Author Archive for James Archer

29
Sep
09

Metroid: The Past

Most people have more than likely heard the name Metroid at some point – being one of Nintendo’s longer running series’, although perhaps not as successful as their other major titles, such as Mario and The Legend of Zelda. However, Metroid was possibly one of the most influential titles of it’s time, introducing a more free roaming, more mature style of platformer. It also introduced one of the world’s first gaming heroines – Samus Aran, a well respected bounty hunter that stormed the gaming world a full decade before Lara Croft appeared on the Playstation in 1996. As the first of a three part look at the series, today I will tell you a little about the roots of Metroid.

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The original Metroid was released on the NES in 1986, the same year as the first Zelda title. As well as the platforming and open world style common to Metroid, many other aspects of the title were introduced in the very first title, and carried on to the later games – concepts such as upgrades that improved Samus’ power as she progressed, but also allowed access to new areas in order to give the open world some restrictions and would guide the player around in a certain way without feeling linear or restrictive.

The original title also introduced enemies and bosses that remain consistent throughout the series, namely the Space Pirates, an alien band of miscreants, and their Commander, the dragon-like Ridley. Last but not least, the original of course introduced the series’ first Metroids – the most dangerous beings of them all. Somewhere between a jellyfish, a brain and a leech, the Metroid is a rather disturbing creature – hovering emotionlessly, the Metroid wants nothing more than to drain the life of it’s victim, has a nasty habit of multiplying, and is incredibly hard to kill.

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Metroid’s story, and its quality, has improved in stages over the years. Five years after Metroid came Metroid II: Return of Samus. Released on the Nintendo Game Boy, Metroid II was the first handheld title of the series, and was one of the most impressive handheld titles of it’s time – sporting graphics superior to the original home console version, and fluid controls, Metroid II found Samus hunting Metroids on a lonely planet called SR388.

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 This title was the first Metroid I ever played, and was what got me into Metroid in the first place. Metroid II kept most of the major functions from the original, and also introduced some new weapons, however it is one of the few games to focus solely on Metroids as bosses, in various evolutionary phases, as no Space Pirates or other aliens are involved. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, as it only helped enhance the cavernous feel to the empty depths of SR388.

In 1994, Metroid reached a new level with the coming of Super Metroid on the Super Nintendo. This title was the first to feature full colour graphics and improved on every aspect of the game – particularly the plot. Although the game continued to feel vast and open, Super Metroid saw the return of Ridley, and introduced perhaps one of the most useful features of all, a map. Whereas the older titles could feel confusing and hard to navigate, Super Metroid included a map that could be viewed on the fly, detailing not only the layout of the area, but save rooms and other places of interest. This feature would be implemented into all future titles, and was even mirrored in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night three years later, which was the first to implement a more Metroid style of gameplay and progression that would create the term “Metroidvania” which can be heard nowadays.

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Sadly, Super Metroid wasn’t really appreciated fully at the time of it’s initial release. Although considered one of Nintendo’s biggest classic titles, the initial trilogy sold fairly poorly and production was cancelled.

However, all that changed in 2002. Alongside the new GameCube title, Metroid Prime (more about this in my next post), the team that developed Super Metroid released an all new 2D Metroid for the Gameboy Advance. Entitled Metroid Fusion, the fourth Metroid title pitted Samus against a new threat, a parasitic lifeform known as X. After coming into contact with the viral lifeform, Samus becomes surgically bound to some of the core components of her Power Suit, creating the Fusion Suit.

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Fighting against both Metroids and this new threat, hunted by a powerful doppelganger known as SA-X, Metroid Fusion yet again improved upon the game’s design in almost every way. Fusion did incredibly well, being named Handheld Game of the Year at the 2002 Interactive Achievement Awards, and recieving high praise from many gaming sites, and sold over 1 million copies worldwide. This success saw the rebirth of the series and Metroid continued to develop.

In 2004, Nintendo released Metroid: Zero Mission, a remake of the original Metroid on the GBA with graphics that perhaps surpassed even that of Metroid Fusion, and incorporating features and abilities from the more recent titles, such as saving capability and a selection of different abilities such as crouching, hanging, speed-boost running and much more.

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They also expanded upon the game’s original plot, and even added an entirely new area to the game, including a section which, for the first time ever, allows you to play as Samus without her Power Suit for a more stealth-based chapter, dubbed “Zero Suit Samus” by Super Smash Bros Brawl, which incorporated this ‘naked’ version of the heroine as an alternate mode for her in the fighter series, which also turned a few heads in the process.  

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And thats as far as the 2D saga of Metroid has come to this date – I personally hope to see at least one more 2D Metroid in the future. But that’s not to say that Metroid ends there, oh no – the present has seen a change in Metroid’s style…

Stay tuned for Metroid: The Present, in the second of this three-part look at the series!

-Leon

26
Sep
09

What have Nintendo set in motion?

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I remember first hearing about the Wii and its new gameplay ideas, unveiling the Wiimote and its unusual point and click style of control. To be honest I wasn’t all that keen but I was willing to see how things went, and even got ahold of one on release day; although more for the upcoming Zelda and Metroid titles than for the new control style. Regardless, I played the console for a while; Metroid Prime 3 using the controls fantastically. However, mostly I found that few other titles actually benefited from the new system – sure, my grandparents played a few party games at Christmas, but there wasnt much else. Zelda: Twilight Princess was great for reasons other than the controls, and I’m sure I would have enjoyed the GameCube version equally.

Now, I applaud Nintendo for their clever marketing and acknowledge that they sold their console well, but in the end it just doesnt have the game lifespan of it’s competitors, often with months at a time before any solid releases – leaving it a lacking console for anyone with serious gaming needs.

So here I am now, with a Wii that’s used mainly to play GameCube titles, Zelda and Metroid Prime 3. When I’m not playing those (which is most of the time), the console just sits under my TV and gathers dust. And I’m quite happy with it that way – it’s there when I need it, but it leaves me alone most of the time and needs no attention from me whilst I play my PS3 and Xbox 360.

However, inside that little white console is a foreboding evil that waits to strike… After the Wii sold so well, other companies ran to look at the best-seller, wondering what it had that they didn’t. Before long, the Xbox 360 found itself covered with little Avatars of it’s players, for no apparent reason other than keeping up with what the Wii was doing with it’s Miis. Personally, I thought the NXE update was a big disappointment, and much preferred the old style of dashboard. However, it didn’t really influence me in a large way, so I quickly accepted the change, and continued my happy gaming life as usual.

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However, more recently I sense a disturbance in the gaming world… The Wii strikes once again! This time it looks like bad news… Although Nintendo were quite content in creating an unusual console that filled many of GAME’s shelves with throw-away titles, its begun to spread. More recently, Sony announced their own version of the Wiimote, a currently nameless ‘wand’ which uses the Playstation EyeToy camera to track a glowing ball which can be used to control an on-screen cursor.

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When I first heard this, I was a bit dismayed, but unsurprised that other consoles would attempt to take some of the Wii’s glory by creating their own motion controllers – what with the Wii’s sale figures, they obviously want their own share of the market. Expecting to see some gimmicky titles in 2010, much like the PS2’s EyeToy gaames, I was willing to ignore this new hardware and continue using my hardware in the same way I currently am. That’s OK, right?

Wrong.. It seems that the PS3 will be implementing this new hardware into some of its bigger titles – LittleBigPlanet and Resident Evil 5. LittleBigPlanet will incorporate a new tool that will allow players to manipulate certain objects in levels in order to progress – such as pulling down plaforms to walk across, or holding things back that would otherwise crush sackboy. What does this mean? Well – if I want to have full access to all of LittleBigPlanet’s features in the future, I’ll require a motion controller that I’ve already acknowleged I don’t want. However, if I choose not to purchase it, I’ll more than likely be swarmed with in-game options I can’t use, and levels that are inacessible to me.

As for Resident Evil 5, they are going to release a new version entitled Resident Evil 5: Alternative Edition. At first glance, one might think that this is much like Resident Evil 4, with its Wii counterpart which was released later on with a few enhancements. However, it seems that this new version of RE5 will feature a brand new campaign mode starring Chris and Jill, utilising the new motion controls.

Now, perhaps these games will allow for alternate control methods that make them playable without the motion controls, but I’m doubting it – why allow people to choose how to play, when they can be forced to buy new hardware in order to play games that they already love?

The Wii had some interesting concepts, but I’m really feeling that the success of it’s initial sales have had a negative impact on all of Nintendo’s stakeholders – other consoles want to emulate that success, and are willing to appeal to the more casual markets in order to do so. However, I do wonder whether these companies might want to compare the costs of their consoles before pinning the success solely on the motion capability of the Wii. I’m very worried that the gaming market will be killed by torrents of cheap party games and ports with tacked-on motion controls – and is that really the future we want to see?

I have played some fantastic games recently, and I’m also looking forward to plenty more – such as God of War III, Final Fantasy XIII, Brutal Legend, Bayonetta, Halo 3: ODST among others, and none of them require gimmicky controls to interest me. They prove that games can still be played with regular controllers whilst still being interesting, exciting and involving. The day I have to imitate swinging Kratos’ Blades of Chaos by waving a pair of Wiimotes around my head is the day I quit gaming.

So I ask, for myself and for all gamers out there: Please Nintendo, keep your damn Wiimote in your pocket and don’t show it to the other kids!

24
Sep
09

Project Needlemouse: The Savior of Sonic the Hedgehog?

As with many people my age (early 20’s), one of the games I grew up with was Sonic the Hedgehog. The favourite game of all in my Sega Megadrive collection, Sonic was always a game that was a joy to play, and everything about it was just done so right – the fluid controls, the beautiful environments and the challenging – yet fun – gameplay. As a child I could at first not even progress further than Chemical Plant Zone in Sonic 2, yet something always brought me back. As I got older, next came Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles which were just as enjoyable and again captured my imagination and love for video games.

However, more recently, Sonic succumbed to what many series’ had done as time progressed; it went 3D. Starting with Sonic 3D on the Sega Megadrive, and then evolving into Sonic Adventure on the Sega Dreamcast, Sonic became a new game altogether. Although the games did introduce a few nice features that I liked, such as Shadow the Hedgehog and some special moves such as the homing attack, Sonic lost something in this transformation, and like a genetic flaw it passed to its children, leaving us now with the newer titles such as Sonic & The Black knight, and Sonic Unleashed.

One of the biggest problems with this transformation was the use of Sonic’s speed – no longer was the game about simple platforming and momentum, now a 3D setting found Sonic difficult to control and no longer fun to play. More recently I found myself playing Sonic Unleashed, and after some terribly-voiced dialogue and a semi-decent running section, I almost cried in horror as I played through some awful 3rd person fighting in a sort of half-baked God of War style – albeit without the fun aspects.

It was at that point that I finally admitted that Sonic had been lost to us, his finesse and awesomeness lost to mediocre gaming carrying the title of something that was once great. However, something I heard recently has caught my attention, and I secretly think that there may be a ray of hope for the blue hedgehog yet.

An all new Sonic title, codenamed Project Needlemouse is currently under development by Sega. But this isn’t just another 3D title, oh no. It’s apparently going to be a fully HD, 2D sidescrolling title. Apparently using an engine built from the ground up, the game will return to its original roots and play in a way more similar to the old series than any of the more recent titles. Currently there is no actual footage, so we can’t say whether the graphical style will or will not be returning to a more 2D design – but the gameplay sounds like Sega could finally be doing Sonic justice.

Project Needlemouse is due in 2010, although a more precise date has yet to be revealed – and which consoles it is being produced for is also a mystery. See the short trailer below for the little info currently available; we’ll let you know as soon as we hear anything more.

Project Needlemouse

21
Sep
09

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Recently released, Batman: Arkham Asylum is set in Gotham’s lunatic asylum, where all of the city’s nastiest crazies are kept in a hopeless attempt to ‘cure’ them of their terrible habits – mainly mass murder and some reason to feel obliged to cause Batman a lot of pain. The story begins with Batman’s capture of the Joker after his latest escapade, although something’s not quite right – the capture seems far too easy and Joker seems all too willing to be caught. After an eventful trip escorting a restrained Joker to a high security sector of Arkham, Joker escapes his captors and – aided by the crazed beauty Harley Quinn – gains control of Arkham’s security, and the fun begins.

The game is a third-person title, giving you free reign of the grounds of Arkham at night-time. Somewhat reminiscent of Bioshock, the Asylum has a creepy darkness about it that gives the game a disturbing feel. In a somewhat ‘metroidvania‘ feel, certain areas are locked off until you acquire certain gadgets, which means you won’t be able to go everywhere to begin with, but there’s enough freedom to keep it from feeling linear.

Basic gameplay involves exploring the asylum’s various areas, whilst battling various goons and a mix of stealth and traversing the environment. Batman has access to some basic platforming abilities, which work fluidly by holding the run button whilst moving towards certain short walls or ledges to jump or climb them automatically, in a similar style to Assassin’s Creed – albeit without any complex wall climbing, but it all fits together well.

While exploring, Batman has access to a selection of gadgets, such as his cape which can solidify to glide, the batarang to hit or cut objects from a distance, his grappling hook which allows him to access higher ledges and explosive gel for breaking weak walls to access hidden areas. This allows Batman to travel quickly and quietly through various types of terrain, and access different vantage points to hide and get the upper hand on his enemies.

Batman also has access to a very handy ‘Detective mode’ which can be used to see any important aspects and enemies to take note of, with x-ray features to see through some walls. Interactive objects such as vent covers and control boxes are highlighted in red, and enemies are highlighted in red and blue depending on whether they hold guns or not, allowing you to assess the situation before you make your move. As a secondary function, the Detective mode allows you to search for forensic evidence in a few locations, such as DNA or chemical traces, which will allow you to follow traces of the substance to find your next objective, usually a person who needs to be saved, or the villain you are currently tracking.

As you progress through the game, you will receive experience which fills up a meter at the top left of the screen. Each time this meter fills, you can choose an upgrade from a list which grants batman a new ability or improvement – giving him new functions for tools such as multi-batarang, and proximity detonation for explosive gel. There are also upgrades to improve Batman’s health, which will be vital for some of the harder stages later on. Batman gains most of his tools throughout the story, and the corresponding upgrades are added to the list as he gains them. I won’t spoil all of the gadgets, but there’s a nice range of tools to collect which can aid in accessing new areas, or used for taking down enemies – some, such as the Batarang and Explosive Gel, can be used for both attack and exploratory purposes.

Using these various tools and functions, it’s possible to manoeuver around enemies to take a stealthy approach. Whilst it’s generally possible to take a head-on approach to most groups of enemies, it’s always advantageous to strike from the shadows at first – especially if they’re armed, since Batman is human and can’t take more than a few bullets. Using the grappling hook you can access higher ledges, and in many locations there are gargoyles that are conveniently placed around the asylum’s grounds. Depending on your location there are various ways to take down opponents – while on the ground you can sneak up to an enemy from behind for a silent KO, while hanging from ledges below opponents you can yank them to a surprise drop, and in true batman style you can drop down with an upside-down batman hanging from a gargoyle, and grab the unsuspecting victim for an instant KO. If you are spotted, you can escape to any location out of view to try and hide from any armed opponents. Although the AI is fairly good, it can often be simple enough to escape their view by swinging from gargoyle to gargoyle until they lose you.

The enemies consist of a mix of lunatics, and convicts working for the Joker – prisoners whom were transferred to Arkham after the Joker bombed Gotham Prison while he was on the loose.  The combat itself is fairly easy to control, yet has enough variation to keep it interesting. Batman has three main melee attacks – the basic attack, the counter-attack, and the stun attack. Using the basic attack button Batman will use various combos which can be chained by keeping attacks flowing without missing or getting hit. When an attack is about to hit Batman, a symbol is shown above the attacking enemy, and by timing the counterattack button you can perform an impressive looking counter attack and keep the combo going. The stun attack can be used on some of the later enemies, which need to be stunned to stop them blocking before you strike. Also, it’s possible to jump over enemies, as some opponents with stun rods can only be attacked from the back, to avoid getting stunned . Finally, it’s possible to unlock new special attacks such as throws and instant KO moves, which can be performed by pressing two buttons at once, when you have a high enough combo. It all chains together in very smooth animation, and at the end of each group of enemies you are shown a close-up slo-mo of the final blow. Some gadgets such as the Batarang can be used in combat as well, to mix up attacks, stun enemies or attack long range.

Along the way, there are of course several bosses, these usually being Gotham’s more prominent villains – such as Harley Quinn, Bane, and The Scarecrow. These all have different methods of fighting – some simply involve defeating waves of henchmen they send at you, others are larger enemies that you must defeat by avoiding attacks and using gadgets to stun them and give you a chance to attack. The Scarecrow is a formidable villain, torturing Batman with strange hallucinations and visions to torment him. I won’t say too much, but suffice it to say that the Scarecrow was one of my favourite villains in the game.

As a fun sidequest, the Riddler talks to Batman by hacking into his communication’s device, challenging him to a battle of wits. Throughout the game there are a total of 240 things to find – ranging from trophies hidden around the game, certain objects such as statues or relics you must find which relate to various riddles he gives you, hidden interview tapes which can be listened to in order to get some extra insight into the game’s villains, and hidden question marks which can only be seen in detective mode – but are hidden cleverly in ways that can only be seen from certain perspectives. Many of the riddles involve finding objects and items relating to the Batman characters, so there are plenty of references to many of the characters for the Batman fans out there – such as the Penguin’s Hat and Umbrellas, and newspapers with articles about Prometheus and Firefly. Finding these secrets also nets you some experience towards upgrades, so it serves a worthwhile purpose if you’re not bothered about scores. As a nice touch, however, these items can also unlock various bios for many of the Batman comic characters with comic artwork and lots of details about them all. It’s also possible to unlock “Character Trophies” which allow you to view 3D models of the game’s various characters from the main menu. Lastly, finding some of the Riddler’s secrets unlock challenges in the game’s Challenge mode – so there’s plenty of reasons to search for them all.

The game’s Challenge mode offers some extra gameplay to the title, and allows for a bit of leaderboard competition. There are two types of Challenge – all-out brawls, and stealth challenges. The brawl type Challenges involve fighting five waves of increasing amounts of enemies, whilst getting scored on your combat performance. This is graded depending on how varied your combos are, how high your combos get, and whether or not you take damage in the process – beating a round without taking damage nets you some points, while beating all five rounds without taking a hit grants you another score bonus. The stealth missions, however, involve taking down armed opponents as silently as possible. You will be in a certain area of the asylum with a large amount of enemies, and its up to you to take them down quickly and quietly. Each stealth mission has three special objectives you should try to meet for the best result – such as successfully performing a silent kill, or taking an enemy out by hitting them with an explosion. Get all three, and you’ll be awarded 3/3 bats for that particular level. The game also records your time, so you can try and beat the level as quickly as possible for a better result on the leaderboards.

The game runs on the Unreal Engine so the lighting effects are done very well, as I said before the style reminds me somewhat of Bioshock, and has some very unsettling parts that were done masterfully. The characters look great, textures on Batman’s suit looking detailed, and the Joker and Harley looking quite scary. The game is dark and gritty so it works perfectly, and the game’s range of environments isn’t at all lacking – from caves to the medical centre, the Arkham Mansion, plant-filled Botanical Gardens and the scary Penitentiary ward where all of the craziest lunatics are held. The sound merges perfectly, with Mark Hamill voicing the Joker perfectly, and Batman with his familiar over-the-top hero voice – the sound effects only add to the scariness of the place with hysterical laughter and the voice of the Joker taunting you over Arkham’s PA system.

There is also some free DLC for the game – The Insane Night Map Pack which has just been released – including ‘Totally Insane’ – a challenge of endless waves of enemies to fight, and ‘Nocturnal Hunter’ another stealth type map. Another DLC pack is also due on the 24th October, named “Prey in the Dark”. No details have been released yet, but we’ll let you know the details as soon as we know! Obviously, for free, theres no reason not to pick up these goodies to expand the game a little more.

Also, exclusive to Playstation 3 are some extra Joker Challenge Maps, also a free download. These maps work in the same way as Batman’s regular stages, yet you get to play as the Joker with his own moves, and a couple of exclusive gadgets. If you have a 360 don’t worry, its nothing you can’t live without – yet it is a fun little thing to mess around with so theres no reason not to get the PS3 version if you have the choice.

Overall, Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the best games I’ve played in a while – a beautifully designed game with loads to do. There’s plenty of gadgets and toys to play with, and you often have a fair amount of freedom to attempt things in whatever way appeals to you most. It’s got a decent length, and is fairly challenging but not impossible. The controls and gameplay work very fluidly, and even if you’re not a huge Batman fan it’s a highly enjoyable game. It has scary moments so I’d keep it away from the kids, but it’s not terrifying so don’t expect huge scares if you’re actively looking for them. With more DLC on the way the game has potential to offer yet more gameplay time, and so far I could even go so far as making it my personal choice for Game of the Year.

-Leon

18
Sep
09

Castlevania Judgement (Wii)

I’ve been a fan of Castlevania since I first played Symphony of the Night on the PS1 – since then I’ve been a collector of Castlevania games and amassed a collection of more than ten ‘vania titles. Therefore, when I saw a copy of Castlevania: Judgment on the Wii, I couldn’t resist. Not unlike Final Fantasy: Dissidia which I have been playing recently, Castlevania: Judgment plucks various characters from the Castlevania series and pits them against each other for a fighting game to please the fans.

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The story is fairly simple and negligible, basically a man called Aeon (with powers to influence time) creates a rift to bring all of the characters together, and tells them that if they pass his ‘trials’ they shall get what they desire – the trials consisting of battling it out with the rest of the game’s cast. There are characters from a wide mix of the series, such as fan-favourites Simon Belmont, Trevor Belmont, Alucard, Maria Renard, Death and Dracula, and some more obscure characters such as Cornell from the second Nintendo 64 Castlevania title, Carmilla from Circle of the Moon, and “Golem”, a monster sharing a name with some of the series’ previous enemies. Maria appears as her child form from Rondo of Blood, but strangely Eric Lecarde appears in child form also, as opposed to his adult form in Castlevania: Bloodlines.

Sadly some of my personal favourite characters have been left out of the mix – such as Soma Cruz from Aria of Sorrow, Leon Belmont from Lament of Innocence (the first Belmont in the timeline) – and Richter Belmont from Rondo of Blood/Symphony of the Night, but I assume this was chosen in order to mix up the cast a little; the Vampire Killer is already used by both Simon and Trevor so Leon/Richter’s move sets would no doubt have been too similar. Shame about Soma, though – he had a lot of potential.

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The gameplay itself is reminiscent of Soul Calibur, albeit slightly more simple, and its also possible to run around the arena more freely. Characters have access to several basic combos, harder-hitting Charge attacks, and ultimate attacks called Super Finishers which require a full Skill Gauge to execute. It’s also possible to jump in order to evade and pull of aerial attacks. Characters can also guard, and perform a guard-breaking attack by attacking whilst in a defensive stance.

Some of the game’s finer details include the ability to interact with certain objects in the arena (such as throwing a barrel at an enemy), and the use of various sub-weapons that require hearts to use – which can be found in destructible candles and boxes around the arena, alongside items that heal you and others that grant you the ability to fire sub-weapons at a faster rate. There is also potential to master the game to a degree, with some more advanced techniques such as jump cancelling, so there’s some room for growth if you really get into it.

The game can be played with the Wii’s motion controls, using the Wiimote and Nunchuk’s motion sensors to attack and dodge by waving them respectively. Holding the B button on the Wiimote will allow you to perform Charge attacks by waving the remote, and Z and C on the Nunchuk are used for guarding and jumping. Pressing the D-Pad on the remote (when your Skill Gauge is full) will activate the character’s super attack, which will dash at the enemy, and – if it connects – will perform a cinematic move that will usually take about half of the enemy’s health bar. The game does a fairly good job at using the motion controls, but thankfully it also offers full support for both the GameCube and Virtual Console controllers, with various control layouts – so if you are like me and prefer to play in a more tradition way, the option is there. One small problem I did encounter, however, was in some it could be a little hard to see what you are doing when the enemy blocked the camera occasionally, but it wasn’t game breaking as such.

Characters have some of their traditional moves implemented into the game; Alucard’s “Summon Spirit”, mist (for evasion) and Sword Familiar are all used for various moves, whereas Maria uses the various powers of her animal friends to grant her several magical attacks. Some of the lesser known characters have been given more original move sets, however, such as Carmilla who takes a form with close range attacks and a grappling hook to pull opponents to her.

The game’s graphics aren’t bad for a Wii title, all of the characters with a new design made specifically for Judgment. Alucard looks a little younger than in Symphony of the Night, whereas Simon has been given a complete re-design loosely based on his appearance from the Castlevania Chronicles art, with shoulder length crimson hair, tattoos and some interesting armour. Some of the female characters, specifically Carmilla, have been given very ‘anime’ style appearances, with overly-large breasts to match. Dracula looks very much the same as ever, while Death has lost his robe and adopted a much more skeletal look. The characters have been voiced well, although the children (Maria and Eric) have typical anime-style voices which can be a little annoying after a while.

The arenas very much remind me of Soul Calibur, with a medieval tone – church-like areas with stained glass windows, castle courtyards, and dank stony passageways, but it does have elements which give it a more Castlevania feel – such as a giant zombie shark that leaps out of the water in the background of one arena, or spike traps and pendulum blades inside the castle that can hurt you if you accidentally make contact with them. Many of the stages include various hazards, such as poisonous water and molten lava that must be avoided, and it is possible to be beaten instantly if you are knocked off of the arena on some stages with a Ring-Out. Some classic ‘vania areas also return, such as Dracula’s throne room, the Clock Tower, and Crystal Caverns. The game also has a great soundtrack which compliments it well, using various Castlevania tracks such as the Vampire Killer theme, and recognisable tracks from other games including Symphony of the Night.

There are several modes to the game; Story mode is fairly simple, consisting of one-round matches that progress in a set way, with a small introduction paragraph to each character, and some short dialogue between the characters before a couple of the fights. There are also some special Monster Battles where you must fight a small group of traditional Castlevania style enemies such as zombies and armours, followed by a larger enemy such as the heavy-hitting Minotaur (copied from Curse of Darkness). These battles add an interesting mix to the progression and give the game a more ‘Castlevania’ feel. To begin with, only Simon and Alucard are available in Story mode, so you must beat their stories to unlock more characters stories to play. The game also offers a standard Arcade mode, which allows you to set the amount of rounds and face off against random opponents in a traditional fighter style. The third main mode is Castle, which offers a grid-like map which you must clear, by meeting the requirements of each panel to move around the castle’s rooms. Challenges include fighting regular opponents, collecting hearts around the arena whilst being attacked by enemies, fighting Monster Battles, or defeating opponents in specific ways (such as finishing them with a Super Finisher move). Dotted around the castle grid are save points which act as checkpoints to your progress – unlike the Arcade style modes, failure means Game Over so it’s worth saving when you get the opportunity. Castle mode isn’t perfect, but it gives the game more play value which is never a bad thing.

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The game also offers traditional Survival and Training modes, and a Tutorial to play when you first start the game. It also supports Versus mode, both 1 and 2 player – with the inclusion of online play if you have an internet connection. Also, Gallery mode allows you to access various bits of character art, voice clips and music files which can be unlocked in the main game.

It is also possible to unlock various Accessories to equip to the characters – one item can be assigned to each body part of every character – to each arm, the torso, the face and the head – including items such as glasses and hats. This is purely aesthetic, and you cannot change characters’ main clothing, but it adds a degree of customisation.

Lastly, the game offers a ‘Connect to DS’ function, which allows you to connect to the DS with a copy of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia in order to unlock two characters in Judgment, and a mode or two in Ecclesia. However, both games offer alternate methods to unlock the same content without using this feature, so you won’t miss out if you don’t own them both.

All in all, Castlevania: Judgment is a fairly laid-back game to play if you fancy something casual. The game’s engine probably doesn’t stand up to fighters such as Street Fighter or Soul Calibur, but is one of the better fighters on the Wii at the moment. The game’s plot is fairly simple and has no real relevance to Castlevania’s overall plotline, but it offers a range of characters from the series and plenty of references to the series’ castle elements, enemies and music. The motion controls work well, but Konami have made an excellent move in allowing alternate controller choices – meaning the game doesn’t in any way force you to use awkward motion controls that feel tacked-on for the sake of being ‘innovative’. If you are a Castlevania fan, the game would be a welcome addition to the collection, and the cast of characters should keep you entertained for a while, but you might want to try a rental before buying if you’re not a big fan of the series, since all the references would be lost on you – it’s clearly a game made to target the fans.

11
Sep
09

Dissidia: Final Fantasy – Full Review

As a big Final Fantasy fan, I’ve been keeping a close eye on Dissidia: Final Fantasy. Last Friday it was released and I went to my local GAME store and picked up my own copy – the Limited Edition at £39.99 – pricey, but I’m a collector. Before long (after having to wait for my PSP to charge and update firmware) I booted the UMD and began my journey through the world of Dissidia.

You may have read my previous article on the demo of Dissidia, so I knew what to expect in terms of gameplay – however there is so much more to the game than I had expected. The story involves a war between two gods, Cosmos and Chaos, deities of Harmony and Discord. The gods each summon eleven champions to each of their sides, comprised of heroes and villains of the Final Fantasy titles, and get locked in a war of never-ending death and rebirth – until finally the balance tips in the favour of Chaos, and Cosmos is wounded in battle. As Chaos threatens to destroy existence, the warriors of Cosmos must each track down a crystal that will grant them the combined power to fight the encroaching darkness. The game starts with an FMV depicting the battle between both sides and is particularly impressive, with graphics close to that of Advent Children, and I particularly liked that they mixed and matched the fights – Squall battling Sephiroth for instance – rather than putting them all with their regular counterparts.

The battles themselves work in a 3D environment, simulating battles not unlike those seen in the movie Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Each character has access to various attacks, consisting of two types of attack – Bravery attacks and HP attacks. Bravery attacks are performed by pressing the O button, and allow you to perform basic attacks which raise your ‘Bravery’ score and depletes that of your opponent. These attacks do no actual damage to your opponent however, but determine how much damage your HP attacks do – these are performed with the Square button, and are generally the more ‘signature’ attacks of the characters, such as Cloud’s ‘Braver’, and Squall’s ‘Rough Divide’; the figure of your Bravery translates to how many hit points of damage the attack will do – if the figure is high enough it’s even possible to KO the opponent instantly, so it’s important to keep an eye on the figure. The X button allows you to jump, and the L and R buttons are used for locking-on and blocking respectively, and tapping X and a direction whilst guarding will let you evade in that direction. Triangle allows you to ‘quickmove’ which lets you use the environment to move with speed – such as running along walls and grinding along various rails and edges to get around quickly.

Sometimes, when you knock an enemy far back with an attack, an X will appear on-screen and you can perform a ‘chase’. This will make your character follow the enemy with a dash, and you will enter a sort of ‘mid air battle’. In these sequences, characters take turns to attack each other, and the other must try to evade. Bravery attacks are quick, and HP attacks are slow – so depending on which is performed depends on the timing for evasion. If you successfully manage to evade the attack you will be able to attack yourself – but time it wrong and you’ll get hit hard.

When characters fight, small blue orbs called EX Force are released, which can be collected to fill a gauge next to the character’s icon at the bottom of the screen. Occasionally, bigger EX Cores appear which collect EX Force, and you can collect them to fill your gauge by a large amount. Once the gauge is full, you can press R+Square to activate EX mode. In this mode, characters have various boosts dependant on the character – some bestow health regeneration, others gain higher attack power. The gauge depletes once the EX mode is activated, so its a race to make the most of it. One of the biggest features of EX mode is the EX Burst – when you hit an enemy with an attack while in EX mode, a symbol will appear on the screen – pressing Square at this point will activate the characters most powerful move – this is generally based on the characters ultimate move from their original game, such as Cloud’s ‘Omnislash’ and Tidus’ ‘Blitz Ace’. As a nice touch, every character’s style of performing this move reflects their original game, such as Squall’s ‘Renzokuken’ which involves having to tap the R button in time with a gauge that appears on the screen.

Initially, you are granted access to ten of the heroes – lead roles from FF’s 1-10 – who each have their own story to play through, chapters called ‘Destiny Odyssies’. In these stories, each character must fight through five maps comprised of grids that comprise of various opponents – ‘manikins’, crystal-clones of the various characters, and bosses comprised of the various storyline fights with the real versions of the characters aligned with Chaos. Many of the heroes and villains cross over into each other’s stories, yet they all have to face their own counterpart at some point – and their stories mirror that of their original games to a degree – Kuja has a degree of despair due to a feeling of inferiority, taking it out on Zidane, and Sephiroth naturally likes to goad Cloud and mess with his head. The plot is fairly simple but it does the job, giving a bit of depth to an all-star brawling game.

You do not recover health between fights on the same map, so you must choose your battles wisely – enemies are of various levels and difficulties – some optional yet guarding various treasures such as items or summon stones. You also have access to a few abilities such as Cure and Matra Magic which allow you to heal yourself or damage an enemy one time each, to assist you a bit along the way. The maps also offer a system called “Destiny Points” which give you greater rewards at the end of each map if you tactically progress through a stage while spending your turns wisely and meeting certain requirements in battles to keep your score high (such as beating the enemy in a short time, or winning the battle without recieving damage).

Upon beating each of the characters individual plotlines, their stories converge and a following story mode opens up which can be played using any hero you choose. In total, the plot is very long for a fighter-type game and allows for plenty of play value with extra additional story modes which can be unlocked after beating the main plot, and each of the chapters needs to be played multiple times in order to unlock everything and achieve 100%.

The game offers a lot of customisation and character development – as you level up you can earn new attacks which can be assigned to your character; there are twelve slots in total – six Bravery and six HP. These consist of three aerial and three ground attacks of each type, although some of the attacks (such as Rough Divide) have both ground and aerial versions. You can also buy equipment to improve your stats in classic Final Fantasy style, and equip accessories for additional boosts. There are also Summons to equip, which can be used to tactically affect bravery in various ways – such as Odin who uses Zantetsuken to cut the enemy’s bravery to 0, and Ifrit that boosts your own bravery to 150% of its current figure with his Hellfire ability. Summons come in two types – Automatic, which will activate when a certain requirement is met (such as having a certain bravery figure, or getting attacked) and Manual, which you can activate any time by pressing R+O.

The characters have been done very well – the more recent ones such as Cloud, Squall, Zidane and Tidus are all faithful to their original versions, many of their moves looking the same as they used to (such as Cloud’s Cross-Slash), or being converted well to fit the game’s system (such as Squall’s Blasting Zone that summons a pillar of light that he smashes down onto the opponent).  The older characters, however, have allowed the designers a little more freedom in character design and style due to the huge update in graphical power and gameplay, yet they have made them relevant to their original counterparts – the Warrior of Light appears as a very noble knightly figure, while Bartz has exchanged his Job-based gameplay for a style that utilises a mix of each of the other characters’ moves and weapons.

The game has plenty of things to unlock – as you play the game you recieve PP, which can be used to unlock various content. This content includes unlocking the villain characters, alternate outfits, extra modes and other upgrades. More things get added to the PP catalog as you progress through the game so theres always plenty to unlock.

The game also incorporates an in-game calendar – when you first load the game it will ask you which day you play most often – once you have chosen, you will recieve double EXP, Gil (FF’s currency), AP (ability points) and PP for that day every week. You will also get random bonuses on random days to these individual rewards, and the can buy upgrades with PP to increase the frequency of these bonuses. The feature isn’t exactly necessary but its a nice addition and gives you more reason to play regularly. The game also offers an “Accomplishments” section which acts like an in-game achievement/trophy list and gives you an overall percentage of game completion.

Aside from the story, the game offers a basic Arcade mode with random battles at predetermined levels, Quickplay which lets you pit your customised characters against opponents of your choice, and other unlockable modes such as time-trials and harder difficulties. There is also an Ad-Hoc multiplayer mode which allows you to battle another player, and collect their “Friend Card” so that you can see your previous results, and also battle a “Ghost” of whichever of their characters they have assigned to their card – your ghost will have the stats of the character as it is in your own game, including equipment and abilities, and you can also choose it’s tactics from a list such as “Cautious” or “Viscious”. Once a friend’s card is saved to your PSP, you can fight their latest saved ghost as many times as you like, and even earn items and points for doing so.

The game looks great, utilizing the PSP’s power well. The characters depict their original designs well, but many of them do have a few alterations to their outfits or designs, and all fit in together as a whole. The stages, like the characters, range from interpretations of old areas such as the Chaos shrine, and good adaptations like Zanarkand from the end of Final Fantasy X. The game’s music is equally good, with many familiar tunes such as remixes of the boss and battle themes, and well recognised tracks like ‘One Winged Angel’.  Although combining elements of many games, it all blends together seamlessly and feels like one complete title rather than lots of different segments stuck together.

Overall, the game is bursting with content, offering hours upon hours of gameplay. With a vast story mode, plenty of extra modes, accomplishments to earn and a ton of things to unlock, there’s always something to do. If you have a PS3, you can even download Ad Hoc Party to play online – but otherwise you can still play locally. This game is a must-have for any Final Fantasy fan, and I’d even recommend it as a good fighter for someone who isn’t – although they would miss out on a fair amount of references to the original titles. One of the best PSP titles released so far, good fun, and has a long lifespan that will keep you entertained for quite a while.

-Leon

07
Sep
09

AdHoc Party – Online gaming for PSP (Dissidia and others!)

Over the last couple of days I have been playing Dissidia: Final Fantasy– something I have been quite looking forward to. I have really enjoyed playing the title, and recently discovered that it could be played online. However, doing so is fairly confusing – mainly due to the fact that the game comes with Ad Hoc multiplayer only. So wait, I say the game is only local Ad Hoc, yet it can be played online?

Thats right – on the Japanese Playstation Store, they have released an application called “Ad Hoc Party”. This isn’t just for Dissidia, but can be used for all games with Ad Hoc multiplayer functionality, such as Monster Hunter.

Although the application is free, the hard part is getting it, and using it – seeing as its only officially been released on the JP store, you’ll have to traverse through confusing Japanese pages and the like to find what you’re looking for – but fear not – Plus XP is here to guide you.

You will need:

One PSP with up-to-date firmware and copy of Dissidia: Final Fantasy (or other Ad-Hoc game)
One PS3 with a working wired (Ethernet) internet connection
One friend/contact who also has everything – forums often have social areas for meeting other players if need be
A little patience – it’ll be worth it!

So assuming you have all of those, we’re ready to go!

First off, you’ll need to create a Japanese account on your PS3.

Creating a Japanese PSN Account

1) Create a new user profile on your system, name it something like “PSP Ad Hoc” or whatever you want, and sign into that account
2) Hook up your PS3 to the Internet, and select “Sign up to Playstation Network”
3) Select “Create a New Account” on the first page
4) Click “Continue” on the next page

5) On the next page, make sure to select “Japan” under Country of Residence. The text will now all turn into Japanese, so make sure to pay attention now – ignore the second option; the last of the three options on the same window are asking for your date of birth. Fill this in with anything, just make sure you select a year earlier than 1990 so that your age is over 18 (otherwise you may be locked out of certain age-restricted content in future). Now press down on the d-pad, and press X on the third option in the bottom row, which is the “Next” button (this is where the button will always be, usually greyed out if the page is not yet completed).

6) The next page is the general agreement information, press Down to highlight the text, then press Right to get the cursor down to the bottom of the page where you can select the Next button to continue to the next page.

7) Next is your e-mail and sign in information. You’ll need to enter an unused e-mail address in the top box (you cannot have multiple PSN accounts on the same e-mail address) so you may need to create a free email account online if you don’t already have a secondary one. Once this is entered, the next two fields are password and password re-entry, so fill them both in with the same password – you must have at least one capital letter and one number, with at least six characters. Check the following tick-box so that the PS3 will store your password for the future.

8 ) The drop down list next is to choose a ‘Secret Question’, so skip this box and enter anything into the following field – either remember this answer, or just make sure to remember your password (although hopefully you shouldn’t ever need it if you checked the box to save your password). Go down to the bottom and press the Next button once more.

9) Press OK, and the console will now ask your to create a unique PSN ID. Enter anything you like (this cannot be changed later) and press X. If you have entered an unused name, press X and the Next button should be available to press to continue. If you get a message and the Next button is still greyed out, you need to try a different name until you find something unique. The online ID must be 3 to 16 characters and can consist of letters, numbers, hyphens (-) and underscores (_).

10) Once you have successfully created an ID, you must fill in a couple more fields. The next page asks for your Forename, Surname and has a drop down menu to choose your gender. Fill in the name fields with anything, and then skip the drop-down menu, since it is optional. Click Next.

11) On the next page, the first field must contain a 5-digit number, so enter something like ‘12345’ or similar. You MUST select the second option in the next drop-down menu, and then enter any random characters in the remaining four fields. Click Next.

12) On the next page, leave the check-box blank and click Next.

13) Scroll down to the bottom of the next page, and click Next once again. After a couple of seconds a confirmation screen will appear, with a button for the Playstation Store. Press X, then a sign in screen will appear. Press Sign In. You should now see the Japanese Playstation Store boot up, which is where you’ll want to be for the next step.

This account can be used for all of the general Japanese Playstation Store content, including some free themes and demos that are exclusive to the JP store – although its up to you if you want to work your way around the foreign options.
Downloading Ad-Hoc Party

The hard bit’s over now. All you need to do is this:

1) Open the Playstation Store by selecting the Bag icon under the Playstation Network section of the XMB of your Japanese username.

2) Scroll down to the bottom option of the Playstation Store list, and press X

3) Press X on the first option, then on the first option once again.

4) You will see a load of different icons, you’ll need to let them load for a second – scroll down and you should find two that are green squares with white stick figures on them, one of which says “video”. You want the one that does NOT say Video. Accept the download.

5) Once it is downloaded, you will find the application listed under the GAME section of the XMB.


Setting up and Using Ad Hoc Party

1) Before booting the application, you must register your PSP to your Japanese account. To do so, select the Register Device option under the PS3’s Settings category, and select PSP, you will need to attach your PSP to the USB port of the PS3, and select USB connection to complete the registration.

2) Once this is complete, boot Ad Hoc Party. You will be greeted with a green menu. When navigating these menus, use the O button for pressing buttons, and the X button to go back – this is the standard layout for Japanese playstation software.

3) The first time you use AHP, select the top option, and press O on the various agreements.

4) Once that’s done, you can then press X to return to the top menu, and navigate down to the third option on the menu. Press O.

5) The console will now search for your PSP. Make sure the WLAN switch is set to ON, and boot up your game.

6) Enter the wireless play mode of your game, in the case of Dissidia, you must select the Online Lobby under the Communications Mode menu, and select any one of the lobbies. This will then connect you to the PS3,and you will see the name of your PSP appear on the PS3 display. You can then press O on the PS3 controller to accept the connection.

7) Return to the main menu by pressing the X button. Once you have done so, scroll to the top option, and press O to open the world viewer.

8 ) The world viewer consists of 10 worlds labelled A-J. You can use the L1 and R1 buttons to scroll between worlds – currently, J is a popular one for English speaking players. Once you have chosen a world, you need to choose a room. Each world consists of 64 rooms in the form of white segments that form a ring. A red stick figure on a white block depicts a room at full capacity, a blue stick figure represents a room with players, and grey stick figures are empty rooms. Use the analogue stick to select a room, each one is numbered from 1-64. Press O and it will zoom into that segment. Press O again to enter the room. Any room is fine, as long as you and your friend are both in the same room – such as F-16 which can be found on the far right section of world F’s ring.

9) Once in a room, you will then see stick figures representing players, and houses representing peoples games. You can press START to type and chat, and using the analogue move the cursor. Pressing O with the cursor will allow you to either move to that location (the top option), or create a new game (the bottom option).

10) When creating a game, you will be given a menu with five options. Pressing the top one will allow you to edit the room name,and the second will allow you to edit it’s description. Press O on the left of the two buttons at the bottom to accept your game.

11) You will now be taken to a ‘lobby’ screen which shows your game. Your friend can then join your room, and you can play as if you were playing locally. Next to their stick figure on the Ad Hoc Party lobby is a PSP icon, if it’s lit up you’re good to go, if not you’ll need to reconnect to the in-game lobby of what you are playing, and it should light up. Once all of the competing players’ PSP symbols are lit up. you’re ready. In the case of Dissidia, you will need to both select the same Dissidia Lobby as well (Baron, Midgar etc). You should then see them in the game’s lobby, and be able to challenge them to a fight!

It’s a lot of work, but once Ad Hoc Party is set up its fairly simple to use. Sadly, due to the language we don’t really have perfect control over some of it’s more detailed features, but this should help you do what you need. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing an English version in the future – but until then, this is the way to go.

-Leon