Saturday, April 28, 2007

Twilight Princess Review

      The best way to describe Twilight Princess is that it's another Zelda. Sure, it's bigger. It's nicer looking. And it even has motion sensing Wii controls. But when it all comes down to it, it's just another Zelda. A Zelda that got delayed a full year.

      So what did Nintendo do during their crippling delays? Obviously they didn't innovate on story. While any die-hard Zelda fanboy will tell you that story has never been the focus of Zeldas past, that's not really an excuse for regurgitating the same story over and over. It's like Nintendo's playing mad libs, and I'll elaborate on that in a second. But the reason why the story is so stagnant now is because Nintendo wants Link to be completely pure of heart. They want him to be fighting only for what is good, and pure, and righteous. And pure. But Link himself has no true motivation for saving the world. He never has. He does because he can. The story would be so much better, so much more compelling and powerful, if Link found a reason to be a little selfish.

      They didn't at all change their established "Zelda formula" for dungeons, and not because "it ain't broke." Solve some puzzles, get stuck, earn a new item, solve some item-specific puzzles, fight a boss, repeat. It's very repetitive and will get downright boring at times. You'll simply roll your eyes, sigh, and grind through. And the first few tutorial hours of the game? Almost put me to sleep. Literally.

      To make matters just that much worse, you'll fight in the same dungeons you've been fighting in for 20 years: Forest, Fire, Water, Sand, Shadow, Hyrule Castle, etc. You even fight Queen Gohma from Ocarina of Time again. Oh, and by the way- all of those are horizontally flipped from the GameCube version of Twilight Princess because no one wants to upset Zelda fanboys by making Link right-handed for one game.

      Now, about those mad libs. Nintendo just went through and swapped things from past Zeldas- A Link To The Past let Link transform into a pink bunny, Ocarina of Time let him transform into a child, and Twilight Princess lets him transform into a wolf. Ocarina had Navi floating around, annoying you with tips you didn't need or want; now you've got Midna, who somehow lives in your shadow. (On that, it doesn't make sense that Link's regular shadow disappears when talking to Midna. He's still blocking light; he should still create a shadow. It's just logic.) A Link To The Past had the light and dark worlds, Ocarina had child and adult, Minish Cap had big and small, and now you've got the light and twilight worlds.

      Let's talk about the Wii controls for a moment. Here's the pros: You don't have to charge your spin attack, it's a hell of a lot easier to aim projectiles, and the novelty of motion controls last for a little while. But the cons outweigh the pros: Using the remote for sword swinging/wolf biting is imprecise and eventually devolves into rapidly shaking your wrist like you've got Parkinson's, the camera is more fickle, the novelty wears off fast, and then there's Navi.

      I'm going to devote an entire paragraph to Navi. She was your fairy in Ocarina who hovered above you, and now, despite the fact that she serves absolutely no purpose, she's back and somehow more annoying than ever. There's no use for it, but Navi will let you know where you're pointing, and throughout this ~60 hour game, as you move the Wii remote (a lot), she makes an irritating twinkling noise. So why is she there; what purpose does she serve? No reason, no purpose.

      Once you've spent a good portion of your life adventuring as Link, as with all Zeldas, you never get to see your effect on the world. There's just no reward for it all. You save the world from evil and shadow and corruption, risking life and limb, traveling to the far corners of the world, and once you finish it just reverts back before the last dungeon. It's like a cruel joke. I just want to see the world of Hyrule in all it's former splendor; isn't that what I was fighting for?

      The graphics range from amazing to ugly (occasionally the light bloom is so fierce that you won't be able to see Link's face), the music and sound effects are mostly recycled from past Zeldas (some of the new stuff is great though), and the level design will only "wow!" you if you've never played a 3D Zelda before. One of the worst things about the game, about almost all Nintendo games, is that there's no voice acting. So between further eye rolls, you'll be lazily clicking through dialogue box after dialogue box, and none of it is the least bit interesting. Not to mention that there's little to no replay value, so if you bought Twilight Princess, by the end you'll wish you'd just rented it.

      That's not to say that the game is a complete failure. It isn't. If you've never played a 3D Zelda before, you'll find the game epic, refreshing, and very, very fun. But if you have, you'll know that being "another Zelda" isn't the worst thing in the world; half the time you'll genuinely be having fun, and the other half you'll be wishing that Nintendo could've done more with that extra year they took.
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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chains of Olympus Demo/Speculation

      All right, there it is. Sony's been teasing with not one, but two countdown clocks, the first revealed developer commentary on two levels, and this is what the second has revealed: A trailer for God of War: Chains of Olympus for the PSP.

      Before I continue, you're going to want to sign up to get a free, limited edition demo of Chains. Now that we've got that awesomeness out of the way, let's speculate:

      "The ancient world tells of a mortal who once slayed a god. Such was the tale of Kratos, who in his servitude to Olympus, would one day confront the humanity he had lost on the day his dark legend was born." Sparing you all the details, I'll tell you a few of my predictions for what this trailer implies:

      Kratos had Blades of Athena but no Golden Fleece, and the ending of God of War II didn't leave room for a side-story, so it probably takes place between God of War and God of War II. However, that doesn't explain why he's not a god, or why he's in "servitude" to Olympus. The beginning of God of War II basically said that Kratos did as he pleased as a god. As for who the main enemy will be, Kratos "confronting the humanity he had lost on the day his dark legend was born" really leaves one obvious choice- his brother, who was left to die by the Spartans as a boy and became very angry and powerful while in Hades. Gameplay-wise, though, the camera appears to be a bit closer, Kratos appears to have an interesting mix of attacks (one new one and one old one from the first game are seen in the trailer), and Kratos can still roll, probably with the D-pad, but that would conflict with magic selection, so who knows? There are obviously new enemies; the beginning ones appear to be human soldiers and the later ones are more monstrous.

      So here's to hopefully Ready At Dawn won't somehow screw up the God of War franchise, eh?

UPDATE: Electronic Gaming Monthly will have a story on Chains next month with interviews from the developer regarding the game, such as control issues, so watch out for that.

UPDATE2: 1UP just posted a story on God of War: Chains of Olympus. You should read it. But the main jist of it to pull out is that technically the game will be amazing (I'm not joking) and that the story takes place in the ten years Kratos was in servitude to the gods.

      Now, I'm glad that the developers at Sony were smart and set it in that time period because I didn't want them to shoehorn it between GoW and GoWII. I realistically expected them to, but I'm glad they didn't. They do mention that you'll get insight into Kratos and what all happened to test his faith and specific events from GoW and GoWII. Therefore, I would assume Atlas is a boss, since in GoWII Atlas did say that it was Kratos' fault that he (Atlas) was forced to hold the world up for all eternity.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Super Paper Mario Review

Super Paper Mario Review
      After drudging through the ten minute long introduction, I was presented with a simple command: " all worlds from destruction!" I answered "Nah." Merlon, the wizard who had asked me, began to freak out and kept pressing it, but I kept refusing. It was funny watching his eyes bug out as I kept turning down my hero status. It would be like Obi Wan Kenobi responding to Leia's desperate "you're my only hope" cry for help with "sucks to be you!"

      The joke was on me when they stopped asking and my game ended, causing me to restart from scratch.

      That's the kind of humor you can expect from Super Paper Mario. There's a lot of sillyness and self-referential quips to be found throughout the game, making it a light-hearted romp all the way through, from the "high-technicaaaaal" lizard nerd Francis who engages Princess Peach in a hilarious dating sim to the absurd, exaggerated designs of each character.

      Yes, Paper Mario is back. And while Mario may be the star, Bowser is who really stole the show for me. Every time you use him, he's going to make you laugh, either because you'll see his feet shuffling across the ground or his over-the-top look of horror as he wildly flails his arms. His theme music is amazing and fits his character, and his dialogue will make you grin stupidly every time he angrily tells someone to hurry up or sulks about how he can never beat Mario.

      The story is nothing too new to Mario territory- Princess kidnapped, end of the world nigh, blah blah blah. The sappy love story intertwined will probably make you sick, but it does add a bit of drama and mystery to the tale, despite being extremely predictable.

      The feature that gets touted the most is the plane swapping that allows you to "flip" the traditional side-scroller world into some funky 3D rendition that doesn't look or feel quite as good, but definitely introduces a lot of fun (and frustrating) scenarios. Half of all the puzzles in this game will be solved by flipping the world, and believe me, it'll get boring once the novelty wears off. Combine that with the fact that only Mario can flip meaning that you'll either constantly be switching to him or just get lazy and leave it. If Nintendo were smarter, all four characters would have that ability. To make matters worse, the game is far too easy. While having an RPG-style HP stat was definitely a cool addition to a platformer, taking away one-hit deaths and consequently, some of the stress associated with lots of cheap deaths, I didn't die once in the game, and my HP never dipped below 5. The platforming itself isn't that difficult either, and the enemies present little challenge.

      The game's level design peaks early, so by the time you finish World 3, you'll be giddy as a twelve year old middle school girl who's just been asked to the big dance, but by the time you get halfway through World 7, you'll be rolling your eyes and wishing the level would Just. End. Already. There are some levels like the Whoa Zone that will have you in complete awe, but others just get convoluted in their design and become annoying. However, the art design of the game really adds to the overall feel, especially on the remakes of old Super Mario Bros levels that are brimming with nostalgia. That rapidly-growing, screen-encompassing, worlds-destroying void in the sky will fill you with urgency and dread. Bright blue skies filled with odd Algebraic questions and lush forestry will make you feel bright and cheery.

      I can't stress it enough how funny this game is at times. When the giant mechanical dragon Fracktail is "loading" and his eyes turn into the Wii's "connecting to the Internet" symbol, you can't help but crack a wry smile. When Bowser is getting ready to raid Peach's castle and among the text bubbles you see a few "We're under attack!" messages and Bowser takes this as a hilarious joke from his troops until he spots two mustaches in the crowd, you'll laugh. When Mario goes into his completely ridiculous "YOU GOT A PURE HEART!" pose or you meet the "mysterious" Mr. L for the first time, you'll be giggling uncontrollably and gasping for air.

      But speaking of text, this game will bore you to tears with it all. I can't ever bring myself to skip story, so I was forced to read every last line, and I'll tell you now: It drags. Not only that, but the motion controls are rudimentary and feel like an after-thought. Pointing at the screen ruins the flow, and shaking the controller at the right time doesn't always work; the game would've been better off without it. And the entire towns of Flipside and Flopside? Yeah, completely worthless.

      So before my review gets as wordy as some of Super Paper Mario's characters, I'll leave you by saying that while this is one of the finest (and funniest) Wii games to come out thus far, its occasionally plodding level design and low replay value make it hard to justify buying this game, but easy to recommend a play-through.
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Monday, April 23, 2007

God of War II Review

      The original God of War was a stunning achievement- it had a compelling tale of vengeance, redemption, and deceit, great graphics, a fantastic soundtrack, and fluid, visceral combat. Many, including myself, wondered how Sony Santa Monica could top themselves with God of War II. They have.

      Many reviews for God of War II have been quick to write the game off as being of minimal improvement to a proven formula, but these reviews are wrong. God of War II introduces a number of refinements and additions that together make the entire experience that much better.

      The story starts off with Kratos' aggression finally catching up to him. The gods didn't hold up their end of the bargain from the first game, so Kratos channels his fury by having Sparta conquer city after city. Zeus decides the time is nigh for some divine intervention, so he strips Kratos of his powers, kills him, and destroys Sparta. Kratos is saved and must find the Sisters of Fate to set things right. Overall, the story is bigger, badder, and better than before, but unfortunately, Kratos lacks the introspection of the first game.

      The game's presentation is unparalleled. The graphics are amazing and have improved over the first game, making everything clearer and more detailed. The art direction and environments are gorgeous, the voice acting is brilliant (save for Michael Clarke Duncan's performance as Atlas), and the soundtrack is as good or better than the first game's, and makes you feel the drama and tension during combat. Fans of the game should do as I have done and purchase the soundtrack; it's more than worth the $10. Not only that, but the game comes with a second disc chock full of bonus content, including a lengthy making of video and plenty of featurettes about the game's art style and design, lost levels, characters, etc. to extend the experience far beyond the story mode.

      A lot of little fixes to the combat and mechanics make the whole game feel tighter and more refined: You can finally move while performing magic, there are many more bosses this time out, and certainly more weapons to slice and dice your foes with. These are the obvious things that the typical GoWII review covers. But what they fail to mention is that Kratos now runs faster, can jump up ladders and across ropes for better navigation, and can move across and slide down walls well enough to challenge Spiderman. The combat is smoother and more fluid as many moves have been replaced or tweaked, and improved button layout helps a lot during adventure portions.

      But the "obvious" changes are wonderful, too. Kratos has two high-flying air-combat sections on Pegasus that just as fun, visceral, and smooth as ground combat, so it would've been nice to see a little more of it. There are now grappling points for Kratos to use that really add a lot, particularly the grappling "climax" of the game in a portion called "Crossing the Lowlands" that you have to play to believe. Kratos can slow time to a crawl in certain areas as well, adding depth to the puzzles and a twist on the combat. The pacing of the game is worlds better the original game; it's fast enough to where you have enough time in an area to love it, then move to the next before you start hating it, something the recently released Super Paper Mario could've learned from. There's practically a boss fight per hour in this game, and all of them were great, from the free-fall with Icarus to the mind blowing 2D silhouette fight with (I won't spoil it).

      However, I would've liked to see a little more depth to the combat to make use of the secondary weapons, because just like the first game, you'll just stick with your Blades and rightly so. The new weapons are cool, but the developers should've made certain weapons, like the Barbarian's Hammer, more effective against certain types of enemies, so rather than using the Blades on a hulking minotaur, you have to smash his head in with the powerful Hammer.

      There's no reason you shouldn't buy this game. Don't have a PS2? Buy one. Don't have the $50? Get a job, hippie. Aren't old enough to buy it? Grow up.
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Review Scale

      After careful deliberation, I've decided to avoid using a number or letter scale. I mean, really, what's the difference between a 6.7 and a 6.8, or for that matter a 6 and a 7? Those small discrepancies aren't helpful when you're deciding whether to buy a game or not. Trying to look at reviews as too much more than a consumers' guide is foolish and denies the nature of a review. Therefore, sticking with the theme of this blog, I've decided to use just three ranks:


      A "delicious!" rank doesn't mean that I'm telling you that you should buy this game, or even if it's a good game. It just means that I feel it is worthy of my own time and money. An "undercooked!" rank suggests that the game was worth my time, but not my money (as in "rent-worthy"). And as you can imagine, a "disgusting!" rank implies that I would not spend the money or time on this game again (since I obviously already did).

      Now to explain this further: Not everyone has the same tastes in games. If I review a game from a genre I don't really like all that much, and I'm using the typical base 10 scale, I'm probably going to give it a low score, even if it excels in that genre. But my reviews are personal. I'm not telling you whether or not this game is good or bad. I'm telling you whether or not I liked it. As a result, you can develop a feel for the kinds of games I like and you'll know whether or not we have the same tastes in games easier.

      So if I review a typical RPG, it'll probably get a "disgusting!" rank simply because I don't like RPGs that much, and you the reader will know that and take that into consideration. If I review an RPG and I give it a "delicious!" rank, you'll know that this game is special. And if I'm reviewing a game in a genre that you and I both like, you can trust my opinion on it. I think that this three-tiered scale is much more valuable than an out-of-date number 1 to 10.

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