May 26, 2011
Instead of weaving an interesting tale of space intrigue and drama, Star Soldier for the Nintendo Entertainment System focuses on gameplay that requires memorization and quick reflexes.
Developed by Hudson Soft and published by Taxan in 1989 for the NES, Star Soldier is a vertically scrolling shoot ‘em up set in space. While the plot is never touched upon in the game, there is a single paragraph in the manual that sets the stage. Starbrain, an evil computer is roaming space with waves of enemy ships and robot creatures and are destroying anything in their path. The Galactic Empire decides to send in their best star soldier along with the best ship in their Galactic Fleet, Caesar to take care of Starbrain. And that’s the plot. It’s basically identical to any other space shoot ‘em up, but I didn’t purchase Star Soldier for the story, no, I purchased it for the gameplay.
Piloting Caesar I flew through space (vertically mind you) shooting down Starbrain’s waves of minions, of which there were plenty. And instead of simply palette-swapping enemies (same enemy design, different stats and color) Hudson Soft created a large array of enemies that had their own patterns that I needed to memorize to be successful.
Every enemy type moved and attacked me differently which means I had to deal with nearly every enemy type in a different way. And with the exception of a few, the enemies weren’t kind enough to attack me one at a time, they attacked me in waves. Each wave was wholly composed of one enemy type, but a lot of that enemy type. With each stage lasting at least a few minutes, I had to deal with many waves that required unique strategies. The key to success was learning how to cope with each enemy type, and if that didn’t pan out I could try and hide from them.
One of the things that I found polarizing about Star Soldierwas the stage design. While the game takes place in space, I wasn’t just flying through twinkling stars. Each stage had something more to it; some had stage-long space stations in the process of being built while other stages had me flying around floating landmasses. I had the ability to fly under most of the construction and most of the floating landmasses, but not every single one. This was confusing and added another level of memorization to the game. Why would I want to fly beneath these structures though?
Well, when I flew underneath them I could avoid enemies and enemy fire, but I’d lose my ability to fire too. This mechanic was helpful when I confronted a wave of dive bombing enemies that moved very fast as they would fly over the structure while I was under it. Coming out from underneath these structures was difficult to time however and I lost many lives running into stray bullets or just crashing into enemies. I ended up avoiding flying underneath structures as much as I could because it messed with the rhythm I had built up and usually led to easily avoidable deaths.
Star Soldier required a lot of memorization and for the first hour, it was more about learning how the enemies act and how I should react than actual stage progression. I didn’t get very far until I had that understanding, then I was able to get a little farther in the game each time I played. I had to build that base knowledge of how Star Soldier operated, and then learn each stage and apply the tactics I developed. Sometimes I’d have a good rhythm going and get far without losing lives, but once I began doing bad, it was hard to get back in that rhythm. I wasn’t able to complete the game though; of the sixteen stages I only made it to the seventh, but I was extremely satisfied making it that far. One thing that helped me get that far was earning extra lives.
I was awarded extra lives at fifty-thousand points, two hundred thousand points, and beyond that I’m not sure. Killing enemies aided in accumulating points, but what really helped was finding hidden enemies. On the half-built space stations and floating landmasses were hidden enemies that would appear after I shot the space they occupied a few times. Instead of giving me a standard amount of points, I got a larger reward for each one destroyed. I initially got five hundred points, but this moved up to one thousand, four thousand, ten thousand, forty-thousand, and so on for each one found. This added yet another element of memorization to the game.
After I understood the enemies, the stage design, and had plenty of lives I could finally defeat Starbrain and this brings me to the last thing I want to talk about: the boss fights. At the end of each stage I fought Starbrain, and at the end of each fourth stage I fought Big Starbrain. Defeating Starbrains and Big Starbrains wasn’t that difficult of a task. Their attacks were easily avoidable as were their movements. Big Starbrain was a little more difficult as I had much more to destroy, but I rarely lost a life in these battles. However, if I didn’t defeat them quickly enough, they would escape and I would have to attempt the stage over again. This didn’t concern me too much though as it only happened once.
Star Soldier was a challenging, but fun shoot ‘em up that employed some interesting mechanics. I appreciated that there was a large amount of unique enemies instead of palette-swapped versions. Dealing with each type was challenging, but rewarding once I took out an entire wave. The ability to interact with the stages was interesting, but as is the case with the story, I was ambivalent towards it. Having the same two bosses repeated throughout the game wasn’t a sticking point for me, I was glad that I knew what to expect at the end of a level and would have to restart or learn another boss’ patterns. The manual contains helpful information and tips for the game and I found a complete copy for the NES cheap, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to enjoy the game. And I did enjoy Star Soldier; after half a dozen hours of play I’d gotten enough out of it, but I would recommend it for anyone looking for a classic shoot ‘em up.
High Score: 408, 200
May 24, 2011
Having spent so much time with Animal Crossing on the GameCube during my formative years, it’s a game I’ll always have a soft spot for. But besides just blind love for the series because of this, the games appeal to the part of my psyche that enjoys a mundane routine and the drive to complete item lists.
Animal Crossing: City Folk has been a part of my daily routine since I began playing it in March. Composing this review was tough; I could have listed off flaws and make note of the minor improvements that it has made on its predecessors, but that would only be useful for those who have played the previous games. And if you’ve played the previous games and enjoyed them, chances are, you played City Folk when it came out in 2008. And pending you didn’t like the previous Animal Crossing games, guess what? Animal Crossing: City Folk is more of the same, for better or worse.
Animal Crossing: City Folkbegins opens up the same way the previous games did. You, the player is moving into a new town to set up roots and experience life. You are broke however and this requires some help from the local storekeeper, Tom Nook. He lets you have a house in town, with the expectation that you’ll pay him back. From here, the primary objective is to pay off your house, all the while increasing its size and your debt.
From the middle of March until a week or two ago, I had played the game for at least an hour each day. I felt compelled to play, compelled to find the fossils buried around town that day, to see if any events were happening, and to just make a little more money towards my debt. Once I neared my final payments however, I really lost the motivation to get on. I’d like to check back in at the beginning of every month and holidays, but I’m not sure that’ll happen.
I could continue playing City Folk as I have these past two months, all I’d need to do is set up goals. For instance I could donate to the town fund and see what that reaps. Or I could attempt to have my town be graded as perfect. But after so much time with City Folk I’m ready for a break. And if my playtime with the previous games is any indication, I’ll be back at it just like I was from mid-March to mid-May at some point in the future.
But what is it that drew me to the game every day? At this point in the article, you, the reader would say it was paying off my debt, but that would only be true on the surface. It’s what I did to pay off my debt that kept me coming back, it was my routine.
My daily routine consisted of running errands. I’d go fossil hunting, search for the magical rock that spat out money, sell fruit and seashells, see what new items Tom Nook had for sale, water any withering flowers, talk with neighbors, fish and hunt for new insects. Rarer would be the days that I’d visit the city or play online with a friend. What drew me to City Folk every day was errand running; I had a second life that I had to attend to and it became a part of my actual routine, up there with eating breakfast and brushing my teeth.
I loved Animal Crossing: City Folk. My description of the game might make it sound boring, which it sort of is, but it’s the mundane routine I had set up that kept me coming back to the game for two months straight.
May 19, 2011
Mansion of Hidden Souls is a peculiar game. Everything about the game was creepy. The poorly rendered graphics added an odd vibe, while the plot and setting were downright strange. I was pleasantly surprised by the game however. A friend and I played through the game together and enjoyed solving the puzzles and unraveling the game.
Developed by System Sacom and published by Vic Tokai, Mansion of Hidden Souls was released for the Sega CD in 1994. My friend and I took on the role of a young boy looking for his sister who has run away to a creepy mansion in the woods. He soon discovers that people who stumble upon this mansion are turned into butterflies, and that his sister finds this appealing. He then sets out to find her and get out of there.
There were plenty of obstacles standing in his way though. The game is played from the first-person perspective, meaning my friend and I took on the role of the young boy directly. We chose where to go in the mansion and explored it in its entirety. The game uses pre-rendered backgrounds so it has a distinct look to it and is quite detailed, but due to the Sega CD, the game appears very grainy. Rather than sprites which were predominately used in games of that era, pre-rendered graphics looked like “realistic” interpretations of items.
We chose which direction we wanted to go and the young boy would walk where we told him. We stumbled upon objects or areas that could be interacted with and, at the right time in the game, something important would happen. Everything in the game is there for a reason, there isn’t anything extra. By the end of the game, we had utilized everything that we could interact with, which led to a lot of backtracking.
Mansion of Hidden Souls takes place entirely in the mansion and it is a fairly large environment to explore. Each room has a theme and they are all quite varied. The majority of the rooms also contain a butterfly, who was once a human. The butterflies retain their ability to communicate with the boy and some are helpful while others are spiteful. The great thing about being on a compact disc is the ample storage space allowed for voice acting. The unfortunate thing about the voice acting is how poor it is or what I should say is the voice acting is comedic; each butterfly had a unique accent that was butchered by the voice actors.
Early on we had limited access to the mansion as we lacked keys, but in one of the rooms is a black painting that gives a glimpse of what we need to interact with next. This was very helpful. A lot of the puzzles my friend and I figured out before checking the black painting, but with so many intricate objects to interact with, and some uses being less obvious than others, it was great to have something to turn to.
For the first half of the game, we explored each room, learning where objects were and received input from the butterflies. Once we retrieved the main character’s sister (early on in the stages of human to butterfly transformation) we had to escape from the mansion’s owner. At this point we received a clock and had one hour (in-game time) to complete the game. Time didn’t pass when we stood still which meant we could think about what to do, and it seemed as if we had ample time to check the black painting. This time limit added an interesting dynamic that we didn’t find annoying thanks to the ability to save in case we did make a mistake (which happened a few times) and died because of it.
I took a gamble with Mansion of Hidden Souls. I saw it for sale and having never seen a copy of it before, purchased it. I didn’t have any intention of playing it as soon as I did, but I found a peculiar, yet halfway compelling adventure that was short enough for my friend and I to complete in one sitting. We made a lot of the connections about the use of objects ourselves but the ability to seek out the black painting for what to do next was helpful. Mansion of Hidden Souls was a creepy game that I had more fun playing through than I expected I would.
May 18, 2011
The third beat ‘em up my friend and I played through recently was Golden Axe. Like the Streets of Rage games we played beforehand, it was developed and published by Sega, although Golden Axe was released as an arcade game before being ported to the Sega Genesis, the version we played.
Whereas Streets of Rage was set in an eighties or nineties version of a corrupted city, Golden Axe is set in medieval times. The three playable characters set out to rescue the king and princess who has been kidnapped by an evil ne’er-do-well named Death Adder. The plot is typical of the setting, as are the playable characters, a barbarian named Ax Battler, an Amazon named Tyris Flare, and a dwarf named Gillius Thunderhead. Unlike the plots in the Streets of Rage games where they appeared only as text at the beginning and ends, there are story bits between each level in Golden Axe, marking the progress the warriors make.
Throughout the levels my friend and I were attacked by Death Adder’s henchmen. The setting of Golden Axe allowed for the enemies to be more varied compared to Streets of Rage, although there were many who were the same model, just different statistics and a different color. Most of the bosses were repeated throughout the game and towards the end they used unfair tactics, such as the final boss’ proclivity to knocking us down and zapping us with magic, taking two of our health bars in one swoop.
And this brings me to my complaint about Golden Axe. Golden Axewas super tough, even playing on easy my friend and I had a difficult time getting to the seventh stage (eight stages total) and we eventually used a cheat code to skip levels. I normally would want to attempt completing a game without the use of cheat codes, but it seemed like we didn’t have a shot.
With combos, we could get up to five hits in on an enemy, but it was difficult lining up correctly to do so. And I personally felt like I wasn’t getting enough response after hitting the attack button. I’m not sure exactly why I felt this way, perhaps it was the sound design of the hits, they sounded peculiar, not what I would expect from a metal weapon, or perhaps because I didn’t enjoy the sluggish character movement.
Rather than having a single health bar that depletes in differing amounts depending on the strength of attacks, my friend and I were instead given a health bar that consisted of what turned out to be three hits or combos. This made it feel like we had less of a shot just because we couldn’t take a lot of damage, couple that with the enemies’ ability to keep you in their combo if hit and it lead to frustration for both my friend and I.
But the most frustrating aspect for us was the difficulty of the final boss. We originally got to the seventh stage before losing our continues. We opted then to use a cheat code to select the final level and another to add nine continues. The final boss took an enormous amount of damage and he was able to evade the bulk of our attacks, and he had a little help with the aid of some invincible skeletons. Later on in the fight, he began using magic after knocking us down, taking out two of our health bars. He was difficult and we used plenty of continues but we ultimately conquered him and saved the king and princess.
Golden Axe was a mixed bag for me. A lot of the stages had a similar feel, but there were a few that had interesting settings, and they were fairly short which I liked. The soundtrack seemed meager, but the tracks present were phenomenal and I found myself humming them as we played, especially the first stage’s song. I appreciated having story bits throughout the game rather than at the beginning and ends. But I disliked the reuse of lack of standard enemy design and the similar looks of the majority of the stages. And more importantly, I disliked the way the game felt. It’s a hard concept to quantify but it is ultimately what made me like Golden Axe less than Streets of Rage and Streets of Rage 2. Golden Axe was equally filled with parts I liked and disliked and for that I recommend it only to those seeking out another beat ‘em up.
May 17, 2011
So, before I played Streets of Rage, I thought I disliked beat ‘em ups but it turns out, I really enjoy a solid beat ‘em up, especially with a friend. With Streets of Rage completed I naturally moved onto Streets of Rage 2. Figuring out exactly who had a hand in the game’s development was a little tricky. The credits list people working at Ancient, MNM (MNM Software, later Mindware), Shout!OW (Shout! Designworks), HIC (couldn’t find any info on this), and I’m sure a few were from Sega. Anyways, I’ve always heard talk of Streets of Rage 2, that it was the best in the series and perhaps the genre, so I was anxious to try it for myself.
Streets of Rage 2 begins a year after the events of Streets of Rage. Peace has returned to the city that Adam Hunter, Axel Stone, and Blaze Fielding once called home. Axel and Blaze have retired from the police force and moved out of town while Adam is still an officer and lives on the edge of the city with his kid brother Eddie “Skate” Hunter. On the anniversary of Mr. X’s downfall the gang gets together to celebrate. The next day, Eddie returns to find his older brother gone and their house ransacked. He gets a hold of Axel and Blaze and when they arrive, they notice a picture of Adam tied up at the feet of Mr. X. Not ones to leave a friend behind, Axel and Blaze set out to rescue Adam with the aid of Eddie and Axel’s wrestling friend Max.
With the cheesy plot of Streets of Rage 2 providing momentum for these four, the battles soon ensued as my friend and I ventured throughout the nameless city once again. While the stages in Streets of Rage definitely had a strong atmosphere with the nighttime setting, the flashing neon lights, the dark, pumping soundtrack, the stages themselves were straightforward and for the most part, similar in setting.
Streets of Rage 2 contains the familiar elements of stage design compared to the original, but took my friend and I through a greater diversity of stages. We ventured through the city streets at the outset, but soon fought through an amusement park, a stadium, and even a jungle. And besides the diversity in backgrounds, the stages themselves were broken into two or three sections themselves. These sections seemed as long as the stages in the original game, which meant the stages in Streets of Rage 2 were longer, while still retaining succinctness.
There were two changes to the gameplay of Streets of Rage 2 that I really enjoyed. First off, the game was much speedier compared to the original. I initially thought character movement in Streets of Rage was a little slow (especially vertical movement) but it wasn’t so slow that I couldn’t adapt or didn’t enjoy the game. This increase in speed appeals to me because it feels like there is more immediate feedback between my inputs and my character’s action, plus I enjoy the game moving at a slightly faster clip.
The second change I enjoyed was the addition of an enemy health bar whenever they were attacked. Whenever my friend or I would attack an enemy, that enemy’s health bar would appear underneath the health bar of the player that attacked them. This was smart as we had more information on the situation at hand and knew how much more damage we needed to deal to a specific enemy.
The final aspect worth mentioning is the technical improvements of Streets of Rage 2 compared to the original. The character models of allies and enemies alike appeared more detailed (perhaps larger too) and the backdrops of the stages were more animated. The backgrounds had more elements moving and there was generally more going on; overall, the game looked better. I very much enjoyed the soundtrack to Streets of Rage, and the soundtrack for Streets of Rage 2 is as good, if not better. It sounds darker but more importantly, it is much clearer than the original’s.
So, as it turned out, the hype I had heard about Streets of Rage 2 turned out to be accurate. The game was a better experience overall, and that’s saying something as I really enjoyed Streets of Rage. The story isn’t the main motivator for these types of games, they seem too shallow and something that’s tacked on at the beginning and ending of the game, but the gameplay remained as good as Streets of Rage and introduced a few improvements. And from a technical standpoint, the game seemed like a large improvement over the original. I recommend Streets of Rage 2, more so than the original.
May 16, 2011
I played a lot of video games last week. I had the day off Wednesday so a friend came over and played practically all day. We completed Streets of Rage, Streets of Rage 2, Golden Axe, all on the Sega Genesis, as well as Mansion of Hidden Souls for the Sega CD. We played many more games too but those are the four we completed. I’m also getting close to paying off my debt in Animal Crossing: City Folk, which means I pretty much be done with it. I’ve already begun playing the game less but once I’m done I’ll be able to focus my attention on Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber, which I hardly played last week.
With all that in mind, this will be my busiest week yet! I’ll post a review for Streets of Rage 2, Golden Axe, and Mansion of Hidden Souls this week. How about Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday respectively for those reviews, which will leave me time to write about Animal Crossing and that might get posted this week as well!
May 11, 2011
I thought I wasn’t into beat ‘em ups. I remember looking down on the genre, perhaps because of the negative reception I saw most of the beat ‘em ups receiving in the mid 2000s. But after my friend casually brought up Streets of Rage, I thought we should play through it. I had at least one copy somewhere and I knew it wouldn’t take too long to complete, and I had never even played any of the Streets of Rage games, a series well regarded by many. After playing through Streets of Rage, I realized my dislike of the genre was feigned.
Streets of Rage was developed and published by Sega and released onto the Sega Genesis in 1991. The game’s three protagonists Adam Hunter, Axel Stone, and Blaze Fielding are young cops in a corrupted police force. The city they live in has fallen into the hands of a criminal syndicate, led by Mr. X. He has bankrolled everyone, including the police force, and the city is now in chaos with no law enforcement. They decide to take matters into their own hands (or rather, fists) and set out to take down this criminal syndicate.
With three protagonists, my friend and I each chose one that suited our tastes as they all have slightly different statistics regarding power, speed, and jumping. My friend and I had an easy time with the game. The stages at first were succinct, and longer towards the end, all the while continuously adding more and tougher enemies as we progressed. I enjoyed the length of the stages for the same reason I enjoy books with short chapters. I felt as though I was making continual progress and being rewarded, while the levels themselves never outstayed their welcome.
For the most part, my friend and I stuck to simple combos and the occasional throw. With little experimentation, the game seems simple, but once I flipped through the manual I realized how much depth there was to the fighting. I was shocked to see all the different ways I could handle enemies when I grabbed them, I never attempted pressing the jump button before, I just thought of taking them out, but there turned out to be a lot more I could do, and I tried more on my following playthroughs.
My friend and I traversed through eight stages before finally having our showdown with Mr. X himself. When we confronted him, he gave us the option of joining him and becoming his right hand man. I wanted to take him down and declined, but my friend must have a rogue streak in him as he accepted Mr. X’s offer, or perhaps he accidentally pressed the wrong button. Since there could only be one right hand man, Mr. X made us face off, with my friend eventually taking me out. Mr. X had more in store for my friend however. He didn’t accept him just yet; he instead sent him back to the sixth stage and forced him to fight his way back, and this time alone. After burning all his continues on our duel, he didn’t feel like working his way back to Mr. X.
On a later playthrough, by myself this time, I reached Mr. X fairly easily, although just before I got to him I lost a great deal of lives. The final stage has a showdown with the first four bosses of the game, and while I had a handle on most by this point, the fourth boss was a chore. The fourth boss was a pair of females who focused on jumping and grabs. I found the timing difficult to pin down for attacking and evading, and with two of them, I couldn’t really grab and do damage to one, knowing that I was vulnerable to the second one. I finally conquered them and had my showdown with Mr. X. He was quite cheap too. He moved much faster than anyone I had encountered before, myself included, and I believe I could only damage him with a lead pipe that was lying on the ground. The lead pipe has a great range and is powerful, but swinging it takes time. And throughout the battle, Mr. X summons some of the powerful enemies so I had plenty to do throughout the fight.
I came away enjoying Streets of Rage more than I thought I would. I had a blast playing through it with a friend, and even on single player playthroughs I enjoyed the journey. The game wasn’t too difficult, although I refrained from playing on higher difficulties, and I’d say it takes about an hour and a half to complete. The gameplay was deeper than I originally anticipated, the environments were varied as were the enemies, although some enemies were palette swaps of earlier ones, and the soundtrack was surprisingly phenomenal. I played through Streets of Rage a few times and highly recommend it.