Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Great Playthrough: Game 74: Donkey Kong Country Returns



Donkey Kong Country Returns
Released on: Nintendo Wii
Played on: Nintendo WiiU
Release Date: 2010

You all know from previous blogs that I'm a big Nintendo fan. I don't need to link to said blogs, you all know that it's true. So I had to be careful and make sure that I reviewed this game with my impartial hat on (and before you ask, it's a bright blue hat with green stars on it). And do you know what I discovered when I played this game?

This game is one of the greatest 2D platformers to have ever been made.

It is seriously that good.


Let me put it another way - it's not a Sonic 2 beater, but it's damn close.

Lots of people assume that every 2D platformer plays approximately the same way, and that's not the case. Mario games are about careful jumping rather than speed, Sonic games are all about speed and fast reflexes. Donkey Kong doesn't feel like either of those. The closest thing I can find to compare it to is the modern Rayman platformers. It's complex, but all feels intuitive.

And it's a huge amount of fun.

I don't think I stated that enough.

It's a HUUUUUUUGGGGGGGEEEEEEEEEEEE amount of fun!

The graphics are gorgeous, the music is amazing - I mean, who couldn't love this music here?

The thing that makes it one of the best platformers ever though, is the level design. They are beautiful, well crafted, all of the hidden secrets are challenging but not impossible and every time you think the levels are going to get repetitive, they throw in a curveball to keep it fresh. There are mine cart levels, flying barrel levels, and a really fabulously designed level with waves that crash into the foreground every few moments, meaning that if you aren't hidden behind the rocks then you are washed away.

Couple these innovations with a huge number of bonus levels and endless replayability, and DK Country Returns is so immensely playable.

So there's no reason for all of you not to play this game - it came out on the Wii, a console that practically everyone owns (at least according to the sales figures!) - it's also had a portable remake (DK Country Returns 3D on the 3DS) and a sequel (DK Country Returns: Tropical Freeze on the WiiU), so you can look into those options as well.

But seriously, play it. It's REALLY worth it.

Rating - 9/10
Time Played - 1 hour 35 minutes
Would I play it again? - Of course I would!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Great Playthrough: Game 73 - World Cup Italia '90



World Cup Italia '90
Released on: Sega Mega Drive, Sega Master System
Played on: Sega Mega Drive
Release Date: 1990 (D'uh!)

Before I start this review, I feel I should make a confession. I don't watch football, I don't play football. In fact, I'm not a football guy at all. The only reason I even own this game (as you may be able to tell from the photo above) is because it is part of a compilation cartridge.

But having said all of that, I do remember playing certain football games in my youth (most notable Sensible Soccer) and not hating the experience. And I do like a large selection of video games, so maybe I'll be surprised by this one.

Well, that was my hope. Sadly, though, it was not to be.

There's very little I can say about this game that is positive. I plugged it in, started it up, and then spent five minutes selecting which members of my team I wanted to use. "Ooh," I thought, "This looks like it might be some tactical suggestions, that's always a good start."

Well it would be, but then, when I started the game, I realised that it looks like this.


It's a top down football game. Where every player is white-skinned with black hair, and there is no indication of which player is which - so why ask me to select my team in the FIRST F@*#ING PLACE??

And speaking of the top-down situation, you'll see that the characters are quite large, so you can't see very much of the pitch at all... but that's OK, right? Because you've got a map? Let me show you that map closer...


Yes, that map shows lots of little dots where the players are. However, it makes no discernible difference between your players and the opposing team's players - so how the hell am I supposed to know where any of MY players are???

Sensible Soccer got around the inherent problems of a top-down football game by having the players the size of a couple of pixels, so you could see a lot of what was going on around you - but this game just stumbles badly at this first hurdle.

The controls are - OK. You have a ground pass button, a high pass button and a shoot button. However, the computer teams also appear to be able to head the ball, but try as I might (and even after much reading of the instruction manual) I couldn't find an option to do that. So that put me at a disadvantage anyway.

You also cannot select which player you are controlling at any one time. The computer automatically selects one - and it automatically does so about 30 seconds after you wanted it to. So you'll still be controlling a player at the top of the screen, the opposing team have the ball and are running down the pitch, and it changes your control to the player the opposition run past JUST AFTER the opposition have already run past him!

Seriously, it's a nightmare.

There's also no polish to this game - if you score, then you get the following screen:
This is actually the computer team scoring, because I didn't score any goals.
 
Please note - this isn't a representative still of a moving image, this is the picture that comes up on the screen for thirty seconds once you've scored.

*Sarcasm Mode engaged*

Wow - I'm having trouble containing my excitement.

*End Sarcasm Mode*

Look, I know I was never going to be the target market for this game. I don't do football - never have, never will. But I do know what makes a good video game, and this is quite definitely NOT a good video game.

Rating: 2/10Time Played: 15 Minutes
Would I play it again? No, no I would not.

Thanks for reading - and please do let people know if you regularly read this blog - they can also find the facebook page for this group here.

Also, I'm considering doing a video blog for a future entry - anyone got any advice/suggestions?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Great Playthrough - Game 72: Doom 3

Yes - it's the funky Steelbook edition!
Doom 3
Released on: Xbox, PS3, Xbox 360, Windows, Linux, Mac
Played on: Xbox
Release date: 2004

I have often mentioned how good I feel that the original Doom is - it's the FPS I enjoyed playing as a teen, and I feel it is the gold-standard of shooters - but I'd never played the second sequel.

Doom 3 came out in 2004, at a time when FPS's were on the rise - in fact, it was the year Halo 2 was released, which kind of says it all. As I discussed in my Halo 3 review, a lot of the trends in more modern FPS's are the things that put me off. The dull colours, the darkness, the boring cutscenes, the fact that most levels are just corridor after corridor of industrial / brown dullness.

But Doom 3 has the Doom name attached, so it's surely going to be more fun, right?

Well, yes and no. I think that more than anything else, this game highlights the differences between old-style FPS's and modern ones. And that's not really a good thing.

Let's start at the beginning - the plot appears to be that a weapons company is more powerful than anyone ever and they are (shock, horror) not too careful about what happens to scientists in the name of progress. So this is clearly not going to end well.

I have no problem with a game having a plot. Granted, you didn't need any kind of plot backstory for the original Doom (or Doom 2) to enjoy the game, but I have no problem with modern games having a plot. However, when the plot is ridiculously generic AND means that you spend the first fifteen minutes of the game either watching cutscenes or walking around without any kind of weapon or action going on, I think it's taking the piss a little bit. But eventually I met my commanding officer (obviously, I mean my unnamed character's commanding officer, not my own personal commanding officer. I don't have a commanding officer (that I know of) - but anyway, I think I've digressed a little) and was allocated a mission.

'Yay,' I thought, 'We're through the opening plot/tutorial bit - now I get to play!'

Then I walked around some tunnels for another five minutes, and found the scientist I was looking for. Then some portals to hell accidentally opened, and.. weird flying skulls came out and possessed the scientist, who turned into some kind of zombie/demon. So I shot him. And then the game started proper.

And then, about six minutes later, I died.

And I hadn't used the quicksave function since the end of the main cutscenes. So I started again.

This time, I made it to about eight minutes. But I had saved.

Sadly, I'd saved when I had 7 pistol bullets and 2 shotgun shells left...

So I kept dying.

Now I'm not complaining about the difficulty too much - it felt a little unfair, but not game-breakingly so, and I absolutely loved the touches like the fact you have to choose whether to use a flashlight or have a weapon equipped, and the controls are nice and intuitive.But considering I was on medium difficulty, I did die a LOT.

Also, the other thing that annoyed me - this game did that thing that lots of modern day games do - you are given instructions over the radio. Sadly, when the legions of hell attack, the radio keeps transmitting the noise of people fighting them off, and repeated calls for you to return to base. But at no point does it ever SHUT THE HELL UP so that I can figure out IF THERE'S A MONSTER IN THIS ROOM OH NO NOW I'M DEAD AGAIN!

Sadly, Doom 3 just didn't quite click for me. There were slightly too many of the modern touches that I found awkward - including having to aim vertically as well as horizontally, which I know sounds silly, but that's one of the things that I'm apparently very bad at. I miss old Doom aiming, where as long as you are facing the enemy, you can just keep shooting.

It's not an awful game - in fact, it's better than many other FPS's of its era, but I was sorely disappointing by it. It was just missing the slightly crazy Doom magic touch.

And then I worried - what if Doom doesn't have that magic touch anymore? What if I'm comparing Doom 3 to an ideal that never existed, and is just clouded by rose-tinted glasses?

Luckily, Doom and Doom 2 are included on the Doom 3 disc, so I fired up Doom for fifteen minutes, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it is still fun - it'll get its own full review somewhere in this playthrough.

In fact, that fifteen minutes of playing Doom made Doom 3 feel even worse than it had done before.

Sorry Doom 3, but this is a case of must try harder.

Rating: 5/10
Time Played: Doom 3 - 45 Minutes (and then fifteen minutes of Doom)
Would I play it again: The Disc will get a lot of use for Doom and Doom 2. Doom 3 though, not so much...

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Great Playthrough: Game 71 - Super Mario Galaxy 2


Super Mario Galaxy 2
Released on: Nintendo Wii
Played on: Nintendo Wii
Release date: 2010

Unlike films, games sequels can often be much better than the originals. When I reviewed Super Mario Galaxy I concluded that the opening of the game was not the best way to experience what is a great game - as the first hour is quite pedestrian and filled with opening cut-scenes and tutorial levels that are very averagely designed.

The good news? Super Mario Galaxy 2 has learnt from the mistakes of the original game.

The opening is tight, a lot of the cut-scenes are at least partially playable - and more importantly, within five minutes of starting the game, you are on a playable level, which is pretty well designed.

In fact, all of the levels I got to in the opening hour just served to throw up new design ideas and new mechanics, completely justifying this sequel's existence. Let us not forget that no other 3D Mario game had (at the time anyway) generated a direct sequel. Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine are both good games (although one is better than the other) - but Nintendo didn't feel that either of them required a direct sequel, always preferring to push onto something new.

But Mario Galaxy totally deserves the sequel, as there are so many new concepts, techniques and ideas based around the Galaxy motifs - including the appearance of Yoshi, who adds a whole new aspect to the gameplay!

Also, Super Mario Galaxy 2 has a great two player mode - well, we certainly enjoy it in our house. Player one is Mario, who does all of the usual Mario things - running around, jumping, collecting coins, collecting stars etc. Player 2 takes control of a Luma (the weird floating chubby starfish-type things that are prevalent in the Galaxy games) by using the wii-mote as a pointer, so that player can delay/defeat enemies, pick up coins/lives etc and generally be of help to the first player. It's a really nice and innovative two player mechanism. And it means that Neety and I can play together - which is important in our house! Two player co-op should be more prevalent than it is... but I digress.

Now don't get me wrong - it's not a perfect game. I know that when I reviewed Galaxy (the original), I moaned about how long it's plot took to get going, as it is just a case of Bowser kidnaps the Princess, this time in space. However, the plot of Super Mario Galaxy 2 is slightly weird in the sense that it does not acknowledge any of the events that occurred in Super Mario Galaxy 1. Lumas are new to Mario, he is astonished at giant-size Bowser, and everything seems new to him all over again.

Now this may be explained when you complete the game (as I must confess I haven't ever totally finished this game) - and I know that at the end of Super Mario Galaxy 1...

*SPOILER ALERT*

*NO REALLY, I KNOW YOU MAY JUST BE HAPPILY SKIPPING PAST THIS, BUT I AM GOING TO TELL YOU WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF THE ORIGINAL IF YOU'RE NOT CAREFUL*


*YOU'RE STILL HERE? OK, WELL DON'T SAY I DIDN'T WARN YOU*


... the galaxy / universe is destroyed and re-booted, so the implication could be that Mario doesn't remember it all. But even so, that means that the average player who didn't get to the end of the original would be confused as to why Mario is being such a forgetful idiot.

Well, it's either that, or he's just hit his head against too many blocks over the years, and it's had an impact on his memory.




*END OF SPOILERS - IF YOU ARE TRYING TO STEER CLEAR OF IT, YOU MAY CONTINUE READING NOW*

But regardless of strange plot issues - Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a fabulous game. The graphics are gorgeous, the music is outstanding (indeed, I think it's one of the best scores to a video game EVER) and it has such replay-value that even as I'm writing this blog, I'm looking forward to going back and playing it some more - especially since I haven't completed it yet....

So yes, I know that this review is predictable, but I loved this game. And so will all of you - it's a video game that transcends boundaries and is just so infinitely playable! And given the increase in quality between the original and this one, I am a little sad that there is no indication of a Super Mario Galaxy 3 any time soon...

Rating: 9/10
Time Played: An hour and a ten minutes
Would I play it again? Are you kidding? I'm probably going to play it when I get home!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Great Playthrough: Game 70 - Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1

So today, it's time to review a game on a format I haven't reviewed before - and no, that doesn't mean I bought a new console (not yet, anyway)...

I couldn't take a photo of me with the box, because it's a digital-only
game. I also couldn't take a photo of me playing it, because I played
it on my phone, which is what I normally use to take photos...

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
Released on: iOS, Android, Xbox Live, PSN, WiiWare and many many other digital distribution systems...
Played on: Android Phone (Samsung Galaxy Note 3 if you are interested)
Release date: 2010

When this game was first announced, I was ridiculously excited. Yes, Sonic 3 may have been a slight disappointment in comparison with one of the best videogames of all time - Sonic 2 - but all of the early 2D Sonic games were entertaining at worst, so I was hopeful about Sonic 4.

Then I read that they were distributing it exclusively via digital platforms and episodically, and I was (frankly) a little disappointed. I know this makes me sound like an old fart - but nothing beats having a physical copy of a game. I can understand and appreciate the digital distribution model, but to not give people the option of a physical copy is annoying, as if it existed, I would probably have bought it by now on a proper console.

But four years after the release of Episode 1, and two years after Episode 2 came out - there's still no sign of it. So when I saw Episode 1 appear as part of a Humble Bundle Mobile package, I decided it was time to give it a try.

(NOTE - If you've never encountered Humble Bundle, then go and check them out right now! They do great bundles of Phone Games, PC Games, eBooks, Comics etc.. all for a donated amount that goes to charity. I have bought three or four bundles in the last couple of months and intend to keep doing!)

This bundle of games was the first set of mobile games I have ever paid for, as I've always been a bit wary of mobile gaming. And, do you know what? It was a bit of a disappointment...

I should clarify. I know I'm going to end up tarring Sonic 4 and mobile gaming with the same brush, so I'll say here and now that I don't think Sonic 4 is a bad game by any means. Is it on a par with Sonic 2? Not a chance. It's not even on a par with Sonic 3, but it's way better than a lot of other games in the world.

But, sadly, mobile gaming really lets it down. The problem with porting games to touchscreen phones is the controls. Games that are developed for a touchscreen initially tend to have no problem - look at the world-destroying Angry Birds for proof of that. However, when you try and apply console style controls to touchscreen phones then it tends to go wrong, and that was sadly the case here.

Trying to control a game via virtual touchscreen buttons is a nightmare - mostly because of the complete lack of feedback. When you press a physical button or move a physical d-pad, you can feel what you are doing, whereas on a virtual screen I find myself constantly looking down at the controls to check that I'm doing it right, which affects my way of playing the game. And that's no fun.

On a much lighter note, the game itself (as I said before) is not bad at all. The level design is mostly good, the graphics are pretty (although I personally don't like the style of art as much, but hey, that might just be me), and the gameplay is typical sonic gameplay - which for me is a good thing.

But it's not perfect. There are a couple of little things that bug me - why give me the option which order to tackle the levels in? It's not like Mega Man, where if you tackle certain levels first you get power ups that are an advantage for another level - it's Sonic - you run to the right until you succeed - and why give people the choice of doing Act 2 BEFORE Act 1? That's like going to a dinner party and saying that you can eat your desert before you eat the main course if you'd prefer - both courses will still taste nice, but there will be a slight feeling of unease...

I know it's a strange thing to moan about, but for me it means that the feeling of achievement is gone, because you can play any level at any time...

The Physics are strange - Sonic feels slightly floaty when jumping, and it feels more like luck than skill when landing (although how much of that can be attributed to the control scheme I'm not sure.) There are fun Sonic 1-inspired bonus rounds with the spinning maze that we all remember - only because I'm playing it on a phone, you control it by tilting and rotating the phone - which is a method of control I'm REALLY not a fan of - especially when it comes down to precise control.

But my biggest problem with the game design itself (excluding the platform I am playing it on) is the second act of the Casino Street Zone - where instead of having a fun level to navigate through while bouncing around on flippers and bumpers etc, your objective suddenly changes as you have to earn 100,000 points by bouncing Sonic into the fruit machine over and over. And that's just dull - sorry Sega, but it's the truth.

In conclusion, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 on a proper console (which I may at some point purchase - especially if they EVER do a physical copy) might be a 7/10 game, with the Casino Street Zone Act 2 letting it down as well as the slightly strange physics. However, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 on a phone? Well....

Rating: 5/10
Time Played: 1 Hour and 5 Minutes
Would I play it again? On my phone, probably not. If I ever buy it for Xbox or PS3 or if I ever get an Ouya and buy it for that, then I'd give it another try...

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Great Playthrough: Game 69 - Magic Carpet


Magic Carpet
Released on: PC, Playstation, Sega Saturn
Played on: Sega Saturn
Release Date: 1994

I remember when Magic Carpet came out. At the time I was 13 and a PC gamer - not owning any of the then-new generation of consoles. So my first memory of this game was that when it came out it was the must-have game of the time, and many articles in PC Gamer and other 90's PC magazines advised me of this.

I only have a vague recollection of the game itself (which I am sure was a PC copy "borrowed" from a friend) and that memory is that it was graphically impressive, but I strangely don't remember any of the actual gameplay - so it's one of those games where the memory of the hype and reputation is vastly greater to the memory of the actual game.

And that was a worry for me when I started it up on the Saturn. To give a popular example, how many of you remember Knight Rider? (And yes, I mean the original 1980's show, not the 2008 remake that I should have hated but actually have a soft spot for).

Back to the original point - Raise your hand if you think that Knight Rider was one of the greatest shows of your childhood?

*Counts hands*

Now, raise your hand if you think it is massively over-rated?

*The hands that were raised drop, and a smaller selection of different hands are raised*

And how many of you have watched any episode of the show in the last fifteen years?

*99% of the same hands stay up, one other hand raises, and Raptorneet (a small yet colourful utahraptor) does backflips in the corner of the room.*

This is my point. It's a show that is great in your memory, but really doesn't hold up to repeated modern viewing. Every episode is the same, the acting is awful, the effects are cheesy, and it's just not something that most people would spend any time watching...

And that is true of my experience with Magic Carpet. The reputation of it has clouded the actual gameplay - and that is the elephant in the room.

*Raptorneet looks up at the mention of an Elephant and starts hunting around for one*

The METAPHORICAL elephant in the room....

*Raptorneet stops hunting and looks sad*

... is that Magic Carpet is an awful game. And I have no idea why I don't remember that. I mean, the hype thing becomes more obvious when you realise that the games designer was Peter Molyneux, a man famed for hyping up his games as being the most amazing thing ever to appear on this earth, but I don't know why I've failed to remember the awful, awful gameplay.

And I'm sure that this game has fans, and I'm sure I'm insulting many of them, but the combination of the early 90's 3D graphics (which looked impressive then, and look dated now), the fact that it's a third person shooter with awkward controls (primarily due to the d-pad style Saturn controller) and that it has strategy elements (which are never my forte) render it essentially unplayable. It's completely unintuitive as well - I had to pause after playing for five minutes and examine the manual carefully, at which point I still didn't understand what I was doing. I accidentally built and lost a castle, because I couldn't find it on the map and it was then destroyed by monsters/enemies unknown. I couldn't aim spells in any way accurately, and I found my enthusiasm waning fast - and I'm enthusiastic over almost every video game I've ever played!

But I know what question you're all asking... "Why is there a small and colourful utahraptor invading this review?"

*Raptorneet looks up hopefully*

Well, the reason that she is here is that I wanted to inject some comedy into this post, but it's so tough with a game I dislike so much. And I am genuinely sorry if I have annoyed or offended any Magic Carpet fans, but I have never found a game I would want to play less than this game.

Well.. except for these two.

Hopefully the next game I play will be better...

Rating: 1/10
Time played: 16 minutes (including the time it was paused while I read the manual)
Would I play it again? I would never want to put myself through that again!

Friday, 29 August 2014

The Great Playthrough: Game 68 - Choplifter


Choplifter
Released on: Apple II, Atari 5200/7800, Colecovision, Commodore 64, MSX, NES, Master System and many more
Played on: Sega Master System
Release date: 1985

After my venture into popular modern gaming last blog, I'm back to some traditional retro goodness here, and I do believe this is the first Master System game I've reviewed...

*Checks back over the list*

Oops, I was wrong! I totally forgot about Castle of Illusion!

Anyway, it feels like ages since I've played on the Master System, so I was looking forward to this - although, it has to be said, I was unsure about Choplifter. I got it recently when I bought a few games from a flash sale the wonderful Vintage Gamer had on Facebook - and I bought five games from them - four of which I really wanted, but Choplifter was kind of an impulse buy.

I remember playing a version of this game many MANY years ago when I was young and we had a BBC Micro (back in the days when you could just rip off other games and no-one really cared) and I remember enjoying it then, but I've been disappointed before with 80s arcade games when I try them out in the modern day.

So I fired up the Master System, took the pad, pressed the start button and.... spent five minutes trying to figure out how to turn the helicopter around!

But once I'd figured that out, I set out on my mission to shoot down planes, collect stranded soliders and get them back to base. And after getting over the fact that the game is quite hard (which is the normal state of affairs with older arcade conversions) I really got into it, and enjoyed my time with it.

It does have it's negative points (just like any game) - the sound design is pretty non-existent and very repetitive, and while I do enjoy a challenge, the difficulty level did mean that I didn't even make it past the first stage. The graphics suffer occasionally from trying to fit too much on screen at once, although it is a remarkably good job - whoever programmed this conversion really knew what they were doing!

In regards to the difficulty level, although it was hard, the game never felt unfair. In comparison to games I've spoken about recently, it felt more like Ghouls'N'Ghosts than Super Star Wars - death was common, but never malicious or unavoidable. Instead, thanks to the good game design, I felt like I was getting somewhere slightly further or learning something new every time I tried the level.

And I know this is going to sound strange, but the thing that affected me most about the game, and really reeled me in, was this innocent little box in the top-right corner:


That's right, the box shows you how many men are DEAD - whether by your chopper being shot down, or by them being shelled while you were ferrying their friends back to base, or (and this is the embarassing part) by you accidentally LANDING THE CHOPPER ON THEM AND KILLING THEM!

OH THE HUMANITY!!!!!

I may be mocking it slightly, but this ticking clock of death really made me worry about the people I was trying to save! And it kept me going back, over and over again.....

In short, it's a fun arcade game that will entertain you for a short time - is it a game designed for constant hours of play? No, but if you've got a spare half-hour, you could do a lot worse than to slot it into your system and enjoy the retro fun

Rating - 7.5/10
Time Played - 45 Minutes
Would I play it again? Definitely!

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Great Playthrough - Bonus Round: Uncharted 2 and Heavy Rain

It's time for a break in the normal playthrough for another Bonus Round! This time it's a discussion about two popular modern games that were lent to me by the ever lovely Andy Isaacs. So let me begin:


Uncharted 2: Amongst Thieves
Released on: PS3
Played on: PS3
Release date: 2009

Heavy Rain
Released on: PS3
Played on: PS3
Release date: 2010

When I started to play these two, I actually began with Heavy Rain - but I'm going to talk about Uncharted 2 first. This may appear to make absolutely no sense to you at the moment, but bear with me, and hopefully by the end you'll realise why.

These are both PS3 exclusive games, and for ages I didn't have a PS3, as we had an Xbox 360. Just to clarify, I'm not a Microsoft lover or a Sony hater or anything like that - it's just that the vast majority of games that came out for that generation were multi-platform (certainly the ones I wanted to play) - and therefore we picked an Xbox 360 because we got a better deal on one.

Also, the controller is better. There, I said it!

But I finally got a PS3 recently, so it's time to start looking at what I missed...

So, Uncharted 2: Amongst Thieves. The Uncharted series is one of the most popular series' of the current generation...

Oh wait. The PS3 is a LAST generation console now, isn't it? It's officially old news.... well there's going to be an Uncharted for the PS4, so the game series is still current, right?

*Watches Tumbleweed roll past as I realise I'm the only person who cares about the definition. Smiles and carries on*

Uncharted is one of those games that is described as "Action-Adventure" which is brilliantly non-specific. However, in my experience of games, it is quite like Batman: Arkham Asylum with extra guns. Or Resident Evil 5 with fewer zombies. Or...

You get the idea. It's like most current popular games that aren't a first person shooter. You take control of Nathan Drake - an Indiana Jones-wannabe with less scruples than Dr Jones but the same awful taste in sidekicks who you know will betray you - and you run around, jump, solve puzzles, sneak and get into gunfights in pursuit of a treasure of some kind.

Make sense? Good. Because that's about all I can tell you about the plot! The game starts with you injured and climbing up a train that is half-off a cliff in some snowy mountains, and then slowly but surely you see some flashbacks before jumping back in time four months for the second level.

Most importantly, however, it's fun. Lots of fun. Don't get me wrong, I'm not the best at modern games, so I found it quite hard going, but it's forgiving and if you die, you just automatically restart at the start of the section you were doing, which is great for me.

However, this had something in common with my previous blog - there are cutscenes galore. Lots of cutscenes in which vital parts of the plot are stated... but it turns out, I just stop listening. And that's the problem you get with cutscenes - if I don't know or care about the characters, then I just stop listening - and I found myself doing that more with Uncharted 2 than with Kingdom Hearts 2.

Maybe it's different for those people who played Uncharted (the original) - maybe you are more invested in the characters we see - but for me this highlights the problem with starting mid-adventure and telling your story non-linearly - you need to make sure the audience care, and it just doesn't quite pull it off for me here.

Discussion of cut-scenes leads us neatly to Heavy Rain - a game that is almost entirely made of cutscenes and quicktime events.

*Sees you all getting up to leave*

No wait! It's not like that! It's not a bad game. Although I'm not entirely sure game is the right word...

For those of you who don't know, Heavy Rain is an interactive drama that feels more like a film than a game. The graphics are gorgeous, and the plot is intriguing (if really rather depressing). You play as four different characters and it's all tied into a serial killer known as the origami killer...

"What the hell is an interactive drama?" I hear you all ask

It's a game that is more interested in telling it's story than giving you lots of gaming mechanics to master, and that should be one of my worst nightmares. But it isn't. The big selling point is that what you do early in the game affects the results of the story later in the game and that sort of thing is hugely intriguing for me.

As a game, it's really quite clunky. The controls for moving the characters are the modern-day equivalent of Resident Evil's notorious "tank" controls, and the "action-packed" sequences that involve quick button pushes would be fine, if my brain would remember which button was where on a playstation controller!

So to sum it up, I don't know why I enjoy Heavy Rain, but I do, quite a lot. It's not a game, but it is interactive entertainment, and I don't know how better to describe it than that.

Unfortunately my experiences with both of these games has been affected by the nightmare that is a Playstation 3.

Now I know many of you out there have a PS3 and use it as a primary gaming console, and I've got no problem with that. In fact, when I got mine I was excited. And then I discovered how often it downloads updates, then installs stuff, and then crashes and demolishes it's file system! It seems to be more sensitive than ... *searches desperately for a metaphor, before failing* - basically it's just ridiculously sensitive.

I've had to recover the hard drive three times in a month since I got the PS3, and I've now taken to backing up my save data on a memory stick every time I play. Sadly, I didn't do this for Heavy Rain, so I've played the opening twice, and then lost the save file both times... which means I am much less excited about playing it again to see where it goes!!

Uncharted 2: Amongst Thieves

Rating: 7/10
Time played: 1 hour 10 minutes
Would I play it again? Yes, I think I will . The story may be dodgy, but the gameplay is very solid.

Heavy Rain

Rating: 7/10
Time played: 1 hour 30 minutes (roughly)
Would I play it again? Yes, if I can stomach playing the opening for a THIRD time (Damn you PS3!)

Next time - We're going back to the 80s and to the 8-bit era....

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Great Playthrough: Game 67 - Kingdom Hearts 2


Wow, it's been about two months since I last did one of these! Sorry about that - it's not that playing games has lessened in the Braunton household, it's just that my computer broke and it's taken me a long time to get back to this blog.

But I'm here now! And this next game is a member of a very popular franchise...





 
Kingdom Hearts 2
Released on: PS2
Played on: PS2
Release date: 2005 

Kingdom Hearts is one of my darling wife's favourite computer game franchises of all time, and this sequel stands up as one of the best (or so I am told).

(Before we go any further, if you are a fan of my darling wife (and who isn't), you might like to know she's started a new gaming blog HERE)

Now I was slightly wary going into it, as I have seen her play it before, and it does look like a lot of fun, but it's also an RPG, and I've discussed many times my problems / worries with those.

Having said that, this is an action RPG, so at least battles are in real time, not the strange turn-based antics that a lot of RPG's utilise that I cannot get on with at all.

The game starts with a ridiculously long cutscene, which I am told basically tells the (very condensed) story of the plot up to this point, with no dialogue, set entirely to music. I had to be told that this was the story of what had previously happened, as I wouldn't have had a clue otherwise! This is not a newbie-friendly opening...

And then, the game finally starts and I am playing as a new character. One who didn't appear in ANY of that previous cutscene! Nice one Square Enix, thanks for confusing me even further.

At the start of this game you play as Roxas, a guy who looks suspiciously similar to Sora - the protaganist of Kingdom Hearts (the original) - and as the mythology of these games introduces lots of different versions of the same people (Real People, Nobodies, Heartless... hell for all I know, everyone has a pink and blue dinosaur version of themselves in the Kingdom Hearts-verse!) it is a bit of a foregone conclusion that... SPOILER ALERT!

Roxas will turn out to be Sora, and then you will begin the quest proper.

However, I only know this from conversations with my wife, as I didn't get that far. This opening section (which apparently acts as some kind of prologue) took me over an hour and I still didn't even complete it!

But that's enough complaining about the somewhat confusing nature of the plot. What's the actual game like?

You know what, dear reader? I enjoyed it.

Don't get me wrong, it's not perfect, as it has flaws - slightly wonky camerawork, an over-reliance on repetitive tasks (although that may just be this early section) and due to the non-linearity (which I know is supposed to be an advantage in games like this) - if you don't walk into the right area to trigger a cutscene, you can be running around for ages with no clue what to do next...

However, it has a very good control system, the graphics are pretty nice for a PS2 game, and most importantly of all, I was having fun - and it's rare that I say that about an RPG! Mind you, with this and A Link to the Past, maybe I'm going to have to re-evalute whether I enjoy RPGs, it seems like I'm starting to enjoy them more and more...

The only other flaws in this game come about due to the rules of this playthrough, rather than the game itself. After playing for just over an hour, I felt like I had achieved absolutely nothing, and had absolutely no idea what was going on.... plus it felt like I'd spent an inordinate percentage of my time watching cutscenes.

But I'll play it again (although, on the basis that I'm sure we'll buy the HD re-release for PS3, I may continue it on that), because, as I said earlier, I had fun playing it - I just want to get past this stupid opening sequence and get into the meat of it with the Disney worlds etc!

Rating: 7/10 
Time played: 1 hour 5 Minutes
Would I play it again: I already said that I would! Jeez, stop picking on me! 

So, from now on, I intend to (try and) get these blogs much more regular again. Spread the love people, send the readers back to me, and I shall make sure you get new blogs on a regular basis (I'm halfway through another one already!)

Next time, we'll have a bit of a different blog - why not come back and see?

Sunday, 1 June 2014

The Great Playthrough - Game 66: Super Star Wars

It's a bit fuzzy I know... no not the photo - my hair!
 
Super Star Wars
Released on: SNES
Played on: SNES  
Release date: 1992

You may have noticed that there is a lot of Star Wars love in our house. The fact that I have already reviewed three Star Wars licensed games on this playthrough so far (The Force Unleashed, Racer Revenge, and The Clone Wars) should give you this idea, but this is the first game I've played that is based on the original trilogy and not the prequels / part of the expanded universe.

So by the laws of Star Wars, that should mean it is better, right?

Well.... no.

Don't get me wrong, it's a fun romp. And as it's on my favourite console, of course I am biased to like it's well drawn graphics and wonderful 16-Bit interpretations of John Williams' expressive score. And it's a lot of fun once you load it up.

But it is hard - this is the era that the phrase "Nintendo-Hard" comes from, and boy is it applicable here.

Super Star Wars is a run-and-gun platformer. In the first level, you control Luke as he traverses the desert trying to find the escape pod that he has seen crashing to Tatooine...

.. Wait. That didn't happen in the film....

There are a few liberties taken with the plot (although none as large as some other licensed games have done in the past) which on the whole, I didn't mind, as it just streamlines the plot down to making sense (and getting to the bits that make good video-game levels).

The levels are long and full of enemies that keep re-spawning until you leave that part of the screen, there are no mid points, no save points, if you die you go back to the beginning of the LONG level, and you start again. So that's one are of annoyance.

A second annoyance is that because the enemies respawn more randomly than an Rand() command on Excel, you can't PLAN your way through a level. And since Luke has only ever heard of aiming in 8 directions, and the desert floor isn't flat, so you go up and down little tiny hills, it can be a nightmare to actually hit the enemies that are approaching until they are almost on top of you!

And then, once you get to the end of the level, you have to fight the Sarlaac pit monster (which looks more like a sandworm from Dune and ALSO doesn't belong in a game based on the first movie) which is a ridiculously hard boss for a first level!

It may sound like I'm moaning, and I am. I really wanted to love this game and the mechanics are sound. In many ways it is similar to Ghosts n' Goblins and you all know how much I loved that game. But that rewarded you for progress, and as you could learn the layouts (and it has mid points in the levels) you always felt like you were moving forward, even if it was inch by inch. Whereas Super Star Wars just gets frustrating. After losing all my lives and continues once, I finally managed to defeat the boss at the end of level one, at which point I got onto the landspeeder level - which is easier, once you figure out what the controls are and what the hell you are trying to achieve...

And then I got to level three - where you are trying to climb up a sandcrawler. With pixel perfect jumping, respawning enemies, and no mid-level save points... and I died again.

I'm not proud of it, but that was the point that I gave up. I love a game with a challenge, but Super Star Wars just felt like it was unfairly difficult, and I wasn't getting anywhere further no matter how many times I practiced the levels, because there's just a little too much randomness in the respawning of enemies etc to plan your route.

And unfortunately for me, the difficulty was the deal breaker. I'm sure that later levels depicting some of the more exciting events of the film will be fun to play, but it felt like I would NEVER get there, and the slightly bland level design of the levels I already played didn't help...  

So I popped it out of the SNES and back on the shelf.

Sorry Star Wars - I tried, but I failed. The force was clearly not strong enough with me.

Rating: 6/10
Time played: 45-50 minutes
Would I play it again? I might do, but I suspect I still won't get past level three!

Friday, 16 May 2014

The Great Playthrough - Game 65: Fantastic Dizzy


Fantastic Dizzy

Released on: Mega Drive, NES, Master System, Amiga, Game Gear, PC, CD32
Played on: Mega Drive
Release date: 1991

Have you ever tried to navigate your way through a complicated one-way system, while wearing a blindfold, some Slipknot playing at 130db in one ear and a parrot reciting the contents of a Delia Smith cookbook backwards?


Well neither have I (as that would be silly), but that's what playing Fantastic Dizzy feels like.

Now that's not to say that it's a bad experience - in fact, I enjoyed the game quite a lot, but it has a certain feel that you don't get from modern games. An overwhelming feel.

For those of you who don't know, Dizzy is an Egg (with arms, legs and a hat - just because) who lives in the Yolkfolk Kingdom (there are a lot of egg puns in the game!) and ostensibly it is a platform game in which you explore various areas of the world in an attempt to find all 250 stars, get to the evil wizard's castle and confront him! But it's slightly different to most modern platformers in the sense that although there are enemies that damage you, there is no way to eliminate them.

Instead, avoidance is the name of the game, which is actually quote a refreshing change of pace! Don't get me wrong, I love traditional platformers - I've gone on about that enough for you guys to know that by now - but having to avoid enemies instead of defeat them gives the game a completely different feel.

So if you don't have to kill enemies, what do you do?

Well, you have to traverse far and wide, locating all the stars so that you can get to the final confrontation. And a lot of this you do by solving puzzles - puzzles in the traditional adventure game mould - using an item with a situation to solve the problem.

For example, very early on, you find a plank of wood. You then find a gap you cannot possibly get across. You use the plank of wood and.. voila! It becomes a bridge.

Now, if someone were making this game in this day and age, you would be able to carry everything you picked up, and then just cycle through them all when you hit a puzzle, but Dizzy isn't that simple. You can only ever carry three things at once. So if you find something, and then put it down, you have to remember where you put it down so you can get back to it if you find the puzzle that requires that item as a solution!

And theis is where the overwhelming feel of the game starts to come into it. The game world is pretty large, with levels that scroll horizontally but are flip-screens vertically, and it can get very easy to forget where things are, where you left items, and where you have and haven't been. Add to this the slightly obtuse nature of some of the puzzle solutions, and before long you have been completely sucked into a world where your entire raison d'etre is "I know I had that, where the hell did I put it down!" Just to make things even harder, it is often possible to put items down behind trees... so you won't even be able to see them...

To make matters worse, you have two lives to start with, and Dizzy takes damage quicker than Mo Farrah runs a race (I know that's an unconventionally sporty metaphor for me - I had the TV on and I've just seen the advert where kids can win an Ultimate Sports Day, and every time I see it I think "I wouldn't like that as a kid, cos surely Mo Farrah's gonna win everything??) so you have to be very careful when exploring - as (unless you get them later in the game) you don't get any continues either, so once you have lost your lives, it's back to the start. Mostly this is OK (there's quite a lot of fruit around to boost his health back up) but there are a couple of slightly unfair situations where you lose a life straightaway with one slightly wrong motion - jumping across the waterfall is one, and the minecart minigame.

"Minecart Minigame?" I hear you say, "Well that sounds fun!" It sort of is - it's a vertically scrolling minigame where you are controlling whether Dizzy's minecart goes left or right at junctions - and it's a neat idea. However, it is implemented very slowly - it feels a bit like a video game version of that bit in Austin Powers where the henchman gets run over by the steamroller? It just doesn't quite get the adrenaline racing...

I know I've listed some negative points there, but I don't want you to think I didn't enjoy the game - I absolutely did! However, if I was going to play it again, I'd be sitting down with a pad of paper and pen, and lots of time to spare, and mapping my progress as I go through!

Graphically, it's lovely. When I was much younger I played a couple of Dizzy games on 8-bit home computers (Commodore 64, Spectrum etc) and even to this day it amazes me how much nicer the Mega Drive version looks. I've spoken about my love of 16-Bit Graphics before, and these really appeal to me. The music, on the other hand, is fun, but VERY repetitive - not so annoying for you, the player, but if there's anyone else in the room, they may want to break the speakers after a while!

On the whole, it was a fun experience, but it's very much an all or nothing game - I'd want to play it to complete it, not just for a half-hour play or anything...

Rating: 7/10
Time played: 1 hour 10 minutes
Would I play it again? Yes - but only with a lot of time to spare!

Monday, 12 May 2014

The Great Playthrough - Game 63 - Ghosts 'n 'Goblins and Game 64 - Ghouls 'n' Ghosts

So for the first time in this experiment, I'm reviewing two games as if they were one. I know this may seem like a cheat, but there's a reason for this (honest!).

You see, recently I acquired some more original Xbox games, one of which was the Capcom Classic Collection, which as it boasts on the cover, contains 22 games....

Now, so far on this playthrough, I've attempted compilation discs in two different ways. Midway Arcade Treasures I reviewed all in one go - and I think that was the right decision for that particular game, as most of the games on it are very simple arcade games that wouldn't entertain you for an hour. However, my two Sonic Compilation discs are being played one game at a time, as they are each a full game.

So what to do with this Capcom disc? I could have played every game individually - but for a start, that would mean I have three MORE versions of Street Fighter II to review, and that would be a boring set of entries!

So I've made a rather unorthadox decision - I'm grouping some games together. I will do one more Street Fighter II blog for example, which will take in all the arcade versions on the disc. Some of the games on the disc will get their own review (Final Fight being one example) and then there are a couple of entries where I have grouped a game with it's sequel, working on the basis that as arcade games were designed for five minute plays, each game might not occupy a full hour of my time...

Could I have played the two seperately? Probably. However, as one is a direct sequel to the other, it did mean that I can compare one game to it's sequel, something I rarely get to do in this blog..

So without further ado....



Ghosts 'n' Goblins
Released on: Arcade - then ported to NES, Commodore 64, Amiga, and then many other later consoles (Sega Saturn, PS2, Xbox)
Played on: Xbox
Release date: 1985

Ghouls 'n' Ghosts
Released on: Arcade - then ported to Amiga, Mega Drive, Master System and then many other later consoles (Sega Saturn, PS2, Xbox)
Played on: Xbox
Release date: 1988
 

Whenever one mentions either of these game to retro gamers, the thing that people always talk about is the difficulty level - and it's true that this is one of the most noticeable facts about the games, but we'll talk about that in a bit.


So what are these games? They are arcade platformers where you play Arthur, a Knight, who has to rid the kingdom of Ghosties and Goblins and Ghoulies so that he can... feel good about himself I guess? I don't know - I don't think there's really much of a plot! But does that matter?

Well no, no it doesn't. You run around, throwing spears at evil things, and trying not to lose your clothes.

Yes, I said that right. You try not to lose your clothes. Now this isn't because Arthur has some kind of exhibitionist streak (well not that I know of), it's the game's health system. One hit from an enemy and you lose your suit of armour, leaving Arthur running around in his underpants, and then a second hit leaves you dead.

As I mentioned earlier, this game is infamous for it's difficulty level, and consequently Arthur removes his clothes more often than a stripper who has been septuple-booked for stag parties, and is trying to please everyone rather than explain the misunderstanding - Which does lead to some interesting questions - like where the hell is he carrying the infinite number of spears (or flaming torches, or axes) that uses to dispatch enemies? Those must be some spacious Y-Fronts he's got on there!

But I digress (this whole blog post shouldn't be about a video game character's lack of clothing - it's not a review of Dead or Alive Volleyball or anything!) - what are the games themselves like to play?

In a surprising twist, they both stand up REALLY well. The controls are great, the levels are well designed, and there's a definite feeling of accomplishment when you graduate from one section to the next. It is designed for arcade play, and that does mean you will use quite a few continues to get anywhere, as continues would have cost money at the time, but within the home environment, they are both incredibly addictive games.

It takes me back to when I was a lad...

(NOTE - If you have a pipe and some slippers, you may want to grab them and get comfortable now, as this is about to become a misty-eyed look back at some long-forgotten time that probably wasn't at all as it is about to be described)

... when games were designed to be hard. (I told you we'd discuss the difficulty thing later!) Ghouls 'n' Ghosts (and indeed, Ghosts 'n' Goblins) are very hard and unforgiving games - but not once did I feel that I had died unfairly. In this day and age of cheap deaths, glitches, and difficulty curves that resemble a mobius strip, it's a great feeling to be able to master a level by simply playing it over and over again, remembering where enemies or obstacles appear, defeating them, and successfully moving on. It gives a sense of accomplishment that many modern games lack, and I couldn't stop smiling for the entire time I was playing these.

"But Brawny," I hear you cry, "Surely there are bad bits of these games?" 

Oh sure, there are niggles - the music does start to burrow into your mind until it won't ever leave you alone (and not in a good way), jumping back to the start of a section when you use a continue can be frustrating, and there appears to be very little point in choosing to pick up either of the two weapons I discovered (flaming torches or axes) as the spears work so much better!

But these points are me being fussy for the sake of it. These are well-made, enjoyable, rewarding games, which pleasantly surprised me, as I had never played either of them before.

I suppose, before finishing this review up, I should say which of the two games I preferred. Ghouls 'n' Ghosts has the nicer graphics, more variety of enemies, and is slightly harder than Ghosts 'n' Goblins - so obviously I prefer...

Ghosts 'n' Goblins.

Maybe it's just because it's the first of the two I played (another reason why combining two games in one playthrough may not be the best idea) but Ghosts 'n' Goblins just felt more fun - it may have worse graphics, but the levels intrigued me more, and the difficulty level was exactly right for me.

That's not to take away from Ghouls 'n' Ghosts, I just enjoyed my time with Ghosts 'n' Goblins slightly more. So with that in mind...

Rating: Ghosts 'n' Goblins - 8/10, Ghouls 'n' Ghosts = 7.5/10
Time played: A combined playtime of 1 hour 45 minutes, and I would have kept going too!
Would I play them again? Oh yes. I'm sure I can complete one of them... one day!

Next time, it's a game I haven't sat down and played since I was about 12, and I'm very excited about it!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Great Playthrough - Game 62: The Legend of Zelda - A Link to the Past

According to my wife, I look pretty smug. :P

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Released on: SNES
Played on: SNES
Release date: 1992

OK, so it has been over a month since I last posted. I'm sorry about that - things keep getting in the way (like work, social life, etc!) I'm going to try and stick to a more regular schedule, so you ought to start seeing these things more regularly from now on (I hope!)

But anyway, back to today's review. When I reviewed Zelda - Four Swords Adventures a year and a half ago, I discussed my love-hate relationship with the series - as a Nintendo staple I have a soft spot for it, but RPGs do tend to leave me cold, but I do remember spending a lot of time with this game when I was younger. (In fact, it was the exact same cartridge I spent the time with, as this is one of the few games that has stayed with me since my childhood years and I haven't had to replace!)


And while we are on the subject of the physical cartridge itself (rather than the game, which I will get onto in a minute) then I need to give a quick shout-out to my long-standing friend Mr Andrew Gray - as he lent me this cartridge about twenty years ago, and I never gave it back! :P

However, owning the same cartridge for twenty - odd years (and using it semi-regularly over that time) can lead to some minor inconveniences. Most notably, battery issues. I touched on this briefly in my review of Pokemon Silver, but the batteries in cartridges do not last forever, and at some point soon I'm going to need to learn how to replace them, as I discovered when playing this game.

The problem was that I played about twenty minutes before realising I had to go and do something else. So I saved the game and went off to do other things. Then, when I came back... there were no saved games. At all. So I had to start again.

Luckily, that wasn't a huge problem, as this game is a lot of fun. Yes it's an RPG (Role Playing Game - not Rocket Propelled Grenade. An important difference, as confusing the two could get very painful), a genre of game I traditionally enjoy slightly more than FPS's but slightly less than EVERY OTHER GAME GENRE OUT THERE (apart from sports games), but it belongs on my favourite console of all time, and my favourite era of all time. Plus, it balanced out.

You see, normally with RPG's, my big beef (and by that, I mean my biggest problem, not my largest joint of meat) is the ridiculous amount of wandering around required. And (certainly in my playing time), A Link to the Past didn't give me that. In fact (as one expects from a Nintendo first party game) it gave me an exciting and entertaining adventure, leaving me wanting more.

It just seems so well balanced. You have to do a little exploring, but not so much that you are just walking around getting annoyed - and it's always clear what you have to do next. Dungeon exploration is fun, and even though I died more than Captain Jack Harkness (a reference for my Who/Torchwood loving fans there)
at no point did I feel any of my deaths were unfair - I always learned from them, and got a little bit further the next time.

Plot-wise, it's a Zelda game. You are Link, a young boy with a green tunic and hat (not to be confused with any of the other Links in any of the other Zelda games, who are entirely different young boys with green tunics and hats) and you need to rescue Princess Zelda (who is entirely different to any of the other Princess Zeldas in other Zelda games). Your father, after getting into the dungeon but no further, is shocked when you turn up, but then gives you his sword and shield and encourages you to go and rescue her,  Yes, that's right. Your dad arms you and sends you off to fight the palace guards and rescue a princess. Now if that's not responsible parenting, then I don't know what is!

Anyway, it takes about 15 minutes to rescue the princess, at which point you then have to go and find the Village Elder, who tells you all about some things and stuff that you have to find... I'm sure more dramatically awesome stuff happens later in the game, but do you know what? I was quite happy wandering around the 16-Bit world swinging my sword angrily at bushes that happened to be nearby.

Graphically it is beautiful. I have oft-stated my love for 16-Bit graphics on this blog, and these are some of the most polished and perfect ones you have ever seen. And the music is great too, full of memorable snippets of Zelda music.

So as you've probably guessed from reading this, I enjoyed it a lot - and I look forward to turning it back on another day and carrying on (if my save game has survived!).

Rating: 9/10
Time played: 1 Hour and 20 Minutes
Would I play it again? Definitely.

Next time on Brawny's Great Playthrough - it's a couple of Capcom arcade classics. Which ones? You'll have to come back to find out!

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Great Playthrough - Game 61: Guitar Hero Metallica

Could I be more metal?
Guitar Hero: Metallica
Released on: Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, PS3
Played on: Nintendo Wii
Release date: 2009

I enjoy other things in this world apart from video games. One of the other things I enjoy is playing the guitar, and another thing I enjoy is the music of Metallica. So knowing that about me, this must be a game that I will absolutely love.. right?

Yes.

There are no words.

I've been a huge Guitar Hero fan since the first release on the Wii (the notoriously difficult Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock) and since then I have accrued two more editions (both of which are due to appear at some point in this playthrough. I know that these games have fallen out of favour with a lot of people, and I know that some people prefer Rockband (and indeed, I have one of those games as well) - but I've always been a Guitar Hero boy through and through.

I don't know why, maybe it's just that it was the first plastic-instrument bashing game I played, but all of the Guitar Hero games hold a special place in my heart. And I remember being ridiculously excited the day they announced that there was a Metallica version coming out.

There are a lot of parallels between Metallica and Guitar Hero. Both are things that many people will now tell you are past their best, and that their best work was the early work. And there's a parallel in my enjoyment for them as well.

I like their early work, but I also like their overblown middle years, and later years when they try to recapture the early magic. I agree that some mis-steps have been made by both, but they both provide entertainment that I find completely amazing, and I will support both to the bitter end. (Even through their low points - Guitar Hero 5 and St Anger respectively!)

And while Guitar Hero appears to have come to a screeching halt (although, given the fascination with re-booting gaming franchises, I imagine we'll see it return at some point), Metallica are still making music (in fact, right now I'm listening to the new song they premièred the other day - The Lords of Summer, which I am enjoying a whole lot).

I think that the point I am making (in my random and convoluted way) is that these two things are perfect for each other. And boy does it show in the game itself.

Metallica songs are mini-masterpieces of riffery and mayhem, a perfect match to the button-clacking precision required for a good Guitar Hero game. By this point in the franchise, GH had mastered all of the game basics - hammer-ons, pull-offs and tapping are all part of the game - and the whole game feels fair. Don't get me wrong, it can be very hard to get a great score - but it's a totally fair game. It takes the solid framework of Guitar Hero: World Tour and gives you brilliantly cartoonish Metallica figures bouncing around playing all their hits and many other songs besides (including one of the best (and under-rated) Metallica songs of all time - the fabulous Dyers Eve!).

Are there any downsides to this game? Well, only the tracklisting from the other bands that make up the extra songs. 28 of the songs are Metallica songs, and the other 21 are songs which are the band's "personal favourites and influences from the years" - and to me, some of these are weak links. But I'm really just picking holes now - how can you complain when you get 28 Mother-F*****g Metallica songs to play!

In conclusion, I know I'm out of sync with many in the world, but I still believe Guitar Hero to be a fantastic game model, and Metallica one of the greatest bands of all time.

And if you disagree, then I completely respect that. (You are wrong, but I respect your right to be wrong!)

Rating: 9/10
Time played: About an hour and a half, and then a couple more goes at Dyers Eve...
Would I play it again? I might play it right now!!

Next time - Brawny is venturing back into the world of RPGs.... how will that go? Come back and find out!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Great Playthrough - Game 60: Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles - Tournament Fighters


This is George and Elliot (our turtles) posing with the
Turtles games. Because why not :)
Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles: Tournament Fighters
Released on: Sega Megadrive, SNES, NES
Played on: Sega Megadrive
Release date: 1993

Does anyone else remember the period in the 90s where all the computer games in the world seemed to be one-on-one fighters all chasing the success of Street Fighter II? I remember it being a huge craze, and every time a game came out, particularly a licensed game, it seemed to be a one-on-one fighter. So it was no surprise to me when I first discovered TMHT: Tournament Fighters.

It is exactly as you would imagine - it looks as if someone took Street Fighter II, removed 90% of the character from it and dropped six characters from the TMHT series, one from the comics and one random newbie in to create the game.

(Seriously, why create a new character for a licensed game? Could they not use Bebop? Or Rocksteady? Or Shredder? Or ANYONE already created for the comics/TV series?)

Firstly, the positives. The graphics are pretty good - I'm a huge fan of 90's 16-bit era cartoony graphics and these are good, well animated, large colourful sprites. OK, so the health bars etc at the top of the screen look a bit rough and unfinished (in comparison with the SFII ones, which is what I will compare them with as they are obviously designed to be the same!) and the backgrounds are a bit lacking, but it's not too bad.

And then we get to everything else. And I'm sorry to say, but the rest of the game alternates between dull and ridiculously hard. It has just the one punch and one kick button, which makes the game rapidly diminish into button mashing, and with four very similar characters included (the four turtles of course), there doesn't seem to be much in the way of variety.

The other big negative point for me is the difficulty, which is hard. Really hard. We're talking harder than a baked diamond embedded in a block of Marble wrapped in adamantium.

And I know what you're all thinking - "Maybe it's just cos you're crap at playing the game!" And that is probably true. But still... damn, it's hard!

There's not a lot more to say. The two-player mode is slightly more fun (because the ridiculous difficulty isn't an issue), but even so, the dull button mashing gameplay just bored me extremely quickly...

Rating: 4/10
Time played: About 25 minutes
Would I play it again? No, I'm pretty sure the answer is no.

Next blog to follow very, very soon....

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Great Playthrough: Game 59 - Samba De Amigo!

Once again - this entry starts with apologies for the delay. I've been kinda busy lately. However, having looked at my list I've realised that I am now at over 200 games (thanks to charity shop finds etc) so I really need to step this up a gear, or I'll be writing this playthrough until I'm 64!!!

So with that in mind, I've added the new games to the list - reorganised into a new random order, and I'm now ready to start trying to get three of these done a week! (We all know I won't manage three, but if I get more than one a week, then I'm on a roll!)

And with no further ado I present... Game 59!

Monkeys in Sombreros? Sign me up!
Samba De Amiga
Released on: Sega Dreamcast, Arcade, Nintendo Wii
Played on: Nintendo WiiU (using backwards compatibility)
Release date: Original - 1999, Wii Version - 2008

Samba De Amigo - one of the first hugely popular rhythm action games involves you shaking maracas to popular tunes. It's like a dance machine where you use your hands and was originally played with a pair of specific maraca-controllers - so this should be a perfect fit for the Wii, right?

*silence*

I should point out, before this review goes any further, that I am a huge fan of rhythm action games. I have at least four Guitar Hero / Rockband games, and I'm quite excited as one is coming up in the playthrough very soon, so I was predisposed to like this game.

And everything started out well - It's bright, colourful, there's a decent music selection (I mean, I couldn't play it for hours like I can Guitar Hero, because it's not all my type of music, but you have variety!) and just to add the icing to the cake, there is a Reel Big Fish song on the soundtrack! (What do you mean you've never heard Reel Big Fish? You must fix that immediately! Go here, or here, or here, and then keep searching!)

So I was excited to play this. And then it spent five minutes trying to get me to calibrate the controls - and once I realised I had to twist the wii-mote to make it reach the point it was telling me to reach, I got a bit worried.

You see, the thing about motion controls is that they're great, but (especially in the early Wii days when this was released) they can be imprecise if you are not careful, and on a game that requires split-second timing, that can be a problem... and I'm sad to say, that it was a problem with Samba De Amigo.

You see, I was getting immensely frustrated with the game saying I'd missed one, where I'd done exactly the same movement as before, and hit it perfectly. And this wasn't a one-off occurrence. I estimate that 30-40% of the time I was playing*, the motions I made were not accurately translated on the screen, and that just quickly becomes annoying.

(*And I estimate that approximately 67% of the statistics in this review have an approximate variance of between 1 and 7234%)

Now it's not necessarily a game breaker - especially in two player mode! I roped in my lovely wife and we played the "Love Love" mode (which is some kind of two-player co-op mode), and we had a good time. And then at the end, we got this screen....


That's right, we are a Handsome Couple, our relationship will apparently last six months, and our Love Key Word is Volleyball. Doesn't that make complete sense?

(Please note - the above sentence is sarcasm. It makes absolutely no sense!!! Strange Japanese people...)

So in conclusion - Samba De Amigo is a good laugh multiplayer, but don't expect to enjoy the single player if you like anything that even vaguely resembles precise controls!

Rating: 6/10
Time played: 45-50 mins
Would I play it again? Probably multiplayer, and when alcohol has been consumed!

Next time on Brawny's Great Playthrough - It's back to a 2D one-on-one fighter... but which one?

Find out soon! (I promise)

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Great Playthrough: Game 58 - Sonic Adventure Primal Rage!

Some sad news I'm afraid - this review was supposed to be of Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast, but sadly my disk appears to be scratched all to hell. Cartridge games are so much more reliable!

I did get to play a few minutes of it, and basically it seemed like it would be fun, although the voice acting is brilliantly atrocious! Never mind, hopefully one day I shall get a replacement copy....

So I was stuck. I couldn't play my next game, and who came to my rescue but my lovely wife who had bought her own retro game this week - so I hand the rest of this blog over to her, for our first ever GUEST REVIEW!!



Primal Rage
Released on: Arcade, Megadrive, PC, Playstation, SNES, Saturn, Amiga, 3DO, Game Gear, Jaguar
Played on: Sega Megadrive
Release date: 1994/1995

It's thousands of years into the future (but somehow also the past)! Giant dinosaur gods and the odd pallette swapped simian fight for domination of Earth, shifted into a Pangaea-like structure that resembles a t-rex skull and imaginately re-titled...URTH.

Meanwhile, back on Terra Firma, two little oiks with a love for dinosaurs and itchy button fingers discovered this Gorn-fest of an arcade game in an Exeter pub. My little brother and I watched the demo mode and the accompanying film with gruesome delight. Dinosaurs! Coming out of the sea! Eating people! And you fight until their hearts explode! And that monkey just PEED that dinosaur's FACE off!

My Mum did eventually come and see where all of her spare 50ps were giong, and she reasoned that as long as we weren't going to have nightmares, she didn't mind us playing a fighting game. Score one for eleven-year-old me!

Primal Rage was developed in 1994, at the height of digitised sprite video-nasty fighting game fever. To my delight, while on a business trip back to my home city I found the Mega Drive console version in a retro game shop, and for the princely sum of £6, it was mine.

So, does it stand talon to toe with the likes of Street Fighter, or should it belong in a museum?

The arcade version was a four-button/joystick affair, so translation to the Mega Drive should have been trickier than it is. Various combinations of buttons are required, and thankfully the A, B and C buttons are about the same width apart as the sections of my thumb (my phalanges, if you will – you at the back, stop laughing) and so I could pull off tricky combos with relative ease. You can also use the start button as a basic close-range attack, although it does mean you can't pause the game (you know, in case real dinosaurs start taking over, or you have to pee).

If you have any experience of fighting games, you probably have some kind of preference as to how quick or heavy you like your characters, what kind of attack they provide (close range, melee, projectile) and how hyped up their defence is – bear in mind that I was about eleven when I first discovered this game and therefore just smacked buttons until somebody's heart exploded, but I'm pretty sure now that it's where my predilection for lightning-fast bruisers comes from. There is a small roster of seven playable characters in Primal Rage:

Sauron (no, not that one), your common-or-garden Tyrannosaur (medium weight)
Diablo, a fiery red pallette swap of the former (medium weight)
Blizzard, a frost-wielding monkey (light)
Chaos, a farting, vomiting pallette swap of Blizzard (light)
Vertigo, a cobra/platiosaur hybrid (medium, long-range)
Armadon, a heavily armoured stegosaur/ankylosaurus hybrid (slow and heavy)
Talon, a raptor (very light), and my personal favourite.

Despite only 7 characters, there's a bloody good range of attack styles – Vertigo in particular has a good variation of long-range and projectile attacks, as does Chaos (and with the game being targeted at young to teen boys, these are all to do with farting, vomiting and flinging nose nuggets).

But enough of this! What of the game, mortal?

Well, this was definitely worth the £6 I paid. In fact, I would have quite happily paid thrice that amount for sheer replay value – I cleared the required hour that Brawny set me, and then got up this morning with itchy fingers, dying for another play. I favoured Talon, and while he was more than a match for most of the heavy characters, I noticed interesting attention to detail: Brawny played me for a bit as Sauron (until he got fed up of being sorely trounced), I noticed that his throws were dealing me a lot more damage. When we swapped again and played as Vertigo vs Sauron, I noticed whenever Sauron fell, he took more damage. Things like that can quickly turn around an unfair advantage in a fighting game. I remember the arcade version came with a hilarious “NO CHEESE!” message, flashing up a block of Swiss cheese with a line through it, if you kept using super moves. So it's not a game that can be won with button-mashing, which is a common criticism of fighting games right up to the present day.

Any downsides? Well, the game is spectacularly gory, which weirdly didn't bother me as a kid (and I had some weird childhood fears). Hearts explode; brains wither, there's acid vomit and piss flying about everywhere: it's like backstage at London Fashion Week. The game was cert 15 back in '95 and would probably get the same treatment nowadays, but further research uncovered an action figure range and a novelisation – how 90s can you get!? So it was presumably bound for greater things, and possibly it suffered from bad publicity, hence the reason its sequel is virtually unheard of and supposedly a pile of droppings.

But if you like fighting games, dinosaurs or chimps, you absolutely have to own this game.

(Interestingly, the arcade version will probably never be experienced ever again – despite being featured in Midway Arcade Treasures 2, the arcade version is locked with an unbreakable encryption, and none of the people involved in the games seem to want to help. Presumably they were sick of having to censor different parts of it. Word from Uncle Internet claims that the PC version is the closest you can get to the Arcade version, including all of the endings, so if you can find it, grab it with both claws!)

Rating: 8/10
Time played: Way over an hour
Would I play it again?: Does dromiceiomimus enjoy a varied diet including berries and leaves and also the odd small lizard and bird? (Yes, yes it does – and don't get me started on the “raptors” in Jurassic Park) 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Great Playthrough - Game 57: Castle of Illusion


So, in the last blog I promised you a game on a console that hadn't featured in this playthrough so far, and I don't aim to disappoint you guys!

It's time to play on my new Master System II! And what game will I be playing?

It's the return of photos containing an awkwardly
grinning Brawny!

Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse
Released on: Sega Megadrive, Sega Game Gear, Sega Master SystemPlayed on: Sega Master System
Release date: 1990

Firstly, before I carry on, I should give shout outs to both my gorgeous wife (who bought me the Master System II for my birthday) and the great folks at Warez, which is where I bought this game at a very reasonable price!

Believe it or not, the Master System is the first 8 bit console I have ever owned, and consequentially, I was so excited sitting down to play this game - and it didn't disappoint!

(Wow, I just noticed that I've ended the last two paragraphs in exclamation marks. I should keep an eye on that, or pretty soon I'll end up as one of those people who writes stuff in Comic Sans all the time...)

As many of you may know, or may have guessed by the fact I was excited to play the game, this is a 2D platformer. And a bloody well made one at that. This is from back in the day when Disney characters were in good video games - unlike such modern wonders as Disney Princess: Magical Jewellery, or Just Dance: Disney Party, or the money-sucking leviathan that is Disney Infinity.

So what's the plot?

Well, an evil witch has kidnapped Minnie, and Mickey has to go save her. He has to tackle a selection of levels (which you can attack in a non-linear order, no less) and find some gems, because then they will mean he can .. do something... which will mean he can save Minnie...

Oh who cares about the plot! The point is that this game contains running, jumping, bouncing on enemies to kill them and is set in a bright and colourful world - but still it doesn't feel like a rip off of any of the usual suspects - it is its own thing, and that is great.

It's also hard. Proper hard. There's a reason that something being "8-bit hard" is a phrase...

(Wait, is that a phrase? *Googles it* OK, it turns out it isn't a phrase. Ignore that sentence!)

It's amazing that this game was designed for children - because most children would give up on the first level! But instead of being like a lot of modern games, it always keeps you coming back for more. After my hour or so of play, I had completed two zones (including defeating two awkward bosses) and I would quite happily have carried on, were it not a ridiculous time at night!

The bad things about this game? There aren't a lot. The music is pretty damn repetitive, and very occasionally the collision detection can seem a touch unfair, but I'm really just nitpicking at this point. All of you who enjoy platformers, you should play this game. It's so good that not only am I likely to go back and play more, but I am seriously tempted to buy the Mega Drive version (as it has different levels etc) and then the sequels!

I can't get over how good it is. Everyone had told me that it was a great game, but I wasn't expecting it to be this good!

And you can all play (a version of) it now - it's recently been remade and released for current gen consoles (PS3, Xbox) - and while it's not an exact remake, it seems to have been enjoyed by many. Or you could head over to Warez and buy yourself a master system / mega drive and get a copy yourself!

Rating; 9/10
Time played: 1 hour 10 minutes
Would I play it again? Try to stop me!

Next time, it's yet another return for the infamous blue blur...