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.


The State of Gaming (The Hardcore Gamer Part 2)

Where were you on the Monday of February 12, 1990? On a Monday morning some of you were getting ready to go to school, some were getting ready for the 8am commute, and others were waiting for the game that would re-spark America love affair with video games. It is the game that people have grown up on, it is the game that seems to break all barriers. It is one of the best selling games of all time; Super Mario Brothers 3.
Super Mario Bros 3 Screenshot

Super Mario Brothers 3(also know as SMB3 for short) is the game that helped the average person remember how fun games could really be. Games like Galaga, Asteroids, and Pac-Man built the path to enjoyable and accessible games, while games like Super Mario Brothers ensured that games could stand the test of time. Super Mario Bros. 3 is still considered one of the first pinnacles in 2D gaming. The game took the simplicity of the original Mario Brothers, and improved on it in every aspect. From uncanny level design, to outstanding graphics, to stop on the dime control; Super Mario Brothers 3 had a little bit of everything. Super Mario Bros. 3 was such an opened ended game for its time. It allowed players to choose how to play the game. Some players could beat the game within an hour, while others could take the long route and collect everything and have the game take hours to beat. SMB3 allowed skill players 8 different worlds to test their skills. The game allowed skilled gamers added difficult with challenging levels and tough enemies, while letting the average player have little secrets like the warp whistles to item bars and mini games to keep the causal gamer interested. Photobucket
These are a few things that started to change the gaming world forever. Super Mario Brothers 3 set up a blueprint which many great games in the the future would try to successfully emulate. SMB3 bridged the gap of the Hardcore gamers and the Casual Gamer and brought both back into the gaming front.

Super Mario Brothers 3 brought people together in a way that arcades did in the 90's. It was once again alright for the skilled and the unskilled to enjoy the same game and take something different from it. SMB3 widened the gaming market just as Ms. Pac-Man and Pong did in the 70's and 80's. But what started to brew was something bigger than the skilled gamer and the casual; the new breed of gamer that has spawned from both, the hardcore gamer. This person is skilled enough not be mistaken for a causal gamer both their is something odd about them. The skilled gamer is the local legend.

He or she was the person other skilled gamers looked up to with respect, the hardcore gamer was the guy that talked more than he could fight. The hardcore gamer is all about the glory; they are the same type of people who care more about how many games they have than the ones the actually played. They are the people who play any game on Xbox 360 just for the Gamer Score. These people outside of the gaming world are known as the "One Uppers". They know less and talk more. What they don't know in knowledge they make up with more "stuff". Fast cars, beautiful women, big guns, and huge houses. Just as these people try to impress their coworkers and friends these hardcore gamers are trying to impress Gamers (the original skilled gamers) and the causal alike.

The hardcore gamers are the people who give gamers a bad reputation. Hardcore Gamer used to be an insult to all of us Gamers today, now it used to describe us. The Hardcore Gamer is born from competition and excess.

They try to be the best of the best without putting the effort, these hardcore gamers support poorly produced like Sprint Cars 2 and buy every Tony Hawk and Call of Duty but pass up games like Okami for no reason. The Hardcore gamer is no one friend and you shouldn't be categorized as one. The word Casual and Hardcore need to leave so games in the next five years can get better instead worse. In the end when developers, game designers, and most of all the people finally realize that we are all just gamers and games are made for all of us we as a whole well be headed in the right direction.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Continue?:A look into arcade gaming

A local arcade is closing down around the way,and while it's not the earth shattering news to be expected,it's certainly noteworthy.Having grown up in the Nineties arcades were loud,bright,and noisy gaming centers.In that timeframe the 16-bit generation was underway,PC gaming was always around,and even though it was top of the line at the time,nothing compared to the arcade.


Being able to play Street Fighter on a stand-up cabinet,quarters lined up,with competitors waiting for someone to get Ko'd.Keeping your record in Daytona USA for everyone to see.Pushing that last quarter on Ninja Turtles until you had nothing left.These were experiences that couldn't be had on a Genesis or Super Nintendo.Sure most of these games had home versions,but it was like practice for the real game.Every arcade had what seemed for an unsurmountable opponent for the cabinet in it's prime.Even if you were that local legend you had to keep your wits sharp to keep that title.

The biggest draw had to be the graphics though,the sheer power of these machines to have these huge,colorful sprites.Just like any other game,reading what was coming out next was always fun,anticipating the next big game (or when Street Fighter 3 was actually going to come out.)The main catch being these weren't games you could just OWN unless you shelled out the cash for the board and cabinet.Playing these games was almost a privilege,no matter how many games of NBA Jam you played,it was never yours.You could put all the money you wanted into Virtua Cop but you couldn't bring it home.It gave each game you played that extra bit of meaning.Imagine going to a LAN center to play Counterstrike but the game Counterstrike itself cost thousands of dollars.It's extreme,but yeah,kind of like that.

Of course this isn't the 1st arcade to ever close in all of history.Since the advent of the 128-bit era it's harder to get that pull from arcade machines graphically when you can in most cases play the game at home on your Playstation 2 or Xbox.Who wants to pay a dollar to play this game when I can just buy the home version and in some cases have online play available? A sad truth,that when coupled with the ongoing march of technology,meant the end of mainstream arcade gaming

Dance Dance Revolution still brings in people and ticket games will always bring people in,but the atmosphere as a whole is like a shell of its former self.Arcade fighting games still have a decent pull as far as far as the genre goes with games like Street Fighter 4,Virtua Fighter 5,and Tekken 6 on the market.With every passing moment though they become more and more niche,more often than not,becoming DLC on a network as opposed to getting a home release proper....and I'm not going to start in on 2d fighters today.

As online gaming improves and the gaming market changes we may never see a resurgence of the arcade as we knew it,it came back before though,and it can come back again.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Raenius Recommends II:
Hey! Is That A Ninja Up There?

This week's recommendation:
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword for Nintendo DS

Published by: Temco
Developed by: Team Ninja
Released: March 25, 2008
MSRP: $39.99
ESRB: Teen
Download Play: No
WiFi Enabled: Leaderboards

It's sure been a long time since Nintendo fans got a chance to have an adventure as Ryu Hayabusa. We sure missed him. This is Nintendo's first Ninja Gaiden title since the original trilogy for NES (and the later compilation on SNES) as well as the first hand held version. Thankfully, Tecmo had Team Ninja (who made the console versions) develop this one too. The story is relevant to the series as it takes place six months after the infamously hard comeback XBOX game. As in typical video game fashion, Ryu must battle through 13 stages to save the female ninja Momiji who was kidnapped by the Black Spider Ninja Clan while collecting powerful Dark Dragonstones along the way. Let's see if Hayabusa-san still has what it takes.

The first thing you'll notice about this game is that you hold the DS sideways (like the Brain Age series or Hotel Dusk). The left side is used for a map and the right side displays the main gameplay. Don't worry all you southpaws out there, you can adjust the settings for left-handed controls. Almost all of the controls are done with the stylus for the exception of blocking. What's nice about this is that the controls are exactly what you think they are. Slash the screen to slash your sword. Make a vertical line up and make Ryu jump. Moving is done exactly in the same fashion as The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass as in you press and hold where you want to go. Advanced controls are explained pretty well on the map screen as you progress through the game. Movements are, of course, not perfect. The DS will interpret your taps and slashes wrong occasionaly, but it's not too much of a big deal in the heat of a chaotic battle.

The next thing you'll notice is how good this game looks. It's unfair to compare this to the console but, as far as pushing the DS to it's limits, Team Ninja sure did a good job. I only wish it had FMV cut scenes and better voice acting instead of still images and text. I'm not sure if it was due to DS cart size restraints or maybe it was the style they were going for. I probably would've gotten into the story more if it had them. What really draws your attention is Nicchae, the scantily clad female trying to stop you (and also helped this title get its Teen ESRB rating). Along with impressive graphics, it also has an amazing soundtrack. Definitely use headphones with this one! Some classic Ninja Gaiden sounds are a treat and will bring back some (bad) nostalgic memories.

Even with 13 chapters, the game isn't too long. Along the way you will uncover many different skills and Ninpo (ninja magic). But, it only took me under six hours to finish the game in Normal Mode. The reasoning behind this is very linear levels. There's not too much else to do other than the main quest. A few well placed side-quests would have been a nice touch. Another reason is easy bosses. There were only a couple bosses that really gave me a challenge. Most of them were pretty repetitive and didn't have too much in the AI department. Speaking of enemies, the game unfortunately reuses enemies from previous levels with different coloring. This is a old tactic that tons of games are guilty of and needs to be abolished!

Even with a few flaws, replay value is pretty high. I will definitely be taking Ryu and Momji out for a second or third time. There's harder modes as well as collectible prizes (unique to the level of difficulty you play) to be found including stories, artwork, character profiles and diaries. Leaderboards are a bit tacked on and pretty useless for this type of game. There's also a way to play the entire game as Momiji instead of Ryu. I won't tell you how, figure it out on your own!

Time to break it down!

Presentation: Clean and easy to navigate menus. Three save slots for multiple users. Good story structure that will hopefully be continued in it's next gen sequel.

Visuals: Near PlayStation quality graphics. Beautiful environments and effects but a lack of character models and no FMV cut scenes.

Audio: Voice acting limited to grunts, moans and groans distracting you from an amazing soundtrack going on in the background.

Gameplay: Pick up and play control scheme that sometimes will have a mind of it's own.

Multiplayer: None. Probably for the better.

Wi-Fi Functionality: You can tell the leaderboards were an afterthought, but it's nice to see 3rd parties adding Nintendo's WFC functions.

Replay: You'll come back for a second dose for sure. After that it depends how much of a completest you are.

Overall: Call it "Ninja Gaiden Lite" if you wish. This game looks great and takes all the fun elements of the console version to make a more casual and enjoyable experience on a hand held.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Nintendo Got Its Money's Worth!

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! for GameCube was released November 17, 2003. This billboard at the Westgate Mall in Brockton is still up as of April 11th, 2008. Assuming it was put up prior to the actual release, that means this has been up for around five years! How can no one else put up an advertisement there in five years? I suppose it's because it is located in a very low traffic area of the mall, but still -- five years! Give it a few more years and they won't be able to take it down because it will be considered a historical landmark.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A World of 8-Bit Agony
or... The Top 10 Hardest NES Games

The year was 1988 and all I wanted for Christmas was a Nintendo Entertainment System. I must have been a good boy, because I got one! Looking back on the games, I think it's safe to say they were harder. Long gone are the days of limited continues and game overs. As a child I took my frustration out as only I knew how: throw the controller across the room. I don't think todays controller would be able to handle such punishment. So, in honor of the games that with put me in therapy when I'm 50, here is my personal list of the hardest NES games ever (without using cheats). With so many NES games made, I doubt two people's list would be the exact same. So don't worry if you don't see the bane of your childhood existence of my list.

#10 IronSword: Wizards & Warriors II -I don't remember too much from this game except for two things. 1) Fabio was on the cover and 2) All you do in this game is jump around and get lost. This game almost didn't make the list. But the level of frustration is what got it on here. The enemies aren't even that hard, but you have to try and find a bazillion keys or you can't go anywhere. If this game wasn't so boring I might have tried to figure out what to do.

#9 Shadowgate - Definitely original in terms of most games around at the time. This one was a PC-like first person puzzle game which actually translated well for the NES. It was kind of like Zak & Wiki. Do this, then that, but not before you do this with that. You die in the game... a lot! It was a pretty long game, too. It would most likely be easier now than when I was a kid, though.

#8 Caveman Games - Definitely an original idea. A very humorous game. Unfortunately the controls are awful and there's a huge learning curve. You're pretty much on your own to figure out how to do each event. Once you figure everything out, this makes a great two player game.

#7 Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! - It lulls you into a false sense of security. Once you figure out all your opponents patterns and realize how easy King Hippo really is... then... BAM! Out comes Mr. Sandman, Super Macho Man and Mike Tyson (or Mr. Dream depending on what version you have) and cleans your clock. The first two are a brutal challenge. Then Tyson comes out swinging for the first few minutes and you can't even hit him! I don't think I ever beat old Mikey. Now that's it on Virtual Console maybe I can redeem myself.

#6 Bart Simpson vs. The Space Mutants - This game would be so much easier if they had fixed the controls. Did they even play this before they released it? You can't even do a running jump because the run and jump button are the same! Along with doing mundane tasks and collecting items there's not much else to this game.

#5 Mega Man - Along with having the worst boxart ever and an awesome soundtrack, this was the first and hardest of the series. There's no password system so if you can't finish in one sitting you're screwed. Luckily it's not as long as the rest of the series, but it's still pretty frustrating. The charge shot was also a few games away. As hard as it was, it paved the way for many great Mega Man games and franchises for the future. We can only hope the blue bomber is in the next Smash Bros.

#4 Contra - I'm sure you saw this one coming. If you don't use the Konami Code, this one is close to impossible. One hit and you die. Tons upon tons of enemy troopers and turrets. There's plenty of power ups (just depends how long you can hold on to them) One of the first great side-scrolling shooters. Play with a friend on this one.

#3 Ninja Gaiden Series - All three of these titles are hard. In the first one you couldn't even wall climb. In addition to long levels and time limits, regenerating enemies are a royal pain the the arse. Just touching an enemy can send you flying. Thankfully there was some awesome music for this one.

#2 Battletoads - I have a love/hate relationship with this game. It's so fun to play until you reach the level where you have to dodge and weave blinking walls with your flying scooter. I can't tell you how many times I died on that level. Also, if you play co-op you can damage your teammate. On a positive note, this game has some of the best NES music during the game and even on the pause screen.

#1 Ghosts ‘N Goblins - The great granddaddy of frustration. Not much too say about this one. Do you know anyone that has beat this game? You can only get hit twice! One. Two. You're DEAD! No continues. No mercy. No chance!

Honorable Mentions: Blaster Master, Bionic Commando, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Castlevania Series, Metroid, Castlequest

Did I miss any? I'm sure I did. What games made you want to pull your hair out?


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Raenius Recommends I:
Hit Me With Your Perfect Shot

Hopefully this will be the first installment in a weekly segment I’ll call Raenius Recommends. I will highlight a piece of hardware, software or service that successfully stands out and goes above and beyond. It seems every week we’re bombarded with tons of Shovelware and useless accessories. I will hopefully be able to sort through the wreckage and find the stuff worth spending those hard earned dollars on. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it! These will be kind of "mini-reviews", I will be going over why it’s a must have, what I like about it and what I don’t like about it (nothing’s perfect). I’ll also try to keep things recent. I’m not going to talk about something that came out 15 years ago! So, without further ado…

This week’s recommendation:
Nyko Perfect Shot for Nintendo Wii

PefectionEver since we knew how the Wii controller worked and saw the prototype “light gun” at E3 we were thinking two words: Duck Hunt. Instead, we got a “spin-off” shooter version of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess packaged with a deformed Tommy Gun inspired plastic shell. It serves its purpose, but it’s awkward and clunky and the trigger has bad response time. Then along comes Nyko who says: We can do it better.

And they did. How? The answer is quite simple. They made it look like a gun! I’m not sure what Nintendo was thinking. Probably on their never-ending crusade to shelter children from violence, they forget that’s what kids want. While playing titles like House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return, Ghost Squad and the sleeper hit Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles holding something that looks like a gun and feels like a gun really puts you in the game.

Installation is so much easier than the Wii Zapper. It’s literally plug and play. No snapping locks, sliding panels or wrapping cables. The only downside is I had to remove the battery compartment covers that came with my Nyko Wii Charge Station. Kind of silly not to make it compatible with your own product, but if that’s the worst thing I can find wrong than that’s not too bad. I have three Wii Remotes, so I can leave one permanently in the Perfect Shot. Conveniently, there’s also a port on the bottom of the grip for the nunchuck attachment if you need it. All the games compatible with the Zapper will work with the Perfect Shot.

Gameplay is flawless. The trigger responds perfectly and the other face buttons aren't covered up just incase you need them for a menu or something. It's made very well and yet it isn't heavy enough to make your arm tired. After a few minutes, you really get into it. Most shooter games even have a calibration so you can have the "where-you-point-is-where-you-shoot" or the "Duck Hunt Effect".

If you can’t find any of these gems on the sales floor there’s a good reason. For a rock bottom price of around $15, it’s obvious why it’s sold out everywhere. It’s even sold out on Nyko’s official site. If you can hold out, online stores like Amazon are claiming to be back in stock later this month. I found mine on eBay for a pretty decent price. I’m not usually one to pay more than something than I have to, but this is a must-have accessory for your Nintendo Wii that you will enjoy for years to come. So, whether you’re blasting zombies, crawling through trenches or saving hostages, make sure the Nyko Perfect Shot is your weapon of choice.

Time to break it down!

Performance: Easy installation. Not too heavy and not too light. Accurate response time for trigger. Hours of enjoyment!

Build Quality: So well made the only reason you'll buy another one is for Player 2

Value: Retail price is a steal but buying on eBay could be risky. Look out for fakes!

Overall: Better than the Nintendo Wii Zapper. Buy one if you can find it. You won't be dissapointed!


Thursday, April 3, 2008

SE-GA! Where did you SE-GO!?

Finally, Super Smash Bros. Brawl came out, and the hype has finally started to die down. The game is selling record numbers for Nintendo currently, and its no doubt that the title will become a must have for years to come. Much hype was pumped up into this game, anticipated for more than 3 years and delayed more than once. Amongst the buzz, rumors of certain characters swirled dominantly as names such as Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog were thrown around. When it finally was confirmed that Sonic was a secret character, the internet literally imploded. Super Smash Bros. Brawl easily became a must have classic. That's when it got me to think.

Since when can Sega's former rival Nintendo, get more hype and anticipation out of Sonic than Sega can?

Since I came up with that revelation, I pondered effortlessly everyday to come down to a conclusion. I simply couldn't. I've been trying to answer the question that Sega fans have had for years. What went wrong Sega!? Where have you gone?!

Before I continue on, I want to make this clear that growing I up I always had a spot for Nintendo. I've always been a Nintendo guy. Everybody on my block thought Sega was the coolest system to play, while me and my brother's friend were the only cats who were hooked on the Super Nintendo. Don't get me wrong, I loved Sega Genesis too, but I was always a Nintendo guy and still am till this day.

That being said, I think I can ask the question, what happened Sega!? What happened to the company that came up with the cooler alternative to Mario's hop and bop adventures? What happened to all of those gutsy commercials that claimed that Sega does what Nintendon't? (What happened to all of the cool commercials in general for that matter? That's a different blog for a different day.)

Coming from a Ninty guy, I remember that Sega was able to counter almost everything Nintendo threw at them, sometimes it would just take a little longer. The SNES had Squaresoft (at the time) and their marvelous RPGs they would so often crank out. Sega would pump out their own RPGs in the vein of Phantasy Star and would go on to make four of them.

They even countered Super Mario Kart with some FX Chip style game whose name escapes me at this moment.

For their Donkey Kong Country, Sega had Vectorman. Their version of Mortal Kombat had blood while Nintendo did not. Madden was always popular on the Genesis, and even some say the superior version of Street Fighter II.

So I guess the big (rhetorical) question here is what did Sega do to screw up their half of the video game market? I bet all of you younger gamers out there always assumed that Sega was always a typically mediocre third party developer. And its not your fault for assuming that. With the upcoming release of two new Sonic games that yield a nasty trend of being less than mediocre and the already sub-par Sega Superstar Tennis, its hard for one to think otherwise.

I think its widely known that Sega practically jumped the shark with their excess of ad on attachments for the Sega Genesis (known as the Mega Drive outside the United States). I mean, its quite outlandish to release the 32X within such close range of the Sega Saturn.

But the surprise release of the Sega Saturn during E3?! Really, Sega? Why release a system where NO ONE is prepared to purchase it and no developers have games available for it? That's pretty much the poison tipped nail in the coffin. Except replace the word "coffin" with "heart" and you'll see what I mean. Read on.

Okay, so the Saturn didn't get the success they hoped for. Its alright because Sega had their ace in the hole. They had a second a chance. The Sega Dreamcast was to arrive! The world's first commercial 128-Bit system was to hit shores. Sega would claim their spot as the King of Kings!

At least, that's what they thought, and every diehard fanatic. (Myself included.) For some bizarre reason, the Dreamcast failed to live up to its own hype. Not because of it being inferior. Not because it was a disappointment of colossal proportions. It was a darn good system and it was well ahead of its time. Maybe it was because of all the negative vibe it contracted from the Saturn that floated over. Or perhaps it was the imminent release of the PS2 that changed the mind of the gamer. We've already seen what happens when a system's reputation carries over to the next generation. And the PS1 proved to be a juggernaut. There was no calculating how much damage the PS2 would do to Sega.

The rest is history.

And I also think the theme of this post is quite obvious. Sega had an ego. A gigantic ego. You could see it in their commercials and even the way they did business. Its not a bad thing to flaunt a little pride. Going toe to toe with your greatest rival has got to make your head swell with pride at some point after all, and I think they deserve that acclaim. Little did they know it would cause them to make some of the biggest blunders in gaming history. Those blunders being the reasons I mentioned earlier.

So to answer my own question, where did Sega go? Half of the kind folks who worked for Sega now work elsewhere, and the other half has been merged with Sammy, another company. Sega is practically a shell of its former self. You see them trying to hype a game up, but many remain skeptic. Somewhere, deep in their heart they ask the same question even though they know the answer to it.

Sega? Where did you go? This isn't the same company I remember.

Sadly, they're 50% right.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

2008 Best of April Fools Roundup!

Fooled you!
Sometimes they're obvious. Other times they're not. Every year we fall for them. Maybe it’s because we want to believe. Maybe it’s because we forget what day it is. This year is no different.

So, in no particular order, I present to you a handy dandy list of some of the best game and non-game related April Fools Day pranks! Enjoy!

On a side note, “Still Alive” from the game Portal for Rock Band is available for free! And that’s no joke!

Please Note: Some of these links are time sensitive. I have no control if they are taken down after April 1st!

» Downloadable Content for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and Mario Kart Wii (link)
Probability of Being Real: A new challenger approaches! You wish!

» The Legend of Zelda Movie Trailer (link)
Probability of Being Real: We got some Oscar material right here!

» Wii 2 Development Announcement (link)
Probability of Being Real: I’m sure this is real, but not as described in the article

» New XBOX 360 Accessories Coming this Spring (link)
Probability of Being Real: Definitely real! Bill Gates has no sense of humor!

» City of Heroes Announces Visual Sounds (link)
Probability of Being Real: POW! KABLAM! SMOOSH!

» Grand Theft Auto in Development for Nintendo DS (link)
Probability of Being Real: Can't wait for some Hot Coffee touch controls!

» Guitar Hero & World of Warcraft Collide (link)
Probability of Being Real: Sure, Why not! My level 38 Elf just blew a load!

» World of Warcraft: Molten Core Coming to Consoles (link)
Probability of Being Real: Not sure why this hasn’t happened yet, actually...

» Metal Gear Assassin: Altair's Solid Creed Chronicles (link)
Probability of Being Real: You didn’t think 15 years ago that Mario & Sonic would be in the same game, did you?

» Rock Band Announced for PlayStation Portable (link)
Probability of Being Real: All I can picture is tiny little instrument peripherals. Ha!

» Lego Halo (link)
Probability of Being Real: What next? Lego Condemned!

» EA Buys Take-Two, Presents GTA IV Trailer Five (link)
Probability of Being Real: Will Jackie Chan be a downloadable character?

» Wii Sports for iPhone (link)
Steve Jobs Says: NO!

» Realistic Glitches for Virtual Console Games (link)
Probability of Being Real: Can't wait to tell my girlfriend to blow my Wii!

» XBOX 360 with Built-In Blu-Ray Player (link)
Probability of Being Real: Just what we needed! Another XBOX SKU!

» Guitar Hero Stand Up Bass (link)
Probability of Being Real: Our children will live in a world with only plastic instruments

» Super Pii Pii Brothers (link)
Probability of Being Real: Can you say Shovelware!

Some Good Non-Game Related April Fools

» Google Presents: Gmail Custom Time (link)
Probability of Being Real: Dr. Emmett Brown could invent it!

» Sandals That Hold Your Drink (link)
Probability of Being Real: Good news for all you drunks!

» Google Offers Free Internet with “Dark Porcelain” Project (link)
Probability of Being Real: You could sit on the can and check your email!

» U.S. Mint Discontinues the Penny (link)
Probability of Being Real: A penny for your thoughts?

Well, some of those would be pretty cool if they were real. So try not to get fooled today!