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!

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