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January 3, 2007

Filed under: gaming»software»scurge

DS Review: Scurge

Why did they spell it Scurge instead of "scourge?" Probably because they were trying so hard not to name this "Metroid Fusion."

Does that seem unfair? It shouldn't. Southpeak is obviously a big fan of Nintendo's last 2D Metroid, since they've ripped off the premise (an alien infection that takes over everything in its path), the protagonist (a female bounty hunter in an armored spacesuit, guided by a computer program), the basic mechanism for progress (gradual upgrades make new portions of the map accessible), and the musical themes (minimalist space techno).

What they didn't steal is the infection counter, which has to be periodically reset at save points, and a 3/4 perspective. The combination makes Scurge a lot more action-oriented than Metroid games--exploration takes a back seat to firepower and large hordes of enemies. It's not a bad change, and for newer visitors to the Metroid series, probably not significant. Since Nintendo seems hellbent on ignoring 2D in favor of 3D Metroid offshoots, it's nice to see someone else taking up the slack, and handling it well.

December 28, 2006

Filed under: gaming»software»zelda

Flat Notes

Ocarina of Time is, according to Gamerankings, the greatest game of all time. It has a composite ranking of 97.9%. This is unbelievably overrated.

I'm trying to be fair to Ocarina. I recognize that it's an older title, that it was the first Zelda to move into 3D, and that countless people identify strongly with the title. I don't really expect to convince anyone else. But I'm really having to struggle to keep playing, something that didn't happen with the older 2D Zeldas, which I likewise didn't experience until much past their publication.

First of all, this is an ugly game. And I don't mean just in terms of the technical bits and pieces, since the N64 was home to the nastiest texture filtering functions ever written. Even ignoring the muddy textures that were common to consoles of the period, the art direction here varies wildly. The Great Fairies look like garish dominatrixes, for the love of all that is holy, and the Gorons are just annoying. This is even more frustrating when it's clear that a lot of work went into parts of the game, like the day/night cycle--it's irritating, largely pointless, and seems to exist just for the effect, but the shifting colors as the sun rises or sets are very pretty.

Second, the Z-targeting system doesn't work. It just doesn't, or at least not fast enough to be useful. I end up aiming at walls, random objects, or faraway enemies instead of where I actually want to strike. Putting double-duty on the trigger as a camera control was a mistake in Jet Grind Radio, and it was a mistake here. Sure, I can look where I want if I switch to first-person mode, but Link has a knack for being where I don't want him to be when I zoom in. Considering that the N64 had a d-pad that sat useless for this game, and the emulated Gamecube version simply toggles the map on and off, it's unbelievable that no-one thought to give full camera control to the player.

But what annoys me most is how stubbornly obtuse Ocarina can be. I spent probably an hour wandering the Lost Woods at the start of the game, trying to figure out where the sword was located. The annoying girl with green hair said it was in the forest, after all. Turns out it's in the training area, which is part of the level Kokiri Forest, instead of the Lost Woods, which are apparently not a forest even though they are made up of badly-textured trees. I know, I know, it's my fault for not taking her completely literally, but that's set the tone for my experience so far: blundering along, playing the titular ocarina constantly, until I finally luck into the next step.

No, I haven't even gotten to the Water Temple yet.

December 3, 2006

Filed under: gaming»software»guitar_hero

Encore

The best way to describe Guitar Hero II, if you've played the first game, is to say that everything's better except the songs.

I've beaten the game on Hard, which is right at my sweet spot for Guitar Hero--on Medium I play notes when I'm not supposed to, and Expert is so hardcore that you'd really be better off learning to play the instrument itself. Hard is close enough that I can enjoy the illusion of actually playing along without too much stress. And Harmonix has done a good job of addressing the little frustrations of the first game, with easier hammer-ons and pull-offs (they were originally unrealistically difficult) and a much-needed practice mode. The addition of encores is a cute touch, and the game itself looks better.

So if it weren't for the songlist, the GH2 experience would be a lot higher. But you get the feeling that all the really inspired choices were picked up for the original, and now you're sorting through the leftovers. There are moments of genius, especially "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight," "Sweet Child O' Mine," and "Jessica." On the other hand, "Killing in the Name" is a monstrosity, and "Institutionalized" a disaster. It's a much more uneven playlist. The other song criticism is the production--sometimes the other parts of the band are very soft and difficult to hear--although that could be my sub-discount TV at fault.

None of this stops Guitar Hero II from being one of the best games of the year practically by default. You still can't go wrong with this game, especially as party entertainment or for aspiring musicians. I can tell that I'll definitely keep playing through it just for the experience, as I did with its addictive predecessor. If I had to choose this game or the original, it'd be a tough call--beginners might want to start with GH2 for the responsiveness and training options, and graduate to the original when they really want to bring the Rock. And the sooner Harmonix decides to use this improved engine for more selective themed or genre song packs, possibly including songs from the first game, the better.

November 8, 2006

Filed under: gaming»software»guitar_hero

Our Birthdays Are Better Than Your Birthdays: Heart-Shaped Box Edition

Best girlfriend on the planet, yes?

November 5, 2006

Filed under: gaming»software»star_trek_ta

DS Review: Star Trek Tactical Assault

I'm a little saddened to see that (as I write this) Metacritic still only has one review up for Tactical Assault, and it's a low rank by a magazine without an online version. The game itself is quite good, and frankly deserves better.

In terms of space travel and combat, Trek was realistic only in the very broadest sense. For example, the ships depicted in the series were always seen with the same orientation and in the same orbit. Granted, audiences might have been confused by vessels at all angles to each other, or by real inertial behavior. Also, for the most part, strategy was limited to capital ships pounding away at each other, almost like naval vessels. (See also: KHAAAAANN!)

So the decision to limit combat in Tactical Assault to unwieldy starships in a 2D plane may be unrealistic, but it's true to the source material. Set at around the same time frame as the original series movies, the campaign centers on conflict along the Neutral Zone between Klingon, Romulan, and Federation ships. Like the original series, it makes handwaves to diplomacy, but like Kirk it defaults to phaser blasts quickly.

The "tactical" part of the game is basically a tension between six-sided shields and slow-to-charge weapons. Keeping your strongest shields aimed at the enemy while concentrating fire on their weakest areas is the basic strategy here. Even the fastest ships maneuver sluggishly, and they can't fire constantly. The tactical situation is complicated by each weapons' reliability (phasers always hit but have limited range and damage, while torpedoes sometimes miss their targets) and restricted firing arcs. It's not extraordinarily deep, but there is room to learn.

A lot of the fun comes from the use of the DS touchscreen. You can use the d-pad and buttons to run the whole game, but there's also a complete interface in three tabs for defense, navigation, and offense. You can hail and scan everything in sight, although it's clear that those interactions (as well as warp destinations) are heavily scripted. The developers clearly spent a lot of time mimicking the look of Trek technology, even to the point that it's not always practical. For example, shields and weapons only become fully available at red alert, but there's no real incentive (or consequences) for not immediately going to full alert status, although shields must be lowered for transport. Also, during the unlockable Klingon campaign there's an option for the whole HUD to be in Klingon script--again, it's kind of pointless, but it's a fun and immersive touch.

Likewise, the sounds and graphics are largely faithful to the series--they're not stunning even by DS standards, but they're attractive and the frame rate never drops. Ships do offer dynamic damage to specific components, and they can lose engines if they take hits to the warp nacelles. The music direction deserves particular kudos, since it's semi-dynamic in response to the current alert status and mission parameters.

There's a lot of room for improvement on these strengths, however. Tactical Assault suffers from a few bugs, one which locked the DS up during a mission. It also lacks difficulty settings, and hits a real spike halfway through when players are outnumbered by several waves of attacking ships. The multiplayer is also disappointing: there's multi-card play, but no download option and no WiFi. Assuming that they get a chance to make a sequel, it'd be nice to see online play.

October 22, 2006

Filed under: gaming»software»guitar_hero

Hard Rock

What I have found, when picking up Guitar Hero again, is that I most enjoy playing it on Hard difficulty, the next-to-highest. I can play the game on Expert--I've almost beaten it there, in fact--but I don't usually enjoy that much. Expert is insane. I am pretty sure that it is actually easier to play most songs on a real guitar than to play them on Guitar Hero's expert mode.

I loaded Guitar Hero back onto Belle's PS2 this weekend for a housewarming party, in case we needed something to do. I wanted to have all the songs unlocked for people to play. It turns out that we had 24 people in our tiny little apartment, and we didn't need the entertainment after all. But it was fun to pick up the plastic SG again. Note that I didn't unlock new guitars, or new characters. There's not really much point. They don't do anything except look pretty. Normally, those kinds of pointless unlockables bother me. But here, I don't really care.

Guitar Hero's real strength is that its fun doesn't rely on the characters or guitars. They don't do anything. Your reward for playing Guitar Hero is being able to play more Guitar Hero. This will never happen, of course, but I think I'd like to see the sequel with all the songs unlocked at the start of the game. It would make it easier for my friends and I to just jump into the game, and it would remove the silly system of rewarding people for struggling with a plastic guitar on difficulty levels where they're not necessarily having fun. I wouldn't mind having to work my way up through different venues in career mode. But it'd be nice to pick my own set list.

October 2, 2006

Filed under: gaming»software»progress_quest

Level 60

I have reached level 60 in Progress Quest. It's been a long slow grind, what with starting the game and then leaving it alone while I work. Sadly, I'll admit that after level 50 or so I started macroing (i.e., I put a shortcut to the game in my startup directory). According to the datestamp on pq.exe, I've been working on this character off and on since the beginning of July.

If I were playing World of Warcraft for 8 hours a day, it would take me slightly more than two months to reach level 60, which is the highest level in the game.

August 16, 2006

Filed under: gaming»software»animal_crossing

Donner, party of four


Found while searching for images of Tom Nook for Secret Article Goodness.

August 4, 2006

Filed under: gaming»software»halflife

Hot Water

The best part about Valve Software's over-the-Internet purchasing system, Steam, is that it saves you from having to visit video game stores. There are many things to like about gaming as a hobby, but I'm not sure that other gamers are necessarily one of them.

Which you can say about just about any hobby, really. If it weren't for the fact that I like to physically try instruments before I buy them, I'd never go into Guitar Center ever again. There are far too many musicians there.

On the other hand, I wouldn't ever say "I can't stand the bookstore--I keep running into other readers." Perhaps because it's traditional to be quieter around books. The library stigma is beaten into us as children, and the fact that literature is an entirely visual medium requires more concentration, but also presents fewer distractions. There are no doubt really annoying people at the bookstore (probably in the literary fiction and Business How-To sections), but they're not talking.

July 18, 2006

Filed under: gaming»software»halflife

To be fair, it is a lot of fun for seven out of ten minutes.

Shorter Half-Life 2 load times:

Yeah, that'd be nice.

Future - Present - Past