Monday, August 25, 2014

Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X (PlayStation Portable) Review

Everyone has played a Mega Man game. It doesn't matter who you are. This is one of the most prolific franchises around, even if Capcom has almost ignored it to extinction lately. Sure, most of the games are ridiculously copy and paste similar but that didn't make most of them any less enjoyable. While everyone has played a Mega Man game, I'll go ahead and freely admit that this is the first one I actually finished. The weird name hides the fact that this is a remake of Mega Man X, but it is.

I don't know why but I always loved that box art. It also has that weird trend of the 90s where they just arbitrarily add bullets coming out of a gun that's in the picture. Does that make any sense? He's just jumping and shooting at the ground....sort of..chest bumping the air.. Some advertising dick got the artwork and just went "well... airbrush some bullets on it," then he shook his head in dismay and punched his secretary.

Anyway, Mega Man X is probably the Mega Man game I've spent the most time with (probably Mega Man Xtreme 2, really) so it seemed like a pretty logical purchase when I came across it. I'll say that I haven't played the original version of X in some time, but the PSP version feels a bit slower. Maybe it's just my memory, but I remember X being a relatively quickly paced game. Being slower doesn't harm the game in any way, but it takes the excitement down a notch.

The other thing that I have mixed feelings about is the graphics. They're re-done in 3D, completely replacing the sprite art of the SNES version.

There's nothing wrong with the graphics at all. They accurately recreate thede4 sprite art and manage to maintain a very similar art style, I guess I just prefer the sprite art. The 3D art appears a bit more cartoon-y in some way, which I think is the turn-off for me. It's ignorable for the SNES art because everything had a cartoony style, but Mega Man X managed to be a more serious looking game.

Having said that this was the first Mega Man game I actually finished (aside from Battle Network, which doesn't really count), I was surprised at the difficulty curve. The first robot master you decide to beat is an absolute bitch, but once you've beaten him and got his weapon the game gets considerably easier since you have a weapon that one boss will have a weakness to. Each level seems to get easier as you collect power-ups and other upgrades.

Once you've finished the game you can replay it as Sigma, X's nemesis. This is...not so fun. It's a very different play style, but it just doesn't seem to work out so well. I get that it's meant to be more challenging and very different, but Sigma just doesn't seem to fit into the game. It's not enough of an incentive to do a replay while overcoming the difficulty that the difference brings.

The difference probably wouldn't be as glaring if it weren't for how good the level design is. Usually there's a level or area of a game that is just horrible and annoying enough that it has the potential to kill replays. There's not really any part of Mega Man X that I would think of that way. All of the levels have the same fair challenge that you can learn how to overcome by replaying. There's nothing particularly standout about any of the levels, but they all work incredibly well.

The storyline is a bit more fleshed out in this version and.. there's voice acting. It sucks.

Overall, this is an excellent game. It can be had on the cheap, and it's worth it.

The Score: 9/10

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sierra Is Activision's "INDIE" Label and Why You Should Hate Gaming Media

What the fuck happened to society that there is no critical thinking in any form of journalism?

That was really easy and I feel like a cheap hooker.

Gamescom is going on right now, and literally every single game journalist got starry eyed and harder than diamonds at the news that Activision is bringing back Sierra as a "label for indie games."

You're all fucking morons. No one called this out as the cynical bullshit that it is. This is a marketing ploy, and all of you are suckling at Activision's semi-flaccid penis. 

Probably a penis you don't want to suckle.

I'm going to call out Destructoid in particular because it's really the only gaming site I actively read (though I've been wondering why since the great writer exodus).

Sierra isn't an independent company. It's a "label" of Activision, which basically denies it from any form of "indie." Indie means independent and I would say the company that prints money and bolsters Mountain Dew sales with a yearly offloading of putrid shit called Call of Duty is the exact opposite of that. 

I'm infuriated with Destructoid in general because it used to be a great site. It was really the only gaming site with editorials worth reading (read: Jim Sterling). Then... all of the interesting writers just suddenly disappeared around the same site. We got a new reviewer whose review is basically a summary of the back of the box features. Read that fucking review. Now, if you're into fighting games you have learned nothing about the game. It's essentially a Capcom press release with a score at the end. How do the new features change the overall game? I dunno. I only know that they are in the game, they work, and you can use them.

Read this:

What did that tell you? Nothing.

It told you that Delayed Wakeup exists. It told you its implications are serious. It told you that it will change play styles. This is all superficial bullshit. Was this game even played? Why does it have serious implications? Why does it change play styles? This is a thesis for a college paper that I shit out because I had to take the class for credit. It looks good if you skim it, but there is nothing under the surface. There's no understanding of a game that is going on six years now which has a very established community and strategy.

Anyways, back to my point. Where's the criticism? Why is no one calling Activision on this bullshit? Is it because every gaming site gets plastered with Call of Duty ads at the end of the year?

Let me tell you what Sierra is; it's a cash grab. For the most part, gamers don't think for themselves. Inject some critical thinking into your life. Do people hold Activision to a certain level of quality? Yes, they do. Are all indie games good? No, they aren't. So, what do you do if you're Activision? The whole gaming world has this new meme that is indie. You grab that bull by the horns and you skullfuck it. You start an "indie" label to sell games that may fail, just because you wouldn't want them associated with the Activision name.

So, fuck you gaming media. You're not part of the problem; you are the problem. Why would you willingly perpetuate Activision's bullshit? Is it because you get teary eyed thinking of those (mostly bad) Sierra games from back in the day? Is it because the gaming community at large has firmly taken hold of the shaft of indie and won't let go?

Whatever it is, you've let us down. It's not your job to pander.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360) Review

Batman: The Animated Series (I'll just call it TAS from here) was a huge part of my childhood, and probably one of the best interpretations of Batman. This was before adult cartoons on television were a thing, so there were shows that frequently toed the line and had more mature themes. TAS was one of them. Everyone who saw this show remembers Mr. Freeze's new origin story in Heart of Ice. It was so good that it caused Mr. Freeze's comic origins to be changed to resemble TAS. Harley Quinn, Joker's sidekick, also originated in TAS and made the move over to the comics. TAS took home awards for a reason, and Arkham Asylum readily acknowledges that. It brings back Kevin Conroy (Batman), Mark Hamil (Joker) and Arleen Sorkin (Harley Quinn) to voice their characters. It's not too surprising since Paul Dini wrote the game; he was responsible for some of the best TAS episodes (including Heart of Ice).

Arkham Asylum plays it smart with the Batman mythos; it is what it needs to be. It relies on well known bits about the character and the best of the rouges' gallery to form the plot. The game's overall plot is similar to the graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth. Of course if the game strictly adhered to Grant Morrison's harrowing story, then it wouldn't be much fun at all. Think of this as a loose adaptation made for a Hollywood crowd.

The game starts with Batman bringing the Joker to Arkham Asylum. From there, all hell breaks loose with the Joker seizing control of the asylum. Instead of the Joker's sadistic move of making Batman realize he's just as batshit insane as anyone in the asylum, it all ends with a "let's go hard and punch face" boss battle.

Sort of a cop-out.

The overall plot is solid; it's well paced, and you want to continue. The end game of the Joker basically just wanting to punch it out with Batman... doesn't feel very Jokerly. At his best, he's holding a mirror to us and proving some horrible truth. This just sort of reduces him to a video game villain. Unless that's the...joke? It's a video game, so we expected a punch-face battle? Doesn't seem like much of a Joker endgame. I'm simplifying the plot, but basically Joker plans on using a formula called Titan (which is basically Bane's Venom on crack... or.. mixed with crack?) to create an army of Banes and fuck with Gotham. The thing is.. all of this could have been done without getting Batman to the asylum. So the assumption is that this was his endgame; to fight Batman.

The game seems linear at first, but it eventually opens up and allows for exploration and backtracking. It plays out similarly to Metroid Prime (or...yeah, Castlevania) where upgrades will help you get to previously unreachable areas. There's not a map completion percentage or anything, but there are Riddler challenges that consist of scanning a specific area of a level, or finding a trophy of a question mark. Completing these rewards you with experience which allows you to upgrade Batman's health and attacks.

While it is rewarding to backtrack and collect these upgrades, the design of the game makes it difficult. The asylum isn't just one building, it's broken up into several smaller buildings. For the most part, all of the buildings look very similar which becomes an issue. Metroid Prime has very unique areas so it's easy to remember where you need to backtrack to. Arkham Asylum blends together, which means you really have to comb over everything again.

What the fuck is wrong with Gordon?

The combat system is simple and excellent. It's hard to describe it exactly but everything sort of flows together. If you have a combo going you'll automatically flip around to the next henchman. You just aim Batman and he goes. You'll have to add in some counters or else your combo will be broken, but it's incredibly satisfying. It makes combat cinematic and nearly effortless which feels great. At the same time, it can make the experience feel a bit shallow. That's not to say that the game doesn't provide a challenge... just that it often feels scripted. Of course, as with any opinion, this will vary. I tend to enjoy games with melee combat systems that are difficult to master. Arkham Asylum's is not that.

The game has a heavy stealth element involved, especially when enemies have guns. You have several means of distracting enemies but the main problem here is the AI. When alerted, the AI tends to group together. I understand that you need to work to separate them but it is very difficult. The AI will spend a large amount of time grouped together and staring at one spot on the floor. Waiting for them to separate enough to pick one off is agitating. It's not that I'm doing poorly at these sections, it's that the AI will sort of slowly wander away from an area and it seems to get confused at times.

A part of the game that I particularly enjoyed were the encounters with Scarecrow. There are a few sections in the game where you'll get fear gassed and experience some events from Batman's past, or just some surreal weirdness. Unfortunately the pay-off to these sections is basically a stealth based mini-game.


Overall, this is a satisfying game. It's sort of hard to have a lot to say about it; it's a game that doesn't necessarily do anything unique, but everything that it does is well done. There's plenty to do and see here, and it's always fun to have Kevin Conroy being Batman.

The Score: 8.5/10