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

Sunday, February 9, 2014

LittleBigPlanet (2009)

Genre: Puzzle, Platformer | Players: 1 | Developer: Cambridge Studio

The full PS3 nut is here. This is for the PSP version that is slightly different and developed mostly by a different studio. The main idea is basically the same as players control Sackboy in a cute little ethereal world made up of the unused ideas of humans or something from the opening animation with a wonderful narration by Stephen Fry. Sackboy can traverse the multiple levels with themes ranging from Australian outback and oriental China to ancient Persia and modern Hollywood with fun little physics based puzzles on multiple 3D planes. However, the PSP version necessitated some trimming so there is now only 2 planes to switch between rather than the original 3 and no multiplayer.

The physics are generally fun if a little wonky, but most troubling is when it affects jumping. Just a simple jump, which is about 90% of gameplay given that this is a platformer, is often unreliable and unresponsive. This can make or break the game whether it decides to be floaty cartoon magic or a frustrating slog as you continuously murder Sackboy on electric panels and fire pits because the jump decided you were a little off or worse made you switch planes unwillingly because reasons. This can taint the whole experience, but when it is working perfectly it is still quite a joy with very interesting puzzles with levers, jetpacks, sleds, etc. and a wonderful aesthetic and soundtrack.

The story is barely there both in length and as a motivation for Sackboy to traverse the levels with the only real incentive being the puzzles and the various costumes and stickers to collect. Too bad the small PSP screen makes it very hard to discern what the costume pieces look like, unless they are particularly over-the-top. I ended up with a dino costume and pretty much stuck with that the whole time. The stickers I actually never used outside of what the story required and there was no detriment, so take that for what it's worth. The multiplayer is gone, but the level designer and DLC is still there, but there was a limited selection so many years later and on a less than super popular console.

Overall, not as good as it's full PS3 version, but you might stay for the whimsy and soundtrack. What story that is there is actually different too if that matters to you.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on UMD and PSN.

At least the shared energy bar won't ruin any friendships now out of 5

Xenogears (1998)

Genre: RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Squaresoft

I missed this one the first time around, but being an avid fan of all things Square I pulled it off PSN. The game starts with our protagonist Fei Fong Wong who has been brought to a small town with a bad case of that ever-so-useful amnesia. After a few years of peaceful living, a centuries long conflict between the 2 nations of Aveh and Kislev spill over into town and the town is destroyed in the battle between the armies' huge mechs called "gears". Now Fei must travel the continent with the town doctor Citan and discover the origins of the conflict and the forces behind it that may go back even farther.

Gameplay is a fairly standard RPG model with a twist on the turn based battles. During each character's turn, they are assigned attack points that can be used for either low, medium or high powered attacks that are mapped to the triangle, square and X buttons respectively. Using different combinations will allow the use of special deathblow combos that can be learned with experience. Unused AP can also be saved and then used for a long string of deathblows for devastating damage. There is also ether points (EP) that are this universe's form of magic which acts in an identical way to most other RPGs, but the main draw for most is probably the battles inside of the gears. Gear battles are pretty much the same except AP is replaced with fuel which every attack consumes as well as any special abilities the gear might have like healing. Woe be to the player who gets stuck fighting a gear sized enemy without their own gear.

The story starts out almost cliche, but gets more interesting as more subplots and characters are added. Then it goes too far in the opposite direction with so much going on that the whole narrative becomes muddled and confusing. The majority of the subplots are never resolved and it comes to a head on disc 2 when they are all mostly dropped completely as is most of the actual game.The story becomes a long slog of characters narrating events to the player instead of actually playing it out. Only sparse scenarios interrupt this shift with things like the world map and visiting towns and such disappearing completely until the endgame. This fault line was so bleh that I almost stopped playing, especially when I sat for over an hour reading narration with no gameplay. Whatever the reasons for the rift, it mars the game and it took considerable effort to maintain the motivation to keep going which I did mostly to justify the hours already spent. The themes based off of different psychological practices were interesting until they became overblown like everything else. There is a bunch of stuff ranging from reincarnation and gene manipulation to nano machines and living gods when just picking one would have made a much more cohesive experience. It feels like a bad case of spectacle creep and a nasty extension of the weird habit Japan has of giving divine qualities to large robots that I am rarely willing to accept. They can never just be weapons.

Otherwise the game held up better than most of the time even if the sparse anime cutscenes are nowadays nothing special and the voice-overs for them are laughably out of synch and there are way too many random battles, often within a few seconds of the previous one ending. Altogether, an interesting experience if not always an enjoyable one.

Buyer's Guide:
The original PS1 release is a collectors item, so expect to pay a premium for it even though it is now available for download on PSN.

But at least there was kung-fu and gun-slinging priests out of 5

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011)

Genre: Action / Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 3

The first full Legend of Zelda game built exclusively from the ground up to work with the Wii controller gives you all combat abilities from the beginning. It's perhaps by way of an apology for the actual fighting being so damn awkward.
Over time you’ll learn to compensate for the impreciseness, but there’s nothing in Link’s repertoire of moves that couldn't have been successfully mapped to a conventional controller; a Game Cube controller, for example.

There are one or two minor things that do actually benefit from onscreen action mimicking physical motion but I’d have traded them in an instant, because the sheer number of things that don’t work, that feel like a second-rate compromise, far outnumber them and it needs CONSTANT recalibrating.

There’s an obvious attempt at expanding the scope of the usual gameplay while simultaneously keeping it faithful to the core experience. Consequently, it’s a game with two distinct identities: 50% of it is wonderful, even the overly-familiar stuff, and the other 50% is a depressing chore. It holds the dubious honour of being the only proper LoZ title that I will never, ever want to play again.

There’s a hub world and three main areas with a Dungeon on each. There’s often a lot to do before you reach the actual Dungeon entrance, but once inside it’s business as usual, with some new additions, of course, because each new entry in the series introduces something new.

That’s the mechanics and map, but what of Link’s motivations? He’s searching for one person. He doesn't enter dungeons to rid them of evil or to cleanse the world for the greater good. He enters dungeons to find his friend. It’s a small scale noble endeavour, but he’s essentially trespassing. He helps people along the way but not for what you’d typically call selfless reasons.

I found myself unable to connect with Link emotionally, which is something I've not had issue with in the past. In the end my persistence came down to ‘I want to get through this because it’s a LoZ game and I'm invested in the franchise,’ and not the more enjoyable ‘I want to get through this to save X from Y and restore peace to the land.’ I just wanted closure, not to be a legendary hero. That realisation saddened me deeply, but was a completely inescapable factor.

Scoring is difficult. Compared to regular adventure games it stands apart, but when compared solely to other Legend of Zelda titles it's a disappointing:

3½ grabitude crackles out of 5

NOTE: If you're considering playing the game, FIRST READ the entry titled Song of the Hero Game Ending Error on the Zelda Wiki or you'll run the risk of activating a programming error that'll break your game midway through.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tony Hawk's Proving Ground (2007)

Genre: Sport | Players: 1 or Online Multi
Developer: Neversoft (Xbox 360 + PS3) / Page 44 Studios (PS2 + Wii)

I consider myself a veteran when it comes to the Tony Hawk games. I’ve played Pro Skater 1, 2, 3 and 4, Underground 1 and 2, American Wasteland and this. That’s eight games in all. I've seen the series climb from humble but hopeful beginnings to the spectacular heights of THPS3, and then subsequently fall hard on its ass, clutching at wild ideas that have little to do with skating. Proving Ground was a new low. There’s not enough room here to list everything that’s wrong with it.

There’s a story of sorts. You’re a noob, barely able to ollie a pebble. With help from the Pros you’ll learn new tricks, new skills, a new way of looking at things and, like the series itself in the early days, climb the ladder of success.

There are three environments: Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington. They exist as one large open-world area. There’s no loading as you traverse from one to the other, but there’s loading at other times to make up for it, like when you cock-up a task for the twentieth time because they’re so fucking difficult.

A number of in-game arcade machines are littered around the environment that, once unlocked, will allow you to play something called Tony Hawk 2000. The score targets, the goals, the collect S-K-A-T-E and C-O-M-B-O tasks are recreated as they were in the early games. It’s a game within a game, so you’re still in the same environment, but it’s a lot more fun than the main game. They should have dispensed with all that other crap and made TH2000 the focus.

Extras include short promos (i.e. adverts) and, for some reason, a Rolling Stones video, Sympathy for the devil. Best Stones song ever! Wait… it’s a Fatboy Slim remix. Bloody Hell. The disappointment never ends.

Amazingly, the multiplayer aspect is still available at time of writing. Game modes are: Graffiti, Trick Attack, H.O.R.S.E and Free Skate. You should be able to figure out what they entail by the names.

2 sketchy reverts out of 5