The day has come! Let's go Plus Ultra and start discussing My Hero Academia!

March 20, 2013

Let’s discuss video games -- with a vengeance.

Dare I say it…with a REVENGEANCE?!  (Seriously, though.  Go play Metal Gear Rising if you haven't yet.  Trust me on this.)

Improbable synonyms for a vendetta aside, I’ve been thinking about games a lot recently…well, about as much as usual, give or take a degree.  The 3DS has been out for a while now, and the Wii U is firmly lodged in stores, the hands of gamers, or the minds of millions as they wait for their store of choice to restock (at least if the Wii’s original unavailability is anything to go by).  It makes me wonder about the future of games; what’s going to happen next?  I remember how a friend of mine was utterly infuriated by Nintendo in its E3 showing, but as I’ve said (in real life and in other contexts), Nintendo’s not in any danger of failure.  The Wii U is going to be fine, hiccups here and there aside.  And while I have many…many…many reservations about the future of other companies -- hardware or software developers -- I’m more than willing to assume everything will work out.

That said, I can’t help but feel like taking steps back every now and then -- remembering the good old days, and smiling fondly thanks to those simulated sights.  And that’s why the theme of this round of Let’s Discuss is “return” -- get ready for games old and new-ish.  What will pop out before your eyes?  What fiendish sights will wreak havoc on your optic nerves?  What hyperbole can I slip into the next fifteen words or so?  Find out, or you’re certain to face a reality-destroying apocalypse!

Spider-Man 64!
(Or: Set the Timer on the Bomb…and Take Out ALL the Hostages)

One of the best things about finding an old N64 is that -- assuming everything is working properly -- you not only have another console, but a treasure trove of games that are like new again.  Here’s to refusing to throw away old things!  Incidentally, I think I might have inherited hoarding instincts from my grandma.

In any case, Spider-Man 64 (and its PS1 equivalent).  I decided to play it on a whim, but the controller I was using didn’t have the Memory Pak in it…and since I didn’t feel like getting up to retrieve it, I just said, “Eh, whatever.  Let’s just see how far I can get.”  I made it a lot farther than I expected; I assumed that I’d rage-quit early on because I couldn’t get a handle on the controls, or just that the game had aged poorly.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I felt compelled to play on…only to rage-quit later because I couldn’t beat Rhino.  It’s not exactly a technical masterpiece, but there’s a lot to appreciate about the game besides just being a lazy tie-in.  Spidey swings pretty much at your command with relative ease, and he’s got a handful of cool web attacks -- one of my favorites is the web-dome, which has him putting up a barrier to protect him from attacks, and then detonating it with explosive sticky force.  Wall-crawling can be a bit of a finicky affair because your controls will reverse (and more) for no reason, but I like how it can be used for stealthy attacks.  And in addition to having some catchy tunes, I’d argue that the game is almost as quotable -- if not more so -- than Star Fox 64

Unfortunately, the combat isn’t quite as endearing.  It’s kind of messy; taking on goons is a crap shoot, because as soon as you finish your basic combo they can smack you -- and they will.  And Spidey himself can’t take much of a hit.  I know he’s not as durable as Superman, but really?  A goon can make sure Spidey has a bad time?  And bosses are even worse; not only are they damage sponges, but they can pretty much shrug off your attacks and knock Spidey flat on his ass just for trying to hurt them.  I ended up beating Scorpion by just throwing office furniture at him, sometimes letting him hunt after J. Jonah Jameson so I could get more ammo.  Although to be fair, I wouldn’t mind seeing my pragmatic cowardice represented in comic form.

But even with that in mind, it wasn’t enough to ruin my day.  I had fun with the game, and I wouldn’t mind returning to it with Memory Pak in hand.  I need to put on one of those alternate costumes…

Hard Corps: Uprising!
(Or: All Hail the Ripple Shot (?))

I’m preeeeeeeeeeeetty sure my brother and I are never going to beat this game.  I’m beginning to suspect that the difficulty I thought the game had is actually just cheapness and poor game mechanics I was willing to let slide.  Imagine this scenario: you’re on the last level, or at least very near it.  You’re on your way to a boss fight, but in order to get there you have to navigate a series of perilous jumps across a flying battleship.  And by “perilous jumps” I mean you have to grab onto missiles that fly by.  Fair enough; nothing special there. 

Except you have to do so while the missiles head straight into the line of fire of a big whompin’ laser, and if you get hit by it you’ll fall and die instantly.  And the ledge leading to the missiles is just below a set of electrified spikes, so if you jump too high while trying to get on the missiles, you die instantly.  And you don’t just ride one missile to the end; you have to drop down/climb up a trio of them, putting yourself in harm’s way of the laser -- or rather, lasers -- multiple times.  And then (if you get past that, which you might with one life to spare) you have to navigate a hovering gauntlet of soldiers, and if you get hit by one of their bullets you’ll sail into the abyss.

And then if you get past that, you have to fight a boss that’s difficult not because of its attack pattern, but because the arena you fight it in takes advantage of your aiming ability, stolen focus from the rotating platform you’re on -- leading to instant death if you’re shooting one of the boss’ orbs instead of watching where you’re looking -- and pillars that are near-impossible to navigate because you keep grabbing onto them, pushing you into the abyss and a game over.  And I’m convinced the game is unbeatable if you’re playing as Harley, because I swear he doesn’t have the mobility needed for anything in the later levels -- a sobering truth if you’ve pumped him up with a slew of upgrades, and have suddenly discovered he’s near-useless.

There’s a thin line between hard and unfair, and I’m pretty sure Hard Corps: Uprising plays hopscotch with it with reckless abandon.  But with that in mind, I can’t bring myself to hate it.  It is, “difficulty” aside, a fun game.  It’s a great relief to clear a level and get that much closer to the ending.  It’s always fun to feel like you’ve got a chance of victory -- and omnipotence -- when you pick up the Spread Shot, and I’m partly convinced that the Ripple Shot has some hidden potential that needs to be tapped.  It’s always fun to reflect enemy shots back at them, or bust up a chest-high wall by tackling it.  And as always, respect must be paid to any game that uses sprites in this day and age.  Of course, it helps that there’s music from my lord and savior Daisuke Ishiwatari. 

Memo to self: build a shrine to honor that beautiful, beautiful man.

E.X. Troopers (or the demo, at least)!
(Or: More Depressing than the Death of a Thousand Smiling Puppies)

I know this demo’s been out for a while, but let’s just pretend it came out last week or something.

He may be in the minority on this, but my brother’s always had a soft spot for the Lost Planet games.  It was a shooter he couldn’t help but get invested in, even if the mechanics (as I understand them) are nothing worth getting excited about, and online play was generally plagued with lag.  But I can see the merit; the original came out before the industry hit Shooter Critical Mass, so it was allowed to branch out in its offerings.  Splashes of color, unique weaponry -- Frisbee grenade?! -- mechs aplenty, an emphasis NOT on popping out from chest-high walls, but moment-to-moment movement, and grappling hook action.  I’ll always remember the time someone shot a grenade in midair and blew it up in my brother’s face, killing him instantly.

So you can imagine his surprise, then, when I explained to him that E.X. Troopers was a Lost Planet spin-off.  And you can imagine both our surprise when we not only discovered it was a fun game, but one that we wanted more of immediately.

I think that what makes E.X. Troopers inherently exciting (in spite of being a shooter) is that it’s a lot more active than shooters nowadays.  It’s exciting, frenetic, and hyperkinetic; pinpoint accuracy is easily and quickly eschewed for lock-on run and gun action.  It moves at a faster clip, doubly so when you consider that you have a dash button -- and if that’s not good enough, you can rocket-boost across snow fields.  Your basic melee attack is a roundhouse kick, but dashing toward an enemy and hitting Circle will uppercut them into the sky, letting you pepper them with bullets or another kick.  And if you build up enough energy, you can unleash a heavy-hitting super attack.  All of these abilities come together to create a high-adrenaline, offense-heavy combat system that promotes and rewards combos, rather than hiding behind walls for five minutes while you lick your wounds.  If I had to point to a weakness of the game, it’s that it’s hard to say how much staying power it might have; uppercutting a Snow Pirate is fun a few times, but I don’t know if it’ll be awesome a hundred uppercuts down the road.

That said, this snippet of the game left the two of us hungry for more…and lamenting over the fact that it might never come to America. 

E.X. Troopers is like a relic of a different era -- a return to the good ol’ days of Clover Studios masterpieces like Okami, God Hand, and Viewtiful Joe.  There’s a layer of optimism and spirit in this one game that’s been missing in the gaming industry’s ideology for half a decade.  I was saying things like “Time for a magical adventure!” and “This game can’t come to America -- it’s got smiling people in it!” in jest, and my brother chimed in with “He’s got pink hair.  We’re never getting this game.”  But even comments in jest are pretty sobering.  Capcom’s been hunting for Westerner dollars for years (look no further than the abysmal Resident Evil 6 for their devotion to the cause), and I get the sneaking suspicion that it’s cool to hate on Japanese games just because they’re Japanese, or have anime-style visuals.  Hell, a glance at a preview for Tales of Xillia in GameInformer can’t even go half a paragraph without making backhanded comments on how boring or clichéd JRPGs can be.  It’s also worth noting that Troopers didn’t do very well in Japan on its first week out…though it might have helped if it hadn’t been released in the same week as CODBlops.  Smart move, Capcom. Smaaaaaaaaaaaaart.

If it comes down to it, my brother declared, he’d import the game if need be.  And you know what?  I’m okay with that; if I remember correctly, the game has roundhouse-kicking robots as well.

…Why exactly do people hate on Japanese games, exactly?

Oh.  Well, that explains it.  I think.

Sonic Generations!
(Or: Rolling Around at the Speed of…Et Cetera)

You know, I wonder how Sega’s been doing lately.  I was under the impression that they weren’t doing well, given the half-year delay for Anarchy Reigns, lowered profit forecasts, a professed shift to mobile gaming, the lack of a full-on Sonic release last year, the floundering support of Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, the knife-twisting of Aliens: Colonial Marines, the talk of restructuring the company (whatever that means -- probably nothing good), the…the, uh…

Sega?  Do you guys need a hug?

Well, on the plus side Sonic Generations has seen some love and successes.  I missed out on I when the game first came out, but I made sure to rectify the mistake a little while back.  And having finished the game I can confidently say that…well…yeah, it’s good.  

But you know what?  Honestly?  

I think I prefer Sonic Colors.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to devalue the quality of Generations in the slightest.  It’s still a good game, and you’re in good hands if you grab it for yourself.  It really is an attempt to reconcile the past games and the present ones, designs, physics, and all.  Many thanks are in order to Sega for crating these colorful, vivid, and thrill-loaded worlds, as well as appeasing the fanboy gods every step of the way.  The Genesis stages are back with the classic songs bursting out of your TV.  You can recreate the infamous Speed Highway building run, albeit with some minor updates.  There’s a boss fight where you can go to town on Silver, and send his unfortunately-designed body tumbling helplessly across a freeway at something approaching a hundred fifty miles per hour -- and dealing the finishing blow to him will have him crushed under a massive pile of junk.  Make of that sequence what you will.

In any case, the levels are generally fun to play and explore.  And while there are only nine of them, the game has side missions for you to scamper around for days on end.  They’re permutations on the Act 1/Act 2 setup of the levels, potentially adding in more than a half-dozen Acts at once -- double that, considering that both Classic Sonic and Modern Sonic have their own stages.  Clear them, and you’ll be rewarded with music and art -- but I think the real draw is just having a more overt way to make a gamer explore and improve.  If you have a mindset to just play through the two Acts (plus one extra mission to unlock the boss door) in each level, you’ll get twenty-seven Acts.  Play through all the rest -- or even a few -- of the optional missions, and you’ll be rewarded with a better investment of your time and money, along with gameplay mechanics that change the levels in unexpected ways. 

Okay, so what’s wrong with it?  Well, to be honest, I feel like some of the moment-to-moment circumstances in this game are kind of annoying.  But that’s not a fault with Generations -- more of a fault with Sonic in general.  I played Sonic 2 via PSN a while back, and that game kind of pissed me off.  Like every time I started to gain momentum and feel the flow, I’d end up flying right into a random set of spikes.  Or just when I’d collected more than a hundred rings and was about to clear the stage, I’d run into an enemy with absolutely no way of knowing it’d even be there.  I know part of the appeal of Sonic games (or old games in general) is to memorize the layout through multiple playthroughs to get the fastest time, but why does my flow have to be so consistently broken no matter which path I take? 

You can probably chalk up some of this to my slow reflexes -- and the fact that I’ve only played each level once so far -- but it seems like Sonic Generations alternates between moments of “YEAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” with moments of “FFFFFFUUUUUU!” a little too often for comfort.  The former outnumbers the latter by a hefty margin, of course, but there are some curious game design choices.  Like how at the start of one level, your instinct is to start boosting forward…and if you do so, you end up running into a bottomless pit.  Or how there’ll always be a bed of spikes right when and where you want to land.  Or that friggin’ clock in the Classic version of the Sonic Unleashed stage -- God, I hate that thing.  Also, I don’t know if it’s the game or my PS3/TV, but my brother insists that there’s input lag between you and the game -- and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m inclined to agree.  There’s a late boss fight where you have to jump over icy stalagmites in sequence, but you can’t jump on reaction; you have to jump as soon as the shot is fired.  It’s antithetical to your instincts, and it makes an inherently-simple boss fight a lot harder than it needs to be. 

Speaking of bosses, the last boss fight kind of sucks.  Such a disappointment, that -- especially considering Colors' far-superior and far more satisfying final battle.  Final Color Blaster, anyone?

The problems I’ve mentioned aren’t game-breakers, though (the input lag IS easy enough to compensate for, if you notice it at all).  And indeed, I have every intention of playing through it some more so I can unlock more junk.  But the reason I say Colors > Generations isn’t because of things like visuals, music, or design, though that might play a part.  The reason is because of the mindset behind the two games.  Colors, more than any other game, felt like a return to form -- a proof that Sega and Sonic Team finally got a handle on how to put Sonic in a 3D space, AND evolve his gameplay in meaningful ways.  It was the first game since Heroes -- besides Rush, but that’s 2D -- that I wasn’t afraid to buy, given gameplay, videos, demos, and reviews that scared me off.  But I was not only rewarded, but pleased with Colors

If Colors was a symbol of evolution and a sign of brighter days, then Generations is more along the lines of stagnation and upholding the status quo -- and even then, that status quo is on shaky ground both gameplay-wise and fanbase-wise.  In my eyes, Colors felt like it was going up thanks to a clear focus on what to do; the powers gained from the Wisps felt like a simple, non-intrusive yet poignant evolution of the high-speed, explorative gameplay of the past.  With Generations, what’s the vision there?  Go back to the past?  Add skills and perks?  I get that it works for one outing -- it IS a celebration of Sonic’s birthday, after all -- but where do you go after that, Sega?  What do you do when Modern Sonic has already started co-opting 2D gameplay into his 3D world?  What’s the game plan?  If the idea is to keep the blue blur relevant in today’s gaming climate, it’ll take a lot more than just running away from the issue.

…Well, whatever.  If Sonic needs to take a year or two off, then so be it; better to come back with fresh ideas rather than keep on running around in circles.  I’ll be awaiting your next product, Sega.  If there’s anyone that can pull off a win, it’s you.

In the meantime, thanks for the good game you’ve already given us.  And good on you for including the greatest song ever created as an unlockable.

And that’ll do it for now.  See you guys around. 

Or you could go watch the I Hraet You recap vid.  I wouldn't mind that.  Like, at all.

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