torstai 25. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue | Xbox 360 | 2010

GENRE(S): Action / RPG
RELEASED: September 21, 2010 (PS3)
DEVELOPER(S): Hothead Games

Just a snag over two months after the release of DeathSpank, Ron Gilbert delivered the second episode, widely regarded a sequel, named DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue. With notable changes to level and weapon design, and the game's general length, even with fully identical gameplay basics, DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue did indeed feel more like a sequel than a direct continuation of the original game. As relatively small as them tweaks may seem, DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue is notably better than its predecessor, and no less than one of the most interesting digital downloads available on Xbox LIVE Arcade.

Saving the world from underwear

After vanquishing their revered human leader Lord Von Prong, DeathSpank has been captured by Orques, who are now at all-out war with the humans. Peeling potatoes in an Orque dungeon is no job for a Hero of the Downtrodden, so DeathSpank puts his potato peeler to a more recreational use and breaks out of imprisonment, only to bump into his old friend Sandy, who gives our Dispenser of Justice one more Evil to Vanquish. As the end of the world draws nigh, the time has come to liberate the distinguished bearers of the six Thongs of Virtue - including Santa Claus - of their evil, possessive, and extremely skimpy underwear.

It turns out the most popular fast food in the
world is made of people.
I got DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue right after I'd completed DeathSpank. I didn't really care about it being the "second (and third) episode of the same game" at all; the reviews were slightly better, it seemed that Gilbert and his team had focused on the right things to make the game better, and finally, I had the firm belief that Thongs of Virtue would be to DeathSpank what LeChuck's Revenge was to The Secret of Monkey Island. Relatively speaking, I was quite right - but make no mistake about it, it does look and feel like the exact same game for the most important part. The basic rules of gameplay are exactly the same, 100% - Thongs of Virtue is just presented so much better than its predecessor, from every angle.

Due to the identical gameplay, this review probably won't be very long; just refer to the previous review if you're in need of some pointers. Though the graphics are exactly the same, the level design is so much better and littered with variety, just full of hilarious surprises every step of the way. There are a few larger settlements scattered across the map, and towards the end of the main storyline, you even get a ship which you can use to scavenge a few islands in the ocean that's bothered you up 'til then, after all that puddle swallows up about 30-40% of the world map... DeathSpank's even got a couple of off-key, improvised sea shanties to keep himself, and you the player, entertained. Most NPC's from the previous game return to accompany several truckloads of new ones; the quests they offer you are better than before, as well as their jokes. The character of DeathSpank is also somewhat more charming and less annoying, one step closer to Guybrush Threepwood. Which reminds me, not only does Thongs of Virtue feel more like Ron Gilbert's design, it pays direct homage to his earlier games. For example, the library puzzle from LeChuck's Revenge makes a slight return.

Some French town. Luckily, the great big
guidebook of heroes comes with a crash course
in French.
Although the weapons are better in both variety and basic effect, advanced combat tactics are still weak. Not only are the Justice attacks useless, I'm still not a fan of those Runestone abilities (which, again, prompt you to stick to a couple of low-level weapons to unlock a devastating special ability), 'cause the inventory limit is even more strict than it was before, due to many more truly useful weapons and items than you can possibly equip to get them out from cluttering up the inventory. For example, you need to carry a certain type of sword with you at all times to easily dispose of certain types of undead enemies. There's a ranged weapon which serves you well from the moment you get it right up 'til the end despite its low level, but it won't work on all enemies at all; you'd best have a whole array of disposable weapons, such as bazookas and flamethrowers, with you just in case you bump into a whole horde of tough enemies you must avoid melee contact with. That happens. A lot.

Bazookas? Flamethrowers? What you've got to understand right away is that this game knows no rules. That's why it's so exciting - so much funnier, smarter and less predictable than its predecessor throughout. One minute, you find yourself breaking out of a medieval dungeon. Then figuring out a way to destroy a haywire supercomputer smack in the middle of a dark forest, shooting every passer-by. Then, rescuing damsels in the Wild West - by hilarious means - and doing pest control for the local sheriff by going all John Marston on several groups of bandits. Then, becoming a pirate captain. Then, bypassing the impossible security of the North Pole to rescue the world from an evil, possessed Santa Claus. ...Yeah, it's insane. Insanely funny. Not much of those repetitive quests that plagued the first one, no constant running back and forth (thanks to more outhouses for saving and fast travel), and an all-around fantastic world to explore.

Dashing through the snow, DeathSpank's out to
Here, the level cap gets hit a bit too early for avid sidequesters; it's obvious, 'cause your level goes up at the exact same speed as in the first game, but this one's got much more content. The single DLC dungeon released for the game - and which is needed to collect all of the Achievements - raises the level cap by 1, perhaps exactly due to the early base cap. All of the 12 Achievements are a little bit harder to get than before, but not in the usual sense; they just require attention which you probably won't be able to pay to the game on the first playthrough unless you're using a guide. One or two Achievements aren't enough to raise the replay value of the game, especially if you've already scoured through all of the sidequests on the first round. There are a couple of endings to the game, but even the other ending is easy to achieve by loading the game after completion; it's all about one simple choice in the very end. The supposedly canonical ending paves the way for a prequel which never came, the other one the way to another sequel that did come, but which Gilbert wasn't a part of. So I guess they're both canonical, in a way, though completely different. Which makes just about as much sense as the whole game.

DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue is definitely worth its steep price, placing yet another question mark on the first game's equal price tag. It's lengthier, funnier, smarter and all-around better, one fine way to feed your hunger for video game parody. I don't think it's totally necessary to own both games, but if you do, be sure to play the first one first. As identical as these two games basically are, the first one is bound to disappoint if you're doing it in the wrong order. As for the third game, just leave it where it is. I'll perhaps return to cover that one later, but for now, let's fare our epic hero of awesomeness well with a high note.

+ Faster. Better. Stronger.
+ Fabulous level design
+ Great artillery
+ Less repetitive quests, and better control over the use of humour in general

- Advanced combat tactics are still a blur
- The level cap comes too early, along with the best equipment

< 8.6 >

keskiviikko 24. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - DeathSpank | Xbox 360 | 2010

GENRE(S): Action / RPG
RELEASED: July 13, 2010 (PS3)
DEVELOPER(S): Hothead Games

Hothead Games was founded in early 2006 as a privately funded independent developer and publisher. Two years later, they released their first episodic adventure game, Penny Arcade Adventures, with genre icon Ron Gilbert of Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island fame working in the capacity of a story and design consultant. While serving the same purposes for Telltale Games as they were outlining Tales of Monkey Island, he started designing a whole new game of his own for Hothead, in collaboration with Clayton Kauzlaric with whom he worked on the strategy game Total Annihilation in 1997; this game was to be Gilbert's first as main designer since 1991's Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. DeathSpank, an action-RPG Gilbert described as "Monkey Island meets Diablo", and loosely based on his Grumpy Gamer web comic, took almost three years to make. The game was ultimately released in two episodes due to its large size; the first "episode" was released in July 2010, and the second one came out only two months later. In the summer of 2011, a third game in the series was released, without Gilbert's involvement as he had moved on from Hothead Games to join his old LucasArts teammate Tim Schafer at Double Fine Productions. ...So, who cares about that one? These first two games form the real legend of DeathSpank - awaken your inner hero and take a stroll in this world of utter nonsense. Only one guy in the world can come up with this stuff.

"Hello, non-distinctive non-player character. I am... DeathSpank."

No-one really knows where this thong-wearing masked knight came from and why - and no one really cares, either. He is DeathSpank; the Dispenser of Justice, the Vanquisher of Evil, and a Hero to the Downtrodden, just as he introduces himself to just about everyone who's willing to listen to him talk for more than two seconds. Although his pompous demeanor might get on your nerves a bit, he does get the job done; ANY job. Heroism is his obsession, it's what he lives for. That, and a magical artifact known as... The Artifact. Unfortunately, he's not the only one after it. Of course he's not - what would a protagonist of a role-playing game do without a high-level arch nemesis? Duh!

Lay waste to the wild ones.
Let's talk about heroes. If you'd just casually ask me to name my "heroes" in the video game business, I'd probably tell you I've grown out of having actual "heroes"; anyone can hit, anyone can miss. That's pretty much the truth, too - besides, the media rarely talks about main designers nowadays, just studios. But behold, as a true legend of computer gaming makes a comeback to main designer status after 19 years on almost perfect exile, suddenly no-one talks about Hothead Games. It's all about Ron Gilbert. Ron Gilbert leaves Hothead, the sales drop. So do the ratings. Go figure. But, here I am once again getting ahead of myself. So let's rewind a bit.

I do have "heroes". Shigeru Miyamoto will always be my hero - no matter what he's up to nowadays, he's designed several top games of yesteryear because of which I still play games today, not to mention games I still take on a sporadic spin, three decades later. Hideo Kojima - not my favourite person in the world, but that don't change one tiny peck of what I think about him as a game designer. Hironobu Sakaguchi, obviously, together with composer Nobuo Uematsu. Those guys made Final Fantasy what it was up 'til the turn of the millennium, and just look where that franchise stands today without either one of these grand old men of J-RPG around in any capacity. Finally, Ron Gilbert - without whom I'd probably never have fallen for one PC game in my life. Perhaps the original Maniac Mansion didn't really grab me by the balls, but the famous script utility they specifically created for that game got perfected in just a couple of years, and resulted in the birth of several of the best, funniest and most intelligent point 'n' click adventure games ever made. After reading about it for so many years, I finally played Monkey Island in 2000. The Curse of Monkey Island, though, which wasn't designed by Gilbert... but through that game, I found The Secret of Monkey Island, and through that one, Gilbert's centerpiece Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, which I still consider one of the greatest games ever conceived. It changed my perspective on so many things - mainly on how fun playing on a PC can be. Say what you will, to me this 23-year old classic is still the best PC game ever made.

My first reaction to DeathSpank was not all positive, even though I was ecstatic to have Gilbert back on the scene, and back in the creative helm. 19 years is plenty of time to craft the outlines of your next pet project, and this is a guy who you know to suck every bit of innovation out of a simple gameplay scheme. It's not just any action-RPG, it's an action-RPG made by Ron Gilbert - it's going to be simple but fun to play, colourful, and most likely God damn hilarious... as well as expensive. A risk. Back when the first "episode" came out, I had just heard, maybe a day before its release, that it's more or less the first part of a two-part game. Its price felt too steep for just the "first half". The reviews weren't perfect, and I was in at least such a poor financial state that I actually cared about them, had it been a Ron Gilbert-brand game or not. I didn't do demos, at all. Not sure why. I always went straight for the full game - but only if I was 100% certain they were good. ...Which they always weren't. Nowadays, I'm not as careful. Even though it may sometimes feel the exact opposite, I'm not that judgmental anymore. I take risks. DeathSpank is one risk that has been waiting for taking for a very long time, and I'm glad I took it. It's not perfect, but it's got quite enough of those moments a huge fan of those good old SCUMM classics can't help but cherish. Or an RPG fan, as simple and streamlined as the game might be in that sense.

Pluckmuckel, the only real settlement in the
whole game. But it's a nice one.
The graphics are really good, the comic book look with everything out of proportion and deliberately unattractive character design works like a charm in a game of such humorous nature. The level design is quite unique, as the whole world is depicted as one giant globe, it's like... well, like any level in Super Mario Galaxy, on a game-wide scale; Choosing any direction from a certain point of the map might take you somewhere new, it's surprisingly vast and unlimited for a downloadable game of a relatively small bit size. However, when the whole world map finally unveils, you'll see how surprisingly straightforward it all was, and how much was obviously left for the sequel, or "second episode" to cover. There aren't a whole lot of different tunes in the game, but a LOT of dialogue. In the style of old SCUMM games, you can carry on with any conversation about as long as you want, but you can just as easily end the conversation any time you wish. It's all in how much you can take 'em jokes, nothing else. DeathSpank's tongue-in-cheek voiceover work, especially that of the main character (voiced by Michael Dobson) might start getting on your nerves towards the end, just as the humour itself. More about that later, though.

DeathSpank has a very simple role-playing concept. You are DeathSpank, a legendary hero whose primary mission - which he considers his own, but is more or less doing it for a woman (aren't they all?) - is to recover "The Artifact", a vague-looking... thing, which holds unimaginable power. It's quite the red herring to kick off two other primary quests; gathering materials for a witch so she can create a magical crystal used to open the path to The Artifact, and rescuing the kidnapped orphans of the town of Pluckmuckel from a very strange, narcissistic tyrant also obsessed with The Artifact. In between these quests, there are about 80 sidequests waiting to be accepted all across the map. Each one takes you about two minutes to complete, and the rewards are often quite remarkable; powerful enchanted items for both attack and defense, and great equipment. Most equipment can be bought from stores at some point of the game, but they can also be won by doing sidequests. Like in most conventional RPG's, you need to be on a certain level to use certain equipment, but you can bend the rules a bit with perks that, among other things, allow you to use equipment of a slightly higher tier number. The nature of the quests? Try "anything". At one point, you must fetch a taco of specific requirements (you read quite right) to a legendary blacksmith to convince him to make you a new sword. In one of the sidequests a crazy farmer sends you to retrieve unicorn crap for his crops - so you need to go to a forest filled with homicidal (!) unicorns, spice up their grass fodder with some laxative and wait 'til one comes to supper. Destroy a church bell to allow the rich and self-absorbed residents of a luxury cabin site to have some peace and quiet. You are a hero to all in need - they don't always have to be good guys. You're not the smartest cat around, but you know your sword like it's your... sword.

Items and equipment cannot be sold - but from the very beginning, you have something in your inventory which basically lets you "sell" your equipment. The Grinder can be used to literally grind any non-key item or weapon to real money. As DeathSpank himself describes the Grinder: gotta love modern science!

Again quite in the style of old SCUMM games, there are some puzzles connected to the quests, but the kind and clever gameplay designers worked out a loophole for players who either weren't there when point 'n' click was the jig, or any good at them. Just going around and breaking stuff is very useful, as among many other items you might stumble on Fortune Cookies, which allow you to unlock hints for quests; the more complex the quest, the more the number of hints for one goes up, naturally. You can't buy Fortune Cookies at stores and at least it felt like the game runs completely out of 'em from a certain point onwards, so use them sparingly - you might damn well need them on some of the quests on the later half of the game. Just an example, and a free hint; a lone hermit is in possession of a sealed, wooden box which is impossible to open, and he gives it to you for safekeeping, hoping you can find a way to open it. Just looking around a bit, you might notice that there's a whole colony of termites just a rock throw away from his house. Termites. Wood. 1+1. Aww, how I've missed this shit. Too bad there's so little of it, ultimately. Most of the quests are about killing something. Or simply fetching something. I seem to remember it's been more entertaining.

What would happen if a bear and an antelope got
it on? Well, a bearalope, of course.
For the absolute majority of the game, you fight monsters and other hostile beings. You can assign both the digital pad and each one of the face buttons to anything you wish. For example, I assign 'em like this: Up = Health Potion, Left = high-level food, Right = mid-level food, Down = an item for powerful offense, such as "Hell from Heaven", X = primary melee weapon, Y = club or axe, B = magical melee weapon, and finally A = ranged weapon. It works out quite well, too. Whatever you choose, combat is quite fun, but if it's the Diablo level of thoroughly smooth operation you're expecting here, you're in for a disappointment. 'Spank takes breathers of his own accord from time to time, his range isn't always as long as it looks like, and he moves weird. Adjusting the camera to suit your current needs doesn't help, as it tends to auto-pan during combat. Weapons marked with arrows and highlighted in purple are Weapons of Justice; whenever you land a successful hit, your Justice Meter goes up, and when it's at maximum, you are supposed to be able to unleash a powerful Justice attack with any weapon. In reality, there are only a few certain weapons in the whole game with a Justice attack that makes any concrete difference. During your travels, you will find Runestones, which allow you to combine very specific sets of weapons for even more powerful Justice attacks, and these ones are really powerful, but the thing is that the weapon requirements are usually quite weak. You must equip yourself with two weak weapons to gain one special attack you can just as easily do without, and especially with the very strict inventory limit that's just bull. Having gone over the kinda small, but eventually notable flaws to the whole combat system, and the ultimately repetitive quests leaves us with the humour.

Divine punishment for the men of the cloth.
Is DeathSpank funny enough to bear through? Of course it is. ...BUT, again, if you're looking for something on the level of Monkey Island, you're in the wrong place. The presentation is very similar to Day of the Tentacle, actually, but keep in mind that this is a much longer game, and while Day of the Tentacle might've been sensical (rhyme) from time to time due to its intelligent plot, all sense is thrown out the window the second DeathSpank takes his first step. The plot is really simple and irrelevant, allowing just about every single sentence to be a joke. I probably don't need to explain that in such a lengthy game, the jokes WILL dry down and repeat towards the end. The humour loses its surprise factor, it becomes completely predictable, and simply put, the jokes might well drive you to fury whereas they entertained the hell out of you during the first couple of hours. Especially when a quest itself turns into a bad, repetitive joke, such as fetching stuff for the same NPC, one item at a time, from the exact same place, over five times in a row. All in all, it's not nearly as brilliantly and intelligently crafted, and full of surprises, as perhaps the most obvious point of comparison when it comes to RPG parody - South Park: The Stick of Truth.

DeathSpank is quite spot-on with its general difficulty - it all boils down to how dedicated you are with sidequesting. Even managing all the sidequests and beating the game doesn't guarantee hitting the level cap, though; you might need to run around the high-level areas after the completion of the game for 20-30 minutes to do that, if your mind is set on collecting all of the 12 Achievements. There's no real challenge to the Achievements besides bearing the game just a bit beyond the box. DeathSpank's a fine icon for your Gamerscore list of completed games on the Xbox.

DeathSpank is definitely expensive, occasionally irritating, very often tedious and repetitive, but it can also be a fine and outright hilarious time-killing tool. I think that in the end, Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion fans will be pleased with their purchase, especially once they realize that even if DeathSpank's merely the first episode of a two-part trip, you don't necessarily have to buy the second one - after all, the story's not exactly exciting. It's extremely recommendable if you liked this one, though, and I'll very soon tell you why.

+ Character development is simple, straightforward and accessible; you don't have to be any sort of RPG buff to be able to enjoy DeathSpank
+ Unique art style and level design
+ Well designed control scheme
+ With Ron Gilbert's signatures all over it, it's funny as heck...

- ...Until the humour becomes too much of a standard, predictable and dull
- Repetitive quests, both in storyline and on the side
- Weak advanced combat tactics; most of the time, you get along just fine mashing your way through
- Steep price for a notably smaller game than the equally priced "second episode"

< 8.0 >

maanantai 22. syyskuuta 2014

Marvel Marathon : The Summary

In March 2013, I engaged in the most ambitious VGMania marathon to date. Just a few months into it, especially after reviewing so many horrible games in a row, I came to the conclusion that I had bitten more than I could chew, and just a few months back from this moment, I thought I'd never reach the end. However, I came through, and the Marvel marathon has finally come to an end, opening up a whole array of new options for me. If there's one thing I've decided during this 18-month long trip, it's that I'm never going to take on another one again. Marathons are good, but the line must be drawn somewhere. It's not just Marvel, not just dozens of bad games in a row - I could've done 60 good Mario games in a row and it still wouldn't serve my purposes. So, even if a few marathons are coming in the very near future, the line is drawn at about 30 games per round. 30 is good; remember the Disney marathon? It had about 30 games and I was done with it in a month. I had way more spare time back then, though.

No matter how much it tired me out and no matter how much of it was absolutely horrible - The Uncanny X-Men and Iron Man / X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal as the worst examples (I just had to fit in the latter's title again) - the whole Marvel thing was a positive experience for me, especially those few times when I stumbled onto an honestly good game, not to mention some game that was totally new to me, most of which were Spider-Man games. So, I hit at least one of the main goals I have whenever I take such long trips: finding something good and new, which I probably wouldn't play if there wasn't some higher cause to it. So, after all the self-doubt and violent bashing of my own work, I'm proud of what I've done.

Before going to the long-anticipated summary of the whole thing, I'm announcing a week or two of total randomness when it comes to the reviews - it's a welcome change for sure - and starting on October 1st at the earliest, I'm starting work on this year's Monster Mash. It's my favourite recurring feature of the year and now that I'm done with this exhausting marathon, I believe it's going to result in some really good reviews. Not really sure about how good all the games are going to be, but I'm already sensing a spike in enthusiasm anyway. I have lined up about 10-11 games from all console generations; some are there to tie up some loose ends, some are totally new to me (but games I've wanted to play for quite a while), some are old favourites which I've wanted to review for ages, and then there's the brand new game mentioned earlier to serve as the climax. I hope I'll be done by or on Halloween (ON Halloween would be quite epic), but if I'm not, the Monster Mash is over when it's over. So, no embarrassing breaks like last year.


On to the Marvel summary. I've reviewed a total of 60 Marvel Comics-related games between March 24th, 2013, and today. First, I'd like to note that the original list actually included 65 games; there were two cases in which I felt I was the absolutely wrong person to review the game, and two which simply were too old to review with any glint of respect, and finally one DOS game which I couldn't get working on neither one of my computers under any circumstances. I can assure you that the average of the marathon wouldn't gone up one hint with any of these games.

Even the best game of the marathon had to settle for a rating of 8.4. And here it is:

Spider-Man | N64 | 2000
Congratulations to Spider-Man, who indeed cashed in on a pretty decent average despite a few total failures. The worst game of the marathon managed the impossible and surpassed long-time "ringleader" Attack of the Killer Tomatoes as the worst game ever made according to the current records of VGMania, with a rating of 1.0:

The Uncanny X-Men | NES | 1988
There were nearly as much X-Men games on the plate as Spider-Man games, but only one to reach and surpass a conclusive rating of 8. Enough jabbering, here is the whole list of games, in order of the main protagonists and the year of their first appearance in Marvel Comics.



1991 ... Captain America and the Avengers | NES | 5.3
1993 ... Captain America and the Avengers | SNES | 4.5
2011 ... Captain America - Super Soldier | DS | 6.2



2005 ... Fantastic 4 | GBA | 6.7
2005 ... Fantastic 4: Flame On | GBA | 4.8


HULK (1962)

1994 ... The Incredible Hulk | SNES | 6.5
2003 ... The Incredible Hulk | GBA | 3.5
2008 ... The Incredible Hulk | DS | 4.5



1990 ... The Amazing Spider-Man | PC | 6.9
1990 ... The Amazing Spider-Man | GB | 5.2
1992 ... Spider-Man 2 | GB | 5.8
1993 ... Spider-Man 3: Invasion of the Spider-Slayers | GB | 2.5
1991 ... Spider-Man | GEN | 6.1
1992 ... Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six | NES | 5.0
1992 ... Spider-Man / X-Men: Arcade's Revenge | SNES | 3.5
1994 ... Spider-Man / Venom: Maximum Carnage | SNES | 7.5
1995 ... Venom / Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety | SNES | 5.5
1994 ... Spider-Man | SNES | 2.0
2000 ... Spider-Man | N64 | 8.4
2000 ... Spider-Man | GBC | 5.8
2001 ... Spider-Man 2: The Sinister Six | GBC | 7.0
2002 ... Spider-Man: Mysterio's Menace | GBA | 7.7
2002 ... Spider-Man | GBA | 8.0
2004 ... Spider-Man 2 | GBA | 7.1
2007 ... Spider-Man 3 | GBA | 8.0
2005 ... Ultimate Spider-Man | GBA | 7.4
2005 ... Ultimate Spider-Man | DS | 7.8
2006 ... Spider-Man: Battle for New York | DS | 6.4
2007 ... Spider-Man: Friend or Foe | DS | 5.0
2008 ... Spider-Man: Web of Shadows | DS | 8.0
2009 ... Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions | Xbox 360 | 7.5


IRON MAN (1963)

1996 ... Iron Man / X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal | GB | 1.4
2002 ... The Invincible Iron Man | GBA | 5.9
2008 ... Iron Man | 4.5
2010 ... Iron Man 2 | 6.4


X-MEN (1963)

1988 ... The Uncanny X-Men | NES | 1.0
1989 ... X-Men | PC | 5.5
1991 ... X-Men II | PC | 2.2
1991 ... Wolverine | NES | 5.9
1994 ... Wolverine: Adamantium Rage | SNES | 6.1
1993 ... X-Men | GEN | 6.5
1995 ... X-Men 2: Clone Wars | GEN | 5.8
1994 ... X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse | SNES | 7.5
2000 ... X-Men: Mutant Academy | GBC | 2.0
2000 ... X-Men: Mutant Wars | GBC | 4.9
2001 ... X-Men: Wolverine's Rage | GBC | 5.3
2001 ... X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse | GBA | 7.0
2003 ... X2: Wolverine's Revenge | GBA | 8.1
2006 ... X-Men - The Official Game | GBA | 5.0
2006 ... X-Men - The Official Game | DS | 4.1
2009 ... X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Uncaged Edition | Xbox 360 | 7.8



2003 ... Daredevil | GBA | 5.9



1990 ... Silver Surfer | NES | 6.3


BLADE (1973)

2000 ... Blade | GBC | 6.9



1990 ... The Punisher | NES | 7.0
1991 ... The Punisher: Ultimate Payback | GB | 5.0
1993 ... The Punisher | GEN | 8.0



2009 ... Marvel vs. Capcom 2 | Xbox 360 | 6.8
2005 ... Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects | DS | 4.5
2009 ... Marvel Super Hero Squad | DS | 6.0



< 5.8 >

REVIEW - Marvel Super Hero Squad | DS | 2009

GENRE(S): Action / Beat 'em up
RELEASED: October 20, 2009 (DS, PSP)
DEVELOPER(S): Blue Tongue Entertainment, Halfbrick Studios (DS), Mass Media (PS2, PSP)

Ladies and gentlemen, this is it. 18 months, a dazzling total of 60 games - the Marvel marathon has come to its finale. Now we're not even looking for a perfect game, we've learned much during this time and it's safe to assume that there isn't a Marvel game good enough in all of history to provide for a truly epic climax to this longest VGMania marathon there ever was (or ever will be). In accordance to my personal code, let's look up something as strange as possible instead. The Marvel Super Hero Squad is actually a toy line for small children, launched by Hasbro in 2006 or 2007 to re-introduce Marvel characters as family-friendly favourites as opposed to their original (and film) counterparts, whose adventures were mostly written for young adults. The toys were quite a hit and an animated series based on them premiered on Cartoon Network in September 2009; as expected, the first of many video game licenses leeching off its success came a month later.

Man, this is just so wrong.

Dr. Doom and his Lethal Legion are in search of the Infinity Sword's missing pieces, which alone are quite enough to grant their bearers immense power. The Super Hero Squad runs in to save Super Hero City. HERO UP! ...Eh...

At least the game doesn't really
suffer from the touch screen at all.
Why are they doing this? I mean just about every cartoon writer and artist of the 21st century. To me, it all started with the first of the now various reimaginings of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When I first heard that the heroes in a half shell were coming back, I was ecstatic beyond belief. At the age of 19, I dug up my old TMNT comic books, taped episodes of the old show, and even what I got left of the action figure collection I had, and rented the first two live-action movies for the hell of it. I watched the first episode of the 2003 show and I was furious at what they had done to my childhood heroes, and what they were selling them as to the new generation. Sure, it was closer to Eastman and Laird's original vision, but me and all of my old friends shared the same thought: the 1987 cartoon perfected the franchise. It was light-hearted and comical on the exact level it needed to be. How about all the crap that has come under Batman's fine name? On my account, that started reeling in even before the new TMNT, with Batman Beyond. I could never stand that show, even if it was done by people who knew their business. Now we're not just talking about action-oriented cartoons - how about Disney's newer shows, most of were essentially created to fill in the gaps on the Disney Channel? Those fucking American Dragons and Kim Possibles and the 3D Winnie the Pooh cartoon? GOD!

Here we have Super Hero Squad. So they had a toy line, that's OK - you can make any sort of toys out of anything and I personally don't mind, I'm not exposed to them. But a cartoon... really? Did you really need to make one? All these twisted, family-friendly caricatures of kick-ass superheroes moms and dads have known all their lives, and are now forced to watch or otherwise be exposed to? Why couldn't you just put the old cartoons (Spider-Man, X-Men...) on re-runs? Kids would've loved those, we should know! This generation's knowledge on classic comics evolves in the wrong order. They watch all that crap as kids, that's their perception of "classic". Then as they grow up, they might go into nostalgia mode and check out those old ones just for novelty's sake. "They're old", "they're obsolete", all that shit. "Why is TMNT so funny?" "Why is Wolverine so angry?" And if they're really out of it, they're asking "Who's Bruce Wayne? Who's Peter Parker?" It's not their fault, it's those fucking assholes who keep ruining this shit for us AND them. Things were so much better when I was growing up. And much more simple. Wolverine was Wolverine, not some ultra-heroic, wise-cracking bobblehead figure with a permanent smirk on his face.

Getting back to the harsh reality and accepting it, Marvel Super Hero Squad isn't such a bad game. It's just not fit for adults at all, and I don't think a possible adult audience ever crossed the developers' minds, which might explain why the game only came out on a couple of portable systems, the family-oriented Wii and the PS2 which was on life support at the time. It's a very simple, straightforward mixture of a beat 'em up and a platformer, which kinda reminds me of Lego games... when I'm at my least judgmental. (At least Lego is clear-cut parody, not an "alternative" or whatever the Super Hero Squad's supposed to be.) The level design is described as "maze-like"; you can rest assured, there are no mazes in this game. If a few more platforms to jump on than usual makes a maze, then sure. The music's either annoying or unmemorable, the most memorable thing when it comes to the sound are the corny "HERO UP!" or "LEEEEETHAL LEGION!!!" proclamations in the start of each stage. They seriously sound like something off a superhero parody (like Warner Bros.' old Duck Rogers cartoons) rather than good catchphrases for kids.

Thor and Doom go to church.
Despite its lack of appeal, the game could've been good, even by adult standards. It has good base controls and for once I like the idea of alternating between heroes and villains, 'cause it has a point; you'll be able to play any character in the game once you're done with the main mode, and quite like in the Lego games, all characters have different abilities; mostly cosmetic here though. The main mode is the Story Mode, which contains seven levels with a few stages each, starring a different character on a different mission with a boss battle looming at the end. The boss battles are designed quite like poor man's Smash Bros. - you are placed in a multi-layered level where you need to either beat the hell out of your opponent or hurl him/her out of the playfield enough times to drain 'em out of their extra lives. And this is what the Battle Mode is all about, but like I said, it's a very limited experience. Don't go expecting miracles, even the size of the very first Smash Bros. title. You have to make due with what you got.

L and R are both used for blocking, B is somewhat strangely the primary attack button, while Y unleashes a special attack which can be charged by holding the button. A is used for jumping, and X for a grapple, which mostly benefits you against shielded opponents. The touch screen is used only whenever your "super bar" is full; it allows you to work out a brief period of invincibility or a super attack that destroys most enemies around you. It's that simple in its entirety, and it would work if the game didn't get so boring so quickly. Despite allowing you to use a different character each level, the levels are lengthy as hell and there's a certain repeating pattern to all of them in both the shapes of the terrain and objectives. The enemies are almost exactly the same throughout the game. There are just some certain character-specific opponents to create an illusion of diversity.

It wasn't so long ago I replayed X-Men Origins: Wolverine - a really brutal, violent game starring Wolverine. Now for the "climax" of this whole long-ass marathon I played the first level of a polar opposite of a game using the same character... or some twisted caricature at least. Looking back, I probably should've done it the other way around... oh, well. The Marvel marathon's been a long and confusing journey as it is. There have been a lot of bad games, a lot of even worse games, some fairly good games, some almost great. So where does this last one stand? Let's cut it some slack: don't play it. Spare yourself. Let your kids play it if you're the most resilient collector, but make sure they know this has nothing to do with the real thing. It's not a bad game; it's a fairly good gameplay concept ruined with generic execution and one horrible license. They should've sticked to the toys, really.

+ Well, it has Thor... or something Thor-ish
+ The concept could've worked if they put a little more effort into it; Smash Bros. meets Marvel meets platformer

- The source material
- Both modes are only half baked

< 6.0 >

sunnuntai 21. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects | DS | 2005

GENRE(S): Fighting
RELEASED: September 20, 2005 (GCN, PS2, Xbox)
DEVELOPER(S): EA Canada, Nihilistic Software, Sensory Sweep Studios (DS), Team Fusion (PSP)

In the summer of 2005, Marvel Comics launched a miniseries entitled Marvel Nemesis, created in close collaboration with everyone's least favourite big game developer - though they were still not quite as unpopular as they are today - Electronic Arts. Of course, the whole point of EA being a part of the series' creation was to promote the video game Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects, which was released on five different systems, September through October. The game was a 3D, one-on-one fighting game, which pitted a host of Marvel's heroes and villains alike against a group of EA's aliens calling themselves the Imperfects. The comic book series wasn't that specially received, but the game outright bombed; all versions of it, but once again the award for hosting the least appreciated version of the the game goes to the Nintendo DS. Let's have a look.

Boring... so boring

Brilliant alien scientist Niles Van Roekel unleashes his small army of genetically enhanced supervillains - dubbed the Imperfects - on New York City. A group of superheroes - including Spider-Man, Daredevil, as well as members of both the X-Men and the Fantastic Four - form an uneasy alliance with a couple of their world's villains to stop yet another alien invasion.

The good news is that you actually
CAN push that guy off the roof.
Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects doesn't sound that bad, really. When you don't think about it that much, you might say: hey, well, they already had Capcom vs. SNK, and Marvel vs. Capcom, so what's wrong with Marvel vs. EA? That sounds stupid, so let's just rename the game to something a bit tastier. But hey... EA? What are EA gonna do? What could they do in 2005, before they had their paws on every third game? Put in the helicopter from the Strike games as a playable "character"? Or Wayne Gretzky? A Sims avatar? OK, OK, now I'm really being an asshole. No, they created a bunch of new characters - I don't think they ever meant to use them anywhere else, except perhaps future collaborations with Marvel. Which never happened - 'cause Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects was a total critical and commercial failure. For a good reason, I might add. It's an extremely easy game - like piss-through easy - but to truly complete it, you must give it dozens of times more attention than any self-respecting gamer is willing to, after seeing it through just once.

The level design is honestly the game's strongest hook; the incredible simplicity of combat can also be traced back to it, though. The levels are multi-layered, vast environments, where most background items can either be broken or used against your opponent. Fighting on a road is quite annoying as you can never predict being run over by a car yourself; what's with these New York drivers? As far as the rest of the graphical presentation goes, I guess the game looks all right; after all, it's a moderately early DS game with full 3D - there could be just a little more light, though.

Combat is indeed simple as heck. Get in any sort of trouble and you can just grapple your opponent and hurl him/her to the other side of the screen to buy yourself some resting time; they won't even try to block the grapple. Keep punching Y for an endless array of simple, yet effective combos. Double up the power with holding R. It's really that simple, and it will get you to the end. Since this is a DS game, of course there's slight wankery on the "other" department as well. Whenever your opponent is close to biting dust, you're to whip out the stylus and click the touch screen with a couple of well-timed pokes to actually KILL your opponent with a fancy finisher. Wow. Whether you actually have time for such wankery or not is a whole other thing. In other words, you don't.

The final boss. Not only is he a pushover,
but I think DC Comics needs to have
a chat with EA.
Out of the 18 playable characters, only Wolverine, Spider-Man and the Human Torch (I call him that instead of Johnny Storm to avoid confusion with the EA-created "Johnny Ohm") are unlocked from the beginning. Now the first thing that comes to mind is that you probably unlock the rest of the characters on the go - wrong. I'll get to it, but for now, let's just choose Logan. You get three alternatives for the arcade mode's duration: short, medium, long, and even in this case, only the short version's unlocked from the start. On top of all, it really ain't that short. You still have to beat every Imperfect, some brainwashed versions of your allies, and the final boss (just push him over) to get to the end. The portrait of your character comes up, the same portrait you've been seeing after every match since the beginning of the game, and some text to congratulate you on your "big victory". And the circle just starts again. By winning matches, you get money which you can spend at the Comic Shop to buy new characters - for a LOT - or alternative outfits, or new levels. Unfortunately, there's not an option to spend your money to upgrade this extremely boring "experience" in any way. You need to play through the arcade mode at least twice to be able to afford just one more character, I reckon. You realize how many times you need to see this borefest through to unlock everyone? Need I remind you that half of the first time's already quite enough?

This game is a real drag. Not of the unplayable kind, but if you want entertainment, look for it somewhere else. When there's finally a handheld system that a fighting game can actually work on, they make something like this. Though the 3D level design's good, I would've rather had a fully functional and just somewhat challenging 2D game than a fancy, but ultimately empty makeover.

+ The level design is quite unique, it could work in a more functional context

- Easy, empty and boring
- Utterly fails to encourage the dedication it requires for completion; I mean, THREE characters available from the start? Really?!

< 4.5 >

torstai 18. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - Marvel vs. Capcom 2 | Xbox 360 | 2009

GENRE(S): Fighting
RELEASED: February 2000 (ARC)
AVAILABLE ON: ARC, DC, PS2, PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360
DEVELOPER(S): Capcom, Backbone Emeryville (PS3, Xbox 360)

After releasing the Street Fighter-influenced pairing of X-Men: Children of the Atom and Marvel Super Heroes for the arcades to great success, Capcom got a crazy idea to expand the roster for future games in the series. The 1996 arcade game X-Men vs. Street Fighter - later ported to the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn - literally pitted the X-Men against some of the most popular characters from the Street Fighter franchise, more specifically Street Fighter Alpha, within the confines of one criminally insane plotline. The game got overwhelming reception, so 1997's Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter took the concept one step further by having characters from the whole Marvel roster against another ensemble cast from Street Fighter. Well, the next "logical" step was to expand from Street Fighter to other Capcom IP's; the result was one of the craziest tag-team based fighting games ever created, namely Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes, in which you could finally do what you've always dreamed of: let the Hulk have it by using Mega Man. No? Well, that's a bummer, 'cause having Hulk and the Mega Man going at each other is even more inevitable in the 2000 sequel to the game, Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes. This game, originally released in the arcades and on the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast (just one of the classic Dreamcast games to be ported to other consoles upon the system's discontinuation), was so popular in its time, that it ended up being re-released on the PlayStation Network and Xbox LIVE Arcade in the summer of 2009. One drunken night, one fit of insanity, there I was: several euros and two healthy wrists short. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is one insane game, through and through.


Parker & Brock Industries.
French pirate turned mankind's protector, Ruby Heart, traces Earth's recent decline to an evil entity answering to the name "Abyss". Helpless against it by herself, she summons Earth's greatest heroes to a three-on-three tournament to see which team is capable enough of taking on this enigmatic foe - and lest we forget, this group of individuals strangely comprises of Jill Valentine, Ryu, Ken, Spider-Man, eight of the X-Men, Mega Man and an anthropomorphic cactus who seems to use his penis as his primary weapon, and about 40 other colourful personalities. Whew.

Where was I? Oh yeah, that one night. I was drinking with one of my best friends - at home - and we started talking about fighting games. At that time, I hadn't played a one-on-one fighting game in years, and I had no idea what was happening in the scene. I guess the new Mortal Kombat - which went on to blow my mind much later - had come out some months ago and sparked this walk down memory lane, when games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat (II) were king. This friend of mine was only a small child back when the games were released, he more or less grew up with Tekken - of course that franchise was also one of the focus points of the whole conversation. At some point, we started talking about Marvel vs. Capcom; neither of us had ever played it, a Marvel vs. Capcom 3 had been out for a while and we'd been hearing good things about it, but it was still Marvel vs. Capcom 2 which seemed the ultimate experience in this very, very strange crossover franchise as far as professional reviews made us believe. Powered by at least a six-pack each, we headed to Xbox LIVE Arcade to civilize ourselves with Marvel vs. Capcom 2. And what a culture shock it was.

The power of the punch.
The line-up is evenly divided between Marvel and Capcom characters, and either they really were crazy when they were making this game, or they just ran out of ideas as far as the Capcom roster goes. Or, they just wanted to make the game's Japanese origins more obvious, as if every single element in the game wasn't enough.. Mega Man's OK, his presence is even expected in a candid ensemble like this, but Roll? Hell, why not Dr. Light while we're at it? Well, not even Roll is from the worst end. In addition to Street Fighter, the main focus is on characters from Darkstalkers, the obnoxious vampire-themed fighting game franchise from the late 90's. The gaps are filled with characters from Mega Man games like I already said (including a few from the forgettable Mega Man Legends which got the Mega Man 64 port around the time of the game's original release), SonSon who's apparently related to the main character of the 1984 arcade game of the same name, Strider from his namesake series, Captain Commando - a,k.a. "Commando the 3rd" from his namesake game, and finally some Star Gladiator and Cyberbots buttmunches no-one remembers in the West. Oh yeah, and Jill Valentine from Resident Evil - with her "faithful companions", zombies and dogs from the Umbrella mansion. Interesting. And Ruby Heart, a female pirate captain who's supposed to be the main protagonist of the game, but is both a forgettable character by design and one crappy character to add to your team (of course, the default choice for every pick on the character select screen, so don't be too hasty). And finally, who could forget Amingo - a fat cactus with a sombrero and a huge, spiked penis, on a mission from the gods of the desert? Cooky.

Like most arcade ports, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 has a few options for graphical filtering, but unlike most arcade ports, here it don't matter squat if you go with "classic" or "smooth". You can't tweak the game to look any better by current standards, only slightly less rough, so if you can't appreciate old-school 2D, too bad - it looks great as such. No complaints there.,. but man, does the whole wretched thing sound horrible or what? The soundtrack, comprised of some lounge jazz and weird funk that only appeals to the Japs and Jap-empaths (I know some) in a game like this, is just stunningly revolting. Quotes from the characters, both in-game and between matches sound dumb and repetitive, and the sound effects, including the combat grunts (especially when it comes to female anime characters) are perfectly intolerable. My advice is, mute your monitor and put on some good, violent music. This is gonna get rough, and the last thing you need is that whole array of useless garbage coming out of your speakers all at the same time.

This is the first and only game since Bayonetta which has sounded so God damn irritating I've almost thrown the controller out the window rather because of that than the game's difficulty. However, like Bayonetta, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 IS unforgiving... if you're not willing to make things easier for yourself by looking up some sort of guide from the net. An in-game tutorial is practically non-existent, as the "How to Play" section in the main menu is more of a digital instruction manual, filled with text and only a description of the moves (high punch, low punch etc.), as well as instructions on how to use the game's specialties to your full advantage, specialties with content you don't even know before an extensive drill with the game itself. By that time, you have no need for a tutorial - but your need for a strategy guide has not gone anywhere. You can practice in "Practice" (duh), but you'll only be able to go at it with a bunch of stoic rag dolls, or a friend; if you're both new to this game, no amount of practice can prepare you for the CPU's frustrating assist and combo wankery, which doesn't seem to work all that smooth when you're trying to do it. It tends to give you the feeling that you're doing something horribly wrong even hours into the game - but you're not. You're just not doing it right enough. Doing it right means murdering the shit out of your Xbox 360 controller - and it doesn't feel that good.

I'm a Resident Evil fan for life, so I guess I
can't help but smirk when Jill turns up to
heal her partner with a green herb.
I strongly represent the generation when modern analog control didn't exist, and one-on-one fighting games flourished. Of course the Tekken and Virtua Fighter franchises got the option for analog control pretty soon into their big breaks, but I just can't get into the zone with analog control, not even in those games. Regardless whether you went with PlayStation, the Nintendo 64 or the Sega Saturn back in the day, you soon discovered how digital control was getting slaughtered. The PlayStation had a digital pad severed into four separate buttons, making traditional ha-dou-ken combos quite painful; the Nintendo 64's controller was huge and the very rare games that merely supported the digital pad utilized it for something else than actually playing, and the Sega Saturn had a "disc" in a traditional pad's place - looking back, it might've been the best solution in the evolution of the digital pad at that point. So let's make the jump forward to the second-to-last console war between the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (even if the "war" part isn't really a proper term nowadays). If I was forced to choose, I'd rather play every fighting game on the PlayStation 3, hands down. As great as the Xbox 360 controller is in regular use, its digital pad is shit - there's no workaround for that pure fact. As long as you're using it in a game like Gears of War, where switching between weapons is assigned to the digital pad, it works. But in a game where it's the natural choice for movement... I'll just say I'm so glad I got the new Mortal Kombat for the PlayStation 3 although it was the Xbox 360 version that was practically shoved in my face at the time. You can always say "just get used to analog control, then", but in that case you obviously haven't witnessed the rage this game inflicts upon you. If you're a casual player playing on Easy, you might have a chance of beating the game - but not without doing some serious damage to whichever input you choose.

One more method to make the game a little easier for yourself is looking up a list of the best fighters in the game. Let's think about this; in fighting games of yore, you picked any character, you mastered that one character, you were pretty much unbeatable if you were using that character - Ken, Scorpion, Law for me. You picked any other character, some guy or gal that was actually way better than your favourite character, might've even had the best attributes in the whole game, you lost. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 works differently. First of all, you need to forget about sticking to favourites. Ryu, Ken, Wolverine, Spider-Man, you're probably into Mega Man just for nostalgic kicks, perhaps good characters, but not even near the game's best if you're willing to win this thing. Let's put it this way: first of all, every match-up is completely randomized, even between the inevitable failures during Arcade Mode. You bump into a Tier 6 or 7 match with Cable, Magneto and Cyclops as a team (like I said, randomized), you can just forfeit right there, you're not going to win. Not if you don't know the game inside out. Maybe on Easy, but even on Easy it's very unlikely at that point of the game - your hands and forearms are already killing you, and all of those three guys have hyper combos that are tough to survive even if you manage to block 'em completely, especially if all three perform a hyper together. There are about ten guys and gals listed by many sources as pretty much ultimate team-ups for Marvel vs. Capcom 2. I suggest you use those lists to your advantage if you want to beat one arcade round of the game. Don't worry about the final boss, though - compared to what you've been through with the 21 assholes you beat to get there, Abyss is a pushover.

Yeah, so in reality Magneto would beat both
guys with a snap of his fingers. And wipe his
ass with Rush afterwards.
There are no special endings for any of the characters in the slightest, just a comic vaguely showing you the aftermath of the big fight, which is even more illogical and awkward than the game itself, and the credits. Congratulations, you just beat one of the most frustrating games of the 21st century. Even bigger congratulations are in order if you did it to the game's own soundtrack, without failing once and getting just one Achievement from it. There are 12 Achievements, four for each main game mode - single player, multiplayer, online multiplayer. The last four are pretty much impossible to get, since due to the expiration of Marvel's contracts with both Capcom and Activision, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 has been taken down from the LIVE servers; that can't bode well for the game's multiplayer server. Don't be mad - the single player Achievements are impossible enough; you can probably simply remove the game from your Gamerscore list every time you're done with it.

Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is a fun idea, but Capcom took it a bit too far. I'm just not into its overtly Japanese antics which place a huge exclamation point on the game's already tough learning curve and frustratingly high difficulty. In certain moods, it can be an addictive bashfest, especially if you're not taking the thought of beating it too seriously, but if I had a choice between two spiked logs up my ass, I'd take the one branded "Sony". I'm guessing I got the game at a time my old PS3 hard drive was out of capacity, or my experience with fighting games was not fresh enough to have me realize the Xbox controller's inferiority in this genre - and this genre alone. From where I stand, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is a criminally overrated game. I might want to try the third game some day. But not now.

+ Looks really good
+ A unique and innovative game in the genre, back in its arcade days
+ A huge cast of characters...

- ...The Capcom side of which is unfortunately littered with "Big in Japan"; the Japanese origins of the game are generally a bit too obvious, which is distracting when having the other half of the roster comprising of American comic book characters
- Sounds intolerable, through and through; sound might very well be the game's most frustrating element
- Unforgiving learning curve and difficulty level even for genre veterans
- The Xbox controller isn't fit for such a hectic 2D one-on-one (excuse me, three-on-three)
- There are a few choice team-ups that are virtually impossible to beat without the extensive use of really cheap tactics that spoil the fun

< 6.8 >

maanantai 15. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - The Punisher | GEN | 1994

GENRE(S): Beat 'em up
DEVELOPER(S): Capcom, Sculptured Software (GEN)

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

Frank 'n Fury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

< 8.0 >

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

GENRE(S): Rail shooter
DEVELOPER(S): Beam Software

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

Plead insanity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

< 5.0 >