Jigsaw Madness – Review

Jigsaw Madness is okay. Not like I was expecting XS Games to knock it out of the park.

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.

Actual back of the box quote: "Truly challenging!"

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.

Actual back of the box quote: "Everybody's a winner!"

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.

3/5

Soul Blazer – Review

What a wicked sword dude.

It’s not every day I have a half-off coupon to my favorite video game store. So when I received one I used it wisely and picked up a relatively expensive Super Nintendo RPG. I decided on Soul Blazer, a game I had no previous knowledge of. More specifically, it was an action-RPG developed by Quintet and published by Enix for the SNES in 1992. I thought it had a simple plot and simple gameplay, but it was exciting to return life back to the world of the Freil Empire.

Primarily a tale of greed, Soul Blazer at first has a shallow plot, but it gets interesting. The king of the Freil Empire has captured a famous inventor and forced him to create a machine that allows the king to communicate with a seriously bad dude, Deathtoll. Deathtoll wants souls and the king wants money so they strike a deal, souls for money. Here’s where the player character comes in.

The player character, the soul blazer is sent down from the heavens by The Master to remedy the situation in the Freil Empire. As the soul blazer I was capable of defeating the numerous monsters throughout the dungeons of the empire as well as communicating with the souls I released.

The stages ran the gamut from sea floor to snowy mountains to space.

There were seven stages in all and I thought the way they were structured was interesting. Each stage was basically a village with access to a dungeon or two. The first stage was a mining town with a mine serving as the dungeon. The second stage was a settlement in the woods of woodland creatures, and so on; the stages were diverse and they contained all sorts of different creatures.

Like the villages, the dungeons were set in interesting locales; one on a model town and another in a fantastically rendered version of space were my favorites. The dungeons were very straightforward and not very difficult. I followed the path and killed monsters as they spawned from portals. Once the portals were depleted, they changed into a switch that would release a creature back in the village.

There wasn’t any puzzle solving in the dungeons, I just followed the path and killed any monster I came upon. The villages on the other hand did require a bit of thinking. After freeing creatures and restoring the stages to their original glory, I could chat with the creatures and sometimes get some info on a stronger sword, better armor, the location of magic, or a necessary item.

The bosses were challenging and required strafing, lots of strafing.

For the most part, Soul Blazer wasn’t very challenging. The monsters were really dumb, basically walking into my sword and the dungeons were quickly completed, about an hour for each. The bosses on the other hand were challenging, but not excessively difficult.  The only puzzle solving that was tricky came at the very end when I had to retread a few of the earlier dungeons defeating previously indestructible enemies. But my favorite part of the game would have to be the soundtrack. I thought it was phenomenal and hummed along with practically every track. Soul Blazer was a good game and in the end, well worth using a half-off coupon.

3/5

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon – Demo Impressions

I played as two separate characters in two separate locations in the demo.

It’s a different article but a familiar introduction. I’ve begun a few articles by stating I’m familiar with a series but have never played a related game and Ace Combat is no exception. However, I played the recently released demo for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon and was surprised by how much I liked it.

The demo had two missions. The first took place in the skies above Miami as I flew in a jet aircraft. I engaged in many dogfights and was introduced to a new mechanic for the series called “Close-Range Assault”. Some enemies could only be defeated by entering CRA. To do so I had to stay on their tail until a circle flashed around them; I then pressed L2 and R2 (or the triggers for the Xbox 360) and I was locked onto to the enemy. The view changed to a much closer shot and the camera was shakier; I thought it was intense. I had a blast controlling my plane and shooting down the enemies. The plane was very maneuverable and fun to pilot, yet it still felt like it had weight.

The second mission took place in Africa and much closer to the ground; this time I was piloting a helicopter. For this mission I was providing air support to soldiers on the ground as they were entering a town and taking objectives. It was fun to play from this perspective but this mission dragged on. Controlling the helicopter gave me more to think about. I quickly changed views as the helicopter continually obscured my vision. To take out enemies effectively I would zoom in on them which would lock me onto them and fire away. I had a few neat special weapons but that’s basically all I did in this mission and it took way too long.

While the HUD initially appears cluttered, you'll soon learn what to focus on.

So honestly I really liked fifty percent of the demo. The first mission was super fun to play. Piloting the plane was fun, the soundtrack added to the thrilling feeling of shooting down bogies and CRA was intense. The second mission was really cool in concept (providing air support) but it had me doing the same thing for too long. The demo boasts that there are more aircraft in the game as well as a story penned by an acclaimed author so the single player sounds diverse. It also features a multiplayer component, although the demo didn’t have access to this so I can’t comment on it. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon was developed by the Project Aces team within Namco Bandai Games, who will publish it when it releases for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on October 3, 2011.

In Between Posts, September , 2011

For some reason last week is a blur. I can’t remember what all I did but I know I did so much. I posted first impressions for four games: Renegade Ops, X-Men, From Dust, and Red Johnson’s Chronicles. I also played the demo for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon and I’ll post my impressions of that tomorrow. I started playing Soul Blazer for the Super Nintendo… and I’m almost done with that. Depending on my schedule I should complete it and have a review this week, maybe next week. My girlfriend and I also completed another level in The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure  and we played Rock Band 3 with another couple and that was fun. That’s pretty much it for games I guess.

This week was a blur because of school and work too. Work was pretty much the same schedule as always so it’s a constant, but it seems like I did a lot of work in school. Heck, I’m in the middle of helping a classmate as I type this. Anyways, time permitting I’ll have a review of Soul Blazer, demo impressions of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, and another demo impression or two this week.

Red Johnson’s Chronicles – Demo Impressions

The puzzles revolved around objects. Moving them around and searching for clues was vital.

What is it about realism and video games? For some games that portray a realistic world it can be easy to suspend belief about how things should operate and play along because a mechanic is fun, like with Driver: San Francisco. What about when games portray a partially realistic world but contain elements that make it hard to go along with? Well that’s my issue with Red Johnson’s Chronicles, an otherwise stellar adventure game.

Red Johnson’s Chronicles is a downloadable game released this past week for the PlayStation Network, developed and published by French studio Lexis Numerique. It’s a puzzle-based adventure game following private investigator Red Johnson. I controlled him and was introduced to a few additional characters pretty quickly.

Besides the puzzles, I encountered a few quick time events in the demo.

As Red was sitting in his office, a rotund police officer entered. The two obviously have a past together and Red helps out by investigating a murder. I was swept off to a shady area of town and soon I was moving my cursor around the screen looking for objects I could interact with. There were no witnesses of this murder but a security camera surely caught the perpetrator. After a few puzzles I was finally able to access the camera.

The camera however didn’t have power, which is odd because to reach the camera I had to find a power grid to operate a ladder right next to the camera. It turns out the circuits inside the camera are not in order, forcing me to arrange them correctly. This begs the question, if the camera was on when the murder was committed, who climbed up to the camera, took it apart, rearranged the insides, put it back together, and left it? If it was the murderer, why wouldn’t he just destroy the camera or take the videotape?

So that’s my major complaint with Red Johnson’s Chronicles. The game looks really nice, I mean considering most of it consists of still screens, but it had an interesting art style blending realism and cartoons. Going along with the art style, the game’s characters seemed straight out of a cartoon with their overdramatic acting. I couldn’t get past that one unlikely puzzle however so I’ll probably miss out on an otherwise stellar adventure game.

From Dust – Demo Impressions

Eric Chahi designed From Dust. He also designed the early nineties game Out of This World. I've never played it but it's well regarded.

Have you ever wanted to be a god? Have dominion over creatures and wield unimaginable control? Well From Dust satiates a few god-like desires. Developed by Ubisoft Montpellier and published by Ubisoft, From Dust is a downloadable video game where players take control of the breath, a visual representation of their influence. Appearing like a cursor, I was able to move it around the stages, highlight people or things, and most importantly, manipulate the environment.

The demo opened with astounding visuals and sounds, showing me the people I would assist. They were tribal, resembling African Bushmen or Australian aborigines. A narrator got me up to speed as to what’s going on and my task. These tribal people needed to get somewhere; traveling through portals and I had to get them there.

The stages I played consisted of a few islands spread about in clear blue water, very tropical and desolate. Before the portals would activate, the people had to build small villages. I led them to totems were they performed a ceremony and a village popped up around them. This also brought fauna and animals.

More totems were located on separate islands. To transport the people to these islands, I had to use my powers. I could absorb certain types of terrain, sand or water for instance, and then disperse the terrain wherever I wanted. I had to link islands together by absorbing sand and dropping it to create land bridges. Spreading the sand was a little difficult for me, at least spreading it evenly.

While the environments could be an ideal vacation spot, they start out desolate.

Helping these tribal people out could be rewarding and I’m intrigued by the game, but the few stages I played in the demo had me doing the same thing: leading the people to totems and finally to a portal. The final stage saw a tsunami come, but all I had to do was lead one of the people to a rock and they learned a song to avoid it. It looked great and the concept was fun, but I’m fine with playing as much of From Dust as I did especially if the gameplay doesn’t change a lot throughout the game. From Dust was released at the end of July on Xbox Live Arcade, at the end of August on the PC, and it was just released this past week for PlayStation Network.

X-Men – First Impressions

My favorite part about finding a complete copy of X-Men? The sweet poster that it came with!

Maybe my friend and I didn’t like X-Men on the Sega Genesis because we were hoping for something different. We, or at least I, thought it would be a beat ‘em up, more specifically a port of the well regarded 1992 arcade game. But X-Men is more of a platformer than a beat ‘em up and not a very fun one.

X-Men was developed by Western Technologies and published by Sega for the Genesis in 1993. My friend and I were able to assume the role of one of the four selectable characters. We got to pick from Gambit, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, and Cyclops, but there were many more appearances from familiar faces in the form of backup attacks.

After picking our characters we messed around for about a minute in the Danger Room before the game threw us into the first stage. It was evocative of a prehistoric time when cavemen roamed, but instead our enemies were leopardmen and pterodactyls. Combat was pretty basic, a jump button, attack button, and a special button, but it was somewhat clunky and it didn’t feel great.

From the heads-up display, to the graphics, to the combat, I found pretty much every aspect of X-Men to be lackluster.

The stage required us to move upwards besides just to the right, but the camera was kind of wonky with two players on screen. We fell off screen plenty of times, but Jean Grey would save us, as long as we had health. This was hard to get used to, especially with enemies and other threats throughout the stage. Scaling the stages was different but it was difficult to do in tandem. I also didn’t like the animation and the design of the first stage honestly.

My friend and I couldn’t get through the first stage of X-Men. We had a hard time figuring out the camera and it caused us much strife. I played it by myself to get a perspective of the single player and I was able to get farther, but I wasn’t interested in putting much more time into it. The soundtrack was a divisive topic between us. It was very abrasive, making obnoxious sounds, but I liked that it was different, my friend felt differently.

I thought X-Men was a poor game overall. In every department it feels like the game comes up short and I can’t imagine playing through it anytime soon.