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Star Wars: Episode I - Racer (Windows)

A maddening rush of speed--and a maddening control system.

The Good
Speed. There's always a problem in computer games that try to convey a sense of speed when you race, and that's not their fault--you, the player, are doing exactly what you don't do in a race. You're sitting still. And your surroundings are stationary as well. So computer games essentially have to go way over the top in order to convey a rushing sense of speed, and many don't because that takes away from the 'realism'.

Star Wars: Episode I Racer gleefully goes way over the top, because it can. It's set in the Star Wars universe, so piloting a pod racer (two jet engines and a piece of string, essentially) that can reach speeds in excess of 750 MPH is... well, over the top. It definitely gets your adrenaline pumping. (A decent 3D accelerator helps, too.)

The tracks are large and varied. They aren't as large (and sneaky) as the tracks in, say, Carmageddon 2, but they are much nicer in appearance and represent their homeworld well with plenty of detail.

The Bad
Frankly, I'm a bit annoyed at the control system. You'd expect in any racing game that you would need to slow down, speed up, move left and right, brake, and hit the turbo. That conforms very nicely to a two button joystick. But Pod Racer introduces additional elements that I view as 'featureitis' -- hard air braking (why is regular braking and turning not enough?), rolling your craft sideways, moving up and down slightly, and reparing your engines on the fly are features that come to mind. They don't significantly enhance the gameplay, other than the ability to roll sideways allows you to fit through a verticle slot on one level easily (although you can fit through it normally anyway if you go straight through the center).

A two-button joystick doesn't cut it, and it's distracting to keep one finger near the keyboard to perform in-race functions. An obvious criticism of this is "Why don't you use a joystick with more than two buttons?" To that, I answer "Why do I need a joystick with more than two buttons?"

An 'obvious' solution is to use a gamepad or keyboard. But any true racing fan knows that keyboards and gamepads are 'total-on, total-off' devices that make subtle steering adjustments impossible--you're either turning as hard as you can, or you're not turning at all. Another solution, then, is to use a multi-button digital joystick. This reviewer had marginal success using Microsoft's popular force-feedback joystick, except that it didn't feel natural at all, since it's a flight throttle.

I would imagine that a multi-button steering wheel or yoke would be best.

The Bottom Line
If you're looking for a mind-numbing sense of speed, look no further. But be sure you have the right input device for the job!

By Trixter on April 16th, 2023

Katamari Damacy (PlayStation 2)

Every gamer who owns a PS2 simply must buy this game. It's that simple.

The Good
The gameplay premise is so preposterous that you'd think I was on LSD if I told you that the object of the game is to wad stuff up into a giant ball. That's it! Wad everything you can find in the gameworld up into a giant freakin' ball! It sounds goofy, and it is, but it is simultaneously one of the most addictive and fun games that I have ever played in my 25+ years of electronic gaming.

The gameplay is whack: You use both PS2 dual-shock analog sticks to control your katamari across one of several game worlds, rolling over things to pick them up and add them to your wad. And I do mean picking up anything and everything you can find: gum, nails, ants, etc. As the wad gets larger, you can pick up larger things such as cats, dogs, people, bicycles, chairs, etc. Finally you can get so big that you're wadding up entire buildings, tankers, giant sea monsters... It's freakin' nuts!

If that alone were it, Katamari Damacy (pronounced kah-tah-mar-ee dah-mah-she, loosely translated as "clump of souls") would be a great game. But it transcends greatness into an instant classic because of the soundtrack. The soundtrack... each and every song (with exactly one lounge-singing exception) is sweet, perfect, appropriate, and uniquely Japanese cool. Each track is so good that I find myself listening to them outside of the game all the time.

And after it's all said and done and you've had the time of your life, the more technical programmers out there will realize how clever the game engine is, as it convincingly portrays a game world that lets you pick up tens of thousands of objects while hiding the background processes that make it possible.

The Bad
The multiplayer mode doesn't have options to expand the time limit or choose different arenas. The multiplayer mode is fun, don't get me wrong, but without those kinds of options, it gets stale after 3 or 4 matches.

The Bottom Line
At a price of $20, every single PS2 owner should be ashamed to not own this game. Please support wacky Japanese technology. Seriously. It is so rare that an original gameplay concept is brought to market -- moreso, that is actually FUN -- that we all owe it to ourselves to buy this game and support the concept.

By Trixter on April 16th, 2023

The Exterminator (PC Booter)

By Trixter on January 24th, 2023

Balance of Power: The 1990 Edition (Windows 3.x)

By Trixter on October 2nd, 2016

Grime (DOS)

By Trixter on April 23rd, 2016

Blue Angels: Formation Flight Simulation (DOS)

By Trixter on April 21st, 2012

Solitare (DOS)

More addictive than you would initially imagine.

The Good
Solitare (sic) is truly the programmer's version of Klondike solitaire. I say this for two reasons:

  1. Input is done completely with the keys using the absolute minimum number of keystrokes
  2. You can play against the computer using the same deck/shuffle/order of cards

Because you and the computer (or all players) are using the same deck of cards, it is possible to compete against each other. Yes, competition solitaire!

On a slow machine, you can watch the computer make decisions and devise a strategy that may not win overall, but beat him.

Learning the method of controlling the game with keys takes a couple of minutes to get familiar with, but after the learning period is over you will find yourself playing Klondike faster than with any other program in the world. It's like VI for solitaire.

The Bad
The only main thing to dislike about the game is that it doesn't save high scores to disk. This is a real pity, as I would've liked to have a running competition against the computer for years and years.

Actually, now that I think of it, the real big flaw is that you can't split a stack; you can only move a stack by it's topmost card. Then again, I don't know if that is actually allowed in the rules of Klondike.

As written in 1985, there is no speed throttling in the game. You don't need it to play, but you can't watch the computer making decisions unless you're on a 4.77MHz machine.

The Bottom Line
It's the very best "programmer's" Klondike out there. It's freeware. Grab it. And if you ever track down Bill Franklin, tell him to get in contact with me.

By Trixter on February 24th, 2010

Primal (PlayStation 2)

Amazing technology and production values, but some parts weren't completely thought out.

The Good
Primal has a lot of flaws, but almost all of them are excused by a killer one-two punch of awesome visuals and the very best engine technology I have ever seen in a PS2 game. The visuals, from the textures and modeling to the motion capture, are just superb: Environments are large and ornate; characters are well-modeled and detailed; textures are sharp and appropriate. The gameplay engine, however, is just a marvel if you have any knowledge of how hard it is to program for the PS2: All areas seamlessly merge together with no loading times; you can switch between two characters even if they're in completely different areas of the world (albeit with a slight pause); models morph into different shapes; you can see clear across the gameworld to see real structures on the other side that you can travel to (ie not just painted backgrounds); the list goes on and on. If every PS2 programming team was as good as these guys, the PS2 would get a lot more respect. (The production values stretch to the manual, which is more comprehensive than most PS2 games, to the bonus features you unlock which include interviews with the designers, actors, band, etc.)

The opening of the game is very strong, with a good story and gameplay that eases you into the travel and combat system without screaming "tutorial!" The main character Jen, through traveling to various worlds, gathers additional forms each with various powers: The Ferai form can jump and land greater distances; the Undine form can communicate telepathically to your companion for help; the Wraith form can move instantly ala The Matrix, and the Djinn form has a whoop-ass longsword for ending combat quickly and efficiently. Switching between these forms to get past various puzzles is implemented well (although not as often as I would have enjoyed).

The music is a combination of hard punk courtesy of 16 Volt, and original orchestral music performed by the City of Praque Philharmonic and Chorus. Overall it is one of the best music soundtracks I have heard in a game, not because the music stands on its own but rather because it fits the game areas and moods so perfectly. Along those lines, the voice acting is very professional. And, a surprise to me, the localization has full dialog re-recorded in French, Spanish, etc.

The Bad
What stops Primal from becoming an instant classic is that there are parts of the game where they obviously rushed through things. The first and last worlds are fantastic, with good puzzles and (in the first part) an excellent story. But the middle of the game has some stages that simply don't feel like enough time was spent on actual motivation for being there; you feel like you're in a water world because, hey, wouldn't it be cool if we put a water world into the game... that sort of thing. Another source of irritation is when your companion, Scree, has lines of dialog that are out of character (they sound like a programmer or designer talking, not his character). One example of this is in the forth world, where Scree mentions that "you need your Djinn aspect". I know that doesn't sound odd out of context, but in context it feels very awkward, as if he had just blatantly said something like "we need to get past this puzzle so you can power up". Also, the attempts at humor in the game mostly fall flat -- very flat. With the exception of one of Scree's lines, pretty much every attempt at humor makes you cringe instead of laugh.

The combat is, at first, exciting and fun, as there are finishing moves and some good combat animation. But within a few battles you realize that all you have to do to win most battles is tap the buttons very quickly, turning combat into button mashing. Once you learn that, battles become tedious instead of exciting; since a few of the battles are downright cheap, it doesn't help.

Amongst all of the great engine technology and graphics, there is no lip-sync during the cutscenes, which is distracting.

Finally, while I enjoyed the game, it has a very strong feel of being mainly designed by a woman (Katie Lea, one of the three designers) for teenage/young women -- but with the Mature rating (one swear word and lots of blood spray), the proper target audience will probably never play it. Odd.

The Bottom Line
Although it has combat elements, Primal is mainly an adventure game, and if you look at it in that context, it is a light easy adventure that won't get you too frustrated. More experienced adventurers probably won't be challenged, but if you like a great looking and sounding game, this fits the bill. It's the best looking game for the PS2 I've ever seen.

By Trixter on December 16th, 2009

Sonic the Hedgehog (PlayStation 3)

By Trixter on December 15th, 2009

Flower (PlayStation 3)

By Trixter on December 8th, 2009

TimeShift (Windows)

By Trixter on August 5th, 2008

Psychonauts (Xbox)

By Trixter on May 18th, 2007

Psychonauts (PlayStation 2)

By Trixter on May 18th, 2007

One Must Fall 2097 (DOS)

By Trixter on November 5th, 2006

TransFormers (PlayStation 2)

By Trixter on June 23rd, 2006

Mars Matrix (Dreamcast)

By Trixter on May 29th, 2006

Tomcat Alley (SEGA CD)

By Trixter on May 16th, 2006

MegaRace (DOS)

By Trixter on May 16th, 2006

Hack (DOS)

By Trixter on May 10th, 2006

Beyond Good & Evil (PlayStation 2)

By Trixter on December 11th, 2005

Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)

By Trixter on August 14th, 2005

Seaman (Dreamcast)

Frustrated and depressed.

The Good
A high-tech tamaguchi that comes with a microphone, Seaman asks you questions and parses your responses. It remembers everything you tell it, and alters its conversations accordingly. Some of the responses are insightful; others are philosophical; still others are funny.

The opening narration and ongoing commentary from Leonard Nemoy hits just the right note for the game.

There are little touches here and there that you wouldn't normally expect. For example, if you interrupt Leonard Nemoy's daily opening comments by hitting Start, he coughs, or sputters, or says "oh, well..." or something equally unexpected.

The Bad
Completely unannounced anywhere in the game or manual is that in-game time is drastically sped up from "saved game" time. I took a nap with the game unpaused, and when I woke up he was dead due to "lack of care". This is a direct contradiction from "saved game" time, where you can save the game and come back up to 3 days later and he is still alive, waiting for care. For having put a 2-month investment (real calendar time!) into the game, to say that I am a little frustrated and angry is a gross understatement.

The voice recognition is good for a console game, but not great compared to real world applications.

The Bottom Line
If you like tamaguchis, you'll like Seaman. Just remember to never ever leave the game unpaused!!

By Trixter on April 21st, 2005

Vaxine (DOS)

By Trixter on March 5th, 2005

Chaser (Windows)

One of the few games I have actually thrown away.

The Good
I so SO wanted to like Chaser: It had a great game engine for its time with lots of environment tricks; the audio (especially the music) was fantastic; the story setting was my cup of tea (sci-fi). The opening sequence where you have to get off of a ship while it is in the process of breaking up wasn't original, but was well executed. After the first 20 minutes, I was pumped.

The Bad
The rest of the 20+ hours I wasted trying to finish this game was so wrought with frustration that I broke down and just started cheating in an effort to just get to the next damn level. I don't have a problem with the difficulty of games as long as they're engaging, but level after level just went on and on and on... it was beyond tedious. Unreal 2 did the same thing, but at least they announced when a level was going to be tedious; you had warning. Like others have said before, this game had tons of potential and simply squandered it. The voice acting was stiff, the levels were monotonous, and for being a sci-fi game it had surprisingly few sci-fi weapons or locales.

Ultimately, it was a disappointment because there were so many missed opportunities. There was no coherent storyline other than a lame attempt to string together all of the completely different levels that were created. Wait, I take that back -- the very very end of the story (spoiler warning!) had some thought, but only because it was a lame rip-off of Total Recall (except this time the ending ended on a sour note, almost as if the developers were mocking you for actually completing their game).

And, oh yes, you can't install the game under Windows XP Service Pack 2 or higher -- I had to uninstall SP2 to install the game, then reinstall SP2. JoWood has acknowledged the problem and publicly stated there will be no fix. Great.

The Bottom Line
Don't bother. Honestly, there's no point -- I could have spent the 20+ hours playing some other game instead. Hell, I could have played Tron 2.0 for a fourth time.

(Yes, I really did throw the game away -- and I'm one of the founders of MobyGames, I never throw games away!)

By Trixter on November 18th, 2004

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