tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse




Have you learned NOTHING?!

This stupid thing makes the werehog look awesome in comparison, seriously.

It’s times like this that I wish I drank alcohol, so I could drown my sorrows in it.


Is today “reveal crappy games day” or something?

Capcom and Konami appear to think that it is.

First off, Megaman 9. Let’s start off with a disclaimer – I’m not a Mega Man fan. My experience with the franchise is limited to a few minutes with Megaman X and Megaman Zero 2. That said, MM9 has me somewhat dumbstruck. It’s not that it’s a 2D sidescroller (that isn’t an issue at all, and in fact is probably a good move to appeal to Megaman fans). What I take issue with is this:

Mega Man 9 eschews the style of the more recent PlayStation-era Mega Man 8 or even the SNES Mega Man 7, instead going all the way back to 8-bit visuals, imitating the style of the NES games. Series creator Keiji Inafune commented that old-school Mega Man games don’t “fit into the grandiose and expansive world that the consumer gaming industry has become, and so you have to make games that match the current expectations.” This helped determine the game’s direction as a retro-style downloadable title for the WiiWare service.

2D is one thing, but the last thing I expected Capcom to do was take a leaf out of SNK’s book and completely recycle old assets. Actually, even that comparision isn’t appropriate any more, seeing what SNK is doing with King of Fighters XII. Yes, the old Megaman games are revered as classics, but if anything they are loved because they were good games, not because they used art from the 8-bit era! All this seems to be is another cheap attempt to cash in on fan nostalgia (see Street Fighter IV) by completely missing the point of why people love these games in the first place.

If they’re going to put it on a modern console, why not go all out and make a game with state-of-the-art 2D graphics that still stays true to the Megaman legacy? Heaven knows.

On top of that, it looks like Konami saw the announcement and decided to one-up them with their announcement of Castlevania Judgement for the Wii. The game is (of all things) a 3D fighter with motion controls.

I don’t know why Konami thought that Castlevania was great fodder for a fighting game. The system snippets in the article suggest that the game will play exactly like the main games, with heart meters and sub-weapons, but in a 1-on-1 format, which sounds strange. Still, it may be doable. The main reason I’m panning this announcement is the fact that the game uses motion controls.

I cannot think of a single fighting game on the Wii that has benefited from motion controls. Bleach: Shattered Blade is a shallow waggle-fest. Guilty Gear XX Accent Core has motion controls but no-one with any sense will use them. And the flagship fighting game on the Wii, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, eschews them entirely. The precision and timing that such games demand from their players means that control is of paramount importance (which is why any fighting game player will always insist on using an arcade stick). After about 9 months of using the Wii, I can safely say that the Wii remote does not have the necessary control. Games like Sonic and the Secret Rings suffer because of this, particularly on the later levels where it demands split-second reaction from the player.

If Konami knows what they’re doing, they will provide a classic controller option.

There was also that Ubisoft announcement of that new Prince of Persia platformer for the DS which inexplicably uses a chibi art style, but I don’t really consider that to be on the same level as these two dumbfounding announcements (although I think it’s probably just as unimpressive at this point).


The list of doom, June Edition

Here’s the original list.

Games that have been knocked off the list due to completion:

  • Psychonauts – I didn’t get all the scavenger hunt items, etc, but I was level 50 by the time I hit the final boss, and he didn’t give me much trouble.
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – Excellent game, but that final boss was far less challenging than the platforming area that led up to him.

Updated progress for the remaining items:

  • Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition – No progress made. Haven’t touched my PS2 in a while, actually.
  • Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition – Mission 5-2. @#%@ Regenerators.
  • Zack & Wiki – No progress made. I don’t expect any will be made for a while, actually…
  • Super Mario Galaxy – No progress made. That Luigi purple coin mission is really hard if you just bumrush it without any planning (like I tend to do)
  • NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams – Finished the main story on both sides (not that it was hard, there being only 3 levels on each side and a common final level + boss fight). But I always try to play platformers to completion, so my next target is A-ranking everything. Yes, that includes that music mission in Memory Forest, a mission whose designer really needs to be shot.
  • Advance Wars: Days of Ruin – I, uh, played a few more turns of mission 13. Still haven’t beaten it.
  • Sonic Rush Adventure – I’ve been doing more time attack runs than Sol Emerald hunting, if you get my drift.

New entries on the list:

  • Mass Effect – Level 20, just picked up Liara T’Soni. I’m playing as a Soldier, and will be going for a Paragon rating, like the goody-two-shoes that I am.
  • Beyond Good & Evil – I actually haven’t gotten very far in this game because of a weird bug that causes my framerate to drop like a stone when I’m in the overworld. Just to remind you all, this is a 2003 game having problems running on a 2006 video card.

A Journey with some turbulence

Our price on NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams dropped to $30 recently, and I decided to go ahead and get it. So far I've put in a couple of hours, and played the first two levels of Helen's story (and have yet to finish the first level of Will's story).

How is it, do you ask? Well, it's definitely not what I'd call “bad.” It does have rough spots, though. For some reason, Sonic Team decided that the mission-based level approach from Sonic and the Secret Rings was awesome enough to be replicated (Hint: it wasn't). As a result of this, each “level” actually consists of five disparate missions, only two of which actually involve flying. The first mission is always a standard flying mission followed by a boss fight (much in the vein of classic NiGHTS), but the others can vary quite a bit. My favourite of the lot are the Octopaw missions, which are essentially a race to see how many links you can get in a given time limit. The standard flying missions as well as the boss fights are also really fun. The experience of collecting chips, flying through rings and trying to rack up ridiculous link chains remains as addictive as it was 12 years ago.

The other missions types are…not quite as fun. Some involve platforming with the two children (who control pretty sluggishly), and others have you flying around trying to paraloop Nightopians, or collecting water bubbles in a round arena, or something along those lines. The bottom line is, they're not really developed as well as the main game, and feel out of place. Much like in Secret Rings, it feels like a lot of the missions were put in for silly reasons (story, most of the time), and I think the game would be better off without them, even if the result is shorter length.

The classic flying levels have also seen a bit of a change since the original game. Instead of collecting enough blue chips to break open the Ideya capture, you now have to steal keys from giant birds flying around each level. I don't mind the change too much, although it does make it tempting to focus on the bird flying away from you with the key and forget about trying to get links. The new levels I've seen so far look pretty nice – an Alpine area with snow-capped peaks and balloons, an underwater area and a castle surrounded by large crystals. The graphics are serviceable, although framerate dips do occur from time to time. The music is also really nice, but that's really to be expected – if there's anything Sega has done right in the past few years, it's the sound production on their games.

Oh, and there's voice acting.

It's actually not THAT bad – better than the shitty voice acting typical of most Sonic games, but it's not going to win any awards. I have to say, though…something about NiGHTS talking seems so…off. It's not a dealbreaker by any means, but I thought NiGHTS' lack of a voice added to the mysterious, playful appeal of the character. Here, he/she/it has a weird British accent, which works alright, I suppose. Of course, now that all the characters can talk, Sonic Team has gone and thrown in a whole bunch of cutscenes to bookend the levels. The pre-rendered stuff is stunning as always, but the in-engine cutscenes make my eyes bleed. On top of that the game is very inconsistent about whether it'll let you skip cutscenes or not, which is kind of irritating when the designated helper character (an owl with a British accent, creatively named “Owl”) keeps jabbering on and on about the storyline, oblivious of the fact that I just want to start playing already.

There are a bunch of control options – not being a masochist, I opted for the classic controller straight away. It's definitely the best of the options I've tried, but I have one gripe with it, and it may be a problem in the longer run. The Wii's analog stick is 8-way, much like the GameCube, and this restricts NiGHTS' flying motions to the 8 cardinal directions with no granularity in between. You can get used to it in time, but it still doesn't feel quite “right,” in the same way that it didn't quite feel right to have to hold down the 2 button to jump properly in Sonic and the Secret Rings (I'm still not used to that, by the way). As a caveat, I never got to play the original NiGHTS into Dreams with the Saturn analog stick, so I have no idea if the game had a full 360 degree range of motion. Still, if there's any game out there that would benefit from something like that, it's this one.

At this point, I'm not regretting my purchase – I was hesitant to buy it for full price since I had heard about the issues, but at $30 it's a pretty good buy. I'd really like to compare it to the recently-released NiGHTS remake for PS2, especially since the PS2's controller may resolve the control oddities I mentioned above.

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Wii would like to play

It's been about 5 months since I got my Wii. I don't usually get consoles this close to the start of their lifetimes, but I made an exception in the Wii's case since I was intrigued by the possibility of new methods of interacting with game worlds. Well, that and the fact that there was a Sonic game on it that wasn't entirely bad. Five months on, I find myself satisfied on the whole, yet still disappointed at certain ways in which the experience has been lacking.

First off, let it be known that there IS good third-party software for the system. I've been largely happy with Capcom's efforts on the system, and Sega has also shown some rare (if rough) inspiration with titles like Sonic and the Secret Rings and NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams. I've heard largely good things about other titles like No More Heroes as well. Unfortunately, good third-party software is far from common. There's a LOT of shovelware on the system, and much of it is either in the form of completely uninspired minigame collections or lousy ports of PS2 games. The Wii has the largest install base of all three current-generation consoles thanks to its low price and emphasis on “casual-friendly” gaming, but so far long-time gamers appear to be expressing dissatisfaction at the third-party software available on the platform, and I would have to agree with their complaints. Nintendo's first-party efforts have been largely solid, if excessively familiar, but what really keeps gamers committed to a platform is a reliable stream of quality third-party software. It's why the DS continues to be a success in spite of its own casual gaming focus, and one of the reasons why the PSP and PS3 are finally seeing success.

The other thing that annoys me about the Wii is how underdeveloped certain aspects of the system are. This isn't a knock against the CPU/GPU performance of the system (it's not even as powerful as the first Xbox, seeing how it lacks programmable shaders, but that's not my focus here) – it's a gripe with the capabilities of the hardware. For one, the 512MB internal memory is incredibly limiting. The lack of significant internal storage has already gimped Guitar Hero III's feature set, and the much-anticipated Rock Band will similarly lack downloadable content. In addition, once the WiiWare service launches, Wii owners are going to find themselves strapped for storage space with downloadable titles vying for space with Virtual Console games. An easy fix would be to support USB hard drives (and Harmonix has already openly asked for such a feature) but it seems unlikely Nintendo will do anything of the sort.

In addition, the Nintendo Wi-fi Connection has proven to be a major hassle. A limited online service hampered by the need for “friend codes” made sense on a handheld with relatively simple firmware and no in-built storage, but on the more powerful Wii it makes absolutely no sense. Why doesn't the Wii have support for the same things that Xbox Live or even PSN does? I've been gaming online since before it was even possible on consoles (1997, with Starcraft, Diablo and Quake) and even those games had far more robust online features than anything on the Wii. No unified friends list, strange and hard-to-remember friend identifiers (which are game-specific for some reason), no support for voice chat peripherals of any kind…WFC is just lacking in so many respects that it's not funny. I do play Super Smash Brothers Brawl online, but it's enough of a hassle that such occasions are rare (compared to say, the times when I log on to Steam and play Team Fortress 2).

I've had fun with the Wii, and there are games, both upcoming and currently available, that I'd like to play on it, but I feel that Nintendo is in danger of squandering its lead if it doesn't address the shortcomings in its platform. Attracting casual gamers is all well and good (and lord knows there are still millions of people out there who shell out money for shovelware) but annoying the core gaming audience who have bought into their platform is far from a recipe for success.

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