Posts Tagged ‘Nintendo’

Grump Talk – The Grump Who Came In From the Cold

February 4, 2011

Oh god, grumpeteers, where have I been? The short of it is: not here. The long answer is that I’ve been embroiled in the final year of my post-graduate education, trying to finish my counseling psychology degree, which involves completing an internship. I won’t bore you with all the gory details, but currently I’m having to help out with a drug addiction recovery group, work four days a week at a homeless shelter, and devoting my Saturdays to working a doomed (dooooomed) group in an inpatient mental ward at a hospital.

That hasn’t left a lot of free time to devote to making snide comments about A Troll in Central Park.

And that’s my fault. Luckily, Tim has been keeping Grump Factory FLUSH with content in the meantime, which I knew would be an advantage to sharing the blog with another esteemed author. So kudos to him!

So what have I been doing in the meantime, besides slowly killing myself in pursuit of a degree? Same as always: watchin’ movies, TV and playin’ games! Let’s see if I can quickly touch on the stuff I’ve seen and am not planning on writing up in greater detail:

House: No, not the “Holmes in a hospital” weekly procedural; I mean the 1970s psychedelic Japanese horror comedy. The first feature film of a visionary experimental film director, House is about a group of Japanese schoolgirl archetypes that visit an old woman’s country house during summer vacation, where they’re preyed upon by the woman’s ghost who feeds on them to rejuvenate herself. It’s an absolute scream of a movie (pun intended!), full of carnivorous pianos, flying decapitated heads and wacky special effects flourishes. Everyone should check out Criterion’s superb DVD and Blu-Ray release of it.

Tangled: Disney’s return to 3D after the quick two-dimensional detour of The Princess and the Frog. An adaptation of the Rapunzel fairy tale, it’s a slight letdown after its gorgeous, charming, hilarious predecessor. Is that to say that the movie is awful? Helllll no, it’s still a giant leap from classic Disney misfires such as The Aristocats, The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Pocahontas. Where the movie really shines are the hilarious and endearing sidekicks and secondary characters. Rapunzel and Flynn Rider are genial enough, but a little unmemorable. Where the real weaknesses lie are in the lack of memorable musical numbers and the weak villain. An overbearing mother figure? Ehhhh. Glad the movie wasn’t a trainwreck, but The Princess and the Frog raised my expectations for Disney’s releases from hereon out.

The Decalogue: From the director of the sublime The Double Life of Veronique came a ten-part series of short films focusing on the everyday, but compelling, moral difficulties faced by the residents of a Polish apartment complex. I’ve only seen parts 1-3 so far, and the results are… interesting, even if it confirms some of the American stereotypes about foreign movies. Often bleak, frustratingly vague and slow as molasses, there’s still an intriguing core to the exercise that I’m excited to see revisited in the other seven parts I have ahead of me.

Enslaved: An action/adventure title that slipped under just about everyone’s radar, Enslaved (along with Heavy Rain) rekindles my interest in Western gaming. Yeah, it has the typical God of War-inspired combat and upgradeable weaponry and skills and blah blah blah… What really makes this game special is the amount of care that got put into the story that the game hangs off of. Loosely inspired by the classic Asian story Journey to the West, Enslaved features a man named Monkey who escapes from slavers with a plucky young woman named Tripp, whom forces him to help her get back home by enslaving him with a headband that can kill him with the push of a button. It’s wonderfully told and acted in exquisitely-animated cutscenes, which really make you empathize with the characters. It was a bit of a financial flop, so finding it on the cheap should be easy.

Valkyria Chronicles II: The follow-up to my personal favorite PS3 game, Valkyria Chronicles II had a lot to live up to, and already had a few strikes against it for being downgraded to a portable system and for changing the setting to a military training high school. Even though the characters are not even half has likable as the original crew, there’s still a spark in some of the designs and the gameplay largely translated to the portable system, albeit with much smaller combat areas, due to memory restraints. With new units, unit specialization trees and a tighter focus on short and sweet skirmishes, it’s still a fine S-RPG, and one of the most unique on the market.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn: Kirby games typically come out late in a system’s life and are typically fantastic. Even though this didn’t start out as a Kirby game, this one keeps up the tradition by being an effortlessly charming platformer, full of inventive ways of making the player go “Awwww!!” and little twists on the simple platforming that spice up the very easy gameplay. It’s a perfect choice to just chill out and relax to, and it may well be one of the most gorgeous games ever released on the Wii.

(Performance Review) Kid Icarus: Uprising – Wings of Wax

January 25, 2011

SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT

Nintendo touts Kid Icarus Uprising as the “glorious return” of Pit  in “spectacular 3D.” Designed by Masahiro Sakurai, creator of the Kirby and Super Smash Bros. franchises, it’s a blend of aerial and ground-based shooting “built on elegantly intuitive and streamlined play control.”

Whoa. Wait, no.

Uprising has the finest pedigree in Sakurai, the best graphics so far seen on the 3DS, fantastic art design and fun voice acting, but none of that is going to save this highly-anticipated title until someone changes the controls. Trying to hold the 3DS with the left hand, aim with the stylus in the right hand, move with the thumb pad (left thumb) and shoot with the left shoulder button (left index finger) is an ergonomic nightmare. Trying to do all that and pay attention to what’s going onscreen at the same time is video game equivalent of spinning plates while playing Twister.

To get a sense of what Uprising‘s controls are like, it’s the same basic set-up used by Metroid Prime Hunters for the original DS. It was a terrible control set-up then, too, unless you really like hand cramps. It’s possible toslightly alleviate the awkwardness by placing the system flat on a table or against your leg, but then there’s no alleviating questionable game design.

Stupid sexy Medusa

In each demo level, Pit takes to the skies in a Sin & Punishment-style on-rails shooter, then lands on the ground, switching into a bland, sluggish brawler mode. Both styles of play feel weightless, even when Pit drags his feet across the ground. Control problems persist in the earthbound mode since the only way to control the stubborn camera, and Pit at the same time, is by flicking the stylus all over the place. Awkward as hell. Dodging and running by double-tapping the thumb pad in the desired direction — also awkward . Killing enemies to unlock doors, the most basic of video gamey objectives, was all that part of the game offered anyway. I hope, hope, hope this game is deeper than that.

Listen, weird control styles don’t deter me from playing good video games. Monster Hunter is one of my favorite games on the PSP, and the best way to control that game is to use what players somewhat affectionately call “the claw” — arrange the thumb on the analog nub, and index finger on the D-pad, to control the camera. It sounds awkward, it looks awkward, but it works well.

Kid Icarus Uprising doesn’t, and I’m not even sure if it’s a good video game. It feels shallow. I don’t know what can be done about that, but the controls can be fixed easily by including different control options, ones that don’t need the stylus. There’s plenty of time to do so. Besides, more options are good! It’s the way of the world now.

Or, I guess I’ll opt to play something else.

P.S. I went this whole time and never mentioned the 3D. Well, it’s blurry. It never focused for me. Switching it off gave me a great-looking game — lasers shooting at Pit from all directions were a brief thrill — so it was no loss. But shouldn’t the 3D in a first-party Nintendo 3DS game work? Plenty of time to iron out those kinks, Nintendo.

(Performance Review) First Batch of Nintendo 3DS Games – Baby, They Ain’t Done Yet!

January 23, 2011

During Nintendo’s Nintendo 3DS showcase last week, I had opportunity to get playtime with many of the handheld’s upcoming titles. Here are a few early impressions.

HAY LSN
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
I rushed to play this one first. It’s the same game you played in 1998, with far better graphics and an improved control set-up. Using the 3DS’ thumb pad to move Link around the playfield feels really good, way better than the N64’s dust-making plastic stick (and no one’s going to miss the blurry, ugly graphics of the N64 original, either). Ocarina 3D‘s visuals impress with smoother, sharper and more detailed textures. In 3D, Kokiri Village and the Deku Tree look fantastic, with particle effects flitting about in the air, but I did switch off the 3D effects so I could concentrate on winning the Gohma boss battle. Aiming the slingshot and looking around using the gyro scope is cool, and it works, though I preferred just using the thumb pad in the end. Thank god for options. Too bad there’s no release date for it yet.

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Metroid: Other M – Fission Mailed

October 2, 2010

Metroid: Other M‘s plot is, as suspected from my early moments with the game, a poorly presented mess that takes the forefront to everything else, such as the actual game, which isn’t terrible or spectacular. It’s passable, something a legacy series from Nintendo shouldn’t be satisfied with being. It has elements of a Metroid game — item collecting, hallway running, speed boosting, and the controls for the most part are sound — but it is a very poor Metroid game, and if you want to get really dramatic Metroid: Other M is a confounding, depressing situation that’s frankly, kind of a dead horse at this point.

But here goes.

Metroid: Wrestling Anime Edition

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Grumplet – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: vs. Audience Indifference

August 18, 2010

I will be honest. I’ve sort of actively disdained the Scott Pilgrim franchise pretty much ever since I saw the cover to Volume 3 parody the Super Mario Bros. 3 cover. But the recent media blitz promoting the movie (and game!!) has left me practically frothing at the mouth. Look everyone! It’s indie bands and chiptunes and sly 8-bit game references and Beck!!! It has all the stuff you like!

I hate when I realize I’m being pandered to. It’s like it robs me of any enjoyment I could’ve gotten out of the experience without knowing. I don’t think anyone should be pandered to. It doesn’t help that a Scott Pilgrim movie feels about 7 or 8 years too late to feel thematically fresh. The advent of webcomics inundated the Internet with the quasi-wit of Generation Y slackers that grew up on the NES and the Streamline dub of Akira. Hey guys, the sprites from Final Fantasy are talking about Ranma 1/2! Isn’t that just the geekiest?

Scott Pilgrim, penned and illustrated by Brian Lee O’Malley became the poster child for this vein of storytelling. Geek culture-addled Scott Pilgrim has to fight the seven evil exes of too-cool-for-school Ramona Flowers if he wants to date her. These battles take on a video game-like progression of difficulty, complete with the exes exploding into coins, etc. This EPIC TALE proved so irresistible to the Hollywood graphic novel adaptation mill that the film rights were snapped up by Universal and Edgar Wright, keen pop culture satirist, tapped to direct.

I will admit, Edgar Wright was the ONLY reason I saw this movie. The creative force behind Shaun of the Dead and the much-funnier, much-less-seen Hot Fuzz, has proven to me by now that he has an eye for genre bending, humor, and doing justice to the subject matter he simultaneously lampoons. Hot Fuzz was not only a comedy about the ridiculous nature of action movies, it was also one of the best action movies in recent years.

Why am I harshing on Scott Pilgrim: The Franchise?! Because it’s like we have nothing to say to each other. Scott Pilgrim touches on River City Ransom, Ninja Gaiden (the original), Mega Man, A Link to the Past, the NES and SNES and many other things I never owned or played. Yet I’m still a gamer! I grew up with a Genesis! I played Sonic! I think there were two Genesis allusions the whole movie. And as for anime and music? It references Akira in one of the chapter titles, Scott wears a t-shirt with Astro Boy on it and the character’s name is from a song from some indie band I’ve never heard of. He’s like that guy at a party you try to start up a conversation with, and he’s like, “Yeah, I game. Ever heard of Final Fantasy II for the SNES?” “Oh, you mean Final Fantasy IV?” “No, pretty sure it was Final Fantasy II.” Awkward silence. I mean, it’ll resonate for a lot of 20-somethings out there, but it’s awfully specific in its aim.

So you’re probably expecting me to hate the movie. But I didn’t! Why?! Mostly because that pop culture divide is largely irrelevant when it comes to enjoying the movie. Will you get more out of it if you’ve played DDR or beat ’em ups? Sure. But the searing eye candy Edgar Wright coughed up is enough to entertain any movie goer who appreciates fast-paced film making. And this movie is nearly at Baz Luhrman levels of frenzy. Shots are cut at a blistering pace. CG embellishments make the actors look like comic book characters brought to life. Seriously, this is the first movie that seems like it took a few plays out of the Speed Racer handbook of visual vocabulary. (There’s that made-up term again!) And it’s not just visuals that delight. The dialogue is actually clever and delivered with comic timing for a change.

The music is actually pretty well done for the most part, too. Beck actually composes all of the music for the fictional band Sex Bob-omb and the score is composed by alt-rock superproducer Nigel Godrich, who’s worked with stars like Beck and Radiohead on some of their landmark albums. The soundtrack is loaded with indie acts and garage rock riffs, and totally fits the misfit tone of the movie.

It’s just too bad being good didn’t guarantee success. Limping out of the gate with a paltry $10 million when estimates put the movie at around $60 million, Wright’s most expensive movie to date, certainly makes eyebrows raise. Why would a movie that seemed like such a cultural zeitgeist flop so badly? It hasn’t been through lack of marketing that Scott Pilgrim failed, that’s for sure. It’s proooooobably because its target audience isn’t known for paying for anything. Teens and twentysomethings these days get their nostalgia gaming kick not by dusting off the NES or SNES, but by downloading ROMs and emulators. They peer-to-peer share their music collections. Plus they’re a notoriously poor demographic. They probably would rather see a cam rip of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World than fork over the $10 per person to go to the theater and see it legitimately. Then there was the aforementioned rather limited scope of the appeal. Maybe not as many people have fond memories of Clash at Demonhead or listen to chiptune albums as they thought. At any rate, a perfectly entertaining movie suffered because of it. For shame, readers!

(First Impressions) Metroid: Other M – Samus, You’re Breakin’ my Heart!

July 29, 2010

Metroid: Other M realizes my worst fears. That this Team Ninja-developed sequel to Super Metroid would be an overdone turkey with all the corn and gloss of a Ninja Gaiden game but none of the panache and class of a, well, a Metroid game. The warning flags were all there: the announcement of Team Ninja as the developer, the early footage of fractured-looking gameplay, the none-too-encouraging promise of  a “story that will explain things”, and the constant reassuring from Nintendo that they’re involved and that means everything will turn out okay.

If the 45 minutes I played of M:OM is any indication of how the game is, well, everything is not okay. If there was a disclaimer at the very start that said “This preview is an early build” or something then I didn’t see it. I get the feeling this is it. With a month to go until release this seems to be the final build. Which is distressing.

Look at all those hopes crashing...

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(grumplet) Muramasa: The Demon Blade – Not Bad, Not Great

October 8, 2009

Muramasa: The Demon Blade continues Vanillaware’s mission to deliver gorgeous 2D gaming. After their PlayStation 2 action-RPG Odin Sphere, and now this, it’s clear Vanillaware gives all their attention to the beautiful, painterly visuals of their games. When it comes to the actual video game part of their games, well, things get iffy.

Muramasa gives you two characters to play as: Kisuke, a warrior without his memory, and Momohime, a princess possessed by the soul of a vengeful swordsman. Each character plays similarly, the only difference lies in their stories, neither of which comes across very well. The plot itself is a ghost, a non-entity. Once in a while you get a break from fighting and go around talking to NPCs who say the same thing over and over.

That’s about it as far as story goes. The presentation is barebones at best, no cutscenes or anything. Most of the time it isn’t even clear what they’re talking about anyway — blame it on the original Japanese script or a lack of interest in the whereabouts of Momohime’s soul. I usually say “Who cares about story in a video game?” but if you’re going to try, at least try harder than Muramasa.

Looks good, plays okay

The game itself fares better, playing a lot like a traditional side scrolling beat-’em-up fitted with numerous RPG-like elements, since that’s the thing to do to stale genres. It’s easy to rack up tons of combos, zip left to right in the air, crash down on enemies, switch blades to attack all enemies at once, recover using items all the while gaining experience points and tons of new swords, items and equipment. The battles are fun and keeps you constantly busy, though they are randomly generated which can grow wearisome. When stuck at a boss all I had to do was forge stronger swords and grind to get by. Typical skills like pattern memorization and timing didn’t really matter — it was all about the grind.

It’s also all about managing your inventory. You can forge tons of swords but only equip 3 at a time. Recovery items are unique in that you can only eat them when Kisuke or Momohime feel hungry, which can be tricky in the heat of battle. A degree of strategy between battles comes in handy. Actually, the most impressive part of the game’s presentation for me was the eating. There are various eateries throughout the game where your character can sit down and enjoy a fine, prepared meal. A plate of shrimp tempura is so lovingly rendered it got me watering, and bit by bit it disappears with each bite. The game has charm for sure, but charm can fuel a game for so long.

Muramasa is fun in short bursts. Playing for long stretches got me antsy for something meatier, more involved. I can only slash the same few enemies through the same few vistas for so many times. The vistas are gorgeous for sure, and I’d be foolish not to  appreciate Vanillaware for their dedication to 2D, I just hope their next game is something I can really sink my teeth into and not something so … vanilla.