April 3, 2013
Here it is – my final article about Activision Anthology. After 41 straight days of articles and 44 games covered, I’m fixing to discuss the final two games on this magnificent compilation. These are unlike anything else on the collection as they were originally unreleased.
First up is Kabobber, a game discovered in 2000. I’m not sure of the story behind its discovery, but it was cleaned up before being released to the internet. In fact, much credit is presumably due to Dave Giarrusso, the man responsible for the manual. It can be found here, at AtariAge. The game was designed by Rex Bradford and is a weird action game.
Players control a small squad of Buvskies and progress down a grid, growing their squad and avoiding or destroying enemies in the hopes of reaching the Princess Buvsky before she exits the stage. The controls were very precise which allowed for no uncertainty when playing, but the overall game lacked polish. This is understandable as it was unreleased, but even as is, I didn’t find a sweet enough set of mechanics or rewards to enjoy it for long periods of time.
Next up is Thwocker. This game’s rediscovery is so cool. Imagine shopping at a local thrift store and stumbling upon an unassuming Atari 2600 with a stock red label on it. Being the video game enthusiast you are, you pick it up anyways because it’s a pittance and it might be a game you don’t have. For AtariAge’s d8thstar, it was more than just another game; it was an unreleased prototype that had been floating around for twenty odd years.
Like Kabobber, Thwocker is an interesting action game that, unsurprisingly, isn’t all there. Controlling a little composer, players bounce around stages trying to pick up musical notes in the correct order. This composer is made of flubber though and controlling him is easier said than done. I found it to be a little frustrating. The game looked advanced compared to many of its contemporaries, but overall, it was a little flat.
If 10,000 points are scored while playing Kabobber in Activision Anthology, a commercial will be unlocked. This commercial is a montage of some early Activision titles that features truly amazing transitions of pixilated characters into the real life counterparts that games are replicating.
If you’ve been reading along with every article or even just a few, I’m truly appreciative. Also, thanks to those who liked my articles. I’m grateful for that outreach and the community we can create on WordPress with our likeminded blogs. I’ve had fun keeping my schedule of an article a day and look forward to a similar challenge. Perhaps more importantly though, I’ve had fun discovering Activision’s early catalog of video games. The majority of these are undisputable classics. Thank you!
January 2, 2013
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe
Release Date: June 11, 2001
The resurrection of Dracula isn’t enough to deter feelings of resentment and rivalry in Hugh Baldwin. The young vampire hunter is distraught after his father, Morris Baldwin, gave his treasured Hunter Whip to Nathan Graves, the protagonist of Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. The three arrive too late to the Austrian castle where Dracula is being revived. The dark lord captures Morris and isolates himself from the two young apprentices.
Rather than seek out their mentor together, Hugh sets off on his own wanting to prove himself to his father. Hugh’s sour feelings are brought up multiple times as the player encounters him while exploring the castle, but there’s no depth to this plot. Ultimately, Hugh realizes the darkness in his soul would be his downfall and redeems himself. Lackluster story or not, it’s all supplementary to the player’s exploration of Dracula’s castle.
Exploration has been one of the hallmarks of the Castlevania franchise since the beginning and Circle of the Moon retains this element. Dracula’s castle is both expansive and limiting and the same time. The player is limited from outright exploring every area due to obstacles that cannot be overcome until a required item is unlocked. There are many such roadblocks to progression forcing the player to explore the castle sections at a time. Still, the player has much freedom to wander about and discover rooms with stat boosters and tougher enemies. The design methodology seems to encourage players to spend time exploring while preventing them from encountering enemies much too tough for them.
As players traverse Dracula’s castle and defeat enemies, Nathan levels up and becomes stronger and more resilient. Players also have a few options for customization by equipping different pieces of gear or making use of Circle of the Moon’s unique Dual Set-up System. The gameplay draw for this Castlevania game, the DSS, allows users to combine magical cards they’ve come across to enhance their combat proweress. By combining an action card and an attribute card, players can unleash special attacks or increase their stats. I wasn’t impressed with the system for the majority of the game, tending to rely on a combination for many hours without alternating. As Nathan’s quest became more difficult though, I experimented more and by the final battle with Dracula, I was switching between three combinations depending on the circumstances.
Apparently the score is mostly composed of songs from past games in the series, slightly revamped. I’m not intelligible enough in regards to the series to say whether or not these versions are better, but I can say that I sought out a few of the tracks and put them on my iPod I liked them so much. “Awake” was introduced in Circle of the Moon, “The Sinking Old Sanctuary” is from the Genesis game Castlevania: Bloodlines and “Clockwork” is from the NES game Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. I would’ve embedded them, but WordPress doesn’t allow mp3s, so I’ll just say search them out.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon was on the receiving end of some controversy in the late 2000s when Mr. Castlevania himself Koji Igarashi struck the game from the primary timeline. This action is something only the most fervent fans will care about, but it sent a message that Circle of the Moon was not as respected other titles. (Perhaps this was personal though as IGA didn’t have any involvement.) Still, Circle of the Moon is well enough worthy of the Castlevania moniker – it’s a superb action game.
August 11, 2012
After winning a mansion in a contest he didn’t enter, Luigi invites his brother to check out his new digs. After getting lost on his way, Luigi eventually arrives to discover the mansion is packed with ghosts and they’ve captured Mario. The ensuing evening highlights how Luigi’s love for his brother overcomes his lack of confidence. All told though, Luigi’s night is full of mild laughs and humorous encounters rather than deep frights.
To combat the ghosts, Luigi utilizes the Poltergust 3000 – a special vacuum designed by Luigi’s most recent acquaintance, Professor Elvin Gadd. This vacuum sucks in the undead inhabitants and when Luigi returns to the safety of Gadd’s shack outside the mansion, the professor seals the ghosts in portraits. Capturing ghosts was initially a frustrating endeavor but with practice it became easier, but it never felt “just right.” Navigating the mansion was occasionally a laborious affair as well.
The mansion is quite large and it’s full of distinct rooms that are inhabited by similarly distinct ghosts. The mansion was broke up into areas which were capped off with a boss fight against a more menacing foe. Luigi’s Mansion was fairly straightforward, but there were a few times where I wasn’t sure what I needed to do to progress. Also, backtracking was a massive part of the game. Towards the middle of the game, when the number of unexplored rooms was dwindling, I’d usually have to traverse multiple floors in a convoluted fashion to move on.
The problems I had with Luigi’s Mansion were minor, but were annoying nonetheless. Its gameplay also wasn’t so fantastic as to redeem these annoyances. I felt like my time with Luigi’s Mansion was worthwhile though. It was a very positive, humorous adventure that has me interested in its upcoming sequel.
December 20, 2011
Surprised by how much I enjoyed the Streets of Rage games earlier this year, I look upon beat ‘em ups in a new light nowadays. However I have yet to play one in 3D, disregarding games which feature beat ‘em gameplay but rely on many more elements, like Batman: Arkham City. Therefore The Bouncer is my first foray into a 3D beat ‘em up with a traditional, simpler focus.
The Bouncer was released very early on in the PlayStation 2’s life cycle. It was developed collaboratively by Square and Dream Factory and published by Square Electronic Arts on March 5, 2001. With Square being more familiar with RPGs, I assume most of the game’s development was handled by Dream Factory, known for fighting games with minor RPG elements at the time. Regardless of the pedigree, The Bouncer is a beat ’em up.
The Bouncer follows a group of three bouncers as they rescue their kidnapped friend. Sion, Volt, and Kou are all working when Dominique, a young girl who Sion recently found, gets captured by ninja-like thugs. As they search for Dominique, they get involved with a major corporation run by a megalomaniac named Dauragon. He is the root cause for their woes and they deal with him and others as they get closer to finding Dominique and unraveling Dauragon’s plans.
It took less than two hours to complete The Bouncer and I liked the pacing of events. Unlike an RPG which may resolve a minor story thread over the span of hours, The Bouncer introduced a few key players early on and dealt with them over the short run time. I didn’t know a lot about the characters, but I didn’t need back story to understand them. Sion had strong feelings for Dominque and wanted to rescue her. Dauragon had a complicated past that shed light on his reasoning for kidnapping Dominque, but then the plot in general snowballed into craziness.
Whereas the older beat ‘em ups are primarily gameplay with little story development, The Bouncer is mostly story with minor gameplay bits. I haven’t tested it myself but some say that 2/3 of The Bouncer is cutscenes, and that sounds right and maybe for the best.
I didn’t like The Bouncer’s gameplay. Attacks felt like one-time affairs that could rarely evolve into a combo and never be chained with another attack. I had four attacks: low, medium, and high as well as a jump attack. I never mixed and matched attacks with any success and combos were short bursts of the same attack dependent upon how much pressure I applied to the attack button; The Bouncer took advantage of the PS2s unique pressure sensitivity feature. I found that I could lightly press the high three times and get a nice combo and I stuck with this.
Because attacks felt like one-time affairs, the combat felt stilted, very stop and go. The same can be said for the overall pacing of The Bouncer. I’d witness a few cutscenes and then get to play, only to defeat two enemies and watch more cutscenes. I found it jarring how little I spent actually playing the game. Most of the combat took place in closed off areas resembling arenas with only a few stages requiring me to get from point A to B. Some of the stages lasted less than a minute.
When I did get to play the game I had the option of choosing which bouncer I wanted to play as. They each had their own stats that could be upgraded. Implementing an element of RPGs, I gained experience from each enemy I took out. I could then apply the experience to level up Sion, Volt, or Kou’s health, power, or defense, or use the experience to learn a special attack. I stuck with Sion and focused on boosting his stats and it had a noticeable effect.
The Bouncer, my first foray into a traditional 3D beat ‘em up was lackluster. The gameplay was rough around the edges, what little of it there was. The addition of the experience system is actually a solid idea and tied with the game’s short length and multiple playable characters, it’s conducive to me playing more of the game. In retrospect, maybe I should’ve given more credence to the pedigree, because at the time Square seemed more interested in making movies, not beat ‘em ups.
July 26, 2011
After playing a little bit of Mars Matrix my friend and I moved onto another arcade port for the Dreamcast, Charge ‘N Blast. Originally developed by Sega, it was published for the Dreamcast in 2001 by Xicat Interactive. We played through a few stages of the game and grew tired of it fast.
We viewed our characters from behind their backs at all times, always having tunnel vision. But then again, all the action was directly in front of us too. Enemies advanced towards our characters, which were locked onto a horizontal plane. The only movement we could muster out of them was a strafe, shifting them to the left or right, which we had to do often to dodge enemies.
There were three characters we could pick from, each with different weaponry. Each character had three weapons that were attributed to different buttons (X, Y, and B). As the title suggests, we had to charge our weapons to blast the enemies. Using the analog stick we moved our cursors around the screen targeting enemies. And to fire our weapons we pressed one of the three buttons (selecting a weapon) and once it was charged pressed the A button to release, hopefully nailing the enemy. This was confusing at first, but even after getting used to it, still cumbersome.
Charge ‘N Blast grew stale quick. Lacking much of a setup, there was nothing but the quality of the gameplay to keep us interested, and we didn’t find the mechanics all that fun. However, I will return to the game and complete it as it seemed easy, and probably short.
July 26, 2011
Ever since I was young, I’ve been a fan of shoot ‘em ups. Perhaps it’s because my dentist has had a Galaga arcade cabinet forever, and I’ve played on it since I was young. I was anticipating playing Mars Matrix for the Dreamcast, but after a friend and I played it for a little bit, I’m cool on it.
Ever since the days of Galaga, shoot ‘em ups have become a little more complicated. Mars Matrix falls into the subgenre of the bullet hell shoot ‘em up. These games are typified by the insane amount of enemy bullets on-screen, literally hundreds to thousands, making it seem impossible. But it’s really not. With Mars Matrixit seemed my friend and I had to focus on dodging more than aiming at specific targets.
After a bit of setup, we picked our ship, determining our standard weapon. Each ship’s standard weapon was different and we had the choice of mashing the fire button, or holding down an auto-fire button. This option was nice as it allowed us to focus on dodging. We also had a strong laser that had the same options. Lastly we could hold our fire button to create a barrier that would absorb enemy bullets and then fire them back, which proved useful when bullets covered the screen.
Even though bullets covered the screen the majority of the time, I still thought the game looked rather poor. I’m not a technical wizard or anything, but Mars Matrix looked awfully blurry and I assume the game has a low resolution, causing this.
There were a few different modes to select from; some multiplayer, some not, but what might bring me back is the shop. As my friend and I played we built up a cache of money that we could spend to unlock features in the shop. These honestly didn’t seem that great; unlocking Score Challenge stages or the ability to play with more lives, but it’s something else to do besides simply playing the game.
My friend and I were only able to reach the second stage (out of six) and we really didn’t have a great time with the game. I will give the game a second chance and hopefully beat it, but I really don’t think I (or we) will have the drive to see it through the next time we play it. Mars Matrix was developed by Takumi Corporation and originally published by Capcom as an arcade game in 2000. My friend and I played the Dreamcast version which was published by Capcom in 2001.
April 13, 2011
It may not be at the top of everyone’s list of fun things to do, but going to Universal Studios ought to be at the very least, a memorable experience. Not everybody can have that experience though; that’d be mad expensive! Definitely more than it’d cost to pick up Universal Studios Theme Park Adventure for the GamCube, and I thought it was a very memorable game… for all the wrong reasons. Universal Studios theme Park Adventure is a dull premised game, with very poor gameplay and a lack of nearly any fun.
In Universal Studios Theme Park Adventure, you play as a nameless child who has been told by Woody Woodpecker to go and check out Universal Studios. There is an objective and an end to the game. To complete the game you must ride every ride and collect the letters that spell out Universal Studios. At the beginning there is only one ride that’s open: E.T. Adventure, and actually that’s the only ride that’s ever open. To ride any rides after you complete E.T. Adventure you must buy hats that allow unlimited access to the other rides, I would’ve liked to know that before exploring the whole park and wondering: “How do I ride these other rides?”
Once you figure that out it’s just a matter of getting enough points to buy hats, it’s not that hard, not that fun either. You earn points by completing rides, finding letters, picking up garbage around the park, as well as shaking hands with mascots. Garbage is very prevalent but it doesn’t add up. Running into the mascots happens pretty frequently and there’s no reason not to shake their hands. However getting around is a chore. You do get a map but it’s nigh impossible to make sense of it. I eventually remembered the layout from memory, but even then, I still spent too much time trying to get places.
The attractions are the meat of the game, and wow, they’re stinkers. E.T. Adventure is the first attraction, and the one that’s always open; it plays like a not fun version of Paperboy. In Jaws, you are on a boat he’s attacking; you throw barrels and crates at Jaws to prevent him from attacking. It controls terribly and the timing of button pushes doesn’t seem to fit the on-screen action. Animation Celebration is a collection of three minigames: a trivia game, a puzzle, and a game of concentration; Animation Celebration is not required to complete the game, coincidentally, it’s not fun either. Back to the Future – The Ride is a chase ride where Biff has stolen the DeLorean and you must ram it until its health is depleted, which is harder than it sounds. In Backdraft you play as a firefighter and must rescue survivors, while putting out fires in an apartment building, and I didn’t totally hate it. In Jurassic Park – The Ride you operate a laser on the back of the Jeep from the first movie, while being chased by an assortment of dinosaurs. You can charge it up or just fire away; this attraction wasn’t terrible either; it’s very reminiscent of the Sega arcade/Dreamcast game Charge ‘n’ Blast. Waterworld. Waterworld has you watching a cutscene. But wait! You can view this cutscene from five different angles. Yes, that’s right, five! It’s probably the worst looking piece of CG video you’ll ever see, and it’s pointless. Five seconds and nothing interesting happens. Lastly The Wild, Wild, Wild West is in the vein of old light-gun arcade games where you shoot at targets, here you just need to be faster than the CPU.
The majority of the attractions are straight-up, not fun, and the compliments I could muster for the others are they’re not one-hundred percent not fun. In a weird way though, I enjoyed Universal Studios Theme Park Adventure. I don’t think many people will ever play this game so the knowledge that I have about it makes it seem worth more than the knowledge I have about a game a lot of people have played. I have a soft spot for the game, I feel sorry for it. That said, it’s not a fun game and I wouldn’t recommend it.
August 3, 2010
Well I think I’m done with Record of Lodoss War. I’ve been playing it off and on for about two weeks now and I’ve had it. It’s a frustrating game where death is frequent; I must’ve saved every three minutes in the seven hours I’ve logged, and you know what I’ve just realized? There isn’t a good enough sense of payoff for me to continue playing, so I’ll stop.
Record of Lodoss War is an action RPG, developed by Neverland and released on the Dreamcast in early 2001 here in the US. The game is based off of a Japanese anime/manga and having no previous experience I’m unaware how, if at all, this relates to the source material. Judging from the setup though, it seems that the game is meant as a side or alternate story. You control The Hero, who has been brought back from the dead. A bad dude has been doing some bad stuff, like deciding to revive an ancient beast that will do his bidding and destroy, destroy, destroy. This is why The Hero has been resurrected, you see, in his past life he was a great warrior and a wise wizard believes he’ll be able to stop this evil. This wizard, Wart, initially sets you up to take over a goblin settlement which then becomes home base, a safe spot to return and do some blacksmithing. The Hero’s quest is ultimately to stop all the bad guys and as far as I proceeded on his quest, I met a few allies and visited a couple of towns and plenty of dungeons. The story seemed dense with detail and it would appear that knowing more about the source material would lighten the load but regardless, the story didn’t capture my interest.
Talking about the gameplay, Record of Lodoss War shares a lot with Diablo. You control The Hero in real time, explore dungeons, do some blacksmithing, etc. Battling enemies usually ended up a frustrating experience. I’d line up next to an enemy and start wailing away on the attack button, watching my health bar and if it got too low, I’d drink a potion. In the event that I ran out of potions, which happened all the time, I’d use the Recall spell to warp back to home base, refill, and warp back to then rinse and repeat. In the event that I was overwhelmed with enemies, which also happened all the time, the game slows down to a crawl and at this point it becomes easy to get trapped in a corner and die. This process led to many deaths and loss of progress, as I thought I’d be okay and go awhile without saving only to run into a strong enemy or get overwhelmed; this process was frustrating, but necessary to advancing.
Equipment and loot is a big part of dungeon crawlers and Record of Lodoss War disappoints. In my time with the game, I rarely happened upon loot dropped by enemies and the loot that I found in dungeons, I generally passed on. At the home base is a blacksmith to whom you can take your equipment and add ancient inscriptions which add stat boosts and special attacks. Adding these effects seemed helpful, if only incrementally and overall the blacksmith wasn’t much assistance, nor was there much depth to blacksmithing. Without this sense of continually upgrading my character, I’ve lost the will to continue playing the game and whenever I’d battle enemies and have it take forever to defeat them, I felt weak, as if I’d been cheated on the equipment available to me. Exploration wasn’t fulfilling either, the few dungeons I’d been in seem very gray, in fact the game as a whole feels very gray. The game has gotten to be more frustrating than fun and even if I had some connection with the source material, I can’t imagine I’d want to continue playing based solely on the story Record of Lodoss War presents.
At this point the price for Record of Lodoss War is relatively expensive; a quick search of Amazon and eBay says you’ll have to pay around twenty-five dollars for a used copy. The manual contains great information, but there isn’t anything outstanding about the overall package. Others might have more patience with Record of Lodoss War, but if you’re searching for an RPG for the Dreamcast, or just an older RPG to check out, there are many better options.