Friday, December 31, 2010

Single Player - The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

  On April 13, 1992 one of the greatest games ever to be released on the SNES, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, went on sale for the first time.  Being a Zelda game most everyone knew what to expect of the series seeing as this was the third installment.  However, no one realized they were about to play a game that would set the standard for action rpg style games for years to come.

  Almost 20 years later this game is still a favorite of gamers in general, not just fans of the Zelda series.  The Gameboy Advance saw a remake in late 2002 and the Wii's Virtual Console was quick to get this game in it's roster as early as January of 2007, two months after the Wii's North American release.  Many popular gaming sites an magazines list A Link to the Past as one of the greatest games of all time, and for five years it reigned at #1 in Nintendo Powers top games list, even though the time of the Nintendo 64.

  So with that a review of the game is out of the question.  It's just simply a masterpiece.  It's easy to play yet deep enough to keep you coming for more.  Every screen has something to do so you are never bored.  The puzzles are challenging without being frustrating.  The dungeons are epic and the bosses at the end a good culmination of what you learned along the way.  The music is awesome even for the 16 bit era and many of the tracks would be used again for future Zelda games.  The story is good too, though if you are familiar with Zelda then you know that the story has just never made sense.

  There comes a time in a series, be it a movie, book, or game series, when everything comes together to create an instant classic and an experience that one want's to relive over and over.  The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was that moment for the Zelda series.  All other Zelda games up to this point have referenced back to this one in one way or another, but none of them really were as flawless in their execution.

  It's not a coincidence that I'm covering this game late in the year.  I used to be a regular tradition for me to play though the game around Christmas time.  With school out for vacation, I had all day to immerse myself into the world of Hyrule and search every nook and cranny for the secrets and treasures.  As I got better I discovered interesting glitches and mastered the minimalist completion of the game (no extra hearts, no bottles, no quest essential items, etc.).  In fact, this is the only game I've ever played to death.  My original SNES cartridge burned out from the use it got.

  I'm not the only one who loved this game either.  That's why music from the game appears in Super Smash Bros.: Brawl and Link made a cameo appearance in so many other games.  This is also why someone remade Hyrule from A Link to the Past in Minecraft.  Everyone loves this game.

  I can't recommend this game enough.  If you only play one Zelda game ever, then this should be the one you play.  I don't care if you've never even played a video game before.  A Link to the Past is where you should start.  This is truly one of very few games that just gets better with age.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Random Encounter - GoldenEye 007 (Wii)

 GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64 was, and is, one of my favorite games.  I have lots of fond memories of blasting down baddies or having throwing knife battles to the death with friends.  I even look fondly on all the time I wasted in vain to unlock cheats like Invincibility or Invisibility.  I love that game and would go back and play it any day if I had a working N64.

 With that in mind I was allured by the "remake" for the Wii.  Initially I was confused by the choice to put Daniel Craig in as Bond in what was a Pierce Brosnan film, but I just shrugged and went with it because I like Craig's version of Bond a lot anyway, and I was in it more for the gameplay than the story.

 Did you notice how I quoted remake in the last paragraph, as if to say I'm using that term lightly?  Well, that's because I am!  To say that GoldenEye 007 for the Wii is a remake of the classic on the N64 is a blatant lie.  It doesn't even try to follow the movie!  Remember when 006 and 007 have a high speed truck chase at the dam?  Remember when the EMP hardened helicopter blows the frigate to hell with Bond still inside in Dubai?  (In the movie, the helicopter was stolen off of a frigate in Monte Carlo, and it didn't shoot at anyone.)

 What about that gameplay?  It's friggin' aweful!  On my first try, on the easiest setting, I failed the training mission.  From then on I toughed it out mission after mission, battling not against the enemies, but against the hideous controls.  It shouldn't not be so hard in a first person shooter to just shoot a guy, but in GoldenEye for the Wii it certainly is.  I fidgeted around with the control setting for a half hour, and tried the classic controller pro and the Wii Remote + Nun-chuck and nothing helped.  I played past the frigate mission, doing my best to try and give this game a fair chance, and I found myself no longer wanting to play.  And I haven't.

 My game was the special edition that came with the golden classic controller.  I'm not even a big fan of that thing either.  It's not as comfortable as it should be, and personally I still like the look and feel of the old classic controller.

 So what anything good about this game?  Yes.  I really liked the finale to the first Dam mission where they do a full on Bond-esque intro sequence.  While it wasn't the one from the movie, it had the perfect look and feel for the game it was associated with.  On top of that, the artist they brought in to perform Tina Turner's GoldenEye sounded just like her (though at the time of this post I can't think of her name, and can't be bothered to fire it up to find out.).

 All in all, if you are craving 007 from back in the day, do yourself a favor and just play that one.  I regret buying my game, and I'll certainly be more cautious in the future whenever someone slaps the word "remake" on anything.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Single Player - Yume Koujou Doki Doki Panic

 In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. I thought it might be fitting to discuss one of the biggest oddities to ever exist in the main series.  Mario has had a long, long career of stomping and jumping, but for this one we're going to have to go way back to the beginning of his "Super" days.

 The iconic series began in September of 1985 and immediately became the stuff of legends.  Players were entranced by the faster paced gameplay and scrolling screens.  For the time, the levels were huge and the challenge was solid.  In fact, by most standards, the original Super Mario Bros. remains one of the most difficult games in the series.

 Naturally Nintendo planned to capitalize on the success of this game by creating a sequel and getting it out into stores as quickly as possible.  Less than a year later players were scampering through the Mushroom Kingdom again in Super Mario Bros. 2.  At least, Japanese players were.

 Now your thinking, "I've played Super Mario Bros. 2 and it looked nothing like that!"  Your right, you did play it.  Two years after Mario's sequel released in Japan the American counterpart debuted.  However, the game we received was radically different.  Instead of King Koopa and his Goomba minions we faced the frog-like Wart and his hoard of Shy Guys.  Fire Flowers were no where to be found, replaced instead with vegetables to defeat foes with.  Americans also had the luxury of playing Mario, Luigi, Toad, or the Princess herself, though there was no two player option.  Fans ate it up.

Super Mario Bros 2 was released in the U.S. in September of 1988, but the next month in Japan Super Mario Bros. 3 released, being joined two years later in 1990 by the American version.  This game was more or less identical on both sides of the ocean, and it stands as arguably the greatest title in the series.  It set the precedent for both platforming games as well as quality in a title for generations to come.

 The American version of Super Mario Bros 2 did appear in Japan finally in September of 1992, four years after it released in America.  This however wasn't the first time Japanese gamers played this game, though it was the first time they played it as a Mario title.  So, what in the world were they playing?

 Say hello to Yume Koujou Doki Doki Panic.

 If you want to play this game today, you'll need to either own a Famicom Disk System and the floppy disk of the game, or have an emulator that supports the Famicom BIOS and a rom of the game (the later being the most likely way).  One you start playing you begin to realize that we really got the better end of the deal with this game.  While most of the differences between this game and Super Mario Bros. 2 are graphical, there are two main game play elements that drastically altar the playability we need to discuss.

 The first one is that once you've selected a character in Doki Doki Panic, you must play through all the levels in a World before you can change.  That means if you choose Imajin (Mario styled character) for 1-1, then you must also use him for 1-2 and 1-3 before you can chose another character.  That said, only that character would have that amount of progress.  If you played to 2-1 as Imajin then wanted to play as Lina (Peach styled character) you must begin with her in 1-1.  In order to properly beat this game, you must play every level with every character.  Most of us Americans did that already in Super Mario Bros. 2 and it wasn't so bad, right?  That brings me to the second and biggest problem with Doki Doki Panic...

 Go pick up Super Mario Bros. 2 right now and play the game, but DO NOT use the run button (B).  Now play through every level like that.  For all intents and purposes you are play Doki Doki Panic now.  No character in the game can run!  Once easy jumps here in the States suddenly become nightmarish chasms of which there is no escape!  I'll be honest in saying I only cleared the game with Imajin, and that was a frustrating experience.  

 Other than the interesting novelty of it, I wouldn't recommend this game to any but the hardest core gamers (playing without the aid of save states anyway).  This was not a fun game to play, and not to spoil the ending for you, but it's not rewarding either.  I was always curious about this game, and now that is satisfied.  Time to move on!

 So what is it then that made the U.S. game so fun?  Quite simply, Nintendo and Mario.  Mario games have always been around, and no matter the style of gamer you are everyone loves Mario.  There are few series still around today that can gather people together like Mario can, and not even in platformers.  From soccer to golf to board games to kart racing, where ever Mario can be found so will thousands and thousands of eager gamers.  If video gaming ever had a sole mascot that defined it to the world, it simply is Mario.

 While Yume Koujou Doki Doki Panic isn't seeminly available anywhere except the Famicom Disk System and emulators, the classic Mario games have made many, many appearances on lots of consoles.  The original Super Mario Bros 1-3 as well as Japan's Super Mario Bros. 2 are all available on the Wii's Virtual Console.  In December of 2010 Nintendo will rerelease Super Mario All Stars as a special edition disk for the 25th Anniversary.  Whichever way you can, definitely do yourself a huge favor and give the plumber 15 minutes out of your day today.  I promise you'll have fun!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Glitches - Super Mario World: Block Duplication

  Whoa, seriously?  There's another Super Mario World glitch?  Yup, and this one is pretty neat!  If mastered this glitch can actually be used in every level and on any block, but for example I performed the glitch at Donut Plains 4.

  All you need to execute this glitch is the cape powerup and something you can throw at a block to activate it, like a Koopa shell, Goomba, or even a P-Switch.  Stand under the block but off to the left side, then jump upwards.  As you jump hold up and kick the object in your hands upward while using your cape twirl to hit the block.  If performed at the right angle and the right time, you will create a new block!
  This trick is easiest to perform on yellow flipping blocks or random item blocks as you can hit them multiple times, but I have done this on any block you can hit at least once.  Try it everywhere and see what kind of results you can get!
  Note:  Results can vary.  If a new block is generated it can be placed in an unexpected location.  Usually it's one space to the left or above the initial block, but other times it can appear diagonally, below, or a whole block away.  Sometimes two new blocks appear as well.  It's also possible that the new blocks will appear in a way that squishes Mario as if scrolled off a screen, so don't be surprised if you die a time or  two.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Glitches - Super Mario World: Wiggler Overflow

  I was discussing Super Mario world a couple days ago with my best friend and was talking about this neat trick where you use Wigglers to create a buffer overflow in the points/1ups awarded for repetitive bounces.  She had never heard of it, and I figured it was certainly worth showing off.  Therefor, this particular glitch video is dedicated to her!

  The key to this glitch is to scroll one Wiggler off screen after you stomp it so it will respawn as a normal, happy, yellow Wiggler.  Use the other enemies to increase the number of bounces as well as keep you off the ground as you maneuver back and forth between the Wigglers.  Using this trick you can actually discover the max amount of points one can achieve in the game (aside from number of lives)!
  Note:  Keep track of the points and coins as the video goes on.  You will notice as the number of enemies stomped increases the jumps in the values also increases.  

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Single Player - Batman (NES)

  Tim Burton's Batman was released to theaters in June of 1989, and almost immediately became a box office hit. As a result all kinds of tie-ins began to crop up, like toys and cartoons, to keep kids hooked on the newly budded movie franchise.
  The late 80's also was the prime of the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Naturally, marketing turned to this medium to further the tie-ins to the popular movie and licensed out to software developer Sunsoft, who you may know from such games as Fester's Quest (NES) and Blaster Master (Various Systems) as well as the GameBoy Final Fantasy titles (in conjunction with Square).
  One common reality when it comes to movie licensed games is that they are usually terrible and most comic based games suffer this fate as well. That said, Batman for the NES is a great game. It's one of the few occasions where gameplay took priority over plot or gimmicks. This is an example of what made a great game back in the old days and one of the reasons Sunsoft was a software development powerhouse in early gaming.

  It plays as a standard side-scroller with you in control of Batman. The goal is to traverse each stage, defeating enemies and avoiding hazards as you go, ending each stage in a boss battle. If you have ever played games like Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden then you'll feel familiar with the gameplay in Batman. After gaining an ammo powerup you have access to three weapons, the boomerang, the rocket gun, and the dirk with each weapon taking 1, 2, or 3 ammo respectively. Batman also has a health bar that depletes when attacked or harmed by hazards. You start with three lives and are provided with two continues to complete the five stages in the game, and you will definitely use your continues.

  The challenge is hard in this game.  Enemies get gradually stronger as the game goes on, and many times you are faced with difficult wall jumps that require pre-planning.  On top of that the boss battles become absurdly difficult starting in the third level and if you make it to the Joker you will likely never win, or have the resources to even harm him.  Life can be farmed at points with the help of dispenser enemies that drop drones regularly so you can punch them, but health doesn't last long and you'll find yourself with a blinking life gauge more often than not.

  Another problem with this game is that your ammo runs out fast when using the rocket gun or the dirk in boss battles, leaving you with no option but to try and defeat the enemy with your fists alone.  Items will not appear during the battle either, and if you die you start the fight over with whatever ammo you have left.  As a result, it's very likely you will completely exhaust all of your ammo and be left with no choice but to try and defeat the boss with your fists alone.  This puts you deeper into harm's way, and usually results in you using one of your limited continues.

  Batman isn't all bad though.  In actuality it's an amazing game for it's age as it comes with a stellar soundtrack and cinema scenes to get you into playing as the Dark Knight.  You have good control for the platforming and there are no jumps that are too out of the question.  In fairness the only real problem with this game is the lack of infinite continues.  If you could always continue again from the beginning of your current stage after you run out of lives, this game would suddenly become very beatable.  As it stands though it's a grueling task to even make it to the last level, and the Joker is almost impossible to bring down.  I've never done it, and I don't think I ever will as long as I live.
   This game isn't for everyone though.  Casual gamers may want to skip this due to it's difficulty.  Hardcore gamers though will find this title very engaging and a considerable challenge to beat, and I very much recommend it as it's one of my favorite NES games.  It's only available if you have an NES console and a cartridge copy of the game and it's unlikely it will ever turn up on the Wii's Virtual Console due to being a movie license.  However, if you are a collector and are up to the challenge, seek this one out!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Versus - Soulcalibur III and Soulcalibur IV Part 2

  Almost a full three years after the Soul series's third installment, Soulcalibur IV debuted in North America in 2008, once again predating foreign releases.  It was released to the PS3 and XBox 360, which made it the first game to feature online play, as well as HD graphics.

  The story is that after the clash between Siegfried and Nightmare in the Lost Cathedral, each with their soul sword, they released the old Hero King Algol who was sealed inside Soul Calibur.  Algol is thought to be one of the first wielders of Soul Edge, but one of the only individuals who had a stronger will than the cursed sword and thusly used it for good.  Algol's son however wasn't as strong and claimed Soul Edge for himself, turning on his father in the process.  Algol wrestled away the evil blade, but in doing so killed his son.  Knowing Soul Edge's nature and with regret in his heart, the Hero King sacrificed himself, his son's body, and a piece of the broken Soul Edge and turned into the crystalline Soul Calibur.

  Meanwhile Siegfried and Nightmare each own a fully powered soul sword now and are poised to do savage battle once again at the location of Algol's newly resurrected tower called... um... The Tower of Remembrance... and that's the entire premise of this story.  This is also one of the first failings of this game.  The story is weak.  Soulcalibur III offers the entire premise of it's story via an adventure mode for each character.  Even it's intro FMV gives you a good sense of the world as it stands in the eternal battle of souls and swords.
  That brings me to the second failing.  Soulcalibur IV has no FMV sequences at all.  All sequences are done with in game graphics, and while they look good, they aren't that good.  Soulcalibur II and Soulcalibur III had awesome FMV sequences that really set the mood and pace.  Even Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny had a FMV opening, and that was a PSP game.

  I think I've beat around the bush long enough.  Let's talk about something that really annoyed me about this game.  More or less, Soulcalibur IV was just a big advertisement for Star Wars: The Force Unleashed which was coming out later that year for pretty much any kind of device that would play a game.  For the PS3 version Darth Vader his Apprentice (Starkiller) were playable out of the box while the XBox 360 replaced Vader with Yoda, though your version's missing character could be purchased as downloadable content.

  Now I don't necessarily mind guest characters.  Link was awesome in Soulcalibur II, and Kratos is a neat addition for Broken Destiny.  That's because they look like they fit.  Now look at that picture above.  Yoda does not belong here.  Worse yet, there are a few battle areas on the Death Star.  Imagine characters from the late 16th century doing battle in space station with laser gates and space docks (even if all of these things are from a long time ago and far, far away).
  One important thing about any game is that it's immersive.  Let's imagine Super Mario Bros. for example.  What if there was a special cross over with Lord of the Rings that had Mario stomping on Ringwraiths, kicking palantirs, and dodging flaming arrows as you struggle with the burden of carrying the One Ring to Mordor.  There after you're back in the Mushroom Kingdom and solely concerned with Bowser and his antics again.  Absurd, I know.  Soulcalibur IV is equally absurd.
  The gameplay options are equally weak, featuring a simplified Story Mode which isn't much past Arcade Mode aside from little cutscenes between battles.  There is also Tower of Lost Souls which you can either ascend for special battle situations to overcome, or descend for a more classic survival mode.
  Character creation returns, but brings along new elements that served to ruin the experience.  Armor and weapons now have stats similarly to an RPG that affect attack, defense, and life bar.  Generally, you won't be able to make a character look the way you want and have decent stats at the same time.  On top of that, in battles your equipment can be broken, which more often than not leaves you with warriors running around in their underwear.
  Thankfully Soulcalibur IV is just as easy to pick up and play as it's predecessors, which for me is always a big plus.  That's not to say that the gameplay is identical though.  There is one new gameplay aspect that completely ruins the battles, especially between skilled opponents: Soul Crush and Critical Finishes.  As you defend attacks you lose soul energy until it eventually depletes putting you into Soul Crush.  If your opponent hits his horizontal, vertical, kick, and guard buttons at the same time when you are in Soul Crush, he get's to execute a Critical Finish which will instantly kill you.  It does not matter how much health you have, you lose the round instantly and move on to the next.  It's cheap and unfair and feels like a Mortal Kombat idea more than a Soulcalibur idea.

  That said, there are good things about this game that are very much worth mentioning.  Graphically it's stunning.  Levels are gorgeous to look at and characters are very smooth and natural looking.  Metal looks like metal and cloth looks like cloth, water looks very fluid, and backgrounds look naturally out of focus.
  Some battle situations allow for you to chose two characters and switch between them on the fly in a tag battle sense which is very fun, but sadly unused in any versus situation.  The feature is absent for Broken Destiny which is sad as with a little refining it could make for a unique battle mechanic for both offline and online play.
  Lastly the music is still wonderful.  Soulcalibur games have always been known for having a robust orchestrated soundtrack, and  IV is no different.  And fans of the series from the Dreamcast days can download the original Soulcalibur soundtrack for Soulcalibur IV.  The only time the music fails to keep you in the theme of the game is on the Star Wars levels, and we don't need to get into that again.
  Between weak story, bad tie-ins, empty gameplay, crappy character creation, and striptease combat, Soulcalibur IV left a lot to be desired, especially after the experience that Soulcalibur III provided.  The bar was set high and IV feel way short.  It's not even at II's level though I would put it on par with the original and above Soul Blade.   It speaks volumes when many of these complaints were fixed for Broken Destiny.
  Recently it's been more or less confirmed that Namco-Bandai's Project Soul team is working on what will likely be Soulcalibur V.  It's my hope that they're learning from the mistakes they've made, and remembering what made the series great to begin with.  It's about the gameplay and the experience.  It's about being able to immerse yourself into a world where the Spirit Sword and the Cursed Sword are locked in a struggle that calls forth fighters from all over the world.  Hopefully the next Soulcalibur will remind us why the tale of souls and swords will be eternally retold.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Versus - Soulcalibur III and Soulcalibur IV Part 1

  Originally I was going to conclude my Soulcalibur reviews by talking about Soulcalibur III alone.  Of all the games in the series it's by far my favorite, and that's a huge accomplishment after how much time I put into Soulcalibur II.  However as I began to work out what I would say about the game I found myself frequently comparing it to it's successor Soulcalibur IV.  The two games are very similar in gameplay, but the differences between the two are really the case study for what future Soulcalibur games need to focus on.  So lets get started with the best of the series, Soulcalibur III!

  This installment of the Soul series debuted in North America in October of 2005, and did so strangely before it's Japanese release.  The arcade version wouldn't appear until the following year, and the game would only appear for the PS2, unlike Soulcalibur II which saw a version on all major home consoles.  Also unlike II, III would not have any special guest characters from other franchises.  No Link of Zelda fame, nor Todd McFarlane's Spawn or Necrid.  Not even Namco's own Heihachi Mishima would make an appearance.  At the time I thought this was disappointing, now I think it's definitely a plus.

  This game would reintroduce the character of Siegfried as a default playable with a unique move set, which hasn't been the case since Soul Blade where he clamed Soul Edge for himself and thus became Nightmare for Soulcalibur and Soulcalibur II.  III also had Nightmare as a default playable, but a new Nightmare that series fans were unfamiliar with.  
  Also new to the series was Tira, Setsuka, and Zasalamel.  Each of these characters were solid additions that improved upon the depth of the battle system as well as the roster of characters.
  The storyline to this game was actually really good, especially for a Namco fighting game.  Players were finally treated to a serious throw-down between Soul Edge and Soul Calibur in a battle between Siegfried and Nightmare.  The story could be experienced by playing the Tales of Souls mode that took the chosen character on a journey across Europe and Asia in pursuit of their own ambitions.  It played out in a level by level manor with the occasional option to choose a path or stop and face special bonus opponents who may be unlocked if you defeat them.
  The biggest and most welcome addition to this game is the character creation mode Create A Soul.  For the first time players could actually build their own custom character out of parts purchased with gold won from other modes or earned via achievements.  The level of customization was fairly extensive with hundreds of parts available at the start and hundreds more unlocked through play.
  Finally there was an additional mode called Chronicles of the Sword which told an alternate story about Soul Edge based in a fictional land thrust into war.  A special custom character of your own making was the main character and the game involves moving characters around a map and attacking strongholds and other characters in either a rock-paper-scissors battle or you could choose to face the opponent in a standard Soulcalibur battle.
  However you play this game it's a huge undertaking that will keep you involved for weeks.  Between leveling up your custom characters to learn new disciplines or job classes or earning enough gold for new weapons and equipment, Soulcalibur III had a lot to offer for play value and enjoyable experiences.
  There really were only two flaws with this game.  The first was that getting new disciplines for your character could take entirely too long, and there was no way of knowing if the job class you picked would level up to have the Soul discipline of the character you desired.  As a Siegfried fan, I'd have to struggle along and play 600+ battles with other characters just to unlock the Knight job class, then likely 50+ more to level up to Soul of Siegfried style.  This is easy enough for people who have friends to play with in versus mode, but for single player it's way too time consuming.
  The other problem was that the save file could corrupt on you if you deleted or moved other files on the memory card your SC III file was on.  Usually this resulted in losing your Chronicle of the Sword data while leaving the rest of the save data alone, but for a few players it ruined the entire save, and even their memory cards.  A major flaw to be sure, but unintended and with proper precautions avoidable all together.
  That said, Soulcalibur III proved itself to be a great game and any fan of fighting games can have a great time with this installment.  Fighting games don't normally have a great deal of depth, which makes it stand out all the more.  I still recommend this game, even with it being five years old.  Unfortunately, it's only playable on the PS2 or early PS3 models if you have the game disk.
  That's it for part 1 of this versus match up.  Next time we'll take a look at Soulcalibur IV and see how the PS3/XBox 360 chapter in the Soul series managed to turn to the dark side.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Random Encounter - Soul Blade

  In 1996 Namco released Soul Edge, the very first in the now extremely popular Soul series (known more popularly as Soulcalibur) to arcades across Japan and North America.  This had come after the successes of Tekken and Tekken 2, and in many respects the two series's have a lot of things in common, though Soul Edge was much closer to Tekken than any of the Soulcalibur games.
  Naturally it would also follow Tekken to the home console PlayStation in 1997 where it would receive a solid update with more modes, more music options, and new (hidden) characters.  Renamed Soul Blade, it quickly became the favorite weapon-based fighting game and among some of the most popular fighters in general.
  For it's time it was an amazing game.  However, it has not aged well at all and isn't much of an enjoyable experience anymore.  True fans of the Soul series should certainly take a look, but new fans looking to experience the roots of current entries like IV and Broken Destiny should only look back as far as Soulcalibur on the Dreamcast.
  Soul Blade currently can only be played with the original disk for Playstation.  It has not made a debut on any current generation console shops (PS3 or XBox 360).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Single Player - Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny

  Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a huge fan of the Soulcalibur series of games from Namco.  Just have a look at my Tekken review and you'll see I talk about it all the time!  In fact, it's my favorite fighting game series, with Super Smash Bros. coming in a close second (if that counts as a fighting game and not a party game).
  That said, you'd also know that while I loved Soulcalibur III, IV made me want to hurt people and do bad things to my PlayStation.  III was a massive experience marred only by the really glitchy nature of the save data that might have you starting all over (which I almost experienced...).  IV was marred by about everything that was included in the game.  Weak story, weak content, unacceptable guest characters, boring game modes, annoying character creation rules, and instant kill attacks made this the worst entry in the series, period.
  That was exactly what I had in mind when I downloaded Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny for my PSP Go.  I was expecting to have wasted $40 bucks on another crappy game that wouldn't hold my interest longer than a day or two.  I was wrong, and grateful I was.
  Now this is a portable game, so I don't expect high end graphics or massive amounts of content.  There still is no fun Edge Master mode wanna-be in this game, just a lame mode called "The Gauntlet" that has you doing exactly what your told to do in battle.  Think of it as an enhanced training mode where you have a situation you need to work your way out of, like should you guard, or go for a quick hit?  You have hardly any time to decide, but you have the option to try over and over, and you are given hints after each defeat so with patience you can pull through.
  There is no story mode, just a quick battle game where you pick opponents to fight, then fight them, and rinse and repeat.  There is also a mode called "Trials" where you battle in an arcade like setting going for a high score based on either attacking or defending well, or a classic survival mode for a test of your total skill.
  Character creation returns in the same fashion as in Soulcalibur IV, but without any bonus elements to your equipment.  This means you can actually make a character that looks the way you want without being handicapped by poor equipment stats.  This is a huge plus, making it even better than the Create-a-Soul mode from III.  The extra styles present in III are still no where to be found, which is still a loss in my opinion.  Being forced to only pick from the default character stable as your move set limits creativity.  It's still awkward for a dark, evil looking knight to be provocative like Ivy.
  Equipment breaking still occurs, but this time it doesn't happen so quickly.  This is also a big improvement as it was laughable to have your awesome warrior busted down to his boxers in seconds flat (Did this turn into Ghosts 'n Goblins...?).  Soul Crush is also still in the game, but can only be invoked after an opponent has guarded a number of attacks.  It's easier to perform now as well, but there never seems to be a need to use it.  By the time your opponent is that beat down, they're usually out of life or out of the ring.  It's a part of the game that needs to go.
  Fortunately controlling the characters is exactly as it has been for several games now.  Only small rebalances have been introduced to allow for the new character Dampierre and guest character Kratos of God of War fame to fit in.  Graphically it's on par with Soulcalibur III and looks great on a small screen.  It's very comfortable to get into, and you'll be pulling off all your old tricks with your favorite character in no time.
  All in all, Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny is a solid portable fighter, but I don't feel it was worth $40.  Still it is fun, and for die hard fans it's a great way to experience the eternal tale of souls and swords away from home.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Top 5 - Best Zelda Moments

The Legend of Zelda is an all time favorite series of mine.  I can't ever seem to get enough of adventuring through Hyrule, stabbing baddies and finding treasures.  Naturally I have some very fond memories of the games and so decided to create a list of five things I really loved from my time with the games.  Take note this is just pertaining to the games that appeared on a console.  There are so many Zelda games out there and I haven't even come close to playing them all.

#5 - The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES) - Finding the Golden Sword.

This seems to be something everyone knew about, but I had played and beaten the game hundreds of times before I ever discovered it.  In the Dark World there is a fairy fountain on the side of the Pyramid of Power that can be blasted open with a super bomb.  This is the place where you get the Silver Arrows you need to whoop Ganon's piggy butt.  I had never, ever considered throwing in the Lv.3 Tempered Sword as well to see what the fairy would do about it.  Sure, I knew all about the Magic Boomerang and the Red Shield that you can receive from the fairy fountain just outside Zora's Domain in the Light World.  Why didn't it ever occured to me that you might get two new items from the Dark World fairy as well?

One day it DID occur to me, and I was rewarded with the Lv.4 Golden Sword.  Whoa nelly this is a beast of a weapon.  Most everything dies in a few hits and even Ganon doesn't hold up long under it's awesome power.  It immediately validated another playthrough so I could try and obtain this sword as early on in the  quest as I could (Which is after Dungeon 6 unless you perform one of those nifty walk through walls tricks... but we'll talk about that another time).

#4 - The Legend of Zelda (NES) - Actually Beating the Game.

The first Zelda game was by far one of the hardest games I've ever played, though it always made you want more.  However, my first experience with this game wasn't my own, but my brother's.  As a kid I watched him battle his way through the monster hordes, conquering dungeon after dungeon, and grow more powerful with every new item obtained.  Then he found Dungeon 9 which was the lair of Ganon himself, a maze that took you through room after room of the hardest enemies.  Time and time again he ventured in only to be defeated before he could find the secret path that would put him face to face with the Dark Lord himself.  In the end he never figured it out and the game was left to legend in and of itself.

Many years later I was going through a heavy Zelda phase and decided to have a go at the classic.  I started in the morning, working my way through the dungeons and eventually found myself at the door to Dungeon 9.  I prepared myself with full supplies of bombs and potions, and launched a determined offensive.  Several times the dungeon spit me back out to lick my wounds and buy more gear before taking another crack at it.  Then, after hours of struggling, I finally uncovered the hidden path.  I was nervous as I ventured into territory I'd never seen before.  There he was, Ganon... and then he vanished!  Holy crap, he's invisible?!  I ran all around the room trying to dodge fireballs, all the while trying to devise a strategy against him.  Finally I began to work out a method of attack.  Run toward the fireballs and stab at the area it came from.  Once I had worked out the timing he was easy to beat and soon turned to a pile of ash.

From there I proceeded onto the room with Zelda in it, and made my way past the fire (which I never knew you could kill with your sword...) and finally finished the game, only to discover the second quest which I have never even come close to beating.

#3 - The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube) - Discovering Hyrule

The Wind Waker puts Link on the Great Sea, a vast ocean only dotted with a few islands.  As you travel around this ocean you discover that it has very little to do with the Hyrule you remember from Ocarina of Time (The Wind Waker is around one hundred years after Ocarina of Time, storyline wise).  While there are two villages to see in this game, neither of them are Kakariko, though Windfall Island has a variation on the Kakariko musical theme.  So, where in the world is Hyrule?  Does this game have nothing to do with the legendary land we've quested upon so many times?

Your first hint comes when you meet the Great Deku Tree.  It knows ancient Hylian and mistakes you for the Hero of Time.  Hmm... only the Deku Sprout could know of the Hero of Time, and yet this is a massive tree inside another tree...?  Next you meet Jabun, which you might say is Lord Jabu-Jabu from Ocarina of Time (or as you might call him, the "fish dungeon").  He too knows ancient Hylian and has a brief conversation with your boat in it (yup, the boat talks).  The shoe finally drops after you finish the Tower of the Gods and unlock the path to the power to repel evil.  Outside the Tower appears a ring in the water, into which Link and the boat sink.

Turns out Hyrule is actually underwater!  Not underwater though in a sense that it's all flooded however, but in the sense that it exists as it was sealed underwater.  That means the Great Sea has a bubble inside it that contains all of Hyrule.  You descend into a castle courtyard and locate the Master Sword, and return color to the world below (black and white means frozen, you know).  You're treated to a muted version of the Hyrule Castle music, which hasn't been heard since A Link to the Past, and honestly this was a huge nostalgia moment for me and one I'll always remember.

#2 - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64) - The Forest Temple

Holy crap, your a freakin' adult now!  You've got this sweet new Master Sword to whoop up things with, and a shield that not only can block decently but doesn't burn up when fire is applied.  Life is good, right?  Wrong!  You've been missing from Hyrule for seven years and while you were napping in the Sacred Realm Gannondorf had his way with the Triforce of Power and has turned Hyrule into a wasteland of monsters.  The castle town is trashed, ghosts are everywhere, Lon Lon Ranch is run by Ingo, Zora's are frozen, Gorons are about to be dragon food, the Kokiri are monster besieged, and generally everything sucks!  On top of this you can't use most of the items you had as a kid, including your newly acquired boomerang.  That means you are more or less starting over.  So what can you do about it?

After gaining the hookshot from Dampe's ghost (yeah, he's dead also... good job) you have to begin the process of actually doing something about Hyrule's sad state.  This begins with the Forest Temple, which is my favorite Temple of any Zelda to date.  This Temple is also infested with ghosts, and has a very haunted feel to it.  Everything is dark and foggy, the design is reminiscent of haunted woods overgrowing a haunted castle, and it even has a couple corridors that twist, which messes with your directional perception.  What sells it though is the music.  Right from the start the music sets a mystical and enchanting tone to the whole dungeon and gives you the feeling that you really are someplace special and unique, untouched and forgotten by the world.

The boss battle too is quite fun as it's Phantom Ganon and fighting him in his second form is like a 3D version of Agahnim from A Link to the Past.  I was sad to actually finish the dungeon, but excited to see what else the adult side dungeons had in store for me.  Sadly, not a single dungeon came close to the look and feel of The Forest Temple in Ocarina of Time, let alone any other Zelda yet.  (Temple of Time in Twilight Princess was close though, trust me.)

#1 - The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (GameCube/Wii) - Horseback Battles

One of the things that was missing from Ocarina of Time was a reason for the horse to even exist.  There was so much potential in having Link riding around Hyrule with his trusty steed.  The only weapon you could even use from Epona's back was the Fairy Bow, and while shooting arrows while moving was a good challenge, why was having Link stab things from horseback such a problem?  In fact, you can easily finish everything there is to do in Ocarina of Time without even bothering with the horse, save maybe getting the Biggoron Sword, which you don't need either.

The Wind Waker didn't even have a horse in it whatsoever, giving you a boat to ride about instead.  That makes sense, as the world is an ocean.  It would be silly to have Link riding the back of a horse as it struggled to paddle from isle to isle.  While on your boat you had access to different items like your boomerang and your hookshot, as well as boat specific things like bombs becoming a cannon.  Fighting from the boat was actually a neat and fun experience given these options.  

Why then would a horse be a problem when no one had ever considered Link in "boat-back" battles?  People used to fight from horses all the time and did so with more than a bow.  Why couldn't Link use his hookshot, or Deku Nuts, or jeez, I don't know... his sword?!  (I know in version 1.0 games usually meaning the gold cartridge games you could enact a glitch where you could actually use items from Epona, so it was all there all be it glitchy as crap)  Even Majora's Mask didn't allow for much activity on horseback, though having Epona was actually needed to get to certain locations in that game.

Imagine my delight then when I first played Twilight Princess.  Epona is introduced to you early on in the game, and while you only really have a wooden sword you can use it from your horse!  Finally!  Then you lose your horse, and most everything else and have to struggle along as a wolf for a bit.  Once you clean the twilight from Eldin Province you are reunited with Epona, this time with gear you can use and a large field of enemies to use it on.  Everything works great, and it's very satisfying to finally get to do all the things you wanted to do in Ocarina of Time.  After messing around you eventually proceed on with the story, where little do you know you are about to be treated to a real horseback battle.

After returning to Kakariko you discover the kids are in mid peril thanks to a bunch of Bokoblins on hog monsters.  You chase them out into the open expanse of Hyrule Field and engage them in battle from Epona's saddle!  You are chasing one target in particular, but all the while you are being mobbed by Bokoblins on hogs who are shooting arrows at you and swinging their clubs.  In return you can retaliate with sword swings to the left or right, or go for the spin attack and clear out everyone.  Once you do enough damage to the Bokoblin King you are chasing he dashes onto the Bridge of Eldin, Link staying in hot persuit.  It's here you engage in a straight on joust with the monster and it's one of the coolest things I've ever seen in a Zelda.

Later in the game you'll also defend a carriage while on Epona and at the end engage in battle with Gannondorf himself.  That battle is unique as Zelda is riding with you trying to tag Gannondorf with Light Arrows so you can stab him with the Master Sword.  Basically everything you wanted to have happen in Ocarina of Time finally comes to bear in Twilight Princess, and it has a huge effect on the game and the intensity of the story.

There are many other wonderful memories from the games as well.  No doubt everyone has their own favorite Zelda moments, and I could sit here for hours going on about each and every single fun experience the games have left me with.  I just wanted to highlight five of them though as the one's I really remember and would site as reasons why the games are worth playing.  Memories that anyone who played the game would certainly enjoy and share.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Single Player - Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country was released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994.  It's your standard platform game, pitting you against enemies and levels you must run, jump, swim, and roll through in order to complete the quest.  It is in no way difficult to learn, and as it was actually a pack in title late in the SNES's life, it had exposure along the same lines as Mario games.  The game quickly turned into a series, spawning two direct sequels and a plethora of other games based on the characters and world.

For this review, we're only going to talk about the first game.  Compared to it's two sequels, it's fairly easy to complete.  The premise is that you play as Donkey Kong and fight aganst the Kremlings and their leader King K. Rool for control of your banana horde which the Kremlings stole for some reason.  To help you in your endeavors is your side kick Diddy Kong, whom you may play as at anytime.  Other Kongs exist too like Funky Kong who will allow you to return to areas you've previously beaten, Candy Kong who lets you save your game, and old ape Cranky Kong who turns out is the original Donkey Kong from Mario's early days (you know, when Mario was known as "Jump Man".  Sounds like a Mega Man Robot Master to me.)

The levels are diverse, ranging from jungles and forests to snowy mountains and damp caves.  Frequently you'll find that you are required to make jumps with special timing, or leap from swinging ropes.  Then there are times when you need to jump into barrels which blast you like cannons around the screen, some of which are automatic in nature.  Tree Top Town in the third area is an example of this, and where I struggled a lot back in my younger days.  Swimming levels also exist as do locations where you have to navigate moving platforms.

While you are struggling to just get to the next safe piece of land you are hounded by enemies that want to end your quest short of your banana bounty.  On top of this you have no power ups like Mario enjoys.  How do you contend with all these hazards?  Well since Donkey and Diddy operate as a team, you have the ability to assume control of whichever is following along should the one you are controlling take a hit.  In essence it's as if you have two hits (barring plummeting into pits, mind you) so you don't just lose immediately.  You can also find boxes that contain animal helpers you can usually ride.  There's Rambi the rhino who is perfect for smashing through any enemy you encounter, then there Expresso the ostrich who runs fast and can flap his wings to lengthen his jumps.  That's not to leave out Winky the frog who can jump high and bounce on enemies the Kongs normally couldn't touch.  Then we have Enguarde the swordfish who makes swimming levels easy to finish with his ramming abilities and superior navigation.  Squawks the parrot is also in this game, but all he does is hold a light in one level, which is lame when compared to his ability to fly the Kongs around and shoot eggs at baddies in later games.

There are plenty of secrets to be found in this game, making it a worthy challenge for !00% completionists.  It's also a fun game to play with a friend, as it offers two types of co-op play.  The music is just awesome, and the graphics are amazingly good for being on the SNES.  There are even some awesome glitches to exploit if you can find them.  It's a solid game, and fortunately it's available on the Wii Shop Channel so it's very easy to go out and get this game.  I would very much recommend it to anyone who enjoys platform games as well as casual gamers who just want to play for a little bit and feel accomplished

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Glitches - Super Mario World: Awesome Jump Glitch

    Here is another fun glitch!  This one is done at the Cheese Bridge area.  Why I don't get hurt at the end of this is something I'll never understand, but it looks awesome and makes this level easy to beat!

Glitches - Super Mario World: Holding the key on Yoshi?

    Super Mario World ranks up as one of the best games in the pre 3D era, and certain one of the best for the SNES.  But that's not to say that there aren't a few quirky things about the game. In fact, this game is full of oddities and glitches, some of which are good, some not so much.

    Here is an example of a glitch you can do about anywhere you can find a key with Yoshi.  Place the key on the ground, then dismount Yoshi so that the edge of the key is about half way into Yoshi's body.  Then jump onto the little dinosaur while holding the Y button, and Mario should end up with the key in his hands while riding Yoshi!  

    Note: The key's sprite has to appear in front of Yoshi for this to work.  If the key is behind him then it's usually not performable.  Also if you try to grab anything with Yoshi's tongue then he'll grab the key out of Mario's hands and hold it like normal.  Finally, some levels won't let you use a key hole with this glitch unless you can get the key itself to touch the hole, and that's usually not possible.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Random Encounter - Zombie Nation

    Ok, I got one for you.  How would you like to play a game where you are a severed head of an ancient samurai who's on a mission to save the United States from the evil alien Darc Seed who's used his magnetic rays to turn  the citizens into zombies?  Well that and reclaim the sword Asura, which according to this game is the most powerful weapon ever (more so than nuclear bombs anyway).  To top it all off, Darc Seed has animated the Statue of Liberty, turning our national treasure into a symbol of evil.  That sounds like a block buster if I ever heard one!

    Actually, it wasn't, but strangely this game does exist!  Zombie Nation for the NES, released in 1990, is a side scrolling shooter along the lines of games like Gradius or R-Type, except it's bad.  It's the kind of bad that makes you wonder who in their right mind would actually make this game and think they were going to make money with it.

You can pick amongst 4 stages and change their difficulties from easy to hard, though easy is almost impossible as this is one of those games where you have to play it a thousand times to memorize where everything is going to be.  Enemies and objects come at you from all sides, and if you touch anything that looks like electricity you'll be reduced to one hit point.  If you die your head smashes into the ground and a text bubble with japanese characters pops up.  Awesome.

    Should you find yourself curious enough to try it, be ready to play the same things over again and again.  Also don't expect anything to ever make sense.