keskiviikko 7. toukokuuta 2014

REVIEW - X-Men | GEN | 1993

GENRE(S): Action / Platformer
DEVELOPER(S): Western Technologies

X-Men for the Sega Genesis was chronologically the first X-Men console game LJN had absolutely nothing to do with, not by a long shot. This, as well as positive reception from many retro critics immediately breaks some barriers between me and the game, and so I am finally ready to continue on with the Marvel marathon, with expectations of some decent 16-bit action. However, just recently I watched the game being included in AVGN's X-Men montage, in which he clamped the game together with The Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine on the NES. Looks good, looks bad, looks good again. Which is it? Let's find out.

Relax, it's just a simulation

Bad ass.
Magneto uses a satellite to upload a virus to the main computer of Professor X's training facility, which results in a very bad day for Wolverine, Cyclops, Gambit and Nightcrawler. The four mutants must make their way through randomly loaded, exceptionally dangerous simulations of their past adventures and neutralize the virus.

So as I said, I recently watched AVGN's trip through some hand-picked X-Men games from yesteryear, as it was one of the AVGN videos I missed when it came out and I thought I'd watch it for inspiration to continue on with the Marvel marathon. The Marvel marathon has been going on for more than a year now, with varying speed and consistency, and let's face it, most of the games I've played have sucked, royally. There have been these small glints of hope here and there, as in a few truly good Spider-Man games, but not much else. I know I'm in for more good games, but the X-Men franchise in particular has been a buzzkiller, as proven by The Uncanny X-Men being "crowned" the worst game I've ever played. AVGN does not review games lightly - if he sees it worthy to "highlight" a game, that usually means something. So, X-Men does not promise much, but I must review it to carry on. So, how is it? Well, it's not good. But in a bit of good news, it's not totally hopeless. It's a game I even might've enjoyed when I was a kid - if I was an X-Men fan back then to begin with, I mean.

I've grown accustomed to graphics and sound usually being extremely close to each other. If a game looks good, it usually sounds good, and vice versa. Here, that rule does not apply. The game looks pretty good with its very detailed sprites - of just the right size - and nice effects. The level design is quite boring, not to mention confusing - I've also grown accustomed to the trend that Marvel games have either horrible controls or lackluster level design, or both. Luckily this game suffers only from one of these problems, which makes it more playable than most Marvel games of the era. That, and the fact that it was made by and for someone else than you know who. So, while I don't have much complaints about the game's look, I have to say I can't stand the sound. The music's stock and sometimes really high pitched, badly sequenced drivel, and the sudden sound effects are pure slaughter. I usually mute the monitor whenever there's a really hard platforming part - it usually helps me to get through it a lot quicker.

So, this incarnation of X-Men lets you choose between four characters: Wolverine, Cyclops, Nightcrawler and Gambit. Whenever one character gets it, you go back to the beginning of the level - regardless how far along the level you are - and get to choose another one, and another one, until they are all gone, which means game over. No passwords. This is one of those games. Not to worry, though. The game isn't too hard; it's just very, very boring. The levels are just paste upon paste, and whenever you're taken back to the character select screen, you have to wait for something like 30 seconds for the level to load. You're free to move in the training room while the level loads, which leaves you kinda aped about what's happening, if you've just started to play the game. Must you do something, are you missing something, is that it? No. Just wait.

Nope, can't do shit to Incan architecture.
You can also switch characters on the go at any time, which doesn't really have much purpose besides the fact that you get full meters (Health and Power) this way - it might help out if you're having a hard time. If Wolverine's claws are out, his Power meter drains all the time, while everyone else's meter is tied to how much they use their abilities. Everyone also has a special attack that drains a bulk of the meter at a time. No one's really better or worse than the other here, both Nightcrawler's character and ability are just a tad hard to learn to control. In addition, you can summon four other X-Men (Iceman, Rogue, Storm, Arch-Angel) once per level. While all the others are designed to kill all enemies on screen and do heavy damage to bosses, Iceman makes bridges in mid-air.

The game is a simple action-platformer with mild puzzle elements. It's not exceptional in its general nuisance, and though it's far from a thoroughly entertaining game, it's playable. This far into the marathon, there's really not much to say about it besides simply telling what it's basically like, and what sucks about it, and while there are plenty of small things that do suck about it, it's the ultra-boring level design that really gets shoved in your face. And the sound. After all the crap I've endured so far, what I just said is letting the game go easy. It's worth a try, really. That's more than I can say about any X-Men game I've reviewed so far.

+ Looks pretty good
+ Feels pretty good, from a comic book fan's perspective
+ Decent controls

- Lethally boring level design
- The waiting around part in each beginning, after each death and between levels
- Music and sound effects

< 6.5 >

perjantai 2. toukokuuta 2014

REVIEW - Rayman Legends | PS4 | 2014

GENRE(S): Platformer
RELEASED: August 29, 2013 (PC, PS3, PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360)
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Montpellier
PUBLISHER(S): Ubisoft, Nintendo (Wii U)

The very original Rayman from 1995 was the Atari Jaguar's most successful game, and a commercial hit on several other systems as well, including the Sony PlayStation on which it debuted. The game was one of the last 2D platformers of the 90's - as a matter of fact, its first sequel already adapted a 3D environment. Although Rayman 2 was received even better than its predecessor back in the day, somehow the developers' hearts stayed with 2D. Several more or less well-received remakes of the first game later, Ubisoft refitted Rayman into the 2D mold with a new game called Rayman Origins in 2011, capitalizing on the recent new wave of 2D platformers to great success. Two years later, they made a direct sequel named Rayman Legends, which was eventually released as a budget game on the latest systems on the market. Since I've never been a Rayman fan - actually, I'm really getting familiar with the franchise just now - one might wonder why I'm reviewing this game now. The reason is, that Rayman Legends is one of the best 2D platformers I've ever played - taking every Mario, Donkey Kong and LittleBigPlanet game ever made into account. You better believe it. I still don't.


It's-a-me, Mario! Wait... it's-a-not.
Rayman, his best friend Globox and the Teensies have been sleeping for a century, during which the Bubble Dreamer's nightmares have grown in numbers, and the evil Magician has re-emerged as five separate beings dubbed the Dark Teensies. Murfy awakens Rayman to inform him that the ten princesses of the land and 700 Teensies have been snatched by the Bubble Dreamer's nightmares and the Dark Teensies. Rayman sets out to rescue and gather his troops for his most epic adventure yet. ...And I'm, having never really played a Rayman game before, violently shoved out in the dark here, but who really cares about the plot?

I seriously wasn't going to do this review. I mean, it's a kids' game - one that I never played when I actually was a kid. It's a platformer, as simple as they come - it's basically the same thing as Super Mario 64, only in 2D and 18 years later, nothing too exciting there, right? The only reason I bought the game was its reasonable price compared to every other new PS4 game out there, and it had good reviews to its credit, so I thought that it might prove to be reasonable, light hangover entertainment. So there I was, completely sober, reflecting on my 30th birthday coming up in two months, enjoying the hell out of everything the game threw at me and finally cursing my lungs out at the final boss... who actually wasn't the final boss, since the game has so much content that it'll push you to your limits to really complete it. It's like Donkey Kong Country 2 or 3 of the new generation, only this time there are TWO extra worlds to conquer beyond the veil of the end credits, and a long way to go 'til the point you are able to merely UNLOCK these worlds. Rayman Legends is a damn fun, fast, challenging game. Even epic, in its own category. It's a damn treasure, and the PS4 version is yours for half the price. I say - make 'em shut up and take your money!

Eye of the Tiger!
I think I'm going to take a deeper look into the Rayman franchise sometime soon - but in case you're about as familiar with the franchise as I am right now, Rayman is... well, Rayman. A limbless pile of limbs, the quirky epitome of both awesomeness and randomness. He's a master of some fashion of kung-fu; he is able to use his fists as short-range projectiles, pound the ground with a devastating attack, jump along between adjacent walls, and roundkick any standard enemy you've ever seen in a platformer from here to eternity. Enough? Good, 'cause I'm running low here. Glowing bugs called "lums" are this game's equivalent to Mario's coins or Donkey Kong's bananas, but since you don't have lives, their purpose is different; you need them for high scores in levels (which actually matter on the account of 100% completion), and to unlock stuff. By picking up lines of lums in a precise order, with the "lead lum" being of a different colour than the others, you gain double the amount of lums you see on the screen. Your heaviest priority is the rescue of Teensies, these Smurf-like creatures; every single level in the game has ten of them, some of them hidden pretty well, especially the two royal ones who are usually found inside secret puzzle rooms. Like in Super Mario 64, a handful of Teensies are found somewhere else besides the levels; however, the gallery of dreams is just your hub and nothing more, it's not an open, dynamic world like the Mushroom Kingdom castle. So these are the basics - if you still want to go deeper, follow me. Epic and constantly changing boss fights, rewarding rhythm games, infernal difficulties and other forms of non-stop platforming entertainment coming up.

I think South Park - the show - said it best: these graphics look like "10% better" than the original editions of the game on last-gen systems. The superficial difference really ain't that big - but when you go deeper, you start to see results. Loading times? WHAT loading times? You could say that Rayman Legends is an optimal way to get to know your new system and its qualities inside out, because you can get in and out of the game in a jiffy, and chances are you won't even have time to figure out that you just died, because you respawn immediately at a checkpoint without having to wait for one extra second, it's so smooth and quick. A couple of days ago, I learned that Dragon Age: Inquisition is coming to last-gen systems after all; I cursed a bit, 'cause the game was one of the reasons I spent my money on a PS4 in the first place, but then I remembered that I hated the loading times in the last two games. If that game is even relatively this fast, I think I made a smart purchase after all; I can't imagine how slow it'll run on the PS3 and 360. Save file importing might turn out a feature on those systems, but I'll take zero loading times over it. Changed the subject there, sorry.

The first boss fight.
Anyway, this version of Rayman Legends not only utilizes the PS4's advanced features, it also tutors players on their use. The touchpad is used to scratch Lucky Tickets, which you win from each level if you score high enough, and a whole bulk of 'em at once from conquering a whole world. The touchpad works as kind of a second screen there, like on the Wii U. The second or third level of the game teaches you how to share videos and screenshots; though as you might know, for now they're exclusive to Facebook, which is kind of a bummer 'cause I have long wanted to improve the quality of PlayStation and Xbox screenshots here on the blog. It's still a nice feature, though, and it's great that the game offers a tutorial unlike any other game I've played on the PS4 thus far; I'm really confused by the system's own tutorials and handbooks, it's too much information at once for one as old-fashioned and narrow-minded as I am at my worst. I'm sorry, again - I think I meant to talk about the graphics here. Well, it looks great. I needed two whole paragraphs to say those three words... we must be dealing with something rather impressive here. (Editorial note: I wrote this review a week ago; apparently the latest system update that was released on April 30th allows you to save screenshots and videos to a USB device - I'll try this out come the next PS4 review)

Rayman Legends also sounds great, and very diverse. There's all sorts of music to go with all sorts of situations, and all sorts of situations are exactly what the game throws at you. Every level of the big book of platformer cliches is used in this game, including its share of notorious ice levels. Lots and lots of gauntlet levels - and since I haven't reviewed a platformer in a while, I must elaborate that what I call "gauntlets" are these automatically side-scrolling, extremely fast and dangerous levels. In this game, danger's coming for you from every direction. Usually, you can't turn back in these levels for even a fraction of a second. I think the music in those levels captures that tense feeling pretty well. The last level in every world - after the boss fight - is a rhythm-based level, where everything happens according to the notes of the music. Which in this particular case is a small selection of classic rock tunes, reworked in some deliciously quirky fashion. I didn't want to spoil this, but do stay tuned for a mariachi version of "Eye of the Tiger" - it's fucking awesome. In short, one of the most epic concepts for a level ever made - and it was at that moment when the first notes played, that I realized I'm playing one of the finest new games I've played in years. Oh yeah, by the way, it doesn't come as a huge surprise that guitar player Steve Ouimette - known for bombastic facemelters he exclusively contributed to the Guitar Hero series through the Neversoft years - had a hand on the soundtrack. This should also give you some idea what you're in for, by terms of sound.

A gauntlet with four player co-op? Sounds
Well, then - down to business. I think the best way to do this is to take a trip through each room in the gallery of dreams. First, the main gallery - the main hub - which houses shortcuts to every other gallery, as well as every main world painting. (What is it about paintings in these platformers...?) There are five main worlds, with a varying amount of levels and each has a unique theme, or a whole new gameplay feature in store. For example, most levels in Toad Story are physics-based levels that feature less jumping around and more flowing freely with the wind, and 20,000 Lums Under the Sea mixes traditional underwater navigation with stealth action (!), complete with awesome espionage music influenced by Metal Gear, Splinter Cell and even James Bond. Olympus Maximus, the final main world, is a mix of every challenge the game has thrown at you 'til that point - a potentially enfuriating one, seriously one of the most challenging collectives I've seen in any type of game in a long time. It's not the end, though! If you manage to save enough of those damn Teensies throughout your trip, one more world - Living Dead Party - is unlocked. It's basically the ultimate musical challenge, an ultra-hard remix of every rhythm level of the game. It's worth the trip... can't handle the trip? OK, here are some features which might help you to chock up on some extra Teensies beyond the main game.

You're ranked after each level. To achieve 100% completion of a level, you need to rescue all of the Teensies and gather enough lums to get three cups (bronze, silver, gold), as well as a Lucky Ticket. The prizes from the Lucky Tickets alternate between more lums, one extra Teensy, creatures for your bug collection and finally, extra levels. Also, the more levels you ace, the more you gain access to extra levels within the worlds. The ten princesses of whatever this land is called, are trapped in brief, but very tough levels unlocked by certain amounts of Teensies - once you've rescued them, you can use them as playable characters instead of Rayman at any time you wish. These princess levels have three Teensies each. "Invasion" versions of previously beaten levels are also unlocked. They're very strictly timed challenges in which you have the chance to rescue three Teensies waiting at the finish line from being blasted into outer space; you'll have to survive a tough array of different stipulations without the help of any power-ups. After 40 seconds have passed, one gets it every ten seconds, and if all them get their asses blown up, the mission fails.

To put it simply, lums are used as currency to unlock more playable characters in the Heroes gallery, beyond all the different attires for Rayman and the princesses. 'Til now, I've found it weird to play as someone other than Rayman (dressed in Edward's outfit from Ubisoft's very own Assassin's Creed IV), so I can't really say if there's any real use for this feature in the single-player mode, but I'm sure there are people who find it very neat. The ultimate goal is to gather 1,000,000 lums to unlock the final character - I've beaten the main game, and about one fifth of the extra levels, and I'm hardly at 150,000. Whew.

Another boss fight against one jacked up
version of Rey Mysterio.
Let's just skip ahead from the Kung Foot minigame, 'cause this wacky soccer game seems fun, but it's strict multiplayer fun - you can practice kicks alone, but you'll need friends to make something useful out of it. The last gallery on the list is Back to Origins, which is literally a remastered and slightly redesigned collection of 40 of what the developers and fans of the game considered the best levels in Rayman Origins. Once I learned about this, having already figured how great the game is, I lauded Ubisoft for this PS4 budget price of 40 €. The game is basically two highly entertaining, simple but challenging and fast-paced platformers in one, playing out as one, and serving each other's purposes. Of course, you need to go to incredible lengths in the main game to be able to unlock more than four or five levels of Origins. Five main worlds, one extra world, then 40 extra-extra levels, and finally the online challenges, all of which come with tons of different, almost impossible hazards, puzzles and collectibles. This is MADNESS!

I've never ended a review of a great game without sharing some bad news. Everything I've said about the game thus far concerns its different features; it's a 2D platformer, you know how it plays out, but in any case, that's where the problems lie. Ubisoft's games seem to have a common problem with quick navigation and advanced controls. Rayman - or whoever you're playing as - has some sort of an authority problem with certain types of control features in certain types of situations, such as the wall kick (Assassin's Creed...), ground pound, and most of all, sprinting, especially sprinting along an arched wall. Having to use these features extensively spells doom; how doom presents itself varies, but it's still the same thing. Doom. Murfy is a scourge. This all-powerful, flying frog-thingy appears in several levels to manipulate the environment, for your benefit, at your command. He's basically a good idea, but still a scourge, 'cause in the later parts of the game, you need to keep your focus on both your own actions and Murfy at the same time; just to name an example, you're falling down a curved tunnel with spikes on both sides, and there's a circular saw waiting at the bottom; you need to use Murfy to move that saw just in the nick of time so you won't meet a gory end once you reach the bottom. So that's what he does, he mostly moves stuff, but that was kind of a bad example - let's put some more colour into it. Let's say that your way down features captured Teensies and an irresistible amount of lums. You need to command Murfy and swing your fists around at the same time, and THAT'S where the game hits a snag; executing two actions at the same time is not fail-safe, and it's always Murfy that fails to comply - and usually when Murfy fails to comply to your command, you're dead. The game seems so easy at first, so simple, as do Murfy's purposes - after the first couple of levels he's in, you start to wonder what the hell's he for anyway, but soon his arrival starts to signal fury. Basically fun levels, yeah, but there are going to be a lot of deaths, due to bad and/or delayed compliance.

Raining fire on Olympus tonight. We're lucky
to have Murfy. Or are we?
If you're still finding the game too easy, and just for kids, then I've got to mention the boss fights one more time. Every single boss fight is different, but they have one thing in common: they're hard as hell, every single one of them. I even had trouble with the first one, and the last one is just mega-fuckery as it features three totally different rounds, set in a level that's already ultra-challenging by itself even without the boss to harrass you every step of the way. I spent a total of three hours on the last two levels of the main game alone; this stretch is programmed to last about 15 minutes. Do the math. Luckily, acing the boss levels in terms of Teensies and lums is quite easy, so you don't have to worry too much about anything else except for beating the boss, and after you've beaten 'em, you gain access to the musical level and after that, a lot of Lucky Tickets, so you could say the game rewards you quite fine for your resilience. You must be resilient to beat this game to the hilt - there's a lot to do, and a lot of it is extremely hard. 700 Teensies to save - with 3-10 in each level. Again, do the math - you're in for a long trip if you're not here just to beat the game.

Rayman Legends is an amazing game and I warmly recommend it to everyone from kids to adults; kids might have a better chance at survival and better patience for 100% completion, though. And, although I'm not really ecstatic about the fact that the game is once again a port of a game from the previous generation and thus, does not really "unfold" the PS4's power, it's a good and educational one, and very likely at its best here. I would've never thought to nail such a gem for such a low price and with even lower expectations. Amazing.

+ 2D platforming at the best, fastest and most innovative in all its simplicity it's witnessed in years
+ Tons of gameplay bundled on a single disc, tons of collectibles, and megatons of replay value
+ You never know what's coming next
+ "Eye of the Tiger"... and the rest of the musical levels ain't bad, either

- Murfy
- Some occasional problems with advanced controls, especially in the gauntlet levels

< 9.4 >