Posts Tagged ‘video games’

E3 2011 Performance Review: Ninja Gaiden III babies it up

June 14, 2011

Ninja Gaiden, now namby-pambier

I can’t believe it.

What happens after Tomonobu Itagaki leaves Team Ninja?

They turn Ninja Gaiden into a casualized button-masher. A rep assured me they would keep the bone-crushing difficulty of the previous games, though the E3 demo indicated otherwise. Throughout the short one-level demonstration I button mashed my through each enemy easily. In previous games I would’ve been decimated immediately. Beating the previous games, even playing through half of them, was a badge honor. They were like playing fighting games, with each button press made a deliberate, conscious strategy. They (and the original 8-bit trilogy) were games to conquer. Instead I casually strolled my way through the entire level of this, mashing the Square button for each and every minute. The game even took control away from me to have Ryu Hayabusa perform scripted kills at random times. If I initiated those automatic attacks then I have no idea how I did so.

On top of that, QTE prompts were sprinkled randomly throughout each enemy encounter to keep things “fresh.” Quick Time Events in Ninja Gaiden. My god, have we come to this?

The only time that presented any semblance of difficulty was when the level got shrouded in fog and I couldn’t see an inch in front of Ryu’s face. Difficulty by visual obstruction, nice. That’s good when a game pulls pages from the Superman 64 playbook.

I managed to die once at the end-of-demo boss, a spidery mech with big glowing obvious metal legs to chop off. It did a big electro-shock wave thing that killed me. After that I just ran away each time it did that one move, ran back and button-mashed my way to victory.

Tell me this just a demo, and “it’s not representative of the final product.” Tell me Team Ninja just lowered the difficulty to ridiculous depths for the journalist crowd. Tell me Team Ninja had nothing to do with Metroid: Other M. Otherwise, I guess that’s yet another legacy franchise down for the count.

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.

Landing on Saturn – Panzer Dragoon Saga: Forgotten Treasure

January 27, 2011

Panzer Dragoon Saga may not have much cachet with gamers these days (what does, besides Call of Duty? olol), but make no mistake: the name used to be whispered amongst gamers beyond just the hardest of the hardcore. Sega’s last hurrah for their doomed Saturn game console. The bizarre RPG follow-up to a rail-shooting franchise. The pathetically small print run which ultimately led to its infamy. Panzer Dragoon Saga was critically acclaimed when it released, but its legacy afterward became the stuff of myths, due to the fact that it printed only 6,000 copies initially, with the final units shipped at the end of its production run totaling 30,000. Keep in mind that most games these days have to sell through at least more than 100,000 units in order to be considered successful. Panzer Dragoon Saga is something of a holy grail amongst video game collectors, a unicorn. One rarely spots a copy in the wild, and if one does, one must be ready to pay dearly for it.

I never, ever thought I would come across a copy outside of, say, eBay. But one day, I found myself on the end of an offer to sell me the game for a price which, while still quite high, I knew I would never beat. I grimaced, forked over the change, and waited for the copy to arrive in the mail. You readers already know full-well the joyous bounty of the package I received, but the question still remained: Is Panzer Dragoon Saga all it’s cracked up to be?

(more…)

Grump Talk – Amazing Finds

August 20, 2010

So there I was, doing my errands yesterday. I mainly was waiting around for an appointment at the mall, but since it was an hour and a half away, I decided to drive around the immediate area and check out some stores. I used my birthday gift card to get Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy on Blu-Ray. If you haven’t seen them, see them!

Then I went to this somewhat crappy independent used game shop nearby called Gameco. Gameco is the type of used store that A) never has anything good or interesting to sell and B) has terrible, uncompetitive prices. I normally wouldn’t even go there to pick up a run-of-the-mill game there because I could find it just about anywhere cheaper.

So of course I was going there with little-to-no expectations for anything. I always have a few “dream” games that I say to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice to find this game!” Y’know, wish list-type stuff. I checked the PS2 rack for some of the decent Gundam games and Suikoden V. No dice. To be expected at a dump like this, really. Any good Dreamcast games? Pbbbbttt. Not even any good Saturn cases to serve as a replacement for Panzer Dragoon Saga‘s cracked case.

I’m about to leave when I notice they have a glass case where they seem to put their “valuable” games. I see some SNES and PSone cases in there and figure I was wasting my time looking at the other stuff. I walk over and scan over the PSone games. FFVII, Chrono Cross, yada yada yada… The SNES cartridges aren’t looking too much better, either, with some old copies of Secret of Mana and FFIII(VIj) sitting around.

I almost turn to leave when I turn my notice to a lone SNES cartridge standing on top of the pile. It had annoyed me because it was standing on top of some labels of cartidges below it, so I’d tried craning my head around it. Now I’ve seen everything else and I figure I might as well see what game this one is. It’s slouching forward against the glass in an ugly fashion, almost as if it’s trying to escape notice. I focus my eyes to read the top label (which is upside-down) and my jaw goes slack.

I KNOW, RIGHT?!?!!??!

What were the FUCKING odds? And they were charging a (relatively) reasonable price! So I asked to test it out to make sure it worked, and after it booted up, I snatched it up and paid for it. I don’t even have a SNES! It’s one of those few games where I would just buy it even without immediate plans to buy the system it was on. If anyone has advice on whether to get an old SNES or one of those FamiTwin whatever knockoffs, lemme know. A Mother series of grumps may be in the cards some day… :3

But to bring this all home: What was the best find you’ve ever had, whether it be for a game, movie or WHATEVER? I’ll tell you a few more of mine, to get juices flowin’. A similar story to this one had me just searching Gamestop.com on a lark for Suikoden II and finding out that the store closest to me ACTUALLY HAD A COPY. And then there’s the story of how I waltzed into a Vintage Stock store and found them selling a copy of Possession on DVD for roughly 1/10th of the price it was going for on Amazon. Your turn!

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!

Grump Talk: Horny Nun and Summer Fun

July 22, 2010

Hello, grumpeteers! How’s your summer going? Mine is like grains of sand slipping through my bony fingers. While I still go to graduate school in the summer, it’s a lighter season for me, so I’m trying hard to make headway in my various hobbies while I still have the (guilt-free) spare time.

I haven’t forgotten about Saturn! I’ve been playing Panzer Dragoon Saga for a while and hope to finish it up and post my thoughts on it within a month. It’s not that it’s a particularly long game, but its graphics are migraine-inducing and it still has some of those pesky hallmarks of a late-90s JRPG, such as inconvenient save point placement and boss gauntlets that make me want to punch someone. I also allowed myself to become distracted by other games whose graphics don’t cause me to get headaches, such as FFXIII and Demon’s Souls. Enough digital ink has been spilled describing both of them, so I doubt they’ll ever get a proper treatment here. I’ll just say that FFXIII is the huge disappointment I thought it would probably be and that Demon’s Souls is engrossing and totally Vagrant Story 2.

On another front, I saw Micmacs in the theater and was totally planning on writing it up when Inception came and jizzed all over my face. So plans changed! Really, Micmacs is charming if you like the sort of quirky, old-school humor that Jean Pierre Jeunet, director of Amélie and City of the Lost Children, specializes in. It almost channels silent comedy of old at some points. It wears a bit thin in the middle, but the climax is pretty satisfying, so I don’t feel anyone inclined toward such an experience would leave feeling their time was wasted. If you like movies about misfits banding together to destroy arms manufacturers, you should check it out!

I also saw a vintage flick that survived through the decades to still engross, mesmerize and thrill. Black Narcissus is a story about a group of nuns who take on the task of renovating an Indian general’s old palace into a school/medical clinic for the poor, farming villagers. The atmosphere of the valley the movie is set in seems to start affecting them, however, and soon all manner of crises, both physical and metaphysical, envelope them. If I’m not mistaken, the film won an Oscar for Best Cinematography back in the day, and it’s totally deserved. The film starts out relatively demurely, but soon vivid Technicolor threatens to overwhelm the drab habits of the nuns and the final half an hour of the film is some top-notch suspense that even Hitchcock could envy. Black Narcissus also has some of the best non-horror (or is it?!) makeup I’ve ever seen. If you watch it, you’ll know what I mean. And no, I’m not talking about all the white people they painted brown. Criterion Collection recently put out a new, remastered version on DVD and Blu-Ray and I’m considering picking it up, but I also went a little spend-crazy over the weekend with some other Criterion titles since they were all on sale. So we’ll see! At any rate, if you love furtive stares from nuns you won’t want to miss this one!

Grump Talk – Saturn Setback

June 10, 2010

So after I actually started trying to play my pile of Sega, I ran into some problems. Panzer Dragoon Saga would either not boot up at all or boot up and then crash randomly. The low point was when I finally figured out how to defeat a tricky boss, then the game froze and crashed at the victory screen.

So of course I wanted to find out if the problem lay with the disc or with the system’s laser lens. All of the games I initially bought worked well… mostly. D had a little bit of trouble booting up the first time I popped it in and Albert Odyssey froze once at the beginning of a random battle, but I thought those were flukes since I couldn’t repeat it. But now, I saw a more sinister pattern. So I popped in my other games. The Legend of Oasis started up just fine, but Shining Force III couldn’t even make it to the title screen.

So the only choice left to me was to attempt emulation to see if the problem was in the Saturn’s laser lens. I went shopping around for one that would let me boot up from the CD and it seems that 99% of Saturn emulators are abandoned at the alpha stage or emulate the CPU but not necessarily the games(?!). I FINALLY found one that seemed to fit the bill and popped in Panzer Dragoon Saga. Flawlessly booted up, several times. Popped in Shining Force III. Booted up just fine.

I’m lookin’ at youuuuuuuuuuu, Saturn.

So thankfully this still falls within the 30 day return policy the store had on the console, so I’m gonna return it (and ask to keep the friggin’ battery) and hunt for a Saturn that actually… y’know… works. There’s gonna be a delay in further landings on Saturn~