Tuesday, January 31, 2006

When great games collide- Zelda: Majora's Mask & Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

Majora's Mask is an overlooked gem in the Legend of Zelda series. The game follows Link in search of a missing friend after The Ocarina of Time. The search leads him to the bizarre world of Termina, where a Skull Kid wearing a mask has been wreaking havoc.

Majora's Mask suffers somewhat from something common in nearly all Zelda games:
The lack of novelty. Zelda games will typically follow the same theme of conquering all worldly elements (The forest, fire, water, etc) before approaching the main boss. In fact, the developers of Majora's Mask even borrowed characters from Ocarina of Time. At first glance, this is an unattractive aspect of the game.

However, as you play deeper into the game it is clear that Majora's Mask is really unlike any other Zelda game ever made. Most Zelda games pit Link against Ganondorf (all but Link's Awakening, in fact), whereas Majora's Mask matches him up against the very friend he was searching for. Typically, you are only capable of controlling Link as-is. But in Majora's Mask, Link undergoes transformations based on the masks that he wears.
However, what I like the most is that opportunities and events occur independently of Link's presence, rather than whenever it is convenient. This makes the game delightfully realistic, despite it being so dramatically surreal.

Perhaps that is what is most enjoyable about Majora's Mask -- the subtle contrasts within its own themes. Termina is an otherworldly place where your friends become your worst enemies, you can literally turn right-side-up to upside-down, and a light-hearted quest can become nightmarishly dark.

The Revolution will play legacy games, and I highly recommend picking up Majora's Mask if you haven't played it yet. You will certainly not regret it.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
Not many people expected Mario to fold up into a paper airplane, nor did they expect that Mario would ever have an audience cheering at every move he made; but in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, it happens. This game brings back all of the excitement of the original and more to the GameCube.

Mario now has new puzzle-solving abilities such as turning into a paper airplane. The puzzles weren’t exactly challenging, but the battles were. The battle system of this RPG is amazing, so reminiscent of the original Paper Mario, and yet different. There are still action commands, during which you press a button at the correct time to do more damage to an enemy or to defend against attacks. Also, battles still take place on a stage, but now there's an audience that can either help you or hurt you by throwing items. If the crowd approves of your attacks, your Star Meter (which allows Mario to perform special attacks using the Crystal Stars) will fill up quickly. Mario's partners help both in and out of battle, utilizing their various skills. Badges let Mario and his partners use new attacks, new abilities, or increase their stats.

The story of the game seems traditional in the beginning. Peach gets captured again, but it's soon realized that the story is different. This time, Bowser doesn't capture Peach, instead a group known as the X-Nauts captures her. Left with only a map, Mario sets off to rescue her.

Sometimes the music is repetitive, but it fits the mood of the situation. The sound effects are awesome and can be changed using certain badges. The settings are both varied and beautiful as they have a perfect mixture of 2D elements within a 3D world.

Bottom line: It was a challenge. I loved playing it.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Nintendo DS Lite

This article on Gaming Age points out the new thing in gaming: the Nintendo DS Lite! Remind anybody of the GameBoy Mini? Looks pretty tight to me. I'll right a full review when I have more information.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Two for the price of one- Super Mario RPG & Yohi's Story

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Nintendo and SquareSoft joined together to produce an extraordinary game, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.

It begins when Mario enters Bowser's Castle to rescue Princess Toadstool. During the fight against Bowser, a plot twist corrupts the scene; a large sword appears from the disconsolate sky and plants itself into the core of the castle. Seeking to reveal the mysteries engaged in this blade, Mario embarks on another journey.

The graphics are extremely gorgeous for a Super Nintendo game. The landscapes, especially in battle mode, look marvelous. They inserted fine detail to make it almost look like reality.

The music delivered a unique effect on the game. It connected the joyful essences featured in Mario games with the adventurous impression that originated from the Final Fantasy series and created balanced pieces of music. It fully brought out the feeling of the game.

The controls are fairly easy to handle. In battle, it guides you by showing lettered buttons on the screen that correspond to the buttons on the controller. There are also a few mini-games that test how well you know the controller.

This game really portrays the aspects of a basic role-playing game. They introduced the Mario team to the turn-based battle system. It was a magnificent sight to see Mario and his allies summoning their magical abilities to conquer foes. The drawback is that they did not enforce the level system much, causing you to only advance up to level thirty.

SquareSoft and Nintendo did a beautiful job on this game. If you love the Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga series or enjoy heart-warming RPGs, I highly recommend that you experience this awe-inspiring masterpiece.

Yoshi's Story

With Yoshi’s Story, Mario’s dino pal at last gets his place among the Nintendo all-stars. In this N64 title Yoshi must confront his foe, Baby Bowser, in order to recover the Super Happy Tree. Caves, jungles, and seas must be crossed to reach the tree and save the land. However, Baby Bowser’s menace does not stop there. He has turned all of Yoshi’s Island into a storybook! The Yoshis must therefore triumph page by page in order to reach the young prince’s castle.

Perhaps the game’s most interesting aspect is its graphics. They were created using a style often referred to as “2.5 dimensional.” The stage maintains a two-dimensional route while the environments mimic those of a popup storybook. The characters and objects, on the other hand, are three-dimensional in appearance. Thorough details further bring these characters to life. The outcome is a spectacular side-scroller with delightful visuals.

The entertainment this game delivers sets the bar for current day side-scrollers. The controls are not too complex and nearly effortless to learn. Additionally, the concept of finishing a level even differs from that of most platformers. Instead of reaching a level’s end, Yoshi must eat 30 pieces of fruit without being “drained of happiness.” The game’s only shortcoming is having merely 24 levels. However, this downfall is offset by plentiful replay value. Playing for a high score can last you hours. Furthermore, it takes at least four times through the story mode to unlock all the levels, and it is unnecessary to repeat a single one, so it remains fresh.

All of this combined with a near-perfect musical score make Yoshi’s Story a fantastic game! The quest for the Super Happy Tree is a joy of its own. Yoshi’s Story is by far deserving of a 9/10.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Violence Begets Violence

It's true. Violence does beget violence. But I don't mean that the way you might think.

Violent games do not beget violent kids. That's just a fact. Violent kids tend to play violent games. But some people who would have it be the other way try to skew facts to make it look like the games are the problem.

I read a "study" by a group of dimwits who were trying to prove that violent games make kids violent. They created a no doubt very boring game where players have to drive around a city where pedestrians are walking along the sidewalks. They found that when hitting pedestrians increases score, the players hit the pedestrians more often. When hitting people decreases score, the testers hit them less often. The leaders use this to show that violent games make kids violent.

Here's where the fallacy begins: the players weren't trying to hit pedestrians. They were trying to win the game, and if hitting pedestrians wins, they'll try to hit them. If hitting them makes you lose, you'd naturally try not to hit them. It's just common sense.

The real test is this: did those players leave the testing facility, get in their cars and rampage up and down sidewalks in a bloodlust, trying to hit as many pedestraians as they could? Not if they were sober (but who knows what kooks the lunatics that set up this study dug up).

In my opinion, violence in games can actually help decrease violence in the real world. When kids get angry, what better way to vent than killing helpless victims in Grand Theft Auto? Or dispatching of enemy agents in Splinter Cell? Would these crazies who set up these phony "tests" like these kids to grab their dads' guns and go kill their enemies at school, or take 'em on online in an MMORPG?

Sure, killing cops isn't good. Neither is killing innocents or American soldiers. But please! Why are titles like True Crime or Ghost Recon so terrible? And what about Spiderman? You're the hero, for goodness sake!

And what about violent movies? What do these people think about them? They must cause just as much (if not more) violence in people as a whole than video games (which are participated in by a smaller, albeit more devoted group of people). Oh, we have a rating system for movies; oh wait, there's one for video games too.

It seems like a silly debate to me.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Racing London

Sometimes racing game clichés get old. Shiny cars, night driving, and lame physics (including unrealistically breakneck speeds) are among the most common problems with racing games. But one game set out to change that: London Racer.

You won't find shiny cars or streets in this racing game. Instead, you'll find realistically textured (and modeled) cars, buildings, obstacles, etc. The graphics are HDTV compatible as well, and lots of options will let you tune the graphics engine to fit your computer, for the most efficient and detailed graphics available.

Night driving has disappeared in this one too. All races are done in broad daylight (okay not all, but most) so it's easy to see where you're going and which way to go. The tracks are excellent, although there aren't any fun shortcuts reminiscent of Need for Speed. The designers did do a good job of modeling the tracks to be unique, however, and there aren't the myriad of obstacles and easy-to-make-mistakes like in other games in this genre.

The physics engine is excellent: Acceleration, drifting, braking, nitro, and turning are all accurately modeled in this game. No top speeds of 180 here; all the stats are true to the cars.

Also available is a refreshing change from the "garage" style racing game (tuning your car in between races); instead of worrying about buying new parts, you're brain is left to concentrate on more important things, like hitting the nitro at the right time.

The system that replaces this is the "powerup" style system: run into the nitro boost to fill your meter. The same system repairs your car (hit the floating wrenches to repair). It is unrealistic, but it's clean, slick, and polished, and best of all, fun!

When you hit the nitro, a strange phenomenon occurs: the air around you bends, the picture is distorted, and the audio portrays obstacles whistling past you! Don't turn though; it slows you way down (as it should). The artists must have spent alot of time making the graphics show how fast you were going, and it shows. This is truly the most memorable part of the game (it really is that good!)

The AI is also fantastic. Instead of stupid cars running into each other and the buildings surrounding them, they easily glide over jumps, curve around bends and boost through arches. The AI can also pick up the powerups, so they also know how to steer toward the nitro and wrenches. When a cop chases you, it really knows its stuff, and stays on your tail for a long time, making an already adrenaline-pumping experience even more thrilling!

All said is done, London Racer certainly comes out near the top of my list. It is truly one of the greatest racing games ever. 9.5/10

Monday, January 16, 2006

Animal Crossing: Wild World- The Complete Review

Back in 2002, one of the most addicting, yet pointless game of all time was released for the Nintendo Gamecube. Animal Crossing had players going around, performing random tasks to please hippo neighbors and pay off raccoons. It’s simplistic yet addictive gameplay made it one of those ‘must-own’ titles for the Gamecube. Now, 3 years later, with the release of the DS, Animal Crossing is back in Animal Crossing: Wild World with the same gameplay that made it fun and addictive on the Gamecube, as well as a few new additions.

First off, Animal Crossing was known for its lack-luster graphics back in the day. What was intended to be an N64 game was bumped up to the Gamecube without many graphical upgrades. Of course, the DS isn’t as powerful as the Gamecube, therefore Wild World has very good graphics. While they haven’t changed much since 2002, the colors aren’t quite as bright and some of the models have been scaled down.

The character models alone are very well done. Each character is unique and looks the part. Every character is an animal, but Nintendo gave each character some creativity, leaving each character recognizable, yet gleaming with AC’s signature humor. Animal Crossing was known for having a very eccentric sense of humor, especially when catching fish and bugs. This sense of humor has not been lost and new lame puns and one-liners can be found all over the place in Wild World. Even with Nintendo WFC, bulletins can be put up that are incredibly random. For example, one bulletin goes this way:

-Talking to Myself-
It’s odd how even the chattiest people get quiet in elevators! Except my sister…

Ha...Ha...Heh...

Lots of “Oh no you Squid’nt” type messages are to be found everywhere, even slipped into conversation. It’s nice to know that since players will be spending so much time with this game, that it can at least make them shake their heads at the lame puns and odd stories.

Like the original for the Gamecube, Wild World is addictive. There’s always something to do, whether one plays it in short bursts or decides to tackle a big project. There are events and activities to do almost every day, which is one of the big drawing points of the game. Whether it be a fishing tournament or just a flea market, there are tons of pre-set things tasks to do in Wild World, as well as many tasks players can make themselves. As with Animal Crossing for the Gamecube, players have to pay off debt to Tom Nook the owner of the local store. This requires players to sell fruit, furniture, shells and other doo-dads and nick-knacks that they come along. Depending on whether or not players have non-native fruit, the whole process can go fast or slow.

Sadly, the task of doing simple chores for one’s neighbor has been taken out of Wild World. Now, instead of delivering the furniture to neighbor a from neighbor g, neighbor a now has hobbies. Each animal has a different hobby, whether it be fishing, catching bugs or digging up dinosaur bones, neighbors will engage not in random tasks, but rather random competition. Whoever can catch the cockroach first is obviously the superior being, therefore winning bragging rights and a space in the neighbor’s house. While this may seem rather odd, it’s a great way to kill time while waiting for Nook’s new store to open. This is a great way to befriend neighbors now, as well as add items to one’s collection, as bugs and fish are tracked through the main menu.

Sadly, neighbors don't collect Pitfalls. Another reason to plant them around their house.

As well as the main menu, items such as bugs, fossils, fish and paintings can be collected in the town museum. This is one of those things that makes the town cool, as it is up to players on what goes into their museum. New to the museum this time around are the Observatory and the Coffee Shop entitled “The Roost”. The Observatory lots player make constellations in the sky, which can be viewed at night and even be made in other players towns. This is one of those unique things that’s really just cool to look at and doesn’t really play a huge part in one’s town. The same can be said about ‘The Roost’. Players can buy coffee, befriend the bartender and get music from K.K. Slider.

While on the topic of music, the music in Wild World hasn’t changed much at all. It still consists of the same hummable tunes as the original, as well as some new music. While the music is fairly simple, it fits the Wild World profile very well. The ‘voices’ of the characters just consists of random mumbling, which surprisingly doesn’t get annoying. Players can change the type of speak if they choose, but it really isn’t necessary. The sound effects of regular tasks themselves sound pretty much the same as the Gamecube version.

The graphics also look similar to that of the Gamecube version. Although when compared side-by-side, the original’s graphics are much brighter and colorful. Some items are more noticeable than others. For example, the fishing pole in Wild World is much darker than the one on the Gamecube. These little things aren’t enough to turn one away, but if one was a fan of the original, it’s noticeable.

One of the biggest selling points of Wild World is the Wi-Fi compatibility. While this is a great idea, it’s really one of the low points of the game. While some of the Wi-Fi stuff is rather fun and has tons of potential, the rest is rather boring and needed to be thought out a little more. The main draw of Wi-Fi is that players can go into each others towns. This is true, but players must first exchange friend codes. This makes it hard for those gamers who don’t have any friends with a copy of Wild World. Once players exchange codes, there’s not much to do. While players can compete in fish catching competitions and play games of hide-and-go-seek, that’s about it. Nintendo didn’t supply enough ‘stuff’ to do online.

Other parts of Wi-Fi are rather interesting though. When connected to Nintendo WFC, copies of Wild World exchange things. Whether it be neighbors, Blanca (the cat where players can draw faces) or messages in a bottle. The potential for this option is amazing. Neighbors could be wearing a players design, move to another town and then other animals could wear that design, ultimately moving the design throughout the world. This also works for constellations and catch phrases.

Although player-to-player Wi-Fi still has its perks. What’s there works very well. The chatting system is very efficient is used with the stylus and there are a few emotions that can be expressed as well. Tom Nooks can’t be updated to a certain level without a non-native player buying an item from Nook. As said before, Wi-Fi is pretty much Wild World with a second character. Well, at least there are games of ‘Net Tag’.

Another addition to Wild World is the stylus control. Players can choose between analog and stylus control. The problem is that there’s no real draw to use the stylus. It’s a matter of preference. It’s a little easier to use the d-pad, but the menu is much easier with the stylus. Switching between both is recommended, but besides the menu, players probably won’t use the stylus at all. Besides control, there’s not much that uses the stylus in any innovative way. Players can make patterns via the touch screen, but that’s about it.

One of the things players can access in this menu are clothes. In the Gamecube version, one piece of clothing covered everything. This time around, players can choose between shirts, hats, glasses and headgear. Players can wear a Bunny Hood or a Hockey Mask. This really lets the players personality shine through. Also, at a certain point, players unlock ‘Shampoodle’, a hair salon where players can get a new haircut based on a series of questions. One of the better additions that really lets players customize not only their house, but themselves as well.

Customization lets personality shine through.

The biggest draw of Wild World is that it’s essentially Animal Crossing for the DS. The basic addicting gameplay is still there. Players are a human stuck in a little town filled with animals that have house themes and enjoy catching fish and bugs. Players will sell fruits, shells and furniture to pay off their debt to Tom Nook and expand their house and Nook’s store. While doing this, players can catch bugs, fish, dig up bones, buy paintings, create clothes, create town tunes and a million other things. One of the best things about the Animal Crossing series is that you can never run out of things to do. Ever. Wild World will go on forever, no matter how long one plays.

With all the additions to the Animal Crossing series, Wild World is a must own for DS owners. Although there are some flaws and letdowns, Wild World maintains the addictive gameplay that made it a hit on the Gamecube. If players can find enough people to play with, Wild World is a huge expansive game. Even if they can’t, Wild World has so much value that they’ll be playing it for months, maybe even years after they first pop it into their DS.

Overall: 8.9/10

Thursday, January 12, 2006

50 Best Pieces of Crap

I must start by saying that I love PC World Magazine. If PC World was a chic, I'd marry her. I cannot recommend enough that you buy a subscription to this wonderful magazine.

That said, I have some bones to pick regarding their picks for the "50 Greatest Gadgets" list that they threw together this year. Most of the picks are okay, and some of them are good (Google Earth got 6th place!), but two in particular caught my attention (only the first 25 are in the magazine, I haven't checked online yet). These two were 11: Microsoft XBox 360, and 14: Nintendo Nintendogs.

Let's start with the XBox. All the picks had one-line descriptions; this one said "Next-gen console-based entertainment." Wow. If it was that bad, why did they give it 11th place (by the way, these gadgets are being given "Innovation Awards")? Is this thing really receiving an I. Award for being next-gen? And besides, they haven't even let the competitors get released yet (I'm not sure who I would want to win, PS3 or XBox; Sony made the PSP and Nintendo needs revenge for smearing the DS, but on the other hand Microsoft could use some smacking around).

Then there's the Nintendogs game: "Cute canines in a serious simulation." They make it sound like a bleeping kids toy ("cute"? What the heck?), while simultaneously making it seem boring (Ooh, a "simulation"... boooring!) They also fail to mention that what made this game so innovative was the capabilities of the DS (microphone and touchpad). They don't even say it's a DS game.

It makes me so mad. Not once has the DS been reviewed or even pictured, and the magazine almost seems to avoid mentioning it. Meanwhile there were two mentions of the PSP in this Issue, and in the Best Products of the Year Awards for last year, the PSP got a spot (I forget which one), and in an earlier issue it got a full page feature review (very favorable, I might mention). It has also been talked about in relation to hacking electronics products (cameras, PCs, gaming consoles, TiVos, etc). I'm no genius (okay, maybe I am :D), but I'm seeing more and more PSP as time wears on and have yet to see mention of the DS.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bad Ideas

I read an article on the GameSpot newsfeed about a new concept car that incorporates an XBox into its dashboard so poeple can drive and play at the same time. "Uh, I'm sorry officer, I was winning level 7 when all of the sudden the light turned red and..." Can you imagine the accidents such a car would cause if cars manufacturers were allowed to build cars with video screens visible to the driver? And what about the drunk driver calls? "I saw this guy swerving all around, and was just about to call 911 when I noticed he was playing Perfect Dark Zero..."

Here's another one: controlling the game with your thoughts! As I noted in my article Controlling the Chaos: Part I, a "brainwave headband" was actually tested by Atari a long time ago. Unfortunately it picked up muscle activity too, so testers would actually scrunch their faces up to control the game, resulting in terrible headaches later.

How about this one: reusing a controller from an old console in the new verion. That's right, for those of you who don't know it, the XBox 360 has virtually the same controller as the XBox (sans the wires and in silver instead of black). There's some Microsoft innovation for ya!

Number 4: VCR games. Big bomb to say the least. The idea is okay; play games with equipment you already have! Just hit Fast Forward or Rewind when it tells you to in order to play! Sorry, bad idea. These games were boring, stupid, and monotonous, not to mention fixed. Most video games change slightly each time you play, because of holding a button down longer, or because different random numbers were generated, or whatever. Not so with VCR games; everything is the same no matter how long you play. In other words, if yu play it and win, it's garbage. You throw it away. You can't win it again, better, like in most games.

And 5: UMDs (Universal Media Discs). Yes, I'm picking on the PSP (again; it's so fun :D). Like most stupid companies, Sony turned to what works best instead of what consumers want. The UMD has fast recall times, and can store video, music, or games. So far so good. But wait! It wears out, it can't store data (requiring a seperate flash storage card) and it is pretty fragile. It's also chunky, and hard to store. On the other hand, the game cards for the DS can store anything, has plenty fast recall times, never wears out, can store loads of data, is small, sturdy, and very easy to store (the holders in the accessory pack can hold four in a space the size of half a UMD). Look out world, here comes Sony!

Now it's your turn! Can you think of any bad ideas relating to gaming that I missed?

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Remember, we're accepting applications! Think you can meet the challenge of writing one gaming related article a week? If so, contact me at cubex_de(at)yahoo.com and we'll get back to you ASAP.
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Monday, January 02, 2006

When you say 2006, i say...

The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess

and

The Nintendo Revolution!

LoZ:TP comes out in April, while the revolutions release date is still unknown.

more information about both when released.