Monday, March 24, 2008

Top 10 Regretable Game Purchases

Just because I am very selective about my games, it does not mean that I am immune from picking up terrible ones. In fact, I wish that my library consists of only the gaming greats but if that was really the case, I probably would not have a lot of games in my collection at all. The following are the games that I regretted ever purchasing them. These were the moments when my passion got the best of me. I do keep these games in the hope that they would serve a higher entertainment purpose somewhere along my journey. Though painful, this list will be updated if I encounter worse offenders in the future. [Latest Update: 03-25-2008]

Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes (1999)
Platform: Dreamcast
Developer: Capcom Co., Ltd.
Genre: Fighting

Until recently, Capcom has been known to milk its successful fighting games to the very last drop. For the most part, the sequels they developed are always better than their predecessors. Then came MvC, the second sequel that is also a new direction for Capcom's clever and energetic cross-over fighting series. That first game, X-Men vs. Street Fighter, was a revelation - who would ever thought that the two factions would ever meet in such a fashion. It was dreamy, surreal, and frenetic. When Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter arrived, the whole thing was still kind of fresh... With the arrival of MvC, I was expecting a major overhaul but it ended up being a major step backward because I have seen it all before and there were just several new characters introduced. I should have waited for its eventual sequel. Still, one can never be sure of when the milking process would end and I would have missed out on the amazing MvC2 since I would be waiting for MvC3 or 4 or 5...

Phantasy Star Online Episode III: C.A.R.D. Revolution (2003)
Platform: Nintendo GameCube
Developer: Sonic Team
Genre: Card/Strategy

When Phantasy Star Online was first released on the Dreamcast, I was a true believer of the game. It was a great instanced massively-multiplayer game that also happened to be free! Then Sega got greedy and started charging a monthly subsription fee with Episode II. I played that on the X-Box for several months. Episode III was supposed to revolutionize the series and the Nintendo GameCube by (a) changing the direction of the series and (b) make the 'Cube's online friendly. The (a) reason turned out to be a bit suspect but I like the prospect of (b). I played the single player mode and waited until more online games arrive on the console before I would pick up the broadband adaptor for it. That day never arrived: the game's lack of success as well as Nintendo's diminishing interest of venturing into the online era left this game's true potential completely unexplored.

Yoshi Touch & Go (2005)
Platform: Nintendo DS
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Score Attack/Platform

The back of the case describe this game as follows: "With countless perils waiting in the air and on the land, it'll take a golden touch to lead Yoshi through his latest and greatest adventure!" I expected this to be stage driven in its structure but actually there is technically just one stage in the game and your goal is the stay alive as long as you can before your total score is tallied. You don't get to control the lovable Yoshi... Instead, you use the stylus to clear the obstacles that lie before him. There is that refined Nintendo gameplay here in the form of its accurate touch screen mechanics but what is certain is that this is not even close to being Yoshi's greatest adventure. Being on the earlier DS titles, this game serves more as a tech demo, as if Nintendo was trying to test their audience with this release. This could have been so much more.

18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker (2000)
Platform: Dreamcast
Developer: Sega/CRI
Genre: Racing

I love arcade racing games and when this was announced, I thought it was Sega's Outrun reinvented. It has all the same elements that were similar to that Sega classic like the misguided take on the all-American sensibility, the stage to stage racing, the thrilling action... What you have instead is an extremely cheesy game -even to Sega's standard- complete with some terrible voice actings from the announcer and your trucker rivals and nothing much happening as you race. The goal of the game is to travel from the East Coast all the way to the other end of the West Coast. The stages are inventive and they capture the key elements of each of the real life areas they are trying to mimic though I don't see why you have to race through a terrible tornado in Dallas. The game's problem is that you cannot choose your route and it is all very llinear. Though that may be a necessity in the real world for these truckers, Sega should have known that they were already bending reality since you get to smash into cars and your opponents at high speed in the game so why not make it crazier by adding the ability to visit all the different states? At least Sega did learn some lessons from this awful tragedy when they released the excellent Outrun 2006. Sometimes, a crazy idea only belongs to an already existing crazy license.

Last Bronx (1997)
Platform: SegaSaturn
Developer: Sega
Genre: Fighting

With the success of Virtual Fighter and Fighting Vipers, Sega just couldn't contain themselves from developing LB and a big fan of both of those games, I jumped on it as soon as it was released on the console. Infusing the punk sensibility found in FV into a mainstream cast of characters, the game's most distinguishing feature is the weapon-based fighting. Each character is equipped with their own unique weapon like sais, sticks, nunchucks and the likes. The fighting is repetitive and the characters are just not very attractive. The game feels like a lazier, less polished version of Namco's great Soul Edge that was released before it. Tekken or VF? The latter is superior. SE or LB? Namco wins that round.

Lumines Plus (2007)
Platform: PlayStation 2
Developer: Q Entertainment Inc.
Genre: Music/Puzzle

The problem sometimes of being a completist is the desire to pursue something with such a conviction that I fail to see the logic of the situation. I love Lumines, it is a simple fact. I owned the two Lumines titles on the PlayStation Portable and the X-Box Live version of it on the X-Box 360. Then, I actually picked up this highly inferior version of the game for some odd reason. I was hoping that the version would include more exclusives but it didn't. The game looked worse on the big screen because it was a straight port of the PSP version. This wouldn't be a problem if I was a collector first before a gamer but I am the other way around. What was I thinking?

Yu Yu Hakusho: Dark Tournament (2004)
Platform: PlayStation 2
Developer: Digital Fiction
Genre: Fighting

When the name Yu Yu Hakusho comes up, the first thing I think of is the delicious import only 4-player fighting game made by Treasure on the Genesis. Maybe that was how I was able to convince myself to pick up this trash. I also thought that the publisher, Atari, Inc., had released the first two Dragon Ball Z: Budokai games at that time so this game couldn't be that bad. What I ended up with was a slow and stiff fighting game that was quite unplayable. The game is button mashing all the way and it is hard to connect your limited special moves against your ever moving opponents. It is a shame really since the cell shaded graphics are not bad at all and all the characters look the way they do in the anime.

Resident Evil: Director's Cut (1997)
Platform: PlayStation
Developer: Capcom Co., Ltd.
Genre: Survival Horror

Actually, this is not a bad game at all. You get new remixes to the gameplay and additonal features not found in the original that made it worth revisiting. The reason why this made it to the list was because of its grandiose lie about the game featuring uncut and uncensored cinematics that were heavily altered on the first release. The same censored cinemas unfortunately were attached to the game and how an error this fatal made it through quality check is beyond human comprehension. Capcom tried to appeal to the angry masses by offering free downloads of the footages from their website. Pitiful. They should have paid for their mistakes with blood... or money!

Sonic Adventure (1998)
Platform: Dreamcast
Developer: Sonic Team
Genre: Adventure

The fact that there was no original Sonic platform game on the SegaSaturn made this one so irresistable to ignore when it was released. Goodness, who wouldn't want to play Sonic after his last adventure? We will definitely get more platforming goodness even though it's presented in full 3D, right? Dead wrong! Sonic Team's obvious Mario-envy had turned our lovable platforming hero into a free-roaming hedgehog! They were probably thinking... If Mario can do it... So can Sonic! The one thing that they failed to understand is Sonic is about speed... It's about rushing from point A to point B, then defeating Eggman/Robotnik in his unique and crazy contraptions. In Adventure, you get to walk around, a Sonic blasphemy, in the hubs searching for the next action stages where you can really experience the sense of speed you have been craving. But then what is this? You have to play other slow characters while you are on it too? Sonic Team, stick to the old formula and you will see Sonic rise from the ashes on the next generation consoles. Well, I think Sonic Team may as well be closed down since the last Nintendo DS Sonic game aptly named Sonic Rush Adventure went into that whole "exploration" territory again and the recent sequel to Nights was a complete disaster.

Nights: Journey of Dreams (2008)
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Developer: Sonic Team
Genre: Score Attack/Adventure

Speak of the devil... Here we have the sequel to one of my top 10 greatest games, Nights: Into Dreams... Early gameplay footages cleverly hid the evil intent and the nasty infection in Sonic Team's rotting heart by only showing mostly the flying sections of the game. The many fans would eventually find out that even JoD was cursed by the exploration elements recently found in the next generation Sonic games. I braved the game critics as well as the terrible tales and picked up this game with the conviction that Sonic Team must have already came to their senses by then but oh it was all just wishful thinking. It is so repulsive that Sonic Team had the nerve to include stages where you don't even get to play Nights but the kids instead! In the original game, the kids' free roaming element is optional and is just there for those score crazy fools like myself to take advantage of it. How ballsy and yet they missed the target yet again. Nights is about fast action, free flight, chains, beating your previous score, and time management: we don't have to be forced-fed with long-winded cinematics and boring hubs to fully get the meaning of the game. Adding salt into injury, the game also features a tutorial level - disgusting. Why spend money on producing an instruction manual with the game at all and allow a gameplay this simple to be over-explained in-game? Also, they added a racing element to some of the stages where you have to chase a number of enemies to clear the stage. What the heck? Can't we just enjoy Nights the way it was originally meant to be played? Even the brilliant boss battles failed to save this one from being an extreme failure and an utter disappointment.

---10 Dishororable Mentions---

Bleach: Shattered Blade (2007) - Nintendo Wii
Online Chess Kingdoms (2006) - PlayStation Portable
Def Jam Icon (2007) - X-Box 360
Capcom Fighting Evolution (2004) - X-Box
Madden 07 (2006) - PlayStation 3
Star Fox: Assault (2005) - Nintendo GameCube
Kirby: Squeak Squad (2006) - Nintendo DS
State of Emergency (2002) - PlayStation 2
G-Police (1997) - PlayStation
Fighting Vipers 2 (2001) - Dreamcast

Friday, March 14, 2008

Preview: Lost Odyssey

Lost Odyssey (2008)
Developer: Feel Plus/Mistwalker
Platform: X-Box 360
Purchase Date: 03/09/2008

After the utter mediocrity of Blue Dragon, I was pessimistic that Hironobu Sakaguchi can pull off another RPG miracle. It also doesn't help that he is extremely traditional in his view of the genre at a time when players have been exposed to extreme role playing freedom and immersion in the form of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Still, he has enormous support, especially in Japan. As much as I enjoy Japanese RPGs, it is really time for them to evolve from the linear travel from one area to the next - battle - story revelation - repeat formula. Blue Dragon and Eternal Sonata on the 360, next-gen in terms of their visuals, were as traditional as they come and now LO has joined their ranks.

What? They couldn't fit 4 DVDs onto the holder so they sleeved one. Yucks.

Here's a tip for Mr. Sakaguchi - If you want to make an RPG that is linear in its progression, you have to at least infuse a killer story into the game, like what was done on Xenogears. The story here is sub-standard: You play a moody army Lieutenant named Kaim... Wait a second, another moody, "misunderstood" character? Nice. At least the reason for his behavior is better explained here than your average character conventions. You see, Kaim is an immortal that has lost his memories. The game centers on a war between two kingdoms and it is apparent that Kaim is being used to steer victory for one side of the battle. The game promises that along the way, Kaim will be questing "to reclaim 1,000 years of lost memories". What I found out so far is that some of these memories are text-based that can be viewed using the "A Thousand Years of Dream" option. Now the writing on two that I have discovered are so good that it is unthinkable that they didn't present these with characters in a cut scene format. It smells suspiciously last minute and I blame it all on the creative head Sakaguchi for missing this wonderful opportunity to make the game infinitely better. And did I mention that there is no voice over as you watch the texts unfold on your screen? What was he thinking?

The best looking RPG yet!

Hopefully I will play this game until the end and won't get bored of it on this go round. I cannot deny the game's beauty, both technically and artistically. Just avoid looking at the bad 3D construction of the character Seth Balmore's hair - Sakaguchi fell asleep at work again - and the game looks flawless. The opening scene contains the best CG to gameplay transition ever, creating a lossless illusion that you are playing an epic fantasy movie, which is the whole point of the game. Though LO sticks with random turn-based battle - like I said, it is horribly traditional - the encounter rate is quite low. In fact, I couldn't get past the first boss battle without the need to grind experience points... Hopefully that will not be the case throughout the entire game.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Preview: Super Smash Bros. Brawl

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008)
Developer: Nintendo/HAL Laboratory, Inc.
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Purchase Date: 03/09/2008

To say that SSBB is nothing less than the most anticipated game of 2008 is a major understatement. Who wouldn't want to play a fighting game where popular Nintendo characters are violently trying to destroy each other? I rushed to the store on Sunday to pick it and guess what? The game is a bit disappointing. I have only put around 8 hours of play so far and I am not as addicted to it as I have anticipated the fact that I played the prequels for a long time.


The main problem is the new "Subspace Emissary" that replaced the quick, arcade fun of the prequels' adventure mode. Imagine what Sonic Team did to the 3D Sonic Adventure games and the sequel to Nights and you will understand how I feel about this obnoxious section of the game. In this new mode, you follow along some disjointed story of the SSB crew as they fight an alliance of evil characters, complete with beautiful but unnecessary CG movies between events. Sometimes, you just want to play a simple adventure game that can be finished in one sitting and apparently Nintendo has forgotten about this formula.

Princess Peach knows no shame.

If you have already played the previous incarnations to death, the most obvious and biggest draw for playing this game is the online brawl but it really only works when you fight with your friends because the random matches are plagued with some terribly nasty lag that never even existed in the old Dreamcast online games. Many times over, the whole screen would freeze for a minute before the matches could continue. It is actually more fun to watch, lag free, what must be online friend matches and bet your game gold on who is going to win than playing any of the random matches. I don't mind that you can't voice chat online but it is downright insulting that you can't even attach your identity or text messages to the random matches. It really makes me wish that Nintendo would grow up alongside its diehard followers. Nintendo still believes that their players should not make new friends online.

More fun than any random battles... Sad.

I do plan to get this game fully completed before moving on to a different Wii game. The graphics may not be Super Mario Galaxy quality but the whole look - especially the clever battlegrounds - is colorful and exciting. The orchestrated soundtracks sometimes work but they tend to actually downgrade the nostalgic values when overdone. It's just sad to see that they could have made this the ultimate of the series by putting more characters into the game. With so many unique personalities in the Nintendo universe, why are we limited to these select few? Those who are content with the limited characters are either incredibly foolish or lying to themselves or both. I bet that the next SSB will only add like just 5 more characters into the roster... unless the development team becomes smarter about this and really embrace what this series has the potential for.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Marking the Games

Previously, I have written about how I select games from my library and the methodical devices I use to keep myself current as well as fulfilled in the video gaming experience. Today I want to share the particularly ritualistic physical things I do with them when they initially arrive home after purchase. There is nothing remotely sexual here, sorry to disappoint!

I like to buy my video game software locally. I hate ordering online because I don't see the point of waiting for the games to arrive. I only order games online when I get busy with other things in life or when the games are not high on my priority list. Online purchase is also prone to box scarring that I hate. I always ask for a reimbursement when that happens. In the store, I could look at the game case closely and make sure that everything is immaculate. This observation process is unfortunately not perfect and is a continuing work in progress because every so often, I will notice a tiny dent or scrunch on a small area of the case that I apparently missed until post purchase. In regards to pre-ordering, I have only done that two or three times at Gamestop. I will never be doing it again because I don't like being limited to go to one place to get a product when it comes out.

Firstly, as I unwrap the plastic seals of the games, I would save any special stickers outside and stick them inside the video game cases. This is especcially common for the X-Box 360/PC games and their "Certificate of Authenticity" tags. The PlayStation games used to have them as well until they just stop doing that all of a sudden. It was more difficult to find a spot to re-stick these things inside the CD cases of the original PlayStation. For Japanese imports, saving the "Spine Cards" is extremely important because they are as meticulously decorated as the rest of the software's physical presentations.

The perfect place to re-stick the tab is right behind the manual holder.

Next, I would sign and date the instruction manual. This is something I wish I never stop doing all this time. For an extended period of time in 2006, I stopped because I felt that doing so would taint the whole pristine nature of the manual. I changed my mind quickly later that year after the hard drive on my computer corrupted and I lost precious video game purchase data because of it. Nowadays, I see this action as more of a connection between myself and my video games... A sort of a sacred binding between the owner and his beloved collection. Scribing a little bit of ink on the manual made perfect sense as I do not fear anal collectors wanting everything in perfect condition if I were to sell these games since I do not have plans to part from them.

Last page on the bottom right is the normalcy.

I also get into the habit of properly orienting the games in disc format as they are placed back into the case. They have to be "upright" whenever they are not used. All of my games are stored alphabetically, which can be a real pain when you have a big collection like mine because you would then have to basically move a lot of games onto the next rows of shelves. This is particularly nightmarish whenever I buy a PlayStation 2 game because they extend beyond just one DVD cabinet.

Rotated to its rightful position.


After all these are done, I would then log the new entries into an Excel spreadsheet I have on my computer. It automatically tracks the overall number of games I have and I separated the consoles by their own individual tabs. It was created in late 2006 and while I have been disciplined when it comes to new games, around 20% of my older games are still left undocumented. Previously, I used one Word Document per game, complete with the game's box art - just imagine how inefficient that memory hog method was. The Excel sheet retains its small size and its back up data is very easy to manage.

PENDING means I need to play that game to completion.

All of the above does feel a little like work to be honest with you. Still, it is an evolving routine I have enjoyed ever since its conception which was around 2000. It was then that I became more self-aware of this hobby and I felt the need to be organized in living with such a fun obsession. This website is of course an extension to my ever growing involvement as an avid gamer - a form of self expression to acknowledge the need to justify and celebrate the beauty of the video gaming phenomenon. I hope you see how much I care about my collection as I treated them with the utmost care and tenderness unlike some gaming website personalities I have seen out there.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Review: Culdcept Saga

Culdcept Saga (2008)
Developer: Omiya Soft.
Platform: X-Box 360
Purchase Date: 02/15/2008

After a long 1+ year of waiting, the game finally made it to the U.S. Culdcept is the second game that is capable of captivating me with such high level of intensity that I played its previous version on the PlayStation 2 for months on end. Just like Sonic Team’s original Nights, this game thrives on its almost infinite replay value. Sadly fated to be doomed commercially, the PS2's Culdcept was one of the most underrated games of our time. So how does this "sequel" fare? It looks like Saga is also afflicted with the same fate as well, which is mostly a very good thing.

Not ready to pay the mana toll? Kill the guarding creature!

Culcept Saga is easily described as a Monopoly + Card Game hybrid. If you thought Monopoly was fun, the developer has increased the addictiveness and complexities of the game to an almost unprecedented level. Money is replaced by mana and instead of purchasing lands, they can be occupied by placing creature cards on the properties as long as you have enough mana to summon them. Landing on another player's lands does not mean an automatic win for the proprietor – the visitor could avoid losing mana by the means of creature card battles. It is this active gameplay element that pushes strategy and luck - since the cards’ appearance and the roll of the die are random - into the stratosphere because anything could happen to any land at any time.

You face many unique opponents in the story mode.

“Cepters”, those who control the Culdcept cards, also gain the assistance of spell cards and item cards that can be used on the board and in battle. Mana fees can be multiplied by owning lands with the same elemental property on the board. The first Cepter to reach the goal mana requirement and return to the “Castle” wins the game. Add the ability to purchase elemental stocks that add in bonus mana per round, the creative and varied board layouts, and close to 500 different cards to collect, you will be pleasantly surprised by Culdcept’s genuinely crafted depths of gameplay. Since you can only take 50 cards with you to the boards (this rule can be edited in versus/online mode), the combinations of gameplay possibilities here are endless.

The illustrations are to die for.

The major star of the game is the artwork on the cards themselves. They are beautifully drawn by famous Japanese artists. These cards are flaunted all over the screen, they do a lot of crazy stuff during the battles, and they completely overshadow all other visual presentations in the game. The game has a simple look overall that could have been spiced up with higher polygons/details and more graphical effects on the boards as well as during the card battles.

The card battles are timeless!

For those who have played the PS2 version, this is a great "update" to that very game. Many of the cards have been completely redrawn and almost all of the new cards look remarkably better than before. I really do wish that they have done the same with all of the cards since the old ones look a bit out of place compared to the newcomers. With the beauty of high definition, you can now see the fine details on the older cards, which is a nice revelation. The boards are now bigger and more sinister than ever with new features like moving sections and lands that change their elemental properties based on their occupying creatures. These added even more layers of strategy into the mix! Everything on the boards are now drawn in 3D and the creatures are great representation of what they look like on the cards with some animated to perfection - just look for "Doppelganger" to see what I mean. In the previous game, the characters and creatures were presented with the typical Japanese short/kiddie look and it is good to see that the developer moved away from that style. The game now has a longer story mode that expands the game's mythos though they are filled with cringe-worthy voice acting. The online mode is definitely fun if you can find other dedicated cepters out there who would not drop the game when things are going sour for them.

Looking at this shot of the PS2 version made me love Saga even more.

Though there are definitely improvements in Saga, there are several missteps evident here as well. Firstly, the music is not as great as the ones found in the PS2 version. The previous game offered some of the most memorable video game soundtracks of all time. Though done by the same composer, the soundtrack here takes a more subtle and meandering approach compared to the whimsical, high energy, and melodically textured sound used before. It does get progressively better at later stages, thankfully. The voice announcers here are disappointing. In the previous game, the goddess sounded benevolent and the male announcer sounded dark and moody. Here they both sounded plain and juvenile. Secondly, the game seems to be missing some of the great special effects from the previous version. I found this somewhat strange and though they will be missed completely by those new to Culdcept, veterans will noticed that "Squeeze" is no longer squeezing the cards, "Temperance" is missing the water jug, and many attack and destruction animations during the card battle screen have been neutered. Lastly, the frame rate drops when there are too many creatures on the larger boards. The fact that this game could easily be made on a previous generation system and that publisher Namco Bandai delayed the game forever really made this problem even more puzzling. Even with these things being said, I am addicted again to Culdcept thanks to Saga. It is a worthy update to a masterpiece. Though the public is still scratching their heads not sure what to make of this game as seen from many mediocre reviews on the net, this is still one of the best games that ever existed on the market. Do not miss out on it for the second time.

RATING: 5 out of 5