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!