Holiday Blog: The Secret of Monkey Island

December 28, 2009

It’s pretty hard to sum up my Summer thus far (yes, Summer) in one blog. Well, to be honest, I tried in a few different ways but it just wasn’t to be. As a result of finishing school and being done with study at last, I have way too much time on my hands and a bunch of games to go through. To say it’s been overwhelming would be an understatement, but either way the truth of the matter is that I wouldn’t be able to fit everything I’ve been playing into one digestible blog post if I tried. No short summaries of everything that’s been going on since I’ll skip over too many things of note – instead, I’ll try and pick one game at a time to post about and see if that works.

Now, being an ex-schoolie who hasn’t bothered to go out and find himself a job, I’m naturally a bit poor at the moment. The blockbusters of the year are a bit outside my price range, particularly at the Australian rates. So I’ve skipped over Dragon Age, Modern Warfare, Uncharted and the like for now, instead opting for a few cheaper titles, either old, second-hand games or titles from Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade service. The first of these titles? The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.

 The new graphics of the Special Edition aren't top notch, but they retain a very stylised look.

The new graphics of the Special Edition aren't top notch, but they retain a very stylised look.

It only took me twenty odd years, but I think I’ve come to the realisation at last that is a pretty damn good game. It’s short – I picked it up last Friday (read: Christmas night after receiving some Microsoft Points) and finished it Sunday morning with roughly seven hours on my game’s clock. Then I went through again in a speedrun to pick up the remaining gamerscore for the title while exploring a few of the alternate dialogue options.

The game’s writing is still amazing today, and I’m sure it still will be when I pull the game out again in another ten years’ time. It’s really the definition of a classic, the way the humour of the script is so timeless and can transcend cultures almost twenty years apart. The game is littered with breaking of the fourth wall, tongue in cheek innuendo and other various laugh-out-loud moments which fill it with a really unique charm. Often a common concept or icon will be twisted around in some bizarre way, which in most cases led me to first ogle at the screen in bewilderment before choking up in laughter. Take sword fighting with native pirates, for example. In any other game, the focus would be on performing that string of successive slashes against your adversary. In Monkey Island, it’s all about what happens between each blow that decides who wins. When your foe shouts “You fight like a dairy farmer!” in your face, a quick response of “How appropriate! You fight like a cow!” will catch him off guard and swing the battle in your favour. It’s moments like these that you just have to tip your hat to the developers of the game at the ingenuity of the events within.

The Special Edition of Monkey Island on the Xbox Live Arcade offers a few new additions to the game which help to smooth the overall experience today. The game comes with fully updated graphics for those who can’t stand the look of the pixelated original, but allows you to switch between the classic and updated graphics at will by pressing the back button on your controller. I personally stuck with the classic visuals for the majority of my adventure since I became used to the menus faster and just felt that the old graphics had a certain charm that suited the rest of the game better. The seamlessness of the switching between the two different visual styles became useful in some cases where it was hard to see some of the objects in the background, though.

Another new addition I was thankful for in the Special Edition was the inclusion of a considerate hint system preventing me from spoiling myself with an online walkthrough in a couple of situations when I became a little confused with what to do. Holding X in the Special Edition will give the player a short and vague hint of what to do, first to gently nudge the player in the right direction before giving them more detailed directions if necessary with subsequent presses of the button. It’s a simple yet really nice feature that avoids outright spoiling the solutions to the challenges you come across during the game, and I’m grateful for that.

The music, I’ll admit, is fantastic. While the redone tunes for the Special Edition were sometimes smoother sounding on the ears, I didn’t really mind listening to either version’s music – the real appeal came from the infectiously catchy melodies themselves. Whether it be the title screen’s tune, or LeChuck’s theme or the tune of the Scumm Bar, I found it incredibly hard not to hum along with the music as I played. The felt the voice work of the Special Edition occasionally didn’t really fit the characters, but this was easily rectified by switching to the classic text-only version so it wasn’t too much of a worry.

I’ll try not to go into any more specifics on so to avoid spoiling the game for anyone else who has yet to play through it. All I’ll say is that even if you’re like me and have gone this long without having experienced the game, this is a true classic that everyone should at least try out at one point or another.


Past Blasting: Metroid Prime

November 28, 2009

Last week, having finished off Super Metroid at last, I decided to pull out my disc for Metroid Prime and give it a spin. Prime had been one of my favourite games for quite some time, and soon it became clear that nothing much had changed in that respect as I powered my way through the game to complete it 100% in just a couple of days. Exciting, thrilling and wonderfully immersive are some words that come to mind, but they don’t even begin to describe the fun I have when playing this game today.

While many fans of the Metroid series prior to Prime may have worried at the prospect of a first person shooter ruining a well-established favourite franchise, I had no such concerns. My first experiences with Samus had come with Super Smash Bros on the Nintendo 64, so Prime just looked like another awesome shooter with some exploration elements. Upon picking it up for myself, I found something much, much deeper – a game which catered to both my urges of wanting to survey every last nook and cranny of a vast-yet-barren alien planet, as well as my need to blast creepy foreign creatures into oblivion. While I run the risk of sounding cliché, Metroid Prime really was one of those games I struggled to put down which left me salivating for more even after all baddies had been blasted and all the upgrades collected.

After the success of Metroid Prime, some key members of Retro Studios moved on to pursue careers with other companies. While this isn’t an uncommon occurrence in the industry, it became clear to me after playing through the second and third installments of the trilogy that there was something missing. Prime 2 and 3 remained great games as both first person shooters and explorative adventures, but there just wasn’t the same amount of care put into crafting them which caused a trilogy that had initiated with a big bang to slowly fizzle out later on. When I realised the two sequels lacked the same punch as the original, I was able to reflect on just what had given Prime its soul, made it such a fantastic experience and allowed it to stand above other shooter and adventure games on the market at the time.

A gripping introduction was the first part of Prime that made it so memorable, and was something I felt the sequels fell just short of. Introductions can be tough to get right in action games, as there needs to be just the right mix of simple tutorials to get the player comfortable with the controls as well as action to keep them interested. In Prime, this entailed the exploration of a defunct Space Pirate ship, partially destroyed by an onboard experiment gone wrong. As a player, I found myself really intrigued as I trekked through the eerie ship to discover just what had occurred, the weakened enemies and rubble aboard the ship serving as an excellent masked tutorial to get me used to the gameplay.

The introduction of Echoes, while keeping the same sort of spooky and isolated feel, didn’t manage to capture the same level of excitement as the original. Prime 3, on the other hand, didn’t mask its tutorials quite as well and forfeited the signature isolated feel of the Metroid franchise for the entire introduction by placing you onboard a Federation Gunship in the presence of other humans and bounty hunters. To its credit Prime 3 was the only game of the trilogy which didn’t strip you of your weaponry after completing the introduction, but otherwise neither Prime 2 nor Prime 3 felt like they had quite as strong introductions as the first.

The combat in Metroid Prime is simply superb. The weapons are all very balanced in their use throughout the game and nicely varied with the effects they have on enemies and the environment. While finding a new beam weapon can be exciting due to it unlocking new areas of the game to explore, each successive weapon will make you feel much stronger than before and the effects they can have on previously-difficult enemies will make you feel unstoppable. Sheegoths, as an example, are formidable foes which can take a few charged shots and/or missiles to defeat after finding their weakpoint, but return to them with the plasma beam and you’ll be able to disintegrate them into thin air with a single charge shot. While their actual uses may be limited, all of the additional beam-combos are really neat additions that provide some nice extra options during combat, dispatching enemies quickly and looking awesome at the same time.

All of these factors come together to provide a really strong shooting experience which took my preference over the later two Prime games mainly because of the variety of options available to the player when fighting your foes. Prime 2’s beam weapons felt a little generic and not so ground breaking or special, whereas Prime 3 got rid of most weapon options in favour of a simple, all-in-one stacked beam and combat that usually just consisted of entering a phazon-infused hypermode whose novelty wore off too soon. While the main focus of Prime was to retain the explorative gameplay of its 2D predecessors, its combat was an integral component of the overall experience which remained exciting and fun throughout the entire game.

Exploring the world of Prime wouldn’t be so fun if the game was devoid of good environments, and it’s clear that this was something the designers sought to get right from the very beginning. Prime has your typical ice world and lava world, as well as jungle ruins, an underwater wreck, underground mines and a secret laboratory for you to explore. They’re all very fascinating locales, but what really stood out for me was how the designers were able to intertwine the right amount of natural beauty from the planet of Tallon IV as well as all of the intriguing pirate and Chozo technology housed upon the planet when creating these environments. All of Tallon IV’s inhabitants, whether they be friendly or foes, worked together to give the environment a life of its own, a sort of soul which felt alien yet believable at the same time. The game’s world was so wonderfully immersive it was incredibly easy to pass up the option of quitting at each save point, just because of the level of intrigue you had as a player in not knowing exactly what you might discover lying hidden in the next room.

The music of Prime lent itself largely to this feeling of immersion also. Not because the tracks were fantastic stand alone tunes you could remember and hum to yourself ten years later, but because they managed to fit the environments they were assigned to and really help in setting the overall mood of the area you were exploring. I can’t recommend Prime’s entire soundtrack to everybody as quality listening material for the iPod on its own, but in the context of the game itself the music was perfect. I’m unsure if I can put my finger on why exactly I feel the music worked so well, but a theory I have pertains to the way the soundtrack sounded so foreign and alien-like. There were all sorts of sound effects and instruments used in the background of each track that I just hadn’t heard used in that sort of way before, but it worked because I was so heavily convinced that it just fitted the atmosphere of Tallon IV.

I could go on for hours in my praise for Prime as a whole, but there’d be little point when I could be spending that time reliving my time on Tallon IV. If this blog were to have any one purpose, however, it would be to encourage everyone out there to grab Metroid Prime, pop the disc in and play. Whether they be returning to the world of Prime again or whether it be a brand new thing, Prime is one of those gaming experiences of this decade, nay, all time which should not be overlooked.


Review: Yoshi’s Island DS

November 8, 2009

Yoshi’s Island DS is the direct sequel to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, released on the Super Nintendo over a decade ago. It takes all the ideas from the original game and expands on them with new levels, puzzles, and most notably new babies for Yoshi to lug around, each with their own unique abilities. After spending so many hours with the first game all those years ago I really wanted to love Yoshi’s Island DS, but a few flaws and lack of the same charm its predecessor possessed ended up hurting my appreciation for this new installment.

Looks like Yoshi's Island. Can't say as much for the music here.

Looks like Yoshi's Island. Can't say as much for the music here.

The basic premise of the story here is that Kamek has kidnapped all of the babies in the Mushroom Kingdom again. In an airborne struggle, the stork manages to free Baby Mario from Kamek’s grip, who ends up being reunited with the Yoshis. Together, the Yoshis and Mario set out to rescue the other babies from the baddies one by one.

The game retains the same colourful crayon-drawn art style as the original on the SNES, yet the sound here isn’t quite up to standard. Most sound effects have been recycled from the original game, which is mostly fine with the exception of the odd ear-grating cry of a lost baby. On the other hand, the music, while chirpy, is easily forgettable and borderline boring at times. Most of the music consists of remixes of the same one tune, and much of it fails to capture the mood of the area you’re exploring, especially for the fortress levels and boss fights.

Climbing the vines with Baby Donkey Kong

Climbing the vines with Baby Donkey Kong

Each of the five babies found over the course of your adventure will be able to lend their unique abilities to your arsenal to help you through the levels. Mario enables Yoshi to run super fast and activates M blocks within levels to help (or sometimes hinder) your progress. Peach uses her parasol to catch draughts of wind and float high into the air, Donkey Kong can grab onto vines as well as barge through obstacles. In later levels you’ll be required to string together the abilities of several different babies in order to move forward, and some levels will require you to come back after acquiring a new baby’s abilities in order to scout out all the secrets within them and achieve a perfect score.

These secrets are one of the game’s high points, as there are plenty to find and many are devilishly difficult to locate. First up, there are doors in most levels unlocked with a key which lead to one of many minigames, which can be fun to play after you’ve played a level to exhaustion for a breath of fresh air. Then, if you earn a high enough score in all of the levels within a world by finding all of the hidden red coins, stars and flowers, you’ll open up an additional level to play which combines most of the challenges you’ve faced within that world’s individual levels into one super-difficult stage. While these extra stages are a great way to test your skills, it’s easy to wear yourself out on the way to unlocking them while trying to find all of the secret pickups within each level. Even though it wasn’t often, there were times where I would have all the abilities required to complete a level for 100%, but such was the level design that I had to guess which baby to switch to for an upcoming segment since I wouldn’t get the chance to switch back if I chose wrong unless I started over.

While there aren’t as many worlds to explore as in the original, the levels try to make up for this by being longer. However, later on in the game this can end up hurting some of the appeal of Yoshi’s Island DS as a portable platformer, since it takes considerably longer to reach checkpoints within levels and not many stages are bite-sized enough to finish on the go. Later levels may be a lot tougher, but when the difficulty stems from long, unforgiving segments of bouncy obstacles and baddies placed above bottomless pits and spikes, the game can become frustrating to the point where it isn’t fun anymore. The camera functionality could have been a lot better during these difficult sections too, as it will often forbid the player from scrolling the screen down or to the side to see what hazards may await them.

A new kangaroo friend to jump around with

A new kangaroo friend to jump around with

The abilities of the babies, while varied, are quite gimmicky in that each of them really only has one or two select uses. After seeing a certain object or obstacle in a level you’ll know which baby to switch to by instinct. Rotor fans will, at some point, act as air lifts for Peach. Vines can only be grabbed onto by Donkey Kong. While the game occasionally tries to puzzle you with the question of how to reach DK’s vines or how to activate Peach’s airlifts, Yoshi’s Island DS usually relies on other gameplay gimmicks to keep the levels feeling fresh. New gimmicks will include a kangaroo friend which bounces you through a secret area, stilts which can be used to cross over treacherous terrain and skis to slide down snow-covered slopes at swift speeds. None are nearly as diverse as Yoshi’s eggs and there isn’t much fun to be had with them outside their predesigned puzzles like there might be with the powerups and suits of other Mario platformers.

Hit the coloured bits with eggs or lick them up. Yawn.

Hit the coloured bits with eggs or lick them up. Yawn.

Unfortunately, the boss fights in the game don’t focus on the unique abilities of each character and instead only require the player to master Yoshi’s usual arsenal of egg throwing, tongue licking and butt stomping attacks. It’s always easy to know what to do and even easier to finish the boss without risk of losing a life. I’m not as bothered with the fact that the fights are so easy though, more so that a game which focuses so heavily around switching skill sets to tackle the appropriate tasks in front of you can’t use that same concept in its boss battles.

While Yoshi’s Island DS remains a good platformer and can still be fun to play, its numerous flaws prevent it from becoming a second coming of the classic original. It’s a fine game for those looking for a bit of additional DS platformer fun, but if you’re looking for the full Yoshi’s Island experience again it’d be a better idea to just pull out the Super Nintendo.

3stars


You can’t beat the classics…

November 6, 2009

But that won’t stop me from trying.

Growing up in a time where 3D games were beginning to emerge as the standard meant that unless your parents bought you an old SNES for cheap and refused to let you get any consoles after that, it was hard to stick with 16-bit games (or older) and appreciate them fully. While I have some great memories of playing classics like the original Prince of Persia and SNES titles like Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario Kart and Yoshi’s Island, my experiences with the 16 bit consoles were rather limited. It’s only natural as a kid to gravitate towards those 3D titles with cutting-edge graphics like Super Mario 64 and leave the 16 bit genre behind, despite how good the gameplay beneath the surface may be.

But in an industry where the average age of the consumer is something like 34, it can be hard to gain respect as a gamer if you didn’t grow up during the “golden age” of the eighties, or if your first system was any more powerful than 8-bit. All too often there are young and/or inexperienced gamers awed by seemingly new and innovative ideas in today’s games, whereas if they had grown up ten, fifteen years earlier they’d know better. Knowledge of the evolution of games and the mechanics within is something I feel essential to anyone looking to earn a little credibility with their opinions about them. That’s why my current backlog of games to play and finish includes not mainly bestselling titles from this generation, but games from yesteryear which have managed to end up on many players’ top lists for aiding in the development of the industry, or just because they’re damn good to play.

My list is close to a hundred different titles at the moment, so I won’t bother posting it here. Some games I have listed as simply wanting to play to get the gist of the gameplay ideas and perhaps the visuals and music, while others I’ve heard enough about that I know it would be utterly embarrassing to go on having not beaten them. But hey, laugh at me when I say two of those games I had never beaten and barely played through were Super Mario World and Super Metroid for the Super Nintendo.

marioworld

This game is pretty good. But you don't need me to tell you that.

I finished up the former just over a week ago, and can now easily understand its praise. The gameplay is still fantastic and it’s interesting now to see where a lot of the ideas for modern Mario games originated. Where the game excels and sets itself apart from other Mario titles though, especially new ones, is in two main areas. The first I felt was with its powerups, which were always of great use and never felt gimmicky and restricted in their use like the Mega Mushroom and Blue Shell in New Super Mario Bros, for example. The other highlight for me was with the secret exits, and just how rewarding it was upon finding some on my own. Secrets in games are fantastic when hidden well and out of the way of your usual adventure, which is part of why I liked the Donkey Kong Country trilogy so much. But when hidden so far out of the way that you might not even notice them at all during a first playthrough, with rewards usually consisting of an entire new level to play through — it just adds a whole extra level of polish to a game which was already incredible. There are a lot of games today that use some nicely hidden secrets with a pointless extra life or some in-game cash as a reward that I think should take a leaf out of Mario World’s book.

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Kraid likes him some missiles for breakfast.

I haven’t finished Super Metroid yet, I’m probably just over halfway through at this point, but again it’s proving to be a classic example of a game holding up perfectly to the test of time. This has been further proven by the success of recent Xbox Live Arcade release Shadow Complex from Epic Games, which uses the exact same type of 2D exploration gameplay with better graphics. While being stuck in a place like Maridia for half an hour in any other game would usually see me consult a friend or walkthrough for help, in Super Metroid it only provides an excuse for more fascinating exploration off the beaten track. I already loved the Metroid Prime trilogy by Retro Studios so the fact that I love exploring Zebes in Super Metroid comes as no real surprise to me, it’s just nice to see where a lot of that gameplay came from. The original Metroid may prove a bit harder to get into without the map functionality and a proper save function, but I’ll worry about that at a later time.

In other news for today:

I seem to have a real bad habit of jumping around from game to game and not bothering to finish what I start at times. This kind of description can be used to describe me outside of gaming too, and in either case it’s kind of annoying when I reflect back on everything I’m juggling and how much of it I’ve actually completed. Half Life 2 is one of these games, although I have a bit of an excuse in this case in that my copy is the laggy Xbox port and I really want to wait to get the version included with the Orange Box instead. It’s a great game but the framerate of my version really kills the experience at times.

Twilight Princess is another game I mentioned before that I’m hoping I get to finish before jumping to another title. I had finished the game back when it was released, although my opinions on the game were rather rough for a while. This recent playthrough has made me appreciate it a little bit more, and while it’s still very samey and isn’t the best of the franchise, I still like it a lot.

That’s all I really have to say for today though. Might try to post up a review or two sometime soon for kicks, but otherwise… bye?


Just this pack of AAs, thanks.

October 31, 2009

There’s one aspect of games today that I forget about almost completely until I sit down to play them. Even then, it’s not every time I sit down that I’m reminded of this travesty, although when it does happen, headaches naturally ensue. I’m sure many of those reading this blog will know the feeling, having plopped down on the couch with a television remote in one hand, controller in the other. You switch the television on, then the game system. The LED light on your controller blinks three times, then fades. Batteries are dead. You need another set again.

batteries

Swear these little bastards used to last longer

Up you get, off the couch to scavenge around the house for some more. You try another controller – oops! Looks like the reason you weren’t using this one in the first place was because its batteries had died too. No use switching in the ones from the television remote – they were previously used for a controller anyway and are too low on life to power your games now.

Rechargeable batteries are something I thought I’d be able to give up after the release of the Gameboy Advance SP, but apparently the way of the future is to go wireless with everything else. Wireless, of course, meaning batteries. You just can’t solve one problem without introducing another in its place, can you?

Right now I own a couple of Xbox 360 controllers, a couple of Wii Remotes, some wireless Gamecube controllers, a camera, wireless mice and a Gameboy Color I still use from time to time, all of which use up AA batteries. Usually I wouldn’t mind buying rechargeables for the lot and then some, but having to cycle the batteries through so that I always have some in the controllers and some being recharged is just a little bit too much of a hassle for an unorganized git like me, especially with the Wii since Nintendo has had recharge cables packaged with their handhelds for over five years now. It seems ludicrous that they would release the Wii Remote with none of the same recharge functionality, leaving third parties to come up with their own recharge devices which can’t even work properly.

It doesn’t help that those devices which do have an AC adapter included can’t agree on one standard recharge device either. Why is it that I have to keep an entire drawer dedicated to AC adapters for various family mobile phones and Nintendo handhelds? Why can’t Nintendo themselves keep one adapter for all of their handhelds instead of introducing a new one with each new DS model and adding to my entanglement of wires and transformers? It just doesn’t make any sense.

Transformers and battery chargers themselves are a royal pain in the backside for me due to the amount of space they like to take up. I’ve always had this hope in the back of my mind that the reason they parked their arses across two power sockets at once was due to them requiring more power than other appliances and to prevent some sort of electrical overload hazard or something. But if a game console or television or computer or whatever can keep its cables confined to one socket, you would think they’d be able to design the bricks on the end of your recharge cables to do the same. The sockets in my room are limited in supply, so if the time comes where I need to recharge my DS, it’s a real annoyance having to go through the cables and checking which ones I really need plugged in at the time.

I digress. Batteries aren’t my largest complaint with gaming today by any means, but these are still problems I’d like to see fixed sometime in the future. A lot of games today aren’t just there as basic entertainment or timewasters – they’re developed to deliver a certain experience to the player. If my experiences with the top titles each year have to keep being interrupted and set back because of a pair batteries though, I won’t be a happy lad.

In other news for today:

I finished up my Ocarina of Time file the other day with most sidequests complete aside from the skultulas. Decided I’d move onto Twilight Princess and try to complete some things there since I needed a reminder of why that game was good, and because riding around a vast and empty field was marginally more interesting to me than sailing around a vast and empty sea. I’ll get back to Wind Waker eventually though, I promise.

I also started a file on Resident Evil 4 for halloween and boy, that game is fucking good as ever. I’ve reached Chapter 2 once more and the point where Ashley is introduced, but it’s weird now how, after games like this, today’s titles can’t seem to handle AI sidekicks or escorts quite as well. I admit, I’ve amusingly killed Ashley in the past by accident when she got in the way of my shotgun blast, but this was a one off occasion and otherwise she works really well at not getting in your way and hiding in dumpsters when you need her to. Better her than a so-called sidekick who steals your ammuntion and health drops then proceeds to waste them by shooting in the wrong direction for the next few minutes, I’d say.

Finally, as promised, I picked up Grabbed by the Ghoulies again as a bit of Halloween morning fun. It still holds up for me though, for the simplistic sort of fun it offers, and I still adore the classic Rare charm which has been poured into it. Not sure if I’ll take the time to finish it up again but I’ll just say that my love for Ghoulies has not diminished.

Underappreciated Game Tune of the Week:

Damn, this song brings back memories. One of the only RTS games I really enjoyed and committed to, although that’s partially because of my love of Warhammer in general before this was released.

May I quote a rare, intelligent youtube comment to sum up my thoughts on this piece:

“This is much better than the Halo music, it has no hope or certainty of good over evil, only the determined battle march of every race towards each others destruction. Halo gives hope with high notes and a fast base, this shows determination in the face of death through a steady beat. In halo there is hope in warhammer only an eternity of slaughter and the laughter of thirsting Gods”

That’s all I’ve got for now, though. Exams are almost upon me but I’ll try to keep posting small updates when possible. Catch you next time.

~Kowz


Halloween Hair-Raisers ’09

October 28, 2009

Halloween isn’t all that big in Australia. Hell, I don’t think it’s all that big in a lot of places outside of North America. Nevertheless, there are times where I see the online discussion from those blokes across the pond and feel like joining in on the celebrations a bit. No, I’d never go as far as carving up pumpkins or sewing clever costumes to Trick or Treat in, I’m too lazy for that. When Halloween comes around, I like to sit down with a good game to suit the mood of the occasion. Today I’ve come to share a few of these Halloween games with you all, to give you an insight into what I’ll probably be playing this year as well as a little bit of a recommendation as to what you lot might want try out for yourselves, just for the occasion. If you have any of your own Halloween games you’d recommend to others, feel free to post them away in the comments of this blog, otherwise here’s my picks for the season…

1. Luigi’s Mansion [GCN]

245583-look_at_all_of_these_ghosts__super

Ghosts galore in Luigi's Mansion...

One for the whole family, Luigi’s Mansion is a cartoon horror game released as Nintendo’s first title for the Gamecube. It features your typical horror clichés – haunted mansion full of ghosts which you, as Luigi, have to suck up with a vacuum cleaner in ghostbusters style before rescuing the princess. And by princess I mean Mario.

Luigi’s Mansion is a fairly short game spanning about six hours at most and less if you know what you’re doing, making it a perfect candidate for that Halloween-night game, particularly if you’re not too fond of the type of horror game with jump scares around every corner and monsters that will haunt you in your sleep long after the system is switched off.

I’ve played through Luigi’s Mansion roughly six times to date, and while in theory I should be bored of some of the slightly-repetitive gameplay by now, the game just has that signature Nintendo lovable charm which makes it hard to forget.

2. Grabbed by the Ghoulies [XBOX]

326984-grabbed_by_the_ghoulies_26

Go Cooper! Whack those Fire Imps!

This one’s a little bit of a niche title, and to be honest, it flopped on its face on launch. It was rereleased on the Xbox Live Arcade earlier this year for 1200 points for download, but again to mixed reception.

So why am I recommending Ghoulies then? Because it’s still one of my favourite games. Ghoulies is a short cartoon-horror game which spans six to eight hours on your first playthrough. You play as Cooper, whose girlfriend has been kidnapped by monsters inside a spooky mansion, and it’s your job to work your way through each room defeating all the baddies as you go in order to rescue the girl. The gameplay is something I might describe as an evolution of the 2D arcade sidescrolling beat-em-ups, in that you’ll use punches, kicks and other attacks from weapon pick-ups in each of the rooms in order to defeat your enemies. While movement is controlled with the left thumbstick, all attacks are controlled by the right, making for some fairly simple fighting gameplay. That said, Ghoulies still retains a nice challenge, and despite its child-friendly, cel-shaded visual style, can test even the hardiest of players. It’s fairly easy to find a copy (or four) of Ghoulies cheap in your local store’s bargain bin, and the game is up on the Xbox Live marketplace for 1200 points now, so I’d recommend giving it a look. If it’s not your cup of tea, so be it, but if you’re like me it’ll be one of the best purchases you’ll ever make.

3. Resident Evil 4 [GCN, PS2, PC, Wii]

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It's pretty amazing how many bullets these guys can take

I could have listed any Resident Evil game here, but here’s my pick. Capcom took the survival horror gameplay of the RE franchise, turned it on its head and made it a lot more accessible with RE4’s third person, over-the-shoulder gameplay, and despite the genre evolving over the past few years with releases like Gears of War, Resident Evil 4 still manages to hold up today. There’s no zombies to be found here, but the enemies, usually referred to as the Las Plagas, are still likely to give you chills down your spine at times. Resident Evil 4 forces the player to manage their supplies, like previous RE titles, in order to survive through the onslaught of enemies, but I felt the real strong point of this game was its narrative and pacing. Once Resident Evil 4 picks up, it never stops going and it’s sometimes hard to put the game down and get your breath back after playing through some of the epic events thrown at you. Even after you feel like you’ve seen it all, the game will up the ante and put you on your toes once more. If you’re one to get thrills out of a late night scare or just love the anxiousness of not knowing what’s lying in wait around the corner, this is definitely a game I’d recommend.

There’s my three games, then. Would have been nice to pick a rounder number like five here but to be honest there aren’t that many Halloween games that I’d like to go back to now, let alone have the time for. There are definitely some other horror titles that I’ve yet to experience which would make for nice time-wasters on the night, perhaps a Silent Hill or Fatal Frame game, but I suppose they’ll have to wait for another year. Happy Halloween!


Underappreciated Game Tunes

October 26, 2009

Music has undoubtedly been a huge part in gaming for a long time now. Whether the music be used to evoke a particular emotion during a level or just give the player something to hum along to while cleaning up the baddies, it’s important for developers to think hard about the music they use for each part of their game to give the right mood to that game’s atmosphere.

Sometimes it so happens that these tunes are overlooked or missed entirely, whether it be because of more popular tunes within the same game that players remembered instead, or because the game didn’t sell as well as another blockbuster hit in the same year. Whatever the reason, I’m writing this blog to commemorate some of the less remembered, yet still masterfully crafted tunes gaming has brought us in the past couple of decades. No “top ten” lists or any of that rubbish – videogame music is subjective and I’ll try to respect that. Plus, there’s no telling what new tunes I might find after posting this list that I might want to add later on.

I haven’t even experienced Chrono Cross for myself yet, and I know a lot of people are in the same situation with a game that is often overshadowed by its predecessor Chrono Trigger. The music for Chrono Trigger was a large part of why I loved that game, but if this tune is any indication of the rest of Chrono Cross’s soundtrack, consider me sold.

I could post a lot of the music from Professor Layton onto this list, but this was one of the better tunes. Layton’s stunning music and art style were a large reason why the game stood out from your simple collection of brainteasers. Its music gave the village of St. Mystere in the game a real soul and character, yet it’s unfortunate that a lot of people are going to look over the music for Layton with all the bigger titles which came out around it in 2008.

Kameo isn’t a game which springs to mind immediately when I think of good music from Rare, but this song really stood out. It captured the perfect mood while storming the Ogre King’s castle, a real epic sense of desperation that made you care about what you were fighting for.

Grant Kirkhope has been known to compose a lot of brilliant music for Rare games, but I feel that it wasn’t until his orchestrated soundtrack for Viva Piñata that he had reached his peak. All of the game’s music is so soothing that it’s hard to find a favourite amongst the tunes, but it’s still a real shame that Viva Piñata didn’t sell enough copies to get Kirkhope’s work more widely noticed here.

I always loved the music of Super Mario Land, so it was a bit unfortunate to see it get overlooked because of all the great tunes Koji Kondo had composed for other games in the series, and because Mario Land was just so different from a lot of other Mario games in its design. The Chai Kingdom was the final world of the game and I felt its music captured the right feeling for the levels perfectly.When I think oriental now, it’s hard not to have this tune spring to mind.

There you have it. Five tunes I thought were pretty underappreciated that I’d recommend you take a listen to. I’ll probably try to add to this later on, but if you have any videogame songs you feel aren’t getting the praise they deserve, feel free to post a link in the comments. Thanks.

[added 31st October 2009]

Damn, this song brings back memories. One of the only RTS games I really enjoyed and committed to, although that’s partially because of my love of Warhammer in general before this was released.

May I quote a rare, intelligent youtube comment to sum up my thoughts on this piece:

“This is much better than the Halo music, it has no hope or certainty of good over evil, only the determined battle march of every race towards each others destruction. Halo gives hope with high notes and a fast base, this shows determination in the face of death through a steady beat. In halo there is hope in warhammer only an eternity of slaughter and the laughter of thirsting Gods”

Enjoy.


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