Saturday, February 27, 2010

Missile Command Is 30 (And I Feel Old.... But There's A Sweepstakes To Make It All Better)...

Yikes. I can actually remember playing Missile Command back in 1980! Atari is certainly celebrating their classic (and making me feel ancient) by not only letting you young whippersnappers play the original version and a really cool remix, they're also holding a nice little contest where the grand prize is a restored MC arcade cabinet. So go poke around and enter, already. Feel free to check out their other playable arcade and Atari 2600 classics as well.

Gallery: Clash of the Titans

Here's a batch of screens from the upcoming Namco Bandai licensed movie tie-in action game. I'm intrigued out of sheer curiosity, even though the depth of field in some of these images is a wee bit over the top for my tastes.

Confession: as a kid, I hated the 1981 film (except for Ray Harryhausen's creepy, effective Medusa sequence), but the remake looks slightly more intriguing (at least from a technical perspective). Besides, with ancient Greece in play in a few games (notably God of War III) and a few other recent titles targeting the GOW style of gameplay (Dante's Inferno, anyone?), it'll definitely be interesting to see where this particular game lands on its own merits.

So here you go... more images to come shortly, as NamBan seems to be hyping this somewhat. A bit of quality hands-on time is needed with this to see if it's one for the ages, of course...

Gallery Update: 3D Dot Game Heroes

Lock up your daughters (well, unless they're kidnapped princesses that need rescuing)! Atlus USA is letting loose a few more screens from its upcoming PS3 exclusive 3D Dot Game Heroes. Before you take a peek down there, you need to ask yourself a few important questions.

Do you like HUGE swords? Er, in a non-threatening, but increasingly screen-filling manner, that is? Well, take a gander at these big'uns, read the descriptions and try not to lose an eye in the process...

Yeah, this game is going to be a total blast (er, try not to take that the wrong way, folks).

Ancient Sword: The sword of the legendary hero, left in the Sacred Woods should evil arise again.

Claymore: A massive blade that cuts down your foes!

Excalibur: A sword of legend that will require you to gain favor with King Block to obtain it.

Holy Sword: A sword forged in sacred water.

Katana: A sharp, thin blade from the east!

Rare Fish: ...? Really?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gallery Update: Splatterhouse

Well, well, well... Namco Bandai's upcoming relaunch of their seminal horror/action franchise is looking mighty tasty lately and very much improved over those screens from a few months back. Look at all that ketchup - yum! Rick is looking beefy, the monsters are meaty and the red stuff most certainly paints the floors, walls and pretty much everything else.

"This time, we didn't forget the gravy..."
indeed. Q3 2010 can't come soon enough for me, that's for sure.

Now, if only NamBan remembers the hardcore fans and actually sticks the arcade version on the game disc somewhere as well as make the great Sega Genesis sequels available as DLC (or heck, on the disc... pretty pleeeeeeeeeeeeease?), this one just might be near perfect... or as good as it gets for us Splatterhouse junkies.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review: Adventures to Go

Platform: PSP

Developer: GAE

Publisher: Natsume

# of Players: 1

Rating: E10+

Official Site

Score: B+

As dungeon hacks go, Natsume's PSP sleeper Adventures to Go is a solid bit of portable gaming JRPG fans should take to like ducks to water. The game also has just enough appeal in its pick up and play mechanics and user-generated random maps that RPG-ers not accustomed to spiky haired, oddly costumed characters and wacky humor may want to take a peek at what's here. If you're in the mood for some sort of benchmark in gaming innovation, you won't find it here. Things start out and stay fairly generic, but there's a nicely done (and pretty funny) twist a few hours in that really freshens up the remainder of the game's running time. Actually, how long you're diving into these dungeons is completely up to you, as clever players will want to experiment with a near endless mixing of level and creature types as they reap in the gold and treasures.

As Finn Courtland, a young would-be treasure hunter extraordinaire, you'll set out more or less down the road from your house to the titular agency, a guild of sorts where adventurers set out for fun and profit in dungeons they create. You're is joined by three other party members as the game continues - Alina, a young witch who forces you into taking her along as your partner, Garron, a burly knight type and "Cat", a shadowy thief with speed and skills that make her a value to the team. Each character is quite useful in battle in a few key areas such as the number of spells they can carry to whether or not they're good at reading magic glyphs or opening trapped chests. Expect to do a lot of stat checking as your adventure goes on, as new gear becomes available as soon as a new plot point opens up.

How and when you run into your teammates is based on how far you've advanced the plot by completing certain fetch or personal quests. This allows players to stretch things out a bit or even greatly by avoiding main quests and simply creating random maps to explore for as long as you like. Creating maps is a cinch - all you do is boogie on up to the ATG counter, select a few terrain and creature options, choose an Event if you have an Event (or other type of) Ticket, pay for your choices and head into the field. Initially, you can play a bunch of free or relatively inexpensive maps, but as the game goes on, new terrain, creature and Ticket types will expand the fun as they lighten your wallet.

If you find yourself advancing the plot too quickly or running low on funds, there's an easy to locate Quest Reset switch in each dungeon. This allows all the previous quests you've completed for the villagers to be reset so you can earn extra money. Redoing most of these missions is fairly easy, as your team is going to be a lot more powerful and you'll know which types of terrain you'll require from your previous attempts. For the most part, it's hard to become stuck in a mission thanks to a few handy hints you'll get in town from the village scholar or one of the handful of NPC's in the game. There are a few later quests that seem vague even with hints, but that's where your memory of previous dungeon and creature types will come in handy.

On the field, combat is all turn-based random battles, taking place on the field using a grid format where faster allies and enemies get to do their thing first. The game swipes and enhances a nice bit from classics such ar Nethack and Rogue, where movement, attacking, using a spell or item counts as an action in combat. In ATG, however, you expend Action Points while fighting, so doing too many moves can leave you defenseless. You quickly learn to streamline your actions early on, saving up at least two points for defense or automatically attacking an enemy that comes into your range. Alina and Cat can use ranged weapons (bows and boomerangs, respectively) and Garron has access to spears and pikes that extend his reach up to three squares. Finn uses swords of differing strengths as well as attack types and each character can equip a main and backup weapon, switching them out in combat with a tap of the L trigger.

Each of the party members is skilled with specific weapons, but everyone can carry and use spell crystals, a good thing against the game's tough mid and main bosses. Obviously, Alina can carry the most spells (eight), so she's going to be the go-to gal and magic heavy hitter, but don't neglect your other members, especially when it comes to healing and status relief. Unlike most JRPGs, you don't have magic points to expend at all. You mix spells by combining crystals and assign the spells to your party members. Up to nine crystals for each spell can be held, but Garron is limited to two spells, Cat can carry five, and Finn makes do with four. As you play, you'll discover new spell recipes, so you;ll need to cook those up and replace older spells as the game continues.

While the no MP thing might tick off some gamers, it's a fun system once you start finding and using recipes. You can make magic crystals any time except during combat, but newly created and equipped crystals aren't charged until you go home and rest for the night You'll generally need all the crystals you can buy or find, but selling off useless or extra gear is as easy as visiting ATG HQ and hitting the four shops there. One slight quirk for those who prefer long, long dungeon dives is once you leave a dungeon, it becomes night and you need to go home and rest. This forces you to come back and set up a new dungeon each time you want to get your treasure hunting thing on. It's not that bad, as killing lots of monsters rewards you with stat-boosting medals every so often, sometimes while you're in a map, other times when you return home from an adventure.

Visually, things are really nice looking overall, with excellent character art and some cool looking bosses. Some of the normal creatures you'll come across are pretty comical-looking and yes, there are the occasional palette swapped monsters here and there. While you never see your team in new armor, the weapons each have a different look, a very nice touch. The game has fun with enemy and item descriptions, making ATG more lighthearted than much of today's JRPG fare. The music is really nicely done, with the different terrain types getting their own themes. The battle music is fine, which is a good thing as you'll be hearing it quite frequently. Don't expect any voice acting here, but you'll get a few chuckles from the writing, particularly Finn's and Alina's jabs at each other and a bit of humorous stuff when the plot twist pops in later on.

The game constantly pokes fun at itself every chance it gets. A few Event Ticket events are boss battles dramatically set up at times before Finn or someone off camera makes a joke about the pre or post-battle elements. Finn's meetings with the Scholar start off with the old guy saying how long it's been since he's dropped by and Finn commenting on his just being their not too long ago. And in case you're trying to fit your mind around the rationale for a guild that makes adventures to go with monsters, treasure and other goodies that can be called up at will, the game even pokes fun at that. You'll have to see where this particular part goes as the game progresses, but trust me, it's a pretty darn amusing take on random dungeon diving and its effects on just where all those things come from..

In terms of longevity, if you barrel straight through, stopping only to level up accordingly (most of the bosses past the third hour or so are pretty brutal if you're under prepared), the game can be completed in about 15-20 hours or so. On the other hand, between the myriad of level types, "rare" monsters to track down the occasional Poker game in the random Casino that pops up as an event and other diversions, you can easily double or triple the time spent. For a game with one town and a paltry for locations, ATG has a way of keeping you grinding 'til the wee hours and then some. While I'm fine with this being a solely single-player experience, it would have been nice to see some sort of multiplayer option or the ability to trade items and/or magic crystals with fellow ATG'ers.

On the other hand, as this game is only a GameStop exclusive and currently not available as a PSN Store download, it would be a bit tricky to track down someone else who has a copy of this game to trade with. Nevertheless, if you can dig up a copy, Adventures to Go is a great little game with no epic delusions about it at all. It's just pure fun, breezy dungeon-scented goodness from start to finish.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Now Playing (Well, Sort Of...)

I actually completed a bunch of games while toiling away on that Neo Nectaris: Military Madness strategy guide for Hudson Soft (I had to do something to break up the all ZOC, all the time craziness) as well as started a few others I'm just getting around to completing, so reviews are coming...

... As if you need MY opinion to tell you to buy some of these titles:

Mass Effect 2 (360)
Risen (360)
Might & Magic - Clash of Heroes (DS)
The Sky Crawlers: innocent Aces (Wii)
Bayonetta (PS3)
Fighting Fantasy - The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (DS)

Plus a few others...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Preview: 3D Dot Game Heroes

Thanks to the power of WebEx (craaaak-BOOM!) and the ridiculously fun folks at Atlus USA, 3D Dot Game Heroes has jumped to the front of my must-play list for early 2010 releases. I've been interested in this PlayStation 3 exclusive ever since seeing screens from Japan last year and upon hearing Atlus wisely snapped up the US publishing rights, I was more than a little ecstatic at the localization possibilities. Based on the hour-long web demo/presentation, the guys and gals out in sunny Irvine, California have done another super job of bringing US gamers one more surefire hit. From the excellently stylized 3D "block art" to the head-boppingly nostalgic soundtrack and simple yet challenging Action/RPG gameplay, this could be one of those cool "sleepers" that hopefully wakes up a few jaded gamers from their usual purchasing patterns.

There's a nicely kooky story here that uses plenty of pages from a few well-worn handbooks, but it's all done with a neat sense of fun and love for the games the dev team obviously cut their teeth on back in the day. You've got an intrepid (and customizable) hero, a missing princess and a kingdom to save along with magic orbs to collect and so forth and so on. What's here is definitely one of those games that just needs to be played, as screen shots don't quite do what's here justice. As soon as I joined the presentation, I had a smile on my face that lasted throughout and a few hours afterward. What's here nails that nostalgic vibe without going overboard and wearing out its welcome.

The main game is a tightly focused single-player homage to classic 8-bit gaming and yes, more than a few Legend of Zelda influences abound (as do references to many other 8-bit classics). We got to see Atlus' PR Manager Aram Jabbari play a few portions of the game, guiding his created hero (which happened to be Domo-kun, the lovable NHK TV mascot and part-time Internet meme) through a few early sections in the kingdom of Dotnia that included a town, nicely sized dungeon, boss battle and a few other areas. Those looking for a direct Zelda pastiche will find more than a few similarities, no doubt. Yet the game isn't some sort of constant poke in Nintendo's eyeball for not giving Wii owners a new Link adventure in a more timely fashion. Rather, the experience is a well-made often humorous take on a particular era that will put a massive ear to ear grin on the faces of older gamers who grew up spending TV time with the original NES and a stack of carts in front of the TV.

Those under 30 lacking a sense of irony, humor or who take modern games too seriously to appreciate what's here might be scratching their scalps bloody at all this, but it's their loss. On the other hand, while you're waiting for that new Zelda game (and yes, if you happen to own a PS3), you may as well play something that's as close as you're going to get with a more wicked sense of humor, to boot. The game's huge overworld and seven dungeons should take most gamers about a dozen or so hours to complete, but that's IF you know where to go what to do and can do it as quickly as possible. 3DDGH has tons of secrets to track down, plenty of in-jokes and three mini-games to whittle away at your spare time. We were shown two of the three games, Block Defense (a Tower Defense riff) and Blockout (a Breakout-style block-buster). The final mini-game, Dash Circuit, is a racing game of sorts. If my notes are correct, expect at least two tracks and possibly some kart-style action.

In terms of the main game's play style, expect a simple pick up and play control scheme, with some of the block pushing puzzles and later bosses to be tricky in a nicely old-school manner. You'll come across a few handy (and amusingly familiar) weapons and items such as a boomerang, bombs, hook shooter and the like. I'm sure a few die-hard Nintendites will be champing at the bit and screaming while shaking their balled up fists in the general direction of Atlus' offices, but remember - Atlus didn't MAKE the game. They're just responsible for the translation, improvements and localization efforts. These efforts include a few very cool additions to the US version such as an improved user interface, bonus Block Defense maps (originally DLC from the Japanese version), the ability to use your sword in Blockout, new loading screen art for the North American version and more fun stuff. Speaking of loading, one of the main issues with the import, lengthy load times, has been addressed by allowing US gamers to load the contents of that shiny disc onto their PS3 hard drives.

Developer Silicon Studio (turn those letters sideways and it spells From Software, I think) has done a wonderful job in bringing 2D pixel art into glorious 3D block art, using some cool modern effects such as depth of field, lovely water and magic spells. That giant sword you may have seen elsewhere may be intentionally humorous (Smilin' Bob jokes were rampant during the press event), but the game isn't a one joke show at all if you know your 8-bit hits and misses. I know I'll be poring over my Famicom collection between now and the time a review copy arrives so I can crack up a bit more at the references. Still, I can see some critics and players going off the deep end to overly criticize this one for not being "innovative" in this day and age (*yawn!*). However, they'd be missing the point of the experience entirely. What's here is a fantastic little chunk of retro game bliss wrapped in a shiny PS3 candy coating and at $40, it's an absolute steal if Memory Lane is a favorite destination. Even better, you don't need to blow on the game disc to get it to run!

Speaking of Memory Lane, Jarabbi ended the presentation by showing off some hilarious loading screen art from the US version. We saw 3D pixel versions of scenes from quite a few 8-bit and PC classics and everyone was invited to guess which games the art came from. I was laughing so hard by now at the great images flashing by that I think I only typed in two or three guesses. On a related front, users will get to play around with the game's deep character editor to create their own blocky avatars (right down to the walking animations) if they desire. You can also expect a nice selection of other playable characters to choose from along with a nicer selection of in-game weapons, shields and other cool gear to discover in your travels. From Software fans will want to keep an eye peeled for a few Easter Eggs and the Atlus Faithful isn't left out of the loop either. Still, I can see a load of images of custom created characters filling up message boards all over the Internet once the game hits retail.

Overall, things are looking quite fun in the land of Dotnia and its surrounding areas, so mark down May 11, 2010 and definitely pre-order a copy of 3D Dot Game Heroes even if you've only a passing interest in diving into "classic" games. Hmmmm... I'm wondering if Atlus will drop by this year's Classic Gaming Expo in Vegas, as 3DDGH is pretty much something quite a few CGE attendees might be more than a little intrigued by... Anyway, here are a few cool screens to peek at while you're waiting. Looking good, huh? Well, don't just sit there drooling... go get your pre-order in and absolutely set your sights on exploring a bit of wistful nostalgia, controller in hand. Back with more in a bit - stay tuned...