Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Knowing Is Half The Battle: G.I. Joe Games

G.I. Joe has been around a long time, and much like any toy line, cartoon, etc. that was big in the 80s, there were video game tie ins. Some of them were piles of crap, but there were also some beautiful gems too. I'm going to try to catch all of them.

G.I. Joe: Cobra Strike - Atari 2600 - 1983: Most 2600 games kinda required the player to have a vivid imagination to see what you're supposed to be dealing with in the game world, but there is no question in Cobra Strike what your objective is. Instead of fighting "Cobra: The Enemy", you fight a GIANT COBRA! In addition, you have to protect hostages from the giant cobra's attacks while you fire shots at it. Not a good look for Hasbro, who was pushing the new G.I. Joe cartoon series at this point.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero - Commodore 64, Apple II - 1985: This is a weird one, as it is basically a one on one shooter. You pick an opponent, then you pick your member of G.I. Joe, then you run around a single screen arena like an idiot shooting at your enemy. Once the battle is over, you repeat the process. There was no ending to the game, and it hasn't aged well at all. It is better than Cobra Attack, though.

Action Force - Amstrad CPC - 1987: In Europe, G.I. Joe is known as Action Force. This game was only released in Europe, and I'm glad it never touched down here, because it proved to be an utter turd. most Amstrad games featured some butt ugly graphics and sound effects. It's on par with a lot of stuff on that system though. I'm not a fan though.

G.I. Joe - NES - 1991: Two publishers made G.I. Joe games for the NES, this one was published by Taxan, and they did a damn good job with it. quality run and gun platforming right here.

G.I. Joe: The Atlantis Factor - NES - 1992: Capcom handled this one, and it was quite nice. The gameplay is quite on par with Taxan's G.I. Joe game, but the levels are much bigger, and there is a good deal of exploration involved. Definitely a must buy.

G.I. Joe - Arcade - 1992: The 90s belonged to a few publishers when it came to arcade games, and Konami did licensed games better than most in the arcades in the 90s. This G.I. Joe game always felt like an expanded version of the over the shoulder levels in Contra. If you ever stumble across an arcade that has this, you owe it to yourself to give it a go.

G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra - 2009: This one was attached as a tie in to the movie of the same name, and sadly, it was just as mediocre. It reminded me a little of The Red Star for the PS2. It could have been a classic run and gun action game that ended up being blah.

That was pretty much every video game adaptation of the G.I. Joe license. Some were good, some not so much, but at least they fight for freedom wherever there's trouble.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tony Hawk vs. Skate: EA vs. Activision Round 9 Million

For a long time, there really wasn't a really good video game that encompassed what skateboarding was. I mean, Skate or Die is a classic, but let's face it, it didn't pull in non gamers. A few games popped up here and there, but none of them were really good skateboarding games. This changed when Activision released Tony Hawk Pro Skater for the Sony Playstation in 1999. That game became the new high water mark for all action sports games, but in the process it's success kinda doomed it. You see, the folks at Activision are always in constant competition with the other "biggest publisher in video games" in Electronic Arts, and much like EA, Activision tends to fall into a state of complacency with their games. That ended up happening with the Tony Hawk series. While Activision did make a fundamental change in game engine with Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, there wasn't enough in the way of improved gameplay to satisfy gamers who grew bored with the long stale play mechanics in the long running series. With Activision down, EA decided to strike and they released what could be considered the grandchild of Skate or Die, EA's 1986 multiplatform skateboard classic. EA released Skate in 2007 on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 to critical and commercial acclaim, and sequels for pretty much every available console were released. One thing Skate and it's sequels did differently than Tony Hawk was that it consolidated the origination of most tricks to the right analog stick and most grabs are assigned to shoulder buttons. This control scheme made playing Skate an inviting experience to those who became put off by the fighting game like button combos that were required to do tricks in the Tony Hawk games. by contrast, Activision has started to look at their popular line of music games for the direction their series would go in. Tony Hawk Ride was released in 2009, and featured a skateboard peripheral that would allow players to control their on screen character without using a traditional controller. Ride was met with very negative reviews, and received several worst game of the year awards. Despite the negative reception, Activision released a followup to Ride, entitled Tony Hawk Shred. It is notable that Shred received negative reviews as well, and only sold 3,000 units in it's first week. Conversely, Skate 3 released to positive reviews, though sales haven't been as strong as Skate 2 were. It remains to be seen if EA's Skate franchise will become as stale as Activision's Tony Hawk franchise, but if it does, rest assured that one thing is certain, and that is that Ubisoft's Shaun White Skateboarding poses no threat to either right now.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Spy Hunter: The Best Car Chase I Ever Played

We've always been fascinated by secret agents, most notably the concept of a "Super Spy" like James Bond. So, video games afforded players the opportunity to assume the roles of such characters, which sometimes didn't go well, mainly because the games never really focused on one part of the experience and did it well. That was the case at least until Bally Midway saw fit to focus on the best part of most action movies in general, the car chase scenes. Using car chase scenes as inspiration, Midway developed and released Spy Hunter in 1983. The original cabinet came in two flavors, upright and sit down, and featured fast paced gameplay. The player assumes control of the G-6155 Interceptor, and must take out enemy vehicles while avoiding civilians. Each one of the cars weapons (missiles, smoke screen, oil slick, machine gun) are allocated to individual buttons. Perhaps one of the biggest selling points of Spy Hunter was the use of the theme to Peter Gun as the primary soundtrack to the game. Spy Hunter proved to be a hit for Midway, and spawned a sequel as well as a pinball game and several ports to the original game. Spy Hunter is so popular that it even popped up as an "Easter Egg" in the initial release of Microsoft Excel 2000, and it ended up being the last "Easter Egg" included in Microsoft's non gaming software. The arcade sequel, Spy Hunter II, was released in 1987, and I can say with great honesty that it isn't anywhere as good as the original. Meanwhile, on the home console front, Sunsoft, who released the NES port of Spy Hunter, developed and released their own followup titled Super Spy Hunter. That followup was much more in the vein of the original game than Spy Hunter II, and it proved to be well received. From there, the spirit of that game lay dormant for many years, until the retro gaming revival of the last console generation. Midway, who was at this point a full fledged console game publisher, decided to revive Spy Hunter, and they did a pretty good job of it, at first. The reboot of the franchise, simply titled Spy Hunter, was released on PS@, Xbox, and Gamecube to some good reviews, and sales were solid. Then Universal Pictures acquired the right to Spy Hunter, and began pre-production in 2003. At the same time, Midway began working on a video game attached to the film. The film has been delayed since, but Midway decided to release the game instead, but they probably shouldn't have. The game was lambasted by critics, and sold horribly. Sadly to date that was the last game in the Spy Hunter lineage, but the good thing about being a gamer, is being able to circumvent to bad parts of a franchise's history to relive it's glory days. I recently picked up Super Spy Hunter, and will get the NES port of the original soon if for no other reason than to hear that awesome soundtrack.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Few More "What Ifs"

It's a slow day, and I have severe writer's block, so I figured I'd cook up a few more "What Ifs" for you guys

What if Bungie never signed that deal to exclusively make games for Microsoft's Xbox console? Let's be real here, The Xbox brand probably wouldn't have lasted past that first system cycle if it wasn't for Halo being exclusive to the first Xbox.

What if EA ignored better judgment and released NBA Elite 11 anyway? That honestly would have been the worst basketball video game released on a home console since NBA Starting Five for the PS2. EA Sports as a brand would've recovered, but nobody would have trusted their basketball games again.

What if Nintendo's consoles flopped, and Sega's prospered? If this happened, a bigger deal would've been made about Sonic's 15th birthday than Mario's 25th, We'd still be getting new After Burner and Space Harrier sequels, and all those bad Sonic games we've gotten since the Dreamcast died...they would be Mario games.

What if Metal Gear Solid didn't catch on as strongly as it did? Without Metal Gear Solid's success Hideo Kojima may not have had the freedom to work on more creative fare like Boktai for the GBA, and the Zone of the Enders series. We're still waiting on followups to those, by the way.

What if Uwe Boll's film's weren't so derided by gamers? If that were the case a few things would happen, The director wouldn't have tomato cans to spar with, most of his films wouldn't be hidden at the end of the Netflix queue on Xbox Live, and and he would probably still not be as appreciated as directors who haven't screwed up video game film adaptations.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My 10 Best Pickups Of 2010

2010 has been a good year for my personal game library, but with the year about to wrap up, I figured I should tell you guys about the 10 best games that became a part of my library this year.

Honorable mention: Metroid: Other M

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ninja Gaiden: Hardest Of The Hardcore

Tecmo has spawned some great things over their existence, but nothing has been as great as Ninja Gaiden. The exploits of Ryu Hayabusa have been documented in video games since 1988. What a lot of young gamers don't know is the brutally hard Team Ninja creation started life as a slightly below average beat em up that featured the grimiest continue screen in arcade history. That original arcade Ninja Gaiden was popular enough for Tecmo to develop and release completely original trilogy of games that surrounded Ryu Hayabusa and his quest to protect the world from Jacquio, Ashtar, and their quest to destroy humanity. Three things characterized the Ninja Gaiden trilogy: tight control, revolutionary, for their time, cutscenes, and some at times brutal difficulty. All three games were highly heralded through gaming circles as high water marks for platform action games. The original Ninja Gaiden Trilogy was released as a compilation cartridge for the Super Nintendo, and while it's extremely rare, it wasn't the best port of Tecmo's high water mark. This marked the last time Ninja Gaiden appeared on a console for almost a decade, but it's protagonist, Ryu, would appear in the highly popular fighting game series Dead or Alive. This led to speculation that Tecmo was working on a reboot to the Ninja Gaiden series. in 2004, the reboot came, and boy did it make a splash.

The modern imagining of Ninja Gaiden takes the beat em up action of the arcade game, and combined it with the speed and weapon based combat of the NES games to great effect. The result was a visceral masterpiece, and something that put Tecmo back on the map in a huge way. This new series takes the series vaunted difficulty and turns it up to 11. It's truly a game for the hardcore, and gamers ate it up, with both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions selling quite well. The series has even found its way to the Nintendo DS and it has been announced that Ninja Gaiden sequels are in development for the upcoming Nintendo 3DS, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360.

For a long time, Ninja Gaiden was synonymous for hardcore gaming, and with this current imagining of Ryu Hayabusa's quest, Tecmo has reclaimed the hardcore action gaming mantle.

Author's Note: while there were ports of Ninja Gaiden for Spectrum ZX, Sega Master System, Sega Game Gear, etc., I focused on the more well known games with the Ninja Gaiden name. So, There was a reason I didn't mention Ninja Gaiden Shadow for the Game Boy actually being a Game Boy port of Shadow of the Ninja that was licensed by Tecmo, or that I neglected to mention the prototype of a Ninja Gaiden game being developed for the Sega Genesis.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Shadow Of The Colossus or Lil Man Is Tougher Than You!!

I was supposed to be writing a post about Shinobi, Sega's 1987 Ninja classic, but I was hit with writer's block. The blank my mind began to draw was colossal...wait a minute...Colossus, that's it. My mind began to open up as the last blog post faded away, and this new one takes shape.

Anyways, I remember when I was introduced to Shadow of the Colossus, and how it started out as an afterthought. It was a few months after Hurricane Katrina, and I was still trying to piece together the normalcy of my life. I went into a Gamestop in Monroe, LA, and bought a copy of Katamari Damacy, so I could have this much needed distraction, and just before checking out I asked the guy at the register what they recommended. They started raving about Shadow, and being a gamer who will try anything once, I bought it as well. When I popped it into my PS2, I was blown away graphically. I also felt a strong bit of familiarity since this game was developed by the same team that created the incredibly beautiful and criminally underrated ICO. The game starts with an anonymous young man riding a horse into a temple. When he gets there, the young man, whom I will refer to from here on as "Lil' Man", he places the motionless body of a young woman on an altar. From here, a mysterious voice tells Lil Man that if he wishes to bring the girl back to life, he must defeat the 16 Colossi that make up ancient demon named Dormin. You are also informed that your sword will guide you to each creature. from here, you are sent on the way to kill each beast, but you are never informed of the size of each monster. When I saw the first Colossus, it literally made me go "oooo", it was that big. Since the object of Shadow of the Colossus is to kill the 16 Colossi that inhabit the game world, it isn't muddled down by silly little side quests or fighting enemies that don't really fight back, but your experience is nonetheless a fulfilling one. Shadow can feel quite linear, but when each Colossus is a completely different experience to fight, then it never feels stale. My favorite moment of the game had to be the first time I fought the "bird" Colossus. having to crawl across its back while avoiding your grip meter running out was a great challenge, not as tough as say, the "turtle" Colossus, but tough nonetheless. Of all the games I've gotten since I seriously focused on building my PS2 library a few years back, Shadow was probably the best use of minimal story I've ever seen in a seemingly story driven game. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Lil Man gets no power ups during his quest, save for eating fruit and lizard tails to build up health and grip. All he has is a sword, bow and arrow, and a horse named Agro. The battles get so epic at points that Lil Man has to be put on the list of great game heroes with names like Link, Simon Belmont, Solid Snake, and Kratos. The difference between him and other characters is that get lots of different supplies at their disposal, while Lil Man only has two weapons. So I say this, Shadow of the Colossus is one of the best games of the last decade, and Lil Man is the realest character ever.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Been There Shot That: My Problem With Modern First Person Shooters

I just got to put my hands on Halo Reach, and to be honest, I wasn't overly impressed. Now, before you get the pitchforks and torches, I'll say this, most First Person Shooters haven't given me a lot of stand up and cheer moments in a long time. That's not to say that Halo, Call Of Duty, or any of the other top tier shooters aren't good games, however, they just don't give way to a major amount of innovation. Most of the play mechanics found in the current gen FPS market can be traced back to two games: Unreal Tournament and Quake 3. As far as story goes, most of what you are seeing in single player as far as story progression is thanks to Half Life. I make no allusions about the perceived lack of originality in video games, but The current glut of FPS over the last decade is almost as bad as the "kart" racing overload of the PS1/Saturn/N64 cycle, or the fighting game overload of the 1990s. The problem arises when these games start to flood the marketplace and leave us in the same the same predicament that yearly sports games do now. Gamers continue to buy them, however, so the formula can't possibly be broken. I'm just saying, a lot of these sequels to existing FPS franchises are merely updated missions and weapons, so I take the same stance with them that I do with Sports and wrestling games. charge gamers who have the first game a nominal fee and make the new missions and weapons an big DLC pack. They've been doing virtually the same thing with PC games for ages, and with smart implementation, it can work in the console marketplace. You can like whatever you like, I'm just a little bit over the constant flooding of certain genres, and most of that is the fault of one dimensional gamers. If that's you, and you feel a particular way about my opinion, then please voice your opinion. I'd love to discuss this further.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Job Training Using Video Games: You've Come A Long Way From Space Invaders

Recently, a friend sent me a link to this article about employers using video games as training tools. Before I get into my take on it, you should read that article:

Study says training with video games can help you do your job better VentureBeat

As an avid gamer, I'm all for the integration of video games into seemingly boring activities to make them more enjoyable. Many studies have shown that gamers by and large have better hand eye coordination, problem solving skills, and a myriad of other useful abilities that non gamers may not be proficient in. However, information like this won't be covered by major media, mainly because they still think we all play those "rape games" that are big in Japan. Maybe video game based job training methods will catch on, and replace some of those painfully boring and outdated training videos shown at orientations around the country.