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
(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
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.
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.
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
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
Sunday, September 14, 2008
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: