Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Life in Games: Part 1: Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt (1988)

I was 3 years old when I first picked up a NES controller. I was visiting relatives and my 8-year-old cousin's NES was hooked up to the TV in the living room. I watched him play Duck Hunt for a while and apparently he let me give it a try. (My memory is understandably foggy.) I was pretty awful at it. I was only 3 years old, so that was to be expected. I was perfectly happy just blasting away at those ducks. If I managed to hit one, great. If not, I liked the dog and his little laughing noise anyway.

I also gave Super Mario Bros. a try. I was less awful at that. I wasn't great with the bottomless pits, though. I lacked self-confidence. I could make it to level 2 by going into the pipe in the first area and skipping most of level 1, including all of the holes. I'd play until I got to that first mandatory hole, and then I'd just stop. Then I'd start over! I didn't make much progress that way, but I liked it. I don't know what I was afraid of, though. What's the worst thing that could happen if I fell? I'd lose a life, or get a Game Over. So what? My tiny toddler brain didn't understand the consequences and I decided to err on the side of caution.

I'm kind of glad my first two games were such iconic ones. Especially Super Mario Bros.. Super Mario Bros. came out the year I was born. I don't even really need to explain why it's such an iconic game. It was a giant hit. People would buy a NES just for this game. It made Mario into the star he is today. At one point, Mario was more famous among children than Mickey Mouse. Super Mario Bros. marked the beginning of revitalizing the video game industry, as well as the beginning of my life as a gamer.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mega Man 9 DLC Thoughts

The (presumably) last bit of Mega Man 9 DLC was released this week. Here's everything you should know before making a purchase:

Proto Man ($2): Proto Man can charge his shots, block shots with his shield, and slide. Sounds good, right? Well, maybe. There's a lot more to him than that. For instance, he can't visit the store and he takes double damage. Before spending the points on him, you should definitely consider his pros and cons, because for some gamers, the weaknesses may outweigh the strengths. For the sake of keeping this brief, here's a list of details about Proto Man I wrote for The Tanooki when he was released a few weeks ago.

Endless Attack Mode ($3): In Endless Attack Mode, you basically play until you die. To keep things interesting, the stage you play is brand new and randomized. That means you won't be playing in any of the stages you've already played in the main mode, and every time you play it's a different experience. This mode is definitely worth the money.

Special Stage ($1): The Special Stage is a new level for Time Attack mode, complete with a new boss. The stage is pretty challenging, and it reuses some of the bosses from the main game. It's about as tough as one of the Dr. Wily stages. The new boss is nice, but he's not particularly tough if you know your weapons and figure out his pattern. Still, the level itself is great and it's a steal at one dollar.

Hero Mode ($1): Hero Mode is a new difficulty setting, harder than the standard mode. The difficulty increase comes from new enemy placement and obstacles. This mode is a bit disappointing. If you've finished Mega Man 9 and are looking for more of a challenge, this may not be enough. I still managed to breeze through the Robot Masters stages. Of course, that's not to say it's not challenging. Mega Man 9 is pretty tough on its own, and Hero mode is even tougher. (I "breezed" through it because I've been playing the game since it was released and I had a pretty good idea of what to do.) It's just not much tougher than the standard mode. I guess that's why there's:

Super Hero Mode ($1): Argh. Alright, this isn't really fun any more. See, the challenge of Mega Man 9 is the fun kind of challenge, because as difficult as it is, it's never cheap. Well, Super Hero Mode is cheap. For example, there's one part in Galaxy Man's stage that WILL kill you if you're not insanely lucky or psychic. Right before the boss door there's an enemy that will grab you (because you won't know he's there). Your choices then are to either sit there and let him do his thing, ending up smashed against a wall of spikes, or jump over the wall of spikes and land in a pit. That's it. Those are your options. Death or death. Things like that will likely annoy a whole lot of people, but if you don't mind the frustration (and if you're a fan of Mega Man, you're probably ok with frustration), it might be worth a look. It's too bad there's no middle ground between Hero and Superhero modes, though.

Well, that about covers it. There doesn't seem to be any more DLC planned. All together, the game and DLC costs $18. I bought it all, so you don't have to!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Review: World of Goo

A week ago, World of Goo was released for PC and WiiWare. I will admit that I was just a little bit late to the party. I didn't have any Wii Points handy and I'm not much of a PC gamer. It wasn't until a few days later when a generously-sized demo was released that I paid any attention. 

World of Goo is a physics-based puzzle game by indie developers 2D Boy. 2D Boy is basically a two-man team, which makes this game all the more interesting. They have proved that you don't need the budget and manpower of a small country's military to make an amazing game.

I can probably let you stop reading here with this statement. The PC has Portal, the Xbox 360 has Braid, and now the Wii has World of Goo. 

It's a very simple concept that's executed perfectly and constantly expanded upon so that it never gets stale. You can not be bored while playing World of Goo. Every level introduces some new twist or gameplay element. By the end of the game, it still feels like you've just started playing. When simplified, the basic premise of the game is to build a path from your party of goo balls to a pipe for them to escape through. You must get a specific number of balls from the beginning of the level to the pipe in order to clear it. That description doesn't do the game much justice, though. While that basic mechanic is addictive on its own, what really shines is the unique design of each level. There's always some previously-unseen trick or nuance, such as an explosive goo ball that can demolish walls, or a giant head you need to grind down into a pile of smaller balls to fit into the pipe.

The genius level design is complemented by a very unique atmosphere. The whole game feels like it could have been designed by Tim Burton, with its stylized 2D graphics and truly epic musical score. Every world is ended with a story-advancing cutscene that leaves the player with the feeling that the game is on a much, much larger scale than it actually is. While a sense of humour is certainly prevalent from beginning to end, I couldn't help but get chills whenever I watched certain scenes. 

That's not to say the the game is completely flawless, of course. For instance, there's one level where you have to navigate a giant goo head (like the one pictured above) across a line of goo being supported by balloons. I underestimated the weight of the head and it went plummeting into a pit. When I undid my last move, I saw the head flying across the pit, straight into its destination. I suppose little things like that are to be expected when so many gameplay mechanics are present in a game developed by two people.

I know some people will be put off by the $15 price tag (just like Braid) but I hope this game gets the attention and sales it deserves. 2D Boy has set a very high standard for indie developers on major platforms, including themselves. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what else this studio has coming, because their first effort is one of the best games I've ever played.

Friday, September 26, 2008


As of today, I've started writing for The Tanooki. On the off chance that there's actually someone out there who reads this blog when I don't link them to it, you'll be able to read a lot of what I write there from now on. Imaginary fans of this blog shouldn't feel abandoned, though. I'll definitely continue writing here, as well. The Tanooki is a Nintendo-only site, after all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Review: Mega Man 9

(Yes, the screenshot is stolen from 1up. Deal with it.)

Mega Man 9 went live on the Wii Shop Channel at noon yesterday. At noon yesterday, I was downloading Mega Man 9. 

I started off with Concrete Man's stage. I did not get very far. The mini bosses (three of them) quickly reminded me of being six years old, trying desperately to make it past Quick Man's lasers without using the Time Stopper (which I would need for the boss). So I left, deciding I would come back later once I had a better weapon with which to smite them.

Next up was Jewel Man's stage. I couldn't keep myself from doing an awkward sitting-down dance to the music. Mega Man music is famous for being some of the best ever composed for video games. Mega Man 9 keeps the tradition alive. The limitations that come with the NES hardware (this time self imposed) seem to bring out the best in the Capcom sound team. Without going into too much detail, this time I managed to make it all the way to the Robot Master himself, where I was quickly turned to scrap metal.

The difficulty has not been spared. I did eventually manage to defeat the Robot Masters (and one Robot Mistress) and make my way to (spoilers if you've been in a coma for 20 years) Wily's Castle. Once again, it's broken into stages. Once again, if you leave, you start over. I am a Mega Man veteran. I've played and completed Mega Mans 1 through 8. Mega Man 9 reigns supreme as the single hardest entry in the series. And for that, I couldn't be happier.

Everything about Mega Man is an obvious throwback to the Mega Man games of the late 80s and early 90s. What could have been nothing but a scrap book of Mega Man memories, created to sell on nostalgia alone, has instead turned out to be a true Mega Man sequel. Of course, nostalgia does play a factor. Everything about this game screams "Play me on a Famicom." While the graphics were designed to be reminiscent of the original 6, only a few sprites have been reused. While the music was composed and arranged using classic NES bleeps and bloops, the soundtrack is (mostly) completely original and very well done. Play the soundtrack of this game with that of any other Mega Man for someone who has never played a Mega Man game before, and they won't be able to tell what's new and what's old. But (if they're a gamer) they'll love each and every song. 

Elements of the older level designs are mixed with new ones. The classic disappearing-block-over-bottomless-pit rooms make a return (and Rush Jet isn't always helpful any more), and no Mega Man game would be complete without at least one room lined with spikes. New to the party are blocks that teleport you back and forth between each other while shooting you 30 feet into the air, suspended platforms that swing back and forth like pendulums using Mega Man's own shifting weight, robots that fall out of nowhere to grab you and drag you into walls of spikes, and more. The level design is possibly the best it's ever been. Enemies are placed more as obstacles than individual challenges. That Mettaur may not do a lot of damage on his own, but when you land right in front of him, only to be knocked back into a pit of spikes, you'll know why he's there. Charged shots have been removed, forcing you to rely once again on your secondary weapons to get you out of sticky situations. Every trap, every obstacle, every enemy has been carefully placed to turn every instance into a unique situation to be dealt with individually.

A few aspects of the game may feel a bit recycled (Magma Man will feel right at home next to Heat Man, Flame Man, and Fire Man, and I think Splash Woman, as feminine as she is, has more than a little in common with Bubble Man, Dive Man, and Wave Man) but those things are intentional, and Mega Man fans should enjoy the throwbacks rather than rolling their eyes. The old parts say "This is a Mega Man game" while the new ones say "But it's definitely a new Mega Man game." 

If you appreciate a challenge or a healthy dose of retro goodness (or both, like me) Mega Man 9 is for you. Otherwise, go back to your interactive movies. Pansies.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Completely ruin the first ten minutes of Sonic Chronicles for yourself

Gamekyo has released a video of the first ten minutes of Bioware's upcoming DS RPG Sonic Chronicles. It's probably safe to assume that the arrows that appear on the screen from time to time are to scroll through text that appears on the top screen, which isn't visible in the video. That's probably just as well, since the whole thing is in French.

As far as RPGs go, it seems pretty fast-paced. But what else would you expect from a Sonic game? (Unless that Sonic game happens to be Sonic Labyrinth. Eww.)

Sonic Chronicles releases in Europe on September 26th, and North America on September 30th.

Wii Shop Channel Update, September 22nd, 2008

Mega Man 9 may be at the front of everyone's mind today, but don't let it blind you to todays other downloadable goodies.

Mega Man 9 (Capcom) - 1000 points: Throwback to the Mega Man games of yore, only somehow even harder. For those who love nostalgia and ripping out their own fingernails in frustration.

Plättchen Twist 'n' Paint (Bplus) - 1000 points: Quirky colour-based Austrian puzzle game, taking advantage of the unique control styles offered by the Wii Remote.

Virtual Console
Vectorman (Genesis) - 800 points: If one side-scrolling robot shooter isn't enough for you today, Vectorman would like to say hello. Pro tip: Sonic Gems Collection contains both Vectorman 1 and 2 (as well as several Sonic games not good enough for the Mega Collection) for just a couple of dollars more. Hooray for backwards compatibility!

Super Dodge Ball (NES) - 500 points: Fun fact - This game about people throwing balls at each other is from the Kunio-Kun series of NES games, which also includes River City Ransom. That's why the graphics are so similar. The more you know!

That's all for this week. Let's face it, any week with Mega Man is a good week to be a gamer.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Stories? More Like "Bore Me(s)" Am I Right?

Many people seem to be of the opinion that games these days are easier than they used to be. If you discuss this issue with a diverse enough mix of people, you're bound to find some who are completely fine with this because they don't play games for a challenge. They play them for the stories.

I refuse to believe I'm the only person who think's that's crazy.

Personally, I've always felt that stories in video games are more of a bonus than a driving force, and too often they're not even that. You see, I don't think many game creators know how to tell a great story. Sure, there are exceptions. Metal Gear Solid is more cutscene than game but that's very easy to forgive, since the story is just so damn crazy and interesting. Still, even then, it's pretty overwhelming. Playing through the games a second time can be a real pain in the butt, seeing as you're constantly stopping to skip cutscenes or codec conversations. 

This brings me to my next point. I think there are too many times when the story has gotten in the way of an otherwise great game. Take Final Fantasy X, for example. (Yes, I'm calling out an RPG for having too much story.) Final Fantasy X had a lot of things going for it. The battle system flowed amazingly well, the character customization system was completely unique, the world was immersive, the music was memorable, and the graphics were beautiful. But the story? The story was completely invasive. Every few minutes you'd have to stop and listen to one of the characters explain to the main character, Tidus, some little detail you likely don't care about. The pacing was completely destroyed by this constantly nagging flaw. The fact that cutscenes are unskippable makes a second playthrough nearly impossible. Final Fantasy XII took the opposite approach, and quickly became one of my favourite games because of that. There's a story, but the game focuses more on gameplay and, interestingly enough, immersion. Story and immersiveness are not necessarily deeply connected. There are lots of things going on in Ivalice. Plot points may be few and far between, but things like the bestiary (in which each monster entry also comes with a bit of lore regarding something else in Ivalice, such as an event or place) manage to draw you in.

There are times when a story is important, though. In visual novel games such as the Ace Attorney series or Hotel Dusk, the story and the gameplay are closely related. The main objective of these games is to follow the events of the story closely and react in the correct way, usually be solving puzzles or catching people in their lies. 

In the end, is it really worth it? Most game stories aren't even that good. They're hurt by the fact that they have to be told around the gameplay (or they'd just stop being video games all together). It's hard to come up with an interesting story when you have restrictions like the need to explain why the game takes place in a jungle, then on a snowy mountain, then at the bottom of the sea. For every one tolerable video game story that feels like may almost be worthwhile, it's pretty easy to find five or ten movies or books with much better stories that were released around the same time. This is because movies and books don't have so many restrictions, and writers are free to focus entirely on the story without worrying about anything else.

So maybe those crazy gamers who play games exclusively for the stories would be better off taking up reading.

Monday, September 15, 2008

How to Get Excited About a Game You Haven't Seen

I can tell you there's at least one game I'm excited about that I've barely seen. That game is Hideki Kamiya's Bayonetta. For those of you who may be bad with names, Kamiya is the mind behind such fantastic action games as Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe.

Bayonetta is a witch with guns on her feet, possibly because he hands are already full. (Of guns.)  She's not limited to those guns (named Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme individually, and Scarborough Fair collectively) however. Aside from her guns and her standard sword, Bayonetta can also pick up some pretty crazy weapons dropped by her defeated foes, such as a bazooka tuba. (I'm not making this up. I'm not that creative.) Adding to the weirness is the fact that Bayonetta wears hair. See her clothes in the image to the right? They're made of hair. The hair is kind of the source of her magic. Using it she can cast spells and summon things, such as giant dragons or stiletto heels from the sky, that are also made of hair.

The premise of the game isn't entirely clear at this point, but one thing that's known for sure is that Bayonetta is a witch battling angels. With guns on her feet. Another interesting fact about the setting is that at least some of the game will take place in populated areas, but the general population won't be able to see Bayonetta or the angels. They will, however, be able to see the damage done by their battles. Also, people who have been lucky enough to see the game in motion mention a battle that takes place on the face of a giant clock (as in, from a clocktower) that's plummeting from the sky, so expect lots of intersting settings.

Unfortunately, there isn't a lot to say about Bayonetta that doesn't come from word of mouth. There hasn't been so much as a screenshot released for the game. The only trailer is this teaser that was released back in May. That's not really a whole lot to go on. In fact, you may ask why I'm so excited for this game. The answer is simple: It's being made by Platinum Games, formerly Clover Studio. The studio who bestowed such treasures as Viewtiful Joe, God Hand, and Okami upon the world last generation. Unfortunately, Mankind has indicated that it may not be worthy of such things, since none of those games sold nearly as well as they deserved. Now we get a second chance to prove that we, as gamers, don't just want to play it safe with endless sequels and rehashes, and that we're genuinely interested in playing something fresh and new and, above all, fun. 

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wario Land: Shake it

There are a lot of complaints these days regarding the lack of core games on the Wii. Why, then, aren't we hearing more buzz about Wario Land: Shake It! which hits shelves in just over a week?

The Wario Land series traditionally existed exclusively on handhelds, with the last entry being Wario Land 4 shortly after the launch of the Game Boy Advance. Before that was Wario Land 3 for the Game Boy Color, which is widely considered to be one of the best games for the system. Wario Lands 1 and 2 for the original Game Boy, as well as the Virtual Boy Wario Land game were all very well received by gamers and critics. So why, then, isn't there more excitement about this new entry in the series?

According to gameplay footage, this looks like it will bring the quirky Wario personality and variety of gameplay that fans of the series have come to love. Wario seems to have traded his many transformations for more moves, such as swinging, added control for throwing enemies, and, as the name would imply, shaking things. 

Wario Land: Shake It! certainly looks promising. Such a shame it's not getting the attention it deserves. Wii owners looking for a new game to appeal to their refined core gamer tastes should definitely look further into this game, perhaps starting with this gameplay trailer:

Looking good!