Friday, December 18, 2009

Gamemand: Ico - 20091217

ICO left me with the same unnerving, pondering feeling that I got from the end of Shadow of the Colossus. The ending was far from tidy, and it left me wondering what really happened at the end. I liked it. Of course, this victory was marred by the frustration of the first hour.

You would think that with all the escape-the-room games I've played, I would be prepared for using off-kilter thinking, and I was. The one thing that I have finally learned is that I don't try solutions multiple times. When I finally cleared the roadstop, it was a solution that I had already tried. But instead of blaming the game like I usually do, I've just come to believe that sometimes there's an "exactly right" way to do things in some games, and it might take more precision to get the job done.

One week to play the first hour. A day to finish the rest.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gamemand: Ico - 20091212

New name. New style. Let's see how it goes.

Ico​ (イコ, Iko, pronounced /ˈiːko/) is a 2001 action-adventure video game published by Sony Computer Entertainment and released for the...
Initial release date: 2001
Release Date: Mar 18, 2002

Fucking windmill.

I am not in the mood tonight. I've fought spirits. I've traversed ledges. I've deduced. I've inferred.  And I will not, will not be undone by you, windmill. I don't know what leap of logic you expect me to take, but I will have none of it. Not tonight.

I can see what you want. I see the lever and the bridge it will extend, across the fathomless gap. I see the path, leading from a staircase, to an overpass, to a platform right above that fucking windmill. But no amount of climbing, no amount of pushing, nay, no about of hitting will help me conquer this ascent.

I'm not wrong, not after all the searching I've done. I've been across every inch of this accursed garden, tried ever action I can think of and came up short, but I'm not the one who has failed. No. You are failing me, and I'm at the end of my rope. I'm…I'm…

God. I'm stupid. What am I missing? What am I not seeing? I'm only an hour into my adventure, and already I've spent twice that time at this in-pass. God oh god oh god. Why can't I figure this out? Up until now it's been so straightforward, and now, now, when I'm meant with genuine challenge and adversity, I can't prevail.

This is emasculating. An emasculating link in a abasing chain of gaming endeavors. First, I fail to match the act to the skill point in Ratchet & Clank and end up consulting a guide for the last ten. Ten! Then, I gnash and snarl as I force my way through the final challenges of The Mark of Kri and Rise of The Kasai. And now I'm stymied at the very onset of my newest endeavor. I am, at least for this moment, not the kind of gamer I thought I was. Am I having fun? I honestly can't tell.

…And now it's 2:00 A.M. I'm going to bed.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

TEAL: Chaos Legions - We Are Many

I've jumped from one Capcom title to another. After finishing off the Maximo series, which included the short, but highly entertaining Army of Zin, I've moved on to the lesser known Chaos Legion (in-between sessions of Frequency). Like a lot of the games I've been playing recently, I'm constantly intrigued by what it does well or different while constantly frustrated by its difficulty.

Side, Story
For better or worse, the story seems very, very disjoined from the actual game. Based on a Tow Ubukata novel, the narrative talks of a classic friends-turn-enemies rivalry that leads to the possible destruction of humanity. I'm not sure how much of the original story is present in the game, but I doubt that the amount of fighting in the game is proportionate to the amount in the book. It's for the better, more action in a action game is a good thing, but when the game does get to the story, it seems segregated.

Save for the main character, the cutscenes have little connection with the levels. So far, the cutscenes seem like they can be strung together without a loss of cohesion, with little of the plot coming through in the actual stages. Unfortunate because it seems like a waste of source material, but ultimately a lesser concern compared to gameplay.

Summoning, Sickness
Starting off, Sieg Warheit seems pretty weak. Even with the most powerful summon on my side (which is lost at the end of the first level), It took a couple of retries to clear just the first level. This is mostly due to the sorry state Sieg starts off in. There's little more to start off with than a single combo and some basic dodges. Save for that single crest, you have a pretty paltry number of choices in dispatching enemies.

As a result, the Legionnaires become, probably by design, my primary mode of attack. Being faster , stronger, and more resilient than Sieg, I find myself sitting back while I send them to do the dirty work. In a way, each Legion makes Sieg more versatile, granting him the abilities that his own move-set sorely lacks. This makes it all the more devastating when you allow a crest to "break", temporarily robbing you of those attacks. The game feels like more of an exploration of commanding power rather than personal power.

Growing, Pains
Being as weak as you are, the beginning of the game was a bit of a hurdle. Two or three untimely assault from the enemy will easily result in a game over, another reason to rely on the Legionnaires rather than yourself. But this initial difficulty is only made worse by the lack of play direction.

The game is a bit of a complicated one, and its mechanics are only presented through various help screens that pop up from time to time. Most of the important stuff is covered in that first stage, but even then basic controls and combat are things that you pretty much have to grep from the manual. Working from the scattered hints means that I've been restarting from experimentation as much as sloppy playing.

The piecemeal tutorial does work when it's presented after activating new crests, which provide, thankfully, new player abilities. With each level comes another crest and another chance to equip a new move that lessens your reliance on your many minions. It's a pattern of growth that I should recognize from many games, namely your Castlevanias and Metroids. Maybe it's the different presentation, the Level-Boss setup as oppose to freeform exploration, or maybe it's the comparably low level that Sieg starts off at, but I found the power-in-parts formula disorienting and different in this context.

German, Gothic
The overall structure, waves of enemies punctuated by end bosses, recalls another overlooked Capcom game that I personally enjoyed, P.N.03. Similarities don't stop there, as the start-up is also a slow climb from the bottom of the power ladder. The difference is in how your character grows. In Chaos Legion, your growth increases the number of moves in your repertoire, changing your character from a one-combo wonder to a versatile fighter. The new moves are definitely welcomed, but it definitely changes how you play from level to level.

As Vanessa Z. Schneider, your power may increase, but your abilities pretty much stay static. Save for the variations on your Energy Drive (super shot), you can move and shoot the same from beginning to end. The only changes come in how upgrades that improve your shot and your shield. This doesn't really change how you proceed through each level, though, just how long it takes you. The shots may be more potent and the damage less debilitating, but the strategy doesn't change. This leads to refinement of play rather than evolution.

Both are fun in their own way. I enjoyed P.N.03 because I felt like I was improving. The game gave you most of the move-set up front, giving me the whole game to become acquainted with it. By the end, I knew the advantages and limitations of Vanessa and felt secure in my abilities. In Chaos Legion, the joy comes from the reward. Ever new ability is a new chance to expand. It's much like a gift, a new toy to play with once you've gotten bored with the older attacks.

Part of each game's enjoyment comes from how each game is constructed. I need to be familiar with the moves of P.N.03, because each level is constructed in a particular way. Without that practice, it would be (and was, in the beginning) a frustrating exercise in unfamiliarity. In Chaos Legion, each wave of enemies is a erratic assault of relentless enemies, an assault that only requires a quick button press and quicker reflexes. Strategy and practice can help, but it's mostly an X-Button affair.

Chaos Legion definitely offers more than I expected. Each death is met with an immediate retry, regardless of how cheap I find the death, just because I need to see what crest I get next or what ability I can buy. The game might be missing a bit, but I imagine that the blanks will be filled in the farther I go.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

TEAL: Maximo - Ghosts (and Glory) of Gaming Past

I've been unintentionally "old school" in my game selection, whether that be in terms of gameplay or style. Nthing has made that more apparent though than my current stint with Maximo: Ghost to Glory. Difficulty-wise, I wouldn't say that it's anywhere near the unforgiving challenge of some of the Ghosts 'n' Goblins games, but it's definitely a lot harder and intriguing than some of the more recent platformers I've played, for a few of reasons:
  • Temporary power-ups: One of the things I hated then loved about Maximo is the fleeting nature of the skills and pick-ups you come across. Elemental swords lose their charge after twenty hits (less if you fire off Magic Bolts or Doomstrikes), and abilities vanish when you die if you haven't "locked" them in. It was hard to get over losing my fiery sword and breaking my shield in the middle of a heated battle, but it did forced me to rework my play-style to take a more strategic route, as oppose to the beat-'em-up style I'd been employing.
  • Limiting continues: The escalating price of continues seemed like a raw deal, and it definitely raised the stakes of the game once I got later in the story. Granted, this limitation is neglect-able with a recent save, but it can be a consideration if you only save after bosses (instead of spending coin). Playing through a world is usually less fun the second time around.
  • Guess-and-check bosses: It's been a while since I've had to find the right technique to use in order to defeat a boss. These encounters aren't the power-through-and-you-can-eventually-win affair, but the hit-this-here-at-this-time-or-die type. The thing is, after a few one-sided shouting matches with the TV, I started enjoying engaging in the simple choreography of the battle. It kind of makes me want to go back and play Zelda.
Despite its short length (I completed it in a week) and some frustrating deaths ("I can't believe that hit me!"), I've had a fun play-through, especially when I found a workable set of skills to lock in. I'm intrigued to see how Army of Zin expands/improves/ruins what Maximo had going for it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

TEAL: Bit.Trip Beat - A Bit of a Beating

If I enjoy a challenge so much, why am I constantly on the verge of putting a Wii remote through a wall while I play Bit.Trip Beat?

Playing through is a lot of fun until you come to the tricky parts, specifically the tricky parts halfway through the stage. Passing some of these bit sequences takes more than a few tries. The problem is that each of these tries is going to be proceeded by retreading through the first half of the level, repeatedly. It tends to work the nerve a bit.

I've been able to trough through these parts and master the unique rhythms that the three stages have been throwing at me, but I can't say I wasn't tempting to pull up a replay video for a while.

Now, if only I could beat pong

Monday, June 22, 2009

TEAL: Odin Sphere

It was hard to pin down exactly why I enjoyed Odin Sphere. The art's great, the leveling system is engaging, and the battle can be challenging, even when I'm now simply under-powered. Ultimately, I think that what upped my enjoyment of the game is that I felt cheated in so many battles.

I'm willing to concede that this is due to my own choices: I refused to level grind for the first five books. Quite often this led to one-hit deaths and countless retries. Surprisingly, I was able to forgo the RPG route of defeat and instead approached it for Odin Sphere's action side: I memorized. In classic action fashion, most of the bosses could be taken down through finding their pattern and attacking accordingly.

And after trial through irking trial, taken down they were, which is why I was able to get so much fun out of the game. It's just like me with programming. The fun for me comes from finally breaking through an error or bug after trying and cursing and trying again for ages.

Besides that, the whimsical (I mean, when it isn't dealing Armageddon) style and setting gives me the same warm feeling I got from playing GRiMgRiMoiRe. It kind of makes me wonder if Muramasa will  give me the same fantasy high. Regardless, I think I'll get the same difficulty high while I play (and scream at) The Demon Blade.

…and now I have to find and listen to Wagner's Ring Cycle.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Palm pre

So I was expecting that Palm's keynote at CES would be the final nail in the coffin. No more vague promises of a new direction. No more limping along behind other smartphones. There would be closure now, one last uninteresting new product to seal their fate and shatter my hope in a Palm revival.
I didn't expect the Palm pre.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Sometimes I think that the wrong games get sequels. I understand the rationale. You've got a successful game with lots of sales. Why not give the public more of what they like? Why not take the chance to improve on the formula? Don't get me wrong: I don't have anything against these sure-fire sequels. It's just that sometimes I feel a bit of pity for the sequels that should have been. There are so many games I've played that had fun and interesting ideas but for whatever reason were relegated to one-shots. Whether it be due to some gameplay flaws, lacking presentation, poor marketing, or just bad luck, some games don't get what they really deserved: a second chance.

Shooter Starfighter Sanvein already had a few strikes against it. It was released under a budget label. Its package, though an accurate depiction of some of the games elements, is a bit bland. On top of that, the localization was obviously rushed. Flipping through the instruction manual reveals not only a paltry page count, but a lax editing job, as well. Paragraphs are copies of the previous section, unrelated to the heading they fall under (a particularly grievous error, as I'll cover later), and the control instructions seem to be taken from a racing game. It's easy to see why most people would give up on this game based on first impressions. Too bad for them.

The game is pretty easy to figure out from a pick-up-and-play standpoint. Each level (or floor, as the game calls them) is an arena that consists of a number of enemies that must be destroyed to advance. A clock counts down as you blast away opponents. Take a hit and lose ninety units (Pips? Intervals? They count down too fast to be seconds) of time. Run the clock to zero, and the game is over. On a larger scale, the hexagonal floors make up the composition of each of the five stages, with each floor (save the first) only being accessible if one of its six sides has a cleared floor touching. Here's where the play gets interesting.

You don't pick up items to increase your firepower in Sanvein. Your secondary weapon recharges on its own and does a constant amount of damage. Your primary weapon, on the other hand, changes attack power based on the number of cleared floors touching the current one. That means if a floor is surrounded by three completed floors, you play through it with an attack power of level 3. This is hard to pick up without observation, since the section on attack power in the instruction manual is actually a copy of the ship control section preceding it, leaving the player with only a picture to illustrate what I consider to be one of the best parts of the game. The time limit and the power-up mechanic combine to force the player into a balancing act. Is it worth the lost seconds to make myself strong for this next floor? Should I risk taking a hit and losing even more time? This constant need to prepare causes me to do what rarely comes to mind when I play shooters: think ahead. After a number of playthroughs, I do find myself using the same old shoot-em-up skills, i.e. pattern memorization and twitch reacting, but it's in addition to strategizing and not instead of it. The constant flux between these two play styles (fast action during the floor execution and slower planning during the floor selection) is part of the appeal for me.

I would have loved to see a sequel to Sanvein and the improvements it would have brought: refinement of the gameplay and new stages to compliment the meager number of stages in the original. It says a lot when a budget game doesn't make enough to warrant a sequel, but its really our lose. In the end, I can live without the sequel, given the amount of fun I've gotten from the game. I just think it deserves more attention than it has.

Other Things I Like:
  • Time limits on choosing floors. You would think that being rushed to choose your next stage would be annoying, but it works in the confines of the games. You have three free seconds to choose the next floor before it starts eating into your main timer. This doesn't rush your choice, as you can pause the game at anytime, but it does put a penalty on traversing the board and encourages you to proceed on a path rather than jumping from board edge to board edge.
  • Ship variety. Each ship has a different velocity, turn speed, and weapon. These difference force a different strategy for each ship, changing the game in a way that, at least for me, justifies multiple playthroughs.
  • Soundtrack. There's no denying the electronic themes went well with the cyberspace setting, and it was more varied than you'd expect.
Things I Didn't Like:
  • Weird timer units. I wish they would have used seconds and milliseconds. It's hard to get a grasp on how boned you are from the timer, and the fast-paced nature doesn't lend itself to doing the conversions on-the-fly.
  • Cluttered. I like the style, but sometimes the background would cause me to take a hit that I couldn't see coming. The metal bullets look cool, but there's a reason most shooters have neon projectiles: visibility. Maybe they could have used some brighter accents.
  • No independent aiming. This is a bit forgiving, since it's more of a design choice, and the game was made around it, but I can't count the number of times I wished I was able to shoot with one thumbstick and move with the other. The symptoms of a post-Geometry Wars world, I suppose.
If Sanvein has caught your interest, it's not that hard to find in a secondhand store. Hell, it's on Amazon sealed for as little as $4.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Wii Love Nostalgia

I didn't pick up Namco Museum Remix for its copious roster of classic arcade titles. Nor did I buy it to play the "remixed" versions of Galaga, Pac 'n' Roll, Rally-X or Motos. I bought it for one reason and one reason only: Gator Panic.
Back when there was still a arcade in every mall, I can remember one of my favorite redemption games, this tropic take on Whack-a-Mole. It was one of though staples of my early arcade memories. In my mind, all arcades had Skee-Ball, all arcades had Cyclone, and all arcades had Gator Panic. So lo and behold, I get a bit maudlin when I read the previews for the Namco Museum Remix collection and see that it includes a virtual rendition of my favorite means of alligator abuse. It was a bigger thrill than realizing that Cosmo Gang was a franchise.
Was the whole museum package a bit lackluster? Yes. Did the controls leave a bit to be desired? Yes. Was Gator Panic Remix a bit of a disappointment? Sigh. Unfortunately…
Still, I'm glad I bought it. At around $15, I get a few cherished classics (Mappy? Cutie Q? Hell's yeah.) and a short trip back to the arcades of old. Besides, this is the only way I'll get to relive those 'gator whacking days.
…Unless, of course, you know where I can buy a Gator Panic machine…

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Come All Ye Playful

As far as video games go, I think I like getting cash for Christmas. Why settle for a couple of games when I know where to get ten for the same price?
While I've been expanding my collection, I've also been discovering it. After complete Dark Cloud 2, I decided to forego Rogue Galaxy, for something a bit less engrossing. three RPGs in a row seemed a bit much. I started off with Gotcha Force, which was a surprising amount of fun. Of course, it's collection-based gameplay goes a long way in endearing itself to me. Unfortunately, I had to limited myself to merely beating the game. If the internet is to be believed, there are over 200 borgs to collect, plus rare, crystal, silver, gold and shadow versions of each one. A bet more time than I'd like to devote.
After that, I turned my attention to another little known title, Sanvein. Again, pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had. I'll definitely speak at length about what I like and don't like about the game, since most of the reviews I've seen have missed a few of the key points.
Now to find my next conquest. I still have Star Fox Assault at the top of my to-fully-complete list (getting gold medals is hard), but I still need a new game to actually try.