Franchise features, gaming

Tokyochuchu on: My personal top 5 gaming related moments of 2013

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas (it’s Christmas day as I write this, you see). While it could possibly be argued that 2013 was a disappointing year for gaming (too many sequels, too predictable), I nether-the-less had a lot of fun at home with my various forms of electronic entertainment. Here are my personal top five moments of gaming related joy this year…

#5: Jack Tretton mic bombs E3

Sure, it’s all said and done now. The consoles are out and Microsoft has totally reversed track on their whole online DRM nonsense. But if you step back to E3 2013, you might just be able to re-catch that excitement of a certain Mr. Tretton stepping out on stage and basically announcing; “Enough of this shit! Let’s just play some fucking games!” It was a moment in time that excited the blood and stirred the senses… Also to see Microsoft scrambling back over themselves in the wake of it was pretty hilarious.

For just a few seconds, he was the patron saint of gamers.

For just a few seconds, he became the patron saint of gamers.

#4: Metroid Madness!

Earlier this year, I had a very strong urge to revisit the world of Metroid. That urge soon turned into a full blown bout of obsession. Over the course of about a month I played through and finished; Metroid Fusion (twice), Metroid Zero Mission, Metroid Other M and Super Metroid. Along the way I discovered that Other M isn’t a complete dog of a game and Fusion is actually my favorite 2D entry in the franchise. If Nintendo ever get around to making another full Metroid game, the WiiU is as good as bought!

Apparently, Samus gives no quarter to the disabled.

Apparently, Samus gives no quarter to the disabled.

#3: Bioshock Infinite

I loved Bioshock Infinite. That came as a bit of a surprise to me, because I didn’t particularly love the original Bioshock. I thought it was a decent FPS adventure with oodles of atmosphere, but love it… Well, no. But I was in love almost as soon as I set foot in the world of Bioshock Infinite! With it’s floating cities, amusement park style visuals, alluring science fiction detailing and extreme violence, the title just blew me away. Even better, the game had awesomely fun combat mechanics as well as some memorable emotional peaks. I loved every second and ended up playing through the game twice.

Yes I would... Just sayin'.

Yes I would… Just sayin’.

#2: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

God bless PSPlus. After playing through the “Best Game Ever Made (c)” Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and finding it merely a solid game, my wont to play the insanely hyped third installment wasn’t particularly high. But in a moment of boredom, I decided to download the free 40GB digital version on PSPlus. Man am I glad I did because it rocked the shit! I felt that it was a far superior title to Uncharted 2 in every conceivable way… Oh, and it was better than the Last of Us too. The plot line, dialogue, combat mechanics, atmosphere, set-pieces, gameplay variety… It was all pretty much perfect. I was flipping out the whole time whilst playing! So much so, in fact, that I went back and replayed Uncharted 2. And whilst I did enjoy that game incrementally more than last time, it still didn’t come close to the thrills of Drake’s Deception. See… Sometimes (Michael Bay pay attention) a little restraint can work wonders!

Where's the trifle and cake?! Some desert this was!

Where’s the trifle and cake?! Some desert this is!

#1: Becoming a gaming ‘journalist’

Wow… How egotistical does that sound. It kind off makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little. Still, I don’t know how else to say it. This year I started this website (patronized by all of 10 people… and thank you for that, btw) and the (slightly) more successful Axehead Assembly podcast over on Epicbattleaxe.com. These endeavors have added a lot of work into my free-time, especially editing the podcast, but getting together with friends from around the world, chatting about games and entertaining people while I’m at it… That’s a very special thing indeed. And as ramshackle as my website is, I fucking love it. Which is why I’m writing this blog on Christmas day instead of playing Minecraft! So thank you if you’ve been part of either my website or podcast. Happy 2014 to you all!

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64-Bit, gaming

Tokyochuchu on: Body Harvest

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Does anyone remember Body Harvest for the N64?

Body Harvest was a third person shooter before third person shooters really existed. It was also an open world game before open world games really existed. So, you could say that Body Harvest was something of a trailblazer in videogames. Yet it seems to be completely left out of conversations that relate to gaming innovation and inspiration. That’s unfair, don’t you think? Especially when DMA, the studio that made it, morphed into Rockstar and subsequently made the iconic Grand Theft Auto III.

Awkward aiming mechanics ahoy!

Awkward aiming mechanics ahoy!

Body Harvest was an unbelievably ambitious title for Nintendo’s 64-bit box. As well as bringing new-fangled third person shooter and open world mechanics to the table, the game also let you drive any vehicle you could see. These ranged from jeeps to tanks to airplanes to hovercrafts. That was a big deal back in the N64 days and nothing like it had ever really been seen before in a console game. Added to that were the game’s adventure elements. There were switches to be pulled, bridges to be lowered and random NPCs to talk to. If that wasn’t enough, the game featured a time-traveling plot that took you to a bunch of distinct locations in different time zones. Again… Unbelievably ambitious!

How much does the Body Harvest hero look like Samus from Metroid?

How much does the Body Harvest hero look like Samus from Metroid?

What was the biggest fault of the N64? Non CD soundtracks? Nope. The horrible C-buttons or tiny D-pad that made it impossible to play fighting games? guess again. The lack of a Metroid title? BINGO! The N64 had no outing for the orange suited heroine. Now… The main character from Body Harvest wears an orange power-suit. He comes down from space in a ship that lands on the planet just like Samus’s. He fights big goo spitting aliens and has an annoying ship’s computer telling him what to do. Smells like Metroid to me! It’s not, of course, but Body Harvest was the closest thing we ever got on the N64. Which is obviously awesome by default. *Metroid fanboy alert*

Tanks for the memory!

Tanks for the memory!

Now, all this ass kissing aside, Body Harvest also had a fair few problems. It had a pretty awkward control scheme, for example. You had to aim with R, move the targeting reticule with the stick and press Z to fire. That’s a bit of a handful in itself, but you also couldn’t move while firing. And it got much worse while in a vehicle. Another issue was the amount of “shield walls” in the game. These acted like the proverbial invisible walls, hindering progress and keeping areas out of reach. The only difference is that they were visible. Highly visible, in fact, glowing like bright blue beacons in the sky… And they were fucking EVERYWHERE. During the later stages of the game, I swear you couldn’t walk two feet without bumping into one. Man that irritated me so much back in the day!

Those bloody shield walls!

Those bloody shield walls!

Still, these annoyances aside, Body Harvest deserves it’s place in videogame history. Ahead of the curve in every sense, it was pretty much a dry run for GTAIII and a true trend setter. So it’s a real shame that it just won’t run right on N64 emulators. Not that I would ever stoop to such depraved and obviously illegal practices. Butter wouldn’t melt in the Chuchu’s mouth. Honest.

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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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32-Bit, gaming

Tokyochuchu on: Metroid Zero Mission (GBA)

Does anyone remember the GameBoy Advance title, Metroid Zero Mission? If you do, you’ll be remembering not only the best GBA game in existence but also (arguably) the best game in the Metroid franchise too. For those that are unaware, Metroid Zero Mission is a remake of the original NES Metroid title. That said, Zero Mission is a far, far superior game than the original Metroid for a myriad of reasons.

Obviously, Zero Mission looks a whole lot better than the original. The jump from 8 to 16 bit has enabled the game to have brilliantly detailed sprites and animations. Zero Mission manages to look even better than the much loved SNES Super Metroid or the ‘other’ GBA title, Metroid Fusion.

The Game’s plot is the usual type of Metroid fluff. Samus is lured down to a planet by a distress signal and then finds Space Pirates trying to steal metroids and whatnot. Basically, the plot of the franchise has remained the same all the way from this first game until the latest one!

But Metroid was never about plot. It was about exploration, precision platforming and epic bosses. I’m pleased to say that Metroid Zero Mission has all of these in spades. During the game, you’ll have the pleasure of running into all the usual suspects such as Kraid, Mother Brain and Ridley. These boss battles are excellently designed, very exciting to play and truly unforgettable gaming moments.

Exploration is given the edge over the original game too. The NES Metroid could be really cryptic, giving you no idea of where to go or what to do. Mercifully, Zero Mission supplies you with ‘points-of-interest’ markers. These give you a destination without holding your hand. How you get there, however, is up to you to figure out.

The controls are also much improved over the original. You can now aim up and diagonally, which is a huge fucking relief, let me tell you. The controls even manage to outshine Super Metroid by having better face mapping and a far more convenient missile selection system.

All in all, Metroid Zero Mission is the perfect 2D Metroid game. It’s not too long but not too short. It adds a ton of features to the original (including an all new stealth sequence) and has great controls and excellent graphics. Zero Mission also has better pacing than Super Metroid, with a lot less aimless wondering.

Sure, it might well be retreading the franchise’s greatest hits over again, but Zero Mission refines the formula into something that far transcends it’s ‘remake’ origins. Simply put; if you have a GBA, you HAVE to play this game.

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