In an effort to begin a new tradition, my friend and I decided to kick off the New Year by completing a “bad” game. We’d done this previously, completing Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror at my behest back in 2012. It was a barely competent first-person shooter that was otherwise unremarkable, save for the ludicrous fistfight against Osama Bin Laden that capped it off. This year, we compiled a list of suitable titles from my collection, paired them against each other in the Tournament of Terribleness and wound up selecting Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard as the game we’d start 2017 with. Oh boy.
Besides Kangaroo, Sssnake was the other Atari 2600 game I used to take a break from the Sega Master System. It was developed and published by Data Age in 1982 and it wasn’t much fun.
I played as a big game hunter who had an unfortunate role reversal. Holed up in an Amazonian fortress, I navigated said hunter (represented by a lemon, fittingly) around the inside perimeter of his enclave while all manner of beasts attacked the outside walls. My range of movement was limited to a fixed track the hunter’s cluster gun resided on. Thankfully, the beasts posed no threat and served only as score fodder. Snakes on the other hand would slither along a predetermined path, occasionally entering the hunter’s fortress.
Although the rate of play gradually increased, the difficulty level was never much of a concern. Avoiding the snakes, the sole threat, was easily done since they never varied from their routes. The lack of difficulty meant obtaining a high score wasn’t anything to squawk about, let alone strive for. Speaking of limited variation, the entire game took place on the same unchanging stage, which fit with the backstory, but didn’t do much to keep me interested. Finally, movement was awkward due to direction limitations based around my position on either horizontal or vertical walls. It seemed like the game would’ve functioned better with paddle controllers, but that’s Sssnake in a nutshell. Had a few decisions gone differently, it may have turned out differently.
The last week or so of my video game time was devoted mostly to Godzilla on the PlayStation 4. The dozen or so hours I spent playing it were enjoyable despite the lackluster quality of the game. I thought it was feature-rich and a solid compendium of Godzilla related information but found it to be highly repetitious and devoid of much inspiration. Instead, my enjoyment stemmed from unlocking the game’s trophies. Some look at achievements and trophies with disinterest and even disdain, but for me they can be compelling motivators and a source of satisfaction akin to completing a checklist. While I’d like to think I’m past the point of playing a game solely because of these competitive barometers, this period consumed by Godzilla makes me wonder, am I?
The desire needed to complete Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions must be strong in order to persist through the game’s 300 missions. As the name suggests, these missions are set in virtual reality and act as a simulation, presumably for Raiden – the “star” of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. They put him in the shoes of Solid Snake in a variety of challenges that test his stealth skills, weapon proficiency, as well as some others that are just for fun. There is a great variety of missions and I became intimately acquainted with each weapon and the fundamentals of the stealth gameplay. However, there isn’t a great sense of diversity in the missions. Many repeat and there just aren’t enough unique or goofy missions to warrant the time required, especially as there’s little that adds to the lore. But, I did wind up with a 100% completion rate and eked plenty of enjoyment out of my time with the game.
Of the four modes the game is divided into, I had the most fun with the final one: special. To unlock it and its various subtypes, I had to work my way through the other three modes: sneaking, weapon, and advanced. Sneaking mode tasked me with just that: being stealthy. To promote this, half of the missions supplied me with no weapons while the other half limited me to Solid Snake’s trusty SOCOM firearm. This forced me away from just mowing down enemy resistance, although this isn’t a tenable strategy most of the times anyway. I was also required to complete these missions a second time in time attack versions. They were identical, only now I was racing against the clock. I got my fill, but wasn’t burned out.
The subsequent two modes played out a little differently. The first, weapon mode, equipped me with a single weapon for a series of increasingly tougher missions. Time attack versions were also present meaning I repeated each mission twice. All in all, these weren’t very challenging even at their toughest, perhaps explaining the need for the advanced mode. The setup was the same: a few missions with only a single weapon type equipped putting Solid Snake in a more precarious scenario. Again, time attack versions meant I had to repeat these stages twice. At this point, the struggle to continue playing got real.
Stripped of a grandiose narrative, VR Missions is solely gameplay driven. In the presentation, it’s practically a puzzle game. It’s loaded to the brim with mostly succinct missions that hone in on one or two facets of the gameplay. For the most part, they’re enjoyable and enlightening – I know I can return to Metal Gear Solid with a more confident understanding of Solid Snake’s arsenal and the stealth options at his disposal, if I wanted to, which I don’t. I came to this title not knowing what to expect necessarily and it really comes off as what it’s portraying – a training tool. Just as much of training is based around repetition, so too is this game and that’s where it became a struggle to persevere. Many of the mission types were very similar, but then having to repeat the bulk of them in a time attack version? That was a real buzzkill.
When I made it through the majority of the game and unlocked the various mission subtypes within the special mode, I was a little disappointed. There were still plenty of rote simulation style missions among the scant goofy mystery and puzzle style missions. Granted, I got to solve murder mysteries, fight off UFOs and skyscraper-sized enemies, and play as Cyborg Ninja, but this off kilter style of mission was less abundant than I had hoped for. Even with these goofy scenarios, the highlight of this mode was perhaps the final mission I tackled: the VR mission. To clear it, I had to make my way through a truly challenging ten stage gauntlet within a fifteen minute time span, which was always tallying time, even factoring in restarts and deaths. It took me a few attempts before I could do it but when I conquered it, excelsior! It honestly forced me to use much of what I’d learned up to this point to succeed.
Afterwards I got a schematic for Metal Gear Ray, to be featured in the then-unreleased sequel. Again, I was a little disappointed after a dozen hours and a 100% rating for that to be the reward. That’s not to say I didn’t have fun, the game simply grew tiring. There were loads of exciting missions and a lot of variety in the scenarios I was put in and what the missions tasked me with. Unfortunately, many of these had to be repeated which stripped the time spent of diversity as I was repeating much of the game twice. It comes off as a hard game to recommend to anyone but the most diehard fans of the series, and even then I’d caution against playing the time attack versions until all unplayed missions have been exhausted. That should extend the enjoyment and reduce the sense of repetition that I encountered in my time with the game.
When I beat Super Mario Bros. for the first time last year, I felt I had marked an item off of a video game bucket list. It was a momentous achievement not just because it’s such an influential and important game to the medium, but because it was challenging as well. It took many, many failed attempts, progressing slightly farther each time before I was able to conquer Bowser and when I did, I felt like I accomplished something! For the same reasons, I’ve recently come to the Mega Man series.
For someone who fancies himself a collector and a knowledgebase of video games, it’s been hard for me to reconcile the fact that I’ve only played one Mega Man game; not even a core title in the series either but a spinoff: Mega Man Network Transmission. With compilations of both the classic and X series, I decided it was finally time to rectify this omission. With little deliberation, I shelved the Mega Man X Collection and decided to begin where the franchise did: with Mega Man. Granted, playing the Xbox version of Anniversary Collection on the Xbox 360.
It didn’t take long to dawn on me once I’d started, but this game and this series helped define the action-platformer. In a basic sense, Mega Man plays like Super Mario Bros. with guns. It retains the precision platforming of that game while featuring more frantic action, especially with the bosses. The stages are relatively brief affairs but each one hosts unique platforming challenges. Even with their brevity, it would always take multiple continues before I could reliably reach the boss; if I didn’t decide to halt that stage for the moment and move onto another after losing my stock of lives.
Another influential aspect of this game is the open-ended nature in completing it. Before Mega Man has the opportunity to settle his score with Dr. Wily, he first has to beat six of the mad scientist’s robot masters. Their stages could be selected in any order and what’s more, once beaten, Mega Man obtained their weapon. I could freely switch between the weapons Mega Man had acquired and was rewarded for doing so as each robot master was weak to another’s weapon. After obtaining a new weapon, I’d try a stage and make it to the boss to see if it was weak to the weapon just acquired and do so until I found my match.
Once the robot masters had been defeated and the path to Dr. Wily became available, the challenge really began. I went through a decent amount of continues before reaching the Yellow Devil. This iconic Mega Man boss was highlighted to me with his annoying inclusion in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U where he transfers chunks of his body horizontally from one side of the screen to the other rebuilding itself, a difficult attack to evade. Now I know where that originated. That exact same tactic is present here and was one of the hardest video game obstacles I’ve had to overcome in recent memory, maybe since beating Super Mario Bros. last year! It took me so much time and effort (multiple sessions across a couple of days even) that I naively thought this was the final boss. Because of course it wouldn’t be DR. WILY! Come on John, think about it!
So once I’d finally conquered the Yellow Devil (which literally made me exclaim WOOHOO!), I was crestfallen to realize there was more to do… much more. Dr. Wily’s stage was four sections long – each ending with a boss fight, or set of boss fights. Each of the robot masters that Mega Man had beaten previously had to be beaten again. Thankfully, the game allows unlimited continues and mercifully, when used in Dr. Wily’s stage, they restarted me in the current section and not at the very beginning of the stage – pre-Yellow Devil. With that ability, I was actually able to make it deep into the final section of Dr. Wily’s stage when that nightmare scenario we all have while playing video games happened – I lost power. ARGH!!!
With that, I was done with Mega Man. Not just for that night but for a long time. At least, that’s how I felt for the next fifteen minutes until I had a chance to cool down. This was something I still had on my video game bucket list, something I still felt I needed to do in order to broaden my gaming knowledge. A few days later I returned and with little resistance was right back where I was pre-power outage. Most thrilling of all was the rematch with the Yellow Devil. What had once taken me an eternity to overcome I could now topple in a few attempts!
With the robot masters bested again and these sections completed, there was one thing left to do: put Dr. Wily in his place. Like the Yellow Devil, this was another tough matchup. Dr. Wily had two forms, each with an eternity of a health bar. After a few attempts I knew what I had to do: I had to cheese him.
In the original Mega Man, there’s an exploit that allows Elec Man’s weapon to damage an enemy multiple times with one shot. This weapon’s projectile is long and branching like lightning. As soon as it made contact with Dr. Wily, I pressed the back button on my Xbox 360 controller – pausing the game. Upon unpausing the game, it damaged him again as if this was the first time the projectile made contact. This exploit wasn’t removed from the Anniversary Collection and I milked it across a half-dozen attempts before the mad scientist finally bowed to Mega Man.
Although I wound up cheesing the final boss, I have no regrets. I overcame so many obstacles while testing my reflexes, dexterity, and memorization that I still feel accomplished. Besides, literally every FAQ and forum commenter I came across suggested the same thing. I’m not sure anyone’s beaten Mega Man without utilizing that exploit! Nonetheless, I can cross beating Mega Man off my bucket list and can feel a little more confident in my gaming prowess and knowledge. Foremost of which is the fact that Mega Man is a precisely tuned action-platformer that’s tough but rewarding. Now, onto Mega Man 2!
Truly my foray into the Alien franchise began with Alien Trilogy on the PlayStation, although I’ve barely touched that game. It began in earnest after watching Prometheus, an “unofficial” movie in the series, although it’s about as official as anything else if you ask me. I’ve now watched all movies in the franchise and am ready to dive into the related games and feel confident in my understanding of the source material. It helped too! I can comprehend the mediocrity of Alien 3 on the Sega Genesis a little more knowing that the movie it’s based on is of the same quality.
Of the “five” movies, I’d put Alien 3 at the bottom of the list. This is to say, I didn’t begin playing the Genesis game with much optimism. On the whole, I thought the movie was rather brown and monotonous visually, and the game didn’t shake this aura early on. It looks to have a few different environments to be fair, but I didn’t witness these firsthand. The gameplay was related to the events of the movie too but skewed (and omitted) the storyline in favor of more action.
Most stages tasked Ripley with rescuing the prisoners of Fiorina 161 and combating the aliens. The stages needed to be completed in a set amount of time and this was hard to do the first time through. Most took a few attempts to learn where the aliens popped up and rushed me and where the prisoners were. Locating the prisoners wasn’t so bad (I had to explore the stages anyways, right?) but constantly getting bum rushed by the aliens grew annoying. Often, they’d materialize at the edge of the screen as I progressed. They’d quickly charge and if I didn’t immediately start shooting, I would take damage. This led to much trial and error.
This sounds like a lot of negativity towards Alien 3. You want the lowdown though? I only progressed to the third stage and the game has twelve! I had no idea it was that beefy until I did further research. This being the case, I would only take this review as my experiences with a minority of the game and not a comprehensive examination of it. After seeing that I barely scraped the surface I am interested in playing more of it, but not because what I experienced was such a joy to play. I was oddly compelled to continue playing it, even when I felt like many of my deaths were cheap, so take that as you will.
When I think of Sam’s Club, I tend to look back fondly on my middle school/high school gaming habits. With the plethora of $13 games I added to my collection, I experienced some of the best low sellers of that period. One of those titles was P.N. 03 – a futuristic character-action game from Shinji Mikami. It was set in a clean science-fiction environment, looked stunning, but played tepidly. Much of the game is lost to me now, but I do remember it being poorly received. In fact, I remember not being that big of a fan, although I played through the entirety of it, and played more to unlock additional costumes for Vanessa Z. Schneider. I’m willing to pop it in again, but I’m afraid I’ll be greeted with stilted combat that hasn’t aged well.
P.N. 03 was developed by Capcom Production Studio 4, and naturally, published by Capcom. It was spearheaded by Shinji Mikami and was one of the “Capcom Five.” In fact, this was the sole game of the lot that remained exclusive to the GameCube. Thankfully, this game turned out to be more of a testing ground for Mikami’s ideas; ideas that went on to create the brilliant Vanquish. P.N. 03 was originally released in Japan on March 27, 2003 and was released in North America on September 9, 2003.