The Lost World: Jurassic Park

While perusing a local vintage game store, I blundered upon The Lost World: Jurassic Park for the PlayStation 1. I bought it, played it, and woke up the next day with patches of hair missing from my head. Visually, for its time, it’s a good game, and the sounds are fantastic. The gameplay, however, leaves you wanting.
Developed by DreamWorks Interactive, and published by Electronic Arts, Lost World is a side-scrolling platformer that will test your skills, as well as your resolve. You start out as Compsognathus, or “Compy” for short. After battling through waves of Velociraptors and hunters with your small-dog-sized dino, you venture into the shoes of a human hunter, Velociraptor, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and finally, Sarah Harding (the only human character that transitions from movie to game). Through these characters, you will fight your way across the plains, jungle, and human camps of Isla Sorna, or “Site B”. The story? Survive. That’s basically it. Each character has a set of levels dedicated to them (30 in total, spread out over six-plus hours of gameplay), with a quick cut scene before each first level, setting the scene for the player. At the beginning of my playthrough, I, being a very story-oriented player, found the lack of writing irritating. As I continued to play, however, I found myself questioning that assessment, ultimately coming to grips with the story actually being exactly what was needed. This game is hard. Brutally hard. Until you figure out the strategies to beat the levels, you will die….often. With that in mind, the story actually works perfectly. SURVIVE. That’s the story, that’s your motivation, that’s what you have to do. As a dino (Compy, Velociraptor, T-Rex), you must out-maneuver or kill other dinos and human hunters armed to the teeth, with only your teeth. As a human (loaded with various weapons, including a machine gun, flamethrower, darts, flares and a grappler for platforming), you must also out-maneuver, only your targets are strictly the dinosaurs roaming the island.

The hunter, the first of two playable human characters.

 

 

The game, being released in 1997, is graphically solid, with beautifully portrayed backgrounds, and rich colors. The dinosaurs are rendered far better than the humans, with faces somehow articulated clearly through the PlayStation 1’s pre-HD tech. The T-Rex sports the same, almost mischievous look it carried in the film and the Velociraptors all appear to be almost smiling as they jump on a human’s shoulders and eat their head. The in-game, movie-inspired music feels somewhat out of place, especially when a pretty, sleepy-time orchestra tune is accompanying you while you desperately run, jump, and grapple away from the roaring T-Rex. However, this only happens a handful of occasions. Through the majority of the playthrough, the music is fairly decent, and adds to the suspense of survival by picking up the tempo at certain times, or mellowing out at others as needed. Something that really stood out to me were the sounds of the game. The T-Rex’s roar and the bark of the Velociraptor were spot on from the film. The prime sounds exploded from my speakers with impressive clarity, which I shall consider the X Factor of this title.

Play as the T-Rex, but watch out for the laggy controls.

 

As I stated before, this game is fairly tough until you get accustomed to each level. I died a bunch. Once I accepted that fact, I relaxed a little, and started to map out the levels. I took notes on where to grapple up, shoot a flare, or simply how close to the edge of a platform I could walk to shoot a baddie, without falling off. The levels then side-stepped the irritating frustration, and evolved into a quite addicting challenge.
Regardless of the addiction factor, there are a few aspects that just didn’t do it for me. While the control scheme makes sense in its arrangement, the follow-through is terrible. The buttons are laggy, and often get you into trouble because of it. Imagine, as a child, your older, cocky cousin comes to stay at your family’s farm. Although his name is right next to your name on the chore list, he doesn’t do anything, and takes credit for your work, leaving your butt on the parentals’ list to chew. Well, that’s sort of what Lost World does to you through its controls. You push yourself to get it done, only to have four Velociraptors jump on your head when you go back for that missed power-up. Now you’re yelling at your Playstation. It retorts with, “Oh, I’m sorry…I didn’t realize you had open wounds. Here, let me just pour some salt in them…theeeerrrrreee we go….much better.” The salt, you ask? After those baddies be-head you, regardless of where you’re at, you’re going to start back over at the beginning sequence for that character! Ha!
Along with the graphics, sounds, and addictive gameplay, Lost World does a fairly decent job at varying up the level requirements. Some levels are spent running and attacking, while others are spent grappling and distracting. Although no in-depth side missions are available, you are urged to use as much “skill” as possible, and are awarded a title after the level, depending on your skill percentage. Throughout the levels, DNA is scattered about, and if you collect all of them, an actor from the film will make a special cameo once the game is completed.

 

Here is where you see your skill percentage, as well as the amount of DNA you collected through the level.

 

 

The Lost World: Jurassic Park for PlayStation 1 will frustrate you beyond belief when you start the levels, but will ultimately give you a feeling of superiority and triumph when you finally complete them. In the six hours of gameplay, you may throw your controller, or put a sailor’s vocabulary to shame. Once it clicks, however, the anger will (for the most part) subside. The controls are laggy, and the respawn is irritating, but it is mostly made up for with striking visuals, outstanding sounds, and addictive gameplay. If you were to discover this game lying about somewhere unloved and dismissed, I would suggest picking it up, as it is a decent game; however, unless you are masochistic by nature (I’m not judging), you’re probably not going to play through it more than once.

Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi

In the short time (five to eight hours) that I spent with Red Fly Studio’s Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi for Nintendo DS, I spoke aloud curse words that I didn’t even know I knew, almost broke my console in half, and just about gave up.  I also jammed to some good music, tried out three classes of talking mushrooms, and beat a giant spider to death with a CO2 cartridge attached to a stick.  I’d say it equaled out fairly nicely.

The game starts with a meteoroid crashing to Earth.  Dust from the now meteorite sprinkles onto the ground, giving sentience to some rather surly creatures (wasps, cockroaches, worms), as well as our hero, Pax.  Pax is of the Bolete tribe, and only one of many types of mushrooms who’ve now grown eyes, ears, hands, feet, and vocal cords.  Your first task as a newly coherent mushroom warrior is to gather food for another local tribe, the Amanita Order.  While you are meandering through this level, you are also charged with saving a few of the Amanitas from insect-induced annihilation.  Throughout the game, you will run into a slew of characters affected by the mutating space dust.  These creatures, among many others, include the scientific inventors:  the hermitic Morels.  Using tiny weapons and gadgets, prepare yourself to fight across a multitude of platform levels while you dodge mohawked wasps, heat-driven spiders, and multi-skilled militant mushrooms.

At the beginning of the game, you choose one of three classes: Heavy (Warrior), Sage (Mage), or Scout (Archer).  Heavy will focus on melee combat, while Scout is more proficient in ranged attacks.  The Sage class uses spore powers to fight the baddies.  With a swipe of your stylus on the bottom touch screen, your character produces attacks that can dispense enemies and objects, as well as hurt opponents.  Throughout the game, you collect small canisters of mutagen.  These canisters add skill points that Pax can use to upgrade his abilities.  Each point can be added into one of four sets: health (how much you have), spore power (your mana pool), strength (damage caused), and speed (movement and attack).  Using bits of string, screws, needles, sticks, and various other implements you find from the fallen bodies of your baddie brethren, you craft weapons to also aid you in your quests.  A wrench and a piece of string make a good apparatus for slinging wooden beads at an approaching wasp.  You also have ample opportunity to slay a spider with a CO2 cartridge on a stick.  Thanks to a handy spot next to your inventory screen, you know what that spider’s weaknesses are, and can exploit them.  When this icon is tapped by the stylus, you acquire all of the information you need to know about the enemy.  You see its weakness(es) and attack focus, giving you everything you need to craft the perfect weapon to combat the enemy.  Your only charge after that is deciding how to properly utilize that weapon on a boss.

Boss fights are one thing that MM:RotF does a mediocre job at.  Through one boss fight, you need a good weapon and your sharpest wits.  You use those wits (and a few respawns) to figure out the enemy’s tactics, solve the puzzle, and reign victorious.  In the next battle, however, several respawns are spent just trying to work out the special way to win, only to discover that all you have to do is jump at the right time and mash your buttons to oblivion.

That is only the top of the puzzle list, however.  Periodically throughout the game, a floating jigsaw piece will appear.  By arranging certain parts of an item, you unlock the ability to progress.  For example, by placing the given pieces in perfect order under the time limit provided, Pax is given a leaf to grab onto, thus slowing his descent to the forest floor, avoiding a sure-death experience.

A major draw for me was the game’s soundtrack.  With original music from Les Claypool of Primus, possessing an amassment of funky tunes to cruise around the forest to is not an issue.  The rest of the sounds of the game fall short of spectacular, but thanks to Mr. Claypool, all is forgiven.

The in-game graphics are decent, especially for the original DS, aside from some color issues that I will delve into shortly.  What I like about the visuals are the comic book panels used to tell the main story.  There are no real cinemas, just a gorgeously illustrated, graphic novel-esque story presented in panel form.

The difficulty of this game waivers a little at times, but mostly stays fairly true to its nature.  Unfortunately for most (myself included), though, that means that it is pretty hard.  Fortunately for me, there’s no continue cap.  Part of the difficulty lies in the aforementioned boss puzzles, part lies in level puzzles, and part also lies in the frustratingly (and perhaps strategically) placed save points.  At some spots the save points are plentiful, almost daring you to skip one; but mostly, they are just absent.  This causes enough replay through the levels that you start to memorize the layouts fairly quickly.  I believe the save points to be brilliantly placed, and am making that my X Factor for this game.

There were a few instances throughout the game that left me wishing for brighter colors.  The earthy tones are welcomed, and I understand the meaning behind them (they’re mushrooms from the earth!), however, the colors could have been just a bit louder.  The dullness results too often in a meshing of colors as you’re climbing to the top of a log, via sporadically placed platforms that all look exactly like the back drop.  It usually ends with a missed ledge and a respawn at the last save point.

The other issue I have is the constant use of the stylus to swap between screens to access the inventory, map, and skill screen.  Occasionally you need to tap on each individual screen to accomplish a different task (ranged shots, puzzle pieces, etc…) However, I would have preferred a designated trigger button for the swap, so I could put down my stylus while I played the majority of the game.

That being said, though, there’s really not a lot to complain about in this game.  The controls work pretty responsively, the graphics are decent for a DS game, the music is great, and the RPG elements give you several options to go and experiment with.  Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi is a slightly above average platformer that left me wanting to continue the somewhat unique story in the Nintendo Wii sequel:  Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to traverse a fantasy landscape (littered with wolves, giants, and sea turtles), while tied to your brother with a ten-foot long rope? Are you exceptionally adequate at drawing a straight line with one hand, while painting still-life with the other? You won’t actually do that in Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons, but the control scheme will bring you very close to it.
The game begins with one of many very dark and almost gut-wrenching cut scenes, revealing the watery demise of the main characters’ mother. After the initial, “wow, already?” moment, we fade back into present time, with Younger Brother (Naiee) sitting over his mother’s grave. He is jolted out of his trance by the other main character, Older Brother (Naia), who is somewhat carrying their sick father by means of a make-shift cart. Older Brother yells at him in the game’s unique gibberish (no actual words are spoken the entire length of the game), and the adventure kicks off. The brothers are tasked with finding a special medicine (the “Water of Life”) for their father, that only exists in a certain area, far on the other side of the land. In the three to four hours of gameplay (total), it will take loads of teamwork, and a plethora of problem solving techniques to reach the quested area and retrieve the elixir.
Thanks to Starbreeze Studios, the land is gorgeously rendered, and feels constantly like you’re wandering through a 3D oil painting. The lighting is also top notch, however, the character models are so-so. They don’t look bad, but on a close-up, they just don’t hold as much weight as the surrounding world, which literally left me breathless on a couple of instances. The characters seem a bit too early-gen 3D, with hair that looks like you could break it off, put it on a stick, and roast it over a campfire. The creatures in the world look close to the same way that the brothers do (only slightly better), which is a good thing, because it helps to unify everything nicely. Textures are present on the characters and creatures, just like the surrounding lands, which handle lighting and shading very well, giving them a seamlessly blended appearance.
The world the brothers inhabit is full of unique creatures, some of which will help them along their way, while others attempt to hinder their progress. At one point, a mushroom infested troll makes his presence known, and offers to help the boys platform their way to their goal, but only if they help him, as well. It seems his significant other has been kidnapped, and trapped in a nearby castle by other, meaner trolls. Once you help him and his lady friend reunite, it’s off for more adventure, and more incredible creatures. Also occupying the land, are the likes of wolves, giant sea turtles, griffins, and even horribly deadly sentient trees that live in the side of a cliff. The creatures, although not all unique themselves, are all portrayed through the game’s own style. Wolves are very dark, with brightly lit eyes. The trolls are typical trolls, but with the addition of mushrooms growing off of them, and facial expressions that will punch your heart while wearing brass knuckles. With this in mind, the creatures in Brothers are the recipients of my X Factor nod.

This troll is one of a few beautifully portrayed creatures the brothers help along their way.

This troll is one of a few beautifully portrayed creatures the brothers help along their way.

The control scheme is fairly brilliant, and pretty flawless. Playing on the Xbox 360, the trigger buttons act as the “action” buttons, allowing you to hold onto ledges, climb vines, and grab different levers. Left Trigger and Left analog stick control Older Brother, while the Right Trigger and analog stick control Younger Brother. The Left and Right bumpers rotate the camera back and forth, giving you limited views of the surroundings. Another, and my favorite, way to observe your environment, is by having a seat on the various benches overlooking the countryside. These offer a beautiful view and a nice rest stop to slow the game down.

A nice place to take a break from gameplay.

A nice place to take a break from gameplay.

My favorite section of the game concerns paddling a boat through a stretch of icy waters, while you dodge creatures strongly resembling Orcas, as they jump out of (and back into) the water around you like Asian carp. The paddle strokes used to control the boat are uncannily realistic. Want to turn right? Use Older Brother (situated on the left side of the boat) only, and let YB have a rest. Need to turn left sharply? YB pushes forward, while OB back strokes.

The boat physics are spot on.

The boat mechanics are spot on.

Once your fingers adjust to, “YOU, go here…YOU, go there”, the controls become second nature, allowing you to send the two brothers into different sections of the screen to accomplish different tasks.
Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons is an adventure/platformer riddled with puzzles, and you will need complete cooperation from both of your thumbs to advance. The story (impressively told through a gibberish-based language, mannerisms, and the environment), at times, will rip your heart from your chest, and puree it in a blender. It will, then, however, mold it back together with some rubber cement, warm it in the oven, and place it back in your chest before the scene is over. The visuals are outstanding, and the overall presentation is wonderful, even if it is a bit short.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Enhanced Edition)

With the upcoming release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on my mind, it seemed like an appropriate time to strap on the steel and silver swords and wander into the wilderness with CD Projekt Red’s, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Enhanced Edition) for the Xbox 360.  I was completely new to this series, as I’d been given a copy of the original Witcher for PC, but was unable to play it, due to outdated hardware.  Thankfully, prior story knowledge is not dire, because plot tidbits are explained and filled in as the story progresses.

You assume the role of expert monster hunter/slayer and witcher, Geralt of Rivia, the protagonist of the series.  At the beginning of the game, Geralt is imprisoned for, and charged with, the death of a king.  After a somewhat lengthy tutorial in the form of a prologue/castle storming/battle sequence explaining the happenings of the assassination, and why our hero was found alone over the corpse of the beloved king, he is set free to prove his innocence, regain his lost memory, and kill the correct kingslayer before more dastardly goings-ons can commence. The remainder of the game is spent exploring, fetching, and fighting through three different settings in the world.  As you progress through the story missions, you begin to remember pieces of past events through flashbacks.  While adventuring and investigating, Geralt will have countless interactions with various NPCs in the world.  Different dialogue choices you make can alter how the story plays out, how much information Geralt receives, and who Geralt can take to bed, resulting in one of MANY very mature love scenes, featuring a plethora of polygonal naked prostitutes.

The controls for the 2nd installment in the series worked correctly approximately seventy percent of the time. The remaining thirty percent just made me laugh. There weren’t enough control bugs to make me throw down my gamepad and quit, but there were enough to cause me to die a horrible death at the hands of a Nekker or two on a couple of occasions, forcing me to restart from a previous save file.  The general functionality of the controls made sense overall, but they were a bit clunky for my liking.  Roll to dodge was my best friend in battle, but I found myself tumbling right back into the hands of the enemy on more than one occasion.  There was a slight delay after hitting the designated buttons during combat, as well.  This, coupled with rolling back prematurely, left Geralt more than bruised a few times.  What helped me a great deal in battle, were the skills I received via experience points that are used to upgrade one of four different skill trees.  Points (talents) can be put into magic (signs), alchemy, swordsmanship, or the more general and generic “Training.”  Geralt uses five signs: Axii (mental control over a person), Aard (force push), Igni (fireball), Quen (magic shield), and Yrden (rune traps to immobilize enemies). Through the trees, Geralt can upgrade these signs, as well as his vitality (health), vigor (mana pool), and sword play to ultimately up his game to staggering degrees.

The in-game graphics are quite impressive for the 360, when they finally come into focus.  I had to wait far too long, far too many times for my surroundings to render, or for an NPC’s armor to come into view, showcasing the tiny details of battle-born dents and scratches.  As I said, those details are impressive, but that loses luster after you’ve waited twenty seconds for them to appear.

One of several camps inhabited in a beautiful world.

 

Cut scenes, also, look brilliant when they load properly.  During the prologue, especially, as a scene was building intensity, it would cut to a cinematic, just to have that momentum stopped by a loading screen mid-sentence.  There were some different cinematics, however, that resembled hand-drawn animation, which depicted Geralt’s past.  These were carried out flawlessly, and with a touch of beauty (I’m a sucker for hand-drawn animation).  One of my favorite visual aspects of W2was the lighting in various scenarios throughout the game.  Whether you’re standing by a campfire at midnight, running around a village at nine A. M., or winding through a dungeon maze, the lighting (or lack thereof, in some cases) is always perfectly shaded and shadowed against the changing backdrops.  This lends itself quite perfectly to the X Factor category on this occasion.

The sounds of the game were more hit than miss, mostly. Sure, the NPC’s chime-ins get a bit repetitive after you’ve cruised by them two or three times on a fetch quest, and the howls in the forest never produced an actual wolf; however, the remaining ambient noises, the crackling of fire as I passed a torch, and the clang of metal during combat more than made up for that.  If nothing else, the light, happy music during the dice poker game was enough to make me want to learn the lute.

The acting was decent, save a few missed inflections.  The editing was mostly bad, however, leaving more than a few jokes to fall to their tragically unfunny deaths.  For example, a character’s joke would rely completely on an interruption by another conversing character, but when edited together poorly, it results in too much space between character’s sentences, leaving me wondering why they just didn’t say the word.

There are a few things that work really well in W2, and a few things that don’t (we’ll start with the bad, and end with the good.)  As previously stated, the visual rendering delay can be a bit of an annoyance, but it was most definitely not something to stop playing because of.  Nor was the A. I.’s idiocy (CONSTANTLY running into walls, running circles in place, or taking an awkward amount of time to answer a question), unless you’re easily agitated.  What almost caused me to turn the game off and go outside, however, were the constant glitches. On one occasion, in order to progress the main story along, I was to fight a particular character and his goons, then gather his belongings. The goons proved to be a decent challenge, but the mini boss just stood there.  He would neither take, nor execute any damage, causing me to restart my game, once again, from a previous save file (I recommend you save often.)  In another instance, Geralt was having a much needed confab with an NPC concerning the ongoing story, when the audio completely cut out.  Had I not had subtitles on, I would have been completely clueless as to my next destination.  Another glitch, which happened about seventy-five percent of the way through the game, would have definitely caused me to quit, had I not been completely invested in the story.  I was fighting a group of Endregas (spider-kind), and rolled prematurely back into the fight, allowing the beast to swipe a couple of times, taking the rest of my health away.  I should have died, but I didn’t.  I was granted access to the rest of the battle, taking no more damage, but also regenerating no more vigor.  I even tested this new found invincibility, only to discover that I was, indeed, impervious to damage.  I button-mashed my way through the rest of the game (restarting from various saves, just to be sure), without dying another time.  Absurd. Absolutely absurd.  If you like that sort of thing, by all means, exploit away, but it definitely cheapened the game more for me.

Fist fighting, although just quick-time events, proved to be an addicting departure from normal gameplay.

 

What did work well for me, aside from the decent graphics and lighting, were little details. These included the previously mentioned dents and scratches on the armor in the game, as well as fun minigames (dice poker, arm wrestling, and fist fighting).  The minigames provide a relief from hunting the kingslayer, and allow you to earn a (very) little amount of extra coin on the side.  What stood out to me, also, was the main menu screen.  As I progressed through the game, the menu background would change accordingly, reflecting a somewhat lively scene from the setting Geralt was currently inhabiting. The use of signs and swordplay (before the invincibility glitch) was also very satisfying once I figured out the proper strategies needed for each specific scenario.

Dice Poker was a fun way to pass time and build Geralt’s reputation around camp.

 

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Enhanced Edition) for the Xbox 360 is an engaging Action-RPG with an interesting story, fun gameplay, and fantastic visuals (when rendered) that had me hooked until the end.  A few glitches here and there were a slight annoyance, but not enough to turn me off of a very good game at its core.  With different ways to level your character, and various dialogue choices to alter given information and relationships, I will be questing to find the kingslayer at least two more times, and taking different paths each time.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX

Recently, I snagged a copy of Nintendo’s, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX on the 3DS Virtual Console.  This was a colorized, re-release/port from the original 1993 Game Boy title. Eventually, it made it over to the Game Boy Color in December of 1998, with a couple of extra features tacked on (an extra dungeon, and use of the Game Boy Printer for snapshots taken in-game).  I never had the opportunity to play the original, but, when I was a kid, I did struggle my way through a bit of the first two installments to the franchise on the NES.  I believe I said one of my first curse words during a playthrough of The Legend of Zelda, and that snowballed through The Adventure of Linkuntil my parents just took it away and sent me to my room.  I’ve since learned to control my swearing at least a little bit, which helped me keep calm, and allowed me to remain unbanished from the laundromat, where I played the majority of Link’s Awakening.

At the beginning of the game, Link’s ship sinks, and he washes ashore on Koholint Island. He later wakes up in the home of golden-voiced Marin, and her mushroom-crazed father, Tarin, who explain where he is and how he got there, before providing him with his lost shield and sending him on his way.  Away from the house in Mabe Village, a sort of hub for the game, is a beach, where he finds his sword; however, before he can recover it, an owl drops in to explain to him that in order to leave the island, he must first awaken the Wind Fish.  Now the musically inclined, fetch quest-riddled adventure begins. In order to wake the Wind Fish, Link must first obtain eight musical instruments hidden in dungeons.  These instruments are not only protected by an assortment of ferocious feral creatures, but ultimately by the baddest bosses in the game, The Nightmares. Throughout the adventure, Link will traverse the island in search of these dungeons via his feet, rafts, birds, flippers, and even teleportation.

 

Link begins this venture by muddling through a storm, and crashing his ship.

Link begins this venture by muddling through a storm, and crashing his ship.

As usual, there are things that work, and things that don’t.  The dungeon puzzles can get a tad frustrating at times, because you must blunder into the answer, when in-game mechanics don’t work as they should.  For example, there are several instances where a hidden door is the key to progression, and in order to find the door, you must hit your sword against every wall until you hear a nose different from the previous ones, then bomb the spot to open the doorway. That’s fine, if it worked.  Regardless of what technique I used, the noises never differed, which left me placing bombs randomly against walls, hoping for a new pathway. Also, I found myself backtracking a lot more than I would have liked.  I can handle some back and forth, but it does get tiring after you’ve gone from Mabe Village to Animal Village, then down to the house by the bay, only to go back to Animal Village again, all before you can progress even a hint of the story.  It LA’s defense, however, I believe at least partial blame for that running around is due to me, for forgetting some things, and going out of order.

 

One of many times Link will pass by this particular baddie.

One of many times Link will pass by this particular baddie.

The amount of things that do work, though, far outweigh those that don’t.  In relation to the puzzling riddles, some simply can not be solved until certain items are attained.  For example, Link will not be able to cross a small gap without falling until he obtains a special feather allowing him to jump, or flippers which let him swim into different parts of the sea.  The musical aspect of the game was a huge hit for me, as well. The soundtrack is as catchy as it could possibly be (the theme is now my ringtone.) The short tones that occur when you find that secret door, or when you’ve earned the key needed to progress through the dungeon, really give a sense of accomplishment, and in some cases an overall, “FINALLY!” feeling that really drives you to continue playing.  Continuing with the musical elements, my X Factor award for this title definitely has to go to instruments acquired through completion of the eight dungeons.  After defeating the bosses, Link is granted access to music makers needed to wake the Wind Fish, such as the Coral Triangle, the Surf Harp, and the Wind Marimba.

 

The prize for besting a dungeon. One step closer to the Wind Fish.

 

Link’s movement speed was a big plus, as well, as too many modern games rely on the “sprint” function, instead of just making your character simply move at a reasonable speed to begin with.  Never did I wish for him to move faster while backtracking, which was nice.  The visuals, considering it was a Game Boy Color game by this point, were very good, also.  Your typical top-down camera (mixed with now vibrant colors) with some side-scrolling sections avoiding certain Super Mario Bros. villains (Goombas and Piranha Plants) added in for variety, made for a pleasant visual experience and a much needed break from the pressures of current HD requirements.

A dungeon boss guarding a much needed instrument.

A dungeon boss guarding a much needed instrument.

Link’s Awakening is a fun game, packed with puzzles (both clever and annoying), humor, and a whole lot of adventuring for such a tiny cartridge. Some things failed to achieve their goals, but more aspects nailed it than failed, leaving me very happy with the outcome. I recommend it to anyone looking for a decently difficult game to take on the road.

With the Game Boy Printer, you can print snapshots like this, frame them, then tell everyone that Link is your cousin from three towns over.

With the Game Boy Printer, you can print snapshots like this, frame them, then tell everyone that Link is your cousin from three towns over.

Star Wars Episode 1: Jedi Power Battles (PS1)

Star Wars Episode I: Jedi Power Battles for the Playstation 1 is a game that I had located in a bargain bin about a year ago.  After watching the trailer for The Force Awakens the other day, I decided to dig it out and finally give it a chance.  I’m not too sure that was the best idea.  My time could have been better used cleaning my attic, garage, or simply zoning out at the wall.

You begin the game by choosing one of five Jedi Knights: Plo Koon, Qui-Gon Jinn, Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Adi Gallia.  After you receive word from the chancellor concerning shipping to Naboo, you then take your character to battle through ten levels, all with different settings (Trade Federation Battleship, Swamps of Naboo, Tatooine, etc).  Throughout these levels, you must overcome several different instances of platforming, enemy swarms, short-lived escorting, and incoming motion hazards (rolling boulders and animal stampedes, for example).  In addition, this must all be done while blocking enemy blaster shots, managing terrible controls, and dealing with a limited amount of force powers.  Lives are replaced by credits, giving a nostalgic arcade feel, which makes it seem only right for a buddy to hop in and copilot the game for the duration.

Select your Jedi!

Select your Jedi!

The visuals are actually quite impressive for the Playstation 1, and would have been moreso, had it been released a few years earlier.  Being an early 2000 release brought its wow factor down considerably, but not so much that it hurts the eyes or distracts much from the gameplay.  There is a great deal of strange texture rendering, however, especially in the Naboo swamp.  What I mean by this is that you can clearly make out grass ahead of you, while the ground is blurry underfoot and behind.  Then, when you approach the rendered section, it becomes blurry, and the places you were just inhabiting become fully clear.  It’s not a huge deal, but it did catch my eye whilst destroying droids in that particular level.  The character models (especially those based off of the actors appearing in the film) look decent, but had a few quirks.  For example, Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu, looks incredibly confused the entire time, and Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn is strangely missing his neck.  The in-game animations are carried out just fine, though, save a few awkward running motions.

I believe Mr. Jackson is befuddled over who's taken Neeson's neck.

I believe Mr. Jackson is befuddled over who’s taken Neeson’s neck.

The music, being seemingly brought straight from The Phantom Menace, provides a very nice soundtrack to slash enemies to, and appears to actually fit specific scenarios.  This is a big plus for me, as too many games I’ve previously endured had randomly generated scores and tracks that just did not fit the scene.  This really takes away from the immersion of the game.  Thankfully, though, this is not the case with JPB.

While making your way through the levels, you will pick up power-ups that accumulate points, and fleeting upgrades to your light saber. The points are then attached to skill and level.  You don’t have the option to manually level your character, from what I can tell, but it does help your character’s health and force pool throughout the game.  Each time you pick up a goodie, you hear a little snippet from Yoda, addressing his pleasure from your exploring.  It’s not much, but it is amusing (the first few times, anyway).  Eventually, the slashing gets a bit old, but for a good while, it is rather satisfying.

Grab a buddy and carve up some droids.

Grab a buddy and carve up some droids.

What really turned me off from this game was the frustrating 2.5D platforming.  You have no idea where you’re jumping until you see a tiny shadow on the targeted platform, letting you know that you’re on the mark; or you simply miss, falling to your death. Perhaps if the aggressively laggy controls were a tad more responsive, this wouldn’t be quite an issue.  However, the final product we are left with will drain your credits quicker than a rigged arcade cabinet at a sketchy pool hall by the docks.

One spot of guesswork platforming.

One spot of guesswork platforming.

Star Wars Episode 1: Jedi Power Battles for the Playstation 1 is a frustratingly platformed beat ’em up that does a couple of things alright, but mostly just falls short.  If you discover this game in a bargain bin or garage sale for a shiny nickel, and you have a competent copilot in mind, you may want to pick it up.  If you’re looking for a good Jedi-themed game to enjoy alone, I wouldn’t recommend it, as there are much better choices out there.

Far Cry 3

One early morning after work, I stood in front of that ominous, red kiosk for what seemed like ages, attempting to determine what game to grab. I finally convinced myself that I would do my friend (an avid fan of the Far Cry series) a favor, and pick up Far Cry 3 for the PS3. I was not a fan of the series before I played 3. I’d tried them a few times, sure, but just couldn’t get into them. This was partially due to the somewhat bland environments, and the inability to clearly make out the enemies ahead of me. “Worse-case scenario is, I’m out $2,” I told myself. Fortunately for me, the best-case scenario happened. They have fixed my lame complaints in FC3, and placed me in my habitat of choice (I’m a sucker for a tropical island-themed game). I now own the game, and still play it to this day.
You play as Jason Brody, a vacationing party-goer, parachuting with your two brothers, your girlfriend, and two friends, when you crash onto an island. You then wake up in a cage next to your brother, and as you gather your wits, you meet one of the antagonists….the villainous Vaas. Once he’s left the scene, your brother breaks you both out of the cell, via his military training, and you attempt an escape from the camp. We now skip through a small tutorial sequence, observe a nicely acted cut scene, and then find ourselves running, sliding, and swimming through the jungle to escape the incoming pirate horde. Once you escape a possible filleting from the pirates, you wake up in a small village, rescued by the Rakyat (local ally tribe).
Far Cry 3 is an open world shooter with some RPG elements. It takes place on the two tropical Rook Islands, which are inhabited by hostile pirates, passive villagers, allied tribes, and animals to skin. Dropped off into the world by Ubisoft with little more than your digital camera, it is up to you to find your friends & family before Vaas and company erase them from existence. Earn guns, money, treasures and items by scaling radio towers, liberating pirate outposts, searching caves, and helping the Rakyat. The latter can be done by completing time trials, bounties and hunting missions.
This game starts out intense, and keeps you motivated the whole way through. I am generally not a 100% completionist of games; however, I found myself many hours in, after I had completed the sixteen-plus-hour main story, still searching for elusive rare animals to hunt & skin so I could craft that last wallet or gun pouch.
Aside from the hallucinogenic trip sequences brilliantly thrown in to give you a break from normal game play, liberating the outposts would have to be my favorite aspect of the game. Using your camera, you can locate and identify your targets. After they’re marked, they’re visible even around corners, so you’re free to plan your attack. Whether you prefer a stealthy invasion from the mountain behind the camp, or an all-in assault with nothing to hide, the choice is up to you.
Controlling Brody is fairly flawlessly carried out, with responsive aim & camera work. The game utilizes the current staple for shooter controls, and features easily aimed iron sights with the Call of Duty-style button layout. L1 and R1 will aim and shoot, clicking R3 will command Brody to sprint, and pressing circle while sprinting will prompt him to slide and crouch.
The island scenery is beautiful, and the gameplay graphics are nice and detailed, minus some minor shading issues. This compliments the game’s sounds nicely, and really makes you feel like you’re wandering around an island, whether on foot, or in a vehicle (car, truck, buggy, hang glider, parachute, or jet ski).
The music in FC 3 is absolutely fantastic. The background tunes intensify when needed, and fit with the action nicely. Want the perfect jam to destroy a drug dealer’s crop with a flamethrower? How about some Reggae?

Love heights? Hop on a hang glider and cruise around the island(s).

 

While sizing up an outpost & calculating my strategy, there were several times that I would look to my left, & discover a tiger striding toward me with the intention of eating the very same eyes that were looking through the scope of my sniper rifle a few seconds before. A similarly tense moment came from sneaking through the weeds, only to hear a low growl, & see a leopard jump over my head to annihilate a boar, casually strolling by. The next sound I heard was my own heart attempting to escape my body through my chest. The tension was beautiful, and encouraged me to proceed with my task. This factor also drove me to always stay aware of my surroundings, as at any moment, I could be the victim of a perilous pounce from my peripherals.
The story was interesting, & the missions, thankfully, varied from one another enough to keep me going. The soundtrack & voice acting were, for the most part, pretty stellar, & didn’t make me tweak the audio, or put on my own music in the background. With so many games out that suffer from terrible acting, FC 3 was a nice distraction (Vaas especially), earning the X Factor for this review.
A nice addition to the shooting gameplay is the skill points that you earn by completing missions & leveling up are put into three different skill trees. These enable you to sneakily take down a baddie from below the ledge he’s inhabiting, pull the pin on another’s grenade, reload while sprinting, or any other number of actions.

This is one of three skill trees you can spend your earned points in.

 

The multiplayer fits in well with the CoD-style franchises, so those that enjoy that type of game will most likely enjoy this, as well….just don’t look for anything too original or different. Shoot & kill while you defend & take. It’s not bad, but it isn’t anything to pine & drool over, either. With only a few game options to choose from, all team-based, it can get old fairly quickly, but can still give you a breather from the main game. The two-to-four player co-op, which is completely separate from the main story, is also fun for a while, but despite the fun originally had, it can get a bit repetitive & dull.
A returning feature is the map editor, which lets you create your own custom maps to play on. While most of the aspects are nice, there were some random visual bugs present (cloudy sky underneath water). This is not, however, enough to sway either side of any argument I’ve envisioned, as I mostly used the feature as a distraction from regular gameplay.
Far Cry 3 is a fantastic open world action shooter with an engaging story, on-par acting, good RPG elements, & fun game mechanics. The world is amazingly large, covering two islands, & is full of things to keep you busy. The multiplayer & co-op are fairly stale, but still work if you want to mindlessly kill pirates alone, or with a room full of friends.

Batman: Arkham Knight

I held off getting a current gen system until I was certain there would be enough games to keep me busy and entertained.  With the release of The Witcher 3 and Batman, that time came.  I finally decided to go for it. I put all of my chickens in one basket, and took them down to the local game store.  Turns out they don’t take chickens, or baskets, so I had to bring my poultry back home and conjure up adequate currency.  Once I ascertained the console (thanks, Amy) Batman: Arkham Knight proceeded to envelope the remainder of the month, along with some of the next.

As with the rest of the “Arkham” games, the graphics and acting are top notch.  The writing could have been better in some aspects, but overall, pretty good, as well.  What I didn’t like, storywise, seemed to work just fine for other people, so I’m probably just picky.  However, I will not go into specifics, to avoid spoilers for those of you who haven’t played it.

 

What didn’t work for me is a very short list, comprised mainly of the combat, as it seemed a little chunkier than the previous games.  It still worked fine, but it seemed to take a bit more to get a good flow.  Perhaps it was the use of a new controller in my hands (although, the PS4 controller is the top of the market for me), but counters were troublesome throughout the duration of the game.  I also had issues when encountering thugs with shock sticks in a large group.  Regardless of when I pressed what button, I would usually just attack, instead of stunning or jumping over him.  This broke up the majority of my combos, resetting my meter.

One thing I thought was just silly and unnecessary, was the way that all of the good guys (Robin, Alfred, Oracle, Fox and even Batman) haphazardly threw around classified information, i . e. secret identities.  Throughout the game, Batman will communicate with his cohorts through a very large video screen projected from the arm of his suit.  He and they all assume that no one is around to see this, but there were several instances where Alfred and Lucious called him, “Master Bruce” and “Mr. Wayne” in front of five or six thugs hanging out by a light poll on a random street.  If any of them had been paying attention, it would have all been over.

 

My, “what did work for me” list is bit longer:

1) Gotham looks gorgeous. The shadows, the lights and the sounds all mesmerized me.

2) The Batmobile.  Not only does it look good, it drives well, too.  It handles like you would expect it to in Pursuit Mode, then maneuvers even better with incredible accuracy in Battle Mode.  Gotham is rather sizable, and although Batman’s gliding abilities are still there, having the Batmobile to cruise in takes travel time down considerably.

3) From time to time, you will meet and team up with various characters.  When you do, you can now swap between them, controlling the other character via a “dual takedown”.  This takedown is activated by an on-screen prompt, and utilizes both heroes in one brutal assault.  It flows nice, and works extremely well, generally taking out whatever thug you choose permanently.

4) The acting is, again, stellar.  Never did I wish for a better performance from any of the actors.

5) The levelling up process (skill points earned are once again spent in different skill trees, enhancing combat, the suit, the Batmobile, etc.) does not require hours of grinding, and can be mastered fairly quickly by simply doing all quests available.

6)  Lastly, the little things really caught my eye.  When driving in mud, said mud collects on the Batmobile as you create tire tracks behind you.  Batman’s suit progressively gets more tattered and beat up, the further the game goes.  In GCPD, holding cells are set aside for different gangs.  As you eliminate threats to Gotham by taking these thugs out, they will appear in the cells. Finally, the rain.  This blew my mind, and continues to do so.  The way it puddles on the street and runs down Batman’s cape and cowl is fantastic.  Perhaps it is my noobness concerning my recent PS4 purchase, but I’ve raved about the rain enough that my friends are no longer taking my calls.

 

Rocksteady’s lastest addition to the Arkham franchise, Batman: Arkham Knight is a great game for a Batman fan.  It follows and ends the story nicely, and produces some great gameplay (chunky combat aside) and visuals along the way.  The acting is wonderful, and the cast of characters is superb.  Whether you have been waiting for a game to warrant the purchase of a new system, or you are simply looking for a new game to buy, I highly recommend this title.

 

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