DDR Max 2 — 2Q2014 issue

Choos­ing a sev­enth dance card

There comes a time in every long-run­ning gam­ing fran­chise when said fran­chise has to grow up. That tran­si­tion may come in the form of a new coat of paint or through a purg­ing of char­ac­ters, a reboot, if you will. But every fran­chise goes through it, and Bemani and Dance Dance Rev­o­lu­tion, in par­tic­u­lar, are no strangers to this. By the point of Max 2, the sev­enth main mix in the series, DDR had to do some­thing at the risk of grow­ing stale. So, con­tin­u­ing the trends start­ed in Max it was.

Max 2 presents itself as an inter­est­ing beast, even if you’re inti­mate­ly famil­iar with the series. There’s a new mode to play, Oni — which intro­duces the con­cept of a “three strikes and you’re out pol­i­cy” with cours­es to play — and the over­all look and feel has been upgrad­ed from the days of yore. Max 2 rep­re­sent­ed the mid­dle of a new era for DDR, begun with the whole­sale do-over of Max. There’s not much new in the way of con­cepts for Max 2, and that’s all fine and well. Since Max’s changes were regard­ed as a fail­ure and an unnec­es­sary slash-and-burn of the fran­chise, Max 2 works toward undo­ing the mess made previously.

The game does well with updat­ed aes­thet­ics. The song wheel (intro­duced in 5th Mix), the foot rat­ing (dropped in Max), Groove Radar (intro­duced in Max in favor of the foot rat­ing) and Freeze arrows return. The re-intro­duc­tion of the foot rat­ing sys­tem is the best idea that could have come from clean­ing up Max’s mess. The Groove Radar and foot rat­ing sys­tem give you all of the per­ti­nent song dif­fi­cul­ty infor­ma­tion that you will ever need. The song wheel looks bet­ter than ever since it’s now in its third iter­a­tion and Freeze arrows don’t seem to be such an aber­ra­tion as they once were in Max.

The song list is inter­est­ing mix of updates to old favorites as well as new entries aimed at adding some­thing new to DDR. Not that Max did­n’t do that very well, but Max 2 is about a greater vari­ety of songs and it shows in the fact that there’s not a new Para­noia in sight — at least in the arcade ver­sion. The home ver­sion attempts to inject a new iter­a­tion of the famil­iar song, but it’s not near­ly as suc­cess­ful as it thinks it is. Yes, Para­noia Sur­vivor, one of the boss songs of the sequel Extreme, is present and avail­able for play in the Japan­ese con­sole ver­sion, but its inclu­sion as a pre­view song isn’t real­ly nec­es­sary. And it does­n’t make a whole lot of sense. Why destroy the myth of Sur­vivor — the first 10-foot­er Para­noia — by show­ing its hand ear­ly? My prob­lem with Max 2 is illus­trat­ed by this point: The game some­times feels like a re-tread of pre­vi­ous entries, and it should­n’t. I was under the impres­sion that the rea­son for the deba­cle cre­at­ed by blow­ing up DDR with Max was to avoid just the sort of prob­lems that you’re going to run into with Max 2. Though, in its favor, Max 2 has Maxx Unlim­it­ed, which is my favorite Maxx song out of the entire bunch.

I have to com­mend Kon­a­mi for at least try­ing to right the wrongs com­mit­ted with Max’s well- mean­ing phi­los­o­phy of start­ing over. It just feels a tri­fle like Max 2 is slack­ing into old habits. Max 2 may not feel like it’s cheat­ing on its diet start­ed by Max’s slim­down but by hav­ing a few extra songs, Max 2 isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly push­ing the plate back like it should and it shows.

DDR 5th Mix — 2Q2014 issue

The last of an era for DDR

The end of an era had to come for Dance Dance Rev­o­lu­tion at some point, and that final­i­ty hit like a ton of bricks with 5th Mix. There real­ly was­n’t much of a going-away par­ty or cel­e­bra­tion of all that was DDR before the storm­ing of the gates that was Max, but 5th Mix rep­re­sent­ed the cul­mi­na­tion of the phi­los­o­phy that was danc­ing with arrows before speed mods and Freeze arrows came along and changed everything.

5th Mix isn’t bad, if you’re used to play­ing DDR. At this point, every­thing is in place and you should know how things work: You step on four dif­fer­ent arrows in time with songs in three dif­fi­cul­ties: Basic, Trick and Mani­ac. You miss enough times, it’s game over. If you should pass the song, you’re grad­ed on how well you did. 5th Mix does­n’t intro­duce any­thing new mechan­ics-wise, and that’s fine con­sid­er­ing it’s con­tent with let­ting you play DDR exact­ly the way you’ve played before. Instead, it makes changes in the aes­thet­ics, and that’s where change is need­ed the most.

5th Mix changed the way the DDR struc­ture looked with the great intro­duc­tion of the song wheel. Gone was the old look of CDs in a juke­box and in came a cir­cu­lar sec­tioned wheel — sim­i­lar to the one found on the “Price is Right” — that fea­tures all of the songs avail­able for play. This over­haul brings with it a bet­ter look and a bet­ter feel over­all to the game, and it does­n’t hurt that it’s the first in the series to run at 60 frames per sec­ond. Also, 5th Mix was the first in the series to intro­duce a unique col­or scheme that “rep­re­sent­ed” the mix. This brings a fresh look to the table and works won­ders with mak­ing a seem­ing­ly tired con­cept look new.

The music is anoth­er help in the revival. A few old­er favorites returned, but there’s quite a few new tunes and they stand out. One of my favorites, Heal­ing Vision ~Angel­ic Mix~, steals the show and makes its pres­ence known as a boss song as does Can’t Stop Fallin’ in Love Speed Mix and Afrono­va Primeval. The rest of the songlist is kind of take it or leave it, but there’s a good mix, which is essen­tial to any DDR mix’s long-term replay value.

Where I find a few prob­lems with 5th Mix is also with­in the song list. Thank­ful­ly, 5th Mix is the only ver­sion that fea­tures the ridicu­lous long ver­sions of a few songs. Prob­a­bly the most egre­gious of these unnec­es­sary uses of space is the over­ly long ver­sion of Dyna­mite Rave. Besides not need­ing yet anoth­er ver­sion of the elder­ly song, the long ver­sion is LONG, much too long and it bor­ders on obnox­ious. There is absolute­ly no need for a three-minute ver­sion of any already corny song that appears much too fre­quent­ly in DDR songlists in the ear­ly days. And much like Dyna­mite Rave, the oth­er long ver­sions don’t real­ly add much to the setlist. If I want to hear a ver­sion of Brit­ney Spears’ Oops I Did it Again, I’d just lis­ten to the orig­i­nal. And B4U ~Glo­ri­ous style~ is a com­plete waste of space that could have been occu­pied with oth­er wor­thy songs that did­n’t make the cut, like Rhythm and Police.

5th Mix was a good last call to an era of DDR that most play­ers did­n’t know was com­ing to an end. A pass­able song list, great upgrade over pre­vi­ous ver­sions and a stream­lined approach to the cur­rent DDR struc­ture meant a decent ver­sion to dance to with few prob­lems. It’s not the great­est DDR mix, but we can prob­a­bly safe­ly say at least it was­n’t Max. 5th Mix found its home right in the mid­dle of the series, where it was sup­posed to be all along.

Kagero: Tecmo’s Deception II2Q2014 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Gamefaqs.com and GameSpot.com

At death’s door

Some­times, games require dif­fi­cult moral choic­es that we aren’t pre­pared to han­dle. Tec­mo’s Decep­tion II wheels and deals in this dilem­ma, and it does­n’t shy away from ask­ing you, the play­er, to make some grue­some deci­sions that may just scar you for life.

Tec­mo’s Decep­tion series, as a whole, is a unique beast that requires care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion about whether you even want to start play­ing it. Most of the games in the series, Kagero includ­ed, work on the premise that you are a per­son giv­en the abil­i­ty to set traps to defend a cer­tain area from invaders. Your moti­va­tions for defend­ing the area vary, but you’re tasked with this objec­tive alone. In Kagero, you’re a young girl who was kid­napped by a group of aliens who train you to fight in their stead. To prove your worth, you’re sent to a few places in the king­dom to defend the premis­es with traps. Traps, which are pro­gres­sive­ly learned through­out the game, are your tick­ets to death. Your goal is to keep folks out of the castle/mansion/wherever. You accom­plish this by cre­at­ing com­bos of death with the traps. If there’s one thing about Kagero that’s awe­some and fas­ci­nat­ing, it’s the com­bo and trap sce­nar­ios. I’ve man­aged to kill my way through the game with some seri­ous­ly devi­ous com­bos that have to be seen to be understood.

While Kagero is tech­ni­cal inter­est­ing, the back­ground isn’t exact­ly going to set the world on fire. The graph­ics are your typ­i­cal­ly ear­ly PlaySta­tion blocky polyg­o­nal night­mares until you’re actu­al­ly in game and set­ting traps. That’s when the game real­ly shines, in terms of its look. The same thing goes for the sound­track; it’s not great but there’s a few inter­est­ing tracks that you might hum for a lit­tle while (edi­tor’s note: The track for nam­ing a char­ac­ter is one of my ring­tones), and there’s a few that will imme­di­ate­ly make you won­der if some­one was watch­ing soft­core pornog­ra­phy late at night while cre­at­ing the game’s soundtrack.

Moral­i­ty comes into play from the begin­ning. Those hard deci­sions we men­tioned before? Those are going to come in the form of who you let live and you let die. It takes a lot to kill off an entire fam­i­ly that’s man­aged to stum­ble into the cas­tle you’re guard­ing, and it takes a lot to let them escape. Full dis­clo­sure: In the 14 years that I’ve been play­ing var­i­ous runs through the game, I have nev­er killed the entire fam­i­ly, and thus, I can’t get the end­ing that involves per­fect kills. I could­n’t do it because that ques­tion being asked of me, I could­n’t answer. It’s a per­son­al choice that can’t sim­ply be solved. For some, it’s a no-brain­er; for me, it’s a deal-break­er. By the point that I’d got­ten to that choice of deaths, I was ful­ly involved in the game and thus I con­tin­ued play­ing. But, maybe if I’d known that was a fac­tor in play­ing, maybe I would­n’t have picked it up or maybe I would­n’t have tak­en the time to under­stand the depth in the game that comes from this choice. The depth is what will draw you in and keep you com­ing back, long after you’ve com­plet­ed your final mis­sion and the cred­its roll.

And that moral­i­ty clause some­times trig­gers anger with­in me. Hav­ing played numer­ous times through to the lat­er mis­sions of the game and the even­tu­al final mis­sion, I’ve had the chance to learn the nuances of the game. My anger stems from the fran­tic pace at which you must act and some­times make that moral choice. Maybe I don’t want to rush and kill a per­son (or fam­i­ly) because I need time to think about the con­se­quences of my actions. This phan­tom dead­line — usu­al­ly trig­gered by some­one’s health get­ting low — adds an unnec­es­sary time ele­ment to the pro­ceed­ings. Some­times, it caus­es pan­ic to set in and makes things worse. And your con­trols may or may not be of help then. A num­ber of things are pos­si­ble: Traps may miss, area effects will hurt you or the cooldown of a trap is too long. All of these are built into the game sys­tem, and they’re all equal­ly annoy­ing. I’ve lost count of the num­ber of times that I man­aged to die by elec­tro­cut­ing myself and my foe. Or, the num­ber of times I died because I could­n’t run fast enough in Chap­ter 23 to get away from the robots that are eas­i­ly twice as fast as I am.

And my biggest gripe comes in the lat­er chap­ters of the game. Once you’re com­mit­ted to a trap com­bo that works, you’re not real­ly encour­aged to exper­i­ment. Why exper­i­ment when it’s prob­a­bly going to get you killed? Because, make no mis­take, you’re going to die. A lot. In the lat­er chap­ters, the dif­fi­cul­ty is so high that if you weren’t cor­rect­ly set­ting your­self up con­sis­tent­ly toward the bet­ter traps, you’re going to be stuck until you can build up enough mon­ey to pur­chase the good stuff and move for­ward. The rep­e­ti­tion and stag­nan­cy becomes glar­ing­ly obvi­ous deep into the campaign.

Over­all, there’s loads of replay fac­tor in Kagero. There’s dif­fer­ent trap routes to unlock, mul­ti­ple end­ings depend­ing on who you let live and a decent sound­track and sto­ry­line that explains the method to the mad­ness of death and destruc­tion. Be fore­warned, how­ev­er: You need to be ready to play judge, jury and exe­cu­tion­er if you want to sur­vive the emo­tion­al onslaught of Kagero.

Metroid Prime — 2Q2014 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of GameSpot.com

The return of Samus after 8 years is welcome

As a long­time fan of the Metroid fran­chise, I sup­pose I could be for­giv­en for not mak­ing the imme­di­ate leap onto the Prime band­wag­on. After all, Super Metroid is my bea­con of hope still shin­ing for 2D games, a sym­bol of the pin­na­cle that the genre reached. I mean, I plan to name my first­born daugh­ter Samus. That’s how much I love Metroid. So, when Prime hit the shelves, I was duly skep­ti­cal. It had been eight long years with­out so much as of a whiff of Samus’ scent in the mar­ket of solo games and I was starv­ing. Enter Prime.

Prime isn’t so much a pure Metroid game as it is a com­bi­na­tion of Metroid and first-per­son shoot­ers of the day. What you need to know to under­stand Prime is that it’s set between Metroid and Metroid II: Return of Samus, and it’s the first real game in the series to start putting the pieces of the Metroid saga togeth­er. Samus roams around Tal­lon IV to uncov­er the past of the Chozo (her care­tak­ers after the death of her par­ents in a Space Pirate raid), and takes on the vil­lain­ous group, who are con­duct­ing bio­log­i­cal exper­i­ments on the plan­et. That’s the meat of the sto­ry essen­tial­ly, but it most­ly means that you’re going to do some explor­ing. This being Metroid and all.

The first-per­son con­trols could have been haz­ardous to the game’s health but they aren’t. They’re actu­al­ly sim­ple to use and sur­pris­ing­ly easy to get used to even if you’re inti­mate­ly famil­iar with Super Metroid’s set­up. My main con­cern was how does Samus’ action trans­late to the first-per­son mold? Can she still move around flu­id­ly? And, how is the action han­dled when she has to switch to Morph Ball mode? All of these ques­tions were imme­di­ate­ly answered with a sim­ple playthrough. Action is flu­id and move­ment is clean and paced well. There are no prob­lems with switch­ing modes, and I rather liked how that is han­dled. It’s almost as if some­one on the devel­op­ment team at Retro Stu­dios remem­bered what it was like to imag­ine you were Samus in the Varia Suit.

I appre­ci­at­ed the atmos­phere of Prime, con­sid­er­ing that if a game is to be called Metroid in any way, it must have the “Metroid atmos­phere.” I cer­tain­ly got that as I mean­dered through maze-like cav­erns with fore­bod­ing music play­ing gen­tly in the back­ground. What I appre­ci­at­ed about the sound­track most­ly was the use of old themes to tie the games togeth­er. You can tell you’re play­ing a Metroid game if you lis­ten hard enough, and I liked that the issue was­n’t thrown in my face con­stant­ly. I did­n’t need to be hit over the head repeat­ed­ly that this is a Metroid tale, and the music was polite about remind­ing me.

My only prob­lem with Prime is that while it feels like a Metroid game should, I was­n’t that immersed in the tale. Every Metroid game released up to this point, I played through and was engaged thor­ough­ly. Prime? I real­ly could­n’t get into the sto­ry that much, and I did­n’t real­ly care all that much about the Chozo. I real­ized that because of the way Metroid ends, Samus can’t real­ly go back to the Moth­er Brain issue. How­ev­er, Prime just struck me as boring.

Prime was the start of a good thing, obvi­ous­ly, since there are two sequels and a host of spin­off games. What I was most pleased with, how­ev­er, was the fact that Samus returned in top form. It was about time. Eight years was way too long to go with­out using some ver­sion of the “Metroid instinct.”

Macross M32Q2014 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of GameSpot.com

Pilot­ing your dreams in Macross

William Har­ri­son, GI con­tribut­ing editor

As you may not know, I used to want to be a fight­er pilot because of an old car­toon I saw called Robot­ech. Then, I was intro­duced to the real series called Macross, and my love for all things that flew was renewed even more. I also want­ed to take up engi­neer­ing to make the Varitech fight­ers I love so much a real­i­ty; hell, I may still get that chance one day or some­where my designs may help some­one do what I could­n’t in my life­time. Any­way, we’re here to talk about a game that nev­er made it to the U.S. because of the man who made Robot­ech famous and is an out-and-out bad per­son. Macross M3 is up and its Varitechs, Zin­tredies and mis­siles, oh my!

The game takes place dur­ing the time Max was start­ing out up till he meets Meria. From then on, you can choose either Max or Meria until the point in the sto­ry where their daugh­ter is born. Then, you can only choose her as a playable char­ac­ter. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I don’t know if you get to play as any­one else because there is a mis­sion short­ly after their daugh­ter joins U.N. Spa­cy and has a cri­sis of con­science, which is where my ven­ture ends. I’m not sure if there’s a glitch at this point or a choice that is made that can change that. So, I don’t know how the game ends but that does­n’t mean the game isn’t worth playing. 

The con­trols have improved com­pared to its pre­vi­ous coun­ter­parts of the VF‑X series. The graph­ics for this Dream­cast title are a lot smoother than the PS1 games, as well, but you would expect that.

The game­play, how­ev­er, seems to present not much of a chal­lenge as its VFX coun­ter­part. The learn­ing curve may not seem to be there, but it is in the form of a mis­sion where the dif­fi­cul­ty goes from “Oh that’s nice” to “Oh god, why won’t you die?!” I did find it fun­ny that I ran out of mis­siles only to dis­cov­er lat­er that they refill over time. Noth­ing real­ly stands out too much but the graph­ics and the sto­ry that I can fig­ure out is good. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I was unable to fin­ish this game because at the time my grasp of the Japan­ese lan­guage was very nonex­is­tent.

The last word on this is that it’s a real­ly fun game and presents a good time to be had by all. Well, except for the fact that at least that one stage is a pain. My score for the game would be high­er if I was able to fin­ish the game and I may still one day. Until then, if it some­how finds its way to your door, invite it in, have a good time and share a bit of sake with the essence of an old friend.

Macross VF-X22Q2014 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of GiantBomb.com

Find your way in the stars

ありがと ございました おなしと の おとこのしと!

And for the non-Nihon­go speak­ing, thank you ladies and gen­tle­men! It’s great to be

William Har­ri­son, GI con­tribut­ing editor

back and for the Far East­ern (Nihon, Nihon­go = Japan­ese lan­guage) issue. I under­stand that a lot of peo­ple may be won­der­ing why it’s not called Robot­ech. Well, let’s just stick with the ver­sion that was released in Japan. The fun­ny thing is, this game was actu­al­ly sched­uled for an Amer­i­can release but was lat­er can­celed because of the “cre­ator” of the Robot­ech series. His demands were a bit on the ridicu­lous side and rather than bow to him, Big West/Bandai Visu­al (before it merged with Nam­co) made sure that the Amer­i­can release nev­er saw the light of day.

But if you knew the right places to go and were will­ing to pay the price, you could have your very own copy like I do. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to play it, but this is still one of the best games I have played in a long time and the fan boy in me was all over this when I saw it in an import store in Greenville, S.C. I fell in love with Macross VF-X2.

VF-X2 is a flight-style com­bat shoot­er with a bit of an arcade feel to it, loads of fun and not too bad of a sto­ry to add to the Macross uni­verse. You are Arges Fock­er, rook­ie pilot who joins the U.N. Spa­cy and is short­ly recruit­ed to the Raven Fight­ing Squadron. You bat­tle through sev­er­al mis­sions, pilot­ing sev­er­al of the vari­able fight­ers from the orig­i­nal Valkyre to the VF-22 (Macross plus YF-21: The 21 was des­ig­nat­ed the 22 to hon­or Guld Goa Bow­man after his death). 

The game plays very well and the sounds and effects will put you in the right frame of mind of the Macross series, but, unfor­tu­nate­ly, it does have a few bugs.

One of the main bugs occurs when you beat the game: The clos­ing cin­e­mat­ic glitch­es and plays for two frames then either freezes or boots you to the cred­its screen. That’s heart­break­ing because it kind of ruins that whole sat­is­fac­tion of beat­ing the game. The game is sol­id as a whole, but the glitch­es kind of cut into the fun. If you love Robotech/Macross, don’t let the glitch­es keep you from a sol­id rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the series.