Friday, 20 December 2013

Top Ten Scrolling Beat 'Em Ups part 2

Hi everyone and welcome back for the second part of the best scrolling beat 'em ups. No need to go into introductions so on we go!

5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time
Konami 1991 

Released during the end of the Turtles craze of the late 80's, Turtles in Time is a vibrant 4 player arcade beat 'em up which also saw a superb Super Nintendo port.

TMNT might be the most perfect license to turn into a beat em up. And Konami made the most perfect beat em up out of TMNT. It's super flashy. Every few minutes there's an amazing set piece or animation to ogle at. It also has great Konami-calibur music.

Yeah, I think it’s the best TMNT game around and depicts the Turtles really well. Lot's of fun to play, especially in the arcade with friends.

I will admit i'm biased, I love the turtles (I still own the Amiga coin op version, ahem), and I love the fact they finally appeared in a decent scrolling beat 'em up. The character animation, graphics and colours are awesome and the gameplay is spot on.

I don't entirely agree. It's not my personal favourite of Konami's licensed brawlers - actually hitting enemies feels a bit loose, and there's (understandably) no weapons besides the environmental one like fire hydrants so  it can get a little dry.

I agree the combat itself can be clunky at times. But I still find it so much fun, such a polished product. 

The gameplay is certainly simplistic, very repetitive but I just cannot help but enjoy this game. The levels are so varied and there is so much going on. I especially enjoy the Super Nintendo port when played with a friend. The arcade version is better but the added bosses of the home version is well worth the trade off. 

Despite my feelings on the combat, has some neat set-pieces like Krang attacking you on the first stage, and there is plenty of stage variety like the surfing levels. It's also ideal for co-op (and all the better for it) as it's very easy to pick up and play.

Although I never enjoyed the SFC TNMT as much as its arcade sibling, I did find it a very enjoyable romp. It still remains one of my favourite beat 'em ups on the system. It's a lot of fun with friends and Konami did a good job with the port. The arcade version remains the one to play though, it's brilliant.

Despite the simplistic gameplay, this game is immensely enjoyable to play and all the more so with friends. The Super Nintendo port is very good and the Mega Drive has a solid alternate version in The Hyperstone Heist.

4. Light Bringer
Taito 1994

Light Bringer is an isometric fighter with RPG elements. Set in medieval times and featuring platform elements too, it is one of the meatier games in the genre.

You don't see many isometric brawlers, and it's got a few light RPG elements too like levelling up and finding better weapons along the way. It's a bit slower-paced than some of the other entries, although if it went any faster it'd be perhaps too tough to play from this perspective.

The pace of the game is perfect, any faster and it would indeed be tough to play due to the viewpoint. The RPG elements really give meat to the game and I wish there were more games like this. For me, it's the perfect way to add depth to what is normally a shallow genre.

I could eat these RPG/beat ‘em up hybrids for breakfast – I love them! The isometric view and free-roaming nature of Light Bringer give it a different feel from the usual belt-scrolling jaunt.

Yeah there is a fair amount to do and lots of weapons to find. Also different paths through each stage (some with better loot/less traps than others) and the charge shot, which differs between the four characters is quite versatile. You've also got magic attacks for when things get too rowdy. The isometric angle takes a little getting used to, but this is really worth trying for something different from the norm.

Confession time; I only discovered Light Bringer about two years ago, on one of those Taito Legends compilations. On the one hand I was a bit sad that I'd missed out on it all these years, but on the other, I was elated because it's one of the best examples of the genre. Classic and gorgeous sprites, coupled with the rather unique (and charming) isometric viewpoint make Light Bringer a tremedous experience.

Light Bringer is stunning with gameplay that has aged really well and the game offers a lot of replay value. The only known home version is on Taito Legends 2. Any beat 'em up fan needs to play it.

3. Golden Axe
Sega 1989

Golden Axe is a Conan inspired fantasy beat 'em up featuring magic, dragons and violence aplenty.

It’s for me, the original hack and slash fantasy or certainly the first one I remember. I really like the setting and the music, particularly on the arcade version is excellent.

I spent a lot money playing this in the arcade, and was thrilled when it was released on the Amiga, I love the story, the action and the magical abilities. I really enjoy the fighting and combos and with bright vibrant graphics to match, it's a great 2 player game.

The fighting has a little less impact than others of the genre (more Konami -style than Capcom-style), but the addition of running attacks, creatures to ride and those magic spells are enough to keep things interesting.
It helps that the game knows to be brief, moving you quickly from scene to scene rather than dragging things out., keeping your attention at the same time.

Yeah the overall fighting is quite simple but the magic system and variety of the creatures really help this game. It does indeed move at quite a pace too. I really do love the magic system in fact, it really creates a strategy, especially when learning about the game. Do you use magic against multiple normal enemies or wait for a high power attack on a boss? Great stuff.

Now this is an older beat ‘em up I can really get my teeth into! It looks a little basic (it doesn’t exactly play like the most complicated example of the genre either) but the key points – flying on the back of a giant eagle, summoning a fiery dragon to destroy screens full of enemies, kicking tiny elves for potions – are perfect and elevate the game to a place I’ll reluctantly admit it probably wouldn’t reach just on the strength of its gameplay.

I know I'm risking the wrath of many a retro gamer when I say this, but I don't think Golden Axe is quite as good as many make out. It's not that I don't like it, it's just that I find it a bit plodding, a bit ugly and kind of boring although it's much more fun with friends.

Golden Axe is a classic. Despite dated gameplay, it still offers plenty of fun and as always with the genre, is a lot better with a friend. The magic system, running and beast riding systems really are excellent, even today. 

2. Final Fight.
Capcom 1989

Final Fight is a now legendary beat 'em up from Capcom. Ported to many a system, including famously the Super Nintendo where it has no 2 player mode and was missing a lot of content. 

Final Fight - The first ever scrolling beat 'em up I played, so has a special place in my heart.  I loved the characters and the subway train levels, it was something I had never seen before.

Final Fight: Final Fight is such a quintessential game in the beat em up genre. And yet there are many issues about it that would challenge this status. It's not the first beat em up. It's not even the first significant/popular one either (that might be Double Dragon). It's not the best. It's not even the best in its own series “gameplay wise”. But yet, a lot of people gravitate to it. And there has to be a reason for why people use the term “Final Fight-clone/rip-off” on many sub-average generic beat em ups. I think it's due to Capcom's great ability to give so much character to its games and to Final Fight. Haggar, Cody, Guy, Poison, Hugo, even Metro City itself are all great, memorable characters that have a bigger presence than just Final Fight. And I think tagging the Final Fight story into Street Fighter greatly helped give all of these characters many opportunities to appear again and again. And it helps that Final Fight is a good game too.

Every scene is absolutely packed with enemies, giving a true feeling of an all-out brawl.  It may lack the amount of moves later games have, but it still feels satisfying (going from a combo straight into a throw then back again especially) and Metro City and its inhabitants have a certain charm to them. It also has one of my favourite brawler stages- the Bay Area. Starting at midnight, it seems to be a never-ending road of punks, with plenty of changes to break up the action like the bathroom scene and the fire-bottle assault, until you end up by the Statue of Liberty as you see the sun rise... As if you've been fighting all night to clean the streets of Metro City. 

Final Fight is a game I never really loved but I have grown to enjoy it and respect it's place among the classics of the genre. It really is packed with action and a real exercise in crowd control gameplay. The graphics I still love today, with huge sprites and decent animation. I will never forget the size of the first boss. 

I think Final Fight often gets unfairly maligned these days. I adore the characters, and the fantastically ropey story, but most of all, I can't get enough of pounding about Metro City, stoving heads in. 

I think Final Fight is something I can appreciate rather than enjoy and I’d never dream of questioning its importance to the genre, but I must admit, I do find it a bit bland these days.

The animation and movement is very impressive in the arcade and it channels great through the SNES version. It's a pity the SNES version missed Guy. I do enjoy this game but I don't think it stands up well against Streets of Rage. 

Final Fight is legendary in the genre. Any fan really needs to play this. The SNES version is weak but the Mega CD housed a decent port as did the Gameboy Advance. 

1. Streets of Rage 2. 
Sega 1992.

Streets of Rage 2 is a 1992 sequel for the Mega Drive featuring 8 new stages and plenty of thumping techno music. 

This was always going to be top, I don't think anyone really doubted it. 

SoR 2 is one of the few games that me jealous of my Mega Drive owning friends, when I was younger. Probably because it is genuinely the best scrolling beat em up there has ever been. From the minute you set foot on the beautiful neon bathed streets, and hear the timeless music fill the room, you know that you're in for an experience that few can match. Throw in some fantastic characters, and an interesting one on one option and you're left with one of the games of the generation.

The animation and style of this game surpasses it’s prequel, it's probably the best sequel ever. Intense, superb animation and a mind blowing soundtrack makes for good viewing, listening and playability.

Whilst SoR3 is my personal favourite in the series, it’s obvious why this one remains the popular choice. It has big, beautiful sprites, a kick-ass soundtrack and above all else a fair and fun game to tie it all together. A huge step up from the first game and an instant classic.

Love everything about this title, specifically the awesome soundtrack and great combos. I also liked being able to pick up and use weapons! It's one I'll happily play through again and again. It also taught me it's fine to eat giant apples off the floor, and large bags of money can be easily hidden in an array of everyday objects, even in wooden chairs.

I love this game and I am not at all bothered that it sits at the top. Is it my personal favourite? Possibly. Regardless, the music is awesome, especially when hooked up to a stereo system with a sub woofer! The levels are big and interesting, weapons are varied and cool and the characters fun to use. The special move system is excellent, much better than the standard 'call the cops' of the first game. 

Really enjoy this a lot, worthy of being an absolute classic with good gamepaly and amazing sound. I just wish more people would give SoR3 a chance as I really feel it's the better game. 

Street of Rage 2 is rightly regarded as a masterpiece. It's regularly touted as the best scrolling beat 'em up so it's no surprise it takes top spot. If you haven't played it, well you cannot really call yourself a gamer!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Top Ten Scrolling Beat 'em ups part 1.

After plenty of talking and a whole lot of threats, a group of the worlds most respected retro gamers on Twitter finally got together to choose the greatest ever scrolling beat 'em ups!

Step in Martin (@nakamuramartin), Kerry (@_kimimi), Paul (@pablo_0151), Danny (@GuyFawkesRetro), Badr (@BadoorSNK), Ant (@TepidSnake) and James (@RealityGlitch). Each of us voted for our favourite games and this list was compiled completely fairly with absolutely no intervention by this blogger at all!

10. Aliens vs Predator.
Capcom 1994.

Released in 1995, AvP is a superb three player game developed by Capcom on their superb CPS-2 arcade board. Despite receiving very positive feedback on release, it has never been ported to a home system.

'What I love about this game,' said Ant, 'Is the excellent character variety and not just in terms of attack. Each character differs greatly depending on who you choose. Schaefer has a dash instead of a jump as standard and the Predators leap across the screen very quickly. This really changes how you approach the game with each character, making it stand out.
The long-range weapon, available at all times albeit with recharging ammo, gives you more attack options, of which there are loads already... And it's super-satisfying to get to use the Predator's laser cannon!'
'Yeah this is spectacular,' interjects Kerry, 'This is the AAA summer blockbuster of beat ‘em ups – showy, loads of fun, and a bit silly with a complete disregard for canon beyond plumbing the depths of both series for cool looking things to hit!'
'I absolutely adore it,' adds Paul. 'I think it's the fact that you get to take on literally hordes of screamingly violent xenomorphs...if only they'd ported this version to the SFC!'.
'It would have been a bit rubbish on SFC Paul, not sure that slow CPU could have handled it! Maybe with Super FX assistance but surely this was ideal for the Saturn. Pity it never happened.' Martin said.
'This is Capcom proving that licensed games don’t have to be terrible lazy cash
 ins like so many were back then, and still are,' said Kerry.
'This should be higher on the list really,' Danny groaned. 'I completely forgot about it when collating my list so I only have myself to blame!'.

AvP is a stonking game. Wether it be 15th on the list or 1st, it is undoubtedly one people should experience and one Capcom really should add to PSN or XBLA with online play.

9. Guardian Heroes.
Treasure 1996. 

Guardian Heroes is often considered one of the best games on the Saturn, no surprised given the pedigree of the developer. Released in 1996, it is one of the more unusual beat 'em ups around with a fully blown story and multi-plane battle system.

'Treasure doing what Treasure do best – have a quick go at a new genre and get it right first time while being completely different too.' started Kerry.
'Yeah this title is immense,' adds James excitedly. With it's branching story system and massive selection of characters (especially in battle mode). This is probably the game I've put the most hours into, trying out the different story lines, collecting all the characters to use in the arena, and basically just having lots of fun along the way.'
'I've struggled to get into this myself.' said Martin. 'I have always found the visuals a bit scruffy and it feel a little messy to play.'
'The sheer amount of enemies on screen at once gives it the feel of a true brawl, though,' added Ant.  Although I agree sometimes it can get so chaotic you can lose yourself on-screen.
The three-tier movement system means you never have that problem where you can't quite hit an enemy because you're not level with them and allows you to escape sticky situations easily, It also allows for magic shortcuts, tapped in like Street Fighter moves, which is a lot easier to get to grips with than mini-menus!'
'It's a simply brilliant battle system and a man that shoots laser beams from his crotch make for one unforgettable experience!' exclaimed Kerry.
'Kasumi Ninja on the Jaguar has a man shooting stuff from his crotch at that is certainly unforgettable, and not in a good way! I should really give this another go.' Said Martin. The rest nod in agreement.

Guardian Heroes is yet another in Treasure's Trove of genius. Available on Sega Saturn and XLBA, it's something that must be tried by fans of the genre.

8. Dungeons and Dragons:Shadow Over Mystaria.
Capcom 1996.

One of the last 2D scrolling fighters released by Capcom, D&D: Shadow Over Mystaria features many mechanics not seen in arcade games and was fortunately ported to the Saturn for home players in 1999.

'This one's got a slightly steeper learning curve, mostly because of the Alien Soldier-style menu for selecting items and magic- you have to juggle that and not get hit at the same time.' said Ant.
'Yeah it expands the scope of what a beat em up can be. There's so much content and so many different ways to play through it.' remarked Badr. 'And there's so much depth from the magic system and other RPG elements. All that, and yet there are no compromises to the basic physical combat. Mashing attack still feels great (and is still a viable tactic).'

'It's basically a full scale D&D game mashed with Goldenaxe. I really wished I owned a copy of this. That said, the recent Steam and online console release may push the price of the Saturn version down.' said Danny.
'I play this a bit with Darran from Retro Gamer. He loves and it you can see why. Such a stunning game and so many ways to play it. Loads of levels, amazing graphics too.' added Martin.
'It's one of my all-time favourites,' Kerry said. 'And to my mind both a good game in its own right as well as a good representation of the license, seeing as it features both dungeons and dragons along the way. Multiple routes, rare equipment, co-operative attacks… this is a rare game that manages to be both an engaging spectacle for first timers as well as offer a deep experience that rewards skillful play.'
'Yeah with a fair number of branching paths and weapons/gear to find, and six very different classes to choose from, you can't see all of it in one playthrough.' agreed Ant.
'I love that that with beautiful late-era Capcom 2D artwork, with nicely animated characters, large bosses, and amazing backgrounds, and you have what might be my all time favorite 2D brawler.' Finished Badr.

A must of beat 'em up and RPG fans alike. Now it's on all home consoles and Steam with online play, there is no excuse not to play this.

7. God Hand.
Clover Studio 2006

The brainchild of Shinji Mikami and Clover Studio, God Hand is the famously IGN maligned (3/10!) but utterly magnificent 3D beat 'em up. The last game from Clover Studio before it was sadly dissolved by Capcom, is arguably their most memorable.

'Alongside Sega's Dynamite Cop/Deka games, this is a great adaptation of the genre in 3D- the difference here is it's 'true' 3D rather than the side-on perspective in Deka. It's hard to get traditional brawlers to work well like this, but Clover pulled it off.' said Ant.
'Yeah it's no surprise they did it, there are pretty much a modern Treasure when it comes to game design, utterly superb.' Added Martin. The battle system is simply incredible and easily the most viable 3D beat 'em up ever. There is so much scope in the combat with customisable combos and impact moves.'
'It's tough but fair (dodge enemies then punish their mistakes!),' agreed Ant. 'Each hit has real impact (especially when you catapult enemies into the walls) and the combo creation system gives you a chance to be creative with the art of beating dudes up.'
'The special moves are insane also. Either the roulette ultra style moves from the 'Home Run' which is literally hitting someone into the stars with a baseball bat, to the 'Ball Buster' which involves a cheeky kick to the nads! Only works on the men though!' laughed Martin.
'It also retains that silly, over-the-top 'feel' of so many scrolling brawlers, like Gene's rapid-fire pummeling techniques and the enemies taunt you with baffling expressions like "You're not Alexander!"...'chimed Ant.
'Not to mention the homosexuality and spanking of scanilty clad women, there is nothing else like it on the market!' said Martin.
Badr coughs, 'It's God Hand, nothing else needs to be said, everyone needs to play this.'

God Hand is on PS2 and PS3 via the PSN store. Everyone must play this game. Visually a little average and quite tough to start, it's a complete modern classic and we may never see the likes of it again.

6. Undercover Cops.
Irem 1992.

Irem's first attempt in the modern beat 'em up genre. A few years later after its release, a lot of the team who made the game went on to form Nazca, who created the Metal Slug game series. It received a good quality Super Famicom port in 1995. 

'You can tell it's by members of the team who'd go on to make Metal Slug, as the graphics and animation are superb. With its post-apocalyptic backdrop, it's got a different atmosphere to many of the others on this list, leading to some unique enemies (like the underground mole people and cat-girls).' started Ant. 
'Yeah the game has a real Metal Slug Vibe in the art, kind of scruffy but neat, edgy if you will.' Added Martin. 
'I love the detailed and chunky sprites, a fantastic future wasteland setting and three distinctively different characters.' said Paul. 'Undercover Cops defines what I consider to be the perfect scrolling beat em up. Classic gameplay but it doesn't feel boring. It moves well and has lots of variety'.
'Plenty of varied moves indeed Paul,' smiled Ant. 'With wake-up attacks and weapons (lead pipes? They're for punks! You use a steel girder instead here!), it makes for a really good brawler. The soundtrack's top-tier as well- brought to us from HIYA! of Metal Slug 
fame, it really captures the mood of the game well... Complete with amusing 
voice samples.It's just a shame it never really got more attention overseas, as it really deserved it.'
'A huge pity it wasn't at least released in the west on the SNES.' said Martin. It's just such a supremely playable classic style fighter. I had no idea it was so old, it feels more advanced than a 1992 fighter as so many were formulaic at the time.' 
'I must admit It’s not that much fun, IMO Two Crude Dudes was better.' pipped up Danny. 
*everyone looks at Danny, a cat meows and licks it's paws.

Undercover Cops is a brilliant classic style game. Yet to be re-released on anything since the Super Famicom in 1995 it's tough to get hold of now but worth a play if you can. 

Thanks for reading part one. Part two will follow within the next week. In the mean time, why not let us know what games you feel should be in the top 5?

Monday, 1 July 2013

Ten Imperfect Tens part 2.

Here I have the second part of my inperfect tens feature. Enjoy!

Capcom vs SNK: Millenium Fight 2000. 

While this may not be the connoisseurs choice, that honour usually goes to Street Fighter 3 or Garou, I find Capcom vs SNK to be the finest fighting game ever made.
Released in 2000 for arcade and Dreamcast and later ported to PS1 with decent results, Capcom vs SNK was the first Capcom developed game in the VS series of games between the two companies.

The game features a huge roster of characters from both the Street Fighter and King of Fighters franchises and two fighting systems. Each character has a ratio level from 1-4 and you can select a team that contains up to 4 ratio points. After selecting characters you choose your fighting style, Capcom or SNK.

The two fighting systems have fairly minor differences but they change the approach of the play somewhat. The Capcom system features the three level super gauge. This charges throughout play when attacking or taking damage and when at least one level has been filled, you can activate a super move. Fill all three levels and you can access three level one supers or a level three super move which is crazily powerful.
         The SNK system differs a little, it features a charge based system. You hold the hard punch and kick buttons to activate the charge at any time. Once full it slowly decreases until empty and in this time you have access to a level one super. The biggest difference is the desperation attacks. When energy is low your bar flashes and you have access to a level one super at any time. Combine this with a maximum charge and you have a level three MAX super available to use.

The gameplay itself is superbly balanced. It features dashes, jumps, high jumps, chain combos, tech throws and more. There is an excellent speed to the game and the fighting is ultra responsive. It feels like a balance between the King of Fighters/Street Fighter Zero games and the Street Fighter III/Garou titles. Plenty of depth due to the ratio system and mixed fighting styles but not too deep that only the hardcore need apply.

The presentation is without doubt the best in the genre. The stages have loads of cool introductions and the 2D backgrounds are fantastic and overall the animation is superb. Music is absolutely pounding and flows with the game so well. When you win a bout, the music flowing into the next one starts immediately on connection of the finishing blow. It pumps you up in anticipation for the next match.

The main annoyance of Capcom vs SNK is with the sprites themselves. They are lower resolution than the lovely backgrounds and can look scruffy as a result. Also the Ryu/Ken sprites were redrawn for the game and suit the SNK style really well. The rest of the Capcom characters are taken straight from the Zero titles and look too cartoony as a result.

Capcom vs SNK is a fighters dream. Accessible, amazing presentation and superb balance to the gameplay. It has kept me playing than any other single title within the genre.

The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword.

There is always a huge debate of which Zelda game is the best but this one has taken things to a new level for the first time since Ocarina of Time.

Skyward Sword tells a much more cinematic tale compared to other games in the franchise and has some fantastic cut scenes as a result. It's told as a story of origin for the franchise and again manages to be relatively fresh despite featuring mostly the same cast of characters as ever.

The game uses a lovely pastel visual style which is vibrant gives off a lovely warm feel. It straddles the style of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess nicely. The music is also fantastic, the theme of Fi being a stand out track.

The gameplay is where Skyward Sword stands not only above other 3D Zelda titles but above other third person adventure games. While the overall basics are similar to every other game in the franchise, the Motion Plus led combat is not and brings a new level of immersion to the game.
The Motion Plus controller mimics your every move on screen, pretty much 1-1 tracking. When you stab, Link stabs. When you swipe, Link Swipes and he always swipes in the directions you swipe in.
While this is simple in itself, it's the clever enemy design that takes it further. Some enemies will guard with shields so you need to find a way past them. You can use your sword to make them follow your blade with theirs until they leave a gap. When this gap appears you need to swipe in the appropriate direction, it works really well. There are plenty of different enemies that require different strategies to defeat.
The Nunchuk is also used to parry with the shield. In certain sections, a few boss fights for example, the game feels like a full on sword fighting simulator. When you are parrying with the shield and counter attacking with the blade it really draws you in and immerses you so much more than with a controller.

Skyward Sword is a long game too, up to 40 hours for the story alone. There are also plenty of things to find, mini games to complete and side quests to do.

There are a few sticking points though. The opening two hours are far too slow and every time you continue the game, you have to read the same bug/rupee collection signs which is extremely annoying. Once would have been fine!

Skyward Sword is a 9/10 game with a controller, with Motion Plus it takes it to the next level, to a 10. On a game design front it is fantastic but certainly nothing new, the Motion Plus ramps up immersion ten fold and makes it easily the best Zelda game since Ocarina of Time and its superb Z targeting system.


Released in 1997 for the Japanese Sega Saturn, there was outcry when there were no plans to bring the game to the west. We had to wait September 1999 to play the game in English after it was ported to the PS1 but boy it was worth it.

Grandia is charming, it's probably one of the most if not the most charming game ever made. The characters are just superb. They manage to pull off the serious, the dangerous and the downright slapstick without ever looking out of place. The main character Justin, spends a large portion of the game larking around, trying to be an adventurer like his father and as a result gets into some funny situations such as a wedding hijack. Sue is his eight year old sidekick and manages to be cute without every being annoying. She also has a weird creature that lives in her hair called Puffy. There are a host of other characters too all with great back stories and motivations, all of which fit together in perfect harmony.

The battle system is perhaps one of the best in any RPG. It's semi time based and semi real time. All characters and enemies move along a bar until they reaction the action zone. Once there, a move is selected and then it needs a little more time to perform. Each move takes a different amount of time, often the more powerful the slower the time it takes. There is plenty of room for strategy here as you have to balance the moves depending on enemy actions. You can cancel an enemy attack with good timing too so it presents a lovely risk/reward system. Battles never feel a chore which is vital in an RPG.

Visually it's fully 3D which is rare during a time when games were often using pre rendered backgrounds. The game looks stunning and there so many incidental details such a falling broomsticks and hanging lights, each area feels like it has been crafted with real love.
Characters are drawn using sprites and work well with the backgrounds and the animation is great too.
Music is also wonderful, easily the best soundtrack by Noriyuki Iwadare. The main theme is so wonderfully triumphant, it cannot fail to stir even the most grumpy of gamer.

Grandia is such a wonderful game it feels someone wrong to pick holes in it but there are issues. The PS1 version, the one most of us will play does suffer from slowdown at times. The battle scenes uses flat 2D images which are quite blurry on PS1. Also even with the Saturn version, the 3D can look scruffy in places and the frame rate chugs a bit.

Grandia has no random battles, buy it now!

Super Tennis. 

Twenty two years after Super Tennis came out, it is still probably the best tennis game ever made. Only Grand Slam Tennis 2 on PS3/360 has come close to offering the sheer range of shots and shot placement that this game has. It's that good.

Released in 1991 for the Super Famicom and just in time for Wimbledon '92 on the European SNES, Super Tennis was a masterpiece then and it remains so today.

The main mode is the world tour mode, it features all of the major tournaments and a selection of unlicensed ones. You pick your player from a range of men and women and aim to be the number one ranked player. Unfortunately none of the players are licensed, nor are any of the tournaments but this does little to impact the game.
Each characters has various strengths and weaknesses that you need to find out by using them. Some are left handed, some right. Some use single handed backhand, double handed, two handed both ways, some are strong at volleys, some serving and so on.

There are four main shots using the four face buttons. B is a flat shot, A produces a slice, Y hits a lob and X give a wicked top spin shot. Combining these shots in context based actions and you end up with a huge range of shot chances. Volley with B and it will be hit with pace, volley with A and it will loop a little more, ideal to use from a deeper position to avoid the net.
Also timing, and d-pad direction play a huge part in shot placement. It's incredibly hard to explain but depending on how early you not only press the button or direction, it affects the direction of your shots. You can really push the ball right to the line with skill and of course the close to the line, the hard it is to return.
Serving is also deep and swerve can be added with L and R.

Visually it's functional and the sound is solid. The world tour mode is meaty and will keep you going for ages.
The password feature is a pain, it's miles too long and the game should really have come with a built in battery. An oversight there. No four player mode either.

Super Tennis is wonderful. Still plays a magnificent game today and when you play against someone that really knows the game, you can see the real depth it has.

Nine games down and one to go and of course there are other games I would rate as a ten. This feature though,  is to highlight that a 10/10 doesn't mean perfection, it simply shows that a game stands out above others for various reasons. These reasons are also quite subjective too. For example I have listed several RPG's in here and they are not for everyone.
Anyway, onto the last game in this feature...

The Last of Us. 

Yes the game that inspired me to do this. Not because of the scores it has been given, but because it has caused so many debates and humorous quotes throughout the industry. (Citizen Kane of gaming?)
The Last of Us is a ten for various reasons but fundamentally one reason, the story it tells and more importantly how it tells it.

Without going into too much detail due to the myriad of reviews online right now, The Last of Us tells the story of Joel and of his duty to escort Ellie across dangerous terrain to their destination during a major zombie outbreak. It sounds cliched but manages to avoid that with expert direction and fresh gameplay.  Along they way they meet various characters either from Joel's past or present and several unknown characters to ally with or fight against.

The beauty of the game is how much it makes you care and question yourself and the actions of each and every character you meet. It manages to deal with a multitude of serious issues, such as violence, death, loss, pity, guilt, homosexuality and more. None of these topics have been dealt with in a video game as well as this since Silent Hill 2.
You really begin to care about what happens on screen. Moments of desperation really put your heart into your mouth and it manages to avoid being predictable.

There is a scene near the end which sums up the experience completely. It plays wonderfully on the frame of the mind of not only the character in the game, but the mind set of the player. You are given a choice, it's a simple choice and many people I have spoken to all took a slightly different approach. The choice isn't even presented to you via instructions on screen, it's all in real time and left to the player alone. Once you make this choice, it sticks with you depending on what you did.

Another interesting aspect is the pacing. Being so intense an experiences, the length of the game is quite fatiguing. Again this actually adds to the brilliance of it because getting through a section loaded with enemies really brings a sense of relief and just draws you into the game further. You start to feel the pain of the characters who just want it all over. You want to stop fighting but you want to keep going to complete your mission, it plays with your emotions on a grand scale.
Also a lot of dialogue is told while you are playing the game. This allows the game to avoid over long pauses in the gameplay to tell its story. The cutscenes never interrupt the game as a result.

The game is based around stealth but offers a variety of ways to approach a situation. Its strength in gameplay is in the diversity it offers each player. For instance I killed a significantly lower number of enemies than a couple of friends I know that completed it, perhaps 50% less which is impressive variation. The gameplay works really well and creates a real tense atmosphere and manages to nullify the over use of checkpoints.

There are issues though, as expected! The ally AI is cumbersome at times and one the odd occasion they get you seen by enemies. This only seems to happen when travelling with a third person rather than with Ellie.
Also Ellie can bee seen and even touch some enemies without being noticed. This breaks immersion somewhat but it's certainly the right way to do it as it would be a nightmare otherwise. An AI instruction system would have probably worked well here.

The Last of Us is wonderful, a masterpiece of storytelling with a fantastic game to boot. It's hard to write too much about it without giving away the most important parts. I went in completely blind when playing this, didn't read a single review and I urge anyone into gaming to play it.
Without the story it's a brilliant game but the wonderful cast and writing push it to that magic ten.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Misunderstood games 1. Driving Emotion Type S.

Feel the sports, Driving Emotion!

How can you not love a tagline like that? It's brilliantly Japanese and makes absolutely no sense at all. Not to mention the title of the game, Driving Emotion Type S, which makes you wonder if you are going to be sat crying at the wheel of your Honda, dreaming of the Type R you couldn't afford.

Anyway, Driving Emotion (Type S) was a PS2 launch title back in 2000 in Japan and it was pretty much panned across the board. Featuring some jagged looking visuals and some lovely 70's porn filters stuck over the top of them, it was hardly the most impressive launch title ever. Not to mention the odd handling model which meant the wheels of the car didn't auto centre like every single driving game ever.


A strange game to be talking about then, for most people. However I got this with my JP PS2 which cost me a lot of cash so I felt like I had to play it. It took quite a long time to get used to the insane handling but I found myself enjoying it a little bit. Once the new games arrived though, it vanished into a cupboard for a long time.
Several years later on a massive tidy up of my house, I found the game lurking and tried to give it another go. By this time I had a driving licence and my very own Toyota MR2. It wasn't until then that I realised the quality of this game that no other racers of the generation, or indeed until games like Forza 3 and Shift had, a truly wonderful in car view.

In car excellence. 

I did some research and found out that the PAL and US versions of the game boasted an extra track and improved handling. Squaresoft had listened to feedback and made the handling auto centre for the western versions of the game. Being a fan already, I had to import the US version at a cost that quite a few would have considered nuts. Not mega, but certainly a fair bit.

Once the game arrived I sunk a load of time into it and it really plays so well. The handling is very tricky still but if you use the in car view, the only way to play it, then it is excellent.
Where it excels is with the feeling of throwing a car around a track. You can feel the weight of the car shift wonderfully well in the in car view and really judge when the back end will give way. The camera also bounces around suitably when the gradient of the road changes which is superb. Also when under heavy braking, the camera moves forward to give the illusion of head movement.
Another fantastic touch is with the windscreen. You can see gentle reflections of the scenery in the windows at times and the sunlight will often reflect off it giving an impression of a real windscreen. This is something I have never seen done as well since and really adds to the feel of driving a sports car.

This view takes all of the fun away!

The main issue with the handling even on the western models is that it tries to mimic a real car with a controller. When driving a car around a corner, if you over steer you gently straighten the wheel to change the arc of the turn. Only in extreme situations such as a slide to you actually apply opposite lock.
In most racing games, if you over steer you can push the controller stick completely in the opposite direction with little penalty. If you did this in real life it would be disastrous.
Driving Emotion tries a little to hard to mimic real life. If you are oversteering a bit, you simply need to centre the stick to correct it, only occasionally should you apply opposite lock. This leads to people snaking it around corners because it is such an unusual system.
Once you nail it though, it works pretty well, not perfect but certainly not that difficult.

Not a Type S.

Overall then, I think Driving Emotion is a really good racer. It is pretty bare in content but the feel of the cars when using the in car view was unrivalled until the HD consoles arrived. In fact, it still matches games like Shift and Forza for that superb feel, although they are much better games.
Anyone that finds that sort of thing appealing, if there is anyone, should really check it out.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Ten Imperfect Ten's part 1.

After the recent discussions floating around the internet regarding the scores of The Last of Us, I thought I would take a little look at ten games I consider to warrant that so called perfect score.
A lot of people are getting confused with the meaning of a ten. It simply does not mean a game is perfect as there is frankly no such thing, but it shows that something is of the the very highest quality for various reasons.

There is no better place to start than with the 1990 classic from Nintendo.

Super Mario World. 
A game that needs little introduction at all, a bona fida classic. Almost 23 years now since it was launched in Japan and it hasn't aged a day. Still wonderfully responsive, still extremely well designed and still a charming as it was in 1990.
The beauty of this game is in the level design, there are so many clever secrets, multiple routes and outright hidden levels it will keep you going for ages. Also each level is packed with 5 Yoshi coins often expertly hidden, so searching for them becomes compelling. In the GBA update, these coins are logged within the game which makes collecting them all even more essential.
Other fantastic aspects of the game are the cape and Yoshi himself. The cape allows you to fly properly and Yoshi changes the dynamics of the game further. He can eat enemies and use them as projectiles, sometimes spitting shells or even fire and on the odd occasion grow wings! Also when you mount Yoshi, bongos are added to the music which is yet another magnificent touch in this wonderful game.
The save system is also superbly paced. Each Ghost House or Castle has a save point once you complete them. It just allows for the right amount of challenge and keeps a tally of all the exits you have found out of the maximum of 96.

SMW features so many great elements but it's not perfect. The excellent save system can easily be abused by multiple runs through the easiest ghost houses while lives and Yoshi coins are not saved on the original SNES version, that aside, it's an absolute classic example of virtually flawless design.

Final Fantasy XII.
A complete jump of generations now, to keep things somewhat interesting. Final Fantasy XII was a revolutionary change to not only the franchise but how the single player J-RPG is approached. Going for an offline MMO style of gameplay, FFXII mixed a wonderful open world style environment with a fluid battle system and wonderful visuals.

The battle system is one of the reasons I rate the game so highly. It is all in real time with no form of random encounters which was badly needed for the series. Despite this it still manages to keep the time based ATB system so the same strategy of older titles like FFVII remain, which personally is a plus. You and your allies are equipped with a system called Gambits. This allows you to program automated commands for the AI to follow which saves menu access when fighting the majority of creatures in the game. This allow the game to remain fluid at all times but be deactivated at will, which is useful for direct control during boss fights.

The game world is the other main point, it's absolutely huge and quite open ended. Yes there is a linear path but each area has loads to explore and items to find. They are also visually astonishing and push the PS2 to well beyond its limits.

The characters and plot are very different to the usual games in the franchise. More based around war and politics and it features much less melodrama. While a lot of fans were not keen on this change, for me it made a nice change and it sits nicely alongside other games in the series.

Some of the negative aspects of Final Fantasy XII is that it's quite a difficult game, certainly compared to the others in the series. Not a problem for more experienced players but more so for newer players
Also the Gambit system, whilst absolutely fantastic, should have been limited to the non player directly controller characters only because it would have stopped the complaints of being able to set the game up to essentially play itself. Audio also feels quite compressed.

Final Fantasy XII was a benchmark RPG. It has set a template that the best games in the genre have tried to copy. Xenoblade is the closest to it with the similar open style and action based combat. If you love  RPG's and haven't yet tried this, I highly recommend you do so now. It sits perfectly between a Japanese and western game and as a result is suitable for all types of RPG player that like a stiff challenge.

Going back a few years and a real shift of genre and we have Rez. First released for the Dreamcast and later ported and improved for PS2 and XBLA, Rez is a fusion of sound, visuals and shooting which combine to make an absolute masterpiece.

The gameplay is simple, you control an on screen cursor and aim to defend your on screen avatar from attacks whilst you infiltrate a computer system to save a trapped AI.
You can lock on to 8 enemies at once and the missiles are released in time with the music. This creates a wicked fusion of sound and visuals. You can also earn upgrades to your avatar and smart bombs. The upgrades change the type of sounds played when shooting enemies. If you take a hit, you lose a level and a hit at the lowest level is naturally game over.

The levels themselves are a very interesting. A wireframe visual style is used with enemies using filled polygons. They are backed up with various electronic music tracks and many of the structures in the levels pulse in time with the beat of the music.
Each level also has an end of level guardian that needs to be defeated to progress. These enemies are superbly designed and can often be addressed with different strategy but there is a best strategy for each one.

The real meat of the game is the unlockable score attack mode. Once this is unlocked the real obsession begins. Each enemy has a value but when you lock on, the value gets multiplied but up to 8x. Working out the best times to lock on for a full chain is extremely addictive and hugely satisfying when you nail it. The XBLA port has the benefit of online leaderboards for the really competitive.

A few things of note of the various ports of Rez. Overall the game really has only 5 levels which is very short, an extra couple wouldn't have gone amiss. The DC version only runs at 30fps which takes away some of the fluidity to the game and whilst the PS2 version is 60fps, it does slow down from time to time.

Despite this, Rez is like nothing you have ever played. The style of the game is so unique and the gameplay is so damn good, it's impossible not to give this a maximum score. Yes it could have more levels, but more than ten years later it still feels a fresh and when it was first released.

Resident Evil 4. 
Along with Final Fantasy XII, this is one of the more interesting titles in the list. The reason being is that it split fans of the franchise right down the middle, some loved it some were not so keen on the game seemingly betraying its roots.

I certainly love the older Resident Evil games, also the remake on GameCube proved you can really make a stunning old style horror game. Resident Evil 4 however breathed new life into the franchise and set a template in third person action genre hasn't really been beaten, even in 2013.

Resident Evil 4 is certainly more action based but it still retains core franchise elements such as puzzle solving, item management and limited exploration. The design of the game it what makes it so astonishingly good. It pushing you along a linear path but opens up enough to give you things to search for. Also the action set pieces are breathtaking but they never feel overdone like a few modern titles I could mention.
Boss fights are absolutely superb too, easily some of the best in the genre with a huge variety in their design.
Checkpoints are also handled really well so the game instills the right amount of fear into you but also rewards you for taking risks. 

As you play through the game, it throws more and more at you and you wonder how on earth they came up with it. Indiana Jones style rolling balls, huge water based creatures in a lake, mine cart combat, underground creatures stalking you, cage fights suspended in the air, it just goes on and you never want it to end!

Combat is fantastic and weapons are satisfying. Enemies have variable hit points, shoot one in the leg and he might stumble to the ground. Also you can stun them and melee attack which is useful for crowd control.
Weapons are also extremely satisfying, the sniper rifle making a superb sound when fired.
There are loads of items to collect too, secret gems to find too and superb graphics and audio. Utterly magnificent.

The main issue with Resident Evil 4 is the lack of ability to move and shoot. This was a small issue at the time but is certainly a bigger one for players used to more modern games within the genre. With twin stick control a staple of gaming in 2004, it is a wonder how it wasn't included.

Resident Evil 4 redefined not only the horror genre but the third person action game. It is a huge game, around 15-20 hours but is so good it warrants multiple playthroughs.

Chrono Cross. 
Finally for part 1 of this post is Chrono Cross. Not normally a game that is lauded as much as it should be I feel. Being the sequel to the SNES classic Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross was already at a disadvantage to follow a game so critically acclaimed.

Chrono Cross takes a different direction to Trigger, taking the theme of parallel worlds rather than time travel. You can travel between the worlds at will throughout the game and the main crux of the plot is to reunite them back in to one world. Naturally, some characters exist in both worlds and some have left or passed on. This makes for some very interesting moments throughout the game.

The game has around 50 characters to recruit. There are some parts of the game when you have offers by multiple characters to take you to your next destination. Depending on the character you choose, it will affect that path through that part of the game. You will have to complete the game 3 times to recruit all characters.

One of the best things about Chrono Cross is the battle system. Like Trigger it has no random battles which is an absolute godsend. It uses a semi active semi turn based stamina system. You have 7 points of stamina at the start and each attack uses 1-3 points. If you connect with an attack, again up to 7 you fill you element gauge. Elements are magic and items placed in your gauge and usable only once per battle unless they are consumables. They require 7 stamina points to use and have various levels. One attack will activate level 1 elements, up to level 7. With good tactics you can attack up to six times with light attacks, or combine light and medium, then use an element with only 1 stamina point remaining for massive damage. The penalty for this is you will go to -6 stamina. It really opens up strategy on the battlefield.

Story is excellent too with some excellent use of dialect in the writing. Characters are pretty well developed considering the amount of them over the 40 hours or so it takes to finish. I won't spoil the plot but it had me gripped from start to finish and some excellent cameos from older characters. Visuals are also superb with a wonderful mediterranean style to the graphics. The music is also second to none on the machine, a wonderful soundtrack by the legendary Yasunori Matsuda.

The only real gripes I have with Chrono Cross are with the use of music in battle. Despite the amazing music on offer, it plays the same battle music over and over which after a while does start to grate. Also the game is susceptible to slowdown from time to time which takes a little gloss off of the visuals.

Overall it's a stunning game, a nigh on perfect J-RPG. No frustrating grinding, wonderful graphics and audio and a plot that avoids cliches. Ideal for serious fans and gamers that want a challenging RPG but none of the frustration of random battles. Perhaps the best PS1 RPG.

That's it for part 1. Would be interested to hear peoples thoughts on these games or perhaps suggestions of their own. A 10/10 doesn't need to be perfect or always original, simply it needs to stand above everything else.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The automation of the Battle System. 

I find it ironic that despite the outcry of the frankly amazing Final Fantasy XII battle system, the Japanese RPG has taken a very similar turn since then. Games like Final Fantasy XIII, Xenoblade and Last Story use much more automated system than FFXII and require next to no set up to get working for you. Each title is something of an evolution of the amazing, fast paced system first used in FFXII. There was outcry among fans that you could set up FFXII to run on autopilot for long periods, yet a title like Xenoblade is pretty much played with little user interaction for many hours unless you run into much more powerful enemies or bosses. 

Final Fantasy XII allowed complete control of all party members, even if you weren't selecting the menu commands yourself. You still had to fine tune all of the decisions made by your comrades and the staggering amount of choice it gave you is second to none today. 
Xenoblade on the other hand allows for little control of comrades which at times makes for very frustrating gameplay. There is nothing worse than when you need healing and your medic has wasted all of her spells and she needs to wait to 'cool down'. This happens far too frequently in battle and is one thing that never happens with the Gambit system. 
Final Fantasy XIII also suffered absolutely stupid AI which would put you in near death situations with little help from your stupid companion. All the paradigm shift did was make a flat system feel a little more exciting, in reality it was extremely limited in execution and very repetitive to play. 
Persona 3 also had AI controlled battle team mates and that was rightly changed with P3P and P4. The AI was certainly better than most but we all got sick of Mitsuru casting Marin Karin. :-O

In The Last Story, we were given a wonderful attacking system which gave almost complete control over team mates when needed and excellent strategy options. The ability to diffuse magic rings when gave various field effects was wonderfully exciting and a breath of fresh air to the genre. I find it odd that Xenoblade is constantly hailed but Last Story frankly does it all better. 

Automated battle systems are certainly the way forward, not having to select attack over and over is a godsend and games like FFXII and Last Story can nail it to perfection. It makes the games feel faster and less like the real time strategy games they really are. (Not RTS btw)

I do enjoy the battle systems used in games like Xenoblade, I feel it is a positive step. However I wish people would realise the sheer depth and quality of the system used in FFXII as it is frankly far better than more recent ones. 

So to sum up. The Final Fantasy XII battle system is far better and more interactive than pretty much all that have come since. I just wish there was no gambit on option for the player controller character, that would have kept people quiet. I would love to see the people that were so critical of it in the past go back to it to give the game the chance it deserves.