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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dune 2000 (1999)

Genre: Real-time Strategy (RTS)  |  Players: 1 or Multi (link)  |  Developer: Westwood Studios / Intelligent Games

NOTE: I'll mention the PC version (1998) briefly at the end, but I want to cover the PS1 port in some detail because console versions of RTS games are often frowned upon by PC aficionados and I feel that the PS1 version deserves actual praise.

Dune 2000 is a remake/update of Dune II: Battle for Arrakis (1992), originally developed by Westwood Studios, creators of Command and Conquer. Dune was first, though, so in a way it's Westwood's RTS granddaddy. (Wiki states that II was based on David Lynch's filmed version (1984) of Frank Herbert's seminal sci-fi novel Dune (1965), but you can make the transition to 2000 from the novel without needing to have seen the film, and vice-versa.)

You first choose an allegiance to one of three Great Houses: the 'noble' Atreides, the 'evil' Harkonnen, or the 'insidious' Ordos. Each campaign has ten missions, so that's thirty in all if you decide to replay as the others afterwards. Most missions will have you trying desperately to utterly obliterate the enemy or enemies and/or take control of their resources. It's far from easy.

Time will be split between fortifying your base and building an invading army. All of that costs money, and like the real world you make more money by having a stock sum to begin with. Money is attained by spice mining, so at least one harvester is essential - more if you can afford it because there are worms!

With money being tight, you'll be forced to choose what's best to build while mitigating the damage taken from the attacking enemy forces. If your forces drop below a certain level then coming back is almost impossible and it’s the slow death for you. You may just as well walk into a coriolis storm.

The DualShock does a decent job of translating the actions of a PC mouse. Both sticks move the camera over the entirety of the map while the four face buttons perform other important functions. Jumping into and out of the sidebar menu is achieved by a simple button-press. While there the left stick becomes your means of selecting what to build or upgrade. What's beneficial about the set-up is that while in the menu the right stick is then able to move the camera, effectively letting you attend to two tasks at once. You can even assign the face buttons to specific troops (up to four legions) for quick selections on the field.

Before I end I have to mention the live-action cut scenes—they're obviously green-screen, but they add much to the experience—and the excellent music that oozes the perfect atmosphere. What's more, with it being a PS1 disc you can pop it into your PC drive and play the music without needing to boot up the game!

4 deadly spice blows out of 5

The PC version will of course provide the ultimate Dune 2000 experience. Consider the GruntMods Edition. It has higher textures, supports HD up to 1080p and will run flawlessly on most Windows platforms and on Mac. The game speed can be tweaked and you can even design your own levels. Hooray for mods.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Chrono Trigger (1995)

Genre: RPG  |  Players: 1  |  Developer: Squaresoft

Chrono Trigger is arguably one of, if not the most, refined and polished RPGs ever released by Square Ltd. in the 16-bit era.  A game so perfect for its time that it gave the impression Final Fantasy VI was made years before, while in reality only a mere eleven months stand between both releases.

The game puts you in the shoes of Chrono, a young boy from the town of Truce, in the quiet kingdom of Gardia.  On the first day of the millennial fair that commemorates the thousand years of the kingdom he will encounter Marle and start a journey across time to save both the past and the future, making new friends on the way, among which are a frog-knight, a robot from a post-apocalyptic future, and others...

The technical aspect of the game is really great: the graphics make use of all the abilities of the SNES, giving us the abilities to explore a vast and colourful world, and the chara-designs by Toriyama Akira, full of mirth and winks to his career, are very well-rendered on screen.

The music (always one major cool point for Square's SNES games) is very impressive.  Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu outdid themselves, as it may well be the best SNES soundtrack by Square's team.

Gameplay-wise, the game is excellent; putting you at the head of a team of three that you can select more or less freely, the difficulty is well-balanced, the combat system is an evolved version of the Active Time Battle system that allows for a bit more strategy in using zone attacks and offers the possibility of making collective attacks.  The gameplay also uses the time-travel aspect of the game, requiring you to sometimes perform an action in the past to unblock something in the future.

Finally, the story is exceptionally well-written, full of humour, and explores quite nicely the various aspects and implications of time travel, both good and bad, in a very intelligent and coherent manner.  It's also, at times, pretty emotional and will make you feel involved in the story and the characters' destiny, which is the mark of great RPGs.

If you have to have only ONE RPG on SNES, get this one.

If you liked it you might enjoy: Final Fantasy VI, Lufia II, Dragon Quest VI.

5 luminaire followed by Dark Matter out of 5.

Nutted by Docrate1.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ratchet: Gladiator (2005 / 2013 in HD)

Genre: Platformer  |  Players: 1 or 2 co-op  |  Developer: Insomniac Games (original PS2 edition) / Idol Minds (PS3 port)

Prior to Gladiator (aka Ratchet: Deadlocked (NA) / Ratchet and Clank 4 (JP)), all of the HD updates I’d played had been successful, but it’s impossible to outrun the law of averages forever. It had to happen eventually. I got a shitty one.

If you received the game free because of the QForce/Full Frontal Assault (2012) delay then you can offset the cheapness somewhat, but if you bought it as a standalone entry then there’s every reason to expect a product that’s worth the price paid, particularly when Idol Minds did such a sterling job on the previous collection. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that the lack of care and respect that went into the conversion makes me hesitant to trust them in future.

FMV scenes are repeatedly jerky and there are times when the foreground textures go inexplicably transparent, enabling the backgrounds to be visible through them. Is the jerkiness a PAL thing? Is the NTSC version the same? I don't know. All I know is that interactions between characters during those times are an important part of the R+C experience, and they've been treated badly.

Mercifully, once you gain control of Ratchet the game works. There’s still slowdown during heated moments, but it's easy to adjust to. The only notable exception is when the game pauses you in mid-swing over a bottomless death-gap so that it can load the platform on which you're planning to land.

The arena challenges that were a small part of the previous games are the sole aspect of Gladiator. It’s not always confined to a small area, but it is essentially a series of bouts/ battles that get increasingly more challenging and frustratingly hectic as you progress. I acknowledge that a large number of people will feel the direct opposite, but I need more than just shooting/ advancing toward endless waves; the balance that was achieved in previous games was sorely missed.

Gun-fans may feel equally short-changed when it comes to the limited array of weapons available. They can level up to insane proportions but there's a lesser number to play around with than long-time players will be used to.

In a series known for OTT weaponry and ballsy humour, being underwhelming hurts more than it would otherwise; it means that it failed to do its job as well as it should have, and will hold the interest of only the most ardent or forgiving fan.

2½ ratings wars out of 5

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Ratchet & Clank Trilogy: Classics HD (2012)

Genre: Platformer  |  Players: 1 / Up to 8 Online (R+C 3 only)  |  Developer: Insomniac Games (original PS2 editions) / Idol Minds (PS3 port) / Mass Media Inc. (PSV port)

Replaying the first three R+C games was even more fun than I'd expected it to be, and my hopes were pretty high to begin with.  The revisit brought to light something that can be viewed primarily in one of two ways: it either shows how little the series changed over a short number of years (2002-04), or it highlights how spot-on the devs at Insomniac got the formula on their first try.  I sit firmly in the latter camp while acknowledging the former from afar.

I'm not implying that the first game is perfect.  It clearly isn't.  It’s the only one of the three without a strafe manoeuvre, making it a lot harder than it could've been otherwise.  There’s a workaround but it’s not ideal.  On the plus side, Clank’s first words are of the series-defining innuendo variety.

The second game, known as R+C: Locked and Loaded (EU); R+C: Going Commando (US); or simply as R+C 2 (JP), remedied the lack of strafe and nailed the voices that we've come to know and instantly recognise.  The platforming and guns were better, and there are more forgiving checkpoints throughout.
For my money the only stains on an otherwise perfect gaming experience are the frustrating glider sections that require a lot of patience and more than a little trial and error, and the awful Clank on the Moon missions.  In fact, in all three games the Clank parts are more of a necessary chore than an enjoyable break.  They were included to offer gamers variety, but if they could be removed it would make R+C 2 a strong contender for the best 3D platformer on a Sony machine.

R+C 3 (EU + JP), known as R+C: Up Your Arsenal in the US, tweaked the formula a little more, but with R+C 2 being so good there wasn't a lot they could do besides add more inventive weapons and not cock-up anything that already worked perfectly.  To that end, they cranked the innuendo lever even harder.

The replay value of each game is more than generous.  If it takes X amount of time to finish, it’ll take at least 2X to mop up the bonus stuff.  You've access to even more destructive weapons on your second playthrough, known as Challenge Mode.  During C Mode you keep the majority of your inventory and every bolt you've earned.  Being fully armed from the start means it’s easier to progress, but the enemies are more dangerous so it’s not completely effortless.

The port from PS2 to PS3 by Idol Minds doesn't harm the games in any way.  They even kept the multi-player aspect of R+C 3 intact, making it fully playable over PSN.  I didn't care to try it, but it's a notable addition, nonetheless.

It's one of Sony's 'Cross Buy' titles, but I can't comment on the PSV versions.  I'm not one of the half-dozen people in the UK that actually own a PSV.

4 socioeconomic disparities out of 5