Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Deja Vu

Happy Halloween 2009!

Here's some random on topic image.





This has ended up being remarkably like Halloween of 2006. Whether from bad luck, cold weather, or not taking better care of myself (my bet is on "all of the above"), I am once again ill for this minor holiday.

I don't seem to have the flu, just an extremely annoying cough and fatigue. But knowing my luck, this is just happening to get me nice and weak for when I really DO get the flu. I've already begun my regimen of those disgusting Airborne tablets that never quite dissolve all the way, which I believe work wonders despite any evidence to the contrary.

What's weird is that when I do get sick, it doesn't usually start with a cough. Chest congestion is usually the last symptom to present after my sense of smell is already gone and my sinuses ready to explode. I would investigate this on some medical sites, but I'd probably only scare myself to death, so I'll just hope for the best.

Wow, someone is still reading this? In other news, my PC also turns three today, which seems pretty amazing. Seems like only yesterday that it arrived at my door. Not exactly a happy memory, because as I was saying, Halloween 2006 was probably the sickest I've ever been in my entire life.

I installed Vista on it when it was released because the computer came with the offer of a free upgrade. The general opinion on the web is that sticking with XP would have been the right thing to do, but I'm a sucker for free stuff and new stuff. Besides, most of the problems I've had with Vista have been with already lame software like Gametap.  Yeah, Vista also nags a lot, but I've grown accustomed to it.

Good night folks, and don't eat too much candy. Actually, have as much as you want, it's not like I care.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nintendo Dsi LL: For real?

The Nintendo DS is insanely popular. Judging by the sales numbers that I look at every month or two, I'm pretty sure that every household in America must own at least three of them. Maybe one or two for gaming, and then a couple more to use as doorstops or paperweights.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that the DS is so popular that Nintendo is just going to keep remaking them forever. No more Wii, no more Game Boy. Every year or so, add a new feature or gimmick to the DS and BAM, free money.

The original bulky Nintendo DS launched in November 21, 2004 and it was pretty okay, just a little clunky.

The sleek DS Lite launched on June 11, 2006. Not even two years apart, but hey, this new version had a lot going for it. Smaller, shinier, brighter, a worthy upgrade to the original system. I still have my DS Lite and I love it.

The DSi launched in America in April of 2009. This time we got a three year wait for a new version and many companies would have released an entirely new system by now, for better or worse. But we (well, not me because I didn't buy one) were rewarded with.... a lame camera and terrible, embarrassingly bad, download only games? Thanks, Nintendo. But surely this is the last we'll hear of the DS for a while. Right?

OCTOBER 2009, a mere six months later, news of a fourth generation Nintendo DS with an... interesting... name. The Nintendo Dsi LL will be the same as the DS, only... bigger.



It looks like the stylus is evolving into something the size of a ballpoint pen. Yeah, it's going to be REALLY fun to switch between d-pad and stylus controls on the fly now. You might have to bolt this system to the wall or something because it sure isn't going to be fun to carry around.

It's going to be a sad day when Nintendo announces that new games will no longer be fully (or at all) compatible with the original DS or DS Lite. I have no doubt that it'll be sooner rather than later.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sorry Golden Sun (Warning: mindless babble)

Oh, Golden Sun. I promised myself that THIS time I would see you through to the very end. Why, I even had visions of using your special enormous monster mega password to carry my items and stats over to your sequel, which I also imagined enjoying very much. Sadly, you were just a few hours too short and a touch too generic to compete with the likes of Bowser's Inside Story. Oh, the game progress posts we could have shared. Tragedy.

"But Cloudbond", you say, "Just finish that other game and then come back to your good friend, Golden Sun".

No, once CB007 stops playing a game for a couple of weeks, that's pretty much the end of the line until he forgets most of the game and makes another attempt five years later. Sorry, that's just the way it works in Cloudbond's world. Unless someone wanted to pay him. Yes, if someone pays me, I will finish Golden Sun. There may not be any screenshots or videos to prove it, and I may not be able to answer any questions about the end game when I'm done, but hey. You can trust old CB.

I guess I've just played too many RPG's over the years and so it probably needs to be pretty weird or funny or have some gimmick in order for me to see it through to the end. And as those of you who have known me for years surely realize, even that is no guarantee whatsoever. Expecting me to quit any particular game partway through is usually a pretty safe bet.

But yes, at this particular moment, I'd much rather play the Bowser's Inside Story endgame, including such things as kicking a green shell back and forth hundreds of times or looking for hidden whatchamacallits than continue with Golden Sun. I guess I liked it pretty well for a while, but the middle of the game just seemed pretty empty in terms of story development and new gameplay ideas.

Oh, Bowser's Inside Story is far from perfect. In fact, it has some rather big flaws that I'll be discussing in depth at some future time. I think a replay of Superstar Saga might also be in the cards.

What's that? You want to know what I'm up to right now? Well, my head hurts, my nose is running, and I'm hungry, thirsty and tired. The reason I don't use Twitter is because that's what I'd have to post every single day. Goodnight!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Snack Basket!

SNACK BASKET is the ultimate move in Bowser's Inside Story.

Okay, it probably isn't the most powerful attack or the most practical, and you don't get it until the game is almost over. But this means NOTHING.

I can't find a video of Snack Basket in action, but this glorious masterpiece sums it up pretty damn well. I only hope this doesn't cause us to lose Luigi in the prime of his life.

(Yes, we are feeding Luigi until he is fatally obese and then throwing him into the air)


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cat Ball and Surprise Fish

During a recent week long vacation from work, in which there was much rain and illness, I became totally engrossed in some "Let's Play" videos on Youtube. Yeah, it can be fun to watch someone play a game you already know inside and out, but there are also certain games I've always been a bit curious about, but never really wanted to play through them myself.

Having already enjoyed his Star Tropics run, I became completely addicted to Deceased Crab's videos of La Mulana. It's a game that seems as well made as it does brutally difficult and confusing. Being something of a coward, I probably would never have actually played the thing. But what an experience it was to watch.

And now almost all the time I spend on Youtube is devoted to watching runs of other games. Mappy Land, Archon, Rockin' Cats, Chuck Rock, whether the game is great or abysmal it's all good if you have the right narrator.

It's something I wouldn't even mind doing myself, but that idea kind of falls apart when I realize that I don't have a microphone or particularly like the sound of my own voice, and have no desire to subject the rest of the internet to it. Making a good gameplay video is also kind of a pain in the ass, so probably best to leave it for the experts.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Super Mario Brothers Wii






I'm probably going to be fooled by Nintendo again with New Super Mario Bros. Wii. 

Knowing how the average gamer thinks these days, this is probably an unpopular opinion, but the DS game wasn't good.

Sure, it seemed nice enough on the surface. And I for one couldn't wait for the game to be released. I never really liked Mario 64 or Sunshine THAT much and it sounded so amazing to have a new Mario sidescroller again. It really brought me back to my childhood experience of waiting to play Mario 3 for the first time. I found myself watching all the pre-release videos and looking for info in all the previews and reviews.

And yeah, those first few levels were really exciting to play. Sure, they were easy, but of course things will get harder, I thought. Nintendo won't let us down this time, I thought. But then the new game buzz wore off and the mediocre level design and ridiculously low difficulty did their thing and ruined the experience. The game was totally forgettable. And there were so many little nitpicky things that really added up like the ugly level select map and Bowser Jr existing and the entire worlds you can accidentally skip and the mostly lame music. Who knows what else I've blocked out since I got rid of that game. 

And yet when I look at screenshots of NSMB Wii, I can't help but be excited again despite it being against common sense. I throw money away on things like this again and again because there's that little glimmer of hope that this time things will be different. If only I could wipe the NES Mario games from my memory and play them again fresh instead of taking another high risk gamble on Nintendo doing the right thing.

Update: I'm now seeing all kinds of hype posts that this game is going to be the next Mario 3 and that it's one of the hardest Mario games ever released. Do I believe this? Not a chance.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Heavenly Sword Review


Heavenly Sword

-PlayStation 3
-Fully SDTV readable

Heavenly Sword is a 2007 PlayStation 3 release that received a huge amount of pre-release hype as well as frequent comparisons to God of War. Neither of these have much truth to them, but this game might have what it takes to keep you amused for a weekend if you find it for the right price. Which is a VERY low price in this case.

Let's start with the two major gameplay styles you'll encounter.

The first is for when you're controlling the beautiful warrior Nariko. Her segments mainly feature traditional sword based combat. While not advertised as such, these play less like a typical 3rd person action game and more like a beat 'em up. As you work your way through a linear area, you will occasionally come under attack and be unable to proceed to the next area until all enemies are defeated. This quickly becomes a chore, especially as you'll be fighting the same few types of opponents throughout the entire game.



The only real depth the combat system has is the ability to change stances by holding L1 for range attack stance, holding R1 for power, or holding neither for speed. Some enemies are more vulnerable to certain types of attacks, and you can learn some complex, devastating combos. It's never really enforced that strongly, though. If you're willing to lose a little bit more health than normal for the sake of saving time, you can usually get by with very little actual strategy, and there are plenty of health refills scattered about, anyway. So I wouldn't say this is a total button masher, but there are definitely plenty of times when you could get away with just that.

There game has no traditional blocking button and instead, most incoming attacks will be blocked as long as you aren't attacking, and you're in the correct stance. The color the enemy flashes before making a move is your cue for this. Blocking IS useful because aside from negating damage, it lets you do counter-attacks, and insta-kills if you have good timing. But for tougher enemies, it's often easier to just forget all that and flick the right analog stick to roll out of the way, instead of taking the chance of messing up the block.

So while the groundwork was here for intense combat where precise timing and strategy would be important, in reality, you can just do pretty much whatever you feel like and get your health completely refilled in a minute or two.
 

The other combat type is the one I found to be a lot more fun, and it's one of the only times I've enjoyed motion control in any game, including Wii titles.

Any time you fire an arrow, which is the specialty of Nariko's adopted and somewhat feral sister Kai, you have the option of taking control of that arrow in real time to guide it to the target. Time will slow down, and you tilt the PS3 controller to the left, right, forward and back. This can be done with more traditional controls, but I wanted to make an effort to use the motion controls, since they're set to default.

It turns out to be a blast after you get over the initial learning process. While Kai is the only character you can use to actually fire arrows, you'll still get to use this feature while playing as Nariko. You might, for example, guide a cannonball into a target or toss an item to hit a far-away switch.

The only time this can wear a little thin is when you have an extremely large number of long-range enemies. Taking them all out in slow motion can be very time consuming, and far too easy, even when broken up by novel things like shooting a flaming arrow into some explosives.

The main challenge for Kai is getting everything defeated in time. If an enemy manages to get close enough to physically attack, Kai has no way of fighting back aside from stunning the enemy and trying to get back to long range, which is usually nearly impossible.

 

The bosses provide some much needed relief from the predictability of the rest of the game. They aren't fantastic battles, but they are quite varied. One enemy can create tidal waves to attack you from a distance, another will roll at you like a bowling ball as you try to cause him to crash into a nearby pillar instead of Nariko. Another boss flies around and tosses daggers that you have to try and deflect back into him (again, using slow-mo motion control gameplay). If we could have seen some of the normal enemies do this kind of thing, it would have gone a long way toward making the game less tedious.

I had a few Game Overs during me time with Heavenly Sword, but the levels are very, very short, so there's really very little penalty for dying. You'll probably spend almost as much time on the loading screen than actually getting back to where you left off.

Heavenly Sword will only last you about 5 hours unless you plan to play the unlocked hell difficulty and try to master every level and unlock the bonus documentary features. Some might find the length to be a major detriment, and even as someone who's against the idea that games have to be ridiculously long to be good, I understand their pain. Especially with this game originally selling for the unjustified $60. But there just isn't enough gameplay variety here, and even with it's already short length, it feels like they're stretching it nearly to the breaking point.

On the whole, the visuals are phenomenal, and if you're into seeing the latest and greatest in graphics, it might be worth renting for this reason alone. I could have done with a bit less bloom, but it doesn't seem likely that it'll be gone from games any time soon, and there are worse offenders out there.




The level of detail during the story scenes is the highest I've yet seen in a game. They've really worked hard to get the character's faces right and they do a great job of expressing emotion and being convincing. It's unlikely you'll see any graphical issue that'll break your suspension of disbelief and remind that you you're playing a game.

Environments are also fantastic, without a hint of slowdown. Unfortunately, when in actual combat, the view tends to be from pretty high above the characters, with the exception of certain special moves or counter attacks. A lot of the impact is lost when you can't see every detail of the action, and I'm guessing that it suffers even more from being played on a SDTV. Even during a segment of a boss battle while fighting several weaker enemies, I had a little trouble figuring out exactly where I was on the screen and who I was trying to hit. I'm not sure if this was done because of an artistic choice or because the PS3 couldn't run the game smoothly otherwise, but it's a shame.

The developers didn't seem to know whether they wanted to make a serious epic storyline or an over the top comedy, and so the story is somewhat jarring. Just when you find something interesting or a little touching, the game will cut to the absolutely bizarre interaction between the major villains. These villains include a sadistic, blade wielding man called the Flying Fox, another that I call the "snake lady"- just imagine any cartoon human-snake villain, complete with exaggerated hissing during dialogue, and the mentally challenged, impossibly obese son of the evil king. This unusal story seemed destined to be the start of a trilogy, and while those plans seem to have changed, you have a more or less complete storyline here that's bizarre enough to keep you interested.

If you have a PS3, think about renting this one to finish during your days off, or see if you can get lucky and find it in the bargain bin. I wouldn't go much higher than $20, so consider waiting a year or three before going for ownership.




Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wacky Races Review


Wacky Races

Wacky Races, released for the NES around 1991, is actually a traditional run and jump platformer and not a racing game. This game is based on the Hanna-Barbera cartoon from the 60's with Dick Dastardly and especially Muttley taking center stage. The player controls Muttley as Dastardly sends him out on one mission or another.

The game is somewhat nonlinear, broken into three sets of stages (A, B and C). This might have been nice in a longer game, as it would let you jump to the part of the game that you were interested in, but Wacky Races is an extremely short game and you can run through every stage in about an hour.

Perhaps because of this "play any set of stages" mentality, and because they had children in mind, the difficulty is pretty minimal throughout and does not appreciably change when moving from one batch of stages to the next. The game's item system also allows you to be very overpowered quickly.

Your default attack is simply getting up close and biting an enemy, but there's really no reason to use this except to challenge yourself. As you collect dog bones, which are very numerous in every stage, you have the option of upgrading to a long range bark attack or to throw medium range bombs at enemies. Neither one has any ammo to use up, and they make the game a breeze to play through.

As a side note, the bark attack is rather funny because the animation is the word "Bow" (as in Bow- wow) flying across the screen as a projectile.

You start with three hearts, but again, that doesn't hold true for very long. By getting more of those dog bones, you can constantly increase your life bar to double that. This also restores you to full health. By keeping the heart powerup on standby (by not collecting any more bones) you can have it ready to go whenever your health runs low or during a boss battle. No enemy takes more than a single heart from you per hit.

As if all this weren't enough, the final powerup allows Muttley to glide when falling, just like in Mario 3. This negates whatever small danger existed from bottomless pits.

The bosses represent the greatest challenge in the game, but that isn't really saying much. Each one has a different pattern and environment in which to fight. One takes place on quicksand, another on ice, etc. and this helps to keep each one from blending together. But even if you find pattern memorization a little tricky, like I do, you'll find that the boss movements are laughably predictable. With a couple of attempts, it should be possible to beat almost all of them without taking a hit. If not, 1 ups are almost as plentiful as the bones.

On the plus side, the play control is top notch. You can't run, but the standard movement speed is quick. Jumping, aiming and dodging are super responsive and easy to learn. Like the early stages of a Mario game, it's really a pleasure to play, but it just never builds on that and is over before it begins.

The powerup menu could probably have used a brief explanation, but it just takes a little trial and error to figure it out.


The graphics are fairly generic, but the game is colorful, has no real slowdown to speak up, and has decent animation and a good variety of settings. I'm not very familiar with the cartoon this is based on, but it doesn't appear that the level design is based on anything that happened in the episodes, but rather on genre staples like desert world, snow world, cave, pyramid, etc.

The characters are all easily recognizable, even if you have only a passing familiarity with them. And there are a couple of short but amusing cut scenes to watch.

This game apparently had a fairly limited release and has become pretty rare, so I can't recommend purchasing the cartridge if you aren't a collector. But if you have access to it, you might want to spend a relaxing hour or so as Muttley.