quite amazing to see in motion.

There are two ways you can view this mode: either as an in-game gadget stretching out into the real world, or as a tactical co-op experience where you and a friend can shout exaggerated militaristic commands to each other. “'Hang on, I'm getting an enemy on the perimeter.' “Where!?” 'He's two clicks north, closing in on your position,'” and other such intensely delivered drivel can be heard when you're in the zone that Splinter Cell presents the player. And its a lot of fun. Think the co-op in Super Mario Galaxy, but with a lot more input from the second person. Player 1 can hack turrets so player 2 can manually fire them at enemies. Or if the one holding the controller sees a coded door that needs unlocking, they can send that over their partner to deal with, while they continue to defend the area. Yes, it does make some situations easier, but a whole lot less frustrating too. I'd have torn my hair out if some of those later levels didn't grant me some kind of assistance.

A big draw for this connection was the opportunity for Sam Fisher to use a brand new weapon: the Sticky Bomb. Unlike other bombs, this is one that you could stick to enemies. Obviously. This new (and quite effective) weapon works very simply: just fire the explosive on one guy, check the map to wait for him to patrol into a pack of guards, hit B on the handheld and your job just got a hell of a lot easier. It made for some incredibly satisfying team based take-outs, which Ubi Soft seemed to have inadvertently come across the concept of in later stages of development. I can tell this, because of a quite brilliant moment near the end of the game where I managed to fire a sticky bomb into the setting of a cut-scene, and detonate it while the scene was playing, knocking out everyone in the room and having me reset the game to progress further.

I imagine the Splinter Cell compass as the product of an ambitious designer's idea and a company risk, which somehow turned out to be fantastic. I wouldn't shirk away from a large Nintendo flavoured sack of money being somewhere in there too, but given the lack of coverage around this nice add-on at the time (I had no idea until I picked the box up!), its not an accusation I'll currently make. Still, I commend whoever gave the green light to this idea, and wonder, why with the more accessible technology of the current generation, developers aren't shifting the effort to making cool little features such as this.

As you look at this image, pretend you're also holding a GBA showing a rough approximation of the corridor and a green triangle where Sam is. That's the experience!

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

Chaos Theory is certainly the highlight of the series I've played (and one of my best games of all time) so its a shame that the GBA function is a lot more gimmicky this time around. The top down map is no more, replaced with an isometric view of the whole level which shows which floor you're on. This is approximately of no use to you at all, so at least it won't drain your batteries for too long.

Its second function however, is something that'll make you gasp in amazement at first (well it made me), before you put it down forever. Remember those sticky cameras? Well, when you fire one with a Game Boy Advance plugged in, the image gets transferred over to that screen. Yes, this visually pleasing 3D, 128 bit game can be viewed in real time, again entirely lag-free, on that tiny display. You cant help but be impressed the first time you watch a guard walk past both the TV view and the GBA view at the same time, proving the marvel that was this technology.

The let down: its entirely impractical. Yeah it looks cool to see an enemy blissfully walking by on the small screen, but a second later when he's just put a bullet in your head while you were paying too much attention to your Game Boy, you know there's something wrong. Try to play co-op with this and your friend will quickly grow tired, given that their only actions will be to stare blankly at a static image of the level, and occasionally tell you when “that dude has walked past that bit;” the premise is good, but execution was terrible. It lacked the substance of other link-ups, but I suppose it is nice to look at from time to time.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Being a first party effort, this was bound to be something special. The Tingle Tuner was an in-game item which allowed a second player to join in with a GBA, and assist the main character in their adventure. It can also be used to immensely piss you off.

This scene depicts the beginning of the end of many friendships.

This item brings up a kind of dungeon map HUD for the second player, where they can move around as an on (both) screen target and drop bombs on enemies. The downside? Bombs cost money. They can also heal Link's energy or magic with potions, but these cost even more money. Yup, you can have a second player sitting there, draining your funds with items that you essentially don't need at all. This co-op comes with a nasty price. Oh, and once your friend discovers that he can make Link look in the direction of his tingle shaped target with a press of a button, then that's all you're going to see while you play until you physically beat the shit out of them. Have fun with that.

To extend the length of the game, and the point of this device, the Tingle Tuner also had a feature in which you could discover hidden Tingle statues in each of the dungeons. They were only accessible by using a GBA bomb on certain locations hinted at on the small screen, expanding each dungeon into a treasure hunt of sorts. Sweet! Collecting them will help satisfy your kleptomania, and, well not really much else unless you're going for 100% completion. Its a fun little diversion though; just hope whoever you're playing with doesn't abuse you too much.

Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg

From the mind of Yuji Naka, this was a real gem on the Gamecube, but after release it seems to have just wiped itself clean out of everyone at Sega's memories. Were they embarrassed to have made a game about a young boy rolling around large eggs while dressed up in a chicken suit? The worst part is, that with this apparent memory sweep, the excellent transferable minigames that became available are buried in gaming past ever deeper: namely, Nights into Dreams, Chu Chu Rocket and Puyo Pop.

As a bonus for playing an already great game, Sega includes some of its other more obscure titles. This means that you can carry a copy of Nights around in your pocket, provided you don't turn off the Game Boy at any point. Personally I preferred Puyo Pop, but that was because at the time for me it carried the cultural significance of hot animé devil girls and surfers with paper bags on their heads. Anyone remember that? No? Okay, moving on.

Playable on Game Boy Advance! Well, at least a kinda short time attack version.

Animal Crossing

Go to the beach where you can finally get away from the shackles of your overpowering raccoon overlord, and escape to the paradise of a beautiful tropical island! Only if you own a Nintendo Game Boy Advance, Ł79.99. After Kapp'n has sailed you away from the neighbourhood you can meet a friendly gorilla who offers you items. Also you can play a kind of mini God-game where you poke at your new friend and force him to dig up NES games for you. Baseball and the mindlessly addictive Wario's Woods were exclusive to this deal, the latter of which had me stuck to Animal Crossing well after I'd got tired of being a slave to that bastard mammal, native to North America and now distributed from the European mainland to the Caucaus region of Japan. When you're not sure its a rodent, the internet is good for specifics.

Similar to Billy Hatcher, Animal Crossing also allowed you to download some of its unlockable NES games for portable use. Balloon Fight on the go is pretty cool, if temperamental with the 'switch off to delete everything' mechanic, so you probably won't be playing any of them for too long. Hint to Nintendo: the DSi has flash memory, actually being able to keep game downloads such as these would be a very welcome idea.

There's one thing I've kept in common with all of these choices. None of them require the GBA to have a game inserted in order to take advantage of these features. If I was to glide past that fact, there would be a lot more games I could use. For extra kudos to Ubi Soft, Prince of Persia had a slightly cheaty feature where you could regenerate your health if both console and handheld games were linked together. Splinter Cell also had some downloadable levels to the GBA version, as a supplement to the compass which didn't need a cartridge. Of course Nintendo also took some advantage of the feature they built up, with examples such as seeing your RPG characters from the portable Mario Golf to the big screen, more transferable levels to be had in Fire Emblem, a new suit in Metroid Prime, Pokémon – I'd really like to see a new 3D one of those in the style of Colosseum – and who could forget The Four Swords Adventures: twenty-four hour long co-op levels of classic Nintendo gaming, that you really should experience. And a battle mode which is a great laugh! I'm currently trying to amass a collection of cheap GBA's so I can bring this back; with the consoles at four quid each nowadays, I wouldn't say no to own this game in its desired form.

A co-op game you need to play. You'll scream, you'll cry, you'll probably end up hitting someone, but it'll be a heck of a time!

I remember Miyamoto at E3 a few years back, promoting that fantastic looking Pac-Man versus minigame as Nintendo's big thing for that year. Sadly, I never managed to play it, since it only came as a pack-in with some crappy looking R: Racing game in Europe. Sucks to be us, in that case. And then really, it all went downhill from there, with the most ambitious projects plummeting to the ground (probably because they required four each of consoles and cables) and other developers losing interest. Its certainly an idea I'd like to see just randomly implemented more often these days, given that practically every household with a Wii will probably have a DS lying about somewhere, and the lack of a middle man pulling them together makes connection between the two ever more easier. Don't just limit it to the big budget Crystal Chronicles, or the blatantly obvious Pokémon link ups, but go out of your way for something really ambitious, like the bonus PKE meter, possibly a Hunter's style HUD for Samus, or maybe even a big red button to rain missile-based death all over Battalion Wars. I hope this old idea doesn't remain as dormant as it currently stands, but becomes a feature which can really stand out to gamers.   read

6:01 AM on 05.10.2009

Games I Like (that you should too) Take off all your clothes edition. Mystical Ninja.

So you’re in a store one day and find yourself in front of something you’ve really wanted to buy for a long time, but right now its just that little bit out of your price range. You pace about in front of the item for several minutes, wondering how to tackle this tricky situation. Do you:

a) Toss a coin.
b) Leave and wait for it to come down in price.
c) Take off all your clothes in front of the manager and attempt to tease him into selling you the item for a discount with one of your hypnotic dances.

If you chose the last option, then you’re probably Ebisumaru (formerly Dr.Yang); the legendary campy co-star of the Mystical Ninja for Nintendo 64. You’re also one of the greatest characters ever to rise in videogames, and more than a little creepy. Seriously, creepier than thirty-five year old man wearing tights and pretending he’s a fairy creepy. Like Goemon says, sometimes I worry about you. And please, stop doing that thing where you lie down on your back, but just crawl like a normal person. You look like you’re trying to hump the air in front of you. Lets get on with the piece.

Some things are better off not knowing. Like what he's going to do with that paddle.

Growing up, I was surrounded by a lot of influences that led me to Japan. Pokémon was the overpowering force which introduced me to animé, and of course, an unwavering passion for Nintendo consoles taught me that the Mecca from which all my desires were realized resided somewhere in the east. The Mystical Ninja however, was the first thing which made me really get close enough to touch that true feel of Japan as I’d always perceived it. From the cherry blossoms to tatami rugs; from music to the overall wackiness of it all, the game positively radiated with an overriding sense of the orient, one that I’d been looking for since those early days of Pikachu and Mario. It was a young japanophiles dream come true, and it will always be a mystery as to how on earth this game ever got granted a release outside of its native territory, especially considering the western Super Nintendo only got one of the four Mystical Ninja games that were developed.

If I were to put it to anything, I’d say that Konami were hoping to have their 3D adventure make worthy competition for Nintendo’s Super Mario 64. The similarities between the two were obvious: both were old franchises played out for the first time in three dimensions, and both stood out from the rest of the pack as being very brightly coloured. And then, well, that’s about it as far as comparisons can be made, these games are entirely different beasts. Mario is all about flicking your virtual counterpart around open worlds with total freedom in mind; try doing that to Goemon and he’ll probably end up vomiting just off screen from where the dodgy camera will allow you to see. Want to make Mario jump into a giant robot on roller skates and crush all your enemies in one mighty assault though, and, well yeah you can’t do that. This is not a platform game, but an RPG, more in the vein of Zelda than anything Nintendo had out on their 64 bit machine at the time. Its about settings, and getting into the role of your characters as they journey on through trial and peril to save their world. What a journey it was.

The plot goes as follows. There is this *evil* group of alien Japanese warlords who want to use their stage to turn the entire of Nippon into one gigantic musical number. It is up to Goemon and his friends to travel across the world and stop them from doing this. Oh, and also the stage is in a gigantic floating peach.

I’ll let you take that in for just a second.

Spring Breeze Dancin' and Kitty Lily. Want to descent the world into turmoil and suffereing by... dancing?

Okay, so there’s one main thing that strikes me as odd with this game’s plot, and that is, why on earth, would anybody in the right mind, want to actually stop the world from becoming the biggest musical ever made? If that were to happen, it would possibly be the greatest thing to have come to pass in all of history ever! If Jesus were to have made everyone singing and dancing instead of showing-off walking on water it would have probably brought world peace in an instant! It’s the answer to this question that leads up to the games hilarious ending, and it’s the follow-up which crafted some of the best songs to ever be heard in a game. My fifteen year old mind was blown when I bore witness to Glorious My Stage for the first time. A Japanese lyrical song in an English game? No way, isn’t this stuff supposed to get translated? But no, everything remains authentic from the sounds you hear to its surrealist humour. There’s even a joke thrown in there about Goemon’s fashionable pipe: I’ve no idea why that one didn’t catch on. If you wanted a taste of the land of the rising sun back in 1998 without actually going there, this was your cheapest ticket.

Goemon and the disturbingly awesome Ebisumaru make up only half of the main playable characters across this game, the other two being lady ninja (or kunoichi for those in the know) Yae, and the robotic Sasuke, who also help you to save the world from peace and awesomeness. As action RPG lore dictates, each of these characters must have different abilities which can be manipulated in varying ways to reach the end of the game. All except Ebisumaru really, whose just a bit funny to look at.

The mystical ninja of the title can clock enemies on the head with his pipe, while his campy friend flails around with a mallet, bashing whatever comes his way. It’s a bit wimpy at the beginning, but before long you’ll get to the real good weapons which make combat much more generous. After recharging Sasuke’s batteries you’ll get to fight with his kunai and grenade attacks, but my personal favourite has to be Yae’s ninja sword. That thing cuts enemies clean in two, accompanied by the most satisfying of shing sounds. Instead of watching the bad guys explode into a cloud of dust and stars, heads will separate from bodies in quite a violent fashion, and you’ll find yourself more and more actively seeking out monsters that you can do it to. Once you’ve had Yae, you wont go back. Her special ability to turn into a mermaid is pretty cool, but the cherry on top is her magic flute, which summons a blue dragon to take you to anywhere you want to go on the map. She would be the real star of this game, if it wasn’t for one other.

That is, the ever smiling, ever cheerful, ever utterly destructive Goemon Impact. An Evangelion sized monster in the form of our spiky haired hero, who will occasionally be summoned upon to do battle with other, more evil giant robots. Why? Because everyone in Japan who wants to take over the world has an unnecessarily large mechanical effigy by their side. Its just sense. Stomping over cities doesn’t even take much effort, all the player has to do in these sequences is hit the attack button and occasionally jump over random holes. Then its bye-bye pagodas and lovely Japanese houses. The end of the run is the real treat though, as you’re given a first person view from the cockpit and have to defeat another mech, using missiles, your powerful left and right hook, as well as your hookshot like chain pipe to reel them closer to you. Its like a boxing game, but in the future. But not really, because its set in Edo Japan. And with robots.

You have to wonder, why didn't he just summon Impact closer to that guy. At least then he wouldn't have crushed half the city.

As satisfying as it is to punch the mechanical daylights out of your enemies machine, the best thing about Impact was its theme song. When Goemon is transported inside the beast, the same epic Japanese man sings the same epic theme music, every single time. True to the animé fashion its trying to invoke, this time is taken to show off the creation in every aspect from every angle, complete with searing orange-yellow bright rotating sun shot with Impact in front at the end. Short of some speed lines, the scene is delivered perfectly. It really has to be seen and heard.

I’ve touched upon the music a little bit with the theme songs, but now I’d like to really gush about the stuff that’s actually in the main bulk of the game. Its simply marvelous, and a perfect accompaniment to the geography you’ll travel across. The bouncy tunes first heard as you begin in Oedo Town bring quite the lovely introduction, where my personal favourite, the mellow melody played high in the snowy peaks of Festival Village really bring the sense of something deeper. It’s a more powerful feeling as the music fits the scene, when the scene is set in the regions of Japan itself. Finding out you’re actually wandering along Kyushu reinforces the hold into its amazing world, for now, you know that this is real. You can get lost in its tracks, and its visuals, and its mythology, as you find yourself immersed in a world of tall mountains, dragons and beautiful temples to occupy. A sense of adventure, waiting to happen.

So those darn Peach Mountain boys and their nefarious schemes to turn the world into one big performance, how you gonna beat them? Travel the world with a band of heroes, collecting the miracle items that will save the day? Or you could just bribe an old sage to build you a super weapon with car magazines, hey, it worked for the bad guys! Just make sure that your antagonist, Spring Breeze Dancin’ wont be dancin’ for much longer. Give that old laugh track of his a good kick, and make sure he never serenades us with one of his enchanting melodies ever again. Then the world will be at peace once more, right? That’s what you want isn’t it?

This is a great game to play for anyone who loves Japanese culture. As a young kid who hadn’t been exposed to much of it before, this game really had a great impact on me, and pushed my desire to learn about the country’s language and traditions. Even without that push though, its still a brilliant videogame; one which is far too surreal to miss out on experiencing. It started me on a learning journey, and to the day I continue to learn about the beautiful land which surrounded its creation. Play it, I guarantee you’ll find something worth having out of this game.

Well, there’s a limited edition copy of Killzone 2 in town that’s a little overpriced for me; time to employ some hypnotic tactics, courtesy of my good friend Ebi. I hope I don’t get arrested.

Oh, and birthday wishes to resident japanophile Collete! Have a good one and stuff!   read

1:58 PM on 05.02.2009

Pre-conceptions in gaming: the good, the bad, and the art of hating Too Human

Peter Molyneux has taught us that its probably better to have no pre-conceptions when it comes to playing video games. You know, the way people think a game is going to translate all the wildest promises from the reviewer, or developer, into some kind of fantastically impossible experience, only to be confronted by an end product which is far less than what you imagined. This is why my girlfriend – not exposed to the wrath of internet gaming sites – feels that the Fable series are two of the best games ever to be conceived my man, while myself – completely in the thick of gaming websites and developers background knowledge – simply thinks that, well, its alright I guess, but its much smaller than I’d been constantly re-enforced. Its disappointing to be promised something, and then not have it delivered.

At first, I couldn’t play Fable 2 at all. With university and many other responsibilities I had surrounding me, I didn’t think my time was ready for a game that was believed to be this unimaginatively deep. All the time, with her on my other side, telling me that it isn’t that hard to get into, and that Peter Molyneux lies about everything. Which of course I already knew, having frequented websites long enough to witness the backlash from the first game, but I still stood firmly against my pre-conception, because the developer had told me to. By the time I got round to playing the game, I realized completely that I was wrong. I was told wrong. Was the game “three times as big” as the previous one, as promised by my small headed friend. Well, the maps may have been that, but I felt the game was still as tiny as before. Other question run through: have any of the promises been addressed from the first game now that we have new, more powerful hardware, or will the side-quests actually integrate into the main game, and feel like something I should be doing. For me personally, not at all, on both counts. So I ask myself, why on earth did I decide to listen to him again, even after knowing what happened with the first game? Because he’s the authority figure, and its nice to dream. And I was stupid. There’s a lesson to be learned here.

The sky rains chocolate, pigs can fly, and one day I am going to deliver something I say I will.

Pre-conceptions are not always a bad thing though. Not when they’re shattered through the fourth wall, to reveal some true gaming artistry beneath. Think Eternal Darkness, back to the first time you saw your character shrinking into the floor, and believed it to be a glitch from the design. Or maybe the game’s sloppy programming just forgot to render the rest of your body when you went through that door. The couple of seconds later when the realization greets you, that yes, these moments were indeed the result of a clever designers intentional programming, is the point when your previous experience with videogames breaks down, and flourishes into something beautiful. I had a similar experience with the final case of Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations. I never expected the intricacies of its final revelations to run as deep throughout the game as they did. From experience with the previous two games, the kind of smarts I was exposed to in the final chapter managed to come out of nowhere and hit me on the face with the force of an iron bar, leaving no scars, but only a nice wide grin spread all across. It was wonderful, because I didn’t expect it in the slightest. Gaming should be building down our pre-conceptions before release, not building them up to impossible heights. Hype is one thing, spoiling a potential consumer product is another.

Oh. My. God. That can't have just happened. And with the ketchup too... This is the best thing ever!

I have another, sort-of pre-conception when it comes to videogames, which is related to price. The cheaper we pay for a game, the more forgiving of its flaws its possible for us to be. That’s my logic; we want to get our money’s worth after all. I’m not going to pay Ł30 for Excite Truck because I’ve heard its it’s a short, lackluster experience, but a tenner may be more worthwhile because I’ve also heard that it’s a very fun game. Thirty quid for Killzone 2 however will be a very nice trade, since that game is all good and has an online mode which I know will last a while. The logic up there is based entirely on having knowledge of a game prior to purchasing it. Hanging around this industry a lot and knowing that some games offer more than others, we want to pay money justifiably equivalent to what we’re getting.

A week ago, I managed to find a copy of Too Human for just Ł4.99. It was hidden between another two copies of itself, each costing Ł9.99 and Ł14.99, further sweetening the deal to purchase this bargain. But to turn the logic on its head, the only reason I wanted this game was to find out what made it so monumentally atrocious, as the reviews had dictated. I wanted to hate it like everyone else, and for just a fiver, the opportunity to do it legitimately was worth it.

I guess I was kind of torn on Too Human. There were three sides of me that all wanted out. The hater in me wanted to play it, rip it to pieces like the reviews, and make fun of every little flaw that this apparently ten-years-in-making game still had. Next there was the optimist, who really enjoyed Eternal Darkness and The Twin Snakes, and was very curious to see what the once fantastic developers next effort was really like. Finally, there was the cynic, who after hearing Denis Dyack’s rampant blabbering over how this was definitely going to be the best thing ever, simply wanted his game to be bad, in retaliation to his own arrogance. Its also the force that makes me want to post incredibly unflattering pictures of him wherever I can.

I love how this less than graceful picture was used in every Dyack related article.

I cant hate something without being able to justify it though, so my next step was of course, to play the game and actively seek out what was so bad about it. Of its full ten hour run, it took approximately two and a half hours of my time. Not too bad, I got my fiver’s worth anyway!

Too Human felt a bit like playing Assassins Creed for me. For the first level its quite pleasant, original, and a lot of fun, but after passing the initial phase of excitement the game suddenly drops into doing the same mindless tasks over and over again. However where Assassins Creed would simply repeat its levels pretty much exactly the same forcing tedious repetition, Too Human but actually removes everything that was good about its first level as you go on, bringing up even more problems with the way the game plays. The main case is that gliding from enemy to enemy at the start is actually very satisfying, as you watch them break apart with each subsequent contact. This makes the first two hour level a very breezy, enjoyable experience, which unfortunately is not replicated later in the game.

Somehow, I can signify your dying journey Valhalla, seconds before you're placed mere meteres away from the enemies you were killed by. Maybe you were kicked out?

Problems arise when you realise that later enemies take more than one hit to kill. Now, if there was any strategy to the combat in this game, it was completely lost on me. All I understood was that you attack by waving the right stick, a roll maneuver, and have a couple of extra button moves you’ll unlock later on. That’s it. There is nothing else. This is easy enough to get to grips with when you’re fighting simple monsters, but when each one requires multiple hits, and there are waves of literally fifty enemies crowding around you, either shooting or hitting significant amounts of damage off you with every passing second, you will die. A lot. I found that the only strategy it was possible to engage with was to hit the enemies a bit, die, watch that valkyrie custscene, respawn, and repeat, chipping away tiny bits of the enemies forces every time. You can seriously die within seconds of coming back to life. Its frustrating, and its awful. Also, on the subject of the valkyrie, make sure you bring a friend with you when playing this game. I didn’t find it too intrusive when I had someone to chat to every time I died, but playing on my own at 3am just trying to slog through the final level, it becomes a horribly unnecessary time waster. During the entire game, there were two occurrence where I died, and for some reason or another, didn’t have to watch this scene, proving that it isn’t just a mask for load times on the developers part but a conscious design decision. How it got through we’ll never know.

There is a weapon system to play around with, but I didn’t find it much use at all. Its possible to upgrade your defense and attack points for combat, but since the enemies seem to get stronger as you do, it never makes much of a difference. On top of that, there appear to be so many pieces of equipment to choose from, that tracking which one offers the best abilities is not humanly possible. I always went for attack points and nothing more. The fact that they all have silly names, like “Howling blades of the Glory drinker,” or “Face-Hewer of the Jomsvikings” doesn’t help either. It’s a very involved system, but I don’t understand how anybody would have the patience to fight long enough to even scratch the surface of its hidden depths.

My Bane of Intoxicated Red Squirrel will pierce through your pitiful Shining Tortiose in the Yellow Rain armor.

The only word to describe the level design, is big. Grand, gigantic, massive, capacious, voluminous; have some synonyms. Every location you visit rings very hollow, and very empty. The promise of it being anything like Devil May Cry or God of War is vanished with this fact; intricate rooms are replaced with sullen hallways, and when you’ve seen one, well you know how the rest of that phrase goes. The final level for one, is one of the most vile gaming experiences in my recent memory due to these flaws. Everything looks the same, and its so large that you can spend minutes walking to one place, only to find out that it was the wrong direction. I spent the better part of an hour running up against a door waiting for it to open, only to realize later that where I wanted to go was at the opposite end of the room. There’s also an unnecessarily large hub world, of which the only function is to run from one cut scene to the next. This wasn’t needed at all, it’s a waste of the players time.

I continue to play Too Human because I want to hate it. I recognize the terrible design choices, and the fact that it is more of a chore than something I’d go out my way to be entertained with, but I journey on just so I can continue to vent that five pounds worth of anger towards the stupidly arrogant headman of a developer, of whom I once thought were amazing. Back when Rare left Nintendo and I only owned a Gamecube, I remember thinking to myself, “well, Rare may be gone, but at least I have Silicon Knights.” What on earth went wrong!

The sad thing is, unlike Fable, I don’t think I’d have enjoyed much of Too Human even if Denis Dyack would have kept his mouth closed. It would probably make me more lenient toward its mistakes, but the frustrating experience would still be in place. The pre-conceptions that came with this game however do grant me one positive outlook, that is, there’s no way that playing through this game’s failure would have been as entertaining as it was, if it wasn’t for one man and his overactive word hole.

Pre-conceptions can be used for good, but equally they can have a negative impact on the gamer. And of course, its only up to the developers to make sure that they don’t hurt the players experience. Entertainment is what people live for, just hope the guys delivering that for our money manage to get it right. Otherwise, we get ours by their turn into somewhat of a laughing stock.

Wow, it’s a harsh world.


6:15 PM on 04.15.2009

Games I like (that you should too) OBJECTION! Castlevania 64 wasn't a terrible game

May the defendant rise to the stand.
*hustle in the stalls as the defendant rises*

The prosecution of this trial accuses the defendant, Castlevania 64, of the following charges against gaming: tedious back-and-forth quests, precise pixel perfect jumping, a main character with the stupidest name ever, a moment half way through where if you’re touched its instant death, using the right-C button for actions, two playable characters as a cheap way to extend the length, a camera which changes perspective every few seconds, use of the N64 controller pak, platforms that in no way you can judge whether you can get to, deaths that don’t feel like your fault. Oh, and a sequel which is practically just a replica of this, but with a werewolf character to make it look different. These are all very serious offences against gamers, and to the protection and safety of their controllers, as documented in many cases upon being in contact with the defendant they have felt the pressure of swiped across the room in frustration. However, the defense has attempted an enormous feat to construct a case which provides adequate reason to believe that indeed, Castlevania 64, is not as harmful as first impressions may heed. Quite how this could possibly pan out would be rather interesting to follow.

May the defense proceed.

*Imagine violin in background*

I guess it rings true with gamers: the less money you pay for them, the more likely you are to enjoy what you brought. I just fetched out my old copy of Castlevania for the purpose of writing this piece, complete with pre-owned Ł9.99 sticker and battered box to accompany it. I was fifteen the first time I played this game; a bit late to its arrival since by that time, the Gamecube was already out and I’d seen a lot of greater, visually-shinier titles released. But the angular charms of Castlevania still haunted me: I’d read the old previews in magazines which said it was a decent horror game, and so next time the retro gamer inside of me broke he decided to pick this title up. It’d be a nice time for me to finally get into this series, I thought.

Yes, this was my first Castlevania experience.

Post-Symphony of the Night, I now completely understand that if you payed full price for this game at the time, you’d no doubt be disappointed by its attempt at the third dimension. This isn’t Super Mario 64. It doesn’t just magically translate into an entity where the good outweighs the flaws; quite the opposite in fact. Heck, the lead character is called Reinhardt Schneider, presumably because one name with awkward spelling and pronunciation wasn’t enough. And the jumping... well, I’ll get more onto that later. Still though, when I first went through it, I had a riot with Castlevania! For the purpose of this piece I also played it quite recently, where apart from a few minor (very) frustrating parts I managed to fight my way through, I still found it quite a competent entertaining game. And one that to the day, holds at least two of my favourite ever videogame moments!

My recent experience was pretty much how I recalled it from all those years back, minus a few surprises I’d completely forgotten about. (Skeletons on motorbikes!) From the haunting melody played during the title screen, I was drawn back into the game once more. Then a badly voiced intro (not even funny bad like in Symphony) drops me out for a second, but I’m pulled back up by the introduction of Reinhardt: successor to the Belmont clan, with his trusty whip at side. I walk forward and are immediately impressed with the graphics, as lightning strikes a tree right in front of me, sending it crashing to the ground. I dodge this flaming wreck, and find myself surrounded by some of the game’s prime enemies: the skeletons.

Go on. Whip that giant bastard!

An action game should be judged on how satisfying its weapons are to use, and Reinhardt’s whip is no exception; its really satisfying in practice. Hitting the B button to cripple a skeleton with that lovely “smack!” sound is a lovely experience. Reinhardt also has a close combat sword on the left C button, but this truly is a pitiful weapon. You can feel its designed only to be used when the enemies are too close for the whip to be effective, but hopefully that wont happen often. Another cool addition was the slide move on the Z trigger. Just pull it during a run and your character (I can’t be bothered to type his name every time) will do a sliding tackle into any enemy you’re pointing at, sending them back to the ground. Nice! I’m glad it made the transfer from past titles. Then we have the throwing items: crosses, daggers, axes and holy water all cost crystals to use (not hearts) and they all feel quite nice because of the way they seem to home in on enemies. Got a knife, hit the button and it’ll send a straight line right through a skeletons skull. Throw an axe and it’ll rip the flying bats to shreds before landing home on a vampires head.

This is the fun part. So far, so good; the mechanics of the protagonist seem to work rather well. Unfortunately though, not everything can run as smooth as it has done up to now.

It doesn’t help that right after you’ve tapped the A button he already appears to be several meters off the ground; it gives a rather floaty feeling to your control in the air. What’s really annoying though, is the platforming sections. Seriously, they shouldn’t have been allowed.

I really wanted to say a lot of great things about this much overlooked game for this piece, but playing it again, four years later, has made me slightly less forgiving than my young mind would have seen. Twice during my play I found myself in front of platforms that really didn’t look like I could jump to them. Of course it was the only way to go, but you’d only gain this knowledge with a leap of faith. Which only works half the time. When I fell into a poisoned river I had to reload my save, which while not being too far away, was still annoying.

Once during my time, I made a jump into the center of a platform, but due to the camera’s position it landed me right on the edge, just inches away from falling into the death pool below. Another time, I jumped up a tiny ledge only for Ray to do the half jump - the type where he clunkily lifts himself off the ground a few inches - back into the poison pool of anger. And I wont even get into climbing that spiral staircase, I could be here a good while with that particular experience...

Rare shot where the camera is actually behind the character

Now is the point where I realise I’m trying to convince people that this is actually a good game. Yes, the platforming is dire and shows some seriously bad design, but I wouldn’t be typing this here if I still thought I had a legitimately terrible game on my hands. For the fact of the matter is, if you can overlook the initial, quite jarring flaws this game proceeds, there are some great set pieces and a nice story to be told in Castlevania.

The thing I always liked about this game was its subtlety. It doesn’t try to spook you with things that live under the bed, or throw its legions of polygonal vampires your way all at once. No, what this game accomplishes well leans more toward the uncanny: as you travel further into Dracula’s castle there becomes a more apparent sense of tension which truly moves and unnerves the player, as they linger through the many corridors that become.

I stated before that two of my favourite moments were in this game, and if you’ve played it, I know you’ll at least remember the first one. Remember walking into that room with the scared villager, and the conveniently placed mirror at the opposite side. Remember walking up to the mirror, and noticing that only your own reflection was visible. Yeah, you know what’s coming next.

Even then, I still freaked like I did the first time I saw Alex in the bathtub in Eternal Darkness. That close up of the first vampire. The thing I love about this moment though, is how there was a pause between the mirror and the revelation that *spoilers* the villager was dead all along. Its like the game wanted to prolong the silence of the room, before the obvious inevitable happened. It’s a very tense moment. Heck, maybe though this was just the result of bad storytelling, where the game actually wanted to go fore one of those derivative Hollywood shocks, but ended up resulting in a completely unintentional, different effect entirely. I don’t know, but I still love it.

The other moment was from the introduction of the female character Rosa, and is all about watering roses. Back at the time, this was one of the most touching moments I had ever seen. Rosa is a kind hearted, youthful-in-appearance vampire who attends Dracula’s castle. Already, she is a stark contrast to the previous monsters we’ve been introduced to, making this scene particularly uncanny. Though furthering this - my favourite part - is the actual watering of the roses. White roses they are, she says. Wait, but those are red roses, Reinhardt replies. Then it cuts to a shot of the actual liquid pouring out of the watering can. Its red. Blood.

I ask, why? Why do they water their roses with blood? Why the blatant explanation that they’re white roses in the first place? They’re vampires!? I realise though, to question such aspects would be to miss the point entirely. Just watch the scene play out, and embrace the spot-on gothic nature of it unfolding. This is what I felt when I first played the game. This is what I still feel now. Its fantastic stuff.

This is Carrie, the witch. She's the second playable character, and a very different beast to Reinhardt. Aside from her magic attacks, the game's stages differ depending on who you play.

To conclude I’d like to highlight some of the other features which really made Castlevania 64 great for me. A hedge maze starring chainsaw Frankenstein made for a heart-pulsing chase scene, years before Resident Evil 4 followed human’s innate fear of nutbags with chainsaws. And a few moments in which your actions can actually change the course of the game. One involving a shady contractor, and the other playing on the omnipresent yet mostly ignored day/night feature. Just be warned, if you fall into some certain conditions in this game, you might be facing a few more bosses than you expected at the end. Including some which could be at the expense of certain characters you may get attached to.

Castlevania 64 was a really good game. It had its issues, but at least I felt that the narrative and variety involved kept them to one side. As for staying true to the series, well, I’ll put that in the corner with the jumping controls. You fight Dracula, you play a descendant of the Belmont clan, and there’s hidden secrets where you can get special items by jumping to invisible platforms which I wouldn’t dare try, but apart from that, its strictly non-canon. As a standalone piece of gothic work though, it’s quite the brilliant journey.

May the defense rest.


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