15 September 2012

Article: Trance Vibrator (Playstation 2)

Xbox and Gamecube both have their share of different accessories. The Dreamcast have many accessories. But the one accessory that really made my eyebrows jump up in the air when I first heard about it - is the Trance Vibrator.

The Trance Vibrator was sold in a special edition of the rythm based railshooter Rez. It came with an USB cable to be plugged into the console and a washable pouch to keep it in. Yes, washable. When running the game - the vibrator... vibrates. Apparantly a lot, I have not had the delightful chance to try it out but from what I hear it is much stronger than the built in rumble feature in the Dual Shock 2 controllers.

Since the release of this... interesting, to say the least, accessory it has been the subject of reversed engineering and is now also sold as a general PC peripheral for those long hot nights of playing Minesweeper.

So now you do not have to answer something conventional like "the Samba de Amigo maracas!" when asked about your favorite accessory, now you can shout "the Trance Vibrator!" from the top of your lungs.

12 September 2012

Review: Yoshi's Island DS (Nintendo DS)

I remember when this came out! I got to review it for a community called Spinn, driven by SVT (Swedish Television) and I played through it, was mildly disappointed and wrote a few lines about how mediocre it was. But this was six years ago. I decided it was time for a re-evaluation because I really wanted to play Yoshi's Island again and the first one is outside this blogs scope since it was released on the Super Nintendo. Hence, the DS version found its way out of the shelf.

Where should they go from Super Mario World: Yoshi's Island? It was so good it is hard to imagine what could have improved the concept without changing it too much. Of course they figured out a way by implementing more babies. Yes, the "more of everything" approach. More babies, more puzzles, higher difficulty and so on. Every baby has different strenghts and weaknesses and the levels absolutely utilizes this, it really feels like every baby is needed in its own irreplacable way.

It is on the other hand fewer levels in this game compared to its big brother, there is five worlds to explore in total, and while this may sound like a pretty short adventure I assure you it is not. Well, OK, if you play the game just to clear it then it can be quite short - but if you play it to find all the secrets in every world and go for 100% clear it will last very long.

Boy do they hide their secrets well! It is like they have stored every good idea for a hiding place they ever had and used it in this game. In the beginning it is really fun to collect everything and maybe give every other level one extra go to get everything but as the game progresses this becomes increasingly difficult to the point that I almost do not know how to find everything. There is just so many paths to take, doors that leads to doors one can not back into again and the search for 100% seems more and more like a distant dream and ultimately a chore I am not willing to pursue. In many of the last levels I put in hours of work without reaching 100% which makes me not want to try it again.

This is were the game really gives the player a choice. It is possible to just finish the game without a care in the world for the hidden goodies, there is no "bad ending" or anything that will punish those gamers, but if one really want to get everything possible out of the game it has hours upon hours of treasure hunting in its 40+ levels.

So, in conclusion, no matter what kind of gamer you are you will definately have fun with Yoshi's Island DS. It is a good addition to every DS collection.

08 September 2012

Article: Top 5 The Biggest Letdowns of Playstation 2

First of all I would like to say that this list is based only on my own personal opinions and experiences. There might be, as one would call it, worse games for the Playstation 2 and some might not agree that the games presented here was in fact letdowns - but that is fine. Just drop a comment or two if you want to share.

Now then, with that out of the way - let us dig in to the list! 

5. Twisted Metal Black
I have always liked the Twisted Metal concept. I also thought I lived in a part of the world that was not so picky in what to pass when it comes to censoring. Unfortunately, I was wrong. While the gameplay is intact, and this is why it only makes it to place number five, the cutscenes are just that. Cut. Cut out completely, rendering the game completely storyless. Now, I have seen the footage on YouTube and yes I can agree that this might not be appealing to worried parents and deeply religious people but I mean come on. There is just no real reason for leaving the goodies out. And I really hate censorship.

4. 1945 1&2 The Arcade Games

Two decent shoot 'em up's for the price of a half one? Why yes please! Oh, wait... What happened to the controls? I do not know if you guys are familiar with the genre that is shoot 'em up, but there is quite some precision involved in advancing in these games. Precision that is effectively destroyed when not optimizing the controls - which causes an ever so slight delay. Who wants to play a demanding shoot 'em up with crappy controls? Not me.

3. Forbidden Siren
I am a big fan of survival horror. Especially the ones involving a good story, sinister sites and a cool gameplay twist. In Forbidden Siren it was said you could sightjack any other person, be it friend or foe, to see what they see. The characters are not soldiers with perfect aim, the surroundings are not laid out to form a logic path to take. It really feels like being lost in the dark with danger at every turn. The difficulty make the player feel very helpless which adds to the tension - but here is where it all goes pear shaped. The difficulty is not only in aiming and fighting, it is almost impossible to clear an area without having to try it multiple times. And I really mean multiple. The pure trial and error shatters every notion of fear down into a fine powder of frustration and boredom. The story is complicated as all hell and there is many characters to follow on top of this. It just does not feel like a survival horror, it feels like an extremely complicated game made for experts who wants a project to calculate.

2. Metal Slug Anthology
We are closing in on the absolute biggest letdown of my Playstation 2 experience - and Metal Slug Anthology almost made it there. If you like games to be tough in a sweet old school kind of way then you most probably already know all about Metal Slug. How this collection, Metal Slug Anthology, contains seven Metal Slugs plus extras. It truly is a must buy! But the PAL version is suffering from the very same problem 1945 1&2 The Arcade Games was. The controls. It is a very noticable delay between pressing a button and seeing the on-screen result. This makes this wonderful collection completely useless since none of the games can be controlled in a satisfactory way.

1. Ico
The reason this game ended up on the top place of my all time biggest letdowns of Playstation 2 is mostly because of my expectations. I expected an emotional journey surpassing everything else I had up to then experienced. With trembling fingers I started playing what was called a true masterpiece and so I met her. Yorda. The girl you are supposed to help by leading her through the castles pussles and defend from haunting dark beings. Well, let me put it this way. From the moment I met this utterly retarded girl, incapable of any brain activity or logic movement on her own, Ico was horrendous. I clearly saw what needed to be done and did it quite effortless, but to get that fruitbrained excuse of a NPC to follow in my steps was easier said than done. Since we got off on the wrong foot right off the bat it only got worse. My frustration grew with every trial that eventually I truly hated her. I wanted to go Duck Hunt on her ass and just never ever look back. Ico made me feel real feelings, oh yes it did, I felt real hate for the first time in a video game.

07 September 2012

Review: Rygar: The Legendary Adventure (Playstation 2)

Everything starts on an island called Argus. The princess Harmonia is holding a ceremony in which Rygar recieves a wreath (totally worth it) for his victory in a war he has been poking around in. Suddenly the party is crashed by the titans, also known as the not so happy campers, with Echidna in front. Echidna and Ikaros kidnaps the princess (you do not say!) and a furious minotaur pushes Rygar down a hole in the ground. Rygar obviously survives the fall and immediately finds the Diskarmor, the shield we remember from the arcades and the NES game. Rygar is briefed by the gods to stop the titans and save the princess in order to create justice, peace and all that. The story in this game is as shallow and sloppy as the game itself. It is cheesy, filled with embarrassing voice actors and... and... pretty graphics. Does not look to bad at all.

Pretty soon you get control over Rygar and the very first thing you notice is that the camera is not playing nice. Incredibly stupid (and locked) angles that changes without warning rendering the player blind or Rygar falls off a cliff or something since the controls get switched around together with the predetermined angles. In some narrow spaces it can get almost impossible to understand where you are or if you are in fact going backwards again.

When Rygar attacks, he freezes. And there is no target system available so if you miss your opponent with an inch then they can go around and hit you from the side long before you regain control of Rygar again. If you happen to press the button a second or maybe third time in all haste your attack becomes even longer and more time consuming. The battle system (and the HUD) reminds me of God of War that way, only much much worse. By the way, this came along three or four years before God of War - maybe Rygar inspired the people at Santa Monica? Anyway, you get a few different shields to play with (and switch between, again, just like in God of War), that can be upgraded with the points recieved from killing enemies (you know, like in...) and you can also put Mystic Stones on them. Nothing seems to matter all that much, I did not do especially much more damage in the end of the game compared to in the beginning, despite the fact that I maxed everything. During the course of the game you also unlock new skills and attacks, for example summons where you can call in different creatures to help you. But they miss as easily as the regular attacks and in two out of five times you wasted your magic.

The surroundings are very nice. It is beautiful and there is a lot of platforming to deal with, even if not all is great. There is many things to explore and loose threads that get left behind so that you can come back in a later stage of the game when you are better equipped. What really bugs me is the enemies. They are as mundane as they are few - there is maybe three different enemies throughout the game, and two of them are just variations of each other. They die from a couple of hits and become perfectly harmless really fast - you kind of just regard them as point containers instead of opponents - and that makes you feel very safe which of course makes you feel very bored. The save spots become redundant both because the low difficulty and the high frequency of them.

Every now and then a boss emerges, some cooler than others, and they all have one thing in common. Place Rygar in front of them and just spam the square button. They do however present some challenge when you are closing in on the end, but to just make every boss really easy pretty much except the last boss in its three stages is just unbalanced.

Rygar: The Legendary Adventure is short. It took me three hours and two minutes to finish it - and that is even after counting the times I got lost. This is being compensated by having a load of unlockables in form of images, videos, game modes and other surprises. You can play certain stages one at a time, you can play on Hard (and after that; Legendary) and there is even a mini game where you enter a stage, kill every enemie, rince and repeat. Depending on how well the player did during the game there is also different versions of the weapon - I got the option to play the whole game again with a pizza, which sounded fun, but the game is to bland to go through again.

02 September 2012

Review: Big Bang Mini (Nintendo DS)

Ever since I played New Super Mario Bros' minigame "Danger, Bob-omb! Danger!" I have been wondering how it would be to play a shoot 'em up with the stylus. How incredibly fast and precise one would be and how easy it would be dodging bullets with a finger on the ship. Then I realized most shoot 'em up's probably would be horrible with those kind of controls, Ketsui Death Label made the right call giving us D-pad- and button controls. Then I read about Big Bang Mini.

Pitch black night sky is the warzone, fireworks are your arsenal and starsigns your enemies.
Your vehicle is a small ball that you can move around with the stylus. On the upper screen is the sky and all the enemies that you shoot at with rockets. There is a small tutorial in the beginning of the game where you learn all about shooting and how the mechanics behind it works.

You see all the worlds on the menu as folders (like in Yoshi's Island if you remember) so it is early on obvious that you have to clear X worlds, XX stages. Every world has an end boss and a completely different theme where not only the enemies, bonuses and the star meter (I am getting to this in a bit) but even your own ship changes. The menu is at least as colorful as the explosive stages and they are blessed with a very catchy song that I caught myself humming on both on the train, in the shower and when doing the dishes.

The gameplay! Let us get to it! No more digression! You navigate on the lower screen whilst shooting up on the upper screen to hit enemies. The rockets that miss their target explodes in colorful bullets that rain down together with the ordinary enemy bullets and has to be avoided to be able to continue. It is pretty much basic stuff in the beginning, you shoot a lot of rockets - many of them hits enemies and many of them misses. Then the game is slowly introducing new abillities to give the gameplay a bit of variation, like for example homing rockets and shield barriers.

I briefly mentioned the star meter before and that I would get to it. Now I am getting to it. Every defeated enemy turns into a little neon star that falls down into the lower screen. If you catch it the star meter fills up a bit and when the meter is completely full the stage is cleared. After each stage you enter a bonus mode where a starsign hides. It is then your job to reveal it through some method depending on which world you currently are in. The starsigns are made up and can be everything from lonely fishermen to bats and airplanes.

The stages are pretty short and you could beat the whole game in just one sitting if it was not so cute and pretty. You kind of do not want to stress through the experience and tend to play one world at a time. Apart from the main story there is also extra missions, games with certain rules and multiplayer. I very briefly tried the latter and it was immensely fun to play against a friend. We held our DS' like books and saw each other on the screen that was not the stylus one, then it came down to a very simple and pure thing. Shoot. Shoot everything you possibly can while dodging the other player's effort. There was only three areas to visit in the multiplayer but there still was variety through special bonuses we got during combat where we, amongst other things, could darken the other players screen and things like that.

I can not shake the feeling of this being a home made project. It is superficial and short. But it has other strengths, it is stunningly beautiful and hypnotizingly addictive. It is best in small doses, which I honestly think all portable games should be. Pure action, auto save after each stage and a awesome song. Sometimes it does not have to be more complicated than that. Big Bang Mini is like a little audiovisual treat.

01 September 2012

Review: Maken X (Dreamcast)

If one is to speak about Dreamcast in a serious manner the subject at hand should obviously be the most innovative games. Jet Set Radio made celshading popular. Seaman was a bitter fish with a mans face with whom one could talk to through a microphone. In Typing of the Dead the player wrote words that appeared on screen in order to deal damage. The Dreamcast had a big bunch of good arcade ports including many popular shoot 'em ups. And so on. But there is one game on the Dreamcast, that mixes the first person angle with hack 'n' slash, that is rarely or never mentioned. I'm talking about Atlus' twelve year old Maken X.

Maken X, which translates to "the demon sword" is about just this particular sword with godlike powers which is going on an adventure. Sure the game has its obvious shortcomings, such as an incredibly boring story, utterly useless voice actors (in the western version, that is) and the fact that during the entire game the controls suffer from the loss of a second analog stick - but it is still very entertaining to play. You navigate between the stages via a world map and get to visit very diverse places such as China, Russia, England, France, Brazil and the United States in search of the missing old man, higher rank and more blade masters to take over. Wait, what? "Take over"? What am I talking about? Well, the brain jack system of course! An approach we have seen in, among others, Oddworld, Rocket Birds and Forbidden Siren. You get to take control over other characters in order to be able to do things you could not do before. Unlike in the forementioned games you here get to keep the characters that have been taken over and can freely switch between them on the world map before entering a stage. 

When taking over a character you get his or her full arsenal and skill, and there is up to twenty different enemies to be taken over - all significantly different from each other. Things that they do have in common includes being able to block, lock target on enemies, jump over their head and land behind them - all ninja like - and also the abillity to gather power to perform certain special attacks.If you are blessed with knowledge of the Japanese language, the Japanese version is strongly recommended. The western version did not just contain bad voice acting, but it also was slightly censored. We will sadly miss out on juicy details such as enemies with swastikas in their faces and a battle to the death with the Pope himself, right there in the Vatican.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that this is a title with flaws just as well as strengths and it probably is not for everyone - but it is on the other hand a inovative game with a fairly high replay value in regards to the ability to accumulate additional characters and the multiple endings. It is like I said rarely or never mentioned when talking about the Dreamcast - and frankly, I can not say why.