Monthly Archives: June 2010

Quick reviews: Red Dead Redemption and Batman: Arkham Asylum for Xbox 360


Red Dead Redemption
2010
developer: Rockstar San Diego
publisher: Rockstar
system: Xbox 360 (also available on PlayStation 3)

RDR is basically Grand Theft Auto in the Old West and that’s a good thing.  Most GTA games are strictly city-based but GTA: San Andreas featured a wide-open wilderness in-between cities, peppered with small towns and highways.  To some degree, that’s what RDR is all about.  That does NOT make the game boring or empty, though.  It seems there’s always something going on in the deserts and countrysides.  You can be minding your own business riding your horse and come across a stagecoach robbery that you can choose to foil or ignore.  Strangers will approach you, sometimes for help, sometimes to rob you.  There are animals to hunt and plants to collect but this is strictly optional.  Everything I’m describing takes place in the world at large, outside of missions and the main game.  The characters are well done but you might end up hating some of them for the wrong reasons.  Unlike GTA games, RDR allows you to follow the straight and narrow.  It’s up to you, really.  Most of the missions involve killing, but the victims are lowlife scum.  Outside of missions, you take a real risk by murdering regular folks, as the law does not forget.  Even if you evade the authorities, a bounty will be placed on yer ass, making life difficult until you pay it off.

It’s a good game!

**********


Batman: Arkham Asylum
2009
developer: Rocksteady
publisher: Eidos
system: Xbox 360 (also available for PlayStation 3)

This game got great reviews and I can see why.  BAA feels like 1/3 Metroid (due to exploration, gradual item acquisition, and Metroid Prime-type scanning modes), 1/3 Metal Gear (due to sneaking around and crawling through ducts) and 1/3 good, old-fashioned brawler. I do NOT mean to imply that the game is derivative.  It took these strong aspects and synthesized them into something new and fun.

Voice work is present almost all the time and much of it provided by ye ol’ Batman: The Animated Series cast, Mark Hammill, Kevin Controy, etc.  Several big-name villains are present, namely Joker, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Szasz, Bane, Scarecrow and Killer Croc.  I think this is one of those lame occasions when you can say the setting is something of a character, as well.  Arkham really has a presence and provides so much of the identity of the game.  This isn’t necessarily always a great thing, though.  From certain vantage points on Arkham Island, the player can spy downtown Gotham and it seems like a letdown not to be able to explore that wild city.  I think Rocksteady should definitely create a sandbox Batman game.

The brawling setup is really simple, there’s basically a counter button and an attack button but the action is addictive and on-screen representation of your input is INSANE.  Basically, Batman has what seems to be dozens of moves at his disposal and he will use them almost randomly.  If you walk up to one dude and push attack three times you might see a totally different move set from the last time you pushed attack three times on some guy.  This little touch makes a big difference and offers a visual treat.

Play it!

Recent fighting game reviews: Street Fighter IV, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Punch-Out!!

There has definitely been a resurgence in one-on-one fighting games over the last 2 or 3 years.  I recently dug into a few that represent long-running series that I’ve enjoyed.  An interesting trend among the games I review in this post is that the publishers of these series decided to farm the games to outside developers.  I guess Japanese publishers just hate to develop their own games.


Super Street Fighter IV
2010 (this is a revised version of a game originally released in 2008)
developer: Dimps/Capcom
publisher: Capcom
format: Xbox 360 (also available on PlayStation 3, Windows and – in a miniature-sized version – iPod)

Ramble: In 2008, Capcom revived its famous Street Fighter IV with the arcade release, Street Fighter IV, which was ported to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 the following year.  In typical Capcom fashion, the game has been upgraded and re-released with Super in the title.  Since I never played the original, I can’t offer much in the way of a comparison but from what I’ve heard it’s what one would expect: new characters, new combos, new fight locations.

Anyway, as for the game itself, if you like Street Fighter II and Street Fighter Alpha, you will like this game.  That may seem like a no-brainer but it hasn’t always been the case with previous Street Fighter games.  For example, Street Fighter III, while highly rated by critics and fighting game afficionados for its great animations, messed with the formula enough to be less commercial.  The Street Fighter EX series was never universally accepted by SFII buffs, either.

In many ways, SFIV feels like a remake of SFII.  For example, the original SFIV cast largely consisted of the 12 characters from the original version of SFII.  All of the Super SFII characters have made it over to Super SFIV, as well.  Super SFIV also includes several characters from SF Alpha but only a handful from SFIII and just a few original characters.  Another element that makes SFIV feel remake-y is that the characters seem to be frozen in time, presented basically as they were in either SFII or SF Alpha.  This is definitely a problem for me.  In SF Alpha, the character Cody is supposed to have recently escaped from jail and is thus portrayed as wearing a prison outfit.  In SF IV, which takes place story-wise after SF Alpha, SF, and SFII, Cody is still wearing a prison outfit.  Dang, dude, find some new clothes.  Sakura is still wearing her pervy schoolgirl outfit.  Rose is wearing the exact same dress from SF Alpha.  Admittedly, you can buy new outfits for the characters but to buy every outfit would cost you $16.  EL OH EL!

The best: The game plays very well.  Many of the characters have picked up some new moves to change things up.  The art style is also great but doesn’t come across as stylized as it seemed to be portrayed in gaming publications.  It may seem remake-y but still has its own style and feels fresh in ways that count.

The worst: The fighting locations are basically random.  In SFII, each character had their own cool fight location that reflected his or her personality or culture to some degree.  E. Honda fought in a Japanese bath house, Dalsihm fought in an elephant stable, Guild fought on a military base, etc.  In SFIV, you and your opponent are just whisked off to some random location and you fight.  Another complaint is that the final boss is totally generic and boring, a problem that SFIII had, as well.  SF‘s Sagat and SFII‘s and SF Alpha‘s M. Bison were cool and memorable, but this new guy will never be remembered.

Grade: B+

**********


Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars
2008 (didn’t make it to the US until 2009)
developer: Eighting
publisher: Capcom
system: Wii

Ramble: Tatsunoko vs. Capcom is essentially a descendant of the Marvel vs. Capcom series, featuring the trademark simplified control scheme and fast and wild action that series is known for.  This game received pretty good reviews but I just don’t see it.  The combos seem to be the same across the roster there is at least one combo that’s mega simple and spammable.

The Capcom characters chosen for the game are pretty terrible, too.  Only a few are from fighting games, which could be okay, but two slots are wasted on Mega Man Volnutt from the Mega Man Legends series and his pal, Roll.  Meanwhile, dudes like Arthur of Ghosts ‘n Goblins fame have still not appeared as a playable character in one of these vs. games.  At least Viewtiful Joe made the cut, a selection that actually makes sense due to his brawling nature.

Unfortunately, the fighting falls flat for the most part and characters seem relatively unbalanced.  I beat the game without losing a single match on my first playthrough by using Ryu and Alex (of SFIII fame).  Playing with midgets like Viewtiful Joe and Roll offers a more difficult challenge due to imbalances.

The best: The visuals are pretty good.

The worst: The gameplay falls quite flat compared to the Marvel vs. Capcom series and just makes me want to play those games instead.  Almost as weak as the gameplay is a topic I haven’t addressed yet at all – the Tatsunoko cast.  I’m sure some people will think my reaction to the Tatsunoko roster is due to my lack of familiarity with the properties but I assure this is not the case.  For an American equivalent of the lame Tatsunoko cast, I would invite one to look at Hanna-Barbera.  Most of the Tatsunoko fighters are boring super hero types in the same mold as Space Ghost.

Grade: C+

**********


Punch-Out!!
2009
developer: Next Level
publisher: Nintendo
system: Wii

Ramble: After fifteen years of neglect, Nintendo finally dumped the Punch-Out!! property on developer Next Level to bring us a new game.  Sorta.  Much like SFIV, the Wii Punch-Out!! feels like a remake of an earlier game, specifically Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, released for the NES.  Just like the NES game, the new entry follows a bout format of 3 rounds consisting of 3 minutes each, unlike the SNES game which features bouts of just 1 round.  In fact, advancements presented in the SNES entry are largely ignored, including the cool characters that made their debut in that awesome effort.

In the new Punch-Out!!, earning super punches becomes extremely important, as it’s the key to defeating some enemies.  Speaking of enemies, there are only 13 in the standard game.  If you have spent a lot of time playing the previous Punch-Out!! games you’ll get through the first six or so opponents without much trouble but matters do become more challenging after that.  Most of your opponents have picked up new tricks, changed their moves, or completely changed their timing since the last time you saw them.

After beating the main game, the 13 fighters challenge you for your title and there are pretty big changes the 2nd time around.  This is where I currently am in the game, and the difficulty is definitely amped up, considering I haven’t even beaten Glass Joe – who is now protected by headgear (LOL) and has a crazy punch timing.  This challenge mode effectively doubles the length of the game in a manner that is much more enjoyable than simply making the fighters harder.

If you like the NES version, I have little doubt you’ll like, and maybe even prefer, the Wii remake.

The best: The characterizations are great and the various boxers speak in their native languages.  The fighting is solid and does the series justice.  The challenge mode is a simple but ingenious addition.

The worst: There should really be more characters and more than just a single new fighter.  Ignoring the contributions of the as-yet untopped Super Punch-Out!! (SNES) isn’t too cool, either.

Grade: B+

Wow, another new Contra game: HARD CORPS UPRISING

Wow, Konami just announced a new Contra game, to be developed by Arc System Works, the dudes best known for the Guilty Gear fighting game series.  That means out of the 4 most recent games, 4 different developers have been given the reigns.  wtf?!  Here’s a history of original Contra games released for consoles . . .

title (year, system, developer)
Contra (1988, NES, Konami)
Super C (1990, NES, Konami)
Operation C (1991, Game Boy, Konami)
Contra III: The Alien Wars (1992, Super NES, Konami)
Contra: Hard Corps (1994, Genesis, Konami)
Contra: Legacy of War (1996, PlayStation/Saturn, Appaloosa)
C: The Contra Adventure (1998, PlayStation, Appaloosa)
Contra: Shattered Soldier (2002, PlayStation 2, Konami)
Neo Contra (2004, PlayStation 2, Konami)
Contra 4 (2007, DS, WayForward)
Contra Rebirth (2009, Wii, M2)
Hard Corps: Uprising (2010, Xbox 360/PlayStation 3, Arc System Works)

Interestingly, the new game does not have “Contra” or even the solitary “C” in its title, although characters from the original Contra Hard Corps return.  It features a more anime-ish look than most previous Contras.  I dunno, if other downloadable retro sequels (Mega Man 9, Prince of Persia Classic, Bionic Commando Rearmed, Contra Rebirth, Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth) are any indication, this one’ll be pretty dang good.

Read more about the game here:

a game: SHADOW COMPLEX or “Is that you, Metroid?”

Shadow Complex
Xbox Live Arcade, 2009
developed by Chair, published by Epic

If you love Metroid-style gameplay, then there is a very good chance you would enjoy Shadow Complex.  This is far from an original observation on my part, and the developers have openly referenced Super Metroid as the primary influence.  The setting is completely re-cast, taking place in the titular “shadow complex”, an underground military facility on regular old Earth, populated by regular old humans, plus some robots.  There’s a lot of futuristic equipment, but it’s mostly stuff that could probably really be developed in the next 10-20 years.

Just as in Metroid games, you start out without very much and constantly seek out upgrades and new equipment.  Instead of collecting missile upgrades, you collect grenade upgrades.  You even get an upgrade that makes you run fast as hell, just like in Super Metroid.  In spite of these borrowed elements, there are many 2009 elements.  For example, the graphics are very up-to-date; the gameplay is 2D but the graphics are running in a fully 3D environment.  There are many situations and cinemas during which the camera swings close and shows the character models up close.  Any time the player character attacks an enemy up close, the player is treated to a very short cut scene – running within the game engine – of the enemy being brutalized by one of many available, vicious combos.  Additionally, the game makes use of the dual analog sticks.  Unlike ye old Metroid and Contra games, the player character can run in any direction and shoot in any desired direction at the same time.  He can run back and forth and fire in a 360 degree arc if so desired, all at once.

I think my one and only complaint is the game’s length.  I read a review before playing the game that said the story takes 10 hours to complete.  I guess that reviewer is super slow because I required 7 hours, and I’m a pretty average-skilled gamer.  I do think there’s a pretty good chance I will revisit the game to explore every room in the complex and to find every little item.  If you want an idea of what a 2D Metroid game benefiting from current tech would play like, Shadow Complex is your game.