Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
It seems like I'm always more passionate about a game when it's a hidden gem. It's like finding buried treasure; you've found this amazing thing and no one knows about it but you. But when it comes to videogames, instead of keeping that treasure to myself, I share it with the world and tell anyone who will listen about this awesome, unknown game that I've found.
I feel like a lot of people mistake a hidden gem for a "cult classic." To clarify, a hidden gem, in a very short description, is a well-made game that didn't get the recognition that it deserved for one reason or another. A cult classic, on the other hand, is a game that is technically flawed, sometimes extremely so, but still manages to bring a certain amount of fun to those who play it. That's why you won't find Deadly Premonition on this list. Yes, I played it, and yes, I really enjoyed it, but I can't sit here in good conscience and tell you that it's a well made game. It's poorly put together, but still incredibly fun.
Another one people may expect on here is Alan Wake. Let me start my saying that Alan Wake is one of my favorite games of the entire generation, and I'm glad to see that people finally seem to be giving it the credit it deserves. But it was in no way hidden, it was a very prominent release.
No, the games I'm talking about are the ones you could walk into a game store, see on the shelf, have never heard of before, overlook, never give a second thought, and be wrong for doing so. With that said, as always, let's begin with an honorable mention.
If there's one genre I wish would have a renaissance, it's the 2D platformer. There have been some really good ones in recent years, stuff like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Rayman Origins/Legends, and Donkey Kong Country Returns/Tropical Freeze. Everyone is familiar with the Playstation exclusive LittleBigPlanet, but another PS only platformer that gets sorely overlooked is Puppeteer.
The story is presented as a stage play, complete with audience "oohs and aahs," giving it a very unique premise. While it has your standard platforming action consisting of jumping to new heights and depths, as well as on top of enemies in order to dispose of them, what sets it apart is the use of scissors to cut your way to new areas and to, quite literally, cut down your enemies. The character you control is a puppet. Get it? You're the puppeteer. The puppet gets new heads that can be used to find different secrets through each heads unique abilities.
The only drawback is that if you're going for 100% completion, you'll need a walkthrough, as there's no way to know which head will be needed at the start of each level. It's a really solid game, and worth playing if you're looking for a game that does something new with an old standard.
Last generation was to the first-person shooter what the PS2 was to survival horror, they were just everywhere. After the monumental success of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, there was a boom of FPS games. It seemed like every week there was a new one hitting the shelves. While some were satisfied to be a status quo military shooter, there were some that tried to do something new. They ranged from awesome (BioShock) to average (TimeShift) to terrible (Darkest of Days) to forgettable (Homefront). The ones that turned out awesome usually wound up getting a significant amount of praise and exposure, but occasionally one of those games wound up getting lost in the shuffle. Enter, Singularity.
This game apparently had a marketing budget of $0. It was published by Activision, a company whose entire marketing budget for the year was spent on the Call of Duty and, at the time, Guitar Hero franchises, so a lesser known title like Singularity was basically sent out to die. It was developed by Raven Software, who were primarily PC developers who had only ventured into the console arena with a handful of games prior, the most notable being the X-Men Legends games and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, though they did have some experience with shooters. I would suggest that Singularity was their best game before being relegated to assisting the "big boys" with their Call of Duty games every year.
It combined things like time travel, world and time manipulation, alternate timelines, and some survival horror for good measure. Cap it off with solid controls and you have a winner. It's too bad Singularity wasn't more of a hit, I would love to see what Raven could make if they were given the keys to the castle again. Some of the powers you receive via the Time Manipulation Device were really fun to play around with, my personal favorite being the ability to envelope an enemy in a cloud where time is stopped, shooting several dozen bullets into it, and seeing them all hit them at once when the cloud disappeared. Singularity is the best unknown shooter you can find on the Xbox 360/PS3.
By 2010, the combat racing genre had grown pretty stale for me. Games that were well received by critics like Blur and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing just didn't interest me. Even the old standby of Mario Kart Wii had grown tiresome, which is why it was so strange for me to be as interested in Split/Second as I was. Normally on a title like this I would have waited for it to be in the $20 range, but luckily for me, I was able to get it for that price the week after it was released. Amazon had it on sale for $40 and I had a $20 credit from purchasing Super Mario Galaxy 2, so I figured "Why not?" By the way, Amazon, you should go back to the $20 credit program. Just saying.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect when it arrived at my door. I had read a few reviews and they were mostly positive, and the game looked beautiful from the trailers I had taken the time to watch. What really hooked me was the way the combat was done. Instead of getting pickups and using those against your rivals, you instead filled up a meter, which was done by drifting and drafting behind another vehicle. Your meter had three bars, and each bar could be used to trigger a different environmental hazard when you approached it. For instance, you could trigger a warehouse door to shut and cut off a shortcut just before another car tried going through, causing them to crash. If you managed to build your meter all the way up, you could literally trigger world-changing events like an airplane crashing into the track, which would altar the course on subsequent laps.
My personal favorite part about the game is that you have several game modes outside of regular races that you'll need to play in order to progress. You had things like "Elimination" where you're given intervals of time, and whoever is in last place when time runs out is eliminated. My personal favorite--and the most challenging--is "Helicopter Attack" where you have to dodge missiles from a chopper, hoping to reach the new top distance. Unfortunately, developer Black Rock Studios was shut down back in 2011, which is a shame because the game's reality show premise ended on a cliffhanger, and I was really hoping to see a sequel.
The original A Boy and His Blob on the NES is a game I still have very fond memories of despite its many flaws. The game was really opaque, and I would spend hours just running around the beginning areas, feeding the Blob random jelly beans hoping that something would help me progress. I was about five years old at that time, so my comprehension of how to play what is essentially a PC adventure game on the NES was more or less non existent. But it was one of those games that I always remembered and would think about from time to time.
When it was announced and the first images were revealed of the 2009 remake on the Wii, I was practically giddy. The original NES game always reminded me of my childhood, and when I first saw screenshots and art of this one, it made me feel like a kid again. I wasn't as familiar with WayForward then as I am now (they're easily one of my favorite developers today), but I had played a few of their titles on the Nintendo DS, so I knew that they made quality stuff. I knew this game was in capable hands, and boy, they completely hit it out of the park. The changes they made from the original like having levels instead of one continuous world, showing you what each jelly bean did, giving you an infinite amount of them, and only giving you the type of beans that you needed for each level, were all things that would have made the NES more playable.
It doesn't hurt that the game's art style is gorgeous and looks like something straight from the mind of a ten year old in art class. It's a pretty simplistic platformer with hints of puzzles throughout your journey, as well as some neat secrets to find, which will show up back at your tree house between levels. There was also a designated button just to give the Blob a hug, and I couldn't help but spam that button every time Blob helped me out.
Before I bested The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, I used to tell people that the only Zelda game that I had finished was 3D Dot Game Heroes. Much like Split/Second, I'm not sure why I was so drawn to this game, as I was never much of a Zelda fan before then. I'm pretty sure I bought it solely based on how in love I was (and am) with the art style. Since it was published by Atlus in America, and by all accounts looked like it was going to be a very niche title, I knew that I had to pick it up on day one if I planned on playing it. That turned out not to be as true as I thought, though only my local GameStop had it in stock when I went in early that morning.
It wasn't until I played A Link Between Worlds that I realized just how much of an homage 3D Dot Game Heroes is to the legendary franchise. It's pretty blatant, but as the the old saying goes: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." What's even more interesting is that this was the first full game from Silicon Studio, who would later go on to develop last year's 3DS hit, Bravely Default. Much like the original Legend of Zelda, the game doesn't hold your hand at all, and I did find myself occasionally needing to resort to the internet. But one of the coolest things about that is that they did not produce a strategy guide to the game, which resulted in the community banding together in order to find every last secret. It was like a modern day version of the playground discussions I had in elementary school.
Great retro-styled music, creative dungeons, a fun world, and a multitude of videogame "in jokes" makes 3D Dot Game Heroes one of the unsung--ahem, hereos--on the PlayStation 3. When it comes to PlayStation exclusives, we're all familiar with the Uncharteds and the God of Wars, but 3D Dot Game Heroes is one that should not be overlooked if you're trying to find something new and interesting to play, it's fun for both retro and modern gamers alike.
I was such a huge fan of the Sands of Time trilogy of the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era that it really didn't matter what Ubisoft did with this game. It said "Prince of Persia" on the front of the box, therefore, I was already committed to purchasing it without a lot of prior knowledge. I even went as far as purchasing the limited edition of both the game and the strategy guide (because I have a thing for strategy guides). Luckily, the game turned out to be one of my favorites of the generation. It was released in 2008, so it was an early title in the generation's lifespan, and even though there were games that were graphically more impressive from a technological standpoint, this is still my favorite looking game of the generation outside of Super Mario Galaxy. It just goes to show that a game with great art direction will continue to look good long after the console becomes obsolete (see Wind Waker).
This game was a departure from the Sands trilogy, as it features a different protagonist and doesn't deal with time manipulation, opting rather for a non-intrusive companion character who can save you should you happen to fall to what would normally be your death. And that may perhaps be the game's main flaw, you literally can not die. If you fall, your companion, Elika, saves you. If you're low on health, Elika saves you. I personally didn't mind this, but I know some prefer a more challenging experience. The game is also less combat focused than previous games. While you do have the ability to dole out some pretty flashy combos, the main appeal of this game is the world traversal. Each new area was a big puzzle, and every little section therein a mini-puzzle. It sometimes became a game of trial and error, but there was something so satisfying about finally nailing a difficult platforming section after repeated failed attempts.
The game also features one of my favorite ending sequences in all of gaming. When the game was over, I had a blast going back in and collecting every single light seed, even if it was just for a few extra achievement points. I was clamoring for more content, but unfortunately, the extra content that was eventually released negated the awesome ending. So, I would suggest playing through the game and then stopping, completely forgoing the epilogue. I was glad to see that the game sold fairly well, and perhaps some wouldn't consider this a hidden gem. You may be right, it may actually be less "hidden" and more "forgotten." Either way, I suggest the game to anyone who will listen, and it's pretty cheap now, so there's no excuse.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
How's that for a category name? Rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it? Over the course of the last few weeks I've written about my favorite Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo exclusive games, so I figured the best way to round out this 16-bit series of blogs is with my favorite multi-platform games from the era. Some of the games on the list differ on their respective platforms, but for the most part, they're the same game. As with the previous couple of blogs, there were a ton of games to choose from, so here's a few honorable mentions:
I didn't even know that the TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine existed until about ten years ago, so it's understandable why I didn't include any games from those consoles. I included Rondo of Blood on my top Castlevania games list, and even though it was exclusive to Japan, it's now playable in several forms in America and elsewhere. If you're a fan of the series or retro 2D games in general, Rondo is a must-play.
And now, the offical 5.
This may seem like a very weird choice, but I had so much fun playing Clue on the Genesis back in the day. Whether I was playing with friends or by myself, I never had a bad time with it. I've never been the type to play board games in their videogame iteration, but Clue was different somehow. Maybe it's because I've never played Clue in it's intended board game form. I had the Sega Channel as a youngster, and every time a new month started and they doled out the new games, I would always check to see if Clue was still there (or making a comeback). The months where it wasn't included were always a drag.
When it comes to nostalgia for the game, I've always remembered a time where I woke up early on a Saturday and couldn't fall back to sleep. It was probably around 6 a.m., and instead of trying to go back to sleep, I played two games of Clue, and wound up winning both because Professor Plum is unstoppable.
Plum was always my character of choice, and I never understood why until I saw the movie. It's because Doc Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd, plays the professor. It's also one of Tim Curry's best performances. What I'm saying is you should go watch Clue if you've never seen it before.
If there were one genre that I found to be synonymous with the early 90s, it's the beat 'em up. Of course we think of titles like Final Fight, Streets of Rage, and Turtles in Time, but one of my favorites was Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage. I've never been a comic book guy, but I know who Spider-Man and Venom are, and that was enough for me to want to play the game. It also didn't hurt that the cartridge was a different color than most on the SNES, making it stand out from the pack like a big, red penguin.
In terms of the actual gameplay, you won't find anything special. It's your standard punch, kick, and jump fare, but the thing that really stood out was just how deliciously 90s the game was, even more so than Comix Zone. Everything about it just screams "alt rock." So much, in fact, that the 90s rock band Green Jelly aren't just featured, but they actually wrote and produced the soundtrack. I remember their logo being prominently featured on the games start up screen. Who was Green Jelly, you might ask? I'm not surprised you don't remember. Well, I wasn't too familiar with them, but if there was one song you may know, it's "Three Little Pigs." Fun fact: when doing research, I discovered that Tool drummer, Danny Carey, was the drummer for Green Jelly for a five year span, and that Tool's singer, Maynard James Keenan, does backing vocals on "Three Little Pigs." That was fun to discover, because even though I don't listen to them much anymore, I still consider Tool to be one of my all-time favorite bands.
Anyway, the game looks great, as it's done in its native comic book style, and it controls really well. The only drawbacks are that the game is pretty difficult, and you don't actually get to do a whole lot of Spider-Manny stuff. You climb up a building at one point, and you can use the web-sling, but it only transports you as far as the edge of the screen, so it's pretty pointless. Nevertheless, a solid game on either platform you choose to play it on.
I played a lot of sports games as a kid, but I was always partial to the ones that were over-the-top, like Base Wars, NFL Blitz, and Mutant League Hockey . But the one I spent the most time with was NBA Jam: Tournament Edition. I played it on the Super Nintendo, and for the most part, it was a pretty good arcade port. NBA Jam was well known for its plethora of secrets, like "Big Head Mode," being able to add Hot Spots, which increased the amount of points you'd receive if you made a shot standing on that spot, full-court dunks, and of course, tons of secret characters like Will Smith, Hillary Clinton, and George Clinton (no relation...that I'm aware of).
Unfortunately, the game didn't have my two favorite basketball players, which were Michael Jordan and Shaq. I assume the reason is because they both had their own games, but let's not talk about those. Since I couldn't play as them, my team of choice was actually the "Rookies" team, which featured 20 different combinations of NBA rookies from that year. I usually went with Grant Hill and Jason Kidd, which makes me feel really old because I remember when Grant Hill and Jason Kidd were rookies.
But I can't talk about NBA Jam without mentioning the announcer. It's one of the most recognizable voices in videogame history, and few things hit all my nostalgia buttons than hearing "He's on fire" or "Boomshakalaka."
The original Mortal Kombat, while not technically on the same level as Street Fighter II from a fighting game perspective, changed my life in ways that Street Fighter II didn't. I had played the arcade version at a local Putt-Putt several times, and got the Genesis version for Christmas the year it was available. The blood code, to me, is on the same level of importance as the Konami Code, and it's been etched in my memory since the day I learned it.
Mortal Kombat was one of the few games that brought my brother and I closer as children (at least momentarily). We would play for hours on our weekend evenings, usually with one of his friends, fighting match after match. I was never the type to compare games to their predecessors as a kid, but when Mortal Kombat II came to our Genesis, I could tell immediately that it was an improvement over the original in every conceivable way. The characters were better, there were twice as many, everyone now had two fatalities, there were more arenas, they included special stage fatalities like the Acid Bath, and they included the ridiculous "friendship" and "babality" finishers. I always thought the babalities were kind of stupid, but I did get a kick out of the friendships.
I lost the luster for fighting games when I played the original version of Street Fighter IV and realized that I didn't enjoy it at all, though I still tried to get into the 2011 reboot of Mortal Kombat, but it was all for naught. I have no intention of playing Mortal Kombat X later this year, and honestly I probably won't go back and play any old Mortal Kombat games, either. But the memories I have of staying up late and fighting an absent player two just so I could try all of the fatalities is one that I hold very dear to my heart.
If any game from the 16-bit era emerged as a cult classic, Zombies Ate My Neighbors is it. And it's only fitting, considering that the game itself is inspired by cult classic films like Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. It's also one of the best co-op games you can find, and I'm not just referring to it's generation. ZAMN is one of those games that my wife and I could pop in, play for a couple hours and have an absolute blast.
At the risk of sounding like an old man complaining that "they just don't make 'em like they used to," whoever they are, it just bums me out that there aren't games like Zombies Ate My Neighbors anymore, at least not in the console space. I would love to see an HD upgrade of ZAMN and put out on the various downloadable services. Unfortunately, when LucasArts was acquired by Disney and later shut down, most of that hope went out the window. While LucasArts did release a sequel called Ghoul Patrol, and other games done in the same style like Herc's Adventures, it's just a shame that no one has come along to play mad scientist and try to concoct the perfect mix of great gameplay, humor, horror, and all things camp like Zombies did.
ZAMN is the perfect Halloween game, but regardless of what time of the year you play it, it'll always be fun. It's one of my favorite games of all-time, and you owe it to yourself to track down a copy if you've never given it a shot.
Thus concludes 16-bit month for my weekly top 5s, I hope you guys enjoyed them.
Monday, January 19, 2015
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Usually I do an honorable mention on these lists, which is basically a cheap way for me to include the game that barely missed the cut and give it some recognition, but this was, so far, the hardest list for me to narrow down. This easily could have been a top 10 (or top 20, for that matter) blog, so instead of writing in depth about an honorable mention, here's some of the games that just barely missed the cut:
Three of those games are titles that appeared on Weekly Top 5: Games I Can Finally Remove From My Backlog, and that's kind of the reason I felt weird putting them on the official list. Whenever I do a list based around retro games, my nostalgia plays a great part in determining what makes the cut and what doesn't, and since those three were games that I've played within the last year, I felt the need to keep them as honorable mentions. That doesn't take away from the fact that they are not only three great SNES games, but they're three of the best games I've ever played. That being said, let's continue with my top 5 Super Nintendo games.
The Blue Bomber was so beloved on the NES that it was hard to imagine how they could improve upon the formula, but improve it they did. X controls so well and has many more options at his disposal than the original Mega Man, like the ability to wall jump and dash while in the air. There's also an added incentive of exploration, as you can find secret areas that hold permanent upgrades for X outside of the new weapons you get from defeating bosses.
Speaking of bosses, I've always preferred the Mavericks to the Robot Masters. I just think they're cooler. Not that Wood Man and Guts Man aren't without their merits, but I'd rather battle enemies with more intimidating designs and names like Storm Eagle and...Boomer Kuwanger? Whatever that is.
I still prefer the original Mega Man series on NES, but I didn't play any games in the X series other than the original, but I've heard they vary in quality.
I hope the future that my distant descendants experience is more akin to that of Contra III: Alien Wars than to something like Fallout 3 or Rage. The latter future seems drab and depressing, while the former future seems exhilarating/terrifing. I imagine that in the Contra future, Slayer's "Raining Blood" has become the new national anthem.
If you're looking for run 'n gun mayhem on the Super Nintendo, then look no further. It took everything that was great about Contra and Super C and cranked it to 11. There are more things to do in this game than just run to the right and shoot, as Konami placed a greater emphasis on platforming with the use of poles and ladders to traverse the hostile terrain. And they revamped the weapon system, enabling you to now carry two weapons at a time and switch to them on the fly, as well as the inclusion of bombs that can be used to take out every enemy on the screen.
The level design is also improved and more over-the-top than before, including a level where you ride on missiles. But I can't mention the levels without talking about the two top-down stages. Being an early SNES title, they had to find a way to include some Mode 7 sections, and these two levels almost ruin the game. Okay, that's not necessarily true, but they slow down the action and take you out of your rhythm, and the controls always take some getting used to no matter how many times I play it.
Before I fell in love with videogames, I fell in love with baseball, and that has never changed. I'm still an avid fan of the sport, even though the Reds continually break my heart, year after year. There were tons of baseball games on the NES, and I played almost all of them. So when I got my Super Nintendo, I knew I had to find a good baseball game to play. Every year for my birthday, rather than getting presents, I would acquire a whole bunch of money and my parents would take me anywhere I wanted to spend it. I usually had a videogame in mind that I wanted, so the local K-Mart was where I usually asked to go. After seeing commercials for Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball (which is how it's usually referred to), I knew I had to have it, and to this day is one of the best purchasing decisions I've ever made.
I still play this game. I'm not kidding, I'm in the middle of a season as we speak. It's cartoony and colorful, but is still a solid baseball simulation for the time. You don't have the options that you would with the current MLB series, but that's the reason I love it. I don't need different pitches and different swing types. I also don't need a single game lasting an hour, because I can knock a game of Ken Griffey out in 10 minutes. My only complaint is that the game had the MLB license, but not the license to the Player's Association, so even though I knew who most of the players were, with the exception of the player the game is named after, they were all given fake names, and each team had it's own theme for player names (the Reds got famous authors).
The game is so good that even though there was a second game with Griffey's likeness on the SNES, this is the one that everyone refers to as "Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball" like I mentioned earlier.
Turtles in Time is one of those games whose quality hasn't diminished one iota over time. It's just as fun today as it was when it was released, and is arguably the greatest licensed game of all-time. The Turtles are timeless, although I don't think anyone is going to argue with me if I say that the cartoon I grew up with was the best incarnation our shelled heroes. It's safe to assume that if you had an NES, you probably owned the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and possibly TMNT 2: The Arcade Game (complete with free Pizza Hut coupon if you bought the game new). The third title, The Manhattan Project, was a little more obscure and is more difficult to find for a good price these days, but it's essentially a somewhat better looking version of the NES arcade port with a few extras thrown in.
Say what you will about those games, but I still love all of them. Sure, the original game on the NES is not necessarily a good game, and although it has very little to do with the cartoon that I loved, I still enjoy the heck out of the game to this day. But nothing could have prepared me for just how great Turtles in Time turned out to be. To this day, it remains my favorite beat 'em up, and I still pop it in from time to time. If I had to be nitpicky, the game is pretty short. While there are a lot of (awesome) levels, playing this game with a buddy means we finish it in under 30 minutes. But to the its credit, this is the kind of game that you can restart as soon as you finish it because it's just so much darn fun.
Lastly, I can't overstate just how much I enjoy the music. It's possibly my favorite game soundtrack ever, and I can immediately pick out any theme as soon as I hear it. It's also unanimously heralded as superior to its arcade version, which is not something that you hear very often.
One of the community blog topics on Destructoida few months back was for us to write about our all-time favorite games, and I went with Super Mario World, because it's scientifically perfect based on the research that I've conducted with 7-year-old me. This was a no-brainer, but then I remembered that a semi-rare SNES cartridge took Super Mario World and coupled it with updated versions of three other great Mario games (Lost Levels is also included, but it's not great...or good...or worth playing) in Super Mario All Stars.
Yeah, I'm kind of cheating by including what's basically a predecessor to the HD collections that are so prevalent today. It's like me saying the best game on the PS3 is the Metal Gear Solid Legacy Collection. Actually, that wouldn't be a bad idea. Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Super Mario All Stars often gets overlooked in the pantheon of Super Nintendo games, and it's easy to do so. Most don't look at it as a brand new game, but I feel that thanks to the superior power the SNES had over its predecessor, the updated graphics make it look and feel fresh.
It also doesn't hurt that it was later put on the same cart with the greatest game ever made. Science!