128-Bit, 16-Bit, 64-Bit, Franchise features, gaming

Tokyochuchu on: Starfox

Ah… Those sacred days of unboxing a new console. Is there anything better in life? If you answered “no” then you should seriously get yourself a girlfriend. But hot bother between the sheets not withstanding, new consoles are ace! One of my favorite memories was unwrapping my girlfriends ti… oh, wait. Ahem. One of my favorite memories was unwrapping my brand new Super Nintendo on Christmas day. The game bundled with the console? None other than epic space shooter Starfox (or Starwing as it was called in the UK back then).

"Incoming Enemy." Still sends chills down the spine!

“Incoming Enemy.” Still sends chills down the spine!

Lest we forget, Starfox was a completely unique game when it was released. 3D graphics of this caliber had never been seen on a home console before. To get all the visual splendor up on screen, Nintendo created a new in-cartridge addition called the Super FX chip. It was mindblowing back in the day. The graphics of the future… Today! The game itself was an on-rails arcade shooter. You had your default lasers and superbombs to fire with (power-ups for which could be collected in-level) and barrel rolls, knife rolls, braking and boosting to evade with. Bar being able to switch to an in-cockpit view during space sequences, that was pretty much it. Simple, addictive arcade goodness. The game’s highlights included giant screen filling bosses, branching paths in the hubworld, a shitload of secrets to uncover and a cast of colorful characters (and yes, we all hate that bastard Slippy Toad). Of course, the game wasn’t quite perfect. Firstly, it was very short; you could finish the entire thing in under an hour and there wasn’t much replay value after you’d seen everything. It could also be said that Andross made for a particularly bland final boss (a bunch of squares assembled into the shape of a face. How uninspired is that?). But although it also hasn’t aged so well (what early 3D games have?), it was still an unmissable title back in the day.

Fox loved to shoot down traffic copters over the freeway.

Fox loved to shoot down traffic copters over the freeway.

Starfox was a very successful game on the SNES, so a sequel was duly commissioned on the N64. Starfox 64 (or Lylat Wars in the UK) mostly kept the on-rails formula intact but did offer up a few innovations. Most interesting among these was the free roam sequences, where Fox and company would switch the wing formations on their ships (that sounds familiar) and the ‘rails’ would be ditched in favor of sweet, free-form dogfighting. They also added extremely slow ground based tank sections, which nobody liked and are best forgotten about. So too for the disappointing multiplayer dogfight mode. In theory, 4 player competitive action sounds like a good idea but it actually developed into a lot of flying around aimlessly, trying to shoot targets that were almost impossible to hit. In a word; boring. Add to that the fact that the already annoying Slippy Toad had, like, a five year old ‘actor’ voicing him (shut the FUCK up Slippy!!) and the title starts to look more and more like a scarred successor. Whilst that is a little unfair (it was, in fact,a very solid action game), the 64 bit iteration didn’t quite make it into the same league the SNES original.

I seem to have some Zelda in my Starfox.

Hmm… I seem to have some Zelda in my Starfox.

The next game in the Starfox series was Starfox Adventures on the Nintendo Gamecube. This was the last game made by Rare for Nintendo before they left for Microsoft and became absolutely redundant. But actually, Rare were already starting to become redundant before they even left Nintendo. Sure, they had made the amazing likes of 007Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Banjo Kazooie but their last game before Starfox Adventures was the underwhelming Jet Force Gemini. That was a game that looked great but had awkward controls and was boring to play. And so it was with Starfox Adventures too. Heck, the game wasn’t even supposed to be a Starfox title! It was originally developed as a new IP called Dinosaur Planet before Nintendo wrangled Rare into switching it over to the Starfox franchise. Hence, here we have a game that plays nothing like the first few titles and seemingly has nothing to do with the license save for a few grafted on character skins.  The gameplay itself was a mishmash of very typical Zelda tropes. Starfox Adventures took it’s place in line with a million other mediocre Ocarina of Time copycats. Simply put, it was soulless to play and an obvious indicator that Rare’s creative fire had all but been extinguished. It isn’t a game that anyone remembers when compiling a ‘best-on-Gamecube’ list and neither will it ever appear on a ‘best games that Rare made’ list. Despite being graphically stunning, it merely ended up as a poor man’s adventure game.

After Starfox Adventures, the series slipped further into despair with Starfox Assault, a lukewarm retread of the on-rails shooter formula and the pointless DS strategy game Starfox Command. A brief ray of sunshine was flashed momentarily by way of Starfox64 3D on the 3DS, which let us all briefly revisit the days when the Starfox brand actually meant something. Who knows what’s next for Fox McCloud, Peppy Hare, Falco Lambardi and Slippy Toad. Can Nintendo ever truly resurrect the franchise in a relevant way? My money’s on the “Slippy Toad Rendition” game, where we finally get to waterboard that motherfucker. I’d buy that for a dollar!

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128-Bit, 16-Bit, Franchise features, gaming

Tokyochuchu on: Metroid

As I am typing this, we’re deep inside the annual summer gaming drought of 2013. The last interesting current gen game I played was Bioshock Infinite. I’m now waiting patiently for The Last of Us to drop through the mail slot. In the interim, I have amused myself by going back and playing a whole bunch of the old Metroid titles. And I’ve had an absolute blast doing so. It’s been one of the most nostalgic and satisfying gaming periods of my entire life. I replayed and finished all five of the titles listed below within the space of about a month. Phew! Talk about going hardcore otaku. So… Let’s take a look back at Tokyochuchu’s “Top five Metroid games you MUST play“. But before we begin, I should warn of the odd *spoiler* dotted here and there (most notably in the ‘top Metroid moment’ sections).

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#5: METROID ZERO MISSION – As groundbreaking as the original NES title was, when you go back and play it now, it feels decidedly dated. You can’t shoot in eight directions, there’s no easy save system and it’s difficulty is beyond brutal. Thankfully, the Gameboy Advance remake Zero Mission righted all those wrongs. The game took the pinpoint perfect control interface of Metroid Fusion, the design philosophy of Super Metroid, the general layout of the original NES title and blended them together in a Metroid powershake of awesomeness. Zero Mission has just the right amount of exploration, power-ups and bosses. There are tons and tons of hidden collectibles to find and a lot of content that wasn’t in the NES original. One minor quibble people level at the game is that it’s too short and too easy. I personally don’t find either of those a problem. In fact, I’d say that makes Zero Mission the perfect entry in the franchise for beginners.

TOP METROID MOMENT: Motherbrain is ashes. You’ve escaped the exploding installation. Time to relax and watch the ending… What’s that?! Samus has been shot down! Stripped of her powers, sexy zero-suit Samus must use stealth to sneak into the enemy mothership, steal a fighter and escape the planet. This is the most difficult and most thrilling moment of Zero Mission. Sheer awesome sauce!

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#4: METROID OTHER M – Other M is a truly divisive title in the Metroid saga. I can totally see why. Other M has one of the worst opening hours that you could imagine as a Metroid fan. All the mechanics that we know and love are gone. In their place is a combat heavy battle game featuring ‘sensimove’ projectile dodging and close quarters finishing moves. Worse still, exploration is put on the back burner in favor of linear progression. Then there are the story elements; Samus whines like an immature teenager and acquiesces to a dominating general who refuses to let Samus use items (“This monster is going to eat me. Can I please use missiles, sir?” WTF?!). A lot of Metroid fans threw down their controllers in disgust, myself among them. I left Other M to gather dust and contempt until just recently. After finishing a couple of the other Metroid games, I decided to give Other M one last shot. I’m glad I did because it’s fantastic! The opening hour is still hard to swallow as it throws you in at the deep end. But everything improves. Once you acclimatize to the sensimove and 2D to 3D missile lock mechanics, they work extremely well and are fun to use. As you progress, areas steadily become re-unlocked and allow the traditional backtracking / hidden power-up hunting. Even the plot gets better; Samus mercifully stops acting like a petulant child and the tale evolves into a gripping yarn about cover-ups, betrayal and murder. You feel that at the end of Other M, Samus is not the same as when she started. And then there is the best part of the game… The bosses are freaking AWESOME! Seriously, Metroid is known for excellent bosses and Other M has some of the best encounters of the entire franchise. And they’re unpredictable, too. In most Metroid games, bosses are denoted in specific places or have creepy doors to their lairs. In Other M they could be anywhere. It certainly keeps you on edge and wondering what’s around the next corner. Wow… I’ve rambled on a lot about this game. In conclusion, be patient with Other M. It takes it’s time but it truly delivers the goods.

TOP METROID MOMENT: The bio-engineered creature Nightmare was one of the toughest and most memorable bosses from Metroid Fusion. He’s here in Other M too. The moment when his gravity drives kicks in to life and he drags himself out of the ceiling is a true “I’ve just creamed in my pants” moment for Metroid fans. And the fight that ensues… Perfect!

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#3: SUPER METROID – WHAAAT?! Super Metroid is not number one? What the hell? I can sympathize. Arguably the best game on the SNES, it redifined the action adventure genre (along with A Link to the Past, of course), not so much moving the goalposts as shifting them off the pitch entirely. Although the NES title started the franchise, Super Metroid will always be it’s true explosion point. The bosses, music, power-ups and zone designs were absolutely legendary, setting new standards all the way around. So… Why is it languishing at number 3? At the time, Super Metroid was perfect but these days it shows a little bit of rust around the edges. For example, the control layout has been refined since that time. The system employed in Fusion and Zero Mission just feels better. The weapon select system was annoying back then. It’s feels atrocious now (scrolling though weapon lists in the heat of battle – not fun). And the jumping mechanics can sometimes lead to frustration; The wall jump. Oh.. My.. God. GET THE FUCK UP THERE SAMUS!!!!!! *controller hits TV and breaks*

TOP METROID MOMENT: Not anything involving the fucking wall jump, that’s for sure. Does anyone remember Kraid from the original Metroid? He was a stout, fat little monster as short as Samus. He beefed up a bit for his comeback in Super Metroid. The moment when Kraid rises out of the ground to stand as high as a three story building is as intimidating as it is jaw-dropping. How on earth are you supposed to beat something that big? Finding the answer to that question was one of the best moments in videogame history.

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#2 METROID FUSION – As stated above, the control scheme in Metroid Fusion was refined to perfection. It was ridiculously intuitive. So too were the jumping mechanics and weapon selection systems. Fusion was a game that played fluidly, had beautiful graphics and felt fresh. There was a great sense of discovery within Metroid Fusion. It wasn’t simply a retread of the popular and lauded Super Metroid; It did it’s own thing whilst still staying true to it’s roots. New for this mission was a detailed plot-line. Told through text monologues and navigation-booth interactions, Fusion’s story was fun and intriguing (and a total dry run for Other M). It was also quite a dark and spooky game, with the trademark Metroid atmosphere being laid on thick and heavy. And the bosses! The likes of Nightmare, the SA-X and that bloody spider-thing-that-grabs-you will forever haunt my gaming memories. Whilst the title took some minor flack for being a bit more linear than previous games, I personally thought that Fusion had just the right amount of direction versus exploration. It was always super fun to revisit old areas with new power-ups to see what you could find. With great bosses, vibrant graphics, flawless controls and an interesting story, I think that Metroid Fusion marginally beat out the classic Super Metroid for the best 2D entry in the series.

TOP METROID MOMENT: Who says 2D games can’t be scary? Try being chased down an obstacle strewn corridor by the relentless SA-X. This indestructible dark doppelganger of Samus is terrifying! You can’t fight it, you can only run and hide (until you get the correct weapon to kick it’s ass with, at least). The mid game chase sequence is a heart pounding, pant filler of an experience. It’s the most difficult part of the game but also the most memorable.

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#1: METROID PRIME – Super Mario Bros had Super Mario 64. The Legend of Zelda had Ocarina of Time. Metroid had Prime; A game game that seamlessly transitioned from 2D to 3D, taking with it everything that made the franchise great. I really couldn’t imagine a more perfect 3D take on the Metroid universe than the one that Prime delivered. There are so many stunning moments in the game; the first sight of Samus rising out of her ship in glorious three dimensions, the first time you set foot in the snowy Phandrana Drifts, the thumping, nostalgic music that urges you through Magmoor Caverns (originally from Super Metroid) or how about the first time you set your eyes on the giant plant boss of the Chozo Ruins? Metroid Prime delights time after time. With minimal plot and maximum exploration, the game stays definitively true to it’s roots and it’s a sheer joy to traverse the world, sniffing out all the little nooks and crannies for hidden items. The graphics are crisp and clean, the level design is phenomenal, the bosses are mind-blowing and the challenge is just on the right side of brutal (the final boss is a fucking handful!). This is a game that ranks within my top three of all time and one of the only videogames compelling enough to coax a 100% completion rate out of me (I’m not a trophy whore kind of gamer). I also go back and play the game periodically, especially with the Wii version rocking the shit (this is one game where motion controls actually work better). And it’s amazing every single time!

TOP METROID MOMENT: You’ve gathered all the Chozo artifacts. It’s finally time to head down into the sealed chamber. Nothing can stop us now! That is, nothing save for Meta Ridley who blows up your only entryway. Prime’s showdown with Samus’s arch nemesis is teased a few times during the game and when it it finally comes, it’s a cracker! Ridley throws everything he has at Samus and it’s a damn tough fight to the finish. But it’s also unforgettably brilliant… I mean come on; he’s a robot dragon for god’s sake! How cool is that?!

So, there it is. I hope you enjoyed this list. It’s a shame that the Prime sequels failed to hit the same highs as the original (2 was too long winded and difficult, 3 was tired from the off), but I guess that’s the price of perfection; it’s kind of difficult to follow.

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128-Bit, gaming, Sega Dreamcast

Tokychuchu on: Shenmue

 

Does anyone remember the Dreamcast classic Shenmue? Of course you do! Shenmue is an unassailable and legendary videogame. But for those two people that never played it, Shenmue followed the story of young Ryo Hazuki and his quest to avenge the murder of his father. Ryo’s epic quest included such awe-inspiring tasks as asking people questions, feeding a cat, hanging around the local game arcade and working part-time at a forklift depot.

 

 

Hey… Who said the life of a hero always has to be glamorous? Ryo, of course, made up for his mundane existence by beating seven shades of shit out of anyone who looked at him funny. Two bullies annoying a kid by taking his soccer ball? BAM! Two broken noses! A bar full of burly sailors who dare to tease minors by serving them milk? Not on Ryo’s watch, motherfucker! BAM BAM BAM! Or how about 30 angry bikers outside their clubhouse? Not a problem for our Ryo, whose ass is so bad that you could go blind just looking at it. BAAAAM! Take that you big burly sailors and leather clad bikers!

 

When good ol’ homophobic Ryo isn’t busy demolishing a gay rights parade, you’ll actually find some deep emotion dwelling within this game. It’s full of truly poignant moments like his friend Fuk-san’s tear-jerking piggy-bank donation. Ryo’s scenes with his girlfriend Nozomi also ache with gentle catharsis, despite the fact that Ryo always treats her like an irritable asshole (something I get after a kebab). C’mon.. She’s gagging for it, Ryo! FOR GOD’S SAKE MAN!! All these touching moments are made far more amazing when you consider the voice acting of the English dub. It’s… fucking… awful. I think Ryo might actually be voiced by Microsoft Pendown (aka Stephen Hawkin).

 

Still, the plank-like acting aside, Shenmue is an awesome game. It’s QTE sections were the first of their kind and damn impressive. The plot was unique and made far more sense than modern day crapola like Heavy Rain. The fighting was a solid pastiche of Virtua Fighter and the graphics were absolutely phenomenal… So phenomenal, in fact, that the development of Shenmue pretty much bankrupted Sega. To break even on the title, every Dreamcast owner in the world would’ve had to have bought the game twice. They didn’t (bastards!) and creator Yu Suzuki was demoted from chief game designer to chief toilet cleaner. A sequel was made a few years later (the imaginatively titled Shenmue II) and was all kinds of awesome. Unfortunately, with the franchise still not recouping it’s monolithic cost and Sega pulling out of the console race, Shenmue was indefinitely shelved (leaving it’s plot agonizingly uncompleted).

Since then, the Yakuza series has taken up where Shenmue left off and has made a success of itself. But we’re all still wondering; will Shenmue III ever see the light of day? Most have given up hope but Sega have reportedly been thinking about releasing the two previous games as HD downloadable titles. If that’s true, then who knows? Maybe Ryo might just claw his way back from limbo hell yet.

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