Friday, January 21, 2011

Alien Storm (1991)

     I recently purchased Sonic's Genesis Collection for my XBOX 360 for ten dollars. This disc has 40 games on it, and I'm most pleased. You see, I've never owned a Sega console, so there are probably hundreds of games that have fallen under my love-radar, and this collection was quite a find. Especially for someone who doesn't really want to own a Genesis.
     The games featured are pretty predictable; of course, it has your Sonic's, your Streets of Rage trilogy, and then it has some I wasn't expecting, some I've never heard of. So, I began playing in alphabetical order, and Alex Kidd was the first to play. I think I might've gotten to level 2 before politely declining to go any further, for the rage building up inside of me was a little overwhelming.  
     ...And then, there was Alien Storm.  Alien Storm came out in 1991. This means it's a beat-'em-up, with radical music and tubular visuals, but really, it just seems like every other beat-'em that preceded it. This game is clearly emphasizing everything that the '90s embodied, and it's awesome. There's the obligatory tough guy, the girl who probably should've worn more appropriate clothing to an alien invasion, and the third wheel; in this case, a robot. They all handle exactly the same, so it's mostly for aesthetic preferences.  I don't know about you, but I usually like to play with half of an erection, so I chose the robot.
     Apparently, there's an alien invasion, and I'm not sure where our heroes come into place in that respect. All I know is that they somehow equipped themselves with lasers, rocket launchers, flamethrowers, and malignant narcissism, as evidenced by the box art. In other words, everything one needs to make a game from the '90s, and everything awesome. 
     The graphics are pretty good, but I feel like I'm playing a science-fiction Streets of Rage. Except the first Streets of Rage handled terribly, and Alien Storm actually plays decently. I use the word "decently" because there were times when I felt I was playing a 2D fighter à la Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: the Fighting Edition. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is when you play fighting games like me. 
     Let me provide an explanation to this analogy: your weapon in Alien Storm requires energy, displayed in a bar underneath your health. Using your weapon takes up energy, and energy is a limited resource in the Alien Storm world. Therefore, it's best to find an alternative way to curb-stomp aliens rather than blindly firing your weapon, as the depth between where I was in relation to the alien was questionable. The only alternative I found was to throw the robot forward with a roll and hit the attack button, but the accuracy of this method was terrible. Thus, I was left in this limbo of button-mashing and rotating the d-pad. If I was playing the Fighting Edition this would've been awesome, but it doesn't really help here, and made killing aliens a little more tedious than it should have been. It's completely possible that my lack of skill prevented me from not playing like an idiot. 
     Alien Storm taught me that if an alien is a different color than the alien that came before it, it will undoubtedly kick more ass and be harder to kill. I giggled on several occasions, because after introducing some pink slugs, they unleashed the slightly-more-pink slugs, which of course kicked more ass. The giggling happened again when they reverted back to the regular pink slugs afterward, which in regards to level design makes no sense. Overall, the designs of the aliens were pretty interesting, but nothing out of the ordinary for a '90s game. 
     One thing that I thought was pretty cool were the end-of-level challenges. These challenges branched away from the genre and provided some first-person shooting gallery action, in which your character completely tears up an area with their gun in search of hiding aliens. The amount of destruction to the area in such a small amount of time was beautiful, as literally every object was destroyable or burnable. That made me sound a little psychotic.
     Alien Storm was pretty good. There were a few other modes I didn't feel compelled to check out, and I got to level 3 of 6. It was challenging, but after my first death I didn't bother trying again. I've already beaten Streets of Rage, so I pretty much beat this game too. 

Buy Sonic's Genesis Collection on Amazon, because buying the actual cartridge seems a little silly at this point:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mario Tennis (2000)

When I was a kid, games were reserved for special occasions, or were the end result for an unreasonable amount of chores. The only instance that I was given a game after doing chores resulted in Nicktoons Racing for the Game Boy Color.    
     To avoid anything like that ever happening again, renting games until Christmas or my birthday was just fine. Not so with Mario Tennis. I remember looking up the website of Mario Tennis, getting giddy with it's imminent release of the summer of 2000. I just tried to remember why I was getting giddy about a tennis game, because not only had I never played an actual game of tennis at the time, but I also loathed sports. I think the answer was, and I shit you not, that I thought it was a direct sequel to Super Mario 64.
     ...You have to understand that I was 10 at the time, and the only game with Mario I ever had was Super Mario 64. So, to a boy that thought that this was a sequel to Super Mario 64, coupled with the fact that Super Mario 64 is essentially one of the greatest, most revolutionary games of all time (my 10-year-old self thought so too), one can understand my excitement. Unfortunately, Mario Tennis was released a few weeks after my birthday, forever damning it to rental status in my collection.
     And I rented that game to no end. Initially surprised at the steps back that the developers apparently had taken in Super Mario 64, I took a minute to try to take everything in. At the Player Select screen, I questioned why they would call it "Mario Tennis" if you could play as someone other than Mario. I probably asked this out loud, because I had no friends.
 Speaking of which, why is Bowser in a friendly game of tennis with Mario and Peach? Isn't that taboo?
I mean, the guy just kidnapped Peach, like, four years prior.

    Fan-banter aside, once I really sunk my teeth into the game, absolutely nothing else mattered. I deducted that Mario Tennis was the embodiment of fun, which was odd because it was a sports game. I think the key was in it's accessibility; within a few minutes of picking up the controller, I was already a master of technique. You see, the only real buttons you need are A and B, coupled with the joystick of course. 
   Looking back, its incredible that they only provided two buttons into the control scheme, but there's so much depth to be discerned between playing casually and playing like a boss. Both buttons provided different methods of hitting the tennis ball, and each could be held down for a more powerful shot. You could also hold both of them down for a third type of shot! These shots were all manipulated by pushing the joystick in different directions, which is where the real challenge was, because you had to be mindful that you were controlling the direction where you were running and the direction you planned to hit the ball in. It was a simultaneous effort that I had a hard time with at first. 
     Whatever happened to Mario Tennis, you ask? Unfortunately, nothing. It got lost by the wave of other rentals that summer, the likes of which were Banjo-Tooie and Majora's Mask. By the time Christmas rolled around, it was already too late; I opted for more PlayStation games and Super Smash Bros., with Mario Tennis sorely forgotten.
     However, I picked up Mario Tennis a few days prior to this write-up to re-indulge myself in it's glory, and its amazing the extent that Camelot, the game's developer, went with just how different each character class controls. I started by acquainting myself with Luigi, as my tastes have developed and been refined in the last 10 years, and obviously Luigi is superior to Mario. What I said earlier about it's accessibility couldn't have been more true; within minutes, it was like the last ten years weren't Tennis-less, like I had been playing for ages. My girlfriend, who had never played a tennis game in her life, joined me in some doubles games as well. Of course, there was a learning curve at first, but the rate at which she picked it up was astounding. She even noticed patterns in the game's AI, and began curb-stomping them accordingly. The fact that someone who isn't much of a seasoned gamer, yet was almost at the same level as me says a lot about how much fun the game is.
    What's interesting to note is that as a kid, I didn't understand that each character controlled differently; I stuck with Mario for the majority of my rental so I could maintain that Super Mario 64 authenticity. Really, I thought it boiled down to Nintendo catering to people's different favorite characters and didn't add any layer of technique to the game itself. However, every two or three characters are coupled into different classes of technique, and if you spend a lot of time with one character, switching to another character brings a very noticeable change. For instance, Luigi is more of a balanced character, perfect for beginners. But when I switched to Donkey Kong, his girth made him slower than Luigi, but his powerful hits were ridiculous. At one point, I won an entire game just by serving. On the other hand, Peach was terrible and I didn't win a single game with her. Regardless, there's a different class for everyone, and I'm pretty positive most will be pleased with the added layer of depth in this as well.
     The music isn't anything to write home about. It's mostly sports-y, and I was too concerned with the white-knuckled tension of every game anyway to really notice it. On the Donkey Kong-themed course, it did have a nice medley of the 8-bit theme from the first game, but that's about it. 
     I can't recommend Mario Tennis enough, if you haven't noticed. The controls are superb, the graphics are meh, and the fun is through the roof. I can't believe I just wrote that.
I bought Mario Tennis for around 8 bucks, and you can too on

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Conker's Pocket Tales (1999)

     It would be a grave mistake to confuse Conker's Pocket Tales with Rareware's follow up Conker's Bad Fur Day, because Bad Fur Day is actually a good game. Bad Fur Day plays well, has wonderful voice over work, and gorgeous graphics. Pocket Tales has none of these things.
     To be honest, the Game Boy only had a handful of good games in it's massive library of rubbish, and I would come to Rareware's defense to say that porting a massive action-adventure that isn't a side-scroller probably isn't a good idea. I would say that, but I can't, because Rare did it anyway.
     I didn't come across Pocket Tales until the late summer of 2010, though I was aware it existed when I was 9-years-old. I didn't even want it when I was naive enough to think Toy Story 2 for the Game Boy was a good game. Pocket Tales, what with it's dark, uninviting color palettes and it's top-down view had nothing in it's favor of tricking a child into wanting it. Now, I paid eighteen dollars for this game. Eighteen dollars. I'm a twenty-year-old man. While it's possible that my state of feeling swindled by the box art could explain my animosity towards this game, as I was expecting something both cuddly and sassy (slingshot equals sass). Imagine my surprise when all I got was shit.
     As a side note, shouldn't the prequel to an amazing platformer be at least half as good as it's successor? I would like to think that bad things usually don't get greenlighted for a sequel, but the Crash Bandicoot series leaves me corrected. I digress.
     In Pocket Tales, Conker's girlfriend Berri gets kidnapped by a gigantic acorn. I guess the gigantic acorn really felt like being a dick, because as if kidnapping Conker's girlfriend wasn't enough, the acorn goes ahead and steals all of Conker's birthday presents too because it's Conker's fucking birthday. 

But I mean, seriously, look at this shit.  I don't think his birthday could 
have been any worse, really.

      After the "cut scene" (I dare you), two mind-numbingly frustrating tasks are presented to the player, who at this point is probably reconsidering their dabble into masochism. Conker obviously has to find Berri, but he also has to find any and all presents in the area in order to move on. And this has to be done while looking at this:


     Whenever I buy an old game, it's a self-proclaimed promise of mine to play the game on it's intended format, in this case the Game Boy Color. Do you remember what trying to see what you were doing on the Game Boy Color was like? Squinting my eyes in a whirlwind of blindness and depression now added a third task at hand: attempting to make any type of progress whatsoever towards the two aforementioned tasks, because I can't fucking see what is happening. It is now at the five minute mark since I have turned the game on, and it is now when I must turn the game off before there is any permanent damage done to me or those around me. Eighteen dollars should warrant a good time, and I now know it does not.
     There is now no question as to why Conker became an alcoholic in Bad Fur Day.