We're back with our virtual love interests of the week. Although many of us were wooing the beautiful and exiciting Samus Aran in Metroid: Zero Mission, Kevin Cameron had his hands on a whole group of ladies.
Final Fantasies - Somewhere Between Inane and Insatiable
Can you sense the theme? Lately it's been nothing but Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2, and the newly acquired Final Fantasy Chronicles spinning over the PS2 and GameCube trays. I recall playing X about eight months ago, getting frustrated at the Omega Ruins, and calling it quits for good. Then the humiliating secret got out to a few people and I thought, "It's about time to finish this thing once and for all." Thus it was back to the Ruins in one last effort to put the game under.
Such inspiration was semi-spurred by the fact that I have gotten further into X-2 than its predecessor, and at an alarmingly quick rate. It's a juggle between the two whenever the PS2 is running, which brings a bit of confusion in the comparison because of the fact that everything looks the same. Which brings another question: couldn't X-2 just qualify as an expansion pack of some sort? It's a neat game, don't get me wrong, but I doubt it stands on its own as a game, instead carrying a lot of weight from the structure and success of the first.
Something old, something built off the old . . . how about something new? I didn't buy Crystal Chronicles right away, but waited on my buddy-in-arms to pick it up. Sure enough, after a night filled with GBAs, pizza, and three other nerds, it was a clinch; I had to have it. Since nabbing a copy, ten hours have been logged in, a lot of play and arguing has been had with my brother, and altogether it's been a great experience. Only problem is it's on the short side - something I can't remember seeing in a Final Fantasy game ever before. Even as much as I prayed for it at times.
One last thought just occurred to me: Why the hell do I decide to binge on RPGs the moment spring semester starts? The mind boggles.
Recently, I've decided to hang up my wings in Crimson Skies for a bit and well, y'know - try playing the other 3 dozen games in my collection. I picked up Metroid: Zero Mission on my birthday and it's quite possibly one of the best GBA games I've played in the past 6 months. Nintendo has basically went back to the original NES design and retooled it from scratch. Think you're In essence, this isn't your daddy's Metroid.
It goes without saying that I was simply blown away by this game. The sounds are simply top notch and there hasn't been one moment where I can't help but hum the classic theme from the first level. Speaking of which, I can't remember the last time the sound quality has been so rich and dynamic. I am almost compelled to go out and by an adapter just so I can plug my GBA up to my PC speakers to get the full effect.
Now, I won't get into spoilers like a certain print publication did, but fans can expect to find a lot of new surprises in store for them. New weapons, new enemies, and most importantly - a new chapter unfolds regarding the entire Metroid saga. I've started out with the standard difficulty setting, just to get used to my space shoes again. As I am told by Burgundy (who's already beat the game under 4 hours), Zero Mission is substantially more challenging (and possibly takes a longer time to complete) under the harder setting. I am assuming that the map (a feature introduced in Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion respectively) will be removed, health/item-pickups will become less infrequent, and Mother Brain will simply be more bitchy.
Beyond that, I can't imagine Samus and I having any problems saving the galaxy once again.
Good god, it's been since mid-December since I did one of these things! So much to catch up on, so hard to make it actually interesting.
Let's see, I got a Nuon and Tempest 3000, which I'm currently playing and enjoying because it's godly. I got R-Type Final, which is also godly but in a different way. I actually managed to beat a small handful of games between the end of December and now: Voodoo Vince, Beyond Good & Evil, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, and Baldur's Gate 2, that last one played cooperatively all the way through. (It feels good to be playing games to completion again, rather than just playing until something else pops up.) I got an Xbox, and then got Xbox Live to go with it almost exclusively because I wanted to put my Geometry Wars score online and compete with the best. I beat Mario & Luigi on the GBA, and promptly swung into Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town.
So yeah, it's been a busy couple of months.
Right now, the games that have my attention are pretty varied in style. P.N. 03 got cheap, so I finally decided to give in to curiosity. My initial impressions of it were pretty bad. It felt stiff and unresponsive and I just plain didn't like it at all back when I played it at last year's E3. Checking out the demo on an in-store GameCube didn't thrill me either - it was basically the exact same thing I couldn't stand the first time. Add in the lousy reviews it got to my already unfavorable attitude towards it and as far as I was concerned it was just another piece of clutter on the shelves. And then the positive word of mouth began.
Long after the people who didn't like the game moved on to not liking other things, the people who did like it kept on raving about how good it was. Here at the TNL message boards and elsewhere, I was hearing that the game needed to be played on its own terms, and then it would undergo the transformation from an ugly, slow caterpillar into a gorgeous, dancing butterfly. Watch, and be amazed!
Well sure enough, after several hours of play I'm going to have to admit that this is actually a really good game after all, and that the only way to realize this is to look past the monotone palette, seemingly stiff controls, and a main character who moves far more like a goofball trying to pose than the dancer she's supposed to be. Well, as it turns out, everything fits together just right somehow, turning what should be a train wreck into an action game worthy of the Capcom name on the box. I'm not sure how it happened, but I am relatively certain I'll be playing this one to the end.
Also on the gaming menu is Harvest Moon GBA. I've got three chickens, one chick that should be a chicken any day now, one new cow, and I just ordered shelves for my newly-expanded home. It only sounds tedious. March, and the arrival of the GameCube Harvest Moon can't get here fast enough.
Finally, game #3 on the hit parade (does anyone really need to be playing three games at once?) is Temepst 3000. It's quite possibly the trippiest game Jeff Minter has done, and if it weren't for the unofficial Gridrunner++ Arse on Fire release it might also be the fastest. The only thing it really could use is a rotary dial controller, but the analog setup works just about as well as anyone could hope.
So, lots to play and lots to see, and if Tempest 3K doesn't melt the color receptors in my eyes it should all work out fine.
Now this is how you do a GBA remake!
SquareEnix could learn a little from Metroid: Zero Mission; maybe it would have helped it produce a better update to its 1991 Game Boy classic, Final Fantasy Adventure. (Instead the company turned out the disappointing Sword of Mana). This reinvention of the very first Metroid game (1986, NES) is everything a fan could have hoped for. It retains the simple, ingenious gameplay of its forerunner, and the substantial new additions are just as good as what's been carried over. Zero Mission takes me back to those long afternoons and late nights I spent as a grade school kid, bombing every nook and cranny of the alien planet Zebes to make sure I didn't miss a single hidden missile upgrade. And loving every minute of it.
What's great about Zero Mission is that while Nintendo piled a ton of new areas and abilities on top of the original's, the developers kept enough of what worked to make it feel like one big cohesive game - and stoked up the fires of nostalgia in the process. The first thing I did upon booting up the cartridge (besides savoring the glorious remix of the title theme) was run Samus all the way to the left from the starting point . . . and the Morph Ball was still there! See, Nintendo knows. You don't go moving that Morph Ball power-up after eighteen years.
And for every such familiar element from the original, there is a new twist, a brand-new enemy, or a new power-up that'll keep both Metroid veterans and newbies alike on their toes. Welcome changes that modern technology have brought to the game include a new automap feature and save points to replace the old password-based progress system. Largely because of these, the new game seems to go by a lot faster, despite having more content - a five hour completion time is not hard to pull off. But keep in mind what might have made the original Metroid seem longer: lots of futile trial-and-error exploring, getting lost without a map, and writing down and re-entering passwords. I can live without those just fine.
But perhaps the best improvement of all is that not once while playing Zero Mission was I told to turn the game off and do my homework. Great job, Nintendo!
Next is the Game Boy Player. What took me so long to get one of these? As a huge fan of the Super Nintendo, I should have been the first in line. Game Boy Advance games really come to life on the big screen, and a small reduction in image sharpness is more than made up for by the improvement in brightness and play control. They look 2D AWESOME on my TV. This is the closest we're ever going to get to a SNES sequel, folks! In fact, don't even say "Game Boy Advance" around me any more. Say "SNES 2."
Because that's what it is.*
*Complete self-delusion that an "SNES 2" actually exists may require the purchase of the import Hori Digital Controller for GameCube.
If you have a GBA and haven't bought Metroid: Zero Mission yet, I'm revoking your gaming license. People like to whine that it's too short and it's too easy, which is probably true if you only play it once on the default settings. Come back when you beat it on Hard so I can tell you to go beat it with 15% items found. Not like I've done that, but then again I haven't beaten the original either, and chances are I never will.
Legend of Stafi 2 and its predecessor are fantastic first-party GBA platformers that Nintendo of America routinely passes over every time it ports a SNES game. Stafi the starfish is so stupidly cute, he makes Kirby look like Max Payne, and his game is a good 40-50 large levels long. And since the various fish-themed characters like to gab to extremes only seen in RPGs, and I can't read any of it, the game seems twice as long. I'll beat it one of these days.
Sonic Pocket Adventure: I actually like a 2D Sonic game on SNK hardware. Consider me shocked. It's probably because it has an Easy mode.
So as I sit here typing this Gaming Report I find that I have little to talk about. Sure there have been some great games released since my last contribution, but who has time to play them all? Who can seriously devote the time, energy, and money it takes to get into Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles? Not me. Well, at least I can say I tried.
The editor of my university paper asked me to write a review of the game for him. He mentioned in his e-mail that he wasn't much of a gamer, but that he remembered the Final Fantasy series with a fond feeling in his heart. Of course he had no clue that FF:CC wasn't a traditional role-playing game by any stretch of the word.
So I picked up the game and a link cable, called up the only friend I knew with a Game Boy Advance, and we got to playing. Two hours later and he was making excuses to leave early. This from a man who'd never said no to a video game in his life. I didn't find the game to be fun to play at all. And the GBA connectivity thing really is just a gimmick to sell more Game Boys. I hope it was worth it for Nintendo, because I think there was more money to be made putting out a damn game that used regular controllers. How many GameCube owners already have four controllers just because of Super Smash Bros Melee? I know I do.
On to the Ninja Gaiden demo.
Where to begin? "Wow," maybe? The wait for the OXM demo disc was perhaps the longest in recent memory, but it was worth the anguish. I can't use enough adjectives to describe the kicky cool factor of running on walls and slicing some poor SOB's head off. Several poor SOBs, actually.
Looking around at the response on message boards across the Internet gives me the feeling that this pre-release demo will help propel sales. Much like how Splinter Cell went from being an unknown to the game that kicked Nintendo's big fall game, Metroid Prime, all over the street.
Going into Ninja Gaiden, my big concern was that the camera would suck. I'm a stickler when it comes to solid camera angles. But some games can get away with bad camera angles if the game itself is kick-ass. Just look at Return of the King, a game with no right to be so good with camera angles so bad.
But Ninja Gaiden isn't Return of the King . . . it's better. Extremely kick-ass fun gameplay with a damn solid camera system to back it up. I do have issues with the way the camera lags behind you when run around corners, or the confusion that a small room can bring, but even if these issues aren't fixed by the time the game ships, Ninja Gaiden is still an A+ in my book.
It's made of stars - throwing stars! The speed and fluidity of the combat is simply breathtaking. Everyone who's compared the game to Devil May Cry in the last few months should be beaten with a wet-towel until they cry for Mommy, because this game trumps Capcom's puny little action game. Imagine Soul Calibur II moving at mach speed with multiple targets to fight at once. Now imagine that doing painfully cool-looking moves is even easier. You're still only half-way to comprehending the full power of NG's death star.
Still, the lone puzzle in the demo felt like it was straight out of Resident Evil every way from how it worked to the font used for the simple text messages that tell the gamer he's gotten the "courage key." Oh boy! Look for this aspect to be the Achilles Heel of Ninja Gaiden in all the reviews you'll read.
We're all waiting for those reviews of course. Why? Because of the latest delay, of course. Oh, and did this last delay ever hurt so much. For me it hurt more than the Halo 2 delay, because with Ninja Gaiden we were so very close to buying our own pretty little copies.
But March will be killer. If release dates hold steady, the upcoming month will reward those with patience. Oh, joyous Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, Ninja Gaiden and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow! Oh, and Battlefield: Vietnam. That's one triple-A quality game every week to play. If you buy and play all of them, you'll qualify as gaming obese for the month. Good luck to those who try. I know I will be.