Wario Land II

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Wario Land II (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) has the honor of being the last first party game released on Game Boy. Almost a year later, an enhanced port to the Game Boy Color was released in North America, and this is the version I played.

While this ended up being a series in its own right, Wario Land games are really a spin off of the Super Mario Land series – with Wario making his first appearance in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. Despite the lineage, this is not your standard platformer. Wario is invincible – and because of this there are no lives. Being hit by enemies simply removes some of your coins or transforms Wario into something else but it’s never permanent. From what I played it was also very linear with one level leading directly into the next. According to Giant Bomb’s wiki, there are branching paths, but I didn’t run into any. As far as abilities are concerned, you can jump and do a dash attack that will break blocks and other destructible items, as well as kill enemies. If you jump on an enemy and knock him over you can then walk up to him and pick him up which allows you to throw him at other enemies. This took a bit of getting used to, but made sense given the lack of buttons on a Game Boy. Overall the platforming was pretty light, with more of a focus on puzzle solving and finding hidden rooms/items – a nice change of pace from your typical Mario game. One minor annoyance I found is that while the game auto saves on level completion, there is only one save slot – a real bummer. There are two mini games that I ran across – both reminded me of ‘memory’ and were fine. I probably could have gone without them, but they give you something to do with all the coins you’re collecting.

Visuals were good for the Game Boy Color with bright colors and well animated sprites. Because I played the GBC version, some of the backgrounds and sprites were a bit more detailed than in the original release, and it was definitely a good looking game.

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Sound was excellent with sound effects that were perfect and an absolutely killer soundtrack. This is R&D1 and Kozue Ishikawa at their best.Just fantastic.

Verdict: Play again! This was oddly satisfying and I can see myself playing more.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

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Gun

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Gun (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a third person action adventure with a western setting. Developed by Neversoft, makers of the Tony Hawk series. Released right around the launch of the Xbox 360, and was on every platform under the sun at the time. I do remember this game being released, but I never picked up a copy until recently – it was just one of those titles that slipped through the cracks.

The game starts out with you hunting with your dad. After a quick tutorial, you head out to a steamer and all hell breaks loose. During the chaos, your dad tells you he’s not really your father and that you should head to a brothel and talk to someone named Jenny who will have some information for you. Shortly after this, the steamer explodes killing your father and sending you flying. While not the most original of starting points, it’s delivered well and gets the story moving. I have no idea if the rest of the narrative will pan out, but the beginning is promising.

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Gameplay is typical 3rd person open world, with you able to ride horses and equip various guns. This all seems pretty standard now, but the setting was new at the time – eventually this would be outdone by Red Dead Redemption, but I can appreciate what Neversoft was going for. I see it as a great amount of praise that I compare this favorably to that game. Controls all felt tight, intuitive, and responsive here even on horseback. To be fair, I’m not sure how much of an ‘open world’ game this is, but the levels I did play were pretty expansive. During combat, you can activate a meter that slows down time and allows you to line up several shots. This meter refills as you kill enemies and added a nice touch to the otherwise fairly standard shooting. One odd thing I’ll mention is that you drink whiskey to refill your health – yeah.

Visuals were a definite strong suit here, and never disappointed. Textures were excellent for a PS2 title, and animations were quite good. I did see some frame rate issues in town when there was a lot going on or when explosions were happening, but these dips were not common and didn’t bother me much. I didn’t test it out since I’m playing on a CRT TV that doesn’t support it, but there was support for progressive scan in the menu – not a common option on PS2.

Sound was great as well – sound effects and music were fantastic and helped give the game its gritty feel. What little voice acting I heard ranged from excellent to acceptable – considering the era though, this is definitely above par.

Overall, I had a great time playing this, and I played much longer than I normally do for these impressions which is always a good sign. Gun is available on Xbox, PS2, Gamecube, and PC (steam too!) and I would say is definitely worth picking up and giving a shot. 

Verdict: Play again! I had a blast with this and plan on revisiting it for sure.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Greg Hastings’ Tournament Paintball

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Greg Hastings’ Tournament Paintball (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is something I normally would have zero interest in. I’ve never played paintball, and while I don’t think the game itself is boring or uninteresting, video games based on it are usually garbage. If you are looking for a laugh, check out PC Gamer’s review of Extreme Paintbrawl – a perfect example of this. This game is an exclusive title for the original Xbox – as I’m trying to collect every original Xbox exclusive, I had to pick up a copy when I found it in a bargain bin. After purchase, I did some research and apparently this was a cult hit – it was Xbox Live enabled and supported voice chat. Now that the Xbox Live servers for the original Xbox are offline, I tried the game single player to see what I thought.

Being that this is ostensibly a multiplayer focused sports title, the single player doesn’t seem to have anything close to what would be called a story – there is a series of tournaments to undertake, but that’s it. I’m fine with this, as I really don’t think this game needs any kind of narrative structure to make it interesting. You can do some superficial character creation by picking one of 5 or 6 prebuilt character models, and then assign upgrade points to some skills to your liking. You start as part of a team, and can go to tournaments to earn trophies and money which can be used to purchase upgrades and cosmetics such as clothing. There is also a leveling mechanic where you gain experience and levels for successfully completing a tournament and then get additional points to buff your character. This is honestly fairly basic, but it works and fits in well.

Tournaments are selected on a map screen and have you paired against an opposing team for best of 5 matches. Because it’s paintball, you are eliminated from the match in one hit, but the game has a ‘cheat’ mechanic where you can do a small quick time event (similar to power meters in golf games) that will usually grant you another shot – with the exception that if you get caught cheating by a ref, your team forfeits the entire match. I thought this was a neat idea and made the matches more interesting. I’m not sure if this exists online, but if it does I imagine it would be quite frustrating. AI opponents were fairly tough on the normal setting, and I had to turn them down to easy to finish the first tournament which was a nice surprise. The movement and the guns felt nice and it worked well as a shooter in general. My one gripe with the controls was that in order to reload you needed to hit the black button – thankfully reloading wasn’t needed most of the time.

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Graphics were fairly average for Xbox – the framerate was good, but the models and environments looked like they could easily run on PS2 or Gamecube. Really nothing spectacular here, but nothing bad enough to dock it – it’s simply average.

Sound effects here are pretty bad. I get that paintball guns don’t make much noise, but it was impossible to hear when opponents were firing. The lack of good effects also made the guns feel…. weird. There isn’t any visible recoil (again, paintball guns) but that matched with the lack of sound made firing unsatisfying. Music was OK, reminding me of Tony Hawk or Amped soundtracks, and the game does support custom soundtracks – which is a nice touch.

Overall, I had some fun with Greg Hastings’ Tournament Paintball but the lack of multiplayer makes this a bit uninteresting this many years after its release.

Verdict: Back on the shelf – while not a terrible game, it’s not something I can see myself returning to.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Light Crusader

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Light Crusader (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is an action RPG released late in the Sega Genesis’ life cycle. Developed by Treasure – a developer known on the Genesis for classics such as Dynamite HeaddyGunstar Heroes, and Alien Soldier – it is not well known despite its pedigree. To be honest, until I ran across a copy earlier this year,  I didn’t even know the game existed.

The game begins with the hero returning to a town that requested his help. The king informs you that villagers have been going missing and begs you to investigate the disappearances. As for narrative – that’s pretty much it. I’m sure it gets a little deeper the further you go, but you are essentially thrown right into the action.

The game is played from a top down isometric perspective that reminds me a bit of Diablo. You can walk in the four cardinal directions, attack, and jump. Some actions are context sensitive – for example when you’re in town you can hit the attack button to speak to townsfolk to get some clues. There are also shops in town to buy and sell items that you find, but I never had anything to sell and was too broke to buy anything. To get to the dungeon, you need to figure out a small puzzle in the graveyard – unfortunately because my time is limited and I couldn’t figure out what to do I had to revert to a walkthrough. When I saw the solution it was fairly obvious, but the act of getting stuck 5 minutes into the game was a preview of some of the more obscure puzzles that I was about to deal with. As for gameplay, there are some puzzles to figure out, some light combat (which is not great), and some light platforming. For the platforming, the isometric perspective doesn’t do the player any favors and simple jumps can take several attempts to land properly. Despite this, the minute to minute gameplay works and is fun and rewarding – something I wouldn’t have expected given some of the downsides. I can’t say for sure, but I get the impression that some of the later puzzles will be very difficult which would be a bit disappointing.

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Music in Light Crusader was awesome – it was some of the better Genesis music I can think of. The town and dungeon themes were atmospheric and drew me into the world. Sound effects were also excellent – this is Treasure doing what they were known for. Which leads me to….

Visuals. While not everything is amazing, I would say the graphics are definitely above average with some of the sculptures and other sprite work looking fantastic. While hard to see in screenshots, the doors and some other elements are actually 3D and look great. I will say that the main characters animation is a bit weak, and some townsfolk don’t animate at all – the only blemish on the overall look of the game.

Overall, I had a good time with Light Crusader and I’m shocked that it’s so unknown (and cheap!). If you have a Genesis and are looking for something different, I think it’s well worth a shot.

Verdict: Play again! This was a good time, and while I imagine some of the later puzzles will be difficult and possibly frustrating I can overlook the flaws.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Drakkhen

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Drakkhen (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) has the honor of being the first RPG released for the SNES – a machine that would be well known for having a deep and varied RPG library. Originally developed for the Atari ST and later ported to various platforms it is a game that is very obtuse and takes quite a bit of trial and error. The story here is very generic and not very compelling – I don’t think anyone should play this for the narrative.

Gameplay has you controlling a party of 4 adventurers. You are given 2 different modes – a first person mode that allows you to explore the world map in 3D an a third person view for dungeon exploration and combat. All you can really do in first person is travel the map, so I’ll be focusing on the third person mode. In third person mode, you can directly control one character and move them about the screen and you can switch characters on the fly. You can interact with the environment by taking items, interacting with objects, or just looking around which will highlight points of interest. Combat also takes place in third person view, but you have no control over it. Your characters will automatically attack enemies on the screen until they are all dead or your party is wiped out. This makes combat very boring and you might as well go get a snack when it’s happening. In the first person mode, you can explore the map and are beset by random encounters which will throw you automatically into third person view with the auto combat I mentioned above.

Starting the game, it suggests where you should go to start, but I was very surprised to see that it was essentially open world – you can ignore the suggestion and move around the map as you see fit. I imagine this was a very new thing back on release day and would have seemed revolutionary. The game itself is very cryptic, and doesn’t hold the players hand at all when it comes to figuring out what to do. This was developed in Europe and you can see, for lack of a better term, the strangeness of European RPGs in full effect here. Here is a great example: while wandering the world map, I came across a tombstone sticking out of the ground. I ran into it and when I did a giant black panther head came out of the ground and started attacking my party by shooting lasers out of it’s eyes. I wiped out and got a game over – and I have no idea what the significance of that creature was. In a second play through I ran into the exact scenario in a different part of the map, so these laser wielding panthers exist in multiple places. I’ve included a picture below to show the weirdness of it all.

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Visuals were a bit of a sore spot – the pseudo 3D over world was impressive, but sprites in general were low quality and didn’t animate well at all.   There also weren’t many effects that took advantage of the SNES hardware such as scaling and rotation. Graphics were serviceable but that’s the nicest thing I can say about them.

Sound was a mixed bag. The music was quite good, eerie, moody, and fit the game well. Sound effects were just terrible though – the samples sounded like they were recorded in someones garage on cassette tape and copied about 50 times before being digitized.

Overall, Drakkhen is a relic, a call back to when RPGs (especially European RPGs) were inscrutable and decidedly not beginner friendly. With the boring combat and unrelenting difficulty, I doubt I play this one again for more than a few minutes.

Verdict: Back on the shelf.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb