Thursday, March 12, 2009

F-Zero GX

Two weeks ago, Best Buy, Toys 'r Us, and all announced that they will be entering into the used video game arena. This will be good for all you bargain bin shoppers, as the competition will open up more games to the $9.99 and under arena. Keeping with this change of pace, I'm adding Amazon pricing to my reviews. I'll also start adding BB and TrU prices when I pick up games there.

Price : $7.99 at Gamestop, $4.99-$27.49 on Amazon

Players: 1-4

Rating: Teen: Comic Mischief, Mild Violence, Suggestive Themes

Save file size: 4 Blocks*

Other Notes: Progressive scan compatible. Connect your GCN Memory Card to F-Zero AX arcade machine for bonus features.

*game save requires 4 blocks. To use the Garage and make custom vehicles, this feature requires an additional 18 blocks.

The F-Zero Series has been around since the Super Nintendo era, and it still packs the same "oomph" that it did way back when. The game is set in the future and centers around high speed (and stakes) hovercraft racing. Racers have different stats based around body resilience, boost speed, weight, and surface grip. As you complete GP circuits, you can unlock up to 30 different characters.

Let me get this out now: this game is blisteringly fast. I cannot count the number of times that I had trouble keeping up with what was happening on-screen. Graphically, the game is gorgeous and the GCN's processor does a good job keeping up with all the action on the track. I don't recall seeing any chopping or pauses while playing the game. Tracks are varied and diverse, and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge several tracks offered. The AI is smart and challenging, and will test even the most seasoned racing veteran. Time trial, GP, and versus modes keep the replay value on this game very high

No game is without its flaws, and F-Zero GX is no exception. Story mode, where most of the goodies are unlocked, is either mind-numbingly easy or so hard it seems broken. I did not like the story mode at all. The garage, where you can create your own custom racers takes waaaay too much space on the memory card for what it provides. Custom racers look like poorly made lego creations, and lack the panache that the pre-rendered vehicles deliver. The Emblem editor is impossible to use for all but those with master's degrees in graphic design. Even then, the emblems don't look all that great in the first place. When left on the system defaults, the controls are inhumanly tight. You need to calibrate the game for your controller each time you start it up, especially if you use a different controller each time. I'm just glad they included controller calibration in this game.

This game sort of reminds me of Star Wars: Episode I Racer for the N64. It has similar challenge while keeping up the fun factor. There's enough diversity in the 30 different racers to give a good romp to any race fan. The learning curve for this game is painstakingly steep, and will require serious practice before newcomers will be able to race with the best. Once you've crossed all the necessary hurdles, this game will keep you coming back for more.

Parent's notes: This game packs a lot of challenge. While there's not a whole lot of questionable content, the steep learning curve will drive away most youngsters looking for a race. It's alright for the teenager, but younger audiences will have difficulty understanding what's going on.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Players: 1

Save file size: 5 blocks

Price: $4.99 at Gamestop

Rating: Teen: Suggestive Themes, Violence

Capcom has a reputation for some absolutely amazing titles in their library. Street Fighter and Mega Man come to mind. They've also had some rather hit-or-miss titles out there, too. Take my first post on this blog, Crimson Tears. It's these lesser know titles that have a very unique flair to them. P.N.03 is no exception.

The Game starts out outside this giant complex. You take on the role of Vanessa Schneider, a bounty hunter for hire. As she progresses through the game, she has several trite conversations with her client that reveal there's more to her than she's leading on. This sets the stage for a rather unique experience. For games of this style, it's rather odd to see them on the gamecube. You'd almost expect this out of the PS2 or the Xbox, but no. This one's a gamecube exclusive.

The music, oh the music! If you like electronica, you'll love this soundtrack. Even if you're not the type for electronic, it's still worth checking out. The BGM (background music) follows more of the trance routine, and stays away from the bizarre. It's good stuff to whet your teeth on, to be sure.

Vanessa's attacks have a sort of rave-ish dance style to them. It's rather fitting, given the soundtrack. Some of the more advanced attacks have a rather unique beauty to them, in the way that she disposes of nemeses with style. It took me a very long time to figure out that special attacks (swan, et al) are activated with the D-pad, and not the analog stick. Anyways, I digress.

As Vanessa vanquishes foes, she gains points, which she can use at the end of levels to upgrade and buy new suits. I found the defensive suits to be severely lacking, and really wish they had a little more variety in customization. If you find yourself short a few thousand points and don't want to trifle with another level, you can do some of the challenge stages in between levels. These stages are essentially random dungeon crawls that yield a few thousand points per run. they're pretty fun, and add at least a little replay value to the game.

Some of the bosses in this game were a little too tough to beat, especially if you didn't have the right suit upgraded to the max. This was more than just a little annoying for me, as I had to start over at least once to get the right configuration to win.

This is another one of those games that's really tough to review. There are parts that I loved, and parts that drove me completely insane. It's got a lot going for it, especially in the environment and music. Balance issues and challenge can tear it down, though. Overall, it's a solid game. Not perfect, but not terrible. I'd say try it out, but the game is really hit or miss. You'll either love it, or you'll want to chuck it out the window.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Bouncer

from here on out, I'm gonna make a small change with how I report ratings on my games. I'll list the ESRB rating first, followed by a colon and any content descriptors. It's a small change, most of you shouldn't notice it. And without further ado, here's the review.

System: PS2

Price: $4.99, Used, at Gamestop

Players: 1-4 (multitap required)

Save File Size: 70KB

Rating: Teen: Violence

This one is hard to review. Squaresoft (now Square Enix) has a significant reputation stemming from their Final Fantasy series. Naturally, one would expect that a Squaresoft game would carry the same caliber as their esteemed flagship series. This one, not so much.

The Bouncer centers around three men who work at a bar called "Fate." Shion, Volt, and Kou are all bouncers, hence the title. When one of their own, Dominique, is kidnapped by the Mikado Corporation, they're off to rescue her. It's a ridiculously simple storyline.

Gameplay involves battles with enemy bodyguards, robots, and other nemeses. Players are free to move around in the battle arena, and attack whomever they want. While this lets you help your allies, it also means your opponents can do the same. Attacks are mapped to low, mid, high, and AoE (Area of Effect, they call it spin in the manual. basically hits everyone nearby.) attacks. From what I gathered, an attack already in progress or a movement in a particular direction dictate what kind of attack the character will use. From what I read in the manual, the amount of pressure applied to the button on the controller also affects the attack used, though I was never able to notice any difference. Disengaging an attacker to move to another attacker is difficult at best. There were several battles in which I had a guy whacking me on the back of the head, and I couldn't do much to stop him, save for my AoE.

One of the RPG elements thrown into the game is the addition of "bouncer points," or BP. after each battle, you could use the BP you accrued to upgrade that character's stats and skills. Trust me, it's totally necessary to upgrade as much as you can. I found that skills were less important than upgrading ATK/DEF stats, though that could just be personal preference.

I also got a kick out of character interactions. before each battle, you can decide which character you'll control. for example, one person escorts Dominique, while the other two act as decoys. If you choose Shion, Dominique gets all lovey-dovey. If you choose Kou, she gives him the cold shoulder. The whole game is full of these sorts of interactions, and they add to the replay value of the game.

There are two multiplayer modes. Battle Royale involves up to four players duking it out. I never got to test this mode. There's also a duel mode in which you can play as any character or villain. This mode involves teams of three. I tried this out, and the villains are way underpowered. Adding to this is that many of them are difficult to control, as well.

This game does have the Japanese Dialogue and subtitle tracks available. Some people want this, so I thought it's important to mention.

Going from everything I like about this game, I have a few reservations about it. Anytime you play the game, you literally need to play with only one character the whole way through, just so you can have any chance of beating the final boss. Also, several of the special skills seemed really useless to me. And at 1000 BP or more, that's a hard thing to justify putting points towards. Also, the English voice cast annoyed me to no end. That's something I've gotten quite used to by now. Also, if you want to use the Japanese dialogue or a subtitle track, you have to manually activate it each time you fire up the PS2. It's not stored in the save file, which means another step before you can start playing the game.

Overall, this game is okay. It has its merits, but I really think that you're better off spending your $5 elsewhere.

Parental information: This game is, by all standards, a fighting game. If you have any reservations about your child playing this genre, avoid it. I seem to recall a few choice words issued from various characters, as well. If I were to put a minimum age for someone to play this, I'd recommend no younger than 12. Even then, I'd still probably avoid it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Ville Zur Macht

Developer: Namco

Price: $5.99 at Gamestop

Players: 1

Save file size: 165 KB

Rating: Teen, for Blood and Gore, Violence

When Xenosaga first came out on the PS2, it received a perfet 10 out of 10 from Game Informer Magazine. The reviewers loved everything about it, and it was recongized as a well-polished PS2 RPG. I had friends in high school who played it and loved it. Now that the price on it has come way down, I figured I'd give this "gem" a spin in my PS2.

In case you were wondering, the subtitle for this game is German for, "do as you please." It is the first part of a series of three games. The game is set approximately 4500 years in the future, in which humanity has left earth and gone on to colonize other planets. As they explore, humanity runs into a hostile alien race called "Gnosis," which are bent on destroying these "invaders." Humans have fought back, with their own Anti-Gnosis Weapon Systems, or A.G.W.S. (pronounced "Ags") The main character, Shion, is working with Vector industries to produce a new humanoid weapon to fight these Gnosis. Shion has named this weapon "KOS-MOS," who doesn't quite understand human logic. As the game progresses, Shion and KOS-MOS meet other characters who join them as the story progresses.

One of the things I noticed right away is that the visuals are gorgeous. Everything is very detailed, and the cinematics are beautiful. It really feels like you're watching a movie sometimes.

The battle engine in Xenosaga is a rather fresh take on what's been considered a very overused system. characters get Action Points, or AP, which they can use to attack, use items, defend, or use special abilities called Ether in the game. Players can also charge up their AP to six in order to use a special "Tech Attack" against enemies. The "Boost" system is rather interesting, as well. Characters can jump ahead in turn order, which can mean the difference between life and death in some battles.

One of the things that really bugged me with this game was the sheer number of cinematics. There were several moments where I'd be stuck watching cinematics for twelve to fifteen minutes before I could resume gameplay. Thankfully, you can skip the movies by pressing start and then the triangle button, but then you risk missing some important plot detail. This drove me up the wall. In addition, there were several instances in which I had to spend time battling enemies just so I could defeat the boss at the end. I wasted a good hour and a half in this manner for just one boss. If there were more ample opportunities to level up my characters, this wouldn't be as big of an issue as I'm making it out to be. Also, I did not like the english voice-overs. I would have preferred the option to switch to Japanese dialogue, something that would make the game much more enjoyable for me. I know I tend to nitpick over these sorts of things, but that's just something that matters to me.

If I were one of the reviewers for Game Informer, I probably wouldn't have given it a perfect 10. While this game is very well polished and has a well-written storyline, it's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I probably would have given it an 8.5 or a 9, but that's just me. Overall, if you eat, sleep and breathe RPGs, this game is worth checking out. If you're not one of those types, you're better off skipping it.

Parental information: This game does feature several scenes which may be disturbing to younger audiences, and the storyline is relatively deep. Depictions of blood are unrealistic, in my opinion. I'd recommend this for persons over the age of 11 or 12. As always, this depends on maturity level of the child.