Nut Load. Mini reviews of games old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional shock face.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (1993)

Genre: Action Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Nintendo

The fourth installment and first handheld title of the Legend of Zelda series is a bit of an odd duck with an offbeat sensibility filled with cameos and 4th wall breaking. It has the winning Zelda formula without actually having most of the trappings of other installments as there is no Zelda, Hyrule or Triforce to be had. That isn't necessarily a bad thing.

It starts with Link on a journey home after adventures outside Hyrule, when his boat is caught in a storm. Link is washed ashore on Koholint Island where he is informed by a talking owl that he cannot leave the island unless we wakes the Wind Fish sleeping in a giant egg atop a mountain. The only way to do that is to find 8 instruments scattered in caves around the island and play them. Players do the normal overhead adventure stuff, but with a tone that is both epic and lighthearted. Controls are tight and simple and the music is a wonder. Link's Awakening is actually the first Zelda title to have different themes for each level. It is actually filled with firsts that would go on to become staples of the series such as an item trading mini-quest, fishing mini-game, playing songs on an ocarina (oh my!) and marks one of the few times Link can jump on command.

If you are in any way familiar with Zelda games it can be rather short, but that probably has more to do with its portable nature rather than design. The overworld is a bit small, but filled with secret items and areas if explored further. So there is a great adventure filled with fun characters, great soundtrack and a sense of humor that puts it near the top of the series titles.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on Game Boy, re-released in color for Game Boy Color and downloadable on the 3DS Virtual Channel for $5.99.

5 I stole the bow and never came back, bitch out of 5

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ninja Boy (1990)

Genre: Action | Players: 1 | Developer: Culture Brain

Ninja Boy is the first handheld game of the Super Chinese series that follows a ninja named Jack to save some princess from some evil lizard guy. I don't know the details. Since I only had the cartridge, I had to glean what I know from the game itself which doesn't offer much storywise. This being a 1990 game, they probably expected players to read the manual which is of little use nowadays without it.

Jack will battle various enemies from rival ninjas to badgers to some other stuff that I couldn't tell what they were because of the old graphics. Jack can punch enemies, kick them or use a sword you can find later. Defeating a set number of enemies unlocks a door at the top of the stage to advance to the next with a little racist Asian victory jingle. There are 8 levels each with 4 stages. Some enemies can only be defeated certain ways which makes gameplay a tedious trial and error because one hit and you die. When Jack dies he spawns immediately at the start of the stage which isn't always a clear area. I had one ninja AI actually spawn camp me to death. Extra annoying since you only start with 3 lives and they can drain pretty fast.

There are various power-ups, hidden bonus stages and even a few warps scattered in the rocks and other environments Jack can break open, but it is not clear what they do or how Jack can use them. The warps are useless since it just leaves you underpowered for the stronger enemies. Through dumb luck I figured out players can do a super kick by jumping and then pressing a direction after, rather than at the same time. Only with the right power-up though which I'm not sure which one did it. Pulling out the sword was also dumb luck which is done by holding attack and pressing a direction with the right power-up. Very unintuitive and retarded since the select button goes entirely unused. If players can get past the non story, muddled graphics, gameplay that hates players and shit controls (and I wouldn't hold it against them if they didn't) then Ninja Boy is at least functional.

Buyer's Guide:
I saw a few copies online for between $6 and $12, but probably only necessary if you are a fan of the series and want a complete collection or something.

1 Engrish victory screen with fireworks out of 5
Was that a bit spoilerish? Too bad, fuck you and Jack.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Armed and Dangerous (2003)

Genre: 3rd Person Shooter | Players: 1 | Developer: Planet Moon Studios

Armed and Dangerous follows the exploits of a band of rebels called the Lionhearts as they attempt to steal the Book of Rule from the villainous King Forge and end his reign of tyranny. That sounds a bit epic, but it is really a tongue-in-cheek parody of those grand fantasy quests along with jabs at shooter cliches and references to Star Wars (probably because of publisher Lucasarts) and Monty Python with one character lamenting at one point that "this is turning into a bad fantasy novel."

Players control main character Roman and fight enemies with weapons that range from the conventional rifles and machine guns to the more fantastic Topsy Turvy bomb that reverses gravity and the Land Shark gun that true to its name fires whole sharks at the enemy. You can also give basic squad commands to your companions Jones, an anthropomorphic mole with a love for explosives, and Q, an obsessively tea drinking robot. With the squad and weapons, players complete missions like saving peasants, destroying towers and holding off invasion forces all with great humor and solid gameplay in levels that can be both linear and open world style particularly those with the jetpack. Bonus points for the great Tony Jay voicing King Forge.

Negative points are a weird difficulty curve with enemies that do almost no damage standing next to ones that will end you in 3 seconds, the weird and fun weapons have very limited ammo meaning players will rely on the boring but effective machine gun 90% of the time, almost every level has a hold off invasion portion at the end which isn't as fun as actual bosses and almost all NPC characters use the same ugly character model.

Buyer's Guide:
Can be found used for around 5 bucks for both Xbox and PC or you can buy it off Steam for $4.99.

4 Gardening robot soldiers wearing pigtails and sundresses out of 5

Friday, April 6, 2012

Silent Hill (1999)

Genre: Survival-Horror / Action | Players: 1
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo

In my self-limited experience with the Survival-Horror genre, there are two monolithic pillars: Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Resident Evil may have come first and hold the hearts of more fans, but Silent Hill speaks to me in a far deeper way. Rather than crawling through austere mansions and sterile research labs, SH forces one to explore far more mundane environments, coated in a grime that perfectly symbolizes the depths of what you are truly plumbing: the human psyche and soul.

You don’t play Silent Hill for scares-per-minute and non-stop action. The best moments come from the near-constant tension of creeping through an abandoned town and any structure therein relevant to the main plot of the early games, or the past of ALL of the gloriously fractured protagonists. The original game, while focusing a bit too much on outdoor environments, does its best to introduce the small handful of locations that became iconic for the series as a whole.

Far more than in any of the other games, these locales act as home to a large treasure trove of easter eggs paying homage to horror movies, novels, pop-culture, and, strangely, Kindergarten Cop. Unfortunately, environmental and logic puzzles aren’t the only thing impeding your urban exploration. A relatively fixed camera works together with tank controls to conjure horrible memories of that other vaunted series’ early games. Thankfully, the difficulty isn’t horribly high even on Hard. This is good, because you’re going to need all the help you can get to achieve a 10 star rating, which encompasses—among other things—killing enemies in various ways, avoiding damage, making good time, and achieving all the permutations of the endings.

I personally recommend not tackling that ludicrous challenge. Silent Hill games are best experienced through systematic lingering, to appreciate the creepily rendered environments and superb music and sound effects. Even the b-movie acting and plot can’t dampen the atmosphere manifested in this mostly complete package.

If this review seems far vaguer than the others on this site, your mind isn’t playing tricks on you. It’s intentional. I personally invite you to kick back in a dimly lit room and walk in Harry’s footsteps as he searches for his daughter Cheryl. You might be surprised to find where the journey will take you, and how far down this rabbit hole goes. Happy exploring.

Buyer’s Guide:
Available on the original Playstation and Playstation Network. Expect to part with more cash than you’d like for a black-label original, or even a Greatest Hits-branded copy. PSN is the answer you seek.

4 'Totally-not-the-Triforce's out of 5

Nutted by NEG (aka: He who knows!)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Silent Hill: Origins (2007)

Genre: Survival-Horror, Action | Players: 1 | Developer: Climax Studios 

Bringing a survival-horror franchise to a handheld is a very thin tight-wire to walk, and Silent Hill Origins does it with a fair amount of aplomb. Still, it does come relatively close to slipping off. Fortunately, its missteps only break the rules of handheld gaming convenience, and not the game itself. If all of the 4 main areas had lasted as long as the introductory trip through Alchemilla, this would have been a perfect on-the-go experience. However, I think this would have also been rather disappointing. The designers must have realized this themselves, as the rest are around two to four times as long.

As strange as it may sound, I really think it works in the game’s favor that it doesn’t feel like it was designed for the small screen. I’d rather suffer infrequent opportunities to save than a game filled with areas explored only on a surface level. Much of the depth here is thanks to a new mechanic that allows players to switch between misty and nightmare sides on command, through the use of mirrors. This is much akin to A Link to the Past and the Constantine licensed game.

Besides this mechanic, the only true gameplay differences between Origins and the original ‘trilogy’ of games are that Travis is a competent bare-knuckle brawler and his weapons, though very numerous, break rather quickly. There are so many littered around the environments, in fact, that this never feels like a hinderance. Even if you break all that you have available (and use up all your ammo), Travis is still perfectly capable of dusting enemies with his own two fists.

Thankfully, for those who find the series’ 10-star system overwhelming, Travis’s achievements are broken into discrete accolades that can be completed over as many playthroughs as necessary. These all unlock weapons and costumes (some with their own tangible benefits!).

On the story-front, Origins--appropriately, given the nature of the number 0--plays like both an Even and an Odd entry. Travis’s interactions with Alessa demonstrate the events leading up to the original game, and yet there is a VERY strong emphasis on Travis himself.

Even if it brings into question the appropriateness of this game being on a handheld, I still believe that a little annoyance in terms of when you can save is a small price to pay to take this splendid trip.

Buyer’s Guide:
Originally available only on PSP, Origins eventually found its way onto the PS2. While the graphics are crisper and have more care put into them on the PSP, it is still cheaper and far more practical to track down a copy of the port if you don’t own the nefarious handheld. From my experience, it’s better to hunt for this game online these days, in either form.

4 Unwarranted Cases of Blue-Balls out of 5

Nutted by NEG

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Maverick Hunter X (2006)

Genre: Platformer | Players: 1 | Developer: Capcom

Usually when 8 and 16 bit games are remade using 3D character models, I rage. Sprites are infinitely glorious and the remade games usually feel cheap and hollow to me. This is not the case with Maverick Hunter X and I’m in awe of how much vibrancy and depth of field is achieved through the character models and the beautifully animated backgrounds.

Technically, it is only ‘based on’ Mega Man X, but it’s the game you remember. By some means of sorcery they have improved an SNES game. It not only rearranges power-up placements, but actively fucks with your memories. These shenanigans would be blasphemous in an RPG, but in a Mega Man game? It’s nirvana. Don’t get comfortable, because you won’t be able to play this completely on auto-pilot, your first time.

In terms of new features, the two most important deliver in spades. The Difficult Mode will be what you’ll want to play the game on, from here on out. Not worlds harder, but a great challenge, if you don’t get armored up as your first course of business. Even so, enemy AI is augmented with new moves that are sometimes difficult to dodge even if you know they’re coming. There’s also the addition of stellar voice acting. X’s banter with the Mavericks is brilliantly jingoistic and the characterizations of each robot master are appropriate and amusing. There’s even a 20+ minute movie for players who actually like the plot of the X series.

The only other special feature to speak of is the addition of Vile as a playable character. He is far weaker than X in terms of constitution and firepower (at least initially). While I appreciate Proto Man for his physical weakness, he's also stronger than Mega Man, to balance that out. Vile's arsenal is a bit awkard to utilize, as well. Ergo, while I appreciate challenge, he ultimately fails to be a fun challenge. I’m sure others might find him to be a worthwhile inclusion, though!

Despite how well done this package is, at the end of the day it’s just Mega Man X with a handful of (great) upgrades. You’ll only get as much play out of this as you’ve gotten out of the original. If you played it once, and you don’t own a PSP, pass. If you’ve played it countless times and you have a PSP, what are you waiting for?

Buyer’s Guide:
Available exclusively for the PSP, unfortunately. At the time of this writing, GameStop is selling their PSP holdings Buy 2 Get 1 Free. Also, it’s available as part of a Dual Pack with Mega Man Powered Up. I purchased said pack for $15, New. This is BY FAR the version you want, as MHX is worth that on its own (given the above stated criteria).

4 McCain Supporters out of 5

Nutted by NEG.