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Off-Brand Games

Review: Tales of Elastic Boy - Mission 1

Sep 21 // Tony Ponce
Tales of Elastic Boy - Mission 1 (WiiWare)Developer: Lexis NumériquePublisher: Lexis NumériqueReleased: August 30, 2010 MSRP: 600 Wii Points I've long wondered what people's beef with motion controls was. "Can't handle it, huh? Too much effort, huh? Go cry me a river." Now, I come to you as an enlightened man, as one who has seen the error of his judgments and wishes to sympathize with you. Tales of Elastic Boy has one of the most uncomfortable control schemes I've ever suffered, if not the most. As in LocoRoco, you must roll your colorful avatar across the landscape while collecting trinkets. Instead of tilting the whole planet to guide the hero Mooky, you have direct control over him. I figured you'd hold the Wii Remote sideways and tilt left or right for movement. In actuality, you hold it in the standard position and rotate clockwise or counterclockwise. If you've ever played a game that required this specific motion, like Zack & Wiki or Metroid Prime 3, you've probably discovered that it's more difficult to twist your wrist in one direction than in the other -- there's more resistance turning outward than inward. The makers of those games understood the limits of the human body and made infrequent use of such motions. Lexis Numérique does not. Rolling requires you to hold the B trigger in addition to twisting the remote. Is jumping mapped to A? Nope! Hold B and flick the remote! How far you jump is determined by how fast you are rolling, so you have to flick your wrist while twisting. If you want to attack an enemy, you have to flick the remote while airborne and holding both the B trigger and the A button. Should you miss your target -- and you will -- you must repeat the routine from square one. Taking a page from World of Goo, you can travel through the air by latching onto anchor points. You pull yourself onto an anchor by pointing at it and pressing A, then you hold A and drag yourself across the other anchors in a sequence. However, if you are free falling and wish to grab an anchor, you must flick the remote without pressing a button. And not limpy-wimpy flicks, mind! This game requires some strong snapping if you have any hope of registering an action. There could have been an optional Nunchuk control scheme to address these concerns, but noooooooo! The controls are so fidgety that the majority of game time is spent repeating botched maneuvers over and over again. I wondered if this was just me, so I observed my five-year-old cousin during play to see if he had better luck. I saw his adorable face pursed in frustration as he twisted the remote every which way, trying to will that little orange blob over a friggin' two-centimeter wide gap. Even he complained about discomfort, and he's young and wiry! The controls are such a mind-blowing hurdle that the rest of the game compensates by eliminating any degree of challenge. There are three difficulty levels that make slight alterations to item and enemy placement but don't actually increase or decrease overall difficulty. If an enemy grabs hold of you, you have a five-second window to shake the remote furiously and escape unscathed. Even if you do take damage, there are plenty of restorative items about, and collecting 25 nuggets will refill your entire health bar anyway. I've tried intentionally killing myself, but always give up before half my health bar is depleted! The nuggets you collect are used to unlock extra characters and maps for the multiplayer mode, but I can't imagine playing with a second victim is any more fun or rewarding than the main game. It's padding on a game that already feels like one giant tutorial -- it ends after a piddling six stages plus a snore-inducing boss battle. Oddly enough, Tales of Elastic Boy is a sequel to a 2008 DS game called Mister Slime. I've heard that the touch controls in that game and even more unbearable than the motion controls here. If that's true, I know a game I'm never approaching within a ten-mile radius. And if that "Mission 1" subtitle denotes the start of an episodic series, I know that there will not be a "Mission 2" in my future. UNOFFICIAL OFF-BRAND GAMES SCORE After initially comparing Tales of Elastic Boy to LocoRoco, I had to chastise myself for such a grave insult. Instead of flat, vibrant pastels, we got blocky polygons with bland textures. Also, everything looks really stretchy because the game was not optimized for widescreen TVs. I'm dumbfounded that there is still a company that would make such an oversight. Seems deliberate. The "Content Creators Have Phoned It In" Scale of Evil Twins: OFFICIAL REVIEW SCORE Tales of Elastic Boy - Mission 1 requires that you contort your wrist in ways it wasn't meant to bend. Maybe the blistering tendinosis you'd likely develop is a sign that this game isn't meant to be played, either.

When I first saw the trailer for Tales of Elastic Boy, my mind jumped to LocoRoco. With his rounded body and rabbit-ear antennae, the main character was a dead ringer for a bubbly, bouncy LocoRoco. With a fascination for one ...


Off-Brand Games: Tube Slider

Aug 22
// Tony Ponce
[Many video games build upon the concepts and mechanics of their forerunners. Off-Brand Games examines those that draw just a little too much... inspiration.] Know what sucks about the Wii? Shut your whore mouths befor...

Off-Brand Games: High Seas Havoc

Jul 24 // Tony Ponce
[embed]179427:31643[/embed] Offender: High Seas HavocDeveloped by: Data EastPublished by: Data EastReleased on: GEN, 1993Tastes like: Sonic the Hedgehog Oh, fuck. It's Data East yet again. Ya know, I really ought to do a running tally, see how many rip-offs a single company can crank out. I mean, there have gotta be companies whose revenue stream revolves entirely around IP theft. Whether the games are good or bad, a very damning case starts to build against them after a while. Is that how they want to be remembered? Maybe Data East just wanted to be a martyr. The company was like an overgrown fangame house, and karma was fast approaching. It couldn't come up with an original idea of its own and chose to burn in a blaze of glory. All for naught, however. Does anybody lament the loss of Data East? Is the world in worse shape? Oh, whatever will we do without another Bad Dudes? But I'm not being fair. Sometimes, Data East would only steal to get the ball rolling. Like in Finding Forrester, Jamal copies the first paragraph of Forrester's essay in order to find his groove. Ya know, start with a template then let the words pour out. You can often tell the moment when authors switch, though. A.I. was Stanley Kubrick's final gift to the world, but Spielberg mucked it all up with his "Holy shit! Aliens!" finale. A Scooby-Doo ending would have been less jarring! Anyway, we are introduced to Havoc, a good-natured pirate who finds a young maiden named Bridget washed up on the shore. She holds a map that reveals the location of the magical gem Emeralda and asks you to help hide it from the clutches of the evil Bernardo. She and your sidekick Tide managed to get captured anyway, so you must seek 'em out and prevent Bernardo from acquiring infinite power. HOW SHAMELESS IS IT? Havoc is supposed to be a seal, but if it weren't for his very obvious flippers, I'd say he was Sonic in pirate garb. He's blue and has got that stupid smirk on his face like he just let one rip and is pretending not to notice. It's not clear what species Bridget is supposed to be, but she's pink and hedgehog-looking just like Amy Rose. And the MacGuffin in this swash-buckling tale is a Chaos Emerald. If you only play the first level of this game, you'd walk away thinking that this is indeed a high-seas reworking of Sonic's 16-bit escapades. It's Emerald Hill Zone from Sonic 2! There are big slopes and gravity-defying platforms and cliff edges that crumble in the exact same checkerboard fashion. There are springs that send you flying, treasure chests that act like Sonic's item monitors, and even a ten-minute time limit in each level. There are two major differences, however. One, you have a health bar instead of a ring counter. You collect gemstones that award extra lives for every 100 you find, but you gotta snack on meat sticks to refill your stamina. Two, Havoc is so goddamn slow. There's a boost item just like Sonic's sneaker power-up, but it barely makes a difference in your top speed. You bounce off enemy's heads, but if you want to attack foes in your line of sight or deal any damage to bosses, you have to push the jump button a second time to perform this weak-ass flipper kick. It's so awkward -- you can't judge the proper attack distance without getting damaged yourself for at least the first twenty minutes of the game. Look at the box art above! Watch the intro cut scene! Captain Feathersword has got himself a cutlass! Do you get to use that in the game, ever, at all? No, you don't. That's deception número uno. It's disgusting how many free lives you can score at the outset. You collect crowns worth 50 gems and 1-up dolls out the ying-yang -- I had roughly 30 lives after intentionally killing myself a few times in that very first level! In fact, every time you respawn at a checkpoint, your timer resets to zero! No punishment for failure whatsoever! Bad guys fall like timber; the first encounter with Bernardo could best be described as pitcher-position prison rape. I'm making this game my bitch and just cruisin' like you know how we do, yeeeeeaaaaah boooooooyeeeeeee! Deception número dos. It was around the halfway mark that the difficulty began to rise as sharply as the snowy slopes I was scaling. There are these vanishing blocks that move in a marked direction one space before dropping, and you gotta hop from one to the other as you dodge flying mace balls. That's not the nerve-racking part, though. That comes later when you have to hop up and down on a moving platform with a spinning roulette wheel that dictates where you go. Your progress is left up to chance, so you're bouncing there like a fuckin' chihuahua for five or so minutes, then you get the idea to screw the risks and take a leap of faith from wherever in space you are. I can't quite put my finger on it -- perhaps around the time I was being chased by Fryguy from Mario 2 -- but at some point the game stopped playing like a Sonic title. There were no more long stretches of ground to sprint across. Everything became about precise platforming and trial-and-error pattern memorization. Bosses turned into Zen Buddhist trials where your every flaw and failing is laid bare before you. Have you disconnected from the world? Have you achieved true enlightenment? Maybe you should become a vegan. Go hiking in the Catskills. Stop showing up to your job and build a shack out in Mongolia. Maybe become a village shaman. Go on a spirit journey in the Outback. You don't have to go that far if you don't wanna. You can start at home with some self-reflection. Take up jogging. Hey... have you found Jesus yet? Are you in control? Are you focused? Have you found your center? It don't fuckin' matter. There is no way you can play this game and not want to visit a crowded space and start ripping out throats, MacGruber style. What happened? At what point did this game demand skills more appropriate for a Cave shooter? Did the lead designer's wife leave him halfway through development and now he was lashing out at the unfortunate children who dared to dream and frolic and prance? This is not a humbling ordeal, it's an emasculating one. The final level is particularly mind-numbing. Flying crates that spawn out of nowhere come swooping in and smacking you off the airship. They barely let you know they're coming. And poor you, your flipper kick doesn't do shit to help. You may bust a couple here and there, but you'll most likely be tasting wood splinters for the next year. Every move has to be calculated, every obstacle foreseen weeks in advance. Then you fight Bernardo, the godmodding dick, who along the way learned how to summon meteors and shoot lightning from his ass. Where's my sword? Don't I deserve one? What kind of a pirate am I? This doesn't seem fair! Oh, God, motherfucker went Super Saiyan with the emerald! Why can't I become a Super Saiyan, huh? I replayed that one level for about four hours! I even left the game on pause to eat dinner, take a shower, and clear my head! I finally beat the bastard, but there was no joy in victory. There is no reason for this game to be so hard. You don't tease players with one thing and then just go in an extreme direction like that! This is how people develop hypertension! Where's my Sonic clone? Where did it go? That part actually wasn't so bad. Bring it back, you assholes! You wanna make me cry? Do ya? Great! I'm crying now! You are horrible people! Bad, bad, mean, mean, meanies! Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! THE MEGA BLOKS SCALE OF SAME INTERLOCKING STUDS AS LEGOS: PREVIOUSLY, ON OFF-BRAND GAMES: 00 Introduction 01 Power Blazer 02 Commando: Steel Disaster 03 Snood 04 Midnight Resistance 05 8 Eyes 06 Onimusha Blade Warriors 07 The Krion Conquest 08 Scurge: Hive 09 3-D WorldRunner 10 Alundra 11 Chex Quest 12 Giana Sisters DS 13 Run Saber 14 Crusader of Centy 15 DuLuDuBi Star 16 Fighter's History 17 Robopon18 The Simpsons Road Rage  19 Neutopia  20 Ruff Trigger: The Vanocore Conspiracy21 Soul of Darkness *Official Review*

[Many video games build upon the concepts and mechanics of their forerunners. Off-Brand Games examines those that draw just a little too much... inspiration.] There's an art to deception. Have you ever gone to a fitness c...

Review: Soul of Darkness

Jul 12 // Tony Ponce
Soul of Darkness (DSiWare)Developer: GameloftPublisher: GameloftReleased: July 5, 2010 MSRP: 500 Nintendo DSi Points Like all of Gameloft's home console releases, Soul of Darkness is a port of a mobile game, specifically a slightly enhanced, two-year-old cellphone game. The total domination of the iPhone in the mobile space has forced app development into high gear, turning the hardware into a robust platform. When it comes to vanilla cellphones, however, there are still many roadblocks that keep gaming in the ghetto. Even if these titles find new life on dedicated gaming machines, many of those limitations will fail to be addressed. Such is the issue with Soul of Darkness, a game that shows great promise but ends too damn quickly. I wouldn't have been as nonplussed had the roughly two-hour playtime been extremely feature-packed, but it blows what little load it carries before the end of the first half. You are Kale, a vampire hunter on a quest to rid your amnesiac girlfriend Lydia of her nightmares. A bad ol' vamp named Ritter who claims to know Lydia personally suddenly swoops in and kidnaps her, and thus your adventure begins. It's a bare bones framework that recalls the simpler days of 8- and 16-bit Castlevania before the timeline became a convoluted web of hasty retconning. Borrowing much from the post-Symphony of the Night era, the sprite and background art are rich in color and detail. There are a few enemies that look and behave exactly like their Castlevania counterparts, including imps and succubi. You break statues and secret walls to uncover items. The bottom screen display's the current stage's map. Even Kale's movements are animated similarly to those of Alucard or Soma, right down to the delayed body turn when changing direction. All the humanoid characters sport what I like to call the "Konami Mannequin Head." In many of Konami's sprite-based games including Metal Gear and Contra, the small size of character sprites meant that facial features would be hard to distinguish and thus were not added. This design quirk wasn't unique to Konami, but I most associate it with that company and in particular Castlevania, a series that for the past two decades has maintained a relatively unchanged aesthetic. The game teases a grand skill set but doesn't deliver. You start with a flame sword and later gain an ice spear, then you enhance their strength and magic attributes by infusing them with purple souls from fallen enemies not unlike Onimusha or God of War. There are no other weapons aside from these two, making the enhancement system feel underused. You also have the ability to transform into one of three monsters but only in rare designated areas, another unfortunate waste of potential. On the other hand, the focus on small set of moves keeps the game running at a brisk pace. The eleven levels are surprisingly varied -- there are water spouts that you freeze into ice platforms, laser traps that you navigate by blocking the lasers' paths, and a forced scrolling level during which you ride on an angelic swan. Hell, a couple of boss battles feature cinematic quick time events! Imagine that! Normally, I'd be up in arms over QTEs, but they are used here sparsely and to great effect. For a laugh, you can use the DSi's camera to paste your face over any of the character portraits used in cutscenes. The camera also comes in handy at special booths that reward you with souls, health, or magic if you take a photo that is predominantly red, green, or blue respectively. This latter function is a bit temperamental, requiring perfect lighting conditions -- I took a close-up photo of a house plant and the game wouldn't recognize it as green! I found that the best way to cheat the system is, if you have access to a computer, fire up a paint program, use the bucket tool the fill the whole screen, and snap a shot. BAM! Suck it! Though progress is swift, jumping is floaty, enemies lack agility, and all action in general feels sluggish. I'm positive that this is another holdover from the game's cellphone days. Considering how cumbersome it is to play anything on a keypad, the game would have to be tailored with awkward button placement in mind. Apparently, the code wasn't properly adapted to the DSi, and the challenge is lower than it should be as a result. The game is just way too easy. As in Castlevania, levels are split into rooms that are a few screen lengths in width or height. Should you die, you will be sent back to the start of either the current room or the previous one. The enemies you killed return and your soul count drops to pre-checkpoint levels, but your health and magic are restored. Since you have unlimited lives, death is essentially free of any consequence. In fact, if you are running low on health or if you made a room's puzzle impossible to solve, you can select "restart" from the pause menu to insta-kill and rejuvenate yourself! It's an invitation to brute-force your way through the adventure. After a disappointing final boss who doesn't even have the courtesy to whip out a second, more beastly form, you are given the option to replay the game on so-called "hard mode." The enemies deal slightly more damage, but since you are allowed to carry over your leveled-up weapons and health/magic upgrades, the net challenge increase is zero. With no other rewards of features to speak of, you are done. How unbelievably anticlimactic. UNOFFICIAL OFF-BRAND GAMES SCORE You are holding a Nintendo DSi in your hand. You have access to three real Castlevania games, all available used for less than a twenty spot and packed with more than ten times the juice. Why should you bother with crumbs that provide no nourishment when there's a feast waiting in the next room? Are those unused DSi points burning that deep a hole in your pocket? Empty calories, people. Empty calories. The Mortal Kombat Scale of Palette-Swapped Create-A-Ninjas: OFFICIAL REVIEW SCORE In all honesty, Soul of Darkness is a decent game that adequately captures the gothic spirit of the Castlevania franchise. Unfortunately, its failure to expand upon promising game mechanics, its criminally short playtime, the absence of any real challenge, and the lack of compelling replay value make it hard to recommend. I wouldn't give it the time of day if it was priced any higher, but for five bucks, it's a nice diversion for a lazy afternoon.

If gaming were a religion, it would vary in practice and observance from person to person. In my case, I'd model it closely to the faith with which I have the most experience, Catholicism. I'd recognize my own Holy Trinity of...

Off-Brand Games: Ruff Trigger: The Vanocore Conspiracy

Jul 10 // Tony Ponce
Offender: Ruff Trigger: The Vanocore Conspiracy Developed by: Playstos Published by: Natsume Released on: PS2, 2006 Tastes like: Ratchet & Clank Never heard of Playstos, have ya? It's an Italian game company that tried its hand at developing full-blown retail titles before getting spanked with the brutal realization that nobody knew what the hell they were doing. It has since settled into the role of digital-download developer and hasn't looked back. It's safe to assume that Ruff Trigger, the company's first major project, did not have the smoothest of dev cycles. In the works since 2002, the game was originally scheduled for a 2004 release on PC, Xbox, and PS2 but missed its launch date by two years. When it finally appeared, it was under a new publisher, on a single platform, and with a budget price. Clearly, Playstos was attempting to cut its losses. The new publisher was Harvest Moon distributor Natsume. By the way, have you played a Natsume game recently? Are you aware of the slogan that appears below the company logo? "Serious Fun"? Isn't that an oxymoron? Now, I personally take that as a guarantee of quality. If a company approves a product and declares "shit be bangin'," I expect to hear some fuckin' drums. You don't say stuff like that off-hand. You've gotta mean that shit because consumers will take that promise to heart. That guarantee is blown to shambles after reading the game's full title -- Ruff Trigger: The Vanocore Conspiracy. Can't be edgy and cool without a pretentious subtitle, can we? A conspiracy, eh? Oooooh! Sounds mysterious! What's a Vanocore? It's a mystery within a mystery! Everybody loves a mystery, and everybody loves conspiracies! Ruff Trigger must be mature like The X-Files! How do we draw in children? Let's make the characters anthropomorphic animals in space! They act human but are animals! Clever! And there's this bounty hunter dog Ruff Trigger who is tracking these creatures called Piglots, a new breed of pet genetically manufactured by the Vanocore Corporation, but nothing is as it seems! Totally edgy yet kid-friendly! Like Loonatics Unleashed! This is gonna be bad. HOW SHAMELESS IS IT? Despite making zero sense and despite having plot holes the size of football fields, Ruff Trigger tries to play it totally straight. The voice acting just kills it, though. The character of Ruff is attempting to be tough and cool but comes off as a big poseur who tries way too hard. And he says "hell" in a kids' game! So edgy and mature! There's the character of the Boss, the leader of Ruff's investigation outfit, who's got this big-ass cigar jammed in his mouth and wears those goofy shoulder fins from Dragon Ball Z. His voice is... remember how your mom would read you stories when you were younger and would voice all the characters? Whenever there was like a bear, wolf, or some other large, aggressive creature, she would force a deep, masculine voice, and it sounded extremely strained and non-threatening? The Boss sounds just like that. Most offensive of all is this persistent aura, this nagging feeling that the developers wanted so desperately to turn this into a franchise. I mean, hell, why else would you append a bullshit subtitle to the main one if not to swap it out with an equally bullshit one for the eventual sequel? Ruff Trigger: The Hands of Fate could have very well been in the pipeline! I hate this notion that developers or publishers can simply will a franchise into existence, like if they wish hard enough then all their dreams will come true. Remember Cheetahmen? There were action figures planned for that shit! Hey, Dennis Dyack! How's the Too Human trilogy coming along? How big must your ego be to assume the market will be receptive to your "grand vision," eh? It's a good thing Ruff Trigger was stillborn because Ratchet & Clank pulled off everything it did a billion times better. The guns are better, the platforming is better, and even the damn manual is better. Yeah, Ruff Trigger gets the standard black-and-white, twenty-page spread while Ratchet & Clank gets a kickass product catalog of all the tools in the game plus a poster on the flip side. I know it seems unfair to compare manuals when most are garbage anyway, but these are the rules I play by. The controls are a joke. You've got a selection of melee combos that are effective as fuck all. Enemy hit stun is a fuzzy thing in this game, so closing the distance in order to pull off these melee attacks is almost guaranteed to sap your health. It would be preferable to use your weapons if doing so wasn't synonymous with operating heavy machinery while drugged up on propofol. You can't fire your gun without first locking on to an enemy, so you press R1. A reticule will appear, but if you move anywhere, it will disengage! So you also have to press the L1 button to engage strafe mode! However, if you try to jump out of the way, you lose the lock. If you strafe too far to the left or right, you lose the lock. Most games only require a single targeting button, enabling you to circle the enemy at will. Not so in Ruff Trigger! Did these guys play any other game, ever? Your weapons carry a pitiful amount of ammunition, but thankfully there are ammo boxes scattered everywhere. Every two inches is a breakable box or a pipe or a computer monitor, and my OCD compels me to smash EVERY! LAST! ONE! Most of my play time is spent smashing crates, collecting ammo as well as credits to buy weapons and armor at the shop. With the abundance of money, you'd think all the supplies would be priced outrageously, but you literally have enough to buy everything in the game three levels in! Of course, you are artificially locked out from buying the pricier equipment until you collect enough experience tokens, so... what's the point? And what's with the camera? Tilt the stick to the left and the camera pans... right? Tilt right to go left? Tilting the stick forward and backs tilts the camera down and up, respectively and as it should be, but when you enter first-person view, they flip it around! God dammit! That's not how cameras work, you assholes! And you don't even offer inverted camera options? That should come standard in any game that gives the user camera control! Early in the game, you gain the ability to transform into a werewolf akin to the Dark Jak transformation in Jak II. Unlike Dark Jak, you are able to transform at any time, but aside from greater jumping proficiency, this form has no real benefits. Your new abilities drain your power meter, requiring you to seek out vials of green goop to replenish yourself, yet the new moves aren't any more effective than weapon fire. The form certainly doesn't make melee attacks any less ass! I wouldn't mind half the nonsense in Ruff Trigger if I at least had a plucky sidekick with which to trade witty barbs. Where's my Clank, my Daxter? Instead, we get busty, feline, whack-off material in the form of Cecily, the female pilot who spends the entire game giving Ruff a major league case of blue balls. And wouldn't you know it, she's the one exemption to Rule 34. My God, all I want is a tiny measure of relief and the game can't even deliver on... Don't you look at me like I'm crazy! She's a cat? So what? EVERYBODY'S a little bit furry! Don't... don't shake your head! Yes, you are! Oh, no? Your pants didn't get a little tight when you saw those Minerva Mink shorts on Animaniacs? You never had the hots for Cheetara? Yeah? YEAH? Bullshit. Don't judge me. With all this repressed desire, how am I to take out my frustrations? Well, there are those Piglots I mentioned from earlier. The game is driven by your quest to locate all the lost critters and lead them into a teleporter, a mechanic not unlike that found in Pikmin. Unfortunately, Piglots can't die, so my dreams of relieving stress by ripping apart the little bastards are left unfulfilled. I love abusing animals in videogames. My favorite part in Mega Man Legends was kicking the bejeezus out of those guard dogs. I love sniping birds out of the sky in any game that allows me to do so. I am one sadistic sonuvabitch. Since Ruff Trigger tallies the number of fat little bastards you rescue at the end of a level, I assumed they'd be susceptible to injury. However, if you jump into the water while holding one, it'll reappear in its original location. They can't be shoved into pits. Any direct attack will only stun them. I just wanna blow the little buggers up! Please! Aside from gaining experience tokens for your efforts, there is no requirement for rescuing Piglots at all! Your only real incentive is to unlock a bevy of lame-ass minigames, many of which are variations of Pac-Man. You control a Piglot as it runs around a maze, rescuing other Piglots or trying to reach the exit. Somehow, Playstos even managed to fuck up Pac-Man by turning direction commands into mere suggestions! Need to turn left? Hope and pray that the punk turns left! Maybe it'll go right! It's a battle of wills and the user always loses. Let's recap -- the controls don't work, the camera doesn't work, the weapons suck ass, the voice acting is grating, the abundance of collectibles is out of control, the female eye candy won't put out, and the objectives don't serve any necessary function. What about bosses? Most games pride themselves on their inventive boss encounters, but not Ruff Trigger! Remember all those weapons you've been struggling to work with? Throw 'em away! They aren't used in all of the three major boss battles. In these fights, you gotta pick up wandering Piglots in the arena and drop them onto these target pads in order to trigger a context-sensitive action. What a kick in the balls! And what of the big conspiracy? Turns out that the Piglots are actually vicious beasts that transform when they drink the same goop you drink to become a werewolf. People would buy the pets and inadvertently welcome these murderers into their home. The whole adventure has been a lie. Instead of rescuing the little gits, you should have been exterminating them. But of course, you can't actually kill them, can you? So what was the point of the whole affair? Where's the satisfaction? I finished this abortion of a game, watched the facepalm-worthy non-ending that resolves absolutely NOTHING, and tossed the disc back in the case. Four years of development and this was it? The thing barely looks like a first-generation PS2 game as is, but there is just so much pure garbage that I can't recommend this to anyone. What was going through their minds? If you like Ratchet & Clank... just... don't. Stay away from this game. It's offensive on every conceivable level. It'll make you sterile. It teases you by literally dangling pussy in your face. It's stupid and I hate it. I wish nothing but the worst for Playstos. I hope their mobile apps brick every iPhone they are downloaded on, forcing the company to close up shop in shame. THE NICK SIMMONS SCALE OF "CERTAIN FUNDAMENTAL IMAGERY IS COMMON TO ALL MANGA": PREVIOUSLY, ON OFF-BRAND GAMES: 00 Introduction 01 Power Blazer 02 Commando: Steel Disaster 03 Snood 04 Midnight Resistance 05 8 Eyes 06 Onimusha Blade Warriors 07 The Krion Conquest 08 Scurge: Hive 09 3-D WorldRunner 10 Alundra 11 Chex Quest 12 Giana Sisters DS 13 Run Saber 14 Crusader of Centy 15 DuLuDuBi Star 16 Fighter's History 17 Robopon 18 The Simpsons Road Rage 19 Neutopia

[Many video games build upon the concepts and mechanics of their forerunners. Off-Brand Games examines those that draw just a little too much... inspiration.] I played the original Ratchet & Clank for the first time t...

Off-Brand Games: Neutopia

May 29 // Tony Ponce
Offender: Neutopia Developed by: Hudson Soft Published by: NEC Released on: TG-16, 1990 Tastes like: The Legend of Zelda Joining Alundra and Crusader of Centy in the wannabe-Zelda camp is Neutopia, the most faithful "adaptation" yet. In fact, it's too faithful. The other titles did a much better job of distinguishing themselves from the source. Neutopia doesn't try to cover its tracks, and I do not mean that in a nice way. I can sense some of you pulling away from me. You might have played this on the Wii not that long ago with a smile on your face and a lilt in your step. C'mon, Tony! It's a great game! Don't be a hater! What's the matter, guys? Are you afraid that I might have some unkind words for Neutopia? Afraid that I may have ... *gasp*... legitimate criticisms? So some dork named Dirth, lead singer of a douchey Brit alt metal band, invades the land of Hyrule ... excuse me ... Neutopia, kidnaps Princess Zelda ... sorry ... Princess Aurora, and plunges the world into darkness and shit. As the hero Link ... pardon me ... Jazeta, you must conquer the eight dungeons ... hold on ... labyrinths, recover the eight Triforce shards ... there I go again, mind in the gutter ... Medallions, and restore peace to the people. Oh yeah. Magic everywhere in this bitch. HOW SHAMELESS IS IT? Everything you needed to know in the original Zelda was right there in the opening scroll. Neutopia adds nothing to that. You hear me? Nothing. Here was an opportunity to one-up Nintendo at their own game, however foolish such action was and always will be, and Hudson didn't bother to step up to the plate. No, Hudson called in a pinch hitter while it had "private time" in a dark corner of the dugout. Glad to see you taking the competition seriously. It's not that the game was bad -- I've always insisted that it's not possible to make a "bad" Zelda clone -- it just wasn't necessary. Was there a gap in the software lineup that needed plugging? What happened? Were your fifteen billion shoot-'em-ups not selling anymore? The TurboGrafx-16, purported to be a whopping four times faster (oooh!) than the NES, could only yield a Zelda-too that was nothing more than a simple palette swap? Aside from what I mentioned above, you've got bats and mutant dogs with identical attack patterns to Keese and Moblins. You get a dungeon map by finding crystal balls, collect crypt keys to get into boss chambers, pick up cherries instead of hearts, score coins instead of Rupees, and snatch an hourglass that freezes enemies on screen momentarily like the watch that you probably don't even remember was in the first Zelda. Just the tip of the iceberg. You know the ladder from Zelda? The thing that wasn't so much a ladder as it was a makeshift bridge? Stupid crap that no one would care to ever see in a Zelda game again, right? Lo and behold, it makes a grand appearance in Neutopia as the Rainbow Drop, a magical artifact that creates bridges out of bright rainbows and the joy and laughter of innocent children frolicking in the fields and oh my God, I think I'm gonna puke. Really? This couldn't hit the chopping block? It just had to be in there, right? And those eight Medallions? They represent wisdom, power, and virtue. Isn't that last one supposed to be "courage"? I bet they thought they were being clever! Shame that "clever" wasn't one of the three almighty virtues! That's another thing... the third virtue is called "virtue." You can't do that! You can't name a subset of a set after the set itself! Wisdom and power are types of virtues, so you have to name the third one something other than "virtue," you asshats! That's like naming your hockey team the Vancouver Canucks or the Montreal Canadians! You live in fucking Canada! The redundancy is melting my brain! The nomenclature throughout is phenomenal. The hero is "Jazeta." Woo! How manly! It's the perfect name if you were answering a casting call for To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. To return to the last save point, you use an item called the "Wings of Return." The bombs you carry are not regular bombs but "Boom Bombs," as opposed to the kind that file your God damn tax returns. And the nefarious Dirth (I've already covered him) awaits your arrival in the sinister "Climactic Castle." The Climactic Castle? Tell me that didn't just happen. Did that just happen? Oh my God! Ha ha ha ha ha! HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA HAAAAAAAAAAAAA HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! No. So I'm walking around, blowing up walls with bombs to uncover hidden doors or burning bushes to uncover secret stairwells, when I feel a strange chill down my spine. This is exactly like the original Zelda only... off. In every respect, Neutopia is The Legend of Zelda, but the graphical boost implies an exploration of new concepts that never materialize. The power of the hardware doesn't yield a richer, more robust game, and that leaves me feeling disconnected. The original Zelda is extremely dated by today's standards, but at least I understand that it was a product of an earlier age. Neutopia did nothing to build upon that. This is all disappointing enough, but then the game starts pulling shenanigans on me. Item drops, for starters, never happen! You can play the game for half an hour without seeing a single restorative cherry, leaving you to suffer the grating low-health warning chime until you kill yourself in game or out. Bomb drops are just as infrequent, and since you can only carry sixteen by game's end and you have to bomb all the time on every screen, you wind up bomb-less and paying a visit to the bloodsucking salesman in a store located God knows where. For all the equipment lifted from Zelda, you don't have many offensive options. Take a look at your status bar: Assigned are the fire wand and your sword. That's what you'll be using in every battle. There are no boomerangs or bows and arrows; as I've established, it would be foolish and impractical to waste bombs on combat. The fire wand is a distance weapon and its power and range are directly proportional to amount of health you posses. That's a big "up yours" when you are on the brink of death, six or seven monsters closing in on you, and the flames spewing from the tip couldn't light a birthday candle. That's when I need the thing to be at its most powerful! Not cool, dude! Using the sword is deceptively tricky, especially against enemies that jump. Imagine you are playing catch with yourself. The ball travels skyward before gravity brings it down. Applying 2D overhead physics to the ball, instead of traveling perpendicular to the ground, it will be as if you are throwing it to the left or the right, parallel to the ground, before some magical force reverses its direction without gravity ever stopping by to say hello. In game, it would look like the ball is shifting one panel north; that's the panel you attack despite science telling you otherwise. And what's up with the password function? You can enter a password to jump ahead in the game or you can store passwords you receive at save points to automatically be entered for you whenever you turn the game back on. The hag who saves your progress doesn't restore your health, and should you die, you will return to her with half your gold and only half your health refilled. However, if you reset the game and load your most recent password, you jump back in at full stamina! Why the inconvenience? As if that wasn't backwards enough, in order to use the save function, you have to acquire the "Book of Revival" literally one screen below your starting point. Without it, death sends you back to the beginning of the game. It's not like it's difficult to find! It's right there! Why do I have to manually pick it up? Why can't I simply have the ability to save my game? Who benefits from this? Is the game encouraging me to attempt a no-death run? None of that matters, though. What matters is visiting all the townspeople and listening to their sob stories. Almost every square on the overworld map has a hidden room, but all you'll find are NPCs who won't stop sucking up to you, and all you wanna do is punch them square in the sternum. It's room after room after room of repeated character sprites. The game feels less like a grand adventure and more like making house calls. The game is one giant gated community and I'm supposed to be the security patrol that drives off the riff-raff for breaking the homeowners' association conduct code. At least the payoff is decent! All Zelda ever did for Link was give him a pat on the shoulder and a half-hearted thumbs up for a job well done. Princess Aurora? She literally throws herself at you and commands you to take her right then and there: Now that's what I'm talkin' about! I think this just might be the only game in the history of gaming where you get to bang the princess in the end! Okay, it's not stated outright, but the implication is clear as day! Makes the whole ordeal worthwhile, doesn't it? Seriously though, the game isn't that bad. I'm just a jerk. THE BRUCEPLOITATION SCALE OF RESPECT FOR A CULTURAL ICON: PREVIOUSLY, ON OFF-BRAND GAMES: 00 Introduction 01 Power Blazer 02 Commando: Steel Disaster 03 Snood 04 Midnight Resistance 05 8 Eyes 06 Onimusha Blade Warriors 07 The Krion Conquest 08 Scurge: Hive 09 3-D WorldRunner 10 Alundra 11 Chex Quest 12 Giana Sisters DS 13 Run Saber 14 Crusader of Centy 15 DuLuDuBi Star 16 Fighter's History 17 Robopon 18 The Simpsons Road Rage

[Many video games build upon the concepts and mechanics of their forerunners. Off-Brand Games examines those that draw just a little too much... inspiration.] Take a look at this. Now, take a look at this. Does anyone re...


Off-Brand Games: The Simpsons Road Rage

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// Tony Ponce
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