Quality & Content Videogame Reviews

Xenosaga Episode 2: Jenseits von Gut und Bose

Xenosaga Episode 2: Jenseits von Gut und Bose, is the much-anticipated follow-up to Xenosaga: Der Wille Zur Macht, and is part of a planned six-episode epic saga to be released within the next decade. This is arguably the most ambitious project in gaming history, and, because Xenosaga 2 is only one game out of a six-part series, it can be difficult to review this game as a whole as opposed to just one part, which is how the developers may prefer it. This being said, there’s obviously a lot of content in this game to merit its own review, as there should be for any software costing $75. So, how does Episode 2 measure up? Well, while in the end fans won’t be disappointed—by much—and newcomers will find a lot of innovative gameplay mechanics, Xenosaga 2 still ends up falling somewhat short.

The Xenosaga series takes place approximately 4000 years in our future. Technology reigns supreme, nanomachines cure all physical illnesses and humanity has spread across the stars, although they have forgotten the location of their planet of origin, Earth, also known within the game as “Lost Jerusalem.” Episode 2 begins right where Episode 1 took off—in a manner of speaking. First, viewers are treated to a much-needed flashback that takes place 14 years earlier prior to Episode 1, which serves as the game’s battle tutorial and further explores the mystery surrounding chaos, the enigmatic “spiritualist” from the first game who’s able to freeze gnosis (an ethereal alien race) in their tracks. It is the cut-scenes that define the Xenosaga series, as they help tell a very rich and unique story, and Xenosaga 2 does not disappoint. Players are introduced to a high-tech space ship and dazzling flying mech battles over the lights of a night-time metropolis within the first ten minutes of gameplay, making for a very enjoyable ride. It is the beautifully rendered CG cut-scenes that form the cornerstone of plot advancement in the game, and while the editing feels tight at times, an issue that will be discussed later, viewing the approximately five and a half hours of FMV feels like a richly rewarding experience.

As for the graphics overall, they are simply superb. The character designs are finely detailed, the futuristic cityscapes and space stations are very well-modelled, and the spell effects from battles—both human and mech—are very well done. Combined with both the CG cinemas and the parts of the game where the player is in control, Xenosaga 2 is very pretty to look at.

The player will control the main-characters of the game to advance the story and to partake in battles. Fortunately, Xenosaga 2 has a complex, engaging battle system that offers a lot of layers and depth for a turn-based RPG. There are many factors that come into play, but first and foremost is the “break” system. The enemies of this game are hardy and powerful, and can be quite difficult to defeat. To help alleviate this somewhat, gamers will need to learn how to “break” their opponents, thereby destroying their defences temporarily. To do this, game-players will have to discover said enemies “break zone” through the right combination of attacks. Often this zone is very simple, such as “AC”, which signifies a “high attack” and a “low attack.” For boss battles, the zones can take more figuring out, as the enemy may have a zone such as “BCCBA” (or mid, low, low, mid and high attack combo). Regardless, when an enemy is in break state, it will only remain that way for one turn. This is where players will need to learn how to “boost”, which means cutting ahead of the enemy’s turn before they have a chance to recover, thus taking greater advantage of the extra damage that can be dealt while said enemy is still in break state. To do this, players generally will have to attack regularly to build up the boost gauge so that they can boost ahead when the gauge becomes full. While an enemy is in break state, it is also possible to suspend them mid-air and have them crash to the ground the next turn using the right types of attacks, which depends on the party member being used. Enemies in this state take almost triple damage from attacks, but again, this only lasts for one turn, so boosting ahead is important in order to take maximum advantage of this offensive manoeuvre. This technique is also a prime reason to use the “stocking system”, wherein players can sacrifice turns in order to stock up multiple attacks for one turn when an enemy is in such a weakened state. This is actually only a partial explanation of the battle mechanics; there are also “ether combos” exciting-looking “double-techs,” and “elemental-chains,” but far-be-it to say the battle system is highly strategic. This is less so for the giant-mech battles (also known as E.S. AMWS) that will also take place; the mechs are flashy-looking and have visually pleasing attacks that are very powerful, but they have more of a rudimentary turn-based feel to them. That’s OK, though, because while these mech battles can still at times be challenging, it’s nice to have a little breather where you don’t have to think quite as much in the battles.

Despite Xenosaga 2’s rich narrative, great graphics, and engaging, challenging gameplay, the game also suffers from several notable setbacks. The most apparent setback will be immediately noted by fans of Episode 1. About half of the main characters from the first game have had their images and voices substantially altered, which can leave for a disjarring experience to fans that grew to really like their personalities and nature. The redesigns actually make some sense. Episode 1 suffered from animation inconsistency—wherein different characters had different design styles. Shion Uzuki, the heroine scientist of the first game, had a traditional anime look complete with big eyes and deformed features, whereas other characters looked realistically modelled. Thus, for the sake of consistency it makes some sense to retool the look of Shion and other characters to more accurately fit in with the rest of the in-game universe. What makes less sense is the voice recasting. Take KOS-MOS, the cold and calculating battle android from the first game, for example. After creative recasting, she no longer sounds like a robot, but like a human. Because KOS-MOS is so central to Episode 1’s storyline, it is disheartening to hear the excellent voice-talent gutted and to be recast to sound like a human, in part because the complex nature of KOS-MOS made it interesting for her to have a somewhat mechanical voice, as it enveloped her in an aura of mystery.

Speaking of sound, the developers really dropped the ball in the music department for this game. Whereas Episode 1 was noted for its remarkable absence of music when gamers had control (save for the excellent battle theme), it was also noted for its beautifully orchestrated philharmonic sequences during the games many FMVs. Episode 2 takes the “quantity over quality” tack—the soundtracks are numerous, but nothing outstanding to say the least. In fact, sometimes they feel downright inappropriate. In one particularly touching scene, two characters are discussing how to cope with the death of a loved one, yet the BGM for the scene is oddly up-beat and energetic, something that feels meant for another event entirely. Music is important in videogames; they help set the mood, or to enhance it. This truly was the case in Episode 1, but, for whatever reason, the developers decided on a different composer for Episode 2, and she doesn’t come up to the challenge.

Another problem lies with some of the cut-scenes; while overall they do the job nicely, the editing is at times too tight. In fact, the editing sometimes seems so tight you can’t help but feel that certain key scenes were gutted just so that there would be a greater proportion of gameplay, even though the glossed over, narrated scenes deal with heavy story elements that could have used more clarification.

Yet another problem lies in the game’s “skill-point” system—the method in how party members will partially develop—it’s too simple and bland. In Episode 1, each character had their own unique “ether tree” that branched out in multiple directions, and players could choose which techniques would be learnt based on the path said character would follow. Party members in this game are still distinct from each other—they all have different fighting styles and specialise against different enemies—but less so due to the dumbed down skill-learning system. With the exception of Shion, no character can learn any unique ether; everyone starts on the same field and can learn the same skills as everyone else. This isn’t even like in Final Fantasy X—where party members started off in different areas of a sphere grid—here all characters can learn the exact same skills at the exact same time, which somewhat cheapens the excitement of learning new skills to begin with. This makes observing the complex battle system slightly disappointing, because as awesome as it is, it could have been even better if the skill-learning system was improved.

Finally, Episode 2 should take only about 40 hours to finish, short by the standards of the genre today and half the length of Episode 1. This is despite the fact that Xenosaga 2 comes in a 2-disc set, as opposed to the first game, which managed to cram seven and a half hours of CG cinema into one DVD. This matter is perplexing to say the least, and also a little disappointing, as more of a game is usually a good thing when the game itself is of high-quality.

Yes, despite its warts, Xenosaga 2 is one of the better RPGs out there, definitely on par with the Final Fantasy series. Its production values are very high, and a lot of labour clearly went into the making of this game. The graphics have a fine level of polish, the battles are deep and engaging, and the story is simply phenomenal in uniqueness and scope. Fans of Episode 1 still owe it to themselves to buy this game to see how the story continues, and those bold enough to try out the game without any prior knowledge of Episode 1—overall not recommended due to the complex storyline—will still find a very solid RPG experience. A purchase is definitely worth considering.        

  • Graphics——————–9/10
  • Sound———————–6/10
  • Gameplay——————-8/10

  • Story————————8/10

  • Overall————————-7.8/10
  • Tilt———————–7.8 to 8.4/10    

April 12, 2007 Posted by | Video-game reviews | Leave a comment

Tales of Symphonia

Very fun gameplay—pathetic excuse for a story 

Tales of Symphonia can be a very enjoyable, exhilarating and fast-paced game to play. It can also be boring, predictable and slow. Yes, this is the paradox that occurs when developers create an excellent and innovative battle system and excellent game-play mechanics in general, but fail to create a story that is in any way truly meaningful, coherent, or fresh.

 

First the good: Tales of Symphonia has an exciting, exhilarating and quick battle-system. Consider the engine something like a souped-up version of Nintendo’s classic The Adventure of Link. Enemies on the world-map appear as simplified icons—if you encounter the icon you enter a fast-paced battle screen where you have complete control of your character and are thrown right into the thick of things. You have to think fast and act fast—battles are 100% real-time. The option to fight with up to three of your friends also works great, but inputting character AI to your tastes, in which your team-mates are all computer-controlled, works surprisingly well. You can even set your main character up for auto which—while not ideal (and certainly not as fun) is useful for quick levelling-up opportunities while fighting minor enemies—in which the player doesn’t have to lift a finger. It’s a fresh change from the usual turn-based formula, where battles can sometimes plod on for as long as an hour. Fights are very speedy in this game—even the final boss battle should take little more than five minutes—and many shorter battles can be completed in as little as 30 seconds. This is not to say that you don’t need strategy in this game. Different enemies have their own weaknesses, and it’s up to the player to discover them. Once that is dealt with you can adjust the AI of your computer-controlled party members to change their tactics, give them specific commands, or supply them with items using the “pause” menu (action is thankfully suspended when you issue most of these commands). A player also needs fast reflexes and must decide quickly when to guard, when to attack, which attack to use and when to save tech points (TP—the cost for skills and magic).

 

The lack of random battles adds some additional strategy to the game. The choice is largely up to the player to decide when and where to fight and as such, decisions can be made on whether it is important to level up your characters for an upcoming boss fight, or avoid enemies to save strength and for even greater challenges when fighting major opponents.

 

A feeling of satisfaction should be obtained while levelling up and customising your characters. True to the game’s battle formula, in which fighting gives you gratification and a sense of accomplishment without eating away at the clock, players will be able to enjoy tweaking the different abilities of the party members without spending inordinate amounts of time in the menu screen, such as in Xenosaga. Customisation is enhanced largely by items known as “ex-gems”; they come in four types that can link with each other. Combine the gems in different ways to achieve immunity from status abnormalities, extra strength, extra HP, and so forth. Which gems you place on which characters affect how they develop, yet each member of the party has their own unique abilities and skills (Lloyd is the warrior, Raine is the white mage, etc.), so they’ll each retain their own style and purpose in battle.

 

As for the graphics, the game utilises a true 3-d engine using 2-d style anime characters. Some will enjoy this visual style, other won’t. Regardless, it fits the context of the game very well. The music is also well done, if not original.
Battle tunes are comprised in the typical energetic Japanese pop-like style, world-map music has a more laid-back feel, etc.

  

Unfortunately, Tales of Symphonia has a major flaw—the story. It is terribly clichéd, predictable and plodding. This can contribute to gamer apathy, meaning many players won’t care about travelling to the next destination because the events that occur in each new locale end up being quite dull. In fact, sometimes the story-line comes to a complete standstill, leaving the player trudging along with no sense of in-game purpose. As a result, even the joy of battling can get boring at times.

 

Perhaps in an attempt to help rectify this situation, the developers added various optional character sketches which you can access by pressing the Z-button at designated times. On the surface, this actually helps the situation somewhat. Although optional, these “skits” often reveal plot elements, character motivations, and additional aspects of their personalities that we would normally not know, and this is especially useful for obtaining a better understanding behind the true motivation of the main villain. Unfortunately, the lack of voice-acting in these sketches makes this part of the game seem like a last-minute touch, even though it clearly is not. It is a shame, because the voice talent is actually quite good, earnestly attempting to put life in an otherwise lifeless story. There are many scenes where voice-talent is used, but there are also many of these optional character skits. Because the player will get used to the different charms of all the various voices for the differing characters, he/she should be able to almost “hear them” during the sketches, when the dialogue is often at its most colourful and humorous. This is why it is such a pity that the American localisation team did not take the time and effort to use voice acting for these instances, unlike the Japanese version.

 

The lack of cinemas is another downer. Being a two-disc game there was definitely enough space for anime shorts at various portions in the story. Instead, we get what deceptively appears to be a montage of future clips at the beginning of the game, but in actuality end up with little else. Perplexingly, most of the few cinema scenes that are tacked on are almost wholly irrelevant, as well as completely unnecessary in video format.

 

At its core, Tales is still a very fun game to play despite these faults. Even if you insist that your RPGs  have stellar and well-crafted stories, something this game lacks, keep an open mind. The rapid-quick battles makes battles less a chore and more something to look forward to (they really are a lot of fun), the customisation is deep, but not so deep as to be lengthy, and the game itself looks crisp and well-polished. Furthermore, with approximately 75 hours of gameplay time, you may be busy playing for a while. In the end, playing Tales is a real treat for the eyes, ears, and adrenaline, and the uninspired plot that hinders this does not detract from this as much as you might expect.

Overall—8/10

Range—8/10

Graphics—8/10

Sound—8/10

Story—6/10

 

The average is 7/10.

April 12, 2007 Posted by | Video-game reviews | Leave a comment

Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now, by RPG standards, Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne is not for the faint of heart. Its Mature rating is deserved, but that should not be the only thing that might attract potential game-players. Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne has a compelling and dark storyline that initially draws the player in and will keep him/her hooked within the first hour of gameplay. Consider the plot something like a Japanese take on the western concept of the Armageddon. A Tokyo High school student (whom you can name as you please) has a disturbing dream that the world is about to end, and his dream comes true—in a manner of speaking—shortly thereafter. A bizarre cult has somehow managed to turn the entire world inside out in a process known as the Conception, and now demons roam the earth while lost souls huddle in fear for fear of being devoured by the demons. Some humans managed to survive this Conception, but they are far and few between. Fortunately for you, Satan Itself has taken an interest in you for reasons that are initially unclear. It inserts a parasitic life-form known as Magatama into your body that turns you into a demon. Saying anymore would give too much of the plot away, but it quickly becomes very complex.

 

Initially, you’ll have to fight alone, which is a very dangerous situation. But soon after, you’ll be able to recruit different varieties of demons into your ranks through negotiations during battle. Some will see something in you right away and will not hesitate to join up. Others may demand gifts and/or money and still may refuse to join your team. That being said, it shouldn’t be too difficult to round up eight other demons for your party, the maximum the game initially allows. Even with only a total of nine members (this number can increase later on in the game depending on your actions)—inactive party members do not level up so it can be difficult to keep all your characters strong. The solution to this lies in the mysterious Cathedral of Shadows, where a dark priest fuses two demons of your choosing to create a new type of demon—more often than not of a significantly higher level than the two demons you fused. Demon fusing is a complicated process, and all sorts of combinations can result in a multitude of unique demon creations that even inherit a portion of the skills of the initial fused demons, giving you many opportunities to customise the “perfect” demon. It’s fun, and while there are some risks involved, more often than not you’ll be happy with the result.

 

As you travel from locale to locale with your growing posse, often getting lost in the process, random battles will occur. SMT’s combat is always challenging and intense, and things can turn ugly for you in every battle you encounter, no matter how well you think you are doing. Battles can also be very unforgiving. For example, if your main character dies, it’s always a game-over with no exception, regardless of the health of your comrades. More importantly, however, is the game’s elemental and critical hit system. All demons, including your main character, have inherent strengths and weaknesses to certain elements. If a demon hits a party member with an elemental attack that he/she is weak to, not only will the member sustain double the amount of damage, but the opposing team gets an extra turn in battle. What this means is that an unbalanced party filled with demons that are all weak against ice attacks can be decimated without even getting a chance to run away from battle if the enemies use ice magic and stock up a bunch of free turns. In the case of your main party member, the magatama he has currently ingested reflects his current elemental alignment. The same concept applies to critical hits; enemies get extra turns whenever they score a critical hit, so the double damage you can receive ends up being the least of your worries. Of course, these same tactics work when applied to your enemies as well, but remember that the reverse also holds true; if you hit an enemy with an attack that he can absorb or is immune too, you’ll lose a turn. Thus, you really have to make every turn count to succeed in this game. Unfortunately, although every turn counts, many battles can end up becoming old fashioned slugfests using the Attack command, as the MP used for most special attacks is generally in short supply. Using the Attack command is not always wise, particularly against enemies that are resistant to physical attacks, but sometimes it’s the only conceivable option available if you want to conserve your MP for the game’s challenging boss fights. Compounding the strong challenge of the battles is the lack of save points that are available. You cannot save on the world map, and save terminals are by no means numerous. You are especially vulnerable in the first few hours of the game, and it is not unfeasible to lose up to two hours of progress while fighting hordes of dangerous enemies just before finally reaching the save point. Some will be turned away by the frustration factor; others will welcome the intense challenge and find it very fun.

 

A more bizarre part of the game is the level-up system. It’s a very random process. Every time your main character levels up, his HP and MP automatically increases, and you can choose to raise one of his other attributes by one point—either strength, vitality, luck, agility, or magic. At random times after a level up, your main character’s magatama starts to react violently within his body, and if you choose to let this continue, any number of random things can occur, from receiving a negative status ailment, to fully recovering, or getting a bonus point to one of your attributes. When your team-mates level up, one of their attributes is increased at, you guessed it, random. This isn’t always good; you might not want a spell-caster to get a boost in strength, but you won’t have any say in the matter. Sometimes your demons may evolve into new types of demons at significantly higher levels, and sometimes they might give you gifts. Again, there does not seem to be any precise way of knowing how or when this will occur, so those who like surprises will find the level-up screen one of the most enjoyable parts of Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne.  

SMT has a wonderful fully 3D graphics engine. The colours and textures are excellent, yet the anime design will not appeal to everyone. Although the game’s subject matter is dark and sometimes disturbing, its anime influence takes some of the edge off, which isn’t so bad when you think about it, as it makes the few interludes of “comic relief” seem more appropriate. The rock and heavy metal influence you’ll hear when fighting fit the theme of this post-apocalyptic world well.

 

The very best part of SMT might be the fact that it has real multiple endings. I emphasise real because the way to get to these endings are not like in Chrono Trigger or Chrono Cross, where there is generally one ending and the rest are only available in “new game plus modes” where you just beat the final boss at different stages of the game to get the different endings. This game truly has multiple paths with multiple choices to make that can affect the conclusion of the game.

 

All in all, Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne is a very fun game that is also very challenging and sometimes quite frustrating. Combat can at times be cheap to your party, but you can dole out the same type of punishment right back. Those willing to take up this game’s intense battle system will find a game with a dark, compelling story that quickly becomes addictive. The ability to create your own unique demons at the Cathedral of Shadows only adds to the fun, and the graphics and sound represent the best of what the PS2 hardware is capable of. A purchase should definitely be considered.

 

 

Graphics——————–10/10

Sound———————–8/10

Gameplay——————9/10

Strory———————–10/10

Tilt………….8 to 9/10

Overall——————–9/10

April 11, 2007 Posted by | Video-game reviews | Leave a comment

Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga

Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga is the spiritual sequel to last October’s cult-hit—Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne. To clarify, it has nothing to do with the story of the former, but, in the fashion of most of the Final Fantasy games, it incorporates many of the same enemies and battle mechanics. Both games prove to be story-driven experiences, but SMT: DDS is much more cinematic—with real voiceovers and FMVs that intersperse with the gameplay. The story and setting of this game is both intriguing and unique. In some unknown time—possibly a post-apocalyptic future, the only apparent world that exists is called the “junkyard,” a depressing, bleak, polluted world that is always raining. The world is divided into several factions that are at constant war with each other—with the understanding that whichever faction becomes the victor gets to ascend to Nirvana, a tall tower at the centre of the planet that will apparently offer bliss, eternal happiness, and no rain. You play as Serph, the leader of the Embryon faction, as you lead your party to Nirvana. However, complications soon ensue; the entire populace intermittently turns into demons, yourself included, and the only thing that can control this strange new power is a mysterious girl with a beautiful voice. All in all, the story and setting is pretty bleak, but don’t worry, like all good stories there is still some comic relief and at least one character that tends to be a clown.

 

The battle system, at its core, is standard turn-based fare, but there are some interesting twists. In most ways it is much like SMT Nocturne. At the beginning of each random battle, your party starts out in demon form—and each party member has their own unique demonic persona. Determined at random, either your party or the enemy party will go first, and will be able to expend all their turns before the opposing team can expend their turns. The twist here is how you use those turns. Suppose an enemy is weak against electricity. If you cast an electricity spell on that enemy, you’ll get one extra turn. If the electricity attack results in the enemy receiving the shock status, then you can perform guaranteed critical hits on the enemy, and critical hits gain you more free turns. If, on the other hand, you use an ice attack on an enemy that absorbs ice, or your physical attack misses completely, you’ll lose one turn and the enemies’ set of turns come up sooner. The exact same types of rules apply to the opposing party as well—if they screw up—it’s in your favour—if they attack effectively, you might be in a  lot of trouble because you won’t have as many turns to recover. If all this sounds a little unforgiving, it’s because, at times, it is. Fortunately, Atlus has scaled back the difficulty of this game compared to its predecessor in several ways in order to make it more accessible to a larger audience. In SMT Nocturne, if the main character (party leader) died, that was it. Game over, no exceptions. This is no longer the case in this game. It’s also easier to resurrect fallen members—they no longer disappear from the battle screen—so if  a character dies you don’t have to waist two turns—one to bring the character back to life and the other to summon him/her back to the playing field. Most importantly, this game has a lot more save points, so you’re at much less risk to lose over two hours of progress, something which might have occurred from time to time in SMT: Nocturne.

 

Character development takes an interesting tack: In order to learn new spells and techniques, you’ll need to download special “demon software programs” at save terminals—and this can be quite expensive. Once you’ve downloaded the program, you’ll gain AP as you win battles, and even more if you manage to devour your enemy whole (not especially easy) and, once you’ve mastered the program by maxing out the AP, will learn all the new techniques the download has to offer—such as “feed frenzy,” which allows you to eat multiple enemies at once. Not all characters can download the same programs, so they will retain uniqueness and individuality. The programs are like a tree—learn one of a specific area—such as “ice wolf,” which lets you learn ice spells—and you’ll gain access to more expensive, more powerful ice-download programs, as well as the option to try a different type of program—such as special physical attacks—and see where that part of the tree takes you.

 

The graphical style of the game tends to lend itself toward Japanese anime, but the human personas do not have ridiculously large eyes and deformed faces. The colours and hues are subtle and moody, reflecting the dark tone of this game. Overall, the visual presentation is done very well. The sound is of a heavy metal influence, from the battle scenes to the FMVs—and while this isn’t the typical peppy, treble-induced music you’ll hear in many other RPGs, it fits the theme of the game very well. As for the acting portion of the audio, the voice-work, while not spectacular, isn’t terrible either.

 

One issue gamers just may have with SMT: DDS is the frequency of random battles that occur, which can be especially frustrating when trying to navigate through one of the game’s many labyrinth dungeons or while trying to solve a tricky puzzle. The random battles can cause a gamer to lose concentration and get lost more easily. The plus side of this is that more battles equals more experience which equals a greater chance to overcome some of the game’s particularly tough and brutal bosses.

 

Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga might not be for everyone—but those looking for a solid RPG experience complete with a compelling and unique story, an interesting character-development system, and a hard-core battle system will find everything they need here, and a purchase would definitely be recommended.

 

 

 

Graphics———————8/10

Sound————————8/10

Gameplay——————-8/10

Story————————–8/10

Overall————————-8/10Tilt——————————7.6 to 8.2/10      

April 11, 2007 Posted by | Video-game reviews | 1 Comment

Pikmin 2

If one were to summarise Pikmin 2 in just six words, they might be: “adorable and a lot of fun.” If one were to try give a more complex explanation as to what Pikmin 2 is—he would be hard-pressed to do so—because Pikmin 2 is one of several games that have appeared of late that do not fit into any one category of gaming—a “genre bender”, if you will. The game is part action, strategy, adventure and breeding simulation, yet rather then feel like a parfait of ideas all mixed into one, the entire experience feels completely unique.

 

The game takes off where the original Pikmin left off. Captain Olimar, the inch-long alien from the planet Hocotate, has successfully repaired his ship and returns to his homeworld. Upon arriving, he finds that Hocotate Freight (the company he works for) has incurred a massive amount of debt and will have to declare bankruptcy unless Olimar and his new but dubious partner Louie return back to the planet of the Pikmin to find treasures and repay the company president’s debt of 10100 pokos.

 

When they land on the planet again, the pikmin instantly recognise Olimar from his last mission and are eager to help him right away. Pikmin, in case you didn’t know, are adorable, ~inch-long creatures that are part animal and flower. They come in five different varieties: red, blue, yellow, purple, and white. Each colour has its own unique talents. Red Pikmin have the second-highest attack strength, good speed, and are resistant to fire. Blue pikmin are the only type that can swim. Yellow pikmin are immune to electricity and can jump very high. Purple pikmin have the weight and strength of 10 red pikmin, but are slow. White Pikmin are poison-resistant, can poison enemies foolish enough to digest them and detect hidden treasures with their red eyes.

 

As Captain Olimar, it is your duty to utilise these pikmins’ unique talents to surpass obstacles and obtain as much treasure (e.g., bottle caps, Duracell batteries) as possible in order to pay off the president’s debt. For example, if you see a valuable “giant” glove that is worth 200 pokos, but is surrounded by flame-throwers, order your red pikmin to easily pass the flames and collect it.  If you need to reach an inaccessible area surrounded by water, then wait until you find the blue pikmin, and return to the area with them. Despite their small size, the pikmins’ strength comes in their numbers. With high enough numbers they can lift or destroy anything, no matter how huge. Suppose Olimar, Louie and co. find a “giant” (keep in mind the citizens of Hocotate are only about an inch long) battery—but it takes 100 red pikmin to carry it. You can have up to a maximum of 100 pikmin with you at one time, so you can either choose to have all your pikmin lift it and carry it to the space-ship for appraisal, or order 10 purple pikmin to do the same job. This is the main goal of Pikmin 2, but it is not at all boring and actually quite enjoyable for a number of reasons.

 

For starters, unlike the first Pikmin, there is no time-limit to complete the game, which is a welcome addition. More importantly, there is no need to spend all your time collecting treasure. In actuality you can do whatever you want—fight beasts, create potions to enhance your Pikmins’ speed and strength, breed an unlimited number of pikmin, spelunk in caves, and even read Olimar’s journal on the various flora and fauna he has discovered. In essence you can do whatever you want throughout the game days, taking as much time as you need. This is also a great “pick up and play”-type game. Unlike certain other games that can have addicting qualities, such as RPGs, which compel you to continue playing for hours before you finally decide to quit (if you’re lucky enough to find a save-point!), Pikmin 2 lets you take things “one day at a time.” A typical game-day lasts about 30 minutes real-time—and you can always save at the end of each day. In addition, you’re always bound to be able to do something productive with your time during the game-days. If you weren’t able to find treasure, chances are it was because you spent time making potions from berries, or breeding as many pikmin as possible, or removing impeding obstacles. Thus, you can pop in the game and play it for about a half an hour, save at the end of the game-day, and be pleased at your accomplishments before turning the game off and waiting until tomorrow to play it again, if you so desire.

 

One thing that works especially well in this game is the ability to multitask with your subordinate, Louie. As mentioned before, each day is only about 30 minutes, so to make the most of it it is sometimes better to do two tasks at once. For example, you can delegate Louie the task of ordering the white pikmin to break down a poisonous barrier so that the other pikmin can safely cross it. In the meantime, you can have Olimar order his red and purple pikmin to return berries to the mothership to create potions while waiting for the white pikmin to finish their job.

 

The game-controls also allow players to change the colour-type of pikmin they are dealing with on the fly and give them orders with ease. Once you realise the distinction between picking up and throwing pikmin at their targets with the A button as opposed to giving them orders with the c-stick, you’re all set.

 

The graphics of Pikmin 2 are excellent. Famed video-game creator Shigeru Miyamoto stated that it was his own garden that inspired him to create Pikmin, and it shows. The colours have delicate, soft, and natural hues, but you also have the rare yet appropriate option to make the graphics look sharper and less soft if you prefer. The cute, fun-filled music fits the theme as well, and the noises the pikmin make (apparently when conversing with each other) are just plain adorable-sounding.

 

This in turn leads to one of the few gripes some players may have with the game—you have to gather all your loose pikmin before nightfall, or else nocturnal predators will eat them, and you can hear their mildly disturbing cries of pain. Fighting a particularly large and difficult beast can also result in a mass extermination of pikmin. At the end of each day, there is even a death chart which indicates the total number of pikmin you have lost so far. Don’t laugh, but the pikmin are so adorable and eager to please that it’s  just a little bit sad to see some of them perish.

 

Another gripe is with the camera-angle scheme—it’s awkward and takes some getting used to. You have to constantly readjust the camera angles to ensure that your pikmin aren’t getting into trouble by say, foolishly rushing a monster that they can’t handle at the time. In actuality, this sounds like a greater chore than it really is, but it might put off some players.

 

All things considered, however, most players will hopefully find Pikmin 2 to be a very beautifully coloured, unique, pleasurable game to play that doesn’t require a massive time-investment to enjoy. Utilising each of the five pikmin-type talents is fun; the pikmin are easy to command and control, and the multi-tasking with Louie adds a lot of depth. Back-tracking is never a chore because going to both new and old locales is entertaining when you’ve found new pikmin that can do new things, such as going back to a water area once you’ve acquired the blue pikmin. Overall, Pikmin 2 is simply a well-crafted masterpiece that is definitely worth a buyer’s consideration.

Rating: 9/10

April 11, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Paper Mario 2: The Thousand-Year Door

Nintendo scores yet another home-run with their high-quality, superbly crafted first-party masterpiece Paper Mario 2: The Thousand-Year Door. Both RPG fans and lovers of the Mario series are not likely to be disappointed.  Following in the original Paper Mario’s footsteps, you’ll control a paper-cutout version of the Mario we all know and love. Except unlike the first Paper Mario game, the concept of paper as an interactive gaming force is taken much further. Overall, most people will find Paper Mario 2 to be a funny, clever, and even self-depreciating experience that is accessible to everyone. 

The game begins when Princess Peach, stopping by at the colorful but crime-ridden town of
Rogueport, discovers a special map that is said to lead to a mysterious treasure. Not trusting herself with such a valuable artifact alone, she mails Mario for help, but when he arrives, the princess is nowhere to be found. Has she been kidnapped? Yeah, it’s happened so many times before, and the game relentlessly mocks itself about the never-ending Mario concept about always having to rescue the princess. Of course, the plot will prove to be significantly more complicated than just rescuing a princess (assuming that that is what you are supposed to be doing in the first place), yet its similarities in plot-structure to Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine (collecting stars and shine spites to open up new areas) also elicit self-mockery from the script-writers.
 

In fact, the writing happens to be one of Paper Mario 2’s first noticeable charms. It manages to be funny, clever and accessible to audiences of all ages, yet does this without the player feeling like they are being pandered to. It has the hallmark of a great family game—something which Nintendo is always striving for, in that both parent and child can play—and enjoy—it at the same time. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a young child with adult supervision to enjoy the funny bits of dialogue. Everyone should get the humor and sharp-writing that the localisation team was able to produce, as it is both funny yet also strangely deep for a Mario game when it needs to be. To reveal anymore might spoil the game, but one particularly humorous tidbit is when you meet Luigi who bores Mario silly about his own parallel adventure to rescue a princess in another land by gathering magic compass shards from said princess’s tiara to access new areas. 

The graphics make the game resemble the set of a play, with curtains and the works.  The game’s characters are all 2-d paper cutouts in a pseudo 3-d plane, which admittedly can get confusing at times when trying to face off against an enemy or jump a certain gap. The graphical style actually serves as an integral part of the gameplay. Mario will be able to acquire many different paper forms such as the paper airplane, boat and tube. When in these transformations, he can engage his surrounding environment in new and innovative ways. For example, certain hidden areas can only be accessed if Mario flattens himself like a plain sheet of paper in order to slip through a crack in the set—i.e. background. Other hidden areas are only accessible when Mario recruits Flurrie, a jovial wind spirit. When she’s in your party, she can blow hastily taped portions of the set away to reveal a newly ripped or cut-out area. It’s definitely a clever design. 

The tunes and music of the game have that upbeat “Marioesque” feel Mario-veterans will have come to expect. In fact, some of the outdoor areas that are filled with enemy goombas and koopa troopas have music that resemble the original SMB, yet diverges from the path enough to be its own succinct brand. 

This gets into the subject of the innovative battle and play mechanics. As is the trend in many RPGs of late, all enemies are visible on the screen. Mario can try to avoid the enemies (which can be tricky at times) or engage them in battle. The way in which he engages them can significantly affect the outcome. For example, if Mario whacks a goomba with a hammer, he gets first strike, which is in essence a free turn. Conversely, if an enemy piranha plant sneaks up from the ground and bites Mario, it gets a free turn. Both these incidents can turn out to be a fairly big deal, especially when the enemies get more challenging. In cases like that you’ll want to clear out all the enemies before they even have a chance to strike, and a well-delivered first-hit might just be the key to your success. As for the actual combat itself, Mario and one partner each have heart points (HP), which is their health. If a partner loses his/her health, they can be swapped for another partner in the party, but it’s an instant game-over if Mario gets KO’d. Flower points (FP) are the special moves that Mario and the partner can use, and they share it as a pool, so they’ll generally have to be used sparingly at first. Finally, there is the issue of the party’s star power—which allows Mario to use special techniques based on how popular the audience that is watching him thinks he is. Yes, combat takes place on a stage in front of an engrossed audience. Perform special moves with the right timing and button presses and the crowd may shower Mario with coins, items, and increase his star power. Then Mario can use his star power to perform a technique like “sweet treat”, which, if executed and timed correctly, will restore a portion of the party’s HP, FP, and cure all status ailments. However, certain hecklers may throw rocks or try to sabotage the set no matter how well you perform, which can damage your party. In such cases, pressing the X button can boot them out of the theatre. When Mario gains 100 star points (not to be confused with Star Power) at the end of each battle, he can choose to increase his max. HP (which is probably essential at first), FP, or BP (badge points). Badge points are a unique statistic—the more of them Mario has the more special badges he can wear, which perform tasks such as increasing his defense or attack, increase his inventory of special moves, or just change his appearance (costume badges). Choosing how you want to level up Mario makes for some interesting customization opportunities. 

The different battle partners Mario will incur in his party prove to be both unique and distinguishable from each other, each with their own special set of moves. Goombella is a female goomba that can read enemy statistics, while Koops is a nervous koopa who has extra defense with his shell. Each party member also serves a unique purpose outside of battle. Goombella can tell you more about the area you are in and sometimes will be able to give you tips on how to proceed past a certain puzzle. Koops can reach keys and other items when you kick his shell towards them. Flurrie can stun enemies outside of battle with her wind attack. While all the party members have their own unique personalities, you unfortunately can only display one of your partners at a time. What this means is that when dialogue bits occur, you would need to replay the game each time to hear each different partner express his/her two cents, as they all have different things to say about the situation at hand. This obviously is a very minor complaint, as only the most hard-core of players will replay the game solely for that purpose, but it’s worth noting as a point of interest. 

If there’s one relatively major gripe some players may have with Paper Mario 2, it’s that the game won’t necessarily grab you right away like some other RPGs can. It can take about 10 hours to get into, as it can seem monotonous and repetitive at first. For one thing, there is a lot of backtracking, which includes bothersome fetch-quests, in only a limited number of areas. However, as the game progresses, the world really opens up, and with all the side-quests available, players might not even be able to decide what they should do and where they should go first, which is a good thing. 

All in all, most gamers will probably find Paper Mario 2: The Thousand Year Old Door to be a fleshed out, elaborate Mario-adventure sometimes reminiscent of his old nostalgia-filled 2-d days. The story is very rich by Mario standards, and the game can be surprisingly challenging, yet accessible, making it a truly great game for gamers of all ages. A purchase is definitely worth considering. 

 

 

 

 

 

Graphics————————————8/10Sound—————————————8/10Story—————————————-8/10Gameplay———————————-8/10Overall————————————–8/10Range—————————————8 to 9

April 11, 2007 Posted by | Video-game reviews | Leave a comment

La Pucelle: Tactics

La Pucelle: Tactics is an enjoyable strategy RPG filled with many interesting features. It can easily take up more than 100 hours of your time if you let it.  Unfortunately, it also has several annoying design flaws that prevent it from achieving perfection. The game starts you off as Prier, a sister of the Church of the Holy Maiden and apprentice demon hunter with an attitude. The medieval Europe-like setting is common to many strategy RPGS—but it definitely feels fresh and fun in this game—as the cute anime graphics give it a quirky and comical feel.

As for the actual game-play, the battle system is surprisingly unique and innovative. Like in other Strategy-RPGs, you are allowed to select a certain number of party members to do battle with enemies in an enclosed field map. However, you can also switch in and out reserve members at will by using the blue base panel, a useful and practical technique that allows you to alter your strategy as the course of the battle continues. An additional aspect of strategy and battles is the refreshingly complicated elemental system. There are seven different elements in the game that have a corresponding colour—red for fire, green for wind, yellow for lightning, blue for ice, purple for aid, light blue for healing and white for saint. What really adds a true strategic element to this game is the fact that the relationship between the elements is not automatically symbiotic. Nor is there a “rock-paper-scissors” quality to them. True, fire and ice do oppose each other, but an element like yellow is only weak against blue. In addition, a weakness of one element to another does not necessarily mean that the said elements are on an equal footing—example—a character with a fire attribute is neutral to a lightning attack, but a character with a lightning attribute is resistant to a fire-based attack. Figuring this aspect of the game out is an enjoyable challenge. The system for learning the elemental spells such as mega-saint is also pleasurable. You need to equip items with a colour attribute to access the corresponding spell (e.g.—ice staff to use ice), then use it several times in order to permanently learn it. The twist is that in order to learn really powerful spells, such as giga-saint, you normally need to find and equip multiple items of the corresponding colour to reach a certain elemental value, which could significantly decrease many of a character’s stats (such as in strength) in the process of permanently learning it. An added element of strategy and an expansion to the element/attribute system is that almost each map is filled with “dark portals”—negative elemental energies that weaken your characters and—if left unchecked—spawn more enemies. A player can use these portals in several ways. You can allow the portals to continuously spawn enemies for beneficial levelling-up opportunities, or strategically redirect the dark energy streams into a large rectangle, then “purify” the portal to create a massive miracle attack. There may be other hidden uses as well.

“Purifying” is also essential to building up your party. You can convert most enemies from the battlefield by forfeiting attack turns to “cleanse” the enemy. Do this enough times, then defeat the enemy afterwards, and the enemy will join your party! Each monster species has unique features and abilities which allows for a very diverse assortment of tactical options at your disposal, but the more of the same type of monster you convert, the harder it is to do so for future types of said monster, so a player needs to decide either to add to the group quickly for much-needed man-power or to wait later in the game to find a more powerful version of the same species with better abilities, allowing for an easy conversion. Each of the central characters also has very different battle techniques and style of play, allowing for even greater variety.

The music is very immersive and sets the theme of this game very well. It ranges from cutesy anime music to moving religious tones that can invoke an emotional response from the player. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the game’s graphics; its 2-D format is woefully unnecessary in many areas, and the overall animations, while nicely illustrated, make a mockery of the PS2’s hardware capabilities. The images of the game almost make it look like it would have done fine on the PSone. The English voice-acting is nothing to shout out about either. Unlike this game’s spiritual sequel, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (both games have been produced by Atlus using the same dev team), the English-voice actors don’t seem to be having a lot of fun with their roles—instead generically saying their lines in an almost semi-lacklustre fashion. Fortunately, you can switch to the Japanese voice-acting at any time in this game—which in this reviewer’s opinion is substantially better.

There are a couple of other issues with the game-play that detract from the quality somewhat. First, for some bizarre reason you can only equip items on characters when in battle. That’s right; there is no equipment-screen that allows you to prepare for battles. Generally, if you are unsure how a certain piece of equipment will affect your stats, you need to go to an easy map that has already been cleared, try them on and then leave the map, which is needlessly cumbersome. Also, Pucelle appears to have no level-cap. For this game’s cousin Disgaea this feature wasn’t a bad idea, because the mechanics of that game encouraged you to power-level fast by giving you an assortment of options to make this relatively easy, such as through a feature known as transmigration, the ability to produce seemingly endless rounds of combo attacks, and the ability in certain areas to restart your game from the beginning with your current level and skills. Almost all of these features are missing from La Pucelle (there are combo attacks, but they are much more limited in power and scope), yet there are still some level-500 enemies that have a gross disadvantage over you. A level-100 limit would have been more practical in the scope of this game.

Despite these limitations, the great sound, variety of characters, deep tactical options, and a neat ability-learning system will ensure that fans of the strategy-RPG genre will not be disappointed. Overall, La Pucelle: Tactics is a well-crafted gem that is clearly a labour of love from Atlus. A purchase is definitely worth considering.

 

 

Score: 8/10

April 11, 2007 Posted by | Video-game reviews | Leave a comment

Jak 3

Jak 3 is the final sequel of the Jak trilogy, and is a fun, if sometimes flawed, 3D platformer. The game takes off where Jak 2 left off, with one unpleasant surprise. Instead of being lauded for their heroism, Jak and Dexter are banished to the seemingly barren wastelands, as the ensuing chaos of Haven city is seen as a direct result of Jak’s dark powers. The supposedly barren wasteland also has a “forgotten” civilisation filled with outcasts and law-breakers, ruled by the tough yet fair King Damas. After the king’s men rescue Jak from the scorching heat of the desert, Damas tests Jak and Dexter in the fighting arena to see if they are worthy of staying safely within the city’s walls or if they should be banished out into the desert. And it is here where the gameplay of Jak 3 begins.

 

The game has a great variety of things to do and missions to accomplish. In a more-or-less linear fashion, Jak and Dexter are given a set of objectives, must search out the objective on the map, and then complete said mission before receiving a new one. A mission could be to make it to the top of a mysterious volcano by using a hang glider and flying through all the rings, battling hordes of enemies in the arena, shooting targets without missing, or racing with off-road vehicles, to name just a few. What this means is that there’s bound to be something of interest for everyone; but with such a great variety of missions, some people will find at least a portion of the missions unenjoyable, if, for example, they don’t like racing or hang gliding through rings.

Where the game truly gets interesting is in the combat. Admittedly, not a great deal has changed since Jak 2, but there is never a shortage of ways to pummel your enemies to oblivion. Needless to say, Jak starts out this game with his dark powers from the last game. Thus, in addition to the standard jumps, spins, and punch combo moves, Jak can drastically increase his strength and endurance by transforming into Dark Jak when he has enough dark eco, “electrifying” enemies with dark matter and killing several at a time with powerful (but costly to the dark meter) moves like dark bomb. Not too far into the game however, Jak gets a new transformation ability, Light Jak. Where Dark Jak specialised in offensive based moves, Light Jak specialises in defence, which is very valuable in this game. Combat is very challenging, and there are no “potions” or other valuables that you can use to heal yourself while battling an enemy. It also only takes a few hits to die. While Dark Jak enables Jak to boost his overall defence, Light Jak lets him create a shield that can penetrate enemy attacks, glide to safety, and, arguably most important of all, the ability to heal himself, which is a great help in combat.

 

Then there is Jak’s morph gun, which has four main types of ammunition and several sub-types that are specialised versions of one of the main types. One type of ammunition lets Jak charge up his shot to unleash massive damage to nearby enemies, while another allows him to shoot a laser that can bank across walls, but is relatively weak. With Jak’s standard punch and spinning moves, his abilities to turn into dark and light versions of himself for as long as the dark and light metres are sustained, and with many different types of ammunition, combat never gets boring because there is so much choice. It also can get overwhelming; you need to think fast in the heat of the moment about which is the best course of action to take and which is the best ammunition to use, and make these decisions and changes on the fly while fighting, but it’s just a matter of practice. Overall, both the combat and general missions that need to be accomplished in order to progress with the story are very challenging, but more on the missions like racing and treasure gathering later.

 

The graphics showcase the best the PS2 has to offer, the voice-acting is top-notch, and the controls are tight and responsive once you learn not to get overwhelmed by all the different options in combat.

 

But there are some aspects in Jak 3 that do not work. The most drastic flaws are the rare but nevertheless evident bugs that occur from time to time. In one scene, you are supposed to talk to King Damas to get briefed on a new mission. When you approach him to talk, however, the cutscene skips in its entirety and all you are left with is the location on your map indicating where the next mission will take place, whatever that is. After shutting off the PS2 and retrying the scene, it worked. In another scene, I needed to corral these wild lizards into a pen using Dexter, but when the mission was accomplished, the screen went black for two minutes. I was ready to reset the game when the problem finally corrected itself and I was allowed to proceed.

 

Another problem is the city you reside in; it’s just a hub to reach your next mission, and you cannot talk with the multitude of citizens that pass you by. They are just props, and that indelible impression is hard to hide. The soundtrack is also largely uninspired; nothing memorable is likely to stick in your head. Rather, the tunes are simple and largely unvaried, generally reflecting the theme of the dessert. Finally, there is a small problem with the missions. As stated before, with so many missions available, you’ll end up liking some more than others. But regardless of which mission you partake in, never expect to get it right on the first try. One small mistake, such as failing to pass through a ring while hang gliding, will result in mission failure. Interestingly, however, you’ll have unlimited tries to complete each mission—including battles, and often you’ll be able to try again from where you last failed, thereby ironically reducing the challenge. For example, in one mission you need to rescue three civilians from the dessert with an off-road vehicle before a sandstorm comes in, so you have limited time and a limited energy meter. If you manage to rescue the civilians and bring them to safety, all you have to do is make it back to home base yourself before the time runs out. But if an enemy vehicle blasts yours to smithereens, no problem. Just head back to the camp with a full energy meter a few seconds later, as if you were never damaged to begin with. Some may say this ruins the point, others will say it makes the game accessible to everyone, regardless of skill level, because you can keep on trying until you get it right, even if sometimes it’s only a few seconds from where you failed.

 

One thing is for certain, however, if you like 3D action platformers, it’s very likely that you’ll enjoy Jak 3. The keyword here is variety. If you like to try many different things and fight many different ways, then Jak 3 is the game for you.

 

 

 

 

 

Graphics————–9/10

Sound—————–7/10

Gameplay————7/10

Story——————8/10

Overall—————-8/10

Tilt——————7 to 8/10

April 11, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Donkey Kong Country 2

Ah, nostalgia. For a 25-year old gamer whose adolescence coincided with the pinnacle of all that was good of the 16-bit era, sometimes there can be no better word. Yet, when I received a copy of Donkey Kong Country 2 for the GBA to review I was a little hesitant, because by now we have all become spoiled by the norm of 128-bit games in the third dimension. Would this be another lazy port by Nintendo, in similar fashion to the original Donkey Kong Country they released last year? The answer is no.

 

Simply put, if you like classic platforming action, and especially if you never played the original Donkey Kong Country 2, this is the game for you to get. This sequel improves upon its predecessor in so many ways. The plot of course is standard rescue mission fare; you play as Diddy Kong (the sidekick from the original DKC) and his girlfriend
Dixie in order to rescue Donkey Kong from the lizard-like Kremlings with a pirate fetish. The plot is so hackneyed, as is typical in most platformer fare, that even Cranky Kong, the old Kong who was the original Donkey Kong in the early 80’s, makes fun of how the “writers” have run out of ideas, which is a nice touch. Of course, it’s not the story that will get players excited about this game, it’s the journey to the final levels that are the most fun. In a similar fashion to Super Mario Bros. 3, the Kongs will traverse past multiple “worlds” each with their own unique theme (pirate-ship, lava, swamp, etc.). While travelling past each of the 65+ levels, Diddy and
Dixie must team up and make use of their unique abilities.
Dixie, for example, is very useful crossing large chasms because she propels her hair like a helicopter to cross long distances. Diddy is more skilled at barrel throwing and can jump a little higher. If you want to reach a seemingly inaccessible area, usually all that is necessary is to partner up and have Diddy toss
Dixie to the desired location, or vice-versa. To add even more variety, there are different animal friends that are a big help. Rambi the Rhino can charge right into enemies and take them out without any problems, Squitter the spider can make platform webs to reach difficult places, Rattly the Rattlesnake can jump very high, and there are several more useful animal friends.

 

While the main goal ostensibly is to cross through each level, the game is quite deeper than that. A significant layer of Donkey Kong Country 2 is collecting things. For example, there is a Kremling traitor named Klubba who will let you pass to a special restricted area if you bribe him with enough kremkoins, which you need to collect through bonus games, at least one of which is hidden in each level. There are also mysterious Hero coins that Kranky Kong has placed in each level as a challenge; these difficult to obtain coins will unlock something neat if you collect all of them. In addition, if you manage to collect every single banana in the game (no easy task), something really good will happen. But the collecting doesn’t stop there. The developers decided to add some new collectibles and bonus games exclusively for the GBA re-release. Rather than feel needlessly tacked on, they feel like the perfect complement to the game. Remember Expresso the Ostrich from the original DKC? Well now he’s back, and you can train and race him once you collect enough gold feathers throughout the levels. You can choose to customise his speed, strength, boost, and other attributes in an RPG-like fashion, and then control him in races. If he does well, you win prises that are useful in the main game, so it’s not just for show. Klubba also has a new game for you. For a fee of several Banana Bunch coins (the main currency of the game) you can challenge him to a firefly catching contest, and he’ll reward you based on your performance. Keep in mind that all of these bonuses and collectibles are entirely optional, so if that isn’t your thing, you can feel free to proceed linearly throughout this often challenging adventure.

 

Yes, while there are plenty of opportunities to gain extra lives, you’ll need them for the really hard levels later on in the game, of which there are plenty. In addition, each boss is unique and requires a little figuring out before you discover how to defeat it. The jump- stomp formula against brain-dead baddies doesn’t work here, like it did in the first DKC.

 

The graphics, while suffering a slight sacrifice in the parallax shading, are nevertheless incredible for the GBA. When you control Diddy and
Dixie as they run, jump and swing to victory, you’ll find the animations fluid and fully rendered, like you’re controlling their every movement. The backgrounds and designs are very colourful and varied, and the game just looks great on the GBA SP. The music has some cute pirate tunes that are fun to listen to as well, so there are no significant complaints in the graphics and sound department.

 

But in the end, for gamers in their 20’s and up, it all comes down to nostalgia That’s what’s so great about this game, when you’re playing it, you realise that you’re playing a top-notch 16-bit title of the mid 90’s, portably and wherever you want. It’s the type of thing we all dreamed of when we were little. And if you’ve never played DKC2 before, so much the better, because then the experience will be completely new. Younger gamers who don’t care for nostalgia will still find a lot to like about this game, as it’s very fun and engaging simply on its own terms.

 

If you own a GBA, then Donkey Kong Country 2 is definitely worth a look. And with the holidays fast approaching, it may very well make a great gift.  

 

 

 

 

Graphics———————8/10

Sound————————-8/10

Story————————–9/10

Gameplay——————–10/10

Overall———————8.75/10

Tilt———————-8 to 9/10

 

April 10, 2007 Posted by | Video-game reviews | Leave a comment

Digital Hitz Factory

First off, I need to state right off the bat that music is not my forte. Thus, when reviewing this product, I have kept in mind that it is intended for a niche audience—largely aspiring DJs. The score is intended to reflect this—obviously those not interested in mixing music will find little to like about this title—while hard-core audiophiles might find this score a little too low.

With that out of the way, it is good to note that there are several things to like about Digital Hitz Factory. This product offers enormous flexibility to those who have the patience and commitment to mix their very own music videos, as the options available are diverse. It is highly recommended to visit the excellent tutorial before trying to compose your own hits, as it is very thorough. The gamer will be introduced to the basics such as how to cut and paste riffs and how to write simple, low-budget videos, to more advanced techniques such as creating your own riffs, visuals, and sounds, and blending your own video and vocal-tracks.

 

The player has a wide variety of choices with respect to instrumentation and musical riffs. For example, some choices in the guitar section include: 12-string acoustic, distorted wah, and many more. What I found fun is using the microphone to turn my pathetic whistles into actual notes on a particular instrument. Unfortunately, the technology is not as accurate as it could be and thus you must be very precise in order to use this riff-creating feature well.

 

The sound quality is good, but the microphone quality is poor. You have to almost yell into it in order to hear your own voice on the television. Still, considering you’re paying less than $15 for the microphone, it’s worth it. The graphics are good, considering what this product is. The visuals are nicely displayed for your navigating pleasure. This being said, it is necessary to be very precise when dragging and dropping riffs and notes, and it takes some getting used to. The controls may be just a little too sensitive for some. This is especially annoying when trying to name your songs using the on-screen keyboard. Getting the hang of it is not that big of a problem, but it takes a very long time when using the keyboard for any purpose. The ability to use a keyboard accessory would have been very welcome.

 

The ability to mix six virtual decks was also amusing. It was fun to play around with the bass and treble, as well as add and remove various other instruments from a variety of party tracks, at least for a while.

 

And here lies the problem; if you’re not hard-core, you’re just going to end up “playing around with it,” and you’ll almost certainly become bored within a few hours. This is not something that is “fun for the whole family” or a light-hearted party game with friends. It requires a true amount of dedication and effort to create stellar work using this software. Most people who use a PS2 like to have fun with it, and not work. But this seemed like a lot of work and as such, will probably not appeal to most people. It’s a niche product for a niche audience. This is not MTV Music Generator 3—it’s much more sophisticated, and therefore much more complicated. Those who are really interested in this field, however, will not be disappointed. The $40 should be money well spent. Everyone else might want to consider taking a pass.

Rating: 7/10

April 10, 2007 Posted by | Video-game reviews | Leave a comment