Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2 — 4Q2020 issue

DDR Extreme bet­ter sec­ond time around

I’m a DanceDanceRev­o­lu­tion fan from way back when, in that time and space before the U.S. really dis­cov­ered the series and when we dealt with hastily put-together mixes that didn’t really cap­ture the feel of DDR. Ah, those were the heady days of 2002. Alas, DDR finally blew up in the U.S., and we finally started receiv­ing mixes much like Japan. The prob­lem was, we were get­ting them years after the fact, and when we did get them, they were mostly lack­ing — bro­ken, incom­plete messes that you were bet­ter off pre­tend­ing didn’t exist. That, my friends, is where we join our story already in progress with Dance Dance Rev­o­lu­tion Extreme 2.

Never mind that there is no DDR Extreme 2 in Japan. We’re going to set that aside for a minute to focus on the fact of why it exists in the U.S. DDR Extreme 2 is borne of the fail­ure of Kon­ami to do right by its fans out­side of Japan. We received DDR Extreme in 2004, a full two years after the orig­i­nal was released in arcades and for PlaySta­tion 2 in Japan. That game is absolute garbage: It’s noth­ing like what Japan received, which is a game that’s much closer to the arcade ver­sion of Extreme. We received a bro­ken and changed-for-the-worse song inter­face, miss­ing and weird songlist and grad­ing mechan­ics that were excised as of DDR 5th Mix. Now that you’re all caught up, you should see the rea­son why we needed a do-over game of sorts. That’s where Extreme 2 comes in.

Extreme 2 is a decent addi­tion to the U.S. con­sole DDR library of games. It fea­tures the song wheel inter­face and restores the 5th Mix grad­ing mechan­ics. The song list is great, too, finally fea­tur­ing at least some of the songs found in the Japan­ese ver­sion such as Car­toon Heroes (Speedy Mix), Irre­sistible­ment, Speed Over Beethoven and Para­noia Survivor/Survivor Max, which were all new to Japan­ese Extreme when it was released. It closely mir­rors the home release of Japan­ese Extreme, which meant Kon­ami was finally tak­ing the U.S. mar­ket seriously.

Because it’s so close to the Japan­ese ver­sion of Extreme (editor’s note: We reviewed this title in the 2Q2013 issue), we’re going to skip the focus on how it plays other than to tell you that the tim­ing win­dows remain loose as they always are in the U.S. ver­sions, if you care about that sort of thing. From expe­ri­ence, it’s much eas­ier for me to get an A grade on Para­noia Sur­vivor in the Amer­i­can ver­sion than in the Japan­ese ver­sion. The Amer­i­can ver­sions always have had more loose tim­ing win­dows, and it makes play­ing a lot eas­ier. The options are pretty much the same, though you will have to spend time unlock­ing songs because, as with pre­vi­ous U.S. releases, it’s miss­ing the Sys­tem Data Sup­port fea­ture found in the Japan­ese ver­sions. That fea­ture unlocks a pre­vi­ous game’s data using the cur­rent game. While this would have been help­ful in Extreme 2, it’s not so bad to have to play through the Event mode or Dance Mas­ter mode, though you will be tired of cer­tain songs after the fifth time through.

And Dance Mas­ter mode is where you may spend a decent amount of time try­ing to unlock cer­tain things. Dance Mas­ter is not a ter­ri­ble mode but some of the con­di­tions are not easy and require an inti­mate knowl­edge of DDR. If you’ve bought this ver­sion, chances are you are expe­ri­enced enough with DDR for this not to be a prob­lem, but for the unex­pe­ri­enced this might be a tedious exer­cise in, well, exercise.

And, because many of the servers are now down, we can’t really com­ment on the online modes. While active they were inter­est­ing and fun to play against oth­ers using the early pre­cur­sor to PlaySta­tion Net­work, but alas, 15 years later there are no servers for Extreme 2, so that’s a loss. You aren’t really miss­ing any­thing there because there is always the lat­est ver­sion of DDR and Step­ma­nia, which are imme­di­ately supe­rior to a 15-year-old game.

DDR Extreme 2, an anom­aly itself, is an OK addi­tion to the U.S. library. Though I fault Kon­ami and its U.S. branch heav­ily for screw­ing up DDR Extreme enough to have to do a sec­ond go-round, the well-rounded redone songlist kind of makes up for the extremely bor­ing mess that pre­ceded Extreme 2.

In the Groove — 2Q2019 issue

Groovy com­pe­ti­tion in rhythm game market

Just when Kon­ami thought it had the mar­ket cor­nered on rhythm games along came In the Groove. The series took the for­mula of timed arrows, music and dance charts and finessed it into bet­ter charts and sen­si­ble rat­ings; or, you know, things Kon­ami lacked after eight games. In the Groove didn’t nec­es­sar­ily per­fect the mar­ket prod­uct but it intro­duced com­pe­ti­tion in a nice pack­age that still holds up today.

ITG has the same for­mula as Dance Dance Rev­o­lu­tion: Arrows are timed to a song to rise (or drop, depend­ing on the song mod­i­fi­ca­tion used) to meet hold­ers. You’re judged on the tim­ing of your steps and either pass the song or fail based on the cumu­la­tive score and effect of your tim­ing. Let’s not get it twisted, though: DDR and ITG are the same thing. Given that ITG cribs a lot of its ele­ments from the orig­i­na­tor of the rhythm dance game genre, you aren’t likely to see any­thing new or mind-blowing when it comes to ITG.

Where ITG shines par­tic­u­larly, how­ever, is the inter­face and the song choices. There’s a lot to like in those dif­fer­ences. The song wheel inter­face — which presents songs for play — is crisp as are the song titles. The graph­ics appear to mimic the best parts of the DDR inter­face, which is help­ful since DDR made an ill-advised change to its look shortly after. It’s also the intri­cate details such as being able to see a song’s BPM while choos­ing song mods.

In the Groove’s musi­cal selec­tion is no slouch, either. Many songs sound like some­thing in DDR’s cat­a­log; for exam­ple, there’s a series of remixes that imme­di­ately calls to mind the Para­noia sig­na­ture series of DDR. There’s a lot to like with a vari­ety of gen­res represented.

ITG shines also in its acces­si­bil­ity: If you can play DDR, you’ll be able to pick up ITG. It’s not hard to under­stand since it’s using the same engine as DDR. How­ever, the main playa­bil­ity draw comes in its song charts. ITG’s song charts make sense and are intu­itive and aren’t hap­haz­ardly done or pun­ish­ing. The dif­fi­culty sys­tem also makes sense — intro­duc­ing charts with a higher dif­fi­culty than the stan­dard 10 level sys­tem that DDR used at the time — which is a must have in a danc­ing game.

While ITG is a wel­come change of pace from DDR, there are some nit­picks that bother me about the series in gen­eral. First, some of the song mods avail­able aren’t the most help­ful. I’m not keen on silly mods like mines being a default in songs. Thank­fully, there’s an option to turn off the mod, but it shouldn’t be a default part of songs at any dif­fi­culty. And, like­wise, the use of three and four arrows simul­ta­ne­ously — which requires a hand to hit at all arrows at once — is obnox­ious. If a song requires it, I usu­ally steer clear of it. That’s not good for the song list and replay value if I’m skip­ping tracks, and it’s damp­ens my enthu­si­asm for an oth­er­wise great soundtrack.

ITG gets its point across with inter­est­ing game­play addi­tions, a good sound­track and crisp inter­face. With a few more iter­a­tions of the series after its intro­duc­tion, ITG is great as an alter­na­tive on the rhythm game dance floor.

Mega Man X Collection — 2Q2019 issue

A mega col­lec­tion of Blue Bomber greatness

I’m a huge Mega Man fan. If allowed to, I would dec­o­rate GI head­quar­ters in every room with gear resem­bling Capcom’s infa­mous Blue Bomber. After Mega Man’s last adven­ture on the NES, I found that dur­ing the tran­si­tion from 8-bit to 16-bit gam­ing a new char­ac­ter known as Mega Man X would appear, giv­ing the Mega Man series a new chap­ter set years after the orig­i­nal. While I played a few MMX games when it was on SNES and PSOne, I real­ized that I liked the X series but won­dered if Cap­com would do a col­lec­tion for the PlaySta­tion 2. My wish was granted in Mega Man X Collection.

MMX Col­lec­tion is sim­ply as adver­tised: A col­lec­tion of the first Mega Man X games released. It con­sists of MMX and MMX2 from their SNES debut; MMX3 — another SNES game that was ported to PSOne; and MMX 4, 5 and 6, which were released for PSOne. There is also an unlock­able game, “Mega Man Bat­tle and Chase,” an exclu­sive never released out­side of Japan.

In each MMX game, you take con­trol of “X,” a new ver­sion of the Blue Bomber cre­ated by Dr. Light years after the orig­i­nal Mega Man. X is a more pow­er­ful ver­sion of our blue titan but with free will. 100 years later, after Dr. Light’s death, X was found by Dr. Cain, a robot­ics expert who devel­oped robots based on X’s design known as “reploids.” How­ever, this began a rise of rebel­lious reploids, known as mav­er­icks, which led to the for­ma­tion of a group known as mav­er­ick hunters to stop them. Alas, the mav­er­ick hunter’s leader Sigma became a mav­er­ick (and the series’ main vil­lain), forc­ing X to team up with another mav­er­ick hunter named Zero to stop Sigma’s plan for global domination.

Con­trol of X is sim­ple as any reg­u­lar side-scrolling game, espe­cially with the option of switch­ing between the ana­log sticks or direc­tional but­tons. X’s main weapon, the X-Buster, and other weapons he acquires from a level boss can be pow­ered up in addi­tion to find­ing upgraded boots, hel­met and armor via secret areas in each level. Using a sub screen, I appre­ci­ated that it was under­stand­able and sim­ple in orga­niz­ing items and weapons since, in other side scrolling games, look­ing for needed items is time con­sum­ing and morale-draining. Zero is also playable in MMX 4, 5 and 6 where con­trol­ling him is a guar­an­teed good time as he is not only equipped with his own Buster weapon, but also his sig­na­ture Z-Saber cuts ene­mies down to size.

The graph­ics have been refreshed, ensur­ing that a thought­ful bal­ance of action-adventure and anime-styles ele­ments are intact. Capcom’s music depart­ment did an awe­some job remix­ing each game’s sound­tracks. With the amount of detail put into this game, the replay value is high, espe­cially if you’re want­ing to get deeper into the Mega Man lore.

The Mega Man X Col­lec­tion is the per­fect answer for a devoted fan­base of the Blue Bomber. While the MMX series may be in ques­tion, I hope Cap­com hears Mega Man’s fans’ calls to con­tinue his leg­endary return to gam­ing as the MMX col­lec­tion is a great way to con­tinue Mega Man X’s hunt.

Maximo: Ghosts to Glory — 1Q2017 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of GiantBomb.com

Max­imo con­tin­ues the quest to res­cue the princess

I have a love and hate rela­tion­ship with Cap­com. For every game they develop and pub­lish that will be a smash hit by being more cre­ative and stick­ing to the basics, they churn out five or six copies of the same game with­out break­ing any new ground (i.e. Street Fighter V). I won’t even men­tion how they stud­ied the Kon­ami code of dis­pos­ing of one of their great­est game series and its leader. With this view of Cap­com off my chest, let’s look at a game that is orig­i­nal and has become a suc­ces­sor to the clas­sic games Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins and Adven­ture Island: Max­imo: Ghosts to Glory.

You take the role of said char­ac­ter, Max­imo, who, after return­ing from a bat­tle to pro­tect his king­dom, finds out that his main lady Queen Sophia is cap­tured by his once-trusted adviser, Achille. To make mat­ters worse, Achille has devel­oped a drill that has pierced the under­world, allow­ing him to cre­ate an army of undead mon­sters to ter­ror­ize the king­dom. All is not lost as is seems that as Max­imo was free-falling, the Grim Reaper makes a deal for him to return to the liv­ing world in exchange for return­ing the lost souls to the under­world. Max­imo accepts and begins his quest to free Sophia and restore the peace taken by Achille.

Max­imo retains the ele­ments from Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins and Adven­ture Island but allows free­dom to explore all of the stages thanks to its 3D design. Max­imo has the abil­ity to run, jump and crouch to avoid ene­mies and is eas­ily con­trolled with use of the ana­log con­trol stick. Max­imo is also ready for bat­tle with his trusty sword and shield, which can be thrown at approach­ing ene­mies and capa­ble of wip­ing out all ene­mies on the screen if the right power-ups are applied. In addi­tion to his sword and shield, Max­imo has his armor which, if all the parts are gath­ered, he becomes invin­ci­ble for a brief period.

A heads up: Make sure that Max­imo keeps his armor as long as pos­si­ble since like Arthur in Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins, if Max­imo takes too many hits, he would be down to his box­ers, which would lead to his death if he takes another hit. Also, con­trol­ling Max­imo is not dif­fi­cult, but some prac­tice is rec­om­mended to get adjusted to mov­ing around.
The stages are excel­lently designed and guar­an­teed to make you feel that you’re in Maximo’s world. The game’s music is an enjoy­able mix of orig­i­nal and remas­tered tracks from the orig­i­nal Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins. The chal­lenge level is ridicu­lously high, guar­an­tee­ing great replay value.

Max­imo: Ghosts to Glory is one of those type of games that will please fans of old-school adven­ture gam­ing who want to play the genre with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy. In my opin­ion, Max­imo is also a exam­ple of what Cap­com can do when they allow cre­ativ­ity to flour­ish instead of always milk­ing their golden fran­chises to death.
Well done, Cap­com. Well done.

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.

Unreal Tournament — 3Q2014 issue

An unreal icon for consoles

As some­one who has never really got­ten into the Unreal series or PC shoot­ers in gen­eral, learn­ing to run and gun with one of the sem­i­nal shoot­ers of our time was and has been a chal­lenge. It’s a chal­lenge in patience and in equi­lib­rium, mostly because I can’t play older first-person shoot­ers with­out migraines and vom­it­ing. So, if a game could per­suade me to sit down and enjoy the fruits of its mur­der­ous labor, then more power to it. Unreal Tour­na­ment didn’t have to try to hard to work that mag­i­cal feat.

Unreal Tour­na­ment is a patch­work of ideas found com­monly in mod­ern shoot­ers. It’s arena-based play that requires you to hunt down and elim­i­nate the com­pe­ti­tion. That’s not that hard of a con­cept, actu­ally. You’re given an arse­nal with which to com­plete your reign of car­nage and help­ful items such as health and armor boosts. While the con­cept is easy, the num­ber of con­trol options offered can eas­ily over­whelm even a sea­soned shooter vet­eran. Mostly, you’re just look­ing for a way to aim and shoot, but there’s about 15 dif­fer­ent ways to set up your gun­ning exploits in UT. There’s a wealth of modes offered, too, and you can’t go wrong with pick­ing any of them. It’s nice to be able to prac­tice before jump­ing into the main story mode, or play a good Cap­ture The Flag match.

Despite the vari­ety of modes to run through, the char­ac­ter selec­tion isn’t all that var­ied. Stal­warts, like Mal­colm from the orig­i­nal Unreal, are avail­able but beyond that the char­ac­ter selec­tion is a lit­tle blah. There are some to be unlocked but the ques­tion remains: Do you want to go through the trou­ble of unlock­ing a char­ac­ter that you aren’t going to care about?

The sound­track is decent, with a few stand­out tracks so there’s some­thing to spice up the dis­ap­point­ment of the char­ac­ter selec­tion. The graph­ics are OK, but like that dearth of char­ac­ters, there isn’t much to get excited about. For the trans­la­tion to PlaySta­tion 2, the game plays and looks OK. It’s noth­ing spe­cial but it isn’t ter­ri­ble, either. Just don’t expect super impres­sive PC quality.

Unreal Tour­na­ment is an inter­est­ing exper­i­ment. It’s a PC jug­ger­naut that tries its hand at acces­si­bil­ity in the home mar­ket and doesn’t fail mis­er­ably yet doesn’t entirely inno­vate, either. If you were won­der­ing what the hype was all about for the PC dar­ling, the PS2 ver­sion is just the right ver­sion to intro­duce you to the world of Unreal.