Saturday, July 31, 2010

Super Castlevania IV (SNES) Review

1991 Konami

My experience with the Castlevania titles is limited; the first one (which I played on the Game Boy Advance) was decent, but hard; Akumajou Dracula X Chi no Rondo was fantastic and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was absolutely brilliant (both of which I played on Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles on the PSP). As I said in my ActRaiser review, I downloaded a lot of games on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console back in the first year that I owned the console (2007). This was the last game I downloaded during the summer of '07, and while Super Castlevania IV was not a bad choice, I can't help but feel that something was missing.

Transylvania is a nice peaceful town, but unfortunately there is a curse that befalls the town every one hundred years; a vampire named Dracula terrorizes the town, and after he's been slayed, Dracula will revive the century that follows. In the year 1691, Count Dracula has risen from his grave after one hundred years, and plans to cast his revenge on the descendant of the vampire slayer that defeated him last, Simon Belmont. The plot is the weak point in this game, because the original Castlevania starred Simon Belmont in the year 1691, and the plot seems to be a retelling of said game, which would make Simon one-hundred or two-hundred years old. There is a reason for that: the original Japanese version of this game, Akumajou Dracula, was supposed to be a remake of the NES original. Anyway, throughout his journey, Simon will go through castles, forests, waterfalls, temples, caverns, a clock tower, and more. The atmosphere is nice, and it makes up for the rehashed plot.

The game is your standard 2D sidescrolling platformer: you jump with B, remain stationary by holding down B, use your ancestral Belmont whip with Y, and use your subweapon with the R shoulder-button. The reason for that is because in this game you can whip in eight directions, and if you hold down the Y button you can play with it. Getting on the stairs is not a problem in this game, though unfortunately you cannot jump up from them. Mid-jumps can be controlled. This game introduced two gameplay elements in the series that would not resurface since; swinging from bat rings and moving while squatting. If you see a bat ring, swing your whip at it, and if you hold down the Y button you can stay on the ring until you let go. It's easy to control your swing, and you can raise or lower yourself. Now, as for the second thing, if you move while you're crouching, you'll squat-move (or whatever it's called). It can be used to go through narrow passages or certain placed platforms. The sad thing about it is that, while it's nice, it's not something that's always gonna be done. Helping items are concealed within candles; some are hearts (the amount of the subweapon you use depends on how many hearts you obtained), some is meat that replenishes your health, while the rest are subweapons. The subweapons are comprised of boomerangs, knives, axes, potions, and stopwatches. They can all be used with the R shoulder button, and they can be helpful when it comes to trying to defeat enemies out of reach from your whip. Unfortunately, once you obtain the subweapon, you cannot change it back to the previous one you had, and you may be left with a subweapon that you didn't want, so be careful. If you collect the "II" and (if possible) "III" symbols, then you'll be allowed to use your subweapon up to two and (if possible) three times. There is also a rare, one-use item called a Grimoire that will obliterate all enemies on-screen; they can only be found in a few stages. Now that I've talked about the plus side of the controls, now's time to talk about the minus side. There are two main problems in this department. First and foremost is the fact that if you touch spikes, you'll instantly lose a life no matter how much health you have, which is the most unfair and cheap way of dying in a video game (and my biggest gripe). It can be quite frustrating when there are times that you make Simon touch the spikes inadvertently. There are only two games in which I did not mind death on spikes: the first one is ActRaiser, which had a few spikes in which you could still lose damage, but not die, while some spikes will spell instant death the moment you fall on them, but they were in places from which you could not come back, so I was understanding (though they're pretty easy to avoid here); the second one is The Lost Vikings, because of the way that game is. The second problem is the fact that this game suffers from what I'd like to call the Ninja Gaiden Syndrome, in that if an enemy touches you, you'll be "pushed" back, which can be quite annoying if you're standing near the ledge and make you fall down. I acknowledge that it happens in a lot of games, but I can be lenient because it only happens a few times; I'm not quite as forgiving when it comes to Super Castlevania IV, because it happens practically every single time you get hit, and the only place where you can be hit and not be "pushed" back is when you're on the stairs. This is also the last Castlevania title that I know of to have used the whip upgrade, which can be done up to two times, but if you lose a life, you have to re-upgrade it again; fortunately it doesn't take too long.

The music in this game is quite good. The songs range from energetic, to menacing, to relaxing, to eerie, to atmospheric and more. There is even one song that is quite light-hearted, despite this being a dark-toned game. The boss themes are menacing, particularly that one that takes place prior to the fight against the Count himself. The forest theme is really great, and the themes for when you're in the cave and waterfalls sound awfully relaxing. The few remixes of the classic titles in the series that precedes this game are quite nice, including "Bloody Tears" from Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. Dracula's theme is unusually slow-themed, considering he's the final boss in the game. The ending for having beaten Super Castlevania IV is quite rewarding. The sound effects are nice, too.

The visuals are beautiful. The expositions are a sight to behold, and there are moments of parallax scrolling, color-layering effects, and even a bit of Mode 7 scaling and rotating effects. The cave is one such example, where there's a backdrop that makes it look like it has depth. There is one area where it looks like you're inside a rotating barrel (or anything similar to that), and boy does it look impressive. The choices of colors are well-done. The areas are detailed and quite colorful. The bosses look good and animate well; including the Twin Vipers, Frankenstein's monster, and even Death. Some people compare the visuals with ActRaiser's, and understandably so, considering both are impressive-looking early SNES titles. Simon and the creatures are drawn nicely, too. There is a tiny bit of graphic slowdown (understandable) when the screen gets too hectic, but not enough to hinder the experience.

This is a bit hard to talk about. The game is by and large normal-based, never too hard, and sometimes too easy. The reason for this somewhat lack of a challenge is because of the ability to swing your whip in any direction your heart desires. There are, of course, moments where you absolutely have to avoid the spikes, in that just one contact with them will cause you to die, which is completely unfair (to me). The bosses are not pattern-based, really, but it can be easy to take them down nonetheless, if you're prepared; Dracula is very easy. If you manage to beat the game for the first time and press Start while at the message "The End", it will slowly fade and send you back to the first stage. While it may not seem like much at first, once you cross the drawbridge, you'll see that you've accessed the game's second quest (which no one seems to know about). It's the same game, only slightly harder (but still normal-based), because there are more enemies on the stages and some take more damage, but the bosses remain unaltered. It's a decent second quest, but I find it sad that not many people are aware of it; but that's because Konami (for some reason) decided to only make it accessible once you pressed Start at the end of the credits. I'm one of those people that love to sit through the credits, and when I found out that there was a second quest, I was surprised. Once you finish the second quest, the game loops again on the second quest.

Super Castlevania IV was the first 16-bit iteration of the series, and it's a decent one at that, despite those glaring flaws that it has. It looks and sounds good for being an early SNES title, and it plays well, for the most part. I just wish that you wouldn't have to endure instant death when it comes to touching the spikes, and I also wish that the enemies would not "push" you back upon contact. The difficulty is tolerable at best, but not really hard; and it's got a second quest once the game has been beaten for the first time. This game has a bit of a cult following, though I don't think it's as perfect as others claim it to be. It can be a bit fun, and a bit frustrating (spikes and being "pushed" back). I've summed up my thoughts on the aforementioned Castlevania titles, and now it's time I summed up my thoughts for this game: Super Castlevania IV is good, but not great.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

ActRaiser (SNES) Review

AKA Actraiser [JP]
1990, 1991 Quintet/Enix

I have known about this classic for several years now. I cannot recall if I heard of it for the first time on FlyingOmelette's website or in one issue of Game Informer (not that I read it much). I think it may have been the former. Anyway, one of the reasons I got a Nintendo Wii was so I could catch up with classics via the Virtual Console. The first summer I owned the Wii (2007), I have downloaded many games, including this one. While I haven't downloaded a title on the Virtual Console in over a year, I'm glad I got a chance at ActRaiser. It's quite a unique game, and an interesting one at that.

The story of this game is that you, the Master, have awaken from a long slumber caused from the defeat from Tanzra. The cupid alerts you that Tanzra and his minions have taken over the world, and that it's up to you to take it all back. So as the Master, you will have to traverse through locales like forests, temples, buildings, volcanoes, caverns, marsh lands, pyramids, and snow-laden lands, to name several of them, slaying monsters and once succeeded, creating cities and managing them. Eventually you'll have to fight monsters again to completely eradicate said city of them all. There are six cities in total, and you can visit them and revisit them via the Sky Palace. First you'll have to fight monsters, then manage a city, then fight monsters again. Rinse and repeat, until you complete the Northwall city; when you'll unleash Death Heim, where you attempt to oust Tanzra once and for all and save the world. Even though it doesn't mention it, due to Nintendo of America's strict "No Mention of God or Religion" rule back in the '90s, it's obvious that the Master is God and Tanzra is Satan. The ending is quite good, though I found myself very confused by the very last part of it before the end credits rolled.

ActRaiser's gameplay is two-fold: one part is 2D platformer and the other part is town simulation. In the platformer acts of the game, you move your character around with the left or right buttons, you duck by pressing down, you jump with B and swing your sword with Y. If you have any MP scrolls, you can unleash any of the game's four magic types by pressing either the X or A buttons, but you can only use one magic in the stage, so choose wisely, and use them only when you feel it's necessary. As for the town simulation acts, which is the better gameplay element of the two, you can manage cities and lead them to the direction which you please. However, you (as the cupid) have to shoot arrows at the monsters that will try to swoop down and steal away the inhabitants, destroy houses, spoil the crops, and/or cause earthquakes. But, should you lead the people to the Monsters' Lair, they will seal it forever. There are also moments when you'll have to use any of the five weather elements; lightning, rain, sun, wind, and earthquake. When you seal the last lair in a city, you will have to come down to Earth and fight off the monster threatening the city, which is a Monster Lair all its own. The order of how you play is like this: platformer, sim, platformer. The bosses are pattern-based, and sometimes you'll have to use magic (should you feel like it). While in the town simulation acts, you can try to see how long it'll take before you max out each city; one easy way to make that happen is to use the earthquake after you finish off the final boss of each city (you'll lose a few houses and/or buildings (Level 1 and 2 types), but the people will still build until they can no longer build anything anymore). You can also gain levels depending on how many people you helped create in total. Some people are under the misconception that this game is an RPG, which is not. If you look at certain spots, or wait awhile, there will be times when you can either accept or use items which are called "offerings" (one can be a life, or an MP (both of which can help on your adventure), or an item that is mandatory for a certain city). There are also moments which you'll have to help the cities: whether it be to help them escape from a plague, or to stop a fight, and more. Managing the cities is very fun, and slaying monsters is equally as exciting.

This game's got a very impressive soundtrack, despite the fact that it's one of the very first games ever made for the SNES console. Composed by famed Yuzo Koshiro (Ys Book I & II, Super Adventure Island, Streets of Rage), the songs are very well-done. The music that plays in the platformer portions of the game give off a good sense of mood and atmosphere. The music that plays inside the pyramid is both mysterious and enchanting, the volcano theme is menacing, and the music that plays in the second act of Northwall is epic and sounds similar to something from Star Wars. The final boss theme is very dramatic. The simulation themes are decent, but can be quite repetitive when listened to for too long (one is cheery, one is sad). The title and ending themes are fantastic. There is even one song that is relaxing and laid back. The sound effects are also spectacular; you will hear shield-clanging sounds, shooting arrows, the sound of falling stars, to name a few. These sound effects are so well done, that Quintenix (Quintet/Enix) decided to use them again in their other SNES games.

Like the sound, this game also sports very great visuals, despite being a very early SNES title. They look very impressive for a game made in 1990. They are both very colorful and detailed at the same time, and you will notice many details like: the moon's reflection at Bloodpool, the multi-layered mountains scrolling at Aitos, and the snow effects that are present during the fight with the Arctic Wyvern at Northwall. I mustn't neglect to mention those Anubis statues looming in the distance in the pyramid portion of Kasandora; they are that amazing to look at. The bosses are huge and beautiful. The Master and the creatures look good as well, except for the fact that their animation is stiff, save for the Eagle men. The simulation graphics are a different story: the houses and buildings are small, but it's amazing 'cause as the more you manage the city, the more said architecture will grow in variety. Not only that, but you can see the people constructing the buildings. It's also neat to see details like a ranch with a horse in it, or a boy walking his dog. The cupid is nicely drawn, and his shooting animation is nice.

Sadly, the challenge is the low point of the game. The game is very short and easy to complete, and I didn't realize that until the last time I played the game. Though that doesn't have to make it a bad thing, as the game has a lot that makes up for it. The platformer acts aren't very challenging, save for the final act of Northwall (those darn orange ogres). There are few bosses that may seem like they pose a threat, although many of them can easily be beaten without magic. The final boss, Tanzra, used to be challenging to me at one point, until I figured out his pattern (which is easy to predict). Even so, the longevity of the game, though brief, was tolerable for me because I enjoyed playing the simulation acts. Of course, I'm talking about the version of the game that I played (NA); I looked up that the Japanese original, Actraiser, was highly challenging, though I'm not gonna compare. At least it's fun while it lasts. If you beat the game for the first time, you will unlock Professional Mode!, which puts you on all the platformer acts of the game; only there's no magic, no town simulation acts, and no continues, and the enemies take more hits. I looked up that Professional Mode! is practically the Japanese version of the game, but again, I'm not gonna compare. Though it is interesting how some bosses are slower than they are in the Normal Game. It'll take some time and practice before you'll be able to beat Professional Mode! and get the message "You're the best player!"; at least it implemented a bit of challenge.

Despite its shortcomings in difficulty and longevity, it's still a fun game to play. The gameplay is nice, and the town simulation acts are addicting. It's very fun to manage cities (I think this may have been the first sim game I ever played), and it's fun to try to prevent the monsters from disrupting the peace of the towns, and there's barely any moment of tedium. The visuals and soundtrack are both equally stunning for its time. The Good vs. Evil plot is well-done, though I wish the final part of the ending wasn't confusing (for me, that is). I like trying to see how fast I can beat Professional Mode! (the fastest I've done it was fifty-two minutes, sans the two-minute long credits). ActRaiser is a very unique game because it implemented both platforming elements and town-making elements in the same game. It's a very good title, and one I recommend for those looking for a decent sim game.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Kirby Super Star Ultra (DS) Review

1995-2008 HAL Laboratory/Nintendo

I love the Kirby series of games. They're very fun to play, for many reasons. This is one of those games. Despite the original Kirby Super Star (or Kirby's Fun Pak in Europe) being released very late on the Super Nintendo's lifespan, it's still highly lauded and praised by many gamers. I actually played the original back when me and my family escaped from Hurricane Rita for a week at my mother's friend's house back in 2005, and I thought it was good from what I've played. Unfortunately, I only played a tiny bit of it, because I was highly addicted to Kirby's Dream Course back then. Three years later, when I heard that Kirby Super Star was gonna be remade for the DS, I was excited, because I was gonna get a second chance to play the game. Only, this time, it provided what was in the original, and more.

So, what's the deal with Kirby Super Star [Ultra], you may ask? Well, it's got many mini-games in one package. They mainly star Kirby, a rotund pink puffball, who goes on many adventures in these mini-games; whether it be to recuperate all the stolen food from King DeDeDe so the inhabitants of Dream Land won't starve, or to collect the lost treasures in a maze-like cavern, or to try to save an entire galaxy, to name a few. There's variety in the plot when it comes to these many mini-games. In some of these mini-games, there are moments when the plot will thicken to a certain extent. Of course, there are also sub-games, where you try to outdo your opponent(s). The endings when it comes to these games are well-done and composed.

The gameplay is one of Kirby Super Star [Ultra]'s high points. If you haven't played a Kirby game before, here's how it works: you control Kirby with the D-Pad, to make him run double tap either the left or right buttons. He can jump, float, slide, swim, and shield himself (by holding either the L or R shoulder buttons; the only game in the series that allows you to do that). Not only that, but he can inhale his enemies. If he inhales an enemy with an ability, Kirby will copy said enemy's ability. Say, for example, he were to swallow Waddle Doo, then Kirby would now possess the Beam ability. But the best part of it all is, if Kirby still possessed the enemy's ability and you press the X button, then said enemy will become Kirby's ally, controlled by either a computer or a human player. It's really cool, and it's not often that you see a game of its kind that allows you this opportunity. The myriad of abilities you learn will have many different type of attacks. There are also a few rare, one-use power-ups that will make quick work of all enemies onscreen. The Maxima Tomatos restore all your health, while the bottle or other foods restore a tiny bit of it. If you're playing with an ally, and find food, you will share it with him when you get too ... close. Throughout the mini-games you will face mini-bosses and bosses, and the quickest way to deal them in is if you've got an ability learned and/or an ally by your side. Some mini-games require usage of the stylus for the bottom screen, and a few sub-games require nothing but stylus action. One of the sub-games' objective is to shoot rubber darts at many oncoming cardboard enemies as you can (by touching them with your stylus) before time runs out.

Jun Ishikawa and Hirokazo Ando are well-known for composing the games' soundtracks with their own style of recognizable quality, as well as Arcana (a very underrated and overlooked first-person RPG for the SNES), and this soundtrack is one of their best works. The songs themselves are nice and catchy, and they fit well with the atmosphere. This is where the famous Gourmet Race theme originated from, and has been recycled over to other games (including Kirby's Dream Land 3 and Super Smash Bros.). I'll never forget the first time I heard the main Great Cave Offensive theme, which rocks. The boss theme against Meta Knight and Marx are epic. The ending songs are amazing, and some of them are the best songs in the game. A few songs were remixed from Kirby's Dream Land and Kirby's Adventure, and they sound well. The sound effects are decent; I like the sound of Kirby trying to inhale enemies, and the sound of Kirby riding a Warp Star, and the sound of Kirby using his Ice ability.

The graphics are pleasing to the eyes. The foregrounds and the backgrounds are nicely drawn, and there are times when they will impress. Even though there's barely any parallax scrolling or color-layering effects, the visuals are still nice; there is even a tiny bit of Mode 7. There's so much variety in the environments. The characters' animations are smooth, and nicely detailed. If Kirby has the Ice ability when he runs, he'll look like he's skating on ice, which is cool. Kirby dons different types of hats or helmets depending on what ability he'll possess, which is sweet. The boss designs are well-conceived, and the stage designs are good. The DS remake has 3D-rendered cutscenes, which are all great. The only problem I have with the cutscenes is that they look like they're recorded in VHS quality (they look a little blurry at times). All character designs are cool; so cool, that I've made a few pixel arts based on them:

The Kirby series of games usually are easy types of games, and this game is no exception. However, HAL Laboratory decided to implement a tiny bit of challenge at certain moments. The mini-games all vary in difficulty. For example, Spring Breeze is a very easy mini-game, while The Revenge of Meta Knight pumps the difficulty up a few notches. But, I like the game series' progressively easy difficulty. There are a few mini-games where you have to take down as many bosses as you can without losing a life, which will test your skills. And if you succeed in undertaking those tasks, you'll receive a very rewarding reward. Some bosses are harder than others; Marx Soul is the hardest boss in the game. I like trying to finish the mini-games as fast as I can and try to master many of them in only one life. The mini-games are fun to play and replay because of the variety of them all.

Kirby Super Star [Ultra] is a game that is famous for many reasons. One of the reasons because it's comprised of many games, another being the fact that you could make your enemies become your allies, and one other for the fact that those aforementioned details (and so much more) is what gives the game its charm and originality. The soundtrack and visuals are very nice, and the gameplay is very topnotch. It may be not be overly difficult, but that's not really a bad thing. The more you beat the mini-games for the first time, the gradually you unlock new ones. And, if you manage to beat all of them, you will get a perfect 100% status. The DS remake included new mini-games, like one where you can take control as Meta Knight or try to defeat thirteen bosses as any of the twenty chosen helpers. Complete the Helper to Hero mini-game with all twenty characters, and you'll unlock an SNES-quality surprise. It's a really fun game, and the best out of the three Kirby games available on the DS. If you've never played a Kirby game, then this is a good first choice.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos (PSX) Review

AKA Croc! Pau-Pau Island [JP]
1997 Argonaut Software/Fox Interactive
Distributed by Electronic Arts

When I was little I grew up with the PlayStation (and the Game Boy). I did, however, manage to play SNES and Nintendo 64 games whenever I visited my relatives. The original PlayStation was my very first video game console, and there are many games on it that I'm fond of and enjoy revisiting. Croc: Legend of the Gobbos is one of them, and one that I absolutely enjoyed. The first time I played it was at a friend's house when I was six ('97) or seven ('98), and I really had fun with it. I also remember when my dad brought the game over at our apartment (back when we used to live in Italy). It was a moment I'll never forget.

One day, as King Rufus the Intolerant (to Lactose), ruler of the Gobbos (small, cute, furry, rotund creatures), was taking a stroll at the beach when suddenly a basket floated ashore. In the basket was a baby crocodile named Croc (the main protagonist). King Rufus and the Gobbos decided to raise Croc as one of their own. Croc learned a lot from his friends, and he was very playful. Everyone enjoyed his company. However, one day, Croc grew spontaneously, as tall as three Gobbos stacked together, due to the over-consumption of peas. Croc begins to feel ostracized because of his sudden height, when suddenly, the evil Baron Dante and his minions the Dantinis began to steal all the Gobbos away. They could not stand the Gobbos' and Croc's happy life, so they decided to put an end to their happiness. Before he would get caught, King Rufus summoned Beany the Bird to save Croc from the evil clutches of the Dantinis. The Gobbos enjoy each others' company, and if it's one thing that makes a Gobbo sad is being alone. Croc can't stand the thought of a Gobbo being alone, so he sets off to save all his friends. Croc will go through the tropical, icy, and sandy worlds, and finally, Baron Dante's castle. The Baron will turn innocent creatures into his pawns, and transform them into monsters, and it's up to Croc to break the spell. The plot is quite decent. The manual is quite hilarious, and it mentions things like: how the Dantinis had beautiful singing voices, but were disqualified for eating the judges; or how, in the Year of the Soupspoon, "the Gobbo high priestess would announce the kitchen utensil that, when put down their pants, would bring good luck. Gobbos took this very seriosuly, although some began to question the practice during the Year of the Electric Can Opener." Okay, so it's a bit silly, but its silliness and randomness is what's so funny about the manual. It gave me quite a laugh back when I first read it in 2007 (I don't think I read it when I was little).

This game is a traditional 3D platformer, with quite an interesting scheme in it. To go to the direction where Croc is facing, press Up; to back up, press Down; and to slowly rotate or change directions, hold down the Left or Right buttons. It's interesting 'cause in most 3D platformers, you could walk in any direction by pressing any button; while in this game, you just press Up to go the direction Croc is facing, though you can run in the upper left or upper right direction as well. I personally never had a problem with this control scheme, though I can imagine how others might. It takes a bit to get used to. With the X button you make Croc jump, but press the X button again while in mid-air and Croc will pound the ground. It's the only way to smash open boxes, and stomp out certain enemies. The Square button makes Croc whap his tail on his adversaries, the Circle button makes Croc do a 180 (turn the opposite direction he was previously facing), and while holding down the Traingle button, you can control the camera angle. The L shoulder buttons make Croc sidestep to the left, while the R shoulder buttons make Croc sidestep to the right. There are eight stages (six normal stages, two boss stages) in each world where you can save up to six Gobbos in each normal stage. These Gobbos can be collected in many different ways; i.e. finding the key to the cage where the Gobbo is trapped, "Three Cups and One Ball"-style, hidden in a box, and more. There are also collectible gems, and if you gain one hundred of those (in total), you earn a life (common video game logic since Super Mario Bros.). You can decide to end the stage early (by hitting the Beany gong before reaching the multi-colored gem door), or you can end the stage by hitting the Beany gong once you get the remaining Gobbo behind the door. There are five colored gems, and they are all required to open the door. If you want to get all six Gobbos in the stage, you have no choice. Some colored gems are concealed as regular gems. However, if you get attacked by an enemy (or boss), or fall on lava or mud, you lose all gems no matter how many you collected like in Sonic the Hedgehog, and you only have a few seconds to recuperate some gems before they disappear. But, get hit or fall on volatile substance without the gems and you lose a life. Croc can jump on platforms, hang on to ledges, use monkey bars, ground pound, and even swim. The swimming controls take a bit of getting used to, but it's not very complicated. Now, during the boss stages, you're not required to collect a Gobbo, but you can get some gems before taking them on; and many of them are pattern-based and simple. There are two methods of progressing: by password or by Memory Card. The passwords are very long and are composed of button combinations; though you won't have to worry about doing passwords if you have a Memory Card (which I recommend you use when playing this game, if you have one). This game was also one of the first PlayStation games to use the Analog Stick, though, to be honest, you're much better off using the Directional Buttons.

The soundtrack is very lighthearted and uplifting, and they work so well in the many expositions. The music that plays in the very first stage of the first world is such a memorable song, and my favorite. The icy world themes are pretty, and the sand themes are fiesta-like. The castle theme is menacing and dark, but not as dark as the dungeon theme. The boss themes are all different, and the music doesn't start over whenever you die, which is a plus in my book. The sound effects are decent, as they are well-chosen. Croc makes sound effects whenever he whaps his tail and does ground pounds, like "Whapow!" and "Kasplat!". The Dantinis make cute little meniacal laughs on occasion. The gem sound effects are nice, and the sound for whenever you release a Gobbo is magical.

While the graphics might be showing their age, they're still wonderful to look at, even today. The colors are so vibrant and alive, and the expositions are a sight to behold. The icy landscapes are so beautiful, and the dark areas are really dark. There are moments when the lighting and shading are so realistic, that it gives a true sense of visual depth. The animation is very smooth and fluid. The bosses are designed nicely, too. There is also variety with the Dantinis that you encounter; one will look like a court-jester, and another will look like he has a spiky mohawk. The character designs are cute.

The game is not really hard, although there are some moments when your skill will be tested. Some Gobbos are easily reachable, some not so much. If you miss a Gobbo, or a colored gem, that's okay, 'cause you can start the stage over again to get another chance at getting all six Gobbos. There are moments when, in the sandy world behind the colored gem door, that a ghost will race you; not only will it take the gems for itself, but the key for the cage as well, so you must get the key before he does. There are some platforms that are small, so you have to make precise jumps. There is also a moment in one of the final stages, where you have to jump on many platforms that flip to the side with spikes in a matter of seconds, so timing is crucial. The bosses, as I mentioned earlier, are pattern-based, which makes them easy. But, they're still fun bosses nonetheless; one of the bosses actually takes place underwater.

Maybe it's nostalgia, or maybe not, but I still enjoy this game, even today. It may not surpass Super Mario Galaxy by any means (not even close), but it's a good game in its own right. It's mostly normal difficulty-based, with a tiny bit of challenge (when it comes to getting all the Gobbos). The soundtrack is uplifting, and the visuals are still beautiful, even though they're showing their signs of age. This game also has a bit of replay value: if you get all the Gobbos in the first three normal stages of the world, you'll unlock a secret stage; same thing if you get all the Gobbos in the second set of three normal stages of the world. There are eight secret stages in total, and in each of those eight you will find a Jigsaw puzzle piece near the end of each stage. By collecting all one-hundred-forty-four Gobbos (thirty-six per world {six per normal stage}), you will uncover the final secret stage. By getting all eight Jigsaw puzzle pieces, you will open up a way to a secret world comprised of five stages; the first four stages being a recap of the worlds you have been in, and the final stage being one where you will fight the secret final boss. If you defeat this boss, you will receive the true end credits where you get the message, "Congratulations! You've completed the game 100%!" and in the end "Croc will return. Take Care." At least it didn't pull an Axelay where it said it was gonna have a sequel at the end of the credits, only to never happen, 'cause Croc: Legend of the Gobbos really did get a follow-up: Croc 2. Personally, I always preferred the original, though the sequel's not bad. This game is a fun, charming platformer, and one of those few PlayStation games I played to completion.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chrono Trigger (DS) Review

1995, 1999, 2008 SquareSoft

Back in the '90s, there were a lot of RPGs that were released for the Super Nintendo console. This is one of them. I had no idea this game existed until sometime in 2004 or 2005 on the internet. It seemed quite interesting. I was very impressed when I saw ShiryuGL's gameplay footage of it on YouTube; after that I just knew that I had to play the game; and when I looked up that it was gonna be ported to the DS back in 2008, I was excited because I was gonna get a chance to play the game for the first time. And when I purchased the DS game (with the two-track soundtrack), it gave me a very lasting good first impression.

The story goes like this: in 1000 A.D., a Milennial Fair was taking place to celebrate the one-thousandth year of the Guardia Kingdom. There is an occurence at the event that turns this everyday visit at the Fair into the most sprawling and huge adventure ever witnessed in RPGs. Throughout the game, Crono and friends will go throughout time: whether it be the past, present, or future. Eventually, you find out that an evil entity named Lavos is gonna destroy the planet in 1999 A.D., and it's up to you to prevent such a thing from ever happening. If you change something that happened in the past, it'll have a permanent effect on the future, helping you on your quest. The plot's very well-done, and the atmosphere is also just as great. There are many expositions ranging from forests, to castles, to mountains, to caves, and so much more.

Chrono Trigger is a turn-based RPG, with the Active-Time Battle system that was first introduced in Final Fantasy II/IV [NA/JP]. Basically, the character will make his or her move once their bar is completely filled up, and the enemies and/or bosses can still attack you even if you did not make your move yet. You can decide whether to use physical attacks or tech attacks. Some tech attacks have magic. What's cool is that, throughout the game you will learn new tech attacks, and what's even cooler is that fact that you can combine tech attacks with one or two other members in your party to form up double or triple techs. One example being the X-Strike where Crono and Frog strike at the enemy simultaneously forming an X shape, causing lots of damage; and another is the Ice Sword, where Crono and Marle combine Crono's sword attack with Marle's icy powers. Seeing it all happen is very amazing, and some magic can either hurt certain creatures or heal them. The boss battles aren't always going to be simplistic, and many of them will require a bit of strategy. In the locales, you can move in all eight directions, and you can only see three party members on the overworld and locales, like in one of SquareSoft's other SNES RPGs Secret of Mana. Speaking of which (and I noticed this in FlyingOmelette's website prior to playing both games): Crono and Marle look a lot like Randie and Purim from Secret of Mana. The resemblance is quite uncanny, and the animators for both games were not the same. You have the choice of either engaging in battle with the enemies or you can just avoid them, except for ones that will try to approach from behind or are mandatory. There is so much that occurs in the dungeons, and there are many areas which are long. If you see a sparkling object in the locale, that means it's your saving spot. You can also save anywhere in the overworld (when you see your characters as tiny). You can decide whether to make your characters run (normal) or walk (hold down the button).

This game has one of the best soundtracks ever heard in an RPG. Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uemastu (of Final Fantasy fame) have done a fantastic job. All songs are very well-composed and atmospheric, and it works so well in the game's many areas. The theme that plays in the forest is very relaxing and ambient, the castle theme is good, and there is this one theme that is so intense that you can feel the sense of urgency during that situation. Lavos' theme is both menacing and sad at the same time. The boss themes are also spectacular, as they sometimes change. The ending theme for this game, and the ending theme from Super Mario Galaxy, are in the running for best ending music ever composed. The sound effects are done well, too. There were four songs that were exclusively composed for the PlayStation version, and a couple of unused SNES songs, and they can all be listened to on the DS version. All good songs, especially that one PSX song which I love listening to every now and then.

The visuals are very pleasing to the eyes. The characters' animations are really fluid, and all the areas are so well-detailed. The forest is one such area: the lush foliage of it is astounding. There is also a lot of variety in it all. There is also a lot of color-layering effects and a tiny bit of Mode 7 every once in a while. The effect used during the time travelling gives you a sense that you're going in time, with the psychadelic effects. There are also areas that are quite colorful. The characters were drawn by Akira Toriyama (of Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball fame), and the art-style is very recognizable. The PlayStation version incorporated some FMV (full-motion video) cutscenes inbetween certain scenes, and they were brought over to the DS version as well (though you have to option to disable it if you want).

The game starts out easy, but then it gets hard the more you get into it. There will be certain times when certain enemies and/or bosses will attempt to wipe out your party in one blow, or reduce a member to only one health point. But, the more you level up, the more you become more powerful in both offense and defense. The boss battle with Lavos took me forever to take down on my first try. As I said before, strategy is key in some (boss) battles. There are some enemies that cannot be damaged physically, and some enemies where a certain magic heal them. If you beat the game for the first time, you can start a New Game + mode, where you can start the game over again with all your acquired experience points, items, and weapons in the first game. Unfortunately, once you start New Game +, all difficulty will be alleviated, for the most part. Although, that's a very minor gripe, as the game has a lot of elements that more than make up for the lack of difficulty once New Game + has been started.

Chrono Trigger is an RPG that is a very enjoyable experience from beginning to end. It's got one of the best gameplay elements and best soundtracks ever, plus one of the most engaging plots in video game existence. There are uplifting moments, intense moments, sad moments, and shocking moments every once in awhile. The time travelling aspect allows you the freedom to travel in time to help the future. This game has the most amount of endings I've ever seen in a video game (thirteen), and they can be accessed by doing things in a certain order, before you do something major, by fighting Lavos. The majority of the endings can be accessed by playing New Game +, and that makes up for the lack of difficulty once New Game + has been started. You can fight Lavos either at the end of the game, or at any time prior to that (though I absolutely recommend doing the latter option while playing New Game +). Some endings are emotional, some are funny, and some are random. There is this one ending that is so rare, that it is worth seeing it to believe it. I'll never forget the first time I beat this game. There is never a moment in the game that feels anticlimactic. It's one of the best turn-based RPGs out there, and one that has one of the biggest replay values ever in an RPG.