perjantai 29. maaliskuuta 2013

REVIEW - The Amazing Spider-Man | PC | 1990

GENRE(S): Action / Puzzle
AVAILABLE ON: Amiga, Atari ST, C64, PC
DEVELOPER(S): Oxford Digital Enterprises, Paragon Software (PC)
PUBLISHER(S): Paragon Software

Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962, Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man is definitely the most widely known and consistently popular Marvel superhero there ever was. Marvel's very own Batman has starred in an unparalleled amount of 11 animated shows, one live-action TV show preceded by a TV movie, and four big-budget films in the last 11 years, with a fifth one on the way, and finally, nearly 40 video games, counting out guest appearances in just about every Marvel all-star game there ever was. The first one was released on the Atari 2600 in 1982 - and it was also the first video game based on Marvel Comics. The second one was the middle chapter of the Questprobe text adventure trilogy, released on home computers in 1984. The third one was a Marvel crossover entitled The Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America in Dr. Doom's Revenge!, released on home computers in 1989. Then came this next game's turn. There's a whopping total of 17 Spider-Man games for me to review - at this time, anyway; we'll see if the number goes up - so, without further due, let's get started. Here's a DOS-operated ball of dust by the name of The Amazing Spider-Man.

Tingling the senses

Mary Jane's been kidnapped by Mysterio and taken to an abandoned movie studio. Spider-Man has to take on various movie icons and some increasingly random obstacles to get to his loved one.

Ah, Spider-Man. Spider-Man, Spider-Man... friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man... now I'm getting carried away. There was a time I sincerely thought you could put this guy's likeness in anything and I would've loved it. When my interest in Batman waned a little in the mid-90's, not least thanks to a couple of rotten sequels to Tim Burton's fine pair of movies, it was Spider-Man who was there to sling his web at me and pick up the pieces with the strength of one awesome animated series and a bunch of books my stepfather bought me from a local antiquarian. One of those books was The Amazing Spider-Man, issue #299 from 1988, which is historical for introducing the world to one of the most sinister, persistent supervillains ever created, a bad motherfucker known as Venom. To me, Spider-Man and Venom were the Batman and Joker of the Marvel universe, but they didn't even have to be enemies to impress me. I dug the few concepts where they actually formed an uneasy alliance to take something even more sinister down - like Carnage. They made a game out of this in 1994, mind you - and it's on the list. Can't wait for that one.

It's always about the damsel.
Well, actually I do remember this game. When I was in the first grade, one of my best friends - I have no idea what happened to that guy - had one impressive collection of Commodore 64 games. No, I couldn't find him on Facebook, which means he's probably dead. His dad was a nerd who worked at a computer maintenance store, if my memory serves me right, so some of them might've been his games for all I know. Anyway, that's when I first caught a glimpse of this game - more than a decade passed before I played another Spider-Man game. Did it scare me off or something? Probably, but I can't be sure before I try it.

Speaking of actualities, actually The Amazing Spider-Man is a surprisingly decent, innovative game for an old DOS title. It has many severe flaws, but in all seriousness, I was perfectly ready to have seen all there is to see in just a matter of minutes. I got stuck on the game for hours - and felt the consequences in my bones, literally, 'cause the controls are just off-the-charts awful. But, just seeing what they were at least trying to accomplish, at that day and age... it's pretty impressive, seriously. Besides, The Amazing Spider-Man isn't a beat 'em up or a platformer, it's essentially a puzzle game that kind of resembles Solomon's Key on the surface, but doesn't really have any strict point of comparison. That's something, am I right?

As Spider-Man, you are to make it through puzzle rooms with switches all around the walls, and push these switches in the correct order to open up a path and advance to the next room. Usually, there's an enemy or a few of them in your way, who you can temporarily incapacitate with a web shot - you can't kill any of them, at least not by any direct means, and you have no other attacks. Spider-Man can climb any horizontal or vertical surface, and the hallways in the game are extremely narrow, so you can just imagine that guiding him through them is like trying to control a basketball gone rogue. He likes to get stuck in an all-fours position which prevents him from shooting webs, all of the time. For such a stubborn fellow himself, he's merciless when it comes to presses of the wrong directional button while climbing - every time you climb around a corner, say, one which goes left, up and right, you have to press both up and right at the exact right time, or Spidey goes crashing down like a retard. And I mean it - his movement really looks retarded altogether.

R2-D2 has something against me.
Like I said, though - The Amazing Spider-Man is different, and it is a more entertaining game than 90% of licensed DOS games of its time. And, it looks awesome. The intro in its very authentic comic book-style is a pleasure to see through, and it's a hoot - ridiculous, yet fun - to spot familiar movie "stars" such as R2-D2 and a guy who looks very much like RoboCop for enemies from the beginning of the game. It also sports a "save system" quite rare in an arcade-style DOS game; make no mistake about it, you'll have to beat this in one sitting, but there are a few save rooms which check your progress over the course of that one session, preventing you from having to start the whole thing all over again once you die. You will die, with these controls - as easy as the game might strike you at first. It ain't a very long game, as you will see if you get stuck with it like I did.

The Amazing Spider-Man is a fairly good game, seriously - colour me positively surprised - but, a pretty big deal of my sudden warmth towards it is because games of its generation and platform haven't made much of an impression on me during my adult years. Especially licensed games. Ironically, I hated this one as a kid - too difficult to play and understand, I presume. It's still difficult to play, but for other reasons - worse reasons.

+ Unique gameplay
+ The graphics are quite all right in general, and the intro sequence looks awesome

- Simple, yet shitty controls
- Just one song plays throughout the whole thing, from the title screen to the end

< 6.9 >

maanantai 25. maaliskuuta 2013

REVIEW - The Incredible Hulk | GBA | 2003

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: May 27, 2003
DEVELOPER(S): Pocket Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Universal Interactive, Vivendi Universal Games

Ang Lee's film adaptation of Hulk's origin was released in the summer of 2003 to decent reviews. About a month prior, a video game tie-in had been released to much worse response on the PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox and PC. However, it was the game based on the movie that made some sort of mark upon landing - while a Game Boy Advance exclusive called The Incredible Hulk, released around the same time, was completely forgotten. As the Grumpy Cat would put it: "GOOD."

It's big, green and mean - it's Major Mucus

Dr. Bruce Banner is at a desert facility overseeing the test detonation of his latest invention, a gamma bomb. An outsider somehow gets through to the test area, and Banner rushes in to rescue him before the bomb detonates. Further casualties are avoided, but the good doctor himself mutates into a raging monster with the primitive urge to destroy.

Let's get straight to business. The Incredible Hulk is an isometric action game. Surprised? Raise your hands. One, one and a half... none. OK, good. I've played many licensed games of this sort on the Game Boy Advance, so the only question once again remains if it's any good like 007: Everything or Nothing and even Fantastic 4 to some extent, or if it falls into the same category of a dumb, repetitive, glitchy, useless capitalistic fuckfest as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Star Wars: Jedi Power Battles, and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Since I went to such lengths to come up with examples from the later category, there should be no questions left.

Oooohhh yeahhh, a SUPER SMASH! ...Not
so impressive when it's the third one in
ten seconds.
The Incredible Hulk starts off with some promise. It's based on the old comic books rather than the movie, and the opening cutscenes capture what I perceive as the true spirit of Hulk - like I said before, I'm not a fan. Then the game begins. It looks dull, it feels even duller. You'll learn Hulk's whole damn moveset in ten seconds. You're supposed to make your way through 33 long, confusing, repetitive maps and demolish everything in sight - that's the good part! - and punch the living shit out of enemy soldiers that respawn and multiply by whole tens by the second. I've played boring games, you'd think I'm used to this sort of pointless drivel. Yeah, kinda. But then the game goes on to show exactly how cheap it is.

Programming errors, all over the place. It's like there are two screens - one's the real one, one's the screen you're staring at. You might be able to smash a generator to bits from several in-game meters away, but punch all you want when you're actually AT the generator, and you won't make a dent on it. Enemies pop up from out of the purest blue, it's like they're silently teleporting in from Dimension X. They might even suddenly appear in groups of ten, with a few gun turrets to boot, and not only does this spell doom for you if you don't have any area attacks left, it summons a GIANT lag which will make the situation outright impossible to survive. Although it's generally quite hard to die in this game, in these situations it's extremely easy. And probable. And once you do die, it's back to the beginning of the level. Not fun.

I'll leave out any extensive trash talk about soda cans and hamburgers for power-ups, 'cause I just want this short relationship with the game to end right now. Stay away from this plague-ridden piece of snot that time fortunately forgot.

+ It looks the part, for a while
+ You can break and/or use just about everything in sight - if you can hit it, that is

- Hamburgers? Onion rings? Soda? Really?
- Severe errors in programming
- Way too long, confusing and repetitive

< 3.5 >

REVIEW - The Incredible Hulk | SNES | 1994

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: August 1994
DEVELOPER(S): Probe Software

Since his conception in 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Incredible Hulk - or just Hulk - has become one of Marvel's most instantly recognizable and unique characters. He was never really a superhero, more of an uncontrollable bioweapon, an animal, that channeled most of his rage towards the people he found threatening, who just happened to be the bad guys. Hulk's legacy has remained strong thanks to an extremely successful 70's live-action TV show, which was followed by a total of four TV movies, three namesake cartoons - one of which will premiere this summer - a couple of animated movies, not one but two blockbuster films released in the last ten years, and finally, the character's appearance in the highly successful Avengers movie. Despite Hulk's success and his great potential in the video game scene, there haven't been too many games under the Hulk brand. And, even the most known game in the small bunch isn't that awesome - here it is: The Incredible Hulk.

Now I'm angry

The very sensitive and withdrawn Dr. Bruce Banner has developed a very awkward condition resulting from exposure to a gamma blast. Whenever he feels his life is in danger, or whenever he gets overwhelmed by strong emotions such as sorrow or anger, he transforms into a monstrous superhuman being bent for destruction, known as the Incredible Hulk. His arch nemesis, Dr. Samuel Sterns, a.k.a. The Leader, has assembled a group of supervillains consisting of Abomination, Absorbing Man, Rhino and Tyrannus, to get rid of the Hulk once and for all. Time to get angry; HULK SMASH!

You were saying...?
When it comes to Hulk and him exclusively, I have a confession to make. I've never read one Hulk comic book, and watched both of the most recent movies with just one eye open. I never watched one episode of the show which made Hulk popular, 'cause, well, it was dated beyond belief when I was born, as far as make-up effects went. I actually watched the 80's movie (the third one?) with Kingpin and Daredevil in it back in the day for reference when I wrote a review of Affleck's Daredevil for a school assignment, and I laughed my balls off, that's my most essential memory of the whole thing. My knowledge of Hulk is pretty much limited to his guest appearances, memes, and last but not least, the classic spoof of the TV show in an old issue of MAD Magazine. Well, that's quite enough, ain't it...? It's not like Hulk's the most multi-layered character in the Marvel universe. I think most of his popularity stems from the desire for destruction within every human being. Some people never get their fill.

In theory, Hulk is excellent video game fodder due to his primal instinct for violence and destruction, but as stated, there haven't been that many games with Hulk in a starring role. Actually, though, the second Marvel game ever made starred Hulk - the first part of the Questprobe "trilogy" I chose not to review due to the fact that they're text adventures (I believe I've had just as enough of those as you have), released in 1984. This one came ten years later, in the huge tidal wave of Marvel games, and I believe this game was one of the more popular ones. I remember seeing actual ads for it, and not for any other Marvel game which came out around the same time, which already counts for something. A "friend" of mine actually had this on his Mega Drive (Genesis) system, but I don't remember seeing him playing it. Cool cover art featuring a familiar character sticks on you. As always, this cool cover art told jackshit about the game itself, or its quality. As far as the concept goes, it's pretty much what I expected, but I also thought it would be a little more entertaining as an actual gameplay experience. It's not totally bad, though.

Elevators which move by their own terms make
me angry.
I actually had two versions of this game lined up, the Sega Genesis version and the SNES version, but they're basically identical, so I chose the one that plays out better: the latter, hands down. However, the Sega version ironically looks better. Seems like this was a cheap port of a Sega game, not the other way around, which is made all the more ironic by the fact that the SNES version was actually released a while before the Sega version. What's ironic in my mind is that the Sega version actually garnered in some praise back in the day, to the point of being ranked one of the best Genesis games ever, while the SNES version's been bashed and like I said, I sincerely think the SNES version plays out a lot better. Not great, but definitely better than the so-called superior version of the game. Gone cross-eyed enough? Good. Let's just end this by saying that at least the Hulk sprite looks good, and the music is just plain horrible. No techno shit this time around, but the world's most generic and repetitive funk which plays all the way through the LONG levels, and only stops when the boss theme hits - which really is usually about 20 minutes into the level.

Well, at least there's some innovative level design to be enjoyed here - which was a shock to me after so many generic games on that front, even much more recent ones. Even these are just random ideas, though - like invisible platforms which become visible only when you're close enough, and rotating 3D platforms which  are all about good timing, switches which manipulate the environment etc. - there's nothing notable that would make you view the entirety of the game as any more or less a repetitive beat 'em up. Perhaps the levels are simply that long, and there are a lot of drones to smash up. And the same damn sub-boss in every damn level, using the same damn tricks and falling to YOUR same damn tricks every time.

Throwing rocks is cool. Watching them bounce
like rubber balls afterwards isn't.
Dropping below a certain health level reverts you back to the very thin guise of Bruce Banner, and once this happens in a boss fight, you can pretty much kiss your ass goodbye. You can use a gun, but you have only two desperate shots to fire at the boss before you're outright helpless against him, and the hectic movement and endurance of these bosses make it impossible for you to defeat them without your green peacemaker of a special friend. You can also transform into Bruce by your own will with the help of some Valium - well, that's what I interpret those capsules as - and as absurd as that sounds, the puny doctor can crawl through airducts and other narrow paths to some further power-ups, which are rarely found just lying around. One bullet eaten as Bruce, and it's back to the comfortable habits of the big ugly.

The game can be fun for quite a while, but the usual flaws rear head sooner or later. The totally unnecessary length of the levels comes later, the bad controls come sooner. Precision control is as satisfying as backhand masturbation, and collision detection is random at best. Luckily there are a lot of power-ups to cover up for the physical errors, if you have enough energy and time to search for them - like I said, they don't just pop up. The controls, forced exploration and the sheer length of the levels bring on a lot of the unwanted type of challenge...

Shock treatment from all sides. Fair.
...As do the time limit and the no-continue policy. OK, when I finally made it to the third level of the game after many tries, I was beginning to forgive the game for having no continues, 'cause if you're enough of a power-up scout and quick to learn the ways of the more challenging enemies such as the recurring sub-boss, you won't have that much real trouble, and there are even a few extra lives to be had with lesser effort than usual, to make things a lot smoother. The time limit can be a real bitch sometimes. There's this one boss who takes a million hits to go down, and you have a chance to throw one single punch at a time, with five-second intervals. Although this is pretty much the only way you can defeat this particular boss, unscathed at that, the time limit wasn't made to give a shit. All in all, the game's not that difficult. It's just simple and boring, much more so than you would first imagine, especially after hearing about that transformation stunt you can pull from time to time.

This game might make one angry and frustrated, but it's still one of the more playable games this far along the Marvelthon. I'm willing to bet some less advertised 16-bit games of the mentioned wave will give me a little more to chew on, especially since I was never that much into Hulk, but all in all, this was a decent experience which expanded my knowledge on the green subject at hand a little. I'm pretty eager to see what another game of the same title, but released almost a decade later, brings to the table.

+ Having both sides of Bruce/Hulk in action was a fresh idea in its time; too bad Bruce is useless in combat
+ The ideas for level design aren't exactly new, but at least they bring colour to what is usually expected from these types of games
+ Destruction is always fun, and that's what Hulk does best

- Awful, generic, repetitive music
- Simple, but heavy controls, and lackluster collision detection
- The levels stretch 'til eternity and back
- Power-ups are extremely rare to be simply stumbled upon
- Although you might learn to live without 'em, continues wouldn't hurt

< 6.5 >

sunnuntai 24. maaliskuuta 2013

REVIEW - Fantastic 4: Flame On | GBA | 2005

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: November 8, 2005
DEVELOPER(S): Torus Games
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

The Human Torch first appeared in the very first issue of Marvel Comics magazine, published in late 1939. He was one of Marvel Comics' - then known as Timely Publications - three signature characters alongside Captain America and Namor the Sub-Mariner. The Human Torch's popularity had waned by the 50's just as the popularity of his peers. In 1961, a whole different version of the Human Torch appeared - Johnny Storm. A while after making his official big-screen debut in 2005 and starring as one of the four playable characters in the promotional video game, my favourite member of the Fantastic Four got a game of his very own. Since Johnny's my favourite, I wouldn't want to ask why, but I find myself forced to do so.

The flame of capitalism

Seemingly not deterred by the changes in his own body - Sue and Ben are hardly mentioned - Reed is startled to find that Johnny's contracted a mutation during a failed space flight. He is now the Human Torch, capable of setting himself on fire and manipulating the element at will. His powers will surely come handy when the planet's being taken over by Skrulls.

You want some fries with that?
First of all, why name this game "Fantastic 4" when there's only one playable character? Why put the Fantastic Four on the cover when only Johnny and Reed make notable appearances in the whole game? Why milk the same cow twice the same year, especially since neither the movie or the video game tie-in fared too well as far as critical response is concerned? Why? Why? Why? This is one of those games - lots of questions, no answers. Capitalistic absurdity at its finest.

I guess the game looks nice as long as you don't pay attention to the small detail of every level looking exactly the same - well, perhaps with the exception of the snowboarding level ripped straight off Ski or Die... what? It's perfectly natural for a Marvel action game, ain't it? The music and sound effects are horrible, and they're pretty much ripped straight off the previous Fantastic 4 game. Only the music's even worse by a few degrees - awful techno crap.

Wait a minute. I've seen this before.
In this platformer instead of a beat 'em up, you play as Johnny Storm, a.k.a. The Human Torch, and your mission is to bear through God knows how many repetitive, straightforward levels with a lot of nurses to save, a lot of Skrulls to dispose of, and a few bosses to grill... who are also Skrulls, by the way. This is one of the most repetitive games I've played in a while, if the aforementioned snowboarding level doesn't count. Johnny has quite a few cool flame-based moves in his arsenal and the control scheme is almost as clever as it was before, only we're dealing with an even more boring game, and one in which it's a little too easy to die - since in a cold environment you can't be sure what hurts you, at what volume, and for how long.

Fantastic 4: Flame On doesn't require any fancy explanations, and it doesn't even deserve them. It's a cheap punch at the few stubborn fans of the movie, who were stubborn enough to be interested in another game released on its tail five months after the first one. Which, in all of its dull entirety, was a notably more entertaining and unique game.

+ Even developers of better games could've taken some notes of how to properly utilize the Game Boy Advance's limited controls from the Fantastic 4 series

- More like Fantastic 1, and the presentation's weird anyway
- Repetitive as hell, from level to enemy design
- Too many invisible environmental hazards to go with the largest hordes of Skrulls
- Absolutely revolting music and sound effects

< 4.8 >

REVIEW - Fantastic 4 | GBA | 2005

GENRE(S): Action / Beat 'em up
RELEASED: June 27, 2005
DEVELOPER(S): 7 Studios, Torus Games (GBA), Beenox Shift (PC)
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

The Fantastic Four - Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm - were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961, and these astronauts turned superheroes went on to become some of Marvel's most known stalwart heroes for decades to come. However, they lacked the push of many of their peers. Apart from a few short-lived cartoons, the Fantastic Four never had much extra to back it up; there was never a live-action TV show made out of it, and plans for a live-action movie fell through in 1994 - some bootleg copies of this somewhat of a cult flick are in circulation, though. Well, in 2005, the producer of the aforementioned movie, Bernd Eichinger, went on to produce another Fantastic Four movie for 20th Century Fox. Some days before the premiere of this highly anticipated live-action reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise, a few games loosely based on the movie were released as early promotion. After the movie was out, people found themselves struggling to decide which they hated more - the movie or the games. That bad, huh? Let's see how the Game Boy Advance version fares.

Not fantastic, but almost bearable

Four astronauts and their financier return from a space flight severely changed. Due to exposure to cosmic rays, Reed Richards' body becomes completely elastic, Susan Storm can become invisible and create kinetic shields by will, her brother Johnny is able to fly and engulf his whole body in flames, and finally, Ben Grimm turns into a hulking rock monster with superhuman strength. Using their newfound powers for good, they are given the nickname "Fantastic Four". Meanwhile, the fifth passenger, Victor von Doom, is silently witnessing his life and career crumbling down due to the failed flight, and upon discovering his slow transformation into organic metal and the ability to control electricity, he decides to have his revenge on the people's pet foursome.

The dialogue ain't for the serious.
My first Marvel comic book, and one of the most fabled treasures of my very early childhood was an Avengers/Fantastic Four split album I can't find anywhere on the net. My greatest heroes were The Vision and Human Torch, a.k.a. Johnny Storm. This was before I had even heard of Batman, that early. The dark, gritty direction Batman books had taken back then really wasn't for kids, and my parents took notice of that and bought me Marvel books instead. After I became a fan of the Batman TV show - which never aired in Finland before the late 80's - there was very little they could do to stop me from laying my hands on everything relating to the Dark Knight. Luckily I couldn't understand nearly everything that was really going on in those books, and even still, I forgot all about how great Marvel Comics were, up 'til the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons arrived to enlighten me. Fantastic Four, I forgot all about them. Never watched the 90's cartoon, I'm not even sure if it ever aired in these parts. (Yep, but as late as 1998. Thanks, iMDb.)

When the Fantastic Four movie was announced, at first I was kind of intrigued, but that passed quickly. I didn't believe the movie would have any potential to rekindle my relationship with the Fantastic Four, 'cause it looked fucking ridiculous. Not only did Michael Chiklis look ridiculous in that Thing make-up - it was Michael Chiklis. Perhaps you grew up with Michael Chiklis as Vic Mackey in The Shield, I grew up with Michael Chiklis as Tony Scali in The Commish. I didn't exactly expect clobberin' time.

Clobberin' time! (Don't ask me what the
fuck's wrong with the camera.)
Well, I was wrong. Although, as expected, it didn't reignite any spark between me and the franchise like the best superhero flicks do, Fantastic Four turned out quite all right in my opinion. OK, next to Sam Raimi's vision of Spider-Man, it was bad. Come to think of it, even Daredevil was better. That's some heavy criticism right there, but as thoroughly unremarkable and borderline laughable as the movie was, it still managed to satisfy an old fan as a hangover flick, with my ex-fiancée on my side to "entertain" me through the dullest parts, and a huge pizza with a tall, ice-cold glass of coke for me to consume on the living room table. In that sense, it fared better than Hulk - the one with Eric Bana, not the Edward Norton movie which I found pretty good. I outright hated the sequel, which ironically got better reviews than the first one. If my memory serves me right, we couldn't even watch it to the end. It was so horrible. Many good movies have spawned bad games. Many bad movies have spawned even worse games. Here we have a movie that is neither entirely good or entirely bad, and it's about one of Marvel's milestone groups, who make their first video game appearance since 1997's ill-fated PlayStation game simply entitled Fantastic Four, and their third one overall. The plot thickens. What we have here is a mildly entertaining beat 'em up, with some good ideas followed by varying quality in execution. An isometric one - of course it is.

I've seen so many games of its artificial kind on the Game Boy Advance that it's hard for me to determine how nice it looks. Well, if we take two extremes - Terminator 3 (the ugly one) and 007: Everything or Nothing (the pretty one) - I'd say Fantastic 4 is closer to the latter. The level design might be bland, but character animation is superb, and well, at the very least it's one of the few games that doesn't have stills from the movie for cutscenes - I despise those. The game is based on the movie very loosely, anyway. Almost everything in the movie does take place in the game, there's just plenty more for gameplay's sake - like bosses ranging from Annihilus to Moleman, who make this game a curious trip for any Marvel fan to take, regardless whether they liked the movie or not. The sound's quite horrid. There are some good parts to some tunes, but basically, they all sound the same. The voice samples are produced pretty good, and what's most important, they're brief and rare enough.

And this is why they call me Mr. Faaaaaaan-
A standard level in the game features two of the Fantastic Four as a team. Reed is able to hack terminals, he has a long reach in both field and combat, and he can also use his rubber body to work his way around obstacles. Susan can shield herself and anyone behind her from projectiles with a force field, and turn herself invisible to avoid camera detection. Johnny can do just about everything with fire, from melee to ranged attacks, which makes him the best combatant in the game... or if you're more into contact and strength than fiery projectiles, you're definitely more into Ben, who can break just about anything with his fists and tear down whole balconies to prevent ranged attacks from vantage points. At a story breakpoint or a boss fight all members come together, and can perform a "Fantastic 4" special attack at the cost of all of their "mana". The group gains more special abilities as you go, and the control scheme is not only diverse, but surprisingly clever...

...But, the game is extremely dull. Every good idea there is besides the very basic beat 'em up is somewhat incomplete and unnecessary, like the hacking "puzzles" which are not really puzzles at all; finding a match to a figure with no time limit and plenty of tries from a short list is like a puzzle for a two-year old. The scripted special actions for each member turn up less often the further you get in the game, and it seems they're thrown in just to make the game look good and neat, and perhaps to divert attention from the fact that the levels are long, confusing, and copy-pasted to eternity. And another thing...

Back in your hole!
...The game is extremely easy, as well. No, scratch that - it's not easy. It's EFFORTLESS. Survival is almost automatic. Like in the scene on the bridge, where police choppers are firing missiles at Ben, and you're supposed to use Sue and fend off the missiles with a kinetic shield. Well, first of all, I had no idea what to do. The chopper turned up, fired a few missiles, but nothing was happening. I couldn't control anyone. Well, I still had Ben as the active character and he couldn't move - I was kind of pissed that the game didn't switch the character automatically once the scene started. Anyway, he ate a few of them missiles, and he was still perfectly fine after three to four shots as I was still trying to figure out what to do. At this point, I realized that this wasn't going to be a hard game. Just hard to bear. Even this level alone lasted for ten minutes, and there's nothing more to it than the few waves of missiles and a few waves of thugs on a loop until the game decides you've done great. Oh yeah, and by Stage 5, I hadn't lost one life during the whole game. Why? Because every time you're about to die or run out of mana, the game pretty much showers you with power-ups. Yeah, it's nice to have an easy time for a change, but the line's gotta be drawn somewhere.

The bottom line, though, is that people are being way too hard on this game. It's dull, bland and way too easy, there's no doubt about any of those things, but at least it's playable, unlike many similar Game Boy Advance titles I've played and outright hated. Clever and responsive controls, that's a good start for any game.

+ Fantastic character animation
+ Good controls in a clever scheme with a large moveset
+ An interesting supporting cast

- Difficulty level: effortless
- Every good idea beyond a standard beat 'em up is a waste
- The levels are long and dull, and there's not a map or waypoint system of any sort
- The camera acts very weird

< 6.7 >

REVIEW - Captain America and The Avengers | SNES | 1993

GENRE(S): Beat 'em up / Shoot 'em up
DEVELOPER(S): Data East, Opera House (GEN), Realtime Associates (GG), Mindscape (SNES)
PUBLISHER(S): Mindscape, Data East (GEN)

Quarters turned into millions whenever there was an arcade game dedicated to punching and kicking. Before the emergence of dozens of one-on-one fighting games, starting with Street Fighter II, there was the side-scrolling beat 'em up, somewhat pioneered by Double Dragon as early as 1987, or if you really want to dig deep, Kung-Fu Master (later ported to the NES as the classic Kung Fu) in 1984. Even comic book heroes often excelled in this genre - the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a few classic beat 'em ups to their credit, and Nintendo's versions of Batman Returns fared quite well. In 1991, Data East made a fairly popular arcade game starring Marvel's supergroup The Avengers - one version of it, anyway. An NES game of the same title was made the same year, but it was a generic platformer. In 1993, a 16-bit port of the arcade game was made, along with a couple of stripped handheld versions. Now this game has the potential to be good and memorable, unlike its pseudo-counterpart on the NES. But it isn't. As a matter of fact, it might be even worse. By far, the only positive side to it is that you don't even have to see Captain America in the whole game beyond the title screen.

Avengers' darkest hour

Captain America's arch nemesis Red Skull has put together a supergroup of villains, including Klaw, Living Laser, The Mandarin, Ultron and a group of Sentinels, in an effort to take over the world. Sounds like a job that no superhero can handle on his own - enter The Avengers.

I was really pumped about this game, seriously. Even though Captain America's the title character, you won't have to play as him at all if you don't want to. Iron Man - one of my Marvel favourites - and The Vision, someone who has appeared in way too few games perhaps due to his complexity, inhumanity and unfamiliarity to worldwide masses, return from their embarrassing exile in the NES game to hand out some punishment right alongside the already familiar playable characters, Cap and Hawkeye. (As a personal note, The Vision was actually the first Marvel character I ever idolized, as odd as it seems. My long-standing favourites such as Spider-Man, X-Men and Iron Man came a lot later.)

You will see the word "crush" is used a lot.
The rest of the line-up (Wasp, Quicksilver, Wonder Man and Namor) still only make random guest appearances, but having Tony Stark as a playable character is quite enough to get my juices flowing in the right direction. Besides, it's a side-scrolling beat 'em up. I have good experience from side-scrolling beat 'em ups with licensed characters - which reminds me, I'm quite bedazzled myself that I still haven't taken TMNT on. So, I pour myself a cup of good morning joe, grab the controller humming the lead riff to Black Sabbath's "Iron Man", and get ready to clear some streets of unwanted trash. Even before the title screen comes up, I'm already choking on my coffee and shitting bricks. Mindscape's logo and just a mere mention of The Software Toolworks can do that to you. As a horrible voice sample introduces the game, and the opening credits with the heroes' vitals roll, I still don't know what I'm getting myself into. But judging by who made this port, I have a pretty good idea about that - and sometimes I outright loathe myself for being correct. Suddenly I find myself respecting their educational Mario games a bit more - the fact that they rarely made real games must've been because they didn't know how to do it.

Well, the graphics are fair enough and there's a comic book feel to the in-game action. Returning to TMNT, especially TMNT II since it was made earlier than III or IV (NO SHIT!) - I would've hoped for the cutscenes to be a little bit more alive, though. The port for the NES (make a note) was made in 1990, and it featured actual cutscenes and many cinematic events during gameplay. It was so exciting for a kid into TMNT to watch - and the fancy graphics alone would've made for a good memory, if the game wasn't so great in every way. Well, this SNES game (make another note) was made in 1993, and it features still images, like comic book cutouts, and there's rarely anything extra happening in the background during gameplay. OK, to be fair, there are four playable characters that might all look totally different at first sight. But still, it's 8 versus 16, with a few years in between. The voice samples are consistently horrible, and constant. You might want to M.Y.M., 'cause the hectic music doesn't call for any celebration either.

The vital charts of the characters which indeed serve as the opening credits make believe that there are some sort of strategic patterns to using them - you get to choose characters between each defeat - but there isn't. Even though their moves look different, they function the same and each character is on the exact same level of strength and endurance, no matter what variety of crap the game feeds you. As much as I'd like to play as Stark and him alone, I had to choose another character for the sake of comparison. Of course, I chose The Vision. I was disappointed to see that both characters share the very same quirks, and neither one of them is any more comfortable to use than the other. Even in the TMNT games on the NES, I found Donatello easier and more comfortable to control than any other Turtle. It might be all in my head, but even that's better than sensing no difference at all. As far as SNES games go, in Final Fight there were essential differences between the characters - and the SNES port of that game came out in 1990 as well. Batman Returns had only one playable character, but mostly good controls, diverse movement, and fuckin' great graphics. That came out some months before Cap U.S.A. and The Ravagers, I believe. This game is stuck in a time it didn't even exist in arcades. Fuckin' great graphics? Not really. Diverse movement? Sure... maybe. Good controls? Not in the slightest.

Since we got to compiling some sort of an encyclopedia of what's what in the field of side-scrolling beat 'em ups, let's take a look back at a game called Battletoads & Double Dragon - The Ultimate Team. The NES game was good, I liked it - the SNES version was a huge disappointment, the biggest reason to which was the relationship between horrible controls and the fact that you were surrounded all the time, assraped to oblivion with very little chance to execute a personal space attack. Well, in Captain America and The Avengers that shit happens all the time. All the time, from the very beginning, and there is no personal space attack at all, at least not to my knowledge. Then there are these enemies, right from the beginning who you can't even hit with anything else than just one specific attack which is difficult to launch from the middle of a raging horde of thugs. Then there are way too many regular enemies with unblockable projectile attacks, that take at least ten points off your health at once. You pretty much need someone other as stupid as you to play the game, to take care of enemies on the edges of the screen, while you're desperately trying to maul the horde in the smack middle of it. That's when they usually strike with those ultra-annoying projectiles.

The NES and SNES games have very little in common, but there are two things. Diverse movement, only in this one it counts for at least something. But, bad controls. Horrible, rock hard controls - all movement is somewhat delayed and there's no room for quick combos. Each character comes to an awkward pause after every single move, the slightest one, leaving them prone to attacks and leaving you wondering what the hell's a gamer to do to be able to even dream of finishing this game. Just using your projectile attack all the time and throughout might work - but then again, how fun and effective is that? Well, I guess it can't make the experience any worse or less obsolete than it already is.

Captain America and The Avengers for the SNES is not only stale, boring and a pain in the ass, it's also somewhat of a disappointment. There are not only better and earlier games from other media franchises to consider, there are also better Marvel games of the same basic structure - that's why I expected at least something from it, most of all a better experience than the NES game. The Captain America theme does very little to annoy here, but this little quantum of comfort isn't enough.

+ The sight of Iron Man, and the fact that you don't even have to see Captain America in action
+ A pretty good ensemble cast for true comic book fans to get pumped up about
+ The shoot 'em up levels are not too fun, but at least they offer a break

- Horrible controls
- Horrible sound
- Somewhat empty and obsolete in every possible way
- Impossible difficulty for all the wrong reasons
- No differences between how the four theoretically totally different characters play out
- General enemy behaviour would be dastardly even if there was a scattering attack, and even if the controls were better

< 4.5 >

REVIEW - Captain America and The Avengers | NES | 1991

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: December 1991

Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941, and he became Marvel's first lead character in a series of his own. The ongoing World War II and Captain America's inspirational themes based around that war made him an extremely popular superhero for a time, right up 'til the war ended. Almost two decades and many tries later, "the Cap" was finally successfully revived as a member and occasional leader of the Marvel ensemble known as The Avengers. Captain America was not the first Marvel superhero to make a break in video games, nor was he ever a very popular choice for a lead character among game developers. Still, a few games with Captain America in a central role have emerged through the years. Probably the most known game in the bunch is Data East's 1991 arcade beat 'em up game Captain America and The Avengers, which got ported to the Sega Genesis, the SNES, Game Boy and the Game Gear. Oh, but before that, Data East also made a whole different game of the same title for the NES. And it ain't good - the little light at the end of the tunnel fades very quick.

Captain America - The Worst Avenger

The Mandarin manages to incapacitate and abduct both Iron Man and The Vision. Captain America and Hawkeye go on a cross-country rescue mission, assisted by Wasp.

First, about my relationship with Captain America. It's easily explained, as there is none. I might dislike DC's Superman, I most definitely dislike Green Lantern, but Marvel has their own rotten egg in Cap U.S.A.. I think that by far the only reason they made that ridiculous Captain America: The First Avenger flick was that they couldn't have an Avengers flick without Cap, and everyone else in that ensemble movie had had their own namesakes made. I think that the original Captain America backstory of a frail young man being shot full of super-serum and becoming a war hero was quite inspirational, especially at those times, but ever since that backstory was somewhat forgotten, Captain America became a waste of perfectly good crayon in my view. Let's not beat around the bush: he's ridiculous. And about that suit Chris Evans wears in the movies... Adam West as Batman, anyone?

In the jungles of Tampa. Yep.
Then, on to some facts. Or at least one. Captain America's popularity as a stand-alone character had pretty much hit rock bottom in the early 90's, not least thanks to the horrible film - not just ridiculous, but horrible - which premiered in late 1990 and has since been forgotten in the mists of time, right up 'til I reminded you of it. Sorry. Despite making his debut game appearance on his own in 1987 in a home computer game called Captain America in the Doom Tube of Dr. Megalomann, it was clear that Captain America had seen better days as far as his popularity went, so they put him in life support by the much more relevant characters of the time. First, there was the ensemble game Spider-Man and Captain America in Doctor Doom's Revenge!, which featured a lot of Marvel's finest in addition to the three draws of the title, and then came the series of games called Captain America and The Avengers, released between 1991 and 1994. Although these games starred Captain America, it was the "Avengers" part of the title and the moderately large cast of characters in the original arcade game which made the sale. Which brings us to the NES game, which pretty much has nothing to celebrate about.

First of all, the game's version of The Avengers consists of five members - Cap, Hawkeye, Wasp, The Vision and Iron Man. The Vision and Iron Man are knocked out in the game's beginning, never to be seen in action - that's two of the best assets in this bunch, gone right away. Wasp only appears between levels, providing some extremely generic advice, and if you didn't know your Marvel Comics, you'd think she's just a frail, little secretary instead of one of the feistiest heroines in the Marvel universe, who could've easily fit in is a third playable character. That leaves us Cap and Hawkeye - the latter overshadows the namesake in both theory AND practice, but isn't nearly enough to save this boring, confusing fuckfest from almost total oblivion.

The graphics are of the basic NES fare of the time. Nothing too special, but colourful and satisfying enough. Something like three or four songs repeat all the time, and they're not good at all.

The green tinted sewers from just about every
third NES game ever made.
Captain America and The Avengers has shades of many popular 8-bit platformers all over it, but the first game I found myself thinking of was RoboCop. It's no wonder, since both games were made by Data East. Even though Cap and Hawkeye can most definitely jump unlike Murphy in the first RoboCop game, and have many moves in their respective arsenals, the game suffers from some of the exact same stiff control quirks as RoboCop, and even Cap's basic stance looks the same as Murphy's aiming stance. And when it comes to those many moves - such as a dash attack, somersault, shield block and whatnot - rest assured, they have no use. Even if they did, they don't work. It's a run-of-the-mill, incomplete platformer if there ever was one, with bad controls as its greatest challenge. Oh, and annoying ambushes by annoying enemies that just don't seem to die - against annoying, confusing, nauseating backgrounds.

What really makes the game confusing on top of being boring and annoying is the way a loss of life always seems to put you in a really random situation. You might switch characters without any good reason between deaths, ambushes which haven't been cleared yet suddenly have, or they've switched places, and you've magically made it through cities you haven't even visited yet - while after another failure, you might be back at the very root of the map, forced to start over. It's all very confusing and inconsistent. At some point, you'll stop caring, and hoping that the next death will bring you to the final threshold of the whole game. I don't know it it's possible, but I wouldn't be surprised. I sincerely don't know if this is a huge error in programming or if there's some ill logic to all of this. Or if I'm just missing something out of boredom.

There's not really much more to say about Captain America and the Avengers for the NES. It's easily summarized as boring trash that rides on the wind of a fairly popular arcade game, a true port of which I'll be taking on next and expecting a more entertaining experience - perhaps not by much, but I think a side-scrolling 16-bit beat 'em up theoretically fits the bill a bit more better than another stiff 8-bit platformer with stock level design. We'll see. Perhaps this one has the potential to please the most hardest of hardcore Marvel fans, but them only and only by its somewhat rare theme.

+ The better shades of better games, such as Bionic Commando
+ Hawkeye's inclusion as a playable character; he's cooler than Cap, he has a better moveset, and finally, a moveset that actually has some use

- Having Captain America as the star of the show ain't a huge draw for me
- The best characters are taken out of the fray right off the bat, and we're left with "Captain America and No Avengers"
- The randomness of death, and the random consequences
- Stiff controls

< 5.3 >

lauantai 23. maaliskuuta 2013

And the next marathon is about: ...!

I had a few random loose ends to tie up, but seeing that I have a few whole days of spare time on my hands, I might as well get started with the marathon I mentioned while doing the God of War: Ascension preview. As I said, this marathon will be the biggest yet, so God damn big I will probably have to split it in a few different parts. Back when I did the Star Wars marathon, which will be continued at some point later this year as part of the "loose ends" scheme, by the way, people were wondering how in the hell did I muster up the stamina to run through 25 games. I followed up by doing 33 Disney games - and the Disney marathon has some loose ends to take care of, as well. Well, now I have a total of... are you ready? ...49 games to review. The number might go up to a whole 50 next week, if GameStop still has the one game I'm particularly looking for in stock - money isn't an issue right now. No, this ain't the long-expected Warner marathon - it's coming, but not right now. Dungeons & Dragons? No. EA Sports? HELL NO. As good as these guesses are - well, perhaps with the exception of EA Sports - I think you'll like this one much more. The theme for the next marathon is:

Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics, known in the early days as Timely Publications, and later, Atlas Comics, was founded by Martin Goodman in 1939. The name Marvel Comics derived from their first magazine, the first issue of which was published in October 1939, and introduced a whole cavalcade of short-lived characters, but also the Human Torch, who was later heavily altered and made a member of one of Marvel's most known superhero groups, the Fantastic Four. In 1941, Marvel introduced their first true stalwart: Captain America. Today, Marvel Comics are known from introducing us to dozens of legendary superheroes, such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, Daredevil, Thor, Iron Man, and antiheroes such as Hulk and the Punisher.

My earlier statements about Marvel Comics' supposed inferiority to its long-time rival Detective Comics have not been intentional. I love Marvel Comics, and I hope to bring that to your attention with this huge marathon I came up with while watching the first Iron Man movie. For the record, I hate most Detective Comics - it's just that my love for Batman overshadows my love for the whole of Marvel Comics. Seeing that (most) Batman games have already been dealt with, I think the time's been perfect for quite a while to bring out the rest of the cavalcade of superheroes who made my childhood, and at their best, continue to make my adulthood as well.

I hope you'll enjoy this trip as much as I certainly will. There is a certain order I will do these games in, pretty much determined by the lead character, and I will start with Captain America. Right now. Stay tuned.

REVIEW - Shadow of the Colossus | PS2 | 2005

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure
RELEASED: October 18, 2005
AVAILABLE ON: PS2, PS3 [Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Classics HD]
DEVELOPER(S): Team Ico, Bluepoint Games (PS3)
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment

Shadow of the Colossus went into development in 2002 under the working title of Nico - "Next Ico" - and it was intended to be unleashed as a sequel to their still quite obscure debut, soon to be cult Ico. In time, Fumito Ueda made it clear that he didn't want to make sequels, so the game quickly began to take a whole different form from its "predecessor" - another just as minimalistic, but much more straightforward game with the simplest of goals. There's a whole new story that could easily be linked to that of Ico, but the connecting strands could be spotted by the players themselves - the development team didn't force any direct connections to their first-born. A small team of 35 people got Shadow of the Colossus on North American and Japanese shelves by the end of October 2005, and this time, they had both a critical and commercial success on their hands. Praised for its unique gameplay outline and awesome audiovisuals, Shadow of the Colossus is widely considered one of the best video games in the world. I liked it when it came out, but I didn't appreciate it, as ironic as it sounds. Let's see if time's been kind to my ability to judge... and of course, to the game.

Killer of giants

See that crap on his club? That's you.
Believing she was wrongfully accused and sacrificed, a young man named Wander brings the dead body of a girl named Mono to the Shrine of Worship. There, he makes contact with the entity Dormin, who is said to possess the power of resurrection. Dormin says that returning the girl's soul to her body is possible, but seeing that Wander is in possession of a powerful, ancient sword, he will only help if Wander sets out to slay the sixteen colossi that walk the land.

Previously on VGMania...

If you read the Ico review, let's save the recap and go straight to business. Since I talked a lot about Shadow of the Colossus in the last review, it's safe to think that this little speech is about Ico, but the truth is I never played Ico before the HD collection came along, despite all the praise and my sudden realization that the game had strong ties to Shadow of the Colossus. This is a story about that HD collection, and how it ended up in my hands.

So, I gave up my copy of the original Shadow of the Colossus, and as always, I've regretted parting with it - just as I regret parting with subpar games such as Castlevania: Lament of Innocence and Blood Omen 2. I'm a collector, and Shadow of the Colossus' packaging really wasn't from the most typical end of a standard commercial release - but that was pretty much the only reason for me to regret parting with it, for the longest time. Well, then I met a girl. We both have a strong passion for games, only she's a PC nerd and we still have arguments that are about PC vs. consoles. (Back in the day, those arguments ended a little bit differently, if you catch my drift.) If she liked a console game, it had to be GOOD. Better than GOOD, capitally AWESOME. She played some games that were exclusive to consoles with a bitter smile, but Shadow of the Colossus was a game she truly wanted me to have. She had a glint in her eye when she spoke of Shadow of the Colossus. When I told her that I actually used to have the game, but I gave it away, that glint turned into a blue flame. So, the next time we were at GameStop, she bought me the HD collection of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus for the full price of fifty. What's a man to do but to play the game?

Barf bags ready.
Well, I didn't play it. She took Shadow of the Colossus for an almost immediate spin, but we didn't stay together for all that long after that, and when we broke up, the collection ended up just another big ole' dust ball on the shelf, never to see the innards of the PS3 again... before the moment I got my third mail concerning Ico, as well as some newsletter that had information about Team Ico's latest eternity project, The Last Guardian (or "Ico 3", as some call it). "Hell or high water", I thought to myself, and finally, after all these years, played and finished Ico. The next logical step - from every possible angle - was to take on Shadow of the Colossus. It's been seven years... and Shadow of the Colossus still feels the same as ever. Unlike in the cases of Resident Evil 4 or God of War II, or [insert PS2 classic here], in the case of Shadow of the Colossus that's not an entirely good thing. Not from my perspective. Although I still like it, I still find it hard to appreciate it.

Shadow of the Colossus' original release nearly coincided with the launch of the Xbox 360, and the European release came out about a year before the expected halt in the production of PlayStation 2 games - which was quite damn far off, actually, as you all know. Anyway, Shadow of the Colossus was slated to be one of the last big games of the PS2, and with that in mind, the developers went all the way with how they originally envisioned the game: minimalistic design, epic proportions. Just like Ico. When the game starts, you surely won't expect to see one of the most visually stunning PS2 games, but when the first boss passes you by with his extremely heavy feet, the truth reveals itself. Team Ico went all in with the colossi. As a friend of mine would put it: this looked good on the PS2, but imagine playing the HD version on the PS3, in stereoscopic 3D, from a 48" screen. THAT'S something else, I hear. The variety in characters is still the very same - there are only three central characters, apart from the corpse that sets the whole plot in motion, and the voiceover work can't really be judged by one who doesn't understand a word they're saying. Which would be just about everyone, since even though the spoken language sounds like Japanese, it's entirely fictional. Like Icoish or something. The music is just outlandish - epic as hell. It might start to get on your nerves if you've been spending the last hour just trying to make it past your opponent's ass to his lower back, but that's a flaw we will discuss in another context.

I would definitely not like to see your momma.
If Ico had a simple concept, then Shadow of the Colossus is a whole new high - or low - on that front. You simply take down the sixteen colossi one by one. Nothing else. There's nothing else you need to do to finish the game. There are some collectables - all of which come with Trophies in the newer release - but they are not relevant. You start at the Shrine of Worship, where you are presented with the next task, meaning the next huge fucker you need to kill. Then you get on your horse, see how the sunlight reflects on your sword and use that sunlight to locate the colossus. In constantly increasing difficulty, you need to figure out how to slay the behemoth before your eyes - its vulnerable points, and the way to get to them. It starts out nice and easy - you don't have to do much else than climb the sumbitch from his feet up to his head and stab his brain, but later, challenge is thrown into the mix by ways of the introduction of different forms for the colossi, such as a bird and an earthworm. Sometimes you even need to figure out a way to get their attention, otherwise they're out of your reach - like whistle like you would call your horse, or if that's not enough, put an arrow between their eyes.

Back off, dude. I have a knife.
The concept sounds so simple and weird that you wouldn't believe just by reading that this game is truly considered one of the finest, most unique video games in history. I seriously don't understand why - as far as the concept goes, I agree: as weird as it sounds, it works. It would work even better with a faster tempo and better controls, though. Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most frustrating games of this basic caliber I know. I had fun with well over a half of it now that I finally got around to truly playing it instead of merely "testing" it, but I truly don't understand why people are so worked up about the game. I know the slow tempo of the game and Wander's overall clumsiness could - and probably should - be interpreted as a simulation of the futility of this David vs. Goliath round trip, but I'm the kind of gamer who takes it as just what it is. Frustrating drivel, which only gets more frustrating with each colossus. I seriously considered breaking the controller in half and wiping my ass on the game disc when I got to the tiny one who keeps ramming you all the time. Just getting on his back to have a small hope of killing him is a royal pain in the ass, since Wander's jumps are so out of control and the window to strike is so frustratingly small. The environment is so big, that missing just one jump - or grab, remember that you specifically have to grab ledges in this game - and having to backtrack to the beginning of the path is more frustrating than in any other game just about ever. Controlling your horse, Agro, is a neverending pain - double that if you have to use him in a boss battle. Climbing shit in general is unnecessarily hard at times - Wander just jerks off in place, no matter how hard you keep pushing. I could go on and on about the controls, and since this game was out in 2005, when the current standards were pretty much in check, age is no longer a valid excuse...

...But I digress, 'cause after you get over the controls, you'll find a pretty good game. I say pretty good in contrast to a million other gamers' "OMG SOTC!!!111", 'cause as satisfying as it can be to tread carefully from one hole in the Earth to another to see what lurks in it - and kill it (with fire?) - I still sincerely consider Shadow of the Colossus one of the most overrated games there ever was, and that over a half of its high level of challenge comes from lacking controls and Wander's artful incompetence. This game was not made to please everyone - even at the risk of being the only outcast who never saw the entire greatness of the game, I refuse to give it any charity.

+ The audiovisuals
+ The colossi
+ The unique concept and the surprising fact that it actually works

- Controls, both on foot and horseback
- The size of the environment can turn against you
- The slow tempo and the main character's "fascinating incompetence" ain't for everyone - including me

< 7.8 >

maanantai 18. maaliskuuta 2013

REVIEW - Ico | PS2 | 2001

GENRE(S): Action / Adventure / Puzzle
RELEASED: September 24, 2001
AVAILABLE ON: PS2, PS3 [Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Classics HD]
DEVELOPER(S): Team Ico, Bluepoint Games (PS3)
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment

In a time Grand Theft Auto III was THE game you gamers wanted to get for your PlayStation 2, critics were trying their best to drag you away from all the killing, senseless violence, complex gameplay and general sandbox-style mayhem by praising a little game called Ico to high heaven and beyond. The simple, strange, yet beautiful debut of Team Ico had been in development for as long as four years - creator Fumito Ueda originally created the concept to be unleashed on the original PlayStation. Ico ended up selling poorly in both the United States and Japan, but Europe seemingly had a soft spot for Ico's unique ways, as the game's sales in Europe went well over a double the amount of copies sold elsewhere. Back in the day, you could say the name of the game and no one would've known what you were talking about. Some years later, Ico became a cult title ranked high up on just about every "best games ever" list ever made, in the wake of its spiritual successor Shadow of the Colossus. In 2011, the once shunned, now worshipped PlayStation 2 adventure made its way to the PlayStation 3 in high definition, along with its epic "prequel". I guess it's finally time for me to investigate what made Ico so special, and how it has stood the test of time.

Gimme a hand

A young boy named Ico is imprisoned and left to rot in the crypt of a dark castle by the people of his village, who consider his recently sprouted horns an ill omen. After an earthquake shakes the castle's foundations, Ico is able to break free from his coffin. As he explores the castle to find means to escape, he crosses paths with a fellow prisoner - Yorda, the daughter of the castle's queen. After learning of the queen's plans to use Yorda's body as a vessel for her dark, malicious soul after her own body has perished, he decides to help Yorda escape as well.

Goodbye, cruel game.
My history with Team Ico, part one. Strangely enough, this part one is not about Ico - I will save that for the next review. Back in 2006, I read a rave review on a game called Shadow of the Colossus. In this review, there was no mention of a predecessor - the game was simply considered a unique masterpiece, one of the finest "new franchises" to emerge on the PlayStation 2, financed by Sony themselves. I thought the description of the gameplay sounded kinda strange, but I was moderately fresh off the freight train they called God of War - if someone had the balls to call this Shadow of the Colossus one of the finest new games on the PlayStation 2, and it was published by Sony, it just had to be off-the-charts awesome. So, the next time I had some extra money on me, I marched to the local supermarket - the only place I had the slightest hope of finding the game where I'm from - and paid the damn €70 for it. If the game was to indeed turn out as good as I had surmised, I had quite the treasure on my hands by the mere looks of it - it came in a fancy cardboard box with a few art cards, in a time collector's editions were not that common game. So, I went home after school, slapped in the disc, played the game for a few hours. Those few hours later, I took the disc, put it back in the box, went to sleep with a smile on my face. Never played the game again.

I liked how Shadow of the Colossus was different from just about every other action game I had ever played - but that difference was not for me. It was a great game, just not my kind of game. My copy of the game just sat on the shelf for a few years. Then I got familiar with a schoolmate of mine, who was my neighbour back then and now I consider him a bro. I once borrowed the game to him, and he loved it - he absolutely adored it, and cursed life for not finding a copy of his own for a decent price at that time. A while later, his PlayStation 2 broke down, I borrowed my console to him, and he broke it as well. Despite of being in a very dire financial situation and in need for a lot more than a new PlayStation 2 of his own, he BOUGHT ME a new PlayStation 2 unit, informing me of his little mishap afterwards. I considered this such an unselfish and noble deed, that I decided to reward him. Even though he didn't have a PS2 at that moment, I knew he was going to buy himself a new one as soon as he could, and he's always been a collector, so I decided to give him my copy of Shadow of the Colossus as a gift. I knew he'd appreciate the game more than I ever could. By that time, he had secured a copy of Ico - a game I knew by name, very faintly, but never knew to be the spiritual predecessor to Shadow of the Colossus.

To be continued...

Ico is a very, very strange game, even nowadays... but when it came out, it challenged just about every trope and cliche in modern gaming. While other development studios kept pushing the envelope in violence and profanity, and/or pushing for more and more diversity in gameplay, Team Ico created a very simple, minimalistic love story. Very little dialogue, just three central characters to begin with, just three enemy designs, with the main focus on level design, atmosphere and on touching the player on an emotional level, the theme being loving and caring for someone. With its long-delayed, yet great success, Ico laid grounds for dozens of indie developers to explore and flourish with their minimalistic designs. Not only those, Ico also went on to influence today's greatest commercial success stories, such as Assassin's Creed and Uncharted. The influence isn't right there in black and white, but I find it pretty obvious, considering the importance of "climbin' shit", as Nathan Drake would put it.

Oye! Fus Ro Dah!
Although very few were around to see it, Ico was one of the most beautiful sights to behold on the PlayStation 2 in 2001, or on the whole market at that. In 12 years, the view has changed a bit. Even the surprisingly sharp HD rendition doesn't change the fact that most of it's of the union of copy and paste - but absolutely nothing shakes the fact that it really doesn't matter. Ico was always meant to be a minimalistic game of epic proportions, and the proportions are what matter. Even if the castle's graphical textures hardly change throughout the course of the game, the concrete level design does, all the time, and it's one huge castle. There's hardly any in-game music and the dialogue is very rare, plus totally incomprehensible due to the two fictional languages used in the game, but the sound department garners in a whole soundtrack worth of points with the song that accompanies the final credits - "You Were There", which is widely considered one of the most beautiful songs exclusively written for a video game.

It went on to influence a whole cavalcade of games, including the more recent Prince of Persia games, which is ironic, 'cause Ico was most influenced by the very original Prince of Persia. Your goal is to make it through a castle and save the princess. The most essential difference between Ico and classic Prince of Persia just as well as any "save the princess" type of story is that the princess is with you 95% of the game's duration. Co-op is out of the question; Yorda can't really do anything except get you through spirit doors that block each level. In each room and level, you have to figure out some way how to get her to the doors; you usually have no problem reaching them, since your movement is not nearly as limited. She can climb ledges and ladders, and you can help her across chasms, but she cannot climb chains or pipes, and she most definitely can't do shit to the dark spirits pestering her. Although they show up rarely, they do so at the most awkward of times.

Nice view. Wanna make out?
Yorda needs to be held by the hand almost all of the time you're with her. She's very reluctant to follow your orders from time to time, and her refusal to co-operate is not always just frustrating, it's also misleading. I had to resort to a walkthrough twice during the game, just to find out I had been going for the exact correct solution for tens of minutes, I was just standing half a pixel off the right mark.

Although Yorda constantly makes you want to scream "back to the kitchen" out loud, all of the game's problems do not stem from her presence; there are even worse problems that present themselves even on the very rare occasions you're alone. The game has a wide array of control issues, all the way from platform jumping to the extremely tedious combat, which is luckily toned down once you get some better weapons than the pathetic torch you have to get by with for the longest time. Well, Ico is quite aged, and it was the first full-length project by its core developers, so I guess I'll have to let problems such as this pass. Kinda pass. Surprisingly, the very dynamic camera is on the mark most of the time. I don't remember any huge problems with this usual grievance.

Ico - the character - does not have any type of HUD or health points. He can't directly take damage from enemy attacks, he can only be pushed down long enough for them to have their way with Yorda (that sounded way dirtier than it was supposed to) and drag her to the darkness. You have a consistently fair time window to save her, but if you've wandered too far away from her, it's of no use to point (or give) your finger at the game - you're supposed to stay with her and protect her at all costs, and that's the thing you've gotta remember from the start. Helping her keep up is the toughest challenge of the game, and it makes the puzzles even tougher than they already are. Even if Yorda's annoying, she deserves credit for making this game challenging and of course, one hell of a unique experience.

Baby, I don't understand one word you're
saying, but I'm sensing a true connection here.
Ico - the game - is filled with, if not jumps to the unknown, annoyingly precise jumps that have a good chance of sending you to a fateful collision with planet Earth. Returning to the game's age, every exit is not a checkpoint, as you will very likely have to see for yourself. For a contemporary gamer who perhaps wasn't even really there when Ico originally emerged, the checkpoints are a true test of will as the puzzles often have several, SLOW steps you have to retake following every time you fail - including having Yorda to climb a ladder, a potentially long ladder, and mind you that she climbs ladders at half your speed. The only checkpoints in the game are the save points, and the spirit doors in the end of each level. There are no more - again, as you WILL discover - before the final level which does not have spirit doors or save points at all.

Although Ico has a lot of potential of slapping the thought of beating it for the heck of it right out of you, I advise you to not follow up on that thought - it's an experience, and it's really not that tough once you understand and are able to sink in all that you can do, and all that Yorda can do. The European version (of both the PS2 and PS3 versions) is slightly different from the original version of the game, and has a couple of puzzles that are really illogical or physically weird. Those are pretty much the only puzzles that initially feel impossible to figure out. I know trial and error doesn't have that much appeal with this few checkpoints, but very often you can engage in it without the severe punishment of death, just epic frustration at its worst. It's how the game was meant to be played. Like it or not. The combat is awkward throughout the line, but luckily there's just one boss fight, and I think that one's even kinda cool.

Ico left a better first impression on me than its "prequel" did back in the day, and it proved to be a good starting point to get reacquainted with the team's work, right up 'til its pretty end. It's a very down-to-Earth, unique journey that I advise everyone into "different" games and with five or six hours to spare to embark on at least once.

+ A simple, yet different and captivating story
+ Unique atmosphere, created with minimal resources
+ Clever level design leads to mostly clever puzzles
+ Ethereal music
+ A surprisingly dynamic camera for such an "old" game

- A SLOW tempo
- Quirky controls and physics
- Thoroughly tedious and unsatisfying, luckily rare combat
- Yorda's occasional refusal to follow code, which can even be extremely misleading at times

< 8.5 >