Sunday, September 30, 2012

Rock 'N Roll Racing (SNES, Sega Genesis)

World's worst Gwar cover band. Buy the game HERE or HERE!

When I was a kid, the combination of "rock 'n roll" and "video games" seemed like such a novel and awesome combination! Like peanut butter-and-jelly (and the even more awesome peanut butter-and-chocolate,) it would seem like the ultimate mash-up on paper. Keep in mind,  I was roughly 8 years old in 1993 - which made me too young to know about the mediocre Journey game for the Atari and it would be roughly a year before the horrific Aerosmith game Revolution X would puke all over my Super NES.  Naturally, a young Chris should have been worry-free in renting a game called "Rock 'n Roll Racing" for his Super Nintendo. Sure, racing games that don't feature either motorcyclists hitting each other with chains or Mario chucking shells at his brother don't tend to appeal to me - but this game has rock music and a groovy sci-fi backdrop. So the question remains: was it a great game and does it hold up now?

A tiny bit of history first (...and I get all of my historical information from Google and Wikipedia!) Rock 'n Roll Racing was developed by Silicon and Synapse. Ya know - that tiny upstart that became Blizzard frickin' Entertainment - one of the biggest game studios today. Published by Interplay in 1993, it is actually the spiritual successor (or perhaps follow-up) to the SNES game RPM Racing from 91-92. RPM racing in itself was a reboot of Racing Destruction Set from EA for the Commodore 64. So that makes Rock 'N Roll Racing actually "RPM Racing II." Err...or "Racing Destruction Set III." I prefer to call it "RC Pro Am III: This Time With More Space Mutants!"

Early 90's Battle-Racing games are so unique!
I would love to break down the excellent plot to you guys & gals, but there isn't one. The gist is this: you control one of six main racers (with two additional hidden ones) around racetracks in a top-down, isometric view, and proceed to blow up, trap, smash, outrun and bump your competition off the road.  Oh, and it has something to do with intergalactic racing. And Rock 'n Roll. You control racers such as Tarquinn, Katarina, Snake...wait, Snake? I'm sorry sir - there is only one Snake and that's Snake Plissken. And yeah, Solid Snake - but he's just modeled after Mr. Badass Kurt Russell himself.

no caption necessary

I digress...

One of the hidden characters in this game is none other than Olaf from the Lost Vikings! You can find my review for that wonderful Silicon and Synapse game here. Each of the characters differ by having a particular bonus strength in different aspects of racing, such as cornering or top acceleration, etc. I have to admit - they look an awful lot like characters from the later Might and Magic games. Not exactly hardened, alien, rock 'n rollin', race car drivin' material. Nonetheless, the game's presentation should look familiar to anyone who has played RPM, or the R.C. Pro Am games for the NES.

Apparently, my space-hardened battle racer has +7 Agility!

One of the most important aspects of any racing game is how it controls - and I can safely report that it controls fairly well. The caveat being that you need to upgrade your car to get the full potential of your vehicle (which only makes sense.) At the beginning of the game (depending on who you pick) your car can sometimes slide off of the track easily or have a little difficulty staying straight. Sometimes you will find yourself picking a character who is more balanced on the road but has less acceleration: in the end though - the differences in characters are small enough that after you win a few matches and upgrade your car, it all sort of levels out. As a racing game, R&RR is successful. The excitement of racing is also helped by the frequent outbursts of the announcer. The game features voicework ala NBA Jam and it helps the atmosphere of the game. It's a little crude by today's standards, but back during its release - having voiceover work in games that weren't on the Sega CD was always a pretty impressive feat.

Joe Camel's new gig after corrupting our youth - sell them cars in a game!

So now that we know the "racing" portion of R&RR is pretty solid, how is the Rock 'n Roll? Admittedly, it's not the best selling point of the game.  Don't get me wrong, you've got great songs for racing, such as: "Radar Love" (on the Genesis version,) "Bad to the Bone, ""Paranoid," and "Highway Star." However, you would almost hope that since the game was being pitched with licensed Rock music as the key feature, that there would be a few more songs. I know that the Super NES and Genesis had a finite amount of space to hold all of that data, but you had NES games that all had unique and interesting songs for each and every level (such as Mega Man 1-6.) You can't tell me that 5-6 midi versions of rock songs was the most you could fit on a cart! What about some Motorhead, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Dio, Stooges, Ramones, or Van Halen? I know licensing can be a beast, but a few more songs wouldn't have killed us. I remember even when I was a kid that eventually I turned the sound off - lest I have to hear a chiptune version of Paranoid for the 400th time. It's amazing that the one selling feature of this game turned out to be its one Achilles' Heel.

I'll drive off this bridge if I have to hear "Highway Star" again...

Final thoughts? Rock 'n Roll Racing is an above average racing game for the Super NES and Sega Genesis. Being a fan of the RC Pro Am series and other racing games where shenanigans and violence are equally important to skill, this is another fun entry into the battle racing genre. Are there more accurate and overall better racing games on the Super NES? Sure. Try Top Gear 1 & 2 on for size. However, for a fun, fast way to kill a weekend, I recommend Rock 'N Roll Racing.

You may have gotten first place, but you're still no Snake Plissken!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinel of the Starry Skies (DS)

Dragon Quest IX Sentinel of the Starry Skies is, or rather was, incredibly revolutionary when it came out a few years ago as it was the first game for the Nintendo DS to have a sort of proto-spotpass mechanic where you could leave your game on and wander around your town or city “Canvassing for Guests” which can net you treasure maps, friend codes, and even rare items! In Japan this feature was so popular and so widely used it set a world record for the most amount of people playing a game over local wireless; despite the obvious success of the feature in Japan it apparently hasn’t been nearly as successful in the west due to lower population densities and the fact that the Dragon Warrior series has always been fairly niche in west. Gamestop, Bestbuy, and several other retailers setup events to remedy the problem which yielded mild success. Dragon Quest IX isn’t a one trick pony it not only boasts one unique feature it also has local and online multiplayer where you and up to three other people can wander around the entire world completely separate from one another or all together, to wrap it all up in a nice big bow the game also boasts enough features to keep you satisfied for up to 700+ hours going through the story, the post-story, exploring the world, getting all the items, and getting to know all the people of the world.
That shit be crazy.
The story of Dragon Quest IX Sentinel of the Starry Skies goes like this: You are a sentinel who’s job it is to protect a small town named Angel Falls in the Protectorate (the place where all the humans live). One day after returning the Observatory after looking after the protectorate tradgy strikes upon offering your prayers to Yggdrasil the Observatory is assaulted by many beams of light causing you and many other Sentinels to fall to the Protectorate. You come to in Angel Falls and realize that your wings are missing from there you travel the breadth of the world making friends, battling evil, and rekindling an ancient love all in order to protect the people of the protectorate.
And hanging out in inns!
Full disclosure, this game did nothing but impress me. The writing for the game is hilarious with a great use of puns and nods to existing things (like when you need to find the Encyclopedia Gittanica). As you travel the world you’ll find that not every person speaks the same as there are regional dialects and colloquialisms which makes speaking to NPC’s much more interesting then in most games. The games story is loads of fun as I found myself enjoying the many characters and twists (spoilers?) once you’ve beaten the story some of the story characters can be recruited as actual party members for exploring the post game world. I’ve mentioned the word "Post” affixed to a few words and that’s because after you beat the story the game still has hundreds of in-depth quests you can pursue which expand on history of the world, character backgrounds, or yield awesome loot.
Spikes are heroic right?
Anyone who is familiar with the Dragon Warrior franchise probably knows it best as that series where turn-based battles are all done from a first person view with enemies that have very silly names. Well Dragon Quest IX has all the silly names but none of that first person nonsense, now battles are all happen in the third dimension but retain the turn-based system. Another dropped feature was the archaic random battle feature most RPG’s still cling to as all enemies are visible in the overworld and dungeons when you are exploring and can be avoided (assuming they don’t spot you) by going around them or using a skill or item to make you temporarily invisible. In multiplayer each individual player can engage in and end battles on their own separate of other players they can also each explore different parts of the world and towns at whim which is a pretty great feature.

I mentioned earlier that the game has over 700 hours of content, the main story is about 40+ hours and the rest is side quests, post-game story quests, and item quests. If anything when you play Dragon Quest IX you at no point will be wanting for something to do as quests and adventure almost literarily ooze out of the cartridge itself. Not only is there much adventure to be had but the world is fairly open-ended, once you get past the first couple of missions you’ll be free to explore the world at your leisure and the world opens up even more over time as you get spells and items that will help you explore.
And there are King Slimes!
One key feature that I have neglected to mention was the character creation. Its fairly varied and the designs are done by Akira Toriyama who you may know from his work on DragonBall, Chrono Trigger, and Blue Dragon so the designs will look fairly similar to things you may have seen if you have played any game he’s watched or watched the animes he’s worked on.
Obviously the protagonists are Saiyans, or Sun Wukong…
You can mess around with your characters height, gender, hair and face to make the hero you’ve always wished you could be, you can also do this with your companions as you can completely design them to look however you want them to and you get to even pick their starting class. Although these aren’t Bethesda level customization features they are good enough that you can create for yourself a unique set of heroes to save the world with. All equipment also appears on the characters which means you can also alter all of a characters equipment to change their appearance to look however goofy or cool you want them to be and with the large quantities of clothing and armor options then are tons of potential looks.
Or you can leave them in pleb gear and make them all pack mules while real heroes adventure.
Dragon Quest IX is by far one of the best multiplayer RPG’s I’ve played in a while and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants not only a game with loads of story and content but for those looking for a game to play with friends (they’ll need copies of the game too). At no point in my time playing this game was a disappointed the difficulty scaling, the humor, and the story all kept me engaged straight to the end and then some.  Pick yourself up a copy, you won’t regret it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Marvel Land (Genesis)

Buy it now!

I'll be the first to admit, among the reviews that Mike and I have done here - the Sega Genesis has gone pretty unloved. Believe me when I say; it's not for lack of interesting games. The Genesis has a whole slew of lost gems and hidden treasures that need to get dug back up from obscurity and collected. My trouble often is this: "Where do I start?" Sega has had a unique (and often frustrating) knack for repackaging and re-releasing their "greatest hits" in various forms on various systems. For those of you who are younger and fairly unfamiliar with the console, a good place to start is Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the best "bang for your buck." I'll probably feature a few of those gems from the glory days of Sega in a future blog - but right now, I want to focus on another obscure title that has the look and feel of Sega's former console, the Sega Master System. The game in question? Namco's 1991 port of their 1989 arcade title: Marvel Land.

I have to admit, when I first read the title "Marvel Land" the first thing that popped in my head was that this was another lackluster superhero mash-up game ala Spiderman & X-men. After all, in the early 90's; comic book fever was still rampant and there were plenty of weaksauce superhero games. However, after seeing the cover art and finally diving into the game - I realize the makers meant "Marvel Land" to mean a place that causes awe and amazement.  In this case: the plot revolves around an amusement park called Marvel Land that is being overrun by bad guys since the evil Mole has become king. You (Prince Talmit) have to save the princess (as well as some fairies you meet along the way) and defeat the evil Mole King. Logical? No. Quirky enough to be interesting? Yes.

Plot: Save the princess. Gosh, what a novel plot device!
The gameplay is pretty standard fare if you're used to most platformers. You run around jumping from blocks to Swiss Cake Rolls (or logs...I'm not sure) and try to duck, dodge, jump on, or smash various wacky enemies in a quest to reach the end of the level and smash through a gigantic, impractically placed target. There are warp areas, special items, and various food stuffs that give you points (and enough points will rack you up an extra life or two.) There are four main levels divvied up into stages such as a rollercoaster stage, haunted house, and generic outdoor carnival stages. The enemies in this game are equal parts quirky hallucinations and psychotic fever dreams. You have pigs flying on rockets, geckos with weaponized tongues, and - I kid you not - a dominatrix rose monster.

I really wish I had a wittier caption for this...
The graphics, music, level design, and gameplay are all reminiscent of games made for the Sega Master System. I hypothesize that there might even be a good reason for this. It was originally released as an arcade game in 1989, the same year that the Sega Genesis hit our shores (and only a year or less since the Japanese got the Mega Drive.) Could this port have been originally developed with the Master System in mind, but instead ported over to the Genesis a few years later? After all, a lot of the first few Genesis games were arcade ports such as Altered Beast and Wonder Boy in Monster Land, that had already hit the Master System. That's just my little theory - but it's hard to deny that the look and feel of the game is reminiscent to other arcade ports that had previously hit the Master System. The music is cute (albeit a bit repetitive,) the graphics are colorful and surprisingly faithful to the arcade version, and it is really a blast to play.
Rollercoaster...on drugs! SAY WHAT?!
The only major downsides I can think of are the controls and the difficulty. Overall, the controls are passable enough - but at times can feel a little stiff or clunky. One of the key elements of a platformer depends on precise jumps and well timed maneuvers. In this game, there is too little "wiggle room" for some of the less than stellar controls. Also, while most of the game is fairly easy - there are times when you will get stuck (particularly at boss battles.) For some reason, Japanese programmers seem to LOVE minigames - particularly rock, paper, scissor. I say this only because I have only a few Super Famicom games - and I'll be darned and dipped in chocolate if at least two of them don't feature rock, paper, scissor in some aspect of the game. I know they invented the game - but seriously; it's not fun to anyone over the age of 8. Furthermore, boss battles should not be determined by elements of "chance" such as musical chairs and rock, paper, scissor. It artificially inflates the difficulty by taking all of the battle elements out of the game and replacing them with reflexes and luck.

"Yeah mom - I'll do my homework....when pigs fly."
But I digress...

Overall, Marvel Land is a cutesy, quirky platformer that (while not without its faults) has a great arcade feel and brings you back to the early days of Sega. I highly recommend picking up a copy from Lukie Games!

Big pimpin'