Okami Review (Wii Version)

March 7, 2009

Just a few days ago I finished my way through Okami (Wii version) and it was one of the most excellent games I have played in a long time. Okami is primarily an Action/Adventure game with a bit of Platforming sprinkled about. The reason that Okami stands apart from games of the day is that it feels fresh. These days, after many years of gaming, I can play a game and be completely turned off to it if it is a clone of some other game I’ve already played. Once I get that “been there done that” feeling any game, no matter how execellent otherwise, becomes worthless to me.

Plot (No Spoilers): In the game Okami you play as the sun goddess, Amaterasu, as you try an restore a land filled with evil. When you first start you have just been resurrected… so to speak and your powers are quite weak. From that point on you spend the game fighting back Orochi (and other evils) as well as gathering “praise” from villagers, plant life, and animals. Throughout the game you are seeking out the ancient “brush techniques” which allow Amaterasu many different super natural powers.

Music: The music in Okami is quite good and does not seem to get terribly repetative as some game music tends to do. Most of the music is that kind of music that is normally aossicated with old or ancient Japan, which is fitting since the game takes place there. I suppose if you aren’t a real fan of that kind of music then it would drive you nuts, but the music has a relaxing feel to it and blends nicely into the background.

Brush Techniques: This is what really makes Okami stand out from other games in the genre. As you work your way through the game Amaterasu learns 13 “Celestrial Brush Techniques”, which are performed by drawing various patterns on the screen with the Wii mote.  Each technique uses a certain amount of “ink” which you have a set reverse of. Ink levels recover slowly so you can’t use the techniques wastefully. I have heard that the controls for the brush techniques have been given mixed reviews. I had some trouble with the controls in the beginning, but after an hour or so I really enjoyed them and I think it is a very natural fit for the Wiimote. Again, for me, this was the major selling point of the game.

Controls: The controls for Okami felt pretty solid, but there  were a few occasions where they were a little clunky and just got me downright annoyed. Overall I wouldn’t say they detract from the game, but the one or two times you run into trouble is quite irritating.

Praise: In Okami “praise” is how you are able to get more powerful over time. As you travel around the various lands helping villagers and restoring nature that has been corrupted you acumulate praise. This praise can be spent on upgrades to increase the amount of ink you carry (needed for brush techniques), to get more health, and for various other upgrades. Praise is fairly easy to come by and as long as you are paying attention you should aquire it naturally as you play the game. I never found myself in a situation where I had to grind for several hours just to be strong enough to continue.

Battles: Battles in Okami are faught when you approach floating scrolls of paper that look possessed (yup… best way I could describe it). When you get close enough a restrictive barrior is placed around the immediate area of the map and the enemies appear. At the beginning of the game you are given a simple weapon that looks like a shield and as you move through the game you get various new weapons for your arrsenal. There are 15 weapons total and you are allowed to have one main weapon and one sub weapon equipped. Each enemy in the battle has a certain amount of health that you can view via a health bar that is displayed. It is in your interest to finish each battle as fast as possible, and take as little damage as possible. This is because at the end you see a summary of how well you did, and get rewarded with extra money for being faster/taking less damage. The battle system helps keep them from feeling too stale and gives you a reason to improve your skills over time and learn the best way to defeat each enemey.

Overall: Okami is a great game with a very interesting and engaging story line that keeps you guessing as to what is going to happen next. The controls take some getting used to, but Okami is one of the few games that didn’t just add Wiimote features for the heck of it. Its fresh take on the Action/Adventure genre is refreshing especially given all the clones of this genre.  I would recommend this game to anyone who likes the Legend of Zelda series, or anyone who enjoys  Action/Adventure games.

Happy gaming 🙂 !

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Rocks — One Dimensional Asteroids Game

December 17, 2008

Yes, you read the title correctly, I will be writing about a little game I wrote called “Rocks”. As far as I know, Rocks is the first implementation of one dimentional asteroids. This is indeed a great day in video gaming history. Well, not really, but it is a great day for people who take jokes much further than intended!

So, a bit of background… Rocks started as a joke while a fellow cs student and 2 of our professors were driving back from a conference. I was bored and looking to program something quickly, preferably a game. The idea of one dimensional asteroids was thrown around and I was interested in making it ASCII based. Thus, Rocks was born. Sadly, I didn’t have much time to work on it after that car ride (where my laptop battery died). Since then, the semester has ended and I was able to complete the game. So, behold, a Rocks screen shot (Full Resolution Screenshot):

Rocks Screenshot

Rocks Screenshot

Rocks has a dependency on the curses libraries, but most Linux systems have that sort of thing installed. I have a downloadable version of Rocks which has been released under the GPLv3. In the tar.gz file you will find a complied version of rocks for x86 Linux and all of the source code with a (very) simple Makefile.

If you happen to play it let me know what you think 🙂 . Rocks gets harder the longer you play and can actually get challenging. So if you think it’s too easy then play for a few more minutes and you will see it get harder!

Enjoy!

Rocks Download: rocks.tar.gz


Mega Man 9 Review

December 16, 2008

About a month ago I purchased Mega Man 9 off the Wii Virtual Console. At the time I was still in the middle of a tough college semester so I played it little by little. I finally finished the game a week ago, and got around to writing up my thoughts on the game.

Game Play:

The game play in Mega Man 9 is spot on with what I remember from the old NES classics. For those who don’t know, Mega Man 9 was made in the same style as the NES Mega Man games of old. In Mega Man 9 we find that our hero has the usual abilities such as… jumping and shooting. No other abilities are given to him. However, you do have the option of using the Rush Jet or Rush Coil and, of course, when you defeat a boss you get to use their power afterward. Capcom did a perfect job of recreating the feel of the NES Mega Man, which is 100% ok by me 🙂 .

Story Line:

Mega Man games of yore have never been much for a story line so there’s not much to say here. I wasn’t expecting all that much from Mega Man 9 in the way of a storyline and I got what I expected. They attempt to explain everything but the bottom line is: Dr. Wily did something bad and you have to go around destroying robots to make things right.

Old School Boss Selection Screen

Old School Boss Selection Screen

Music:

I absolutely love the music in Mega Man 9. Now, I should mention that it is the classic 8-bit style music. I have met people who find this absolutely annoying, but for me it brings about a certain nostalgia. If you liked the NES Mega Man music chances are you will like this as well. Likewise, if you hated the old 8-bit music you probably won’t like the music in Mega Man 9.

Controls:

I found that the controls for this game worked just fine. You hold the Wiimote sideways: ‘1’ is shoot, ‘2’ is jump, and the D-pad moves you left and right. To pause and switch weapons you simply use ‘+’ .

Extras:

Mega Man 9 features a store where you use the bolts you collect throughout the levels to buy items such as energy tanks and extra lives. They also added a few more items such as the shock guard, which allows you to jump on spikes once without exploding instantly.

Challenges:

Mega Man 9 features different challenges, which the game notifies you of after you have completed them. Some of them include:  Jitterbug (beat game in under 60 minutes), Quick Draw (defeat a boss in 10 seconds or less), and Heavy Metal (reach a boss room without firing a weapon). These are turned on by default and can be fun to try and achieve. Either way it does not hurt the game to have these features around and can add a bit more play time to the game if you are into that sort of thing.

Galaxy Man Opening Screen

Galaxy Man Opening Screen

Time Trails:

Another interesting mode of play is the “Time Trial” mode where you are given all power-ups and are placed in a level of your choosing. Then, you try and get through the level as fast as possible. Furthermore, you can compete against the top times that people have accomplished and uploaded via the Wi-Fi network.

Difficultly:

Since it has been a while since I played any of the NES Mega Man games I’m not sure how to rate its difficulty in comparison to the others. I certainly wouldn’t call it easy, but I don’t know if it is as hard as the others. I would say that it probably took me around 9 or 10 hours to complete the game, but now that I have beaten it I would probably make it through in just under an hour. The difficulty comes in figuring out the “tricks” to each level for the first time. Once you do that it is fairly easy to finish a level in around 2 to 3 minutes. It is a different style of gaming from the modern sense. A lot of games these days are long and of easy to medium level difficulty. Mega Man 9 sports short, very difficult levels. You need to understand that you might not complete a level on your first, second, or even third attempt in this game.

Bonus Content:

Mega Man 9 features downloadable content that you must pay for with Wii points. As I am a poor college student, I have not yet purchased any of these features. Some of them include: being about to play as Proto Man or purchasing an additional level.

Conclusion:

All in all, Mega Man 9 has a lot of great content, and it is good to see a big player such as Capcom making awesome games for the virtual console, especially for a reasonable $10. If you were a fan of the old school Mega Man, or if you are looking for a fresh and challenging Wiiware title Mega Man 9 will not disappoint!


The Value of Organized LAN Parties

December 6, 2008

Today I was invited to a general purpose gaming event. There were some XBox 360s and Wiis, the usual suspects. I suppose this was not a LAN party in the purest sense, but what I am writing about certainly applies to LAN parities as well. What I am about to explain is from experience gained over going to different LAN parties and gaming events over the years.

Step 1: Decide who you want to invite. This is probably the most straightforward step and truthfully there isn’t much to mess up here. However it is still a consideration in the overall process.

Step2: Decide what games you want to play. This means several things. The first is that you want to select games that you KNOW everyone is going to WANT to play. Depending on your setup and the amount of people you have this may need to involve some compromise.  This is where I think a lot of events of this manner fail. A lot of time is wasted when people get there and complain because they don’t want to play game x or game y. If you decide in advance that you will be playing games x and y then they have no right to fuss and you can get on with gaming.

Deciding on games is not easy everyone has their preferences and you need to be mindful of that. It might mean not inviting the guy “who only plays FPS games” to the LAN party where you want to play WarCraft III the entire time. Either that or you play FPS games part of the time and RTS the other time, which I think is the better solution since it doesn’t exclude a potential friend and fellow gamer.

Also, I think gamers should be open to playing games in more than one genre. The largest problem we find here is that everyone wants to play within the genre they are best at. You can’t always have this! Sometimes you need to play the games you aren’t going to dominate at and who knows… you might get better!

Step 3: Set a schedule for when to play each game. This doesn’t mean you have to adhere perfectly to your schedule, but it helps put down the person who is always saying: “When are we going to switch games!?”. At least with the schedule you can simply let them know that you will switch at 4pm or after dinner or whatever metric you use.

Step 4: Download all patches and game updates BEFORE EVERYONE GETS THERE. This is critical because modern games all want you to have the same versions of everything. No one enjoys spending 3 hours waiting for patches and updates to be downloaded. It is best to just download them all and place them on the network somewhere so when everyone gets there they can easily get all the important updates.

Step 5: Make sure your network is functioning. This way when people arrive you can blame them for not being able to connect 😉 . In all seriousness it is a good idea to make sure you will have enough IP addresses/ports for everyone and that your router is assigning IP addresses correctly.

Step 6: Enjoy the party! Order some pizza and bring over the caffeinated beverages and let the party begin 🙂 . The extra planning can go a long way to make the party run smoother and maximize game time.

To summerize:

  1. Decide who to invite
  2. Decide on what games to play
  3. Set a schedule for all the games
  4. Download patches/updates
  5. Check network functionality
  6. Enjoy!

I hope this helps people plan some killer LAN parties. It may seem like a lot of extra effort, but when a LAN party runs smooth it is well worth it!


Gradius V — Finally, I beat the dang game!

July 26, 2008

Lately I have had some more time to enjoy the occasional video game. For a few years now I have had an obsession with being able to beat Gradius V. For those who don’t know Gradius V is one of the more popular titles in side scrolling shooters. The game requires you to be able to watch many bullets flying around your ship which being able to take down the necessary enemies. In order to make the game more manageable the hit box for your ship is insanely small. Gradius V could almost be considered a Maniac Shooter, but it falls short in that category because there simply aren’t enough bullets on screen (if you have ever played a true maniac shooter… then you would know).

Even though this game can be insanely frustrating at times it is well worth playing if you can stick with it. When you beat a level it is quite an awesome feeling because of the shear difficulty involved. If you can beat a level without losing a single life, that is even more incredible. I really enjoy challenging my ability to move the ship just tiny bits in order to avoid tight obstacles and swarms of bullets/lasers. It is a true test of one’s ability to have precise control. It is games like this that still bring glory to the standard video game controller. Even though I am a huge fan of the Wii, I can’t see any of the motion sensing features of the Wiimote being used in a Gradius type shooter.

After finishing a game like Gradius V it makes me think there is still a place for the traditional video game controller. I hope to continue playing Gradius V and maybe, some day, I will be able to beat it on a difficulty other than ‘very easy’ (which is anything but… IMO).


Paper Mario – The Thousand-Year Door (Review)

July 8, 2008

So, lately I have been playing Paper Mario – The Thousand-Year Door (Gamecube) as one of my friends has lent it to me. I am at the final point in the game and I have probably lost to the final boss 3 or 4 times now. I have enjoyed every minute of this game and I am glad I had the chance to play it. What follows will be my rough review of the game.

Game Play: The game play in 1000 Year Door is a simplified RPG. This might discourage some, but I find it to be a refreshing take on a genre which has seen many many clones. Even games that clone themselves *cough final fantasy cough*. The game has a standard system of health and magic, and respective numeric values to represent each. Magic in the game is known as ‘flower points’ and health is known as hearts. Already this is a point of simplicity because your health and flower points would probably never be higher than 100, and that is if you went out of your way to pump them. Also, Mario is granted special powers by the crystals you are trying to collect which gives him ‘star power’.

Star Power: Throughout the game you gradually gain more star power and moves that require star power. These are typically moves that are quite powerful and as such you cannot use them that often. The way the game limits this is actually quite unique. Every time you get another crystal you gain one additional star point. To fill up your ‘star gauge’ you must fight in a way that appeals to the audience which watches your battles.

Audience: You will notice fairly soon that whenever you enter a battle you are actually standing on a stage. Almost every move in the game includes a point at which you can press ‘A’ which triggers some flashy animation. This makes the move ‘stylish’. Stylish moves get the audience happy with you and fills your star power gauge faster.

Battle System: The battle system in 1000 Year Door is pretty straight forward. You select from a number of high level options: Hammer, Jump, Tactics, etc.. and then you get a list of options within those categories. Mario can only attack with his hammer or by jumping, but there are many variations and upgrades for each of those attacks. Mario’s partners have a fixed set of moves, but I did not feel it hindered the game to have it set up this way.

Action Commands: In addition 1000 Year Door livens up the battle system by allowing you to preform different actions which normally make a given attack or move more potent in some way. This adds new life to the traditional approach of select an attack, watch character attack, repeat. Sometimes the outcome of the battle can be determined either way by your use of the ‘Action Commands’.

Abilities: The abilities that Mario can use are determined by what badges he is wearing. You can find or buy badges throughout the game, and each badge requires a certain amount of ‘badge points’ out of your total. You can swap badges at any time, and the amount of badge points you have depends on how you have chosen to level Mario. Badges do more than just add abilities though. They can give Mario strong defence, or immunity against specific enemy types, or help power up Mario’s partners. The badges are also where Mario gets the abilities that require flower points to use.

Partners: As you play through the game you come across different characters which will team up with you and help on your quest. Partners were in the original Paper Mario, but now they are more full fledged party members. They have health and take damage just like Mario (though FP is shared with Mario). They have a static set of abilities that they gain when you upgrade them. So, they don’t level like Mario. Instead you have to collect shine sprites along the way and pay for them to be upgraded. Personally, I would rather they share battle experience, but the shine sprites are frequent and obvious enough that you don’t have to go hunting them down just to upgrade your favourite partner. Outside of battle your partners will also have an ability that can aid in your quest. Such as being able to blow up walls, or provide information about the surrounding area.

Boss Battles: I found most of the boss battles to be a bit on the easy side, but for me, that did not detract from the game at all. In fact I would say the final boss is quite challenging. Even more than I expected.

Leveling System: Leveling is simple. Mario needs 100 star points to level up, period. The more you level the less star points certain enemies give for defeating them. Every time Mario levels the game gives you a choice to upgrade his maximum health, flower, or badge points.

Storyline: The storyline is great, and moves along at a nice pace. It is often times funny, and makes references to many things outside the world of the game. There are also a small number of side quests for those of you who enjoy that sort of thing. Most of the time the rewards on the side quests are good enough that they are worth going on, and you can often start on one and complete it as you are tackling the main objective.

Music: The music is mostly upbeat and lively (as you would expect from a Mario game). I liked most of the soundtrack, but won’t be rushing out to the store to buy a copy any time soon. (For those of you who think I would never buy a video game sound track.. you are largely mistaken) The battle theme can get a little repetitive, but I think it is leaps and bounds better than the battle theme they had in Paper Mario on the N64.

Negative: On the negative side it drives me nuts that you can’t skip some cut scenes. In specific the ones associated with the final boss total over 10 minutes, and even after you have already seen them you must watch them again. Also at around 30 hours (for me anyway) the game is on the short side considering other games in the genre. Finally I think there could be more side quests, but this was not a huge downside.

Conclusion: All in all I would definetly reccomend this to the casual gamer, but I think it also has something to offer for the seasoned pro. The ability to change Mario’s stats as he levels adds an element of strategy for those who are interested while those who do not care would probably be ok just keeping everything evened out. Certainly if you enjoyed the original Paper Mario (N64), or if you enjoyed Super Mario RPG (SNES) then you will enjoy this title!