Track & Field II3Q2015 issue

Spirit of an Olympic champion

Hear­ing the name Track & Field II eas­ily cre­ates pow­er­ful nos­tal­gia in me. I was a young girl learn­ing the ins and outs of an NES in 1989 when my older brother, Tony, brought home the Olympic con­test title. It was the last year that we lived in the same house and had time to sit down and play video games together. That was the year that I learned what it meant to duel an older sib­ling who had far bet­ter hand-and-eye coor­di­na­tion and reflexes and why teenagers seem to do much bet­ter at games than lit­tle kids.
I’m no Olympic ath­lete so I’d rather try my hand at the dig­i­tal ver­sions. Track & Field II offers a vir­tual bounty of events from which to choose, and all of them are pretty faith­fully recre­ated from their orig­i­nal coun­ter­parts. There are 12 events to choose from, with three that can be cho­sen in dif­fer­ent modes or as spe­cial events.
The events, rang­ing from hur­dles to gym­nas­tics and swim­ming, are fun to try but frus­trat­ing to learn the nuances. It took con­sul­ta­tion with Tony, an NES Max con­troller and many years to get the hang of cer­tain events. This is mostly because there wasn’t a lot of info out there in the days before the Inter­net and because, again, I had ter­ri­ble untrained coor­di­na­tion and reflexes. Even today, with a wealth of tips out there, it’s still hard to get a bull’s-eye in the archery, and it’s been nearly 30 years. Graph­i­cally, there’s a few things to look at, espe­cially for an NES title. It’s not going to set the world on fire but the graph­ics are fine for the time period and don’t detract from the over­all expe­ri­ence.
The music, while not espe­cially mem­o­rable, is still ser­vice­able. It’s not some­thing you’re going to be hum­ming well after you’ve put down that turbo con­troller, but it’s not bad, either. A lot of the tracks are well done and fit the gen­eral mood of the event you’re par­tic­i­pat­ing in. There are a lot of sound effects in the game and they are gen­er­ally what make the game what it is.
The nos­tal­gic fac­tor is what keeps me com­ing back to what is a gen­er­ally frus­trat­ing game. That nos­tal­gia is what turns a poten­tially controller-throwing hur­dles event into a first-place tri­umph over a noto­ri­ously hard A.I. that likes to pun­ish at every chance.
It’s my chance to feel like the Olympic cham­pion that I will never be.

Donkey Kong Jr. — 3Q2015 issue

Like father, like son

I don’t believe there is any­one who reads GI who doesn’t know that I don’t care for Don­key Kong. By now, it should be painfully obvi­ous that I don’t care for the simian’s retro exploits or his more recent out­ings, either. It’s not that I don’t respect what the great ape has done for gam­ing; it’s more that I feel he gets credit for mediocre-to-horrible games. Don­key Kong Jr. falls on the lower end of the spec­trum.
Much the same tripe as the orig­i­nal, you’re tasked with sav­ing some­one by mov­ing across hell and high water. But wait, this time it’s dif­fer­ent! No, you aren’t sav­ing Pauline this time around; no, you’re Don­key Kong Jr., the scion of Kong­dom sav­ing your incor­ri­gi­ble father from the clutches of evil human Mario. The fact that another ape has to save his parental fig­ure from Mario in a com­plete role rever­sal begs sev­eral ques­tions: Where was Junior when his father was kid­nap­ping inno­cent maid­ens and run­ning ram­pant? Why would Mario even bother to kid­nap the great ape in the first place? Sure, there’s the motive of revenge, but you’re never going to get your ques­tion answered, try as you might. You just have to accept that DK needs sav­ing and it’s up to you, his reli­able off­spring, to do the job.
Hop­ing that your adven­ture in sav­ing your father is worth it, the game tasks you in uti­liz­ing a jump­ing and climb­ing mechanic that may or may not work, depend­ing on where you are height wise. Any fall more than a few pix­els high will kill you, which makes about as much sense as the kid­nap­ping caper you seem to be embroiled in. Who­ever had the bright idea to make jump­ing a chore and maneu­ver­ing your ape around impos­si­ble obvi­ously didn’t get that this was a bad design deci­sion imme­di­ately. See­ing as though they are the only skills your ape has, it would have been a lit­tle bit wiser to make those work well.
Instead, you’ll watch Junior repeat­edly get eaten alive by croc­o­diles (we’re not sure why a plumber would employ these dan­ger­ous live crea­tures to kill an ape), nailed by ran­dom falling objects and fall to his obvi­ous and hor­rific death, all because he’s under­de­vel­oped at jump­ing and climb­ing.
And while you’re wit­ness­ing this obvi­ous act of poach­ing, it’d be wise to use some head­phones. The music, much like the orig­i­nal game, isn’t the great­est and it will get monot­o­nous imme­di­ately. Don­key Kong Coun­try this isn’t.
Your best bet is to try the game just for the nos­tal­gic fac­tor in see­ing a pretty rare char­ac­ter; Junior was last seen, by my count, in Super Mario Kart for the SNES. He isn’t putting in too many other appear­ances and maybe, just maybe, it was this trip out of the jun­gle that con­vinced him to let his father do all of the adven­tur­ing in the fam­ily. This bar­rel isn’t full of laughs or a blast.

Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny — 3Q2015 issue

Onimusha 2 has ele­ments of sat­is­fy­ing sequel

Pre­vi­ously, I reviewed the first game in Capcom’s crit­i­cally acclaimed series Onimusha, where his­toric fig­ures and moments in Japan­ese his­tory were mixed with action/adventure gam­ing, third-person com­bat and brief moments of puz­zle solv­ing. After play­ing the first game, I won­dered if the sec­ond install­ment would keep the suc­cess­ful for­mula and raise the bar for future install­ments. When I received Onimusha 2: Samu­rai Des­tiny, I put on my custom-made samu­rai armor and pre­pared to have my ques­tions answered.
Onimusha 2 con­tin­ues the plot of cho­sen war­riors work­ing to pre­vent Oda Nobunaga from uni­fy­ing Japan through the use of demons called genma. Set 10 years after the first game, Nobunaga has risen to power despite the defeat of his demonic bene­fac­tor Fort­in­bras, who was stopped by orig­i­nal pro­tag­o­nist Samanouske Akechi. With Samanouske in hid­ing to per­fect his new demon slay­ing abil­i­ties, it’s up to Jubei Yagu to take up the sword and acquire five leg­endary orbs and use them to stop Nobunaga before his dark plans of con­quest becomes real­ity and demons become the dom­i­nant species of Earth instead of man.
Game­play in Onimusha 2 remains the same but does have some new ele­ments. Dur­ing com­bat with ene­mies, you can still fight through ene­mies, but if timed cor­rectly, Jubei can per­form “Issen” (light­ing slash) on var­i­ous ene­mies, allow­ing him to con­tinue for­ward, giv­ing him a brief minute to defend him­self or retreat. Another ele­ment is the require­ment to solve cer­tain puz­zles to obtain cer­tain items or gain access to cer­tain areas. For these puz­zles, I highly advise uti­liz­ing patience and strong mem­o­riza­tion as they have a much stronger effect in Onimusha 2 than in the first game. The final new ele­ment is role play­ing that enhances the sto­ry­line. Jubei can not only inter­act with non-playable char­ac­ters, but also gain allies who will give infor­ma­tion or assist him in boss bat­tles pro­vided he is in con­stant con­tact with them or if his allies are not involved in their own plans to defeat Nobunaga.
In addi­tion to new allies, you will notice that Jubei is nor­mally equipped with his sword, but can acquire weapons such as bows and arrows, a matchlock gun and other weapons that use the power of nat­ural ele­ments. Jubei does have two other advan­tages to help as well: The abil­ity to tem­porar­ily trans­form into Onimusha with enhanced attack power; and, the power to acquire var­i­ous souls with­out the use of a ogre gaunt­let to upgrade his armor and weapons.
The con­trols will not present any level of dif­fi­culty espe­cially if the Dual Shock ana­log con­troller is used. You can appre­ci­ate the qual­ity of the char­ac­ters’ move­ments in game­play and in the cut-scenes which may make one won­der if they are play­ing a samu­rai adven­ture game or watch­ing a movie.
The music per­formed in this game is excel­lent as Capcom’s sound team always brings their best efforts, guar­an­tee­ing that the music will be a treat. If you enjoy instru­men­tal Japan­ese themes, you’ll prob­a­bly love the sound­track.
Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Des­tiny did exceeded my expec­ta­tions for a game to be con­sid­ered a true samu­rai mas­ter­piece. This not only shows that Cap­com can unleash their bril­liance if they really try, but also shows other devel­op­ers that in order to bring a superb gam­ing prod­uct involv­ing var­i­ous ele­ments of Japan­ese cul­ture, they must will­fully present his­tor­i­cal ele­ments prop­erly while craft­ing a high qual­ity sto­ry­line. I can not wait to start the next chap­ter of the Onimusha series where the next des­tined hero strikes another blow to Nobunaga’s ambitions.

Ultimate NES Remix — 3Q2015 issue

The ulti­mate retro package

It’s one thing to trade off of nos­tal­gia. And we all know Nin­tendo does that often and well. What we don’t often get to see is Nin­tendo using its his­tory to change the way its games are played. Until now. That’s where Ulti­mate NES Remix comes in. The ques­tion is, do you want to play these remixed games again and at what price?
Remix takes a few of your favorites NES titles and adds dif­fer­ent con­di­tions to them in an attempt to spice things up a bit. In Super Mario Bros., for instance, you have to reach the goal in a cer­tain amount of time or defeat a cer­tain num­ber of ene­mies within a time limit. That’s the mun­dane stuff in the begin­ning. Later edicts get harder the fur­ther down a game’s list you go so as to pro­vide more of a chal­lenge. Whether or not you enjoy these chal­lenges depends sharply on whether or not you enjoy play­ing games you prob­a­bly already have played and want to see some­thing dif­fer­ent within them.
While the chal­lenges may be dif­fer­ent, there isn’t much else dif­fer­ent about the games. The music and graph­ics from the 8-bit era remain intact and about the only thing that’s changed is the slick mod­ern pack­ag­ing of the Ulti­mate Remix itself and the addi­tion of leader­boards and cham­pi­onship mode. So, don’t come into this expect­ing depth or some mag­i­cal upgrade to mod­ern day stan­dards of graph­ics.
If you enjoy the days of yes­ter­year and can and will pay $30 for a com­pi­la­tion chal­lenge pack­age, by all means shell out for Ulti­mate NES Remix. The chal­lenges are amus­ing for the most part, and there are a few extras that make play­ing through the mul­ti­tude of games offered (16 in all) a real treat. But take it with a large grain of salt and look at it for what it is: A chance to drag the orig­i­nal NES games out that you loved as a kid, more than likely, to get a piece of your now-adult wal­let. Ulti­mately, this could have been a lot more.

Katamari Forever — 3Q2015 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Gamespot.com

Retread re-roll

The sit­u­a­tion may have changed slightly, but the premise is still the same in Kata­mari For­ever, the fifth game in the quirky series. Whether or not you’re into the “if it’s not broke then don’t fix it” method of gam­ing will deter­mine if you can stand another trip to the cos­mos with a kata­mari.
Just in case you haven’t played a game in the series, let’s get a refresher. Kata­mari titles involve rolling up a sticky ball with every­day objects to increase the ball’s size. The larger the ball, the more pleased some­one is — usu­ally the King of All Cos­mos. That’s because the king is an idiot and rou­tinely destroys some­thing related to his job of pro­tect­ing the cos­mos. His lack of com­mon sense and coor­di­na­tion usu­ally means the Prince of All Cos­mos — that’d be you, the player — has to cre­ate new stars and recon­struct the cos­mos. This premise has worked for the past four games, and it’s really no dif­fer­ent sto­ry­wise except for the addi­tion of the cousins to help in appear­ance only (added in We Love Kata­mari) and the fact that the king has been replaced tem­porar­ily by the Robot King of All Cos­mos. Absur­dity thy name is Kata­mari.
Noth­ing has really changed, mechanics-wise, either. There are a few addi­tions to the reper­toire of the Prince, such as the Prince Hop and the King Shock, but oth­er­wise you’re still rolling along to pick up items to make your kata­mari grow. The series isn’t known for its growth and this is a major rea­son why. While it’s easy to con­trol the Prince and maneu­ver the Kata­mari, there still should be some inno­va­tion at this point, five games in.
The sound­track also suf­fers from stag­na­tion. Kata­mari Damacy, the first game in the series, was known for hav­ing a great sound­track. As a mat­ter of fact, we’ve lauded the sound­track relent­lessly through­out our lifes­pan at GI. But try as we might, we’re still try­ing to under­stand why there isn’t as much cre­ativ­ity used in the musi­cal por­tion of a game that con­jures so many dif­fer­ent cre­ative thoughts. The music of the first game inspired so much, yet by the time of For­ever, it seems that well has grown dry. It’s still a good sound­track, but I was expect­ing more from this.
Over­all, if you still love pick­ing up a con­troller to save the cos­mos and cre­ate kata­mari, you’ll prob­a­bly be work­ing to stop the Robot King of All Cos­mos. Oth­er­wise, you’re not really miss­ing any­thing you haven’t already seen. Keep rolling by this one if you want a fresh experience.

LittleBigPlanet — 3Q2015 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Gamespot.com

A class in mas­ter crafting

There are always games that come with a cer­tain amount of hype. These are the titles that every­one raves about but wind up on your never-ending pile of shame. You’ll prob­a­bly buy it but never actu­ally get around to play­ing it or play­ing it long enough to see what all the fuss is about. Lit­tleBig­Planet is one of those such games.
Quirky is the first adjec­tive I’d use to describe the plat­form­ing game fea­tur­ing Sack­boy, an anthro­po­mor­phic crea­ture that’s fea­tured front and cen­ter at the heart of the game. Sack­boy can be Sack­girl as well, and that’s part of the charm of the game. It can be what­ever you want it to be and do just about any­thing you want it to do, in the name of get­ting from point A to point B. The quirk­i­ness comes in the fact that the envi­ron­ment in which it does so is all about Play-Share-Create. The lev­els of Lit­tleBig­Planet are meant to be user-created and shared for online play among the LBP com­mu­nity, so the depth of the game is imme­di­ately obvi­ous and worth the price of admis­sion alone.
Con­trol­ling Sackboy/girl is sim­ple, yet not with­out its prob­lems. It’s much like play­ing any plat­former of the past 20 years and the con­trol scheme is sim­ple and intu­itive in let­ting you fig­ure out what to do and how to apply it later. Where it fal­ters is the jump­ing mechan­ics. While obvi­ous and sim­ple, the jump­ing does feel slightly off and floaty, which is a prob­lem in a game that relies on that mechanic to carry it. It’s annoy­ing to have to re-do sec­tions of a level solely because of a missed jump, and that detracts from the core expe­ri­ence.
While the mechan­ics could use tweak­ing, not much else needs work. The sound­track is fan­tas­tic and fits the game per­fectly. It’s a good mix­ture of indie folk and pop, and it imme­di­ately reminds of the bril­liance that is Kata­mari Damacy. The graph­ics are also in the realm of per­fect and evoke a cer­tain sort of charm that begs more playthroughs just to see what devel­oper Media Mol­e­cule could come up with next. It’s breath­tak­ing and sim­plis­tic, like a child’s world come to life, and begs to be admired.
Lit­tleBig­Planet is one of the few games of the past few years that demands to be played and war­rants pur­chase of sys­tem just to play it. If you haven’t both­ered to play it by now, you need to stop what you’re doing and get on it. It has its minor prob­lems but they’re noth­ing to keep you from enjoy­ing what’s con­sid­ered a mas­ter­piece. It’s worth every moment of its Play-Share-Create moniker.