New server and URL!

Posted: July 30, 2011 by Jeroen in Uncategorized

Yes, we’ve gone ahead and done it. We got the domain, we got the server (well, I had it around anyway for other sites, but I might as well make more use for it) and we had the capabilities, so we moved the Pong and Beyond blog to our own server.

We’ll still need to adjust some things, but mostly the important stuff (our chatter) should have been moved over. So from now on, please follow us on our new domain:

Game 72: Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

Posted: July 27, 2011 by mulholland in Games
Tags: , , ,

Game 676/1001 according to the list

Genre: Stealth
Platform: Oh so many
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft

Just as soon as we had taken off our infra-red specs it is time for another stealth game to have its credentials checked out by us at Pong and Beyond.

When it comes to the Splinter Cell games I am probably one of the many people who actually thought that since the Tom Clancy name is attached that he had written the book this was based on or that he had some sort of creative control… but no it’s an endorsement only job since he is such a powerful name in the world of espionage fiction.

In any such event, we will be covering a few games in under the Tom Clancy umbrella.

Our Thoughts

So here we are, the second stealth game in a row. It’s hard not to compare the two right now. Since we are looking at the big Asian stealth series versus one of the big Western franchises it is only natural. And for that it’s a good thing we’re playing these two this close together, as the differences show. Overall, I felt this game was more fun and better to play. Controls? This game felt more intuitive throughout, helped with some simple on-screen prompts. Missions? More varied, optional objectives and a completion based on how you do. Graphics? Just a step up. Since this was released a year after Metal Gear Solid 3 you would expect a step up in graphics and sound.

The area that this game shines is, no pun intended, the use of dynamic lighting. This acts in a similar way to the camouflage rating in the Metal Gear Solid game except, since there is no numerical rating, so much more of the actions is up to personal judgement. Since we have yet to play the older Splinter Cell game on this list it is hard for us to know what is new and what is a new addition so expect this to cover aspects of both. The thing that I really loved was the sheer wealth of options available at any given moment during the missions. If you do a bit of exploring you may be able to find secret crawlspaces to help you navigate undetected.There are many options related to enemies; kill them or not, how you dispatch them and if you choose a lethal course of action or not. This is a stealth game at heart but you can go in all guns blazing if you so choose. Or… you can hang from the rafters and descend on your enemies like a trapdoor spider. Or sneak past them. If you sneak up to them, you can grab them from behind, knock them out or kill them. Knocking them out is cleaner and gives you more points. More important when there are civilians that you don’t want to kill.With all that, the map is indispensable, although due to the 3D nature of the levels, this isn’t always as useful. Levels and connections between rooms are confusing, making the map only useful as a general guide. Luckily it’s generally not too hard to find your way. It works well since while it feels non-linear in many ways it is linear enough to prevent you from fumbling in the dark for too long.

Part of it is the many things you can do in theory. Before properly started the games, we sat through the training videos that serve as a tutorial – just simple movies that explain the actions you can take and show how to execute them on the controller.  This showed lots of options and did feel overwhelming, but once we actually played the game, it felt quite intuitive and worked well. There’s a bit of searching involved, but that was only a minute or two. Compare this to the trouble that we ended up having with the last game we covered this was a welcome relief. It’s all well and good explaining how to use the gun but indicating the L1 button is a lot easier than saying “use the shoot button”. I have no idea why games would ever choose the latter option since it is not a language difficulty but it was good to see Ubisoft keeping it simple in that respect. And by using an on-screen representation of the controller, it didn’t even need to break the fourth wall, or make you wonder which button L1 is again. It’s just the left small shoulder button.

As you can probably gather, we played the PS2 incarnation of this game. Since this has been ported to ten different systems (including one for the 3DS) the popularity of the title speaks for itself. It’s easy to see why. It’s fully focused on stealth gameplay, allowing you to do everything you feel you should be able to do while crawling through dark corridors and doing your extractions. This is what you want a stealth game to be.

Final Thoughts

Since our only exposure to the stealth game genre is via the Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell franchises it is probably not a wise move to make an over-arching generalisation of the genre at the moment… but if we did I would have to say that it is pretty close between the two.

In the end though if I were to be forced to choose between the two franchises I would so far have to side with the Metal Gear Solid one… it is just more immersive despite the fact that it does not deal with stealth in as satisfactory a fashion.

Game 596/1001 according to the list

Genre: Action
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2004
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami

We’ve played a Metal Gear Solid game some time ago, and we saw it as a good stealth game… though with its flaws. Now we get to the third part (we’ll do number 2 another time), and this time it’s a prequel to the series – back to Snake’s first mission. And this time it’s in a Soviet jungle (apparently they do exist), where you need to rescue a scientist – that’s what you need to do to them.

Does it make for a good game? I must admit I’m writing this while Peter is playing, and it does look pretty. That’s one pro…

Our Thoughts

Was that you labelling me the superior gamer? I’m flattered. In the sort of games that don’t feature auto-pause, turn based combat or ‘shoot everything in sight’, possibly. Either that or I just prefer staring at the graphics.

This game is certainly prettier than the first game in the series we played a few months ago. Since the setting of the game has shifted from a tundra/urban environment to one filled with lush rainforest it makes sense that there would be a greater scope for an aesthetically pleasing game. When you then take into account the leaps in gaming technology that occurred in six years then it makes sense that this would look a lot better. This in no way down-plays how much more impressive Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is compared to the first one. I would argue that there is no facet that this has not made a marked improvement on. We still need to play the second instalment to get a proper chain of improvement. Possibly length of cut scenes exempted.

When you are not into games which try to be like a long immersive film the cut-scenes can be pretty tiresome (especially since the same information is pretty much repeated four times before the end of the clips). In some ways, however, these in depth cut scenes are a great boon for the series. It aids in the creation of a cinematic experience when it comes to gaming, something which few other franchises can boast. The use of cut scenes is never gratuitous; it is just one of the many ways that they further the plot and introduce new enemies and gameplay mechanics.

Also they help to add heaps of contemporary detail such as a play-by-play of the Cuban Missile Crisis and plot summaries of top films of the era such as The Great Escape and Forbidden Planet. Very true, even if you’ve forgotten the instructions they give at the start by the time the cut scene ends… we forgot where to find the backpack we needed to get after the 15 minutes cut scene conversation that intervened.

One thing here that doesn’t help is that these ‘cut scenes’ are voice only – using the radio you have with you. In the mean time, aside from a few pictures that stay the same for the length of the cut scene, you can just read subtitles, which you don’t need with the sound quality. So instead of listening, I found myself drifting back to my laptop to do other things while I waited for the cut scene to end. It’s a nice way of adding detail… it’s just that spreading it out a bit more would have helped, instead of the bulk of information that gets overwhelming or boring. Except for the FMVs starring the bonkers boss characters which are pretty entertaining and action packed.

The interesting thing about the bosses, and their battles, is the combination of the supernatural with military prowess. This is a regular feature in the series but this is far more at the forefront in this instalment. The fact that you have to battle people who can command electricity and swarms of hornets feels a tad overkill but it’s done surprisingly well. This doesn’t even mention the infamous villain simply known as “The End”. A friend of mine once regaled me with the story of how many hours it took for him to complete this boss battle… now that’s intense! Thank god you can save at any time. And learn about old sci-fi movies at the same time.

Now, the gameplay has received what seems to be a few interesting additions. First and most important is that you don’t just have a health bar, you also have stamina to consider. As you’ll be stuck in the jungle for quite some time, you have to forage for food yourself, so you can increase your stamina and keep going. This is partially gathering berries and other fruit, but to get the better options you’ll need to hunt – apparently snakes are quite tasty, if this game is to be believed. They can also be trapped in cages and released to scare off enemy soldiers. Just don’t try this with the crocodiles… I was never fast enough to get past them before they woke up from the tranquilizer and started to attack me. You have little other choice beyond killing them if you want to taste them. I have in real life and it tastes okay. Our survival expert.

Another element of this stealth game is, of course, camouflage. When you are so used to titles like Fallout 3 where stealth is more or less optional games like this take a while to get used to. A plasma rifle would have helped in the jungle, but alas twas not to be. Plasma rifles make everything better. It’s strange; however, that face paint of the Italian Flag is seen as decent camouflage in the jungle. Apparently red and green work well as a disguise. In a similar fashion the Japanese flag works when sneaking around buildings – there is no accounting for taste. And it appears the UK flag just gets people even angrier at you… that might just be my imagination though. Well it does resemble a frowny face with angry eyebrows. That could well be actually, it would explain it.

Well, two down and four more entries in the Metal Gear Solid saga to go. Let’s hope they’ll work out as addictive when we get into them.

Final Thoughts

This game needs your time. Not just for the long cutscenes, but also to get into it. The first half hour of actual gameplay is dreadful. Then it speeds up a bit, you need to start sneaking to avoid your enemies, life gets tense and you enjoy your companions. The game gets going and gets good. From the interactions with your characters to the overall objective and big mission, everything slots in and starts working well together.

The game looks and sounds great, a good plus, helped by a far different and interesting setting, that by nature looks more interesting.

Even more interesting is the attention of detail in the game. You get the feeling someone has actually tasted these animals, and the movie knowledge can only come from a real fan. It’s cute and funny and adds to the realism. And it made me want to see some of these movies. Even if we’ve probably seen some on MST3k before.

Game 70: Frogger

Posted: July 19, 2011 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

Game 30/1001 according to the list

Genre: Action
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1981
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Sega

Why did the frog cross the road?

Because he wanted to get home from work.

There’s premise of Frogger for you. Cross the road, avoiding cars, trucks, racing drivers, snakes, crocodiles and sinking in a river. It’s an old action game, and one of those we both remember well. I know I spent many an hour playing this game. It’s a noble goal you have, and a fun game to play it with.

Our Thoughts

Going back some time down memory lane, to Frogger… it was ages since I last played this game. And the reason we chose to play this next is because I suddenly had it in my head to find out how to procure myself a pet toad. Oh the japery! These sudden outbursts can be quite… interesting at times. In spite of this I am very glad that my tangential thinking led us towards playing Frogger.

I believe that in our review of Peggle we talked about how much the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) Principle leads to some incredibly addictive gaming. It’s a bit of a glib idea but it can be found in most games on this list in the first fifty chronologically. So I apologise in advance for mentioning KISS when we cover the likes of Arkanoid, Pac Man and Asteroids.

Possibly more than even that – a lot of arcade games are like that. It shows how things changed, but also how casual games are still popular. While these days, many of the expensive games feel like they should require some time investment, simple games like this provide you with a good opportunity to jump in and play immediately. Frogger clearly have this down: Your frog just jumps backwards, forwards, left and right. Avoid the cars and don’t drown in the water. That’s all you need to know. And yet it’s addictively hard.

It really helps that every level adds something new; faster cars, snakes, crocodiles and even a malevolent looking otter. Do otters even devour frogs… South Park taught me that they liked clams. They still seem dangerous.

Aside from the quaint graphics and the delightful 8-bit noises there is not too much more to mention about this game. It’s fun and addictive. It’s very retro, but the gameplay is good… and for me, the memories are better.

Final Thoughts

Are you one of the few people never to have played Frogger? SERIOUSLY?! Fine…. visit this site and you can play it for free.

Game 805/1001 according to the list

Genre: Adventure/Puzzle
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

Another day, another Capcom game. Yet… we’re not bored yet. Gimme a high-five Capcom…*crickets*Fine, we’re never going to be invited to a game unveiling where we can rub shoulders with Capcom execs whilst we pocket the Hors d’oeurves and avoid the fire-eaters but we can dream.

Ever since we played Drop 7 we of Pong and Beyond have been attempting to limit the number of puzzle games we cover since we had already covered more than we had meant to. I missed them so much so I’ve been really looking forward to the titular mouthful that is Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure. Golden money ‘an all.

Our Thoughts

This title just looked strange from the start, and having played it, it has only become stranger. There were reportedly about 200 names drafted up for the game and this is the best they came up with. On the one hand I can see what they did there since it makes sense on a number of levels. It namedrops the two protagonists as do games such as Ratchet & Clank, Banjo-Kazooie and Jak and Daxter, it describes exactly what the game is and it has great kid appeal. It ticks all the boxes and it misses the point completely. Whilst in Japan the childish, anime-feel has universal appeal the name and cover art only really appeals to those under twelve. Thus it has remained largely unsuccessful in the West – much to the chagrin of critics and Capcom-fans who really fell for this game.

When you play the puzzles you can see their point as their complexity ramps up very quickly to the point where very lateral thinking is needed. I would love to see the eight year old who could solve all the puzzles without a visit to an online walkthough… or not as they would be some kind of wizard. In fact, while we might have worked it out ourselves more often, in the interest of time we used one once or twice. Part of this is due to the strange mechanics this game sometimes offer. In particular, the animals transforming into items when you ring the bell that’s called ‘Wiki’ (it somehow eventually makes sense) seem random. While a mole turning into a drill makes some sense, a boar into a hammer is harder to understand, and a bat turning into an umbrella simply seems insane. The thing that really helped with this game is having another person playing it with you to offer a fresh perspective on a puzzle. An advantage we obviously had.

The thing that makes this game really interesting is that it is a very rare example of a well executed console-based point and click adventure game, which actually makes this the first within that genre we have covered. Somehow I thought it would have been either Broken Sword or Sam & Max (there’s another eponymous duo) but that’s what happens with borrowing. Not that I’m complaining… I’m not… I really enjoyed this game despite the fact my arm ached from the fishing minigame. Some of the funniest and most clever games in that sense are still coming up… to the point where Sierra’s offering was mostly ignored in the list in favour of most of the Lucasarts catalogue.

One of the good things about this game appearing on a console is that it makes full use of the Wiimote’s capabilities. Aside from the pointing using the Wiimote, a lot of actions you take are actually movements made using the controller. This is rarely strictly necessary – turning a key might as well be a click instead of you actually doing it – but it  makes it a bit more immersive and clever. It is still, however, used for good measure in a few puzzles, such as defeating a fish by trying to reel it in, as well as a music-based minigame that comes back on several levels. There are very few games made by third-party developers that have used the Wii controller in such a versatile fashion. True games like Okami and Dead Space: Extraction have also been praised for good Wii controls but neither contain as much variation in Wiimote movements that can be found in Zack & Wiki. And while they may seem gimmicky at times, they’re still better than the ewww-factor implicit in the Wiimote use in No More Heroes. Even if there is a half-naked man in the top-right hand corner of the screen shaking the Wiimote like an empty ketchup bottle. True, it’s close, but the graphics make everything look a lot more innocent.

The graphics, as so many things in the game, are quite Japanese – anime-like. There’s an element of kiddishness in there, cute and cartoonish. They’ve even kept the original ‘dialogue’ noted by Wiki’s occastional cry of “Zakku!” Something that was easy to do as they were mostly cries of ‘Alright’ and similar.

One thing we have neglected to mention is that this game is pirate-themed. Something that was just falling out of fashion upon the game’s release and which makes it more surprising that this was not commercially successful.  Who, on some level, does not like pirates? It’s not a big part of the game – it has no impact on the actual game, and really only influences the look and feel of some parts – but it makes it fun.. And in a way cute, when you consider Zack looks rather young. That isn’t helped by the fact that he chomps on a chocolate bar whenever left idle. It was added as an afterthought, and you can see that sometimes. Even so, it doesn’t make the game any less cute, and it certainly helps give him a reason to collect treasure… what more could you want there?

Final Thoughts

So our little pirate guy? Aside from the fact that it’s a pretty good game, it’s also a good adventure. It’s not entirely like the original point and click games – the story is fairly flimsy and not the main drive of the game – but it has some interesting (and at times obscure) puzzles to work out. It’s also a very nice-looking games with some very strange and fun environments – the water slide in particular making me want to go down them.

The controls have their issues and make the game harder to control sometimes, but most of the time, when it works, it works well, and out of everything, it’s the use of the Wiimote that truely stands out during this adventure. That and the cute bell-monkey. He’s just adorable. Ding!

Those who know me, probably know that for the most part, I’m a PC gamer. Sure, I have my handheld games, and been doing more console gaming, but PC gaming is where I’ve started, PC games are the ones I own most of, and the PC is where I prefer to play.

There are a few advantages to PC gaming. One I like that I’ve touched on with Baldur’s Gate II is the customizability. Yeah, you’ve got the existing game, and that’ll often be good enough. But sometimes it’s nice to be able to change things. Add features or levels for some games, using the provided editors or fan made ones. Would a game like Starcraft or Neverwinter Nights have worked on another platform? It seems unlikely.

Just as applicable sometimes are fan-made patches. A company often doesn’t want to keep supporting a game and keep patching it. The game is too old – there’s no money in it – or they don’t have the time or money to do so. If fans like it enough and have the capability to do so, they’ll jump in and write fan based patches. There’s several games that gained a shelf life because of this. Sometimes even core code is rewritten to support this, such as in the ScummVM engine… without it, it’d be a lot harder to run an older game.

Technically not allowed, according to the license agreement… but if it means the game keeps running? Adds more to play? It’s not a bad thing and is, in fact, sometimes a reason a game gets sold more often. It doesn’t hurt.

Related to that is a larger advantage: backwards compatibility. Looking at the current consoles, the Wii has backwards compatibility with the Gamecube… but don’t try to play anything older, you need a rerelease for that. The XBox 360 has limited compatibility with XBox games… they might work when patched, but there are no guarantees. PS3 backwards compatibility is even stranger – old models run PS2 games, but newer ones don’t, so you’re out of luck with them. Then again, it does support PS1 games. Handhelds… get more confusing, with the DS only in some models supporting GBA games, and the 3DS only supporting DS games.

PC games are supported as far back as we can go. You might need the help of DOSBox, or do a bit of Googling to get a solution, a compatibility patch or something else. The fast, fast majority of games, whether they’re 2 or 20 years old, will work on modern machines with a bit of luck.

And then we don’t even consider emulation, which allows support of other consoles. Legally not right in all cases, but still an option.

The PC has the bigger gaming library, thanks just to backwards compatilibity… although at the same time, if games aren’t exclusive, a PC port tends to be fairly common, compared to other platforms.

Then there’s upgradability – it’s easier to upgrade a PC to get a better video card, CPU or have more memory. Cheaper integrated machines just work, or if you put in some more money, you can build it the way you want to. Cost is the major factor here – a PC is more expensive than an average console.

Its many other uses help here though – there’s more you do with your PC than just play videogames. Other consoles aspire to this too, but don’t always reach it entirely.

There’s a lot of PC games on the list that we have yet to cover. A number of these could do with a good PC – either to run, or to make sure we can get the best performance of it – graphics and sound.

And, to be honest, I’ve always dreamt of having a proper, up to date gaming PC, one that’s not behind, that can run every game I throw at it. I want the gaming PC I like as a PC gamer.

So after saving up for a long time, that’s what I did. I got a proper PC like that for our use. And here it is:

Six core 3.3GHz CPU, 16GB memory, 6970 ASUS Crossfire card, 24″ widescreen monitor (up to 1920×1080) and several other goodies. It’s a monster and has been named such, now being known as the Kraken. But it’s worth it.

You’ll see a lot more of this. When you see another PC game come up in the list, you now know what this has been played on.

For I have touched my future, and it is awesome.

Game 68: Shadow of the Colossus

Posted: July 11, 2011 by mulholland in Games
Tags: , , , ,

Game 671/1001 according to the list

Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Team Ico
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

I will be completely honest here: this was a game I was hoping to save for a more landmarky sounding number. Instead here it is at lucky sixty-eight.

Few games sit in the same position as Shadow Of The Colossus; a critical and cult hit that most game-buyers are unlikely to have heard of. In fact it probably reached it’s widest audience after a rare favourable review on Zero Punctuation. The sad fact is that because this game is so beloved in the cult world it sells for a large amount of money for an old PS2 game. Thanks again Kat… but we’ll have to get our own version of this one day.

Our Thoughts

There’s some games you know are epic, but where you keep finding the lesser bits between the gold, and they take over occasionally. I think Shadow Colossus felt like one of those. I think the shorthand for that is “flawed masterpiece”. If you wish, I just thought it was better when descriptive. The dividing line here is somewhere between the colossus battles and the long treks to get there.

To start with the latter, the environments are gorgeous in this game, but there’s a lot of nothing to travel to. Even that’s okay, except that the controls work against you here sometimes, and getting past them can be timeconsuming consider they’re the bad part. The thing about the battles and the long searches on horseback is that they provide a great deal of contrast. I mean this can be seen with the soundtrack which is light and airy as you gallop around the rolling hills and then becomes far more intense during the battles. In a way it prevents the game from feeling like a one-trick pony and instead greatly contributes to the games atmosphere.

Before we go further here is the crux of the game: girlfriend dies, you travel to a forbidden temple to have her ressurected by some evil spirit, kill 16 ancient colossi to achieve your goal, the end… ish. It’s a tale as old as time but, in the end, there is a great deal of moral ambiguity to this as you play along.

In the end none of these colossi are malevolent and the first only attacks you after you present yourself as a threat. After you hack away at his shin and eventually fell the giant moss covered golem word basically gets out and the remaining 15 attack you in self-defense. Even then they rely more on strength than guile and you mostly win by outsmarting them. This is the equivalent of mass genocide where the victims are the Ents from The Lord of the Rings. After destroying colossus number three I actually began to feel pangs of guilt about what I was actually doing.However, you are keen to progess because the designs of these massive foes are so fantastically beautiful that you want to see what comes next. Especially since you need to concoct unique methods to destroy each of them. Which is the point where the adventure/puzzle part of the game comes in.

While your magical (ancient) sword can show the weak points of the colossus, you need to find out the specifics on where and how to get on it. For example, with one colossus you need to get it to beat down on a stone circle, which destroys a ring on its arm preventing you from climbing up to the weak spot. Some of these are more obvious – and easier – than others, but because they are all different, each of the 16 battles is a different battle that requires different strategies. This means that while there may only be 16 battles in the entire game (ignoring a small amount of hunting you can do), they are 16 big, epic battles. These shine in designs, graphics and complexity – I know no other games where you use your foe as battling platform, outside some particular platformers where this is only barely the case. Here, the creatures move and try to shake you off while you hold on for dear life, trying to reach that one spot.

Some are cuter than others, and all are this strange mix of furry animal and stone artifact buildings, which makes it a bewildering experience. This isn’t helped by you not getting much story information. You don’t know why they’re there, what they’re doing, who created or bred them, if anyone, or else what their ancestors are, you just know they’re there and you need to kill them.

The main problem with this game is that it can be immensely frustrating. The fact that your health gradually regenerates is a godsend but it does not counter-act the pounding your head against a porcupine-style moments than being flung off of a colossus for the upteenth time. It’s not particularly difficult since you can run in circles until your health gauge fills up but be prepared that battles can take in excess of half an hour… and there is no mid-battle saving point. I also got annoyed by a particular jumping puzzle that took ages – due to bad camera handling and the fact that you had to swim back after falling and climb back up to a great height, which took a few minutes every time it happened.

At least they were able to get the proportions feeling suitably epic. I mean the world appears to be massive and the colossi  are… well… colossal in stature. As your character clambers up their leg he really looks like the ant getting ready to ruin your picnic. Except with what’s apparently a very powerful sting. It’s a suitably epic game, occasionally flawed, but very much giving the epic fights that make any game great. And its focus on just that works great.

Final Thoughts

Okay okay we’re officially bad people for killing these innocents. We might as well fund a game that simulates water-boarding now where you use a Kinect controller to hold virtual buckets of water…. or am I going overboard.

In the end this is a game which truly justifies the term ‘flawed masterpiece’ and really provided a flashpoint in how games were made. Nothing out there is quite like it… so just play it for yourself.

Game 67: F-Zero GX

Posted: July 7, 2011 by mulholland in Games
Tags: , , ,

Game 573/1001 according to the list

Genre: Racing
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: Amusement Vision Ltd.
Publisher: Nintendo

So here we are. It’s been some time since we covered F-Zero X (although on 1001 games, the gap is still small). And so we return to the high-speed futuristic racing of the F-Zero world.

The gameplay stays the same, the game looks a bit better and a number of new modes and options have been added. We decided we’d check it out next.

Our Thoughts

Right, where do we start on this? The game has improved, that much is clear, but it very much still stuck to the existing formula.

There are a number of new gaming modes which have been added in order to facilitate the franchise’s successful transition to the Gamecube. As expected from most racing games released from sixth generation onwards F-Zero GX now comes with a story mode. It’s an interesting addition, if fairly tough to handle. They are basically quest missions where, rather than racing against 30 other racers, you have missions and such to deal with – gather capsules, win a one-on-one race against someone on a boulder-filled track, and that’s just the first few. In a way they feel more like tacked on mini games rather than something which fleshes out the main game but it’s a fun diversion nonetheless.

The thing that the Story Mode demonstrates most, however, is how the developers have well and truly ramped up the difficulty level from the last outing. Most games have a curve; this is more like a climbing wall.  While the lower difficulty levels are doable, the games still feel like a number of drivers get perfect AI all the time, which shows in the story mode especially. It could be that we haven’t discovered the tricks yet, but they make the game harder. It showed how much experience mattered here – Peter being better at this, while this was the first time playing for me, showed there was a difference there. This is the only niggle that we had with this game. Otherwise it is amazing. It’s the only game that I ever rented multiple times from my local Blockbuster. I was unable to afford the forty quid then (or now to be perfectly honest). 

The main things that we loved about F-Zero X were the soundtrack, graphics and how successful the game was in making you feel as if you were driving at 1000 km/hr… F-Zero GX has not only improved on this but also makes the old game feel crude and sluggish. Not only this but also they added a Garage Mode which, at the time, was the glistening cherry on top. The sad fact is that about 30% of the amazingness of this function has been lost by the passage of technology.

Back on the games original release there was also F-Zero AX – an arcade version which saw you play the game in a pod reminiscent of the cars within the title. What you could with F-Zero GX‘s Garage Mode is bring your customised car with you on a memory card and then play with it in the arcade. I mean is it just me or is that just brilliant. It makes for a cool additional feature that would’ve added some extra time to playing the game – not to mention make you want to play the arcade version more often.

The last big thing worth mentioning a bit further is the graphics. Last time we mentioned these being very sparse in order to allow the game to keep up its frame-rate. This time, however, the environments look stunning. You race around through large cities, deserts and at one point a Möbius strip in a forest. The sandworms you pass in the desert level just add to the strangeness of the game. I think it’s because for the first time in F-Zero history the console was not stretched to breaking point by the needs of the game.

Final Thoughts

Technology has caught up with this series, and you can tell. All 30 racers are there in all relevant modes, the scenery is gorgeous and far more interactive, and the opportunities for customization are legion. If anything, you get the feeling this is what they wanted the F-Zero series to be like from the start. It’s a shame we haven’t seen a successor yet, although it makes you wonder what they could do to take the series further, other than adding more tracks.

It’s hard, it’s beautiful and it’s fast. And that last bit still matters most – you want that experience of really racing around the track. If that’s the main thing you want from your racing game, then F-Zero GX is the game for you.

Game 66: No More Heroes

Posted: July 3, 2011 by mulholland in Games
Tags: , , , ,

Game 772/1001 according to the list

Genre: Action/Fighting
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Marvelous Entertainment (JP), Rising Star Games (EU), Ubisoft (NA)

When it comes to RPGs there is defining difference between those produced in the East and those from the West (as can be seen in our posts about Final Fantasy IX and Baldur’s Gate 2). This can also be seen in the world of free-roamers and the fact that we in the West produce games in this vein which are generally better reviewed even though far more are made.

What’s interesting is that No More Heroes is essentially an attempt to bring the Western free-roaming game to Japan whilst combining the two cultures in a number of ways… sounds like a cool experiment don’t it?

Our Thoughts

Considering this was a Japanese attempt to marry Eastern and Western gaming culture, how well do you think the makers of No More Heroes did in achieving this goal? It’s an interesting choice, and the places where some of these parts came from are fairly obvious. While this game owes a lot to GTA in design, it contains a love of repetition (in a sense) often seen in Eastern games, more often their MMORPGs. Not to mention the main characters love of anime… and wrestling. In a way they tried to create a Californian-style otaku who is able to wield a light-sabre style weapon. It’s slightly strange how he appears to live in a motel and yet has a cat and a shelf containing all his figurines of anime girls. It’s like something out of anime series such as Chaos;Head and Genshiken.

All this, together with his appearance, do make him feel Japanese, and the art direction pushes the game in that direction as well. Yes, the whole look of the game is incredibly stylised. It brings to mind the graphics of games such as Okami, Viewtiful Joe and Street Fighter IV.

It’s a great look but there are times where, due to the shading of both the main character and the surroundings, it is hard to distinguish where you are since they can blend into each other. Sometimes the colour palette is not the best choice but it works well most of the time. It’s just the times where it doesn’t work is when enemies are attacking you with guns and baseballs also when the fights take place in dark environments, where you can’t see the enemies three feet away.

Luckily the game has auto-targeting, but it makes gameplay confusing – is an enemy remaining or not, and where are they? The targeting is a great part of the fighting system, especially since it allows more accurate dodging of attacks.

Now that we’re on it… we really need to make a big deal of the fighting system. This is the main thing to recommend No More Heroes since it makes such great use of the Wii Controller and Nunchuk that it can feel like you are there hacking and slashing with him.  Making you wonder how any ports of this game would have worked. In terms of ports it was released over hear on the PS3 with Move compatibility (which makes sense) but how the Japanese-exclusive Xbox 360 version worked is anyone’s guess.

While not fully requiring you to slash the nunchuk (button mashing remains useful), big finishing and high damage moves require you to slash the katana or nunchuk in different directions, while blocking, at times, require you to shake the controller to push back. Since the fighting system makes such great use of the controllers there are times where it is best to stand up in order to complete the task.

Also, as we’re on the idea of “completing the task” a small mention has to be made of how you recharge the battery on your katana. Yeah, because this involves a physical action where, to put it nicely, you polish your katana. You hold the controller and move your hands up and down. On screen your character joins you, hands in front of him, katana extending from his crotch, as he moves his hands up and down. And yeah, there are special sounds when you… fill your battery. All in the absence of his beloved Japanese love pillow (yes, I think I spied one of those in a cut-scene). Oh, it’s not just the love pillow. He also hands in the wrong video or DVD he rented. This time of… a certain man… humping his pillow. I might have spotted a camera in a cut scene too.

I just feel sorry for his cat. No matter how much you pet it… it’s probably so traumatised that any show of affection is an exercise in futility. And no, this time it’s not a euphemism. Nor is there any other point for the cat, it’s just there to be nice to.

On that note, it’s worth mentioning one more ‘feature’ of the game. You save by using the toilet. Our hero sits down, idling, while you make the choice to save and so on. The toilet even looks different depending on the save point you’re at.



Another major criticism of this game is how repetitive it gets. I mean its phone call, train in the gym, raise money collecting coconuts, mowing lawns and fights then take on one of the ten assassins. It’s almost as bad as the first Assassin’s Creed game in that respect. What doesn’t help is that while the main comparison here seems to be the later GTA games, it looks that way, it tries to do the racing, but it misses out a lot of it too that would’ve been nice to have. Despite there being no more heroes, you can’t be evil either. You do some missions, some of which have their violence in nicely contained areas, and yeah, some assassins change you, but there’s no potential for random violence or any other fun in the large free roaming world. The world is really just for moving from one place to the other – from icon to icon – and as free roaming as it might seem, it’s just scenery without much point to it, unless you like driving around randomly and look for some ‘hidden’ balls.

We seem overly critical for a game that we are very likely to buy for ourselves. In the end though there is a certain je ne sais quoi that makes it very likable. It’s a somewhat non-linear fighter with some nice additional feature, rather than the sandbox games some play this up to be. And as a fighter, it’s extremely good fun.

Final Thoughts

This is the first game that we have covered where I am almost completely sure it will be replaced on the next incarnation of the list. This is not due to any inherent fault with this game (as you can probably tell it was one we really enjoyed) but because it’s sequel was released just after they probably started making this list and it was apparently an improvement on the original. Part of me is looking forward to the new list since it will mean a chance to play a whole new heap of games… but it will mean that a large number of games already covered will be removed… ah well even more of an excuse to continue gaming.

Game 65: Luigi’s Mansion

Posted: June 29, 2011 by mulholland in Games
Tags: , , ,

Game 480/1001 according to the list

Genre: Action
Platform: Gamecube
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

How has it been ten years since the sixth generation of gaming? I am being absolutely serious here. Maybe it’s because I was at a rather impressionable age in terms of gaming but the buzz surrounding the releases of the PS2, Gamecube and Xbox are etched well into my gaming memories… especially since it marked the first time that I was really torn about what console to get (in the end I got a PS2 for Christmas of 2001 which meant I was then able to use my saved money to get a Gamecube once it launced in the UK.

Despite the fact that Luigi’s Mansion was a launch title it was not a game that I ended up buying. Instead the first games I got were Super Smash Bros Melee, as Jeroen has previously mentioned, and Super Monkey Ball, which we will get to later. Looking back on my choices with the eyes of hindsight I don’t think I would have made different choices BUT I would have almost certainly bought a copy of Luigi’s Mansion… at least from the second-hand bin at GAME.

Our Thoughts

For this list, as mentioned, we occasionally borrow games. And that has its upsides and downsides.  With a number of games, you are happy that you do – sure, the games are good, but nothing something you’d play again. For me, that’s a game like F-Zero X.  Some games are good fun, and you wouldn’t mind owning them, but to be honest, it’s not such a big deal whether or not you do. To give an example here, that’d be Final Fantasy VII, VIII or IX. With some games, however, I want to run to the store, Amazon or eBay and get it immediately. Luigi’s Mansion squarely falls into this category. It just does a lot of things well – graphics, sound and especially gameplay. It’s just sheer fun… with just enough of a hint of being scary and disturbing to have an impact. The best game that I can remember borrowing from a friend was the second instalment of Lego Star Wars but I have to admit that Luigi’s Mansion is definitely up there amongst some of the best that I’ve have the fortune to borrow.

As I mentioned before, this is a game that I would buy if I had the chance to go back in time. Then again I did not have much money for games ten years ago (then again being unemployed upon writing this I have even less now) so I had to be very selective when I bought my games… and yet a stinker like the bloody awful Lost Kingdoms managed to get through.  Nobody’s perfect and that is why I am thankful for GAME’s then refund policy.

It’s certainly a game worth going back to. I must admit I’ve liked the idea of the game since I first heard of it, and it more than paid off and not just because Luigi is the lead of the game, although that certainly doesn’t work. It wouldn’t have worked as well with a more generic hero like Mario. Luigi was the perfect lead for this strange marriage of survival horror and Saturday morning cartoons. He is always portrayed as the coward (but I would say he just has good survival instincts) and so a game where he actually has to go tête-à-tête with room after room of ghosts was a perfect way to develop him as a well-rounded character. Despite the fact that he fell for the horror movie staple of “congratulations you won a mansion in a contest that you never even entered”.  

Clearly he stays optimistic. In fact, this is the first game in which his cowardice really comes out – aside from tv series references (which are obviously inconsistent) and a few veiled hints in earlier games, this is where we really see the coward Luigi appear, compared to his courageous brother Mario. Anyone would be well and truly shaken after spending a long time in a mansion strewn with ghosts… most without the best intentions.  With the creepiest encountered so far being a ghost baby, who shrinks you and sends rocking horses and balls after you, trying to kill you.  Yes… there are very things that can be more unsettling than supernatural children.

Character notes aside there is so much to recommend this game; even ten years after it was first released in Japan.  It highlights one of the main things, though: The game has character. From the ghost designs to the haunted mansion itself, it seems far more pulled together than most Mario games, with less of a need to fit everything in. It’s all a haunted mansion, not a hodgepodge of desert, sea, forest and pipe worlds. It has lots of scary ghosts, including the Mario staple of Boos, but sees no need to include much more than that. It has one good gameplay mechanic, vacuuming ghosts, with everything else stemming from that one application.

One major criticism that has been levied at Luigi’s Mansion is that it can be completed in about six hours. When you consider this was a full price title compared to shorter games like Portal it’s a fairly apt one. Then again, since it is a short game it is all neatly packed together with a decent scope for replaying.  The main way you can measure your success in the game is the amount of booty you can secure whilst battling ghosts and vacuuming light-fittings. So logically the replay value comes in quicker exorcisms and more efficient cleaning.  I wonder whether those six hours are for an experienced player who rushes through everything, or for someone who doesn’t know how to do all the puzzles and explores every nook and cranny. and there are a lot of smaller things hidden in the game to explore.

Every room gets its own unique sections and rooms, making them all interesting, and while you can get lost, it’s not through any repetition of rooms. In order to search for Boos you need to need to revisit rooms you’ve previously cleared which I guess is a bit of a cheat… but it doesn’t feel like one.  The thing is, there are a number of new power-ups and options that make you want to backtrack – gaining fires and having to light a candle that’s been floating around to go after a butler is another example.

I have to say that some of the puzzles are pretty clever.  Mirrors have a major purpose in the game that they can be used to be whisked off to the central foyer where the save game Toad resides. However, they can also be used to spot certain ghosts creeping up on you as well as alerting you to important items in the room. It takes a little bit for it to trigger that they are this useful but it is a nice bit of subtlety there.  And that’s where part of the cleverness in this game is. It’s not just about the action, jumping around platforms, being fast and killing enemies. While it’s useful for the lesser ghosts, far more of the game involves puzzle solving, from how to proceed to the next part to figuring out how to defeat the bosses.

I guess that a discussion mirrors can, in some way, lead on for us to about talk about graphics.  Since the leap between graphics quality between the Gamecube and the Wii was not as pronounced as those exhibited by Sony and Microsoft this game still looks rather pleasing.  Then again, Nintendo have always found a way to stretch the life of their game’s graphics by making them fairly cartoon-like.  How much better can you make a Boo look really?  As mentioned before, cartoonier graphics style ages better than trying to look realistic.

It may have also helped that Nintendo originally developed this game to be fully realised in stereoscopic 3D. They did this because they thought the market for 3D televisions would have begun 10 years ago (which, when you come to think of it, was pretty forward thinking).  For that reason alone, it seems a prime candidate for a 3DS update. Surely the 3D-capable code must be out there still. This is also the reason why I am surprised that there was no announcement by Nintendo of them porting this game anytime soon. The 3DS hasn’t gotten many game announcements at all at this point anyway, although undoubtedly the (our future, reader’s past) E3 will change that… and that’s a different subject anyway.  One for the next update of the book maybe? Quite possibly.

With that as our recommendation, there’s just one last adorable thing to mention. Sound-wise, especially in music, the game is obviously good, but there’s one thing that adds to it. Luigi hums along to the songs with a slight fright in his voice. It’s both adorable and catchy and just right for the game.

Final Thoughts

My opening thoughts about the game being 10 years old was really spurred on by playing this game. Whist it is true that graphically it is a little bit down on what we would be used to nowadays but it REALLY has aged well unlike a number of other games we have already encountered… then again what else would you expect from the boys in Nintendo?