Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland is a wondrously weird game. The character that first appeared in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has been divisive since his introduction. He was designed to be weird for weirdness sake and I’ve always been on the side of Zelda fandom that enjoyed his company. Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland never made it to American shores, but it was released in Europe, which means playing it isn’t hard. This version is in English and the DS is region-free so there’s no additional work needed outside of purchasing a copy.
The game begins when Uncle Rupee, a magical character in the shape of the universe’s currency appears before Tingle, a single, 35 year old man with little direction in life. Uncle Rupee promises Tingle entrance to a world unlike his own, a theme park of sorts, if Tingle can scrounge up the necessary money. And so Tingle dons his familiar green onesie and sets out to quench his thirst for excitement.
One thing I really like about this game is how it adheres to the concept of money. Everything requires coinage. Tingle’s stack of Rupees represents his health so if they ever deplete, its game over. Reason enough to always have a good amount handy. The characters that occupy Tingle’s world, all want dough too. If you visit a vendor, you have to pay them before they’ll open shop. Even having a conversation with them requires Tingle to cough up Rupees.
I found this annoying at first because nobody told you how much they wanted; you had to make an offer and hope you didn’t overspend. Once I got accustomed to this mechanic and the going-rate for things in the world though, I began to “know” how much something would cost. Lowballing characters could result in lost Rupees if they rejected my offer but still took my money. However, when I successfully came in under a suggested amount, I felt like a wheeler and/or a dealer.
This concept of cash rules everything around me was also a large hang-up of mine because of its correlation to the combat. It seemed to me the major source of income early on was fighting enemies to harvest the recipe ingredients they’d drop, make soups, and sell the end product. Enemies weren’t too prevalent and I spent a lot of time entering areas, fighting and harvesting ingredients, exiting to allow the enemies to respawn and repeating over and over. I didn’t find this gameplay loop enjoyable, especially when the combat was nonexistent.
Brushing up against an enemy created a cartoonish dust cloud fight which lasted until one of us croaked. I could tap to speed up the process, but I honestly didn’t notice much impact. Wrangling multiple enemies into the fight multiplied the amount and quality of items that would drop so I always tried to fight groups rather than individual enemies. Finding groups was hard though; I typically found a close-knit group of enemies and returned to them over and over again when harvesting ingredients. Mercenaries could be bought for extra oomph in combat, but many times, they ruined my attempts at gathering enemies together. They’d either trigger battles when I was trying to set something larger up, or wipe out an enemy before I could get another into the fight.
Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland was a humorous game, but in my opinion its primary gameplay mechanic was both its reason for being and its Achilles heel. The game’s devotion to the concept cash is king was distinguishing, but I didn’t enjoy the repetitive gameplay loop I had to go through early on to get ahead. The art design was fantastic and the characterization was top-notch so there are solid reasons to import the game. Heck, being able to say I own/played a game from another country is cool in itself.
July 14, 2012
The most notable aspect of Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is that it marked a first for the Batman franchise: the first time a major character was debuted in a video game. It has been nine years since the game’s release though, and I’m not aware of the villain Sin Tzu gaining much traction; I mean, I’ve only ever heard of him in the context of this video game, albeit, I’m not especially well versed in the Batman universe. Debuting in a mediocre beat ‘em up probably didn’t help his chances at stardom though.
Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is an Ubisoft Montreal developed, Ubisoft published beat ‘em up from 2003. It was released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, and Game Boy Advance, and while I only played the GameCube version, I’m sure the PS2 and Xbox versions are identical. My friend and I played through what I believe constitutes the first quarter of the game, and I speak for both us when I say Rise of Sin Tzu was underwhelming.
The game revolves around on the eponymous hero defending Gotham City from the eponymous villain. Sin Tzu has formed an alliance with Scarecrow, Clayface, and Bane and they’re wreaking havoc. With the assistance of Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing, Batman sets out to defend Gotham City from these baddies. Although there are four heroes, the game only supports co-operative play for two, a glaring omission. On the bright side, those two extra players won’t be subjected to the tepid gameplay.
Each hero had slightly different stats and had a wealth of combos to execute, yet I was content to just mash the punch or kick button. The combos were differentiated by timed button presses, although they weren’t starkly different. Special moves could be unlocked using earned points which could also be spent on bonus features like toys or comic book covers. My friend and I played through the first quarter of the game, toppling Scarecrow, and besides the lame combat, the bland level design and poor camera left us unfulfilled.
Stages lasted about ten minutes and tasked us with fighting through groups of Scarecrow’s henchmen. Opposition was light early on but they eventually began using Scarecrow’s gas on us. It affected the camera, making it very wavy, but not problematic like the occasional event of the camera getting hung up on a corner. Still the biggest detriment to our enjoyment was the bland level design. We’d plod down unchanging Gotham City streets, encountering groups of henchmen, but no real excitement. This was compounded by the weak combat and the drab graphics.
Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is a mediocre beat ‘em up that will likely only be remembered for debuting a character into the franchise.
June 15, 2012
When the failed heist of a treasury plane leaves John Lithgow and his group of robbers abandoned in the Rocky Mountains, they force rescuer/mountain climber Sylvester Stallone to locate the lost suitcases of money and get them out alive. This introduction is what one gleams after watching the ten or so minutes of low-quality, grainy footage that sets the stage for the first level of the Sega CD video game based off of the 1993 film, Cliffhanger. Developed by Malibu Interactive and published by Sony Imagesoft, Cliffhanger features awful beat ‘em gameplay interspersed with fast-paced 3D snowboarding and dire video clips.
After locating one of the lost suitcases, Stallone is on his own as he proceeds to traverse and scale peaks that contain way more enemies than one was lead to believe was with Lithgow. The beat ‘em up gameplay that ensues is awful. The stages are full of banal action that manages to be infuriatingly cheap. Stallone moves like a child with a dozer load in his diaper and after every hit he takes, he collapses onto his batch of brownies. This Stallone is not the Rocky who can take the hits, and deal them out with more determination and intensity than his foes. Thankfully, the enemies also can’t take a beating and are out cold after two or three hits. But when it comes to scaling cliffs, don’t even bother. Resting on perches are snipers who can’t be touched, so don’t worry, Stallone’s just going to have to man up and take a few bullets. The lives will be lost and continues will be used – thankfully the game doles out a combined twenty-one chances to outwit Lithgow, but you’re gonna blow through them on the snowboarding sections.
When he’s not killing thugs with his bare hands (or wussing out by using a knife or gun), he’s hitting the slopes and getting his daredevil thrills by outrunning avalanches. How Stallone can go from falling on his ass to outrunning avalanches is a weird disparity in pacing. These stages of the game are quasi-3D with Stallone shredding into the screen while dodging boulders and bushes. Speaking of infuriatingly cheap, it was one of these stages that I rage quit and decided I could spend my time better. Still, the fast-paced gameplay of the snowboarding sections was the complete opposite of the worthless beat ‘em sections and for that, I almost enjoyed it.
Cliffhanger’s beat ‘em up gameplay pales in comparison to the titans of the genre and its snowboarding sections are a thrill, but too long for their own good. The soundtrack was ridiculously clear, but I don’t care. The best part of Cliffhanger was the twenty minutes of malodorous video, and that’s saying something.
At first glance, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: The Second Cataclysm is very interesting. This Sega CD/PC video game is based off of the Xenozoic Tales comic books/TV show and it features graphics and cutscenes that stay true to this heritage. Another way the game sticks to its foundation is through the inclusion of the zany post-apocalyptic story. I perceive the developer’s as having a passion for translating this intellectual property into a video game, and yet, my first impressions of The Second Cataclysm are negative. Repeatedly playing the first level of the on-rails shooter deflated my morale until I eventually threw in the towel.
Through a brief comic book in the manual and an introductory cutscene, I was enlightened on the setting and plot points of The Second Cataclysm. Many hundreds of years in the future, Earth was ravaged by unnatural disasters and the remaining humans survived and thrived underground. When they returned to the surface, the planet was overrun with the remains of their civilizations and confusingly, dinosaurs. They’ve learned to follow the “machinatio vitae” which calls for a balance between nature and machinery and when a race of highly developed ground dwellers sense an upset in this balance, they seek out all around good guy Jack Tenrec to prevent another cataclysm like the one that devastated Earth hundreds of years before.
With his trusty accomplice Hannah Dundee and his 1953 Cadillac, Jack sets out to stop Wilhelmina Scharnhorst’s megalomaniacal ambitions. His road to success is littered with obstacles however, first and foremost that there isn’t one!
As I cruised through the jungle in Jack’s hot ride, I’d try my best to avoid rocks, logs, and dinosaurs and if I couldn’t, I’d have Hannah blast them with her gun. I had to keep an eye on the path ahead though because the road to success wasn’t straight. I’d have to make split-second decisions when I came to forks in the road and I’m not quite sure if this holds true in the earlier stages, but the manual leads me to believe that I could go in circles. Keeping the “machinatio vitae” in mind, I’d try my best not to blast dinosaurs because when I did, my time limit to reach Scharnhorst decreased.
Looking back, I probably was going in circles. Still, I would stick it out for as long as I could until the Cadillac was too beat up from obstacles or I ran into a dinosaur preventing me from completing the first stage. I’m not all that interested in trying to best myself and complete the first stage to, reportedly, do the same thing in the same environment six more times until the game alters its stage design before capping off Jack and Hannah’s journey. An ambitious game with tepid gameplay – Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: The Second Cataclysm is a game that can remain extinct.
June 9, 2012
In my years of collecting video games, I’ve made an observation. When developers were making their first forays into first-person and polygonal video games, the first-person mech genre was a popular choice to test the waters. Battlecorps for the Sega CD falls into this category. Developed by Core Design and published by Time Warner Interactive, Battlecorps features colorful graphics, but poorly executed gameplay.
As one of three characters, I began missions by listening to a briefing from the Comedian-inspired Lieutenant Calgary. With my objectives known, I’d pilot a bipedal attack machine (BAM) through enemy-riddled levels and destroy the infrastructure of rival corporations.
Controlling the BAM was doable but aiming was a hassle. With only three buttons and a directional pad, Core Design was limited in their choices for sure, but they still chose to overuse the controller. They opted to give players the ability to aim up, down, and around, but doing so required players to shift the functionality of the d-pad depending on what they wanted it to do: pilot their BAM or aim. Enemies won’t wait for you to aim at them so taking damage is an unfortunate necessity. This is a design choice that hampered the game and could’ve been avoided by eliminating the need to aim at all.
The confounding controls ire me and the gameplay revolving around walking slowly and shooting deserves only this single mention, but I do like the graphical style. The environments are colorful and the game is a hot pixilated mess. It’s 3D much in the way that Doom was 3D; objects are made of pixels and as camera moves, so too do they. What’s not cool is the limited field of vision. The game replicates the insides of the BAMs as though I was actually in one, and because of radar and various screens, my view of the world is limited.
Battlecorps’ tepid gameplay and complicated controls left me not wanting to return to its battlefield again.
June 7, 2012
Back when arcades ruled the video game roost, light gun games were widespread. The genre wasn’t as ubiquitous on home consoles, but it seems like each console from back in the day had a light gun. One game with a big presence back then was Lethal Enforcers. It was originally released as an arcade game in 1992, but was ported to the Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Sega CD from 1993-1994. Developed and published by Konami, each version came bundled with the Konami Justifier, a blue light gun modeled after the Cult Python, the iconic .357 Magnum revolver. Enabling cooperative play is the harder to find pink light gun, although it works across all three platforms.
Lethal Enforcers contains little narrative, but little is needed. Crime is being committed and as a cop, it’s your (and your partner’s) duty to uphold the law. You’ll shoot through scenes in which bad guys pop their heads up from cover looking to blow yours off. Without quick timing and precise accuracy, game over comes quickly. Once those qualities are on lock-down though, you might just be able to make your city a little cleaner. While that sounded like an ad, that’s pretty much the best way I can sum up the game.
My friend and I played the Genesis and Sega CD versions of Lethal Enforcers and I only noticed one difference between the two versions – the soundtrack of the Sega CD version was of a higher quality. Both games looked identical, although the Sega CD version should look much better than its Genesis counterpart. I imagine the Super Nintendo version is identical to the Genesis version, although without playing it myself, I can’t say with certainty.
My friend and I had a rough go at the game. It was easy to complete the first level, a bank robbery, and even do so without losing lives, but to unlock the next level, we had to have 70% accuracy. We eventually managed this, but the second level, a trip to Chinatown, upped the difficulty, while also asking us to have even better accuracy. The game has five stages and I’m sure this continues to be the case throughout the game.
I really enjoy light gun games, and Lethal Enforcers seems to be one of the genre’s better examples. It’s tough, but it doesn’t force players to memorize enemy locations. With quick reflexes and good accuracy, anyone can have fun. Playing cooperatively is a treat because at that point, you’re into the experience for at least thirty bucks, but it’s definitely much more fun with a partner. Lethal Enforcers is a fun game, although for the best experience, it will be slightly costly/difficult to track down. It’s worth noting that Lethal Enforcers won’t work on HDTVs so if you’re interested, make sure you have a CRT TV or something you can play it on.
May 30, 2012
Distilling MS Saga: A New Dawn to its most basic pieces is pretty easy, even after playing the game for only twenty or so minutes. Before I do that though, let me give some background information. MS Saga is a role-playing game for the PlayStation 2 based off of the Gundam franchise. It was released in North America on February 21, 2006 and was developed and published by Bandai. As it’s based off of the long-running anime series, mobile suits are abound, however it tells an original story. Now, onto a succinct distillation.
For starters, the gameplay is very traditional, and by that I mean basic. According to Wikipedia, the game was designed to be accessible to an audience unfamiliar with Gundam. I’d also add that it was designed to be accessible to those unfamiliar with RPGs because the combat seems ripped from a fifteen year old game, which isn’t bad. Bandai didn’t need to set the world on fire with a video game based off of a preexisting property. Instead they built a simple RPG around that property, and that works for me. I’m not an avid fan of Gundam and I like that MS Saga is easy to get into. Sometimes, I just want a simple RPG to play, one that I can casually play while listening to a podcast, all the while still going through the motions of character development and advancement.
Because I barely played MS Saga, I can’t comment on the worth of the characters or their surrounding world. Still, it took me by surprise when I realized that the protagonist was a male when he looked like a female. Androgyny aside, I imagine that like the gameplay, MS Saga is filled with characters and scenarios I’ve seen before. With the exception of piloting giant human-like mecha that is.
Mobile Suit Gundam is one of the most influential anime series out there, but in the video game realm, the Gundam franchise has been anything but influential. The franchise has been incredibly prevalent, appearing on many systems with many releases, and from what I can remember, games were generally received lukewarmly and that sums up my feelings regarding MS Saga: A New Dawn.
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is a role-playing game released in late 2004 for the GameCube. It was co-developed by Monolith Soft (known for the Xenosaga series and the recently released Xenoblade Chronicles) and tri-Crescendo (Eternal Sonata) and published by Namco. The game is a story of revenge for Kalas, the primary protagonist but it also focuses on his (and his compatriots) quest to save the world. I didn’t find the story or characters interesting, but what’s exceptional about the game is its card-based battle system, which could’ve been its biggest liability.
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean takes place in a fantastical world, a world where landmasses float in the sky, oceans are a thing of legend, and the human inhabitants have wings. The young adult Kalas is on a mission of revenge as he searches for the murderer of his brother and grandfather. He believes the person responsible is a soldier in the imperialistic Alfard Empire. The game begins as he awakens, confused but not suffering from amnesia, in a remote village. Soon after this point, he meets Xelha, a kind but mysterious girl who believes the Empire is on the verge of unleashing a great evil. Although Kalas believes he has no need for her, they join together as their goals run a similar course.
At the point I finished (about a dozen hours in), I had met a third party member: a rural fisherman named Gibari. He was beefed up and helpful in the rural town I found him in, but he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Beyond those three, I can’t comment on anyone else as I didn’t sink enough time into the game to meet anyone else. After joining up with Xelha, I visited another town or two and trekked through a few enemy-riddled areas, but the main focus was the routine run-ins with the Empire, which helped narrow the protagonists’ motives.
I don’t really have an opinion on the general story because I only played it for a dozen or so hours, but in that time span I already knew that I didn’t like Kalas. He was off-putting from the get go with his lack of respect for others and rudeness. Of course, naïve characters are the norm for role-playing games of this ilk; I’m sure that over the course of the estimated sixty hours of gameplay, he would mature and grow as a person. A lot of my opinion of him (and others) was based on the poor voice acting and that didn’t help in forming my opinion. It’s not necessarily that characters over or under act, instead my grievance lies with the quality of the audio – it sounds like I’m listening to people in a sound booth, as if whatever audio mixing that would remove this aura wasn’t done.
On the back of the game’s box is a quote from Nintendo Power: “It’s possibly the most beautiful GCN title ever made,” which I’d have to agree with. The game’s locales are like paintings that you walk around in, or like the PlayStation 1 era Final Fantasy games; they feature a fixed camera perspective with no player control of it. The pre-rendered backgrounds of the towns are intricately detailed and will often have animated bits and pieces, but because I wasn’t able to control the camera, navigating these areas was sometimes less than great; for instance when Kalas would walk into the background and shrink to signify distance from the camera. This isn’t a problem with Baten Kaitos, it’s just a style that I don’t prefer.
What makes Baten Kaitos unique compared to other RPGs is its reliance on Magnus (playing cards) for items, attacks, equipment, and just about anything else. Each character had a deck of cards that they used in battles. As they leveled up, the amount of cards they could put into it, as well as their hand size in battles grew.
Battles revolved around each character’s deck of Magnus. A good deck would contain a mixture of offensive, defensive, and healing cards that were suited to take advantage of enemies’ elemental weaknesses. In battles, characters would have a hand of cards and I’d try my best to link them together to create optimal attacks and defensive maneuvers. I found that if I didn’t suit my deck to each area and continually keep it fresh, I wouldn’t advance.
The Magnus weren’t just used in battles though; they were used in place of items too. Special Magnus could capture the essence of an item, say water, and I could then use that Magnus to solve a puzzle, such as putting out a fire. I had to be careful with Magnus however, as the cards would age and their properties would change. For instance, if I had a Magnus with green bananas on it, as time passed, the bananas would ripen and the card’s effect would change. This aspect of the Magnus kept me on my toes and was in some instances, annoying.
Card-battling games have a reputation for being obtuse, complicated, and slow-paced. Of course, they’re also known for requiring strategy, skill, and a little luck. What’s great about Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is that it takes the best things about card-battling games: strategy in deck building, skillful combinations of cards, and a little luck of the draw, while reducing the negatives by speeding up the battle system and easing players into the extensive number of Magnus. It may not have captured my attention for too long, but damned if I didn’t absolutely enjoy its battle system.