Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy

Review: Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (PS2)

Price: $4.99, used, at Gamestop

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GameStop's product page

Rating: E, Violence

For every video game console maker, it it imperative to have a trademarked character that everyone equates with that company. Nintendo started in the early 1980s with Mario, the mustachioed Italian plumber. Sega got its first big license with Sonic on the Sega Genesis in 1991. The Sony Playstation had two characters: Spyro and Crash. Jak and Daxter were the next big characters to make their mark in the console wars. The Precursor Legacy is the first game in their series.



Jak and Daxter, the two main characters, are buddies in this small village. When Daxter falls into some Dark Eco, he becomes transformed into a rodent-like creature. The village elder sends the two to collect power cells to transport them to another elder who might be able to return Daxter to his original form. Jak and Daxter are a great example of a literary foil. Jak is quiet and thoughtful, while Daxter is loud and very much the comic relief of the game. Throughout the game, there's several jokes cracked, with Daxter's ineptitude as the punchline. I enjoyed how this brought the game together, and how the two main characters interacted to tell the story.



For those that have played games like Super Mario 64, this game will feel very similar. Instead of collecting stars or shine sprites, you're collecting power cells from an ancient civilization. Each time you collect one of these, Daxter will pull some sort of dance move from a backspin, to the robot, to an air guitar solo reminiscient of Van Halen. There's about six or seven animations in total, and they're a nice way to round out what some might consider the monotony of games like this. in addition to power cells, you can collect precursor orbs, which can often be traded for power cells when the need arises. I explored two "worlds" in addition to the main village, and there were approximately six or seven power cells to be had in each world. you can get four power cells in the training world, as well. people who like games with a lot of stuff to do to get 100% will like all that this game has to offer.




As I mentioned above, Daxter likes to throw out some witty comment every once in a while. Some of these are funny, while others are "facepalm" material. (For the uninitiated, do a google image search. You'll find all you need to know. Don't worry, it's safe material for work.)

There was one instance when I tried to swim away from the island where I started. A big fish swam up and ate me. Don't ask why, but I got a few laughs out of that.

While voice-overs are nice, I like having subtitles available, especially when the character is hard to understand. This game, like many others, sorely disappoints in that category. Also, if you play the game on a PS2 with a high definition video cable connected, you can see dead pixels that aren't there when you play using a standard definition cable. then again, the hi-def cables weren't around when this game came out, so that kinda answers that one.

The Verdict: Overall, the game is a lot of fun to play. I enjoyed the way the game came together. It has enough humor that adults will enjoy, while creating a game that's suitable for most families.



Parent's notes: This game, while containing violence, is minimal on questionable content. most of the violence comes from the punch and spin attacks that Jak uses on various monsters, which disappear in a flash of light. The voice overs are handy for kids learning to read, though you may want to think about what the child has played already. I'd say that kids 7 and up will have no problems with this game, 5-6 is a bit iffy. It really depends on the child.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Technic Beat


Price: $2.99 used at Gamestop

Ebay Listings

Rating: Everyone

Players: 1-2

Memory for Game Saves: 227 KB

Peripherals required: N/A


Warning: people who get epileptic seizures from flashing lights should NOT play this game!!!




Let the record stand that I was addicted to DDR back in 2002, when one of my friends imported a copy of DDR 3rd mix Korean v1. I still have my launch copy of DDR Konamix, DDRMAX2, and ITG. And I love 'em all. Music games usually stick very well with me. I've been looking at this game for some time, long before I started Treasure Bin. Treasure Bin just gave me an excuse to finally buy it. for a $3.00 game, this one is rather interesting.


A little bit of online research revealed that the game was originally released in Japan early in the PS2's lifetime, back when the Music Game craze was in full swing there. It didn't come stateside until 2002, when Mastiff Games picked it up. Mastiff had a cult hit track record with their work in bringing the Street Fighter EX series stateside. (Thanks to Gamespot for the info)


Sitting down with the game for the first time, I went straight to the tutorial. Believe me, it went through the basics to a D. The D-pad, of course. (okay, so it was a bad joke. get over it.) It shows you how to control the character, to the basics of scoring points in this game. No matter what happens, PLAY EVERY TUTORIAL!!! It helps so much in the long run.


The Arcade mode offers 1- and 2-player modes, with co-operative and competitive modes available for 2 players. The entire premise of the gameplay is simple: as your little character moves around the rectangular playing area, circles will appear onscreen with another circle moving towards the edge of the outer circle. When the two touch, press the square button to activate the note. It's simple at first, yet scales into insanely difficult combinations as you progress. I reached three stars out of 6 (level of difficulty) within a week. I managed to wrangle a friend into trying the game co-operative with me, and both of us agreed that the game is good fun.


For a music game, the songs can make or break a game. "Spider Control 16th" was one such song that I fell in love with right away, despite it being relatively low level. There's a lot of original works in this game, all of it filling in various subgenres of electronic. They tell you the style of song when you start the level, and let me tell you. I may listen to a fair amount of electronic music, and even I've never heard of some of these genres. All of the Namco songs are trance, house, and drum-'n-bass remixes of their 8-bit originals. Much of the music is electronic, yet the songs feel right at home with the Special Effects displayed on screen. It feels kinda like a miniature rave.


The Verdict: I think it's fair to say that this game is definitely not for everyone. Very few of the songs are going to be recognizable by most people. Only the most hardcore nerd would have any chance at recognizing every song in this game. If you're looking for mainstream pop/rock, this game is definitely not it. On the flipside, If you enjoy branching out into music you've never heard before, you just might like this game. The beats are catchy, the tunes will permeate your brain, and the $2.99 price point would make this a good game to try out and experiment with. It's also a pretty good party game, too.


Parent's notes: This game is rated E, so there's little to complain about in this game. There's a lot of flashing colorful lights that beg for a seizure attack if the child is susceptible to them. The lyrics are few and far between, if at all. I've found no objectionable language in my testing. I wouldn't recommend this to really young children, as there's a bit of reading in the tutorial section and setup, but children age 7-8 and up should be able to pick this game up really quickly. This game gets a thumbs-up from me.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup

Review Played on: GCN
Price: $3.99
Found in GameStop's Used GCN games section
Players: 1-2
Rating: Everyone

It's a generally well-known fact within hardcore gaming circles that video games based off of movie and book franchises suck. I had exactly that impression going into reviewing this game. Looking at the price, I was planning on making this my first “bad game” review. This game both confirmed and rejected my assumptions. Curious? Read on.

Starting off, the opening cinematic is impressive. I laughed at the fact that they included classical music in the game. When you start the game, there's a cinematic in which Harry Potter himself talks to you about what Quidditch is, how it works, and what to expect. It's kinda sad, but his head looks like it's detached from the rest of his body. I couldn't stop laughing about this.



The start of the game is rather simplistic, though very helpful. You choose a house (all from Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin) and meet the team captain. Knowing everyone else is just going to take Gryffindor, I chose Ravenclaw as the first team to play as. Cho Chang greeted me, and got the training underway. You complete challenges that help you get better at the game, while earning Quidditch Cards in the process. Quidditch Cards determine what game modes, special moves, and what-not are unlocked. It's a rather engaging process that has you working to get matches unlocked to work your way up to the house cup. I felt that the training mode was very slow moving, though I can't speak for everyone. Given that this game is marketed at kids and not at adults, I suppose I should be more understanding.

Once you complete the challenges, you can start matches for the Hogwarts House Cup. The early matches are simplified down, and really easy to win. After a period of time with passing and scoring with the quaffle, the chase for the golden snitch starts. The snitch will produce a yellow trail that will increase your boost meter when you fly in it. Your seeker's goal is to boost close enough to the snitch that you can press the “catch” button and end the game. My first three matches against the other Hogwarts houses were utter slaughters. 300+ points to 0, in most cases. I think my match as Ravenclaw vs. Hufflepuff was 440 to 0.

Once I finished the Hogwarts cup, I moved on to the Quidditch World Cup, which, in my humble opinion, is where this game really shines. Personally, I love the Quidditch World Cup mode. You have three teams available at first: England, USA, and Japan. There are four different difficulty modes to unlock: Comet , Nimbus 2000, Nimbus 2001, and Firebolt. My first league was on the Nimbus 2000 difficulty, which was a welcome challenge compared to the sweeps of the Hogwarts cup. Each of the teams has their own unique feel to them, which was entertaining to watch. The stadiums are nothing short of beautiful in QWC mode. I loved Japan, Spain and the Nordic Team's stadiums. It was nice to see random weather conditions in the stadiums, where applicable. At a few matches in England's stadium, the sun was shining brightly, other matches were rainy with a bleak gray sky.



There is a lot more going on in the QWC mode, to be sure. Bludger attacks can steal the quaffle from your opponent, but you have to work up to them. The special moves have to be charged up to use, which means you have to play them wisely, not just flippantly. I should also note that the combo system is a lot of fun to use, especially when you can link it into a special move. Dodging, steals, and power shots all add to the cinematic experience. All special moves are named in the inventory, as well as how to pull them off. I noticed that several moves were mapped to a particular button press, which simply randomized what special move was completed. Kind of annoying, especially if you wanted to try to pull off a particular special move.

Some of the Team special moves seemed a little too clich├ęd for my taste. For example, the USA's team special move looked way too much like basketball, and Japan's looked like something out of a Kung-Fu movie, which would have been more of a Chinese convention, anyway. Most people aren't going to care, but it irked me for some odd reason.

Every so often, there will be a cinematic after a goal, in which the one who scored the goal does some sort of cheer, high five with a teammate, etc. The animations are all the same, but the character models switch out regularly. I would've liked to see a beater come out and high five a teammate once or twice, but that's nitpicking. A lot of the game-ending animations seem recycled, and by the time you hit the QWC, you're wanting to skip the ending animation because you've seen it so many times already.

The GameCube version of HP:QWC sports a co-operative mode with a second player who has a GBA and HP:QWC for the GBA. Linking the GBA to the GameCube brings in some new options for each player. I do not have a copy of HP:QWC for the GBA, so I've had to miss out on this part. There's also a 2-player competitive mode, in which two people can play against each other in any stadium unlocked. Gaining more Quidditch cards will unlock more teams and stadiums to play in. Players can use Hogwarts teams or QWC teams, but the two cannot overlap. I didn't enjoy the multiplayer as much, it just didn't have a good feel to it. Having a four player mode would've been nice, too.

I really wish there was more unlockable content besides the extra difficulty modes. It would've been cool to see more stadium options, characters, or even secret teams. I can't see hardcore gamers staying at this one much beyond the Firebolt difficulty and completing the league challenges. Some of the steals in this game are blatantly overpowered, and really unbalance the game.

The Verdict:

It's interesting to see a game based off of J.K Rowling's Harry Potter universe that's not closely tied to the story lines of the books. I enjoyed the harder difficulties in QWC mode, though I suppose that younger gamers would enjoy seeing Harry Potter in action, especially winning the Hogwarts Quidditch Cup as the hero. For $3.99, the price is definitely right. If you can handle the slow pace of the training mode, you'll enjoy the later game modes. I wouldn't recommend this title as much to people who didn't enjoy the books. A lot of the game's pizazz comes from reading about the game in the books. Overall, it's not a bad game, but it's not fantastic either.


Parent's notes:

Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup is aimed at a younger audience, and this game has little that most parents should object to. Parents concerned about the use of magic will find little of the sort in this game, if at all. This game focuses on the popular sport in the wizarding world, and any magic involved would be in levitation or bright sparkles. I say that this game is more than appropriate for children, and while parents would probably tire of it faster than the kids, this game gets my thumbs-up as a game that the whole family can enjoy and even play together.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Review: Crimson Tears (PS2)

Found: Gamestop 9.99 and under bin
Cost: $5.99, used a 20% off coupon from the Gamestop weekly email newsletter
Publisher: Capcom
Ebay Search
Rating: Teen, for Suggestive Themes and Violence

Review:

What we have here is another Hack-and-Slash dungeon crawler set in a futuristic Tokyo, Japan. I find the storyline rather lacking; then again, what does a dungeon crawler need with a story, anyway? The game centers around three androids, Amber, Kadie, and Tokio. Each one has specific weapon proficiencies, strengths, and weaknesses. The game takes a cel shading approach to graphics, reminiscent of Jet Set Radio(Jet Grind Radio in the USA). Dungeons are created randomly from set series of rooms, so no two dungeons are alike. I've entered the first dungeon multiple times and never saw much of a pattern in floor design. At the final floor of the dungeon is the boss. There are exceptions to this, such as the R&D facility, which has several mini-bosses. Characters level up, even if they don't enter the dungeons.

There's a rather unique rescue system implemented in this game. If a character runs out of HP, another character is sent in to rescue the first character. Adding to the tension is the time limit applied to the rescue, and you don't get to go stock up on recovery items before you go in. You get a massive EXP bonus if you succeed in rescuing the KO'd character. if you fail, both characters take time to rest before they can be used again. If you do wind up failing, you lose all items in your inventory, which makes surviving all the more imperative.

The overheat mode is rather unique in this one. Characters have abilities that increase an overheat gauge, called the MT gauge, whatever that means. When the gauge maxes, the screen gets this red hue; movement speed and attack power increase, and you can one-hit kill most monsters. The downside to this, your defense drops, and you steadily lose HP while it happens. Have energy drinks on hand for your char if you don't want to have to stage a rescue. I wish the MT gauge would gradually decrease on its own. I also noticed that picking up an auto-use item increases your MT, even though it healed my health. What's up with that?

Weapons grow stronger the more you use them, and it pays to get your weapons stronger for boss battles. Your weapons also have to be repaired every so often as well, or they break and you lose the item entirely. Not fun when that happens in the middle of a boss battle. Combining weapons can yield stronger or rarer versions using components you pick up in the dungeons. Some of the components fit right into the cyber-punk style of the game, others leave you scratching your head wondering what purpose they have in this universe.

As you gain wealth, you can donate money to the governor of Tokyo, who uses the money to renovate the city. The nice part about this is that the shops will have more variety in what they sell. better weapons, more potent healing items, you get the idea.

All of the cutscenes have Voice Actors talking out the parts. I really wish they included subtitles, because there are moments I don't want to listen to the people talking. Kadie's VA annoys me to no end. There are other moments where it's difficult to understand what the character is saying, save for cranking up the volume to deafening levels.

Pros:
Random dungeons leave for high replay value
lots of customization options
Overheat mode a rather fresh look at "overdrive" type powers

Cons:
Voice acting seems forced at times
No subtitles during cutscenes
Difficult at times to understand conversations
MT gauge doesn't decrease . . . why?
Story absolutely sucks. If you want to play one of them interactive movie types, this ain't it.
Potential con: if you hate anime, you'll probably hate the graphics.

The Verdict:
It's a fun romp every once in a while, and the replay value is relatively high. I say yes, this is worth the $5.99 at Gamestop.

Parent's notes:

This game is a hack-and-slash, which should tell you pretty much everything about what this game's about. This game has you blowing up robots, killing mutants, zombies, and humanoid soldiers. There is no blood in this game, though the game's premise by itself is rather violent. The game's two female characters also wear scant clothing, which most older teenage males won't have a problem with, much to the opposite opinion of the parent. Recommend avoiding this game for anyone under the age of 13 or so, depending on maturity level of the child, of course. Were I the parent of a child, I would likely avoid this one until age 14 or 15 on the conservative side, 11 or 12 on the liberal.

Reviews in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

Being the first post for my blog, I'm going to take a moment to explain what I do and how this works.

My goal is to find games on the cheap and review them, so you can decide when to use your hard earned dollars on the real gems. All titles will be $9.99 or less in a store, $19.99 or less after shipping on ebay. I'll note where I purchased it, any specials I used to drop the price lower, and I'll post an ebay query for those that like to buy online. If applicable, I'll include a scan of the cover art so you know what to look for. For all games, assume that they're being played in the original console. I'm not going to be playing PS1 games in a PS2 or XBOX titles in a 360, for instance. If I do, I'll note it and any compatibility issues I run into.

I do have a day job, so this is something on the side to do for fun. My goal is to have one review a month at the minimum, more if I can. I'm already in the process of writing my first review, I'll have it posted really soon.

Parental involvement in children's gaming is a very important issue to me. As such, I'll make sure to include a section in each game for parents of children, covering ESRB ratings, and links to other resources as applicable.

Also, if you have any comments on my reviews, suggestions for games to review, I have an email address set up for comments. send all comments to treasure.bin.comments@gmail.com and I'll do my best to respond to as many of them as I can.