Tag Archives: 2Q2014

DDR Max 2 — 2Q2014

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Choosing a seventh dance card

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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.

Score-4The 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 ddr-max-2-05new 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: JP flag w stick iconThe 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

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The last of an era for DDR

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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.

Score-4-retrograde5th 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 ddr-5th-mix-14introduction 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.

JP flag w stick iconThe 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 II — 2Q2014

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Photos courtesy of MobyGames.com

At death’s door

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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 kagero-03in 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.

Score-3-5-retrogradeWhile 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.

Macross M3 — 2Q2014

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Photos courtesy of IGN.com

Piloting your dreams in Macross

 

by William Harrison
by William Harrison

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 macross-m3-04he 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.

Score-3-5-retrogradeThe 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 JP flag w stick iconthat 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.

Metroid Prime — 2Q2014

Photos courtesy of IGN.com

The return of Samus after 8 years is welcome

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By Lyndsey Hicks

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-prime-06Metroid 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.

Score-3The 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.”