Sunday, April 30, 2017

Review #391: Wild Arms - Alter Code: F

 What a missed opportunity...
 Wild Arms is pretty darn mediocre. Wild Arms 2 was pretty great. Wild Arms 3 was bloody fantastic. The original game is more of a case of having aged relatively poorly, particularly in comparison with its sequels, which only got better and better. Alter Code: F is Wild Arms 1 running on Wild Arms 3's engine, what could go wrong? A lot.

 The story is pretty much the same as Wild Arms 1, which I wrote about previously, so there's no point for me to write the same blurb. That said, the remake's strongest feature is the new retelling. Sure, the translation is as bad, sometimes even worse, as the original game's, but they added more dialogue which adds more depth to villains as heroes alike, as well as better explaining some of their motivations and ideals. The plot twists are better set up as well, making them more impactful and interesting. The new facelift also does wonders to how the game tells the story. There's no denying it, as far as the story goes, this one's got beat the original by a landslide. The game also makes playable Jane and Emma, as well as a certain other character, but the only join the party at the end of the game, so you'll only use them for the bonus boss fights, if you decide to tackle them.
 The first thing that will catch you by surprise is that they did away with equipment. Equipment is one of the most fun aspects of an RPG, the promise of finding rewards inside dungeons, or buying new equipment and growing stronger. That's gone. Sure, Wild Arms 3 didn't have equipment either, but you could equip guardians with abilities and then equip these Guardians to your characters, plus, you could customize all four characters' weapons, so they grew stronger as you went along. The only way to increase your attack power is by leveling up. You can customize your characters by finding and equipping Skills, but they are not as varied as Wild Arms 3's(None increase Attack power!) or as rewarding to use. You must farm for repeat Skills if you want to increase its level on a character. Laaaaaaaaaaaaame.

 No way to increase your attack power means that you'll be underpowered pretty much all the way throughout, which means that random encounters can take a while. You can use spells and abilities to do more damage, but these run on limited resources, and pretty much the only way to replenish them is by sleeping at an Inn or leveling up. Eventually your level will grow so high that counting on level ups will be impossible, so get ready to tough it out! The cherry on top is that the encounter rate in this game is ridiculously high.
 The game borrows WA3's Migrant system, so you can dodge random encounters at the cost of some gauge from the migrant seal. Problem: Encounters are plentiful, so it will run out, and if you decide to skip too many of them, enemies will simply ambush you, which is unavoidable. You can equip a few items to prevent ambushes, but EVERY single member of the party needs to equip it, else it won't work. Oh! And you CAN'T RUN AWAY FROM BATTLES. Well, you can, there's a spell to escape, but that means wasting a precious Crest on such a dumb spell. Basically, the game wants you to fight lots of random encounters, since the encounter rate is so high and enemies will eventually ambush you, but that means spending MP and cartridges, so you'll run out of resources for bosses. And while you can count on level ups, once your level reaches 40 this won't be such a simple commodity. It's so stupid!

 Let's talk about the enemies for a bit. While this game is a remake of Wild Arms 1, most random encounters are borrowed from Wild Arms 3! Oh, and enemies LOVE inflicting status effects on your party, luckily you have spells. Wrong. For whatever reason, YOU CAN'T USE SPELLS OUTSIDE OF BATTLES. What where they thinking?? If I have the goddamn MP, let me use the goddamn spell! At least items are relatively cheap, but run out of them, and you will since it seems as if enemies only want to inflict status effects on you, and you're screwed. Brilliant. Don't even let me get into the fact that every area of the game features 3 enemy types at most. AT MOST. I'm absolutely speechless.
 Now let me segway into Wild Arms 3, a game I've mentioned a lot and the game it shares an engine with. It's true, you can't use healing spells outside of battles as well... But Wild Arms 3 has an excuse: Everything runs on FP, a limitless resource that's gained and spent during battle. There's also the fact that you can increase your attack power pretty easily, so you can make short work of random encounters: They don't take nearly as much time nor resources. I popped Wild Arms 3 for a bit in order to compare, and even the Encounter Rate is more lenient.

 Back to Wild Arms Alter Code: F, did I mention that they kept some of the most annoying parts from Wild Arms 1? Remember all those moments in which the game basically told you to 'Go explore every town and hope to find your next objective'? They kept them. And this game uses the Sonar/Radius system from Wild Arms 2 and 3, so you have to find towns yourself on the overworld, and they won't show on the map until you talk to the single right NPC on the correct town that will tell you about its location. Fun. At least in the original game you could come across dungeons and towns by yourself.
 As not to end on such a negative note, I can at least praise the new puzzles. As per Wild Arm's norm, while inside dungeons you will have to do a lot of puzzling while using various different tools, four for each main character, for a total of 12. In the original game, these puzzle felt more like obstacles 'Oh, a flame, put it out with the vase', this time around they are proper puzzles, and some will put your brain to the test. The combat was kept more or less the same, it's still turn based, and characters can use items, perform normal attacks or perform spells/shots(Shots consume cartridges and spells consume mana). There's also the FP mechanic, which increases as you deal and take damage and lets you use even stronger skills.

 Wild Arms - Alter Code: F started oh so promising, but it quickly turned into a tedious borefest. It's hard to have fun with it when the game is constantly trying to waste your time with continuous, endless amount of needlessly taxing random encounters, marred with poor design choices that work only to vex the player. I wish I could tell you that this game was the way to go with Wild Arms 1, but I can't.
 4.5 out of 10

Friday, April 28, 2017

Review #390: Bionicle

 A hour-long snoozefest.
 You've heard the name Bionicle before, you simply did, no matter who you were or what your age was. Bionicle was kind of a big deal for Lego, and it quickly became a story-drive toy franchise that delved into other forms of multimedia. Not only is this game a tie-in with the toys, it's also a tie-in with the direct-to-dvd movie, oh boy, are we in for a ride!

 The game, supposedly, follows the story of the Mask of Light movie, but I couldn't make heads or tails of the plot. On the first two stages you collect two colored masks which triggers a cutscene in which said masks fuse...? with other colored masks and the protagonists transform because reasons. And then, in subsequent levels, you find even more of these masks. I don't even. Maybe if you are invested in the franchise you'll get the gist of most of the story, since it uses a lot of in-universe terms which were enigmas to me, and if you've seen the movie you'll probably make sense of the whole ordeal. Regardless, the entire game can be beat in just an hour or so.
 The game is a 3D platformer some times, most times maybe? In an effort to add variety, every stage has some sort of gimmick or style. The first level is your standard, dull 3D platforming stage featuring the Toa of Fire. The next level makes you play as the Toa of Ice, skating down an icy slope. Afterward the characters turn into the Toa Nuva, and you'll be playing as the Toa Nuva of Water alternating 3D platforming and awkward swimming sections. The next level is a minecart on-rails stage as the Toa Nuva of Earth. The Toa Nuva of Rock comes next and he has a 3D platforming stage that requires you to push things on top of switches, which is pretty wonky. The Toa Nuva of Air has the worst and most annoying level in the entire game, featuring choppy gliding mechanics and terrible vine-swinging segments. The second-to-last level pits you as the Toa Nuva of Fire on a race of sorts against an enemy, and the final level is a boss fight against Makuta, playing as the Toa of Light.

 Moving around and jumping around works decently, there isn't any depth or complicated maneuvers, but it works well. The gimmicks are pretty bad though. It's easy to mis-judge your jumps with vines, and some of the gliding segments are hard to land, thank god for unlimited lives! The pushing mechanics in the Toa Nuva of Rock's stage is laughably bad, pushing something has never been so choppy, and the entire boss fight is made up of you awkwardly pushing stones on top of vents. The camera is pretty bad too, although, to be fair it never got me killed. Something I found fascinating was how short levels were... yet how long they felt because of how boring and bland they were! The art direction was pretty neat, levels are nice to look at, and, maybe, if they had spent their time polishing the platforming and level design and did away with gimmick stages, we could've had a more decent game!
 Look at how badass these Toas look with their weapons! It's a shame they don't use them in lieu of shooting energy from them. How awesome would've it have been to have them slash and dice their way through stages!... but seeing how bland everything is, it's probably for the best that they went with simplicity. Circle shoots energy, and it usually lands on target thanks to automatic targeting. Your energy bolts run on energy, and once depleted you have to hold square to charge it back... or wait for an enemy to shoot and put up your shields in order to absorb it. Whichever the case, you'll have to wait, either for your energy to recharge or for the enemy to attack. For what it's worth, the combat system is kinda ingenious, absorbing energy from enemies in order to recharge your own weapons and the such. It's probably the game's best feature, but it's bogged down due to how easily enemies are dispatched, not requiring much thought or planning.

 Bionicle is not a good game. It's terrible at its worst and it's subpar at its best. That said, I think, I think that it might be an entertaining game for its target demographic: Little children. Although, even now I can remember how disappointed I was when I was younger that you didn't get to play as every Toa on foot. Look, even if you're a fan of the franchise, if you're older than 8, this game is a pass.
 3.0 out of 10

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Now Playing: Wild Arms - Alter Code: F

 Maybe just what I wanted?
 So, I played Wild Arms a few days ago, and I was less than impressed with it. My biggest gripes came with how outclassed it was by future games, well, this game might have me covered. It's Wild Arms 1 remade with the Wild Arms 3 engine. So, hopefully, the puzzles will be better, combat will be better and there will be more customization.

 The dialogue is a bit awkward at times, not unlike the original game, but I can already tell that they are being very cinematic with the presentation, so, hopefully, it will deepen into character's personalities, which were pretty flat in the first game.

 While the new graphics are a big plus, character models look a bit weird, I think their torsos are too big for their tiny legs. Also, the new Surf village was rather pathetic, there were only three houses and barely any NPC, a far cry from the first game, and I'm worried that the other towns will be smaller too. But then again, a lot of the buildings and NPCs were merely filler in the previous game, so maybe having more mainstreamed towns will be better in the long run. I remember how easy and fast it was to explore a town in WA1, but now, thanks to the newer, better graphics... we've load times to contend with, which is the norm on PS2, but I got used to the faster exploration in the first game!

 The battles I hope will show their refinement later, I've only just finished Jack's prologue, which by the way is very lame how we've to play them in order now! and they lack the way FP worked in WA2 and 3, however, I can already tell that the new FP mechanics will prove to be more flexible in the end, I think. Equipment has been removed, which sucks, but if I can enhance my weapons like I could in WA3, I'll be OK.

 It looks promising! This remake looks oh so very promising, it might be exactly what I needed: Wild Arms 1 with the refinements the series would get with subsequent installments.

Review #389: Dead to Rights

 Just your everyday afternoon cop TV soap opera.
 Exciting. Frantic. Kinetic. Chaotic. Those are but a few words I could use to describe Namco's 2002 third person shooter Dead to Rights, a game clearly inspired by Max Payne, but opting for police drama instead of detective noir. It's a game nobody talks about nowadays, but golly, has it aged well!

 You shouldn't be playing this game for its story, but, in case you are, the game follows Jack Slate and his dog, Shadow, as they try to avenge Jack's father. Along the way he'll get framed, he'll escape jail, face betrayal, discover corruption and follow the entire gamut of action-cop movie tropes you think off the top of your head. The story is silly and cliched, the game knows it and it never takes itself seriously: you'll face thong-wearing ninja twin babes, a mad shooter that heals himself by drinking liquor and a cartoonishly abusive jailer. It's dumb, it's fun.
 Dead to Rights is a very linear game, so you'll be traversing stages as you shoot and punch your way through sometimes endless hordes of mooks. This game was from an era before Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War, so manual aiming is more or less impossible(Although you can enter a useless first-person aiming mode by tapping R2), so you use R1 to lock-on to enemies, and the right analog stick to switch between enemies. The color of the targeting reticule indicate how likely your shots are to land. It works rather well, and dispatching enemies as you strafe around is pretty fun.

 Luckily, Jack has a ton of maneuvers at his disposal to make short work of his enemies. Tapping circle while unarmed will perform an instakill that disarms his enemy, and tapping circle while holding a gun will let you grab an enemy and use him as a meat shield. The triangle button can be use to dive, and if you've stamina, you can dive in slow motion and pump your enemies with lead. You an also use circle while next to a wall to stick to it and take cover. Lastly, there's a fourth gauge, below your health, stamina and armor: Shadow. When full, you can use shadow to instantly kill an enemy and have Shadow bring you his weapon. Everything works really well, and it's a blast to play because landing bullets feels good, and once you get a hang of every mechanic, it turns very stylish as well.
 There's also melee combat, and it works relatively well. Once again, landing blows feels very crunchy and satisfying. That said, it's not the most in-depth of combat systems, but as a complement to the shooting? It's great. Sadly, the developers might've bit a bit more than they could chew, since they also added minigames. Disarming bombs and lockpicking, while somewhat out of place, are relatively fun... but there's also a very weird exotic dance minigame, a weird lifting weights minigame and... punching a sand bag? Most of these are rather boring, and while I appreciate that they might've wanted to add some variety... it wasn't needed, and they work against the game. The game is relatively short(4:30 hours or so), so it ends before it gets boring.

 My biggest annoyance with the game was that sometimes enemies will respawn indefinitely. It's not unusual to be picking up weapons after a firefight only for an enemy to respawn behind you, heck, some of those times they respawn from areas you just completely cleared out of enemies! While I never died to a random respawn or during the endless waves on certain missions(Mission 15 being a big culprit, since until you realize that you're supposed to go through a certain door, you might be tempted to try killing everything) they certainly were annoying.
 I had a blast with Dead to Rights! Everything that matters works swimmingly, and it's only a few little kinks and issues that hold it down from its full potential, and a few extra levels could've helped, since I was left wanting more!
 8.0 out of 10.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Now Playing: Dead to Rights

 Third person shooters haven't aged very well, you can blame games like Gears of War and Resident Evil for that, but, Jesus Christ does Dead to Rights still has got it! The shooting feels so good, and plays so well, there're many interesting mechanics like disarms or diving and slow-mo diving, and the aim button works pretty well, clearly, the game was designed to make the most of not having to aim with the right analog stick. The melee combat also feels pretty good.

 That said, there're some rather... uneeded minigames included. The Exotic Dance minigame was kinda weird, the weight lifting was just silly and the punching bag one was dumb. The game could've easily done without them.

 All in all, the game's pretty much brilliant, I'm having a blast.

Review #388: Wild Arms

 Ain't a wild ride.
 I love the few Wild Arms I've played. Wild Arms 2 is bloody great, while Wild Arms 3 rests highly upon my favorite JRPGs ever. Some people consider Wild Arms 1 to be the best one, so of course I had to try it... It was not what I expected.

 You play as a team of Dream Chasers: Rudy, the dull mute hero type who has the power to wield the fearful ARMs, Jack Van Burace, the victim of a poor localization who's got a few skeletons in his closet, searching for 'Power' and lastly, Cecilia, the princess who loves escaping out of the castle, because every JRPG princess loves escaping her castle. While Wild Arms 2 and 3 had this fantastic and original Spaghetti Western theming to them, Wild Arms 1 is more of a generic fantasy game. There're golems, ancient steampunk-ish technology waiting to be found, princesses, castles, an ancient race of elves-equivalents named Elw and, lastly, the enemy race: The Machines. While there're a few twists and turns, a few more obvious than others, the story was a bit too 'me-too' as far as RPGs go for my liking, and characters were too one-dimensional. It fails to engage the player, but at least it has a few interesting ideas.
 This, being a JRPG, plays like one to a tee. Run around, explore towns, traverse dungeons, fight a few random battles and defeat some bosses for good measure. What's interesting about Wild Arms is how they deal with exploration: All three characters have their own set of 4 tools, which are used to solve puzzles while inside dungeons, Take Rudy, he can use bombs to destroy cracked walls, or use the Power Glove(It's so bad) to hit stuff, while Jack can use a grappling hook or send his pet flying mouse to grab stuff from afar. It really sets Wild Arms apart from other games... but, sadly, this time around puzzles are rather lame and simple, to the point of the use of tools feeling more like sorting obstacles than figuring out how to deal with situations. The series will really get the most out of the Tool system in subsequent games.

 But what's really puzzling is how the game progresses. More than once will the game expect you to just roam around, suffering dozens upon dozens of random encounters, until you somehow bump into where you are supposed to go next. It's poor game design, add to that the poor translation and you've a recipe for annoyance. Some puzzles are a bit too vague as well. There's this instance in which you have to speak with a nun, of course the game doesn't tell you that you need to, but she's blocked off by a kid that mentions being scared of the giant rat monsters. Somehow you have to realize that you've to use the flying mouse on the kid to get him to move and then talk to the nun... Seriously?
 Combat fares much better, using a more primitive set of mechanics than future games. Battles follow the traditional turn based system, and on each turn you've a decent variety of things you could do. You can swap out a character's equipment, you can use items, use spells/skills, attack or use FP attacks. FP is built as you take and deal damage, there're four levels to the FP gauge, and each character has four unique FP skills they can use. It's a rather fun system that works really well... .and which would be refined to a shine in latter games.

 It's interesting to see Wild Arms' origins, but this first game leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, battles are fun, but not as fun as they are in future games thanks to all the added bells and whistles. It lacks the fantastic customization that you could do on your party, and while I'm sure the tool system was original at its time... the puzzles get SO much better and so much more creative than this game. Heck, even their stories are much more engrossing and original than this generic pastiche of tropes. Wild Arms 1 is not a bad game, but it stands eclipsed by its much superior sequels.
 5.5 out of 10

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review #387: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3

 Who'd knew The Force was fond of skating?
 There's no denying that Tony Hawk 3 was the bees knees at the time of its release. It was the culmination of all that was Tony Hawk, and a brave new step into the next generation. And while the game has stood the test of time... Tony Hawk 4 and the other sequels happened.

 You can play either Career, Single Session(2 minutes to score points), Free Skate(No time limit, fool around any level), create your own skate park and a few two player modes. Career has no story, no fat. It's just you, 8 levels, 2 minutes and their goal lists. If you ask me, it's rather... archaic. Mind you, I adore arcade-like games, but you need to finish a certain amount of goals in order to progress to the next level, and considering that about 70% of the goals require you finding something or figuring out how to do it(Because 'Start the Earthquake' totally means grinding 4 rails), and running on 2-minute limits is rather tedious. This was tweaked with Tony Hawk 4's mission based approach, which I think works much better. Regardless, the game's levels are distinct, fun and well crafted, and the goals on each are very varied.
 While some may argue that subsequent games overdid it with mechanics and what not, and would claim that Pro Skater 3's mechanics are all that's needed... I digress. Climbing stairs is a pain in the butt, and if you messed up, you are better off losing time and finding another way up instead of trying to fight gravity and grind a rail upwards. This was fixed with the ability to get off your board. Sticker-Slapping/Wallplanting was another fun mechanic that would be added later that would let you continue combos even when riding straight into a wall. What I mean to say is that, yes, the mechanics present in Tony Hawk 3 work, and work well... but future games added so much more to the game, and mostly fun or useful tools, it's hard to come back to this one.

 If you don't care about unlockables, you can be done with the game in little more than half an hour. In order to unlock every secret skater you'll either have to complete the game 100% with every skater or... use cheat codes. The extras are worth it, what other game lets you skate as Darth Maul or Wolverine!?
 Is Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 still a good game? Undoubtedly. Has it aged poorly? Not at all... but as far as I'm concerned, the subsequent games are all much, much more fun to play, and offer a whole lot more than simply 'bells and whistles', they improved and evolved the formula. But, hey, if you still prefer the older format, this one still plays like a dream.
 6.0 out of 10

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Now Playing: Wild Arms

 Where's my Wild West?
 I thought the Wild Arms games had a western motif... why am I fighting with Swords?! Where's the sand? Where're the desserts!?

 Ah well, first impressions are good. I love the sprites, while they have a quasi-3D feel to them, they also feel very... SNES-y, in how the world looks and characters move. The combat, too, while being polygonal, it still feels very SNES-y.

 I'm liking it a lot!

Review #386: Super Bust-a-Move

 Maybe it's time for a 'Worst Cover of the Year' category?
 Welcome to Super Bust-a-Move, the fifth Playstation release of the long-lived Bust-a-Move series, and it's kinda... it's kinda dated.

 What is Bust-a-Move? It's one of those puzzle games in which you have to clear a screen filled with colorful bubbles by throwing your own colored bubbles at them, from the bottom to the top. Your bubbles will stick against the bubbles at the top, and matching three or more bubbles of the same color will make them pop. You can't waste too much time as the ceiling is constantly lowering, and if a bubble touches your character at the bottom of the screen, it's game over.
 There're three different modes: 1-Player Puzzle mode, which is an arcade ladder of sorts in which you pick your own route, VS CPU and VS 2 Player. Longevity is something this game lacks. Also, for whatever reason, the entire cast of playable characters is new, and they went for a sort of Monster-pop-culture look that is kinda hideous.

 Super Bust-a-Move is relatively good, since the concept is so undeniably good that it's been cloned and ripped off to death, but it's also a victim of time. While the lack of modes was unforgivable even at its time of release, there's no denying that this kind of game has become easy to access, thanks to Facebook or mobile games, and free to play. There's absolutely no reason as to why you'd want to play this version instead, except maybe the original characters, and, if you ask me, there's a lot to be desired in that front.
 4.0 out of 10

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review #385: Star Wars Episode 1 - Jedi Power Battles

 Jedi's lamest battles.
 It was a great concept: Take a Jedi from the many introduced in Episode 1, and take them through various levels of beat'em up action, heck, take a buddy with you as well! It was a great concept. But why was the end result so bad?

 While Episode 1 dealt with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan's adventure, this game is a very, veeeeeery loose retelling of the movie, and in addition to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, you can play as three other Jedi: Plo Koon, Mace Windu and Adi Gallia. There're few but noticeable differences between all Jedi, from the speed and power of their moves down to their force powers. This is a beat'em up game, which means you'll traverse linear stages slicing and dicing your enemies. As you go through all 10 levels, scoring high amount of points will let you earn new combos, more health, more Force power gauge or even new force powers. And heck, you can even unlock a few other playable characters!
 It sounds awesome, doesn't it? But it all goes down the drain as soon as you gain control of your Jedi. You've three attack buttons, Low, Medium and High, and while performing the simple 2 and 3 button combos is easy, using the unlockable combos require some very weird timing. Moving while pressing buttons will perform unwieldy dash attacks, so you have to be staying still before pressing buttons if you want to use the useful attacks, which is kinda annoying, but you can get used to it. The force powers are a decent addition, but you have to unlock them by getting the highest amount of points possible in a stage, which, to be honest, is a drag, as you must search every nook and cranny for collectibles or destructible objects, which also halts the pace of the game.

 Level design is pretty bad as well, chief of its problems being the unnecessary amount of terrible platforming sections that have no place in this game. Your character won't project shadows over certain types of terrain, which is one of the worst sins a 3-D platform game can commit. Then there's also the cheap enemy placement that is sure to shoot at you as you jump towards platforms or push you off stages with their knock-up attacks. The game runs on credits, so hope to god you don't lose all your credits to botomless pits. Or to glitches, like getting stuck on a veranda. Or to poor checkpoint design which respawns every single enemy and might just respawn you in the middle of harms way. It's not an enjoyable game. At least you can bring a buddy along to lessen the tedium.
 Jedi Power Battles falls short of its fantastic concept. There were some great ideas at play, it could've been a great game, but... it's not.
3.5 out of 10

Now Playing: Star Wars Episode 1 - Jedi Power Battles

 Not one with the force.
 So, somehow I made it to level 2, and now I'm presented with platforming sections that have nothing to do in this game, and I'm like... no, this game isn't very good.

 I started the game on Jedi difficulty with Plo Koon, since he looks like a Predator and wields a yellow lightsaber, but pulling off moves is rather dumb. You've to be perfectly still unless you want to do running attacks, which are unwieldy and hard to aim. But why even bother with that, L1 is the button you want to spam in order to kill everything. Everything.

 I think I will start again and lower the difficulty, the game just isn't worth my time, and I'm tired of being sent back 4-5 minutes because I failed the silly platforming segment that shouldn't have been in the game in the first place.

Review #384: Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam

 A downward spiral course straight to mediocrity.
 What is this game? Thank you for asking! This is a Tony Hawk game based around Pro Skater 1's worst level: Downhill Jam, yes, they built an entire game around the first game's lamest level and the end result is... well, it's better than it deserves to be!

 There's no story mode to this game, you just pop in the game and you'll be received by two different modes: Downhill Challenge and Multiplayer. Multiplayer simply lets you play in a few different modes against another player, but the real meat of the game lies in Downhill Challenge. It's made up of 50ish goals, and as you complete levels you'll unlock more characters, costumes, more boards, more stages and a few other extras. Goals come in different flavors, just as simple races down the different courses against other skaters, slalom challenges through gates, having to smack a certain amount of bystanders as you go down, elimination races and even a few weird ones like having to avoid certain parts of the floor which turned to lava! There's certainly a fair amount of missions, but sadly, the amount of stages just isn't enough, so they will get boring pretty soon.
 While this is first and foremost a racing game, it retains the same controls from Tony Hawk's main games. Circle and Square do tricks, hold X to speed up and perform Ollies, triangle Grinds and... and you can use cheats to enable manuals as well. A new addition is L2 to boost when the gauge is full, which is filled by earning points as you trick around. You can also pummel your sides by tapping L1 or R1, which earns you points if you smack passerbys or knocks other racers off their boards. It kinda works, but be ready, the physics feel fairly different from the other Tony Hawk games, so it might take a while to adapt.

 The game's highpoint are the different courses: They are big, they are pretty, they are fun to skate down from top to bottom and they also offer various different routes. There're no pros besides Tony Hawk, but the new cartoony skaters are alright and they fit the tone of the game.
 As good as the controls are, as good as the level design is, the game falls apart on a technical levels. There're a dozen different graphical glitches, I came across multiple invisible grounds. Some collisions also felt kinda wonky, and don't even let me get started on the unacceptable slew of framerate issues that rear their head more often than I would've liked. Don't be surprised if the framerate issues throw you off your grove. The game froze on me once, and after clearing the tutorial I had to restart the game since it wouldn't read my button inputs. Yeah, it's a bit of a mess.

 But the cherry on top is the rubberband AI. You'll easily catch up to CPU opponents, but don't worry, it doesn't matter how well you skate, they will magically catch up to you. Dear developers: Rubberband AI isn't fun, it's annoying, please do away with it. Thank you.
 Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam isn't a total stinker, racing down these fantastic levels can be fun... when you aren't dealing with glitches or framerate issues. To be honest, it would've been easy to build upon this engine and make a better sequel, but it won't ever happen.
 4.5 out of 10

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Archile's Grab-bag: Ebay Edition

  It's been a while since I've done one of this, and boy, is this one a doozy!
 Darkstone: Filler game. There was a 'Buy 3 get 10% off' deal, and Darkstone was very cheap, so I purchased it. I played it a bit on PC, but the game failed to really grip me. Guess I'll be giving it another go. I never did figure what 'Age' did to your characters!
 Wild Arms: There're three videogame RPG sagas I want to play ASAP: Suikoden, Wild Arms and Shadow Hearts. I don't know why I waited so long on Wild Arms 1, considering I love Wild Arms 2 and Wild Arms 3 is one of my favorite JRPGs ever. Ever!!
 Star Wars Episode 1 - Jedi Power Battles: While I never finished it, I remember having played this game a fair amount back when I was younger, so I wanted to give it another go.
 Castlevania - Curse of Darkness: The only Castlevania I've easy access to but hadn't played yet. To be honest, the Pokemon-type gameplay doesn't really appeal to me, but apparently it's supposed to be a better game than Lament of Innocence, which I thought was great, so I'm willing to give it a chance.
 Dead to Rights: I remember having read that this game was hard as balls, yet when I finally played it... I got through it without much hassle. It was a fun third person shooter, but this genre hasn't aged well, so I hope the game's still fun.
 Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3: I used to play this one on PS1, and apparently, it's a different game! But regardless, my quest to play all Tony Hawk games marches on.
 Suikoden IV: The only cheap Suikoden game, it was as good a time as any to grab it. I probably won't be playing this one anytime soon, at least until I can secure the rest of this rather expensive series.
 Super Bust-a-Move: Back in my Nintendo 64 days, I remember reading about the Bust a Move games, and while I was mildly interested, I never got to rent them, since no local Blockbuster carried them! Ah well, it was a good chance to add more variety to my PS2 library.
 Final Fantasy XII: The beginning of the end? For some reason I had put off playing this game. Maybe because they did away with turn based combat for this MMO hybrid weird thing... but having played Xenoblade, I will give it a chance. At least it doesn't play itself.
 Wild Arms 5: The final game in the Wild Arms franchise, it'll be a while till I tackle this one, since I mean to play 1, Alter Code F and 4 before it. Honestly, I forsook the franchise after they went with the HEX battle system, since why break what isn't broken... but I realized that it was pretty close minded of me to hate the changes without trying them, so here I am.

Now Playing: Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam

 That one level...
 So, I boot up the game and... no story, just a mission select screen. Then I have to go through the tutorial, which hung up and I had to reset. I played a couple of races and it didn't feel right. I thought the game was terrible.

 ...but I soldiered on. I remember my kind of games: Who cares about plot? I play games, not watch them, plus, it brought me a sense of... nostalgia, reminded me of old Nintendo 64 games that didn't need all these fluff. And I didn't get another glitch. And I learned to like the game.

 It's not brilliant by any means, but it can be rather fun. Something still feels off, maybe, maybe it's just the fact that the physics are so similar, yet different from mainline Tony Hawk games. Hopefully, by the time I review it I've a firmer grasp on what feels so weird.

 Basically, it's decent.

Review #383: Koudelka

 Resident Fantasy I
 Koudelka is the result of a game director that wanted to make a game akin to survival horror games, but a team that wanted to develop an RPG like Square's. It's an interesting mix, akin to Parasite Eve, but with a flavor all to itself.

 The game puts you in the heels of Koudelka, a gipsy prostitute medium that finds herself in Nemeton Monastery, at the behest of a ghost that called to her. It's not too soon before she meets Edward, a man of vices and maybe a few virtues. Last to join the party is father James, a man of religion and literature. These three will bicker, fight and bond their way through the mysteries surrounding Nemeton Monastery, it's eccentric inhabitants and the creepy monsters seeking to make mincemeat out of our heroes. While the story is nothing to write home about, the main three characters are very interesting, and as unlikely as JRPG heroes get, and there're a few very poignant scenes that make you fall in love with them. The game's monster design also deserves praise, these monsters are creepy and brilliantly designed, some of these are unlike anything you've fought in any other JRPG or Survival Horror game before!
 At first glance, this sounds like a Survival Horror game. The entire game takes place inside Nemeton Monastery, there're guns as well as limited ammunition, there're puzzles that require hogging items around, and doors that have to be unlocked in order to open up shortcuts. It's pretty much a Resident Evil ripoff.... until you come across a random encounter, which is when the game's true nature surfaces.

 Battles are fought by turns, dictated by your party's agility as well as the enemies' agility. There're some strategic elements at play as well, you can move character through an invisible grid, you need to be in range if you are to attack enemies with melee weapons, but guns can bypass having to run towards your enemy, or you can simply use magic. You've to be careful though, ammunition is limited, and every melee weapon will break eventually.
 There're a few conflicting elements in the game, however. for instance, the more you use weapons, the higher your proficiency with them will be, and the more damage you'll deal with them. So you want to conserve weapons, but you also need to use them in order to enhance your abilities with them! To be fair, Koudelka's magic will do short work of most enemies in the game, and if you build Edward right, he can use his bare fists just fine.

 Speaking of building characters, when you level up you'll be granted 4 Ability Points to spread among the characters' stats. While you could build them in any way you want, you should strengthen their strengths instead of trying to play against archetypes or building jack of all trades. Koudelka's built as a mage, so making her a tank or a melee character will handicap yourself in the long run, while Edward is supposed to be your main tank as well as your main attacker! James is a little bit unique in this way, as his stats lend himself to act as a secondary tank, a melee attacker or another mage... but Magic is so useful and important in the game, that he's better off as an off-tank mage!
 A little issue you may have as well is that armor and accessories are entirely reliant on luck. You've to hope that enemies drop armor or rings. Heck, if you're unlucky, you might get stuck with armor weak to the bosses element and have to grind for something better. To be honest, I never had any trouble of this kind, as I had plenty of spare weapons, armors and rings, but you may not be as lucky. Ironically, the game's biggest issue is that the game is paced like a Survival Horror game, which means that it's a very, very short game. While it's made up of four discs, I was on disc 2 by the second hour, disc 3 on my 6th hour, disc 4  by hour 8 and finished the game in under 10 hours! And I played the game blind, so I wasted a few minutes trying to figure out some things.

 Koudelka was fantastic. I liked the survival horror/JRPG mixture, I loved the cast of characters and I enjoyed the combat system. It has its issues, some design choices clash with each other, and it's a very short game... but it's a very enjoyable one.
 8.0 out of 10

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Now Playing: Koudelka

 Even the game isn't sure how to pronounce it!
 Koudelka certainly is... different, but in a good way, I think. I liked how you can customize each character's stats, and the combat system is relatively fun, I don't understand why it was panned at the time. Considering the time of its release, the voice acting is relatively decent, and I'm loving the story, it has had some pretty creative plot points.

 What I didn't like was... breakable weapons. I hate it when weapons have durability, worst of all, you're expected to raise your proficiency by using weapons, but if you use them, you break them! The encounter rate might be a bit too high, maybe.

 Well, this year I decided to give the entire Shadow Hearts franchise a go, and so far, it's looking promising!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review #382: Sonic Heroes

 No hero can save this game.
 Sonic doesn't have the exact perfect record after he hit 3D. While most people would agree that 3D Sonic is pretty terrible, a few vocal minority still like them, while a few would concede that Adventure 1 and 2 were decent. Sonic Heroes was the next game after Adventure 2, and it's all kinds of terrible.

 Sonic Heroes ditches Adventure's format, instead focusing on four different 3-man teams. Rose, Big and Cream have a silly adventure about searching for different characters. Their adventure consist of short stages and few enemies. Sonic, Tails and Knuckles represent the medium difficulty setting, with more enemies and longer versions of the same stages, trying to foil Eggman. Shadow, Rouge and Omega represent hard difficulty, with the longest stages and hardest challenges, while Rouge looks for treasure and Shadow and Omega search for Eggman. Lastly, there's Team Chaotix, with mission based gameplay. They all suck.
 While the stories might differ, each team has only slightly different stages. The game is your typical platformer: Go from one end of the stage to the other, jumping through platforms and defeating enemies on your way. As with any Sonic game, you can collect rings in order to be able to tank extra hits, as long as you are holding at least one ring you'll be fine from enemy attacks, but getting hit makes you drop every ring you've collected... still, there's plenty of time to pick some of them up before they disappear. Teams also play slightly different, for example, Sonic and Shadow can tap Square to dash through ring-trails, while Team Chatoix's Espio throws shurikens instead. Knuckles and Omega attack in pretty much the same ways, but Big the Cat and Vector can belly pound form the air, etc. There's a heavy focus in formations, Speed, Power and Flight, and you'll have to switch formations in order to clear different objectives and progress through the stages.

 Speaking of Stages, Team Chaotix has some rather annoying mission-based stages, like destroying every enemy or gathering X amount of something. This can either be a chore or easy, and if you miss something... you've got to loop back to the start of the stage and traverse it all the way to the end again in hope of finding what you missed. Team Sonic and Team Dark have boring, annoyingly long stages that go on forever and overstay their welcome as soon as they hit the 8 minute mark. The annoyance is exacerbated thanks to shoddy level design and terrible controls.
 Let's start with the controls: Every character moves too damn fast, and in a very slippery and floaty fashion. It's impossible not to die because stuff was out of your control, because your character slipped out of the platform. Knuckles and Omega, the Power characters from Team Dark and Team Sonic, dash around when you use your normal attacks, you will fall down over and over again because of how slippery it is. Hitting enemies also lacks feedback, you it feels as if you are hitting air. It was so bad that I avoided using Shadow/Sonic/Espio/Rose's homing attacks since I was scared I would fall off the platform, and Omega and Knuckles were so finicky that I was reduced to using jumping attack almost exclusively. Basically: Running around is slippery and floating, jumping is floaty and imprecise and ground-combat will get you killed. Just moving around can get you killed in Sonic Heroes, and it won't feel like it's your fault at all. The camera is wonky as well, sometimes deciding to zoom in on your character for no apparent reason, and using the analog stick to move it around is as imprecise as moving around.

 As for the levels themselves.. it runs through the entire gamut of problems. Some stages have bad designs, like the Casino level, featuring the worst pinball physics I've ever seen, and then pits are introduced and... let's just say that if you are playing as Team Sonic or Team Dark, you will sink a lot of lives here. Then there are problems related to the shoddy game design itself, a few times, as Sonic and Shadow, you will be required to tap Square to automatically follow a trail of rings... more times than I can count, Shadow and Sonic fell off the trail to their deaths for no apparent reason. There're a few 'autorun' segments in which you are supposed to not press a thing, I think? I think because sometimes getting through these was a gamble, if I pressed something I died and if I didn't I died too, either because, somehow, my character fell off the path or because at the end they decided to jump in... another direction? I can't count the times I didn't know if the game expected me to press anything or expected me not to, thus I don't even know how I got through them. And don't even let me get started on the fact that characters don't produce shadows, making platforming in 3-D even more of a hassle.
 If you hate someone with a passion, you can maybe coerce them into playing the silly 2-player versus mode with you. There's a needless amount of multiplayer modes, if you are so inclined, from races to battles. Gathering all Chaos Emeralds and finishing all four story modes(Are you feeling masochistic?) unlocks a final chapter... but it's not worth it. The game is an uncontrollable mess, it's not worth it.

 Sonic Heroes is awful. It's almost unplayable at times with how difficult to move around safely it is. If you like Sonic... I'm so sorry that you have to endure this. Nothing about this game works well, there's almost nothing good I can say about this game, except maybe that it looks pretty and that the concept of 3-man teams was pretty interesting. It's a shame nothing works well. I don't remember the last time a game made me so angry.
 2.5 out of 10