Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Realism ≠ Entertainment

One thing I get tired of so much are games advertising their realism, as if it would make the game any better. Not so fast! Realism doesn't make a game more fun in and of itself. It has to help the gameplay.

Take a few examples, for instance. Let's say you have a game where a monster is hiding around a corner. A shadow showing that something is there would halp the gameplay. But let's take blood splatters. Do they help gameplay? Nope. They just add realism. This is stupid.

Game designers act like the only way to make successful games is to take standard designs and pile on more realism. This is how Half-Life 2 and GTA6 got off the ground. But they don't realize that there is another way, a way that actually expands your audience: original concepts!

The more original concepts a game has, the bigger your audience gets, and the smaller the audience of your competitor becomes, due to the fact that anyone who is interested in those concepts must come to you. It's a simple marketing strategy: offer what the competition doesn't.

The trouble is that the game companies don't want to think. They don't want to hire people to think. They just want to use the same ol' designs that are tried and true and make a few little changes. That's easy alright, but not very good when it comes to the consumer's standpoint.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Conker: Live and Reloaded

Now, I'm sure you all remember the good ol days on the N64. And im sure some of our older readers will remember the good ol game Conker's Bad Fur Day. Well, that very game has been remade by Rare, and put on the Xbox game Console.

yes, it is a remake. But its no ordinary Remake...
  • Better Graphics
  • New Control Scheme specially fit for the Xbox
  • Slight Plot twists
  • Introduction of a new multiplayer featuring Xbox live.
  • Introduction of the multiplayer campaigns for the 'Old War' (which occurs before conker comes along) and the 'Future War' (which occurs after conker)
  • and many more things

Now, unfortunatly, this game is not suitable for kids under the age of 17...due to explicit language (and i mean LOTS of language), drug reference, drinking, and sexual content (not too bad...if your mature enough to realize its humor).

Its nothing more extreme than the old favorite on the '64, but a re-encarnation for us gamers who were too young for it back then, we can now enjoy it on this gen's consoles.

--
The Evil Ryan Von Levingston

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Game Rating System

I have seen too many game reviewers give different parts of a game a ?/10 score and then make the overall score an average of all the factors. This is wrong. Some parts of a game are more important than others, and this is not reflected when someone uses the above method. This said, I present unto you my Game Rating System (pat. pending):

First, give each of the following areas a rating from 1 to 10.

Music and Sound
Graphics
Originality
Interactivity

Next, multiply each number by the corresponding factor's position down the list. Since Music and Sound is first, multiply its score by 1. Graphics is second, so multiply its score by 2, etc.

Now add all those numbers together and divide by 10. The result is a "weighted average," with Music and Sound being the least important while Interactivity is the most important.

Just my two bits. Also I would like to take this opportunity to thank Levingston for his excellent writing so far and encourage him to keep up the good work!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

Every once in a while a game comes along that takes a shot at being different, not just for the sake of being different, but because it wants to offer fresh gameplay elements and provide gamers with an extremely entertaining experience that will keep them coming back for more. Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat, developed by the newly established Nintendo Studio in Tokyo Japan, is one of those games. Out of the many side-scrolling platform games out there, Jungle Beat stands above the rest. At first glance, the use of the DK Bongos as its preferred method of control gives it that "standout" flare, but in the end, it is not the compatibility with the Bongos that make Jungle Beat shine, it is the beauty of how they are used in order to make what would be your average platformer a heck of a ride.

The game has a superb presentation. Aside from being packed with or without the DK bongos and having an eye-catching box art, its in-game menus are what really define it. You will use the bongos to scroll through a nice set of menus that give you easy access to everything the game has to offer. From taking part in the short opening sequence (which serves as a kind of tutorial for the game) to adjusting different aspects of the game in the options menu. From the main menu you will select which "Kingdom Barrel" (or realm, as I'd like to call it) you want to tackle. At first, only one realm is available, but as you progress through the game more and more realms will open. Within each Kingdom Barrel are four kingdoms, each one consisting of two relatively short stages and a Kingdom Boss.

Jungle beat focuses entirely on the gameplay department. The game has a single story element, and that is for Donkey Kong to become the King of the Jungle by visiting all these kingdoms and defeating the boss, that’s it. The lack of a story doesn't get in the way of the game, Jungle Beat is purely about having fun, and it achieves this goal without much effort. How exactly is this goal achieved though? If anything, the Bongos are certainly a weird method of controlling a platforming game. We had these thoughts ourselves and asked the same question, but give jungle beat five minutes and you will be blasting through levels, collecting bananas, and beating the heck out of overgrown hogs with relative ease. The concept is easy to understand. Continuously pounding the left or right bongo will make Donkey Kong move in that direction. Pounding both drums at once makes him jump, and clapping makes the ape pound his chest which sends out a sound wave that allows him to interact with his surroundings. It takes little to no time to get adjusted to the strange, yet fitting control scheme, especially if you have had past experience with the Bongo controllers and Donkey Konga. The only instance in which the controls aren't exactly fitting is when going underwater. You will need to time your pounds correctly to perform the right action. For example, slowly tapping the right bongo will make DK swim horizontally in that direction, while pound in faster will make him dive in that direction, needless to say, the faster you pound, the sharper the downward curve he takes. Finally, hitting both drums simultaneously will make him swim towards the surface. The underwater controls are far from difficult, but they do take more time to get used to.

As you execute these moves to advance through the game's stages, you will collect bananas, and we mean LOTS of bananas. Each banana, or beat, adds points to your total beat counter for that particular kingdom. It is the way in which you collect these beats that makes Jungle Beat such a treasure and joy to play. In other platforming games, the Mario series being a good example, you collect a coin by simply running over it. Jungle Beat works the same way, sort of. Run over a banana and you will earn one beat. However, that’s not the only way to go about it. Running towards a group of bananas, jumping over them and repeatedly clapping will make Donkey Kong reach out and grab the bananas while suspending himself in the air. Doing this will make each banana worth two beats instead of one. So now the gameplay has changed a little from standard platformers, and this is only the beginning. What makes this even more intricate is the amazing combo system. Performing different mid-air actions in succession before landing will increase your combo count, the higher your combo count is the more beats you will earn per banana. The depth of this elaborate system is mind-blowing, and to those who want to explore all it has to offer, they will have a blast interacting with the numerous elements scattered throughout the stages. Bouncing off walls, springing from titanic dandelions, grabbing a hold of vine and landing on a bird that will fly you to new heights, all while increasing your combo count and reeling in the beats. Careful though, the amount of beats you have at any given time also double as your health, so being hit by enemies or getting caught in hazardous environments such as lava, electric clouds, and the like will decrease your beat count. Consider your biggest enemy to be not the hazards and baddies you'll encounter throughout the course of your adventure, but the ground, since the goal is to perform outstanding combos that substantially increase your beat count as you collect bananas. This system is crucial to completing levels and unlocking stages because you will have to reel in hundreds of beats if you want to be awarded with the best medals. Yes, the game has a medal-system that adds quite a bit to the replay value. Depending on the amount of beats you collect in a particular kingdom, you will be awarded one of four crests: bronze and silver are somewhat easy to obtain, but if you want to unlock more kingdoms, you will need to acquire gold and platinum crests, which, as you might have guessed, are increasingly more difficult to obtain. At first this might seem like a hassle since replaying levels is not something that everyone enjoys, but the high amounts of creativity poured into the level design will make you want to reply stages over and over again not just to earn more crests, but because they are so darn fun.


Levels are extremely fun to replay countless times

At the end of each dual-set of stages you will face off against the boss of the kingdom in a creative situation that puts the bongo controllers to a different use. Early in the game for example, you will square off against an evil gorilla in a 1 on 1 fight. You will need to pay attention to the battle and clap right before the sinister ape delivers a punch, doing this will make Donkey Kong dodge the blow and leave his foe open for a few seconds, which is when you take advantage of the situation and bombard him with a rain of punches by continuously pounding the left and right bongos alternatively. Each boss encounter will put you a different situation. After you complete the first two realms though, you will begin to see the same style of bosses for second and even third time. Their attack patterns will be more menacing and the environment you play with vary, but in the end, you end up cycling to a short selection of boss encounters. This isn't bad, necessarily. The battles are still a blast, and the new attack patterns, while easy to figure out, provide a new challenge. However, more effort could have definitely been put in towards a bigger selection of bosses.


Hammering foes with punches has a great level of satisfaction

The game's visual department is also worth mentioning. The Donkey Kong model is not only nicely shaded, but also attached with beautiful fur-effects that really bring it to life. The same can be said for the many other characters found in the game. The evil gorillas you will duke out with are just as detailed as our furry hero. Enemies, especially the crazy, hog-like creatures that dispatch gusts of ferocious wind towards you are also covered in realistic looking fur. Other animals, such as the friendly helibirds you will ride on portions of your adventure are nicely textured and will loose some feathers as you reach for them or bump into other objects. The refreshing colors of the environments help to immerse you in Jungle Beat's crazy worlds.

The game is indeed as beautiful as it is a joy to play. Jungles and forests have incredible depth to them, you will run through grass that sways in the wind, bounce off nicely rendered trees, and before you know it, you will jump through a waterfall and enter the mouth of a cavern. As you emerge from the shadowy depths of the cave you will find yourself in a secluded, grassy area filled with imaginative flora and interesting critters characterized by Nintendo's wacky designs. The backgrounds are detailed and blend in with the actual levels. Textures, especially those found in stages that take place in temples or other types of structures are nicely implemented and add to the level of graphical immersion. Jungle Beat is a game that benefits from Nintendo's masterful way of creating vivid water effects. Ocean waves splash against the shores, light breaks as you venture to the depths of underwater havens filled with marine life that you can interact with. The animation is fluid at all times. Movements were well created and the 60 frames per second refresh rate, combined with the optional progressive scan feature make Jungle Beat a delight to look at. It can easily be seen that Nintendo's new studio put forth great effort in making Jungle Beat a beautiful looking game.


Donkey Kong Jungle Beat boasts a high level of detail

The sound aspect, while not as glorious as its graphic counterpart, gets the job done. Music is made up of nice tunes that suit the set of stages that you are playing through. You will hear familiar Donkey Kong tunes as you progress through jungles and forests. More subtle music takes over as you dive underwater, and western themes make an appearance as you venture through deserts. The music changes again when you face bosses, this time to faster, tension-rising music. The tunes are short, and will loop a few times, especially when you are on long levels, but you will be so focused on the action presented on screen that you will hardly notice it. The game also contains an array of sound effects. Nothing beats catching a foe off guard and delivering a barricade of punches that reverberate through your speakers, or bursting a bunch of bubbles and racking in all the bananas trapped inside.

The game lacks a multiplayer mode, which is a shame because races and 1 on 1 fights would benefit greatly; but in the end Donkey Kong Jungle Beat takes the platforming genre for a new spin by combining familiar faces with refreshing gameplay elements. The game may be considered short since anyone can blast through all the kingdoms in around four hours, but the game is as long as your attention span makes it out to be. With over 64 medals to collect, an incredibly deep and satisfactory combo system, and extremely addicting stages that will have you replaying them several times simply for the fun of it, will make the total time you spend with Jungle Beat much, much longer.


The Moment of Truth. How many crests will you earn?

--
The Evil Ryan Von Levingston

Monday, June 13, 2005

The History of Nintendo

A must read...very long though.

1983. A Japanese company called Nintendo has produced a device that can play cartridge-based electronic games on a television. They called it the Famicom, short for "Family Computer". It looks like this:




It's a rather playful design, don't you think? Nintendo had considered releasing this "Famicom" in the United States, but unfortunately, video games were by and large unpopular in that part of the world, because there was such an incredible deluge of systems and games, and few to none of them were any good at all. Therefore, the market crashed like a passing craze, and seemed as though they would never be spoken of again.

Nintendo could have left well enough alone, but they decided to take a more creative marketing direction with the Famicom in the United States. It must not seem like a game player, but like an electronic appliance, like a VCR or a stereo, something that a person would like to have next to their television. So in America, they changed the Famicom's name to the "Nintendo Entertainment System" to reflect its serious, adult approach to the video game market. The American design of the Famicom followed this philosophy as well:



Such practicality and sleekness. The Nintendo Entertainment System, to date, is one of the smartest designs for a video game system.

Then in 1990, it came time for Nintendo to release their next model of game system, this time the Super Famicom.



The Sega Megadrive was released two years earlier and was technologically inferior to the Super Famicom. The Megadrive did rather poorly in Japan all through its life cycle, so Nintendo saw no threat when it was being released in North America under much the same marketing platform: its name was changed to something more appealing as an electronic (the "Genesis"), its design was revamped to look sleeker, and it was marketed aggressively. Nintendo followed largely suit, except for one key thing:



To associate itself with its predecessor, the Super Famicom was renamed the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and its design was changed. Unfortunately, the SNES looked far more toylike and less like a sophisticated electronic device like the Super Famicom. As well, even though it was technologically superior to the Sega Genesis, it had one glaring flaw: it's CPU was slower, constricting game speed and complexity. Sega capitalized on this with Sonic the Hedgehog, a game that capitalized on the Genesis' strengths and made Nintendo's weaknesses seem more glaring (remember the "Sega Does What Nintendon't" and "Blast Processing" ad campaigns?) Nintendo lost a bit of ground, but not enough to merit much concern.

Then came 1996. Realtime 3D graphics were the talk of the town, and it was time for Nintendo to again release another game system. This time, the Nintendo 64:



As a game system, it looks pretty interesting, but it doesn't really look like any sleek television accessory. It also had a glaring flaw: compact discs, although repeatedly failing in the game market (Turbo Duo, Sega CD, 3DO, etc), were also the talk of the town, but not some that Nintendo listened to, and they stuck to cartridge format. Nintendo's seemingly long-shot competition, the recently angered Sony, capitalized on this weakness:



Their PlayStation, though technologically inferior to the Nintendo 64, looked and seemed like less of a toy and did something that Nintendo couldn't do: Final Fantasy VII. An aggressive marketing campaign also played a part in their success. "They said that this type of story could not be made into a movie. They were right." Final Fantasy VII changed the way the world looked at games, it was far more epic in scale and aesthetics than any game before it. Part of this was its incredible 30-to-35 hour length and breathtaking FMV cutscenes, which were not possible on cartridges.

Nintendo lost a lot of ground in the wake of the PlayStation (as did Sega, also doubling back on the old philosophy with the Saturn) and almost slid off the map, but was able to stay on by combatting PlayStation's epic capabilities by making games of equal scale in other respects, such as the genre-defining Super Mario 64 or the incredible scope and innovation of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. But what Nintendo was doing, companies were doing it for Sony at least three times for every one time Nintendo (or someone else, on the off-chance) did it. Nintendo couldn't keep up with the demand.

Then another battleground was laid out, one far more fierce than before. PlayStation seemed like just a warmup, this was going to solidify Sony's place in the gaming world for good:



Not only did the PlayStation 2 look and feel like a television accessory instead of a toy, as with the PS1 and NES, it didn't have to pretend, since the PS2 could, in fact, play DVDs, making it an actual DVD player instead of a game system disguised as one. How did Nintendo combat this?



With a breadbox. Not exactly the kind of thing you'd use as a conversation piece. Sure, the design is good from an aesthetic perspective, but it did not project the attitude of PlayStation. It was technologically superior (vastly), but it had a glaring flaw that Sony capitalized on as well: it was a game, not an "entertainment system".

So what was PS2's Sonic the Hedgehog or Final Fantasy VII? It was Grand Theft Auto III, which set a new benchmark of the scale that games can achieve. GameCube held its ground by providing unique game experiences like Viewtiful Joe, Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Tales of Symphonia, but had no game that rivalled the grandness of Grand Theft Auto III until this year, with titles like Resident Evil 4 and Zelda: The Twilight Princess on the horizon. And GTA3 already had two sequels by this point.

Now another console war is upon us. What strategy has the juggernaut Sony taken? Take a peek:



This, undisputedly, is a game system. It looks like the Turbo Duo incarnate and is definately packing a lot of technical punch. High-definition graphics available on all games, the "Cell" processor that acts like a thousand high-end CPUs acting at once, ridiculous high numbers and really big words, and lets not forget, it still plays DVDs. But this definately looks like a toy. A very expensive one, but it's still a toy. A frivolous novelty that would appeal to people who would already be interested in it.

As you probably know, here is Nintendo's response:



Such practicality and sleekness. It doesn't seem like a game player, but like an electronic appliance, like a DVD player or a stereo; something that you would want to display next to your television. It's a more serious, adult approach to the video game market. And let's not forget, it's not just pretending either: the Revolution, as far as I know, is also a DVD player. Functionality!

Of course, there's the inevitable event that appears in every video game war: the edge. The NES had it by being more practical and less nerdy than any of its competition, but doubled back and became nerdy again, while the Genesis and PlayStation copied the NES's utilitarian philosophy and played on Nintendo's mistakes. The Sonic the Hedgehogs, the Final Fantasy VIIs, the Grand Theft Auto IIIs... what guns are waiting to be fired?

At this point, I think Nintendo is capitalizing on Sony's biggest flaw: the PS3 is too impractical and superficial. Mandatory hi-def graphics, 30GB data storage, thousands of processors running at once with resources that can't be tapped easily, technology that demands games to be as realistic and showy as possible... it's going to be hard to develop for this thing, and it will undoubtedly be expensive. Nintendo uses technology that actually has a purpose to creating a good game instead of just sounding impressive in a press release, like cube-mapping, MoSys RAM, 20 years of games on demand, a WiFi online network that is seeking to hit the nail on the head... who's going to walk into a game store and care how many gigaflops a game system has? Is it fun or interesting to play?

What does Sony seem to be playing on at the moment? The fact that Nintendo gave high defintion graphics the stick? Games are still going to be the same no matter how crisp they look. Avoiding online (another mistake that was acted on) would have changed how the games played. High-defintion won't be changing a thing, except for increasing development costs and time.

To summarize: there is one philosophy to truly succeeeding in the video game industry, both commercially and in the hearts of gamers. Every game company that has found it has succeeded profoundly, but unfortunately, abandoned it after it has served them well. Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Sony... they were built on the philosophy of practicality and sleekness, but figured that they didn't need it after they've already taken off, and promptly switched to the alternative: keep the fans appeased with consoles that they would like and impressive statistics that they would care about. Atari and Sega crashed after they abandoned this philosophy, Sony's about to abandon it, but Nintendo has had the foresight to recognize it again (ironically, when they really need it): people want an electronic appliance, they want a DVD player, they want a stereo, they want something that they would like to put next to their television. This philosophy rebuilt an industry, made modern legends and is incredibly durable. Sony doesn't think that they need it anymore and can switch to the tactics Nintendo fell from grace with, but Nintendo realizes that the philosophy of style and functionality rings more true than superficiality and empty impressiveness.

As it seems, Sony is becoming like Nintendo in their darkest times, and Nintendo is becoming like Sony at the height of their glory. When someone thinks they can rise over this durable Philosophy, no good can come of it. Let's sit back and see if history repeats itself...
--
The Evil Ryan Von Levingston

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Donkey Konga!

Since the early years of the PS1, musical rhythm games have been very rare, yet very fun. Games like Dance Dance Revolution and Parappa the Rapper became not only classics, but spawned many sequels that also became hits. The games were simple, but they drew so many fans that amazed many in arcade and homes alike. Now, Nintendo is treading that water with its drumming game titled Donkey Konga. What seems to be a lot like a weak use of a Nintendo mascot and a great way to gain a good accessory for the Gamecube, doesn’t really live up the name of the music genre, but it’s a great first attempt for Nintendo.

Right off the bat, you can’t help but notice (or play without) the Bongos. They look like actual bongo’s and are made out of hard plastic. They look somewhat wimpy at first, as they tops of the bongos are made out of a thin plastic fabric that looks like you could tear through it in only a few hits and then you’d have to go out and buy another for $35. But that is not that case. The bongos can take quite the beating and resist dirt and keep very clean. It’s a good, sturdy controller, but will really only serve one purpose.

Of course, the bongo has four options. You can hit the left bongo, the right bongo, both bongos, or take advantage of the built in microphone and clap. There’s also a start button, but that doesn’t do much throughout the course of the game except start games. Pretty much, the entire game consists of these four controls being rhythmically scrolled across the screen to the beat of the song. When a yellow icon appears you hit the left bongo, when a red icon appears you hit the right bongo, purple means you hit both, and blue means that you clap. Of course, clapping can not only get annoying to your hands and the people around you, but there are other options. Although thy aren’t recommended in the manual, you can yell, hit the side of the bongo’s, or do anything else to make noise that will set off the microphone. This is the only bug on the bongo, although the bongos don’t always pick up when you hit them, you can adjust the sensitivity to however soft or hard you like it.

Of course, you didn’t buy Donkey Konga for the bongos. The game consists of a few modes. The main mode that you’ll be playing the majority of the time is ‘Jam Session’. This mode lets you just play the songs to gain coins to which you can buy different sound for your bongos or mini-games. You begin by selecting the difficulty, monkey, chimp or gorilla. The three difficulties don’t add much except more notes. After you select the difficulty, it’s time for you to select a song. Each of the songs accompanies their own difficulties. The difficulty of the song is shown by a bongo drum. The more bongos, the harder the song. These bongos don’t make the songs significantly harder, but adds more 16th and 8th notes, making your hands and eyes work faster.

For each of your beats, you’ll earn a rating. If you hit the note perfect or near perfect, you’ll earn a ‘Great”. A note that’s almost right gets you an ‘Ok’. If you’re way off, you’ll receive a ‘Bad’ rating. And, if you really suck, or just plain don’t hit the bongo you’ll receive a ‘Miss’ rating. For each rating you receive, you get one step closer to getting a new bar. For every ‘Great’ or ‘Ok’ rating you receive, you’ll gain a bar. You must get three in a row, or you don’t get a bar. If you receive a ‘Bad’ or a ‘Miss’ in between those three, the slate will be cleaned and you’ll have to go for another combo. If you don’t receive enough bars by the end of the song, you won’t pass. If you do accumulate enough bars, you’ll earn a medal. The closer you are to getting the entire bar filled up, the better the medal.

Along with medals, every song you play through you earn coins. Depending on the rating of the beat, you’ll earn more or less coins; good ratings will get you more coins, while worse will get you less. With coins, you can buy all the extras in the game. These extras don’t consist of new songs or anything cool like that, but instead the right to unlock certain song on the Gorilla difficulty and different bongo sound sets. This leads to low replay value, as you get everything right off the bat. Of course, there are three bongo oriented mini-games, but their rather cheap and not much fun at all.

Of course, there are some gamers who take these rhythm games to the absolute max, and Nintendo didn’t forget about them. After jam session, there’s jam mode. If you’ve taken the time to memorize every single beat, then you can play a song in jam mode. In jam mode, no symbols go by, only bare barrels. If you’ve played the song enough, you probably know the order that the beats are coming in, and that’s what jam mode counts on. The difficulties still apply, which can even take the extreme to the extreme. If you get sick of jam session, which you most likely will, and don’t have any friends around to jam with, jam mode offers quite a challenge.

However, if you’re not up to the challenge that jam mode brings, you can try out challenge mode, for a very, long, time. Challenge mode consists of every song in the game, back to back. You start out with your bar full. For every couple beats you miss, you lose a bar. You can get that bar back like you normally would and this makes it a little too easy. Once your bar empties, the challenge is over and your score is recorded. This mode can go on for hours, even days if you’re skilled enough. Taking breaks is recommended, as play can get pretty tiresome on players wrists.

There’s no reason to bang away at the bongo’s if the song selection isn’t just right. Donkey Konga’s selection is rather…eccentric. Ranging from a rather kiddy version of Bingo, to a tropical version of numerous Nintendo themes, Donkey Konga has some good ideas, but overall they’re rather odd. About halfway through the song, as you finally get in a groove, it fades out. This leaves much to be desired, and is rather lame. Although, some songs play all the way through, they’re still rather short.

And, although there are song rather weird songs on Donkey Konga, some classical hits make its way into the selection, which is a nice change of pace from ‘Campfire Medly’ and ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’. The ‘Turkish March’ and ‘Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor’ are just a few of the classical songs thrown into the mix. The entire list of songs are:

All The Small Things
Bingo
Busy Child
Dancing in the Street
DK Rap (Donkey Kong 64 Theme)
Donkey Konga Theme
Happy Birthday
Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor
The Impression That I Get
I Think I Love You
I've Been Working on the Railroad
Itsy Bitsy Spider
Kirby: Right Back At Ya!
The Legend of Zelda Theme
Like Wow
The Loco-Motion
Louie Louie
Mario Bros. Theme
On the Road Again
Oye Como Va
Para Los Rumberos
Pokèmon Theme
Right Here, Right Now
Rock Lobster Rock
This TownRow, Row, Row Your Boat
She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain
Shining Star
Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing) *my personal favorite*
Stupid Cupid
Turkish March
We Will Rock You
What I Like About You
Whip It
Wild Thing
Yankee Doodle Dandy
You Can't Hurry Love

While during play, most people are too busy breaking their wrists and playing the game to notice Donkey Kongas graphics. Although cel shaded, Donkey Konga has a nice look to it. As you hit your bongos, DK will hit the exact same one in the upper left portion of the screen. Although his reaction is somewhat delayed, it’s a rather fun animation to watch, especially after the song is over and you can beat on the bongos all you like. Also, when you do well on a song, banana chickens begin dancing and hopping around with Diddy and Kranky Kong at the bottom of your screen as well as some rhinos and other animals. These animations aren’t done in detail, as most rhythm games don’t focus on graphics, but more on the core gameplay.

Sadly, the game sounds about as good as it looks. The bongos sound rather blocky and some of the sound effects are horrible. The same cannot be said for the songs though. They sound rather professional, but sound like they were sung by either Richard Simmons or a group of five year olds. This can be rather disappointing, especially during rock songs like ‘We Will Rock You’, as some of the atmosphere is ruined. So, there’s not much good to be said about the sound, which is sad, because the entire game is based around music. It’s not good, it’s not bad. It’s a little lower than average.

Overall, Donkey Konga is a good game for those fans of the musical rhythm genre. If you’re looking for a great, high-quality game to add to your collection, skip Donkey Konga. But, if you’re looking for a barrel of fun and a neat accessory, Donkey Konga’s your game. It’s bright, colorful, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys, but that’s about it.
--
The Evil Ryan Von Levingston

Saturday, June 11, 2005

RPG Leveling

Everyone knows how RPGs work. Train your character, gain experience, level up. It works, but it isn't realistic. Here is a brief example:

My mom likes to cook. She tries to make egg salad sandwiches. Unfortunately she messes up on 4 of them before getting one right. She then proceeds to mess up about 10 of them while making about 5 successfully. Suddenly she feels better at cooking! She decides to try to make a hamburger. She makes 14 hamburgers, but in the process, she burns 23 burgers and somehow gets better at making the egg salad sandwiches as well. Rinse and repeat.

Is that how it works in real life? No! You might argue that games are a means of escaping reality. This is all wrong. All games are based on certain aspects of reality, even RPGs. Take gravity, for example. Gravity is a given. It's always there. Almost zero games lack a sense of gravity, excluding the occasional space game. A true "reality-escaping" game would lack gravity. It would lack color. It would lack anything we take for granted.

But back to the topic. How come RPG designs all have the same level based skill system? Why can't game designers pick up on the fact that,--hey! This is stupid!--and figure something else out?

Designers always seem to be proud of the detail in their games, but when it comes to key aspects of game design, they would rather push it under the rug.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

2nd Echoes

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
Written by Darklightmw (published with permission)

Another great Metroid game, or is it? Let’s take a look…

Graphics: 9/10
The graphics were kind of neat, although it just didn’t seem that they
were as detailed as Metroid Prime 2. There were certainly some amazing
things, such as the new cliffs and crazy Sci-Fi world of the sanctuary
fortress, but other parts were lacking. One such graphic fall is that
most of the bosses looked exactly the same. They all look like warrior
Ing, kind of like big black spiders. However, it is kind of neat how
they melt into a black puddle to move around.

Gameplay: 7/10
This part of the game just kills it. It’s pretty much like Metroid
Prime, only about as hard as Prime’s hard mode. The people at Retro Studios
decided to change it up a bit, so they invented a whole new story about
a light and dark world, with a whole new race on a whole new planet. To
tell you the truth, I miss the Chozo, Zebes, and SR-388. Metroid never
had two worlds, and I’m not sure it really fits well with this game.
Plus the gaming is very organized. There is a central temple, surrounded
by temple grounds, which branch off into three other temples. You go
into each temple, kill the boss, and go to the next temple. That is not
what a Metroid game is supposed to offer! A Metroid game should have
vast landscapes that are just like they would naturally be, with no
organization. You should just find your way around and collect power-ups, not
go on a mission given to you by an alien creature for the good of their
people! You’re a bounty hunter for crying out loud! If you’ve played
any of the other Metroid games, then this one may seem a bit of a
disappointment. Also, they add strange new visors and weapons to the series,
such as the dark beam, light beam, and echo visor. These don’t fit the
classic ice, wave, and plasma beams of all the other Metroid games, and
the worst part is they have ammo. However, most of the charm of the old
Metroid games clings onto the title, even among the strange new story
and planet. This was a fairly bad Metroid game, but that’s really not
saying it’s very bad at all. Compared to all other games, I’d say this is
a very good game; it only falls short when it’s compared to its brother
Metroid games.

Sound: 9/10
Some of the old music from the SNES game carries over, but its mostly
all new music. This fails to carry over the nostalgia of the previous
Metroid games, but the music is still good, and adds to the mood quite
well.

Overall: 8/10 (4/5)
This was a fairly good game, but it just doesn’t measure up to the
massive standards put forth by the other Metroid games. If you own a
Gamecube, aren’t strapped for cash, and were fairly good at Metroid Prime 1
(this game is pretty difficult) then I’d recommend buying it.

Metroid's Prime

Metroid Prime
Written by Darklightmw (published with permission)

This is in my opinion one of the best games for the Gamecube out there.
Maybe it’s just that I’m an avid Metroid fan, but to me this game was
purely amazing.

Graphics: 10/10
The graphics were extremely intricate, every wall was covered with
humming machinery all detailed with small switches and levers. You don’t
realize it as you’re playing through, but all the little details like
that add together to create the over-all extreme reality that this game
portrays to the player.

Gameplay: 10/10
This is the part of all Metroid games that makes each one of them
shine. I’ve seen many games fail as they attempt to transfer from a 2D
environment to a 3D one, but this one matches up to the classic standard set
forth by the classics such as Super Metroid. The game play is
strikingly similar to the old Metroids even though it is from a first person
view. The controls are easy to master, and thusly make the difficulty in
the game not come from a masterful control of the game controller, but
instead from tough bosses and puzzles that challenge you to find their
secret weak point, scanning them for any help you can get. The variety
of weapons and visors add even more variety to the bosses and enemies,
some can only be seen with certain visors, and harmed with certain
weapons, while others that you may be fighting simultaneously are harmed
with other weapons.

Sound: 10/10
The classic Metroid music shines through in areas such as Magmoor
Caverns, while a new sound track has been added to the classics. Like all
Metroid games, the music isn’t too loud to distract from the action, but
it is merely in the background and provides extra stress in tense areas
of the game, and more adrenaline during the boss battles.

Overall: 10/10
If you own a Gamecube and don’t own this game, then there is something
seriously wrong with you. This game is a classic; it set a new standard
for a hybrid first person platformer/shooter. This, along with Zelda
and Mario is one of the three series of games that Nintendo is famous
for, and it easily upholds the dignity of the series.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Storyline:
The storyline was great! Back then, I'm sure it wasn't as clichéd as it would be now, so I'll ignore that idea entirely. Anyways, the story. I will first give a brief summary of it. Here it goes... In a land called Hyrule, in a small village full of little children who will never grow old, a young boy sleeps. He is the only person in his village without a fairy helper. But it will all change soon. The young boy soon hears the words, "Hey, watch out, hey!" He immediately wakes up to find a fairy at his bedside! The fairy tells the young boy that their guardian, the Great Deku Tree, is in trouble, and needs to speak with the young boy. Now, Link must save the Deku Tree, and go on his breast-defying adventure! Anyways, it sounds interesting, huh? So during you adventures, you also have to collect these special meddalions after something spectacular happens... but I'll just let you find out for yourself. (it has to do with the master sword, I'll tell you that). So anyways, there are some plot twists, interesting areas you have to venture to, and different people you need to meet before you can continue the story. There's also a man that follows you around in your adventures named, "Shiek," but that's all I'm going to say. Hehe... Anyhow, the story was great.

Storyline Rating: 9/10 (mainly because it started to get obvious near the end of the game)

Gameplay:
Well, nothing you wouldn't expect froma Zelda game- the hack and slash maneuvers, and whatnot. Basically, you go trhough the dungeons hacking away at enemies until they die. Some enemies, however, twill take other strategies. Things such as bombs, arrows, elemental infused arrows, hookshots, and powerful spells help aid you in defeating the enemy. Some puzzles in the game require you to use a combination of items to achieve- for instance, to open the pathway to the water temple, you must be wearing your iron boots (which make you heavier), and then shoot your hookshot at a switch above the doorway. Anyways, each boss in the game usually consists of using your newly found item (you get a new item in every dungeon) to lure the boss in, and then slash a certain body part until the boss retreats again. You will have to repeat this many times. As boring and repetative as it may sound, it's actually fun! Some of the bosses are fun to fight! When your fighting Morpha (boss of the Water Temple), you have to shoot your longshot at its nucleus, and then start slashing at it. It get's quite addicting. Another fun aspect they add to the game is the ability to ride a horse (in this game, your horse's name is Epona). On horseback, you can run much faster than on foot. Also on horseback, you can shoot arrows at enemies to defeat them (there are actually certain enemies you can only encounter on horseback- the giant poes). So overall, you must use an array of weapons and techniques to overcome your nemesis'.

Gameplay Rating: 10/10 (Pure fun. That's all I can say)

Controls/ Camera Angles:
The controls were great! Well... How am I going to do this? I know for a fact that the controls were different for the N64. Hm... Well, I'll just grade the GCN's controls for now. I doubt I'll ever get to grade the N64's controls, so don't get angry, please. Anyways, the controls! They were great! I especially liked the L-Targeting system- I got accustomed to it right away (then again, I probably am just still used to the WW's controls, which were nearly the same). Anyways, this is what the buttons on the controller did: A Button (It was for talking, and picking up certain items, and it also could do a downward slice with your sword while L-targeting), B button (It was for skipping speach and slicing your sword!), L button (It was for targeting people and enemies, and turning), R Button (it didn't have much use in the game at all), the Control Stick (it was for using the ocarina), the D- pad (again, it did nothing), the other stick (it was for moving), and start button (it opened the start menu) (also, the X and Y buttons posed no purposes). The only thing I hated was the L-button. Whenever I wanted to turn, I would always have to press the L-button! I usually ended up targeting an enemy by accident when I intended to turn! Tose are my thoughts on the controls. Now... The camera angles. They were horrible. Whenever I was fighting a tough enemy in the game, I would end up looking at myself instead of the enemy! And sometimes when I need to jump to a certain platform, the camera would swerve off in some random direction! This is why I hated the camera angles. They would never go in the direction I wanted them to.

Controls/ Camera Angles Rating: 5/10 (horrible camera angles, and buttons weren't bad, but they weren't good, either)

Graphics:
The graphics are really dated and blocky. Yes, that is my first scentance in this section. They are incredibly bad! This is compared to today's standard, though. Back in the day, they may have been top-notch... but I forgot what videogames were like 10 years ago. How could I forget?! Well, I'll try to rememer. Also, if you are still reading this, put at the bottom of your post, "I'm a moose!" Thanks. Anyways, the graphics in the game- as a matter of fact, if they were anywhere near today's standard, this game probably could've been rated T. The almost fully naked great fairies... the blood-stained walls (in most dungeons)... even the bones that come out of most enemies when you beat them... They could all add up to one really violent game (in today's standard of graphics, anyways). I mean, I wouldn't mind... but if it was like that about 10 years ago, when it was on the N64, I probably would've been too scared to play it (I was a small child then, so don't think I was a baby). So I'm sortof glad that they didn't imprve the graphics on the one ported to the GCN. Heh... but either way, the graphics suck. Everything looks slightly pointy, there aren't many polygons, and things look very unrealistic. But in way back when's standard, they probably were top notch! Thus, I will grade the graphics on the standard of 10 years ago.

Graphics Rating: 8/10 (if it was today's standard, it would be a 4/10)

Replay Value:
This game has great replay value! All of the elements of this game add up... the story... the gameplay... now so much the graphics... into one giant mesh of a great videogame! This is one of those timeless treasures you can never forget. Why, if you even got through half of this game, you'd still be wanting to play another file at the same time of your current file! Anyways, why is it that spectacular? I'll tell you why. The story pulls you in and never lets you go. The gameplay blinds you until you cannot think of anything else to do... but this! The overworld maps are increible, always a plus. The temples are challenging, and that could go into your reason to play it again. The characters in the game put an impression in your mind that can relate to real people you know. The special moments in the game could last a lifetime... or, until you forget about the game (). But seriouslly, the memories! This game could put a tear on your eye to see Princess Zelda for the first time, knowing she will get kidnapped by Ganondorf. Pulling up the mastersword is like an accomplishment- it feels so real at the time. Anyways, this is a great game to play over and over until your heart's content.

Replay Value Rating: 10/10 (it is that good!)

Overall:
This was a really great game, and I'm glad I finally started it. If it could be any better, I would just have to say that it needs better graphics... and a better way to turn. But that's it! Besides that, I'm going to say that this was one of the best games of all time!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Incredibles for GBA

The Incredibles is a great movie worthy of our admiration. Unfortunately its GBA game counterpart doesn't live up to expectations.

The graphics are nice, and they fit well with the game. The sound is great, and the music tracks are very much in the style of the official Incredibles theme. But somehow it doesn't click. It doesn't entertain. It isn't fun.

So if it isn't the graphics, and it isn't the sound, what is bad? Gameplay. The levels are poorly designed: walk to the right, beat up bad guys, repeat. After doing this say, five times, you get a password so you can come back to that point later. Then continue. It gets repetitive and boring. Sure, new enemies come along, but they are all variations on a few main ones: flying robots, henchmen, and a few others.

The bosses are fine, and present a nice challenge (for a change). You get to be all the characters in the movie, other than JackJack. This adds some degree of variety, but it is still a bore, as most of the time you are Mr. Incredible.

The combat is a bit screwy too. It's really hard sometimes to line up a punch, which is even more difficult when you are using Violet, who has a very limited range of attack. I did like the way you could launch someone high into the air, then jump and kick them into oblivion, however.

The use of cutscenes is also very inconsistent. Sometimes there are stills from the movie, and sometimes there are cutscenes using the game graphics being animated. It didn't make any sense.

Overall the game provided a little entertainment (at first), but got boring quickly and made you feel like a zombie. After playing a few levels, you wanted to quit and do something else. Because of this, I didn't beat the game for a month after I bought it, even though it wasn't that hard.

Final rating: 6/10