Archive for the 'Classic Games' Category

07
Dec
09

Planet M.U.L.E. went live recently – Go play!

I’m going to begin this total gush post by saying I have nothing invested in the company that makes this game. Run over to planet M.U.L.E and check it out.

What is M.U.L.E?

Well it’s one of the most beloved games of all time. It’s one of those rare few game designs where people still talk about it and play it and adapt it, even though it’s decades old. It’s been on many different platforms over the years. You should have heard of it before now.

But fear not! Because now you can play it online with people…. with nicer graphics! As far as I can tell, it’s very faithful to the original, with perhaps just a small tweak or two. Go play the damn thing… it’s free!

Okay okay, maybe you need further information. M.U.L.E is an economic game. There are several different resources that players generate and trade with one another in order to make the maximum possible profit. The rules of supply and demand are captured beautifully here, better than most “euro” style board games that try to get a similar feel.

One of the particularly innovative features was the way the game approached bartering, where you have your character on one side of the screen, theirs on the other, and you literally “meet in the middle” on a certain price point. There is a time limit, and you are most likely negotiating as you move up and down. If you’re selling and you know they’ll buy, you can set a lower price, and as they approach you can pull back at the last second to make them come to you out of desperation. It’s awesome.

Planet M.U.L.E looks like it has a pretty good team that intends on adding more and more features to the game as time goes on. Currently, it’s free as I said … and I hope they can keep it this way. You can play it online with friends or random people, as well as locally in a network. Oh, it also runs on everything. How have you not clicked away from this and downloaded it yet?

On a personal note, M.U.L.E is one of those rare strategy games that I can truly enjoy even though I’m pretty bad at it. This doesn’t happen very often for me, but I never feel like I’ve been outwitted by some sort of cheap trick. I always feel like I’m learning something every time I lose. The game just went live less than a week ago, so I suggest you go pick it up and learn how to play before the sharks get really good.

Go give it a look!

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15
Jun
09

The Big Final Fantasy VII Post

One of my summer goals with this blog was to finally play several of the Final Fantasy games. I finished FFVII recently, finding that it coincided with the gameFAQs best game ever contest rather nicely. I’ve dabbled with FFVII in the past, but never played it all the way through until recently. While playing, I was absolutely STUNNED at how overrated this game is.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. I have to acknowledge the impact and influence of Final Fantasy VII. Yes, it helped bring a JRPG market to North America and I’m sure it helped Playstation sales too. However, if we’re acknowledging the influence and lasting appeal of this game, then we also have to observe it with a modern eye and see how it holds up. Today we’ll be tackling gameplay and technical stuff. I imagine next post we’ll be tackling the story. We will be using another game from Squaresoft as a counterpoint, to show that I’m not just a hater… and to help show why I dislike so much of FFVII.

Around the middle of disc one, I was ready to say this game had pretty good RPG gameplay. As I played on though, I started to notice several things that bugged me.

1) There is no challenge to it. Now, some might argue that there’s no challenge to any RPG. If you level grind enough, you can make it through anything. I didn’t level grind though, and I breezed through this game. I don’t demand all my RPGs to have bosses that require four solid hours of killing the same monster over and over beforehand, but none of them even slowed me down. There’s nothing clever to the combat either… you can win all the fights doing roughly the same thing. The depth of the strategy only goes as far as “oh shit, fire heals him, better not use fire”.

This might sound like a challenge gamer type complaint, but look… the fans of this series DESPERATELY mine this game for challenge. You need look no further than all the speed runs, no materia runs, and low level runs to realize that.

– Chrono Trigger uses a similar active time battle system, but has dual and triple techs that require several characters to be “ready” at the same time, lending a small but interesting level of tactics to each battle. Trigger also makes much better use of area of effect spells. Also, many of the battles can be avoided if you’re so inclined. There are no random battles.

2) The boss battles range from uninspired to uninteresting. When I realized the game was going to make me fight several differently coloured JENOVA bosses, I really started to get annoyed. Palette swaps are a common way of not coming up with new enemies in an rpg, but you really shouldn’t be palette swapping boss battles. They all came off as very samey, and once again they lacked any strategy whatsoever.

– Chrono Trigger has been criticized for being too easy, I’m pretty sure it had some palette swapped monsters too, but at LEAST it had interesting and memorable boss battles throughout. The dragon tank, the robot guardian, and zombor all kick the shit out of the FFVII boss battles.

3) The materia system is lame. It allows for a great amount of character customization, but because of the way that customization works, it removes all the personality from the characters, and the strategy from building them. All I did for the first half of the game was fill as many materia slots as possible to rank up my materia, and later on I mixed and matched ’em according to whomever was in my party. Each character became less of a character and more of a magic holder that each has different limit breaks.

– Chrono Trigger has the typical “give each person an element” magic system, but it makes each character feel more unique. It makes SENSE that the nerdy girl would throw little bombs and use a hypnotic wave gizmo. She can’t trade magic rocks with the cave woman from 65 000 000 BC to give her the gift of fire.

4) The mini games are atrociously bad… and often mandatory. They crop up at strange sections in the game where all of sudden FFVII feels like stringing together a series of short and gimmicky mini games that give out a mostly useless reward. I’m thinking of the marching, the dolphin jumping, the submarine scene, the chocobo races… they were all poorly justified within the story or just poorly executed.

– Chrono has a few mini games. Some hold up better than others. The race across the junkyard is kind of weak, but at least it made sense within the story. The rest of the mini games that I can remember are all optional. There is one that many players should do, but it’s technically optional… if you get my drift.

5) The battles are slower than should be allowed. The unskippable summon animations are irritating of course, but I’m not just talking about those. At times, the battle slows to a crawl as the game camera zooms around to show whatever it feels like showing. At other times, the battle moves along at a decent (but still slow) pace. Often, you will queue up all three party attacks and not even know what order they will come out in. Initiative is completely unclear. Sometimes you’ll set all your party attacks, only to find the enemy pummel you several times in a row. It would be nice if there was some way of knowing the order of attacks, or at the very least move the battle along at a good pace so that it doesn’t matter quite so much.

– Chrono Trigger moves along at a nice clip, but still has extravagant magic animations for the big attacks and spells. Some of the triple techs never get old.

6) The game looks like shit. Even the fans HAVE to admit this. The cut scenes look fine… the environments are pretty… the battles look a little worse…  and the character models in the in game graphics look HORRENDOUS. Easily some of the worst graphics in the history of the Playstation. Easily. It seems Square made some type of technical tradeoff with several aspects of the graphics, and it totally doesn’t hold up… and it didn’t hold up at the time either, if you look at similar titles of the same year.

– Chrono Trigger came out two years before and it still looks sexy because it didn’t sacrifice some aspects of the graphics in order to allow for others to shine. The developers obviously wanted the whole game to look nice, and not just parts of it.

In Thursday’s post, I’m going to talk about the most praised part of FFVII: The story. See you then.

11
Jun
09

Let’s talk Zelda

The GameFAQS best game ever contest has recently come to a close. This was the biggest one they’ve ever done, plus they separated the games into tiers based on the time period they were released. I’m always somewhat annoyed and disgusted at how universally well all the Final Fantasy games do, as if there’s some type of Squaresoft party line. If you remember one of my posts a while back, I mentioned I’m going to step outside my comfort zone and dig into the FF universe.

I was all set up to do a complete noob’s FF7 review, but Legend of Zelda : Ocarina of Time won it all. I’ve chosen to delay the FF7 post and instead talk a bit about Zelda, since it’s more topical this way. Expect the FF7 post on monday though!

Ocarina of Time is one of those games where if someone were to point to it as the best game ever, I wouldn’t argue. Yet, I probably wouldn’t point to it as my absolute favorite. It’s like the Shawshank Redemption that way (NOT the Godfather. This blog has strong opinions!).

Zelda’s in a weird situation when it comes to sequels because they’ve more or less made the perfect game twice already (Link to the Past, and the aforementioned Ocarina of Time). The gameplay and construction of the Zelda games is so good that there’s almost nothing to attack critically. Critics of the series usually go after the fact that “they’ve made the same game over and over” ever since both of their landmark titles. The thing is, these same critics also tear down EVERY attempt the Zelda series makes to innovate or change the formula set up by their two hall of fame entries.

I’m talking about Wind Waker, Majora’s Mask, and to a certain extent, Twilight Princess. All of these would be very good games, even if they weren’t in the Zelda franchise, but critics complained about every one of them and they complained about the very ways in which they were trying to be different and innovative. People complained about the cute graphics and sailing portions of Wind Waker. They bitched about the time limit and time travelling of Majora’s Mask. I don’t know what there is to complain about with Twilight Princess, but dammit they found a way to ignore the innovation put forth by that game as well.

It’s like when an insanely popular band is accused of being too samey with every album, so they mix up their new album just a little, and everyone freaks out because it isn’t like their old stuff. Nintendo is in that trap with the Zelda series. I suggest they continue to make small little innovations and changes to their winning formula… and maybe get even more ballsy with the changes they make.

The Zelda series is one of the only franchises where you can literally take ANY title (okay, okay… not the CD-I games) and have a truly excellent time with it.  Ocarina of Time should absolutely beat out FF7 for the best game ever… and I’m so glad it did.

That being said, my FFVII post (posts? who knows…) will be on Monday.

07
May
09

Greendog : The Beached Surfer Dude

The Sega Genesis had some really bizarre games. I had a pretty good genesis collection, with many of the obvious and popular choices, but also with some ones that people don’t really talk about these days. We’re going to talk about one today.

GREENDOG: THE BEACHED SURFER DUDE.

I think as a kid, I really couldn’t appreciate the awesomeness of this title. not to worry though, I do now… it’s fucking fantastic. The plot is pretty great too. In the opening cutscene you see Greendog get cartoonishly washed up on a beach with a strange amulet on his neck. He quickly discovers that this amulet bears a strange Aztec curse that causes everything around him to go BERZERK. He needs to find several pieces of some treasurey thingy in order to lift the curse and be able to surf again!

Now… that’s actually somewhat original. Sure, the finding X pieces of an old relic is pretty typical, but an amulet that causes everything to go crazy? It’s a hilarious animation too… people’s eyes bug out and they become a crazy version of themselves.

So how’s it play? It’s a side scroller, you go along throwing a frisbee at all the enemies, picking up powerups along the way and so on. It has many of the side scroller tropes that drive people crazy today, such as jumping puzzles and mandatory high speed “vehicle” style skateboarding and roller blading levels. It also has sonic style underwater levels where you need to continually restock Greendog’s air supply.

It falls somewhere between total shit and total classic, but it’s an example of one of those bizarre games that I have a special attachment to because I grew up with it. I particularly like the art style. Greendog has almost no facial features, and he hides behind his hat most of the time. As much as some of the levels are irritating, some are really innovative. You collect junk food for points (the unhealthier shit being worth more points by the way), but in one level, there’s a little dog going along with you. The dog will eat all your junk food unless you get an enemy to drop a bone, which distracts the li’l fella for long enough for you to snag some food. The dog shows up again in an underwater level with a little snorkel on.

The game is full of cute little touches like that. Another good one is the red piranhas that fill every square inch of water in the game. If Greendog even dips part of himself underwater he’ll come out with the surface of his skin COVERED in hungry fish.

I don’t think I ever finished the thing, though I’ve gotten very close many times. Perhaps it would be a little more forgiving to play with saved states on an emulator, but I’ve never been that crazy about using those. It isn’t knuckle bustingly hard, but the game is long enough to just kind of exhaust you… it would be perfect for two sittings, not one. 

I know you emulator people are always looking for obscure little games that you overlooked at the time. Maybe give this one a shot?

23
Apr
09

Earthbound and down

Earthbound makes me smile. I don’t really know why. It seems to be a franchise that people either love or hate, but the vast majority of people do neither because they never gave it a shot. I can see why though. It’s very odd, with writing that mixes strange japanese storytelling with a rabid obsession for americana. I’ve been recently playing through Mother 3 (or Earthbound 2, as we call it in this continent). I’m about halfway through, as far as I can tell, and I’m enjoying every weird bit of it.

I can’t really tell where the story is going at this point in the game; it isn’t laid out nearly as traditionally as the previous Earthbound game. It involves a happy little town in the forest that gets invaded by a bunch of strange men who wear pig masks that have a thing for technology. There are some pretty obvious satirical pokes here and there, such as when you play as a monkey named Salsa. (YEAH. A MONKEY NAMED SALSA. HE’S ENSLAVED BY A MIDDLE EASTERN MAN WHO STOLE HIS MONKEY GIRLFRIEND.) Anyway, you play as this monkey and you have a mission where you need to deliver “happiness boxes” to several of the people in the village. It turns out later on that you were delivering big pink TVs that emit bright colors and make people docile and happy. You also find out that the houses that don’t have happy boxes get struck by lightning over and over.

Hmm… curiouser and curiouser.

The charming little satirical story is interesting enough to keep you involved. Even if the subtext is completely transparent, the storytelling really does have some balls in terms of just how long it makes you wait before you take control of the main character, how callously it kills off characters, and how it doesn’t care about stringing you along for two hours before telling you what the point is. I actually consider all those good things, since most rpg storylines are incredibly predictable and dull.

Wow, I talked for 300 words about STORY!? What the hell kind of gamer am I? Well, the gameplay is a somewhat improved version of the classic Earthbound gameplay. They tightened up the combat a fair bit. There aren’t nearly as many pointless messages and everything moves much more quickly. There’s some type of “rhythm system” that is something like the timed hits from Super Mario RPG, where each monster has a different musical rhythm that you can time your button presses to and get combo attacks. I seem to pull them off with luck and luck alone, but I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it by the end. If that real time button pressing throws you off, don’t worry about it, I’m sure you can get through the game just fine without it. Oh, and they also made the inventory system way more manageable. Thank God.

So, I absolutely recommend Mother 3 to fans of the original Earthbound. If you haven’t played Earthbound, you should probably do that one first, since it’s kind of a classic. The stories don’t seem to be directly related though, so I guess it’s up to you. As for Mother 1 (Earthbound negative one?), you can ignore that one unless you’re REALLY hardcore.

23
Mar
09

The Robotron Diaries

I don’t like to brag… but I’m pretty good at video games. I can hold my own in pretty much anything you throw at me, to the point where it bothers some of my friends. If there was any type of real professional gaming circuit, it would be all I did.

Even though there isn’t … I still like to hone my skills with some of the hardest stuff ever. I beat the ever famous “I wanna be the guy”. I did the kaizo mario world games and a few other mario romhacks. It’s a worthless skill, but dammit I have it in spades!

I’m a fan of the two major video game documentaries : “King of Kong” and “Chasing Ghosts”. I might do a post one them at some point later on. After watching them, I went to relive a bunch of my old arcade faves. I’m good enough at most of them, nowhere near any type of high score level, but good enough.

Except with one game. Robotron 2084 kicks my ASS. It kicks my ass so hard that the next Kevin wannabe is gonna feel it. I remember being pretty good at Robotron 64, getting to some stupidly high level and just stopping out of a need for sleep or food. The original Robotron arcade game is viciously difficult.

I played probably five games.. and the best I did was wave 13. This is one of the beloved classics in all of video game programming, and I can only get to wave 13! I did a little research… you can get to wave 255 before you start all over again on wave 1. 

It’s a pretty busy season for students right now, so that’s why you haven’t gotten an update on the newish earthbound translation, or on any major RPG or time consuming game. I do like having short little games that I can quickly play for 15 or 20 minutes between studying and eating and so on. 

So…. as a complete Robotron noob, I will play the game here and there and keep you posted as to my score. Maybe I’ll even have a strategy tip or two. Maybe I’ll intrigue you and you’ll want to play along. Either way, I’m filling in a MAJOR hole in my vacuous skill set. 

Don’t worry, this won’t replace the normal posting. I will just include a brief paragraph and update at the bottom of my new mineshaft posts each monday and thursday. There may not be a new development (or score) each time, but I will try to keep up with it for a while at least. 

In the meantime, there will be less video game related content … since there will be less time to play. Maybe I’ll get a chance to do another book review or two ? We’ll see!

Until then… back to work.

Edit : (March 24th) Okay I said wave 13 in the post… that was for memory. After about 5 plays this afternoon I realize there is NO WAY I made it to wave 13. The best I did was wave 10… so the bar is even lower than before. It’s really bad that wave 13 out of 255 is the new goal I’m trying to hit.

27
Nov
08

Overlooked Game Pick : The Journeyman Project

     Since this blog set a new record for hits in a day after the Fl0w and art games post, I figured I’d drive my traffic stats way back into the dumps by mentioning another obscure video game that I absolutely adore.

Ohhh the Journeyman Project series. It’s a series of three games made by Presto Studios, a company that is sadly gone now. I suppose you’d call the games adventure games, except they’re first person. I hesitate to use the term “first person adventure” because apparently Metroid Prime stole that term and claimed they invented it.

I love these games because they demonstrate to me EXACTLY how the sequels to video games should work. They’re games about time travel, which I’m already a sucker for. Video game sequels tend to be criticized if they don’t change the gameplay enough. The second entry in the aforementioned Metroid Prime series is a good example of this. The Journeyman Project series evolves beautifully with every entry, both in terms of story and gameplay.

In all the games you play as Gage Blackwood, an agent working for the “temporal security agency”. This is basically a police force that protects the integrity of time itself. The first game involves a plot to disrupt mankind’s attempt to meet peacefully with aliens and be inducted into the alien equivalent of the United Nations. A scientist sends robots with different missions to three different places in time, and Gage needs to stop them. 

This sounds like pretty typical science fiction fare. The game was quite well made, allowing for a “safe” and “violent” way to solve most of the combat puzzles. It was an above average adventure game that never got the attention it deserved.

The second game “Buried in Time” took place six months after the first game. In these six months, the pegasus time machine from the first game has been adapted into time traveling suits that people can wear. This time, Gage has been framed for tampering with history, and the whole debacle is making the alien UN thingy threaten to shut down the TSA and revoke humanity’s time travel technology. This is completely different from the first game both in how it plays and the story being told. It also gives Gage a sidekick, an AI named Arthur. 

The third game is full of twists and turns that affect how you view the plot of the previous two games, but it has a greater emphasis on history and artifacts. It also brings a new game mechanic with the chameleon suit, a time travel suit that allows Gage to look like anyone that it saves in memory. It’s great… play it.

This is how a series should evolve. The established characters and story continues and the gameplay changes slightly as well. The key is that each game introduces new technology and mechanics that is believable in the game world. Also, the core gameplay remains mostly the same, but different enough to be interesting. As you look back on the games you see an arc in the story, with each game becoming less and less about the nitty gritty of the time traveling, and more about the humans and their effect upon history and the future.

If you like adventure games, totally check out the Journeyman Project. Each game after the first is less and less puzzley, if that’ll help you. As far as I’m concerned, almost every modern game franchise has something to learn about sequels and story progression from the Journeyman Project series.