Even though I passed a never-ending supply of racers playing Hang-On, my true race was against the clock. I had little room for error, maybe one or two mistakes if I hoped to complete each stage before time ran out. Skillfully managing the throttle and brake, especially when cornering, was the key. Before long I was weaving in between racers and passing them in corners, making good time. Stages lasted about a minute and segued immediately into the next until the five-stage course was complete. In one sitting, it’s about a forty-minute game and not too challenging on the default difficulty. I made plenty of mistakes, often cornering too quickly or misjudging a racer’s proximity, but usually finished with ample time on the clock. When I was in a groove and listening to the hum of the motorcycle, the sounds of passing racers and squealing tires, it became a Zenlike, albeit monotonous, experience. Although my playthrough lacked much excitement, I’m glad to have finally spent material time with Hang-On. It’s an enjoyable racing game that tests one moderation, and patience.
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?
Shenmue definitely has a reputation that precedes it. At the time and for many years afterwards, it was reportedly the most expensive video game ever produced. With respectable sales that weren’t near the expected numbers, it assisted in ending Sega’s home console development. Nonetheless, the game received high praise critically and is routinely cited as an influential video game. Shenmue has always been on a personal bucket list of mine and I’m finally able to check it off.
Before being consumed by Virtua Fighter, Yu Suzuki was a titan at Sega. He was the major figure behind a plethora of the company’s marquee arcade titles in late 1980s. Space Harrier, Hang-On, OutRun, After Burner – this guy had a knack for designing video games. I’m not intending to short shrift Virtua Fighter either. It’s one of the most respected fighting game series and has a dedicated fan base. Shenmue is Yu Suzuki’s magnum opus however, and it oozes his passion. In the manual, in the credits, in the way he describes the game – the fictional world and gameplay elements that comprise the game were undoubtedly personal muses for the man.
Shenmue takes place in Yokosuka, Japan during the winter of 1986. The game is a tale of revenge, following Ryo Hazuki as he tracks down the mysterious man who murdered his father. Ryo’s father, Iwao, was a master martial artist whose dojo was in a remote suburb of Yokosuka. Iwao’s murderer, Lan Di, is a mysterious Chinese martial artist who had an unknown grudge against Ryo’s father. Not only that, but Lan Di’s ties to a Chinese criminal syndicate further complicate the affair as Ryo investigates the mysterious Chinese man.
Exploration and puzzle solving are the primary focuses of Shenmue’s gameplay, although there is a minor emphasis placed on brawling. Knowing practically nothing of Lan Di, Ryo takes to the neighborhoods and shops of Yokosuka to find and follow up on any leads he can. Interacting with dozens of townsfolk, it was easy for me to get immersed in the day to day heartbeat of the city. Ryo’s leads introduced him to friends and foes from practically all of the storefronts, and since the game had a strong adherence to portraying a realistic setting, I’d have to make sure to check in with individuals at the corresponding hour of the day, or night.
I was dead set on making a physical map of the shopping district and outlying neighborhoods, but by the time I sketched it out, I was familiar enough with the areas to abandon the prospect. The neighborhoods contained little to experience but the shopping district was densely packed with unique individuals and storefronts. To an outsider, such as myself, it was a joy to experience what this slice of Japan might’ve been like in the late 1980s – minus Ryo’s Sega Saturn.
The puzzle solving aspect of the gameplay revolved mostly around locating the proper individual to speak with. Then, utilizing the information they provided with Ryo. Be it an area to check or another individual to speak with. I didn’t find monotony in constantly seeking someone out, only to be pointed elsewhere. It didn’t seem like it was filler content. For the most part, every lead advanced the plot, if only slightly.
One related point is what I interpret as shoddy localization. The game is fully voice-acted and everyone will respond to Ryo if he prompts them. However, a lot of the dialog doesn’t sound natural. It’s as if the script was translated directly from the Japanese original with no localization. Translating the game is one part of the localization process, but another would be making it so the characters speak realistically. Some lines of dialogue didn’t make functional sense to me. Then again, the game contained a friendly Jamaican hot dog vendor named Tom, and he doesn’t make a lot of sense either.
The third pillar of the gameplay is the action sequences. I’d break these down into two categories: brawling and quick-timer events (QTEs). Both were infrequent, but an important aspect nonetheless. Brawling was reminiscent of the fighting system from Virtua Fighter – deep and very precise. Ryo had a wealth of moves at his disposal, but I was able to meander on by button mashing. This was helped by the fact that there were about twelve fights across the entire game. QTEs are now commonplace in video games and we have Shenmue to thank for that! They were pioneered in the game and allowed the player to experience a handful of exciting action sequences and actually feel some involvement. They were also infrequent.
After a dozen or so hours, I had brought Ryo to the end of his quest in Yokosuka. Shenmue ended with a slew of events, beginning with Ryo getting a job at the Yokosuka docks. This entailed me operating a forklift for about a week of in-game time which translated to a few hours. It was a decidedly dull climax to the game, but it was far from over. At the docks Ryo got a better understanding of the criminal syndicate Lan Di was aligned with.
Eventually, Ryo was too late to confront Lan Di who was already heading back to China. Ryo’s story was just beginning, but I wasn’t left unfulfilled. Shenmue capped off with an exciting motorcycle ride through the nighttime Yokosuka highway system. The goal was to reach the docks which lead to an epic brawl against 70+ gang members. Ryo intent on pursuing Lan Di to China and many of the interactions with Ryo’s friends and family were heartfelt.
With Shenmue off my bucket list, I’m anxious to begin Shenmue II on the Xbox. The series was originally proposed as a trilogy so my journey with Ryo will end with an unfulfilled cliffhanger upon completion of the second game. Heck, I’ll probably convert into one of those crazies trying to get a grassroots effort started to develop Shenmue III. It wouldn’t be a surprise. The game came out nearly a decade-and-a-half ago and it still feels modern. Its combination of storytelling, setting, and gameplay meld together to form one of the most realized and worthwhile video games out there.
So I was at a local game store the other day when I glanced in one of their display cases and noticed sitting front and center in a stack of Sega Game Gear games was OutRun Europa. Having recently spent some time with OutRun Online Arcade I decided to pick it up and see what it was like.
First off, the game is not developed by Sega, nor was it even published by them. The game was developed by Probe Software (a British studio no longer around) and published by U.S. Gold (a British publishing house that shares the same fate). It came out on a variety of platforms in the early nineties, mostly British computers but it also saw release on the Sega Master System and the Game Gear, the version I purchased.
Rather than simply driving, OutRun Europa features a very light story element. All I could gather from the game however was I had had my vehicle stolen, so I stole someone’s motorcycle to chase down the thieves, which is ironic since by doing so, I was a thief, whatever. I guess there is a different vehicle for each stage, but I wasn’t able to make it past the first stage, and it isn’t the game’s fault.
Alas my Game Gear was pretty much useless. The sole speaker on the system didn’t work and the headphone jack didn’t give me the full soundtrack. This is a shame because I watched clips of different versions of the game on YouTube and the soundtrack was good. The major problem with my Game Gear was the screen however. It was hardly legible and adjusting the contrast didn’t help. I could barely read the heads-up display or even see the pickups on the road.
So I didn’t get to play a lot of OutRun Europa, but I was able to piece more and more of it together from playing it a few more times and scouring the internet for information. I did like the handling of the motorcycle from what I played although I could’ve done without the pickups. These pickups gave me shields, boost, and maybe ammunition in later stages. There was a fork in the first stage but it doesn’t have a format similar to most other OutRun games, that is to say it doesn’t have multiple branching paths. I wished I could’ve played more to see the different stages and vehicles (a Jet Ski?!) but I won’t be able to until I get another Game Gear or a different version.
I finally got around to posting my OutRun Online Arcade review last week. It was a pretty fun game and as a result of playing it I picked up another OutRun game last week. I was in a local game store and saw front and center in one of their cases a copy of Out Run Europa for the Sega Game Gear. It was just the cartridge, no box or manual, but it was only a few bucks so I picked it up. I’ll post something about it this week.
I also posted two demo impressions last week. One for Ugly Americans: Apocalypsegeddon and another for The Baconing. The former wasn’t that great, but it might be fun with a pal or three and The Baconing seemed pretty decent, but maybe worth checking out DeathSpank first. I have a few more demos queued up too, but there isn’t enough time in the day you know?
Lastly I started a new game last week: Doom 3. I’ve sunk a couple of hours into it and I’m liking it. It’s pretty spooky, as long as I’m in the mindset to be spooked.
That’s pretty much it on the gaming front. School and work have kept me busy too, but I’m glad I can find time to write a little bit. I should post something for Out Run Europa this week and hopefully a demo impression of two. Also it’s been ten years since 9/11/2001. Dang.
OutRun Online Arcade, a downloadable racing game for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 won’t be available to purchase soon. It has already been delisted from PlayStation Network and will be delisted from Xbox Live Arcade in December. It’s the most recent release in the long-running racing series, although it’s basically OutRun 2 SP, a previous game in the series. It’s my first experience with the series however and I think it’s a fun racing game that’s not too serious. It was developed by Sumo Digital and published by Sega in April 2009.
OutRun is a series focused on driving Ferraris, and Online Arcade is no exception, which is also why the game is being delisted; Sega’s license with Ferrari is expiring soon. There are a handful of different Ferraris to choose from, but these seem like the most popular lot.
In the main gameplay mode, OutRun mode, I raced against the clock aiming to reach checkpoints to extend the timer. There are multiple, branching routes to take, another hallmark of the series, and I had to complete five in any order. Before each checkpoint, I had the option of taking a left route or a right route, leading me through different locations; all together totaling fifteen stages. Besides simply finishing, I was aiming for a high score; the faster I completed the mode and the more cars I passed, the better my score.
Besides, OutRun mode there was Time Attack, Continuous Race, and Heart Attack. Time Attack is just as it sounds: a race against the clock, unlike OutRun mode however, there is no traffic. Continuous Race had me racing through all fifteen stages in either OutRun mode or Time Attack mode. Lastly was Heart Attack mode. This was OutRun mode, but I had to do special actions that my passenger would request of me. After each checkpoint, I was graded on how well I did them. And as the title suggests there’s also an online mode, but I was lucky to find two other people online.
OutRun Online Arcade’s roots are in the arcade; as such the gameplay is quick-paced and great for short gameplay sessions. Whenever I played, I played a few races at a time, aiming to get a specific achievement. OutRun Online Arcade doesn’t have a lot of content to offer, seeing everything won’t take long, but I found the achievements to be challenging and provided enough incentive for me to replay the game often, attempting to shave a few more seconds off my best time. I think it’s worth checking out before it is delisted permanently.
So I lied about last week, I didn’t actually post anything. I was super busy last week with homework. Primarily with this internet program called ALEKS. It’s a review of everything accounting and I sunk nearly twenty hours into it; some from the previous week. On top of ALEKS and my other homework, I worked six days last week. Needless to say I’m wore out and I’m excited I don’t work tomorrow, Labor Day.
I did find time to watch some lucha libre Thursday and that was pretty awesome. This mexican restaurant (Elote) in Tulsa puts it on on the first and third Thursdays of each month. The crowd was fairly large, about a hundred people, and the fighting was obviously for show but so entertaining.
I will post stuff this week. My review of OutRun Online Arcade for sure. That’ll be up tomorrow morning. I’ve already scheduled it so it’ll be up for sure. Hopefully I’ll get to the demos I downloaded last week. I think I’ll start a new game tonight or tomorrow, but then again I might just sleep.