Riviera: The Promised Land – Review

US PSP Box Art
The US PSP box art.

Belonging to the list of games I was interested in when I first heard about them but never managed to play is Riviera: The Promised Land. I was interested in it when it originally came out on the Game Boy Advance solely for the fact it was an RPG. I finally got my hands on a copy, albeit the PSP version, which is probably the superior version but was not impressed by the game. I applaud the fact that the game is different than other RPGs, but I found it repetitive and boring.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before; a thousand years ago there was a war between the gods and demons. The gods weren’t able to hold their own and in desperation created Grim Angels to assist them. They were able to seal the demons away and bring peace about for a thousand years; but of course demons are beginning to come back. The main character of the game is Ein, a Grim Angel who throughout the game will learn about himself, betrayal and friendship. I found the characters to be predictable and ultimately ones I’ve played as before. Likewise the story was predictable and didn’t offer any surprises I couldn’t see coming.

Adding to the lack of surprise was the way the game progresses outside of battles. Early on you visit a town, Elendia, and for the rest of the game this becomes your home base. You travel here after each dungeon and work out the next plan of action. The dungeons are influenced by adventure games it would seem. Rather than controlling Ein directly, you enter a room and are given the option to look around, interact with objects by spending Trigger Points which are earned by performing well in battle, or move onto the next room. A set of rooms make up an area and in between each are you are given the chance to save. Looking around was vital in the sense it often netted you new items but it wasn’t always necessary to progress.

The battles are never random; the way the dungeons are laid out there will always be a group of enemies in “that” room and to progress you must fight them. Rather than equip characters with a weapon and armor, you are allowed to bring four items into battle. Not all characters can use all items so you have to plan ahead, for instance Ein is good with swords and direct attacks but if Cierra, a witch, were to use the same sword, she’d do a magic attack. Before the battle you can look at the enemies and pick your characters and items. The items have a limited number of uses, so you must also plan around this fact, however, early on you run into more items than you can hold.

Like the battles, leveling up is also unlike most RPGs. Rather than a character getting experience from enemies and leveling up, they earn experience for the item they’re using. Each time Ein uses a certain item, it gains a point of experience and once it’s maxed out, he’ll learn a special ability with that item and boost his stats. However each character has unique levels with each item, so after maxing out something with Ein, you’ll still need to max it out with another character for them to learn a special ability and get their stats boosted. Since the items have limited uses, gaining experience could be troublesome, but there is a practice mode which allows you to level up without breaking items.

Fia's turn in a fight; notice the four items she can use.

The game is completely voice acted and with the exception of one minor character I found it to be very good. My only major gripe with the VO is that a lot of the characters sound familiar, not simply their voices, but the way they act; if you’ve played a handful of RPGs, you’ve seen them before. I liked the soundtrack as well but didn’t find it particularly mind-blowing; I would recommend playing with headphones though to get the nuances in the music.

After the first few hours of getting used to the way the game is different, it became a very linear experience, completely lacking the sense of exploration and wonder I turn to in RPGs. While they tried to innovate in a few ways outside of the storytelling, it shined a spotlight on the generic tale the game wove.

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Pokemon HeartGold – Review

US Box Art
I originally played Gold so I stuck with Ho-Oh for the remakes.

New Pokemon games are out! Kind of; Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver released not too long ago and having played HeartGold a good deal, I feel experienced enough to talk about it. The games are remakes of Pokemon Gold and Silver, which happen to be my favorites in the series. I’d probably say Pokemon Red and Blue are the best since they laid the foundation, but Gold and Silver introduced a lot of things that I thought added to the formula and it was really my first chance to get sucked into the games as soon as everyone else.

You are given the choice of picking one of three Pokemon, which are creatures, like pets, that people fight with in the hopes of becoming the best and/or catching them all. Wait… if you’re reading this I’m going to assume that you know the basic story and mechanics of Pokemon games; these two areas haven’t evolved too much in the main games, and they’re still addictive. If you have tried a Pokemon game and it didn’t click with you, these games won’t convert you and if you’ve been waiting for the next hit, chances are you’ve already picked one of these up.

What I liked a lot about Gold and Silver were them bringing elements of the “real world” into the experience. They ran on a seven day schedule that allowed for special events on certain days and since it also had a 24 hour system, they could happen at specific times. Searching for Pokemon got a little trickier as the ones that seemed like a “night” Pokemon, would appear at night. I remember thinking about the games before they came out originally and was amazed that I’d have to stay up late to play them. Many elements that have been introduced since Gold and Silver have been adapted into HeartGold and SoulSilver like the online battling and online trading, as well as pretty much everything else. I’ve forgotten how the battling and trading worked out in Pokemon Diamond but so far I’ve found it to be halfway simple considering it’s a Nintendo game. I’ll finally be able to catch them all!

US Box Art
Not that Lugia is bad or anything.

Unlike in Diamond, I find that I’m using the touch screen way more, in fact, I’m using it nearly exclusively. Most of the menus seem easier to use, though there are some exceptions like the PC system which I find is not quick to navigate. I love the pop-up book effect that the 3D in the game has but at this point I’m beginning to look less fondly on them not being totally 3D, or at least having the Pokemon be 3D. I could understand that they’d want to save that for the next set of games or, more likely, that having nearly five hundred Pokemon, and hundreds of moves animated and in 3D is too space consuming.

Easily the biggest addition is the Pokewalker. It’s essentially a pedometer that allows you to walk with a Pokemon to level it up and play two minigames that net you items and Pokemon. I’ve been using it ever since I got it and find it to be a fun diversion at work. You can also communicate with other players with it, but overall, it’s too simple to spend more than five or ten minutes with.

You already know if you interested in HeartGold and SoulSilver and I was on the fence since the games were announced but, deep down I knew I was going to get them simply because they’re new Pokemon games and thus far I’ve enjoyed all twenty plus hours I’ve sunk into HeartGold.

Blur Beta – First Impressions

A still from the Blur website.

Blur is a racing game being developed by Bizarre Creations; it will be published by Activision this spring. They gave away beta codes so they could test the multiplayer and see if there are any balancing issues. I received a code and have played through to the level cap in the beta. For an easy summary, the game can be described as Mario Kart plus Project Gotham Racing with Call of Duty influences in the online play.

From the start there are only two modes and a handful of cars to choose from. As you progress, you’ll unlock two additional modes, more cars and modifiers which act like perks from the Call of Duty games. I found little differentiating three of the modes; they were normal races with one for 2-10 players, one for 4-20 players and the third one limited to the fastest class of car. The fourth mode was a battle royale which played like a game of Twisted Metal or a battle in Mario Kart.

The races were fun and there was always a lot going on. I rarely finished in the top three, but even when coming in a lower position the game was exciting just battling it out with the different power ups. The power-ups are creative and not as derivative of Mario Kart as I initially expected. There are around six power ups and most can be used in offensive and defensive ways. You can hold three power ups at a time and cycle through them which allows for unique strategies; I tried to always have a shield on hand just in case. There were a few tracks in the beta and they all had alternate paths which helped in splitting up the sometimes twenty car group. The battle royale mode was nuts; throwing you into an arena left carnage as the only objective. You are ranked according to your points which are received from attacking foes; you are also assigned a rival which will net you bonus points if you attack them.

There were a handful of modifiers available in the beta and there appears to be three sets. One set seemed to net you more fans for your actions, one seemed to affect your defense and the third set seemed offensive. Similar to leveling up weapons in Modern Warfare 2, as you use your power ups in different ways; they’ll level up and unlock rewards. Say you have a shunt which is essentially a homing missile. You could shoot that in front of you and attack someone, or you could save it and when someone shoots one at you, fire it backwards and destroy them both. You also gain fans for using power ups effectively, drifting and finishing. Fans represent your overall level which allows you access to different modes and more. Regardless there will be plenty of unlockables to keep playing the game a long time after you’ve reached the level cap.

People looking to Blur for a straight up racing game might be disappointed. There are a few good ways to progress in the game and strictly trying to finish in top positions looks to be the hardest and least fun. There will be modes that don’t have power ups in the retail game but those won’t be the draw I presume. The element of luck in the game is heavy and will provide for a fun online racing experience. Frankly, I could see getting this game and never touching the single player.

The Thing – Review

I originally wrote this February 2, and intended for it to go on a blog but couldn’t decide if I just wanted to post it to Giant Bomb or create my own blog. Since I’ve created this blog, I’ll go ahead and post it now since I never did. It’s short and little on details, but it’ll fit.

The theatrical poster for The Thing.

So I just beat The Thing and I’d like to talk about it; I don’t want to review it as it is very outdated by today’s standards. I began playing the PS2 version and started on medium. However, about a third of the way into it, I had no health packs and found it too frustrating to continue. I decided to restart and to buy the Xbox version considering it would look nicer (I don’t have a PS3) and in the hopes I’d prefer the position of the analog sticks. I decided to start on easy instead of medium and it was still a toughie but I managed to beat it. I should also note the reason I decided to play it was to play along with Rebel FM’s Game Club of it; now onto the actual game.

The game is a third-person squad based shooter, but a large portion of the game is spent alone. There is a trust/fear mechanic between you and your teammates and I really liked it but found it to be pretty binary in most cases and ultimately not as cool as it could’ve been. Your teammates are useful and in some cases necessary but man, they sure are flaky. They are however very lethal. The enemies can be a hassle, especially the little things (think head crabs), but taking a concept from the movie to destroy the larger things with fire was cool and varied the combat. I found the game to be very frustrating and contemplated quitting it more than once.

Just going back to a game like this after “adapting” to the game’s of recent memory was hard. Much of the game, you need to die to figure out how to progress and then execute whatever must be done near perfectly. Pretty much every one of the bosses was cheap and required multiple attempts just to figure out if what I was doing was working. Finally much of the game I spent with less than half health, just struggling to get by. The story takes place a little bit after the movie; which had an ending perfect for the spirit of the movie, and not necessarily implying any need for continuation. The story in the game was pretty vague and low on details but there were many references to the movie and I really enjoyed them. Overall I found the game to be very frustrating and lost my cool a lot, but found a few things to like in the game.

Earth Defense Force – Review

Set in the future with a generic plot, Earth Defense Force is a quality shooter for the Super Nintendo. Lacking a thrilling story is not a knock for games of this vein as the story is each person’s experience encountering the hundreds of enemies and bosses you’ll surely take out. From the beginning, the game is fast paced and early on, requires quick reflexes as well as memorization.

EDF was developed and published by Jaleco; it was released originally into the arcades and later ported to the SNES. Having never played the arcade version I’m unaware of the differences between the two. The story of EDF is told in the manual with a lack of cutscenes or any background in-game. I would’ve liked seeing some sort of progression between levels but the story in the manual was sufficient for the genre. Full disclosure: I wasn’t able to beat the final boss and see if there was an ending sequence. That being said the manual was detailed and even referenced The Beatles!

At the beginning and between each level you are given the option to pick a weapon type. There are eight different types but a few seem redundant. My favorites were the homing and the search laser although anyone who has played a

The homing weapon in action.

similar game will find something familiar. As you defeat enemies you will fill a bar at the top of the screen. This will level up from 1-5, each time increasing the power of your weapons. This turned out to be a good barometer of success and a way to differentiate itself while retaining elements of the genre. Flying with you are two satellites ships that provide extra firepower. As you level up, they’ll be able to take on different formations and like your weapons, become more powerful. These smaller ships are indestructible and can absorb some enemy fire.

The game is comprised of six levels that take you from Earth to space and get increasingly more difficult. I spent much time getting to a new part and dying, but making progress with each death until I was able to get to the final boss. Though all this dying was frustrating at first, it came to be a part if the game. I found the game to be tough, but fair in most parts and towards the end of my playing I was able to reach the final boss without losing a life. The final boss however seems very cheap, nigh impossible. This experience is made worse when you lose all of your continues and must trek through the whole game just to have another stab at him, all a part of the game I suppose. I felt the soundtrack was great; its up-tempo beat matched the nature of the game and in particular I found the weapon select track superb.

I found the final boss just too tough to continue after a while and have given up on the game. I will still try every now and then and I won’t let this bad ending impact my view of an otherwise solid game. I found EDF to be fast paced and when considering the effort it took to be able to get to the final boss undefeated, rewarding.

MadWorld – Review

So I bought MadWorld off of Amazon for cheap and thought it was a steal. I’d always been interested in the game but not enough to pay full price for it, sorry Platinum Games and Sega.

MadWorld is a game unlike any other due to its art style. The game’s look is very reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Sin City and the game overall is influenced by comics. Having not read anything about the game, my guess is the decision for this art style was to cope for the Wii’s graphical power among wanting it to stick out and I really dig it, except that most everything blends together and it can be distracting at times trying to figure out where one thing ends and another begins. Of course that’s not a problem when blood starts spewing over everything, which it does often. This is without a doubt the goriest game I’ve ever played but it didn’t have a negative effect on me like a more realistic game would’ve.

What’s the reason for all this gore? Well, a game show is being staged and it’s being run by people who bet on

This is what happens when you cross Jack.

contestants. The contestants must survive on an isolated island that has had a virus spread across it. They can’t only survive though; they need to kill the others in outrageous fashion to score points, which is how you progress. You play as Jack Cayman, a mysterious man who is on the island. You get sponsored early on and it’s apparent that Jack has other motives for being here. Jack stabs people with road signs, throws them in spike laden dumpsters and an assortment of other gruesome acts, many including his prosthetic chainsaw arm. Early on I found the story to be the least of my concerns but as the game moved on, it’s what began to draw me in as it got more complex.

Structurally the game doesn’t change much. Each level is a confined map that opens up more and more as you get more points. Throughout the levels are all sorts of objects to inflict death with and halfway through each level, a “Bloodbath Challenge” opens up which tasks you with killing people in a single creative way for a limited amount of time. These break up the pace and most of them are very fun, and they’re all playable in a multiplayer mode. At the end of a level you fight a boss which, like the levels, adheres to a singular structure. You attack the boss some and get the opportunity to do a cinematic, motion-based super attack and then repeat. There are two motorcycle missions but these got old before they were finished. The levels get boring with a repetitive nature to them, but like I said the Bloodbath Challenges provide a nice break in between them and the boss battles are quite fun.

The soundtrack was enjoyable although the developers seemed split on a singular direction to take it audibly. Solemn music fills the menus and cutscenes which is a stark contrast to the obscene rap/rock soundtrack that takes place during levels. Although thinking about it now both types fit the setting well; the dual settings of an island with a bleak outlook to the over the top death game show. Easily one of my favorite parts of the game were the commentators, providing quips about the on-screen action, often in vulgar and funny ways and the voice acting in general I liked.

MadWorld was a cool game. The art style was striking, the story became more interesting as the game progressed and the voice work and soundtrack were well done and added to the over the top setting. There were many interesting and fun gameplay moments, specifically the Bloodbath Challenges and boss fights, but the repetitive nature of the game grew old fast.

Beginnings

Before I dive into blogging I think an introductory post would be ideal, just so you, the reader, can get a handle on where I’m coming from when I talk about games. I thought this would be cool to do as a post rather than just stick it in the about section.

My first gaming experience was Christmas 1995. My parents bought me a Super Nintendo that came bundled with Killer Instinct. I was only six at the time and having never played a video game before, I just mashed buttons. I remember my mom being distressed about how bloody it was and wanting to sell it, even up until middle school; I also remember my uncle coming over and playing against me. I played a lot of games on the SNES and remember going to Blockbuster all the time and renting games, even searching years afterwards trying to buy the games I used to play. When I think of playing the SNES back then, these are the games I remember: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, Family Feud, Goof Troop, Killer Instinct, Kirby Super Star, Ms. Pac-Man, NBA HangTime, Space Invaders, Super Star Wars, Tetris 2 and Top Gear.

My next system was the Game Boy Pocket which I received for my birthday in 1996 of 1997. All I had for it was Black Bass Lure Fishing and I really loved the game, it probably fueled my interest in fishing. It was my only game… until Pokemon Red and Blue came out. They were all the rage at school; the games, the cards, the TV show; I had to get a copy. Around this time I also bought a Game Boy Color, which I think I bought them both in the same trip, so this must’ve been late 1998 or early 1999. Pokemon games were really the only video games I cared about at the time and it was really all I had a Game Boy for. All the Pokemon I played shaped my interest and love for RPGs and I am still a Pokemaniac, though not as much as I used to be. Of course when Gold and Silver came out I had to get one of those as well. Even now I only own seven Game Boy Color games and four of them are Pokemon games.

Moving onwards, my next system was a Nintendo 64. My parents got this for me during Christmas 1998 or 1999. I got Mario Kart 64 and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron with it as well. My sister and I played lots of Mario Kart 64 and I played lots of Rogue Squadron. During this time I still rented a lot of games from Blockbuster and I remember renting a few but I don’t remember them well. I remember my first experience with GoldenEye 007 at a cousin’s house and playing N64 games at another cousin’s house. I played soccer all the time at this point and that was my focus along with Pokemon games, but towards the end of the N64 I started to get more into games. The games I really remember playing during this period are: 1080 Snowboarding, GoldenEye 007, Mario Kart 64, Micro Machines 64 Turbo, Paper Mario, Pokemon Stadium and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron.

I’m going to say the next system I got was the GameCube. My parents got it for me for Christmas 2001 along with Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. I loved Rogue Leader and was amazed by the graphics but didn’t know what a memory card was so I had to buy one a week or two later. The next game I got was Sonic Adventure 2: Battle and it’s one of my favorites on the system. Early on during this period was when I stopped renting games, I did rent a few for the GameCube but that was it. I also bought a Game Boy Advance in 2002 for Golden Sun and is just strengthened my burgeoning interest in video games. During this console cycle is when I became “hardcore” into games. I started reading gaming magazines often and browsing the internet. I’d have to say the GameCube is one of my favorite systems mostly because it’s the system I started to care about games on.

I won’t delve any deeper as this is already pretty long and it just gets more convoluted from here on out. I will mention I started to get into retro games around the GameCube era as I purchased an NES and Intellivision from garage sales as well as bought a PS2 and many other retro systems; this is really the period when I started to become a collector and an avid gamer.

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