Sunday, July 31, 2011

Infamous 2 - Glorious Mediocrity

May 26th, 2009: Infamous is released for the Playstation 3. The game takes elements from games such as Mirror's Edge, Assassin's Creed, and even Crackdown. The gameplay is a well-crafted action-adventure sandbox game. The controls are relatively smooth, the city is dark and eerie, perhaps a little too gray and grainy at times, however. The powers are wonderful and there's a plethora of interesting and diverse side-missions. No cutscenes unless you count graphic novel-esque pictures coupled with lead character's (Cole McGrath) narration. It's no surprise that two years later, June 7th, 2011, Infamous 2 came out with a special Heroic edition and some great improvements.

Let's talk about improvements, shall we? The controls are more intuitive. Cole moves more smoothly and a bit faster. There are new ways to climb to the top of buildings and a lot of inventions to speed up your travel time, which wasn't even a weakness in the previous game. The improved hover is a wonderful thing and I was thoroughly pleased to fly around the city. There are other great new powers including all the ionic powers (vortex, drain, storm, etc). Graphics are much better, and the animation is cleaner, more colorful, lots more diversity in the way citizens look and dress. And CUTSCENES! There are some great cutscenes in this game, which is partially due to a bigger budget and the use of motion capture. There are less glitches and plenty of new and exciting side-missions to complete.

Infamous 2 takes all of the fun from the first game and amplifies it. As sequels do, they struggle to live up to their predecessor or to conclude a story sufficiently for all of the fans. Just as Infamous did, their are "Karma" choices where Cole can do good or evil. Just as Infamous, the choices are awfully flat and empty. Evil isn't really selfish or easier, just involves killing more civilians and wreaking more havoc. Unlike Infamous 2, the endings are very different depending on your final choice. To refrain from spoilers, I will note that--as Zeropunctuation noted--Cole doesn't often seem "good" or "evil" because the gamer makes those choices outside of the cutscenes. So now, in the one cutscene with the choices being shown, we aren't as attached to Cole in any personal sense aside from that we control him. The two decisions are the utmost extreme solutions, and there are no other options. Either be super hero, or be super villain. Neither ending truly feels like your own, but just a vaguely interesting concept. It doesn't help that Kessler was a far more interesting and non-villainous villain than The Beast.

Zeke, and the relationship Cole has with Zeke, is something far better in Infamous 2 than in Infamous. At no point were you given a reason to take Zeke seriously in Infamous, though you were arbitrarily expected to at times. When he betrays you and follows Kessler, there is something powerful there, but only as a concept, not in the way the story was told. Now, in Infamous 2, we see in cutscenes a friendship plagued with regrets and grudges. They share a wonderful moment in the story where we see those elements fade away. In the good ending, you see how much they care for one another and when they need to part ways, what that means to them. In the evil ending, it is far more wrenching because we could see and feel this friendship, and the evil choice tears these two friends apart. And the game demands you take responsibility for it. In that, Infamous 2 deserves great credit.

It seems, without spoilers, that it will be hard for Sucker Punch to make another installment. As such, I find the universe curious, and I think they have several opportunities to go elsewhere. In this I hope they can expand and do even better in their story telling.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Assassin's Creed 2

I'm a very immature grown man. Hearing all these Italian voices there is one major thing I found myself doing: talking in a very racist Italian accent. Though yes, it's Uncle Mario and it's perfect for "It's a Me: Mario!" I don't care. Whenever I would go to play this game: "It's a Me: Ezio!"

Assassin's Creed 2 is all that was missing in Assassin's Creed. Personally: I loved AC, but I can see how many could grow bored with its repetitive nature and non-cutscene cutscenes. Times where I'm just walking back and forth while Al Mualim keeps prattling about really interesting philosophical concepts. Ezio is more engaging and lovable in the beginning of AC2, which was obviously an apology for how AC starts with Altair getting a man killed and another losing his arm. Gee boy, sure going to love this guy! Still, I liked Altair because the story was obviously about redemption. A man that starts irreverent and learns throughout the story exactly how blurry the lines between good and evil truly are, and eventually owns up to his past mistakes. AC2 clearly still loves Altair as he is glorified in the awesome Philosophical Codexes which keeps it a thinking game. But the story is improved, and I love some real cutscenes.

Gameplay is highly improved. Again, I manned up and did all the missions. I am a bit of a completist, however. And with AC2 there are so many different kinds of missions and goals and parts to the story. So much more exciting than eavesdropping. Plus, the redundant missions are available but are completely optional. AC2 gives you more freedom as a freeroamer, which you think would be a no-brainer, but it's actually somewhat complex. Games like Infamous use the power outages along with places being overrun, but AC simply said "NO YOU CAN'T SWIM AND YOU AREN'T SYNCHRONIZED WITH THIS PART OF YOUR MEMORY GIANT WHITE WALL." AC2 gives you basic swimming ability (which is also required in Italy) and removes most (though not all) of the synchronization nonsense. You even need to get health. It's also about time there's some real shopping and money accruing! Eventually, as Zeropunct says, you get so much there's hardly anything to do with all of it. BUT the idea is extremely smart, because it means you're rebuilding an order, an empire. And I do love this story.

Desmond is slowly getting more interesting, though Lucy is still pretty standard love-interest-naggy-teacher, but we have some new characters: Rebecca (the hipster/kind womanchild) and Shaun (the dick/researcher). I honestly can't stand Shaun and I'm kind of pissed that two games in a row we've got the only other male opposite Desmond (BLAND) and he's a dick. I'm actually kind of offended as a male and my lack of representation. How strange, right? But it stems from my feminism. I like decent representation. My other major complaint is how little was changed with the climbing. It's basically Altair with a few added perks. For the most part this is solid, but after a couple of hours this game gets extremely frustrating and the nitpicks begin to glare like a black glass wall. Ezio disobeys you like a petulant teenager and starts hopping at bad angles, automatically dives into bale of hay to make you reclimb a building, misses a bail of hay on purpose, doesn't latch, simply decides at times to stare upward or at an angle when you KNOW he could reach! Infamous fixed this kind of issue by making Cole a giant magnet. AC needs SOMETHING PLEASE.

I love you Assassin's Creed. I get a serene chill down my spine as I calmly climb a building, synchronize at a viewpoint and look out upon the city. My mind zones into swift, motivated place when I race through the streets while the music plays. And I find myself speaking through Altair's codexes when searching for those complex and hidden truths of life. I truly enjoy these games, and I cannot wait to play Brotherhood, and I look forward to November and Revelations.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Halo Revisit

I'm afraid it must be done: Halo, a game that came out in November of 2001. Recently I decided to co-op campaign the original with a good friend of mine. We still have memories of pulling off the legendary campaign together in one night. This game was my introduction to FPS (First Person Shooters). I had played FPS before, but I never really enjoyed it. I told my friends how much a game with no peripheral vision and no legs and no story pissed me off. I didn't want to be a floating camera in a sea of gunfire and half-heartedly written plotlines and characters. There was a period for me where I had stopped being a gamer. And what brought me back into games were games with great cinematic cutscenes and an engaging story. A wonderful thing happened when Halo came out: an FPS with an engaging story and a boatload of fun.

I suppose I have to address (at risk of sounding like a fanboy) Yahtzee's review of Halo 3. It's somewhat disappointing when a reviewer you really admire says "maybe the problem is I've never played the other games" and "maybe I'm supposed to know the story before this one" and then goes on to try and complain about the plot of the only one he plays thus far before saying he gave up on it. Though this is on Halo 3, there are statements about Halo in general: mostly being that it is an average game and there's nothing spectacular about it. Halo reached absurd popularity and then received angry hipster put downs because it was so popular. The multi-player of these games isn't excusing the campaigns. The campaigns are great stories with some engaging characters. The first Halo does this wonderful thing where it is mostly centered on the story and a few characters. It starts simple. In the second one, we expand on the story and on the characters and begin to see a much larger picture. Finally, in three, everything comes to a head and we see how an epic story with many characters we know and love come to an end. Though I'm sure everyone has forgotten about the Arbiter (being a bunch of whiny fanboys that only want to blow Master Chief), his very existence opens an element to the story that is hardly explored in one and three and elsewhere. This is part of what one may call an epic storyline. This is why Halo 3: ODST was even able to be made.

Aside from Halo's intriguing story with the creepy introduction to the flood, the frustrations of Guilty Spark, and humorous scenes with Sergeant Black Man, the gameplay is simply fantastically fun. One may say the game is the same thing over and over again: shoot shiny aliens. That's a short-sighted input. Yes, like any FPS, it's a lot of shooting. This normally bored me after a while. Why was Halo an exception? Was it the story? No, the story was given to me in cutscenes. The gameplay doesn't suddenly become better thanks to the cutscenes (i.e. MGS4 moments). What Bungie did right was add variables to this basic principle: several vehicles, different types of enemies with different weaknesses and strengths, and easier-to-deal-with weapons. Instead of a game like Bulletstorm (coming out ten years later) with dull gameplay where one must just shoot at different enemies more than other enemies, Halo adds variables. Grunts are simple but with the hats aren't easy to kill from behind. Jackals have shields in front of them. Elites have the built-in shield. Depending on the color of their outfit (their skill) they have better weapons, better dodging ability, and better shields. Where as the CoD (Call of Duty) gameplay gets old fast, Halo knew how to add variables to the formula. The easier weapons can be a complaint for the hardcore FPS gamer, but this is why Halo drew in such a larger audience, it wasn't for hardcore FPS gamers. Instead, it was for everyone.

And this is why Halo is a better and more important game than your average FPS. You have better story, more variables than even what I've mentioned, and a completely new world captured with the best graphics for the time. Unfortunately, Yahtzee reviewed Halo 3 (and included his view of Halo entirely) based on minimal knowledge and arrogance. He is, in part, one of the most intelligent (and most picky) reviewers I hold in such high esteem. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean he's always right. Halo truly changed the FPS game and who needs to play it. Games like CoD and Battlefield change graphics and interactive destruction, but the stories are still predictable and mundane. Halo brought in outside audiences and a story worth watching. Thematically speaking, Halo doesn't stand up to something like Bioshock, but gameplay and storywise, Halo truly is the masterpiece of the FPS.

Finally, I want to mention that just because people like Yahtzee don't like or care about multiplayer, doesn't mean multiplayer isn't important. Many people only care about multiplayer. For someone who never used to care about multiplayer, I found myself enjoying a game for its multiplayer for the first time in Halo. And Halo wasn't even online. This shows something extremely valuable: people had to bother system-linking and have at least two televisions to even have extensive multiplayer still yet engaged in it many times this way. Halo truly did change the way we play games. If we get stuck on those few negative elements of the game, that's fine, but it does not mean the game was mediocre in anyway. Even one on one I've had more fun than I've ever had in any completely single player game. Thank you Halo and I hope the games not made by Bungie end up as good as those that have been.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Assassin's Creed

Assassin's Creed. I'll this game has been out for almost four years, now. Much of what has been said is very similar to the gameplay of AC: repetitive. The biggest complaints, aside from the aforementioned, is the combat, certain characters, and elements to the story. Zeropunctuation, or Yahtzee, delivers his usual talented metaphor-generating verbal beating review of this game, but takes times to admit that Assassin's Creed is good and often fun. He also finds the story intriguing enough to finish the game, which says a lot from a reviewer who's very nit-picky on stories in games. IGN gave it a 7.5 and was awfully unforgiving, claiming the story was poor and that the "twist" was given away in the first five minutes. They are also very harsh on Philip Shahbaz, the actor for the main character Altair. GameTrailers was alternatively very generous, giving the game an overall 9.1 and forgiving its struggling gameplay. There are many other reviews that cover these elements more in depth, but ultimately they confess the same excitement and frustration.

If anyone was most fair to the game, it was Zeropunctuation, but that does not mean he's completely accurate. IGN is probably the most inaccurate portrayal of this game, and GameTrailers is a bit too generous at least in their scoring. Not being afraid of spoilers now that we're approaching the fourth year mark and the franchise has become very widely successful, I won't have to tip-toe around any details. Truth be told: the story is very engaging and the "twist" that IGN is referring to is, I can only assume, the man sending Altair on these missions is also a villain. If this is not the twist they are complaining about but rather the presence of Desmond, the Templars, and Assassins even into the modern day, then they're simply bitter for whatever reason I cannot understand. Though elements of the plot are very clear early on, and yes, the Desmond sequences can be somewhat droll, they are not completely negligible and nor are they bad. They provide intriguing information and moral discussion from the very beginning, which parallels well the progression of the game. The story is good. As GameTrailers points out, there is a duality to this game that is both intriguing and unique. Moral implications, consequences, and motivations are brought into question from the very beginning. You, like Altair, quickly gather more is going on than you are told. You also begin questioning your own mission because of the words of those you're assassinating. The game does a great job making you feel they are villains, such as watching a man order soldiers to break a man's legs so he cannot escape, but then hearing his final words before death makes you wonder how evil he really was.

There is also nothing abysmal about the voice acting. Altair is soft-spoken as well as having a particular tone, none of which I believe is poor acting but rather curious directing. The story is good and though Desmond and Lucy aren't terribly interesting, the story still is, and Vidic says very interesting things in the mornings. Though you don't attach too much to any character, Altair does have an arc and it is noticeable throughout the story. The gameplay truly is terribly repetitive. GameTrailers was a bit too forgiving about the climbing, which--though fun--can become tedious and frustrating. Visually it is perfectly animated and constructed, but the mechanics are still early. It's important to note that this game was a big risk for Ubisoft. They spent a lot of time developing this game, tying it in historically, as well as spent a lot of money in the design. The world is expansive, the controls are very inventive, and this game was a beautiful step in the right direction for sandbox games. I have no doubt that without AC, there would not have been inFamous only a year and a half later, which even follows the parkour climbing that AC introduced. Though the climbing eventually grows tedious, as the controls (especially combat) grows frustrating, and engine (stupid AI with odd perceptions on what makes someone an assassin), these are all new and inventive ideas. The mini-games are also truly repetitive.

Nonetheless, Assassin's Creed is a good game. Not only that, but the story is smart. It may also be easier to forgive Ubisoft for so many short-comings, now, since it's follow-ups made great improvements. That being said, IGN was unnecessarily harsh and inaccurate in several of its key and extraneous complaints, and though the game has many failures, it truly is a lot of fun, especially once you master the stealth and combat controls. Unskippable cut scenes are a pet-peeve of mine ever since Final Fantasy, which I do not have much patience for as a franchise infamous for its extensive cut scenes, Metal Gear Solid, has always made their cut scenes skippable. The game doesn't have too much replay value aside from killing citizens, especially the lepers and beggars which are particularly obnoxious and repetitive, but it is still worth one complete run. AC has great strengths both for entertainment and historic value, as well as its artistic and unique conception.

Assassin's Creed Website.
Zero Punctuation's review on Escapist Magazine.
Written review of AC on IGN.
IGN's Video review on their website.
GameTrailers review of AC.
Gamelife on Wired, a review on AC called "Why Assassin's Creed Fails.
And the extremely general info of AC on Wikipedia.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


With the upcoming release of inFamous2 coming June 7th, and the fact that I recently played the hell out of this game, I felt a revisit was in order for those of you who got into this game when it first came out back in May of 2009, almost two full years ago. I've got to be honest, I'm a big fan of the free roam RPG-style choices and upgrades, which is a genre that's really grown with the newer systems. Never before have I played a "sandbox game" that didn't feel like a sandbox. Games like The Hulk Ultimate Destrcution and Grand Theft Auto III were my introduction into these games. Call me late or early, the point is these games were amazing to me. A game like inFamous takes all the elements I loved in these games and amplifies them to a level that is so engaging you will find yourself in front of your television for hours.

Whatever could be said about this game pretty much has been said, but it's still worth a little praise and a little nitpick, to remind us what we look forward to with the improvements we're already getting glimpses of in inFamous2. I want to start by praising this game because it's so utterly spectacular and creative. The sandbox is exactly what you would want in a sandbox game. The freedom is expansive, enormous, and there are absolutely no load times. Whether it's the wires on the roofs or the train tracks, there are easy ways to get from one place to another quickly. The powers you gain along the way get progressively better and more impressive, and yet the game still finds ways to challenge you and make it exciting. The player has complete control of Cole, and he climbs buildings far more smoothly than Crackdown or Crackdown 2 could ever hope to offer. Cole has a cross between a magnet-latching-system from his electric powers and a parkour-style kick to add some height. He knows how to press against a building and slide down slowly, and he'll rarely act out in ways that frustrate.

The radar system is also utterly gorgeous. Not only does everything that could possibly be needed show up, but they all show up in their own unique ways, so it never gets confusing. The few things that don't show up on radar, like the televisions with random reports from either the "voice of survival" or news spin, the game makes them easily found brings up the "point of interest" triangle. One of the greatest things about Cole's powers is that he can often do several of them at a time. There are so many you may find yourself forgetting about one or two that are extremely useful. One of the best is sliding on ropes, holding out a shield, jumping up, gliding in the air while still holding out your shield, then holding square and just slamming down with a Thunder Drop amidst many enemies. The freedom and powers in this game are so expansive and immense, it lets the player's imaginiation run wild. Mini-games help remind you of moves (like the annoying photographer) and keep you practicing your platformer/climber skills (with counter-surveillance). Yet with all this freedom and power, the game still manages to give you a challenge, demand you follow in a specific order that feels natural, and you never feel like something is a cake walk. There's nothing better than having a huge repertoire of powers and abilities and still feel like you're struggling.

Finally, I guess it's time I nitpick. While this game is spectacular, my biggest problem I wanted to bring up with this game actually has not been said: Why are all the characters treating you like shit the entire game? It doesn't matter if you're a good guy, saving the world, any of the important side characters berate you during difficult and complex missions. Nothing is more frustrating than fighting a hoard of bad guys, throwing grenades, thunder blasts, shockwaves, shooting lightning, draining from the bus while holding out your shield to prevent dying from a bombardment of enemy fire of which isn't just bullets but rockets that can knock you on your ass and away from the bus, just to hear Trish yell out, "DAMN IT PROTECT THE BUS!" What. A. Bitch. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. She's constantly being a smart ass with you, and to make matters worse, Moya is the same. One of the most awful parts for me was when Cole rightfully complains about being bossed around like an errand boy, and after she flips shit on you she then talks to you like a five year old: "Don't ever take that tone with me again." WHAT THE CRAP I'M MAKING THE CITY A BETTER PLACE GEEZ! Finally when you meet John, after having been listening to his Dead Drops for two islands, you're excited because you already feel a certain kinship with him. He's probably the most honest and well-adjusted character, and what does he say to you when you're desperately trying to keep up with him (C'MON HE'S IN A HELICOPTER) to make certain we don't lose the Ray Sphere again? "Get the lead out!" What's this guy's problem? You're running around on rooftops, he's in a friggin' helicopter, can't he give you some goddamn credit? No character does. Not even your best friend and complete joke: Loserly Zeke. You spend over a half hour trashing the crap out of Alden's men just so he can get all indignant and say, "Just because you have powers doesn't make you better than everyone else. Not by a long shot." Yeah, don't thank me or anything for just saving your life. It was no sweat or anything. I didn't have to deal with turret after turret, poisonous gas, and complex platforming or anything.

It may seem like such a complaint is a nitpick, but when it is throughout the entire game, it's really frustrating. You are working hard, whether "good" or "evil," which I will second Zero Punctuation on as far as this game, but no character really shows appreciation for it. You lose your girlfriend, your best friend betrays you, and you're chasing down some mysterious weapon that did this to you in the first place: despite this all John can say is "C'mon! Move!" No gamer wants to spend the entire game being talked to like a child--children don't even like being talked to like children--especially in a game like this. Show the gamer some appreciation. It's basic courtesy. I don't mind attitude from characters, their own flaws, etc., but especially in mid-mission, encourage the player, don't put them down. They're putting a lot of time and effort into this, let them know they're a badass sometimes, and not just in gameplay. Show some appreciation and encouragement, we're already challenged enough without some jerk in our ear yelling about how we suck.

Otherwise, this game is just a masterpiece. The story, while convoluted at times and requires some forced exposition (i.e. Alden's background all of the sudden when you meet him for the first time), it's really engaging and imaginative. The graphic novel cut scenes and art are visually stunning and really put you in this dark feel, along with the city design, as the IGN review mentioned. They briefly touch on how Cole's design is kind of grainy, and Zero Punctuation accurately points out his awful voice. It's "broody" in that whiny way Spiderman Noir wishes he was Batman. At times, though, Cole captures it, but only when he's on ledges looking down at the city. His design is also very bland, and gets worse when he's "evil" because he's just gray with black stuff on him. He's just bland and ugly. Knights of the Old Republic did a better job and that game was an original Xbox game that was released in 2003. Unfortunately, though the cut scenes are visually great, most of the time it's all narrated by Cole, which leaves you craving for dialogue, hearing and seeing what's going on. It's classic telling vs. showing. I want to hear Trish's final words, not be told them. Shortcomings aside, this game is so good it begs for another one, one that can fix these nitpicks, these small failures, and improve upon what was already great. Seven and a half weeks, my friends. I trust in Sucker Punch to deliver once again.

Sources and Info:

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw on infamous on The Escapist.
inFamous on Game Trailers.
inFamous on IGN.
inFamous on Wikipedia, not that it's got that much interesting information on it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Quattro Adventure

Quattro Adventure is a rather obscure game of the NES library. It comes in one of those famous unlicensed by Nintendo cartridges. On the back of the gold cartridge it has a little switch that basically says switch it to position B only if position A doesn't work. Which is basically saying when your NES is crapping out you'll be switching back and forth and nothing will happen. If you do get the game to work, or aren't an old fashioned retro fag and are okay using ROMS, you'll get to play this game. Which is actually four games in one. As you can see above, the spectacular and elaborately colored title screen lists the games for you. I'm going to go in that order, but I will be drawing parallels where I find them. I'm going to focus heavily on Boomerang Kid, because that was my favorite as a child and I think ultimately has the most last-ability. Still, there's a lot of information here. Feel free to scroll down to whatever game you're interested in hearing about. It's organized pretty clearly.

This is Linus Spacehead. This game is probably the worst of the entire collection, which seriously says a lot. Much like the main title screen, this is lazy. When you start the game, there's no instructions, no direction, no help. You're at the bottom of an ocean in a crashed space ship, and don't ask me how you got there. It doesn't make much sense because as you'll see, there are way too many rocks that would have stopped you previously. Anyway, the level name is Bubble Trouble, and the goal is to ride bubbles all the way up to the surface. It's not too hard once you get the hang of it, though fish and bubbles go through rocks and you don't, which is weird and makes for some complications. Oxygen really isn't oxygen, but a timer. So if you get to the surface and your oxygen is going down, and you're confused, hopping out of the water trying to get air, just go right and you'll actually get free. Life's A Beach is the second level, and probably where you'll stop playing this game. Much like it's deliberately trying to pun, it truly makes you feel Life's A Bitch. ...And then you die. And you die. And you die. This level makes all of the game's flaws so obvious and bare you really will reset the game and just move on. But not me! Not yet!

Let's talk controls, first. There is no attack. The duck is hardly a duck. So with all that in mind, you really are just using left, right, and A. The platforms are unforgiving, even in the second level. If you look like you should be landing on the corner, you're falling into the ocean. One hit deaths. Yes, one hit. No life bar. And you only have three lives, which actually means you can only die three times. In most games you have "0 lives" and that means this is it, you're last chance. This is early game programming years, so perhaps it wasn't completely "the rules," but seriously, "1 Life" shouldn't mean when I die that's it. Zero is it, not one. Jumping sucks in this game. Sometimes Linus bounces for no reason. Hit detection is also unforgiving, and when you come up to the crab you really will quit this game. You have to go past the crab, because there's a respawning Tuscon that will take you back every time, otherwise. You can't duck him and he follows you unless you are on the lowest surface. There's only one possible timing to successfully jump this crab. The jumps are also stiff, there's no ability to turn around or decide on your distance. You jump one distance. The only saving grace is the music in Life's A Beach, which is pretty cool, but it will get old fast. I'm now going to quickly list the rest of the levels and comment briefly:

3 - Clifftop Capers: Extreme platforming with trial and error falling down. Birds don't kill which is nice but their hit detection is absurd. Even if they look like they'll fly beneath you, they knock you back.

4 - Swamp Stress: Aptly named. Falling platforms, crocodiles that whip you back, bats that have a nearly undodgeable (made up word) pattern that constantly knocks you back. You are even spawned on a sinking platform.

5 - Treetop Tangle: Pretty easy until the end, where they set it up so you will constantly be thrown back down and probably into a deadly enemy.

6 - Balloon Bother: Basically the same thing as Bubble Trouble, only on Balloons and in the sky.

7 - Rope Bridge Risks: Probably the worst level design ever created. There's no strategy. Instead of a platform that falls after you step on it, this game thinks they're innovative by making platforms fall right before you step on them, which aside from not making sense, they look exactly the same and there's no way to plan for it. Tiny bees constantly knock you back which knocks you into pits, which is cheap because sometimes they take up the entire area you can traverse, so you can't jump or duck past them. It's simply luck. What a piece of shit.

8 - Cloud Climax: Much like the first sky level in Yo Noid, you better be paying attention when this level starts, because otherwise you'll sink through a cloud and die before you even make the first jump. Again, terrible level design based on luck, not timing or skill, especially because of the poor jumping controls coupled with all the platforms only holding you for so long. If you beat this you'll get picked up by what I assume is your mom in another space ship, because you'll have landed on the moon with your complete radio and be sending a signal. Whatever.

Super Robin Hood is one of the best games in the four. You have an attack, a decent duck, even a slide. You actually have hit points (three) and there are a few extra hearts sitting around. What's cool is you can actually have four hearts at a time, and if you get a heart while you have four already, it becomes an extra life. The music is pretty cool, giving you a feeling of adventure. The level designs are great, slowly getting harder as you go with a lot of complex timing involved. It's all doable, but it can get really hard, and you have to slow down and take your time. In that sense it's very old-school Castlevania. The levels also flow fluidly, and it really feels like it's just a big castle. You can technically always back track, not that you'd want to, but that fluidity makes things feel really natural and fun. The problems I have with this game are small, but still worth pointing out:

Lots of invulnerable enemies - It's one thing to have a few, like the heads up in the corners shooting occasionally, but to also have the small walking guys, cannons, fire-breathing walls, falling maces and spiders, it kind of ruins the whole purpose of having a bow and arrow in the first place. The only guys you can really kill are the people.

Attack controls - The bow and arrow does this delay thing (again much like Castlevania with the whip) which is fine, because it's realistic. What's obnoxious is the controls are touchy and sometimes Robin Hood doesn't actually shoot. This is because if you hold down B, he holds the arrow. That's cool, but if you let go of B too early, that means he puts the arrow away because he didn't get it all the way back. That's annoying. Why would I push B unless I was planning on shooting the damn arrow?

Too cryptic - There are some secrets in the game that are pretty clear, but occasionally you'll find times where you don't know how to make the rest of a ladder appear. Eventually you're just jumping up and down in a corner and it suddenly shows up. There's nothing about that that makes any sense. And there's now way to know to do that unless you've got a walkthrough. Zelda got away with these things because it was an official Nintendo game and had all the answers in Nintendo Power. Still, even that is kind of disappointing. Leave hints but make the player problem solve.

Let's first talk about the title screen. It introduces the music, which is pretty good, but it will get old fast. In the castles the music gets really weird and kind of obnoxious, but the caves are good again. Anyway, on the title screen we see Boomerang Kid walk on with a boomerang which he then throws at the Kangaroo. It misses and the Kangaroo knocks him over, and then the boomerang comes back and knocks him down again. First off: this doesn't set up the game well because you can't actually throw boomerangs. You would think so, right? Being a Boomerang Kid? But no, you collect them and go to the exit. Much like Linus, you have no attack. You are a big puss. That's one thing the intro does set up well: you're going to get knocked on your ass. As far as controls, they're better than Linus. It's a bit tighter on the left and right, and though the jump is very similar, there's no bounce and you have more freedom than one possible distance. Besides, unlike Linus, this game is set up so that the control limitations aren't exploited. Which I still maintain is bad game design, and I don't care how awesome the old Castlevania games are, only Super Castlevania IV got it right.

Again, it's one hit deaths, like Linus, but again, Boomerang Kid is set up so that this will not be a huge issue. Just as well, when you die in Linus you go back to the beginning of a level, those levels are much longer and more tedious than in Boomerang Kid, which is one screen well designed. You even get choices between levels, which you'll see the very exciting screen below. You still have no idea which one is better for you unless you've played them both, but still, it means that if you're really struggling, next time through you can go a different way. The biggest problem, however, with this game is the fall damage. Better said: overly particular fall dying. The difference in distance that you will fall and die is absurd. Just a slightly higher platform drop will kill you. Sometimes this turns into beginner traps, especially in the castles, where it's awfully close but technically too far and you make the drop thinking you'll be fine, and then you're dead. This game also gets the lives right "0 lives" means zero lives.

Honestly, though, this game is still too hard to get through in its entirety unless you begin to memorize levels. The Outback is pretty fair, but the castles start to take advantage and exploit the controls. Sometimes the game will trap you, say if you jump too far and go down to a lower platform before you're supposed to. Now you're stuck there and have to wait for the timer to go down and kill you. What a waste. The caves are just a pain because they throw in a lot of enemies and a lot of dissolving platforms, but if you plan ahead you should be fine, until the final level, which is by far the most tedious pain in the ass ever known to such a simply designed NES game. You really just go back and forth in the level collecting boomerang after boomerang, trying hard to make sure the two dissolvable platforms don't completely dissolve because you need them to get back up, until the timer is almost out and you have to rush to the exit. The ending is disappointing, just like the choices screen but saying "Well Done." There's no way to get extra lives, which is pretty awful, and ultimately you'll not bother beating the whole game. Still, the platforming strategies are fun, and the game is beatable, if you take your time and are okay with having to replay some of the older levels again, which are honestly still fun for me even today. You can really master each screen and all the patterns, and then go through as quickly as you can. Despite its frustrations, I really love it.

Finally, and this report will the briefest, is Treasure Island Dizzy. It's probably the most different of the four games, with a completely unlinear style gameplay and very few enemies. Once again, however, you're completely emasculated and have no means of attack. So just like in Linus and The Boomerang Kid, you're stuck running away or avoiding every enemy you encounter like a giant vagina (this is by no means implying women are weak, just using basic gaming phraseology to talk about how this game is LAME). The music is 8-bit awfulness. It gets really mechanical and obnoxious and I don't feel it at all. Right from the beginning I'm annoyed because of the character alone. WHAT ARE YOU?! I have no idea what this character is supposed to be: an egg with arms and legs? Like some strange descendant of Humpty Dumpty? I know Mario gets to have a tail and jump on whatever the hell Yoshi is, but Mario himself is still a human with definable and relatable features. What the crap is this guy? Pausing in this game is super annoying. In Linus things just stop, Super Robin Hood as well, only with the word PAUSE on the screen. Boomerang Kid turns it all black except you and the boomerang (or arrow). This game brings up the most obnoxious screen ever.

Do I really need a message telling me "game paused" with options for sound effects and music? And there's a delay on it, too. You push start and nothing happens at first, so you hit it again and then this thing finally fades on and then immediately fades off. It's just tedious and unnecessary. The intro is misleading, much like in Boomerang Kid. In the intro THAT THING is on a small island, grabs the snorkel, and then jumps into the water. In the beginning of the game you start by water, and you think, "Ooo, water!" You walk in and die immediately. That's right, no oxygen, nothing, just BAM YOU DEAD. You also have one hit deaths in this game, just like Linus and Boomerang Kid. More like Boomerang Kid, it doesn't usually cause problems. There are too many items to pick up and not enough spaces or options in picking up and dropping them. Instead of something convenient like Zelda where you can have a lot of things and just pick what you want to use, this game you can only hold three things, and you're forced to scroll through them. So if you're under water and the snorkel is next to be dropped, you can't pick up a damned thing. Nope. And if you want to keep everything on one screen, after about five items the game overloads and none of the items on the screen can be picked up. Sorry, reset and do it all over again, kthnksbai.

Still, there is a great free roam adventure feel to the game, with an expansive world. If it were a little more clear what items did what and how to use them, I think this game would be a lot of fun. Instead, it's too convoluted too fast, and the cages come off just like any other part of the area until they kill you. Just as well, you have no lives. One death you have to start all over. There's not even a continue. That really ruins it, especially with one hit deaths. In a game that's expansive and free roam, you need to give the player some forgiveness. Imagine if Zelda didn't have lives, continues, or hit points. GEEZ.

My biggest problem with this collection as a whole is how weak and pathetic the characters are. Three out of the four adventure games have no attack. What is that? I understand these games were kiddie, but so is Mario and Zelda. It's not like we're playing GTA or InFamous here and beating up people and banging hookers. We just want to be able to kill enemies instead of constantly running away, trying to dodge, and dying all the time. In a game you want to feel empowered on some level. When a tiny bee can knock you back three feet and make you fall down a hole and die, you're better off going out side and taking bees on yourself. When a character can't jump over a tiny space without stiffly jumping too far and missing the platform entirely, you'd rather go outside and jump from rock to rock yourself. If you can do better than the character you're playing, something is really wrong. It should at least be as good as you, if not better. You want to feel like you have complete control, but also like you can go into another dimension, especially with the term "adventure." Instead, these games--overall--are so limited and weak they're forgettable and frustrating. There's a reason they never became widespread or discussed.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Robot Chicken's Move to the Nineties

Robot Chicken was created by Matthew Seinreich, Mike Fasolo, and most notably Seth Green, who's voice can be heard all over the place in the show. It was picked up by Cartoon Network's segment Adult Swim, a more adult-oriented set of strange cartoons. Like many shows on Adult Swim, Robot Chicken's episodes are designed for fifteen minute blocks. First aired on February 20th, 2005, Robot Chicken has really come into its own and is widely popular. They even did several Star Wars specials which were absolutely hilarious. It actually has won an Emmy in 2006 for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation," and has been nominated and won others since. The show is well-known as being designed "for the ADD generation" because each episode is made up of many short bits that are then smashed together in quick cuts. The show, though funny in its own right as well as great animating, is also known for its constant eighties references.

A lot of the eighties references happened somewhat naturally, being created and written by children of the eighties, as well as being very nerdy (i.e. Seth Green). These elements amplified the show as a whole, being very clever in its references and often being able to make clever cracks at silly oversights and inconsistencies in the shows, or just putting characters in completely different scenarios. In a very recent episode Kramer Vs. Showgirls, the group decided to truly tackle the nineties in the same vein. To be fair, this episode aired January 30th, 2011, the fourth episode of the newest season (number five). The show makes allusions to Toy Story, which is somewhat funny with Andy coming home from Spring Break, but gets lost with him lobotomizing Buzz Lightyear to use as a bong (which feels kind of forced as well as contrived) and becoming a reference within a reference. It starts off with Legos, which was fun, but for some reason decides though the people can drive the vehicles made of bricks, random things are made of the actual material they normally are. Though funny at times, "their faces! THEIR HORRIBLE FACES!!" It's mostly a small chuckle.

The unfortunate, worst part of this episode is when "Michael Moore" reports on "nineties characters we thought we'd never forget...and then we did." Among these are Darkwing Duck, Where's Waldo, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Pinky and the Brain, and Daria. Unfortunately, aside from these being a cheap knock at mostly Saturday morning cartoons and a puzzle game, the worst rendition was of Daria. She was referred to "this anti-sexual, basically asexual boy-rebelling train wreck." When interviewed, she is extremely fat and is apparently now "Daryl," having realized she's not a "disgusting woman" but a "beautiful man." None of these descriptions remotely describe her characterization or the show's overall feel. It was at this point it became clear that those writing the material simply didn't know or watch the shows they were making fun of. When I shared these "references" with friends who also grew up in the nineties, we were all disappointed and mostly bothered by this clearly "the eighties try to destroy the nineties" take on the nineties.

Over all, I think Robot Chicken is a great show. I love Seth Green and his nerdiness, and I can't wait to hear his voice as Joker in Mass Effect 3. That being said, perhaps Robot Chicken should let things naturally flow, rather than finding themselves out of material for eighties references and try to force their view of the nineties on viewers who have a better understanding of those references.

Watch the episode here.
Watch the infamously inaccurate clip here.
Robot Chicken on Wikipedia.
Robot Chicken's own Wiki.