Monday, April 19, 2010

I've moved!

Nuts to you, blogspot! Head on over to, guys! It's the place to be.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Pokemans

Behold! My latest team of Hall of Famers!

My Chikorita was named Carmen! She grew to become a Bayleef, then a Meganium! She wasn't as strong as I'd hoped, but I loved her anyway.

My Cyndaquil was named Camille! I imported her from Pokemon Pearl. She was level 1. Now she is almost level 50! She was a late bloomer, evolving into a Quilava and then a Typhlosion far later than usual. Maybe that's because she's actually a he. I didn't notice her sex until now! I'm sorry, Camille. You probably had a rough time at Pokemon Day Care thanks to my careless naming.

My Slowking is named Cork. She was once a Slowpoke. The Slowpoke is one of the stupidest Pokemon, but Slowking has big brains. This quote from Bulbapedia explains it all: "Slowking are regular Slowpoke who suffered a peculiar event. The King's Rock they rarely hold attracts Shellder, and gets bitten on its head instead of its tail. The poison that some Shellder secretes reached Slowpoke's brain, turning it extremely intelligent." This is why Pokemon is the best. This is why Slowking is my new favorite Pokemon.

My Mareep was named Sheep Man. Probably not the most original name! But he was a sheep before leveling up and turning into some weird kangaroo thing. I kinda wish I'd kept him cute forever, but that would have been cruel, right? A true Pokemon master respects his Pokemon. He lets them grow.

My Miltank is named Pasteur. Is Miltank the happiest Pokemon? I think so.

My Hoothoot was named Toot, a name I wasn't really fond of but was too lazy to change. Maybe that is why he always lagged behind, level-wise. Maybe that is why I gave him the boot before the Elite Four, replacing him with a Lugia named Giorgio. I usually don't use legendary Pokemon, but Toots wasn't pulling his weight. Someone had to step in. Giorgio did an acceptable job, but I feel guilty about it now. You belong in the Hall of Fame, Toot. Please forgive me for being a failure as a Pokemon trainer!

I had this party from the get go. Yeah, a few of them were traded from Pokemon Pearl -- which you can do within minutes of starting the game, which is one of the great improvements in this version, along with the snappier battles and interface -- but they were babies. No one had a head start! And while it was not the most well-balanced party it was my party, and I wasn't going to break it up, even if things got rough! I was under-leveled and ill prepared for the final battle! I had to reset many times. But I eventually took down all those Dragonites. I won the game, and its name was Pokemon Soul Silver!

I wasn't sure Pokemon could be enjoyable when played as a straight RPG. I feared that my love for it was shallow, nothing more than OCD checklist bullshit made palatable thanks to an exceedingly cute package. But after blasting through this one without bothering to catch 'em all I've learned that my fears were unfounded, and Silver holds up quite well as a Dragon Quest-style RPG. It's surprisingly open, offering far less guidance and more alternate paths, side quests, and mini-games than many modern games aimed at older players. It's a game that doesn't mind if you get lost for a bit. Probably because that helps sell strategy guides. But still! It's a game for children that didn't treat me like I was a child. It let me explore, make mistakes, and dress up like a member of Team Rocket. There are few mandatory tutorials. There is lots of discovery. That is what makes an RPG good. Not complex battle systems or an epic storyline, but a game world that's worth discovering and open to letting me discover it. And any world teeming with Miltanks, Swinubs and Luvdiscs is a world worth discovering.

They really gotta ditch HMs for the next game, though. Those things are the worst.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Last time I posted I was pretty sleep deprived! And the games I posted about? I was sleep deprived while playing them, too. It's now two weeks later, and I am well-rested and well-played. I see things with fresh eyes! I see the beauty in Espgaluda 2: Black Label.

I can't explain its beauty, because to be honest I am still somewhat fuzzy on the game's scoring system. Some runs I will have few points. Some runs I will have far more points. I don't really know what I did differently to earn those extra points! But when I earn them it is beautiful. The entire screen turns purple, then gold, and my score grows very fat very fast. I am still not big on the original version, but Black Label is a very good time. I am glad I gave you a second chance, Espgaluda 2! I am glad I got some sleep.

I somewhat regret calling Mega Man 10 clever. I actually haven't played it in two weeks, but when I did play it I wasn't all there, you know? Maybe it's not as good as I thought! Maybe this is Mega Man 5 all over again, except now I'm blinded by Sheep Man rather than Gravity Man? But I don't think that's the case. It's no Mega Man 9, but Mega Man 9 is up there with Mega Man 2 as far as I'm concerned. 10 is perfectly good. I will get back to it soon enough!

Another game I was playing heavily but thankfully did not make a positive post about is...hold on, I need to go look up the proper title, because it's really damn long...ah, yes, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. I'd written the game off, because the 360 demo was a mess, and Sumo Digital really didn't do a very good job with Sonic Virtua Tennis or whatever it was. But man, I saw some videos of Opa-Opa drifting around one of the technicolor Samba de Amigo tracks and I melted. Maybe I was wrong! Maybe the game turned out alright after all?

And yeah, it's alright. It's more than alright. It's very good at times. It's very much Outrun Kart, which is a good thing. Linking drifts together is satisfying! You will be driving sideways for half the race, and I say there is nothing wrong with that. The game is loaded with Sega Blue Skies combined with some cute track design -- often the tracks mimic the level design of the source game, with the Sonic stages having plenty of loops, the Jet Set Radio stages emphasizing jumps and tricks, and the Monkey Ball stages are loaded with narrow pathways and hairpin turns. The single player lifts its structure from the console ports of Outrun 2, and is surprisingly robust and enjoyable despite so much of the content being locked from the start. It has Billy Hatcher. It has no Blue Shell. And the pirate themed stage is covered in Dreamcast logos. I laughed!

So I was in love with the game for a few days. I told all my friends this is the real deal! This is Outrun Kart! Let's all spend money and race each other on the internet! But soon enough the honeymoon was over, and man, I felt like a jerk. Soon enough I had all the tracks unlocked, and for every track with Blue Skies there was one dark as pitch, with hard to spot obstacles, framerate issues, and (seemingly unintentional) misleadingly telegraphed turns. For every Billy Hatcher there was a Shadow the Hedgehog. And for every competently executed single player element there was a similarly botched multiplayer feature. Like how no two racers can choose the same character, something not even Mario Kart does nowadays. And maybe that wouldn't be an issue if the character balance wasn't so completely screwed. Motorcycles have great acceleration and can do wheelies on straightaways for boost! Karts can't. Karts suck. And intelligent item usage is not enough to overcome the lack of character balance, because the items are just as screwy. Many defensive items, many area of effect items, but no Blue Shell. If you're lucky enough to emerge unscathed from the opening salvo -- and doing so requires equal parts luck, character choice, and skill -- more often than not the race is yours, even if you do make the occasional error. The battered racers will most likely spend the remainder of the race getting gangbanged by triple-boxing gloves and airhorns and mines, while the leader cruises ahead, safe as can be. Perhaps someone will break away from the pack, but the best they'll manage is a second place finish, usually 5 to 10 seconds behind the winner, with a similar gap between second and third. Usually the top finishers will come from the same pool of players, but rarely is one racer dominant. Rarely is a multiplayer race tight and exciting. Usually it's a yawnfest that's decided before the first lap is up. And this is a shame, because had they put a bit more thought into the item set beyond "clone Mario Kart's but remove the one everyone bitches about" they would have had a game that tops Mario Kart. As it is it's the worst kind of game; one that could, with some minor tweaks, be so very good, but thanks to these easily fixable balance issues the game has no longevity, and I kinda regret playing it at all. Fan service can only take you so far, y'know?

Unless it's Phantasy Star fan service. I would have overlooked any faults had the game had Alis riding a Land Rover, man.

I apologize to all the friends I mislead! I owe you guys a gift. Free copies of Deadly Premonition for all!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Double Up!

Boy! What a week for Video Games! It is like they are releasing sequels to many of my past loves all at once, and two of them arrived at my house on the very same day! Too much! I stole the images in this post from the internet. Sorry, internet!

Mega Man 10 can be very clever. I've mostly avoided reading other people's impressions but I saw a few quotes taking it to task for being "just another Mega Man sequel" and "by the numbers." Which if true is perfectly fine by me! But from what I've played the game feels pretty fresh, or as fresh as a faithful entry in a 25 year old series can be. I think there was some real effort put into mixing things up, as there's less straight platforming and more stages built around puzzle-y gimmicks. Gimmick platforms. Physics gimmicks. This isn't a bad thing as far as I'm concerned. I am cool with gimmicks. The best stages post-Mega Man 3 tended to be the gimmicky ones. Why, Gravity Man's stage in Mega Man 5 was so fantastic it briefly tricked me into thinking the entire game was one of the best in the series! I get the feeling IntiCreates knew they nailed the Mega Man 2 style with the last game so they decided to make the best possible Mega Man 4-7 compilation they could!

OK, maybe that's a stretch. Now that I think about it Mega Man 9 had plenty of gimmicks too -- Hornet Man had those rolled up platforms, Splash Woman had the bubbles, Jewel Man had the swinging platforms, etc. It feels like they play a larger role in 10, though, and I don't think any of them are recycled from prior games. May be mistaken on that though. Ten games! They all run together after awhile, y'know?

Currently my favorite stages are Sheep Man, because it's Sheep Man, and Strike Man, because it's like Mega Man stumbled into a Famicom baseball title from 1984.

Espgaluda may be my favorite game of all time. Some days I prefer Dodonpachi for its buttrock, spaceships, explosions, and relative simplicity. Other days I prefer Ketsui for its excellent scoring system that encourages high risk play. But I think Espgaluda's on top most days. It's probably the easiest of all Cave shooters, which I appreciate because I am not as good at these games as I wish I was. Its character art is pretty ugly, but the stage design is lovely and its scoring system encourages experimentation and Self-Expression...! while still being relatively easy to understand. Perhaps there's a perfect Espgaluda playthrough video out there, but I never want to see it. It's a game that doesn't make me want to cheat to win. It's a rarity!

So I was pretty excited when Espgaluda 2 was released. I waited years for the PCB to drop to a level where I could afford it, but unfortunately that never really happened. Once the Neo Geo died its collectors had to move on to something else, and they chose Cave games. So now Cave PCBs sell for twice what they used to and newer releases rarely drop below $600. Once upon a time I paid $275 for Ketsui! That was a good time. Now you'll be lucky to find the game for less than $900.

But as good as the past was it is not as good as the present. Now Cave games are getting console releases! And some of them are region free. Some of them are localized! I never thought I'd see the day. Espgaluda 2 is the fourth Cave shooter released for the 360. Ketsui, Guwange, and Death Smiles 2 are all coming sometime this year. Seven Cave games on one console! Don't listen to the old folks: this is the best console generation of all times.

Unfortunately Espgaluda 2 is not the best of all games. I will not say it is bad. I am sure there are folks who love it. But after spending two days with it I am ready to give up. This is very much a game that's Not For Me. It's the hardest Cave game I have ever played, and maybe the most confusing when it comes to mechanics. I have read numerous posts on message boards explaining the scoring system and I am still at a loss. It's like they were all written in a foreign language. Which they kinda were, since half the terms used are Japanese. Maybe if I had a better grasp on the game's systems it wouldn't seem so difficult, though that's unlikely, since I've seen plenty of seasoned players griping about the difficulty. My main issue is the boss fights, which last an eternity. Perhaps there's some trick to clearing them faster? Maybe I should watch some more replays? Maybe I will understand them this time, unlike my previous attempts, where I just sat there with my brow furrowed and my mouth hanging open, wondering what the hell was going on?

The game has many modes, half of which are for novice players, but unfortunately those are too easy. I one-life-cleared one of them. Maybe two! It's all a blur right now. I'm going to wait a few more days, hope someone writes a quality guide to Black Label (which is an all new mode and seems maybe a tiny bit friendlier than the arcade version?), and give the game another shot. I doubt it will ever click, though. I should just go back to focusing on Mushihimesama Futari. Gotta get that one credit clear!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

You Caught A Garbage

My current video game love is Deadly Premonition. It cost me $20. It's an open world murder mystery game with survival horror elements. It's heavily reminiscent of Twin Peaks. Some folks claim it's a bad game. They are wrong. Some people claim the game is "so-bad-it's-good." These people are even more wrong. This is not a piece of accidental camp. It's a game that's aware of just how absurd it is. It's aware that it's a flawed game on many levels, but many of its flaws end up becoming strengths, while others are easily overlooked because they don't get in the way of what the game does well.

Deadly Premonition is a better Shenmue. A Shenmue made with zero budget rather than the largest in video game history. A Shenmue made by a Yu Suzuki who spent his formative years obsessing over David Lynch and B-movies instead of guitars and sports cars. A Shenmue where the infrequent action sequences play out like a low rent Resident Evil 4 rather than a low rent Virtua Fighter. A Shenmue where the cast is comprised solely of bizarre, creepy characters not due to ineptitude, but by design. It's a design that lifts wholesale from 20-30 year old American films, which is usually a strong negative, but here it works. Because in the end this is a video game that's cool with being a video game, rather than a video game that wishes it was anything but.

To me that distinction is what makes or breaks a game that places an emphasis on story. I suspect Deadly Premonition is at least partially influenced by Grand Theft Auto 4, which was very much a self-loathing video game. Its attempts at drama were spoiled by terrible writing and a lead character whose behavior during cutscenes clashed terribly with the actions required of the player during the scripted missions, and its obsession with "realism" crippled the game on nearly every level. You had this amazingly detailed world but there was absolutely nothing interesting to do in it.

Deadly Premonition is guilty of many of the same sins as GTA4. Awkward controls, goofy car handling, a huge game world without much to do. Yet I can forgive Deadly Premonition because its world is interesting, and it's interesting largely because it's so wrong. GTA4 is filled with uncanny valley game and world design that highlights the narrative's flaws and foils any sense of immersion, but the wrongness of Deadly Premonition's environment is a strength. It's the Pacific Northwest modeled by people who have probably never been to the Pacific Northwest but watched a whole lot of Twin Peaks. And since this is a game that so badly wants to be Twin Peaks this awkwardness meshes perfectly with the game's themes and narrative. The interiors of the homes have bizarre dimensions, with rooms that feel like they're the size of gymnasiums and staircases that lead to nowhere. Your car's speed tops out at 55MPH, leading me to suspect that the devs heard Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55" and took the song a bit too literally. Items are priced as if one yen was equivalent to a dollar rather than a penny, with a cup of coffee costing $16.50, a fishing rod running $125.95, and if you need some bait for that rod you're paying $119.34 for run of the mill earthworms -- dig the arbitrary change tacked onto the end of every price tag. Business hours are also bizarre. One morning after waking I headed to town to break my fast at the local diner. I arrived past 9AM only to find it closed. Same deal with the bar when I quit my investigation later that night -- the watering hole was shuttered before the clock had even struck 10PM. The town of Greenvale has some strict blue laws, I guess.

So when you're presented with a world so very off-model it makes total sense that half the residential mailboxes in town are filled ammunition. It's not jarring at all when you open a refrigerator to discover it's empty aside from a trading card for a Turkey Sandwich -- a sandwich which is, according to the card, a most excellent turkey sandwich, because its meat is moist, but not moist enough to make the bread soggy. Game-y bullshit is both acceptable and welcome when the lead character is a goofball FBI agent who regularly speaks out loud to his Split Personality/You. He's fond of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Fred Ward's filmography, and he wants you to know all about it. So it seemed perfectly natural that we'd conduct our first interrogation in the middle of the street. I stood in front of the suspect's car. I knew he was a suspect because he had a giant balloon that said SUSPECT above his head. Our conversation was drowned out by the honk of a car horn. The suspect's car was the only one in sight, and he had both hands on the wheel, so it must have been his horn malfunctioning. It makes sense that Agent York would just ignore it, because the character is insane, and whether this was a known bug that was intentionally left in or a happy accident isn't relevant -- either way it enhanced the scene, making an odd, entertaining conversation all the more bizarre. You'll find lots of moments like that in this game, enough that it quickly becomes apparent that they're not the result of ineptitude but a developer who sees the value of happy accidents.

To me the ultimate sign that the game's effectiveness is due to intentional design choices rather than camp ineptitude is the lack of incongruity between my Agent York's actions, the behavior of the scripted Agent York, and the goals of the side missions. This is a rarity in the genre. My Agent York is a goofy fellow who likes to take naps wherever he can. His favorite spot is the cot behind the log cabin in the graveyard. My Agent York appreciates that he can shave in any sink he finds, but prefers to deal with his five o'clock shadow in the Greenvale Police department's kitchen. My Agent York peeps into every window he finds, hoping to get a glimpse at some naughty business going on inside. He has yet to find any. Just kids doing their homework and bearded, lumpy men sitting in bed. And my Agent York is the kind of guy who gets fined for being a "stinky agent." He went a few days without changing clothes, OK? It happens. No big deal. Just had to rush back to the hotel to change before the big town meeting. Couldn't give my introductory speech to the townspeople with flies swarming around me, y'know? These are all actions that are totally in-character for a guy who talks out loud to his imaginary friend during police lunches and reads fortunes into the shapes formed by the milk in his morning coffee. Compare this to the aforementioned Shenmue, where super-serious Ryo Hazuki is so going to track down those sailors once he finishes buying capsule toys and playing Hang-On. Or GTA4, where angst-ridden Niko is fed up with killing and swears he'll quit once he can afford it, yet my HUD shows I've got millions in the bank and nothing to spend it on. Deadly Premonition may look cheap and have stupid fucking QTEs, but SWERY is ten times the writer the Housers or David Cage is solely because his characters are batshit insane on purpose.

I'll probably be posting about this game a lot. Maybe my enthusiasms are premature. Maybe it will fall apart near the end. I pray it doesn't. I love this game.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

We Are Only Natural

Is there a romhack that cuts Labyrinth Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog? If not there should be. It's a pockmark on an otherwise lovely game. It's usually where I quit whenever I replay Sonic, which is a shame cuz it's like the third stage. But today I used the level select code to bypass that underwater bullshit and had a grand time up until the final stage, when Sonic once again goes under the sea. That slowpoke aquatic adventure is followed followed by a final Flasher* Robotnik boss fight that I didn't have the patience to deal with. Not even with save states. I just quit the game and watched the ending on youtube. It was cute.

*I hereby dub any boss that makes you wait around before showing its weakpoint a Flasher. One of the most overused, unenjoyable staples of game design. Bayonetta was rife with it. GOD HAND wasn't. Another reason why GOD HAND is the best 3D action game ever made!

After (kinda) beating Sonic 1 I loaded up Sonic 2, thinking I'd just dick around in it for a minute or two. I ended up playing through the entire thing in one sitting. Which didn't take long. Like an hour. But it was a really enjoyable hour! Sonic 2 is a much better game than I remembered.

It's obviously a rushed sequel, but it's not nearly the clone of the first I remembered it being. It's got its own charm, and its own set of flaws. I'm thinking the bad rep the Genesis games have in some circles is mostly thanks to 2. It is very much "hold right to win" for the bulk of the game, but I was digging the lack of difficulty. Probably because I hadn't just paid $60 for it. And also because the breezy pace was refreshing after playing the original, with its totally bizarre level order, longer chapters (three acts per zone vs. the sequel's two) and difficulty spikes. 2's difficulty curve is much more traditional, but unfortunately it shoots way up once you hit Metropolis Zone. This is where the game fully descends into cheap bullshit death hell. I did run into the occasional what-the-- death during the first 2/3 of the game, but it wasn't much of an issue because it was so easy. I don't think I ever died in the same stage twice. And the zones all ended before I could tire of their gimmicks. But Metropolis Zone is the longest zone in the game, and it is pretty crap. As is the airship stage. But the stage inbetween the two where you ride Tails's plane is a nice change of pace. Lets you chill a bit before getting back to the dumb bullshit.

While playing I realized I've grown to like Tails. He's quite cute. Sonic's only non-shitty friend, maybe? Aside from Big the Cat.

Maybe the best thing about New Super Mario Bros. Wii was the final boss, because it's what platform game bosses should be. It wasn't about sitting around, waiting for the boss to flash his weakpoint, or throwing the boss's own weapons back at him. It was another jumping sequence. It was pretty great.

I'm going to finish Sonic 3 sometime soon. I'm not sure I played through it when it came out. I borrowed it from a friend and never returned it. I remember being offended by the inclusion of a save feature, but also irritated that it wasn't as exploration heavy as Super Mario World. KIDS. They don't make any sense!

Sonic 4 is going to suck so bad.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

!~Random Screenshots of MYSTERY~!

I can't for the life of me remember what game these screenshots come from. It's gotta be an RPG, right?

The character art is too fabulous. I am sure if it had received a commercial release I would have seen these squat li'l folks as forum avatars many times over. It has to be a translation hack!

See? The game knows it's been hacked. It's self-aware. It disapproved of my playing it. That must have been why I quit.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Strong Style

I named my character Jumbo, after my favorite pro-wrestler. Live-A-Live's Jumbo didn't live up to his real-world namesake. Jumbo Tsuruta was a big, surly man, while my Jumbo was a pipsqueak. A pretty boy. He wore a headband, a purple tanktop, and poofy yellow pants. Generic shonen fight manga lead circa...circa-I-dunno, I-didn't-grow-up-in-Japan. He started soft, and as far as I'm concerned he ended soft, because even though he defeated all his opponents he still looked like he weighed a buck-fifty soaking wet. You can't draw crowds with a physique like that.

But the freaks in that screenshot? They can draw. They've been around. They have the ultimate techniques. It's Jumbo's job to steal these techniques. When an opponent uses a special move on Jumbo there's a chance he might learn it. He's pretty much a slightly-roided-up Blue Mage from a Final Fantasy game, and this chapter is pretty much modeled after Street Fighter, but with turnbased battles and no real RPG elementz~! aside from the move stealing. Actually the choosing your opponent bit is kinda like Mega Man, since you may be able to beat the wrestlers in any order if you play smart (though I'm not entirely certain about that), but it's far easier if you have moves they're weak against.

I chose the Thai kickboxing ladyboy as my first opponent. I figured the he-she would be an easy mark.

I was wrong.

The Volk Han/Russian MMA dude crushed me as well. I was fucked and humbled. But the fat guy went down. I stole his move. I used it to break the Great Asia's fucking neck.

And from then on it was easy street. I just played sensibly and used moves that would theoretically work on my opponent in a real wrestling match. For example: the Hulk Hogan like-a-look is like five times not-so-Jumbo's size. One axe-bomber clothesline and I'm dead. So what do I do?

I use high-speed moves that injure his limbs, rendering him unable to move, and finish him off from a distance using high-flying moves. Crazy! There's a bit of logic going on there! In an RPG. And I didn't need to cast some analyze spell or check a menu screen to figure out the weak point. How about that.

I guess I'm easily impressed, huh? Overall the pro-wrestling chapter's a disappointment, though. There is nothing to it aside from these battles. There are no towns, no exploration, no adoring fans, no ring rats, no drug-dealing doctors. Skimpy, skimpy, skimpy. The story is incredibly light, with an intro showing the hero training, brief pre-match promos from your opponents, and an out-of-nowhere final boss named "Odie Oldbright". I think his design was based on the villain from "Highlander". He's killed all your prior rivals and now he's come for you. He killed me many times. I felt dumb. I felt like I missed a special move that would off him in one hit. Then I smartened up. I realized he couldn't perform his one-hit kill move if I stood in a different position. I realized that in this game debuffs not only work, but they stack, which makes it unlike just about every Final Fantasy game. My prior genre experience was working against me! I was not experimenting like I should have. Once I figured this out I was able to repeatedly do the suplex-or-whatever that cut the Odie's stats in half, until he couldn't move at all, and then I put on the Crippler Crossface and choked him to death. The End. Jumbo walks off into the sunset with a gymbag on his shoulder, in search of his next great challenge. Or some shit like that. I don't even remember what happened.

I'm sure the other chapters are better than this one. But man, the pro-wrestling one should have been the best. There is so much good stuff to work with, but it was so barebones and generic fight-manga formula that there was no satisfaction. Oh well! I still appreciate the little things it got right. That brains (or knowledge of PURORESU -- same thing!) were more important than levels and stats.

If I get to pick my final party during the finale no way is Jumbo gonna end up in it, though. He's so lame.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lonesome On The Trail

It's winter! A pretty decent one so far, mainly because my home has had heat more often than not. The past was often chilly! The present is pretty toasty. Not as hot as, say, a whorehouse on nickel night, but warm enough to keep me jolly. But despite all the warmth inside it is still frozen and dead outside. It's a lonely season, and that means it's the perfect time for the loneliest genre: the RPG!

The winter RPG has become a tradition of mine, one I wasn't even aware of until I went through my previous posts. Last year I played through Final Fantasy Legend, which was fabulously retarded, and Star Ocean, which was only made tolerable thanks to all the cheating I did. In '08 my regular Saturday night thing was Blue Dragon, a good game that I would never actually recommend to anyone, so maybe it's actually a bad game. Its battles were both its greatest strength and biggest weakness, as they could be relatively challenging and enjoyable (provided you downloaded the free Hard Mode) yet they dragged on for far too long thanks to all the needless battle animation. The boss fights never dragged, though. The boss fights rocked. I think at 1:25 in you can hear the sound of Ian Gillan's throat collapsing in on itself.

And prior to '08 there was Super Robot Taisen Original Generation. There was Shin Megami Tensei 3. There was Dragon Quest 8. There was Dark Cloud 2. There was Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. There was my 21st century playthrough of Dragon Warrior. There was WoW. There were lots of good times spent under a blanket all by my lonesome, mashing the X button, grinding away. Except WoW was mainly sad times spent in front of a computer, grinding away, feeling sick and wishing I was dead. There are no fond WoW memories.

I auditioned a few games for the role of Ms. RPG 2010, and in the end Dragon Quest V won. I'll probably post about it eventually. But for now I think I'll talk about one of the ones that didn't make it. I'm gonna talk about the two hours I spent with Live-A-Live.

Live-A-Live was almost the one. It has an interesting gimmick -- seven standalone bite-size chapters that can be played in any order, each with their own unique theme. I completed two of them, Western first, Pro-Wrestling second. And the Western bit was pretty tight. About an hour long. I think there were only two or three battles. Most of my time was spent reading text and wandering around town, collecting items and setting booby-traps. But it was enjoyable in a way most modern jRPGs aren't, because it was so simple. You've seen this story before, you know exactly where it's going, but it doesn't matter because it's brisk, the dialogue's amusing (though perhaps the translators deserve the credit for that), and seeing Western tropes competently done in a video game RPG is a novelty.

You play the role of the mysterious outlaw. He plays it all stoic but inside he's a softie, right? He strolls into a troubled town, tries to drink in peace, but the local troublemakers are harassing the women and children, and he just can't help but defend their honor. So he speaks up. Tells the lily livered coward to pick on someone his own size or something to that effect. And this triggers the greatest looping jRPG "YES/NO" sequence I've seen yet. (Which isn't saying much...but still!) The bully laughs at the Outlaw. Calls him a baby. Tells the bartender to serve our hero a baby's drink, and so a glass of milk slides down the bar, stopping in front of the Outlaw. I am given a choice.


"Send back."

I drink it. The bully laughs and orders another. I drink it again. He orders another. I drink it again. He orders another. This went on for awhile. I thought maybe something would happen if I kept it up! Maybe this time it will be different. But no. If I want to progress I have to send the drink back. The bully laughs even harder. What, milk ain't good enough for ya? "Or don't ya drink any milk...that ain't from yer mama's nipples?"

OK, maybe after all this buildup it ain't that funny, but man, I laufed and laufed. Then I shot him in the gut and he died.

I smiled a lot during this hour. I smiled when I learned that the healing items are cigars and tequila. I smiled when I won a battle and the winning message was "RIGHT ON!" I smiled when I discovered my first piece of Dung, which can be used as a trap to whittle down the number of invading banditos during the chapter's climax. Another trap was a frying pan -- the item's flavor text describes it as the weapon of choice for hot-headed women. I smiled. The bulk of the game is spent searching the town for traps, which you then give to the town members, who arm them. There's a time limit. Different town members have different skills, so if you do a poor job of handing out the traps you may not have them all armed in time, making the final battle more difficult. Or so I assume. I had them all up and ready with plenty of time to spare. I can't imagine any player being bad enough to run out of time. Even though it's shallow I appreciate the attempt to do something different, something that ties into the plot and theme of the game, that in another game may feel like padding or busywork but here it worked, and had it been harder I probably wouldn't have been smiling. But I smiled when instruments dropped from the soundtrack each time I sent a band member to arm a trap, until it was just me and the fat, hopeless maracas man alone in the bar, his ceaseless "shake-shake-shake" taking the edge off the awkwardness of our lonely-time together.

Little touches go a long way! I smiled when I healed myself using tequila but got drunk and was unable to control my dude. And died. Or, as the game put it, I "MET A BAD END".

The bandit leader has a gatling gun. I think that may even have been his name. "Gatling Gun". After killing him he turns into a horse. He was the personification of all the anger of the dead white men slaughtered by the godless redskins. Don't worry, that's not the biggest spoiler. There's some neat stuff after that! Stuff that shows just how hardcore the hero is. It was a satisfying ending. Again, you don't see many of those nowadays.

I'll post about the wrestling chapter tomorrow.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I Am So Busy, Here Are More Pokemon!

My Gengar is named The Onions! He was a major part of my game-winning team.

My Tentacool is named Overfiend.

My Seedot is named Baby Juice.

My Snorlax is named JAPAN. I got him in an online trade. His original master was a Japanese kid who is obviously quite patriotic.

My Wooper is named Quad City.

My Psyduck is named Mom.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I Say He Made the Right Choice

It's taken me a year but I finally did it! I ripped the ending to Metal Saga and uploaded it to Youtube! This is the first of the game's multiple endings. Since you can earn it within seconds of starting the game I would say it's the best ending. I haven't seen the others, but even if they're equally amusing they are worse because you have to actually play the game to see them, and the game ain't all that great. I think you can speed up the battles, which is wonderful, but the game still felt pretty slow and barren. Not Japan's finest hour when it comes to open-ended RPGs.

Metal Max Returns, on the other hand, seemed pretty neat from the brief time I spent with it. If you dig the idea of an open-ended, goofball, post-apocalyptic RPG you should give this fine translation a shot! Or you could play Fallout, I guess. But Fallout doesn't have tanks.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Avoid the Void Before Christ

Jet packs aren't as good as grappling hooks. I'm pretty sure every game I've played with a grappling hook was at least decent, and I think once you make the grappling hook your main mechanic there's a good chance your game will be great. Jet pack games should be just as good, but I'm starting to think the ability to easily float is an unsatisfying mechanic and encourages sloppy design. I think it may be why Dark Void Zero is such a disappointment. Or maybe it's because it's made by white people.

Oh, but I kid! White people can make awesome 2D games -- VVVVVV came out a week ago and it's already GOTY! But Backbone and all their offshoots (one of which developed Dark Void Zero) don't make awesome 2D games. They make disappointments. Which is a shame, because big publishers keep giving them jobs, and because I keep accidentally buying their games because I can't keep track of all their studios, and because I can't trust other people's impressions when it comes to modern 2D games. A lot of fans are just sprite art fetishists, y'know? They'll praise anything as long as it controls halfway decent and the developers make it obvious enough that hey, they really love Nintendo too. This is why I've heard more about Dark Void Zero's intro, where you blow into the DSi's mic to "clean" an NES cartridge's contacts, than I have about the actual game. Easier to judge whether the game hits all the right nostalgia notes than whether it's actually good.

And Dark Void Zero does get most of the surface bits right. It looks and sounds close enough to an NES game -- though the music is mixed far too low, which is a shame because it seems pretty good -- and handles like one, too. But it's a frustrating game. Not due to its challenge -- I beat it in under an hour on one credit on the default difficulty -- but cuz it's pretty inconsistent. The feel is off. It's pretty "30+ year old white folks trying to make an old fashioned Japanese action game". It's a jet pack game where you spend a good chunk of your time traversing tight horizontal corridors on foot. It's a jet pack game that frequently strips you of your jet pack and forces weaker weapons upon you, employing the ever popular and modern "strip the hero of all the powers he's earned" multiple times per stage. Your first glance at the game map may lead to expectations of an open ended, exploration heavy affair, like Metroid, but in reality it's a linear keyhunt that relies on lots of backtracking to create the illusion of an open ended, exploration heavy game, like all those modern games that claim to be inspired by Metroid. It's got an odd pace, feeling simultaneously rushed and padded. It does a poor job of giving audio and visual feedback -- there's very slight flickering when you get hit, making it hard to tell when you're taking damage. And the sound of shots that damage an enemy and shots that don't are identical, which sure made the boss fights tiring until I realized it was actually the worst style of boss fight: the kind where you have to sit around and wait for him to expose his weak point before you can do any damage! And there are collision detection issues, as I'd often be shooting a dude and it sure did look like he should have been hit but he totally wasn't. And the game crashed on me when I tried to read the manual, so I didn't know you could save until after I beat it and saw CONTINUE on the title screen. And the Jimmy Fallon cameos totally blow the "long lost NES game" vibe they were going for.

And everybody hates a critic. Even me! I am being too mean. It is playable. It is close to being worth buying. But there are an awful lotta great NES games for the same price on Virtual Console. Why buy a sham when you can get the real deal? And if you only have a DSi buy Boxlife. Or Trajectile. Or any of those Art Style games. They're pretty neat.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Here are the names of some of my Pokemon!

I spent a lot of time playing Pokemon Pearl. Here are the names of some of my lovelies!

My Chansey is named Baby Hips.

My Hippowdon is named Down Low.

My Gyardos is named BruceLeRoy.

In Pokemon Blue I had a Magikarp named Chinatown. That was a long time ago. He was my favorite.

My Raticate is named Chewpendus.

I have five Charmanders in my bank. Their names are Hobofoil, 2 Hottie, FlamingDud, Groper and Nostrils. I am not fond of Charmander, really. They were just trading fodder. Bulbasaur is the best starter of all.

My Geodude is named Siffredi.

Friday, January 15, 2010

GOD HAND is the Best Action Game of All Times.

You have to capitalize it. GOD HAND. It deserves respect. It deserves caps.

I've been thinking about GOD HAND a lot, because I've been playing Bayonetta. I'm going big on it. Going for all those achievements. Getting all those stupid unlockables. Wringing every last bit out of it that I can. It's been very enjoyable and rewarding, and the more I play it the more I appreciate it. Though without all that meta-gaming bullshit I doubt I would have returned to the game after my first playthrough. If this was, say, a PS2 game my final verdict would have been that it was a nearly great game bogged down by overlong cutscenes, overlong boss fights, overlong rail shooting levels, too many quick-time-events, too many non-combat "puzzle" bits -- there are multiple escort sequences! -- and poorly telegraphed fail states.

But it's not PS2! It's HD Era. It's on a console that's jacked into the net, spying on me, and I kinda like it. I like seeing the achievement counter inch closer to 1000/1000. I like clawing my way past all my friends on the scoreboards. And most of all I like how open the game is post-completion, which I don't think was a common thing until the advent of achievements. I can play any stage on any difficulty at any time, all on the same save file, and this is wonderful because it means I can put off playing through those disappointing Yu Suzuki tribute stages in favor of all the good action bits. And on repeat playthroughs it's almost all good action bits, as the sections that irritated me previously aren't such a big deal now that I know how to pass them quickly. And because I skip all the cutscenes now. God, there are a lot of cutscenes, and not enough of them focus on Bayonetta's butt.

So yeah, Bayonetta's pretty excellent once you get over that hump. But it's not GOD HAND. GOD HAND don't have no hump. Why would I want to play one level of GOD HAND over another? Every single stage in it is awesome, because every single stage is essentially the same. It is almost always about punching dudes in the head, kicking them in the nuts, and suplexing them into the ground. And when it isn't about violence against humans, or demons, or gorillas, you are still punching something -- there are no real key hunts or puzzles in GOD HAND, just inanimate objects that need to be punched so you can move on to the next group of thugs, who you will also punch. This is good, because the punching is more entertaining than anything else they could have included in the game. This lack of fat is what really puts Mikami's recent titles -- and man, has anyone released two unrelated games as good as GOD HAND and Resident Evil 4 back to back since Super Mario Bros. and Zelda 20 years earlier? -- far ahead of Kamiya's. Hell, it's what puts him far ahead of most every other developer out there, I say. If only more guys had his focus and confidence.

I'll take those kind words back if his next game doesn't feature tank controls, though.