Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 14: Lemmings 2: The Tribes

It's gametime!

Yes, I know this isn't a photo of me with the game, as per previous
blog entries, but this is because I am writing this blog at midnight
and you don't want to see what I look like at midnight, trust me!

Lemmings 2: The Tribes
Released on: PC, Amiga, Archimedes, Atari ST (Yes, seriously, remember that? Hands up who owned one of those!), Megadrive, SNES, Game Boy.
Played on: SNES
Release date: 1993

It upsets me that there may well be an entire generation of gamers who are unaware of the wonderful puzzle-platformer franchise that is Lemmings. Having owned some copies of the games on PC as a child, they were amongst my favourite franchise, firstly due to the nature of the game (a well designed puzzle-platformer can be like crack to me. Addictive, compelling, expensive and leave me reduced to a gibbering wreck. (NOTE - The writer of this blog would like to make it clear that he has never tried crack, and is simply referring to the common stereotypical effects of it. If he is wrong then blame society for it's perpetual misconception.)) and secondly due to the way that fun and enjoyment oozed from every pore. (Yes, I know that games don't have pores, I was speaking metaphorically. Yes, that's right, metaphorical ooze. But anyway, moving on...)

For those of you who belong to that lost generation, let me just explain the basics of a lemmings game. You are a God-like being, who has direct control over a group of lemmings who fall out of a trapdoor and walk in one direction until they hit something, and then they turn around and walk in the other direction. They fall down holes and off cliffs. They walk into water and drown. The only thing stopping them all dying is you, as your job is to guide them to the exit - a door-type structure that leads them... well usually to another level filled with possible death. But hey, it's all good fun.

Many would argue (myself included) that Lemmings 2: The Tribes represents the peak of a franchise, which then entered a sharp decline with the hideous not-to-ever-be-discussed Lemmings 3D, and never really recovered all that well.

But this is not a blog to reflect on past glories, this is a blog to see how well this game, played on this console, stands up nowadays. And the question is, how does it?

Pretty well. Mostly.

The problem is that this feels like a real mis-match of game and platform, and consequentially my opinions are split into two halves. The game itself is still as well-designed, addictive and fun as it always was, but it's not remotely suited to being played on a console.

The problem is the control system. If you played the game on a PC (or an Amiga, or an Atari ST) the mouse controls and keyboard shortcuts lead to a fast and intuitive interface, whereas with just a D-Pad and buttons,  you are left with a cursor that moves about as quickly as a sloth swimming in glue with weights on each limb, surrounded by 20ft high brick walls.

Yes, there are tricks that have been used to help the situation, most notably that the lemmings all pause whenever you are scrolling the screen to view a different part of the level, but the awkward and unresponsive nature of the controls often means that the split-second timing so crucial to saving as many lemmings as possible can be ruined.

But this review isn't just about the negatives. This review is about the game. And I'd forgotten quite how well designed this game is. It took many of my personal criticisms of the original game and solved them. Getting frustrated with a level you can't complete? Simply switch over to one of the other 11 tribes and work on their levels for a bit. Want to see lemmings utilising a far greater ranger of skills? This game provides that. In fact, the longevity in this game (as I remember) far outlasts the original, and isn't that what we're always looking for in a sequel? In fact, in the hour I played, I only got through about 6 or 7 levels, a couple for each of the three tribes I played.

It's a shame then, that although the game is so good, the conversion I am playing is so... ill-thought out. It's a game that doesn't really work with a D-Pad - it's a mouse or nothing as far as I'm concerned, and therefore, I have to register my disappointment with this game. And, in the pettiest complaint I have had so far in this series of blogs, it is sad that this version of the game could not include the little speech effects that were prevalent in the PC version.

Rating: 6/10
Time played: 1 Hour
Would I play it again?: The game, yes. On this console? Unlikely. If I was going to play it again I'd either have to locate my old install disks for the PC version (On 3.5" floppy disks - and then I'd have to find a drive that was able to read the archaic format!) or look around online as I believe it is now classed as abandonware.

Next time - It's one of the most classic retro games in the N64's arsenal - It's Goldeneye....

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 12 - Balloon Fight AND Game 13 - Excitebike

That's right folks, this is a special read one, get one free edition of this blog! Today I review not one, but two games! And the reason I've slotted them together into one entry? There's a few similarities...

Balloon Fight
Originally released on: NES
Played on: Nintendo 3DS
Release date: 1986 (NES Version)

Originally released on: NES
Played on: Nintendo 3DS (3D Classics version)
Release date: 1984 (3D Classics version released 2011)

"So what are these similarities that you are mentioning, oh wonderful Brawny?" is the question that I know you're all asking, (possibly without the "wonderful Brawny" on the end, but nobody's perfect!) Well, you can see that I played both of these on the 3DS, and they were both NES games when originally released, so they have that in common, and they're both, in essence, much more suited to be handheld games than console games.

"Why do you say that, Brawny?" I hear you ask...

(Cups ear and waits patiently, until the voices in my head persuade me that someone has responded so that I can continue on... (Hang on.... haven't I done that joke on my blog before?? - Wastes a significant time reading through old blogs...comes to the conclusion that it's not in any of my blogs from the last two years, and carries on.))

The reason is that neither of them are particularly suited for long term play. And, for the first time in this playthrough, I encountered games that I didn't play for the full hour each, not necessarily because I disliked the games (although one was significantly worse than the other), but because they become very repetitive after a few goes and I ended up doing something else before coming back to them.

Let's look at them one at a time shall we? First, Balloon Fight. Now you may remember that way back in Game 1's blog, I mentioned that one of the games on the cartridge was a pretty poor version of Joust, the infamous arcade game. Well, as much as Nintendo spend lots of time and money on developing original ideas, Balloon Fight is a complete rip-off (I was forced to cross that word out as one of Nintendo's lawyers jumped through my window and threatened me with a lawsuit, and I'm not going up against them!) homage to Joust. But it plays well, and doesn't suffer from the horrendous graphics issues that the Midway Arcade Hits version did, and consequentially it's an extremely playable game.

Basically, you fly around, popping the balloons that the enemies use to fly around, and if both of your balloons get popped then you die. And that's pretty much it. It may sound simple, and it is - but it's quite a lot of fun. Sadly, unlike Ice Climbers, the game doesn't allow you to choose levels to start on, so you play the same screens over and over again. And again. And again. And again...

*Brawny gets trapped in a recursive loop and dies. At the moment of death he manages to send a message to his previous self to skip this sentence and continue in the new paragraph below.*

So anyway, the other saving grace of Balloon Fight is that it also includes Balloon Trip - where you still control the balloon fighter but through a maze of electricity while collecting balloons. Which makes a nice change...

(Incidentally, I am very grateful for spell-checker at this point, as I keep trying to spell balloon as either baloon or ballon. I'm an idiot.)

Onto Excitebike now, and the fact that I'm a motorcyclist should mean I love this game, right? No. If I hadn't got this game for free when the eShop launched, then I wouldn't own it, and I wouldn't be missing out. It's just so... well.... so...

You know how after you've started doing something that's supposed to be entertaining and after a few minutes, you're actively considering stopping it to go and do the washing up because it might be more interesting? Well that's my Excitebike experience in a nutshell.

The controls are reasonably responsive, but collision detection is erratic. I'm sure there's a trick to playing it so that you get better, but I couldn't find it, and ultimately I couldn't be bothered any more. The 3D effect that has been added to the 3D classics version is about as pointless as you would imagine, and also, it's the only game I can think of that I've played (which isn't a music/rhythm action game) where having the sound on is essential. Why? Because there's no visual signal when the race starts, just an audio one...

So actually, although I lumped these two games together, there is some significant variance between them. While Balloon fight was fun, and I was quite happy to go back to time and time again for a few minutes at a time, Excitebike was just dull.

Balloon Fight
Rating: 6/10                          
Time Played: Eventually, about 45 minutes (spread over 6 or 7 plays)
Would I play it again? If I have a few minutes to kill and my 3DS in hand - possibly.

Rating: 3/10
Time Played: About 20 minutes. In three attempts.
Would I play it again? No. I'm considering deleting it, and I never delete anything! (Hence my proliferation of hard drives, backups, and data in general)

Next time, we return to a main console, and to a game I've only ever played on a PC, so it'll be interesting to see how it controls.. it's Lemmings II: The Tribes on SNES!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 11 - New Super Mario Bros

And from one Mario-starring game from this console generation (Super Smash Bros. Brawl) to another (Well, if you class the DS as the current console generation - granted it has been supplanted by the 3DS, but you can still go and buy them in a regular shop, so thats close enough to being current to me) - it's time for New Super Mario Bros on the DS.

New Super Mario Bros
Originally released on: Nintendo DS
Played on: Nintendo 3DS
Release date: 2006

This game was, when it was announced, one of my most eagerly awaited games of all time. Super Mario World is one of my favourite games ever, and there had been no proper Mario 2D platformer released since then (and no, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island doesn't count because that's a Yoshi game with different mechanics and gameplay). I was so excited about this game that I actually bought it as an import because it came out in the US almost 2 months before it's release date here, and I couldn't wait.

As I may have mentioned several times on this blog (and by 'may have' I mean, I have mentioned it lots already, but I'm trying not to make you realise this), I am a big fan of 2D platformers and while I've already sung the praises of Sonic 2, Mario games are generally just as much fun. And they're pleasantly different. I maintain that the primary reason that there have been no genre-defining 2D platformers since the inception of Sonic and Mario, is because they both managed to define the two extremes of the genre - Sonic is the speedy platformer, whereas Mario embraces the more cautious, precise areas of platforming - and I like them both equally, depending on my mood.

And when I got New Super Mario Bros? Well my excitement was deserved, for a while, and then I remember finding it a little repetitive. I mean, it was still great, it's still Mario, it just felt like I'd played it all before. So I wondered what my response would be when I started it up nowadays.

You know what? It's a lot of fun. Granted, it is missing a little of the innovation that populated the earlier mario platformers, but I can forgive that. It almost feels like it was a dry run to see if the average person would pick up and play a 2D mario platformer in this day and age (and as an experiment, that was a huge success, as the game had sold over 18,000,000 copies worldwide as of March 2009).

So what is wrong with it? Well firstly, in a change for the games I've played so far on this giant playthrough,  it's bloody easy. I remember completing it in no time at all when I first got the game and even on this playthrough I managed to get through to the end of World 3 in one hour. The replay value is slightly annoying as the only reason to replay through the game is to gain the Star Coins, (of which there are 3 in each level), which don't really gain you anything and, most annoyingly, if you are re-playing through, you can still only save at designated save points, which are only when you complete a castle or unlock a fence by spending star coins! Once you've unlocked all the fences it becomes very tedious having to complete castles all the time to save because you managed to gain an extra 2 star coins and you don't want to waste them.

Also, there's no Yoshi, and some of the new power-ups are pretty rubbish. The Mega Mushroom is fun carnage, but means you tend to have to go back through the level again to locate the star coins, the Mini Mushroom is a good idea but it puts you in a very vulnerable position, and the Blue Shell suit is only useful if you particularly enjoy speeding across the screen in an out-of-control fashion, before falling down a bottomless pit because you couldn't stop yourself in time.

I'm not criticising this game too much, as it is a lot of fun, and it is partially responsible for the current resurgence in 2D platformers, and hopefully some of the mario innovativeness (is that a word? I think it is now, for the purposes of this blog anyway) will return in the future. But for now, I rate New Super Mario Bros as a solid and fun game which, while not up to the standards of the original mario platformers, is still an entertaining and fun way to spend a couple of hours - and maybe, if you'd never played a mario 2D platformer before, you'd find this game to be more astounding than I do.

Rating: 8/10
Time played: Pretty much exactly one hour
Would I play it again? Yeah - it'll stay in my 3DS case, and get played every so often.

Next time? We're sticking with handheld gaming and my downloaded ambassador games - it's Balloon Fight...

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Great Playthrough: Game 10 - Super Smash Bros. Brawl

So we change genres again, and indeed, we bring ourselves back to the current console generation with the second Wii game on the list - Super Smash Bros Brawl!

Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Originally released on: Nintendo Wii
Played on: Nintendo Wii
Release date: 2008

Like Sonic 2 before it, this game is one that is played in our house on a pretty regular basis. If you don't know the premise of it - then allow me to explain. You know all those times you've wanted to see Mario punch Luigi? Or Link shoot Zelda with an arrow? Or all those times you've wanted to pummel Pikachu, or serve up a giant can of whoopass to Samus? This is the game for you. (Note - Can of whoopass not included with game.)

It's basically an all-star fighting game populated by Nintendo characters and the object is to beat the other people up until they fly off the screen and die. That's pretty much it. But it's fast, furious and lots of fun. And this iteration (the third in the series, the previous two being Super Smash Bros on N64 and Super Smash Bros Melee on Gamecube) has it all - more stages, more modes and more characters, including two third-party characters for the first time - Snake from Metal Gear Solid and Sonic the Hedgehog himself!

As this is primarily a multi-player game, I decided that this playthrough would require assistance, and therefore, once again, Neety stepped in to help me out.

Hello. I am Neet. In other news, I was invited to play Super Smash Bros. Brawl by my darling fiance which is surprising because normally I whoop his ass at this game. 

I would deny her comment, but it is true - she's a lot better at this game than me. Wisely, we decided to play team-up modes for the hour of playthrough so that it was the two of us against that evillest of opponents, the computer. Sadly (due to me being an idiot) I could only find one wii-mote, so Neety used that, while I plugged in a Gamecube controller (not my preferred method of control for this game) and we began.

We started by playing half an hour of the 'Subspace Emissary' mode. This mode is a combination of fighting game and platformer - kind of like Streets of Rage in the Nintendoverse, but with more jumping and less 80's hairstyles. It's a lot of fun, and when it came out (prior to the revival of 2D platformers as a genre) I felt that this was the closest I would ever get to a new 2D platformer for a mainstream console of this generation. How wrong was I! But still, it's fun, if let down by a couple of minor points, the most common of which is that, although you share lives between you if playing in two player, the screen scrolls with player 1 - so if you end up getting too far ahead, or getting knocked further on in a level due to a fight, it's not going to help player 2 at all - as they will either die or be magically returned to your side, making it feel like an uneven partnership. On the whole though, the Subspace Emissary mode is fun, challenging and has some entertaining cut scenes as you watch the partnerships between characters mix up and become very strange...

Do you remember that time, when you were five years old, and your parents took you to B&Q to buy some stupid wallpaper for your stupid brother's stupid room? And to quiet down your whining your father bought you a can of Dr Pepper from the vending machine and then asked you to hold a bottle of white spirit? And then by accident you drank the white spirit and spent the next 4 1/2 hours running around tripping your head off? Well that is exactly what the Subspace Emissary is not like. Instead it's more like a video game, which you play with your other half if you want to break up with them. Marvel with delight as your other half (playing as player one) runs off the side of the screen and leaves you stranded while monsters that nobody can see advance on you. Gasp, as your stupid f***ing partner dies, taking with him your last life, even though you hadn't died at all and had barely had your hit points touched! Fling with anger, your favourite vase at him as he entirely f***s your game up just by being player one! Basically, what I am saying is, whoever starts off as player one should expect to be thoroughly hated by the end of the game. It's a fun platformer, with a lot of promise, and with an interesting host of obstacles and enemies to overcome, but it still is essentially a 2D platform game - an add-on to an already well-developed beat-em-up game. 

As you can tell from Neety's paragraph above, it is rather frustrating being the better player and being stuck as player two in this mode. So after half an hour we decided (in a bid to ensure that we remained a happy couple) to change over to the All-Star mode, where the two of us have to defeat every other character with one life. Well, I say one life, there are a selection of heart power ups available in the level select screen, and of course you can use continues at the cost of halving your points total each time, but still. The All-Star mode is much closer to the "real" Smash Bros in that you are on a single stage, smacking the crap out of people until they fly off the screen, at which point you are deemed to be the winner. (Unless they smacked you off the stage, in which case you are the loser, or unless you fell off the stage yourself, in which case you're an idiot.) But once again, all of the good things come to the fore - the controls are tight (you do devolve into a small amount of button mashing, but there's enough skill involved to make it feel like a game rather than an endurance test) and the whole thing is permeated with a huge sense of fun. Plus you get to smack Captain Falcon from F-Zero upside the head, which is fun. Sadly, you can't attack Slippy Toad from Starfox, as he is not playable, which is annoying because, lets be honest, if there was any Nintendo character you wanted to smack about, he'd be pretty high in the list wouldn't he?

And I haven't even mentioned all of the trophies, the stickers, the unlockables, the game demos... Smash Bros Brawl is chock-full of content, and if you have people round in an evening, the four player mode is incredibly satisfying (and if there are more than four of you, you can have a tournament!). Yes, it can get a bit busy on screen (a big TV is a must, or even better, a projector like the one I have *smugface*) and yes, there is luck involved as well as skill, but all in all it is a cracking game.

Even if Sonic is a disappointingly rubbish character to play.

Any final words from Neety?

I first played this game when it came out four years ago (which seems like a ridiculous amount of time) and I still enjoy it today as much as I enjoyed it then. It frequently makes an appearance at parties and family gatherings, and I don't think it's likely to lose it's playability even if it's just out for half an hour every couple of weeks. However, I felt cheated by a few things during my first playthrough. For instance, the last character you unlock is Jigglypuff, and he/she/it felt like a pallette swap containing most of Kirby's moveset. What is it with Nintendo and their love of gooey pink things?

It's not just Nintendo. I like marshmallows. They're gooey and pink.

I don't care Brawny. Shut up, this is my segment. Get your own blog.

This is my blog...

Your argument is irrelevant. Anyway, here is a list of my five least favourite characters:
1) Ness - because he is too similar to Lucas. 
2) Jigglypuff - for reasons stated above.
3) Craptain Falcon (No, that is not a spelling mistake) - for being too similar to other characters and possibly due to me not liking the F-Zero games.
4) I said Jigglypuff didn't I. Well can I put him/her on there twice? Good.
5) Zero Suit Samus - again, for being too similar to Sheik and certain other human fighters, and for having to waste a smash ball just to put her clothes back on. Seriously. She's like some kind of crap reverse stripper. 

That's all I can think of for now. Stop milking me for content. Make your own bloody content... *grumbles as she walks away* 

So there we have it. A good game with some minor flaws, but still an awful lot of fun.

Rating: 9/10
Time played: About 1 hr 10 minutes.
Would I play it again: Regularly.

Next time - it's back to a handheld console for some more platforming fun!