Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bulletstorm: Controversy Not Only Sells, But It's Fun Too

In the 1990s, Duke Nukem 3D changed the attitude in video games forever, and for better or worse, gamers ate it up. Ever since, though, the video game industry has been fighting against negative depictions of its collective work in pretty much all walks of life. In response to these allegations that video games have essentially corrupted the youth of America, a ratings system was instituted and enforced, and developers just seemed to step away from certain content being in their games. That was the case at least until the last system generation, which saw developers constantly push the envelope as far as content is concerned, which brings us to today. The latest effort by Epic Games has proven to be not only a great first person shooter, but it also finds itself on the short list for contenders in the category of most controversial game ever.

Bulletstorm places players in the role of Grayson Hunt, leader of an exiled military unit who decides to take one last shot at the man who put a bounty on their heads, General Sorrano. That shot doesn't go as planned and Hunt ends up on a strange planet populated by all manner of mutated beings. Hunt isn't alone though, and is accompanied initially by Ishi, his formerly trusted friend, who is having a bit of a situation. Thankfully, players have a good variety of upgradeable weapons to help them fight through the seemingly endless waves of enemies that stand in the way of your revenge. weapon upgrades are handled via a point system that awards players for killing enemies in unique ways. If an enemy is far away, you can kick an explosive barrel at them and shot it to blow them up. If an enemy is near a spiked barrier, simply kick them onto said barrier. If a group of enemies is clustered together, fire a flail grenade at one and detonate it, bonus points abound. It can be a very fun, and at times quite gruesome affair. This is one of the controversial aspects of Bulletstorm, as critics of violent content in games contend that rewarding gamers for sadistic kills is sending an improper message to younger gamers that play it. they also complain about the use of explicit language in the game, but all of these things are noted on the games "M" rating. Pretty much every video game retailer in the US strictly adheres to the rating system and won't sell "M" rated games to kids under 17. If a parent or other adult buys a game with mature content for a child, that is a fail on the part of that adult, it is not the responsibility of a developer or publisher.

Back to the actual game, though. Bulletstorm is a great experience as far as the single player campaign goes. The story is engaging, controls are tight, and the graphics are pretty good considering this isn't a huge budget annual IP. As a matter of fact, this game may sell more units simply because of the Gears of War 3 beta attached to the special edition, than anything else. It's a trick that Konami much used with Zone of the Enders and it's inclusion of a demo of Metal Gear Solid 2, but as the old folks say, use what you got to get what you want. Besides, on it's own, Bulletstorm is good enough to stand on it's own, and it will do a lot more than serve as a good hold over until Duke Nukem Forever, Bioshock Infinite, and other big name shooters are released later this year. Bulletstorm is, in this humble gamer's opinion, one of the first games of 2011 that can be a part of a few game of the year discussions. Any gamer who loves personality in their FPS should give Bulletstorm a shot, because nothing is as satisfying as firing a sniper rifle and catching an enemy square in the rectum for a "Rear Entry" kill bonus.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Is Sega Thinking?!?

So, I was browsing through press releases this morning and came across one from Sega. The release was a trailer for an upcoming collection of games they have on the horizon. That collection is simply titled The Sega Dreamcast Collection. Now, this isn't the first I've heard of this game's existence, but I never knew what was actually in the collection. I was a little apprehensive about reserving a copy though, and now I know why. The first problem is that it's only four games, and since I still have a Dreamcast, I have the four games already. Second problem is that the games aren't releases from other publishers, just Sega, but that is to be expected. Finally, the four games on the collection are Sonic Adventure, Sega Bass Fishing, Crazy Taxi, and Space Channel 5. No Jet Grind Radio, Shenmue, Phantasy Star Online, Alien Front Online, etc. I love Sega Bass Fishing, but not more than Jet Grind Radio. In my opinion, Sega only got half of this collection right, and with Dreamcast games available on XBLA and PSN, this wasn't really a needed collection in this day and age. Sega, save yourself the annoyance of fanboy backlash and make this game a series of volumes like SegaAges was on the Japanese PS2, or make your entire Dreamcast catalog downloadable for those services. Because I honestly hear the flame war about to begin.

Monday, February 21, 2011

S.O.P.H.I.A. Is One Bad Chick: A Look Back At Blaster Master

It has been said that Japanese publishers are fairly nervous about what they bring to the US market, and we typically miss out on some gems in the process of that apprehension. One game that successfully broke that mold and became more popular in the US than it was in Japan was Sunsoft's Blaster Master (Chô Wakusei Senki Metafight in Japan). since the story was told through a few short cut scenes, it was easy to rework the story to make it more palatable
to gamers outside of Japan, and they changed the game's title. With Blaster Master, Sunsoft effectively created a game the size of Metroid, that was also linear like Super Mario Bros, and had a challenge in spots that was on par with Mega Man. Sunsoft unsuspectingly localized a been there, done that, game like Metafight into gaming history and created one of the 8 Bit generations biggest cult hits. The gameplay in Blaster is pretty straightforward. The game is broken into 8 levels that can only be entered after acquiring an item from the previous levels boss. The playfield takes place in side scrolling areas where the player will control Jason's Tank, S.O.P.H.I.A., or they can make Jason exit the tank to get to harder to reach areas. Interior ares where boss battles take place. During the course of the game, S.O.P.H.I.A. will gain new weapons and abilities, like the ability to hover and fire homing missiles. The boss fights are all pretty much the same save for a few different attacks the bosses do, but they all fall with enough shots from Jason's gun or grenades. Sunsoft has tried over the years to capitalize on the long standing popularity of Blaster Master by releasing a port of Hudson's Bomberman as Blaster Master Boy on the original Gameboy, they released a sequel called Blaster Master 2 on the Sega Genesis, a 3D update called Blaster Master: Blasting Again on the Sony Playstation, Blaster Master: Enemy Below on the Game Boy Color, and Blaster Master Overdrive, a remake of the original game, for Nintendo's WiiWare service. Thankfully though, Nintendo's Virtual Console service and they high popularity of the original game have made it quite plentiful if you happen to be looking for a copy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 Lives Up To The Hype And Rewrites The Series' Rules

Fighting games are a a strange breed of game. They can either bring something incredibly new to the table or be the most stale, also ran pile of crap ever. Thankfully, the latest installment of Capcom's long running "Vs." series has proven to be none of the latter with just enough of the former to make it a great game. If you didn't know which game I'm speaking of, it's Marvel Vs. Capcom 3: Fate Of Two Worlds. MVC3 maintains the three on three tag team gameplay made popular by Marvel Vs Capcom 2 over a decade ago. This time, however, the character roster has been trimmed far below the massive 56 character roster of MVC2, and Capcom chose to change the control scheme from the three punch-three kick layout to a four button layout reminiscent of Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom or Guilty Gear. Most launchers, moves that send an opponent into the air, are handled with the "special" button. This makes a major component of MVC3's gameplay highly accessible to players who are unfamiliar to a "Vs." game. While the simplified controls make the game easy to pick up initially, there is a serious level of depth here for any gamer willing to delve into the intricacies of the combo system. Another interesting addition is the "X-Factor" mechanic that temporarily boosts character abilities. The maneuver can effectively change the tide of a match if a skilled player pulls it off in a pinch. The major gripe that I have heard from fans of the series is the smaller roster, but that roster save for a few hiccups is suited quite well for more streamlined competitive fighting game scene. The other concern I can see for many gamers is the new art style actually making the game feel a bit slower. the pseudo-cell shaded 3d art style of MVC3 will cause players to rethink every combo, air dash and cross up they ever learned on MVC2. Another gripe I noticed from reading other reviews is the lag felt in online matches. I played, I observed, and I witnessed no lag whatsoever. Maybe those players were attached to a bad connection, but I digress. The big question is: Is MVC3 worth $60? That answer is different for different gamers. If you are a fan of the genre and can get a lot of replay out of it, then MVC3 is worth every penny, but if you will simply just button mash your way through a few games then tuck it away like a Monopoly board, then you can wait until the price drops.Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is a great game, and it might just be worth the decade of hype.

Vanquish: The New Big Thing In Third Person Shooters

So far, 2011 has pretty good as far as modern gaming goes, as I've been able to play some great stuff that was released within the last year or so. One of the games I've had the pleasure of playing has been Vanquish. Now one thing I noticed the first time I played Vanquish were the similarities it shared with another great 360 shooter, Gears of War, but those similarities are very few and when after spending quality time with Vanquish, a gamer can definitely appreciate it not only as it's own game, but as a pretty good game.

Vanquish takes a basic 80s movie premise and gives it a major sci fi shot in the arm. Basically, a group of Russian nationals destroy San Francisco and threaten to do the same to New York if the U.S. government doesn't surrender. Of course, The USA wasn't going down without a fight, so a unit of soldiers was sent in with a researcher from DARPA named Sam Gideon who is armed with the ARS(Augmented Reaction Suit) which is gives Sam extremely heightened movement on the battlefield. Sam has been charged with the rescue of a scientist, Dr. Francois Candide, who was captured by Russian Star.

On the Surface, Vanquish feels, at least in basic mechanics to Gears of War. That isn't a bad thing since Gears has been for a long time, the pinnacle of third person shooters. You'll find a lot of the best parts of Gears sprinkled throughout Vanquish, from the cover and blind fire mechanics to the beautiful sniper rifle play, it's all here. That's where the similarities end though. Where Gears is tense, but methodical, Vanquish is frantic, blistering, it almost reminds me of a bullet hell shooter (and we know how much I like bullet hell shooters). switching weapons is as easy as pressing a direction on the d pad, and dropping the action into a slow motion mode for a few seconds is as easy as pressing a button. The folks at Platinum Games have done a wonderful job with the gameplay, with my only issue being the occasional (very rare) camera hiccup.

Vanquish has proven that fresh ideas and gameplay can breathe new life into a well worn genre. Platinum Games has proven that they have only gotten better as a development house since their days as a part of Capcom's Clover Studio. The bar for great shooters has been reset, and with Gears of War 3 coming out later this year, it'll be interesting to see how Epic responds to the challenge.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Quick Thought On Damsels In Distress

"Thank you Mario, but your princess is in another castle..." How many times did you see that message and proceed to call Princess Peach everything you were taught not to call a woman? Most video games after the popularity of the 1981 classic Donkey Kong featured some spin on the whole "save the damsel in distress" story. it became even more prevalent after the massive popularity of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. It actually became one of the first great video game cliches, and it is one that is perpetuated today. These tales of a lone hero rescuing his lost love are a bit humorous to me lately with games like Metroid, where the protagonist Samus Aran turned out to be a woman, and even Super Princess Peach, a Mario Bros. game which put the usually helpless princess in the role of rescuer, and Resident Evil, which featured a female protagonist fighting off a zombie horde in nearly every game in the series among others. Most of the women in these games didn't need to be rescued, and the ones that truly needed it would be in a truly messed up spot if he didn't save her. I equate that same sentiment to Valentine's Day, and how people expect to be treated a certain way. It's not that they need anyone to buy them anything, but it proves to be a great thing for both egos if the person seeking a gift is bought one, and the person buying it will feel appreciated by the one who receives it. So consider gift giving (with a person you truly care about) to be an exercise in mutual ego stroking.

unless she's just a gold digger...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

RIP Guitar Hero...Hello Monthly Fees For Call Of Duty?

Originally this post was supposed to be on The Capcom "VS." series, but something interesting happened before I got a chance to finish. Activision announced that they were effectively killing off the now unloved Guitar Hero franchise. Now, I dig Guitar Hero as much as the next guy, but I knew Activision was going to kill the franchise through over saturation and releasing multiple sequels within a year will do that. I'm actually a bit surprised that Activision didn't include Tony Hawk in that cancellation announcement. Activision isn't too concerned though, since they still make boatloads of money with their World of Warcraft and Call of Duty franchises. Activision has also gone on record as saying they want to concentrate on developing a bigger community for their Call of Duty games, which in short means they want to start charging gamers a monthly fee to play the popular First Person Shooter franchise. It's almost gotten out of hand how greedy some publishers have gotten, not only will gamers have to pay $60 a pop to buy the game, then they'll have to pay the same monthly fees attached to MMORPGs to play the multiplayer component of that game. I don't know about anybody else, but I'm pretty annoyed by this, but so many gamers are nothing more than sheep who all pay for and play the same thing every 10 months, so I guess that makes me a part of the minority in my disgust in the thought of this happening.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Streets Of Rage: The Last Great Old School Beat Em Up

Sega has had a long history of being an industry innovator among video game developers, but in the early days of the Genesis, they faced a quandary. You see, After the crash, video game consoles had to have a little something for everybody, but that something couldn't be crap. The master system was a moderate success in America and the Genesis quickly outshone its predecessor with a strong lineup of titles, but it seemed that something was missing. That something was Sega's "Double Dragon", "Vigilante", "Kung Fu Master" style scrolling beat em up that had become popular in the late 80s. Sega had Golden Axe, but they needed something more modern and a lot grittier. So, in 1991, Sega released a 16-Bit kick in the face called Streets Of Rage, and man was it good.

Streets of Rage follows the exploits of three former cops on a mission to take down Mr. X and his crime syndicate using punches, kicks, and anything they can get their hands on. The three playable characters are: Adam, the token Black guy who's kinda slow but punches extra hard, Axel, the typical middle of the road character, and Blaze, who is fast, kinda weak, but has strong throws. As far as the first game in the series goes, it's a run of the mill beat em up in the vein of Final Fight, Double Dragon and the like, but the difference lies in the atmosphere the game creates. Streets of Rage contains what is widely cited as one of the greatest soundtracks of the 16-Bit era, and the soundtrack got better with each passing sequel, as did the gameplay. The first Streets of Rage game did feature an interesting twist at the end of the game. When two players confront Mr. X, he offers them a position in his organization, if either player accepts, then they fight to the death, and if the one who accepts turns Mr. X down and defeats him, then he becomes the leader of the syndicate and that player gets the bad ending.

We didn't have to wait long to find out what happened to the three heroes, because a year later Sega released a much improved in every way sequel in the form of Streets of Rage 2. Adam is kidnapped by Mr. X's syndicate, and it's up to Axel, Blaze, Adam's kid brother Skate, and a pro wrestler, Max. The singular silent enforcer attack from the first game has been replaced by each character having their own special attacks, and the incredible soundtrack is back with a vengeance. Basically, Sega took everything that was right about the first game and expanded on it while getting rid of anything that was bad. Streets of Rage 2 was so popular that at one point, it was the pack in game for the Genesis "Fighting System".

Two years later, we got a bit of a surprise from the good folks at Sega with the release of Streets of Rage 3. This one continues the tradition of improvements Sega made made with the last installment of the series, has quite a large roster of playable characters, and it still features that incredible soundtrack. The levels are bigger, and one of those new characters is a KANGAROO! This is a few years before Tekken, so a Kangaroo that kicks ass is worth the price of admission. The American version of Streets of Rage is lacking one character that the Japanese version wasn't afraid to include, that being Ash, a guy dressed like he was out of Rocky Horror Picture Show, gay as springtime, and stronger than a pissed off bull. This character was sadly left out of the American version of Streets of Rage 3 while the motorcycle sequences were taken out of both versions. Still a great game that has proven to be quite the collectors item, since a complete copy can usually run about $50.00 on ebay.

For some strange reason, we never got another Streets of Rage game, officially that is. The homebrew community has cooked up a variety of games using the Streets of Rage engine and characters, a lot of times to great effect, to develop their own games. In some cases, the homebrew games are just as well done as the official games were. Sadly, nothing has surfaced regarding a new game in the series since the Dreamcast days, but with long dormant franchises being resurrected all the time, who's to say if we've taken our last stroll through the Streets of Rage.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Square Enix Is Struggling, And I'm Not Shocked

I was recently checking out another video game site, and they posted a piece discussing the financial woes of Square Enix. The heads of that publisher, who has created such remarkable games as Final Fantasy VII, Kingdom Hearts, Dragon Quest, and Chrono Trigger. Not sure if you noticed a pattern there, but Square Enix is best known for RPGs now, which is sad considering how diverse both companies were before they merged. For example, the first Square game many of us played was Rad Racer. For some reason, the only thing US gamers saw from Square on the SNES were RPGs, but on the PS1, we saw games of varying genres from shoot em ups to fighting games, even a few Strategy games were sprinkled in. For some reason, Square became stagnant somewhere and started churning out the same thing over and over instead of creating innovative product. The same can be said of Enix. Enix seemed to struggle with the idea of making anything other than a Dragon Warrior game, as they were the only thing released in the US by them for the NES. This continued a bit during the 16 bit era, where Enix sprinkled a few non RPG titles in here and there, but for the most part, Enix kept churning out RPGs. Upon their 2003 merger, it seems that Square Enix is content with making the same type of game over and over. This is such a tragedy considering how good their non RPG catalog has been through the years. My remedy to their problem is a simple one, they need to branch out. Gamers have grown tired of playing the same same game over and over, especially with prices going up and rental outlets dwindling down to nothing. Find inspiration in what you did in the past, much like other publishers have dome with great success I might add. Konami, Sega, Capcom, EA, and Nintendo have all had success have all had success recently withe the revival or re imagining of classic IPs, why hasn't Square Enix taken this cue? I'll simply say this and be done, There was a reason Square was winning during the PS1's life cycle, and in order for them to win again, they need to figure out what that was. If they don't, gamers won't have to complain about Final Fantasy, because it won't be around anymore.