10 November 2018

Review: Nanostray (DS)

The first thing I do when I get a new system is to see what it has to offer in the shoot ’em up-department. The Nintendo DS didn’t have a wealth of shmups but it did actually have a few. I immediately got my eyes on the slimmed down version (a boss rush version called Death Label) of Ketsui but I never found it at a reasonable price. Then I saw Nanostray and I went for it, thinking that if I liked it I could get the sequal as well. I never did, for reasons to come.

Nanostray is divided up into parts – a bite sized campaign with a save feature to fit the platform (gaming on the go requires one to take frequent breaks), a more traditional arcade mode and a challenge mode. The campaign is not that long but it does have several different locations and a fair amount of difficulty. The arcade mode is a few of the campaign levels stringed together with traditional rules. Both are played with the same controls – being a regular shot, a charge attack and a smart bomb. The charge attack needs to be refilled constantly which is done through killing entire groups of enemies and collecting the blue medal they drop. Since the blue medals are basically raining down on the player at all times I felt it was a bit unnecessary to have that mechanic at all. Either make the medals few and far between or just have infinite charge attack. The medals can be sucked into the player ship by holding down R – something that could be used for something much more important. Namely switching weapons.

"It was a serious mistake that put me off from the get go"

As it stands, the ship has four different kinds of shots. All available to switch between on the fly when the situation calls for a different approach (homing, straight forward, sideways shooting and so on). The problem is that this is done on the touch screen. Not only do I need to take my eyes off the action to see where I should press to change to the desired weapon, I also have to move my thumb off the shoot button to press the touch screen, leaving my ship blind and not shooting for a brief moment. I used the main weapon during 99% of the game for this reason. Why it was done in such an idiotic way I have no idea. It was a serious mistake that put me off from the get go.

The stages themselves are okay with variety, a bit of walls to avoid (generally I don’t like that but here it made sense) and a couple of unique enemies. Nanostray is played at an angle which makes shots fly into the centre of the screen when the ship is off to either side and this takes some getting used to.

The bosses are where it’s at though. They don’t cheap out on the attacks and they often have several formations, even though the last boss is kind of a let down. (The final form of the last boss have exactly ONE attack pattern which it repeats throughout, they could’ve added a few more attacks to make things interesting if you ask me.) When the bosses try their hardest it’s actually really fun to play. I’d love to see a boss rush mode.

"It left me wanting to play a ”real” shoot ’em up instead"

I didn’t really care for the challenge mode where I had to reach certain goals within a set time or place. It felt like artificial lengthening with no worthwhile rewards. When the end credits rolled on the screen I felt pretty much done with Nanostray and although it had its moments it left me wanting to play a ”real” shoot ’em up instead.

19 October 2018

Review: Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie's Revenge (Xbox)

October is upon us and I thought I’d play something with a bit of Halloween flair. I chose Oogie’s Revenge (yes, I’m going to call it just that instead of the full title).

It’s a year after the movie that we all know and love, Oogie has found a new way to mess with everyone and wants to be the leader of all holidays. We take the role of Jack Skellington, naturally, to fight Oogie and put things right. This is done by exploring Halloween Town and retrieving a set of holiday doors (the peculiar forest with holiday door-fitted trees, remember?). And it all controls a bit like God of War; 3D platforming with semi-fixed camera angles and hack ’n’ slash fighting.

The first thing I noticed was how authentic Halloween Town felt. It was like walking around in the movie – which is just what I wanted for a game like this. All the beloved characters from the movie are present with different tasks for Jack and in the background different songs from the OST are played where they fit.

"It was like walking around in the movie"

No single game mechanic exceeded on its own, but the sheer variation of the gameplay made up for it nicely. Just as I grew tired of exploring for secrets the game threw a rythm based fight at me, only to follow up with a trivia quiz and then play a cutscene that felt like it came right out of the movie. I was never ever bored when playing this game, and while it can’t be praised for anything especially well crafted it delivers a solid bit of entertainment that looks and feels like the source movie. It’s a perfect "casual Halloween game", I’d say. It’s just a shame it didn’t let me explore any other holiday world (except for a brief visit in my favorite place: Christmas Town), it would’ve made the game fit in during other holidays as well and give it a bit more lenght. As it stands, it’s a nice little game to break out at Halloween – but only at Halloween.

27 September 2018

Review: The Warriors (PS2)

I've played this game a few times before. The first time was on a bad copy on an old Xbox. About four hours in I reached a mission that couldn't let me finish it due to a glitch most likely caused by a corrupt image of the disc. I later on bought the game legit (as one does) but I opted for the PS2 version since that was cheapest at the time. Me and my girlfriend then tried to beat it in co-op but it was just too hard for us. Eventually we gave up. This was at least 10 years ago, and thus I now felt ready to tackle it again. This time I had my mind set on beating it once and for all.

I haven't seen the movie but both the game and the movie starts the same, with the killing of a fella called Cyrus. He wants to unite all the gangs in the city to be able to outnumber the cops and basically do what they want - and while this proposal seems tempting for most of the gangs, one outfit is not amused at all and shoot Cyrus right then and there. In the commotion that follows everyone ends up thinking The Warriors shot Cyrus and then they have to fend for themselves. The movie then continues on with this going forward, and the game steps a few weeks back in time and tells the story leading up to this point in time.

The Warriors is a pretty standardized Rockstar game when it comes to the general gist of it. Third person view, a city to explore and cause chaos in, people to hurt in different ways and story missions to clear. Between missions there are bonus objectives available that both tells even more backstory as to how The Warriors came to be and grants the player more abilities and perks. These are highly recommended as they make the game a lot easier down the line.

"The game lets you play as many of the members of the gang depending on the mission - and they all have a slightly different fighting style. This is a nice touch."

Guns are rare. While some gangs use melee weapons most of them tend to use only their fists. A simpler time. This also makes the fighting mechanics very important since fighting is what we're going to be doing most of our time with this game. And sadly I found it a bit boring. The combo I found to be the most effective was "light/fast attack, light/fast attack, strong/slow attack" so I ended up using it throughout the game with no real tactics behind it. I threw a block in there once in a while for variation but... Meh. By the way, notice how I said "attack" instead of punch or kick. This is because the game lets you play as many of the members of the gang depending on the mission - and they all have a slightly different fighting style. This is a nice touch.

There's quite a bit of variation between missions, sometimes you'll fight your fists off, sometimes you'll be sneaking around in the shadows, sometimes you'll be running around like absolute crazy and sometimes you'll focus on graffiti. And of course a mix of the four. Between the variation of the gameplay, the different characters you'll be playing as, the extra missions and the general wealth of bonus content it makes for a pretty fun game that doesn't overstay its welcome. It's fun and varied (well, varied enough) and not too long. It's around 20 missions - so take your time and don't rush things. The whole game is narrated by a DJ who speaks to the player through the radio - which made me think of Jet Set Radio. There are more similarities (the graffiti, the quirky attitude etc) so I'm guessing Rockstar has indeed gotten a lot of inspiration from Smilebits Dreamcast gem.

Upon beating the game I unlocked an arcade machine that let me play an old school beat 'em up (with heavy influences from and nods to Double Dragon and the likes) with the characters from the game and that alone made me laugh and really appreciate the vision. It's not a rushed moneygrab to cash in on the movie - it's a fun and cool experience that had me really feeling the gang rivalry and pride with every fight and every throwup. Come on, boppers, it's time to disco!

17 September 2018

Review: Castle Shikigami 2 (PS2)

Originally a Taito arcade game, Alfa System's Castle Shikigami 2 found its way onto a couple of home consoles, the PS2 being one among them. With atrocious voice acting, pretty bad music and generally good gameplay it quickly gained a reputation for being a mixed bag. However, the PAL port of the game was treated differently and is by many concidered to be the worst version out there. I've played it for about a week now and my verdict is as follows.

Castle Shikigami 2 is a shoot 'em up. It's got a fairly straight forward scoring system even though it has a lot of options on how to play the game. You have seven different characters to choose from, each with three types of attack - standard shot, shikigami and special shot (mostly a bomb of some description). The shikigami attack also comes in two types, type 1 and type 2, which gives the player a total of fourteen different options as how to tackle the enemies. I often find a favorite and stick with that character, but in this game there were actually a couple of characters that I ended up using evenly (those being Kohtarou Kuga Type 1, Sayo Yuhki Type 2 and Kim De John Type 2).

The five stages are divided up into two parts each with their own bosses, which makes it a quite, for the genre, lengthy experience. I've yet to 1CC (one credit clear - a.k.a. no continues) it, but I don't think it's impossible for me to reach that goal in the future. I managed to get pretty far after just a couple of days of practice so one day I might do it!

"Ten levels of crappy music is enough to get anyone to mute the TV."

The famous voice acting is cut from the PAL version all together, some argue that this is a bad move as it's one of the main reasons the game is even remembered today - but personally I don't mind at all. I've never cared about story in any shoot 'em up and would end up skipping it even if it was there. But the music? What the hell happened? There's a different soundtrack in the PAL version, and personally I absolutely 100% prefer the NTSC J/U soundtrack over what we in the EU got. Sure, it's different and makes the game stick out, but it's just so utterly boring. Ten levels of crappy music (not even comically crappy!) is enough to get anyone to mute the TV. It also runs at 50 Hz instead of 60 Hz, so there's that.

The scoring system that I mentioned briefly is centered around the shikigami attack and grazing. When an enemy is killed it drops coins that fall down the screen. If the shikigami attack is used to kill the enemy the coins are collected automatically. And the closer you are to enemy bullets the stronger your attack becomes (this is what is known as grazing where you want to be in danger all the time to net bigger numbers). The usual options one would like in a shoot 'em up is here, TATE mode, arcade slowdown, practice mode and so on. There's also a gallery to unlock and browse but honestly I've never cared about stuff like that. I buy shoot 'em ups strictly for the arcade version of the game and nothing else.

To sum this rant up I'd say Castle Shikigami 2 is absolutely worth giving a try - even the PAL version is fine regardless of what all the whiny purists say - but it's nothing exceptionally special. One of the weaker titles in my PS2 shmup library.

13 September 2018

Review: Forbidden Siren (PS2)

I was heavily into survival horror games on my PS2. I loved the genre and played just about anything I could get my hands on. Eventually I picked Forbidden Siren up. It was supposed to take a whole new turn and bring stuff to the survival horror table that no one had ever seen before. To some extent they were right, but not in a good way. I actually ended up not playing any more survival horror games for quite a while after this. I recently gave it another go and here's what I think.

Forbidden Siren tells the story of… a few people lost in a place shrouded in fog and darkness. And something about red water. See, the story isn’t told as a regular story. It’s chopped up into fragments played seemingly in a random order. After a while it becomes apparent that the fragmented nature of the game is very much intended to be that way to give the player an unusual way of discovering the story. Say that I sneak through a village as one guy, perhaps opening a door or two. Then if I enter the same village with another character (at a later point in time) – the doors will remain opened. In the same vein things you forget to do, or pick up, can make things difficult for other situations further down the lane. The immediate problem with this is that there are minimal clues as to what to do. I followed a FAQ and still was stumped several times. At one point I couldn’t trigger a cutscene for some reason. It turned out I missed to go inside another room with another character earlier in the game – and that character initially couldn’t enter that room because I didn’t pick up a key with a third character even earlier in the game. While this is all fine if you are given instructions as to how it all was connected – this is not the case with Forbidden Siren. The cutscene wasn’t triggered and that was that. No clue. Without a FAQ I doubt I would’ve gotten further into the game than an hour or so.

Anyway, the story. Since it’s played in such a weird and arbitrary order, with lots of characters with names I couldn’t keep apart in my head – and only small events happening in any given mission – I had absolutely no clue as to why anything of this was happening or why I should care. The only thing that kept me going was that it was indeed a bit intriguing to unravel more and more of the story. Even though it was happening much slower than I could tolerate.

"Everything, from equipping a weapon to accidentally bumping into a wall takes absolutely forever in this game"

The controls are of the tank variety, with a bit of a sluggishness to them. Everything, from equipping a weapon to accidentally bumping into a wall takes absolutely forever in this game, and since it’s very easy to die you spend a lot of time replaying the same mission over and over and over again. Each time growing sicker of the slow controls and the cryptic structure. A few hours into the game I was reading in a FAQ during every mission I activated. I just didn’t have the patience to figure anything out – and more importantly I didn’t have the time to aimlessly wander around the villages in search for secrets and clues. I found myself almost reading ahead at many places so that I wouldn’t become surpriced and die – because it’s such a pain to replay everything. And the checkpoints. God, the checkpoints. About halfway through most of the stages a checkpoint is silently activated. If you happen to die at any point after this, everything you did prior to the checkpoint is undone. Picked up a very tricky to reach key? Tough tits, it’s gone. Opened a hatch for another character in another mission later on in the game? Yeah it's closed. You get the picture. And many times, the checkpoints are placed after a point of no return in the mission, meaning you have to restart the whole mission. Well, you can technically finish the mission, but without also clearing the secondary tasks – you’ll be coming back to that level again. I 100% guarantee you have to.

"When the credits rolled I had wanted it to be over for a good five hours at least"

With about ten missions left to do, the credits rolled. Leaving it up to the player to decide if that’s enough or if they want to uncover every little remaining secret and find out the real truth. I really didn’t care. When the credits rolled I had wanted it to be over for a good five hours at least. Plus, the mission after the credits seemed glitched as I didn’t meet the criteria for the secondary objective no matter how perfectly I played. Perhaps I forgot to do something in a different place and time in the game… But I wasn’t about to figure out what. Life is just too short.

Some cutscenes were very engaging and the story seemed to be quite interesting once I also read a few discussions and theories online – but this game is just such a unforgiving waste of time trying to figure anything out and slowly progress through this mess. They claimed an all new take on the genre and while it was indeed new, it was also terrible. Stay away from this game unless you really love quirky survival horror games, have a lot of spare time and the patience of a saint.