Saturday, June 29, 2013

#55: Arcana

Hal America with a non-sports game?
Arcana is a first person dungeon crawling RPG game that I vaguely remember renting a few times as a kid. All of the characters and enemies are represented by cards which have different elemental associations and which have cute two-step animations in combat. Guy standing in a ready stance -> guy swinging a sword. That sort of thing.
No Teefa, the pleasure is _mine_.
The game actually has a text intro with some plot backstory which is really nice! I live on an island that's been at war for a really long time. The biggest city had an evil advisor perform a coup and become king and things are looking grim. A long lost friend shows up and tells me I need to go seal some cave. Only I can do it as I am the last living Card Master! I definitely can see being a Card Master! My character seems a little leery of my long lost friend since his father is an advisor to the evil advisor. My friend assures me he's nothing like his father, honest, and tells me to take his pretty assistant along for the adventure. Deal!

Intense music? Must be a boss fight!
I cleared out most of the first level of the dungeon (it reminds of of Wizardry V with the stone walls and the rudimentary map) and picked up some treasure chests and such. While trying to figure out what the stuff I found did I discovered that Rooks and Teefa have no equipment on, which explains why they attack for very small numbers. I should have checked before I left town. But really, which starting the main character off with no gear is an annoying buy standard situation I'm a little surprised that the tag-along assistant who knew she was going into a dungeon has no gear of her own. "Hi, I want to come on an adventure with you. Oh, and I'm naked. Is that going to be a problem?" No problem here, ma'am!

At any rate I went back to town, bought some gear, and started swinging for 7 times as much damage. I killed the boss of the first floor and went up to the second floor. Explored around there a bunch, found the boss of that floor, and fought him a bit. By this point I'd run out of mana so I couldn't heal anymore. But Rooks was full so I didn't see the need to drink my ether. Teefa was low health and her name was flashing red but what could go wrong? Even if she went down Rooks and Sylph would win the fight and I could go on or go back to town. WRONG!

Turns out this game actually doesn't abstract away death behind some 'swoon' condition. If one of your party members dies, that's it. Game over.

I actually think this is a pretty good game mechanic assuming the fights aren't so rough that people get gibbed, and that certainly wasn't the case here. I could have healed her to full at the cost of a consumable. I just didn't think I'd need to. But since I hadn't saved state I would have to go back to when I went back to town and buy weapons. Which would be fine, but I had enough to get a feel for this game again.

That said, the music was good. I like the layout even with the combat seeming pretty trivial thus far. I remember there being a whole elemental system that mattered. Sylph could turn my party into air elemental if that became relevant. Pretty sure in the plot my long lost friend backstabs us as soon as I seal the thingy. I am actually interested to reload and play some more to see what happens.

Rating: A

Saturday, June 22, 2013

#54: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

May the way of the Hero lead to the Triforce.
I heard once (ok, it was on Criminal Minds, but Dr Reid sounds like he knows what he's talking about) that musical preferences are formed around the age of 14. If that is true (a quick Google search did turn up a site claiming 12-16 as the range) then it makes sense to me that video game preferences could follow the same sort of pattern. What was I doing when I was 14? Playing games on the SNES, and probably this one in particular. People often debate which of a given game series is 'the best', and when it comes to Zelda the answer to me is clear. A Link to the Past is 'the best'. Top down, two dimensional, 16 bit games are my bread and butter. Wait, I hate both bread and butter... How about they're my bacon and eggs?
Oh no! Zelda!
Playing this game again, especially in contrast to some of the other games I've played in this adventure, is quite the eye opener. A lot of the games I've played thus far have been terrible. Bad sound, bad graphics, lag, no plot... None of those hold true here. This game had incredible music. The graphics may be a little dated but when it comes to 16 bit SNES graphics these are amazing. The game controls well. There's an actual story, and I get told what it is while playing the game. There are tons of items to collect, and puzzles to solve, and secrets to find.
I know there were open world games before this but when it comes to just having a world to run around in, cracked walls to blow up, and stuff to find this game is awesome. That there are two versions of the same world and you need to go back and forth between them to get at some of the secret treasure is such a great step. When you really have time to just explore around this game really shines.

It was also a lot harder than I remember, but I think a big part of that is that I was trying to push through to get as much stuff done for this post instead of just playing the game. Normally I wouldn't go into a new dungeon without finding a new fairy pool to fill up my bottles. Having 33 health gives a lot greater margin for error than having 6! On the plus side the game actually has a reasonable continue option when you die. It saves your open world progress, and your dungeon progress, and either starts you back at your home if you die in the world or the start of the dungeon if you die in one. No limited number of continues either! Back in the day this option would be inconceivable (if I die it becomes my brother's turn) but for this purpose it worked out ok. And by not filling up on fairies I actually got pretty good at avoiding some of the bosses because I got to fight them so many times. Leaving to fill my bottles would have made it easy, and probably faster too...

I ended up saving 4 of the 7 princesses in the dark land, which was pretty close to done. I expect I'll end up finishing the game later this week. I've found with most of the games in this adventure I can't wait to stop playing them. This one I want to keep playing it!

Rating: S+

Saturday, June 15, 2013

#53: Xardion

XARDION! (What does that mean?!?)
Xardion is a game I'd never heard of before, and the game actually opened with a bit of an intro before the title screen which game me a bit of an idea about what was going on. There are three planets under attack by another galaxy or something, and they decide to band together to fight off the invaders. Each planet sends a champion in a ship which makes me think this game is going to be a side scrolling shooter with three different characters to choose from, like UN Squadron. Yay. I sure haven't played enough of that genre thus far!

Panthera, I choose you!
It turns out the game is actually a platformer with three different characters to choose from. You can swap between characters by hitting select which actually reminds me a lot of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game on the NES. Each of the three characters is significantly different which is more like The Lost Vikings. Both of those games are awesome. Unfortunately this game is not.

Tongue attack, go!
It turns out the game only seems to use two of the six buttons which makes me very sad. The three characters are different, but not in good ways. One guy can aim his gun up which makes him the best. One guy is a cat so he can crawl into tunnels which makes him situationally useful. The third guy just seemed terrible.

Interestingly the game has experience bars so your guys can level up by killing dudes. Unfortunately experience isn't shared, so Triton (who could shoot up) ended up gaining some levels while everyone else kept sucking.

I made it to one boss fight and made good use of character swapping to keep fighting as long as I could. But then I died. It restarted me at the start of the level with full health on the guy who died and old health of the other two... Which really made me never want to use those guys again.

There were lots of item pickups I could get, and I think they were incrementing my numbers on the select menu, but I never found a way to actually use any of them for any purpose. Which made me sad. Maybe that stuff was used after beating the first boss. Maybe some arcane sequence of button presses would work it out. But I couldn't find a way.

Infinite continues and a level system means I'm pretty confident I eventually could have won. I just didn't want to. The controls were sluggish too. But I feel like if I'd played this game as a kid I would have liked it a fair bit and definitely would have played it a lot.

Rating: C+

Saturday, June 8, 2013

#52: World League Soccer

League is like Cup, right?
World League Soccer is a game by Mindscape, which surprised me. I remember Mindscape from way back in my Commodore 64 days, and I liked their games, but I didn't think they made SNES games. I mean, they did put out The Chessmaster that I've played already, but that game felt like something a high school student wrote for a class project. How would they fare in the sports game world?
Well, not very well. The graphics are something I would have expected from the Commodore 64, not from the Super Nintendo. The gameplay too, since although at least 4 of the buttons seemed to do things they all seemed to do the exact same thing. Diving tackle without the ball, kick the ball with the ball. So exactly what I'd expect from a single button joystick setup!
I played as Japan vs Ireland, and the names seemed very Japanese and very British. Did they have the actual teams from those countries from 1993? I don't know. It would be cool if they did. The game had a 'World Match' mode which looked like it emulated the World Cup format. It had other game modes too, which I like to see.

However, just like The Chessmaster, this game really suffers from terrible controls and bad graphics. I don't think Mindscape shifted into SNES development very well. They did put out 14 more games on the SNES... I hope they got better!

That said, despite the bad controls I do think I could have rented this game as a kid, played with my brother, and had some amount of fun. We sure played a bunch of C64 sports games and enjoyed it, so I suspect we would have done the same on the SNES.

Rating: D-

Saturday, June 1, 2013

#51: True Golf Classics: Pebble Beach Golf Links

Nice beach!
5 months after the release of Waialae Country Club comes a practically identical game, Pebble Beach Golf Links. I remember playing this game also, but not nearly as much as the first one.
I feel like DQ is a bad name for your caddy.
I found this game very frustrating. Most golf games have the power meter cycle up to the top, and then come back down the same path. Often the backswing downwards will be faster, making it a little punishing if you're slow with hitting the button. This game loops back down to the bottom. So if you miss the max power shot by a millisecond you hardly hit the ball at all. I'm sure this means you either get really good at the timing or learn to not hit the ball as hard as possible. But when you're picking the game back up 21 years after release that's hard to remember. So I started by just barely hitting the ball forward. Over and over.
Thanks, Dawg!
I mentioned in my Waialae post that I stopped playing after I fell to the bottom of the leaderboard which took two holes. Well, this time it took one hole. And I gave up before I finished the second hold. I made it to the green in 3 strokes and my caddy Dawg was thrilled. Then I managed to putt the ball too hard and it barely fell off the green. But I didn't notice that it had switched to the wedge, and I put the right amount of power on the meter for a putt. Which made my shot go way over the green the other way. Frustrated, I gave up. I didn't even remember getting frustrated and giving up with Waialae, but I did there and I did here too.

The lag was very annoying this time. Adjusting your shot a smidge to the side forced the game to render the entire course fresh from the new angle. Want to adjust three smidges? That's three slow renders.

The music was chipper and upbeat, which was nice. And I do like that they used a real golf course. It's that sort of thing that justifies releasing essentially the same game several times a year. I know I appreciated having a second course to play as a change of pace as a kid when I used to play these games.

I guess I should probably give this the same rating as the last one? I still don't want to play it now, and I think the limitations of the SNES hardware really make the level of detail they put into the course hurt. But I did like it back in the day, and that should count for something.

Rating: C+