Today I'm Playing (Archive)

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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:09 am

8:
GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY (PS2, 2002)

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It's amazing how music can take you back, isn't it?

I don't know what it is, but whether we know it or not, chances are we all have a "soundtrack to our lives". Pieces of music, whether from real-life artists or from games, TV shows or films, can instantly transport us not just to an experience we had, but to a place in our lives and how we were feeling at that time. For me, I cannot hear the opening beats of Michael Jackson's classic "Billie Jean" without being transported to a cosmopolitan sunny land, a land of sea breezes and pastel-shaded suits. A place where infinite possibilites are open to anyone ruthless enough to take them. A place called "Vice City".

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I'm going to hate admitting this, but it's a definite fact so there's no point skirting around it - I was a Nintendo fangirl in a big way. After getting a Mega Drive for Christmas 1994, I didn't get another gaming machine that was non-Nintendo for nearly a decade. I was hooked on Zelda, Pokemon and Starwing, and didn't see the need to get anything that wasn't on a Nintendo system. Now there's nothing wrong with this in itself, but it was more than that - I would refer to the Playstation as the "Greystation", and would refuse to accept any game that wasn't on Nintendo, such as Grand Theft Auto, was any good. I'd practically defend the indefensible, such as how bloody expensive N64 games were, because I wouldn't accept criticism against my beloved company. In short, I kinda wish I could go back and give myself a slap and knock some sense into me!

It was down to one game and one game alone that I ended up breaking my 9 year Nintendo-exclusivity and getting a PS2. And that game was Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

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My first experience of Grand Theft Auto (a game which causes Jack Thompson nightmares, more reason to love it) was way back in 2000, when a friend had one of the Playstation originals. Playing it round his house, we had a riot running police blockades and knocking down a load of Elvis lookalikes (I'm not a sociopath, promise!). GTA III was released in 2001, but the short time I had with it didn't really tick my boxes - the car handling was very heavy, and they blew up far too easily. But Vice City was something else - it seemed so bright, so colourful! Being set in the '80s meant that instead of indie rock bands that no-one had heard of, the radio stations were instead full of electro classics - Hall & Oates, Michael Jackson, Blondie! The handling of the vehicles was improved a hundred percent, and it seemed any time I watched someone play it, there was yet another thing to do. All in all, it was a game which I badly wanted, but alas, it wasn't out for Nintendo. So I relented, and for Christmas 2003 I got a shiny silver PS2 and a copy of Vice City (as well as another game called Kingdom Hearts... more on that tomorrow!)

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Vice City is one of the most complex and multi-layered games ever made. The amount of freedom the game gives you is staggering, and is it's main appeal - as an amoral mafia boss, you have free reign to go and be as bad as you want. Naturally, this generated a lot of heat from the media (which I'm sure that Rockstar loved! Free publicity after all), as they were appauled that little Jane and little Jimmy were playing a game where you could murder prostitutes or steal cars. But what they failed to realise that the game didn't just let you commit crimes - it let you do anything. You could go flying in a biplane. You could enter races. You could become a taxi driver. You could play pool. It was a huge, sprawling, living world, and it was your oyster! To paint it purely as a sadistic crime spree is to sell it way, way short.

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The plot takes its cues heavily from '80s crime films and shows, such as Scarface and Miami Vice. You play as Tommy Vercetti, a mafia member who has just been released from prison after a 15-year stint. Worried his presence might upset the delicate balance between the warring underground crime syndicates, Tommy's boss, Sonny Forelli, sends him to Vice City, Florida, to conduct a series of cocaine deals. One goes bad, and Tommy is then forced to hunt down the perpertrators in an effort to prove he isn't trying to cheat the mafia. So begins the rise of Tommy Vercetti - this is very Scarface, as Tommy goes from bottom-of-the-pile lackey into crime boss in his own right, complete with huge mansion!

Along the way you'll meet with many colourful characters including local criminal Lance Vance, dodgy British record producer Kent Paul, real estate mogul Avery Carrington, drug dealer Juan Cortez and his temptress of a daughter Mercedes, adult film star Candi Suxx, and plenty more besides. Despite being an over-the-top charicature himself, Vercetti's meetings with these people are often priceless, forced to play the straight man against the madness they manage to get him further into.

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If you have any semblence of a sense of humour, the game will have you laughing out loud the whole way through. Even with the superb '80s soundtrack, some of the best radio stations to tune into are the chat shows. Here you'll find some excellent satire ("The world is run by men! Look at Gorbochev, Reagan, Thatcher!"), as well as commercials which have their tongue firmly in their cheek. There's also some immature innuendo in there too, which I will admit got me giggling occasionally (such as the "Cherry Poppers" ice cream company - hard to believe this is the same company which made Lemmings!)

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What this game gave me was an expansive world like no other, and the freedom to explore that world. The whole game is done in soft pinks and luscious sunsets, which makes it feel warm and inviting. The soundtrack is absolutely amazing (have I mentioned that yet?), to the point where I actually went and purchased the CDs of 2 of the radio stations (Wave 103 and Flash FM if you're interested). I had as much fun as running legit businesses such as taxi driving and demolition derby racing as I did messing around - one of my favourite past-times was starting a fire, hijacking the fire engine then running up and down Washington beach and ramming people on mopeds who are now hopelessly outmatched (as I said before, I promise that I'm not a sociopath!). Having been to the real Vice City recently (Miami, Florida) I can say that Vice Beach is a faithful recreation of Miami Beach, and it was a dream come true to be there!

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There are people reading this who will say "What about San Andreas? Surely that's a better game?" And to them I'd say "screw you poo-face, this is my list!" But an effort to be more mature, I'll respond instead like this; yes, San Andreas was a better game. It was longer, bigger, more varied, more vehicles, bigger missions, and no in-game loading screens. But do you know why I put Vice City ahead of it? Because this isn't "the best games ever" list. It's my favourite games ever. And that's a huge difference. Vice City will forever have a huge place in my heart because, at a time in my life where everything was going wrong, it was pure escapism at it's finest. It also reintroduced me to gaming outside of Nintendo for the first time in 9 years, which led the way for me to experience Burnout 3, Red Dead Redemption, Virtua Fighter 5, and loads more. And let's face it, '80s music is so much better than '90s music!

And when it's all said and done, any game that pisses off Jack Thompson and Richard Madeley has to be good, hasn't it?
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:12 am

7:
KINGDOM HEARTS II (PS2, 2006)

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Although I like to think I’m a little more mature than I used to be. I will readily admit to being an utter nightmare in my early teens, with absolutely no patience whatsoever. I never learned the art of waiting, and every game I wanted I wanted now, now, NOW! This may have been bad enough with screenshots of Nintendo’s forthcoming blockbuster, but it was even worse with sequels – there is nothing worse, after all, of having already tasted Eden’s fruit and then being made to wait for some more.

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I must also confess that I may have told a small untruth in the Vice City passage. That was not the only game which swayed me to get a PS2. There was also a little game called Kingdom Hearts, a game that I got only because I liked the look of the website (yes, really!) and I loved the idea of visiting all these Disney worlds. Every so often in my life I have taken punts on things which have subsequently paid off big time, and boy did this pay off! I adored KH, utterly loved it, and was absolutely anxious for a sequel to be made and finish off the story. I figured that because the game was already part of Sony’s Platinum collection when I had bought it, it wouldn’t be long for Square-Enix had the inevitable return of Sora and co. out on the shelves. And so I waited. And waited and waited and waited.

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33 months! THIRTY THREE MONTHS they left me waiting for a European release! My younger-self would’ve gone insane! Thankfully I didn’t, and I hope that, in a way, this game helped me become more patient as a result. I mean, when it finally came out, it’s not like I specifically went out to town to get it or anything – I bought some phone credit as well. Oh okay, I was aching for the damn thing. Shiregu Miyamoto said that a delayed game is eventually good, but a bad game is bad forever. So after all the delays, surely this would be world class then?

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Yes yes and yes again. Utterly astounding and an instant classic, Kingdom Hearts II manages to not only improve on it’s brilliant older brother but utterly demolish it. I cannot explain in mere words just how breathtaking I found the whole thing to be. What Square-Enix have done here is captured the art of anticipation… making you wait for that golden moment you cannot wait to savour. They do it right from the off – having waited thirty-three sodding months for this game, I was extremely excited to become Sora once again and see my old friends. But you don’t play as Sora initially, you play as Roxas. This is initially confusing, but unlike MGS2 who hacked off it’s fans with Raiden instead of Solid Snake, here Square do an admirable job of getting you acquainted with Roxas and his friends until you can’t help but feel an affinity with them. This “prologue” chapter is done in the same exceptional way all of Kingdom Hearts is – by blending seamlessly the chirpy original characters with old Square and Disney favourites. It does a superb job blending the fresh with the familiar, and gives you a wonderful little town to explore, complete with it’s own secrets and tournament and stunning view and creepy mansion. Seriously, if Square-Enix had wanted to make Kingdom Hearts: Twilight Town into a fully fledged game they bloody well could have.

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However, when the game does get going properly it a nothing short of a delight. The pedestrian ship levels from the original have been replaced by much faster, tougher versions. The worlds are as vibrant and as wonderful as the original, and the characters you meet from the films instantly make you feel like a kid again – Mulan, Jack Skellington, Simba – it’s just a trip down nostalgia lane, and everyone grew up on Disney so they can relate (and anyone who says they didn’t like it is a liar). There’s also the occasional Final Fantasy character thrown in, with my friend having a near-fit when he saw that Auron was Hades’ personal entrant into the underworld tournament. The added element to the Organisation XIII and the Heartless’ storyline constantly shadowing the whole thing makes the game seem fresh, but with familiar characters – as I said, just the thing KH specialises in.

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But all the nostalgia trips and great battles and spectacular levels (especially Tron, which may be the best-looking level in a videogame) are nothing, NOTHING, next to the part where Sora reunites with Riku. Remember how I said Square-Enix made you wait and wait for that moment you wish would come? Well this is it. KH fans had been waiting since the first act from the first game for Sora to meet with his friend again… that’s a loooooooooooong time. And because you get so into the characters, and because there is always a mention of that tiny little island they came from, your mind wanders back to that day when you first turned the game on, how Sora and Riku and Kairi would laugh and play and be like kids until everything got swallowed by darkness. Almost three years is a long time to wait for a chance to see them together again, and when you do, my Lord it’s just so emotional. And even then Square-Enix made me wait – Riku had changed in appearance at the end of the first game, and that hadn’t been rectified by the second. I was worried that they hadn’t bothered making a grown-up Riku model and that although Sora was going to meet “Riku”, it wasn’t the Riku he, or I, knew. I needn’t have worried. When Riku takes off that blindfold and Sora ran up to him, tears in his eyes, and said “I looked everywhere for you”, oh God I just couldn’t stop myself crying. I wept and wept, because I felt like I had been looking too, for so long, and finally that group of friends – which by now, I felt I personally belonged – was back together again. It was just so beautiful.

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And that’s how I would describe the whole game really; beautiful. From the graphics to the soundtrack to the emotional rollercoaster that goes from euphoria to nostalgic re-acquaintances to dramatic battles to heart-wrenching moments like above, it’s what a real RPG or adventure game should do – make you feel like you’ve been on a worthwhile journey. I will give this game the highest praise imaginable, and say I enjoyed it more than any Zelda game I’ve ever played; seeing as I adore Zelda, that doesn’t come easy. But it’s true, and moreover, it’s probably the best adventure game ever made. Even my younger, more brash self would’ve conceded it was worth every second of the wait. Anyone who says Kingdom Hearts is "Final Fantasy with Disney characters" is way, way wrong. It's so much more than that - it could very easily be a good game in it's own right if it had used original characters and settings. But by making use of those faces and places you know and love, it gives it a sense of familiarity, a sense of nostalgia. It's a true masterpiece.
Last edited by Highlight on Thu Dec 18, 2014 12:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:13 am

6:
GOLDEN SUN (GBA, 2001)

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Collective jaws, prepare to hit the floor!

In my opinion, one of the most under-rated games companies of all time are Camelot. Everything they've done has been brilliant - founded back in 1990, they originally made a superb RPG series for the MegaDrive called "Shining Force" (which even got it's own strip in STC - and if you can remember STC I love you forever!). When Sega became a third-party publisher, Camelot (which was a second-party to Sega) was taken under Nintendo's wing, and became a second-party to them. They spent between 12 and 18 months developing their first title, a handheld RPG called "Golden Sun". This is a long time to develop a handheld game, but the finished article is a testament to all their hard work - it's an absolute masterpiece.

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Let's make one thing clear right off the bat. There are 2 types of games I just don't get on with. Everyone has their own preferences, and mine definitely lay away from the lands of first-person shooters and RPGs. Don't ask me why - I think it's mostly a patience thing. RPGs tend to require two things, which is level grinding and exploration/puzzles, and both drive me up the wall. I love racing games, remember? Burnout is my ideal style of game - straight in, no messing, fast and action packed. Pretty much the exact opposite of what an RPG offers - slow paced, turn-based combat, fighting enemy after enemy after enemy to get your levels up. Complicated menu and magic systems. To me, this doesn't sound fun! It sounds like a slog, almost like a second job! It's the heroes jobs to go on gruelling challenging quests, not yours! And when I bought this game (which I only did off the back of universally positive reviews), reading the manual made me cringe. Assigning magical Djinn to characters to give them new abilities? Mages and Warrior classes? Elemental combinations? All sounded very complicated. I was almost ready to hate the game before I'd even switched it on. But never judge a book by it's cover (although with Kindles around it's harder to do that now!). Make no mistake about it; this game is utterly, truely fabulous.

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As gameplay goes, it's very traditional RPG fare (as you'd expect from the creators of Shining Force!). You join a party of 4 warriors as they journey through a fantasy-themed world, interact with other characters, battle monsters, acquire increasingly powerful abilities and equipment, and take part in an ongoing narrative. Although many of your actions are compulsory, Golden Sun often allows you to visit previous locations and complete certain objectives out of order.

Much of the time spent outside of battle takes place in dungeons, caves, and other locales, which often feature puzzles integrated into their layout. These puzzles require you to perform a variety of actions, such as creating makeshift bridges by pushing logs into rivers, or shifting the track of a mine cart to gain access to new areas. Many of these puzzles require use of the game's form of magic spells, "Psynergy" - this is in contrast to many RPGs, which often restrict magic to within battles and post-combat healing. Psynergy, however, is used for both purposes; for example, the "Whirlwind" spell that damages enemies in battle is also used out of battle to remove overgrown foliage blocking the player's path. Psynergy comes in four flavours: Venus (manipulation of rocks and plants), Mars (revolving around fire and heat), Jupiter (based on wind and electricity), and Mercury (concerning water and ice). Players can return to previous locations in the game to finish puzzles which they could not solve earlier because of the lack of a specific Psynergy spell.
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So far, so RPG right? Well yes, I suppose. You get the usual random battles, where if your hit points go to zero it's game over and you get a monetary penalty and are returned to the last Inn you saved at (Inns! How cliche is that!). But one of the most distinctive features of Golden Sun is the collection and manipulation of creatures called Djinn. The Djinn are scattered in hiding throughout the game; once found, they can be allocated to each character. They form the basis of the game's statistic enhancement, as well as the system that dictates the character's Psynergy capabilities. Attaching different Djinn to different characters modifies that character's class, subsequently modifying hit points, Psynergy points, and other statistics, as well as determining what Psynergy the character is able to perform.

Djinn can either be "Set" to a player or put on "Standby". When a Djinni is Set, it gives bonuses to the stats of the character it is on, and may change the character′s class or usable Psynergy. Set Djinn also have abilities that can be used in battle to attack, heal, or otherwise affect the battle, however using these abilities causes the Djinn to move from being Set to being in Standby mode. There are seven Djinn of each element, and these Djinn can be mixed and matched to the four characters, allowing a large array of possible class setups and a variety of combat options.

In combat, a Djinni has several uses. Each Set Djinni has a special ability which can be invoked during combat by the character it is attached to, which can include enhanced elemental attacks, buffing or debuffing spells, healing/restoration spells, and other effects. After a successful invoke, the Djinni shifts to "Standby" mode until it is "Set" on the character again. While in standby, the Djinn do not contribute to statistics or change character classes, but can be used for summon spells, which are attacks where the player summons a powerful elemental monster to inflict damage on every enemy. This is the game's most powerful method of attack, but the required switch to Standby mode is a risky trade-off: Djinn used for summoning must rest for several turns before reverting to the Set position, during which time they cannot bolster statistics or classes. There are sixteen Summon Sequences in Golden Sun—four for each element—and each summon sequence requires between one and four Djinn of the same element on Standby.
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Golden Sun's story is fantastic. It's set in the fantasy world of "Weyard", which is a bit like the earth but twisted a bit. It subscribes to the "flat earth" concept, meaning if you sail too far one way, you'll fall off the edge of the world and into an abyss. The plot progression of Golden Sun spans the two largest continents in the world's central region: Angara to the north and Gondowan to the south. Weyard is governed by the mythological concept of the elemtns. All matter on Weyard consists of any combination of the four base elements: Venus, Mars, Mercury and Jupiter, or earth, fire, water, and wind, respectively. These four building blocks of reality can be manipulated by the omnipotent force of Alchemy, which reigned supreme in the world's ancient past. Alchemy was sealed away in the past, however, and the world in the present age has become seemingly devoid of this power. However, in various places throughout the world, people demonstrate an aptitude to manipulate one of the elements through a form of magic called Psynergy. These wielders of Psynergy, called Adepts, usually refrain from displaying their talents to outsiders.

You play the game as Isaac (but because he's a silent protagonist, you can change his name, as well as any of the characters names, as any good RPG will let you!), a Venus adept from the town of Vale. Isaac's friends are two fire adepts, Jenna and Garet, who accompany you for the early part of the game. The two villains of the piece, Saturos and Mernardi, kidnap Jenna and set about trying to light the four lighthouses of the world (each one relating to a different element) to restore the power of Alchemy to the world. Isaac and Garet head off to try and stop them, rescue Jenna, and naturally save the world.

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So what's so special about this game then? Reading what I've put so far, it doesn't sound do different from say, Final Fantasy V, or Shining Force, or any RPG for that matter. But what this game has that sets it apart is pure imagination. The settings, the plot, the adventure is utterly fantastic from beginning to end. I was hooked. Travelling through caves and forests is one thing, but ship journies attacked by sea-monsters, Buddhist monk villages, mine-cart rides, and tournaments where you use your Pysnergy to win are something else. It's hard to try and explain how good the story is without going masively into it, but it's never clear cut or simple "save the princess" fair. Golden Sun: The Lost Age, the direct sequel, carries on the magnificence of this game, but instead has you playing the role of the antagonists (which is very cool) trying to light the lighthouses and restore Alchemy rather than stopping them. It's this sort of thing which gives you new perspectives on things - one of the best moments to me is when, in the first game, you are told of this lost island of wonder, hidden in the shrouding mists where it's possible to live forever and is a glorious realm of beauty and culture. In the second game, you go there, and find a crumbling city of people who have been cut from the outside world, begging to be freed from this torment. You can also connect the 2 games so that, in The Lost Age, you run into your party from the previous game, who have the exact same equipment, levels and items that you had! Awesome!

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This game is also massive. It's bigger than it has any right to be as a GBA game, and the graphics are superb too (I've seen DS games a lot worse than this!). The continuation of the story in The Lost Age is a just as excellent, and the fact you play from the point of view of the bad guys gives you an entire new perspective on the whole adventure. During the declining years of Rare (a tragedy which can be compared to the fall of the Roman Empire and cancelling Pinky & the Brain), Camelot really upped their game and if they were allowed more reign, could probably step into the shoes of the old Twycross developers. They have produced some other games for Nintendo - Mario Golf::Toadstool Tour (which was ace), and Mario Tennis (which was even better!). But their magnum opus is this: Golden Sun (and The Lost Age), a spectacular adventure so magnificent that it took someone who hates the genre and made her a fan forever. This is the RPG Final Fantasy wishes it could be (and was once upon a time, before it got distracted with flashy graphics). You will never ever find a better RPG than this one. Well, okay, one. But that's coming later!
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:14 am

5:

SUPER MARIO 64 (N64, 1997)

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When I was talking about Golden Sun, I mentioned "Magnum Opus". If you've never heard of the term, it basically means a particular work of note which is then identified with the person who produced it. For example, Da Vinci's Magnus Opus would obviously be the Mona Lisa, Michaelangelo would have the Cistine Chapel, and Picassio's is Guernica. Poets will have a Magnus Opus (Wordsworth's "Daffodils", T.S. Elliott's "The Wasteland"), as do composers (Wagner has "Das Rheingold"). Continuing from the question posed in Shadow of the Colossus "can video games be art", surely the next question is "Can video games have a magnum opus?" Is there a stellar masterpiece which can stand above the rest as the definitive example of what a game can be?

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In 1997, Nintendo produced it's first 64-bit console, the Nintendo Ultra 64 (the "Ultra" was later dropped). Ever since the first Nitnendo home console, the NES, the importance of a strong launch title was very clear. Mario at this point was a household name (heck, ever since 1985 he was!) and so it seemed obvious to have the opening game for their new 3D extravaganza as a Mario title. The build was extraordinary - ever since the first screenshots came out, people were clamouring for it like nothing else. The anticipation was even worse for me; the N64s launch date in the UK was March 1st 1997, but because it was so expensive when it came out (over £300 for one with a game!), I wasn't allowed one for my birthday and had to wait ten agonising months until Christmas before I could get my hands on it.

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The plot of Super Mario 64 may seem familiar; the Princess has been kidnapped by Bowser (surprise!) and Mario has to rescue her. I know, you're shocked, but bear with me. Mario has to go into Peach's castle and enter different worlds by diving into paintings - each one will transport you to the place upon it. In each world are 6 stars - collect them and you can unlock doors which open up new worlds, and so on. There are 120 stars to collect, and 3 differing battles with Bowser to have along the way.

If this all sounds like you've heard something like it before, Super Mario 64 was the blueprint for most N64 platforming games that came after it: Banjo-Kazoozie & Tooie, Donkey Kong 64 and many others all followed a similar formula, as have Mario Sunshine and Mario Galaxy. And that's because it's a formula that worked - it encouraged exploration, to fully immerse yourself in the colourful worlds.

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Quite frankly, nothing had ever been seen like Super Mario 64 before. It was a revolution. It was familiar (enemies such as Goombas, Bowser kidnapping Peach, etc), but also completely new - Mario 64 could rightly be referred to as the first 3D game, as before the invention of the 3D stick, 3D was limited to either moving at 90 or 45 degrees along an X, Y or Z axis. Now, completed 360 degree movement was possible - tilt the stick slightly and Mario would tiptoe, push it all the way to have him run full speed. It also introduced the Metal Mario cap (making you invincible and very heavy), and also the flying cap, allowing you the freedom of the skies. You can also surf on koopa shells (great fun in Lethal Lava Land). This is the first game I can ever remember having fun by simply walking around... running and leaping through the Castle Grounds is a great treat.

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The camera too, was a revolution. Again, before Mario 64, 3D cameras were an utter nightmare, usually following directly behind the player or managing to find themselves stuck behind objects or getting into angles which were completely unhelpful. Mario 64 assigned the camera to the 4 "C" buttons, meaning you can zoom in and out, and rotate if needed. This is a the forerunner to the two 3D stick system which most platformers have today. It's practically impossible to underestimate the sheer ground-breaking nature of this game. As an aside, the camera was also explained as being on the end of Lakitu's fishing rod - you can even see him flying around in the mirror room!

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I have owned Super Mario 64 for over 15 years, have completed it roughly two dozen times on N64, DS and virtual console, and yet going back and playing it today, it felt as fresh as the first time I picked up the controller that Christmas. It's just utterly stellar, the worlds, the glorious soundtrack (Dire, Dire Docks is an amazing piece of music), and more than anything else, it's just incredible fun to play. Fun is the operative word here; Mario 64 is just so full of gameplay it's almost stupid. So let's make this clear:

Van Gogh's "Starry Night" is a masterpiece.

William Blake's "Songs of Innocence & Experience" is a masterpiece.

"Super Mario 64" is a masterpiece.

Absolutely no question.

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It's a game which changed the face of gaming - but what do you think of it?
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:15 am

4:

POKEMON GOLD/SILVER (GameBoy Color, 2000)

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If you can cast your minds back to when Sonic 2 was on this list, I said something along the lines of: "if you weren't there, you won't understand". Well, back in the mists of time we find ourselves in the year 1999 (was it really 13 years ago? Dammit I'm old!). Nintendo released a game in the UK which had been out in Japan for 3 years - a game by the name of "Poket Monsters". It was an RPG on the GameBoy, where you would collect tiny creatures, train them up, and battle them against each other (I don't need to explain this, do I?). In the West, the name was shortened to "Pokemon", and there were 2 versions originally released; Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue, each with essentially the same game but with slightly different Pokemon to catch in each, which encouraged people to trade between the versions.

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To say that Pokemon was a phenomenon would be an understatement. It's pretty much the only thing I can compare to The Simpsons or Sonic the Hedgehog in terms of popularity - it pretty much just exploded onto the scene. The anime cartoon aired on a saturday morning (a fantastic little show called "SM:TV Live", which was presented by 2 guys called Ant and Dec... whatever happened to them?) which meant it reached a whole new audience. The trading cards too were massively popular, Panorama even did an investigation on shopkeepers who kept the shiny ones back to sell at higher prices! There were plushies, lunchboxes, toys, pogs, t-shirts, it was an absolute whirlwind. Obviously nothing lasts forever, and the Pokemon "craze" petered out after a year. This led to 2 of the biggest travesties of misconceptions when it comes to Pokemon: 1) that it's for young kids, and 2) that it was just a fad. To give credence to these lies is criminal, as at the core of it all was an absolute gem of a game. And in early 2000, that game was due a sequel...

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Pokemon Silver was the first imported game I ever played. It wasn't due out in the UK until 2001, but in mid to late 2000 a US copy turned up in an independant games store in town. To say that I wanted it would be to say that WW2 was a minor scuffle, or that Jet Force Gemini was "an okay game". I literally pleaded with my mom to buy it me, with a furvour I don't think I've ever matched in my life before or since! And amazingly, she relented, and actually bought me a copy! I was utterly thrilled - I'd got my hands on the holy grail, the sequel to Pokemon. And as good as I ever imagined it to be, nothing could prepare me for this!

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I actually finished Pokemon Silver (by which I mean all 16 gym badges and Mount Silver) in 4 days, which makes it sound very short. What I may need to mention is that in those 4 days, I got a total of 9 hours sleep. The rest of the my time I played Pokemon. Not even close to joking here. I went through several pairs of AA batteries on my old GameBoy Color quicker than at any other time in my life! I was hooked! You may laugh looking at the screenshots now, but having a full-colour Pokemon game compared to the monocrome Red and Blue was amazing in itself. It also introduced many of the things we see in the games now - Dark & Steel types were first used, Pokemon could hold items, Berries could be harvested, and you had a day/night feature, as well as being able to use the infa-red on the top of the GameBoy Color to trade information between versions.

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It's kind of hard to pinpoint to why Pokemon is so fantastic. In many ways, it's no different to any other RPG, most of which I can't stand - you have a party of characters, you level them up by grinding in random battle encounters, there's an elemental, well, element to their attacks, the whole shebang. Maybe it's the charming nature of the Pokemon themselves that gives it the edge? The fact you're not given a party of human characters but creatures that you can name, watch grow, and choose for yourself? Maybe it's the fact that a lot of RPGs are single player experiences, whereas Pokemon actively encourages you to mingle with other players, to trade and to battle? Or maybe it's the simple fact that there's no mega-powerful enemy that can cheap kill you with a summon or overpowered move, and if there is, well, you can do it yourself! This I think is one of Pokemon's great strengths - if someone uses a Pokemon which is super annoying or really strong, go and catch one yourself and do it back to them! This also links with the "Catch 'em all!" element which really gives the games some great depth. The collecting element keeps the game going, and gives you reason to explore and play long after you've got all those gym badges - this will mean nothing to anyone else, but one of the happiest memories of my life is sitting in a Pirate themed pub in Cornwall trying to catch all 26 types of Unowns!

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Anyone who's played the game will tell you about how they loved catching the Red Gyarados at the Lake of Rage, toppling the Elite 4, or catching Luigia/Ho-oh. But my favourite moment was sneaking back to Kanto again. It was the absolute dead of night (about 3 in the morning) when I did this, and it felt like I'd almost stumbled across a secret or something! I was bursting with joy to go back, to see the old sights and revisit old haunts (no Lavendar Town pun intended!). When I managed to find my way up to Misty and saw her kissing her boyfriend, it brought a nostalgic tear to my eye, as I thought "she's all grown up!". And recounting this story to you now is bringing the same nostalgic tear to my eye about me!

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Because in the end, I suppose I'm all grown up now too. Looking at this objectively, there are much better Pokemon games out there. Each generation adds new Pokemon, makes things more balanced (although you can sod Milotic right off), the graphics improve, new features are added, and everything generally gets more streamlined. Pokemon Diamond & Pearl are miles ahead of this, and Black & White even further still. Yet, AND YET, this still remains my favourite. Because playing this game does to me what going back to Kanto did to me all those years ago - it's to revisit a different place, a different time. A time in my life where I literally had my whole life ahead of me. No job, no mortgage, no car. No worrying about finding someone to settle down with or what other people thought of my sexuality or religion. It was sunshine and SM:TV, ice creams, trips to the park, summer holidays and Pokemon. It's to go back to a place when the world was so much simpler. You may not understand this, but if you are lucky enough to have been part of that generation, I can only hope that you get the same feeling as I do when playing this amazing adventure.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:17 am

3:
SUPER MARIO KART (SNES, 1993)

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This is a tricky one. During the course of this countdown, I have to write as to why these games deserve to be on the list. Sometimes this is extremely easy - games such as Portal or Red Dead Redemption are so clearly special in every aspect, it's simply a case of listing their acheivements; the graphics, the humour, the longevity. Others are slightly more difficult - Shadow of the Colossus and Pokemon Silver, for example, require me to explain a feeling, a personal point of view, as that's the reason the game has such a place in my heart. But of all the games on this list, by far the hardest to explain why it's here is this one. Super Mario Kart is world famous - it's the third best selling SNES game of all time, 8 million copies in total flying off the shelves. It has spawned 6 sequels (each on a different console, which is quite an acheivement!) and everyone has their own personal favourite. So why is this one mine? Well that's why this is so difficult. Because, in the end, I think Super Mario Kart is great in spite of itself.

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Let me backtrack a bit first. Super Mario Kart was a game I discovered purely by accident, a stroke of luck which I very rarely get! As I may have mentioned before, there used to be an independant games store back in my hometown of Tamworth called "Superland". It was coming up to my 10th birthday, and I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to get; I usually had a game of some sort, but nothing really took my fancy. I picked out Super Mario Kart purely because I liked the look of the box; I actually thought it was an F1 style racer with Mario characters in (a bit like "Turbo Outrun"). What I found instead was something very different, but infinitely better than I could've dreamed...

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If you havn't heard of it (in which case, how was life growing up in Communist Russia?) Super Mario Kart is a racing game for the SNES. You play as one of eight Mario characters, each in a pipe go-kart, and each in one of four categories; Mario & Luigi are all rounders, Princess Peach & Yoshi have high acceleration but low top speed, Bowser & Donkey Kong Jnr are slow off the mark but have a huge top-end, and Koopa Trooper & Toad have great handling but are poor off road. You compete in either 50cc, 100cc and 150cc speed classes, and across 4 different cups (Mushroom, Flower, Star and Special). You have 5 courses per cup, and you have to finish in the top 4 every race or else you lose a life. Completing each cup with the highest amount of points (9 for 1st, 6 for 2nd, 3 for 3rd, 1 for 4th) gets you a nice gold trophy. Clear so far? Good.

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Although it's not quite as simple as that. As anyone who plays Mario Kart knows, one of the most major elements of the gameplay are the items! You get items throughout each track by driving over yellow item blocks on the floor, and you can then use them to help you win; the green shells can be fired like missiles, dreaded red shells act like homing missiles, banana peels can be layed behind you to hamper opponents, the feather makes you leap into the air (good for shorcuts), lightening bolts will shrink other competitors and make them squishable, and the star makes you invincible and much faster. They are supposedly random, but anyone who has played the game will tell you that the lower down the order you are, the better items you will get. Weirdly, unlike other Mario Kart games, the CPU doesn't obtain or use items, but they make up for it in other ways (as you will see later).

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Super Mario Kart is a revolution in a number of ways. For starters, it was the first ever "characters in go-karts" game, which has since spawned a thousand copycats (some of which are quite good; play "Street Racer" if you get the chance!). It also used something new for the SNES which made the entire game possible; "Mode 7". Basically, Mode 7 allows a 3D plane to rotate around a fixed model, which meant that the characters are 2D whilst the 3D bitmap then rotates around as the player steers around the course. It looks very obvious, but trust me when I say you really couldn't care less whilst playing the game! Mario Kart 64 also uses this system, in case you're interested.

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But now comes to the bad bit. As I said earlier, despite by absolute love for this game, it seems to me that it has an absolute myriad of problems. The CPU is, without any shadow of a doubt, the worst cheating bedfordshire clanger that I have ever experienced in my entire life. Yes, even worse than the Microsoft Windows "Hearts" where the computer players can seemingly pass cards around to each other magically (not that I'm bitter...) The CPU players will stick in the same order religiously, meaning that generally the only way to get gold is to win every course; you better not slip up, the computer won't. Should you somehow dare to hit someone out of order, they will zoom at super-speed to catch up to the point where they used to be. Remember how I said before that CPU players couldn't use items? That's true, but they can use their own personal items as frequently as they like. Donkey Kong Jnr lays banana peels which arn't too bad, and Peach and Toad lay poisonous mushrooms which shrink you. But the rest simply take the piss; remember those stars I mentioned earlier which make you invincible? Mario & Luigi can use them at their leisure. Bowser shoots off indestructable fireballs which career across the track, making them very tricky to avoid. Yoshi and Koopa lay their own items (green shells and eggs), but then aren't affected by them on later laps - they simply bounce over them. In fact, I've had the computer randomly decide it can jump over red shells when it wants to as well. But don't think you can do the same, oh no.

As if this wasn't enough, the entire game is split-screen, whether you're in multiplayer or not - if you're playing single player, then the game will replace the lower half with a map of the track. Also no CPU bots for battle mode (thank goodness, if the cheating CPU in the Grand Prix is anything to go by!). All in all, Super Mario Kart is a game that is really easy to find faults with.

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So why then is it my number 3 game of all time? Because, and quite frankly, there's no other way to put this, the gameplay is absolutely off the charts. It is SO MUCH FUN to play. The controls are so tight and responsive, and although the CPU does play a part in this, it does feel like a real challenge to beat the game. And although many people will tell you otherwise, let me tell you this; there are NO bad Mario Kart games. They are all fantastic fun to play, and this is the game that started them all. It's quite possibly my favourite game series of all time, and whilst each incarnation brings on new characters, bigger tracks, better graphics and the like, it's still the original on the SNES which brings the biggest smile to my face.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:18 am

2:
TIMESPLITTERS 2 (PS2/Gamcube, 2002)

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"Outnumbered but never outgunned"

So says the quote on the back of the box of Timesplitters 2, a first-person shoot 'em up from a little company called Free Radical. As quotes go, it's pretty apt - after all, look how many FPSs are on the market nowadays. Whereas in the past, platform games seemed to be the staple diet of console gaming, now it's very much the shoot-'em-up which is king. Call of Duty, Halo, Killzone, Battlefield, Medal of Honor, Resistance, and on and on and on. I don't know when it happened, but at some point people decided that shooting people across grey and brown levels whilst hiding behind knee-high walls was the way to go.

It could be very easy to get lost in the shuffle. And yet, despite being up against so much fierce competition, Timesplitters 2 stands head and shoulders above the others. It is, without question, the single greatest FPS game of all time, and quite frankly, one of the best pieces of software ever produced by human beings.

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Think I'm exaggerating? No chance, bub. As with Super Mario Kart, I stumbled across Timesplitters 2 completely by accident. In that's months ONM (December 2002) there were vouchers which allowed you to borrow a Gamcube game for 2 days from Blockbusters for free. As the deadline was fast approaching, I was desperate to use up the last voucher, but had already played pretty much every game they had. The last one I hadn't tried was Timesplitters 2, and I didn't really fancy it (not a FPS fan in the slightest). Figured I had nothing to lose, I took the plunge and figured "what the hell, may as well give it a go".

Dear Lord. What I had got myself was absolutely incredible. At that time, I was doing my mock GCSEs, which generally meant exams all day long. My day would generally go like this; I would go to school and have an exam in the morning. Once finished, me and my friends would then all pile back to mine (roughly 8 or 9 of us) and play Timesplitters 2. If, after lunch, anyone had an exam they'd go back to do it before returning for more Timesplitters. People would then generally go home for tea at around 6 or 7 o'clock. Repeat the process for a fortnight.

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Timesplitters 2 was made by a company called Free Radical, which was formed by Rare employees who'd left after the completion of "Goldeneye". And you can definitely see the Goldeneye influence in the game, especially in the first level, set on a Siberian Dam. Rareware being the best company in the world in the '90s, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was obvious that a game from their former employees would be stellar (and you'd be correct!). It was also pubished by console genuises "Codemasters", so quality was always there from the get go.

The first Timesplitters game was rushed out in 2001 to coincide with the release of the Playstation 2, and to be frank, it showed. You generally had to go to one end of the level, grab an artifact, and then get back to the beginning again. Whilst not a bad game by any means, this was quite repetitive. But Timesplitters 2 couldn't be further from that; despite having quite a short single player campaign (10 level long), it is varied and colourful enough to keep you interested. You go through different time zones Quantam Leap style, roleplaying as different figures throughout various eras in order to stop the Timesplitters changing the course of history. This adventure will take you from the jungles of South America to prohibition-era Chicago to a Bladerunner-style Neo Tokyo to the Wild West. Each level feels different, and you really get the sense of character of each time era.

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But the real glory of Timesplitters 2 is the multiplayer. Quite simply the best multiplayer game of all time, this delivers fun by the bucketload. Starting off with a small selection of characters, modes and levels, you can unlock more by either playing through the main campaign or playing the different arcade leagues against CPUs. These modes can take the form of either a regular deathmatch, all the way to the famous "behead the undead" challenge, or even defending a dam against exploding monkeys! The challenge comes from trying to win all the Gold trophies (or Platinum if you're flashy), but ultimately, the best thing Timesplitters 2 does is it allows you to make your own fun. Pick any mode you like. Choose any level. Choose what weapons you want to use, how many opponents, who they are, what music, anything you fancy! It's like a giant toybox for you to play with, with almost limitless options. You can have an all-out blast, or even theme your battles (good ol' fashioned West West shootouts, yee-haw!). One of my favourite ways to play is to play Virus with no weapons and no radar - the fear is absolutely palpable!

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Timesplitters 2 is just pure fun, plain and simple. The humour also shines through, with various digs at other games ("Dead Fraction", "Half Death", etc) as well as wonderfully funny character profiles (best one being the Monkey: "It's a monkey"). The game is more colourful than a packet of skittles, and is more value for money too. I got this game almost 10 years ago and I still play it lots to this very day. I finished it 100% (which I think is very impressive considering how hard it is!) yet was desperate to play and unlock more and more and more. It is, quite honestly, staggering. As someone who actively avoids FPSs to be as obsessed as I was with this is nothing short of an amazing accomplishment. Yes, it may be 10 years old, but Timesplitters 2 has still not been outgunned yet.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:19 am

Every so often, certain questions will pop on Internet forums. You know the ones... questions such as “How do I ask someone out?” (I’m 25 and I still haven’t figured it out!) or “ What is your real name?” etc, etc. These topics always get tonnes of responses, before eventually fading away only to reappear a few weeks later. And thus the circle of life continues.

The question that pops up far more than any other is, of course, “What is the best game ever”. The topic has been debated ever since gaming was first invented, and when it rears it’s head the usual suspects always get mentioned; Ocarina of Time, every Final Fantasy game between VI and XII, Super Mario 64… you know the ones. In fact, one person on ONM said “the best game ever is Final Fantasy VII. It’s so obvious I don’t even need to explain it”.

Despite this person’s claim, the debate over the best game ever clearly does need an explanation. So many games have captured the imagination of millions of gamers in so many different ways – how on earth do you choose one to be called the best of them all? How do you measure it? Most copies sold? Most copied? Most revolutionary? Best graphics? Most well-known? Highest score in a magazine?

On top of that, how do you compare games of a completely different genre? How can you compare Space Invaders to Dynasty Warriors? How can Super Mario World be measured against Tetris? Games that are of different styles, eras and have a different target audience become stupidly hard to compare.

The last time this question rolled around, we got the usual one-sentence replies that didn’t address any of these issues (or even really explain why they were the best games ever). However, one person made a magnificent post, entitles “Dial Q for Quake”. It was brilliant; a long detailed post about why this person thought Quake deserved to be recognised as the game of games. It even had bits of trivia and superb pictures! Inspired by this brilliant post I went out and made one myself. So, in the spirit of the original title of “Dial Q for Quake”, I present to you…


STREET FIGHTER II: HIGHLIGHT EDITION
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Many games have been referred to as the greatest ever. They have been heralded as the best of all time by gamers across the globe, gamers who had enjoyed experiencing them for hundreds of hours. When you analyse the list closely, you notice that all the games tend to have the same things in common: they were commercially successful, they were well-received by both gamers and critics, they look good, and they for the most part have revolutionised the industry in some way. Street Fighter II ticks all these boxes.

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Capcom’s definitive 2D Beat-‘em-up has an extremely simple premise. That is, 8 fighters from all over the world, each with their own different fighting styles and aims, come together and compete in a tournament to be crowned “World Warrior”. After defeating the other 7, the fighter then goes on to face the 4 final bosses, to whom leniency is a foreign word.

Despite this quite simple design, Street Fighter II is completely revolutionary. No beat-‘em-up since hasn’t taken something from it’s design – companies are still ripping off it’s characters and moves 20 years later! Heck, even other legendary fighting games such as Mortal Kombat were based on Street Fighter II’s influence. Each individual character has been crafted perfectly, so that they all have their own individual style, charisma and fighting ability. Despite naysayer’s claims that Ryu and Ken are quite lazy in their design, nothing could be further from the truth. Despite their similar movesets, Ken has gone through little subtle changes, such as being slightly quicker but less powerful, having a cooler demeanour, and a more aggressive style. Overall this gives him a much more edgy feel than Ryu, something which can only be experienced by playing the game rather than just reading about it. It’s these subtle differences that can only be noticed when you think about them which make you realise just how much effort Capcom have put into the game.

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When the game was first released, it was certainly eye-catching. Vibrant colours and catchy soundtracks emanated from the games graphics and sound chip, and it was actually exciting to watch… fast-paced battles amidst the setting of several exotic locations is certainly something which would have you glued to the screen. And it did… millions of people were hooked on the game, to the point when it was released on the SNES, it cost around £100 to get on import!

Capcom also sought to exploit the best part of the game (the best part of any game, in fact) – multiplayer. Whilst arcade machines had been multiplayer before, they were usually take-it-in-turns games rather than simultaneous experiences. Now, players could go head-to-head, and boy was it ever popular. Everyone had their own way of playing the game, whether it was the “hide behind the fireballs” technique used by Ryu, a “rush attack” option favoured by Balrog or Blanka, or the ever annoying “Dhalsim approach”, where a competitor would warp around the screen and keep the opponent at bay via fireballs and long attacks. You couldn’t have the same battles twice – every time you played it threw up something new, and it became compulsive gaming around the world.

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The characters themselves are magnificently designed, and very well balanced. You have your typical all-American hero (Guile), martial arts good guy looking for justice (Ryu), a burly wrestler (Zangief) and all manner of character. Capcom has done a magnificent job of giving people a choice; there are no uber-powerful fighters, so no single character can dominate everybody else. By doing this, it opens the door for a much more open and balanced game, and allows everybody to have a chance to win, without the irritation of a “legendary character” which can destroy everything. It is this that makes Street Fighter II one of the fairest, yet most competitive, games ever produced.

The game itself took on an almost mythical status when released in 1991. Arcades would be packed with people desperate to play on it. Rumours of secret characters and moves abounded, especially seeing as the last four bosses were only viewable by reaching them. Nintendo Power printed an article in their April 1st issue giving away secrets of how to unlock “Sheng-Long”… not true of course, but it shows just how much people were into the game at the time.

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The reason the game took on such a mythical status, of course, is because it was built up in such a remarkable way. On the surface, it looks like a standard fighting game, but the way the game builds towards the finale is nothing short of phenomenal. M.Bison is, along with Darth Vader and Sephiroth, the epitome of what a final boss should be. They are all ultra-hard, they are all uncompromisingly evil, and they are all built up as the ultimate be-all and end-all. Think about The Empire Strikes Back… Vader and the Empire basically spend the entire film kicking the crap out of the rebels, to the point where they look indestructible. The final fight between Vader and Luke is astonishingly well done, with the unstoppable bad guy taking on the popular hero. Again, Luke got absolutely destroyed in the fight, but the audience was desperate for him to win, and cheered and rallied anytime it looked like he may gain an advantage. After the film had finished, fans were salivating for the sequel, to see Vader finally get his comeuppance.

Street Fighter II works in much the same way. The player works through the fighters which gradually get harder and harder, until they reach the bosses. After these are defeated, they finally stand face-to-face with M.Bison, the main boss. Because it has taken such effort, time and money to get here, it is a huge moment to finally face off with Bison. Bison himself is an imposing figure, further striking fear into an already nervous player. He then rips off his cloak and the fight starts… and is usually over mere seconds later. Bison is an unbelievably tough boss – he doesn’t hide behind fireballs or teleport, but rather stamps on your head, grabs you round the throat, and then stands there with his arms folded, taunting you for more. Despite the fact this can be frustrating, just like when Luke faced Vader there is a glimmer of hope… you know you can defeat him. And when the moment finally comes, it is one of such elation and joy. To finish Street Fighter II is a huge achievement; heck, when I was little, you were somebody if you could reach the bosses!

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The real reason that Street Fighter II is the best game ever made is the gameplay. It should be impossible to have that much fun whilst playing a game. You can play the game for an entire day and not have the same match twice. With two players, the fun becomes endless, as there are so many different matchups and ways of fighting that it becomes less a game and more a giant toybox with which to create your own fun.

Street Fighter II is what introduced me to gaming, and therefore will always have a special place in my heart. But that doesn’t make the facts any less true; all the fanfics, movies, sticker albums, cartoons, toys and the rest are all people’s ways of expressing their love for one of the most extraordinary games to ever arrive on a console. Heck, the only reason I even got a MegaDrive was for Street Fighter II… sure, I liked Sonic, but the only game I was really desperate to open up on Christmas morning 1994 was the one with Ryu on the cover.

So, for being revolutionary to the industry as a whole, defining an entire genre, being one of the most popular games of all time, being outstanding in design as well as execution, and most of all being so much fun, Street Fighter II is, and will always be, the greatest game ever made.

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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:25 am

Perfect Dark (N64, 2000)
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I don't think that I've ever known a game so hyped up before as Perfect Dark. After Goldeneye had blown everyone away and revolutionised console first-person shooters forever, all the buzz was with what Rare would do with the spiritual sequel. N64 magazine ran a whole article about what consumers wanted from Perfect Dark. There were odd snippets of details and screenshots showing aliens on hospital gurneys, but otherwise facts about the game were airtight. Of course, games have been hyped before - everytime the word "Zelda", "Final Fantasty" or, in recent years, "Call of Duty" are mentioned, the media hype machine goes into overload - but this furore was entirely organic. There was no youtube showing trailers back then, heck there wasn't even anything on TV... it was simply the imagination of the gaming public

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Did the game live up to the 3 year hype? That's debatable. The problem is that the level of expectancy was so extraordinarily high that in some people's minds, it was never going to reach it. To others, the inclusion of the alien "Elvis" (very much the Natalya of this game) and the general silliness of the second half of the story let it down. It certainly hasn't the same level of reverence that Goldeneye has (e.g. everyone trying to pick over it's name to make money, as EA and Nintendo have done). That said, reputation has a habit of either enhancing a game or taking away from it (sometimes simulatenously, as people can be put off an excellent game on hype alone). Playing this in the cold light of day, then, 13 years after release, how would it stand up? Would the criticisms ring true, would it be still playable in an era saturated by console FPSs? Let's find out!

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Let's start with the single player, and I have to say, I found it fantastic! the graphics for it's time are absolutely ace, and the score sets the tone perfectly. The voice-acting is a little hammy at times, but in an era when voice-acting in console games virtually unheard of, this can be excused. Playing as special agent James Bon... I mean, Joanna Dark, you are required to play across a series of missions based in the near-future (think "Blade Runner" and you'll get the idea), in order to thwart the underhand activities of the secretive DataDyne corporation. This will include infiltrating their HQ to rescue one of their operatives (opening 3 levels, which are fantastic btw), rescuing your mentor being held captive in his holiday home, and even battling through a submarine and alien landscapes! As with Goldeneye, you are given a series of objectives to complete during each mission, with more being added depending on the difficulty.

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The thing which struck me early on is how much Perfect Dark has actually added to the genre since Goldeneye. Weapons have secondary functions (toggled with the B button), real lighting, allowing you to plunge areas of the map into darkness, and a weapon wheel which allows you to scroll between guns easily. But it also has things which FPSs have left behind, things which I actually miss... first thing I noticed was ZOMG, healthbars! Remember these? When you had to actually take care of your health and seek body armour or health boxes, rather than just crouch behind a wall for 10 seconds? This also affects the gamplay, as you spend gunfights strafing and attempting stealth rather than just crouching behind cover and popping up every so often. Also, Perfect Dark allows you to hold a number of guns at a time, rather than the obligitory 2 which you seem to get now. Why gaming ever decided to lose this I never know, and playing Perfect Dark gave me a warm fuzzy feeling of when things were done a little bit better than they are now.

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The game take a lot of implements from Goldeneye (why fix what isn't broke?), such as the 3-tier difficulty levels, obtaining cheats for beating each mission in a certain time, and multiplayer. But it also improves on it in a number of ways. Firstly, no more ketchup-style blood stains from enemies, instead you get proper blood (giving the game an 18 rating). You also get an overworld hub in between the levels, which you can explore and do things such as talk to other members of the Carrington Institute, or even try and beat challenges on a gun range. But it's the multiplayer where the game has come on in leaps and bounds, which is amazing, as multiplayer was often the part about Goldeneye which people praised the most.

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Rare have added a ton to this game. New game modes - king of the hill, and capture the flag, for example. Some awesome guns, the "Farsight" being my personal favourite (being able to shoot the thermal-image of someone through walls? Yes please!). For the first time on a console shooter, you don't just get bots, but can customise them in literally every singal way, from how difficult they are, to what fighting style they prefer, to their appearance (you can change heads and bodies at will too, so you could have an alien wandering around in a dress!). You can change your name, what weapons are available... it's basically the most fun you can have on a multiplayer console FPS that's not called "Timesplitters 2".

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There are a couple of gripes... the AI is sometimes a bit dense, for example, and Elvis manages to combine the dual annoyances of Natalya from Goldeneye and Jar-Jar Binks to become the single most irritating friendly NPC ever.... but honestly, these are minor flaws next to just how much fun this game is, even after all these years. The plot may look silly next to the super-serious Goldeneye, but nowadays it's no worse than Halo or even Modern Warfare 2. Apparantly Perfect Dark is now available in HD on XBLA, and if you are in a position to purchase it, you should do so immediately. C'mon... go see what all the fuss was about!
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:26 am

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (PS2/Gamecube/X-Box, 2003)
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Let me tell you all a story, a history lesson, in fact. It's a story about an ancient creed, held by a brotherhood of secret warriors. These "assassins" have remained hidden throughout history, but have been ever present - whether it be during the middle-eastern crusades, or renaissance Italy, or the new world. Despite many different assassins rising to providence over the years, they all exhibit the same sort of style; free-running, wall-scaling, and puzzle-solving was on all their resumés. As a result, their exploits have become famous the world over, and deservedly so.

But long before there was a creed, there was a prince...

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When gaming went all 3D in the mid-90s, the fortunes of gaming icons who made the jump was very mixed indeed. Some made it seemlessly, not just surviving, but positively thriving - Mario being the most obvious example with the utterly incredible Super Mario 64, but other brands such as Final Fantasy, Wave Race, and Metal Gear have done exceedingly well too. Others did not fare too well... most obvious example being Sonic (who has had, it's fair to say, mixed fortunes), as well as disastrous outings by Bubsy, Pacman and Mega Man. Some franchises didn't survive the initial jump (Contra's 3D game was it's last), and so it seemed that gaming developers didn't quite know how to handle this new, scary world of three dimensions.

The original Prince of Persia game was released for the Apple II computer way back in 1989. It represented a huge leap forward in animation and gameplay at the time - the motion of the Prince was very fluid and lifelike, the creator Jordan Mechner using videos of his younger brother to model the animation on. The gameplay was based around platforming, but also featured fiendish traps (which often were insta-kill), and featured the hero (the fabled "Prince of Persia") attempting to rescue his love, the Sultan's daughter, from the clutches of the evil Jaffar. The part which made this game so unique (aside from the animation), were that the player only had an hour to finish the game before the imprisoned maiden is executed. That's an hour in real time. This added a huge amount of tension to the game, as every time you got stuck on a puzzle it would eat into that deadline. The second was that the prince is hindered by his own doppleganger on his quest, an apparation of his own self conjured from a magic mirror (think the SA-X but 15 years beforehand).

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After the success of Prince of Persia, there did come a sequel in 1994. However, in 1999 it seemed the series would fall foul of the "curse of 3D" with Prince of Persia 3D for PC. It received average reviews, was only released in North America, and didn't incorporate the series creator during production. It sank without trace, and Prince of Persia became another gaming series consigned to the "retro" section.

However, Ubisoft Montreal clearly believed that there was enough value left in the name to purchase it, and set about creating a new 3D Prince of Persia. But what made this game different from the failure of Prince of Persia 3D, or indeed the other franchises which failed to make the jump, was that Ubisoft made a game which worked in 3D and then worked the story and the franchise into it, rather than trying to twist a 2D game into the third dimension. After all, Super Mario 64 isn't Super Mario World in 3D.

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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time will seem very familiar to anyone who has played the Assassin's Creed series, as there's a large focus on acrobatics and agility. Throughout much of the game, the player must attempt to traverse the palace in which the game is set by running across walls, ascending or descending chasms by jumping back and forth between walls, avoiding traps, climbing structures and jumping from platform to platform, making other types of well-timed leaps, solving puzzles, and using discovered objects to progress.

Although there is no large overworld to explore as in Assassin's Creed (the technology wouldn't exist until the next gen), the palace is still a very large and fun place to explore. My favourite parts of the Assassin's Creed series were in the 2nd game and Brotherhood, where you entered the dungeons to try and find the old assassins tombs. You had to work out a route, then acrobatically free-run in order to progress. This played pretty much exactly like the Sands of Time, and it was absolutely amazing fun.

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But before you think this is simply a stripped-down version of Ezio's adventures, there are three things which earmark Sands of Time as a game in it's own right. The first, and most obvious, is the dagger which contains the titular sands of time. This allows the player to rewind time by a matter of seconds (or however long the meter on the left of the screen is filled), and as a result, means that you can essentially change history. Got hit by an enemy? One time-travel later and you're as good as new! Failed to make a jump when you're at the top of a room? Quick use of the dagger and you're still hanging from the ledge! It works very well, and it's limited use means you can't utilise it carte blanche, and thereby make failure impossible. It's also used to solve certain puzzles, which is unique and refreshing.

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The second difference is the combat. Combat in Prince of Persia is far more acrobatic, with the prince leaping over enemies, diving off walls, and torpedoing his way through them at times. It's great fun being able to leap around like this, and reminds me a little of Yoda in Attack of the Clones. It is, in my eyes, a lot more fun than Assassins Creed, as although the latters combat system isn't bad (especially with it's multi-kill ability), Prince of Persia's system is simply more entertaining than blocking and waiting to counter attack.

The final, and most important, difference is (I'm afraid to say) charm. This is not to criticise Ubisoft's flagship franchise as being dour in any way, as Ezio especially manages to be a character the audience can connect to. But it doesn't hold a candle to Sands of Time, which has humour running through it like a stick of rock. The game's story is told by the prince himself, retelling his adventure from the future as if recounting a fable to a child at bedtime. If you die during your adventure, the prince will simply say "No, that's not right, let me start over...", as if he somehow forgot how it went! Another great part of this game is the comedic conflict between the prince and the female protagonist Princess Farah. Far from the damsel in distress, she actually hates the princes guts as he conquered her city at the beginning of the game. As a result, when the two are together they bicker in a manner that is very humerous indeed. In fact, the whole game is full of moments that will make you smile, mostly from the princes wonderful narrations.

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Prince of Persia: Sands of Time made a wonderful impression on me, and indeed, the gaming community as a whole. It received universally positive reviews, and spawned 2 good sequels too. But it was this original which simultaneously reintroduced us to a gaming icon, as well as opening up a future of free running and exploration throughout world history. Assassin's Creed is (to me) quite rightly lauded as a gaming giant, but Prince of Persia is very rarely brought up. This is a shame, as Sands of Time is a real gem.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:27 am

The Curse of Monkey Island (PC, 1997)
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"You fight like a dairy farmer!"

Has there ever been a game series more quotable than Monkey Island? Portal comes close, but no. Monkey Island is a game series that is brimming with wonderful humour, character, charm, and class. It's from a genre which is almost lost to gaming now, the point-and-click adventure game. There have been very few of these released in the last 15 years or so, with Phoenix Wright possibly being the closest thing we have these days. But back in the '80s, these sorts of games were commonplace, and popular for one main reason - the writing.

It's easier to sell games on the graphics than anything else. If a game looks good in screenshots, in trailers, and on adverts, then consumers will be impressed. It's much, much harder to sell good plot and writing, however, as it's something that has to develop over time. Like a delicious piece of food which melts in your mouth slowly, a good adventure is something which you savour, and feel all the more satisfied as a result. As a consequence, it's somewhat difficult to convey the sheer brilliance of The Curse of Monkey Island, but I'll do my best! (and, if you have played it, no explanation is necessary)

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"Elaine, I'm a man of action, a swashbuckler, a rogue, a wanderer. A man who can hold his breath for ten minutes."

For those of you who are new to the series, Monkey Island is a game about a man named Guybrush Threepwood (yes, really) who wants to become a pirate. That's the premise for the series - there's no real reason give as to why Guybrush has this dream, but he turns up on Melée Island one day asking how to go about it. In usual adventure game fashion, things don't go smoothly, as Guybrush completes 3 trials to become a proper pirate, falls in love with the fiesty governer Elaine, and has to defeat the evil ghost pirate LeChuck who hides out on the mysterious Monkey Island. The way the game works is that you guide Guybrush around by literally pointing and clicking where you want him to go, and then select what you want to say to characters, and pick up items to solve puzzles with. And some of the puzzles are very fiendish indeed - the game often gives you a gentle push in which direction to go next, but sometimes you have to wrack your brains for a very long time to come up with a solution.

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"You fool! You've given cheese to a lactose intolerant volcano god!"

In the third installment, Guybrush finds himself captured by LeChuck's undead navy after escaping his evil theme park in the previous game (it's never explained how, as the writer of the 1st two games, Ron Gilbert, left before this was made). After defeating the skeletal hordes, Guybrush proposes to Elaine, only to find that the ring is cursed and turns her into a solid gold statue (which is soon stolen). Mr Threepwood therefore must acquire a ship and a crew, find his fiancé, and then somehow undo the curse and defeat LeChuck (again). As with the 2 previous games, the thing you'll love the most about the Curse of Monkey Island is the humour. The jokes are everywhere - there are visual jokes, satirical comments, silly voices, amusing songs... you name it, it's here. Lucasarts have done serious point-and-click games, such as their Indiana Jones ones, and although the puzzles, plot, and situations do make the games fun, they lack the same level of pure enjoyment that Monkey Island does.

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"Oh, right. I know a lot about lifting curses. That's why I'm a disembodied talking skull sitting on top of a spike in the middle of a swamp."

To play it back now is an absolute pleasure. Some games age badly over time - games which rely on fancy graphics often suffer from this, as a large part of their appeal diminishes over time. The Curse of Monkey Island's cartoony style still looks snazzy nowadays, and everything that made it great then makes it great now. I'd forgotten some of Murray's best lines, the barber shop quartet, and Slappy Cromwell's Shakespeare recut. I'm playing it through on Mega Monkey Mode, which is like the normal game but with the puzzles made a lot harder, just to make sure I'm given the same challenge as I was the first time. And I can report it's still fantastic - memorable characters, great storyline, laugh-out-loud moments... I can't recommend it enough!

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"Let's face it, LeChuck. You are an evil, foul-smelling, vile, co-dependent villain and that's just not what I'm looking for in a romantic relationship right now"
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:28 am

Pokémon Yellow (Game Boy, 2000)
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Well. What can I say about this one?

I think it's fair to say that this game is pretty well known. Chances are many of you will have played this (or Red and Blue) when they came out back in the Autumn of 1999. And odds are, if you did play Pokémon back then, you probably loved it. After all, how could you not? It was bloody everywhere! I've seen some crazes come and go in my time; I remember when The Simpson's started (yes, I'm old :( ) and Pokémon was at least as big as that. There were toys, keychains, lunchboxes, bedsheets, every little trinket or item you could possibly think of had a Pokémon logo slapped on it and was sold to the public. There were even special edition Game Boys and Nintendo 64s! (which are probably worth a pretty penny nowadays)

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"Pocket Monsters", as it's called in the land of the rising sun, has been out in Japan since 1996, but it took another 3 years before it found it's way to our shores. Whilst East to West gaming imports did take much longer in the '80s and '90s than nowadays, this was still a very long time. When it did come out, with the Red/Blue versions, it was an instant hit. Who can say why? Being released for the Game Boy, the world's best selling console, probably helped. The connectivity aspect, which encouraged players to battle and trade with each other did too (how many people went and got link cables just for Pokémon?). And it probably didn't hurt that they had a wide array of cute characters which they could use to appeal to youngsters. And out of all those Pokémon, there was one which stood out as more marketable than the rest - Pikachu.

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Pikachu was the star of the inexplicably popular Pokémon animé (featuring a very whiney protagonist indeed), and was really the macot of the franchise. Based upon the huge sales of Pokémon Red and Blue, and how big the TV show was, Nintendo decided to released a special Pikachu edition of the games. It would be almost identical to it's bretherin, but with the following additions: Instead of getting the choice between Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle at the start of the game, players were automatically given Pikachu as their companion. As in the cartoon, Pikachu wouldn't be confined to a Pokéball, and instead would walk behind the player on the overworld map. You could also check on the mood of the little yellow mouse, which was a humerous little aside. The Pokémon sprites were also changed to better match the graphical stylings of them in the animé, and on top of the usual Team Rocket in the game, you'd be occasionally badgered by Jesse and James, the duo who'd forever be trying to capture Ash's Pikachu in the TV series (and no, they don't "blast off again"!)

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But aside from that, the game plays exactly the same as Red and Blue. And that's a good thing, because I believe the reason Pokémon won the nations hearts was because at it's core, the games were fantastic. For those of you who have been living on the moon for the past 15 years, or perhaps simply never got into what they saw as a kids game, then Pokémon works like this. You play as a 10 year old boy (no girls until gen 3!) who starts out on a quest to be a Pokémon master. Basically, this means that you capture all of the 150 creatures or "pocket monsters" which enhabit the world. On the way, you're tasked with training up the Pokémon that you've captured and use them to battle other Pokémon trainers, eventually becoming the most powerful of all and win the title of "Pokémon league champion".

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As a game, Pokémon is a pretty simple type of RPG. It's a turn-based battle system, where Pokémon use elemental attacks (working in a rock-paper-scissors way, with some being effective and others not) to defeat each other. You can hold up to 6 Pokémon in your party at a time, and each can learn 4 moves. Where it differs from other RPGs is that instead of just facing opponents with your characters, your enemies use Pokémon like you do. As you can go out and catch Pokémon in the wild, there's nothing your opponents can do that you can't do straight back to them! (Wouldn't you just love to be able to do that in Final Fantasy?). The majority of the game is spent exploring, collecting, and battling, and I think the simplicity of the game is one of the reasons that it's so successful. It's easy to learn but with enough depth to make it a satisfying experience.

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But I suspect most of you know all this. What you want to know is, what is it like to play now? How much do the rose-tinted specs take away from the fact that I am playing a game that, by today's standards, is technically poor? Well, I have to be careful not to let nostalgia cloud my judgement, but I also have to make allowances that I am playing a thirteen year old game, and that it can be only evaluated by the standards of the time. Well, there was a bit of jarring initially, as I had to get used to things not being there that I had taken for granted - having to go into the menu to see how many EX Points I needed to level up, not being able to assign items, and having "Special" as one thing rather than being split into attack and defence. Psychics are horribly overpowered, with Sabrina being easily the hardest trainer to beat in the whole game. And although not a problem is Red and Blue, the fact that Pikachu throws a hissy fit and won't let me evolve it was a personal bug bear for me ("listen you little rat, do you want to win or not?")

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But you know what? It's still a real pleasure to play. The core of Pokémon is what makes it so enjoyable, and that adventure hasn't stopped being great as the years have gone by. And I can't pretend that the nostalgia didn't make me happy, and didn't add a certain something... it was wonderful to revisit old places, to see old friends. To trek through Viridian Forest, to take a trip on the S.S. Anne, to battle through the Elite Four with your heart in your mouth as you can just picture your name in that Hall of Fame. To play this game in the palm of your hand is to go back in time, in my case, to my adolesence. It was a time before I had to worry about a mortgage, or a job, or my sexuality. It was a time when the world seemed bathed in sunshine, when what I looked forward to was seeing friends, SM:TV, and playing Pokémon. There cannot be a history of video games without mentioning Pokémon, and rightly so.... it looks graphically gorgeous for an 8-Bit game, despite it being played via a sound chip, the music is catchy and sublime, the whole experience is just magical. Imagine, if you will (or remember if you can) standing there, in Professor Oak's lab again for the very first time. Not knowing what adventures lay ahead of you, the whole world still to explore, and all those Pokémon to seek out, catch, and train. Not knowing what a dynasty it would produce, not knowing what memories it would leave etched on your mind. It's just you waiting to make that first step again... on an adventure that would be remembered forever.Image
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:39 am

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Gamecube, 2003)
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This is but one of the legends of which the people speak...

Long ago, there existed a kingdom where a golden power lay hidden. It was a prosperous land filled with green forests, tall mountains, and peace. But one day, a man of great evil found the great power and took it for himself. With its strength at his command, he spread darkness across the kingdom. But then, when all hope had died and the hour at doom seemed at hand, a young boy in green appeared as if from nowhere. Weilding the blade of evil's bane, he sealed the dark one away and gave the land light. This boy, who travelled through time to save the land, was known as the hero of time. The boy's tale was passed down through generations until it became legend. But then... a day came when a fell wind began to blow across the kingdom. The great evil that all thought had been forever sealed away by the hero once again crept forth from the depths of the earth, eager to resume it's dark designs. The people believed that the hero of time would again come to save them. But the hero did not appear. Faced by an onslaught of evil, the people could do nothing but appeal to the gods. In their last hour, as doom drew nigh, they left their future in the hands of the fate.

What became of that kingdom? None remain who know. The memory of the kingdom vanished, but it's legend survived on the wind's breath. On a certain island, it became customary to garb boys in green when they came of age. Clothed in the green of fields, they aspired to find heroic blades and cast down evil. The elders wished only for the youths to know courage like the hero of legend...


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Despite there being the odd dissenter in the ranks (*cough*SamuriFerret*cough*), Ocarina of Time, released on the N64 in 1998, was universally acclaimed as one of the best games ever created. It was utterly breathtaking from my point of view, an all-time classic which I had the pleasure of enjoying 3 times over (once on N64, once on Master Quest, and once on 3DS). After the announcement of a sequel, Majora's Mask, the gaming world went crazy. And when it was released for Christmas 2000, it was as if Ocarina of Time was born again - universally positive reviews, and massive hype from gamers themselves. Within a year though, something strange had happened... a sort of backlash had occured. People started openly criticising Majora's Mask, calling it things like "dissapointing", "terrible", and (I kid you not) "the world game ever". I wish I could link you back to the old Nintendo of Europe forums, because some of the sheer venom which is directed toward Majora's Mask is downright shocking. The biggest criticism, though, seemed to be that "it's not as good as Ocarina of Time".

At Spaceworld 2001 (again, whatever happened to Spaceworld?) Nintendo showed off the Zelda for it's new console. But instead of the high-tec, realistic graphics that they were expecting, consumers were instead faced with a cel-shaded style. Dubbed "Celda", the backlash against this new direction was extreme. But when the eventual product, The Wind Waker, was released on the 1 year anniversary of the Gamecube's release, the complaints were unfounded. The graphical style worked superbly and, as with it's 2 predocessors, the game received critical acclaim from both reviewers and gamers alike. And yet, as before, around 6 months later, another backlash emerged. Suddenly, The Wind Waker was "boring", and, once again, the "worst game ever". Oddly, the once reviled Majora's Mask was now held up as the paragon of what a Zelda game should be, with The Wind Waker paling in comparison.

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It's what I call the "Zelda cycle". For every game since Majora's Mask onwards, it tends to run as thus:

1) New Zelda game is released to critical acclaim and commercial success
2) 6 months pass
3) Forums ring with the complains that the new Zelda is terrible, and in no way a patch on the previous one.

Happens every time without fail. Heck, you can go and see it with Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword on these very forums. There are, however, many who manage to keep a level head about the whole thing, and judge these Zeldas for what they are. So let's try and not let either rose-tinted specs, backlashes, or the name "Zelda" impair our judgement here with this review.

The first thing to mention are obviously the graphics. I will completely admit that when the new graphical style was shown back in 2001, I was one of the people who complained bitterly that it looked far too kiddy. But you know what? The graphics here are gorgeous. Absolutely, boné-fidé beautiful. It's not just the shading, but the way it's animated. The whole world looks like a living painting, with every screenshot a work of art ready to hang in a gallery. The plumes of smoke that bellow when enemies are defeated, the waves breaking against your ship, great columns of fire in volcanoes, it all looks so wonderful that it makes me feel like a cretin for ever criticising it all those years ago.

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The story of The Wind Waker is set many hundreds of years after the events of Ocarina of Time (I don't know how many exactly, as I haven't purchased Hyrule Historia!). A young boy lives with his grandmother on Outset Island, and is given the green clothes of legend on his birthday. His day takes a turn for the worse, however, when a large bird drops a girl at the top of the island. The boy (let's call him Link) rescues her, but the bird flies of with Link's sister instead. Thus Link must set off and get her back, leading into the usual Zelda story of defeating Gandondorf, rescuing Princess Zelda, and obtaining the Triforce.

What marks his apart from other Zelda games, however, is the Great Sea. Instead of having a green and verdant Hyrule (or Termina/Koholint Island/Labrynna) to explore, with mountains, forests and the like, the world of The Wind Waker is a huge ocean dotted with islands. Some islands are big, whilst others are little atolls. You get between them by sailing in your talking boat (you heard me) the King of Red Lions. And make no mistake here, the great sea is big. Really big. Sailing across the whole thing takes a good 20 minutes real time, but to keep you occupied there are lots of things along the way (plus you can warp after a bit too).

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Carrying on from the ocarina from Ocarina of Time, in Wind Waker you get a baton which you can use to aid your quest. By conducting different melodies you can control the direction of the wind, warp around the map, take control of other characters, alter it from day to night, and plenty more besides. Along with his new musical toy, a bunch of old Zelda items re-emerge (such as bombs and the boomerang), whilst also introducing us to some new ones, like the grappling hook and the giant leaf. As a game, Wind Waker plays like many Zeldas before it, with the whole "collect a bunch of items to defeat Ganon/go through temples to collect said items". But this isn't a negative thing - Nintendo have struck upon a winning formula with the Zelda series, and aren't about to change it now. Rather, it's the fun of the quest, and indeed side-quests, which makes the whole experience so fufilling.

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There are some just criticisms of this game, which I will address. The sailing can get a bit tiresome after a bit, although I have to say, in my eyes it wasn't that bad, especially in the face of having such an open and expansive world to explore. One thing that did bug me though was the fact that it was quite short - only 2 main dungeons in the 2nd half of the game. This was apparantly due to the fact Nintendo wanted to rush the game out for the Gamecube's first anniversary, which seems odd to me... after all, this is the same Miyamoto who delayed Ocarina for a year and a half, saying "a delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever". Oh, and don't get me started on Beedle's silver membership.

But believe me when I say, there's very little "bad" here. Next to the pure brilliance The Wind Waker offers, it simply melts away. I love sneaking round Forsaken Fortress feeling helpless, I love the music notes that play when you strike enemies, I love the huge overworld, I love the expression on Link's face, I love Tetra's fiestiness, I love how you can pick up enemies weapons and use them, I love the utterly fabulous musical score... I just love it. It's a dream to play. And no, it's not my favourite Zelda, but it doesn't stop me holding it in huge esteem. If you'd never played a Zelda game before this one, it may very well be your favourite game of all time. For me, it's "merely" pure excellence.


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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:40 am

Crazy Taxi (Dreamcast, 1999)
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"All right, let's go make some ker-aaaazy money!"

Advertising in games is nothing new you know. As the video game industry is now bigger than the Hollywood film industry, advertisers have taken note and started to use the gaming front to try and sell their wares. You have advertising boards of real products in FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer, you even have adverts popping up in iPhone games. But as I've already mentioned, this is nothing new. Back in the days of home programmed games in the era of the Amiga, Spectrum, and Commodore, there was an array of advertising in video games. I remember I had a game on my Amiga called "Superfrog" which had huge Lucozade logos on the wall, and the titular hero had to drink the stuff to power up!

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But after the rise of home consoles replaced that of home computers, advertising fell out of favour for the large part. The commercial and computer worlds wouldn't cross paths again until the era of the Sony Playstation, and more specifically, a game called Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. That game would have an awesome soundtrack made up from some of the biggest rock bands of the day. It worked so well that there would be as much hype surrounding what music would be in the game than anything else about it! Fast forward a few years and Sega would release a game in the arcades (remember them?) which would show just how far games had come in regards to product placement and contemporary music.

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Crazy Taxi was a game made my Acclaim, published by Sega, in 1999 in the arcades (and then later the Dreamcast). You drive a taxi for the whole duration, but you can't really call it a racing game - instead, you have to stop and pick up fares, then drive the person to their designated location. The quicker you take them there, the more money you make, and the more time gets added to your in-game clock. As an arcade game, Crazy Taxi is designed to be quick, flashy, and to take your money as quickly as possible! As a result, don't expect this to be a deep experience, or to lead you in gently. It's a proper "arcade" experience, which is something I actually miss. As you are a taxi driver, the rules of the road don't apply to you (as in real life) - feel free to put your foot down and drive as recklessly as you like!

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The soundtrack is provided by The Offspring, and is truely adrenaline-pumping. The locations are recognisable too, with places such as Pizza Hut, Levi's, KFC, Tower Records, and FILA. But the lasting impression I get from Crazy Taxi is that of fun! It's all geared towards a fast-paced, exciting, arcade racing experience. You can download this game on iPhone now, and on XBLA, and I have to say, it's well worth a bash. I'd rather play this old Sega classic than Modern Warfare 2 anyday!


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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:41 am

Final Fantasy VII (Playstation, 1997)
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It's strange how things work out, isn't it?

In 1987, a Japanese company called Squaresoft was going under. Deciding to roll the dice one last time, they made a game based upon another hugely succesful game at the time, the RPG Dragon Quest (made by Enix). They named this game "Final Fantasy", as they believed that it would be the last game they would ever make. But instead, something amazing happened. Final Fantasy was a roaring success, so much so that it turned around the fortunes of the company. Realising what side their bread was buttered, Square released a sequel a year later, which spawned a whole franchise. By the time Final Fantasy VI rolled around in 1994, Squaresoft were RPG giants in the industry, and would go on to release other fantastic epics in the genre, such as Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana. The turnaround was so complete, that in 2003 Squaresoft merged with Enix to create the biggest RPG makers in gaming, combining Square with the very company that they copied to survive as an entity in the first place!

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But Final Fantasy didn't just make a success of Squaresoft. It also made a success of Nintendo. By having Final Fantasy on the NES rather than rival systems, it meant that if gamers wanted to play the most celebrated RPG series of all time, they'd have to buy Nintendo. Sega brought out their own, admittedly excellent, RPG series such as Shining Force and Phantasy Star (well worth a look if you get a chance), but Final Fantasy was another flagship title which helped make the NES such a huge success.

In 1997, it was time to trade up from the 16-Bit era, and everyone assumed that Square would continue their hugely profitable association with Nintendo (especially after crafting a Mario RPG for them). In fact, a tech demo for Final Fantasy VII was shown at Spaceworld '96 for the Nintendo 64. But during development, Square realised that they would need the storage capacity that CDs provided in order to create the game as they wanted to. As a result, they shifted development from Nintendo's system to the Sony Playstation. This caused absolute outrage with the then Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi, who cut all ties with the company and refused to speak about them during interviews. Nintendo wouldn't have a relationship with Square until after his retirement, and to this day, no "proper" Final Fantasy game has been released on a Nintendo system since (excluding remakes).

The irony of this acrimonious split is that Final Fantasy VII would do as much to make a success of the Sony Playstation as it's predocessors had for the NES.

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Final Fantasy VII is what you might call a "pure" RPG. You know the type - overworld map, random battles, levelling up with experience points, party of characters, etc. In this respect, Square pretty much stuck to what they were good at, and the gameplay followed the model for the hugely popular and critically acclaimed Final Fantasy VI. What Square did though was to take advantage in the step up in technology to improve every area that the new console would allow. The overworld map was a 3D model, players were treated to extended and impressive sequences when the summoned, and the FMV sequences were revolutonary at the time. The audio too was as good as ever, with some fantastic pieces of music which have become all time classic (I love the boss battle music particularly).But the biggest bonus to having their game on the new format was it's length. Spanning 4 discs, it was the biggest Final Fantasy game ever... heck, it was one of the biggest games ever! It promised to be an swashbuckling adventure, and delivered spectacularly.

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The plot of Final Fantasy VII is suitably epic. You play as Cloud Strife (although, in "true" RPG style, you can rename all the characters), a member of terrorist/freedom-fighting organisation AVALANCHE. Along with fellow members Barrett Wallace and Tifa Lockheart, and joined by other friends along the way (such as Aeris, Cid, Cait Sith, and Yuffie) you're trying to take down the megacorporation Shinra, who are harvesting the life-force of the planet for their own ends. Obviously the storyline is never that simple, and along the way your new possé will visit such places as amusement park Gold Saucer, a Chocobo breeding ranch, the industrial metropolis of Midgar, travel under the sea, and the citadel Fort Condor during your quest. But the thing which really makes the storyline memorable isn't so much the quest, nor the locations, but rather one of the most famous and celebrated villains in all of gaming: The One Winged Angel, Sephiroth.

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Sephiroth could be a manual of a villain done right. Not just the primary antagonist of the game, Sephiroth is also an antagonist of the antagonists, Shinra, as he's doing the old genetically-engineered monster who turns against it's master bit. Sephiroth believes it is his destiny to become a god and rule the world, and woe betide anyone who wishes to stand in the way of that dream. To that end, he summons a huge meteor (seen on the boxart) to catastrophically damage the planet, so he can then merge with it's lifestream... never mind what happens to everyone else as a result of this meteor strike.

More than just your typical "take over the world" villain, Sephiroth is built up as a genuine badass from the get go. Not only does he just look damn awesome, with his flowing white hair and humungous sword (not compensating for anything are we? :wink: ), the fact that this guy gets his very own horror-movie theme tune, and that one of his summons is splicing the solar system in half with a giant meteor to drop on your head is enough to convince the world that this guy is bad news. Yet despite the fact that he looks cool and has quite a large following, if you've actually played the game and got invested in the story (as I did), you'll find he's very hard to actually like. And that's the main reason he's such a good villain in my eyes... you want to beat him. Sometimes villains can become too cool for their own good, to the point where they're more popular than the hero. Yet Sephiroth is such a heartless egotist that he's willing to sacrifice absolutely anyone to get what he unswevingly believs is his right to godhood, leading to one of the most famous and heartbreaking scenes in all of gaming. Make no mistake, when Sephiroth kills Aeris (oh yeah, spoiler alert, Sephiroth kills Aeris) in cold blood, it really is a huge shock. It comes out of nowhere, and for him to brutally murder that sweet, innocent, lovely flower girl makes your blood boil and all admiration for the one-winged angel dissapear in an instant. Vengeance will be yours, dammit!

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If you don't like RPGs, this game will do nothing to change your mind, but if you like the genre, then this is one of the best examples you could possibly get. Critically acclaimed across the world, many have dubbed it the best game of all time. Do I agree with this sentiment? Can't say that I do. I don't think it's the best RPG Square ever made (that would be Chrono Trigger), nor is it the best Final Fantasy (which I believe is FFVI). That said, the game is so good, that if you came up to me and said "Nell, you're talking crap. Final Fantasy VII is not just the best Final Fantasy game ever, it should be put in a museum as an example of what games ought to be", I would say "Fair enough. It's a good choice!" This game has been compared in quality to Ocarina of Time, and I'd say that's not too far wide of the mark.

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After Final Fantasy VII, Square would have more success with 2 absolutely stellar sequals on the Playstation, before moving to the PS2 for Final Fantasy X. But in my eyes, things starting to go downhill. All of a sudden, Final Fantasy games seemed to prioritise graphics and cut-scenes over gameplay and storytelling. It seemed the Square had fallen into the same trap as Hideo Kojima with Metal Gear Solid 2, taking the praise of "we love the graphics and the story!" to mean "graphics and cut-scenes are what matter to us!". Square had always been master storytellers, being able to weave exposition into the narrative, whereas now they seem to want the player to take as little a roll as possible in proceedings. Final Fantasy XIII felt like I was being ushered from one cutscene to the next down linear corridors, with the plot having no apparant effect on the actual game itself. As I said, you're supposed to weave the gameplay into your storyline so that you feel like what you do has an effect on proceedings, whereas Final Fantasy XIII feels like you're watching a film and run down corridors to see what happens next!

The irony is, then, that Nintendo's spat with Squaresoft meant that they missed out on the best Final Fantasy had to offer. And now they've patched things up again, and the notion of a true, blue, canon Final Fantasy on Nintendo for the first time in almost 20 years seems like a possibility, Final Fantasy itself may not be a commodity worth wanting. The very series which saved Square, and the one which built their reputation, is now the one which is starting to ruin it.

As I said... it's strange how things work out.


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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:42 am

Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub Zero (N64, 1997)
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Ah. I was afraid of this.

As I mentioned in the original post, I have a grand total of 846 games spanning a variety of consoles. And, truthfully, very few of them are what I would consider "bad" games. There are a few average ones, yes, but due to it taking recommendations from friends, rentals, or various good reviews in a magazine for me to spend my cash, it means that I very rarely ended up with a bad purchase. So then why, oh why, did this unholy monstrosity ever end up in my collection? I genuinely can't explain it. Gamespot did give this game a 7.5/10 (Lord knows how, maybe Ed Boon wrote the review?) but otherwise, this game was critically panned. I actually quite liked the first few Mortal Kombat games, so that may have perked my interest, but in all honesty by 1997 Mortal Kombat was a dead horse being flogged. You know, if anyone asks, I'm going to say I had a pretty heavy crystal meth addiction in the mid-'90s, as then at least I can excuse owning this game.

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Mortal Kombat Mythogies: Sub Zero is a side-scrolling platformer/beat-'em-up with RPG elements thrown in. On paper, this is quite an interesting concept, as up to this point Mortal Kombat games had all been fighters, and taking the most popular character and doing something new with it was a brave step. The game is set before the first Mortal Kombat tournament, and follows Lin Kuei ninja Sub-Zero as he battles his nemesis Scorpion, and tries to stop sorceror Quan Chi from retreiving a medallion which would release a fallen elder god, Shinnok. The plot is typical Mortal Kombat silliness then, and is told in between levels by cutscenes. In the N64 version you get still screenshots, but the Playstation, with it's FMV goodness, gets live action cinematics! Problem is, these are so unbelievably cheesily acted that I actually prefer the N64 storytelling. The production values aren't bad, but it comes across like an amateur dramatics production; "The Coventry Amdram presents: Mortal Kombat!", if you will.

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As for the gameplay... urgh. Because Mortal Kombat is made with digitised graphics, there's always been a certain amount of stiffness. And there's no genre worse for having stiff controls than platforming. Making jumps can be very much trail and error, with no real indication as to whether Sub-Zero will grab onto a ledge or casually decide to fall to his doom. Shinnok's bridge, the second area of the game, is the best example possible of what to do wrong with a platforming section. The first jump is a blind one, so you just leap forward and hope to God there's a platform there (there is, but it's about 50/50 that you'll get onto it). There are also updrafts which will lift you to higher platforms, which is fine, except a) they don't appear until you actually jump, so you have no idea where you're supposed to aim for, and b) it's seemingly random if they will show up or not anyway.

To top it off, there are these 3D in 2D bits where you have to jump across rotating platforms when they spin round and align. Which again, would be fine, except because the graphics are so bad, you can't tell when they line up properly, meaning you will constantly think you'll land on the platform, only to seemingly go straight through it. A friend of mine watched me play this, and was unaware that any updrafts were supposed to appear, so it seemed to them that I was constantly jumping down pits over and over again like a suicidal lemming. I had to protest "Things are supposed to appear there to help me!", but by that time they were convinced I was the worst gamer in the history of mankind.

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You would think with fighting being the bread and butter of the Mortal Kombat series, that Midway would at least get this right. But it turns out it's just as bad as the platforming. The awful enemy AI doesn't help (sometimes enemies will be hyper-aggressive and kick your ass, other times they just stand there obliviously), but the utterly horrendous control scheme seems to be the bane of it all. Time for a pop quiz for anyone who's ever play an N64:

Q: In fighting games, what does the B button generally do?
a) Punch
b) Punch
c) Punch, you idiot

Yes, along with the rule that in platform games "A means jump", in fighters, the main two buttons tend to belong to attacks, such as punch and kick. So imagine my surprise when I go up to the first enemy in the game, press B to punch them in the face, and find Sub-Zero decides to turn around and face the other way instead. Yes, you heard me correctly: B MAKES YOUR CHARACTER FACE THE OTHER WAY. So I'm scrambling around trying to find out what the hell I just did, all the time watching the great Sub-Zero of the Lin Kuei getting mercilessly pummelled in the back of the head by the first mook in the game. Spiffing.

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Then there's the actual movement of Sub-Zero. You can control Sub-Zero with either the analogue stick, which makes him run, or the D-Pad, which makes him shuffle around like the undead. Obviously, running is the only thing that really works in terms of getting around, and especially in combat, which can be brutal if the enemy AI decides to kick in. Problem here is that the block button (which is also needed to pull off Sub-Zero's famous freeze move) is the left shoulder button, making it inacessible to all but the most bendy-fingered of players if you're using the control stick. So either you have to play without being able to block or use any special moves, or you have to move at the pace of a glacier, which is utterly useless.

Well, maybe not completely useless. I can think of exactly one thing which makes the Sub-Zero shuffle helpful to gameplay... it helps you avoid the pillars which come out of the ceiling and crush you to death without any warning whatsoever. I'm completely serious when I say this. There you are, going through the game, and then, without any indication, you SUDDENLY GET CRUSHED BY A PILLAR! Insta-death ensues, and the only way to avoid them is to apparantly know they're going to be there. Please, tell me Midway, HOW IS THIS FAIR?!? I swear this game could only be worse if it constantly squirted sulphuric acid in your face whilst you played it.

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I'm concerned that the screenshots may make the game look at least a little bit fun, which I would like to make painstakingly clear that it isn't. A usual session on this game goes as thus: Turn on the game, laugh heartily as you attempt to try and make jump after jump without success, get more impatient as you get crushed to death whilst trying to cross a room, then turn it off and play Wave Race, Pilotwings, or something else approximately a hundred million times better.

Imagine, if you will, that you have a childhood pet. Let's say a bunny rabbit. It's been with you since birth, he's your companion, your friend, and you love him. One day, you decide to enter him into an animal show, and so you spend all night pampering him, putting a bow around his neck, and are excited for the big day. The next morning, at the show, you look into his big round eyes and know that the judges hearts will just melt, and you swear you can almost see a smile on his adorable, whiskery face. Then all of a sudden a rottweiler rips him from your hands, tearing your beloved friend to pieces before your eyes. The last look you see on his poor face is one of pain and anguish, silently pleading with you to help save him. You sink to your knees, overcome with sorrow. Then your doctor rings you and says you have Weil's disease.

Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub Zero is at least 10 times worse than that.


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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:44 am

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES, 1991)
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Is there such a thing as a perfect sequel?

When most gaming companies want to make a sequel for a game, one word seems to get banded around (probably in development, but certainly in marketing)… “more”. It’s not just in video games though; pretty much all advertising is like this. “More” is used because it sounds “better”. More stuff means you get more value for money, it means that it’s bigger (“more levels”), faster (“more horsepower”), or upgraded from it’s predecessor (“more data”). But isn’t always the case. Sometimes, when something is perfectly crafted, “more” can destroy balance. Adding a new power up, for example, needs to be done carefully, as it could end up being overly-powerful, or utterly useless. Putting new enemies in can have the safe effect, and changing the control scheme can be utterly disastrous. Anything “more”, then, needs to enhance what made the original great, rather than alter it.

After Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. 2 (either the Japanese version, which was a super-hard remake of the original, or the Western version which was a game called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic with a Mario facelift), the gaming public were clamouring for the next instalment. Nintendo, then, decided to give Mario a pretty large upgrade, keeping the core platforming which makes the series great, and adding a load of extras which would add up to more than the sum of it’s parts. Everything new Nintendo would put into Super Mario Bros. 3 would become a staple of Mario from that point on, and the result was a world class experience.

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If you’ve played any of the 2D Mario platform games, you’ll instantly feel at home with Super Mario Bros. 3. Mario responds wonderfully to the control pad, leaping over gaps and crushing enemies with consummate ease. The aim of the game is pretty much the same as the original Super Mario Bros. – that is, to go through the level without dying, and reaching a goal at the end. Instead of a flagpole, however, you get a card (either a mushroom, flower, or star) which gives you extra lives when you get 3. The main difference regarding the levels is that instead of simply moving on to the next level once you’ve finished, you have an overworld map to move around. This means you can plan your route to get to the final level (usually marked by the “help!” castle), and can sometimes pass levels entirely if you so wish. The overworld also has other things to do aside from each level – you can visit Toad’s house, play card games, and fight the hammer bros. to name just a few. The rewards for doing these things usually take the form of power-ups, allowing Mario to progress through the game more easily.

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Speaking of power-ups, I think this is the thing which people remember about this game the most! In the first 2 Mario games, the only power-ups were mushrooms, fire flowers, and super stars. Now you had a huge influx of new items for Mario to use, and whilst initially this may smack of “more meaning better”, fact is all the power-ups are a blast to use, and the more mighty ones are scarce enough to not spoil the challenge of the game. The new items include:

- The frog suit! (making Mario hop whilst on land, and swim effortlessly through water)
- The hammer suit! (makes Mario throw hammers, just like the Hammer Bros! Revenge is sweet!)
- The super leaf! (gives Mario a tail to attack with, and allows him to fly!)
- The tanooki suit! (same as above, but also allows Mario to turn into an indestructible statue!)
- Kuribo’s shoe! (easily the maddest, this gives Mario a giant shoe to hop round the level in!)
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In all 2D console Mario games since, Mario has had an array of power ups to use, and the groundwork was set here. The fact that you can save them in the menu and power-up Mario before a particularly tricky level is inspired! People nowadays will probably be familiar with the Racoon tail from games such as Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7. Chances are, the reason it has resurfaced in games now is that the current breed of developers probably grew up on Super Mario Bros. 3, and remember it as one of their favourite games.

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The levels themselves are varied and challenging. You’ll find yourself going through the usual pantheon of platform game genres (although, to be fair, at the time this was all brand new); ice world, desert world, lava world, etc. But there are also some ones which will make you go “oooh, that’s clever!” The one which sticks in my mind is giant world, where all the enemies, blocks and platforms are massive, making it look like Mario has just walked into Gulliver’s Travels!

There are also moving screen levels, which are new to this game, and provide another challenge as Mario hops from one platform to another to try and not fall to his death. The Doom Ship levels, which a player must complete in order to move onto the next overworld map, are always these, and can be very tense indeed! Extremely tight platforms, pin-point jumps and bullet bills & cannonballs flying at you from all angles are par for the course in these levels. As an end of level trial, these are the stuff which childhood nightmares are made of, but although they’re tough they never feel impossible – you always know that you can beat them, you just need one more go!

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Nintendo did absolutely everything right with Super Mario Bros. 3. They built up the hype brilliantly (having the game feature in the film “The Wizard” was a stroke of brilliance), even having a decent Saturday morning cartoon! Nintendo realised the core of what made Mario great, and built on it, not just adding stuff for the sake of it. The graphics were greatly improved, with the visuals being bright and colourful. The soundtrack was superb as always, the game even having a special chip allowing for better drum sounds… instead of having a “thud” sound, you get kettle drums and calypso beats! The new additions; the enemies, worlds, maps and power-ups are all fantastic, many of them becoming permanent parts of the Mario universe (such as Boos and Thwomps). And the challenge of the game is absolutely perfect, easing you in, and yet making it rock-solid in places without it becoming broken difficulty. It’s a hard game, but you feel like a champion when you beat it.

It’s a very interesting question as to what makes a “perfect sequel”, or if even such a thing exists. But if you ask me, if it does, then Super Mario Bros. 3 is the closest thing to it.


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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:45 am

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS, 2006)
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Whilst I think the overused comparison between gaming and films or books is folly for the most part, the one thing they all share is the ability to transport you anywhere. Playing games has taken me from the farthest reaches of space, to renaissance Italy, to Neverland, and everywhere in between. Getting lost in the fantasy is part of the fun, and if you've ever dreamed of entering the Matrix, or blowing up the Death Star, you can. But there are some games where the setting leaves me somewhat perplexed. For example, for "Harvest Moon" to be a commercial success, various people would want to roleplay as a farmer in a virtual world. There must also, somewhere, be people who dream of piloting an aircraft across the Atlantic in real time (such a game exists, I assure you). But of all the places you'd dream of a video game taking you, surely being in court is the strangest?

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It's quite difficult to categorise Phoenix Wright; even saying it's a "lawyer-'em-up" doesn't quite cut it. It's about as close as you can get today to the old point-and-click adventure games of times gone by, which is very welcome from me! In thee game you play as Phoenix Wright, a rookie defence attorney for Fey and Co. Law Offices, owned by Wright's colleague and mentor Mia Fey. The game is split into five episodes, which take the form of "murder mystery" stories. The difference being is that, in Phoenix Wright, the murderer isn't always a mystery; rather, the challenge is to bring the person to justice.

Each case flips between 2 game modes - investigation, and the actual trial. In the investigation aspect of the game, Phoenix gathers evidence and speaks to characters involved in the case. In the trial aspect of the game, Phoenix defends his client using said evidence, cross examines witnesses and solves the mystery surrounding each case. The court perspective is usually in the third person, while the perspective outside of court is in the first person.

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The fun in the game comes from essentially using your brain to find the evidence of the crime, work out who did it, then prove it in court. It's like playing one of those detective TV shows, like Diagnosis Murder or New Tricks, except that in those shows, the action usually stops once they've arrested the suspect. In Phoenix Wright, the real drama begins in the courtroom, as you use the evidence you've gathered to defend your client, and then bring the real perputrator to justice. As the judge seems to have a "guilty until proven innocent" mantra, you've got your work cut out for you! You can use the evidence you've collected to find holes in witnesses testimonies, or you can press the witness of various statements. You can do this by using the touch screen, but it's much more satisfying to yell "Hold It!" into the microphone!

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I won't spoil any of the stories for you, but needless to say they're fantastic. You'll feel like an absolute million pounds when you pull the decisive bit of evidence out the bag which aquits your client and shuts up the prosecution! Despite the fact that for the most part, the game takes place with still screens with a small amount of animation, the graphics are colourful and decent enough that you don't really notice. The characters are expertly done, with each one displaying a great amount of personality (despite the female characters all being seemingly top-heavy). Miles Edgeworth, the prosecutor, is such a fantastically charistmatic villain that he even got his own game! You'll really care if Phoenix is victorious, that the bad guys get their comeuppance, that justice is done. There's not much out there like Phoenic Wright nowadays, which is probably why it should be compulsive playing. It really is a turnabout classic.


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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:46 am

L.A. Noire (PS3/X-Box 360, 2011)
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Up next, on "murder mystery week", LA Noire!

Despite the fact both this and Phoenix Wright have you solving crimes, they're not really comparible. It'd be a bit like trying to compare Diagnosis Murder to Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy - both are technically the same genre, but whilst one mixes humour and wacky characters with it's cadavers, the other is very gritty, dark, and full of internal turmoil.

This is unsurprising, really, as LA Noire is a game made by Rockstar, they of the infamous series such as Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt (although the Daily Mail might neglect to mention that Rockstar North also make Lemmings!). Because of that, many expected LA Noire, with it's huge explorable map, to be a sandbox game similar to GTA. Instead, what you get is something, for better or worse, that is very different.

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In LA Noire you play as Cole Phelps, fresh out of the army after the end of World War 2, and newly enlisted into the LAPD. Starting out as a patrolman, before moving up the ranks into Homocide and Vice, Cole has to solve numerous cases en-route to becoming the LAPDs poster boy (before being hung out to dry by his dubious superiors). This takes the form not dissimilar to Mr Wright - surveying the crimescene, looking for clues, and interviewing suspects (before hopefully making an arrest!)

The difference between Phoenix Wright and LA Noire, however, is that this game allows far more immersion. Because the game plays similarly to GTA, it means you can walk around the crime scene, pick up clues (and indeed, inspect them quite intimately!), and also drive around 1947 Los Angeles, which is great fun. The city itself looks outstandingly beautiful, a million times better than modern day LA, and the style of the cars, music and outfits gives the whole thing a great feeling of class. Essentially, you go through the motions of what you'd expect a 1940s detective would do - driving to crime scenes, examing clues/bodies, and then following up leads. It's tremendously satisfying, and really immerses you in the whole experience. That, coupled with the attention to detail shown in Rockstar's other titles such as Red Dead Redemption, mean that the familiar need of the player to suspend disbelief is kept to a minimum.

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It's when you get your suspects into custody and start questioning them that the game's real fun begins, and in a way quite reminiscent of a certain Ace Attorney. You have to analyse facial responses and bodily tics like a poker-player seeking tells, then choose one of three tones to adopt for each question. These are marked Truth, Doubt and Lying, but Sympathetic, Dubious and Accusatory would perhaps be more rigorous.

If you accuse a suspect of lying, you must back that up by producing evidence (all accessed, along with your records of each case and details of suspects from your standard cop's notebook). If you don't adopt the correct tone, the character you're quizzing will, at the very least, take longer to give you the crucial information you seek, and at other times won't give you it at all. As you rise through the ranks, you earn Intuition points, which can be cashed in to eliminate one wrong question-tone (or reveal the location of all the clues at a location). Luckily, LA Noire is pretty forgiving, so if your body language-assessment skills aren't up to CSI standards, you should still get the right result in the end, although you risk a chewing-out from your boss for shoddy police work, which is genuinely mortifying.

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The game's pacing and narrative arc impress as much as its believability. The bog-standard detective work, fun though it is, is punctuated judiciously by action sequences including car chases, pursuing suspects on foot, climbing around inaccessible areas, puzzle-solving and, of course, shoot-outs. Between cases, you either get a flashback to Phelps' war experiences in Japan or a glimpse into his off-duty life; both those elements end up feeding back into the overarching storyline. The oeuvres of Shelley and even anarchist author Piotr Kropotkin are fed into the mix. Newspapers that you find when hunting for clues trigger yet another backstory (this time involving ongoing LA skullduggery), which yet again intersects with the main storyline in the game's later stages.

A fascinating snapshot of an America struggling to readjust to everyday life in the aftermath of the second world war emerges, reinforced by the attitudes of your fellow cops (many of whom would be ejected from "Life of Mars" for political incorrectness, although Phelps's keen sense of morality keeps them sufficiently in check to appease modern moral arbiters seeking outrage).

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The one complaint that I have about LA Noire is that it largely does away with the free-roaming that enhanced the appeal of Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. As you drive around, you do occasionally hear of street crimes to which you can respond, and there are hidden vehicles, film reels and LA landmarks that completists can collect and visit, but the overwhelming focus is on the main story.

So it's a good job that, bucking the modern trend for short single-player games, LA Noire is satisfyingly meaty. Rockstar reckons it's roughly equivalent in length to two seasons of a TV series, a claim that feels roughly accurate. Perhaps, then, it would be more accurate to argue that LA Noire more closely approximates a television show than a film – it beats any film hands down in terms of the sheer amount of entertainment on offer, which of course is an advantage games have always had over films.

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Ever since it first worked out how to assemble pixels so that they resembled something more recognisable than aliens, the games industry has dreamed of creating one thing above all else – a game that is indistinguishable from a film, except that you can control the lead character. With the advancement in technology, producers of games have braveley strayed into this territory. Some, like Heavy Rain, aim to be played like interactive movies, whereas others, such as Final Fantasy XIII, seem to put the movie clips above the gameplay. LA Noire is unequivacably a game, but a game that blends the parts of CSI, LA Confidential and other Film Noire blockbusters that it is inspired by to create a tremendous experience.

I enjoyed LA Noire from start to finish, and is a game I believe desperately deserves a sequel.


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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:49 am

Metroid Prime (Gamecube, 2003)
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"Who dares, wins"

The motto of the SAS (and indeed, Del Boy Trotter) has a ring of truth about it. After all, if you don't take a risk, you'll never get anywhere in life. You need to be willing to take a step into the unknown in order to expand, to grow, to be able to live up to your full potential. If people never took risks, then Nintendo would still be making Hanafuda playing cards and these forums wouldn't exist. If The Beatles never plucked up the courage to play a gig at the Cavern Club, then popular music as we know it may not have ever happened. Problem is, when a games company takes a risk, the usual response from the public is negative. Remember what I said about The Wind Waker? When the new graphical style was unveiled, the criticism was unheralded. Whenever a beloved game takes a new direction, the fans bemoan the decision. "Why fix what isn't broke?" is the usual mantra. And when the first Metroid game in almost a decade was released, it also felt the brunt of the gaming public's wrath. Changing Metroid to a first-person shooter? Shipping out development of a first-party title to an unknown Texas company? The internet was in uproar.

But, sometimes, a risk is worth taking when it pays off. And pay off it did.

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Let's cut right to the chase. Metroid Prime is, unarguably, one of the best games of it's generation, one of the best Metroid games, and one of the best games full stop. Turning a side-scrolling shoot-'em up into a third-person adventure game made many fans of the series very sceptical indeed. And no doubt those fans will come away from this game very impressed, as it is in every respect a pure and true successor to the series of games that inspired it. At the same time, those who have never played a Metroid game before are likely to be just as taken with Metroid Prime. This first-person action adventure game is filled with so much detail, style, and originality that literally every gamer should play it.

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It's not a first-person shooter. Metroid Prime doesn't play like any other game that's come before it, and it emphasizes exploration and investigation at least as much as pure action. So the pacing is deliberate at times, though the going is never slow. As in all other Metroid games, you'll assume the role of interstellar bounty hunter Samus Aran, whose objective this time out is to search the planet Tallon IV for signs of illicit activity on the part of the Zebesian space pirates and put a stop to them once and for all. Clad in her distinctive red-and-gold power suit, Samus is a self-sufficient and versatile, and controlling her is quite a bit different from what you may be used to in first-person games.

The story is far from being a sweeping space opera, but rather the game draws you in with it's vast, expansive world which spreads out in all directions waiting to be explored. The far flung futuristic technology and imaginative alien world come across as surprisingly believable, with every facet being able to be explored or indulged further, with logs in Samus' visor accessible to the player. This gives the feel of living, breathing world, and although the idea of reading pseudo-scientific text may sound odd, it actually works very well as a sort of storytelling device.

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Samus actually has several different visors, which essentially affect your HUD. Her default view, the combat visor, provides a clear, straightforward picture of her surroundings and features a helpful radar display for tracking enemy movement. In this mode, Samus can easily target and accurately fire upon any enemies in the vicinity. Meanwhile, the other visor she starts out with requires her to lower her weapons, but it allows her to analyze various objects of interest, from Tallon IV's numerous alien creatures to environmental anomalies to alien technologies.

You can easily switch between the four visors by pressing different directions on the D pad, and you can likewise switch between your four different primary weapon modes (assuming you've found them all) by pressing in different directions using the controller's right analog stick. The classic Metroid weapons are all here. Samus' default semiautomatic power beam rapidly fires bursts of superheated energy. Her wave beam's electrical charge is especially good at disrupting energy-based opponents or triggering long-dormant energy sources. Her ice beam can freeze foes in their tracks, making them brittle enough that they can be shattered. And her plasma beam shoots intensely hot lavalike rays that can disintegrate victims on the receiving end. And, of course, there's the Morph Ball, which makes for some of the games most amusing moments.

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Yet another part of what makesit Metroid Prime so amazing is it's level design, which is so exceptional that calling it "level design" seems almost derogatory.

In fact, the game has no levels. It's all one vast, continuous world that somehow manages to blend numerous, starkly different environments, from lush tropics to dusty caverns to frigid fields of ice to hellish lakes of fire. Metroid Prime has no loading times whatsoever, not when you first turn on your GameCube, and not when you run through miles of Tallon IV's incredibly detailed vistas. Using a classic convention of the Metroid series--areas of Tallon IV are walled off by iris-shaped doors that must be shot open using your beam weapons--the game manages to quietly, invisibly stream new content in the background as you move along. This is similar to a technical feat first seen in Crystal Dynamics' imaginative Soul Reaver games, only Metroid Prime's environments are even more detailed and the background loading is even more transparent than in those games.

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The benefits to there being no loading times in the game cannot be overstated. One way to put it is, after playing Metroid Prime, you may find that most level-based games seem somehow primitive to you. At any rate, the sheer size, the remarkable detail, and the continuous nature of Metroid Prime's setting are huge parts of what makes the game so fantastic. You'll see tremendous variety in the scenery, from tight, claustrophobic corridors to flooded passageways to vast, elaborate temples, and it all looks natural and lifelike and yet isn't confusing or bewildering. When you can jump to reach a certain area, you'll know. When something is out of your reach, you'll know why. How the designers were able to make environments that have a natural feel and yet are easy to explore without seeming contrived is an utter mystery. One thing's for certain: The designers at Retro Studios are extremely talented.

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What more could you want from a game? It's atmospheric, it's beautiful, it's creative and new (yet familiar to those who've played previous Metroid games). It's expansive and has longevity, the score is great, and most of all, it's great fun to play! If you've never had the pleasure of experiencing a Metroid Prime before, then I would strongly urge you to take a chance on it. Go on... who dares wins.


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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:50 am

Streets of Rage 2 (MegaDrive, 1992)
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What was the game when you were a kid?

You know what I mean. That game that everyone owns, the game that everyone talks about. The one that the media refers to as "a craze". Nowadays, it's probably Call of Duty; it's certainly the game which has seeped into mainstream consciousness as the game all the kids love to play. At the end of the '90s, it was undoubtedly Pokémon; you couldn't walk past a playground in the country without seeing kids trading cards, or with a Game Boy in their hands, or discussing why Ash on the cartoon was a fool for not evolving his Bulbasaur.

But in my youth, it was a field of two. At the height of the war between Sega and Nintendo (remember that "Sega does what Nintendon't?) everyone and his kid sister in my neighbourhood owned a MegaDrive. And there was one game absolutely every single person who had Sega's 16-bit masterpiece owned... Sonic the Hedgehog! That little blue rodent was absolutely everywhere! It's quite hard to fathom just how popular Sonic was if you weren't there at the time. To give you a comparison, The Simpson's had just started around that time, and took the world by storm. They were on cereal boxes, on adverts, all over TV, magazines, memorobilia... you name it, they were all over it. Well Sonic the Hedgehog was at least as popular as them, and had all the same priveledges to go with it.

But I'm not going to talk about that game. No, as Yoda might say, "there is another".

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Streets of Rage 2 is a side-scrolling beat-'em-up in the same vein as the Capcom classic "Final Fight". Sequel to the 1991 game Streets of Rage (shocking, I know!), you play as one of four characters: Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding, who return from the first game, are more well-rounded choices, whereas Eddie "Skate" Hunter is very quick but weak, and Max Thunder who is slow but powerful. The gameplay is quite simple but endlessly challenging - you move your character from left to right across the stage, and beat up the enemies which cross your path. Each enemy has a life bar, a lá Street Fighter, and a name, and the tougher characters and bosses can have multiple life bars (especially on the higher difficulty settings!)

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Whilst in America the NES game "River City Ransom" had been a big success, it was Final Fight which had pretty much made the genre. It made beat-'em-ups hugely popular in the early Ninties, to the point where you could arguably say they were like FPSs are today. Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Alien vs Predator, Battletoads, even our loveable friends The Simpsons all had games of this type. Streets of Rage 2 took the best bits of the original and Final Fight, added to them, and managed to surpass them both. The game is both easy to learn but hard to beat, with special moves and obtainable weapons helping you along the way. The bosses are creative and fun; you'll face laser-shooting robots, fire-breathing baseball fans, an electric Blanka, and The Ultimare Warrior! (apparantly...). The levels are varied and colourful, ranging from theme parks to dangerous jungles to pirate ships, and everything in between! There will be parts where you'll dodge motorbike-riding thugs across a bridge under construction, take part in an underground wrestling match under a baseball stadium, fight enemies across conveyor belts... it really is the ultimate example of what a beat-'em-up can be.

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If I have one criticism about this game, is that it can be a bit repetetive. Obviously beating up a bunch of enemies over and over again may seem tiresome, but that's not what I mean... I mean the game has the "Golden Axe" habit of repeating enemies and bosses again and again, with a slightly different tint. But when you head into the office of the final boss and you have to take down his kick-ass dragon henchman, before he comes at you with a friggin' assault rifle, all is forgiven.

But I'm sure all of you who have never played this game are thinking... so what? What makes this game so special? With a hundred game of this type around in the early '90s, why go for this one? Why give this a go when Final Fight has so many plaudits? Well, to be fair, this is the question people at the time asked too. And the answer was very simple: multiplayer.

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Playing this game with a friend is a blast. Final Fight doesn't have multiplayer, which is the main reason it can't compare. Pretty much everyone who has played a beat-'em-up agrees that the best part about them is playing with a mate, and many hours of my childhood were spent round a friends house madly bashing buttons and getting Blaze to cheekily show her panties as she did a high-kick (something that my male friends found fun for some reason... :wink: ).

There wasn't a damn soul that had a MegaDrive that I knew who didn't have this game. It was, along with Sonic, the game, and is without exaggeration one of the defining memories of my childhood, and one of the most fun games I've ever played. There is, without exception, no better way to spend 800 Wii Points than on this game. Once upon a time, Sega and Nintendo were at each others throats, and simply being on a Nintendo forum meant that, chances were, you'd never experience this classic. But now Nintendo what Sega did, which means it's available for you all. What are you still reading this for? GO AND PLAY IT!!!!


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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:52 am

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii, 2008)
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I'm unsure why I'm doing this. Everyone has an opinion on this game, and probably owns it too (if not, played it at the very least). Spending 500 points explaining Wave Dashing or Meteor Smashes seems like a complete waste of time. There have been probably more words dedicated to Smash Bros. Brawl on these forums than any other game, so adding more seems pointless. But if you want a detailed breakdown, then I'll give you one; the core game, where you pick your favourite Nintendo mascot and bash away at 34 other classic characters, has returned from it's predecessors. Casual onlookers will think that the players are just banging at the buttons, whereas experienced players will know just how important every attack, feint and dodge is.

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The most impressive part about Brawl is the herculean amount of content which the game has to offer. A grand total of 39 playable characters can be unlocked, and 41 stages to play across. If that was simply it that would be amazing in itself, as few fighting games can offer that as basic. But Brawl also had a huge amount of extra content, not least in it's single play campaign the "Subspace Emissary", which has had a surprising amount of work gone into it. It plays like a side-scrolling platforming beat-'em-up, and has a co-operative mode, so don't think you can walk away from multiplayer just because of it! The story is suitably daft (as a story which brings all of Nintendo's characters together can be), and features other villains from the vault such as Petey Pirahna from Super Mario Sunshine, and the NES peripheral ROB the robot. The most entertainment I had was watching the many pre-rendered cutscenes, which play like the fanfics of the internet come to life, although because you have to play the levels multiple times, I did find the whole thing a bit repetetive.

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But you don't play Smash Bros. for the single player. You play it for the fun that 4-way fighting brings! And on that end, Brawl delivers massively. As previously stated, there are a wealth of stages and characters to choose from, and the whole thing feels like a huge love letter to gaming past. The stages are drawn from all over gamings glorious history, from Animal Crossing to Metal Gear Solid. Some of the characters are slight clones of others, yet for the most part they play massively differently, which allows for a varied style of play depending on who you choose, your opponent chooses, and even which course you play upon. The characters who will appear in the next Smash Bros. game is always a massive talking point, with many threads and columns being based solely around rumours of "x character appearing". As such, I have tended to dismiss what I consider the most outlandish rumours, but as Sonic the Hedgehog* and Solid Snake both appeared in this addition, I will say I will now happily believe almost anything!

*It also allowed a personal dream to come true for me - Mario vs Sonic. Growing up in the '90s and witnessing the Sega vs Nintendo wars first hand, seeing these 2 square off when it had been dreamed of for so long was a genuine mind-blowing moment.

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I can't speak about Brawl without mentioning the unbelievably awesome score too. It truely is a fantastic collaberation (we're talking 300 plus tracks here) between some of the greatest names in all of video game music; with submissions from Yasonuri "Chrono Trigger" Mitsuda, Yuzo "Streets of Rage" Koshiro and Koji "everything Nintendo" Kondo. And with soundtrack options that change the frequency of each song, plus playlist editing, Brawl's sound category is off the charts. There's nothing to even compare it to. If you're into game music (or even feeling nostalgic) at all, you will absolutely adore the tunes here.

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This game isn't without it's faults, however. The appeal of playing this game online is obvious, and the fact Nintendo included it means that they have essentially made many fans dreams come true. But as we all know, Nintendo falls down online compared to other companies. If you play with friends using your friend codes, the experience is usually crisp and lag-free. In my experience though, attempting to play random opponents led to more than one unplayable choppy scrap that led to disconnection. There's also no real practical way to communicate with other players, and it's a total pain to try and share saved pictures.

There's also the fact that, personally, I don't think Smash Bros. works as well as a fighting game compared to something like Virtua Fighter or Killer Instinct. It's tremendous fun, don't get me wrong, but compared to Soul Calibur's fluid system of combat, Brawl seems altogether too random. I imagine that I could recreate my playing style by throwing my controller down a flight of stairs, of smashing into it like a performing seal. And yes, it has to be a controller, as playing with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk makes the game completely unplayable in my eyes. That may just be me though... you can't expect me to play with a controller for 18 years and then all of a sudden expect me to use a remote control!

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The whole experience is great fun though, and the huge sales of all the games shows that's Nintendo's efforts were well worth it. It's gotten to the point where other developers now want a piece of the pie, and we have games in the style of Smash Bros. with Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, and now even Sony have got in on the act with "Playstation All Star Battle Royale". But none will top Smash Bros. For one thing, they don't have the rich history that Nintendo has to draw upon, and secondly, the protagonists are actually likeable, unlike Nathan Drake! There are very few games out there as much value for money as Brawl is, to the point where you could conceivably buy it as your only Wii game and still make the console worth your while.


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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:53 am

Quake (N64, 1998)
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"Quake me up, before you go-go!"

People often complain that FPSs nowadays are far too samey. And for the most part, I'd have to agree - after the success of Call of Duty, the genre is seemingly full of violent shooting in browny-grey environments. So to break the monotony of this, let us hark back to a simpler time, a time when shooters were more varied, more colourful, and play.... a violent shooting game set in browny-grey environments. Err, yeah.

But fear not! This isn't your usual ultra-realistic FPS where you spend half your time crouching behind cover. This is a game full of demons, nailguns and nightmares. A game made by id software, the geniuses behind "Doom". This, ladies and gentleman, is Quake. And if that name means nothing to you, I suggest you brace yourself, as things get a little scary from here on in...

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So for the benefit of the one person who's not heard of Quake before, the object of the game is to make it through each level alive, while killing as many soldiers and mutants as humanly possible. There's no "two gun, regenerating health" rubbish here... you pick up your weapons, health, and armour as you go, collect keys to progress through the level, and shoot everything on sight! There's also a simplistic story thrown in for good measure, but you won't care or remember it once the carnage starts, which is immediate.

Players must battle through 25 levels, which have adorable names such as "The Crypt of Decay", "The Tomb of Terror", and "Satan's Dark Delight". A massive army of soldiers, sorcerers and demons await at every turn. Quakers aren't exactly harmless though; weapons such as the nailgun, super nailgun, shotgun, missile launcher, grenade launcher, lightning gun and axe make up the wide arsenal of destruction available. Whereas Goldeneye requires brains and technique, Quake requires quick thinking and lots of bullets. There are no objectives here, except to kill everything in sight and make it to the next level. It's bloody good fun at a frantic pace - and I do mean bloody. Body parts explode into pieces upon being hit by a rocket, decapitated heads roll to a dead stop, and satanic overtones are everywhere. Considering as how heavily Nintendo censored Duke Nukem 64, it's staggering that Quake made it onto this console uneditted!

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No doubt PC gamers will complain bitterly about this, but honestly, I prefer the ambient sound effects in Quake 64 better than Trent Reznor's soundtrack for the PC version. The grunts, whispers, sadistic howls and everything else blend together nicely for a dark, urgent mood that while also present in Reznor's soundtrack, isn't as effective. For those of you who don't know, Trent Reznor was the lead vocalist for American rock band "Nine Inch Nails", who was a big fan of Doom. As a result of this, he collaborated with id Software to create the music for the PC version of Quake, and there is a subtle Nine Inch Nails reference in the game. The nailgun, one of the early machine guns, obviously uses nails as its source of ammunition. On every ammo pack of nails is the "Nine Inch Nails" logo, clearly done as a thankyou to Mr Reznor! This remains in the N64 version, despite the fact the soundtrack did not survive the port, and serves as a nice bit of a trivia for all you people who like such things!

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There is a multiplayer on the N64 version, but unlike the audio, this is where the game falls down next to it's PC counterpart. Whereas you could have 32 competitors simultaneously online, in Quake 64, you could only have 1-on-1 contests. Not bad, but as Goldeneye had already been out for a year and offered 4-way action, it seems a little lacklustre. That's not to say that it's bad at all - I had a blast with it! But next to Goldeneye's critically acclaimed multiplayer, and it's own PC brother, it can't really compete.

But that shouldn't put a downer on what is an atmospheric, moody, deeply entertaining experience. The game will scare you witless, with the creatures you face being reminiscent of John Blanche's monsterous creations. Quake is, in an sentence, like Doom but better. And that, surely, is good enough for anyone!


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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:54 am

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, 1998) - APRIL FOOL'S!
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"Overrated" is a world tossed around far too much on the internet these days. It's almost as if in anyone gives an ounce of credit to any game, then it's overrated. Games which are critically acclaimed or popular are far more likely to fall into this category, and in many cases the backlash can be as much against the games hype as it is against the game itself. As a result, I try very hard to avoid words such as "overrated", as I feel it is somewhat presumptuous to assume that people's opinions of a game are somehow wrong, and my own subjective view is more valid than theirs.

Having said all that, Ocarina of Time is, without question, the most overrated game ever made.

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Let's start with the story. I know I criticised Mortal Kombat Mythology's story earlier in this thread, but that looks like Othello compared to this. It's supposed to be about Link saving the world, but you spend the first half and hour running round inside a tree! And once you've finished the hippy tree-hugging nonsense, the story then goes onto Nintendo's super-original plot of saving the princess! Tell you what, why you don't you have a go at writing your own Zelda storyline? Simply put together a shoddy tale of a princess being kidnapped, and several magic pendants/medallions/whatever being needed to save her. Hide said medallions in various temples, all of which have different elements (water/fire/ice, the usual) and voila! You too can apparantly create the greatest masterpiece in gaming :roll: As Neil Buchanan would say; "Try it yourself!" After all, you'd probably do a better job than Nintendo did here.

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The graphics aren't altogether terrible, but they certainly didn't make the most of the N64s power back in 1998, never mind now! Playing this game in the era of hi-res and hi-definition is an affront to the eyes, and make no mistake. It's somewhat akin to having dined on lobster thermador at a 5-star resteraunt, and then being presented with a plate of vomit. And now, thanks to the 3DS, you can play with low-res, blocky graphics in eye-popping 3D! Whoop-de-doo!

People go on about the time-travel in the game and how amazing they found it, but time-travel was implemented years before in Square's masterpiece Chrono Trigger, and also in Sonic 3D, both times better than here. There are also lots of bits in the game which seem to have been put in for no good reason whatsoever. What, precisely, is the point of the gossip stones? You can talk to them with a mask, or blow them up with bombs, or hit them and they tell you the in-game time. Other than that? Naff all. It's almost as if Nintendo decided to put something in the game just to try and trick gamers into thinking there was more to it. Lots of rumours sprang up around the gossip stones, and I'm guessing that was the idea behind them - to make gamers gossip, to try and make it seem like the game is more interesting than it actually is.

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Sadly, this is far from the only instance. The fishing game at Lake Hylia is yet another example. You can waste hours on it, and for what? Absolutely nothing. You can complete the game perfectly well without ever playing it, so what's the point? If I wanted a fishing game Nintendo, I'D HAVE BOUGHT A BLOODY FISHING GAME! Whilst we're at Lake Hylia, the Scarecrow's Song must surely rank as the single most ridiculous excersise in all of gaming. Make up a song for the scarecrow to dance to, and then, when you come back as adult Link, play it again and he'll appear! And that's it! Dear God in heaven Nintendo, are you telling me that you delayed this game for 18 months to add crap like this in it?

Music is a mixed bag, to say the least. I'm not going to lie and say all the music is bad, because it isn't. Some of the tunes, such as Saria's Song and the Song of Storms, are very catchy indeed. But others, especially the later temples in the game, have very bland music which seems more like ambience than actual music (the Water Temple and Shadow Temple especially, although the Spirit Temple is tremendous). But it's not so much the music that Nintendo has put in which is a problem, but rather what isn't in the game. Can you believe Nintendo didn't put the Zelda theme in this game? Not once? To say this is a huge dissapointment is an understatement, and to me, undermined my enjoyment immensely.

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There's also a glitch which essentially makes the game redundant anyway. Remember earlier when I said that gossip stones had no purpose? Well, that's not strictly true. If you do destroy all the gossip stones and speak to Rauru (that bloody owl) in Hyrule Field, he'll teach you a tune called the "Overture of Sages". Playing this to Malon, in Link's House (well, tree) and in The Temple of Time will allow you warp to the Temple of Light and claim the Triforce. With the Triforce you are now indestructable, thereby removing all challenge from playing the game. So yes, there is a point to the gossip stones, to ruin the game. Congratulations once again, Nintendo!

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There are 2 big annoyances about Ocarina of Time which stand head and shoulders above the others. Firstly, obviously, is Navi. GOD IS SHE ANNOYING. Interrupting you time and time again to state the obvious (and often stuff that you've heard before), it can grate beyond compare. Imagine hearing "Hey!" "Listen!" "Hey!" "Listen!" "Hey!" "Hey!" "Link!" "Listen!" "Listen!" "Listen!" over and over and over again. It's actually less fun than it sounds.

The second is the infamous Water Temple. Quite possibly the worst water level in all of gaming (even worse than Skies of Aracadia or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles), The whole place is a huge vertical maze which requires you to lower and raise water levels to progress, and to equip and unequip the iron boots constantly (which can only be done via the menu on the N64, which means you are constantly pausing the game). It also houses the 2 worst bosses in the game, Dark Link (how original :roll: ) and the Giant Aquatic Amoeba, which is just a brain in some water. Quick note Nintendo: WATER ISN'T SCARY. The worst part of this temple, though, is that it comes right at the part where the game ought to be getting good. Instead, people go into the Water Temple and can spend weeks stuck inside, thereby killing the game's pacing absolutely stone dead.

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Ocarina of Time has received universally positive reviews across all forms of media, which is something that still puzzles me to this day. What about it is supposedly so brilliant? The formulaic story? The unoriginal environments? The below-par graphics? The pointless additions? The fact that this game is quite possibly the most highly-acclaimed game in history is an absolute disgrace, especially when truely great games, like Eternal Darkness, go by unmentioned. The fact that the best music in the game, the Fire Temple, had to be altered before the game was released tells you all you need to know. The chanting was removed for fear of offending Muslims, which is fine... sadly, Nintendo didn't remove other elements of the game which would offend anyone unlucky enough to play it.
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Re: Today I'm Playing (Archive)

Post by Highlight » Thu Dec 11, 2014 12:55 am

Heavy Rain (PS3, 2010)

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Confession time here: I don't like quick time events. I think that they plague games nowadays like the black death, and have changed some of the most basic of game mechanics beyond all recognition. Cut-scenes, for example, used to be an opportunity to sit back, relax, and take in the game trying to progress the plot for you (or, in the case of the later Final Fantasy games, take up most of the game time in between those annoying "gameplay" bits that Square-Enix doesn't like). Nowadays, however, cut-scenes seem to be an excuse for games to throw something unexpected at you, and you are probably more likely to die in them than the main game as you are unaware of what buttons you are expected to press (blame Resident Evil 4 for this).

Boss fights are another one. Boss fights used to be a test of the players ability, a bit like an end of level exam, to evaluate what you'd learned up to that point. Whereas now boss fights seem to be a developers chance to show off their cinematics, almost an interactive cut-scene (although with cut-scenes now being interactive themselves, this term is surely redundant). Compare the boss fights from Shadow of the Colossus with God of War, and you'll see what I mean.

Therefore, you'd expect a game that consists entirely of quick-time events to be extremely low on my list of favourites, right? Well, I thought so too, but it turns out, Heavy Rain is full of surprises...

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Heavy Rain is called an "interactive drama", which is quite a pretentious description, although not entirely inaccurate. It's certainly very different to most other games, even ones of the same genre such as LA Noire or Phoenix Wright. Heavy Rain is a game in the same way as Tom Daley is a salmon; they both like to splash in water, but you'd feel a bit silly if you put Tom Daley on your toast. But it's certainly not like a film either, as the game very much wants you to make choices and be involved in the unravelling plot.

I won't spoilt the plot for you, for 2 reasons:
1) if you play the game, which I sincerely hope you do, you will hate my guts for ruining it
2) because what you do affects the outcome, I'd spend all day writing the potential plotlines, which is both time-consuming for me and very confusing for you!

But for what it's worth, here's the overarching story: Ethan Mars, middle-aged architect and father of 2, ends up losing one of his sons in an accident. Feeling horribly guilty, he ends up splitting from his wife and leaving his job. His other son, Shaun, is kidnapped by a mysterious serial-killer known only as the "Origami Killer", who is known to drown his victims in rainwater. As the weather forecast is predicting heavy rain (Ha! There is it!) he has little time to find his son. But it gets more intriguing when the killer taunts Ethan with a series of challenges; complete them, and he'll tell him where his son is. Fail, and he drowns.

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Trust me when I say the plot in this is gripping indeed. The challenges I just mentioned seem just tough to complete at first, but get more morally hard for the player as they progress (especially if you get wrapped up in the story, as you should!). There's one in particular, "The Lizard", which has gained notortioty, and rightly so. In a deserted, fire-wrecked room, Ethan has to cut off a finger in front of a camera in 5 minutes with whatever he can find. This is both utterly gripping and awful to watch, as you have to twist your own fingers to press all the buttons in order to carry this out. The whole ordeal feels like an ordeal, as it should, and works doubly well in terms of plot, as it gives the player a "no going back now" attitude when faced with moral choices later in the game.

Heavy Rain has you flit Quantum Leap style between 4 characters; the afforementioned Ethan Mars, Scott Shelby (who is a PI hired to find the Origami Killer), Norman Jayden (an FBI detective drafted in to help on the case), and Madison Page, whose sole purpose it appears is to be exploited in every scene. She's hardly your typical "damsel in distress", as she is both smart and capable of getting out of her own mess, but between fighting off intruders in her underwear, getting tied up in a basement, being forced to strip at gunpoint, and a couple of shower and sex scenes, it does seem the developers got their hormonal jollies out of poor Madison!

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All four characters are pretty well rounded and quite likeable, but out of the 4, Norman Jayden was my favourite. Partly because he seemed the most competent and morally upstanding, but also partly because he had a flaw which made him all the more human; his drug addiction. All the characters have flaws (which I won't spoil), but with Jayden he has to try and balance being a good cop and trying to save Shaun Mars' life and battling with his own personal demons. He also has access to these cool virtual reality glasses, which in game allow you to go through case files and analyse crime scenes. Ben "Yahtzee" Crowshaw advised that, because he has access to technology no-one else in the game has, you should treat Jayden like a time-traveller from the future, and his shaking and nausea caused by his addiction are instead due to him changing history Marty McFly-style. It actually works pretty well!

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I will warn you this though; Heavy Rain starts off slow. Very slow. Unlike it's predocessor, "Fahrenheit", which throws you straight into the action, Heavy Rain has you wandering around Ethan's house, getting dressed, playing with the kids, laying the table, waiting for the wife to come home... it's almost as if you know you're just killing time before something bad happens, and indeed you are. Having said that, it does give you good grounding later on when it all hits the fan, because you get a genuine feeling of remorse for Ethan and want him to regain that happy life he had in the beginning.

The thing which makes Heavy Rain unique in gaming terms is that there is no "game over" screen. It's not like in some games where you have infinite lives (too many to mention nowadays), but rather that what you do simply effects the story. Your characters, therefore, can permanently die; the story will continue without them, and any scene they would've been in simply gets skipped. This gives every part of the game a great deal of tension, knowing that you can't just "try again", and so scenes which should be desperate actually feel desperate. The actions you choose have a ripple effect throughout the game and give you drastically different endings, and I have to say, it was amazing once I'd finished to go online and discuss with people what experience they had with the game, and how their story differed from mine!

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There are a few criticisms. Like I said, the early pacing is slow, but for what it's worth, it really does get so much better later on. The quick-time controls are good, but the normal controls can be downright awful (holding R2 to walk is just terrible). But truth be told, I really rate this game, partly because in an era of never-ending grey/brown FPSs it's something fresh, but also because the story is gripping as hell, and the idea that my characters could die off really did put tension into every scene. It may not be for you; it's certainly not what you'd call "action oriented". But as a unique gaming experience, that may (sadly) never be repeated, I'd say it's definitely worth a look.


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Last edited by Highlight on Fri Dec 19, 2014 6:26 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Dig Dug wrote:Highlight nailed that.

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