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Halo 3: ODST (Xbox 360)

An unique and welcome take on Halo

The Good
First off, this review is about the campaign - I haven't tried the multiplayer yet.

Halo 3: ODST is definitely a unique game in the series, and that's a good thing. It's a big breath of fresh air.

The character cast is rather varied this time, which is definitely a good thing, and it's kind of startling, yet positive, to hear the characters talk this much. It breaks the immersion a little bit, but it's worth it. The Master Chief had precious little humour, but these guys can also be funny when the situation calls for it.

The campaign missions are fun, the dialogue and story are pretty well thought out, and there's a lot more tangible story here than in the individual Halo trilogy games proper.

Despite of the flaws listed below, I think the concept of storytelling in this game is pretty good, and the hub level is a pretty good idea as such.

The soundtrack also has a little bit more variety this time, and I'd say it's better than the rest of Halo soundtracks, which, as a general rule, just kind of felt tacked-on.

The Bad
As long as there has been Console Wars, there's been rivalries between the similar console-exclusive game series. Most rational people usually dismiss these and say "let's not discuss which is better, Halo or Metroid Prime - they're so different, after all". And yes, the series have done different things differently. They're both great at what they do.

But here, Bungie consciously tried to bend Halo into Metroid Prime mould, so I can't take that excuse any more. I would allege that Halo 3: ODST answers the question "what would Metroid Prime be like, if it was boring". It says something that a lot of people - even myself, a huge Metroid Prime fan - consider the "more Halo-like" flashback sequences superior to the open-ended part.

New Mombasa is not really a place that would encourage you to explore it. There's a lot of buildings, but the doors just remain shut. There doesn't seem to be anything wondrous going on. Nobody is here. Covenant troops are pretty much all the same. The hyped "detective" angle isn't really in as big swing as in Metroid Primes: you collect audio logs, yeah, but you can't really make sense of what else has been going on in the city based on the weird stuff you see. If you're going to fragment information, then fragment it properly!

Another bad thing is that the ODSTs were hyped as being "not Master Chief". We're supposed to believe ODSTs are not super-human cyborgs. Yeah, they fatigue. Yeah, they can't be dropped from tall buildings. But they can still take ridiculous amount of damage before dying, they can still flip Warthogs with their little fingers (there's no innovative game mechanics like "get all squadmates around you and all hit RB together to painstakingly push the car right side up"), they can still swing the ridiculously heavy and huge Gravity Hammers with ease. I blew up the heavily defended Scarab really fast and not dying even once, as opposed to Halo 2 or Halo 3 (granted, this time I definitely knew what to do, but still). And their armour electronics is considerably better than the Master Chief had. Chief's just not much better than these guys. Something is not right here.

The Bottom Line
So, there was this giant explosion in Halo 2, when the Covenant ship decided to enter slipspace right on top of New Mombasa, and UNSC In Amber Clad decided to follow it - taking Master Chief far away from good old terra firma once again. I kept wondering what the heck happened in the city after that. Did anyone survive? Could anyone survive? Actually, what the heck happened on Earth between this event and the beginning of Halo 3?

Slightly unluckily for the United Nations Space Command's Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, they were just about to drop in the city and fight their way into the Covenant ship. They only got the first part barely done. One of the squad members, the Rookie, wakes up 6 hours after the unlucky drop into the city. And there begins a journey into finding out what exactly happened to the other squadmates, who apparently woke up a little bit earlier than that. Armed with a silenced submachine gun and pistol, the Rookie will examine the environment, finds clues, conserve the precious ammo, find audio logs that tell one civilian survivor's story, and interface with the city's slightly loopy control AI.

Or so the theory goes. The bulk of the story is told in flashback missions, which are done in style far more similar to the rest of the Halo games - the player gets to control the rest of the squadmates in order to perform other little miracles. There's stuff to blow up, enemies to fry, and places to sneak into. All in all, eight missions and a hub level mean there's some good time to be had in this game - not long time, but good time.

There's also a multiplayer mode, which I haven't tested, because there's apparently no matchmaking and my friends don't have the game yet. People have described it with a whole gamut of superlative adjectives, from "brilliant" to, er, "brilliant". I have to take their word for now. The game also comes with Halo 3 multiplayer disc (complete with Forge and Theater and all of the downloadable maps, plus some more), and you can't really go too wrong with Halo 3 multiplayer. It's great.

As far as tech and campaign goes, Halo 3: ODST works pretty well. At its core, it won't get too far from its roots and the promised dramatic improvements aren't all that dramatic, but as far as "fanservice" goes, it's a little package of pure gold.

By WWWWolf on October 27th, 2009

Mass Effect (Xbox 360)

Epic science fiction tales at their finest

The Good
The story is pretty well-written, and to me, it seemed to be adequately wondrous and science-fiction-like enough. Even when the main plot is relatively simple and ordinary, it made me think about stuff and think about the characters - this is always a good sign. I also appreciate the fact that the game is definitely more of a "science-fiction" game than a "space opera" game; the designers put a lot of effort into writing a backstory and a bunch of technobabble that sounds plausible and well-thought-out. It's not just "it's got spaceship and ray-guns in it".

Graphics and music are top-notch, and the character art and animation is very good. Voice acting never really gets jarring, dialogue works surprisingly well.

This game is also one of the few games I really wanted to pick up for a second playthrough almost immediately afterwards. The game is not too long, yet not too short either.

The Bad
The planets you can land on are quite fun to explore, and the sidequest missions are interesting enough, but the problem is that the planets are rather bland and the sidequests are set in The Mine or The Base or The Other Kind of Base or The Spaceship - there's literally one map for each submission, with the interior objects slightly changed. This doesn't allow for much variation, and you can pretty much figure out a single strategy for them and then just say "Okay, now we're raiding The Base, here's my tried-and-true plan".

The firefights are chaotic to say the least. The enemies have absolutely no strategy, and they just run around a lot, usually scurrying around just as you're about to aim at them. This is compounded by the fact that your squadmates have no strategy either, and when these enemies scurry out of your line of fire, your squadmates offer to put their heads on the line of fire, instead, just as you pull the trigger.

Some of the game mechanics remain obscure. I was half-way through the game until I finally "got" some of the subtleties of the game - and could have played through without really getting them.

Yet, none of this is all that big. Even when blandness sometimes shows, the main plot definitely makes up for it.

The Bottom Line
Welcome to an epic science-fiction tale where the humanity has uncovered mysterious alien technology to allow faster-than-light jumping around the galaxy, and met several interesting alien species. Humankind is just about to be admitted to the greater galactic bureaucracy as one of the prominent races. And we, on the other hand, have to go examine the exploits of the crew of humanity's most advanced spaceship. The first call is to examine a rather mysterious conflict that is quickly unfolding in a rather sleepy planet; this immediately leads to the trail of a new threat to all sentient organic races.

The humankind, of course, does what it does best, as far as fiction is to be believed: kicking butt. Mass Effect is a tactical third-person shooter... and a RPG... and you get to drive around in an APC too... oh, and you have a starship and you get to conduct some exploration too. Dialogue is a heavy part of the game: situations can be often solved with guns or through eloquent or threatening speech. The character is given choice between acting nicely and heroically ("Paragon"), or just getting the job done no matter what it takes ("Renegade"). Not really a good vs. evil system, but close. These choices award points which are tracked independently; the better you are at either, you also get the chance to be more persuasive or intimidating.

The player controls a squad of up to three people; each character has unique talents and strengths. The player character, Shepard, can be customised as well. At your disposal you have a bunch of different weapons (grenades, assault rifles, pistols, shotguns and sniper rifles) that come in different makes and models and can be customised with various kinds of mods. Different character types can use different weapons to their advantage. When the characters level up, they learn new powers. Aside of conventional weaponry, there's a bunch of biotic powers that are extremely handy. When you land on planets, you also have at your disposal an armoured vehicle, called Mako, that has the necessary big guns.

In short, Mass Effect is a really well-done science fiction RPG, with only minor flaws that don't really take away too much from fun. It has tons of engaging dialogue, has a well-crafted milieu, and enough interesting plot twists to keep you busy.

By WWWWolf on September 22nd, 2009

Bullet Witch (Xbox 360)

So, it's not perfect - but who cares when it's fun?

The Good
All in this game points to the direction that the developers wanted to at least make a good effort. The game mechanics are pretty nicely designed, The character design and writing is pretty decent, the levels are pretty atmospheric and fun, and at no point does the game become depressing and frustrating. Yeah, I got killed a lot - but playing the game never turned boring.

The Bad
While the developers clearly made a good effort, they didn't apparently push this game to the perfection, which is a bit sad. The graphics and level design, while not hopeless, could have used a little bit more polishing. Enemy AI is not the brightest in the world: the giant enemies have the tendency to just stand there and get fooled by proper use of cover. (I usually don't mind stupid AI, but in some parts of the game, you really notice the bad AI to the point that you find it ridiculous.) Some of the levels have walled-off areas, which are justified in the game but look a bit mechanical and contrived. Also, it is a relatively short game, with only 6 levels.

The Bottom Line
How would I describe this game to others? Oh, I like this game, and I have described this game to the others... with the exact words of "it's like Mass Effect, but not as good."

Which, of course, is kind of unfair. Bullet Witch is a third-person shooter with RPG elements; the witch Alicia learns new spells and upgrades her battle-broom with new gun abilities as the game progresses. In this post-apocalyptic vision of a world, Alicia mows down demon-infested people and tons of weird creatures with the help of a few surviving human soldiers and searches the source of this evil infestation.

Well, it's perhaps not the most original game, but at least the makers made a good effort towards making it original and memorable, which is a lot more than what can be said of a lot of zombie-fighting - excuse me, demon-fighting games. We get strange spell effects - some are quite helpful and fun, like the distracting flock of ravens or the one that makes spears sprout from the ground. We get newspapers. (How many fictional post-apocalyptic worlds have working newspapers? Not nearly as many as there should be.)

It is a very dark game, but not depressing. It's a post-apocalyptic game that actually genuinely made me smile in the end.

I've heard some grumbling, but mostly from the crowd who paid full price for the game. I'd wager this is just a perfect bargain-bin or rental game, though. Who knows, with a little bit of extra polish and maybe a few more levels, this could have been a real classic...

By WWWWolf on May 25th, 2009

Metroid Fusion (Game Boy Advance)

A weird - but welcome - part of the Metroid series

The Good
The game is a good example of how Metroid series could logically be something else than what it usually stands for. So far, Metroid games had been mostly lone adventures where the plot is largely of the implied kind; Fusion, on the other hand, relies on direct narration and even - as unusual it sounds in a Metroid title - dialogue. So, this game is a refreshing change of pace; it's actually quite nice to see Samus, for once, having to cooperate with other people.

Also, the pacing changes are just beautifully done. The space laboratory undergoes changes. Power goes down, and suddenly you have to figure out different routes. There are times when you just have to make quick decisions.

The environments are beautifully done, and the graphics are surprisingly detailed for a 2D sprite game - a tradition which fortunately continued in Metroid: Zero Mission. Music is somewhat different from the usual Metroid tunes, but fit the game very nicely anyway.

The Bad
This game is much harder than Metroid: Zero Mission, and the boss fights, at times, approach Metroid Prime in their careful crafting of annoyance. How hard would it be to put the save points right next to the annoying boss fights? In a few places, I just hated to walk around for several tricky minutes from the nearest save point to the boss room where the boss flattens me in no time at all. And, of course, the last boss fights in particular were a marathon in murder. (Luckily, usually the most aggravating part was first in these...)

It's also a less open-ended game, which obviously comes from having such a strong plot this time... No problem in that in itself, but if you combine the annoying bosses with no freeform exploration, you get a distinct "oh man, I again need to trudge through those annoying rooms to get to the spider from hell, maybe I'll play this next week instead" feeling.

It's almost if this game needs more deliberate planning to play through; it's a game that you plan to play, instead of a game (like Zero Mission) that you can play in small doses and go in random directions and still make progress - something that is a good quality in a game for a portable system.

But maybe that feeling will wear off once you play this through a few times and you develop an understanding of the game, the same way you can develop an "understanding" about Zero Mission. I don't know yet, personally.

The Bottom Line
Fourth 2D part of the Metroid series is a nicely crafted continuation from the groundwork set forth by Super Metroid, and, control-wise, is built to work perfectly on the Game Boy Advance. A lot of strange things are going on this time: a whole new kind of an enemy that is also a master of mimicking, X Parasite, wreaks havoc in a scientific space station. Samus gets infected, disinfected with a new vaccine, and her old Chozo suit gets replaced with something odder.

We also see an evil clone of Samus herself, sure to induce some fear with its awesome weaponry - equivalents of which have traditionally been strewn around the station and you need to go grab them again.

This time, Samus takes orders from an artificial intelligence program which Samus calls Adam, and we also see, much to our non-surprise, that things people would rather not discuss are going on in the space station. Samus talks in this game, (though if you wanted sound samples, we had to wait for Brawl) and also uses her amazing blogging skills more than she used them in Super Metroid, now in form of many diary notes.

So here we have it: Fascinating science fiction tale in crammed, scary quarters of a huge space station - a finely crafted tale at that, if you are into that sort of things. Those new to the series should not take it as a representative of the series what comes to the look, plot and narration, because a lot of things are very different and unique in this game - just the basic gameplay and equipment remains the same compared to the rest of the series. This game works pretty well on its own, but I might recommend trying Metroid: Zero Mission first to get your feet wet - but that's not entirely necessary, I wager.

By WWWWolf on October 17th, 2008

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (GameCube)

Bigger in artfulness. Bigger in difficulty.

The Good
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is a competently made sequel in that it sticks to whatever worked in the predecessor without "innovating" too much and ruining the whole thing. Graphics are top notch, music is still amazing (the title and menu songs in particular are amazing, and some ambient/cutscene tracks are very very good too), and the controls remain just as good as they were in the previous part.

This is a schoolbook example of how to create a game sequel without getting lots of hate along the lines of "this is just a copy of the predecessor". Graphics are amazing, though now in slightly different, age-worn style that fits the planet Aether. It's refreshing to have some people around the planet to actually talk to - even if it's just one character. There's more cutscenes. The presence of the Galactic Federation is a nice addition, and the scan information and log bits turn out to be just as interesting as they were in the previous games. I like games where you have to piece stuff together.

And while piecing stuff together and wandering around looking for stuff in an open-ended world is fine and fun, it's also pretty nice that this time you have, without little sidetracking, a pretty solid idea from the beginning what you have to do. The main plot is rather straightforward that way.

The Bad
Well, let's be honest: while Nintendo is quite innovative, sometimes their innovations can be predictable, and "a predictable innovation" is quite a contradiction in terms. Here we witness Nintendo recycle two ideas from preceding games - and heck, one of those is from a preceding Metroid title, for crying out loud. Splitting the game world in light and dark "worlds" worked pretty well in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past... well, it was a good idea in that game and this game doesn't mess it up. Then we get an Evil Protagonist Clone. Not a terribly exciting idea, especially since Dark Samus is probably not quite as creepy as SA-X in Metroid Fusion (no ever-memorable footsteps or anything). All in all, these aren't really fatal things, it's just that they've been done before and didn't really inspire me.

The new equipment is great, though it's not really used a whole lot. There's screw attack, which is nice when you need to cross big gaps, but wall-jumping is way underutilised. The new visors and new beams, while quite interesting in itself, are not used a whole lot either in a memorable way.

Also, the biggest flaw of the game is that the difficulty goes up several notches - not a problem for the rest of the game, of course, but it is a problem if the sub-bosses are harder than the major bosses themselves. Heck, the major bosses are actually nice to beat, but then you get devilish pinball fights in dark and accursed bomb-jumping extravaganzas.

The Bottom Line
Ladies and gentlemen: The first game that is even more frustrating than the legendary stupid deaths in NetHack. If your memory card dies after Quadraxis, there will be no bounds to your frustration when you realise you have to defeat the rage-inducing sub-bosses again.

Yes, again. For me, a small out-of-game incident like that was not enough to make me throw the whole thing out of the window. Because, as frustrating it is, this is a great game that you don't want to give up. It is still a magnificent game what comes to playability, beautiful environments, and all of the nice challenge it presents us. While the plot is more easily defined this time, the joy of exploration is still there.

Like its predecessor, it's an amazing adventure masquerading as a first-person shooter. An epic science fiction story of grisly fates in a mysterious and largely unknown war-torn planet. Samus' journey continues in planet Aether, which split in two different dimensions. Samus follows Link's footsteps in dimension travelling and certain famously expensive crystal caravan's footsteps in avoiding the noxious atmosphere of the Dark Aether. Three major areas in two dimensions means there's a whole giant bunch of places to explore. There's Light and Dark Beams and their combination, good for destroying the other side's creatures, but you need to keep track of the ammo. Dark Visor is best suited for invisible enemy tracking, and the highly cool but relatively useless Echo Visor is nice for locating sound sources, visible or not. Samus' Screw Attack makes a return. (I hope they one day do Speed Booster in a 3D Metroid, too!)

All in all, it's a great, if a bit hard, sequel. The new things aren't really a great big deal, but the game makes it up by being a very distinctive game compared to its predecessor. Aether is a completely different place than Tallon IV, with a completely different look and atmosphere.

If you loved Metroid Prime, this is more of the same and even better. It's probably not as good if you haven't played Metroid Prime first, as it can be a bit of a challenge to figure out.

By WWWWolf on October 16th, 2008

Armoured Assault (Spectravideo)

Fascinating enough... for two players.

The Good
Tolerable graphics, over-cheerful music, very good sound effects, and offers some nice strategic and action-packed gameplay. And nice militaristic cover art. (I'll come to that in a moment.)

The Bad
Well, obviously, there's not terribly much to do in this game in modern terms - tiny screen, limited controls, pretty simple premise. Nowadays, it's probably good for just random short games and possibly sheer nostalgia factor, but little else.

The game being two players only is a slight problem - not anything against the concept itself, it's just that you never seem to find the second player when you are in the mood for a particular game. This game would have benefited some from having computer controlled player...

The Bottom Line
This is easily one of the better two-player Spectravideo games. It's a pretty simple game as far as tank fighting games go: Just drive around, shoot stuff, collect power-ups from the designated stations. But even on such limited terms, it's got enough glitter to make it look like a competently-put-together game.

When I was a kid, this game was so cool. Army stuff is cool, right? This game has got tanks! Tanks that shoot stuff! And it has cheerful militaristic music! And quite amazing, television-speaker-shattering booming sound effects! Who needs toy tanks when you have a militaristic tank game on your computer? ...okay, maybe I'm re-interpreting my childhood a little bit.

Perhaps this game would have withstood the test of time a bit better with a little bit more maneuverability - the tanks are pretty big and the screen is a bit small. My friends liked a magazine-published game called "Tank Duel" for Commodore 64 a little bit more, even when it had less features than Armoured Assault (No fuel or ammo tracking), mostly because the tanks were smaller, which meant a lot more room to run around.

But all in all, Armoured Assault isn't that bad. It's certainly fun enough in small doses.

By WWWWolf on September 12th, 2008

Orcs & Elves (Nintendo DS)

A very fine old-school RPG treat

The Good
Orcs & Elves is a refreshingly old-school RPG. I had not played the predecessor, the DOOM RPG, but the game clearly was an answer to my (highly unlikely) plea: "I wish there was a game that had all the action of DOOM, a little bit more leisurely pace, and a fantasy theme". It is a pretty good mix of action and leisurely-paced free exploration of a dungeon complex. You can play it both ways: Race to the finish as fast as you can, or explore every nook and cranny at your own pace.

Game system is, in my opinion, nicely done and has a sufficient depth, considering how humble the origins of the game are. You need to think of the approaches on how to defeat each type of a monster, make sure you have enough items, and scour the levels for all of the very necessary loot. There are monsters that are easy and fun to frag, monsters that are pain in the neck and satisfying to take down... and monsters that are kind of scary and tough to defeat.

The graphical style is a fascinating mix of old and new. Even if the sprite graphics remind me of old games, this is only a good, even nostalgia-inducing thing, and the sprites are not ugly as such. The sprites and textures are detailed and pretty enough for all intents and purposes. It is fascinating how the 3D objects and camera runs work seamlessly together with the sprite graphics; the jump from pseudo-3D to true-3D does not alarm at all and works nicely. Finally, an answer to another of my (highly unlikely) pleas: "What would have Dungeon Master looked like if it had had modern 3D camera effects?"

On the normal skill level, I did run on some tough spots, but generally, I just went forth, sentient-magic-wands blazing, swords swinging, and getting tons of fun out of the game. I can rarely say that a game has kept me on the edge of the proverbial seat, through and through. The game is quite addicting.

The Bad
The game has its roots in a mobile phone game, and it really shows: There are not many different weapons or types of equipment, not too many varieties of enemies, and not a whole lot of sounds or music. If I pick up a game I probably expect twenty different types of weapons, a hundred different magical items, and umpteen monster variations - but, well, the makers decided that they could make a decent game with a little bit less variety, and they more or less succeeded, so I am not complaining. Yes, you can say "If I buy a role-playing game I want to play an axe-wielding barbarian without pants, battling masses of giant ice-breathing rats in the Tundra Wastes"; well, you got an elf with a magic wand, sword and a few extra trinkets, and the rats will not breathe ice - because that was the tale the creators managed to successfully cram in a cell phone. I do not know what the fans of barbarians say, but I can only say the game is still good no matter what character concept you had in mind. Some people might say "direct ports suck"; I will not, because this happened to be a good game to begin with! At least it gives us DS players a chance to see the incredible DOOM RPG engine in action.

The game is primarily an action game and less of an adventure. The plot is very straightforward. The NPC dialogues are not exactly extensive and twisty either. Yet, there are some diversions in the plot, so the game is not exactly a direct run-through, and the discussions are somewhat amusing in their own right, so they are not exactly that disappointing either. A more problematic thing is that the game is pretty short: My first play-through took only 7 and half hours on the easiest skill level. On the other hand, some might say that, for good or ill, it also meant that I did not really have a chance to get bored with it. It also made me think - is it really too short? I suppose 40€ for a competently built 10-hour game is a more reasonable price than 60€ for an exquisitely built "100-hour game" that I will never find enough time for... but I digress.

In summary, I have to say that I don't think any of these traits wreck the game in any way. When porting the game from mobile phones to the DS, the developers got the increased 3D rendering power covered to an extent, but the touch screen and larger ROM capacity haven't been put to best possible use. I just wish that the developers remember to pack more stuff in the DS version of the sequel that is under development right now.

The Bottom Line
Orcs & Elves is a short but sweet RPG. The plot is fairly usual, the game experience is thoroughly old-school and tried-and-true, and the game system works. There is not a great deal of variety, but over its whole duration, it works quite well and keeps you in its grip - I know I was pretty much addicted. It is not too hard, not too easy, not too short, not too long.

Simply put, it is a tale of one elf who goes in a dwarven mountain stronghold to kick some orc and monster butt. With a recipe like that, you know it has to be fun. With a recipe like that, however, you also know that you should not get the hopes too high.

We easily have the impression that game companies are obligated to make massive games that yield massive amounts of entertainment. We expect game companies to produce, every time, AAA Titles that we will be playing for the next ten years. But the fact is, not every game is a great massive success. Not every game needs to be a great massive success. Sometimes, it is refreshing to run into a Neat Little Game - one that you will pick up every year or two, and play through it for the fun of it. Regrettably, many of these games are just that: fun for a little while but not a whole lot more. Most games relegated to this category tend to have some sort of a tiny, yet very annoying flaw.

Orcs & Elves is a game that certainly isn't an AAA Title of Lasting Impression. It certainly is, however, a very positive example of a Neat Little Game. And unlike many Neat Little Games, there are also no damning little flaws, aside of the length and a slight lack of breadth; the game itself is a joy to play. This game works perfectly at what it does, in its own short and sweet way.

I know I will pick this game up again in a year and not be a least bit ashamed or annoyed to play it. I will pick some other games over the next year, and I will probably say "This game is good, but oh boy, the movement system was a bit clumsy", or "oh man, this was a nice game, but those random encounters were a little bit aggravating". I do not think I will grumble when I play this game the next time, however. There is little to grumble about.

I think I will stick to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for now if I need Great RPG Entertainment®. However, I am happy to have Orcs & Elves game in my bag if I ever get bored - it could happen!

By WWWWolf on December 21st, 2007

Star Fox Assault (GameCube)

An excellent game, but why is it over already?

The Good
In general, the concept and most of the execution are excellent. I like the idea of foot combat and the developers did a decent job here.

The plot was decent, the characters were interesting (though the voice acting was a little bit off). I particularly liked the Star Wolf team.

The graphics and music are very good, and look and sound nice. The graphics are excellent. The music is not exactly memorable stuff by all means, but it's pleasing enough and fits the situations well enough, and fits the general style of the series.

The Bad
The number one problem with the game is, pretty obviously, that there's only 10 single-player missions. Another problem is that they're pretty disproportional: Most are foot combat, and there's not enough of the famous Star Fox roller coaster ride style space shooting.

The foot combat works for the most part, but the makers should have put a bunch of additional effort to that; right now, it's just good, it could have been excellent. The Landmaster tank in particular is very aggravating thing to control: slow to get moving and impossible to aim with.

Time limits that crop up in some missions are also pretty annoying. The action is extremely hectic as it is, and adding additional hurries on top of that is a bit much. You only start to live with the time limits on later times when you play through the game, and, well, people don't play games too many times through these days, do they...

One small problem is that the plot doesn't really take full advantage of the characters and the potential; okay, in the end it doesn't really matter if the game where you blow tons of stuff up has a plot or not, but it seems to me that they developed some great potential but didn't use it all.

The Bottom Line
Star Fox Assault is a game of good old-fashioned space shooting and space fighter combat, but also a game of foot combat, with interesting twist that in some missions, you can pick your vehicle freely. The environments include familiar Star Fox locales and some new ones.

The concept works well enough. In free-form missions, fox can run around at staggering speed and even more staggeringly hypnotic tail-wagging. There's tons of enemies, tons of weapons strewn around the levels, tons of Stuff to Blow Up. Never in the series we've seen this much of senseless cartoon violence. It's kind of fun once you ignore slight frustration on the first time around. Regrettably, it never rises above the "kind of fun" afterwards... but it's "kind of fun" enough that I won't drag this game to the second-hand store.

Overall, the game works pretty well, looks and sounds pretty well; certainly, not the worst game imaginable. Not just exactly as smoothly playable as the previous parts, but it makes it up with the hectic pace. Okay, the previous parts of the series didn't exactly make you think; this game doesn't give you enough time to think at all, which is another kind of fine numb feeling.

The only big problem is that the single player game is stunningly short. The multiplayer game is fun, but does not feel like something you can play for too long at time. Perhaps with, say, twice the missions and a little bit more varied multiplayer mode this might have been a really great game, but right now, it's just something you pull off the shelf to play occasionally. Still, a very much decent game and doesn't ruin the rest of the series.

By WWWWolf on April 25th, 2007

Jupiter Lander (VIC-20)

Pure and simple...

The Good
This game is pure and simple. It's still also pretty fun in small doses.

Also, I think the game music is pretty funny. The start music is quite dramatic, and the musical numbers accompanying a successful landing - or a landing that ends up successfully on the pad, but too fast - is quite jolly and cheerful. And it has nothing at all to do with landing on Jupiter. NASA should use this space age music in their public broadcasts.

Also, the viewpoint changes when you get close to the launch pad. This is was, back in the day, a pretty jaw-dropping feature.

Also, I suppose the physics are pretty well simulated. That's got to count.

The Bad
Um... I can't come up with a lot of stuff to say about this game, actually. It just does what it says. You land. On the Jupiter. Apparently. This game is probably being accused when people point and laugh and say "we have more interesting games these days". In other words, I couldn't play this game all day through then, and as sure as heck I can't play it all day through now.

The Bottom Line
Basically this is a "Lunar Lander clone". Which means you've got a ship. You land it on the surface while minding the controls. You can only land on pads. You've got to mind the direction, velocity, and fuel, and can control the direction and thruster throttle. Good landing gets you scored according to which pad you land on. Bad landing means you get killed.

And that's the whole game. Fun in small doses, perhaps, and certainly fun for its amusing music and, generally speaking, competent execution. Not fun after longer periods of exposure. I've heard Jupiter radiates mysterious particles.

By WWWWolf on January 18th, 2007

Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (GameCube)

Metal Gear Solid the way it should have been

The Good
Basically, The Twin Snakes is the game Metal Gear Solid could have been if PlayStation was not so underpowered. I'm not saying original MGS was that bad; I played it on PC and it looked okay. But it was probably a good example of a gamemaker's vision exceeding the limitations of the hardware: The game had lots of engine-based cutscenes and you couldn't get enough detail out of the thing to make it really cool. That's not a problem in The Twin Snakes: Cutscenes really shine here.

I also like how MGS2 play mechanics have been added here - not that they really add much to the game, but they add stuff that counts.

The Bad
One of the things I liked was that the original cast had a chance to remake their lines. It really showed. Lines that were weakly delivered in the original are now great. Generally, this has succeeded well. Yet, this could have needed just a little bit more improvement in certain areas.

The remade music is good, though in certain cases it doesn't set the mood as perfectly as it did in the original. Okay, maybe it's just me, maybe I just have trouble adjusting. The new music isn't awfully wrong, anyway... Glad that some of the original tracks are still here, like the end music.

I kind of lament the lack of Integral/PC version stuff, like the VR missions. Now, the package just has the main game, which isn't replayable indefinitely, just in small doses once you're first done with it.

The Bottom Line
Basically, here we have Metal Gear Solid, one of the greatest stealth games ever. Er, make that cutscene-fest which actually has pretty darn good gameplay moments.

Then, on top of MGS, we get new cutscenes, new music, actual motion capture acting, new engine that looks just as good as MGS2, new cutscenes, lots of new game mechanics lifted from MGS2, and new cutscenes. Well, the new cutscenes are just re-thought-of cutscenes from the original, pretty well directed this time.

Does it work? Well, to be honest, it works pretty well, just not as well as it may sound on the paper first. But even ignoring small flaws that could have been averted, this still is a remake worth the Metal Gear Solid name.

By WWWWolf on June 21st, 2006

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Nintendo DS)

By WWWWolf on June 20th, 2006

Deus Ex (Windows)

By WWWWolf on June 20th, 2006

Virtual Reality Studio (Commodore 64)

Redefinition of 'pushing it a bit'

The Good
Now here's something. A 3D virtual reality creation toolkit. On Commodore 64. This thing really made it possible to do all sorts of 3D environments. Okay, it was not overly complex or anything, and the 3D engine was somewhat limited (can't place objects within each others' bounding boxes, and the 8-bit versions suffered from lack of colors anyway), but this thing was affordable, pretty powerful for what it did, and certainly interesting.

I've used a lot of 3D apps, and this thing was clearly the simplest of the 3D game creation kits. I had to wait until recent years and GameBlender to get anything comparable and modern!

The Bad
Well, one obvious thing comes in mind: Commodore 64 was a tad bit underpowered for making 3D games. A screenful of shade-filled polygons at one frame per second was quite a good speed. If we were to understate a bit, C64 just wasn't made for 3D graphics, but I'm still kind of impressed by how well they pulled this off, considering the limitations of the platform!

Also, the thing is far more like a "Virtual Reality" toolbox than a "Game" toolbox. There's a scripting language, but you can't do much with such a limited language (okay, Alan Turing is probably spinning in his grave if I say that). The player can only interact with the world by shooting, activating things, or moving to specific areas which might trigger sensors or something. The game can output text messages which is a bit complex. All in all, you combined with the somewhat slow and dull-looking 3D engine, somewhat limited sound effects, and especially the slow screen updates, and lack of interaction possibilities, you couldn't do whole lot with this. You sure can't remake Quake in this thing. Don't expect high action. It might be perfect for slow-paced exploration/puzzle games...

The Bottom Line
What we're witnessing here is a redefinition of one of the earliest home computer full-3D graphics engines. Back in those days, you needed Heavy and Expensive Gear to run 3D stuff. Now, these crazy people decided to do the same thing on home computers, and blaspheme the gods of Virtual Reality by building games on top of that. 3D shooters. On 8-bit computers. On the frigging mud flap Spectrum, for crying out loud. Nineteen frigging eighty six. The kids who play Halo and Cow-Strike don't know what they missed.

Now, the company wasn't content with building a full-blown 3D engine on 8-bit machines, no. They made games on top of that. And a few years later, they made 3D Construction Kit (aka Virtual Studio, as it seems), which allowed people to build virtual reality stuff - and games, again - on their home computers.

This is an app where you can create virtual reality things and some simple games too. Simply put, there has been few attempts that have succeeded in getting the task done so simply and making it easy to approach. However, the 8-bit versions might not be the best for these tasks - the Amiga and PC versions, which I haven't seen, seemed to be much more capable.

By WWWWolf on April 28th, 2006

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles (GameCube)

Fun... but not necessarily for one

The Good
First, the game has a great idea. Play mechanics are well thought of - well, at least what comes to the multiplayer side. There's some refreshing new ideas here too. It basically says to me "this isn't an usual game" and I like that. The gameplay is pretty intuitive though not really without its first troubles.

Graphics are amazing. I can't possibly describe in words how beautiful some stuff in the game is.

Music is great, and I really like the musical style too. Switching composers for a while clearly provides a good break from the Usual Uematsu Stuff(tm).

The Bad
One bad thing is that without an on-screen map, some of the levels are just incomprehensible. And I haven't even played that far yet - I mean early levels, too.

And in one-player game, the game view focuses on the moogle carrying the chalice - which isn't a good thing, because the character I'm controlling is nose against the screen's edge, and I hate it when I have to run but just can't see where I'm going! It's not that bad in up-down direction areas, but left-right movement gets annoying fast.

And the smoothness of the game relies too much in the cooperation of the different character types, so the game isn't that smooth with just one character in the fray. Sometimes, it isn't that thrilling to think that I'm going to spend a lot of time playing through the game with a character that sure isn't as versatile as Link. But the game has stayed barely passable nevertheless so far...

And this gets mentioned often, but anyway, here goes: I really wish the GBAs and cables weren't required for multiplayer...

The Bottom Line
The idea is definitely solid. "Hey, let's make a Zelda clone! For four players, cooperative! Make it look really nice, make it sound really nice, and play pretty well! And how about slapping words 'Final Fantasy' on the side too, it worked before, right?" (Definitely a Zelda clone if the first boss is a giant crab...)

Like so many other people, I haven't played this game at all on multiplayer, mostly because I have only one GBA. This game would seem really amazing on multiplayer if I only had the equipment!

Too bad that as a single player game, this starts to make my teeth grind. It actually represents something more sinister: Here's a game with really beautiful graphics, and beautiful music, but heck, what comes to playability, it just isn't Zelda, even when it tries!

The bottom line what comes to the single player experience is that it's fun - in small doses. Maybe a level per month.

By WWWWolf on December 15th, 2005

Color a Dinosaur (NES)

By WWWWolf on November 12th, 2005

Wolf (DOS)

Wolfiest of the wolf games!

The Good
From just game-fan's point of view: What we have here is a kind of an unusual simulation. You don't see games like this too often. Animal simulation! What a concept!

And it's fairly well-done too. Rather nice graphics for the day, and very nice and cute music too. The game has a quite interesting, realistic, and nicely working atmosphere.

Playability had been worked fairly nicely, with a good job at making logical mouse and keyboard controls.

I also like the interactive wolf encyclopedia part. Interesting and fun and cute at times.

The Bad
When the wolves died. =(

And, of course, some facts related to the fact that this is a life simulator: Real life, simulated or not, can get boring at times. But that's generally why we're allowed to save game and try something else for a chance.

The Bottom Line
This is a wolf's life with all of its joys and griefs. Certainly no walk in the park compared to human lives.

Here we see the wolves run around, hunt, eat and drink, dodge traps and hunters, mate*, feed those cute little pups, howl, meet other wolves of the pack, fight for their rank in the wolf pack, travel, and, well, live. All done in a nice simulation / RPG way.

There's a mission mode with pretty clear details, and a free-play mode. The mission mode also has cute video clips when you win (which are longer on the CD-ROM version). And, it has an encyclopedia part too.

Graphics are nice, some based on photographs. Definitely something fun for wolf fans!

  • For some reason, this has to be mentioned in every review of this game. At least it seemed so back in the day when this game came out. Happy now? =) Never worry though, it doesn't get too detailed in this respect.

By WWWWolf on November 11th, 2005

Metroid: Zero Mission (Game Boy Advance)

A gem of a game

The Good
It's a Metroid, what's not to like? A polished, more playable, more accessible version of a great, if too hard, NES classic. Take a core game from that old one, add great SNES-style graphics, make it just perfectly playable, add great remixes of the classic music tracks, and you've got a complete and utter masterpiece that you gladly play over and over and over until you are too tired to play anything.

The Bad
I've heard people calling this far too short and simple. You can't do much about the shortness - even slowest players should beat this thing in 6 hours on Normal level on their first try - but I say this is good for replayability in portable games, especially when the thing wants me to play it faster and faster. If I know I have three hour trip ahead, I can usually count on completing this thing in that time.As for simplicity, well, I think this thing is generally pretty straightforward, which is not to say it is challenging at places.

And you have to kill Ridley in this game. Ridley is cute. =(

The Bottom Line
What do you get when you get a chance to take a NES game and turn it into a SNES-like game? A good chance to rework on playability and enjoyability, that's what.

This is a remake of a NES game, and a quite successful one at that. I kind of liked NES Metroid, but that thing is just way too hard by most modern scales. When most developers convert games from NES to GBA, they get things more balanced in this respect. Not a wonder. And it worked just fine in this game's case.

I used to hate all platformers unconditionally and little bit of 2D Metroids too (well, I only played the NES game and Super Metroid a little bit), but nowadays, I'm completely sold, and most of the thanks for that go to this little game. (Well, I still hate platformers, excluding Metroids!) For those who have never played the games, this game should be a good introduction to the series. Then follow that up with Prime and Fusion and Super and... well, just skip Metroid II, but you get my point.

Oh, and if you beat it, it also lets you play the original game. I'm still trying to figure that game out. It's hard.

By WWWWolf on October 24th, 2005

Fire Emblem (Game Boy Advance)

This game Makes Sense.

The Good
The system itself is simple and effective. The system is a respectable fantasy warfare system without the need for 20 pages of rules on hit modifiers. There's a simple rock-paper-scissors method, with random element and some situational things. Easy enough to learn and keep in mind, complex enough to keep things interesting. And the AI is pretty fun: It can actually retreat to keep me annoyed at times, and can pick weak units and attack them. (Nothing like getting everything done 90% correctly, almost ready to crush the last baddies like bugs, and this smart thing decides to do just what I hoped it wouldn't do: kill the leader, Game Over.)

One thing that struck me that this game has great characters. Each of them have a lot of personality. There's good dialogue and nicely tangled yet generally straightforward plot.

Graphics rock - very nice sprite animations here too. Music is just plain amazing.

A weird thing is that I liked the auto-save thing. I'm either staying current or having to get the whole chapter done from the beginning. If I've taken a break and can't remember a thing, I can always restart the chapter and not feel bad, because the chapters are generally pretty nice and short. And the chapters are generally pretty well designed to keep things balanced as I pick up more and more of the game: The 10-chapter tutorial doesn't even feel like a tutorial.

The Bad
Once again, here we have a really, really nice game that's just about perfect in every way and the only things to complain about are in the technicalities. I think the only really annoying thing is the fact that the text speed cannot be changed, and every letter appears slooowly on screen and make beep when they appear on screen. (That's so 1980s. When do the game makers learn this isn't the way to go anymore?) The dialogue can be sped up (and skipped), so this isn't that bad, except when you speed up the text, you miss character animation...

The Bottom Line
I had heard that Fire Emblem was a great series, yet when I heard it was a strategy game and from the team that made Advance Wars, I was a bit skeptical - I thought Advance Wars was decent but it didn't just get me really really excited. But I have always liked fantasy strategy games more than modern/sci-fi strategy games, so I just got it.

And my skepticism was uncalled for.

It's actually a very fun game, quite challenging yet it's never really annoying at all. If I mess up, it's never really depressing to start the chapter over. The story is fun to follow, characters are great, and in general, everything in the game makes sense.

Fantasy strategy at its finest, indeed!

By WWWWolf on June 22nd, 2005

Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls (Game Boy Advance)

Fundamentals of Monster-Mashing

The Good
First of all, it's absolutely great to see the cardinal Final Fantasy series come back to Nintendo, and great to see Square working on GBA and DS versions in future too. We've missed these things.

The re-glitterification process has benefited the game a lot. I know some might grumble about the difficulty level getting dropped from "masochistic" to "balanced", and combat system actually working in a sane way ("I just want the monsters dead, not dead-dead - quit hitting them!"), but I think these things have actually been for the better. A long way from NES to a lot of obscure and weird platforms like WonderSwan Color and Playstation has given a lot of new stuff to this thing - and the final additions to the game really make it worthwhile.

I also like the fact that while the games remain quite "old-fashioned", I haven't so far got really, really stuck ("Can't find the entrance to the last labyrinth hidden in one of the 65536 map squares? Call our hot line!") - that is, I'm on a long train trip, grab my DS to pass some time, and a few minutes into play I'm completely stuck in some god-forsaken monster-filled hellhole with no idea how to proceed, and I curse myself for not printing out the walkthrough before I left. Not so in these games! Maybe it's in the old-fashioned style of the games, but these things are really linear and there's plenty of hints on what to do next - and even if there isn't, I can always go wandering around and drop a few trains on the wandering monsters until it all makes sense.

Speaking of which, I don't usually like the "wandering monsters" in JRPGs - always seemed to me that in the long-gone hazy mists of time, some crazy Japanese guy read a badly translated D&D rule book and got some weird ideas from it - but monster-mashing really is pretty fun in this game. I don't know why. Maybe it's just because unlike FF6, the monsters aren't ugly and annoying, and unlike FF7, there isn't hell of a lot of camera zooming and "cool" effects. The combat is simple, effective, and non-annoying. I can do this for hours before getting bored.

And the collection also has FF2, which is a completely new game to me - again, the only European release was for some weird backwards platform no one had, I can't remember which. Why oh why they didn't utilize all of these ideas on other FF games? As an Ultima fan, I have always ridiculed JRPGs for not having proper dialogue trees, but they almost used them here! The skill system is pretty cool too. And there's an actual story this time. Whee.

And I can save everywhere. That freaking rules. I have probably said this before often, but I hate save points.

The Bad
Okay, these are re-re-re-re-repolishings of old NES games, which means, they aren't really that complex. However, all this polishing manages to hide this stuff pretty well. Just don't expect gigantic thrills from storytelling or game structure.

The Bottom Line
Once upon a time, Square had a desperate idea to publish a CRPG that might very well be their last. They read a worn D&D rule book and made a rather working mishmash from those ideas. For some obscure reason, it sold like ice cream on a hot day. However, If you play the NES game now, you'll probably note that it isn't great deal of fun. I was definitely suspicious of how they might remake a game that wasn't fun at all.

But it turns out that after a lot of polishing and tweaking and shining, two of the most ancient parts of the series turn into rather likable games. There's a lot of monster-mashing and such. Simple plots along the lines of "kill the bad guys". These are definitely games that work really well as portable games and are great for passing time. And since these are just monster-mashing, you can do this for short periods of time and long periods of time and save when you're out of time.

They aren't really complex like most of the modern CRPGs. You need to appreciate their simplicity to really get these games. I'm a fan of complex games, but these things still got my heart. No hint of religio-socio-political backstabbing of Ultima VII or zillion-layered drama of Final Fantasy VI, but hey, sometimes, it's just fun to kill some monsters and monsters and... really big monsters to the tune of "Random Uematsu Melody".

Highly recommended!

By WWWWolf on May 27th, 2005

Tomb Raider (PlayStation)

Nicely atmosphere, nice graphics... and sense of adventure.

The Good
There's a lot to like about the game. The primary thing I value about the game is the realistic level design. The structures don't really seem that realistic if you start really thinking about them, but when looked at really close, they seem quite breathtaking. The places have very good atmosphere and graphical style, and while the levels generally seem to be pipe-running, at least the level structure is believable. The beginning of the game is a good example: Caves that gradually turn into an ancient city. Caves look like caves. Ancient city looks like an ancient city or something.

The music, or lack of it, is a good example of well-done ambience. Not really game music genre I really appreciate except in the game itself, but then again, so is ambient music in general. In general, the game has really nice atmosphere and pretty well-done pacing. And levels generally tend to be the right size or something.

The Bad
I think the PC version had this cool, very PC-like feature of me being able to save wherever the heck I wanted to. Not sure if this was true or not, but the fact is, the Playstation version has save points in middle of the level and between levels. One of the reasons I kind of dislike about consoles... grr. I hate, hate, hate save points.

The controls seem to be pretty good, quite intuitive, and not really often leave me in trouble, but often they're also not good enough. Not awful, but could be better. Sometimes, I completely manage to mess up a firefight. Tricky jump things are nearly damn impossible to get right without training, which kind of annoys without accurate saving... Also, in these days, I'm more used to "where you point, there you go" kind of control, using left and right to turn and forward and backward to move is so... 1996. Okay, maybe it works on d-pad while direct pointing is more for analog stick. Kind of works. Kind of.

And those wolves/dogs are so sad when they die. =(

The Bottom Line
Only a few days ago, I finally got myself an used PSone. The idea, of course, was that me, as a Nintendo fan boy, could finally buy the few good games that were ever published on PS without feeling incredibly silly about my supposed loyalties. I couldn't find Final Fantasy VII or Vib Ribbon to use the console Appropriately, so I had to pick up the only good PSone game the game store still seemed to have, shining from the middle of the sea of forgotten-on-the-shelf EA Sports garbage and games cruelly aimed to part small childrens' parents and their money...

I played halfway through the game around 1996 on PC, and pretty much forgot about it until now. Now it all seems to flood back to me. Was this game ever good! There's quite a bit of really good things in it. For some reason, Zelda: The Wind Waker reminds me a lot of Tomb Raider, don't know really why, there seems to be some similar architecture and, of course, block-pushing and vaulting.

And today...? Well, the graphics aren't really that great (but there's also this fact that while the PS version definitely looks worse than the PC version, at least it works today - I can't even begin to guess how to get a DOS game running right now, much less one that uses 3DFX Glide...), some physics stuff is absurd, some puzzles aggravating (especially with this thrice-loathed save point thing), but these days, the game is still pretty much playable and quite fun, still. Definitely worth the budget price tag it seems to carry these days.

Here's a game that definitely has the Sense of Adventure thing down. I'm not really certain on what to do with all of those sequels, but the first part of the series should definitely be part of a healthy breakfast for every serious gamer. Even if you're a thick-headed fan boy/purist/elitist like me who doesn't think anything Popular could possibly be Good. Well, this game was Popular, but it also was kind of Okay, so the Opinion should Officially be "Meh" - in other words, just go play it anyway. =)

By WWWWolf on May 9th, 2005

Werewolf: The Last Warrior (NES)

Canned and challenging action

The Good
The game graphics are pretty decent, some music is fairly catchy and definitely the music is appropriate.

The werewolf abilities are also pretty cool. Well, in theory.

The Bad
The controls definitely take some getting used to. The controls aren't very obvious and form a significant part of the game's challenge.

And in general, the game looks definitely, shall we say, generic.

The Bottom Line
Let me get the generic NES game plot template... scribble scribble. So there's this bad "scientist", who's making "big monsters" and stuff. And there's this "werewolf guy" who needs to stop him before he enslaves the whole universe with the "big monsters".

I'm a big werewolf fan, and everything with werewolves is automatically cool, so I obviously can't just say this game is bad. It definitely isn't bad. It's just not quite as good as it could have been; when I think of a game with nearly-inhuman super guys, I think of Batman or Ninja Gaiden, not this game, regrettably. Well, this is kind of like Batman except that the werewolf walks everywhere. Not very action-like.

It's definitely interesting for most purposes, and it definitely is a good way to kill a few moments, but it isn't quite a game that in this day and age inspires me to play it for extended periods of time. It's kind of cute, the werewolf actually has a tail so it's pretty cute too... but I wonder why they had to cram this cute thing in a Generic Data East Game?

This is kind of fun game on emulator with tons of save states and such, but I really don't play this that much on actual NES, even though I have the cart.

By WWWWolf on March 7th, 2005

Pagan: Ultima VIII (DOS)

Not very Ultima, but still a great game

The Good
U8's music is very very good. A little bit too epic if you compare them to the elegantly small music of the earlier parts, but the music is rather evocative anyway. Graphics are pretty good too.

The Pagan game world is pretty good, and definitely interesting (even though I would have preferred Britannia or something...) and the game definitely stays interesting. There's all sorts of good and terrible things to keep me on toes.

The Bad
Extremely frustrating user interface. This is, above all, an action game. Action games require precise UIs. Yet, right now, I always encounter some silly problems, like when I open a door and try to walk through it, the Avatar tries to walk through the wall instead, or when I should run, Avatar starts to sneak, or the brain-dead simple combat in which the only action is to stab forward and even that misses half of the time... in other words, the UI is very very very clumsy. The patched version adds targeted jumps, which is good (though even then, the Avatar doesn't always jump, but instead stays on spot to do rude animations).

The action focus isn't good in my opinion. I much preferred Ultima VII where you can just hit 'c', sit back and watch baddies die.

The game performance isn't stellar (the game was pretty resource-heavy and these days just about the only reliable way to run the game is in DOSBox, since the Pentagram engine isn't release-quality yet...)

The Bottom Line
Hoo boy. Ultima VIII. Also known as "Ultima III: The Action Game". Also known as "Super Avatar Brothers". Fans thought this was the worst part of the series until Ultima IX was released and someone actually found the Escape from Mt. Drash game.

Yet Ultima VIII has its good sides - it has a pretty interesting game world, very good music, lots of interesting details, and good story. Pretty dark, but good anyway. The game as such was pretty well thought of - even when it didn't actually have a lot of actual Ultima flavor.

Some of its bad reputation is definitely undeserved. Yeah, it has far too action and a pretty awful UI - but the game itself is definitely interesting. If you aren't afraid of tons of quickloading, I definitely recommend it.

(For what it's worth, I've played through about a third of the game...)

By WWWWolf on February 19th, 2005

Death Sword (Commodore 64)

More Conan than Conan itself...

The Good
Barbarian (aka Death Sword) is one of the best fighting games for Commodore 64.

In modern days, we have the Street Fighter generation who just can't live without six action buttons and whatnot. The weird thing is, in my opinion, Barbarian's control scheme is even simpler than International Karate's or Exploding Fist's, yet it works wonderfully! In latter eras, C64 fighters tended to get rather simplistic because people forgot the wonderful examples set by these games. Barbarian is simple without being simplistic; normal joystick movement moves the character and button+movement attacks somehow, and there's still plenty of variety in attacks and strategy. The gameplay doesn't devolve into "push the button and the other guy dies" like in many of the latter games.

Barbarian has really a complete arcade feel in it, even when (to my knowledge) no arcade game was actually made. Graphics are top notch (some "visibility" issues though due to limited palette of C64), but that doesn't really hinder the game.

Barbarian's soundtrack is one of my favorite C64 soundtracks of time. The idea was to rip off Conan the Barbarian soundtrack and I think Richard Joseph did, at times, do better work than Basil Poledouris. This is just great stuff. The sound effects are fairly basic, but sound good nevertheless.

The Bad
Mostly, there are some small glitches in graphics (can't always see things perfectly, but, as noted, this isn't much of a problem and is mostly due to C64 limitations). One thing that bugs me is that while the graphics are great, most of the screen is wasted to the logo! Yes, arcade-like, and it's not like it'd been possible to construct bigger sprites anyway, but what's the point?

The Bottom Line
"Between the time when the Ocean drank the market, and the rise of the sons of Aybee-em, there was an age undreamed of. And onto this, Conan®, destined to bear the jeweled crown of A Cloned One upon a troubled brow. It is I, his game librarian, who alone can tell thee of the copycats. Let me tell you of the days of high pixelation!"

Picture this: You have two muscled guys, two really sharp swords, two short pants and only one shirt.

The idea of the game is to use the aforementioned sword to punctuate the other guy.

Two guys hack each other with swords, kick each other, tackle each other, and do other nasty things. Both can take certain amount of damage before dying. Alternatively, it's possible to hack the opponent's head off - quite bloody effect, considering the graphical limitations of the platform. And once the other guy is dead, a goblin comes and carries the body away (and kicks around the head if you ended the battle that way).

There are variety of locales to swordfight in; natural vistas are present in the "practice" mode (where one or two players can play), and medieval/high-fantasy castle scenes are found in the actual game (where there's actually an end boss, but who cares about the plot?).

Barbarian is definitely a to-the-point game. A fighting game can't get much more to-the-point than this.

To me, this is the definitive Conan the Barbarian game - just like Lylat Wars (Starfox 64) remains my definitive Star Wars game.

By WWWWolf on January 31st, 2005

Tetris (Commodore 64)

Not the greatest playability, but the best music

The Good
The Commodore 64 version has undoubtedly, at least in my opinion, the greatest graphics and sound found in any Tetris version.

While most of the Tetris versions always seemed to push Russian imagery and music, C64 version goes for a more "intuitive" and "magical" feel. The greyscale graphics on the edges of the play field and the title screen are extremely stylish. The music, however, absolutely takes the prize: Really amazing stuff, almost 30 minutes of music that just fits to the Tetris idea, and really shows what the SID chip can do in caring hands.

The Bad
The C64 version lacks a few features found in latter versions, such as the Game Boy version. You can only rotate the tetraminos one way, and the drop is an instant drop instead of speeding up the fall. Also, there's only one variant of play (no "Game B"). Okay, so maybe these features weren't invented yet. I can forgive. I'm sure anyone can live without them, though.

The Bottom Line
I think it's useless to describe the game here because the game has been so revolutionary and everyone is familiar with it in some form, but here's a quick explanation: Blocks, scientifically termed "tetraminos", fall from the skies to a well. You arrange them best you can before they touch the pile on the bottom of the well. If you form a continuous row from edge of the well to another, it disappears. If the tetramino pile reaches the top, the game is over. In case you haven't figured out it already, this is the mother of all real-time puzzle games.

The end result is a simple, addicting game that doesn't require much from the computer - so obviously it works well on Commodore 64 as well. It is a very nice version. Game Boy version remains my favorite for sheer playability reasons, but C64 version will always remain, in my mind, the one with the best feeling created by the music and graphics - especially the amazing music.

By WWWWolf on January 4th, 2005

Max Payne (Game Boy Advance)

Focusing on What Matters

The Good
The port is extremely competently done. The porting folks have preserved the core essence of the PC game, all the while making the game on GBA's terms. Other people, take note - this is how games should be ported to less powerful platforms!

Max Payne was a pretty cool concept when it came out; the GBA version took this cool concept and turned it into yet another cool concept. I think GBA Max Payne does to 2D isometric shooters what PC Max Payne did to 3D third-person shooters! Oh well, it's a revolution out there, a revolution, I say - I hope people are paying attention this time, too.

The game has more of "Rockstar" than "Remedy" feel to it. There's less plot to follow than in PC version, and far more blood and senseless violence. This is pretty unusual, as I usually don't like too much violence, but this didn't bother me that much. It's more cartoonish anyway...

The Bad
The controls work pretty well on GBA, and you don't need to be surgically accurate when aiming the weapons and all, but still, the controls aren't perfect. Being an isometric game, there's a lot of diagonal movement, and GBA d-pad isn't particularly well suited for diagonal movement. The situation is slightly better if you play on Game Boy Player.

Then there's one thing that GBA conversions frequently suffer from: The thing is slightly abridged. The game follows the same pattern as the PC version, but has less content - not all of the levels, for example!

Oh, and I've never experienced a GBA game to slow down... and this isn't a very lame joke about Bullet Time. Sometimes the game actually does slow down if it has to draw a lot of stuff on screen.

The soundtrack only has three or four songs, which isn't really a problem, though - I just would have liked to hear more, especially since it wasn't stolen directly from the PC version, it's just imitating the style pretty well.

The Bottom Line
Max Payne was one of the games I waited for ages and ages and ages. Then it came out. I played through it. I liked it a lot. Then I pretty much forgot about it. The original game had this really cliched and semi-funny plot, tons of really cool 3D graphics, amazing music, cool Matrix-like Bullet Time things which led to cool tricks you could do... well, it just ruled. For some reason, I thought not to play it again. I always meant to, honest...

Then I heard it was coming out for GBA. I couldn't believe my ears. Or eyes.

The development team chose the obvious route: They figured out that you can't do really, really impressive 3D graphics on GBA, and you can't do mouse aiming either - so they had to focus on what really was the essence of Max Payne. They made an isometric shooter instead. Instead of aiming for photorealism, I think they just took the graphic novel idea of the cutscenes and made 2D sprites and backgrounds in that vein. And then... guns, explosions, gore, and Bullet Time!

The game has a largish chunk of the original game's levels - over half of them, I think, most of the stuff that is relevant to the original game's plot. The layout is just as accurately reproduced as you can make them on isometric 2D. There are all of the weapons too. The levels themselves no longer have sound bits in them, and everything is done in speech bubbles - which, in my opinion, is pretty stylish and even more helpful than some of the PC version's garbled sounds.

What's cool is that they have managed to get all of the relevant graphic novel sections to the conversion. With spoken dialogue and everything. It's not that surprising that PEGI decided to slap 16+ rating to this game due to violence and drugs and all... but the dialogue goes toward that goal too. Oh dear, my innocent Game Boy headphones, which have served me well for over a decade, were corrupted by vile dialogue like "Screw you!"... (Just think of it: how many GBA games can get a 16+ rating? You need to try pretty hard these days, everything on low-res these days gets labeled "cartoonish"... well, there's certainly enough of splattering red pixels in this game to get that 16+!)

The gameplay works to the extent it's necessary. Overall, the game is easier than the original game, but this is just to be expected a bit. And it works in other ways, too - the levels are pretty well paced, it doesn't take that many minutes to get through one, so doing so it honors the GBA's portability pretty well.

If you thought original PC game was weird and funny and cool, get the GBA version too - it's pretty much a version that you can play over and over without getting tired about the thought.

By WWWWolf on January 1st, 2005

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