Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Captain N blog

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Missing in Action:
The World's Most Elusive Vaporware

Trailers are just the dardest things. They give us a peek at the latest and greatest games that are coming down the pipeline. They also make us a promise. A promise that we will be able to play that game sometime in the near future. Then it gets delayed. And delayed again. Will it ever come out? Why advertise a game years in advance? Titles that become Vaporware can either create a lot of buzz or make a laughing stock out of it.

Let's take a look at some of the top Vaporware titles right now. Who knows, maybe a year or two from now some of these will be released.

Sadness (Wii)

Originally announced even before the Nintendo Wii was released, Nibris promised us a black and white survival horror game set in a pre-WWI Slavic country. A live action teaser trailer was released which was "based-on" the game and we were supposed to get some game footage by the end of 2007. We didn't. There's been two screenshots that have surfaced, but we don't know if they are in-game or not. Frontline Studios was supposed to co-produce the game but back in March of 2007 they split. The game is not "officially" dead... but it is. Here's what Nibris said: "The scenario will have associations with narcolepsy, nyctophobia and paranoid schizophrenia. The scenario will surprise you." (Surprise! it's never coming out!)

Original Release Date: ?
Current Release Date: TBA (AKA: NEVER)

StarCraft: Ghost (Multiplatform)

Who knows what black hole sucked this game up. Announced all the way back in 2002 for PS2/XB/GC, but after E3 2005 we found out that the GameCube version was dropped, but it was still on the way. We waited until March of 2006 for Blizzard to finally announced that the game was on "indefinite hold" while it was updated for the seventh generation consoles. We get little bits and pieces of information about this title from time to time. The latest being at the DICE Summit in 2008 where we learned that "there still was an interest in finishing Ghost". It's pretty obvious that Blizzard is more concentrated on StarCraft II (and possibly Diablo 3 if the rumors are true) than it would be on Ghost.

Original Release Date: 2003
Current Release Date: When does the PS9 come out again?

Metroid: Dread (Nintendo DS)

It's crazy how a game is never announced but people think it's real. While we would all love another 2D hand held Metroid game, I doubt we will see one anytime soon. Ever since rumors emerged in 2005, Nintendo has never officially released anything about this game. The only clue we ever got was in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption where a computer panel says "Experiment status report update: Metroid project 'Dread' is nearing the final stages of completion". Retro Studios and Nintendo both denied any connection. Could this be a secret kept under Ninny's hat that will be unloaded at this year's E3? We'll see!

Original Release Date: ?
Current Release Date: Whenever the project is completed! Can't you read!

Killzone 2 (PlayStation 3)

As one of the first PS3 games announced, it would seem Sony hoped that this could be their "Halo killer". The first trailer from E3 2005 led to much controversy where it was argued that it could be just a concept video or possibly pre-rendered game footage. We didn't really see anything else until GDC 2007 where an in-game trailer was shown to the media. I'm not really sure why Sony is banking on this one so much. The original Killzone wasn't that good and wasn't even that popular. By missing their window of opportunity, Sony now has to hope that Killzone 2 will be a Halo 3, Gears of War 2, Left 4 Dead, etc. killer

Original Release Date: 2008
Current Release Date: February 2009

Gran Turismo 4 Mobile (PlayStation Portable)

By digging up the bones of E3 2004 we find evidence that this game once did exist. It was supposed to be the game to get for the forthcoming Sony hand held. Many thought they wouldn't even be able to fit the entire game on on one UMD. They were probably right. GT4M's producer, Kazunori Yamauchi, told us back in April that the game "took much more time and effort than we had first imagined". Luckily, it fits nicely on top of the pile of broken promises that Sony has accumulated over the years.

Original Release Date: April 2005
Current Release Date: It's Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiige Racer!

Gran Turismo 5 (PlayStation 3)

Right on the heels of GTA4M, Sony kept the fire burning when Gran Turismo 5 (or Gran Turismo HD, originally) was announced and shown in 2006 to the pants-wetting joy of Sony fanboys around the world. This one is taking so long, they released part of the game a few months ago. I'm sure the rest of it will be coming soon! Recently, Yamauchi has stated how 150 people have been working on the game for four years and has cost 50 times more than it's PS1 ancestor. I'm sure it'll be ready for release right before the PS4 comes out. Sweet!

Original Release Date: 2008
Current Release Date: 2010

Bob Ross: The Joy of Painting (Multiplatform)

Such a sad, short story for such a happy, strange game. Announced back in March of 2006 for Nintendo DS, Wii and PC by AGFRAG Entertainment. I'm assuming gameplay would be similar to the likes of Mario Paint back in the days of SNES. In December 2006, Bob Ross Inc dropped them and, to this day, is looking for a new developer. Maybe they thought that due to Bob's death the previous year it would seem inappropriate. Or, maybe they realized that you can get this game for free: It's called a pen and a piece of paper!

Original Release Date: ?
Current Release Date: Let's paint a happy little tree!

Tekken 6 (PlayStation 3)

Here's a rare specimen. This game is already out in Japanese arcades as of November 2007 but we're still waiting to play it here in the states. Tekken is one of my personal favorite fighting games ever since the PS1 days and it's latest expansion for the PSP/PSN was great. Tekken 6 has over 30 confirmed characters (a total of 41 when it's done) and features multi-tiered levels and day/night time transitions. Trailers were shown back at E3 2005, but with no release date in sight it looks like we'll be waiting a long time. Now, with it's PS3 exclusive status in question, it will take all that longer to develop. The game's director, Katsuhiro Harada, has said "We want Tekken 6 to both look cool and play good" Adding "We don't want to disappoint our Tekken fans, so we're working hard on making Tekken 6 good". Um, ya. So it looks like I'll be buying SoulCalibur IV instead!

Original Release Date: ?
Current Release Date: Finish Him!

Project H.A.M.M.E.R. (Wii)

A much needed beat 'em up announced at E3 2006 as a first party title possibly for Wii's launch line-up, but by mid-2007 with no additional info we realized we may never find out what H.A.M.M.E.R. could possibly stand for. Rumors fly back and forth about this one all over the internet. The last we heard was Nintendo confirmed at E3 2007 that development was put on hold, but has not officially canceled it and “may come back” in the future.

Original Release Date: 2007
Current Release Date: Reggie Mad!!! Reggie Smash!!!

LittleBigPlanet (PlayStation 3)

It's pretty pretentious to codename your project "The Next Big Thing". Nintendo sure did it with the codename "Revolution". The only difference is that Nintendo actually pulled it off! This DIY puzzler's dream looks fun and I would love to play it. Phil Harrison, SCE's ex-head honcho, announced it in 2007 and was due by early 2008. Now, a beta is scheduled for the summer and we're hoping for even just a demo by the end of this year! With even more footage shown at this year's E3, it makes me want it even more! Oddly enough, even with so much game footage out there already, it's hard to believe that this game isn't close to being done. Sony's pile is getting bigger...

Original Release Date: Early 2008
Current Release Date: October 2008

Disaster: Day of Crisis (Wii)

I'm pretty sure that this game will eventually see a release, but until then it's been possibly banished to development limbo. Featured at E3 2006 as one of Nintendo's attempt at some new franchises, it's an original idea for a survival game that takes place during various natural disasters. The Big N has told us the game has “Cutting-edge physics and gripping visuals” to re-create the sheer terror of major catastrophes. It's quite possible that due to recent real-world natural catastrophes, this game is on hold until the "it's too soon" factor wears off. But, truth be told, we'll always have some kind of disaster going on at some point in the world. So Nintendo should just finish it up and get it out there because we need a good survival game for Wii.

Original Release Date: ?
Current Release Date: Is it safe to make Pearl Harbor jokes yet?

PlayStation Home (PlayStation 3)

This has been in development since early 2005 and officially announced by Sony in March of 2007 at GDC. While not really a "game" per se, it is an free online social experience that is supposed to be similar to the popular Second Life. PS3 users can customize a human avatar and meet up and chat or play games and movies with friends. You can buy clothes and furniture for your crib. There's even going to be a trophy room for your gaming accomplishments (but since I can just download any game save at 100% completion, I really don't see the point). The closed beta is now reported to be running until sometime in the Fall of 2008. Sony's CEO Kazuo Hirai has stated that "Spending more time on the development and on the Closed Beta testing reaffirms our commitment to bringing a quality service, maintaining the PlayStation tradition." (They should probably commit to bringing some quality exclusive games to their console, first)

Original Release Date: Fall 2007
Current Release Date: 2009

Duke Nukem Forever (Multiplatform)

Here is is. You knew it was coming. The granddaddy of them all, and the title that sets the bar for all Vaporware. So, let's take a trip back in time! All the way to April of 1997! The fourth installment of Duke Nukem was supposed to be out no later than mid-1998 and would use the Quake II engine. 3D Realms later fooled the world in August by releasing fake screenshots made in the developers free time because they didn't even get the game engine code until November.

At E3 1998 the first game footage was revealed using the Quake II engine. We knew they'd miss their mid-1998 deadline, but things still looked like they were pretty much on track. Come June of 1998, developers switched the now overused Unreal engine. Now we knew for sure 1998 would not be Duke's year. Although, we were reassured that the transition would only take four to six weeks and now would be released in 1999. Phew! That's not so bad, right?

Wrong! By November of 1999 all we got were some screenshots of Forever running on the upgraded Unreal engine. 2000 passed with no new info and E3 2001 was the next time we'd heard anything about the Dukester. Some in-game footage was shown which featured a large city and how to get a sandwich from a vending machine (huh?). Later that year, GTA's Take-Two would take over the publishing rights. Could this project finally take shape?

Wrong again! By 2002, Take-Two completely overhauled the game's mechanics, which now contained parts of the Unreal 2.0 engine, and added more developers. TT announced the game would see release by the end of 2003. Then by the end of 2004. Then by 2005. Then another physics engine switch. Flash forward to 2006. We're told that Forever is almost done and being given some final tweaking and polishing. Looks like we'll finally get to play it soon! Right?

You know you're wrong! Come on now! 3D Realms put Duke on the back burner to free up some room for the mildly successful 2006 shooter, Prey. In more recent news, a teaser was released last year around Christmas but was never actually confirmed to be a work of 3D Realms. An official trailer was released in February of 2008 which doesn't actually show any in-game footage, but rather a cut scene showing a blonder, buffer Duke and some nastier looking baddies. The trailer ended with the words "Stay Tuned" instead of "Coming Soon" or something like that.

So here we are in 2008. Over 11 years after the initial announcement, and with no official release date in sight, Duke Nukem has become a running joke around the world wide web. I'll finish this epic saga with a quote from 3D Realms CEO Scott Miller who stated "of course as soon as Duke is done we'll begin a new one." (Ya, and I'll start my second spaceship as soon as I return from my first trip to the moon).

Original Release Date: 1998
Current Release Date: Come Get Some!

Honorable Mentions: Final Fantasy XIII & Versus XIII (PS3), Raid Over the River (Wii), Resident Evil 5 (Multiplatform), Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (Multiplatform), Devil May Cry (PSP), Afrika (PS3), Infamous (PS3), Dragon Quest IX: Protectors of the Stars (DS), Zombie Massacre (Wii), Final Fantasy: Dissidia (PSP)

So there you have it. Sony definitely holds the title for the biggest heart-breaker out there. You may have also noticed that there's no Microsoft titles listed. It would seem there's pretty much caught up for the moment, but they have had their share of Vaporware blunders (Halo 3 for one). Let's hope that if I write another one of these articles next year that none of these titles will be repeat offenders. Developers and publishers really need to keep a tighter lid on projects before people start getting really excited about them. In one way, it's nice that peoples' feedback early on in development and beta testing can change the shape and feel of the game for the better. But, on the other hand, waiting several years for one game just isn't worth it in the long run. I suppose ignorance truly is bliss!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Serious Games as a Serious Business

Normally when one thinks of the Video Game industry, he or she is drawn to the many broadcasts of those who stood out in the freezing cold for the release of the Wii or PS3. Or perhaps their brains remind them of the daily news stories about the adverse affects of Grand Theft Auto on children, or (if they're slighty tech-savvy) the corporate bitch slap Microsoft received when they produced faulty hardware for the Xbox 360. It is rare that one thinks of anything other than the entertainment or business aspects of video games. But I ask you, reader, isn't there something more?

Try not to gasp when I declare this, but there is this whole other side to video games that those in its core call "serious". Serious games are those which aim to educate, promote ideas, and create cultural or societal change; they benefit the player in some way, whether it be physically, mentally, or even morally -- not too far off from what most games do on a regular basis. A prime example is Hush, (pictured above) a rhythm game that tastefully outlines the frightening conditions of Rwandan genocide . This new wave of serious games in the world has sparked much attention, henceforth creating tremendous industry projects such as Games For Change and my current life work, Emergent Media Center of Champlain College's United Nation Project (project name pending). Check out Games for Change and see the wonderful work they do to impact the world.

The United Nations project is a fresh-out-of-the-oven grant that my school, Champlain College, just sealed with the UN to make a game that will help stop violence against women in developing countries. I was hired just a meager two weeks ago as a Game Designer on the project, and hope to keep you readers posted on our development progress. We have the highly acclaimed industry professional Heather Kelley as our Creative Director, and a wonderful team of 15 students and 4 faculty members working our way through this interesting and challenging project. This project gives proof to the ever growing industry of serious games throughout the whole world.
In early June the ESA announced that E3 is adding a Serious Games component to the convention. As they promised, E3 2008 had this component, although it did not get much media attention. There are many serious game conventions each year, including the Serious Games Summit and the Games For Change Annual Festival.

For more news and interesting information on Serious Games, check out the Serious Games Source (Add this to your daily video game browsing, along with Gamasutra, of course.)

Friday, August 1, 2008

What Wii Need

Nintendo has the number one selling console on the planet, but it is nothing close to perfect. Today we are going to delve into the world of Wii and see what the system needs to keep the party going for years to come. From "mature" titles to Wii space issues, and poorly developed graphic engines, these issues will be addressed. We need to look at the future to see if Wii will last.

On May 12th, 2008 Nintendo finally released two major Wii Channels in North America. These two huge channels were none other than the Everybody's Nintendo Channel. This channel is used to promote new games, show video advertisements and even DS downloadable demos. The other channel is the long awaited Wii Ware channel designed in the vein of Xbox Live Arcade titles. (The channel which of course can be found by going to the Wii Shop.) These are original titles that can be downloaded and played on the Nintendo Wii for a certain amount of points. May 12th should have be a great day for Wii players around North America, but instead for many it became a day of frustration.

This frustration comes in the form of a message that sounds a lot like this " Your Wii has run out of memory. Please go back to the main menu and make space available". The question that runs through a lot of gamers minds when talking about Nintendo is who exactly is Nintendo targeting? Some would say that Nintendo has forgotten about the gamer and is focusing on the their new blue ocean strategy. What this means is that Nintendo is looking to encompass the inner child in all, not just the "hardcore". This means that Nintendo is putting all their attention on the pick up and play market, this would suggest that the Big N cares more about the Soccer Mom's that play Wii Fit and Wii Sports than the young adults playing Metroid Prime 3 Corruption. Nintendo has done nothing on the surface to show gamers different though, Nintendo Europe marketing director Laurent Fischer has even gone as far as saying this now infamous quote "The only Wii owners that encounter problems with the console's 512MB of internal storage are geeks and otaku". To many in the gaming community this shows Nintendo's stubbornness and lack of forward thinking. To even further the argument, Nintendo E3 press conference was nothing short of spiting in the faces of core gamers. Nintendo did not announce anything for the core audience besides Wii Speak (a device that allows people to speak to others online), Wii Motion Plus (another device that allows the Wii remote to do true 1:1 motion.), and Animal Crossing City Folk. Out of all those "big" announcement only one was an actually game. Its seems as if Nintendo has dropped the ball in a big way and now were are going to what Wii need now.

Issue #1 Wii Memory:

We have the Virtual Console which have classics from Super Mario Bros. 3 to the rare never released games like Sin & Punishment. At the beginning there was no issue of space but now its not just Virtual Console classics from NES to SNES which take up little space, as we now have N64, NEO GEO, and TurboGrafx 16 games that just eat up that 512MB flash memory. It does not stop there though; with the release of new channels like Check Mii Out, Everybody Votes Channel, and Internet Channel some of those take up five times the size of any Virtual Console game. To make matters worse, Wii Ware was launched. These original games for Wii are great but when game when a game like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles My Life as a King can take up almost all your free space on the Wii, that is just wrong. This is no longer a "hardcore" gaming issue, this is to hurting Nintendo's future of competing on an global level. If people have to delete a game every time they want a new one people are just going to stop buying them all together. What happens when people have too many game saves? Do we need to start delete them as well? If Nintendo wants stay in the game they need to fix these problems sooner than later.

Issue # 2 Shovel Ware, PS2 to Wii Ports, Wii Graphics Engine

There is a trend going on Wii that is very troubling to me as the system is almost two years old and it seems that it is not getting much better. The problem that disturbs me is that no one is pushing the system graphically at all. The games that look the best on Wii are games using last generation technology. Games from Metroid Prime 3 to Resident Evil Wii Edition are beautiful, but they are not even close to using the Wii's full potential. There are few games in the Wii's library that look like actual Wii titles. Best example that comes to mind is Nintendo's own Super Mario Galaxy.

Super Mario Galaxy

This game was designed from the ground up as Wii game and the details and overall polish of the game proves it. Compared to Super Mario Sunshine this game blows Super Mario Sunshine graphically out of the park.
Super Mario Sunshine

Sadly it is the only true game that has been released so far on the Wii to look so polished and clean that looks next generation. I am not expecting graphics to surpass 360 or PS3 but I do expect games to be made at the highest quality. How many games are announced on 360, and PS3 then are never put on Wii but if there is a PS2 version the Wii iteration isn't far behind? Games like Alone in the Dark, Splinter Cell Double Agent, Call of Duty are direct ports of a PS2 counterparts. Now instead of taking the time to make a true Wii title they just use a cookie cutter to cut and paste the PS2 version of a game on the Wii and throw in some waggle controls and call it a day. Its not only 3rd parties who are the culprits however, as Nintendo gave the developers the wrong model to follow. Look at some of the titles Nintendo released on Wii that were really just Gamecube games. For example, The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess, Super Paper Mario, Donkey Kong Barrel Blast, and Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn. All of these games were finished Gamecube games put on the Wii because they would make more money under the Wii banner than the Gamecube. It was understandable then, but why are developers still cutting corners? The developers have tried to catch up to the demand of games on Wii by releasing anything not boarded to the floor. Every piece of shovel ware you could imagine is out on the system and there is probably more to come. I think Wii owners deserve more and developers are finally hearing our cry. This year Wii has shown us some big hits like Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3 Corruption, Mario Kart Wii, Wii Fit, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. So what's next? Where are the games that are supposed to push the envelope? Its now up to the 3rd party developers to take charge. Nintendo has shown the world that the Wii is more than a fad, now its up for developers to take risk and make the games that Wii deserves. Developers were not ready for the Wii to be the market leader and it shows. Lackluster ports, poorly implemented Wii Remote controls and just general lack of games. Fortunately some developers are starting to take risk and actually make quality games designed for Wii. One developer in particular has come out of nowhere, and their name is High Voltage Software. These people are taking a step in the right direction, and their proving it with their standalone freshmen title, The Conduit. The Conduit

This developer has taken it upon themselves to develop a graphics engine specifically for the Wii.This engine has came to be known as the Quantum3 Engine. By doing so they have been able to make their title look like a true next generation game. This title is not just pretty graphics; the people over at High Voltage are making sure that their "M" rated First Person Shooter becomes the standard not the exception to what Wii games should look and play like. As for "M" titles on the Wii the are slowly starting to creep up this year. From Fatal Frame Mask of the Lunar Eclipse,
Fatal Frame Mask of the Lunar Eclispe

to new franchises like Cursed Mountain (a survival horror game made ground up for the Wii)Cursed Mountain

to Platinum Games' (former members of Clover Studios who mad Okami, God Hand, and Viewitful Joe) gruesome action game Mad World.Mad World

It seems that we have forgotten that Wii has only been out for a year and eight months and it usually takes longer for great titles to appear on a console. Nintendo in one year has caught up to Xbox 360's 10 million unit one year head start. For Nintendo to continue their success they are going to need to come out with great titles, fix their storage issue, and make sure that 3rd parties push out some great titles. Wii need more and Nintendo better be ready to listen.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Raenius Recommends IV:
A Game Fit for a King

This week's recommendation:
Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King for Nintendo WiiWare

Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: Square Enix
Released: May 12th, 2008 (US)
MSRP: $15.00
Multiplayer: No
WiFi Enabled: Pay & Play Downloadable Content

Nowadays, Final Fantasy titles are hit or miss (with more on the side of the latter). The DS and PSP has seen some pretty decent releases (original and remakes) and it'll be quite a while before we'll be able to see how bad they screwed up FF XIII. Fortunately, Square Enix has breathed new life into their struggling franchise. It's already a hit in Japan, so it's no wonder why it was also featured in Nintendo's launch line-up for WiiWare here in the states. My Life as a King weighs in as the largest (287 blocks without any DLC) and most expensive title, but don't let that discourage you from checking out this city-building simulator.

Our story takes place sometime after the original Crystal Chronicles ended in a world created by the Crystal Caravans. You play as a young king who has lost everyone and everything to the Miasma (go ahead, look it up. I'll wait...) as you now try to revive and rebuild your kingdom using your new and mysterious power called Architek. Your lovely assistant, Chime, will help you throughout your adventures with tutorials, tips and reports. Everything is explained really well in a timely manner and within 30 minutes or so of playing, you'll be on your own. This game requires a lot of reading which may discourage some players who enjoy more of a visual experience.

Speaking of which, My Life as a King actually looks better than most 3rd party games that you'd find in the stores. It's graphical style can be compared to the recent Final Fantasy titles found on the DS. Everything is bright and cheery and all the people look like little kids. Chime and Sir Hugh Yurg (your personal cook slash knight slash trainer -- an odd combo) are full of details, spunk and personality. The city itself starts out empty, but will take shape from however you build it. After a while, the streets are alive with your loyal roaming citizens. Due to a lack of character models, however, after a while everyone will kind of look alike. Overall this is the best looking WiiWare game from the current launch line-up.

Day to day life for a king will involve assigning behests to your adventurers. You'll pick and choose what their profession is and then what dungeons they'll explore. Conquering certain areas will allow you build additional shops and houses or acquire upgrades. More houses equals more money from daily income you'll use to reward your hired muscle and invest in weapon, armor, magic and item upgrades. A "day" in the game lasts about five minutes which you'll mainly use running around your town talking to the locals and raising moral after all the adventurers have left. I do wish there was more to do during the day, but it is a building-sim after all. Occasionally you'll want to kick back and announce a holiday and let your people take a hard earned break. Although it's very repetitive, you'll find yourself wanting to just play "one more day" for about 10 days.

Your game will be as long as you make it. Which is great. Depending on how you work it out, your first play-through could take 100 days, 200 days or more. You can play through again, if you'd like, and keep your beefed up adventurers but sacrifice your upgrades. Downloadable content will also keep you coming back for more if you feel like shelling out more dough on Wii Points. The Pay & Play content is pretty quality for the most part and varies from dungeons and additional races to new costumes.

I can't tell you that I was waiting for this game to come out. I almost didn't buy it due to the price, but I'm glad I did. It's well worth the money, which is hard to find these days. My Life as a King is a fun title and a great introduction to a wonderful service that will, no doubt, bring us many more fantastic games to come!

Breakin' it downtown!

Presentation: Everything is text and menu driven. So if you're not a fan of reading, you might not dig what Square is trying to sell you. Daily reports are well laid out, fully detailed and descriptive.

Visuals: Sharing the same vein as recent DS titles, this one fails to disappoint in the graphics department. Your kingdom will be the one that never grows up as you watch child-like citizens walking around. A few more characters models would have been nice to break up the monotony.

Audio: A few catchy tunes but nothing special. Music is more background noise than anything else. There's no voice acting, either.

Gameplay: You can use any controller configuration you want (even GameCube) for this one and they all work fine. The whole game is controlled with a couple buttons as everything is menu driven. There's some camera problems when going around corners or between buildings and some slow down when there's a lot of people on screen, but it doesn't matter too much in a sim game.

Multiplayer: None. It would've been nice to be able to visit other people's towns a la Animal Crossing.

Wi-Fi Functionality: Nintendo's first U.S. Pay & Play title has DLC that ranges from 100 to 800 Wii Points with more on the way. Most will become active as soon as it's downloaded and some require a reboot.

Replay: It's all in how you make it. With a flexible story mode and DLC, this title could consume a week of your time or even a few months.

Overall: Don't let the recent downslide in the Final Fantasy world fool you. This is a highly addictive game that challenges you to delegate your limited time and money. It's a pick up and play title that's a welcome change from the usual turn-based RPGs we've been oversaturated with through the years.


Monday, July 7, 2008


So it's been awhile since any major entries from me....Been busy...playing...games.


Procrastination aside,a lot of stuff has been going on in the gaming world and i'm going to cover it all AT ONCE.Ok so maybe not,but I will cover a bit.

Metal Gear Solid 4

The theatrical series comes to a dramatic climax in this PS3 sequel.I'm sure most if not all of you have played or at least heard of this game so I'm going to refrain from the usual pleasantries of trying to explain the plot to newcomers (you can always use the database which I'll get to in a bit.)So that leaves us with the Gameplay and other elements.

This game introduces many new features,most notably the OctoCamo.The OctoCamo is an active camoflage system that catches the colors and nuances of your surroundings that you press against.This is pivotal to survival as Snake isn't just sneaking thru sterile military labs or dense jungles,he will be surrounded by a living battlefield,always keeping sure to stay moving and maintain your cover.Of course you could always NOT sneak and go all gung-ho Rambo style.The shooting system has been refined to be more open ended,offering both 3rd and 1st person perspectives on the fly allowing you to shift with the action as you please.

Skirmishes are mainly fought between two armies with Snake being the 3rd party interference.You can assist the small militia and get a reputation with them,making it easier to sneak by at least one of the front lines.Overall sneaking is much easier this time around with many of the hi-tech amenities you have at your disposal,not to say it's a cakewalk,but if you've played the predecessor Snake Eater without the 360 camera(or even Subsistence) you should fly through this game at a respectively fast pace which is definitely a shame.Especially since after you've played through the game you are doing a ton more WATCHING than PLAYING with playthroughs ranging from as low as 4 hours(wow.)

Metal Gear Online offers some more playtime with the game however expanding on the ideas presented in Subsistence's online modes with customizable characters,clan support,and some creative map layouts with some returning from Subsistence as well.However,I'm not a fan of having to remember another password and login due to the lack of PSN support,and adding friends and joing their matches while it should be simple feels like an elaborate chore.Maybe I'm spoiled by Xbox Live...I don't know maybe it's just me.

Castlevania Judgement

Probably the most random thing in recent days.A 3d Castlevania fighter...for the wii.


With art by Takeshi Obata(Death Note)characters look very little like their past incarnations.The game is looking to take a Power Stone-esque view on combat...we'll just have to see how it turns out.

E3 2008

This year was pretty disappointing.For an event known for it's crazy game announcements and previews it was pretty tepid this time around.Final Fantasy XIII is confirmed for 360 along with a revamped Dashboard update for the Fall and Wii is finally getting voice chat prominently featured in Animal Crossing:City Folk along with 1:1 motion with the Wii MotionPlus and a new Wii sports.Ps3 is getting some...stuff....


Megaman 9

So now it's going to be multiplatform on all current gen systems even sporting the crappy box art seen here(like the NES era US games).8-bit graphics with the old school Megaman feel,this will definitely be the best game you'll buy for 10 dollars this year.

Regular updates will be on the way once again after this week so don't think we forgot about you guys.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What If a New DS Was Announced at E3 2008?

Many rumors are flying around already about this year's E3 and I'm sure there will be many more as July draws closer. One of those rumors was a remodeled or next generation of the money making machine also known as Nintendo DS. I can see why people would think a next gen model would be coming soon. Game Boy Color came out in 1998, Game Boy Advance in 2001, the original DS was unleashed in 2004 and followed up by the DS Lite in 2006. It would seem every three years or so Nintendo makes us empty our wallets for a new handheld. A new DS system in 2009 would seem to be a safe bet. Personally, I think a redesign is more likely. The DS has plenty of life left. The dual screened wonder has sold over 100 million units worldwide (source) and doesn't show too many signs of stopping. Games are still being released like wildfire (I'm talking quantity, not quality), it's still way ahead of PSP and Nintendo still has some key franchises they haven't covered yet. I predict we'll see one more redesign before a totally new version emerges. But what if I'm wrong?

I present to you my Nintendo DS "Next" Wishlist...

» Wi-Fi Enabled PictoChat: This would seem as such an obvious feature but, knowing Nintendo, it would still require Friend Codes to chat (which we all know I love!). A buddy list similar to AIM/MSN would be convenient to see if your friends are available for playing.

» Quality Speakers: I usually play with headphones because those cheap speakers sound awful. One of the few things the PSP got right was quality speakers.

» Backwards Compatibility: Another obvious one, but it still needs to be said. First gen DS games are a must. GBA should still be there, too. Slot 2 is also useful for accessories (Guitar Hero, anyone?).

» Internal Rumble: Not too important, but would be nice. As long as it isn't overused, it shouldn't affect battery life too much.

» Improved Download Play Speeds: DS Download Play is a great feature for people that want to play but don't own a copy of the game. Even Multicard Play load times are pretty hefty. Hopefully they are working on ways to decrease the waiting time to play.

» SD Slot: Nintendo has to compete with the PSP as far as multimedia. Being able to store game saves, pictures, video and music would be a nice addition for an on-the-go gamer.

» Larger Buttons: Notice I didn't say more buttons. Even though the DS appeals to children, us older folk have bigger hands and I don't think bigger buttons would cause any kiddies to not be able to play. The only button addition needed is a home button similar to Wii.

» Improved Graphics: There's only been a few games that really pushed the DS to it's limits in the graphics department (Exhibit A). So it's hard to tell what "improved graphics" would be. It won't be a huge jump, but even increasing cart size may help developers pack some more punch.

» Ergonomic Design: The DS "Phat" was actually easier to hold on to for extended periods of time than the Lite. We all like out tech toys to be small, but it has to be comfortable too.

» Widescreen: Another feature that could be cool, but not needed. The touch screen should probably stay around the same size but the top screen could prove quite useful in wide screen.

» Updated Firmware: The next DS should be Wii's true counterpart. The channel menu interface would be touch screen friendly and very familiar. Having a game channel and home button would be useful for hot swapping (it's really a pain to keep turning on and off the system). With a touch of a button on the home screen you can flip the bottom screen with the top screen where you'll find your buddy list, messages and data management. And of course, it's all upgradeable.

» Internal Flash Memory: Time to stop wasting room saving on the cart. If an externalcard slot isn't included, I don't see it impossible to include at least 256 MB worth of memory built in for downloading demos and games (see below).

» Virtual Console: It worked for the Wii! With your My Nintendo account linked to your DS you can transfer your purchased games to your DS. With the current button layout most NES/GEN/SNES/SMS games should work fine. It also seems DS homebrew is all over the place so the only logical thing to do is cash in with DS Ware. The addition of GB/GBC/GBA games would be the icing on the cake.

Nintendo is infamous for doing a lot right and a lot wrong with their systems. I highly doubt all these features could be included, but I like to think that at least a few of them will. You have to think about the production costs, price points, etc. Parents aren't going to shell out $300 for a hand held for their kids. A nice balance of the above features will get 1st gen DS owners to migrate over and should attract some new customers as well (if there's anyone out there without one already!). Then there's people like us that will buy whatever Nintendo tells us to.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Take your sword and FIGHT! Its Ninja Gaiden II

One game developer had an image. He had a dream. One Tomonobu Itagaki had a vision to create the greatest action game of all time. Mr. Itagaki has succeeded. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you Ninja Gaiden II, the most awesomely hard game filled with action to see in this current generation. I've decided to give Gaiden II the proper review it deserves. Don't listen to those big league IGN critics who base their review off of the normal setting. This is not the review it deserves.

Ninja Gaiden II takes place chronologically after the 2004 release of Ninja Gaiden, and starts off with quite a kick. The opening cinema is gorgeous and fluid but don't get comfortable, this game kickstarts right into gear. Ryu Hayabusa finds himself rescuing CIA agent Sonia from a pack of fiends. Here is where the tomfoolery begins. All that talk about making Ninja Gaiden II easier for possibility of inviting new fans to jump on the wagon is completely effaced. You will be overwhelmed by the difficulty of the "regular enemies" and overwhelmed by the amount of enemies you actually face. This game screams oldschool in every sense of the word. Ridiculous patterns? Check. Crazy platforming? Oh yeah. Now add in the fact that every enemy has an "Anti-Ryu" specific move set, and you're pretty much dead. These enemies don't chill and wait for you to attack. They attack you effortlessly and relentlessly. The story in this game is very similar to the first game. While its no Lost Odyssey or Okami in terms of story, it is more than efficient for an action game of its caliber.

The sound in this Gaiden does not let down either. Temco offers several Japanese ninja-esque beats that will get your blood pumping in no time. The legions of enemies you fight plus the rush of the music you listen to at the same time makes regular battles seem almost too epic. But you can't get epic enough with this game now can you?

The environments and the character models are slick, smooth and look pretty but they still suffer from that "clay" or shiny look. That's quite alright, as you won't be spending the time looking at the character models and environments. You'll be spending all your time dismembering fiend ninjas and sewer mutants as you fill the room with so much blood it looks like a slaughterhouse. That's the kind of detail that makes you go, "Wow."

And seeing as though you're a ninja warrior, it only makes sense to move like a ninja. Ninja Gaiden's controls are both tight yet loose at the same time. Tight in the sense that you can execute any deliberate move and get out of tight squeeze. Loose in the sense that Ryu moves like quicksilver and can easily string all of his moves together (and show it off with a little pasaz as well). Ryu moves like an badarse ninja on a mission, and rightfully so.

But let me be the first to warn you, Ninja Gaiden II is no Call of Duty 4 or Gears of War. Its not a walk in the park by any means, and you may find yourself cursing the heavens on multiple occasions. The game offers an exponential amount of reply value as it offers several ranges of difficulty from Mentor to Master Ninja. If you think Warrior is hard, then you haven't played anything yet. That is, if you think you can handle it. You can compare your feeble Ninja score on the Leaderboards to the true King of Kings who dominate the the top ten score. All the the more to beat those harder difficulties right?

So does Ninja Gaiden deserve the reviews its been getting? Not a chance. Hard games filled with ridiculous enemies and bosses are a dime a dozen nowadays. Ninja Gaiden II is truly a standalone action game in our current generation of games. There is nothing, if not very little that compares to Gaiden on its level.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Blowing Off Steam:
Digging a Hole With Shovelware

The Nintendo Wii and DS are next-gen systems just like the 360, PSP and PS3. They are revolutionary pieces of hardware that create new ways to play, new genres and games yet to be even thought of. They're fun for all ages, they're easy to pick up and play and appeal to hardcore gamers and casual audiences alike. The Wii is sold out everywhere. They currently hold titles for best selling console and hand held system worldwide. So why do the majority of the games look and play like crap?

Today we suffer from Shovelware. Useless pieces of software that have been taking up store shelf space ever since the days of the Atari 2600 (a moment of silence for E.T.). These games are low budget and underdeveloped. The DS is best example with so many games that only sell for the movie or kid's show they are based upon. The Wii hasn't even been out two years and it's safe to say that more than half of the games were rushed to the system solely on the premise that the system sells well and therefore people will buy cheap games. And they do. So they make more horrible games. And the vicious cycle continues.

During the days of the original NES we saw some of the greatest games ever made. These games were timeless and so good that we are still seeing sequels, remakes and spin-offs of them to this day. Of course the NES had it's share of Shovelware, but with so many classic games how did Nintendo keep in check the quality of games from third party developers? It's a great idea and a great invention from the daddy of good ideas: The 10NES chip. An authentication code for NES game console. The system consisted of two parts -- a computer chip in the NES that would check the cartridge in the system for authentication, and a chip in the cartridge that would give the 10NES code upon demand. If the cartridge did not provide the authentication, then the system would not boot up. Pure diabolical genius!

So the crash of 1983 is over. The world is excited about video games again and it's Nintendo at the head of the pack. The system is selling like crazy and game companies want a piece of the action. Well, they're at the mercy of Nintendo. So what does Nintendo do? Limits each company to five games a year. Sounds crazy, but what happens? Developers are forced to only release the greatest and best developed games they have. So what do we get out of this deal? Konami gives us classics like Castlevania, Contra, Gradius and Metal Gear. Capcom graces us with legendary games such as 1942, Bionic Commando, Little Nemo: Dream Master, Mega Man, Snow Brothers and Strider. Let's not forget Tradewest who brought us Double Dragon and Battletoads. And of course Tengen (AKA Nintendo's arch enemy -- Atari, who will later steal the patent and make unlicensed games) gives us Fantasy Zone, Gauntlet, Pac-Man and even Shinobi.

Those were the days when the Nintendo Seal of Quality meant something. Nowadays it would be the Seal of Quantity. While Nintendo makes some of the greatest games for the DS and Wii that will someday be called classics, we are flooded with third party trash. Capcom is one of the few that sometimes continues it's proud tradition of great games (but not always) and develops games like Okami, Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, Pheonix Wright and Zak & Wiki. Other "developers" will give us let downs like Cruisin', Monster Trux Extreme: Offroad Edition, Ninjabread Man, Wing Island, Chicken Shoot and many many many more. I'm not saying graphics are everything (case and point: No More Heroes), but there are N64 games that look (and play) better.

One reason for so much Shovelware could be because no one knew the Wii would be so popular and therefore didn't make any games for it. The development kit it far cheaper than 360 and PS3, so instead of making quality games they rush out some low budget kids games while the iron is still hot. Well the Wii isn't going anywhere. If Nintendo wants to stay on top they need the software to back it up. With so many first party killer aps for the DS and Wii, it's about time for Nintendo to get its Grand Theft Auto or Halo. Something that gets everyone excited. Something Nintendo didn't make. Something Shigeru Miyamoto didn't have a hand in. Something that looks amazing, is original and plays great without the feeling of tacked on motion or touch controls.

The light at the end of the tunnel could be the dawn of WiiWare. Downloadable games developed exclusively for Wii. Some developers are actually leaving Microsoft and switching over to WiiWare. It seems like it could actually dethrone the goliath that is Xbox Live Arcade. Why? Well, the biggest difference is also the smallest. It is the simple division of Virtual Console games and WiiWare games in the Wii Shop Channel. Even though it is very insignificant to the common consumer, companies see this as a solid boundary line. Instead of new IPs being lost in the shuffle of remakes and touched up classic arcade games they are set apart and put in the spotlight. It would seem like developers are excited again about making new games. Now major, independent and unknown companies have a chance to do something good. Something fresh.

Frontier Developers are taking a step back from games like Thrillville to give us a breath of fresh air called LostWinds. Luc Bernard & Partners left Microsoft to put the highly anticipated side-scroller Eternity's Child onto WiiWare and has now started work on Rose Princess; a mature rated 2D Castlevania-like/Disney style/Victorian era adventure game featuring a robotic cross-dressing, drug-addicted rabbit (huh?). Telltale games is helping to make the internet sensation of Homestar Runner into five interactive "webisodes". World of Goo, from 2D Boy, looks like one of the most original puzzle games in a long time. Blobber Team gives us Last Flight; a bloody cel-shaded horror survival title set aboard a zombie infested plane which, hopefully, will look as good as it sounds. It looks like WiiWare might force retail console games to be good again if they want anyone to buy them. Why spend $50 on garbage when i can get a quality $10 WiiWare game?

But, one of the most surprising companies to do a 180 is High Voltage Software. From the days of White Men Can't Jump for the Atari Jaguar to 50 Cent: Bulletproof, HVS doesn't have too good of a track record. With the recent announcement and trailer of the title The Conduit, they proved that Nintendo isn't the only ones who can make good looking, quality games for the Wii. They are actually developing a brand new Wii specific engine called Quantum3 and they're ultimate goal is a beautiful 60 FPS. They have stated that "With Conduit, we are trying to make a Wii game that looks like a 360 title." If that wasn't enough, they have also tapped into WiiWare with Animales de Muerte, a top down shooter where you kill zombie zoo animals, and Gyrostarr, which is a F-Zero/Tempest hybrid.

With the recent addition of the Nintendo Channel, gamers like you and me can submit feedback about titles which will hopefully be taken seriously by the game companies out there. I highly doubt the average Shovelware buyer would even care (or even know) about this feature. Poor THQ will never know how good Bratz: Movie Starz is! The universe will slowly unfold before our eyes!

I could go on forever and there's plenty more points that I couldn't get to. But, I believe a company can make just as much money with one great game as it could with ten bad ones. Spend the money you would have on the next Hannah Montana or Petz game and advertise your good games. Sadly, you'll never see a commercial for gems like Okami or No More Heroes. It's a shame so many games become sleeper hits and only people like you and me know about them. While we will never see an end to Shovelware, lets hope that developers realize that it's not supposed to be the quantity of games they can put out. Let's bring back the days of quality!


Friday, May 16, 2008

Suprise,suprise...GTA IV.

So,Grand Theft Auto IV.Where do I start with this game? I feel almost obligated to an extent to discuss this game,and while everyone has their opinions on it already,I still feel as though it needs to be touched on here at least once.After all everything deserves a fair shake right?The launch hype of the game is done and over with as well so there's no time like the present I suppose.

Grand Theft Auto is a long running series that among other things asks the player to shed his or her morality and engage in family-friendly activities such is murder,arson,soliciting prostitution,shooting up city blocks,and the titular grand theft auto just to name a few.In early titles we were offered a top down view of our world ala Micro Machines.It wasn't until Grand Theft Auto 3 that we were introduced to the 3d world we've grown accustomed to now.Seeing the cars we had to steal,interacting with the people of the city on a whole new level.It was incredible.Subsequent sequels expanded on the ideas and added new elements including new cities to cavort in,richer character development,more weaponry,and crazy new vehicles like Jet-packs.

From GTA3 to GTA:San Andreas the game matured into a full experience.Including stat development for your character,a simple but effective respect system,and a HUUUUUGE playable area.At this point Grand Theft Auto IV sounds INSANE."How will they expand on San Andreas?" I thought.So they day is fast approaching and pictures and videos of the game are being released and as I read about this I seethe since as opposed to expanding on San Andreas things are being REMOVED.So going into this game I had the worst of expectations.I reluctantly take it home and fire it up...

Already the game has been streamlined even in the loading screens.We are introduced to the new art-style,it takes on a more serious,realistic tone as opposed to the generally comic look of the previous trilogy.Immediately we are introduced to our main protagonist,Niko Bellic.An illegal immigrant from eastern Europe thats lived a harsh life.Promised a life of wealth and luxury from his cousin,Roman Bellic,he comes to find anything but upon his arrival to Liberty City.

Already you can see the overall environment is more detailed than any other entry in the Grand Theft Auto series.In fact everything is more detailed than previous installments.Shoot a pedestrian in the leg and they will hobble,clutching their wound in agony.Run over a person and you can see the dent they made in the car and the resulting blood spray on your hood.In some cases people implore you take them out of their misery,really ramping up the overall creepiness factor.

All the changes aren't violent,bloody ones though.The main emphasis on Grand Theft Auto IV is being social.On top of taking jobs and doing missions for the denizens of Liberty City's underworld,you can go out to get drinks with them,catch a standup show,shoot some pool along with other cool mini-games and activities.This isn't just some distraction however,keeping a healthy social relationship with these people can net you rewards like free taxi service,car bombs,and other perks.It replaces San Andreas' mentality of "improve yourself through training" with a "Get more connections" sort of feel.This way when you move up in the ranks,you really feel as though you are moving up.Calling people up on your cell,making deals and getting work,it all feels very authentic.

Speaking of the phone,it will be the most central part of your adventures in Liberty City.From calling up friends and contacts to get more money or go out ,dialing up 911 to 'acquire' a police vehicle,finding out the name of a song,and changing up your appearance in Multi-player modes or starting a Multi-player game in general.The cell phone makes for some hilarious moments too,like getting phone calls from Roman in the middle of gunfights.

Being a fan of the Radio stations in the previous entries one of the first things i did was check out the sounds.The soundtrack is as diverse as ever,from staples like Talk Radio to European Rock it's definitely a treat.Joining the Radio in the media ensemble is the Television and the Internet.The game's irreverent humor reaches into these realms as well,providing hilarious TV spots and short shows as well as fake websites that spoof popular internet pages all laid out authentically(you can even use your USB keyboard to type).The attention to detail is definitely there.

The game offers you tons but like any story,without a strong lead character it falls apart.Grand Theft Auto is known for it's charismatic leads and Niko is no different.He shows emotion and feels regret.You are often put in situations that dictate whether or not characters live or die.The gravity of these choices along with the character's history lends him a feel unique to the players actions.Is Niko a lost soul living life with a 'do what you gotta do' attitude?Or is he a cold-blooded killer that lost his remorse and kills without mercy?

Truly,Grand Theft Auto IV is an experience that is unique to the player,which is a first for the series.And while it lacks the inner depth of San Andreas,it has a social feel to it all it's own so you feel more attached to the living,breathing city.Even if you loathe GTA you owe it to yourself to sit down and play this game.

Friday, May 2, 2008

First Impressions:
Mario Kart Wii

I've been playing Mario Kart Wii for a couple weeks now. I've finished all of the 50cc and 100cc races and I'm starting to whittle down the always infamous 150cc. I've played a pretty good amount of online races and time trials. I haven't done too many Vs. battles yet, though. So without going into the whole history of Mario Kart, I would say that, overall, this latest installment is a solid one. It makes a good first impression with a solid single player, some fun and interesting new tracks and some touched up classic ones and (by far) the best online experience the Wii has to offer so far (sorry, but you have to agree with me on this one brawlers!). Although, as we dig deeper, it seems we've always had to take the good with the bad on this long running franchise.


» Adding Friends: Nintendo is finally starting to get their act together. Friend codes are easier to get because you can send an invite to your buddy as long as you have exchanged Wii console codes. Hopefully they continue this trend in future titles.

» Controls: In the same vein as Smash Bros., you can use four (technically five) different control schemes. I've been playing mainly with the Wii Remote by itself (yes, the elusive fifth method -- the Wii Wheel did nothing for me) but I've been meaning to try the Classic and Nunchuck attachment variations.

» No "Snaking": I'm sure people will find a way around this, but for now let's enjoy it.

» Online Play: Opponents can be regional or worldwide and are found almost instantly. All the single player modes are included. You can even catch (in real time) the last minute of the previous race before you join in the action. After voting for a track the race begins in no time. Makes you wonder if they learned their lesson from what happened with Smash Bros.

» Unlockables: 14 additional characters and 19 more karts and bikes become available in a pretty good series of progression. Including Miis is a nice touch for added customization.

» Graphics: Although not too much better than it's GameCube predecessor, everything is bright, crisp and clean. Seeing all your Miis while driving through Coconut Mall is fun and distracting!


» Overabundance of Powerful Items: It seems with every new Mario Kart they increase the frequency of killer items like squid ink, lightning bolts and blue shells. It's pretty ridiculous the amount of these that CPUs get during even just one lap. The game sometimes ends up requiring more luck than it does skill.

» Controls: It seems we have a double edged sword here. Tilt control is tight and works great until you hit something, then things sometimes go a little wacky and unresponsive. Doing wheelies with the bike will drive you into walls if you don't snap straight back. Power slides are hard to do without the over sized B button of the bulky Wii Wheel.

» "Rubberbanding": It seems no matter how far you get ahead of the CPUs, one hit with a shell with send them whizzing by you before you can get back up to speed. It keeps the game very challenging and very frustrating!

» Graphics: The game looks great at 60 FPS, but if you're playing with a 3 or 4 player split-screen it gets downgraded to 30 FPS. Boo.

So should any of these cons deter you from purchasing this latest installment? Of course not! Mario Kart is a beloved title we expect to see in every generation of Nintendo's consoles. With so much to do it'll keep long time fans busy and introduce newcomers to blue shell madness! It's almost a no brainer for the Big N to cash in on one of their oldest and best selling franchises. It's sure come a long way and I'm sure we'll see another one in a few years time. Whether it's portable or not, we'll have to wait and see. While the obvious choice for the next racer would be F-Zero, I think we have quite a ways to go before seeing it hit shelves. To nail down those ultra high speed precision turns is going to take a while to perfect with tilt control. And I'm willing to wait for that. So until then, throw back a red shell or two and enjoy the chaos that can only be found in Mario Kart!


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Have Games gotten Easier? Take a look at this!

A couple of days ago, I dusted off my old NES and rediscovered a certain gem. It was Batman: The Video Game loosely (and I do mean loosely) based off of the 1989 Tim Burton film. Well, I popped that bad boy right in and for a good hour or so, I got stuck at stage 3. It totally whupped my behind. Right then and there it was painfully obvious that game developers as a whole don't make them like they use to. Batman is one of the NES's most challenging games ever, and this was a MOVIE GAME! Game developer Sunsoft pulled no punches. This was a seriously challenging game that made you use your wits and skills to progress further.

So to make my argument today, I'm not going to write a top 10 list of this or a 5 games of all time of that. Rather, I'm just going to present evidence Phoenix Wright style that proves my point that they just don't make em like they use to. And since I have Batman shown up here, why not start with that?
Batman NES

Batman: The game based off the movie. If the movie was made by Sunsoft, the most vilest men and women to walk the earth.
I would love to see how the developers sat around and came up with this game. "So, Mr. Saki-son. How about we add whole bunch of things that were never even in the comic books, nevermind the movie?" "Like what?" "You know, killer pottery, random guys with guns, Sucker-Punch Machines, Hopping Sewer mutants and Tanks?" That basically sums up Batman. Except take those enemies, and put them in the worst possible places in the history of platforming. I'm serious. I can't describe how hard the level design in this game is. One stage requires you to climb up a conduit of some sort. However, there are dudes with flamethrowers EVERYWHERE. Once you somehow kill the guys who occupy the only space you have to land on, you find out that at the top of a narrow staircase is a conspicuously placed tank. Ain't that the pits!? Sunsoft seemed to follow Nintendo's policy of starting you off easy with the first two stages and offer no transition of difficulty afterwards. By the time you make it to stage 3, you'll wish you hadn't. Its here where Batman encounters the most ludicrous platforms and enemies to date. Of course, a great game is as only as good as its bosses, and you didn't expect them to be pushovers. I recall the boss of stage three aptly being named "The Executioner." And why is that? For one, he can shoot a boom out of his electrical rod arm twice the size of Batman's sprite. Just how are you suppose to beat that?

The game does a magnificent job of outdoing itself, because just when you think it can't get any harder, it does tenfold. If you ever do manage to reach the top of the clocktower, you'll have to face Firebug. And may you pray to the deity of your choice, because Firebug can easily obliterate you in .5 seconds. This game's number one reason for existing was to make sure no one beat it. Let me put it in perspective for you folks. My brother and I have owned this game since it came out. Nearly 20 years later, I managed to beat the game only a couple weeks ago. How did I accomplish such a feat? I honestly couldn't tell you. But I can tell you this. If I had put that much work into my college work, I would have been a bloody Professor at the age of 21.

Contra: For the love of God, find a second player. Preferably one that doesn't suck.

Ah Contra. The original run and gun action game. Many consider Contra to be one of the defining 2 player games of all time, and its not hard to see why. You and a partner took control of Bill Rizer and Lance Bean and fought against the invading alien forces. This offers no mercy whatsoever. One hit is all it takes to off either you or partner, and you get shot by everyone and everything. This game was most surely an a elite game. Everything about this game screams intense. From climbing the waterfall in stage 2 while simultaneously being shot by enemy forces to facing mammoth sized bosses, this game had it all for an NES. I couldn't possibly explain the feeling you get when you get shot by a stray bullet or beam which would promptly end your turn as you either watched your partner go on or steal one of his or her's life. This game is also difficult depending on who you play it with. (Which would be an obvious, no brainer but it really honestly does.) If you're saddled with someone who is Contra-challenged, then you can kiss your luck goodbye. The last thing you need is to carry a sub-par soldier around the battlefield who gobbles all of your lives and takes all the good weapons, right? You're pretty much ensuring your own end. You wanna talk about frustrating, go right ahead, but don't forget to mention this game.

Super Mario Bros. 2: Better known as Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels: It's Murder Time.
This game is downright vile. I almost shouldn't even write anything as a testament to how God-awfully hard this game is. For those of you who believe that Nintendo games for the most part have always been easy obviously never owned a NES or a SNES.

Everyone knows and loves Super Mario Bros! Who could forget the side scrolling hop and bop adventures of our middle aged slightly plump yet mysteriously athletic plumber? I don't think there is a man or woman on earth who can play Mario. I do believe however, that there are very little that can BEAT Mario. This one game in particular just maybe the hardest Mario game they've ever made. Gone is the two player and in its place are the character specific attributes. Mario runs faster and can stop quicker, and Luigi can jump higher but has worse traction. Add in some trick Poison Mushroom blocks that will either shrink you or kill you, and you've got a fantastic Mario game already. So the mechanics of the game hasn't really changed. Its the everything else that has. Namely, the stage design. There are levels where I swear, you begin to question your own existence. One stage I can think of in particular starts off with you coming out of the little brick house. All you see in a green spring. That's it. They expect you to jump from spring to spring, while a HAILSTORM brews calculatingly, yet unexpectedly. Surprise Jerkface! And for the love of God, DON'T take any warp zones. They'll send you back to where you came from. Its Nintendo's personal way of saying "Ain't no body gonna cheat with me."

Streets of Rage 3: This is your left, that's your right, this is your right, that's your right, this is your left, that's your left, this is your right, You're Gonna DIE!
You know, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Beat Em Ups. I've been fond of Battletoads, Doubledragons. Battletoads and Doubledragons. Golden Axe 1 and 2. But it was the Streets of Rage series that really took the cake for me. Maybe I'm a glutton for pain, but these games were pretty ruthless. 3 in particular. You can play as either Axel, Blaze, Skate and the usually useless Dr. Zan (I always played as Blaze.) as you patrol these "streets of rage." And it was exactly that. Swarms of enemies emerge from the shadows at they all punch you. At the same time. You would loose your health bar faster than Samus being drained by a metroid. But that's not even the tip of the iceberg. Don't even forget the fact that each and everyone of these enemies have a specific purpose if you think about it. Garcias for example have a tendency to run a around with machetes and stab the first thing that feels like flesh. Donovan's rill rise inexplicably from sewer holes and dark alleys to crack you in the mouth with kitchen pipes and prove to be your anti-air by offering you an uppercut for your thoughts. How about those motorcycle folks who make it a point to run you down and toss grenades as if they were tossing caution in the wind? And don't get me started on Jet. Jet's a great enemy because he comes equipped with a jet pack. Oh that's right. You read that right. This is a sidescrolling beat em up, and someone brings a jet pack to the fray?! Jet and his cronies named Mach and other horrible names won't even go toe to toe with you. No. They'll just carry you into the sky and drop you on your head. Now, put this game on Hard Mode, and you'll have 4 of them to fight at once. Sshyeah. This was certainly a test for the ages.

Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom


Mega Man: I seriously can't think of anything witty to say to this piece of garbage.
Like most of these games on this evidence list, Mega Man is a just a classic. What could be possibly cooler than a futuristic robot blowing up other futuristic robots while combining intense platforming elements? The world simply fell in love with Mega Man's charm, but apparently the folks at Capcom didn't really like the cut of his jib. So you know what they did? They made it as exceedingly difficult as possible. Sure, the game was one of the first to employ a level select and a rock, paper, scissors element to it, but all of that didn't matter! Because the world was out to get you! Take a look at the screen shot for example. That flying blue guy on the left? You wouldn't be able to tell from this alone, but he moves in a sporadic left to right fashion making it nearly impossible for you to perform even the simplest of actions. Like what? I mean climbing a ladder. Jumping from a different platform. (And don't even THINK about sliding off that platform, or you'll sink faster than a lead balloon in a pool of Mercury.) Figuring out this pattern lead to many an aneurysm for many game players of old and even new. And by the way, Wily's Fortress was the one of the most demonic structures ever to test the fragility of the weak and frail human shell we call bodies. After beating horrible machines like the Yellow Devil, you're treated to fighting these robot masters (the bosses) again in no order, WITH the life bar that you have. Imagine that you have to fight Dr. Wily right afterwards and if you fail, its back to the depths for you! What a fun little adventure this was. Too bad its one of the hardest games ever.

While it may be true that the later Zeldas have maybe gotten easier, nothing can take away from the fact the hardest game in the series is the original. There's no doubt about it. The game that broke the way for the series also aimed to break you back and humble. Seriously, I don't know what to say about this game that made it so hard. Was it the Stalfos Skeleton Knights that were tenacious as heck? Or was it those wizards that would appear at random points in the dungeon? Or maybe its the fact that there isn't a human soul around to tell you where to go after you beat on dungeon? Maybe its because the entire dungeons of the game were nothing more than trails to see who could get frustrated faster? Regardless, The Legend of Zelda remains one of the hardest games to date with seemingly impossible to beat bosses (and no hints mind you) and the only game that would would fool you into using a small key on a fake door, then scrounging up enough rupees to actually buy a new one. The enemies in this game were overly strong to the point where it wasn't annoying to get him by them, but rather life or death. And speaking of life and death...

Super R-Type: Or How I learned to lose

What can I say about R-Type that isn't obvious? Developer IREM obviously hates humankind, and so they developed this piece of treasure. If you haven't played R-Type, its a basic sidescrolling shooter where you take control of a spaceship and blast the alien forces on the opposing side. Seems simple right? It is, until you're attacked by every single thing ever. I mean surprise alien thingies from the planet's surface to weird alien claw things from the ceiling and onward. I honestly cannot sit here and tell you how many things actually attack. Oh and you get one hit. ONE HIT! (As are most standard shooters, but man.) You can collect power-ups and whatnot but you know what--it don't even matter. The amount of power-ups you collect will never protect you from bullets coming everywhere at once. That is, unless you collect a shield. But I'm not even sure that's in this game.

Metroid: The Original Undisputed Queen of Frustration

I originally thought about putting "Undisputed King" of Frustration, but doing that would probably make the game seem less hardcore. Metroid may take the cake here for one of these single hardest games in the history of mankind. You can't deny it. Try playing it. Try it. Really. See what happens. I'll tell you what happens. You'll lose. You'll die. You'll toss your controller in angst. Everything about Samus's first adventure I swear was meant to be her last. You play as this seemingly genderless cyborg named Samus (***SPOILER*** and if you don't know, that genderless cyborg is revealed to be a woman at the end of the game. But I doubt you'll ever beat the game so go ahead and read this line anyway.) whose mission is to infiltrate the Planet Zebes and exterminate the Metroid threat, as well the Space Pirates base and Mother Brain. Pretty simple for an adventure. But just like every other game listed in this pretend list, the party gets a little crazy. I shouldn't even name it a party. Its more like an execution.

Samus starts off her adventure by only being able to aim in to general directions. That's up and her neutral position. Fabulous, especially for a game that involves deep exploration and versatile enemies on every side. But it gets better. Samus apparently until she gets an upgrade, can only shoot as far an inch. Great. So what do we have so far? Can only aim up or neutral and shoots horrendously weak pellets as far as an inch. Super Duper. Is there anything else I haven't recalled yet? Oh yeah, flying enemies can hit you while you pass through doors (which is suppose to be a 3 second safe haven) and there is no map whatsoever. That means you gotta get out there and tough it at, with as almost as much handicaps as our good friend Mega Man has on the higher part of this page. Oh well. At least he has a life bar. And to let you all know, I've never beaten the original Metroid, because I'm not a superhuman.

Super Ghouls 'N Ghost: The Coup De Grace

This may have done it right now. Super Ghouls 'N Ghost may be the single hardest thing I've ever played in my entire life. I beat Batman, beat Mega Man, and even the Legend of Zelda. I have yet to beat this kidney stone.

I don't even know where to begin. Artur, the knight you play as, may very well be the weakest protagonist of all time. Imagine what would happen if you took Mega Man (no love for the blue guy) force him to ingest a thousand poison mushrooms. Couple that with his inherited Batman's
better-know-where-you're-jumping-because-now-its-a-commitment ability. Everything about Arthur screams "HIT ME". Allow me to explain. It only takes one hit, one misjudged jump to strip Arthur of all of his armor. The next hit will kill him. It doesn't matter how much uberly awesome super armor Arthur picks up to enhance and charge his weapons. One stray hit and you'll be back in your undies.

To convey how hard this game is, let me guide you through the first level. It starts with you scrolling the side with no problem right? Kill the first red haired zombie you see, and the game's difficulty is magnified by an instant 32045150248540840 billion percent. Skeleton snakes pop up from the ground and blow fire at you, there are fake treasure chests that will have a magician emerge and change you into a baby. A BABY! Oh, and the only salvation you have from your drift jump is another mid air jump. Good luck trying not to land on an opening coffin.

So assuming you got past the graveyard looking area as presented in the image. You'll make it to a quite random ocean with what looks like stable ground. Make first jump, and I swear on my holy diver that an instant tsunami is summoned. And I mean instant in the sense that Version FiOS is instant. All the ground that you see is wiped away and the only platforms you have to jump on have mutant demon clams that shoot eyeballs out at you.

Okay, so you make it past the ocean of anguish somehow. Welcome to the Jungle. They're not playing games. You'll be greeted by a jungle of vines and a skull cart that aims to run you down. Why? I have no idea. But it gets worst. If you somehow have magic armor, kiss it goodbye! Even fruit tries to attack you. I'm serous! Random pink inflated fruit vines grow and follow you till they explode or you explode them. Odd? Yes. Dangerous? You bet. Unfair and challenging? No doubt.

I'd love to tell you more about this stage, but I honestly can't even remember what the boss looks like. I've only been able to get this far a handful of times. My greatest feat is that I somehow someway made it to the 4th stage of this game. But that was only once.

My point is being this. You've seen the games I've listed, and while there are the occasional hard ones every now and then (Devil May Cry 3 for the PS2 and Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox) they just simply don't make them as hard or as challenging and rewarding as they use to. Don't get me wrong. Some current generation games like Rainbow Six Las Vegas offer a pretty deep, challenging experience. But its not Metroid levels of hard. I'm talking so hard it that only the select few would be able to beat it. Nintendo every once in a while likes to churn out these games as a reminder to how ruthless they use to be. (Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and F-Zero GX to name two.)

Even with these ones mentioned, there are still an entire slew of games guaranteed to make you cry. I didn't mention Rygar for NES because I haven't spent enough time with it. There is always Gradius and Castlevania Bloodlines for the Genesis. Don't forget about Contra: Hard Corps.

But hopefully this list will tell the youth of today that games aren't as hard as they use to be. Not by a long shot. If you disagree with me, I dare you play these games. I DARE YOU! You will most likely change your mind.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Raenius Recommends III:
A Professor and a Curious Boy

This week's recommendation:
Professor Layton and the Curious Village for Nintendo DS

Published by: Nintendo
Developed by: Level-5
Released: February 11th, 2008
MSRP: $29.99
ESRB: Everyone
Download Play: No
WiFi Enabled: Downloadable Content

From the company that brought you Dragon Quest VIII, Rogue Galaxy, Dark Cloud and the forthcoming Dragon Quest IX we get a point and click puzzle adventure game -- huh? Wait a minute! This game was out a full year in Japan before it was localized, it already has a sequel and, with such an odd (and long) title, one could assume it would be a children's game of some sort. But it's far from it (unless your a kid prodigy)! This one will have you scratching your head and make you use brain cells you never knew you had!

The story begins with Professor Layton and his young assistant Luke (better call Chris Hansen). They are invited to the town of St. Mystere by Lady Dahlia, widow of the late Baron Reinhold, to solve the mystery of the Golden Apple. OK, still sounds like a kids game, right? Until you realize all the villagers love puzzles and will ask you to help solve them. I won't get into the story too much because of spoilers, but the dynamic duo will solve kidnappings and murder before the truth of the Golden Apple is revealed. With 135 puzzles to solve during the story, some are required for story progression while others are optional. The puzzles you don't get to will be waiting for you to solve later. Of course puzzles will get progressively harder as you go on but don't worry, hints are available (for a few coins, of course).

All controls are done using the sylus. Moving around the village is easy. Simply tap where you want to go. Make sure to tap objects or things that seem out of place for hidden puzzles or hint coins. You tap on people to talk to them as well. Puzzle answers are inputed on the touch screen in various ways such as writing out words or numbers, circling or tapping an answer or moving objects around. Text recognition isn't perfect, but it's better than Brain Age.

The cartoon graphical style of this game very European. The Frenchy sounding music, the Professor's English accent and Luke's squeaky going-through-puberty voice sounds excellent though headphones. FMV will seem like your watching Saturday morning cartoons rather than playing a video game. Your first-person still frame town scenes are fully detailed as are the exaggerated features of the residents. Puzzles range in quality but none look so bad that you wouldn't be able to solve it. This game really just proves that Nintendo isn't the only company that actually take time to develop games and prove the DS is capable of some pretty advanced graphics.

Without ruining too much, during your adventure you can collect parts of a helpful Gizmo as well as piece together a long lost painting. The game can be beaten over a weekend, but that's not all it has to offer. After the mystery is solved, the Professor will still have some challenges for you to prove yourself as a puzzle master. The puzzle index will allow you to solve any puzzles you've encountered from the story. Weekly puzzles (which strangely enough, are actually on the cart already) can be unlocked via Nintendo WFC for your weekly dose of puzzle frustration. And most mysterious of all, a top secret section can only be unlocked with a code from the manual of the sequel!

Let's see it broken down!

Presentation: Almost like an interactive murder mystery novel. Simple and easy to navigate menus. A story that's full of twists, turns and surprises. Some puzzles are very easy to exploit or you could look online for answers -- But don't!

Visuals: Beautiful, bright and colorful scenes and full of life characters done in a European art style is a nice change of pace from the world on anime on the DS.

Audio: Superb, but limited, voice acting even when not watching a FMV -- but it's just nice to see any voice acting in DS game!

Gameplay: Point and tap is very acurate. The meat and potatoes of the game is solving the puzzles which are very easy to input but not always easy to solve!

Multiplayer: None.

Wi-Fi Functionality: Unlockable weekly puzzles

Replay: Better replay than Brain Age because it's not so repetitive. Plenty to do after the game is over. You'll have to wait a while before you forget the answers to some of the puzzles over again. Weekly puzzles keep this title fresh until the sequel is localized.

Overall: A quirky little title that is a must have for people that love puzzles. It's a great start to, hopefully, a long running series for Nintendo's hand held system.