Saturday, April 7, 2012

My Month in Games: March 2012

Pokemon SoulSilver - DS

Ever late to the party, I'm just now getting around to playing a Pokemon game for the first time. That's right, I admit it, I had never actually played a Pokemon game before this month. I decided to pick this one up on a whim while I was purchasing Kid Icarus: Uprising. For those who don't know, the Pokemon series of games are RPGs in which your character must travel around capturing and training the (often times adorable) titular creatures so that they can do battle with other trainers' Pokemon. It's a bit like a video game version of cockfighting, only instead of roosters, the combatants are lizards that shoot fireballs and pigeons that conjure tornadoes. Strange as that may sound, these games are actually pretty straightforward. Basically, you catch as many different kinds of Pokemon as possible (there are 50 in the game), train them to develop their skills, and take your best against the bosses. The more Pokemon you collect and train, the more powerful you become. As a fan of classic grind fests like Phantasy Star and Dragon Warrior, this game scratched an itch I've had lately for a solid, old-school style RPG, but it also has a twist that's really quite ingenious. The twist is that the Pokemon are really fun to collect. Since each one brings their own unique attacks and skills into battle, you get to choose what kind of team you want to roll with. Discovering new Pokemon, trying them out, and finding the right balance between powerful fighters and support type characters keeps the game interesting and helps take your mind off the grind. I enjoyed this game and I see why the series is popular. Pokemon games are straightforward and easy to pick up, but they also offer a level of strategy and enjoyability that surprised me. I don't know how many more of these games I'll be playing after this one (they've made over a dozen of them already), but I'm impressed with Pokemon Soulsilver.

Typhlosion the exploding cat does battle with Jynx...the transvestite bedsheet? Pretty normal for Pokemon.

Grade: B+


Designed by a fellow named Terry Cavanaugh, this indie platformer (pronounced as "The Letter V Six Times" or "V's") was originally built in Adobe Flash and released in January, 2010 for Windows and OSX. I first came across it about a year later when I played a shorter, freeware version online, and I was instantly drawn in by the blocky, Commodore-64 inspired graphics and the incredible chiptune soundtrack. When I saw that it had become available through the 3DS eShop I downloaded it and dove right in, eager to see what the full version had to offer. So now, dear readers, I will tell you what this game has to offer...nostalgia and PAIN!

First the nostalgia. Anyone who was gaming in the early to mid-eighties remembers games that looked and played like this. The pixelated graphics recall a time that was post-Atari, pre-Nintendo; a time when men wore wore mustaches un-ironically, and Russia was still the enemy. There's not much to look at, yet the starkness of the presentation actually underscores a strong sense of isolation present in this tale about a spaceship captain who is thrust into an alternate dimension and must search for his lost crew. The music of VVVVVV is also worth mentioning. The chiptune soundtrack by Magnus PĂ„lsson is loaded with memorable themes, from upbeat and heroic to plodding and mysterious. If you like 8-bit music, you have to hear these songs, even if you don't get much out of the game.

Now on to the PAIN! Many reviewers have made a point to mention this game's difficulty and for good reason, this game is pretty fucking hard. I mentioned that this game was a platformer, but unlike many of the games in this genre, your character can't jump. Instead, he has the ability to reverse gravity. In order to make your way through the the game's many obstacles, you have to continually switch from walking on the 'ground' to walking on the 'ceiling'. Now this mechanic is employed well, and it's pretty easy to get the hang of it, but there's a big caveat: you can only see one 'screen' at a time. That is, the level doesn't scroll along with you as you walk (or fall) to the edge of the screen. This results in some unbelievably MADDENING sequences where you must remember the layout of the room ahead in order to land safely on a non-spiked surface. Sometimes the game strings together four or five rooms this way and punishes you with death after death. Death, in fact, is a near constant in this game. To its credit, VVVVVV does provide you with infinite lives and plentiful checkpoints, but I still found myself getting frustrated at some of the 'trial and error' aspects of the gameplay. Check it out though, this is a game that deserves some attention, but be warned that its challenges may exceed your tolerance for punishment. Click either image to play a free demo version online.

Grade: B-

Kid Icarus: Uprising - 3DS

I've mentioned before that it's rare for me to purchase a game on its release day, I usually only do it once or twice a year. Yet driven by my nostalgia for the NES and Game Boy titles, I picked this up on day one. I'll beak this one down quick-like. Where the original games were side-scrolling platformers, this one is a rail shooter in the vein of Space Harrier. In terms of gameplay that makes it pretty different from its predecessors, but it works well. Honestly, I haven't enjoyed a shooter this much in quite awhile. The controls are an aspect of this game that seems to be very polarizing. Basically you have to control your character, fire your weapon, and hold the 3DS with your left hand, while holding the stylus and using the touch screen to aim with your right. It's cumbersome and uncomfortable at first, but over time it becomes...marginally less cumbersome and uncomfortable. It might be better if the game supported the Circle Pad Pro and you could use another analog stick for aiming, but alas, it doesn't and you can't. Actually, I don't even think that another stick would necessarily help in this case. The fast pace of this game would have probably been better suited to the Wii's nunchuck controller. Still, I DID eventually sorta get used to the controls and the game is so awesome that I just dealt with it. With a dizzying array of weapons, skills, and other shit to collect, this game keeps you coming back for more. I dug it, despite its control issues.

Grade: B

1 comment:

  1. Don't feel bad about being late, I still haven't ever played a pokemon game.