Archive for January, 2011

Game 24: F-Zero X

Posted: January 30, 2011 by mulholland in Games
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Game 374/1001 according to the list


Genre: Racing
Platform: Nintendo 64
Year of Release: 1998
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

The best way to explain this game is as a fast futuristic racer where you need to be careful not to crash and burn, or fall down from the road. In other words, a faster, deadlier Mario Kart, with its own futuristic style.

The game looks bad, but there’s a reason for it – they had to keep the frame rate up, that was more important.

Our Playthrough

We played through some of the GP mode, some deathmatches and some VS matches. In other words, we tried some parts of everything.

Our Thoughts

I think I’ve now officially travelled at over 1000km/h. No, I don’t think you ever actually made it to that top speed. In that case, I was very close. I think the safest thing we can say is that we have now both straddled a very thick pole using a plasma powered vehicle.

Oh yes, and then we were ejected from it at high speed to proceed on our course to victory. Well I did – you somehow flew off of the edge of a rounded edge and crashed. I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t fly straight though, I remember a few embarrassing falls you made.

Only in the VS Mode though, when I was racing with the AI I never fell off. Also, you were the only one who exploded. Stop ruining my double entendres. Also, I saw you fall off during at least one death match game. That was because I got bored with it and hoped for some flaming wreckage. As a gaming mode… it was exceedingly dull. Yeah, it was. Waiting for others to crash and burn, even when you can nudge them, seemed to take ages. It doesn’t help that they can easily restore their health so a lot of bumping went to waste. Yeah. So can you, to be fair, but the AI do not try anything to get each other killed.

Where the deathmatch mode is a dud the Grand Prix is a lot of fun, even considering the very poor graphics (for the time) which Jeroen will now explain:

Yes, as I’ve referenced before, the game looks relatively simplistic. It’s 3D, that’s for sure, and it doesn’t look horrible, but we see better in many other N64 games. The reason for this has to do with the required frame rate for the game. It has to show the track and up to 30 racers at a time, together with assorted other decorations. The game also moves fast (the km/h above are actual figures, although I’m sure it wouldn’t match in real life). Because of the speed of gameplay, it was important they kept the frame rate high – keep it constant as 60 frames per second. To make sure they could, Nintendo used simplistic graphics in this game, so the CPU didn’t need to spend that much time on rendering the models. So it needed to look simple and relatively bad to make sure the game stays playable.

Do you understand now, dear? I understood it but knew you would be able to explain it better… and don’t call me dear. Even on the blog it sounds condescending.

ANYWAY! The point I think that needs to be made is that despite the lacklustre graphics are in fact the biggest boon that this game possesses. True, it is not always pretty to look at but it allowed greater focus on the overall experience of a high-octane racer with an amazing rock soundtrack. It also allowed the construction of some fantastical gravity-defying courses that it would take until the next generation of consoles to be able to render perfectly (Sickness bags not included) It is to the credit of this series that the sequel F-Zero GX is seen to have the best graphics of a Gamecube game.

The fact that one of these games in this series has not been made for the last 6-7 years is a real pity as people are now growing up in gaming without the F-Zero series. Realistic racers are all well and good, to be honest, but sometimes you need a good futuristic racer. The current champion of this title will be the Wipeout series, but that would not have been made if not for the original F-Zero on the SNES.

It fits in brilliantly with the legacy of Mario Kart as well, and while it’s not as quirky fun and cute, it has the same casual gameplay in a more futuristic, raw setting. The only thing that’s missing is weapons, something that both Mario Kart and Wipeout do brilliantly.

Yeah, but I think that this is a game where it’s fair enough. True, it doesn’t work with the deathmatch mode, where they’re badly missed. But during the proper racing modes, it means that you can focus on the actual racing and bashing them out of the way, rather than weapons coming in – making this far more dependent on racing skills instead of weapon luck or skills.

Strategy also plays a large role in this. Before each race you have the opportunity to weigh up top speed against acceleration. If you have enough knowledge of the race track to come you can actually stack the deck in your favour a little bit. Yeah, which is one of the two bits of customizations – the other being the obligatory ‘pick your player and cart with its own handling and grip’ – which is more so compared to the original where there were only 4 playable vehicles. Fair enough – it’s a new version after all. It also allows for adding in a little bit of characters – 30 different models and drivers, all of which race normally (of course).

As for the last feature, did we mention the music yet? Briefly I think, but it definitely needs more of a focus. Yeah, it does. It’s a rock soundtrack, ‘sounding’ fast (does that make sense?) and certainly adding to the experience of a speedy game. It sets your heart racing, blood pumping and sets you up for having to be fast, using your reflexes, and keep racing. Some of the music, especially the one used for the Big Blue track, is very familiar. Mostly because of it’s use for one of the stages in Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Which shows the legacy of this game – it is an important racer, one you don’t want to miss out on even if it just a chance to play as Captain Falcon without him repeatedly saying his name as he punches Pikachu in the face.

Final Thoughts

Seeing how more of my formative gaming years was in the company of Wipeout 2097 compared with the F-Zero franchise it is interesting to see the huge influence one had on the other. In that way F-Zero X is a really important title in the racing genre, even if it is not the most stunning. Somehow over 12 years later the simple gameplay can still induce an adrenaline rush; mightily impressive if you ask me.

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Game 23: Star Fox 64/Lylat Wars

Posted: January 27, 2011 by mulholland in Games
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Game 352/1001 according to the list


Genre: Shoot ’em Up
Platform: Nintendo 64
Year of Release: 1997
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

DO A BARREL ROLL! *cough* Ahem. Sorry but the temptation was overwhelming.

As I previously blogged on here we received a bumper crop of game from my good friend Kat (HI KAT!!!) so we are fast-tracking the games she gave us to make sure we can give them back to her in time. So there is no better time than the present to start.

What a better way to start with Star Fox 64 (released as Lylat Wars in Europe). Commonly listed in critics Top 100 as one of the best games ever released, as well as being the second highest seller in it’s year of release, this game was the first to offer the use of force feedback in the form of the Rumble Pack with which it was packaged. Something that we truly take for granted in this day and age.

Our Playthrough

We gave the single-player of this game a good going over and, since it was there, had a look at the Multiplayer Battles. The game itself is actually pretty short so there really was time to try everything a few times.

Our Thoughts

I am about ready to kill that blasted frog! You seemed to need him badly in that last level (penultimate one. Ouch, then, even more). Also, are we sure Slippy’s a boy-frog? I thought a young one, from the voice.  It’d fit, the annoying small wonder boy who’s crap in actual use.

I’ll look it up.

*3 minutes later*

Yea Slippy’s male but voiced in this game by a woman. My case is rested. Either way, I do believe that we may have an early contender for most annoying video game character ever. Absolutely, as useful as they may be sometimes…

That’s something that I despute about them. Slippy actually has some use (which therefore makes their screaming all the more annoying) but the others just complain at you whenever they’re in trouble. Yet when you have two ships on your tail with no ability to shake them they happily let you crash and burn.

I believe Falco was out to get me. I bet they think you’re supposed to be better… making them something you want to drag along. At the same time, the controls seem difficult enough to need to backup sometimes. During the more linear levels the controls are actually fantastic. You just need to memorise the combination for a somersault as it makes no real sense. However, when you are in all-range mode it feels very stiff and unresponsive.

Left, right, up and down are easier than full 3D movement with very large turning circles and only being able to fire in the same direction as you’re moving in. Such controls are now far easier to implement because of the standard dual-analog sticks on most consoles (minus the Wii but that’s an extreme exception). However, back in the day, no major console would offer that until the year after this is released when the Playstation’s Dual Shock Analog Controller changed the face of gaming as we know it. Absolutely true, but that makes it seem backwards right now. However, at the time the controls must have been quite workable, and I suspect even more part of the difficulty right now.

Maybe part of the difficulty is that we are a bit pampered with the current controllers but since this is the technology of the day then we do need to view this in both the context of its time and how it’s compared to the current gaming environment. Very true, and while the game is primitive right now in all aspects – including, in a way, gameplay, this was the big game in its genre and on the console at the time.

It’s still held in extremely high regard as a classic example of a shoot ’em up and you can really see why. If the graphics were gussied up and the controllers updated to current hardware it would still be released to a lot of phrase. So when Star Fox 3DS is released expect a lot more hailing. Absolutely, and those are the only two real downsides of the main game. That and the multiplayer, which was pants. (Which is not the main game, but that as an aside)

The multiplayer… doesn’t have much of a point.  It’s slow-paced due to the lack of other things happening – it’s two of you, with slow controls, in an arena with nobody else. The general feeling is that it was an afterthought; just tacked on at the last minute to tap an extra market.  If a game did that nowadays that would be a severe black mark against it’s name and I think developers now know better than to do so. The games themselves are tedious and even when there is only 2 players the screen is still split 4 ways which feels mightily excessive.

Had it been done properly, I’d expect it to be during the main missions as well. You replacing one of the wingmen would’ve made the game both more playable and more exciting. Ah yes, that would have been amazing. It’s surprising really that they didn’t re-release it in such a fashion for the Wii. As the same game or a sequel? Well there was a sequel; it was just not as well received so it fell underneath the radar. I mean a true sequel as well rather than the one on the Dinosaur Planet. Okay. One opportunity for the future then that will be interesting to try. Once the next 970+ games are out of the way that is, or unless Star Fox 3DS or any future releases from the franchise make a re-draft of the 1001 list.

I’ll be too busy catching up to all the other games that’ll have come out by then, but a good point. Still, we’ll undoubtedly find more such games in the future. Exactly, makes you wonder what the true successor to Lylat Wars will turn out to be.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to say this about a game that was as big as this. To us, the graphics look dated – something easily ignored considering we started off with Pong, two bars and a dot, but the controls are not as responsive as we’re used to these days. It’s a good game, and if you can get past those it can be quite immersive – just look at the memes this game spawned and the hatred for that stupid frog – but a proper (spiritual) successor would do a lot of good.

Do a barrel roll!

Epic Acquisition of the Televisual Variety

Posted: January 25, 2011 by mulholland in Acquisition
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Isn’t it beautiful! As you are likely to notice a change in the quality (or lack thereof) of our screenshots I thought it would be best to announce our brand new television.

This was not an extreme impulse buy (maybe a little bit) since my previous television was at least 10 years old and it had begun to have colour burns appearing at random intervals. I guess it helps that Jeroen is now earning money so we (and by we I mean he) can afford to buy one. I guess this may sound weird but I do keep saying how I will pay my half of the price when I eventually get a job so he can stop referring to it as his television rather than ours.  This may be a personal thing…. but I guess that after weeks of job hunting with no responses you do begin to feel a bit of a sponger.

It is an awesome television though. Great to watch David Attenborough on!

Game 22: Little King’s Story

Posted: January 24, 2011 by mulholland in Games
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Game 942/1001 according to the list


Genre: Strategy/RPG
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Cing
Publisher:  JP/NA: Marvelous Entertainment, EU: Rising Star Games

Following a rat through a hole, you end up in a magical kingdom where you are the king of the only kingdom in the world. Then it turns out there’s about eight more, all of which you have to conquer. In the mean time, your kingdom grows and you build houses to get more citizens and to make them have proper jobs instead of being ‘carefree adults’.

The story and all is told through cute crayon drawings, and although both theme and layout seem child-like, they do not always turn out to be such.

Our Playthrough

We, where we turned out to mostly be my boyfriend, made our way through the world, taking care of the first king and gaining a princess in the progress. (Why never a cute prince? Jees your mind is always set on one thing!) and working on developing our kingdom.

Our Thoughts

All is not what it seems in Little King’s Story. For a game that wraps itself up in kiddy story you cannot help but notice the more sinister undertones that permeates the game. The more mature themes are mostly just hinted at but eventually come out and it feels a bit uncomfortably at first.

One major example being the sudden appearance of a priest who, rather than using veiled generic references, refers more openly to a god that seems very much like the Christian one. He threatens force if you choose not to build his church to worship soup (ramen); divine retribution indeed. There is also the almost genocide of neighbouring races which actually did not sit right when presented in such a child-friendly fashion. It can feel kind of disturbing at times, although you’re pulled in further as the game goes on.

It is incredibly addictive and exceedingly cute. Most of the time, it is. It’s nice to just walk around and see the citizens do their thing sometimes – especially when there are festivities on because, for example, you’ve killed the demon cow. Another nice touch which adds to making this a world only a kid would dream up is that none of your population can truly die. As long as there is enough room in the villages they wash up on the shores of the beach with sections of their memory erased. It’s also a world where hat denotes occupation; just like a nursery school game or at least it’s the clearest indicator and they are ridiculously oversized and cute (I’m surprised the soldiers can see anything from below their helmets. Same with the archers with their kitsune masks. They are cute.)

Graphically too it’s a beauty, especially the watercolour style cut scenes and the chalkboard tutorials (both featuring cow drool. Yeah, he likes that.) It looks amazing and really adds to the atmosphere of a child’s dream, while still being detailed enough. Looks especially beautiful as the sun starts to set and everything is given a peach-coloured hue. Adding to this are the sounds, and in particular the music. You’ve probably heard all of them already, but they’re used to great effect. Absolutely, a lot of the classical music was featured in Disney’s Fantasia. The best is the use of Grieg’s ‘Morning Mood’ whenever you awaken from your slumber. Another point in case is the musical cue as you walk out of your villages into a wild area. I don’t know the names of the songs, but it moves from a gentle song to something a bit faster and exciting coupled with a palette alteration to give everything a more hostile feel. One you often don’t really notice, showing how seamless the changes can be.

We’re being overly positive so it’s time to drag it down with the negative point that made me relish the deaths of my subjects (the one that made me let Peter play more of the game after I got frustrated with it). The somewhat pitiable AI of some of your subjects really does leave much to be desired. They are horrible. They can’t even manage to walk up the stairs half of the time, meaning three or four stay behind and you have to spend quite a while trying to get them back up. You have to position yourself directly in the centre of the ramp or they get stuck. This is even worse in boss battles when for some unknown reason your archers start to dismantle the only shelter to hand instead of firing their arrows.

 

A nice feature would also be some sort of algorithm meaning that they attack enemies within a certain radius meaning you don’t have to fling them time after time after time. That would really make the game a whole lot easier and the experience a whole lot less draining especially as aiming them can be hard at times too, with a system that requires you to look in the exact right direction and even if you are facing in the exact direction it can still make believe you are aiming it about 3 parsecs to the left.

There’s a nice idea behind the controls, but in practice they could do with some tweaking to make them more reliable something to be updated in the sequel… whenever that comes out.

Final Thoughts

This is most certainly a game which needs more than 5 hours in order get an accurate impression. It’s a loveable little game marrying strategy with RPG but there are some niggles which stop this from being unmissable.

Game 21: Lego Star Wars

Posted: January 21, 2011 by mulholland in Games
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Game 657/1001 according to the list


Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Publisher: Eidos Interactive/LucasArts

It’s the game that came as a result of the accumulated wishes of every lonely child the union between the genius Lego toys with the now legendary Star Wars (the original trilogy… since the prequel trilogy wasn’t exactly classic filmmaking). However, what the people at Traveller’s Tale were able to do was take a series of films people take very seriously (some would say too seriously but I could not possibly comment) and find a way to inject it with a fantastical sense of humour which would then become the trademark of a highly phraseworthy series of games (with Lego Batman being their magnum opus in my personal opinion).

Our Playthrough

The copy we own is actually the Complete Saga edition meaning that we will have played through sections of both the original Lego Star Wars as well as those of the prequel trilogy. We’ve more or less played through all the episodes so we should have a good grasp on both games… seeing how the 1001 list specifically mentions only one game we’ll be focusing on that in our write up.

Our Thoughts

I guess we’ll have to look at the Star Wars experience later, but I think it’s worth going over the general qualities of these games first – as said; all of the games in the series are brilliant. It’s just a pity that Lego Batman didn’t end up on this list somewhere, it’s awesome beyond measure… but we digress.

 

It really is a gaming combination that shouldn’t work, especially since the idea of a Lego computer game is a touch strange. They’ve managed to pull it off brilliantly. To be fair, the Lego parts of it aren’t what you’d think – there are no conventional building things and putting them together in any arbitrary manner (except for two characters you can design yourself in most of the games). However, almost everything is made of Lego, and building predefined objects with them, or using the Force to create them, or anything like that, is a large part of the gameplay and in fact, destroying all these Lego objects is part of the fun of the game.

Similar fun can be derived from having Chewbacca pulling the arms off of the adversaries with the apt comic side-effects of course. Yes, or your protocol droids (C3PO & co) losing their limbs one by one as they get shot or damaged. I still think the best noise is when you use Jedi powers to push R2-D2 off the edge of something (tee hee). For those of you who know Darths & Droids… it is very much deserved too.

One thing that is remarkable in this is how close they remain to the overall story of Star Wars. Granted bits have to be fleshed out to create adequately paced levels, but they don’t actually play with it as much as you would expect so in that way purists were not too annoyed. Yeah and the cutscenes aren’t serious and boring copies of scenes from the movie, but, through the humour in there, are lovely to watch as well. (And to come back to that, in Lego Batman this shows off even more, as it doesn’t follow an existing story. Instead there’s a simple original one, which allows for a lot more charm in the cutscenes. Robin is lovely in it and will steal your heart. Get a room you two.)

A really good feature is the gaming hub where unlocked characters run around and it’s fun to create a brawl (even better in The Complete Saga where you can repeatedly slice JarJar Binks in twain). Not just that, aside from allowing for repeated studs collection from features in there, it serves as a nice way of using a lot of mechanics and have some battles with each other as well.

The extras are a remarkable mix of incredibly useful to incredibly idiotic. All are great fun to try out but there is only a handful which you can make regular use of. Yeah, and some are easier to use than others – from just getting extra studs when you kill someone, to your blaster shots exploding when you hit someone – not something you want when you’re close to it. That was so annoying, especially since you need those exploding blasts to break through certain shiny obstacles. Not necessarily – you can get characters later that make things explode through bombs, those are easier to handle and less necessary in fights. Ah yes, sorry about that… so, we’ve covered how faithful the game is to the movie series, their great sense of humour and collectables. Onto gameplay which is not perfect.

 

The camera can get particularly annoying when playing with a friend as it will go to any lengths to keep you both in shot, even if it means forcibly dragging your co-player into a ravine. Of course they then re-spawn falling into the ravine and you’re screwed in terms of stud collecting. Not just that, sometimes when you want to get a good view, to fight enemies or do tricky jumps, it zooms in to an awkward angle where it’s hard to see where you’re going… or the camera moves just as you need it stable to judge where you’re going. This isn’t a regular problem, to be fair, but when it does happen it is extremely annoying, like the driving levels they insist on including.

These are worse here than they are in other instalments like Lego Batman (so this is worth remembering). The controls don’t work well, the camera problems are made worse and it’s hard to see how what you’re doing has any effect. They realised there was something good, but they just needed to tighten the camera and controls for later games. I guess it’s near perfect by the time they started developing Lego Harry Potter where I assume its broomstick levels rather than driving (minus the obligatory double-decker bus in the third film). Something I am more and more looking to finding out, although I’m tempted to wait for its inevitable Complete Saga version, when all the levels are in there.

I really hope that they choose to do an Alice in Wonderland one or one involving plenty of fairy tales. That would be hilarious. There’s plenty of options still available, both movie franchises and otherwise (and I’ve mentioned Star Trek as an option I’d personally love). In any case, even if Star Wars isn’t your option, it’ll be worth trying out one of these games. I don’t even like Star Wars that much and I thought it was brilliant.

Final Thoughts

So yeah, this serie of LEGO games are a lot of fun. Lego Star Wars is great – although it’s probably worth going for the Complete Saga by now – but Lego Batman works just as well, and while we haven’t had a chance to play them yet, the Indiana Jones and Harry Potter games are said to be as good. Try which you like best – we think they’re different and innovative enough to fit in on this list.

Last, while it’s far from the same, there’s a Lego Star Wars 2.5 – the Quest for R2-D2 – available for free online. It might be worth a try to see whether you like it. It’ll be good fun anyway.

Game 20: Mario Kart Wii

Posted: January 18, 2011 by mulholland in Games
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Game 818/1001 according to the list


Genre: Racing
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

Earlier we kinda made a pledge that if there was a series then we would cover them from the first game on the 1001 list… we may not have mentioned it on here but such a promise was made to ourselves. Such ideals really do get thrown out of the window when you have relatives over who are itching to play titles from your gaming collection. Not that I’m complaining, I really do love this game.

The Mario Kart franchise started life back in 1992 when released on the SNES (yes we will be covering it) and has since become one of the most successful series of racing games ever released. This current incarnation sees it move onto the Wii and as such embrace the Wii motion technology. Every addition of the game was packed with a Wii Wheel which meant you could control how your car steered by turning the wheel itself (next thing will be the Wii Motion Accelerator pedals…maybe). If  this wasn’t for you then there was always the option of using an old Gamecube remote or the Wii Remote in conjunction with the nunchuck controller.

Our Playthrough

This has become known as one of the essential multiplayer games. In this vein we played this game with Jeroen’s brother as well as over the internet with our friend Mike. I would say that we’ll try out every character… but when you get settled into a racer you love it’s very hard to shift (hooray for King Boo!)

Our Thoughts

Wow, how much racing has changed; I remember playing Mario Kart on the SNES, looked worse and was quite a bit simpler. My first attempt at a racing game was an arcade version of Sega Rally Championship. Will we be covering that? Yes, game 299. Fantastic, this time it won’t take my mum’s 50ps! Awwww… that can’t have been pleasant for her.

She always preferred the Point Blank machine. I am not surprised somehow (excuse me, I need to move out of the way before physical violence is enacted) Haha, just throw another bloody blue shell at me if you want to see true violence being enacted on your person. I’ll keep that in mind the next time I am going to beat you which happens on special occasions. True, but it’s not entirely unheard of either. Yea, then again I have had probably 100 times more hours spent on it compared with you, no exaggeration. It made me miss the fun times I had with the housemates.

That makes any win worth celebrating, apart from when it’s been at the hands of the really strange AI which is really the only downside of this game. It’s been complained about by everyone who has played it that the AI in the game doesn’t act consistently and sometimes ‘cheats’. Like how suddenly in a space of 4 seconds you get red-shelled, inked, blue-shelled and then struck by lightning.

It can get rather overwhelming, and seems to be a lot of ‘all or nothing’. You can go a race without seeing anything, or have a race where you’re beaten on left, right and centre. It’s worse when suddenly your blue-shelled at the finish line… and yet when you are sitting in 3rd place for the entire last lap all you get is bananas. To be fair, part of that is based on the items you get (with default settings) being based on your position in the race. It’s worth wondering whether that applies to AI players, though.

The slight unevenness can make you feel like you are playing against human opponents even in single player mode. It certainly does, and it becomes quite a tough game, unexpectedly so at times. The difficulty curve almost becomes a vertical line when you get to certain courses (Rainbow Road being an obvious ones and the revival of Ghost Valley 2 from the SNES version).

Why don’t they ever fall off the course? I think it’s because the world is against you personally.

The SNES tracks (and it’s worth noting half the courses are remakes from earlier games) are relatively hard anything, due to their harsh turns and small layouts that are quite a change from the faster tracks with gentler curves new to the game or from other games. The oil slicks on Mario Circuit 3 are a real bitch. Absolutely, and a number of 180 degree turns that they are always in. Those are usually supplemented by Boost Pads where you can do jumps of off to get an extra speed boost. Yes, making the turns harder but allowing you to maintain speed as long as you don’t run into anything, very true.

Needless to say though, this is one fantastic racing game. Absolutely, and one of the more interesting things that set this game apart are the controls (that is to say, the Wii Wheel). I love using the Wii Wheel for this, somehow it feels like a more relaxing method to play a game… yet it’s more difficult. It probably gives the least feedback of how you’re steering, with the control stick normally providing this; you don’t know how far you’re actually turning, and are likely to overcompensate or steer too little and so are more likely to drive into a Chain Chomp. It’s especially lethal in stages like the aforementioned Rainbow Road. Still, it’s an interesting addition to a good racing game series and worth playing as its latest instalment.

The motion control aspect really does make it deserve a place on the list, as will the 3d aspect of the upcoming Mario Kart 3DS. I cannot wait for that handheld to arrive!

Final Thoughts

A very playable racing game, from a series that started off nice and got better. It’s fun and looks good. The controls are getting, better, with the Wii Wheel being a great addition. While the game can be frustrating, the AI makes the game as tough at times as playing with people sitting next to you… even though the taunting possible when playing with real people is far more worth it.

Game 19: Soulcalibur II

Posted: January 15, 2011 by mulholland in Games
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Game 507/1001 according to the list


Genre: Fighting
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco

It is with great pleasure that I introduce our first attempts at covering a fighting game!

Being a long-time exponent of the fighting genre it was great to see so many included on the list itself, and there are fewer better ways to introduce them than with SoulCalibur II. Having started out in Japan as an arcade game this was successfully ported onto the PS2, XBox and Gamecube with the latter being the best reviewed of the three. Each version also contained an exclusive character with Link appearing on the Gamecube, Heihachi Mishima was on the PS2 and comic-book character made his way onto the XBox.

It was thanks to this game that the Soul series was able to join the ranks of fighting games alongside Tekken, Street Fighter and Virtua Fighter.

Our Playthrough

There is only way that you can play through a fighting game; play every mode in the attempt to unlock all the characters as well as teaching Jeroen who is the true king of beat ’em ups (as other people have found out in respect to Tekken). We will be playing the Gamecube version that I bought in New York with birthday money… the fact that this means I have to keep my Gamecube since it’s unplayable on my Wii does make it slightly annoying.

Our Thoughts

So buttonmasher, your first beat ’em up from the list. So it is. Although I’m not sure ‘buttonmasher’ is entirely appropriate. I tried to use some strategy; I just forgot half the controls at the second session which resulted in you doing the same punch for an entire round. It worked and I changed it around later, made my tactics more varied (which was much appreciated), it made it a lot more fun.

Although, as we can state, right now it’s not a genre I’m as proficient with as you are. Beat ’em ups/fighting games have always been one of my favourite genres. The Soulcalibur series being one I love (except the third one, which was pants).

That leads me to the question that matters here. We can go on about graphics, sound, gameplay, design, story and more of that in a bit, but what my main question is (as someone who knows nothing about this) – what sets the series, and this part in particular, aside from other similar games?

Firstly is the use of handheld weapons. The SoulEdge/Calibur series may not have been the first to introduce them into a conventional fighting game but they were the ones who have made them a real boon. Each weapon comes with a different fighting style (and dare I say personality) which leads to a highly varied gaming experience. Something I’ve noticed with the different characters that we’ve played.

In your conventional beat ’em up everyone has a set radius of attack, when you introduce long-range weapons such as large axes and the Valentine Blade versus shorter range ones like nunchucks and a rapier then you really have to formulate a variety of tactics. This nicely co-insides with a wide variety of characters where each of them has fleshed out back story meaning you can understand their intentions for fighting rather than it being a free for all.

The controls too were very well organised, especially on the Gamecube (less so with the Xbox version) meaning that it is not too much of a stretch to go from a simple vertical slash to a complex throw. The variety of tactics shows itself clearly, and broke me up during our two player games, where my performance depended a lot of what I could do.

The controls were well organised as long as you can remember them. I probably didn’t play long enough to get the reflexes and innate memory. Reflexes are something that develop from a lot of fighting game experience. Bear in mind I’ve owned titles from the Soul, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Dead or Alive, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat franchises.

I guess that’s why (as you said when we were playing) button mashing isn’t rewarded as much in this game. The controls don’t seem to make it easy to execute combos or allow you to be effective that way most of time, while even going into a bit more makes the game better. The effort gone into getting the control pays off soon which means there is a great ‘pick up and play’ quantity even for amateurs. Yeah, it works for players on multiple levels, and the difficulty in the game seems to be able to scale based on that; although some game modes are more difficult than others.

The Weapon Master mode is an interesting side section, especially since it allows the purchase of different weapons for each character which then influences play even more. Such as a weapon which enhances strength but leeches from your health. The game seems to contain a relatively large variety, even if it does not show in all game modes.

Another interesting thing of note is the console-exclusive characters. I mentioned this already in the introduction but this is something that they actually repeated again in SoulCalibur IV so thought it worth another shout out. It’s an unexpected touch, but that makes it interesting. The PS2 really got the bad deal with theirs, since Heihachi Mishima is a stalwart of the Tekken series. If anything Link (exclusive on Gamecube) was the most interesting as they had to invent his attacks basically from scratch. Which means he’s horrid to play as… but worth a go (even if I have yet to actually do so). It’s weird when he whips out the bow and arrow and then follows it up with a bomb. Not something that’d normally fit with the game, but it also seems like it’d be possible to fit it in. But with all of them being different-range melee characters, one focussing on range doesn’t seem like he’d fit and the limited size arenas don’t help that feeling.

The arenas themselves are beautifully made though, such a variety of environments. Made me wish there were more of them. Makes me itch for the sole entry from the Dead or Alive series… now there is a game who knows how to make arenas. That’s for another time

Still, obviously this is a game worth playing for the fans. I’m not sure whether it’s the best for the beginners to the series (where I suppose the Super Smash Bros series would be better), but even then it seems worth a try to get something different.

Final Thoughts

The graphics are beautiful. Some may no longer consider them as realistic as they could be, but they hold up and the art style matches, with the arena being even more promising than the characters you play. The variety is surprising and shows how these games have moved past a simple matter of two characters fighting in a 2D environment, where forward, back, punch, kick and dodge is all you do and where everyone looks the same anyway. With a full storyline with some minor RPG elements, the fighting is almost little more than a gameplay element, which makes the game more fun to play.

Game 18: Animal Crossing

Posted: January 12, 2011 by mulholland in Games
Tags: , , , ,

Game 460/1001 according to the list


Genre: Life Simulation
Platform: Nintendo 64 and Gamecube
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

Something that every game wants to tap into is that addiction centre of the brain. As I mentioned/ranted about in a recent post the games that work best are those that reward at random intervals. Animal Crossing is able to carry this off by running in complete real time.

The lives of these cute little creatures follow a general schedule and there are events that only occur at certain times of the week, month or even year. You also feel incredibly responsible for the little town you create, with every day that passes it becomes more polluted and overgrown, talk about a guilt trip.

Our Playthrough

Since this took a long time to cross the Atlantic from the States the game I bought was actually an NTSC version. I played this on and off for the best part of the year so this is up to Jeroen to play. To do so he’ll create his own town and have fun with the animal villagers.

Our Thoughts

So, how did you get on in maintaining your delightful village of Drotimb? Not bad, although they seemed fairly pushy. I pay off my mortgage, and before I know it, they enlarge it for me and I have to pay back ten times as much. It happens so often though, but in the end you have a gloriously spacious abode filled with plenty of furniture. Indeed, plenty of weird and strange furniture, as well as more ordinary items.

It’s an interesting game, I’d say, although I’m not sure how it holds up long term. After a few hours, running around collecting shells, fishing and talking to people hoping they have a quest can get a bit tedious. I actually spent months playing this and managed to collect all the fossils and nearly all the insects (so much so that I managed to pay off the mortgage of the largest possible house).

I guess that I find it interesting that someone who happily spends a long time exploring every nook and cranny of an RPG world found this to be getting slightly tedious. I think what my worry here is that I don’t see much progress. Part of the thrill of an RPG can be to level-up, gain more powers, get better, and to find more stories. Here, you’re repeating the same thing. Sure, your house gets larger, and you can get more furniture, but your goal is to get a bigger house and get something nice… by doing the same things over and over. It’s fun, don’t get me wrong, but it was already starting to feel repetitive.

I always found it somewhat relaxing, a simple life where you can sell fish and plant trees to make your village as gorgeous as possible. That’s true, and it provides that experience, but it’s nothing too exciting, and from all that I’ve seen, it’s a coffee break game. Spend half an hour on each day, and it’s fun; spend five hours, and it’ll be boring after three days.

I disagree completely. I have been able to play Animal Crossing for hours at a time. So I guess this really is one for different temperaments. That sounds very true.

You cannot deny how cute the characters are, especially when your neighbours can be penguins and doggies. Most of them are, and they are mostly set up to be quite distinctive (until you get two who use the same set of phrases with only a word replaced). Plus their babbling is cute.

Then there is the weekly concert from canine troubadour Totakeke (KK Slider in the English translation). The whole reason I would turn on the game on a Saturday would be to hear those cute little animalese songs. Whom I haven’t met, of course, and due to the way the week was layed out, I couldn’t get to see. I think I was waiting in a freezing York station at the time. Remind me later to show you a clip on Youtube. Sure, that might show more of it.

What’s interesting is how the game interacts with the clock and calendar. The town changes as time passes. As we were playing it was constantly snowing. But there can be petals or falling leaves depending on the season. Plus annual festivals where you can get special items unavailable at other times of the year which try to suck you in so you keep you playing. As said, I haven’t seen that, but it sounds amazing.

I guess that to truly get the best out of this game (as I appear to have done) this needs a lot of your time over a prolonged period.

Final Thoughts

This is a fun game that can get quite addictiveif you give it time to become so. It looks good, bright and colourful, the sound’s nice, it’s cute, and there a couple of interesting subgoals to entertain yourself with. It does, however, seem to be a game where you have to be sucked in – if you’re not, it can get dull and you might give up sooner than the game warrants.

Game 17: Audiosurf

Posted: January 9, 2011 by mulholland in Games
Tags: , , , , ,

Game 810/1001 according to the list


Genre: Puzzle/Music
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Dylan Fitterer
Publisher: Steam (online), Ascaron (hard-copy)

Many games have been released that have tried to capitalise on visualisations of music. We will be covering a bunch of these later on but Audiosurf already does something that they can not; create a puzzle that is truly customisable based on the song that you put in. With this comes a large online community of leader boards where almost all songs are somehow covered.

Even though I have written this introduction without yet having fully played the 5 hours it is already obvious that this is a must-have game for any musical fanatic.

Our Playthrough

We went through my iTunes folders and tried a wide variety of music using all the characters available. Music that we covered included the likes of ABBA, Sleigh Bells, Lady Gaga, Utada Hikaru, VV Brown, Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire.

Our Thoughts

I believe that we have finally found a game which accurately simulates the feeling of driving when on an acid trip while the strangest music plays (ha ha I have odd music tastes).

It is quite possibly the best visualization of music you can have. I agree wholeheartedly. As mentioned before we are still to cover games such as Frequency and Amplitude but this will surely blow them out of the water in every conceivable way as it allows the use of ANY piece of music. Of course you need to have an mp3 or one of several other audio formats, to be fair. Yes that was a bit of a disservice to the game. Many audio files (such as iTunes’ favourite) are also compatible. Yeah

So in other words, have music, select it in the game, and get going. But there is a lot more to it. The visuals are astonishing for an independent game. It looks good; strange, but good. It’s, as said, psychedelic, and with the shifting colours, turns and blocks sliding past while shapes turn in the background, it’s interesting and colourful experience although while it looks odd, it’s not distracting from the actual gameplay.

Agreed. The gameplay is helped by the number of different cars you can play around with; each with their own powers. Yeah and when you get beyond the psychedelic track, the actual gameplay is worthy of any other puzzle game: You go forward following the beat of the music and have to collect blocks that are placed based on the music. If you line up at least three, you get points and they disappear. Collect too many and you crash and need to wait to re-spawn and depending on your character you can then shuffle these around, push blocks out of your way and even launch your car over them.

You could also spend the entire track sitting in the hard shoulder whilst watching the dazzling racetrack… if you really wanted to. But what’d be the fun in that? Get someone else to play while you look at the marvels something I enjoyed doing whilst we experimented with various genres.

If you want a really fast game that’s challenging I would recommend either ‘Rachel’ by Sleigh Bells or ‘evolution’ by Ayumi Hamasaki. (Trust him, he’d know) but it makes you want to try out other songs as well, just to see what they look like. It’s amazing what slower songs can look like on there too.  ‘Devil’s Spoke’ by Laura Marling was surprisingly complex.

Another nice feature is the leaderboards. Rather than playing on your own, your point total gets compared to other people who played the same song and you can see who did best on it. By developing a nice little online competitive community they have been able to really extend the game’s longevity. Aside from the obvious trying out of new music after it plops onto the doormat.

Making this a game not just worth trying, but keeping up with for some time, whenever you want to combine colourful graphics, good music and a nice puzzle to make it more worthwhile.

Final Thoughts

This may be too early to call it (seeing that we are only 17 games in) but with the exception of the games with the little plastic instruments (I am eagerly anticipating a DJ Hero set at some point in the future) I can not think of a music game that will come close to beating this one.

Game 16: Uplink

Posted: January 6, 2011 by mulholland in Games
Tags: , , ,

Game 494/1001 according to the list


Genre: Simulation
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 2001
Developer: Introversion Software
Publisher: Introversion Software

Ever wanted to feel like one of those hackers in the movies? Well now you can in Uplink; a hacking simulation which was the first release by the UK-based company Introversion Software.

Whilst I am personally more drawn to being a hacker in the style of Matthew Broderick in WarGames rather than Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix this game is more the more interesting as it is set… last year. That’s right people this is a futuristic hacking simulation that is set in 2010 which, when we remember some of the stories surrounding Wikileaks a month ago, they appear to have gotten the timeframe perfectly right.

The truth of hacking may not be as glamourous… but (and this is important children) this is a better way to scratch that hacking itch rather than try to bring down Mastercard.

Our Playthrough

If it was possible to play this via a montage featuring the music of some unknown band then we would have… but we did it the only logical way. Play through the missions given by the games and attempt to bring down various multi-national companies. Nanananana-MONTAGE!

Our Thoughts

I’m not sure whether we should be having this conversation now. They might be on to us. Just remember to delete the logs afterwards and I’m sure we’ll be safe. Good thing there’s some open servers around.

Uplink is a very convincing game, and while it doesn’t look like much, that makes it seems more real. To the point that your heart starts to race the closer you are to being traced by those poor suckers you’re hacking. And you shout at people trying to help you out. Nerves of steel help with the game.

One thing that adds to the atmosphere is that the game never breaks character, not even during the tutorial, where you would usually get some comments that wouldn’t fit. You also have to try and hit the ground running. If you do not take enough time to figure out how to avoid getting caught… you’re dogmeat. And caution pays – in our play, we focused more on easier missions we knew we could do, rather than shooting for a bigger one that we might not be able to take on, and that meant that we could actually get more protection in when we went for the larger rewards. If you make enough money in missions where you either copy or delete files then you will be able to afford more high-tech gubbins such or better versions of your technology. Another way to try and make life easier for yourself is connecting to as many intermediate servers as possible, that really does increase the time it can take for them to trace you.

As you can see, there’s a lot to learn about the games, and many options are open pretty much from the start. Yea this is beginning to sound like a walkthrough. The best way to do this is really through trial and error. Just make sure you have your wits about you. Yeah, the good thing is that, at least at first, it’s easy to stop early when you need to, so you can try again. While it can be tense, it doesn’t feel too difficult. But it’s still got enough of a learning curve that the occassional mission can still feel VERY tense. Yeah, it has hit a sweet spot there.

Which is all the sweeter because there is not really another game quite like this one. There’s not, or not that I know of.  And that’s what makes it interesting. It’s a game that simplifies how it works, but does make you feel like you’re hacking systems and going around deleting or stealing important files and finding out financial details of all sorts of places. The graphics or sounds may not look like much… but would it be anyway? Hacking is the realm of command line tools and similar interfaces, not flashy 3D environment where you defeat programs by racing on a virtual motorcycle. A world map filled with connection links and flashing numbers and letters are all you need. And the more you know of these systems, the more this fits.

Final Thoughts

This game makes you feel like you’re in the middle of things, hacking systems and doing missions that are morally dubious. It also is quite long – we never reached the few ‘storyline missions’ that are supposed to be in there, although we’ll be playing more and will undoubtably reach it down the line. Worth a try, because of how unique it is, but also because of the wonderful presentation and completely sense of, well, fitting in.