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.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Perfect Summer Game Pt. 2

A few weeks ago there was a heat index of 100 degrees Farenheit. I decided to stay inside and play video games until I found the perfect summer game. I considered a few games set in hot deserts, but last week I moved onto games that take place in the tropical island setting. I started playing Chrono Cross to see if it was as good as I remembered--and if it's actually in a tropical island setting--but I quickly realized a week is just not enough time to dedicate to it. I will continue playing Chrono Cross and hopefully be back next week to blog about it!

In the meantime I leave you with a video review of Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude. I reviewed this game earlier in the year when winter was over-staying its welcome. Right now the game and the snow would be a nice change from the rising 115 degree heat index.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Perfect Summer Game Pt. 1

In the midwest it is 91°F with 55% humidity, so it "feels like 100°F." On a day like today my skin is baking after a walk from my house to my car, and by the time I get home I need to take another shower. On a slightly cooler day I'd be by the pool. So I'd say it feels like a good day to stay inside and play video games. But on such a day I can't just pick up any game. All games I happen to be currently playing get put off because all that is on my mind is summer. I have games I play on rainy days, games I play on holidays, and games I play when I'm sick. Why not pick the perfect summer game?

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of summer is heat. The sun beating down. Hot deserts. Glancing at my game collection I see two games that fit the hot desert mold perfectly: Road Runner's Death Valley Rally and Desert Demolition Starring Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Two licensed games based on Chuck Jones' most well-known duo. Death Valley Rally is a platformer for the Super Nintendo. You play as the Road Runner and your goal is to get to the end of each level before Wile E. Coyote stops you. At first he chases you on foot and you quickly escape him because Road Runner can run as fast as Sonic. To keep things balanced there is a speed meter that quickly depletes, and you can refill it by eating bird seed. As the game progresses the Coyote uses ridiculous Acme products to thwart you. At the end of each level you see the Coyote humorously defeat himself. At the end of each area you have to fight him. The levels usually allow for you to either speed through them or take your time platforming your way to the end. If you run, you risk colliding into Wile E. Coyote or random obstacles. If you go the slow and steady route you have to contend with the clock. There's not much more to it than that. Road Runner's Death Valley Rally is a simple but fun game.
At the end of the day they both have Wile E. Coyote in the Batman suit.
Desert Demolition was released a few years later. It's also a platformer, but its home is the Sega Genesis. Playing as the Road Runner the gameplay is pretty similar to Death Valley Rally. Your goal is to get to the end without being stopped by the Coyote in the same TV accurate settings the SNES version features. Sure, the levels tend to be more detailed and interactive on Desert Demolition, but based solely on that the games would not be worth comparing. Where this game really outshines its predecessor is character selection. You can choose to play as either the Road Runner OR Wile E. Coyote! Playing as the underdog, or the villain as some perceive him, is an option too few video games offer. As the Coyote you play through the same levels and your goal is still to get to the end of each level. If you catch the Road Runner more time is added to the clock. The game gets a bit more exciting when you're the Coyote as you interact with various Acme products to either boost your gameplay or blow yourself up. The game is short, and after you beat it as one of the Looney Tunes you can play as the other half. Not only does this add replay value, it also changes your playstyle and interactions with the environment.

I grew up with Road Runner's Death Valley Rally. It has the humor, animations, and overall aesthetic of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Sadly, it doesn't feel like a Road Runner game. A palette swap is all it would take to wash away any resemblance to the cartoon. I would say it passes for an okay licensed platformer, but it's nothing special. I only recently found Desert Demolition Starring Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and I have to admit it's the superior game in every way. I love Wile E. Coyote's personality. Desert Demolition captures his personality perfectly and allows you to take on his role. That's how licensed games should be.

Desert Demolition may be the perfect hot desert game, but I'm not convinced it's the perfect summer game. I would even say there is a better Wile E. Coyote game (which you can learn about if you click here & watch my review of Looney Tunes: Sheep Raider a.k.a. Sheep, Dog, 'N' Wolf). On my quest to find the perfect summer game I will be playing tropical island games this week. Be sure to check in next week for my thoughts on that. I hope you found this blog post entertaining, enlightening, or helpful in passing time during a long day. At the very least, playing these two games and writing about them has distracted me from the blistering heat and now it appears to be raining. Thanks for reading, folks.