maanantai 15. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - The Punisher | GEN | 1994

GENRE(S): Beat 'em up
RELEASED: 1993 (ARC)
AVAILABLE ON: ARC, GEN
DEVELOPER(S): Capcom, Sculptured Software (GEN)
PUBLISHER(S): Capcom

One of the first games in Capcom's long and successful line of Marvel comic book adaptations was another game simply called The Punisher. Unlike the DOS game which was a mess of an action-adventure game and the NES game which was a rail shooter, The Punisher was designed in the vein of Capcom's very own Final Fight. The original arcade game was praised by critics as one of the best comic book licenses of the time, however the Sega Genesis port was shunned, mostly due to its highly inferior audiovisuals and international censorship issues. Let's take a look; it's the last one on the list before the few Marvel ensemble games I've got lined up, so let's hope that there's at least something to it.

Frank 'n Fury

Frank teams up with S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Nick Fury to take down mafia enforcer Bruno Costa, who turns out to be Wilson Fisk's right-hand man. Two flies, two guys, so let's go kill us some scum,

You know, I often talk side-scrolling beat 'em ups down, but I at least try to bring up their best qualities as well. In non-money-related reality, they can be really entertaining, they're so simple and casual. The worst thing with these games is that they're usually copies of each other; back in the time, you could buy a whole bulk of these games and the next one was always worse than the last in your head. You might've even considered Batman Returns and Maximum Carnage on the SNES awful wastes of time and money, just because you had owned a copy of Final Fight or TMNT IV since day one, and before that, a copy of TMNT II. Thus, you had paid full prices for a few identical copies of those age-old favourites. Nothing changed with these games except the coating, especially when it came to licensed games. No matter who the developers were, they were ultimately counting on the license to sell itself. And it did. We've got to remember one thing, though. Most of these games were made by Capcom and Konami, two of the best in the field of video games in general. (Please, let's not go into who unleashed Maximum Carnage.)

Take that, pool boy!
Konami's Batman Returns on the SNES was one of the best Final Fight clones ever made, mildly ruined by a forceful surge of something it was not, and never meant to be. Capcom's greatest challenge with The Punisher was the license they had on their hands itself. Since The Punisher's all about guns and killing, you can't immediately imagine Frank beating up guys left and right on the streets of New York. That is exactly why there's a lot more to it, and there's a feeling Capcom might've tried to make the game something it's not just like Konami did. It's not a conventional beat 'em up, that's for sure, but Capcom modified their own concept like champs here and managed to make a game with nothing to actually throw you off the ball like Batman Returns had, in the slightest. The Punisher is a very good, even unique game in its genre, and behind the curtain, it is very faithful to its cause. You haven't the need to play the arcade game to see the flaws here, though.

So, I've no experience of the arcade game. I browsed through a few screenshots and watched a video or two to cup a feel of the game, though, and sure, it was a pretty damn good-looking game in its time. When an arcade beat 'em up was ported to a 16-bit console, the graphical compromises were very often minimal, but The Punisher was obviously a disappointment. It's much less detailed, very little can happen on the screen at a time in comparison (to merely allow a co-op game at this capacity, I guess), and the censorship's a real drag. The violence that is an obvious part, if not a calling card of the Punisher franchise is downplayed and not just by the total absence of blood - there's some orange goo that looks like mucus in its stead - but by the non-existent division between a victim of a shooting and a well-placed kick to the head, and totally needless, "family-friendly" modifications to some cutscenes which were apparently much closer to home in the original arcade title.

You can choose between The Punisher and Nick Fury, but the difference between them is purely cosmetic unlike in Final Fight where you had two (or three) completely different characters to suit different needs and playing styles. You attack with A, jump with B, and that's essentially it - A+B once again triggers a powerful special move which drains your own health, and then there's a very limited stock of kill 'em all items in your inventory for a last resort, just like in Batman Returns. The main draw of the game is the huge amount of different weapons, both melee and ranged - combat knives, baseball bats, different guns, a flamethrower and a ridiculously huge battleaxe straight from the medieval times, just to name a few favourites to dish out some (unfortunately blood-less) punishment. Using these weapons to your advantage doesn't take anything away from the game unlike the grappling sequences in Batman Returns; they're added in for the exact same, apparent reason, to establish a more exciting game more faithful to the cause, only this solution works. It's smooth, it's fun, it's high-impact, it's tense. I like it.

It's obvious the developers never served... hold
an assault rifle like that and see what happens
when you fire. At the docks, by the way.
The Punisher is punishing in its difficulty from time to time. Some enemies, you just can't find their number, a fight with them is impossible to survive unscathed especially if there's another enemy involved. You have no means to defend yourself, if you don't happen to be in luck and stumble onto a useful power-up at the exact right time several times in a row, or a weapon the enemy has no chance against, such as the flamethrower. Although it's easy to get lost in a mashfest in these games, it would still be nice to have the mere knowledge of a block button's existence. There's a dodge manouver, but it's not too easy to manage.

The Punisher's another clone, but it's a good one. You thought I'd bash it, I sure as hell believed I'd be in for another total mess, but probably since I've never experienced the arcade game, I was actually in for one of the most entertaining games I've played in this context in a long time - I almost feel sad that it's the last one. Wait... no, I don't. Anyway, thank you all for bearing with me on this Marvel marathon. It's been a long year and a half. A few Marvel ensemble games later, I'll be doing a short summary of the whole wretched thing, and we're finally off to a new path. I hope the short chapter with the ensemble games leaves me with a similar aftertaste as this game, so that it would all end on a moderately high note.

UPS
+ Smooth mixture of melee and ranged action makes for a somewhat different beat 'em up...
+ ...Without anything that would not belong, or anything that would take away from the action
+ Still good graphics, no matter how downgraded...

DOWNS
- ...It's the lessened interaction and the censorship that bother me
- The differences between the two playable characters are purely cosmetic
- Suffers some huge, occasional spikes in difficulty throughout
- The usual: we've seen most of it before, and you just can't beat the classics

< 8.0 >

REVIEW - The Punisher: The Ultimate Payback! | GB | 1991

GENRE(S): Rail shooter
RELEASED: 1991
AVAILABLE ON: GB
DEVELOPER(S): Beam Software
PUBLISHER(S): LJN

I guess the NES adaptation of The Punisher was successful enough to drive LJN into publishing another Punisher game for the Game Boy. The Punisher was one of the few rail shooters to be published on the NES, this game called The Punisher: The Ultimate Payback! sure as hell was one of the only to see daylight on the Game Boy. Although many sources claim the game to be a port of the NES game, it virtually has nothing to do with it. How different can it be, though? It's of the same genre, and well, as far as storytelling goes, The Punisher ain't exactly the most multi-dimensional guy around. Like its predecessor, The Punisher: The Ultimate Payback! isn't that bad by LJN's usual "standards" - but it is severely flawed.

Plead insanity

I thought I put a stop to you.
The Punisher's out to punish some fools. Why? Because they're scum. Oh yeah, and Spider-Man makes an appearance. Just to bring the sales up a bit.

Let's get straight to the point: a rail shooter on a Game Boy? Sounds painful, really painful. On the other hand, I was even glad that I got all the rights to shove the old DOS game I originally got lined up on this spot back to the trash bin where it belongs, since I couldn't get it working on my current PC, and was able to skip straight ahead to this game. This couldn't possibly be as bad, and it isn't. It's even got good qualities over the NES version, though its impossible nature overshadows all.

I'll punish you right after I
snap this screenshot.
The graphics are clear enough, you shouldn't have any problems with seeing your enemy in this less detailed environment. However, in this version, Frank doesn't appear in person, so it's impossible to dodge enemy fire - that's the worst problem in the whole game. In turn, the crosshair moves much faster and smoother than in the NES game. It doesn't help you a whole lot once you're surrounded, which you will be, already by the end of the first level.

Not only are there too many enemies for you to handle without any sort of chance to dodge or take cover, there are also civilians all over the place. They take one bullet, they die - and so do you. A dead civilian means dead Frank. Some random enemies seem to kill you a lot faster than others, even if they have the same guns. If they're able to keep a line on you for a full second, your health is drained to zero faster than you're able to even properly take aim at the enemy. In the end of the first level, all of the impoliteness of the game strikes you at once. There are enemies all around with one with his hands on a civilian - this ain't no sharpshooting game, so be careful. If you're able to avoid shooting the civilian, Spider-Man shows up and takes 'em to safety. "Yay, thanks friendly neighborhood Spider-Man"... and the web-slinging fucker forgets all about his "friend" with the machine gun...

I used a cheat code to merely
SEE the second level. Which
is "The Docks". Great.
Anyway, you make it through that mayhem, you've already gotten pretty far. Then, the boss appears; he's practically invincible (his rock of a head literally takes hundreds of machine gun bullets), every third bullet from his revolver is deadly, and once again, you cannot dodge. If you're being honest to yourself, your game will end there. Losing five lives means that the game is over; I'll go out on a limb and say this game is simply impossible to beat without using a cheat code for infinite lives. Hell, the first level alone.

Sure, the game is horrible, and horribly designed - I mean, at least some form of self defense would be nice - but with its two minutes of tolerable gameplay, The Punisher: The Ultimate Payback! already surpasses many LJN games in quality. (Just in case this'll be the last review of an LJN game in a long while, I want to enjoy the moment.)

UPS
+ Responsive crosshair
+ Clear-cut, less detailed graphics
+ Luckily there's a cheat code. Because.

DOWNS
- The first level alone is absolutely impossible to beat...
- ...Mostly due to the fact that you cannot defend yourself by any means

< 5.0 >

perjantai 12. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - The Punisher | NES | 1990

GENRE(S): Rail shooter
RELEASED: November 1990
AVAILABLE ON: NES
DEVELOPER(S): Beam Software
PUBLISHER(S): LJN

Created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru, and debuting as the main villain of an issue of The Amazing Spider-Man in early 1974, Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher, is one of the most popular cult characters of the Marvel universe. Armed with no special powers except incredible willpower fueled by pure hatred, Frank thinks that death, perhaps spiced up with a little bit of torture from time to time - if he's in the holiday spirit - is the only true form of justice. Especially after the huge critical and commercial failure of a 1989 feature film starring Dolph Lundgren, The Punisher was one guy you never thought to star in an NES game; enter LJN with their absurd ideas. Absurd and oozing with the usual stupidity or not, The Punisher for the NES is honestly one of LJN's best and positively innovative games.

Punish 'em fools

Driven by the violent deaths of his wife and children, Frank Castle delivers his own brand of shotgun justice on the streets of New York City under the alias of The Punisher, Hitman, Jigsaw, Colonel Kliegg, Sijo Kanaka and Assassin team up with the crime lord Kingpin to drive the city to the ground and take down the dark vigilante in the process.

From a guy who's into contrast and brutality such as me, it should come as no surprise that The Punisher is one of my favourite Marvel characters, and even though the few Punisher games I've got lined up ain't that promising, it's great to have Frank Castle as the last true star of this year and a half long marathon. The character himself and alone paves the way for a good exit before the few ensemble games that'll wrap it all up. Frank firmly believes in justice just as any superhero does - he just has his very own vision of justice, which usually involves a lethal hail of bullets. He's like the polar opposite of just about every other costumed freak out there - doesn't even use a mask, just that black spandex overall with a huge skull on it. It's like he wants his face to be the last thing scumbags see before dying. Poetic. Pointless, but poetic.

Copy-pasted graffiti. Real expressionism.
So, here we have an 8-bit video game called The Punisher, with a fairly large LJN logo in the lower left corner of the front of the box. It reminds me of the days when I was still living in the backwoods burg I once called home, where video games were sold at very few, random stores, and they were considered so valuable they kept 'em in locked glass cabinets, with only the front showing. You couldn't even hold the game in your hand, if you didn't pay for it first. A game like Super Mario Bros. 3 was guaranteed to blow your mind, you saw it up there and paid for it, no questions asked. But, let's pretend that kids of that time were wise when it came to video games. Let's also pretend games were actually reviewed back then, rather than just advertised with more or less volume. That LJN logo would've either been a pulsating warning sign, or a kind of an invisibility necklace. Sure, the cover art was neat and it looked the part - probably ripped straight off the comics. But that logo would've told you the real story. Right? Wrong, actually. Instead of being a stupid platformer, The Punisher is a stupid rail shooter, one of the only ones ever seen on the NES... and it's fairly good at being one!

The graphics are quite good for an NES game, there's enough variety between backgrounds although not that much when it comes to enemies. There's hardly any music at all; just a high-pitched theme song, a boss theme and a... saxophone solo. I'll get to it.

So there's really not much I can say about The Punisher. It's a left-to-right rail shooter with a total of six levels, with two stages and a boss battle each. Your goal is to kill (almost) everything that moves, with your primary weapon assigned to A and a secondary, very limited weapon for boss fights and gang-ups assigned to B. If you get a 100% kill ratio in one stage, you gain a gun upgrade for the next stage, which makes your progress a bit faster and comfier. Enemy bullets are slow and easy to dodge by simply strafing to the opposite direction on the screen. If you get careless and lose all of your lives, it's back to the beginning of the whole game, in the vintage arcade style this whole genre derives from.

Back at the docks!
OK, so first of all, the Nintendo Zapper is not supported, which is kinda weird, and it's generally uncomfortable to use a standard controller for aiming, but then again, the Zapper would eliminate the possibility of a secondary weapon. Besides, the field is quite limited, so there's not that much pain involved with moving the crosshair; it's just that you have to beat the game in one single session and the levels are very lengthy. And boring. I just had to fit that in somewhere. Take away the changing backgrounds and besides the boss fights, you'll feel like you're doing the exact same thing over and over again. But well, that's the usual problem with these sorts of games, especially the early ones - not really LJN's fault. ...But adding in the few civilians is. There are nearly always civilians in these games, usually meant to distract you by running across the screen at the worst possible moment, as if to hand out an invitation to a stray bullet and make you suffer a health penalty. Well, these civilians just stand or sit around; one's playing a saxophone on the street. All that chaos and mayhem around him, bullets flying and people dying, and he just sits on the stairs and plays the fuck out of that sax. Gotta hand it to the man.

The Punisher is not really that difficult, it just takes a lot of dedication I'm guessing only kids can spare - although I can't really see myself allowing a seven-year old to play The Punisher. Of course it's got no blood or any other excessities, it's a very tame game, but they might get so excited they'll go after the 2005 game, which is known to gross out even some adults, there's no telling what it'll do to a kid. That game ain't on the list, though, in case you're wondering - but I might go for it at a later date, it sounds quite interesting in terms of brutality. Now for the final judgement on this one: a surprisingly decent game in a very stale genre, published by a whorehouse that hardly ever got anything right. Deciding on whether that was an insult or a compliment is hard even for myself, but I guess the insulting part's just a reflex. Mild entertainment for the bored masses, which is more than I can say about 99% of LJN's catalog.

UPS
+ The Punisher!
+ It's a rail shooter (simplicity)

DOWNS
- It's a rail shooter (level design)
- There's no point in having civilians just sitting around, plus it's dumb
- Running out of ammo in boss fights forces you to suicide

< 7.0 >

torstai 11. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - Blade | GBC | 2000

GENRE(S): Action / Beat 'em up
RELEASED: November 14, 2000
AVAILABLE ON: GBC
DEVELOPER(S): HAL
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

Forgot about HIM, did you? Alongside The Punisher and Men in Black, Blade seems to be one of those characters you easily forget to have originated in Marvel Comics, thanks to the big differences between them and conventional superheroes, as well as the great success of the films in contrast to their cult status as comic book characters. Created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, Blade made his debut in Marvel's b-horror serial The Tomb of Dracula in the summer of 1973. He and Marvel's version of the Count himself became so popular that both went on to occasionally appear in both Spider-Man and X-Men. Blade got his short-lived solo serial, and a few one-offs in the 90's, but never really flourished as a worldwide comic book icon, which might have had something to do with his ethnic background - proven further by the fact that he was redesigned as a white man in the Spider-Man show. In 1998, New Line Cinema secured rights for a film starring Wesley Snipes as Blade, and with the film's release, Blade's popularity soared. A few Blade video games have since been released to promote the film trilogy. In 2000, two different games by the name of Blade were released, one for the PlayStation and one for the Game Boy Color. Although the games were labelled official movie merchandise, they had an original story unrelated to the first film, the only one out there at that time. The PlayStation game was mangled by critics, but the Game Boy Color version got decent reception. So, even while I just recently spotted a copy of the PlayStation game selling for much less than obscure PlayStation games usually do, I'll rather lift up my mood with this Game Boy Color... beat 'em up. I don't like where this is going - but I'll give it a shot.

He's coming for you, Edward

Some dancing troupe. Might
as well use 'em for target
practice.
Eric Brooks was born immediately after his mother succumbed to a vampire bite. Now known as Blade and both blessed and cursed with vampiric strengths, but none of the usual weaknesses, he is the very capable scourge of his "own people". Aided by his mentor and weaponsmith Abraham Whistler, Blade sets out to track down and kill everyone involved with a group of vampires calling themselves New Blood in one night.

My history with Blade is pretty much identical to my history with Daredevil; as was the case with the man without fear, I got to know Blade watching a Spider-Man episode co-starring the vampire hunter, but didn't really know the character before the movies came along - not very long after that, actually, I can't believe 16 years have passed since the first film. The films were quite loosely based on the comic book, to keep kids out of the theaters I suppose, 'cause they were quite brutal in both action and language, in comparison to most comic book flicks of the time. Nowadays it's standard to have an exceptionally raunchy comic book film, as every Frank Miller comic book seems to be systematically adapted to a movie or a full-length animated feature, but back then there was a strict line of what you could and couldn't do in a comic book adaptation. So perhaps the movies made Blade popular, but also his comic book origins even more obscure than they already were.

Why can't I move like that?
I wasn't too excited with the movies; my ex was a fan, and without her, I'd probably never watched them. I liked Trinity the best, for two notable reasons: Triple H, as I was a huge wrestling buff back then, and the amazing Jessica Biel in a few even more amazing outfits. Nowadays, while the Twilight series is eating its way into mankind's brain like a filthy worm, I have just as much respect for Blade as I do for anything vampire-related that came before Twilight. I'd rather watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the movie I mean, the show rocked!) or Dracula 2000 ten times in a row than watch one whole minute of that nauseating, horribly acted manure they call a vampire story. I wish they'd do a Blade/Twilight crossover which lasts for exactly one minute, where Blade nonchalantly chops that sparkly sumbitch's head off. End of story. In a post-credits scene, he hunts down that girly werewolf too. And the sequel has him driving a machete through Kristen Stewart's hollow skull, just for sport, just to complete the circle. Yeah, I'd like that - I'd like that very much. How about a Blade-themed beat 'em up, then? Well sure, why not? ...On a two-button Game Boy, you say? Uhhhhhh... well, OK... it's the work of professionals, so who knows, maybe it hits me as a carving off TMNT's back rather than one of the X-Men games I suffered through recently.

Well, the game does look and sound good, that much is certain even before it's properly started, so that crosses out the stamp of "cheap quickie". Hell, it's got better audiovisuals than the Spider-Man games released on the Game Boy Color, not to mention the X-Men games, and both of those franchises sure as hell had more commercial value than a quick piece of movie merchandise released two years after the first film, and two years before the second one. Don't expect any blood, though. It's dry as a bone. It's a Nintendo game, and aimed at kids rather than the target audience of the film trilogy.

"Blood simple"?
Blade isn't entirely a beat 'em up game. In fact, it's an extremely inconsistent action game. In one level, you're wearing your full attire and shooting vampires left, right, up and down with a machinegun; in the next stage, you're suddenly stripped to your tees in a side-scrolling beat 'em up setting with a few very mild adventure game elements, and when you reach the boss of the level, you're wearing your full attire again and wielding Blade's trademark sword for a do-or-die type of generic mashfest. There are no reasonable explanations for the constant, sudden changes to your arsenal and the gameplay type. Even simply crouching and jumping are possible in certain types of levels only! You can upgrade your stuff at Whistler's workshop, but not knowing what you'll actually be needing in the immediate future gets you down. On the other hand, the different gameplay styles obviously (yet theoretically) smooth out the experience, 'cause a beat 'em up on a Game Boy is always a beat 'em up on a Game Boy.

Cue one of the Game Boy's most usual problems with lousy collision detection (coupled with crappy range), and the simple case of having too few buttons for an entertaining beat 'em up. There are a couple of advanced moves, namely an uppercut and an air roundkick for personal space, and a limited number of uses for a powerful, secondary weapon which stuns all enemies in one direction, triggered by a vintage A + B combo. The swordfighting type has its own special moves, but they slow you down and leave you prone to enemy attacks just as much as they help you out. Whichever the game type, Blade is not the most comfortable game around... but as has been the case a few times now, it's playable enough, and most of all, simple.

UPS
+ Easily learned mild entertainment
+ Good graphics and sound

DOWNS
- No blood
- General inconsistency
- Shoddy collision detection
- Needs more buttons

< 6.9 >

tiistai 9. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - Silver Surfer | NES | 1990

GENRE(S): Shoot 'em up
RELEASED: November 1990
AVAILABLE ON: NES
DEVELOPER(S): Software Creations
PUBLISHER(S): Arcadia Systems

Silver Surfer, the intergalactic herald of destruction, was created by Jack Kirby and made his debut on the pages of The Fantastic Four in 1966, from where he spun off to a series of his own two years later. Silver Surfer never became super-popular, but a cult favourite among Marvel fans; he gained some mainstream fame upon his important, namesake role in the 2007 Fantastic Four film Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, in which he was portrayed by contortionist Doug Jones and voiced by Laurence Fishburne. Long before that, in 1990, someone figured they'd finance the production of a Silver Surfer video game; that someone being someone other than LJN (!). Silver Surfer was developed by Software Creations, who at least got something right every once in a while - their most popular game, Solstice, had been released earlier that year. Well, retro critics' reception to Silver Surfer is, as is well known, extremely negative; but I must say, now that I've finally psyched myself to do it, playing Silver Surfer on the NES isn't quite the horrible experience I imagined it to be... and it's definitely not even the worst NES game of the marathon. It's just very, very, very, very hard.

No quarter

You'll be seeing this a LOT.
Galactus sends the Silver Surfer on a deadly errand to collect the parts of a cosmic device to protect their realm from the invasion of the Magik Domain. These parts are placed in the hands of some of the nastiest of the galaxy: Reptyl, Mephisto, Possessor, Fire Lord and Dorrek VII, with a sixth, anonymous villain calling the shots.

So, Silver Surfer, we meet again. Last December, I took a little dip into the world of the Silver Surfer, literally so as I reviewed the horrible, just horrible DS game based on that Rise of the Silver Surfer film - which in itself was quite abysmal. This game has nothing to do with the Fantastic Four, this is strictly based on the Silver Surfer stand-alone serial, rehashed and rebooted from time to time as if to test worldwide reactions. The Silver Surfer has always been a critics' favourite and a cult favourite among fans, but honestly not the first character to come to my mind if I was making a Marvel game at any point of time, if I wanted to make some money with it. On the other hand, it might've been a stroke of passion for gaming, not money. Or it might've been just be a random idea to disguise a basic 2D shoot 'em up game. Or just simply a random game made for random reasons.

Whatever it is, it's existed for 24 years, and no-one knows why. The game is one of the many "lucky" ones to be chosen for AVGN's shitlist, and when a game makes that list, when James goes to the trouble of shooting a video for a game - can't imagine how long the most complex videos have taken from him to make - you know it's something special, in better or worse, usually worse. That's why they call him "Angry". I have reviewed many games after James; if I don't know a game that well, and he happens to have a video for it, I very often use that video for research. The problem's been that his thoughts on the game have provoked me to pick up the same mistakes a little easier than I probably would've if I'd went cold turkey. Well, in this case, I don't agree with James all that much. While I absolutely do concur that Silver Surfer is an extremely unfair game, I don't think it's totally unplayable. I've seen much worse Marvel games bearing the Seal of Quality.

There are at least 11 ways to die on this one
screen.
Before I go into the game itself, I might as well address one of the critics' more superficial annoyances with Silver Surfer - apparently it doesn't properly support the source material. OK, especially in the case of Batman I've often griped if he's used an excessive amount of projectile weapons (Batman: Return of the Joker) or killed people (many early games, but Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu on the Game Boy Advance comes to mind), and that's because I'm such a huge Batman fan. I'm not a fan of the Silver Surfer. If you're annoyed by this game at such a level, I feel for you, I truly do, it's a bummer, absolutely no sarcasm involved - but I'm not. He's silver(ish), he has that surfboard or whatever, and I recognize some of the villains from another context. Enough for me.

If there's something critics have praised about the game, it's the music, which is no wonder since brothers Follin are in the house. Tim, of course, is the more famous out of the duo, having composed many classic titles such as Bubble Bobble, Bionic Commando, Ghouls 'n Ghosts, and of course, Solstice (thequestforthestaffofdemnos!). Just to pull the rope back a bit here, I don't rightly get why such a limited quantity of tunes would need two composers. Either way, it sounds great; it's magnificently sequenced, high-impact groove. Somehow reminds me of David Wise - which originally led me to believe that this was another Rare/LJN contribution to the pile of Marvel trash.

Silver Surfer is a 2D shoot 'em up, as very basic as they come, overhauled with a distinct comic book theme. The first NES comparison to come to mind is Disney's TaleSpin, perhaps not the most flattering comparison, but the most honest one. It's got similar, sticky controls in a world that needs more, and the side-scrolling's automatic up 'til the boss. Classic shoot 'em ups such as R-Type and Gradius were probably used as templates, but I never had any complaints when it came to the controls. They were hard, sure. Silver Surfer is just way harder, and not for a whole lot of right reasons, as if there are many reasons to go around at all in such a game.

A rubber duck? What the...?
You let your kids play Silver Surfer, you're practically begging for them to learn the ins and outs, and all existing variations of the word "fuck". Not even a kid has patience for all the death stored in this innocent-looking cartridge. It isn't like Ghosts 'n Goblins, Battletoads, Ninja Gaiden or any of the hardest Mega Man games - it isn't as appealing or playable to begin with, not on any level. It's JUST a shoot 'em up and it's just as much of a push as it is a draw. More specifically, a shoot 'em up with sticky controls AND just one hit point to spare, which is less than in any of those games I mentioned (even Ghosts has two). Projectiles, as well as enemies themselves, are flying towards you from every direction. In the start of a new life, you have one-time access to a screen-clearing bomb for an emergency; as you will see, though, the levels are filled with these kind of emergencies. Your bullets - or whatever - can be upgraded in Castlevania style with power-ups gained from shooting up enemies, but the changes aren't that grand. Remember: one hit from anything, and it's over.

There's one checkpoint per stage, but there are no extra lives to be had, and using a password is considered cheating outside the box, as you need two controllers and a simple cheat code in order to use them. You can play the levels in any order you want, but none of them are any easier than the next. One more level is unlocked after you've beaten the first five, and as expected, that one's criminally insane. It's best you just stop trying early.

To turn the tide again on this same subject, how can you be mad at a simple 2D shoot 'em up? How can you claim to actually hate a simple shoot 'em up as a game? Sure, Silver Surfer could present some fashion of slack every once in a while, but we've seen some of the most thoroughly horrible games of all time during this marathon - ones that give you just as little mercy, but are impossible to enjoy from any standpoint. You won't get very far in Silver Surfer, but at least you're eager to try for the first 20 minutes if you got any nose for vintage arcade.

UPS
+ Good music
+ Simple enough

DOWNS
- Kind of a random theme
- Stock enemy designs that don't belong here
- Impossible difficulty
- Sticky controls

< 6.3 >

REVIEW - Spider-Man: Web of Shadows | DS | 2008

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure / Beat 'em up
RELEASED: October 21, 2008
AVAILABLE ON: DS
DEVELOPER(S): Griptonite Games
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

How do you know you're reaching the end? The last on the whopping list of Spider-Man games - for now, and I assure you, a long while from now - is called Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. Three totally different versions of the game were announced in the spring of 2008: one for the PC, PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360, one for the PlayStation 2 and PSP, and finally, one exclusive to the Nintendo DS. Although the storylines between the three versions were similar, the three versions differed greatly in gameplay and cast. While the console versions were deemed typical, boring and glitchy, yet not totally bashed by critics, it was surprisingly the DS version which got the most praises for its Metroidvania-influenced gameplay, cool 2.5D graphics and good physics. The praises didn't go to waste here - Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is the best Spidey game I've played in a very long time. No bullshit.

Goin' out with a bang... uh, swing

As if Venom by himself wasn't enough for Spider-Man to handle, New York City gets overrun by an army of symbiotes. Convinced that his arch rival is once again running with the wrong crowd, being too simple and straightforward for such a massive attack, Spider-Man sets out to search for Eddie Brock for answers. Meanwhile, Spider-Man's allies and foes alike are working towards stopping the alien invasion.

With about twenty Spidey games behind me, it's hard to believe anything fresh or positively surprising would come along, much less with the last title of one lengthy branch, and even less a DS game. Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is like a combination of the few good qualities of the DS games that came before it, spiced up with simple, but fluid and effective beat 'em up action set in the world of Metroidvania, with some decision-making with long-term effects involved. As it is, the game would not work on a major system - if this was a console game, I'd probably call it boring and repetitive. As a handheld game, it's just what the doctor ordered. Keep a charger at bay at all times, at the very least don't leave home without it.

Don't mind me, evil symbiotes. Just
swingin' by.
What might come as a bit of a surprise to you and me both, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows isn't that good-looking. Character animation is superb, but the cutscenes, comprised of slideshows, ain't much to look at, and most backgrounds are really dark - I'm surprised the developers didn't give us an option for gamma correction, the correct paths are sometimes really hard to spot - double that since you can't see where you're going on the touch screen map, just the room you're in is highlighted. Enemy design is somewhat boring; at first it seems you never know what to expect since even wild animals are taken over by the Venom symbiote, but after just a couple of levels, you'll realize you've seen at least 80% of the whole enemy cavalcade. The bosses are either stronger versions of those same enemies, or some other generic symbiote victims. It's safe to say that this game wasn't made for observation (like someone would watch you play a DS game anyway...).

The sound continues to impress. Though the music's not very memorable, a full voiceover track on a DS card is quite damn impressive, and it sounds impressive; voiceover stalwarts all over the place, guaranteeing a smooth delivery for a good and unique story which once again pits Spider-Man against my favourite villain - someone say one-dimensional? I think I must feed...

Games with the Spider-Man vs. Venom (as well as Spiderman w/ Venom) set-up have been made for ages and even I've missed a few even though I've reviewed a huge bulk of 'em, so in 2008, a synopsis so simple wouldn't be enough to build up to an exciting start for a game. Web of Shadows looks simple enough; everyone's been taken over by the Venom symbiote, and even though Spidey figures soon enough that even Eddie wouldn't be cruel or stupid enough to infect a whole city with the black plague, he's still on the run and it's up to Spider-Man to catch him and squeeze out some answers as to who's running the show. Characters from both sides of Spider-Man's web-slinging law are doing their parts in the liberation of New York, some to actually protect it and some to save the conquest of the city for themselves.

So the game really can't be explained any further; it's a side-scrolling beat 'em up platformer in the style of Metroidvania. Some exits are locked - or rather sealed by symbiote goo - until you beat up every enemy in the room. Beating bosses grants you hard upgrades, such as lifting strength for both your arms and web, so you can lift up heavy blockades, even from afar, to gain entry to a new area. Collectables such as maximum health upgrades are hidden around the levels. At save points, scattered along in classic Metroidvania fashion - and almost as illogically - you can purchase new moves for both of your suits. Yes, suits... to follow is a series of disappointments, which don't really hurt the game all that much, but through which we come to the realization how stripped the game is from the basic concept (well, the execution of the basic concept apparently sucked on the big boys, so who really cares...?).

Uh... this looks kinda kinky.
Well, first of all, the suits were made to be totally different from each other and the gameplay is supposed to feel completely different depending on which suit you're using, but it's not fundamentally different at all. There are some occasions you need to use the black suit's capabilities besides its higher strength attributes in order to make progress, but in general, you'll be just fine either way. Decision-making is narrowed down to one single instance, and there are no different endings, at its worst it's like an ad for the console game - which, again, flopped, and it was this game that garnered in the critics' favour. Gotta remind you of that every once in a while so you wouldn't misunderstand me here. Finally, the game is very short... which, however, might be just right for this sort of simplicity. Back to the ups again.

The most notable praises are once again aimed at the minimal use of that damn touch screen. You use the touch screen to zoom the map in and out, and after each death to "kickstart" Spidey in a similar fashion as you resurrected your character in Iron Man 2, by directing health orbs floating around the screen towards his nearly lifeless torso. If you succeed, he respawns immediately. To keep the game from becoming too easy, you only have two shots in one combat scene; if you die again in the same spot, you're taken all the way back to the last save point. My verdict on this system? I think it's fair, a good compromise. Well done.

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows has a lot of flaws, but most of them are of the minor variety that aren't there to remind you of their existence at all times, they just pop up from time to time to keep you from thinking that you're playing a perfect game of its kind. Good tempo, the Metroidvania schtick and trying out new moves are things that keep you addicted even if beating up the same blue bastards screen after screen got boring. The game might not be all that special in principle, as I'm disappointed at how it fails to live up to some of the most important expectations brought on by its big brother's ambitious concept, but I'll say it this one last time: what's a good concept worth without good execution? This game certainly has that, and that's the important thing. I'm glad to bid farewell to Spidey with such a quality game.

UPS
+ Minimal use of the touch screen; I really hate that gadget, as you might've figured out
+ Something about Metroidvania that always gets me
+ Increasingly complex, but good controls
+ Tasty upgrades

DOWNS
- Short (to the point, though)
- Lack of different endings and real decision-making
- No truly fundamental differences between the two suits as far as I'm concerned
- Dark backgrounds, bland enemy design

< 8.0 >

sunnuntai 7. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - Spider-Man: Friend or Foe | DS | 2007

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: October 2, 2007
AVAILABLE ON: DS, PSP
DEVELOPER(S): A2M
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

In 2007, Activision deployed three different studios to work on three different versions of a weird idea they had for a new Spider-Man game. While the audience was moderately fresh off Sam Raimi's film trilogy, someone had the idea of placing all of the villains from the films into the same game, a stand-alone story set after the films - which ultimately turned out not to make any sense at all - and have Spider-Man form an uneasy alliance with all of them to bring down one more, MYSTERIOUS supervillain (hmm). The game was a critical bomb; despite some random praises for certain audiovisual values and the unique story's value for the Marvel fan, the game was slaughtered, each and every version of it. The Nintendo DS version has so much going for it - and then it just pisses on itself from several different angles, coldly nulling every decent bit.

Spider-Man & F(r)iends

Green Goblin, Sandman, Venom and Doctor Octopus, plus a few more of Spider-Man's worst enemies go missing and turn up having their minds controlled by a new, anonymous supervillain. If there's one thing a supervillain hates more than a superhero, it's someone else in control of their actions, so as Spider-Man frees his foes one by one, they join Spider-Man in getting to the bottom of this insane plot.

A walk in the park.
The game is described as a "love letter" of sorts, to the fans of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy, and it's classified as "official movie merchandise". Well, the truth is, the opening cutscene spills the beans: it has NOTHING to do with the films. Green Goblin, Venom, Doc Ock and the New Goblin all died, Sandman redeemed himself, and the rest of the comic book characters and villains who make an appearance in the game never had a passing reference to their credit in the movies. Yeah, sure, some scenes are influenced by the films, but if it's a movie tie-in you're looking for, you're in the wrong place. If it's a good Spider-Man game you're looking for, you're still in the wrong place.

Casting the thought of the game's non-existent bond to the films completely aside, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe starts as if it was one of the greatest Spider-Man games ever made. It looks like a magnificent ensemble game, there are so many characters and this is the first game in a long time besides a standard one-on-one fighting game in which constantly playing as villains actually makes some sense in its own insane way, and where it's cool. The touch screen is almost completely useless during standard gameplay, and I definitely see that as a good thing; it's where you start using the touch screen to "solve puzzles" where the game ultimately squirts a tense shower of urine on your face. Just when I was thinking the graphics were this game's stinkiest part.

At first, even the graphics look awesome. The smooth CGI cutscenes with a full voice track are magnificent accomplishments on the DS, and the game's in full 3D. Well, the CGI cutscenes soon change into much more cartoony stills, it feels like we're suddenly pulled into a whole different game. The colour palette during gameplay is extremely grey - definitely not what you'd expect from a comic book license. In certain levels, the touch screen becomes your primary gameplay screen, while the other screen shows your progress from a different angle. It's a mess, I had to use up one screenshot space for a very early shot to show you what sort of mess, exactly. OK, it's usually quite helpful to see beyond your standard scope, but I could've lived without actually seeing Spider-Man swinging from nowhere. It's bothered me in just about every game, how Spider-Man slings his web to nothingness, but here's it's even more bothersome since you actually SEE that he's swinging from thin air. It's ugly, and distracting.

The controls in general are good. Spider-Man, and whoever he has with him - you can switch characters at any time in the good old Donkey Kong Country fashion - move very fluidly, work great in combat and have a few special attacks in store to keep things as exciting as they can. You can buy more moves for Spider-Man from the "Web Store" in exchange for Spider Tokens scattered along just about everywhere, as well as characters for a free roam mode, and a couple of extra modes. Personally, I don't think you can bear the game that far.

What a mess.
The game is extremely easy, and turns extremely boring and repetitive in a matter of minutes, no matter how diverse the idea itself might be. It's a good idea with shit execution, to put it blunt and exact. Point A to point B, back to point A, back to point B, then on to point C, rescue a couple of folks, beat up some guys, beat up some more guys, beat up a boss, recruit the boss, start the circle anew with just the right amount of variables to realize you're making progress. If the neverending - or well, lengthy as fuck - cycle doesn't turn you off, then you can be sure that your companions' puzzles will. An early example is the _mandatory_ lockpicking system only Black Cat can use. If you hated the lockpicking in an otherwise great game like Oblivion was at one time, check this out. You have only a few seconds to open a lock with ever-increasing amounts of tumblers on the touch screen. The tumblers are supposed to shake and make a noise when you hit the sweet spot, but they do that very randomly. When your precious seconds are up, you have to start all over again. Even trial and error doesn't help here, as the sweet spots are randomized. Probably to give you time to pick up the stylus, the tutorial for the puzzle shows up on EVERY SINGLE retry. It sheds the final light on how poorly designed this game is behind its great concept and fluid controls, and keep in mind, this is only the second level in the game! You still have a long way to go and a lot of dog shit to shovel up. Or you could take the easy way out and just leave this game be - there are a whole lot better games on this subject out there.

Yet, this game could've served as a good template for another one if it wasn't bombed so bad. It has good ideas, really, and a good gameplay feel for a brief while - but like I said, when it comes to execution and delivery, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is a piece of crap, there's no nice way to put it. Behind the veil of a strong start is a useless game, it's got no place. It has nothing to do with what it was supposed to promote, and even less with the already faintly consistent arc that Activision had going on with the Spider-Man games at the time.

UPS
+ Smooth controls
+ Good concept

DOWNS
- The touch screen "puzzles" ruin everything decent about the game
- The graphics are a mess
- Boring gameplay

< 5.0 >