Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Down for the Count

Well folks, it's been 19 days of Blaugust. That's two and a half weeks of daily blog posts. It's been fun writing about whatever comes to mind. This August I have reviewed seven games, compared several games, and given my thoughts on many more. I also compared two beers. I probably wouldn't have written about any of these things otherwise.

While it's been 19 days of fun blogging, it's been nearly a month of neglecting my other projects. I've got some big projects coming up in the next few months that I don't want to fall behind on. The daily blogs will end with this one. With that said, I'd like to thank anyone who has read along this month. I will continue to blog, probably on a weekly basis. And Belghast, if you see this: thanks for putting together such a motivational event. I may be cutting out early but that doesn't mean I didn't get a lot out of Blaugust.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Have you ever been told that video games are unhealthy? Have you tried working out but lost the motivation weeks later? I know I have. My girlfriend is working on a project to show how the Wii Balance Board can be used to help her patients improve their balance in a more fun and interactive way. It got me thinking about other ways video games could be used to improve one's health. I decided to push myself to get back in shape using only video games. "But how, Aaron?!" Over the course of the next month I plan on spending thirty minutes a day playing physically demanding video games such as Dance Dance Revolution, Just Dance, Wii Fit, and any other game I can turn into a physical exercise.

I will supplement these with Pokémon Heartgold. The game comes with a Pokéwalker peripheral that trades steps for in-game currency. Right now I'm going to aim for 5,000 steps a day, but it's been a while since I used it so that's just a rough average for now.

I believe that by adding the fun challenge of a video game to exercise I will be more motivated to keep going. I will also impose mini-goals on myself like unlocking every song in a game, beating Pokémon Heartgold, and finding the most unlikely video game to be a good work out (so far I can tell you that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer works great). I'm also hoping that more people will be motivated to try the GAME FOR YOUR LIFE! workout.

Monday, August 17, 2015

My MMO Mileage

Blaugust Day 17

Have you ever really wanted to like something, but just couldn't get into it? For me, that's MMORPGs. I like the idea of MMO games. I've tried to become interested in them quite a few times. They just never click with me for very long. The first time I was curious about MMORPGs was after I watched the anime .hack//Sign. In my mind it set the standard for massively multiplayer online role-playing games pretty high. Shows like The Guild made them even more appealing.

The first game of this type I ever played was the browser-based Runescape. A friend introduced me to it and we played for a while. He took a break and I stopped playing shortly after. He started playing again and may still be playing today. I found Flash games and they became my go-to online game.

More recently my interest in MMOs was reignited. I tried some of the more demanding PC games. I played Rift for a bit. I really liked the different monsters based on the elements. Coincidentally, my most vivid memory of Rift was when I played through a really bad tornado and hail storm. I played Rift with a friend until his trial ran out. I played until my subscription ran out, then uninstalled it.

As a Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic fan I was more interested in the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic anyway. I preordered it and when it chugged on certain levels, I upgraded my computer so the game would run better. I was loving all the different classes, the worlds, the characters. The story was more engaging than any MMORPG I had ever played. The crafting was fun and the job system didn't seem tedious. I was getting pretty far and I could see myself sticking with it. But then everyone I knew offline stopped playing. I happened to be in an area where I needed 5-7 players to go any farther. I kept having issues building a party and keeping a party. I was stuck. I stopped playing Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Not wanting to get burned again, I started playing free-to-play games on my own. I tried FlyFF because I love flying in games. I had a bit of fun with it, but trying to buy anything in the towns was awful. There were so many spambots that the game lagged up, sometimes for several minutes, when trying to do things the game required. I tried Aion, Lineage, Perfect World, Everquest 2, and a lot of lesser known games. They all had unique features but didn't hook me.

Don't get me wrong, all of these games are great in some way. Millions of people enjoy them. I figured "I must be playing them wrong." In the past I only ventured into MMO territory if a friend wanted me to play. Once they stopped, I played it by myself until I got bored. The thing I learned is these games are not meant to be played solo. It was especially difficult as I like to play support roles. After that I tried to play MMOs as multiplayer games, but I was never any good at making friends and keeping parties. People seem to want to do their own thing and I can empathize with that. Maybe this video game genre just isn't for me. Maybe I'm missing something. If you have any suggestions on how to get the most out of an MMORPG, I'd love to hear them. SWTOR will be waiting, and I want to go into Blade & Soul with a fresh perspective.

Handling the License

Earlier this week I touched on multiple developers creating a game based on the same license. This was in reference to Yogi Bear, but it happens all the time with video games. Sometimes one team will work on the console version while another team creates the handheld version. Sometimes the publisher has the license and contracts different developers over the years. Whatever the reason, I'm always interested in how the two (or more) games stack up against each other. I always try to judge a game based on its own merits, but I tend to make an exception for licensed games. After all, no matter how good the game is by itself, its likeness to the IP it is representing is most important.

In the case of Jurassic Park the Super Nintendo, NES, and Game Boy games are all pretty much the same game. They each do some things slightly different (with the SNES being the most unique) but the Game Boy version is pretty much a port of the console versions.

If you look at Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie you'll see that almost all versions are as similar as the hardware allows for. The DS version, while being the definition of unplayable, even tries to mimic the console version's format. But when I got to the GBA tie-in, Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World, I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent action puzzle game that is its own game. It follows the same story but the style is more like Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past than the other games.

Then there's the last type. Games that come out around the same time but are developed by unaffiliated companies. This happens a lot with comic book characters. Understandably, people want to know which one they should spend their money on. Unfortunately, this leads to a good/bad mentality. As I said before, I think games should be viewed for their own value. Batman: Arkham Asylum being a great game doesn't diminish the value of Batman Begins. I enjoy playing both to see how each one captures the essence of the caped crusader.

Whether the same company makes one game for all platforms, has a team for different platforms, or different companies entirely are making similar games, those games will have differences. I will continue to enjoy finding these variances as long as different gaming platforms exist.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

More Sega

Blaugust Day 15

Yesterday I wrote about trying some Sega Genesis games for the first time. Today I scrolled through the Sonic Collection looking for more unplayed games and found one I've never heard of listed as Dr. Robotnik's M.B.M. It was labeled as a puzzle game. Awesome! I was hoping there would be another one of those. I started it up and saw that its name is actually Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine. After pressing start there was a brief conversation with some robot boss. I'm not sure if he's from any of the Sonic the Hedgehog games or not. I'm also not sure if he's speaking in puns or if there are a lot of typos. Either way, the text scrolled by faster than I could read it. Next I began the battle...hrmm, I swear I've played this game.

My first thought was "this is Puyo Pop!" Puyo Pop was the only GBA puzzle game I owned. It's a falling block game where you try to match up colors. There are two colors in each bar and you must match four blocks to make them disappear. Unlike Columns where I was fighting against the game design, in Puyo Pop you fight against each enemy and progress up the food chain Mortal Kombat style. For every match you get, a few colorless blocks get sent over to your opponent, and vice versa. The competition starts out simple and each new foe has their own technique. The formula used in the GBA game is identical in this Genesis game. Puyo Pop was one game in a series called Puyo Puyo. It turns out that Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine is a reskin of the original Japanese Puyo Puyo game. There's also a Super Nintendo version reskinned to suit its console: Kirby's Avalanche. I'd like to pick it up. I love the idea of keeping a game's gameplay but applying a new story to it. I'm definitely glad I found Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sampling the Sega Collection (PS3)

Blaugust Day 14

I couldn't decide what to play tonight, but I knew I didn't want to devote a lot of time to one game. I looked at my shelf and saw Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection. Many of my favorite Genesis games are on this compilation. I decided to try some new games for once, though.

Shining Force
I've heard of this one but I haven't played it. My buddy Andrew reviewed it and since then I've been meaning to give it a try. It seems like a fun game with a lot of story and more side story. In the short time I played it I talked to some characters who were angry or annoyed with other characters or myself for some reason. I met the initial crew of the Shining Force. Unlike the few RPGs I've played that gradually introduce party members, Shining Force gives you quite a lineup off the bat! I realized this game was going to be too involved for a light Saturday night. I'll have to pick it up when I have more time to dedicate to it.

Alien Storm
This is one I've never heard of. Alien Storm is a side-scrolling beat 'em up with an alien invasion theme. One thing that sets it apart is at the end of each level you go into an arcade shooter mode. There are three characters to choose ranging from an Ellen Ripley type character armed with a powerful but short-ranged flamethrower, a mid-strength/mid-range dude, and a robot with an electro-whip. I played as far as I could on one life with the robot, then tried the other two. Alien Storm is a fun game. The AI is smart enough to surround you, so I'm sure it would be even better with a second player.

Decap Attack
I've never played this one, but I think I heard about it on Game Sack. In Decap Attack you play as a mummy who uses their severed head as a projectile weapon. You can also jump on enemies or jut your jaw out at them. It's a really comical platformer and you can bet it will be added to my list of Halloween games. There's a whole inventory you can fill up. When you get items you can use/equip them or ask the mad scientist about them. I didn't get very far on one life, and I got less far on the second. Moving on to something simpler.

I remembered really not liking Columns but I couldn't remember why. It was one of the 6-Pak games I would not play and I was poor growing up, so that says something. Playing it now reminded me why. Tetris is one of those games that has a nice difficulty curve. Simple concept yet challenging due to the pacing. Once you learn the basics you'll be managing block placement ten steps ahead of time. Columns appears to be a similar puzzle game, but fails at capturing the same challenge. Columns gives you one rotate button to cycle your colors vertically. You can't scroll back and there are quite a few colors to manage. It's not like shapes where you can tell if something is going to fit. You have to process all the colors currently placed, process the three colors in your falling bar, shift them accordingly, and reprocess. For me this is a nightmare. By the time I got the colors sorted the bar has found a home and a new bar is falling.

So that's the few games I decided to try tonight. I'll definitely be revisiting Shining Force, Alien Storm, and Decap Attack. This could just be me, but I'm a visual person and I find Columns disorienting. Tetris calms me and I could play it for hours. I just might play Tetris tomorrow. What are you playing this weekend?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Yogi Bear's Gold Rush

Blaugust Day 13

I'm always on the look out for a great licensed game. This often means looking up developers and publishers I like on Moby Games. Around the time I started to get into GameTek published games I discovered Yogi Bear's Gold Rush for the Game Boy. The screenshots I saw showed an interesting platformer with pic-a-nic basket collecting. I went to my local game shop and saw it for $20. I waited a few months and decided I would spend $20 on it. When I approached the game was marked $30! Long story short, I got it for $12. Always be nice to people who work in retail.

Yogi Bear's Gold Rush was exactly what I was looking for. A fun, simple platformer for the Game Boy. You play as Yogi and you collect picnic baskets. There's a handful of levels with different themes. Some have bosses, some don't. The goal is to collect all of the gold. If you don't, when you beat the game it tells you to play again and find the gold. The platforming and the level design are perfect. There are hidden areas that require you to jump into the abyss to get a 1UP, and you can do so confidently because the level seems to be guiding you to it. It's on the easier side, so I found myself risking a life or two trying to find secrets. Without collecting all the gold discs you won't beat the game. I'll give you a hint: one requires you to jump into the water.

This Game Boy game is so good I figured it must be a port! Googling Yogi Bear's Gold Rush turned up color pictures. Some of these were labeled as a Super Nintendo game. So of course I had to try the Super Nintendo Yogi game, Adventures of Yogi Bear. While Twilight developed platform perfection, the developers of the SNES game didn't have the same understanding of physics. Yogi is harder to control. Sometimes he seems to slide instead of coming to a complete stop. Trying to land a jump on a moving platform can be difficult. The bouncing mechanic will often lead you right into an enemy or a dead end. One positive thing about this game is that Yogi's sprite is big and detailed. Unfortunately this means he takes up a lot of the screen making the sloppy controls even worse. Overall, it's not very fun. The icing on the cake is that the color screenshot I saw online was of an unreleased Game Gear version of Yogi Bear's Gold Rush. Here's Adventures of Yogi Bear:

I remembered Sonic being cooler.
The handheld Yogi Bear's Gold Rush is a fantastic Game Boy game. It's simple and fun. The challenge comes from increasing your score and finding secrets. Its graphics are simple but resemble the license. The console counterpart, Adventures of Yogi Bear (or Yogi Bear: Cartoon Caper in Europe) is just a mess, and its challenge comes from fighting the controls and level design. It's interesting to see how different companies handle the same license. Even with something as standard as a 2D platformer you can get vastly different games. Have two companies ever surprised you by how differently they represented a license?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Vidya Beer

Blaugust Day 12

Have you ever thought "I wish there was a beer for me, a beer with a video game theme"? No? Me neither, but last year I made a point to try out all the Kansas breweries. Tallgrass became one of my favorite breweries. Their main beers include a Buffalo Sweat oatmeal stout, an Ethos IPA, and an 8-bit Pale Ale. The company recently expanded to a larger operation. Yesterday I found out they released a 16-bit Double Pale. I had to try it!

For comparison's sake I had to taste 8-bit Pale Ale before hand. Most people will probably conjure up NES or Atari 2600 game screens, or maybe Master System if you grew up in a more metropolitan area. Tallgrass chose to go with an arcade theme. A shameless Pac-Man look-a-like is the part of the can that drew me in. Terms like "PUSH START," 1 PINT (a play on 1 POINT?), and HOP ROCKETED over a Galaxy Hops ship sold me on the beer. True to the label, this ale is full of hops. You can smell a very strong aroma hop from a foot away. The taste is very hoppy and full of citrus. The head is fluffy and creamy. The 8-bit Pale Ale has a light orange color with a thin, cloudy sediment. This leads to a bit of syrupy mouthfeel that I really enjoy. Overall, it's a great beer that's easily made its way into my go-to rotation.

The 16-bit Double Pale Ale has different take. The Pac-Man face has become perfectly rounded, even too rounded for the game consoles it's trying to mimic. The can over all doesn't scream "video games" but if you look closely you'll see a reference to Mortal Kombat and the Super Nintendo logo. The color of the 16-bit Double is a light yellow, and much more transparent. The beer itself has a very faint hop aroma. The taste is more bitter but less flavorful. There's almost a sweet aftertaste, but it doesn't last very long. The smell, the head, the body, and the mouthfeel are all underwhelming.

According to Tallgrass's website they were going for a more drinkable beer. I don't go to Tallgrass for a subdued drink I can use to wash down a good meal, I go to them for their full-flavored stand-alone beers. I'm sure there is a market for this beer, though. For now I'll stick with their 8-bit Pale Ale.

Down, but not for the Count

Blaugust Day 11, a bit late.

It finally happened, I missed a day of Blaugust. I can be forgetful so it was only a matter of time. Does this mean I failed Blaugust? I might've failed the challenge, but that doesn't mean I'm giving up. I've gotten a lot out of Blaugust, and blogging in general, so far. I intend to finish the month unless life gets in the way.

Before Blaugust started I was just getting my feet wet with writing. I had written some articles before but they took me forever to write. When I didn't have writer's block I often found myself at a loss for words. I couldn't perfectly express what I was thinking, so I stopped writing. I even reached a point in my video reviews where I felt like I was using the same YouTube and game reviewer jargon over and over again. They weren't my words and they weren't conveying my thoughts.

I took some time to play games, read books, and watch movies. I started blogging just to get my thoughts out there. Instead of writing for other people and worrying if they get it, I was writing for myself and the words came more naturally. I decided to post a weekly blog. I had successfully done this for a month when I read about the Blaugust challenge on Pam's blog at It was the perfect challenge at the time. I started blogging daily and have done so for ten days! It used to take me a week or longer to get an article done (in addition to playing the game I was writing about). After blogging I've gone from a couple days to a couple hours to write a decent piece. Are they understandable to the average reader? I can't say, but I believe they've improved over time.

My buddy Stephen asked me what I wanted to get out of blogging. I think it's to be able to write freely about whatever I feel like. There's no need for the post to click with everyone since I'm not catering to a large audience. And I think that's what I like about other peoples' blogs. They feel more personal and not watered down or dressed up to appeal to more readers. I'd like to know, what do you get out of blogging?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Spider-Man, not that one.

Blaugust Day 10

Picking up where I left off yesterday, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for the Game Boyor simply Spider-Man 2 as it was advertisedis the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man. I'm not sure why they dropped off "The Amazing" but they use the same font style in the logo and the full title is displayed in the game. Maybe they were trying to create a connection to Spider-Man: The Animated Series that would debut a few years later, but that's just a guess. To recap, Rare's game featured a large, gangly, ski-mask wearing Spider-Man. The story was fitting for a Game Boy game but lacked originality. It had way too many moves and a terrible control scheme that made them unusable. To top it off the boss fights were way too easy. Did Bits's sequel fix these issues?

Not-so-friendly neighborhood stabber or a winded skier?
Well, to start with there is also a comic book cutscene in Spider-Man 2. The story is that Mysterio, Hobgoblin, and some new villains team up to frame Spidey for robbery. He must stop them all to get his cred back. Our hero looks a lot more like he should this time around.

Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
The controls have greatly improved since the last game. Tap B to jump, double tap B to do a double jump, and hold B to jump kick. If you double jump onto a wall you will wall climb. Tap A to punchit's shorter range than kick but more powerfuland hold A to web swing. By default it goes up in a 45 degree angle but you can shoot directly up. While swinging or web-hanging you can adjust your height and speed, making it a really fancy mechanic for a Game Boy game and just really fun to do. You can also crouch and tap A to shoot web. These are all moves I figured out without consulting a manual. Spider-Man 2 gives you more moves and they are easier to learn and pull off. Spider-Man is now a more reasonable one-fourth of the screen height and can zip around really quickly. I found it hard to pull off consecutive web swings if I wasn't standing still, but with the double jumping and wall climbing it's easy to get around. In the last game I was not able to dodge enemies, and when I was I would get hit by other enemies. Definite improvement, and now I feel like the hero I'm controlling.

On the surface the gameplay might look the same. It's a side-scrolling beat 'em up with thugs blocking your path to the boss. But one thing I quickly learned is that you can't initially damage Hobgoblin. At the same time I was finding all sorts of items and adding them to my inventory. I watched the LJN Defender review and he explained that you have to bring Hobgoblin down to the ground by web-hanging on his glider. After learning this I decided to take another stab at it without any hints. What I found was that Spider-Man 2 is a lot deeper than it looks on the surface. In addition to the beat 'em up aspect there is also an adventure game element where you have to get the right items and use them in the right way. Also,the game doesn't really have levels as much as one big world. If I'm not mistaken, that makes this the first open world Spider-Man game! It also means it has some of the most unique gameplay found in a Spider-Man game.

After having my hopes crushed by Rare's Spider-Man game I was expecting Spider-Man 2 by Bits Studio to disappoint me as well. Instead I discovered a game that beat Neversoft's Spider-Man at being the first to feel like an open world you can swing around in.

The Amazing Spider-Man & The Marvelous Misnomer

Blaugust Day 9

Yesterday I picked up two LJN published Spider-Man games for the Game Boy because I'm on a Spider-Man kick and I found them for pretty cheap. The games are The Amazing Spider-Man (developed by Rare) and its sequel Spider-Man 2 (developed by Bits Studios). I've wanted to pick them up ever since I saw the LJN Defender's review of them, but I was waiting to find them for a decent price. Now that I've played them I've got some things to say.

I'm not sure if this is a sneaky mugger or an old man with a cane.
The Amazing Spider-Man starts off with a comic book style cutscene which is always nice in a game based on a comic book. The story is that the usual suspects Mysterio, Hobgoblin, Rhino, and more have combined their resources and intellect to kidnap Mary Jane and fight Spider-Man one at a time. This is not the last time a Spider-Man game will use this plot. After starting the game it starts to fall apart. Spider-Man does not look like Spider-Man. I'm not fond of games where the character's height is over a third of the screen height, but that's just my preference. I can usually tolerate it if it's done to give the sprite more detail. Rare made Spidey big but not detailed. With only two buttons they had to cram a lot of moves in. So you have jump and punch each matched to a button, pretty standard so far. You can hold one button to swing and the web presumably grabs onto something above you. You don't have much control except how high you are when you swing. If you hold the other button you shoot web blasts out. There's no double jump, but you can do a running jump for more air. You have to hold left or right for about a second or two and then jump. This is extremely unreliable as you'll often need to jump over enemies or onto platforms without notice. The worst part of the game is that the boss battles are way too easy and the mobs are more of a threat. In a superhero game you should never be more afraid of birds and bugs than you are of the supervillains. It doesn't look or feel like a Spider-Man game. If it were an exterminator type game, the controls would still be awful. It's a fun game to pass the time but definitely not a shining example of what the Game Boy was capable of. I'm glad I waited to find a cheap copy.

I don't want to get burnt out so early into Blaugust so I'm going to save Spider-Man 2 for tomorrow. After that I'm thinking I'll follow up with a surprisingly good Game Boy game.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Mighty No. Nein

Blaugust Day 8

Wednesday morning I received an email from Comcept. If you know anything about Comcept or their crowd-funded game Mighty No. 9the 3D Mega Man game Keiji Inafune always wanted to makeyou know that the game's release date is kind of a joke. Before I read the email I knew it had been delayed again. Reading the email confirmed it. Instead of dwelling on the negative I've been playing games that are similar to Mega Man in some way. Here are a few of them:

Mighty Gunvolt (3DS eshop) by Inti Creates

I recently read that this game was gifted to Mighty No. 9 backers. This news initially missed me, so I checked my email and sure enough I had a code from last October! I downloaded it right away and was pleased with it. Mighty Gunvolt is a 2D action platformer with the overall look and sound of Mega Man. There are three characters to play through the five levels with: Gunvolt from Azure Striker Gunvolt, Ekoro from Gal*Gun, and Beck of Mighty No. 9. They all have simple 2-button controls, but Ekoro has the most unique mechanics. She is a cupid-type character so she levitates and enchants enemies to fight with her. The major complaint you'll see is that this game is short. Because each character has different moves the five levels do feel unique each time you play through them. Even still Mighty Gunvolt is a small amount of fun for a small cost of $4. There's also DLC that adds four more stages for $3, but I haven't played it so I can't comment on it.

Totally Rad (NES) by Aicom

An 8-bit platformer with magical spells and different forms to transform into. It's a bit on the challenging side and not just because of the brutal enemies. Totally Rad took some liberties from the genre. You can't walk up diagonal planes, you have to jump up them. There are no health items or power-ups to be found. Instead you heal yourself and use abilities with your own spells. This depletes your energy and if you use it all up boss fights will be next to impossible. The spells and transformations make the game really fun and allow you to play however you want. One of Totally Rad's defining characteristics is its use of late 80's California subculture. True to its name, it is totally rad.

Megabyte Punch (Linux, Mac, & Windows) by Team Reptile

Inspired by Mega Man's platforming, various abilities, and charming characters with a touch of Super Smash Bros. You quickly fill up your inventory with cool looking upgradeable parts and you can buy more with points you've earned. Within half an hour of playing my character had a sword for a left arm, a drill for a right arm, boosters on his legs, and badass black wings. Each part is assigned to a left, right, down, up, or center plus attack button ("up + attack" can be your saving jump like "up + B" in Smash). The combination of parts can work really well together. In addition to being able to triple jump and slice through stuff I was able to combine glide and drill to demolish walls quickly. Megabyte Punch is definitely a fun game if you like customization.

Celestial Mechanica (Mac & Windows) by Roger Hicks & Paul Veer

A robot is exiled from Mechanicathe floating utopia for robotsand she fights to get back. Celestial Mechanica has some kickass visuals and music. The gameplay reminds me of Mega Man because you learn moves as you go, starting off with nothing and becoming a threat to your enemy by the end. There's also some platforming that requires perfect timing. The game does have a bit of a Metroid feel to it with backtracking and familiarizing yourself with the map, though. Celestial Mechanica was dropped from $10 to free recently. It's worth checking out.

One thing all these games are lacking is the ability (and burden) of choosing which boss to fight first. The only games I can think of with this feature fall into the "too expensive to own" category. So I took to twitter for suggestions. The responses I got were The Krion Conquest and Low G Man. The Krion Conquest is "Mega Man but with witches" and has selectable boss order. It looks really cool, but it also falls into the "too expensive to own" category. Seriously, when did NES games get so expensive? Low G Man is about a dude that can jump really, really high. It's cheap and looks interesting so I might check it out. All the games I mentioned are great. Honestly though, I'm finding that it doesn't get better than Mega Man X. Are there any games that you consider to be like Mega Man in some way?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Climb the Tower and Fight God

Blaugust Day 7

In my last post I used the phrase "climb the tower and fight god" to describe the plot of Prey. I'm not sure where I heard first heard it, maybe it was on The closest things I've managed to find to describe this phrase are "The Tower" trope and "It's All Upstairs from Here" trope. Climbing the tower and fighting god is a bit more specific than that. The story doesn't just take place in a tower, it's about scaling a tower for the purpose of defeating it master, creator, or unknown controller. This is not to be confused with the Tower of Babel, a story wherein God destroys a tower that came too close to the heavens.

I stated that it was a familiar plot and that's true. Once I started thinking about it I couldn't stop seeing it in video games like Prey, The Tower of Druaga, and probably the most literal example of this trope, Shadow of Colossus. If you look outside of video games you will continue to see it in other media such as Dragon Ball when Goku climbed Korin Tower, or the movie Snowpiercer if you tilt your head. If you skew the idea and move into metaphor territory you can see "climb a building and fight the boss" used in a similar manner in games like Streets of Rage, Devil May Cry 3, or even Super Mario 64. The first two games have you climbing a building and the third has you climbing a mountain, only to reach the top and kick the king off of it.

The purpose of making the climb and fighting its ruler varies. Sometimes the primary motivation is to rescue a loved one or a princess, and the only way to accomplish this is by fighting a deity. Sometimes the goal is to stop the all-powerful being from wrong-doing, with an underlying assumption that the hero will replace them. Sometimes the protagonist is just looking for an ass kicking. The tower itself provides a nice visual representation of both progress and imagery. If you are on 30th floor of a 60 floor tower, it's safe to assume you've made it half way there. To climb a tower that reaches the heavens is to defy the gods and their will. Also, it makes for some fantastic platforming. So with that in mind I'd like to share a few lesser known games that fit this formula.

Tower of Heaven (Windows PC and Flash) by Askiisoft

I might've come up with this topic just to write about this game. Tower of Heaven is a hardcore 2D platformer. It starts simple and gradually you receive more laws from above to obey. If you don't follow the rules you are smited instantly. Despite the increasingly restrictive laws you continue to climb the tower and anger God. One of the most notable things about Tower of Heaven is its green monochromatic graphics and chiptune music meant to resemble the Game Boy's own. You can download it for free or play it in your browser but be warned, it is addictive and brutally difficult. Still, it is a must play for Game Boy fans and masochistic gamers.

Pandora's Tower (Wii) by Ganbarion

Pandora's Tower is one of three Wii games published by Nintendo and released in Japan but with no plan of bringing them to North America. At the time the Wii was getting a handful of first-party games and a ton of shovelware. This didn't sit well with Wii owners. They started a project called Operation Rainfall to bring Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora's Tower to North America. They succeeded in getting Nintendo to bring over Xenoblade Chronicles, and XSEED Games localized The Last Story and Pandora's Tower within a year. It was a great year for Wii gamers. Getting back to the point, Pandora's Tower has you play as the hero Aeron who must take the princess Alena to the Scar. The Scar is a giant hell pit that is bound closed by a cluster of floating towers. Each tower has its own deity or "Master." Alena has been cursed and the only way to stop her from turning into a beast is to feed her the hearts of each tower's Master. It's a touching story. I admit that part of why it moved me is because the characters say my name, which I've never experienced in a video game before (Aeron is pronounced "Aaron"). Watching Alena struggle as the curse deforms her body made me really sympathize with her and motivated me to slay the Masters regardless of the outcome. I recommend Pandora's Tower to people who enjoyed Shadow of the Colossus since it has similar themes and gameplay.

Lost in Shadow (Wii) by Hudson Soft

I promise this is the last mention of Wii games. At the beginning of Lost in Shadow you see the protagonist locked in the stocks at the top of the tower. You see an executioner lift a mysterious blunt object overhead and swing down. The video cuts to your shadow falling down the tower, all the way to the bottom. This is a 2D platformer set in a 3D world. You are the protagonist's shadow and can only walk on other shadows. This doesn't make you safe from the physical world. On the contrary two shadows coming together can crush you, insect shadows are magnified, and previous lost shadows haunt the tower! You climb the tower in the hopes of merging back with your body. To guide you through the tower you have a fairy-like helper that can affect the world in minor ways and manipulate light to some degree in certain areas. This is controlled with the Wiimote. There is a lot of giant machinery put there for some unknown purpose, but for you it creates a lot of switch puzzles and precision platforming. Lost in Shadow makes great use of negative space and the scenery is enchanting. It was one of the last games developed by Hudson Soft before they shut down. If you're looking for a game to add to your Wii collection you won't go wrong with Lost in Shadow. It can be found for a fair price in most places.

inFAMOUS (PS3) by Sucker Punch

Yet another second-party title, this time published by Sony for the PS3. It was a big deal that inFAMOUS was being developed specifically for the console's hardware. It's an actual 3D platformer, not some context dependent, quick-time movie. You play as Cole, an average city dweller. When the game starts Cole wakes up in the center of a leveled neighborhood with memories of his body exploding. The city has gone under lock down and anarchy now rules. There is a jagged tower that can be seen from anywhere in the city, and if you're like me you just gotta climb it. Fortunately, late into the game you do just that: climb the tower made from garbage to steal a powerful object and fight the person controlling it. And since this is a good 3D platformer it has you climbing the outside surface. If you fall off the tower you actually fall to the ground and start over again. Once you get to the top a pretty intense battle takes place. I know this is just a small part of the game, but it really stuck out to me. And sure, inFAMOUS is a best seller and has gone one to inspire two sequels that overshadowed it, but it's a PS3 exclusive that tends to get overlooked. It's one of the games that convinced me to buy a PS3 and I have fond memories of it.

That's four modern games that have you climb the tower and fight god that flew under the radar. I think this type of game appeals to me because it's easier for me to process information when I can visibly see it, and tower climbing does just that. If my blog posts have told you anything it's that I root for the underdog. Who doesn't like to see a character go against the gods and come out victorious? Even if they lose you're in for an entertaining story. Are there any gems about celestial uprising that you've enjoyed? Let me know below.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Prey: Needs More Cowbell

Blaugust Day 6

A few days ago I had the day off and decided to get around to playing one of the many games I've put off. On my desk I had some games my mom bought me for my birthday. She always asks "what do you want for your birthday?" I tell her I want games she doesn't think I have played or heard of. I don't know what she tells the people at the game store, but I always end up with a few games I've never heard of and one really popular game. It cracks me up every time. This year she got me Prey (Xbox 360), Genji: Days of the Blade (PS3), and one of the Xenosaga games (PS2). I've knew absolutely nothing about the first two, but Prey caught my eye. I settled in with Prey at some point in the morning and before I knew it my girlfriend was home. We ate dinner and I started the game up again and suddenly it was midnight.


The plot is a familiar one. You climb the tower to fight god and rescue your girlfriend. What makes the story unique is that you aren't playing as a knight or a space marine, you're playing as unsuspecting Domasi Tawodi (former soldier of the U.S. Army). Domasior Tommy, as he prefers to be calledrefuses to accept his Cherokee heritage. He is hanging out with his girlfriend Jen and grandfather Enisi at a small bar in a small town in Oklahoma. Enisi tells Tommy to embrace his heritage and Tommy shrugs it off. Tommy tries to convince Jen to move away from the tribe with him. Suddenly the lights go out. Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" starts playing on the jukebox. Tractor beams shoot down and pull Tommy, Jen, and Enisi up into their vessel. You wake up strapped into something that resembles a meat processing center, and you're the meat! Fortunately, a loose wanderer uses some explosives to knock you off the conveyer line. Unfortunately, your family is still locked in. Folks, I'm gonna level with you: this game is brutal from start to finish. You watch Tommy lose time after time. Even when he wins, he loses. It's heartwrenching. Other abductees are losing their sanity and their lives. Things you will see and be powerless to stop include: a soldier having a nervous breakdown, someone getting harvested by a machine, a child killing another child, and worse.

But with despair comes hope. Enisi communicates with you to teach you how to use spirit powers. In the living world Tommy can move his spirit outside of his body to pass through force fields and walk across hidden paths. Paired with the mysterious portals that appear to be built into the space ship, this makes for some interesting physics puzzles. Oh, did I mention Tommy has a spirit animal and it's a hawk named Talon? He does and it is. When you run out of health you do a "Death Walk" and shoot evil spirits with a bow to regain Tommy's health and spirit. After a short time you are pulled back into the living world to continue where you left off. Prey is great at keeping the player immersed. In lieu of a traditional popup dialog boxes there are computer terminals and even arcade cabinets and casino machines that you directly interact with. Even the story is told through in game radios. You overhear a DJ talking to callers from the midwest reporting UFOs, and eventually they've moved through the south to the southwest. The closest thing I have to a home town is Topeka, Kansas and whenever I hear about it in media...well, it's fucking embarrassing. When I heard a character in Prey mention abductions in Topeka it made me giggle a bit.

Hey look, the developer's logo is on the cards!

Eventually you make it far enough into the space ship that you start getting everyone's attention. The Keeper, who seems to be controlling the ship, starts to notice you. A mysterious female voice sends you telepathic messages and toys with you. And you manage to find Space Native Americans...Space Indians...ancestors in space? Thousands of years ago Native Americans were abducted by the same ship. A few managed to break away just like you. They have secretly been living on the ship, slowly mastering the alien's portals. Their leader, Elhuit, asks you to help defeat The Keeper. You board a space shuttle and race to the top of the tower to save your girlfriend and destroy the ship. There are some twists but I won't spoil them. The game is impressive, emotional, and atmospheric. I wouldn't say it's scary, but the environment is definitely unnerving. This is contrasted by the spirit world with its warm red mountains and the death world with its cold blue plateau.

If I had to fault the game it would be for its game crashing glitches. Human Head Studios worked so hard to make the game immersive, and yet I had the game lock up on me at least four times in my playthrough. I wasn't too pleased to discover that the auto-save feature doesn't always automatically save. I got into the habit of saving constantly and this really slowed down the flow of the game. I can't say if this is a problem in other versions of the game or if it only plagued Venom Games' Xbox 360 version. Aside from those issues, it's a mesmerizing game. Prey is definitely a Buried Treasure. I had a fever, and the only prescription was more Prey.

The Perfect Summer Game Pt. 5 [Final]

Blaugust Day 5

Summer is coming to a close, or at least it feels like it is. It's time that I decided on a perfect summer game to round out the season. The perfect summer game should have all the traits of the games I've mentioned so far. To recap, the traits that make up the perfect summer game are the following: set in a tropical island paradise like those seen in Chrono Cross and Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude; social activities which can be found in games like Napoleon Dynamite: The Game and Feel the Magic: XY/XX; even the licensed game duo Road Runner's Death Valley Rally and Desert Demolition Starring Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote help to see the smoldering hot "outside" as a fun environment.

So I went over to my humble games shelf and looked for a game that possessed these qualities. I didn't find one. So I went over to my Wii tower and there I found the perfect summer game: Fishing Resort for the Nintendo Wii. I know you're probably thinking "is that like a Cabela's game?" and 1) not really, and 2) Cabela's video games are actually good games. Where the more technical, western developed fishing simulator focuses on realistically depicting a fishing trip, Fishing Resort captures the spirit of fishing and amplifies it with Japanese flair.

A character of your creation goes on vacation to the island of Penangkapan. There are supposedly 15 different locations to explore but I haven't been to them all. I play Fishing Resort to relax, so I've only made it to a few areas. The fishing is different in every area, and even varies within each location. There is a bit of technical stuff as you must have the right bait, lure, rod to catch the right fish. You won't catch a swordfish with a bobber, but you can sure try. You can choose to follow the main quests the game gives you or choose not to. It's easy to take a boat out to the reeds and just fish, or ride a bike out to an alcove until sunset. If you do want a challenge there are daily challenges where you fish against other vacationers for a prize. It's not all for bragging rights as all the fish you catch get added to your aquarium. The aquarium has smaller fresh water fish towards the front, and larger tropical fish and sea creatures as you go further back. This feature is pretty impressive on its own.

If you find yourself playing Fishing Resort and have no desire to fish, there's still hope. Your custom character starts off with some money [and can earn more by catching fish]. In addition to fishing gear you can shop for clothes. You can make your Mii-like character look even more like you, or dress them up in silly costumes. There's also a handy camera so you can snap a picture at the perfect moment. The game really is beautiful so these moments pop up very often.

Fishing Resort was developed by Propeand advertised as "A new game by Yuji Naka, 'The Creator of Sonic'!"–but it would've stayed in Japan if it weren't for XSEED Games. A lot of people mistake XSEED for a mere video game publisher or even a developer. What they do is way more special than that. XSEED finds successful Japanese video games that publishers won't bring to North America. They get the rights to publish, market, and distribute the game in this region. And then they take the source code and localize the game. This entails a hefty amount of translating text, audio, and even in-game assets until the game is playable to a westerner. To entice you into buying their niche games XSEED's titles usually come with some extras like a game's OST on CD, an ornate game box and manual, or maybe a concept art pamphlet. Retailing at $40, Fishing Resort came bundled with this:
Page 1 of 5...
I love Wii peripherals more than I probably should. I know they are gimmicks, but at least they're tangible gimmicks. Fishing Resort has motion controls that are fun and frustrating. Fun because the motions accurately reflect fishing, and frustrating because sometimes that means reeling in a big one only to be disappointed by some seaweed or driftwood. This is one of those games that gets motion controls right. It also tried something different and stands out as a fun and unique game as a result.

That's Fishing Resort, the perfect summer game. To me it is the embodiment of summer in video game form. Feel free to go back and read my thoughts on other games I consider great summer games. I was inspired to make this series of blogs after watching Joshua Gillespie's Top 10 Favorite Summer Themed Games video. You can watch it here:

To anyone reading along, what is your perfect summer game? Do you have any games you associate with summer?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Getting Sidetracked

Blaugust Day 4

I planned on wrapping up my perfect summer game series of blogs after work today. When I woke up I decided to stay home sick. I spent the morning with soup and a hot bath, then I became engrossed in a video game. That video game is Prey for the Xbox 360. I ended up beating it just now and realized I didn't blog today. I know how the saying goes, but time really does disappear when I'm doing something I enjoy. I'm going to spend tomorrow reflecting on the game and plan to have a post up on Thursday.

As for my number one perfect summer game, I'll leave you with a hint and a screenshot: the game was designed by Yuji Naka who is most known for programming the original Sonic games. The screenshot was not modified. The post should be up tomorrow evening.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Zubos, and Zombos, and Dombies. Oh my!

Blaugust Day 3: I'm still blogging.

When I first got a Nintendo DS I only used it for GBA games. I ended up storing away the bulky silver box until I remembered it a few years later. Fortunately, the DS platform was very popular and a ton of games were developed for it in that time. The year I started using it again my girlfriend got me a game called Zubo for my birthday. I didn't know what to expect, but what I got was completely unique. If I had to put Zubo into a genre I would call it a rhythm RPG, but I don't think that's the best way to describe it.

You wander around the world of Zubolon and its inhabitants, the Zubos, join your party. You're goal is to stop Sleepy Head from putting Zubos to sleep and stop his goons, the Zombos, from invading Zubolon. When you encounter the sleeping Zubos you wake them by yelling "WAKE UP!" into your DS's microphone. I love that feature, it never gets old. The gameplay is what sets Zubo apart. When you enter a fight you choose your Zubo and their move. The simple interface really reminds me of Pokemon. Where things get interesting is how you use your move. The combat is turn-based but during your turn you tap the screen in time with the prompts. There are simple taps and holds (like the freezes in DDR) that you have to match to pull off your move. You either miss it, get an OK, or get a SWEET. The higher score you get on your overall move, the more effective your move will be. You also gain power pills for pulling off moves successfully. Power pills are required for more powerful moves that allow you to do things like put an enemy to sleep or attack their whole team at once. On top of that, there are three classes of Zubo: fighter, defender, and performer. Any class is weak against one class and strong against the other. This rock, paper, scissors aspect makes it so that even the weaker Zubos in your party pose a threat to the Zombos. There are different animations for each move. They are entertaining to watch while the enemy pummels you. The animations range from pop culture references (Dombie does the Thriller dance to restore health) to toilet humor (seriously, there's a lot of farting). The back and forth between you and your opponent is like an exaggerated dance-off.

You tap when the green border lines up with the pink border.

Zubo is not a complex RPG as you only have one main quest with an odd side quest from time to time. Though it was probably made for kids it's not overly easy. The difficulty increases each time you level up. It's not grindy at all. There are no random encounters. In fact, the encounters are easy to spot and avoid if you're not ready for them. The world of Zubo is fun to explore. I haven't mentioned the graphics and how everything is made with simple shapes. Zubo makes good use of the DS's hardware by texturing simple polygons like a cylinder or a cube with a highly expressive 2D cartoon face or pattern. A lot of the characters are references to other media which is always nice. Occasionally I would see an object that stood out and tapping it with the stylus or blowing into the microphone would cause something to happen. I love interactive objects like this and I wish more games would include them.

I guess the best way to describe Zubo is wonderful. I read that Zubo was a commercial failure and eventually led to EA shutting down Bright Light, its developer. That's a shame because Zubo is a great game and there was a lot of talent behind it. I'm glad my girlfriend got it for me because I wouldn't have known about it otherwise. Have you received an unfamiliar game as a gift and fell in love with it? Let me know in the comments below.

I recently found out that Disqus was putting off some readers so I'm trying out a new commenting system. Let me know if there's something you don't like, or something that would make it easier for you to comment. I'm a blogging newbie and I would love feedback about the comments or the blog itself.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Portal Runner, a Gal and Her Lion

Blaugust Day 2: Today I'm writing about a game I almost reviewed twice. Both times I lost steam and switched to another project. The game is Portal Runner. It is a spin-off of Army Men, a series that is a buried treasure on its own. Portal Runner takes the universe of Army Menone wherein you play as green toy soldiers and fight other toy soldiersand places you in the role of Vikki Grimm. Vikki is a reporter, the daughter of the Green Army's colonel, girlfriend of the series' main protagonist Sarge, and up to this point unplayable.

There's something different about Vikki but I can't put my finger on it.
The game starts out with Brigitte Bleu (Queen of the Blue Army) kidnapping Sarge. In a reversal of the damsel in distress plot you chase Brigitte through portal after portal, each leading to a different dimension. The portals are all representations of a child's imagination: prehistoric jungles, medieval fantasy lands, futuristic spaceships, and the classic scattered toys level.

What's the masculine form of "damsel?"
After a few levels to get you comfortable with the 3D platforming you run into Leo the Lion. You help him out and he saves you from an attacker. From that moment on there are various types of gameplay available. You can run around as Vikki and shoot things with your bow, choosing whether or not Leo tags along to fight. You can ride Leo to help Vikki get to hard to reach places, or get somewhere fast. Or you can play as Leo on his own. He roars and slashes, and if his rage meter gets full he becomes stronger and faster. As someone who loves lions, this is really fun!

The levels are unique and fun. They play to the strengths and weaknesses of Vikki and Leo. There's a level on the spaceship where you get to jump in low gravity and it's one of the most tranquil moments I've played in a video game. There's also one point in the medieval dimension when I entered a cave and funky funk music started playing, disco lights came down and lit up the room, and I bounced on humongous mushrooms. Let it be known, this cave was channeling George Clinton. It was so surreal that I couldn't stop laughing.

Being a 3D platformer, there is a ton of stuff to collect. If you find 100% of the items in each level you unlock something. After you beat the game you can play head to head with a friend in the multiplayer mode. It's very similar to the multiplayer mode in the Army Men games, except you use bows with different arrows instead of guns.

If you've never heard of this game before I can't blame you. While Portal Runner takes the archetypal Barbie girl and transforms her into a Katniss Everdeen, 3DO's marketing team did everything to hide that and the rest of the game from you. A lot of the magazine ads had Vikki in boobs-n-butt poses. IGN's coverage of the game focused less on the game and more on Playboy's 1999 Playmate of the Year, Heather Kozar, who 3DO hired to dress up as Vikki. The game was not even prominently displayed on 3DO's own website!

I'll let you decide whether Portal Runner the game is empowering or exploitative. When it comes to this game I just ask that you don't judge a book by its cover. Portal Runner is stupid fun and it's definitely worth playing. It took me just shy of eight hours to beat this game and it was a weekend well spent.

Space Chimps. Chimps in Space.

I've been posting weekly blogs for a month and it seems to be working for me. I just found out that Blaugust–a month long blog-a-day event–started today so I'm going to give it my best shot. I plan on writing about a video games I've never gotten around to reviewing. Today's video game? Space Chimps for the Wii.

After the success of finding the NES hidden gem Totally Rad, I felt like no game purchase could go wrong. The next weekend I went to my local game store and searched for another game I'd never heard of that I could buy for no more than $5. I found myself in the Wii section when a game jumped out at me. Sitting between the dreadful looking Space Camp and the broody Spider-Man 3 was Space Chimps with a five dollar price tag. The back of the box said something like "jump about as a monkey on an alien planet." SOLD!

Immediately after starting the game I realized this was a licensed game. Hey, that's in my wheelhouse! Unfortunately, I have never seen, or even heard of the Space Chimps movie, so I can't say how accurate the gameplay is. The plot is shown in video clips straight out of the movie. There are three chimps in the cutscenes: Ham III, cocky and dumb and only on the mission because his grandfather was the first monkey sent into space. Luna, a more technologically competent astronaut. There's also a big goofy monkey voiced by Patrick Warburton but you don't get to play as him.

Space Chimps is a 3D platformer–a genre that has not been done justice the last few console generations. The platforming includes jumping (a given), swinging on vines, bouncing on mushrooms, wall running (in Ham's levels), flying, and tree-grinding Tarzan-style. Ham is the muscle and he has melee attacks. Occasionally Ham gets to fly on the back of a Fluvian and the game becomes a third-person shoot 'em up. As Luna you tend to use the alien planet's animals as tools. Early on you find a lizard that binds to your arm as a gun. Using it puts you in a first-person perspective. Later on you wear an animal's "flutter wings" on your back to fly for short periods. At one point you even get to use the flutter wings in 2D platformer style. Both characters have precision platforming sections as well as puzzles to figure out.

There are a handful of settings, and you get to play most settings at least once as Ham and Luna. The levels only require you to reach the end, with the exception of one boss fight at the end of the game. There's not a whole lot to the game. It's fairly straight forward and I was able to beat it in an afternoon (~3 hours and 45 minutes from start to finish). In addition to the regular bananas you collect for health, you can find one big Dole banana in every level that will unlock either a skin for Ham or Luna or concept art for the game.

I'd be lying if I said this game was great since Space Chimps has its flaws. There are too few levels. The developer Redtribe only made two of the three Space Chimps playable. Seriously, no Patrick Warburton Monkey? Unacceptable! Also, if you don't move the character for two seconds you will hear them say the same line. Two seconds of inactivity and you have to hear "we really shouldn't keep Ham waiting." In the more open levels the short draw distance is really noticeable.

There's not much more to Space Chimps. It's exactly the monkey platforming I was looking for and I don't regret the five bucks I spent on it. Do I wish there was more to it? Sure, but it's hard enough finding decent 3D platformers nowadays. If you really enjoy PlayStation and N64 era platformers but thought they could use better controls and a better camera, then maybe Space Chimps is the game for you.

This is not the monkey platforming I'm looking for.
That's Blaugust Day 1 down, only 30 more to go. If you want to participate, or you're just curious what the word Blaugust means, head over here to find out:
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Monday, July 27, 2015

The Perfect Summer Game Pt. 4

July is coming to a close but it's still hot and muggy out there. The inevitable truth is that at some point you're going to have to stop playing video games and go outside. Maybe you're going on a road trip, maybe you take the bus to work, or maybe you'll be stuck in a tiny room with big windows waiting for someone to change your oil. When you're away from home and you have nothing to do but sit and wait in the blistering heat, there's nothing like a bunch of minigames to take your mind off things. Now, in my last post I said today's subject would be "games where you hang out with people and do stuff because that's a big part of summer," and that's still true. The two minigame compilations I played this week have stories that revolve around people doing social activities. They're also both DS games. This week I killed time with Napoleon Dynamite: The Game and Feel the Magic: XY/XX.

Napoleon Dynamite: The Game is based on the Napoleon Dynamite movie. It was released years after the movie so it avoids the rushed movie tie-in fate. The game loosely follows the events of the movie, using some creative license to come up with more minigames. Napoleon's llama Tina escapes and Napoleon must find her before his grandma returns. This is what drives the story. Each minigame is either an event that happened in the movie (like the tetherball challenge) or derived from some aspect of the movie (for instance, one minigame has you hunting wolverines with a friggin' 12 gauge!). The dialog is cut straight from the movie, there's a ton of attention to detail, and each game is different from the last.

I bought Napoleon Dynamite: The Game on clearance for laughs and I remember really disliking it. When I was thinking of summer games I decided to reevaluate this game, and it's actually really fun. I can only think of a few negative things to say about it: some characters are in the game but have their likeness changed, while other key characters are missing from the game entirely. The button controls do not always work well, but most games have both button controls and stylus controls. Also, the rhythm minigame and fighting minigame appear multiple times in the story mode with slight changes. I guess that could be seen as a negative. Honestly though, the fighting bits are probably my favorite. For something that's just a tiny part of the game, you can tell 7 Studios spent a bit more time on the combat. I don't mind it showing up multiple times since each instance has more and more enemies and different scenery.

If I had you at "minigame" but lost you at "Napoleon Dynamite" then maybe Feel the Magic: XY/XX will interest you. The name might not ring any bells, but you might recognize the graphical style from the more popular follow-up game, Rub Rabbits. Feel the Magic: XY/XX was a launch title for the Nintendo DS. Instead of focusing on fancy graphics, Sonic Team decided to create solid gameplay that showcases the DS's potential. Yeah, it's one of those games that asks you to "Yell at the DS!" making you look a bit silly if you're in public, and just as silly if you're not. The game focuses on The Guy who is trying to win over The Girl. He does this with the help of the rub rabbits (they're like wing men but more dedicated). Each ridiculous minigame is an attempt to win The Girl's heart over. Her affection only lasts about as long as it takes to cross the street, and you'll constantly be trying to get it back. While this would make for an obsessive, one-sided, short-lived relationship in real life, it makes for gameplay that's entertaining to play or watch. The minigames all make use of the stylus and occasionally other input. They range from exciting rhythm games to slightly disturbing games where you wipe dirt off The Girl's face as she blushes and moans.

The graphical style I mentioned earlier is very distinct. The game takes advantage of the DS hardware to render simple 2D and 3D vector graphics. There is not much detail and color, instead negative space is used to make the simple graphics stand out. Most of the levels have minimal backgrounds with the exception of a few fully 3D sections.

After you beat Napoleon Dynamite and Feel the Magic you can play the individual minigames. They both have stuff to unlock which extends the length of each game a little bit. It wasn't too long ago that I would've passed up a game because it was only minigames. Now I'm realizing that flash games filled my mindless-fun-gaming need and they have become a thing of the past. I've learned that a few good minigame compilations are nice to have in your collection to pass the time when a full gaming session is out of the question. It's nice to have something simple to pick up and turn off whenever. I particularly enjoy playing a few games before falling asleep.

While they're both about hanging out and doing stuff...neither one is inherently summer. Napoleon Dynamite is set during every season except summer (unless you count the wolverine hunting minigame). Well, I'm running out of summer (and summer games) and this project has gone on long enough. Come by next week to see which game I decide is the perfect summer game.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Perfect Summer Game Pt. 3

It's been two weeks since I started playing Chrono Cross. In that time I've logged 15 hours, and 15 of it was spent on tropical islands. I don't plan to stop playing until I beat it but for now I think I've played enough to say my thoughts.


Chrono Cross is somewhat of a black sheep in the JRPG genre. It was the follow up to Chrono Trigger, a game that many consider their favorite game and some consider the best game ever. When a game gets everything right and it strikes a chord with so many people a sequel or successor is going to disappoint a few fans. A lot of people understandably consider Chrono Cross a letdown. While Chrono Cross might be a weak sequel, it's still a fantastic game.

I initially saw an ad in Electronic Gaming Monthly featuring Lynx. The game looked mysterious and intriguing. It wasn't out yet and I had to wait a few months to be able to afford a new game anyways (most of my PlayStation games consisted of Greatest Hits and Jampack: Underground demo discs). I quickly forgot about Chrono Cross. It wasn't until a few years later when I had a PS2 that I went back and shopped for forgotten PS1 games that GameStop now considered clearance-worthy. The double-sized jewel cases must've stood out to me because I remember buying Yu-Gi-Oh! Forbidden Memories, Sim City 2000, Metal Gear Solid, and Chrono Cross (oddly enough, the first two games come on a single disc). I spent a lot of time playing video games that summer. Yu-Gi-Oh! and Sim City were amusing for a bit, but Metal Gear Solid and Chrono Cross left an impression on me. I remember Chrono Cross being set in a bright, sunny, tropical fantasy world. I remember the main character Serge going on an adventure with his Australian-accented friend Kid to save the world and stop the universe from killing him. I remember the beach-side villages and towns and the people who inhabit them. When I started thinking of perfect summer games Chrono Cross was one of the first to pop into my head. But I have a crappy memory. I wasn't sure if it was as good as I remembered or if I had built it up in my head. I never beat it before so I didn't know if the sunny beaches only appear at the beginning and are missing for the majority of the game. I decided to play it and beat it.

Remember when print media was the go-to source for information?

Upon popping Chrono Cross in a magical sound began to come out of my television. My girlfriend was in the room and stopped what she was doing to watch the intro. When it ended she asked me to get her the soundtrack. After starting the game Serge woke up in his home village. I had him draw the curtain and immediately there was a view of the ocean. I wandered through the colorful village and talked to the friendly neighbors. The people, the music, the color tone, everything was very warm. I went to docks, tropical marshes, beaches, and then the game got serious. Even still, the music remained peaceful and the blue ocean ubiquitous. There are large and small port cities that revolve around trade and travel from the various islands which you later get to visit. Each one is beautiful and distinct from the last. All of the people I encountered were friendly and relatable. Even the Dragoons you were just fighting make polite conversation with you (they're just regular people doing a job, after all). The governing body resides in Viper Manor surrounded by palm trees.

But that's enough about the paradise aesthetic of Chrono Cross. What really appeals to me is the relaxed approach it takes to RPG gameplay. The leveling is automatic. All you have to do is choose which weapons, accessories, and magic elements to equip each party member with. You can put a lot of time into getting the right element for the right character, but even if you don't know what you're doing the elements will still be effective. I kept accidentally walking into boss fights and came out victorious by using basic strategy. This is a key part of why I am able to enjoy the game. I love the story and presentation unique to JRPGs, but learning the battle system and perfecting gear and stats usually turns me off. Chrono Cross is incredibly accessible and makes it easy for a JRPG noob like me to enjoy the game. It might be too easy for fans of the genre, but sometimes it's nice to turn off your brain and enjoy a game.

So far this a great summer game, and I don't intend to put it away anytime soon. I'll continue to play Chrono Cross at a relaxed pace. If I didn't have more summer games to play through I would say this is the perfect summer game. Up next I'm going to explore games where you hang out with people and do stuff because that's a big part of summer.

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