January 25, 2012
Jupiter Strike is just another shoot ‘em up set in space. It was released for the PlayStation in 1995, very early in the console’s lifecycle and the game shows its age. It was developed by Taito, no stranger to space shooters and brought to North American shores courtesy of Acclaim.
Jupiter Strike opened with an extraordinarily long cutscene that was extraordinarily boring. Comprised of shots of spaceships in space, it didn’t convey any information that I couldn’t already scrape together on my own – thanks to the genre’s typically limited scope. All I needed to know is that I’m fighting for one side in a confrontation and my spaceship is special. But it really isn’t.
In my mind, it’s a foregone conclusion that all spaceships – especially those found in shoot ‘em ups – are agile. The one I controlled in Jupiter Strike was sluggish and whenever I’d steer it, it appeared that the screen was moving along with it, giving me the impression that I was controlling the camera rather than the ship itself. Now this is akin to similar games like Star Fox but I don’t remember it bugging me as it does when I play Jupiter Strike. Perhaps this is because of the ship’s poor animation.
Also, rather than incorporating many different weapons and have them be obtainable through many means, Taito opted to include just two. My ship naturally had a basic attack which fired shots repeatedly consistent to my button presses. It also had a special laser that homed in on enemies. To target enemies I’d have to “paint them” with my cursor while holding down a button. When I released the button, lasers would target individual enemies. Both of my attacks had infinite uses, although the laser had to be charged. This lack of weapon diversity (also the lack of pick-ups) led to monotony.
I didn’t play the game offensively. I never felt like I was doing a good job at hitting enemies, although in truth I was. Instead, I opted to play defensively. My tactic was to fly around the edges of the screen avoiding enemy fire and wailing away with my trigger fingers. Playing like this, I was more concerned with avoiding enemy fire rather than shooting them down. This worked well too, up until stage four (of eight?).
A boss battle occurred at the end of each even numbered stage. The first boss was tough. It took a few tries, but I was able to learn/avoid his attacks and use my opportunities to strike back. He just had a lot of health. I didn’t fare as well against the second boss and it’s probably due to my inability to adapt.
The second boss was basically in a tunnel. During the stage I was flying into and out of large space ships until my encounter with the boss. It had octopus-like appendages that it used to crawl through this tunnel. Worst of all it was equipped with very strong weapons that were hard to avoid. I of course stuck to riding the edges of the screen but I wasn’t able to avoid his attacks. They depleted my health fast and after a few attempts I decided that the time I’d need to invest to beat Jupiter Strike wasn’t worth it.
Jupiter Strike was uninteresting. It’s a bare bones game that doesn’t do anything to set it apart from similar games. On top of that, the audio mixing was awful! If I fired I could not hear the soundtrack. Then again the soundtrack was so basic that sounded like a game from the previous generation.
In short, Jupiter Strike is just another shoot ‘em up set in space, and like the initial cutscene, it’s boring.
January 24, 2012
UmJammer Lammy is a simple music game that was published by Sony for the PlayStation in 1999. It was developed by NanaOn-Sha, a Japanese studio headed up by Masaya Matsuura. They’re most known for PaRappa the Rapper, to which UmJammer Lammy serves as a spinoff. The game features a striking art style courtesy of Rodney Greenblat. Matching the bizarre art design is a similarly weird story and funny songs. While the non-interactive parts of UmJammer Lammy are laudable, the gameplay was simple yet tough and unclear.
Lammy is a guitarist in an all girl rock band called MilkCan. Rocking out is what she does, but rocking out in front of a crowd in a traditional venue just isn’t wacky enough for the art style. I only made it to the second level, but it seemed to promise grand stages. In that level Lammy had to help put out a burning building. To do so she imagined that a fire house was her guitar and she began rocking out. When Lammy is without her guitar she isn’t very confident, but with it she’s unstoppable; unless I’m playing in which case it’s constant failure.
As a guitarist, Lammy’s job is to play rock ‘n’ roll and perform well so this responsibility falls on me as the player. Fortunately for me, Lammy had teachers who would show me the buttons I’d have to press moments before I’d have to press them. Sounds simple enough but the game is ridiculously demanding.
When playing a song I’d be graded in real-time. It seemed way too easy to have my grade drop fast. I wasn’t sure if the timing of my button presses was off because there wasn’t any indication telling me otherwise. Even when I’d perform well, I’d reach the end of the song and fail for no good reason. Besides my grade I’d also have a point total so perhaps I needed to get this above a certain amount to succeed?
Another aspect to the gameplay was the ability to freestyle. Like in PaRappa the Rapper, UmJammer Lammy encourages players to freestyle. The manual encouraged me to press buttons other than the ones I should be pressing to rack up much higher scores and reach the ultimate grade of cool. When I reached this grade, Lammy’s teacher would leave her side and I was able to press whatever buttons I felt like, as long as I stuck to the rhythm of the song. Alas I was never able to progress beyond the second stage.
I bought UmJammer Lammy with anticipation. It looked like a fun game and I hoped to see what craziness the game had to offer. Unfortunately I found the simple gameplay very tough. It never provided me feedback on why I was doing poorly and that disappointed me. Maybe I don’t have rhythm, but I couldn’t get into the game.
December 2, 2011
Q: What is Juggernaut?
A: Juggernaut is a first-person adventure game where the primary mechanic is solving puzzles. A great shorthand reference would be the popular game Myst, a less ideal one would be either Mansion of Hidden Souls or The Mansion of Hidden Souls, two similar games that I wrote about earlier in the year. Juggernaut was released on the Playstation in 1999, many years after any of these games.
Q: What is Juggernaut about?
A: The protagonist’s girlfriend has become possessed by an evil spirit (presumably the devil) and a priest has notified the protagonist that the exorcism he performed was ineffective. Telling the protagonist that his love for her is the greatest chance of removing the evil, he sends him into her body to rid her of the evil.
Q: Wait, what!?
A: Yes, that’s only the beginning to the surreal adventure that plays out in Juggernaut. Inside the girlfriend’s body my friend and I did not find organs and blood but instead a mansion; perhaps a nod to the Mansion games?
Q: Okay, but why a mansion?
A: Well I suppose it could be a metaphor for something. Maybe it symbolizes her soul with the rooms inside representing specific chapters of her life, maybe not though. Functionally it provides a great backdrop for a single environment that requires a lot of exploration and houses many puzzles.
Q: You’ve mentioned puzzles, but what’s gameplay like besides them, what do you do?
A: My friend and I controlled the protagonist and explored the mansion and other environments. We’d explore until we couldn’t progress any farther, usually because of puzzles, although I use that term lightly. Most puzzles seemed to revolve around finding an item and making the connection as to what it’s used for. There were puzzles that required my friend and me to get scratch paper out and think something through, but for the most part making connections was the name of the game.
Q: So it’s a puzzle game and the puzzles aren’t that great, why should I even care about Juggernaut?
A: That’s a great point actually. My friend and I felt the same way until we encountered an evil microcosm, what we were attempting to rid the girlfriend’s body of. The evil microcosms were one-off stories that featured unique plots, characters, and environments. The stories and dialogue in the microcosms were absurd! Definitely some of the weirdest stuff I’ve encountered in a video game.
There were eight microcosms in all. Two of them took place in the future, entirely on the internet via virtual reality. Two of them took place in an isolated prison. One of these featured a spy who yelled out karate moves before he attacked people, like “karate correspondence manual page 12, flying kangaroo”. It ended in a goofy/creepy five minute conversation with another character that had my friend and me laughing, and confused. Two took place on tropical islands and they also resulted in confusion. The last two took place in woods and they dealt with a ghost shaman from Africa and a killer who slashed out eyes. I’m only scratching the surface of what makes these storylines strange by the way, just know the plots develop strangely and the dialogue is detailed
Q: After everything you did was the ending satisfying?
A: Yes, actually. What was more satisfying was the epilogue though. It added another puzzle and a lot of exposition from the girlfriend’s perspective, plus, a twist.
Q: Who made Juggernaut?
A: I’m unclear on that. There are two Japanese companies attached to Juggernaut, Will and TonkinHouse. From what I’ve gathered Will developed it and Tonkin House published it in Japan. Jaleco published it in America. Remember, it came out on the PlayStation in 1999.
Q: So should I play it?
A: Nah. The gameplay was slow and it takes a long place to get somewhere. There was an interesting mechanic in the mansion of having to switch bodies to access specific rooms but this was time consuming. Juggernaut is a pretty ugly game even considering how old it is but I liked the soundtrack, it wasn’t overbearing, it was moody, and set the tone well. It was fun solving puzzles and experiencing the oddities with a friend and the microcosms were surreal, but you can probably YouTube that stuff.
September 30, 2011
Before they were known for the Disgaea series, Nippon Ichi Software developed a puzzle video game for the PlayStation back in 1996. Jigsaw Madness was published in the USA by budget publisher XS Games in 2002 and when I say it’s a puzzle game, I literally mean you put together jigsaw puzzles.
In regular old jigsaw mode I tried completing puzzles as fast as I could, with the help of up to three other players, if I had a multi-tap… and three other people who wanted to play a jigsaw video game. There were plenty of puzzles, 150 to be exact so should someone be seriously interested in this game, there’s ample content. Most of the puzzles I played seemed fitting with the theme of puzzle design: they had a lot of colors and plenty of objects.
Besides the puzzle itself, I had many options that affected the difficulty of the puzzles. Most importantly I could decide on how many pieces that puzzle should be comprised of: 24 pieces, 96 pieces, or 150 pieces; naturally the more pieces, the longer the puzzle took. I could also choose whether the pieces were in the correct position or if I had to rotate them. Another option that amped up the difficulty was if I wanted to view the puzzle piece outlines on the uncompleted puzzle.
The reason I pulled this game off the shelf however was to try it out with a friend; but I couldn’t find two others or a multi-tap, dang. We played a handful of rounds of the game’s competitive multiplayer. There are two modes and they’re only available for two players. In the first mode we tried to complete three puzzles faster than our opponent, simple enough. The second mode was a little more challenging; we attempted to capture more puzzle pieces than the other guy. To capture pieces we had to surround them, and the results from this mode were always up in the air until the end.
One very cool thing about the multiplayer was the items we could use. With each puzzle piece we placed correctly, we’d fill up a bar on the screen. As it filled up more items became available to use. There were a few dastardly items too. Reversing our opponent’s controls, speeding up their controls, blacking out the images on the pieces; depending on which side of the item we were on, it was frustrating or hilarious.
I’m not really sure what the appeal of a jigsaw video game is (or was) but for what it’s worth, Jigsaw Madness is a good game. There’s plenty of content there for those who are interested, but playing with a friend is where it’s at. Whether you’re working together or against each other, it’s a unique video game experience.
July 8, 2010
That Grandia was released recently on the PlayStation Network is a coincidence to my play through of the game. I had purchased it earlier in the year and finally got around to playing it, coincidentally it was released on the PSN a week or so later so this review is relatively timely. Prior to my play through of Grandia, my only other experience with the series was a play through of Grandia II on the Dreamcast which I remember loving, but I’m unsure if I finished it. Personally I’m a fan of more action-orientated RPGs and Grandia is one of, if not the best.
Grandia opens up in a somewhat bustling port town and quickly introduces the player to Justin and Sue, two young kids who are playful and not very serious. Nevertheless Justin is intent on becoming an adventurer like his father and Sue would follow Justin anywhere so she’s up for it as well. While the initial premise for the game is one that is often used, the game’s story gets deeper as Justin and crew learn of a mysterious ancient civilization that once perished. As they search for this ancient civilization they run into trouble with an army lead by a power monger and go through a few non-permanent party members. The story is very light and comedic, with an overarching sense of seriousness.
Like I said earlier, Grandia is more action-orientated than a traditional turn-based RPG; however this element of control is kind of a façade as the battles are ultimately a turn-based affair. In a dungeon you can see any enemy before battling, as opposed to random encounters; once you’ve run into an enemy or vice versa, you’re shifted into a battle scene. Along the bottom of the screen is a meter that shows icons representing your party members and all enemies; the icons move from left to right until one hits the command point. Here the battle will pause and you can tell that party member what to do. There is still a bit of time before they enact whatever you told them to do and this allows for strategy and planning as you can delay and cancel enemy moves based on when and what attack you hit them with.
There are many options when in battle: normal attacks, critical attacks which delay or potentially cancel depending on when landed, special moves, magic and items. One of the more interesting, and addicting, elements of battling is that every special move and magic attack has its own level that increases as you use it. The characters level relatively slowly but having all of these moves that are going up frequently gave a good sense of progression and feeling of accomplishment. Of course with any RPG that has magic there are elements of strengths and weaknesses but I never paid attention to this facet, probably due to my want to just level up everything, and this worked for me. The battles were fast-paced and fun, I looked forward to battling every enemy and leveling up many different things made me not want to skip out on fights.
The soundtrack, like the story, was lighthearted; many of the tracks were quirky, with unusual sounds and upbeat tempos, matching the game’s tone. There were a few standout tracks that I really enjoyed listening to and I can’t say there were any I disliked. The voice acting on the other hand was quite poor. The voice acting was infrequent throughout the game and when there was any, what the characters said, would never seem to match the tone of the situation at that moment. Grandia is set a 3D world, with characters, buildings and other objects being made of 2D sprites. This mixture of old and new (at the time) graphics give it a feeling reminiscent of the “golden age” of the JRPG, while still progressing technologically. I’ve already mentioned that the game’s story and soundtrack were lighthearted and fun, and the look of the game matches. Grandia is set in a colorful world with interesting character designs and locales.
Grandia cost me fifteen dollars and I put fifty-plus hours into it, and had fun the majority of the time. If you’re someone like me, who likes owning a physical copy of your games and having the chance to look through the manual, I’d recommend seeking out a copy of Grandia rather than purchasing it off of the PSN, but maybe do that as well to support it! Grandia’s manual is robust, and while much of it is explaining relatively basic mechanics of the game, which if you haven’t played a Grandia title will be very beneficial, I did get stuck on a boss and consulting it did help me.
I loved Grandia. It’s quickly become one of my favorite JRPGs and even after I beat it, I can imagine wanting to play more to level up the rest of my party’s stats. It’s a long game with rare feelings of tediousness and overall, it was a lighthearted, adventurous romp through a colorful world, which is a great escape from the current market of more adult, serious games.
April 23, 2010
When I left off yesterday I thought I was getting ready to fight a boss and that’s kind of true. Justin has a Spirit Stone from his father; it’s an ancient artifact and it opened a door that no one else managed to iin the Sult Ruins. Inside were two psychedelic rooms where I met Liete of Alent. She took Justin and Sue into outer space, or perhaps it was just an illusion. She convinced Justin to travel to the new continent to meet her. Upon exiting the area Colonel Mullen tried to capture Justin and Sue but they got away. Colonel Mullen doesn’t seem like a bad person as afterwards he burst into laughter and was happy Justin was so daring.
To get to the new continent I needed a passport; Justin and Sue learned they could get one from a partly crazy, old adventurer. I took a train to the Leck Mines, south of Parm. Once there Java, the adventurer, required they pass a test to get his passport. I traveled into the mines and explored it until I met an orc king who I subsequently defeated. Java gave them the passport and I headed back to Parm. To get to the new continent the group had to travel by ship but Justin thought Sue should stay in Parm. Justin sailed away the next day alone and without telling his mother, but she left him a note saying that she knew. After exploring the ship I found out that Sue had snuck on! Justin and Sue were back together and since she is considered a stow-away, they are required to do some manual labor.
TOTAL TIME PLAYED: 04:41:36
April 22, 2010
Today I experienced the battle system for the first time. I left Parm and was heading to the Sult Ruins. Prior to this I received an invitation to visit the ruins from a curator at the Baal Museum whom Justin is friends with. To get to the Sult Ruins I had to pass through Marna Road which was full of a few bug type enemies.
The combat is very fast; most matches seemed to be over with thirty seconds. The hallmark of the Grandia series is its real-time battles. There is a meter that shows everyone in the battle, enemies included. The representative icons progress until the command point when you enter in what you want to do and then it a progresses a little more until the action point. Another staple of the series is the lack of random battles; you can see all enemies on the map.
I found a few items in Marna Road and eventually got to the Sult Ruins. Outside were the army’s equipment and a lot of soldiers, some working and some slacking. I viewed a cutscene with three female leaders who act very childish. I explored the area outside and then set foot into the ruins. I was surrounded by ancient artifacts and enemies. I proceeded two levels in to what appears to be the entrance to a boss and stopped there.
TOTAL TIME PLAYED: 02:18:42
April 21, 2010
Similar to what I did with Seaman, which you can find here, I’m going to do a journal of my time playing Grandia. They won’t be that similar though; the nature of Seaman allowed each player to add a lot and ruminate on what was happening whereas Grandia is telling a story and I expect to add less and communicate more like an actual blog.
The game opened up in what I consider to be quite cinematic for the time. The intro cutscenes didn’t explain much but showed that the game had good production values. After the beginning cutscenes I got to control Justin and Sue, the main character and his cousin. They are early teens and most of the intro consists of me looking for objects to show up a bully/rival. The game looks pretty good, it’s in 3D and it isn’t a fixed camera game; it looks very good. The controls feel good; movement feels loose and fast, how I like it.
I explored Parm, the starting city, and learned a lot about the game and my surroundings. Justin’s family is full of explorers and that’s what he wants to do, coincidentally many ruins nearby have recently been found. The game appears to be pretty traditional story wise; this’ll be another RPG where I play as a young adventurer, following in his families footsteps. I played for a little more than an hour and was just getting ready to leave the town; haven’t fought a battle yet, which is why I’m playing Grandia. I love action RPGs and I loved Grandia II.
TOTAL TIME PLAYED: 01:13:26