Friday, 30 July 2010

Gamecube Week Part 5 - Friday

Day 5: Friday

Eternal Darkness
Eternal Darkness was recommended to me by one of the lads at my local Gamestation after he spotted me buying Resident Evil 3. A few RG forumites rave about it as well, and as it is reasonably cheap for a quality Gamecube title (my copy cost me a fiver), I thought why not. And I'm certainly glad I did, because it's one of the most atmospheric and engaging games I have played in a long time. Taking on several roles, Eternal Darkness is part survival horror, part psychological thriller as you attempt to uncover the dark secrets that are plaguing the main character, Alex Roivas. As well as taking place in the modern day world, it also features several points in history, and the presence of a unique "sanity" meter adds another dimension: get too frightened and the line between reality and madness blurs...Eternal Darkness is a classy game, and although I've only scratched the surface with an hour's play, I'm already hooked. Play it in the dark.
Burnout 2
This sequel to the popular original still fetches a few quid but I fortunately managed to pick it up at a charity shop for 95p. The cover is full of quotes from enthusiastic games magazines: NGC call it "the best racer on the Gamecube" whilst Nintendo Official Magazine (a paragon of impartiality if there ever was one) stated that the game "will rock you." So what do I think of it? Well, Burnout 2 is my type of racing game! After a few hilarious "lessons" where you learn skills such as driving on the wrong side of the road, how to achieve a near miss and accelerating over bumps, it's onto the races themselves and there's some spectacular racing action going on, with amazing crashes and other thrills. The controls seem just right to me, responsive but not too much so; car mechanics and physics (which are surely a touch irrelevant in a racer such as Burnout) are good and with loads of cars and courses to choose from, I can see Burnout 2 being my favourite Gamecube racer for some time to come.

NBA Courtside 2002
I haven't played a basketball sim since...actually I've never played a basketball sim before! This is another game in immaculate condition that cost me a mere 95 pence from Gamestation, which even though it concerned a sport I have no interest in, I thought it was worth picking up for the price. The game presumably simulates everything it needs to do in terms of the game of basketball itself but not being familiar with all the rules, I struggle to follow what goes on. There's plenty of options such as league season, a practice mode and squad management, but I feel I really need to invest much more time to get anywhere in the game, and I just can't be bothered with so many other great titles to sample.

Crazy Taxi
I've played this game before of course, although not on the cube. As the name suggests, you take on the role of a lunatic cabbie, desperately trying to squeeze in as many fares in as short as time as possible. As for the 'cube version, it has an option to play as in the arcade or with a specific time limit and there are a few mini-games thrown in for good measure. It's pretty much as you'd expect: pick up the passengers, take them as quickly (and dangerously!) as you can to their destination until you run out of time. The streets of San Francisco (I assume) always made a good backdrop to the Crazy Taxi; the incessant music by The Offspring and Bad Religion of this port does not. The pop up is also quite bad, and overall it's not as good as the famous Dreamcast version, released some two years earlier.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Gamecube Week Part 4 - Thursday

Day 4 Thursday

Metroid Prime 2 Echoes
I've never played a Metroid game, so this is first base for me. It's another recommended title available on the cheap, I think it only cost me a couple of quid, and is an FPS with some interesting variations. Playing the Amazonian bounty hunter Samus, MP2 sees you visiting the warring planets of Light and Dark Aether thanks to an emergency call from Federation agents. Samus can transform into the "Morph" ball which changes the view to third person; this ball can't jump or fire but can drop bombs and is invulnerable; it's also useful for exploring restricted areas such as tunnels and ducts. There are a host of other options, a natty menu system and a control method that almost makes me believe an FPS can be played properly on a game pad. Still, no doubt about it, Metroid Prime 2 Echoes is an excellent game: it draws you in slowly as you explore the mysterious planet and try to discover what has happened to the Federation troopers.

Godzilla Destroy All Monsters Melee
Whilst a beat 'em up with monsters instead of humans, taking place in quivering cities sounds like a good idea, unfortunately it doesn't quite come off in practice. The monsters are slow and cumbersome, the moves uninspired and the cities mere window-dressing despite the ability to pick up some buildings and throw them at your opponent. In a style very similar to Soul Calibur 2 (see Monday's games) there is an "adventure" option where you compete in one-on-one battles against other monsters in order to fend off an attack on Monster Island; I try this for a while, but soon bore of it, well before I've had a chance to unlock further monsters. Sale pile.

Star Wars Rogue Squadron 2 Rogue Leader
I love Star Wars games, but this one's got me in two minds, which is surprising, because it looks and feels like a quality title, yet developers Factor 5 have just been a little careless with the level design. The first part is fine, a trainer on Tatooine, designed to get you used to the various gameplay elements and controls. The second level has you jetting off to the Deathstar already, and is split into three sections. Firstly you have to destroy a dozen towers, which is basically the same as Star Wars arcade from 20 years previous, only with better graphics. Then, you remain over the Deathstar but have to take out several TIE fighters along with your two wingmen (Biggs and Wedge). These two sections most experienced gamers could complete in their sleep. The third part, inevitably, has Luke maneouvering his way down the famous trench and this is where the difficulty curve steepens off the graph. Unfortunately if you lose all your lives here, it's back to the start of the mission and the first two parts soon become interminable. I did finally make it past the trench but was a bit pissed off at the game by the time I did; so much so that I saved my progress and moved onto the next without seeing what the rest of Rogue Leader has to offer. I'm sure it improves.

Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance
I was a huge fan of the original Bioware Baldur's Gate games so was quite looking forward to Dark Alliance, despite my natural fear that a console version would lack the PC games' complexity. This fear is borne out from the beginning: there is no character generation to speak of as the player simply chooses one of three pre-defined characters. The graphics are admittedly improved over the original and utilise the same top-down viewpoint as the PC games: the differences include a first person viewpoint when talking to other characters and much larger sprites. It's also extremely linear, with a set path ordained for the player and little chance to wander off and explore independently. To be frank, it's not a patch on the original game, but you know what, I like it. Dark Alliance is fun, easy to get into, and basically plays like an arcade adventure with RPG trimmings. I can see myself playing it until completion, even if it's just to see if you can get it on with the sexy barmaid...

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Gamecube Week Part 3 - Wednesday

Day 3: Wednesday

Resident Evil REmake
I've already completed this game as Chris, so give it a go playing the alternate character, Jill Valentine. In an intriguing twist that echoes the Playstation original, Jill has more space in her inventory but is considerably weaker than her male STARS counterpart, thus requiring much more care to guiding her around the famous mansion. Lots of extra rooms, vastly improved graphics and vaguely-credible dialogue all add up to brilliant update of the legendary game. If you like the Resident Evil games, it's worth getting a 'cube just for this. I've blogged before about this game, click to have a look.

Resident Evil 2
My enthusiasm for this sequel was tempered somewhat after discovering it is merely a port of the Playstation original. After having played the REmake of the first game which massively expands on the iconic original, this came as something of a disappointment. Fortunately I haven't played what is regarded the best of the Resident Evil games for quite a long time so along with the updated graphics and sound, it's quite refreshing to play it again, even if it is exactly the same as the PS game.

Billy Hatcher and the Golden Egg
This game, from the same team that brought you the legendary Sonic the Hedgehog, is another ovoid-influenced effort (see Eggo Mania in part 2), this time an action adventure surrounding ordinary lad Hatcher and his quest to locate the eponymous egg. It reminds me of the Spyro game I played the previous night, but it's more action packed and fun even though it exudes that tiresome "wacky" factor. Once in a mythical chicken suit (!), Billy can start on his adventure and that conveniently demonstrates the over-earnest humour of the game. Another one for the "sale" pile I'm afraid.

FIFA 2003
The last FIFA game I played was 2000 on the Playstation, so I'm intrigued to see what new gameplay is in this Gamecube version, which incidentally cost me the grand sum of twenty pence. It doesn't appear greatly different to be honest; there are plenty of tactical options these days, but to an arcade simulator like FIFA these are a bit on the superfluous side. The series gets a lot of stick, mainly for it's money grabbing yearly updates, but generally they are slick and playable games, despite an occasional feeling of "did I do that?". As with most Football games, I can imagine it is much more fun against another human player.

Plenty of pizzazz, a sprinkling of tricks and tackling and an entertaining footie game, despite the out-of-date names - and music.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Gamecube Week Part 2 - Tuesday

So here we are, Day 2, Tuesday - if you haven't read part one, please check it out. Without further delay, here we go with today's four games.

Resident Evil 4
Having played the PS2 version to death, I wasn't expecting anything extra from the Gamecube version and indeed it actually features less: the PS2 unlockable Ada Wong adventure "Separate Ways" is considerably pared down, no doubt for memory reasons. Apart from that, there is little difference; RE4 is still as fantastic game as it was on the Playstation and completely provides the necessary jolt that the franchise needed. It suits the sometimes-maligned Gamecube controller quite nicely as well.

Spyro Enter The Dragonfly
Sounds painful. Anyway, as you might expect, Spyro: ETD is another instalmant in the adventures of the cute little dragon. This time the baddie has stolen all the Dragonflies, so Spyro must go around the colourful world rescuing them with his new bubble breath. Getting to grips with controlling the dragon can be a bit tricky and the game seems a little hard for it's presumably younger audience. I dunno, maybe I'm being harsh, but it seems exactly like the Playstation games, except with slighty better graphics, so it doesn't stay in the GC for long...

Eggo Mania
After a series of eggs-cruciating puns (you get the idea), this game turns out to be a cute puzzler, a bit like the bastard offspring of Puzzle Bobble and Tetris. The object is to stack bricks high enough so that your little - thing - can jump up to a waiting hot-air balloon, and of course this has to be done quicker than the other player (or the Gamecube itself). At the bottom of the screen there is a slowly-rising waterlevel to make sure you don't simply stack brick on top of brick - you need solid lines to ensure a firm bottom. Oo-er. I can't stand it. It's nothing I haven't seen before, and far too twee for it's own good. Next!

Minority Report
Based on the Tom Cruise film of the same name, Minority Report is a third-person action adventure game where you take a lead role in the "Pre-Crime" department of the Police, hunting down murderers before they've actually committed their heinous act. The first thing that strikes me about it is the violence: strangely for a game which advocates non-lethal force (there are no proper guns), it's quite acceptable to go round beating the shit of anyone and everyone, including stamping on them whilst prone on the ground - which the game actively encourages you to do with a specific move. As you can't proceed until all the enemies have been given a right proper seeing-to, there ensues some elongated and unpleasant fisticuffs. This almost gives the game a feel of a scrolling 3d beat 'em up, which is only broken up by the lack of decent moves and some tiresome cut scenes. It's ok, but the graphics aren't great considering what RE4 did with the 'cube and I soon bore of it. It's one of the cheaper titles, so perhaps not that bad value for money...

Monday, 26 July 2010

Gamecube Week Part 1 - Monday

Having missed out on the Gamecube when it was first released 8 years ago - I had a PS2 at the time and saw no need to spend a lot of money on Nintendo's latest machine - I acquired one cheaply (99p!) last year and have since been steadily collecting a few games that have interested me since then. Fortunately, it's still possible to find them in some gaming outlets and Cash Converters, which is just as well as many titles seem rather overpriced online.

So with little or no preconception on most of these games I gave all my titles a go over the course of last week at an average of four a day with five on the final day. They were selected at random from the pile starting last Monday and I'll report on how I got on with each game on the corresponding day this week. A select few of them I have played already, but largely they are untested to any significant degree.

So, without further ado...

Extreme G3
This underrated racer sees you on a sleek bike, cruising round various futuristic cityscapes and planets. It's all very impressive with a cool intro sequence and the bikes have weapons which is always a big bonus in my book! There are various game type options, the most interesting being "league" where you can compete against other teams, much like F1 only with more neon. I'm not a massive racing game fan, but I enjoyed this and it hints at extended game time thanks to the array of options. It does seem a tricky in places though, which might put off some players. Still, excellent value at 99p and a sleek, impressive racer.

This spiritual, if not actual, successor to the Playstation and Saturn "Strike" games (that's Soviet and Nuclear), Fireblade is another helicopter shooter with the camera angle above and behind the chopper. I enjoyed this game once I got the hang of the various controls and weapons: your special attack helicopter has two types of missile, a machine gun, sniper gun and an electronic pulse weapon, and early on it can be very easy to get confused which button to press. There's quite a neat training level, however, to take you through all the various options which I found very helpful. Despite being unable to escape the feeling of "seen it and played it all before", Fire Blade is a distracting enough shooter that I'm sure I'll come back to at some point.

Turok Evolution
I am naturally opposed to this game from the start because A: it's a Turok game, a series I've not liked since the N64 version, and B: it's a first person shooter which I find an absolute pain in the neck to play with a controller - rather than a keyboard and mouse. I persevere for a while - it did cost a whole pound after all - but frankly it doesn't feel much different from the 64 game a few years earlier and the (necessarily, I suppose) primitive weapons at the start of the game don't help. The first clunker.

Soul Calibur 2
Not being a fan of one-on-one BEU's, I wasn't particularly looking forward to this one. They've changed a bit since I last played one though; Soul Calibur 2 incorporates some basic RPG elements into a mission based quest to find some mythical weaponry, and this adds hugely to the generally pointless one-on-one scraps. Of course I can imagine two player mode is a lot of fun, but Soul Calibur 2 is still an accomplished fighter offering a variety of moves, although it seems a touch on the bland side. I'm no expert on this type of game, but I like it. The Gamecube version features Link (pictured), which I assume is a GC exclusive.

Tomorrow's games: Minority Report, Resident Evil 4, Spyro Enter the Dragonfly and Eggo Mania.

Saturday, 24 July 2010


Part 1: The Relic
Year: 1997
Director: Peter Hyams
Starring: Tom Sizemore, Penelope Ann Miller, Linda Hunt
Based on the book "Relic" by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

The Plot: an anthropologist in South America is poisoned by a mysterious tribe. Six weeks later, two odd crates turn up in a Chicago museum along with an empty cargo ship at the docks. When a security guard is brutally murdered shortly afterwards, the police shut down the museum before (in classic Jaws style) the mayor "persuades" them to re-open it so a large exhibition can go ahead. Bad decision, as a huge monster, the Kothoga, goes on a brain-eating frenzy.

The Actors: Tom Sizemore is his usual gruff, moody self, as the cop strutting around and mumbling about his estranged wife getting custody of their pooch. Linda Hunt is as reliable as ever (although wasted) and Penelope Ann Miller is fine in the brainbox good girl role. Everyone else melds into the background as potential Kothoga-fodder.

The Monster: not the late Stan Winston's finest hour, let's be honest. It's size is impressive, and it's a quick mother with razor sharp teeth, ideal for ripping off heads and extracting the desired part of the brain. The monster is kept firmly under wraps until the last third of the film when perhaps it would have been better to only show fleeting glimpses as the special effects, even for 1997, are not the best.

The Film: Despite some ludicrous plot twists (there just HAPPENS to be a mad axe killer living in the basement ALONG with the monster who gets framed for it's murders - yeah, right), The Relic is an enjoyable movie for lovers of this genre. It explores some mildy innovative theories, but you can't help feeling the book it's based on is far superior. The tension builds up nicely, but overall the film feels rushed, with some abrupt editing and a terse, unsatisfactory ending. Ultimately, however, it's worth a look for some classic Sizemore and the perky Ann Miller.

Monster! Monster! Factor: six out of ten

Friday, 23 July 2010

The Best 5 Megadrive Shooters*

I don't think my friend Retro King Simon quite knew what he was letting himself into when he listed - in his opinion - the best 5 shooters on Sega's finest, the Megadrive. There are so many classics shmups for this 16-bit wonder that any list is bound to tweak the nipples of controversy before cheekily pinching the bum of Thunderforce 3.

So, with little fear in my heart, but trepidation building by the second, here's my top 5 megadrive shooters!

Admittedly I have fond memories mainly because this game was bundled with my first Mega Drive, but having played it again recently can confirm it is a playable, addictive and original little shooter with good (if slightly twee) graphics and some top music. It's a good all-rounder: it doesn't do anything magnificently well, but it's a solid game with some nifty (if unoriginal) power-ups and a nicely balanced difficulty curve.

4.Twin Cobra
An amalgamation of several other games, notably 1942 and Fire Shark, this conversion of the vertically-scrolling arcade parent is nonetheless an excellent title. With the slightly horizontal scrolling landscape adding an extra dimension, Twin Cobra set the bar one higher for all vertically scrolling shmups on the MD.

3.Bio-Hazard Battle
Winning star points for simply boasting a superb variation of enemies, BHB is a horizontally-scrolling shooter of effortless class. The Megadrive has rarely been put through it's paces more as it chucks tentacled alien after alien at your poor spaceship.

2.Jungle Strike
Of course it's a shoot 'em up! That's the main basis of the game isn't it? Shoot, shoot, shoot then shoot some more! OK, there's an element of "rescue the general" in it, but that's only a brief diversion in this game. Just because it's open-ended and free-roaming is no reason why it shouldn't be included in a list of shoot 'em ups. So there.

Shooting is shooting. Ranger-X may be classed as a platform shooter, but it's still a shooter in my book. Utilising a twin vehicle (a bike and flying, um, robot thing) offers the variation, the exquisite graphics and sound the icing on the cake. It's Japanese roots are clear with intense gameplay and some outstanding bosses; at the end of the day, Ranger X is quality through and through.

You can view Simon's choices here:

Let's be honest, they're all great games!

*in my opinion

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Resident Evil 4: The Mercenaries

New Mercenaries vid up: this time Leon takes on the Castle level, much trickier than the village and one that has so far eluded 5-star status for me...

Resident Evil 4: The Mercenaries

For those of you who don't know already, one of my favourite games is Resident Evil 4 - nothing unusual there, lots of people like it. However, having completed the main game several times, and the additional Ada Wong missions, the only part of it I am still playing is the excellent unlockable extra The Mercenaries.

The mission is simple: select your character (which can be either Leon or Ada to start, with more to be unlocked) and then play an adapted part of the main game. Kill as many Ganados within a short time limit, with extra points gained for multiple kills. Each different character has pros and cons: Leon is strong, but slow. Ada is delicate but lighting fast - despite those impractical high heels. They also all have different weapons: Leon has a shotgun which is very useful for clearing bunches of enemies; Ada only has a pistol, but also a TMP (machine gun) and rifle. Best of all is Albert Wesker. He has a cool silenced pistol, the rifle and a Magnum.

I have been trying on and off for the past few months to achieve all the unlockables. I now have all the characters which wasn't too tough. In addition to the above, I can also play as the mysterious "Hunk" as well as uber villain Krauser. To unlock more mystery weapons however, you need to complete EVERY level with EVERY character with a FIVE STAR score. Now this is tricky!

I'll be posting videos over on Jdanddiet1's Youtube channel. The first, Leon in the Village level, us up already and is available here:

The next, Leon in the Castle, will be up soon. If you get a chance I recommend the Mercenaries: manic, tough, but fun!