The other week, someone asked if I really play through all the games for this feature. I'm like, fuckin' duh! Of course I do!
There are just some things you can't grasp unless you experience them firsthand. I could probably just watch YouTube clips or speed runs and be done with it, but then I wouldn't have the satisfaction of self-discovery. I like not knowing if this will be the week I finally kill myself because I can't stand this shit anymore. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised and put away the cyanide for another day. Who knows!
Most of these games I have never played before. I hunt them down, play them, and deliver my impressions. It's as much a mystery to me as it is to you. You get your jollies, I get mine, and everybody is relatively satisfied. Sounds like we've got a good thing going on.
So that begs the question: Is this week a shit sandwich, a slice of day-old pizza, or a Dairy Queen sundae? Let's discuss Scurge: Hive and find out together.
OFFENDER: Scurge: Hive DEVELOPED BY: Orbital Media RELEASED ON: GBA/DS, 2006 TASTES LIKE: Metroid
Orbital Media is (was?) a curious company. It opened up in 2003 and made a few games of above-average quality before vanishing into the ether. Much like a discount ninja. It didn't finish its ninjutsu training but took a few jobs in order to fund a weekend-long sushi binge. Yeah, I like to think that's exactly what happened.
One of its releases is Scurge: Hive, a Metroidvania that comes in two kickin' flavors, original GBA and extra-crispy DS. The only difference between the two is that the map is always visible on the DS's touch screen. I like knowing where I'm going without having to open the status menu every time I enter a new room, so the DS is my weapon of choice. The fact that the game is a Metroidvania doesn't land it in Copycat Central. Neither Metroid nor Castlevania hold a monopoly on non-linear platforming. No, what lands the game in hot water is how the story is note for note identical to Metroid Fusion.
Something goes awry within the planet "Inos" research station. A parasitic organism known as "Scurge" has spread throughout the lab and infected all captive specimens. The "Military" contacts renowned bounty hunter "Jenosa Arma" to investigate the lab and discover what happened to the staff. With a "bio-suit" that can resist the infection of the "Scurge" and a computer A.I. navigator named "Magellan" that highlights save rooms and new targets on the map, "Jenosa" is prepared for the worst.
Good gravy. Whenever I boot up the game, I always expect to see a disclaimer to reads, "The following is based on actual events. The names have been changed to protect the innocent." It's absolutely nuts. And the name "Jenosa Arma"? "Arma"? That's one fucking letter shift from "Aran"! These guys are phoning it in on a pair of soup cans tethered by a string! Should I have any hope for this game at all? At all?
HOW SHAMELESS IS IT?
As you can see from the image and video above, the game plays a teensy bit differently than the Metroid series proper. Instead of a side-scrolling view, Scurge: Hive is played from an -- *drum roll* -- isometric perspective! Fantastic! Who doesn't love some solid isometric platforming? Think of all those classics like... ummm... lemme think... err... Sonic 3D Blast! And... ummm... fuck it.
Isometric platforming is total bullshit. What synapses of the brain must be burned out in order for such a mechanic to be considered appropriate? You have a cross pad with four cardinal directions, so let's make a game where you travel chiefly along diagonal paths. Playing an isometric platformer is a lot like looking at the world through the eye of a Cyclops. Depth perception? Who needs that? I'm almost certain you can make the jump to that suspended pillar on your first try or six.
The game is glitchy, too. Thankfully, the bugs rarely impede gameplay and mostly serve as minor aesthetic annoyances. When Jenosa or an enemy is obscured by an object, a dark silhouette appears to let you know where they are, but sometimes your figure will be shaded when there is nothing blocking your view. Some floor tiles behave like foreground tiles, so standing over them will cause you to vanish. Minor enemies may explode for no reason whatsoever. Hell, there was a curious incident during which I entered noclip mode and started floating over the environment like it was a place mat before passing off the map.
But to be completely honest, the game as a whole is not that bad. It's not whiz-bang amazing, but it's a step up from the utter dogshit I've subjected myself to lately.
Like Samus, Jenosa gains a versatile set of beams of her own, but they serve more specialized purposes than those from Metroid. Each weapon can be fired continuously by holding down the fire button until your charge meter depletes, after which you must wait for enough charge to rebuild. A rock-paper-scissors mechanic is at work whereby certain enemies are susceptible to a certain weapon. Biological creatures are burned by the combustion beam, robots are fried by the EMP beam, and energy-based foes are disintegrated by the dissipator beam. However, enemies can also be made more powerful when hit by the beam they are resilient against. When a room throws foes of all types at you, you'll need to cycle through the three main beams and avoid strengthening one type while attacking another.
As is typical in a Metroidvania, the attributes of all your acquired tools will help to access previously restricted zones. There are also other tools that can slow time, blow through hardened obstacles, and freeze nearby enemies for use as blocks to trigger pressure-sensitive buttons. Jenosa even has a grapple beam that can pull large objects and be used to slingshot across large gaps, a function which I must once again stress is made needlessly cumbersome by the stupid isometric nonsense. Be prepared to miss the landing by falling far to the left or right of the target over and over again.
Enemies will drop floating globs of bio-matter upon their defeat which can be absorbed in order to regain health much like the X parasites from Metroid Fusion. In addition, each glob builds up an experience meter that when leveled up will increase your max health and the recharge rate of your blaster. Amazingly, the game is paced in such a way that unless you are purposely avoiding whole hordes of enemies you will either be completely maxed out or close to it by the endgame. The experience system also eliminates the need for item fetch quests, so those of you who despise hunting down that next trinket to add another percentage point to your completion rate can rest soundly.
The constant threat throughout the game is not the enemies but the infection meter at the top of the screen. Jenosa's suit only slows the spread of the Scurge through her body, and once the meter hits 100% her health will begin to deplete rapidly. Save rooms double as decontamination stations; there is always one nearby. You shouldn't really feel the threat of total infection unless you are playing on one of the higher difficulty levels. Sometimes, you may feel bold enough to hold out on saving as long as possible and thus find that the infection has reached the critical stage, but even then you can absorb the bio-matter to regain enough health to last you until that next decontamination.
That's nice and all, but Scurge: Hive still fails in a few other areas. Without item pickups, there is no purpose for exploration. You enter a room, clear out some jokers, unlock a gate, and then move on. After you have completed a specific mission, that zone of the lab becomes inaccessible from the central hub. Rooms become nothing more than battle arenas as you face wave after wave of critters. The situation grows especially monotonous in the final stretch of the game when you traverse the tunnels of the planet's forest and more and more of the map keeps opening up with no end in sight. As such, the game doesn't invite a second or third playthrough.
On the plus side, the sprite work is amazing. Everything is so fluid and colorful! Jenosa's hair is especially ridiculous. Look at that ponytail! She puts Nariko from Heavenly Sword to shame! And the music! It's another solid effort by Jake Kaufman a.k.a. virt. You know, the guy who did the music for Shantae and Contra 4.
Then we've got bosses out the wazoo. These cats will murder you. I'm serious. Even if the rest of the game seems to drag on, these guys will slap you awake then ream you from behind.
So the game turned out all right in the end, surprisingly. It's tougher than any Metroid I've played, but then again it's not really like Metroid at all. Okay, sure, the backstory is a terrible copy-paste job and there actually is a Metroid-ish jellyfish creature that appears a few hours in which drains your health upon latching to your head. Aside from that, the game does its own thing. If you can get over the game's sour bits, you might find it worth your while.
It would seem that my profanity today has been pretty modest. I know you guys have expectations, so let me play catch up. *ahem*SHIT, FUCK, BALLSACK, FUCKIN' HORSESHIT ON A POGO STICK OF ASS, WHOREFACE, ASS-GRABBIN' DILLWEED TURD, COCK-STROKER, FUCK NUGGETS, TIT BASTARD, ASS MASTER, MOTHERFUCKIN' JEAN RENO!
THE CORPORATE-SPONSORED SCALE OF THE MADE-FOR-TV BEATLES: