Rise of the Robots

Bender would beat the shit out of either of these assholes.

This game is shockingly bad.  You can only play one character.  There are only six other characters, who you fight in the same order.  Everyone only has two moves.  The AI spams the same move over and over and does more damage than you.  Multiplayer involves the first player using the crappy one character, and the second player choosing one of the bosses, who do more damage and take more damage to kill.

The pre-rendered graphics were clearly the focus of development time.  They were really hyped up, apparently, so much so that one magazine gave this buzzing fly-ridden pile a 90%.  It’s a shame that there is only an incredibly terrible game underneath those graphics – which aren’t even that good, even by SNES standards.

Reading little snippets of the video game market in the past make me feel a bit better about our current state of affairs.  Sometimes people worry that we care too much about graphics, at the cost of other areas of development.  Well, complain as you will, I have yet to play a game with great graphics in this generation that was anywhere near as skull-fuckingly atrocious as this game.

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Mega Man X 3

Whatchoo talkin' bout, Willis?
Who died and made you king?

Mega Man X 3 is like a whitewashed tomb: its pristine and beautiful exterior belies the putrid, rotting corpse within.  I don’t usually subscribe to the whole graphics versus gameplay diametric, but this time the relationship is definitely inverse.  In Capcom’s efforts to make a better looking, better sounding Mega Man, they actually forgot how to make a Mega Man game in the process.  Deliberately unforgiving level designs densely populated with death machines hell-bent on your destruction give way to sparse, open, and redundant rooms, sometimes filled with nothing at all.  The former – characteristic of the NES originals – was frustrating yet strangely fulfilling, to the point where you may find yourself yelling to no one in particular, “I AM A HARDCORE GAMER!!” after some astounding feat or other.  The latter will have you scratching your head, wondering when the game will suddenly kick into gear and become a real Mega Man game.  This, of course, never happens.

Mom?  Dad?  Is this a joke?
Hello? Is anybody there?

I kid you not, some of these rooms exist for no reason whatsoever.  You run into the room, only to immediately run out of it again (you even unlock a door on both ends).  And yet, during both these events, the ‘camera’ slide-transitions as if to signify ‘this is the next area’.  That’s just stupid!  If I was the artist, I’d be pissed, not only for wasting a perfectly serviceable room, but also for wasting my valuable time.

X 3 is full of these unnecessary flourishes that force you to expect more than it can hope to deliver.  The polished visuals and cyperpunk settings scream ‘anime’, but its back foot remains firmly planted in the NES era.  The ‘story’, ‘acting’ and dialogue is especially cringeworthy, and while I’m sure it’s no worse than what you’d expect to find in Mega Mans (Men?) 1 through to 6, at least they were upfront about their intentions: to be games.  By bringing the presentation forward, Capcom have announced their anime aspirations.  By leaving the rest behind, the game appears naked and antiquated.  The playable ‘intro’ would have been nice if it wasn’t just a pre-game wank.  You’re Mega Man, you run in there, blow up a few things, only to get punked by a former ally within the first minute (“you’re far too trusting, Mega Man!”).

Mwahahahahahahahaha!!
Excuse me, waiter! There's some Elizabethan acting in my Mega Man!

This is the game’s ‘Raiden’ moment, where Zero (a robot replete with ridiculous anime hair, originally groomed to be the star of the X series) must rescue Mega Man.  Except, instead of saying “I thought this was called Metal Gear Solid because it had Solid Snake in it”, you’ll be saying, “I thought this was a Mega Man game!”  Once you’ve rescued him, though, it’s back to business as usual, and Mega Man will be handling things from here, thank you very much.  This ‘intro’ seems to have served no other purpose than to show off a playable Zero character, only to neuter the titular character in the process.  For the rest of the game, Zero is relegated to piece work and similarly showy cameos.

The hair humanises him a bit more, get it?
Robot hair is all the rage in 21xx.

I tried oh so hard to love this game, but I couldn’t help but compare it to its uglier, more frustrating cousins – you know, games with some semblance of level design.  And then it dawned on me that level design, important though it is, is never graded by the mainstream gaming press alongside the bullet points of graphics/sound/gameplay/replay value.  Even though graphics should be servant to level design; good gameplay is a symptom of good level design; and replay value is a symptom of good gameplay. Followed closely by: how many poorly designed videogames got a pass on those four bullet points alone? Answered by: probably this one, for starters! And then I started thinking about games with good level design, and booted up a new game of Super Metroid.

Dragon View

DID YOU KNOW that Dragon View for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System utilises MODE 7 GRAPHICS?! Do you even know what Mode 7 means?! Neither do I, but I’ve heard it’s in Mario Kart and it’s probably the menace behind this ugly-ass overworld as well.

U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi!  Yo' ugly!
You ain’t got no alibi!

It just goes to show that after 15+ years, game developers still haven’t figured out that overworlds suck and get in the way of, you know, PLAYING THE ACTUAL GAME. The Mode 7 sections of Dragon View are probably only there so that Kemco could advertise it on the box art, and really only serve as a vehicle for getting from level to level (it’s only appropriate then, that when I collided with a shrub next to a doorway, I had to reverse out, steer, and drive back in as if parking a bus).  As I drove my magic bus through fields of green, watching poorly redrawn sprites blink in and out of the frame, seeing enemies flutter towards me like spotted silver clouds, I thought to myself, perhaps this is the ‘dragon view’. Perhaps this is how a dragon views his world; here and gone in the blink of an eye; his enemies reduced to tiny, silver clouds.

If there's one positive thing about my overworld experience, it's that I found a 3D Tri-force on the ground, which will please Zelda fans to no end (OMG 3D Zelda before Zelda 64!!!).
If there’s one positive thing about my overworld experience, it’s that I found a 3D Triforce on the ground, which will please Zelda fans to no end.

When I hit a silver cloud, I got a taste of the real game. And that is, side-scrolling slash ’em up (slmup) action. It was kind of like bullfighting once I’d worked out the patterns.  Slash them front on, move out of their path, let them charge like a moron, then get behind them now that they’re facing the wrong way and stab them in the back like the yellow-bellied coward I am. These encounters are good for level-grinding, which I needed to do to stop dying in the actual game. Thing is, I could avoid them altogether by simply driving around the silver clouds.

When I wasn’t getting lost or killed in the overworld, I was speaking with villagers in a strange narrated format (“a blessing upon your house, sire”, he said, “and upon your children, and your children’s children”) and doing fetch-quests for them.  Then I’d get a priest to record my valiant deeds [save game] and trudge my way through the overworld again to find whatever damned thing I was supposed to find, and bring it back.  One such example was having to go to Tylon’s storeroom (which is a cave filled with demons and A GIANT SCORPION) across the other side of the overworld to get him some more dynamite, so that he could make some more bombs for me, so that I could blow up some fallen rocks, so that a lady could get home via Galys Pass.  Now, if you hear your grandparents jabber on about how they had to walk 50 miles to school everyday barefoot in the winter snow, you can tell them to shut their damn faces.  Here’s why:

This is "on the way home" for your typical Dragon View shopkeeper.
This is “on the way home” for your typical Dragon View shopkeeper.

Notice the falling rocks, the craggy cliff face and the skeleton wedged under a rock! Hot-damn this game is hardcore.  More hardcore than your grandma, bitches.