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

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Snoopy vs. The Red Baron (2006)

Genre: Action, Flight Simulator | Players: 1-6 | Developer: Smart Bomb Interactive

I bought this on a whim because it was less than 5 dollars and I like Snoopy. Still a surprise that I had such a good time with it anyway. The Schulz estate is very picky with licensing out the Peanuts characters, but they apparently made the right choice by allowing this one.

Players play as Snoopy's alter ego of a World War 1 flying ace as he completes missions for the Royal Flying Corps with it's various officers played by the various Peanuts characters as he strafes bases, sinks ships and of course dogfights with various fighters. The controls are very simple and responsive and there are numerous side-weapons besides the standard machine gun that are all comical and silly since it is only cartoon violence like potato guns, water balloon launchers and firework missiles each with different advantages. There are also a few maneuvers that Snoopy can pull with his stunt meter for getting the advantage in dogfights. The objectives vary, but will mostly be variations of destroy a certain number of enemies or collect such and such item. The game is far on the easy side of the difficulty spectrum unless one is trying to get the highest rank for each mission and even then you might get it without trying unless you are younger than 10 years or have a severe disability, but it is overall quite enjoyable.

The graphics are crisp and clean and despite this being a rare 3D appearance for these characters, they are rendered very similarly to their comic counterparts. The PSP version has been downgraded a bit with certain animations missing like cartoony explosions and a few graphics here and there, but nothing noticeable unless one is looking for it. The biggest problem is with the audio which is often out of sync in cutscenes and the endless looping of the limited soundtrack. The menus and compatibility with the PSP could have used some smoothing over like how using the PSP's sleep function might cause the autosave to throw a hissy fit, but it never went anywhere terrible like erasing saves. There is also frequent loading even in places where it seemed unnecessary like how the game loads and autosaves when you leave the store even if you didn't buy anything, but these are mostly nitpicks. The one advantage the PSP has is the up to 6 players in ad-hoc multiplayer over the 4 on the PS2 and only AI opponents on the PC, though, given the game's age, good luck finding anyone to play with.
Overall, exceptional with rough edges made better if one is familiar with the characters.

Buyer's Guide:
Available used on PSP, PS2 and PC. Probably really cheap.

Only a few sinful "fly through the rings" missions out of 5

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Silent Hill Downpour (2012)

Genre: Survival-Horror, Action | Players: 1 | Developer: Vatra Games

As scary as it is, I have a needlessly long history with this game. A history characterized by allegations about the mechanics and dread regarding the future of the franchise. I finally faced those fears, however.

The new, titular mechanic is the rain cycle. Stay outside long enough and it will begin to storm. This is positively correlated with enemy spawns. Escaping into buildings will usually reset the weather and elicit an auto-save. I would complain, but we’ve always been at the mercy of save points, so it isn’t a huge deal. Side-quest accomplishments also grant saves, keeping this new “open world” take on the town tolerable.

Only one such quest requires you to have previously cleared the story, but there is no New Game+ feature to help you if you missed any others. The nature of Silent Hill would have easily justified spitting you back out just before the point of no return.

Several saves are held in memory and load easily for scumming purposes, as this isn’t Homecoming. No auto-circling, no dodge rolls. Your melee weapons can break, but it’s only noteworthy on higher difficulties. It should also be said that the method of choosing what guns to stash can be a little obtuse.

In general, Murphy needs to run to both fight effectively and advance the plot. Yes, Shattered Memories’ chase mechanic returns. The paths are much tighter and require both trial & error and observation to overcome being lost in a loop. I found it simply different, not better or worse.

Its return is actually telling of the game’s intentional design. This, and the lack of traditional boss battles, facilitate an optional mode of play that is appropriate for Murphy’s character. In the end, that’s a huge part of what a successful Silent Hill game needs to do: Atmosphere must be married to gameplay decisions that inform and correctly suit the protagonist.

Ultimately, Downpour’s only great crime is its tendency to stutter briefly on occasion. This can occur when the game is trying to micro-load, is preparing to award a trophy, or is switching to a rare, fixed camera angle. It’s a legitimate problem, but it never happened as I was fighting or during the chase sequences; it never got me hurt.

I’m playing apologist. I love this series. I might eventually need a PS4. Fuck.

Welcome to the fold, Murphy.

Buyer's Guide: Cheaply available on both PS3 and Xbox 360.

3½ Todd Manning Scars out of 5

Monday, November 18, 2013

Final Fantasy IX (2000)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: SquareSoft

The ninth installment of Square's flagship series is a return to its roots, ditching the cyberpunk and sci-fi trappings of VII and VIII and returning to a more classical medieval fantasy setting with a generally more lighthearted tone in both plot and character design. The main protagonist Zidane is a thief whose group of thieves/theater actors has been hired to kidnap Princess Garnet of the Alexandria kingdom. He is surprised when she actually wants to be kidnapped, but Queen Brahne of course isn't happy about it. After their airship crashes during the escape an adventure begins at first to get Garnet to safety and then to explore the reasons for the Queen's increasingly aggressive actions that threaten to plunge the whole of the known world into war.

The return to roots in setting is also in the gameplay mechanics such as the return to a 4 member party limit and exclusive classes between characters as well as numerous callbacks and references to the series as a whole. The leveling and abilities have been simplified and the whole game is much more accessible and user-friendly, making this a good entry point for new players. Though the game feels much shorter than other installments and it actually is since it is possible to complete the game in less than 20 hours which is a fraction of most JRPGs. One sidequest even requires a time limit to the endgame of 12 hours. Of course how much the player chooses to indulge in the leveling, minigames and sidequests will affect how much time and joy they get out of the gameplay which is good for experienced players.

The aesthetics are very well-designed with the bright and slighty cartoony backgrounds as well as the more stylized and deformed characters ranging from standard humans to anthropomorphized hippos and anteaters. This is only hampered by the limits of the console it was designed for as the PlayStation was on its last legs at the time of this release. The pixels on top of polygons effect that was used does squeeze more detail out of the hardware, but adds to it sometimes grainy and muddled visuals. Whatever that lacks in visuals though is made up in story and characters. The 8 main characters are all likeable and relatable with each trying to overcome their own problems ranging from existential crisis, the nature of duty and honor, love and loss and loneliness, etc.  The adventure is not only a quest for a goal, but also a personal growth journey for each of them. My personal favorite of the series as well as that of the series' creator as it represents everything that the series was envisioned to be.

Buyer's Guide:
Can be found for the original PlayStation in both the original and Greatest Hits releases and as a PSone Classic on PlayStation Network.

Surprisingly no palette swaps of enemies out of 5

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Grand Theft Auto Online (2013)

Genre: Sandbox  |  Players: 1 - 16  |  Developer: Rockstar North

I’ll begin with a confession: I'm not a fan of online gaming. There are some exceptions, but primarily I play a game to be immersed in story, not for social interaction. I’d much rather someone who cares about online gaming review this, but unfortunately you’re stuck with me.

I'm not being puerile when I say I agree with RS that GTA Online is a separate game; albeit one that uses the same resources and game mechanics as the one player aspect. It has its own levelling-up system, its own monetary system, its own property market and, most importantly, its own unique missions.

It’s set two months before GTA V, so people you may have assassinated there are still available here to offer you jobs. Complete jobs or activities and you’ll earn Reputation Points (RP). Get enough RP and you’ll level-up.

Working your way up the ranks unlocks new items that you can purchase from the in-game stores; things like silencers for guns, engine and transmission upgrades for your personal vehicle, or new clothes.

Jobs also earn you money. Everything revolves around money and not having enough of it. You’ll work your ass off just to afford a new engine. Acquiring enough for an entire car will take a long time.

You could steal a flash car but the mod-shops will refuse to respray it and the cops will have such a hard-on for you that it’s not worth the hassle. Losing your wanted level only stops them for a short time. That means you’re either stuck with a shitbox or you buy your own and upgrade it; and don’t forget to insure it or you’ll have wasted your cash when it eventually gets blown to pieces.

At time of writing, the Heists aren't yet playable, but are promised as FREE DLC in the not-too-distant future. It’s a shame.becuase they are the only part of the online experience that I was genuinely interested in.

Similarly, the Content Creator is still forthcoming.  he official word from RS is that it'll be initially limited to Death Matches and Races (yawn). Perhaps in the future there'll be an option to create custom jobs and rewards.

The potential to add to the game-world over time is reportedly “endless”, which is overly optimistic in my opinion, but admittedly there's scope for a large number of variations on a theme. If they can keep those variations fresh and interesting it'll help distract from the repetitious nature of the theme.

3½ fetch and carry missions out of 5