Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

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Treasures

March 21, 2007

Sorry about the lack of update on Monday. I was busy getting this post done. At one point it had a lot of great pictures and shit, but after a while I realized that it’s nearly impossible to get high quality pictures of games by Treasure, and I don’t feel like stealing anyway. I will probably take a break next week… This drained me.

Although I almost never take the time to talk about video games (I’m very discreet about my nerdiness), I think this is as good a time as any to talk about some games made by my absolute favorite video game company, Treasure. Since a group of skilled developers broke off from Konami in 1993 and made their debut with Gunstar Heroes, Treasure has delivered the indie video game goods for well over a decade. At a slow pace yes, but to be sure whenever Treasure releases something, it is just that, a priceless piece of the grandiose puzzle. That isn’t to say that Treasure isn’t capable of making a bad game. They have, and I own a few. But out of the several Treasure games I own, a big number of them make my favorites list. I’d like to talk about some of those games now and at the very least try to educate those who have not had the privilege of playing any of this great companies games on how fun and artful they can truly be. (I don’t take credit for any of these pictures by the way, they are property of their creators and no one else’s.)

GUNSTAR HEROES

Thinking back, it’s actually pretty shocking that Treasure managed to pull off a game as good as Gunstar Heroes as a first release. After all, it was during the same year that the company also released McDonalds Treasure Land Adventure, typically designated as the worst game Treasure has ever made. I think part of what makes Gunstar Heroes such a cult hit today is how accessible of a game it was and still is. At this point the Super Nintendo was busy cranking out their impressive repertoire of Role Playing Games. To this day, my most poignant video game memories are that of playing my friends SNES back when I was a kid and experiencing in full games like Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, Lufia 2, and Secret of Mana. But today I look back at all the games I played as a kid with a much more impatient eye, which is strange considering my change in age. I find games that are accessible to be more enjoyable, and Gunstar Heroes delivers on a level of sheer fun factor that rivals that of, say, Mario Kart, a game that my friends and I stills swear at one another over today.

What makes Gunstar Heroes so brilliant is the juxtaposition of it’s simple traditional concept and it’s complex mode of play. As in an other Shoot’em’up game from the nineties, you are small, your enemies are many, and your goal is the right side of the screen, or at least what is as close as can be to it’s reach. The graphics are plush and memorable and the music is uptempo and fun. What first strikes the player about this game is how fast paced it is. It rivals games today for sheer adrenaline, because at any given time, as many as ten or more enemies are on the screen, running toward you at the full extent of their tiny football player legs. They are weak, and they explode into fire when you shoot them. And when you are moving forward very quickly and turning in all directions to get a shot on these walking or flying enemies, your TV screen is mostly likely wishing that it could bleed just so that the scope of this game could be felt in the real world. The game has several difficulty settings, and even seasoned platformer fans won’t find too much safety in easy mode. The later modes can get, in a word, brutal. The remedy for this is the fact that two people can play it at once, cooperatively taking down levels with precision and different guns for different situations.

Which brings me to this games most brilliant stroke of fun… Customization. Ever since Pokemon shattered your piggy bank ten years ago, customization has been a necessity with electronic games. It was at that time that people realized how much it mattered to put oneself into the game to extract it’s true enjoyability. That said, Gunstar Heroes is WAY ahead of it’s time. If the game only contained one or two guns, or even many like Contra, it wouldn’t be half as special. But the game not only provides two different styles of control that deeply effect how the game is played but also four different types of guns, a rapid fire gun, a laser gun, a flamethrower, and a homing gun. That’s four right there. But the beauty here is that you can combine them to create double weapons, combining the elements. That’s six more. Plus the fact that you can combine two weapons of the same type. Four more. That’s fourteen weapons total, all of which have their advantages, disadvantages, and mediums of fun. Beyond this depth, the game just never stops being fun. It also has a fun throwing/melee system which gives the player more options than simply shooting, and it contains about eight levels of nonstop action, fun bosses, and areas that require both skill and know-how to complete. It’s no wonder why Gunstar Heroes has been released so many times; on Game Gear, in a PS2 Treasure Compilation, on the Wii Virtual Console, and with a spectacular Gameboy Advance remake Gunstar Super Heroes… This game stands the test of time. Quite possibly Treasures greatest game.

ALIEN SOLDIER

As far as classic Treasure games go, Alien Soldier is the one with the balls. It has to have balls, and an intent to kick yours, if it starts you out on “Superhard” difficulty. This game is, unlike Gunstar Heroes, not easy to pick up and play and instead takes a certain degree of know how and practice to be successful in. As a beginner, picking up this game on “Supereasy” mode (the only other available difficulty), results in certain death on the first boss. But after you learn what’s going on, the game opens up and one can have fun pushing this game to it’s limit. It’s hard and it’s not simple, but in many ways it is just as rewarding as Gunstar Heroes.

The game is of the kind that Treasure does best, the sidescrolling platformer shoot’em’up (wow, that’s three big words in a row that spellcheck (theres another one) picks up). At the beginning of the game, you are given a choice of six weapons to fill your four available weapon slots. You can have more than one of the same kind, or you can split it evenly between different weapons however you chose. During the game, you have three meters to worry about; your health, your ammo, and your enemies health. A is change weapon, B is fire, and C is jump. This should be simple. However, just going through the first level, beginners will find they are having a very hard time. This is where the depth comes in. Pressing down and C at the same time initiates a dash move that propels you forward over half the length of the screen, avoiding damage. Doing this at full health initiates an extremely powerful dash move that drains a bit of your health. Double tapping B in front of enemy projectiles or small enemies yields health. See the cycle here? For expert play, learning to parry projectiles and use the super dash effectively is key, as is learning how to do it extremely fast and with little provocation. Also, the player can hover in mid air or walk on ceilings. This is not a button masher. Mashing buttons will screw you over even more than you were already screwed, which was pretty big even on easy. And you have to keep a watch on your ammo. Switching guns is difficult at first too. Definitely not a game for the weak hearted.

If you can’t get used to the controls and simply can’t win, the only remedy is practice. And even if that is frustrating, the sheer amount of action that this game exudes is worth the time it takes to get good at it. Enemies and bosses come at an even quicker rate than Gunstar Heroes, and they are tough… Really tough. They require you to bust your ass and use extreme precision and care to take down. Usually the key to victory is putting that super dash to good use, and that’s really hard. The graphics are top notch for their time, and they make for a pretty badass alien busting experience. There is a password system so that you can enter the game at whatever level you left off at, but without any health or weapon power ups. To beat this game truly, that is, on hard mode without continuing, you need momentum. And not only that, you need speed, skill, and precision. It’s a hard, hard game. But once again, if you want it to be, it’s great fun. Expect a virtual console release, definitely.

MISCHIEF MAKERS

Oh god, Mischief Makers. I have a hard time even beginning to tell you about this game.

First off, I would like to acknowledge that I am leaving a pretty big time in Treasure’s history up for grabs. I never had the privilege to be able to play two of Treasures most revered games, Guardian Heroes and Radiant Silvergun, both on the Sega Saturn. This is a big regret, but as it’s pretty damn hard to get both games let alone a Sega Saturn these days, and considering the Virtual Console will never support the Saturn due to it’s almost complete inability to be emulated, this is something I will simply have to deal with. However, Treasure released three big games for N64. Two of them were Japanese only, Bangai-O and Sin and Punishment. The third was Mischief Makers. Originally slated as Yuke Yuke! Trouble Makers in it’s native tongue, this is without a doubt the most bizarre game I have ever played. Only Treasure could have pulled something like this off… Never have I seen a game so completely skewed and screwed up and yet presented in such a wonderful, artful, and fun way. Save maybe Earthbound, but I’d have a hard time calling that “screwed up.”

I don’t know what drew me to this game. I think a friend might have had it before I got it. Maybe it was the superdeformed graphics that caught my eye. Maybe it was the name. Shit, I was pretty young then and what kid doesn’t want to make mischief? In any case, returning to this game over a decade later, you can still see my first file on my cartridge. The game makes you put in your age at the beginning. I was seven, as it still says. I can only imagine I didn’t think the game strange at all. Mischief Makers is, strangely enough, a sidescrolling 2D platformer. In a market where 3D was the thing to do, this was surely a brave move. I can only think of a few other N64 games that used two dimensions with good success. Goemon’s Great Adventure is one. Kirby 64 is another. Smash was 2D, but it was a fighting game. Mischief Makers is one of a kind though. I don’t know why I still play it so often nowadays. It’s a deep game at it’s core, for sure. Once you realize that you can use dash-jumps and precisely timed boosts to get through levels at ridiculous paces, you get a little more interested in your times for each level. And interestingly enough, Treasure was aware of how far this game could be pushed to it’s limits. Getting just one S-Rank on a level requires the utmost precision, a knowledge of the games glitches and tiny tricks, and speed that would make Sonic cry, even if he had a turbo controller. This is a speed runners paradise, and yet it is really very fun for casual players like me as well. You play as Intergalactic Cybot G Marina Lightyears, created by revered Professor Theo and allegedly has no time for snacks. Marina is a cute animated character on the outside, but a tough warrior on the inside. And her weapon is so simple that even Miyamoto would gasp at the thought that his simplicity in Mario’s jumping was surpassed. Marina attacks with opposable thumbs and nothing more.

I wrote the following paragraph a some time ago explaining why I like Mischief Makers so much. It is sufficient.

This game is, in my opinion, is the epitome of indie gaming. It was released with very little hype or marketing, which just seems typical for a game so good. Many times, games get so quirky and different that critics just don’t think American audiences will like it. And I’m sure if everyone played Mischief Makers, they would love it. Yes, the translation is quite literal and the shaking thing is very asian, but this is just a fantastic game, and anyone playing it can tell that immediately. Every level throws in a charming new feel, be it through the frame of a boss, new concept, new terrain, new item, etc. But it does it on a level that really works. You can throw a bunch of new concepts into a game well, but it takes something really special to prevent this kind of rapid-fire introduction from being too trying. The art and music styles in this game really make it. The instrumentation and beats on the music are just fantastic, and this is really a standout soundtrack in my mind. And the anime inspired graphics, constant barrage of hallowed faces, and dropdead gorgeous backgrounds make for an extremely atmospheric experience. This game was just begging for a sequel, but then again, some games don’t need sequels. I’m just going to sit quietly and know in my mind that Marina Lightyears truly deserved to headline Super Smash Bros. Brawl ten times more than Meta Knight did.

SIN AND PUNISHMENT

Sin and Punishment is best described as what would happen if Starfox, Time Crisis, House of the Dead, and Jet Force Gemini all got together and had a beautiful, relentless love child. I suppose now is as good a time as ever to acknowledge this great game, considering it does take place in 2007 despite being made in 2000. Why you never got to play this game is sadly unknown. It was translated into English. Hell, the voice acting was originally in English anyway, don’t ask why, so all the nitty gritty was already done with, and the only thing left to really do was release it. It never happened. I guess it could have been due to a lack of interest, considering this was right on the line between the birth of the Gamecube and the death of the Nintendo 64. In any case, you have been robbed of one of the finest games the N64 has to offer. Regardless of your language capabilities, playing this game is awesome, even if you have to import it for a ridiculous price and carefully saw off some bits of plastic so that it will fit into your inferior American console. Dammit, you deserve better. You pay your taxes, and you are a respectable citizen, so why the fuck wouldn’t Nintendo just push through all the bullshit and do whatever minuscule work it required to release this? I don’t know. Sin and Punishment is friggin awesome, just about as badass of a shooter as you will find on the console and great mesh of different elements of third person shooters. It isn’t without it’s little issues, but the fun factor is through the roof.

The game is a futuristic third person shooter that moves along on “rails,” that is, you don’t choose where you move but instead how you aim and sidestep while going along that set path. The two main characters are Saki and Arain, two brave sensible rebels, and you control them through the games several levels. You are expected to be a walking army with very few weapons, namely a police issue laser gun and a sword built into it. This may seem simple for some peoples tastes, but adding anything more would just ruin everything. It’s really all you need, and you never find yourself wishing you had other weapons in the game. Learning to use both of these weapons efficiently is key; the gun has two modes of aim, one manual and one less powerful lock-on, and they both have their time and place. The key to playing this game effectively is being able to move, aim, and shoot at the same time, and it can get pretty difficult. There are a lot of buttons used in this game, for sure. You need to sidestep, roll, jump, aim, and dodge bullets in rapid succession, so you’ve got enough on your mind to worry about without having many weapons to chose from. The sword is used for close combat only, and it is initiated by tapping Z very quickly when something is near enough. If you can manage to master it, you can end up doing a lot of damage, saving a lot of aiming, and quickly taking down stages with greater efficiency.

Sin and Punishment is, like most games by Treasure, short but sweet. It’s over just as you have gotten pumped enough to enjoy a game three times bigger. Fortunately, the game is so packed with action and fun that it doesn’t really matter. There are several difficulty levels and reason enough to play through the game several times. The sound can be a bit annoying. There is this great scene where Arain is battling her way through a monster infested subway in the dark and it is so ruined by the background music. As far as backgrounds go, the graphics are stunning and great for the N64, but the character designs are presented very poorly. It may be a mixed bag on the outside, but it’s interior is solid. If I didn’t explain thoroughly that this game is ACTION PACKED, well shit I just did it again. It really does remind me of Time Crisis and other similar arcade games where the player has to deal with enemies jumping down from places and sidestepping into different positions that you have to be aware of. Particularly memorable is a scene where Arain takes down an entire Navy in a matter of about two minutes flying around at dizzying speeds on a piece of jagged metal controlled by a psychic friend. It may seem a shame that this game ends so soon, but it’s worth playing over and over again. I just can’t stomach that we never got it officially. It’s a real shame.

UPDATE: Sin And Punishment is now availabe on the Wii Virtual Console. VICTORY.

IKARUGA

Ikaruga is not a game for impatient people. But I guess few games by Treasure are. Ikaruga is a game so simple, so conceptually basic, that one could get the hang of the controls in minutes. But somehow, someway, this game is blown up to epic proportions using only what it starts out with. I still can’t figure it out. I’ve never hated a game so much on the first play compared to how much I love it now. I guess I just wasn’t good at it, or maybe I was just frustrated by how I was losing to such a simple game. The concept is very easy. It is a shmup spaceship game akin to the kind of games you likely played in arcades when you were a kid, when they were still around. But in those other shmups, you likely had powerups and a health bar to worry about. Ikaruga is individual in that it is stripped down to as simple yet beautiful a core as you will ever see. Your ship can be changed between black and white colors at will. When your ship is white, it shoots white bullets, and black bullets when black. Infinite ammo, rapid fire. Your enemies are also of black and white colors. Your bullets will do more damage to a given enemy when the color of your bullets is opposite their color. Your enemies, ranging from tiny little ships to big gyrospopic cages of evil, also shoot bullets. If a bullet touches you of your own color, you you absorb it into an energy guage, the bars in which represent homing missiles that you can fire back at the enemies at will. If a bullet of the opposite color touches you, you die. YOU DIE. Period. You can’t sustain damage, because if you get hit, you’re gone. So keeping your ass alive is as much of a concern as shooting your enemies.

This should be as simple as I just explained it to be. It’s not. It would be far too easy. There are three modes of difficulty. On the easiest mode, everything I have explained holds true. I’d like to note that I have only beaten easy mode without continuing once, and I busted my ass for days to do it. On normal mode, when you destroy an enemy of your color, they emit bullets of their own color. This seems good, because bullets of your color are absorbable, but when you are switching colors, that’s a problem. On hard mode, all destroyed ships emit bullets, regardless of your color. This isn’t enough. The first level is simple enough, and yet still abrasively challenging. But soon enough, enemy ships are synchratically zipping across the screen at ludicrous speeds, bullets are both colors are flying all over hell and gone, you are switching back and forth between colors feverishly avoiding inevitable death in a crossfire of adrenaline, and concentrating on not getting killed by the everchanging environment. This game is aggravating as all getout, it’s hard as shit, and it’s frustrating to play when you don’t know it very well. And yet it’s simple. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be acing this game.

And yet that’s where the real charm of the game comes in. The clash of simplicity and challenge make for one of the most hypnotic and enjoyable games I’ve ever played. At it’s heart, Ikaruga is an arcade game. But you can’t find it in any arcades outside of Japan, so the only remedy is getting one of the faithful ports either on Dreamcast or Gamecube. The way the game was intended to be played is in a dark food parlor in a corner in Japan somewhere, but it’s simply uneconomical to be spending that many quarters honing your skills when you could play it at home. I remember when this game truly opened up for me. I was tired and pissed off, sitting in my room staring at my TV wondering why I sucked so bad at this game. But I just kept on playing and I didn’t think about it too much. The TVs volume was way down and some relaxing music was on the stereo. I just lost myself. The next thing I knew I was three levels in and completely unaware of the fact that I was hypnotized, dodging the patterns of bullets and ships and not even thinking about what I was doing. And then I died and I got all pissed off again. That is the beauty here. That line between pure bliss and anger is extremely thin. This is a flatout gorgeous game too, and the background moves at a breathtaking pace using really good graphics. The soundtrack is alright too, not quite as good as some other Treasure games, but it’s orchestrated enough to be exciting and well worth listening to. And to top the whole thing off is a simple yet endlessly testing combo system. If you kill three enemies of the same color in a row, you start a chain which breaks once you have not done three of the same color in a row. It’s just the thing for real fanatics to expand on. I, for one, have enough trouble staying alive on easy mode, so I think I’ll pass. It’s a tragically beautiful game, and the absolute best of it’s kind. Deffinitely worth whatever you have to do to play it, especially if you already own a Dreamcast or a Gamecube.

…I guess that’s all I have to say. If you want more information on games by Treasure, the following link should shed some light on the subject.

http://www.mrmonkeyman.com/treasure/games.html

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Got It, Bitches!

November 21, 2006

Yup, a shiny new Explosion Tower is mine. We branded it yesterday. It plays like a charm. I actually didn’t have to wait in line…Someone else was nice enough to do that for me. I can’t thank him enough.

“Explosion Fiesta” is really the most exciting aspect about the thing. It controls nice, it looks great, it’s epic. Nothing more to really say about that.

Sorry I can’t give too in-depth of a look at it right at the moment. I’ll be back with a full-scale review in a few weeks, and until then I’ll continue the music reviews.

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Sephiroth and Sora SUCK (Nerd Rambling)

October 7, 2006

I feel like I have to get some stuff out of the way. So if you are embarassed by the continued complaints of a typically inward nerd, then skip this post, please.

Sephiroth is in no way a “cool” villain. He is also in no way even a good or effective villain. I know, I have played the game, and I have even mildly enjoyed it, but I still fail to see how Kuja of FFIX fails to get the same recognition as this flavorless schmo. What I would like to point out first is the fact that the only reason that Sephiroth seems to get any popularity at all is due to the length of his sword. Beyond that, not only is he a bad and uneffective villain, but also an uneffective and mediocre character in general. The fact that he ends up wasting so many people in the game means nothing, at all. If you want someone with a big sword, at least just worship Cloud Strife, who even then is a bad character, but at least has some sense about him not only to keep his mouth shut most of the time, but to say sensible things when he does open it, at least most of the time, and have a generally impressive plot twist circle around him and his experiences with the aformentioned lame antagonist. At this, whenever Sephiroth opens his mouth, the only thing that seems to come out is mindless rambling that passes as mysterious, when in fact it is more a failed attempt at mystique and existential philosophy. What I hated about Sephiroth is that he had almost no motivations other than being crazy and attatched to his “mother,” a situation that was not even well explained, and I’m usually pretty intuitive and can pick up on these things easily. What I loved about Kuja was the fact that he was crazy with some kind of guidelines. He just wanted to fuck everyone over, even himself, which is really the essential attitude of the best villains in fictional history, even if you can make the arguement that it makes him a shallow character with no real ambitions (but he does have them, they are just not easily seen). Also keep in mind that Final Fantasy IX is arguably my second favorite game ever, so I’m not just some Final Fantasy slammer with no other purpose.

If you are going to make the arguement that the prime reason for the genious of Sephiroths character is how much the player comes to despise him, you have already dug yourself into an inescapable hole considering that the majority of his fanboys seem to begin to worship him through just the first play through when they realize, “oh shit, he’s got a big fucking sword, all those guys on the message board were right, he really is badass.” I am usually a sucker for storylines and find myself enthralled in even the most typical of RPG storylines. Not only did the gameplay of FFVII annoy me, but it’s characters and the storyline did too. As far as characters go, the only ones I could relate to were perhaps Cloud (he’s surrounded by fucking morons), Red XIII (the curiousity and cluelessness were a nice touch), and maybe even Cait Sith (because he’s strange. I liked that, and there was something to be said about his ultimate motivations). Honestly, I wouldn’t have been sad about the death of anyone else at the hands of this dickhead with a long sword and grey hair, let alone Aeris, who I had not grown to know or love at all during the span of the game. Maybe if the writers had given Aeris more depth in her text, she could have been more easily likeable and approachable as a character. They did not. I found myself wondering why I was supposed to be sad about a girl who I met only so many hours ago being killed. The player barely even knows her.

And this next part is taken directly from a post I have made elsewhere, which I do not feel like re-writing up or rephrasing. The arguement was, “Link vs. Sora,” Link obviously being our favorite hero (who at least doesn’t botch the character development which he ingeniously does not have) from the Legend of Zelda series (when I get my Wii, don’t expect me to be outside for a while), and Sora obviously being the sissy little bitch from Kingdom Hearts.

“I love how Final Fantasy fanboys make arguements solely based on the fact that Sephiroth has a badass sword, and therefore should be the medium of comparison for anything ever. So if I’m gathering this right, and this is assuming that Link and Sora even live in the same universes so that they could even fairly be compared by anyones standards (lol THEY DONT), then because Sora can beat Sephiroth, and because Sephiroth is teh badass and he has a badarse sword and therefore is inately the most powerful being ever, that means that Sora is greater than Link because link cannot beat Sephiroth. Are you seeing the blatant flaws in logic here?

And considering the fact that the performance of both Link and Sora are dependant on A. The most “powerful” weapons in their respective games (which we will just assume is rather obvious, even though it isn’t and this flaw in logic has already made this arguement a complete mess as it is) and B. the performance of the player, the real competition should be between Zelda fanboys and Final Fantasy fanboys. The fact that both parties have even allowed themselves to become equated in stupidity over this arguement is utterly embarassing.

But I think we all knew that. This arguement is trash and everyone knows it. So I will submit my opinion which will no doubt be cut down with the argument that Sora has a fricking sharp key [with stat boosts too!] and therefore wins. And we all know what an “opinion” is and how they aren’t necessarilly NOT BS because sometimes they are just facts worked into opinion form. And my opinion, and this is an opinion because you fricking can’t argue against my view of the situation because I know what I’m thinking, is that Sora is a wimp, the fact that he can beat teh Sephiorth (your bishie) means nothing, and he cannot be magically made more important because of the overdramatic and impotent nature of the game he is in.”

One of the girls in the advisory class that I teach with one of my friends was wearing a Kingdom Hearts shirt. This deeply distressed my friend. In retrospect, he is really the smarter of us when it comes to video games, because he realizes that their only real purpose is to release stress and let your primal instincts take flight. For this reason, which is one I can wholeheartedly understand, he hates RPGs. He has no interest in the storylines like I do, and for a very good reason at that. He loves God of War, and it made him furious that Sora beat Kratos in one of the previous Gamefaqs character battles. I’m surprised he hasn’t tried to destroy the Square-Enix headquarters by now, they just piss him off that much. Justifiably? No. But it brings me to the point that Kingdom Hearts is such a fucking bad idea. The Final Fantasy series contains mystique and sophistication (well, most of the time, and I’ve already outlined in some vague way the times that it doesn’t), and the Disney series contains many times slapstick humor and classic cartoon characters.

Just because asians like both DOES NOT MEAN THEY SHOULD BE FUCKING MIXED.

And both worlds are good, that much I’ll say. But so not worth putting together. Just because Disney is in Kingdom Hearts does not make it better simply because people have sensitivity for the franchise and think “well shit, just because it has Disney characters doesn’t mean it’s kiddy.”

Shut the fuck up and eat your goddam Klondike Bar.

I promise I won’t do anymore mindless rambling like this ever again.