Category Archives: Reviews

Metroid Prime Pinball – Review

Remember that DS?

I’ve had fun playing Metroid Prime Pinball. It’s a strange game, and while some might say it would be better off not existing as a Metroid game, at least it’s a quality pinball game. Samus Aran’s ability to transform into a ball lends itself well to a pinball game, even though it is a shallow reason for one. The game is essentially a retelling of Metroid Prime, minus any exposition or context. All the tables are based off of the worlds from Metroid Prime and you fight the same bosses. The music as well is from Metroid Prime, although here it is slightly remixed. Unlocking new tables is confusing, unless what the manual says is correct, but I never pay attention to those things… Anyways, to unlock new tables you collect a certain amount of artifacts, like you did in Metroid Prime, and you’ll get the ability to play on new tables, which isn’t that confusing as it turns out.

The tables are simple, but fun to play, and with time easy to get good at; the same can be said for the bosses; they take time to figure out strategies, but once you do, it’s hard to lose. Having bosses, to me, seems out of place in pinball, but it’s done well here; it ties itself well to Metroid Prime, breaks up the standard goal of focusing on points, and differentiates itself from other pinball games. That said the game can get repetitive. After only a few hours, I had seen all the tables that were unlocked had to offer, and progressing seemed like it would take more luck than skill and so went my enthusiasm. I would end up dying quite early, and I would think I didn’t have enough artifacts unlocked to continue on, so I’d restart. But as I learned the tables and my grasp on my purpose became clearer, it was evident I would need equal amounts of skill and luck, as is often the case with pinball.

The Tallon IV table, one of the initial tables available.

Artifacts come from succeeding at minigames and beating the bosses. The minigames are quite simple; the wall jump for example transports you to a separate area where you alternate the L and R buttons to wall jump, eventually reaching an artifact. Others are played on the board such as activating an enemy battle; space pirates, shriekbats, metroids and other familiar creatures will populate the board and you are tasked with defeating them all within a time limit. You’ll see all the minigames relatively soon, and then they become rote, although there being two types of tables: normal tables and boss tables, play strategies get significantly altered. The game comes with a rumble pack, and that’s pretty much that. It doesn’t seem very powerful and it makes a loud noise every time it rumbles, which can be distracting; it just doesn’t add much to the experience.

Metroid Prime Pinball piqued my interest initially because pinball games are somewhat of a rarity, as I played more I began to get burned out as it seemed like beating the game would require more effort than I cared to put in, once I got to the later tables though, I regained my ambition and trying for the ultimate goal, beating the game, became exciting again. As I do with most handheld games anymore, I played Metroid Prime Pinball in bed before falling asleep each night. I thought it offered enough fun in the relatively short bursts I played it, yet enough content to satisfy longer play sessions. It’s a competent and fun pinball game, its ties to the Metroid universe might as well be nonexistent, but it does nothing to foul the name of the series.  Samus’ Morph Ball ability may be a shallow purpose to play a pinball game, but at least it’s a worthwhile pinball game.

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Record of Lodoss War – Review

The US box art for Record of Lodoss War.

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.

The Hero battling some skeleton archers.

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.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess – Review

Link as he appears in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

Like many others, I hold The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in high regard. I didn’t play it when it was initially released; I received it when I preordered The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and I bet many others’ first experience with The Legend of Zelda was through this method. It was around this time that I was beginning to get into video games, and those games were a big part of it. To say I was looking forward to The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess would be an understatement; I remember getting hyped about it with friends but when it came out, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. I didn’t finish it then but have come back to it and experienced it all the way through and while it is all around extremely competent and fun game, I still came away somewhat disappointed. A lot of this stems from it feeling too similar to past Zelda titles.

Early on the dungeons advance similar to Ocarina of Time; forest dungeon, fire dungeon and then water dungeon, even the towns are similar; these places are designed in new ways and remain interesting to explore but it seems lazy. After this period however, the game starts to feel different and many of the later dungeons were interesting, both aesthetically and the way they played out. The items are similar as well, but I don’t fault this aspect of the game, wanting one hundred percent different items I feel would be asking too much. Many of the previous items have been slightly altered which changes up their use, both for puzzles and attacking, and there are a few totally new items that are interesting to use, however briefly. One of the things that I like about Zelda games is their mixture of puzzle solving and action and Twilight Princess didn’t disappoint.

Like in previous games, there are plenty of things to do on the side.

Throughout the game is an equal need for brain and brawn. In later parts of the game, I got stumped quite a bit on puzzles and would nearly give up. Then through what must’ve been some sort of divine intervention, something would click and I would figure it out, and that provided a great sense of accomplishment. Adding to the sense of accomplishment was the element of exploration. While traveling throughout Hyrule, I came across many things that I didn’t know how to interact with at that time. So I’d have a notepad handy and take notes. Once I realized what I had to do, I’d return and get whatever it was; this sort of backtracking and tab keeping is very appealing to me. The sword fighting and action in general stays on par with past 3D Zelda titles, but there is little advancement. Perhaps my biggest complaint in regards to Twilight Princess feeling similar is its story.

Link as a wolf, being ridden by Midna.

For me, story is a major part of the experience, I want to follow along and see the story the developers have crafted but Twilight Princess is almost laughably similar to past games, namely Ocarina of Time. Many of the key elements I already know from playing past games, so it’s like a refresher throughout the game. There are plenty of things that separate it from past games, such as the ability to turn into a wolf when traversing the Twilight Realm, but the overarching story doesn’t seem new. That being said, the cutscenes are extremely well done and a joy to watch as they do convey a lot of information, but a lack of voice acting is a major hindrance. The characters in the game are crafted excellently, with unique personalities and an interesting look, and having voices would make them seem more fleshed out.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a great game and I had fun throughout the adventure, but I still can’t help but feel disappointed. Twilight Princess feels like a compilation of what the developers thought were the best parts of past Zelda games and this sense of familiarity turned me off. Much has been said of Japanese game design lagging behind that of western developers (that the Japanese are very conservative) and in many ways Twilight Princess is the perfect example of that.

Grandia – Review

The title card for Grandia.

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.

Justin and Sue standing next to a save point.

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.

Justin, Sue and Feena in a battle.

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.

XIII – Review

XIII is a first-person shooter based on a Belgian comic book series started in the mid eighties that took inspiration from Robert Ludlam’s The Bourne Identity. I have never read the comic books so that isn’t what initially drew me to the game when it first came out; XIII was originally released in November of 2003. I was in love with FPSes and cel-shaded games at that time and this was a godsend. I played it probably six months after it came out and I remember liking it, but not loving it. Recently I’ve had the urge to play it again and since it’s a pretty short game I decided to go ahead and play it.

The game is centered on Steve Rowland, aka XIII, who suffers from amnesia. Apparently he has assassinated the president! Things aren’t what they initially seem as XIII globe trots to figure out if he really is the president’s assassin. Along the way he learns of The XX, a group that has ties to the assassination and which he is a member. It’s worth noting that David Duchovny does the voice work for XIII; Adam West and Eve also do voice work for key characters in the game.  It’s also worth noting that they don’t do that great of a job. Adam West gives a performance that seems… like an Adam West performance, the downside of that is that I don’t view him as a serious actor, it’s simply my frame of reference for him, every time he speaks, I hear his dialogue as sarcastic. Eve’s performance wasn’t terrible but David Duchovny’s was, he doesn’t sound committed early on. My biggest problem is there isn’t a ton of exposition that these characters are involved in. Most of XIII’s dialogue consists of one-off questions or statements until the end of the game when he becomes more aware of his past, which is fine for his character but did they really need to get David Duchovny to voice him? I’m sure investing in the game would’ve been better but attaching these “high profile” celebrities probably helped sales in the short term.

Blowing stuff up with the rocket launcher, hopefully a baddie.

Well anyways, the game is an FPS and a competent, if not boring one at that. There isn’t anything I can think of gameplay-wise that it excels at as compared to other FPSes. Nothing in particular was bad about the gunplay and action, but seeing a group of bad guys didn’t excite me, nor did I have different strategies for taking them down. This could be due to the heavy emphasis on sneaking around and a general sense of espionage. Much of the game’s levels require you to remain unseen and this sets it apart from being another “run and gun” shooter, but there is much trial and error and after a while, failing due to something minor gets old. A problem I had later on was hiding bodies. Throughout the game you have the ability to pick up and hide dead bodies, but early on you don’t need to, so towards the end when hiding bodies is a necessity, I found it hard to reprogram the way I had been playing the game up until that point. And with missions that required sneaking, it seems there were varying degrees of AI attentiveness which made it frustrating when something that worked previously, all of a sudden did not.

In gunfights the enemies never seemed lethal and I never felt that I died because they outsmarted me, only ever because they outnumbered me. Whenever I saw an enemy, I just stood in place and shot until he was dead, this method was helped by the abundance of medkits but playing on a harder difficulty would potentially require a change in strategy.

My favorite part of the game without a doubt was the art-style which was brilliant. The game holds up visually and I attribute this to the cel-shading. While nothing in the game is very detailed, the art-style helps offset this and lets everything pop. The graphics weren’t the only thing inspired by the comic book though. Whenever you get a headshot, a three part comic book panel pops up showing in detail the projectile entering the targets head; similar to this, if an enemy falls from a high location another panel comes up showing their descent. In parts that require stealth you’ll need to sneak up on enemies and when you move slowly or stop, you can see their footsteps as indicated by comic book onomatopoeias.

What happens when you get a headshot.

The last thing worth noting is the multiplayer and the exclusive modes depending on which console you purchase the game for. Anyone purchasing XIII this long after it’s come out, I imagine isn’t purchasing it for the multiplayer. It’s competent but not high on my list with friends over, but the game has bots and plenty of maps so it’s worth trying out alone. One big concern of mine is the lack of a dedicated grenade button. Throwing a grenade requires switching from a gun proper to the grenade, and this creates a different dynamic that I found unappealing for a multiplayer match.

The Xbox version (which is backwards compatible with the Xbox 360) has an exclusive mode titled Sabotage. This is a class based mode where one team plants bombs on three bases and the other team defends. The GameCube has The Hunt, which has everyone chasing around Death and shooting him to get points. With each shot he gets smaller and faster and if he touches you you’re instantly killed. The PlayStation 2 has Power Up, as well as The Hunt. Power Up plays out like a normal deathmatch except crates throughout the levels hold everything, from weapons and health to random power ups like invisibility and invulnerability. Although I didn’t play the PC version, it includes all three “exclusive” modes. Overall I found The Hunt to be the most fun and it’s something different from other games; unlike the rest of the multiplayer, this is something I want to try with friends.

XIII was a short and overall mediocre game. It ended with a sense of satisfaction although it does have a cliffhanger ending that leaves many questions unanswered, but for those dedicated enough to want closure, there’s the comic book. The art style was fantastic and while the gameplay isn’t the best, it’s competent enough to stick with it to see the end.

Picross 3D – Review

Before picking up Picross DS, I had only heard of picross through snippets in magazines and until I played it I had no idea why it received these mentions, when there had only been one game released in the US. Once I had got it, I was instantly hooked. I’m a fan of Sudoku and crosswords and for those who have never played picross, it compares to those games favorably to those kinds of games.

Notice the blue squares that have been marked in and the faded clues on them.

Before making the transition to 3D, picross was played in a grid (5×5, 10×10 etc.) and to complete it you’d fill in boxes by the clues given to you on the outside of the rows and columns; once completed, an image is revealed. I would have been happy with more puzzles for picross but instead they went and added another dimension which changes the game dramatically, yet it still retains familiar elements that make it picross.

In Picross 3D you are now given a 3D grid, that you can rotate and “look into” to figure out the image. Each image is completed the same as it has been in the past: each row and column still has the numbers that tell you how many of those boxes you need to fill in. The controls are superb and allow you to maneuver the starting grid easily and without any confusion. The game has a great, and lengthy, tutorial explaining every aspect of the game clearly and repeatedly which will help new players learn invaluable techniques and practice using logic to complete examples puzzles.

Creating a school bus with the creation tools.
There are more than 350 puzzles, and if my experience with the game is any indication, it’ll keep anyone busy for a long time. Whenever I play, I typically do a handful at a time or pop in some music when playing for extended periods; I seem to play it every night just before bed. Once you finish with the included puzzles, you can get online to download more, for free, for what looks like will be a long time to come. Even whenever I finish everything, I foresee myself going back and starting a new profile to do it all again, the game has a good ability to allow you that opportunity; once completed, I can come back to a puzzle and not remember how to quickly solve it, or remember the image until it’s revealed.

And if you’re the type of person that likes creating in games, Picross 3D also scratches that itch. There is the ability to create your own puzzles and then share them locally or submit them for themed contests. Without a dedicated community to share with, I can’t see the creation being that much of a draw, unless you have a friend or two who are into that aspect of games.

For only $20 it’s hard not to recommend, and with the amount of puzzles included, it’ll remain in your DS for a long time, but if you’re not a fan of games like Sudoku or crosswords, check it out before running to the store, regardless I highly recommend getting Picross 3D.

Haze – Review

Probably been doctored up to look better.
Taking out Mantel soldiers as a rebel.

My first impressions of Haze were disappointing: after the initial setup for the game I get thrown into the main menu which looked like something from a last-gen game and once I’m into the actual game, I’m introduced to some stereotypical characters. Thinking about these and other lows early on upset me; I grew up with loving TimeSplitters 2 and TimeSplitters: Future Perfect and to think that Free Radical (the developers) had fallen this far since then was depressing. However, as I got farther into game, I enjoyed it more.

I’m not sure why I began enjoying it more though. An hour or so in you defect to the rebels, but the mechanics didn’t change very much, at least enough for me to think “wow, now it’s better.” I think I just lowered my expectations by then. I think a big problem with the game were the expectations for it prior to its release; they were out of proportion. When it was announced that it was a PlayStation 3 exclusive, people began to latch onto it and want it to be great, like with most console exclusive games. Once I lost the mentality that this game had to be great because it was a console exclusive, I enjoyed it more, but that’s a backhanded compliment and not to say the game isn’t good.

The gameplay, like the game overall, is decent. I thought the controls were too stiff, especially for vehicles. I do like that the game doesn’t feel super arcadey like TimeSplitters games do; even something as minor as that adds weight to the story, after all, it seems like Free Radical wanted to make a more serious game, but that’s part of why I think this game is just decent. It seems like Free Radical wanted to make a game that told a story, but the characters weren’t believable and the majority of them feel like cheap jokes on played out stereotypes. Even the main character is hard to like; Shane Carpenter rarely seems like someone who should be in the position he’s in. Throughout the game he consults everybody but himself on what to do next, all the while asking himself who he should be fighting for.

Again, probably doctored up.
An example of what it looks like when using Nectar.

I interpreted the game as being about the Iraq War. You initially fight for Mantel, a large corporation that produces Nectar, a drug that enhances their soldiers’ abilities in battle. Through some errors you begin seeing that Nectar might not be so great while learning later on that you’re in this country because the natives have begun harvesting a key ingredient in Nectar and this would be bad for Mantel’s bottom line. Taking into account that some believe the Iraq War started in part over oil, we can replace all instances of Nectar with oil and it seems close, or perhaps I’m looking too deep into it. The game does touch on some other topics: free will in a very small way, anti-drug sentiments and that people, no matter their differences, are alike.

I found Haze very enjoyable a few hours in, whether this is due to me lowering my expectations or just playing for another side I’m not sure. I only played a few minutes of the multiplayer and thought it was great that they melded it into the fiction but at this point, there aren’t enough people to make the game exciting for me to put any serious time into. Haze was a disappointment compared to the TimeSplitters games, but as an FPS, it gets the job done.