Friday, August 26, 2011

Death to Realism!

In video game graphics, of course. You artsy folks can revel in the breathtaking graphics of Jules Breton all you want.

In the days of the SNES and Genesis, realism wasn't an option. We got what I'd call cartoons. They were pleasing on the eyes, and they allowed you to enjoy the games without going, "ZOMG! It's like I'm really killing these people by stabbing them in the foot!" Reality was some lame thing that didn't involve the SNES.

After that, in the realm of yander N64 and PS1, we see the birth of this demon that plagues us even now. The N64, being the seed of SNES, knew not to make any games that looked too realistic. But PS1 brought in those tacky avi cutscenes. The ability to put actual reality into games caused a plague.

By the time of PS2 and Gamecube and da Sex-Box, this cancer killed all save Gamecube.

And.. today. Nintendo hasn't totally abandoned those animations we love, but they're not exactly making the same caliber of games anymore, either. It would be good if we could see more titles that were just pretty and not necessarily real. PS3 sucks because it's such an amazing console! There! I said it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Zelda's Difficulty: Then and Now

I'm reluctant to use the term rant since my content won't be angry in nature, but this is another analysis of Zelda "then and now." I'll try to keep my points rooted in reason and not in nostalgia, but with topics such as this one, it can be difficult. So bear with me.

Let's go back to those good ole days. Ah, yes, we could go back to 1985, but I'd rather not go that far since I'd regress to being negative 2. Let's go to 1991 instead. A Link to the Past was just released. Now, I've spoken with some younger Zelda players and older folks who came to the series in the era after OoT, and everyone who played a 3D Zelda title first seems to agree: A Link to the Past is much harder than any Zelda game that came after it. Why is that?

Hearts: It's all about the hearts

These enemies do a lot of damage, even with the Blue Mail (a defensive item, for those who've never played it). You can only take a few hits off the final boss before you have to start resorting to potions. And if you don't have any, you die. Of course, this is all assuming you found one of the optional protective Mails, and if you didn't, the game's difficulty increases a hundred-fold. This can be a real problem if it's the first time you've played a 2D Zelda game or even just A Link to the Past.

But where do you go???

A Link to the Past certainly wasn't as unforgiving in terms of non-playable character assistance as the original Legend of Zelda or even Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (but I'd say Zelda II and ALTTP are pretty close in this area), but it did have its fair share of puzzles without readily available clues. For example, to get to the second dungeon, you need The Book of Mudora. There is a man in a cave out in the desert near the dungeon that tells you this. You could easily miss him, and I'd imagine most people just find the Book of Mudora before ever seeing the Old Man named Aginah.

Nowhere to run to baby!

In 2D space, things are harder. Consider the battle with Mothula in the Skull Woods. There are something in the area of 30 spiked traps that fire off from one side of the room to the other, going faster and faster as the battle goes. That's not even mentioning the fact that there's a giant laser shooting moth that takes up half the screen! Unless you've played this game thirty or forty times all the way through, your only hope of an assured victory is to have four bottles stacked with blue potions to restore your life and magic.


That's really the gist of what I think makes 2D Zelda so difficult. But there's a catch here. The first two points show that 2D Zelda could have been made easier, and they also show that 3D Zelda could have been made more difficult. Three readily available examples of "easy 2D Zelda" we have are Link's Awakening and the Oracle Games. So perhaps some of the problem is in not the transition, but rather the developer's intent to make a more accessible game.

What I've neglected to mention so far is possibly rooted in nostalgia. Those 2D games were hard and they all required a certain level of commitment to fully conquer. So, I think that the youngsters who are playing Spirit Tracks or something for the first time are really getting cheated out of the full Zelda experience (which mostly consists of frustration, throwing controllers, and cheering when you finally win).

A Look at the N64 Zelda Titles:

The enemies in Ocarina of Time do damage comparable to that of A Link to the Past. The same could be said of Majora's Mask. But they both have what I'd consider a possibly unfixable flaw in the form of being in 3D space. You have a good deal of control over Link in those games. It's very to easy to dodge Volvagia, even if he can shave off four of your hearts. Perhaps, in future Zelda titles, they could give you less room to move around, thus simulating that arduous "Why the hell can't I dodge it?" BS from 2D Zelda. Or maybe could just let the enemies have more firepower and do even more damage.

volvagia 64 Pictures, Images and Photos

Wind Waker and Twilight Princess:

As I've said elsewhere on this blog, I rather like the Wind Waker in many ways. It has, in my opinion, the best art style the series has seen. But, in terms of combat gameplay, it's almost a copout. I died four times while playing it. One time, I died to the Black Pig on Outset Island. The other three were to Ganondorf (in what was the game's only challenging battle). These enemies didn't do enough damage. I understand that the game is puzzle based, but the lack of a fight in The Wind Waker just verged on pitiful. The hardest thing about the Wind Waker was finding enough Rupees for Tingle, and even that was pretty well laid out for you. (To be fair, I think I might have been frustrated by that last particular thing when I was.. four or so. This goes back to my point about accessibility. :D)

One thing that the Wind Waker succeeded in was a relative non-linearity reminiscent of the original Legend of Zelda. They told you where to go and there even artificial boundaries set by your boat, for sure, but you had a certain degree of freedom with the sailing. Hopefully Skyward Sword will improve on that by removing the boundaries.

Twilight Princess found a way to fail in a relatively new respect: Collecting tear drops. That stuff with the collecting belongs in Mario 64, or at least as an optional quest inside of the dungeons the way Majora's Mask did it. THe vast majority of enemies did a quarter-heart damage. The Valley of Ordeals was a good addition, but it didn't up make for the entire game being one big linear walkthrough, fully equipped with artificial boundaries.


What frustrates me the most about Twilight Princess is that it could have been amazing. The dungeons all have great layouts and graphics and contribute to the series' overall beauty and mysticism. But this game follows the formula set by Link's Awakening in finding the boss' weakness, exploiting it, and winning easily. The problem of being in 3D space just makes it that much easier. Above is a good example of a possible solution. Now if only they could find a way to implement that in a dungeon.

Monday, August 22, 2011

N64 RPGs

As I said on my other blog, I'm sort of trying to build a collection of N64 games right now. Here are all the "true" RPGs that I've read about so far. Of course, the list is pretty short since the N64 didn't have too many games in that genre. Fuck you, Squaresoft. Zelda 64 games > FF ps1 games. (I'm just being facetious I suppose, as the sheer amount of content in those multi-disc Final Fantasy games made a cartridge version impossible.)

Ok, so the list:

Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage
I don't know much about it, really, but the wiki says it's supposed to be a sort of action rpg. I'm guessing something in the vain of Zelda but with the leveling system. Fifteen bucks at local shop. It's a priority purchase for my collection.

Ogre Battle 64
Again, I've never played this. Supposed to be a tactical rpg. Something like the Shining Force of maybe Final Fantasy Tactics? It's 30 bucks at the game store and I'm not paying that. hehe

Quest 64
I can talk a little about this one. I rented it back in the day. Yeah, this game sort of sucks. It's difficult to follow, doesn't really have much of a story, has a unnecessarily complicated leveling system, vulnerabilities that make no sense, clonelike towns, and various other things that are lame.

Although Zelda shares more in common the genre naming 1979 classic, Adventure, I really think that it's the best thing even resembling an rpg on the N64 (that's easily and cheaply obtainable, anyway).

I should do a post on Adventure, eventually. Would be cool if Atari did a 3D remake of it or something.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Rant About Game Copying

Now, I guess I don't give myself enough credit. With age and increased geekiness, I've learned to take care of my stuff. When I was a teen, I had god knows how many ps1 cds scratched into inoperability. But with my current console of choice, the Wii, I've been pretty careful and haven't had a game mess up yet. The only one game that does sort of mess up is The Wind Waker for GameCube, and that's because I bought it used.

But what if I screwed up and inadvertently drove a car over one of my Wii games? That might sound a little absurd, but it could easily happen to anyone! You take it to a friend's house play it there, set it on your trunk to get out the groceries, and then the next day: Destroyed Wii game. What recourse would I have? That's physical damage. If it's a first-party game, Nintendo will not replace it. My only real option is to go buy a new video game. Hopefully it was one of the NintendoSelects titles and I'll only be out twenty bucks.

But Fair Use is supposed to give us another way in making a backup copy. Alas, however, all of the copying devices for video games are illegal. We have the right to make the copy, but we do not have the right to actually purchase device that enables us to make the copy. Presumably, the only "legal" way to do it is to build the device yourself. There are also other considerations. The game discs probably have a specific property which prevents you from using just any dvd or whatever.

Anyway, the whole point I'm getting to is that discs aren't as durable as cartridges. I never once needed to make a backup of a cartridge based game. The technology, "superior" as it may be, is certainly much more flimsy. It would all too easy to go and break one of my Wii games now, but would I have the same luck breaking a NES game or a SNES game? Seriously, I really did drive a car over Super Metriod once. It cracked, but the game still plays to this day.

But I digress yet again. I think that companies like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft should come with up some method of backing up games that wouldn't decrease their sales (or worse increase them because I have to go buy another game!).

On a final, final, note: Why is it easier to just rip a game to your computer and play it on an emulator than it is to make the (hopefully usable) copy you're legally allowed to make? The world is crazy! You'd think they'd be more comfortable with the hypothetical product mentioned above than the (arguably) legal method that eliminates the need for a console.

Friday, August 19, 2011

On The Notion of DK64-2

I was reading a post that advocated the idea of another 3D Donkey Kong platformer, and I felt I had to spew out a few words on the topic.

Go play any of the DKC games, and then go play DK64. Now, maybe it's just nostalgia on my part, but the gameplay is much more enjoyable in DKC. Perfect case in point: The Rhino. Ride him in 2D and then ride him in 3D. It's just much more laughable and enjoyable in 2D. The same goes for the Dolphin (although he actually had pretty decent controls in DK64).

The DKC's are for the most part pretty easy. Sure, there are tough levels all the way throughout, but they give you enough lives to keep you going for a good long while. In DK64, the gameplay is noticeably easier. Mini-game this, spam B at that.

All of them make you collect items to give maximize replay value, but DK64 is a work of friggin' Biblical length when it comes to the collecting. Any new 3D platformer would have to be shorter, but would we want it to be shorter? I think I might complain if it's of shorter length and the gameplay is still just as mediocre.

Basically, I wouldn't mind if it they made a new 3D Donkey Kong platformer, but I hope it's nothing like DK64. There are enough collect bananas/stars/whatever Banjo collects games out there. It should be like a 2D platformer, with jumps that kill you and enemies that aren't just there to take up space, but in 3D. Has that even been tried yet???

Friday, August 12, 2011

What is a casual gamer?

I've been thinking about this just because I keep running into it when I look up game reviews. The accepted definitions at the moment seem to boil down to whether or not someone owns six hundred fps titles. Anyone who owns 599 or less fps titles is, by definition, a casual gamer. (This is an ad hominem made just for kicks. :D)

Seriously though, the line between hardcore and casual is pretty ill defined, and the definition seems to change with the person giving it. With that in mind, I thought I'd make my own definitions for hardcore and casual gamers, respectively.

Meet Billy McMario. Billy likes to play Wii Sports... a lot. In fact, Billy likes Wii Sports so much that he obtained the Pro Rating in all of the sports. He also talks about Wii Sports a lot, and he's always looking forward to similar titles in the genre. He got Wii Sports Resort, Super Mario Sluggers, the Mario and Sonic games, and he plays them all extensively.

Meet Johnny Von Deathrape. Johnny sort of likes to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. But he's not that into video games. The experience of going online and causing his teammates to lose in a deathmatch makes him smile a little, but most of the time he'd rather go watch a movie or something.

In my bizarre logic, Billy is a hardcore gamer because of his committment to Wii Sports and similar games. Johnny would be a casual gamer because gaming isn't one of his favorite activities.

Perhaps I'm just a madman with my definitions, here. I guess the issue of casual and hardcore games would be a different matter entirely. But honestly, I don't think that these labels are very useful for the titles themselves. Don't we already have genres for that? For example, Wii Sports is a sports game... a mediocre sports game with few features.

Anyway, take that!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

An N64 Controller Guide

Let's face it. Every controller ever made for the N64 sucks. All of them either have a weird design or just a design flaw which ends their lives prematurely. Anyway, as I continue trying to hunt down stuff for my N64, I thought I'd organize my thoughts on my potential options with this "Guide to the N64 Controller Shopping". Just for kicks, i'll give each controller a rating while discussing its pros and cons.

First Party Controller by Nintendo

Why not start with the official first party controller? This product, which is produced by Nintendo, is probably your best choice, assuming you can find one new...

Because if you can't find one new, you can rest assured the analog is either very loose or completely broken. Over time, use of the controller wears out the internal plastic used to keep the analog tight. Even if you buy one new, you're looking at this happening to yours within a few years. With that in mind, new Nintendo controllers go for about 60 bucks now, and with time, the price is sure to rise even further.

First party is usually better than third party, and this is no exception. The Nintendo controller is ultimately easier to use than any of the controllers I'll mention from here on out... assuming the damn analog works. Rating: 8/10.

Mad Catz Advanced Control Pad


Perhaps I should increased the size of that image by about forty times, because that small pic doesn't do the thing justice. This controller is enormous! That's the primary flaw. However, there is another flaw, and that flaw is that the analog of controller ultimately breaks off. I've seen this happen to friend's Mad Catz N64 controller, and then I read about the sixty people it happened to who bought one on Amazon. I've used the controller, and I not only hate its size and nonexistent analog, but also the design of its buttons! As bad as aging first party controllers are, this one is just that much worse. 2/10.

SuperPad 64 by Interact (aka Performance)

I used to have one of these. The control has some of the same problems with weird button shape and feel as the Mad Catz Control, but you'll be delighted to hear that the analog works just fine. Heck, I even like the analog's larger size (as compared to the small Nintendo one)!A lot of people complain about the controller's short and fat grips, but they never really bothered me. However, again.. the controller suffers from poor design materials. Instead of the analog button breaking, you're going to have to deal with the Z-button breaking. For most games, the Z-button is less valuable than the precious PRECIOUS analog. So maybe you could even get buy with a Performance controller for a long time if you don't play stuff like Zelda. Rating: 7/10.

Super Pad 64 (Version 2, also by Interact):


People on Amazon claim that this controller has the same Z-button problem as the previous controller, but I never experienced that (although I'm sure it does.. I was probably just lucky!). What I did experience was sticking buttons. Maybe after using the relatively similar Gamecube controller now, I could go back and enjoy using this one. But the design, as you can see, is significantly different from the N64 mainstream. It's actually very usable and everything, but it takes an adjustment for someone who's used to that good ole loose analoged Nintendo controller. Rating: 6/10.

These are all of the controllers I've ever used for the N64, and they're probably the only ones that are any good. Mad Catz and Interact are the "good" third party providers, and neither of them did that well for the N64, alas. There are some really cheap knockoffs on Amazon right now, and based on the reviews I'm steering clear of 'em. On the whole, I'd recommend either one of the Performance controllers, if only because of the durable analog.