bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: SEGA Superstar Tennis (PlayStation 2)

Take two parts Virtua Tennis, one part Mario Tennis, and mix in a whole ton of SEGA nostalgia and you have yourself SEGA Superstars Tennis. Sound good? Well, it is, if you happen to be a big fan of what SEGA have done in the past.

Y’see while Nintendo present you with characters from their best known games in their sports tie-ins, SEGA Superstar Tennis relies upon you knowing some of their back catalogue, well, at least more than just Sonic the Hedgehog anyhow, although its unsurprising he has a big part to play, and will no doubt be the first character most people use. But its not just SEGA’s most famous output that makes an appearance, theres also showings from Ulala (Space Channel 5), Beat (Jet Set Radio), AiAi (Super Monkey Ball) and even the long forgotten Alex Kidd, among others, which can only bring a smile to those who favoured a SEGA console over the opposition at least once in their life.

Courts too are themed on SEGA franchises, with all the above titles getting their own courts alongside others which don’t have any in-game character representation, such as House of the Dead. Of course, none of this would count for anything if the game played terribly, and you’d be forgiven for being wary of it based upon a lot of SEGA’s recent output, but rest assured, Sumo Digital have taken the engine from Virtua Tennis 3 (which they also ported from the arcades over to the XBox 360 and PS3) and built a highly entertaining game around the engine and nostalgia they had at their finger tips. Not only is it highly entertaining, but as with its sibling its incredibly accessible to begin with and has quite a bit of depth to its gameplay the more you play it.

However, its not without its problems. Games can feel a little too easy to win at times, the first 5 tournaments or so I managed to get away with just hitting the ball from the left of the court to the right side, and whilst its always good for a game to start off easily and make things that bit simpler for you to get into it, this level of difficulty goes on for far too long and is only affected by the rather random feeling special abilities that each character has that are activated by keeping a rally going until the star around your character is completely yellow and glowing then hitting the pre-designated button. Although these can be just as harmful to your game as they are to your opponents, especially against an AI opponent.

But, as a SEGA fan of old, I find this game incredibly charming and entertaining, I’ve not been the only one to get enjoyment out of it either as my young daughter loves watching the characters run around the screen hitting the ball back and forth which shows that this is a game that the whole family can enjoy it together.

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bitparade: We Love Katamari (PlayStation 2)

Katamari Damacy was one of the most original and bizarre games released in recent years, it depicted you as the Prince of all Cosmos and gave you the task of rolling a Katamari, a sticky ball type invention that collects everything that you roll over, around various levels in order to put the stars back in the Cosmos after your father, The King of All Cosmos, lost them. The game proved popular with the Japanese and Americans, although it didn’t receive a PAL release, but Importers spent the next year raving about what a great little game it was.

We Love Katamari introduces you to a world that has gone mad for Katamari and The King of All Cosmos, kind of like the real world for those who have played it, and tasks are introduced by the inhabitants of this world wanting to see the power of the Katamari, the Prince and the King. Although they mainly remain unimpressed with the results.

From the opening movie you just know you’re going to be treated to something so radically different to anything released on these shores before. This leaves you feeling completely open to whats about to greet you. And your first response is just to simple smile. This is gaming at its purest. The games charm and quirkiness keeps you coming back for more, which is helped by its LEGO brick style graphics and the music which you’ll be humming for weeks without it irritating you.

Your first impression while playing the game for the first time will be how awkward the controls feel, you see you control your Katamari like a tank, you move both analogue sticks around to control the Princes right and left hands to push it along, for example when you push both sticks forwards, your Katamari will roll forwards, if you pull one back and push the other forward you will turn around on the spot.

But while they may feel awkward at first, the fact that rolling the Katamari over stuff is so damn fun means you don’t mine, and before you know it, you’ve got the hang of things.

We Love Katamari is one of those games that come around every once in a while that drag in those who give it a chance and make them evangelical about it, but on the whole it will be ignored by the average high street gamer. Which is a huge shame as We Love Katamari is an absolute gem of a game, these is literally nothing more than can be added to make it anymore fun that it already is.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Fast and the Furious (PlayStation 2)

In the past four years, games stores shelves have been saturated with identikit games, namely football, first-person shooters, sandbox crime titles (aka “GTA Clones”) and “street” racers of the Need for Speed variety, and here, for review, is yet another.

The Fast and the Furious is an identikit street racer, it has plenty of cars to choose from that you’d normally expect to see on the streets, it has loads of combinations of set ups, and is yet another title to lift Forza Motorsports decal editor, allowing you to create your own look on your car. If you recently purchased Need For Speed Carbon, then The Fast and the Furious is near on the same game, although its set on Tokyo’s highways.

However, Need For Speed Carbon was a good game, not great, or by any stretch a must buy, but it was probably the second best street racing game, with Midnight Club 3 DUB Edition being the best. Fast and the Furious doesn’t even come close to that quality. Sure it looks nice, once again NAMCO have created a nice looking game, hardly a surprise there if you’ve ever played the Soul Calibur titles. But thats where the niceties seem to end.

The first thing you expect from a driving game is for it to handle well, this is something that the Fast and the Furious doesn’t do, a slight touch of the analogue stick sends you swerving across the road, its stupidly sensitive, and don’t get me started on braking. In most games you release the accelerator briefly, brake, turn than accelerate through the corner, in simulators, depending on your approaching speed and how soon your turn this can either take you through the corner sensibly or kick the back end out a tiny bit (I prefer the latter), in arcade racing games this will result in a controllable slide round the corner, however in the Fast and the Furious, a slight touch of the break will result in your car being completely sideways but carrying on heading in the direction of the nose of the car. Resulting in you smacking the inside wall of a corner near on every time, this isn’t on and makes races with corners that require braking to navigate a really big pain in the backside. The games other big problem lies in its title, its neither fast, nor is it furious, races tend to be decided by who has the most powerful car, most nitrous and when you use it with hardly any jostling for position.

Now the mention of nitrous immediately brings to mind speed, but the cars travel sluggishly before you press the required button to activate the boost and just above sluggish while you are accelerating via the use of boost, travelling at 160mph for example feels like you’ve only just hit 60mph.

However, there are some nice touches to Fast and the Furious, and these are, sadly, in the car customisation area of the game and aren’t even there to improve the performance of your vehicle, they only act to make it look good. The things that I’m talking about is the inclusion of other NAMCO IP’s, namely in the form of Tekken and Soul Calibur characters appearing as vinyls for your car and Katamari and Pac-Man being included as “Drift Charms” to hang off your rear bumper and swing around as you drive your car around Tokyo. But thats really is the best thing about The Fast and the Furious.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Tak and the Great Juju Challenege (PlayStation 2)

Tak and the Great Juju Challenge is the third and final installment in the Tak series, in the previous two titles Tak had to defend his Pupanunu people from evil enemy Tlaloc, This installment see’s you competing in a tournament with four tribes competing to earn the protection of the godly Moon Juju for the next 60 years. The game starts up with friends Tak and Lok attempting to take a feather from a phoenix in order for their tribe to enter the tournament. This is basically your tutorial level, and feels a little like Rayman 2: The Great Escape., which is probably one of the standards modern platform titles follow. Unlike previous installments, the player can now switch between Tak and Lok at anytime they wish to, making The Great Juju Challenge the first title in which Lok is playable.

The heroes of the game must compete against two representatives from each of the other 3 tribes, the JibbaJabbas, the Grammazons and the Black Mist. The character diversity makes the Great Juju Challenge stand out against most of todays platform based games. As is the norm these days, as the story advances you are treated to numerous animated cut scenes where you get to learn more about the characters and their backgrounds, so far, so painting by numbers.

The great Juju challenge tries to be humorous, but after being released during a similar time frame to Psychonauts and Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel without a Pulse, both from THQ owned publishers, it just doesn’t cut it and feels quite immature at times. Also the double team comedy capers were done much better a few years back in the original Jak and Daxter title, surely if anything, they’re the Laurel and Hardy of the gaming world, not these cavemen. The games level design isn’t entirely different to the rest of the series, and while this is to be expected it would of been nice to have seen some experimentation from the developer, rather than them taken the safely safely approach that they seem to have.

Challenges within the tournament see you racing through the levels in order to light to beacons in order to open a portal that leads to one of three sub levels. These beacons are lit via fiery auras that come from the feathers of phoenix’s that Tak and Lok have plucked into their hair. Activation of the beacons and the like is completed via the normal methods of clearing an area of enemies or solving a puzzle.

Overall, Tak and The Great Juju Challenge is an entertaining romp if your into the platformer genre, but it feels so unoriginal and by the numbers that people that aren’t fans of the genre would easily get bored. If its a humorous game of a similar style that your looking for, I’d personally recommend Psychonauts, proof, if it was needed, that Tim Schafer is a comedy genius when it comes to games. But if you enjoy titles like Jak and Daxter, Ratchett and Clank and all those other platforming double teams, then you may just want to pick this up as it is right down your street, and is a much better offering than the previous attempts by both of those series.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Taito Legends 2

Retro Compilations are the in thing at the moment, it seems your not a legendary developer/publisher if you haven’t got a bunch of games to shove onto a disc and release on one of the modern consoles. But, as both Namco and SEGA have shown, if not done with due care and love, you end up with a complete mess. In this case, Taito are the leading light, our reviewer didn’t score their last compilation too well, but that was more down to memories and a few poor controls although the compilation did feature 29 games.

Taito Legends 2 then, takes this number and adds even more! With quite a few of these games not even originally being released on these shores, on offer there are 39 games for you to choose from, including games such as Elevator Action Returns, Liquid Kids, Puzzle Bobble 2 and many many shoot’em-ups.

To make this game easier to review, I’ve decided to select a few games rather than pick apart all 39 titles.

With this being Taito, there were always going to be plenty of Bubble Bobble clones, with Chack ‘N’ Po being the highlight of these, featuring the same familiar gameplay mechanics as the classic featuring the lovable dinosaurs Bub and Bob. It feels like an odd hybrid of Bomberman (before Bombermans release though), Bubble Bobble and Donkey Kong, the game entails you rescuing a heart and legging it to the exit of the level while placing bombs near enemies to aid your escape.

The Fairyland Story was release a year before the Bubble Bobble games, and is a lot of fun, although it does lack a two player co-op mode. In this you play a character called Ptolemy, who you use to cast spells into enemies, turning them into cakes, from there you keep zapping them to get rid of them. Bronze Adventure is a bit like Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins and is definitely worth checking out if your a fan of Capcom’s classic.

The best platforming title by far though is Liquid Kids, released in 1991, you control Hipopo. As Hipopo you have to thrown water bombs at enemies in a visually great platformer that bares more than a nod to Bubble Bobble.

Puzzle titles will always appear on these retro compilations, and Taito Legends 2 is no exception, except that it features some of the best Puzzle titles ever made. One of which is Puzzle Bobble 2 (a.k.a. Bust-A-Move 2), a game that hasn’t aged at all and is still the basic formula for all the bust A Move titles released now.

Also of note is Crazy Balloon, similar in theory to the Kururin games, you have to guide a balloon to an exit while avoiding thorns, which results in an incredibly challenging and fun experience.

Another genre that makes up a huge chunk of Taito Legends 2 is the Shoot’em-up genre. Featuring numerous versions of Space Invaders, Space Invaders ’91 is easily the best on offer, although Space Invaders is equally as good.

If vertical and side-scrolling shooters are your thing, theres plenty to choose from, with the package offering an interesting insight into how the genre developed during the 80’s and 90’s, but its a shame that many of them come across as generic, me too titles. There are a few highlights in there worthy of playing though, the long-forgotten Metal Black being one of them, giving you access to mammoth power-ups, zillions of enemies on screen at any one time and impressive visuals for their era. Also included are Darius Gaiden and G-Darius, two of the stand out titles in the genre.

As an overall package, theres only a small amount of genuine must-play titles among the 39 games on offer, that isn’t to say that many of the others wont bring you enjoyment. The presentation of the package is much better than the previous release, with games being organised into chronological order. If your looking for a Retro compilation that is worthy of playing, look no further than either of Taito’s efforts, if its famous names you want, the first is the one to go for, but if your looking for some experiences you may have missed out on, Taito Legends 2 is a definite must have, and is certainly better than Namco’s effort.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Phantasy Star Universe (PlayStation 2)

In the past couple of years, its seemed as though the online role playing game is the sure fire way to make some cash, this is unsurprising, considering the following these things receive, and the opportunity to have potential players buying a subscription to play your title. A lot of these are released purely for the PC and tend to be extremely life consuming affairs that require a lot of time and patience for you to reap any benefit for playing the game. With this in mind, Phantasy Star Online has always been a mildly popular title. Its an Online Role Playing Game for those that don’t have the time to spend many many hours reaching the next level increase. Its a simple, Diablo 2-like area explorer, where there’s always plenty of items to pick up and do what you want with, and the latest release, Phantasy Star Universe is no different to this basic set up.

There’s a lot thats been changed between the many versions of PSO and the newly released PSU. The action no longer takes place on Ragol, which was the setting for all 4 episodes of Phantasy Star Online. Universe instead takes place in the Gaharl system, a universe made up of 3 planets and a space colony. Another major change is also how the game is separated now, PSO allowed you to make a character and use it in both an offline mode and an online mode, this led to alot of cheating problems, plus a lack of direction for anyone wanting to play single player. With PSU, Sonic Team have included a completely separate story mode, it still uses the same controls, but has pre-determined characters and scripted events.

This gives the game a feel of having two games for the price of one, which is a good thing, and the Story Modes only draw back is average voice acting and uninteresting characters. The story is interestingly set out into chapters, which are played out like a television serialisation. With each one being roughly an hour to an hour and a half to play through, there are 12 missions in all, and you’re gradually introduced to new characters and locations, as well as being able to do all the other stuff you would normally do online, such as partake in none story missions, buying, selling and synthesising weapons, armour and items, aswell as dressing Ethan in clothes bought from the stores on each planet, the same also applies to your room on the Space Colony.

This is one of the best parts about the online mode, the sheer customisation, depending on whats available at the time. You see, as things stand at the time of writing, there has been one update, released a week before the games European launch, this allowed you to play on the Beat planet of Moatoob and also unlocked some new missions for the other 3 areas. But SEGA have promised an update each month, and that seems to be the case in Japan where they are, I think, on their third update.

Enjoyment of any online game will come from the company you keep, and the problem with Phantasy Star Universe is that it doesn’t seem to have taken off in Europe, meaning unless your willing to wait up until silly times of the day, theres not going to be a lot of people to party with. Plus with the series’ history of cheating, its difficult to trust anyone you run into in the games lobbies and cities, even though online cheating hasn’t been properly accomplished yet.

Here’s the part of the review where you need to have played a fair bit of Phantasy Star Online to read. This is because it involves a lot of technical changes over the older titles in the series. You see, theres a lot of more complicated item stuff this time, weapons have to be approached differently, as does your class and MAG’s are no more. But I’ll go through these things in the order I’ve listed them.

With weapons, you buy your basic weapon, and then add something called a Photon Art to it, this is going on the example of a Ranger class character, so, for example, if you buy the long ranged gun type Rifle, from there you can buy various elemental Photon Arts such as Plasma Shot, which you then use as a normal item to learn and then link to your weapon, this gives your Rifle an elemental bullet made of lightning which can also shock and creatures you shoot with it, temporarily disabling their attacking abilities. You’re also limited in how much you can use these (think of TP in PSO and you’re pretty much there) but you can level them by using them as much as possible. This adds an element of strategy to the game, leaving you to learn what Photon Art would be best in each given situation and switching between them as and when you can.

Classes are still split into the old Hunter, Ranger and Force types of old, except now any species can take one of those jobs, but obviously some are better than others at each one. Also, you can also change your class at any point, for a small fee, and as you complete missions you receive Job Points which gradually raise the level of your job. Later on, when your jobs reach certain levels, you will be able to choose an advanced job, making your role in a party more specific.

Finally on this technical review of the new parts of the game, as said previously, MAG’s are no more, they have now been replaced by something called a Partner Machine. Unlike with MAG’s your Partner Machine is limited to staying in your room, storing your items, synthesising new weapons and items you have found boards and synth ingredients for feeding. Yes, you still feed them. This time round, you don’t feed it 3 times every five minutes or whatever it used to be, but you can feed them up to 100 times every 12 hours. Also, the stats which you level up determine the PM’s strengths in synthing certain item types, for example, if you raise your PM’s Striking stat, it will have more success at synthing Hunter type weapons. Also, once your Partner Machines level reaches level 80, it takes on a humanoid form and can be brought into a party in place of a human controlled character, so long as you are the party leader. This is good for when you really need that extra body to draw away some of the attention from the various creatures in the game, but it was an irritating mistake on Sonic Team’s part to give them the ability to shout out random sentences every couple of minutes.

Now we have all that out of the way, I’d like to say this, Phantasy Star Universe will no doubt be a disappointment to those who were expecting something as big as Phantasy Star Online was the first time it was released on Dreamcast, but approach it as a fan wanting more of the same but slightly different, and you will be extremely pleased. It still has that life sucking ability to draw you in and not let you go that the Dreamcast, and to a lesser extent, Gamecube, XBox and PC versions of Phantasy Star Online had, and is still incredibly enjoyable for those that may have tired of the ways of the older games. Its not a revolution, but its certainly an evolution, and that, in my eyes is a good thing.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: NAMCO Museum: 50th Anniversary Collection (PlayStation 2)

Ten years ago, MAME was in its infancy, “retro” gaming wasn’t that big a deal, and Namco released its first ever arcade compilation. Back then, the idea seemed a great one for the small community of retro gamers that were around, the chance to play all their Namco arcade favourites on one home system was an instant draw, and Namco released six volumes of their arcade collection packs.

Being given the chance to wander around the virtual arcades and check out all the promotional material felt like we were stepping into a time machine and going back to the 70’s and 80’s. But then, MAME took off and it was possible for people to get their hands on thousand of classic arcade games, all run off of their PC’s.

Obviously, this isn’t the most legit route of playing classic games, so, you’d think Namco would take the approach of offering something over what you can get on MAME, just to warrant the price of buying their latest arcade collection (which have all appeared on their older arcade compilations). Something like developer interviews, making of features, unreleased games thats sort of thing, but instead all Namco have delivered is a collection of their most loved Arcade titles on a DVD with no extra’s.

Its not as though the same games aren’t available elsewhere, legitly, for a fraction of the price. Regarding the collection, few need any kind of introduction, which is a good sign at least. In the ‘classics’ camp, you’ve got some all-time must-haves in the shape of Pac-Man, Ms Pac Man, Galaxian, Galaga and Dig Dug. On the periphery, there’s the likes of Mappy, Bosconian, Rally-X, Sky Kid and Xevious, and a couple of reasonable unlockables like Galaga 88 and Pacmania, while the less impressive Pole Position, Pole Position 2, Dragon Spirit and Rolling Thunder help make up the numbers. A poor 16 titles compared to last years Taito Legends which featured a huge 29 games.

The 16 games that feature make this the largest Namco collection available, but, in many cases, its the worst of the lot. Digital Eclipse who compiled the collection seem to have done a rush job of the compilation, with nothing evident that celebrates Namco’s 50th Anniversary in any particular way. You cant help but think along the lines of “Why not include at least one game from each of those 50 years?”

The standard of the emulation here is pretty strong, although some of the games are really showing their age and others dont control too well. Rally-X, Pole Position and Pole Position 2 dont lend themselves to the Dual Shock to very well, leaving the controls feeling extremely twitchy, and the shooters tend to feel extremely slow and sluggish, and hardly exciting. Although, Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man are as fun as ever and are easily the highlights of the pack, often resulting in the famous “one more go” syndrome.

Overall then, Namco Museum 50th Anniversary is an underwhelming disappointment of a retro collection. Theres no bonus features, no real celebration and the controls on some of the games are downright poor. This is one retro collection to avoid.

Gaming

Videogame Literary Classics 101: Shadow of the Colossus

This article was written as part of community collaboration that is the brainchild of of Angie over at Backlog Crusader, The idea is that the gaming blog community each submit a treatise that focuses on a chosen game, that we the writer of our respective blogs, believe would stand up as a Classic that students should/could study in a videogame equivalent of a student studying English Literature or attending Film School. For my submission I have chosen the Team ICO/Sony Computer Entertainment of Japan game Shadow of the Colossus, the second game from director Fumito Ueda was originally released in 2005 on Sony’s PlayStation 2 but has also been re-released on PlayStation 3 alongside ICO in a HD collection and also on PlayStation 4 via a HD Remaster by Bluepoint Games.


 

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Shadow of the Colossus is the story of Wander, a boy who is in love with a girl called Mono. As the game begins he is entering the Forbidden Lands on the back of his horse Agro, his love is lying prone across the horse, presumed dead. After working his way towards and across a huge bridge, he enters a building and descends down its spiralled entrance, entering a large room at its base he places Mono’s body upon an altar and pleads to the Gods to return life to her. His pleas are answered by a disembodied voice, Dormin, who instructs him to hunt and defeat the 16 Colossi that inhabit these lands, and only once he has achieved this task and paid the price, will life be returned to the girl he loves. With those instructions, Wander climbs back onto Agro and heads off in search of the first Colossus.

Immediately Wander, whom the player controls throughout Shadow of the Colossus, becomes the “hero” in what on the surface is a game that relies heavily on the “Damsel in Distress” trope. The task at hand feels like alot of videogames out there, hero has to save the girl, however, as we soon begin to learn, Shadow of the Colossus’ hero has to sacrifice alot in order for his wishes to be fulfilled.

So, as Wander leaves the alter, climbs aboard Agro and trots along, the player is greeted by an open, but rather barren world. There’s no mini-map, although there is a map in the options, it does very little to actually help the player until they discover landmarks for themselves, and the only way to learn where to go is to make Wander lift his sword to the sun and listen to the high pitched humming noise, moving the pointer that appears on screen and waiting for a change in pitch and for the controller to vibrate and give the player a vague idea of the direction they need to go in. There’s no hand holding here, its literally the player and the environment that Ueda and his team have provided. You’re left with no idea of how far to travel nor of the obstacles that lay in your path.

We’ve not even gotten to the first Colossi yet and its apparent that Ueda is playing with the idea of what an open world game could be. By this point in the PlayStation 2’s lifespan (which, I should add, is nearing its end, in fact the XBox 360 would be released a month later) and have seen three large inhabited environments in the form of Rockstars Grand Theft Auto games. We just have the player character, one building and off in the far distance is a cliff wall, that once reached, Wander has to disembark from Agro and climb to find the first Colossi.


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The biggest criticism that gets aimed at Shadow of the Colossus is that its “just a series of boss fights” with little in between, and whilst its difficult to disagree with this simplification of the events the player is put through, its also ignoring that its the entire point. Each Colossi is, in effect, its own level, that tasks the player with using a different skill each time. The core concept is still to climb the Colossi and find its weak spot in order to take it down, but its the journey the player goes on from their first encounter with each of these enormous beasts to discovering just how they can mount them in the first place. The first Colossi doesn’t attack Wander, and there are a few that don’t attack until Wander does so first, as an introduction to the concept of the game this creature is essentially a level from a platform game, as you jump and grapple your way from leg to leg, up his back to the glowing point on his head. He’ll try to shake you off, at which point you’ll be desperately monitoring that grip meter, but thats pretty much the entirety of the battle. Other Colossi require you to launch Wander from Agro’s back, coax the beast into diving at you from the skies, use your bow and arrow to rupture sacks of gas on its body and so on. Overall, each one is a wonderful piece of design, both aesthetically and as an almost believable creature in themselves, and the player is encouraged to mourn their deaths rather than celebrate as you would do so in any other game. There’s no Final Fantasy style victory fanfare, the music as the creatures fall is somber, then black tentacle like things spread from them and are absorbed by Wander’s body, visibly corrupting him as his kill count gets closer to target set him by Dormin.

As you get further and further into Shadow of the Colossus the player begins to question the motive and actions of Dormin and Wander, as the latter becomes more visibly corrupted, each Colossul battle becomes all the more challenging, not just from a gameplay perspective but from a moral one too. Wander’s grief is what drives him in, his need to revive Mono conquers all and his sacrifice becomes more than just the beasts he is slaying.  At one point Agro sacrifices himself in order to help Wander reach the sixteenth and final colossus in what is an incredibly moving moment within the game. Ueda, through the games visuals, story and music, tries to build a feeling of grief for the creatures as the human character lays waste to all before him for his selfish goal, manipulated by an unknown force who has been quarantined inside of the Colossi. They need Wander in order to be freed from the seal that has been placed upon them. Wander is ultimately overcome by this corruption and Dormin takes over his body to fight off men who have arrived to try and prevent the ritual being completed but is again sealed away, leaving only a baby boy behind in Wanders wake, Mono is revived, Agro didn’t pay the ultimate sacrifice after all, and the pair take the horned baby to the Secret Garden atop the monument that housed the altar Mono had been layed upon.


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Because of Ueda’s minimal approach to the games design and story telling, Shadow of the Colossus is one of those games thats absolutely always dragged into the “are videogames art? debate, which I suppose this article is another attempt at opening that debate. As far as videogames go, its definitely a standout piece of work. But does it work as a piece of Literary Art? Let’s take this definition from the School of Arts Singapore website

Literary Arts is the integrative discipline of ideation, literary appreciation and multi-modal creative writing.

My interpretation of the above is that Literary Art is using creative writing, of a variety of disciplines to portray a central idea. That the artist, or in this case director, has a core message to portray to the person experiencing their work that the construct of that work is then built around.

So, what is Shadow of the Colossus’ theme? For me, there are a variety at work here, from the breakdown of the events of the game above, we already know that Wander is driven by his love for Mono and grief at her dying. If it weren’t for those very human and often very selfish emotions, Dormin wouldn’t be able to manipulate Wander to commit the atrocities that Dormin being freed (albeit for a short period of time) and Wander to be corrupted. It also feels like there is a message there about Mans effect on nature, we are driven by our base desires and anything that stands in our way is chewed up and spat out. It’s very cliche, but for a medium that is still arguably in its infancy and for a game that is very nearly 15 years old, its a concept thats handled maturely by its creator. There’s no heavy handed dialogue, in fact there’s very little dialogue to speak of, instead Ueda and his team use the multimedia nature of videogames to tell their story and portray their ideas and encourage the player to actually feel, at the very least, some sympathy for the elegant towering creatures that they are tasked with destroying.

That the game doesn’t bog the player down with videogame trappings such as waypoints and side quests, and even keeps the on-screen information available to player very minimal enables the player to become genuinely enveloped within this world, instead key pieces of music are used very carefully. The lack of ambient music at times, leaves the player with the natural (so to speak) noises of that environment.

Personally, I’m inclined not to compare videogames to other pieces of art or literature, purely because they should stand on their own as a medium, and I think Shadow of the Colossus is an excellent example of what can be achieved by a videogame as whilst there are cut-scenes, they’re almost kept to a minimum, whilst there is a story Ueda doesn’t try to tell too much of it

“For me, it’s not important to tell the details of the story,” he answered. “In Japan, there is a poet expression called a haiku [where] you don’t explain some things in detail and let the receivers understand or use their imagination with what is presented.

“That lets the receivers make their own story from their imagination, and I think this is also a good style of expression for video games – at this moment. In the future, someone may discover there’s another way to do narrative and tell stories through gaming, but at this moment I think this is a great way to tell stories.” – Fumito Ueda

This strikes me as being the words of an artist who is truly comfortable with his chosen medium, and whilst its easy to argue that Shadow of the Colossus barren lands and lack of distractions are ultimately a symptom of the limitations of the PlayStation 2 hardware (which even struggles with what is in the game at times), its also hard to see how the experience could be improved by including anything more. The appearances of the Colossi remain with the player because of how they fit within the world. We join in with a hobby where every release has to give you more than the last game you bought, Ueda circumvented this, through necessity as much as anything else, by giving you enough. Further releases that have appeared since its original PlayStation 2 outing have seen the inclusion of Trophies and a special sword, all of which encourage the player to explore the landscape more, which I feel kind of misses the point a little. By this I mean that Shadow of the Colossus did away with those trappings, yes there were the lizards and apples that you could collect which improved Wanders health and stamina but they were a totally optional extra that weren’t tracked until the player had already completed the game, its an unnecessary distraction that offers the player very little fanfare. The goal isnt to collect a whole load of stuff, the goal is to reflect on what Shadow of the Colossus is trying to discuss and that is, in my opinion, why nearly twenty years later gamers should be giving Ueda’s masterpiece a proper go.

 


 

 

 

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Magna Carta: Tears of Blood (PlayStation 2)

With the Final Fantasy series taking a little bit of a break, well we’re not going to see FFXII on these shores till at least the end of the year, other companies have decided to try and grab the RPG torch to highlight games that would otherwise get ignored for Square Enix’s popular series. In the years between the release of FFX and the coming release of FFXII we’ve seen series’ like Shadow Hearts and Shin Megami Tensei released in an attempt to put their own unique style to the genre. That is exactly what Magna Carta is here to attempt, and for the most part it does just that, with a compelling story, fairly interesting characters and a unique, complicated, yet fun battle system

Magna Carta: Tears of Blood takes place in a world called Efferia, a land where two different races, humans and Yason, are locked into a bitter battle for control of their land. The two species are pretty much the same, aside from the Yason having strange looking ears and are more in touch with the nature around them. During the game you control Calintz, a hot headed, permanently sarcastic teenage lad, who is the captain of a mercenary group known as the Tears of Blood. The game throws you into the story just as the humans launch a massive attack on the Yason in an attempt to end the war once and for all. The attack is foiled, the Tears of Blood retreat, Calintz is attacked and knocked out and then meets a strange girl with an enormous set of breasts known as Reith.

Unsurprisingly the two form an awkward romance that remains through out the story while you try to figure out who Reith is, where her powers came from, and how she help bring peace to Efferia (she too received a knock to the head and cant remember a thing). The story is full of mysteries and unexplained coincidences, but there are a lot of political points during the game too. The game features a bizarre yet interesting and well developed cast of characters that you will grow to love.

As is normal with a lot of RPG’s everything starts a little slow, despite you being thrown into the action for the first hour or so of game play, but thankfully there’s plenty going on throughout the game to hold your interest until the final credits roll, interestingly, the story doesn’t back off at all, with it taking on stronger subjects such as death and betrayal while throwing plenty of twists in your direction to keep you permanently interested.

At times the game feels very linear and restrictive, there’s not a lot of opportunity to stray off the path the developer has weaved into the story, there are a few side quests, but for the most part you’ll be walking along a narrow path to each destination that the story wishes you to visit. This is the games main downfall, as it feels like your being directed through the game but an unseen hand rather than embarking on a epic quest to bring peace to a war torn land.

A lot of the quests are basic RPG fare. Quite a few of them require you to travel to a town to gather information, only for you tog et there and discover the information you need is actually in another town. As is normal in RPG’s on your journey you will run into plenty of monsters that you can fight to earn experience points and level up your team, and like with the Grandia games, the creatures you get to fight appear on the map, allowing you to either avoid them, sneak up on them or let them attack you first. The battles aren’t random, which is one complaint permanently thrown at the genre despite a few titles not featuring random battles, and the creatures are set out at specific points, so if you return to an area, chances are, the same creature will be at that point, this however makes it difficult to power level your squad to make the game easier later on.

What’s interesting about the battles though is that the game uses a mechanic similar to the judgement wheel in Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Your allowed a party of three characters in a battle, but you only control one character at a time, if you want to line up other moves, you need to switch characters manually. To attack an enemy, you simply have to run up to an enemy until a Trinity Circle appears, taking you into a rhythm action style piece of game play to execute a move. If you hit the correct button at the right time you’ll receive the obligatory “good” or “great” rating. Do this with all 3 buttons and you will be able to attack. Miss the timing of any of the buttons and you’ll miss your attack,, miss your turn and will be forced to have to wait for another round. Getting “Great” on all three button presses will increase your trinity drive gauge, which is basically like a limit break or overdrive that boosts your attack. Also by achieving Great on the Trinity Wheel you can perceive new attacks for your characters to use. Only the X and Circle buttons are used during this technique however, so the combo’s are never too complex, and after a few goes, its extremely easy to get the timing down perfect so you always receive a Great rating.

The leadership gauge allows you to have the advantage in battles, the gauge is constantly filling up during battle while you stand still, once it reaches a certain point you can attack. This gauge is affected by how many enemies are in the battle, their overall strength and how much the members of your party trust you. If your controlling a character that doesn’t trust you for example, you’ll need a lot of leadership points just for them to attack. Obviously, this can mean a lot in battle, so its important to keep an eye on the gauge and your relationships with the other characters, as this one particular mechanic can be the difference between victory and defeat in battle. If you play your cards right, you can often get two or three attacks for every one the enemy gets to perform. To gain the trust of your allies, you simply have to talk to them and say things that gain their trust and friendship, or give them gifts, although material possessions only raise their trust in you for a short while, its very much like one of those dating sims that are so popular in Japan.

The battle modes attacks revolve around something called chi, there are eight different types of elemental chi, which you can replenish by using talismans. Every battlefield you fight in has specific elemental properties that you really need to pay attention to, because if the area your in doesn’t have a specific type of chi, you wont be able to use certain attacks. there are multiple fighting styles with different chi associations, allowing you to switch between different styles depending on the levels of chi in the area your in. A lot there is a problem with the Chi system, and that is in the fact the icons used to represent each element aren’t very intuitive. It takes a while to memorize what each letter stands for.

During the whole time your in Efferia you’ll be treated to plenty of nice sights. At first glance, you could quite easily mistake this for a Final Fantasy title, as the visual style is very similar to that in Final Fantasy X. The lush vegetation and structures all share the same look, although there’s a bit of a quick change that suddenly happens when switching between new areas, as movement between different areas takes place on a map rather than in the world created for you. The characters are all highly detailed and the battle animations look great. What is fun to note is that a lot of the men have that feminine look that is apparent in a lot of Eastern RPGs while the women all look a bit like Porn stars. The only visual problem with the game is in its fixed camera angles, sometimes during battle you can’t even see your own characters.

Unfortunately, the sound in Magna Carta doesn’t live up to the standards set by the rest of the game, the voice overs are delivered without any feeling behind them, leaving the characters seeming a little wooden and lifeless. The games title song is awful, sounding like a B-Side from one of Celine Dion’s backup singers. The sound effects throughout the game don’t have the solid, polished execution that we’ve all come to expect from RPGs. The only thing going for the sound within the game is the music (not including the title theme) is fairly well done, there’s plenty of orchestral themes and choral chants thrown in to give the experience a little sound based depth.

If your looking for an RPG to fill the gap until the next Final Fantasy game comes out, the Magna Carta: Tears of Blood isn’t a bad choice, its probably not the best to go for, but thanks to some really nice visuals, a intriguing plot and some interesting characters, its easy to lose yourself to the game. The story is definitely the games strong point, although it would of been nice if Efferia had of been fleshed out a bit more.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Madden 07 (PlayStation 2)

I’m not a follower of the NFL, I don’t really know anyone who is. I’ve never really understood the sport, to me its always been a bit of a “Rugby with padding” that so many British people stereotype it as. However, after playing Madden 07, my opinion has changed, I’m still not a fan but I now understand that its not a “Rugby with padding”, its more based on tactics than anything else. Player movements, feints, distractions and strength. It’s all about getting that one player in enough open space for him to receive the ball and run for the end zone, still, I dont understand why they call it football.

EA are “infamous” for releasing the “same title every year with only changes to the squad line-ups/rosters” while that may have been true in the past, in more recent releases, although still yearly and still featuring squad updates, they’ve tried adding new features to each of their sports titles, in the hope that something may work and the general gaming public wont shoe horn their latest release into the same old box.

I’m not aware of past Madden’s attempts to revolutionise itself, but I feel, this is definitely a game that will reward those who play it, especially those who dont even know what the sport is all about. I took on the Superstar mode and immediately the team I was rostered into were performing well, and my Superstar was getting some good recognition, and that was on the medium setting.

Some of the controls are a bit awkward, especially when defending, and half the time its actually easier to leave the defending to the computer AI while you get the hang of whats going on around you. Attacking is easier, something you’d expect from an American sport, with you basically taking control of spotting whos in the best position, pressing the relevant button to throw it to them and then running for your life as god knows how many men chase you down.

Not knowing much about the sport, I can’t really go in depth, but for someone whos only real interest in sports games is the odd game of Pro Evolution Soccer to get some enjoyment out of a game featuring a sport thats never interested him, I feel this has to be good..