Thursday, April 4, 2013

What I'm Playing, March '13 (Pt.2)

at 2:29 PM
In this feature, we commemorate games I have for the first time started and finished in the last few highly variable time units.

Still catching up on games I started and finished in March. I'm renaming this feature to be catchier. Beware, it could catch you too.

Special Recognition for Starting and Finishing:

Bit.Trip [Runner] Presents... Runner 2 [featuring Commander Video [and Charles "Charlie" Martinet of Super Mario fame]]: Future Legend of [Future] Rhythm Alien [a Gaijin Games production as presented by Aksys Games] (XBLA)

This was certainly the easiest Bit.Trip [to] Complete, even while collecting all the gold and costumes. It's also the first series entry with a Hard mode, so it's hard [mode] to complain. The music alone justifies repeated playthroughs (especially that fantastic Supernature theme), and whether you're the type to collect everything, chase leaderboard leaders, or turn up the difficulty, there's many iterations worth of fresh gameplay to be had. Is it as good as Bit.Trip Runner? I dunno, that's kinda like asking if Aliens is as good as Alien. The earlier work is clearly smarter and more inspired, but that doesn't detract from the sheer joy and adventure of the sequel. This is a bit of a bullshit analogy though, because I distinctly prefer Aliens (and T2, and Army of Darkness, and most other 'dumb' movie sequels), despite trying to convey that the original Runner is superior. Probably it's a matter of personal connection. Like, the content of the original Bit.Trip really resonated with me, being about the responsibility of adulthood and materialism and coming to terms with reality etc. So, although I can appreciate Runner 2 for what it is, it will inevitably lack what made Runner so special to me. On the other hand, Alien doesn't really say anything to me personally, as it's about sexuality and pregnancy and rape and stuff, which is like, who goddamn cares. So while I can acknowledge that it's the better film, I'm still only going to derive visceral entertainment from it, which is something Aliens does better. If I was into Runner solely for the music platforming, I'd have to give it to Runner 2, hands down.

Games Started:

Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad (NeoGeo / Wii VC)

It should've been an easy job to sequel Shock Troopers... apparently not
Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! This game is a massive letdown. Shock Troopers (see below) was a buried gem, full of unique gameplay otherwise lacking from the eight-way shooter movement. 2nd Squad serves as a retraction of all its innovations. Gone is Team Battle mode, the subtly varying characters, the multiple campaigns. Instead we get a super-generic art-style that feels ripped from every 1997 JRPG, a measly four characters who serve only as weapon swaps, an un-recoverable health bar (defeating the purpose of a health bar altogether), and more slowdown than a bowlful of jello. As a sequel to Shock Troopers, this game is a travesty, but as a standalone, it could have worked. Except for that slowdown. Seriously, don't be like me and say "I've dealt with slowdown before; I've played Gradius III and Metal Slug 2 and all manner of Cave games". 2nd Squad chugs from the moment it starts through the end, running at approximately half-speed for 95% of the game. The ONLY time the game runs at full-speed is when no enemies are on-screen. A terrible sequel and a passable game rendered unplayable by technical shortcomings. I actually like the ridiculous music, though. 
This is just baffling to me. 

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (Xbox 360)

My favorite type of screenshot is the kind that never happens in the game
The Assassin's Creed series is one I often harp on as exemplary of many of the flaws in contemporary mainstream storytelling, but there's enough fun buried inside and enough historical landmarks to experience that I've mostly stuck with it (at a much slower playing interval than the release schedule, as you can see by the fact that I'm like three games behind). Brotherhood was one of the annual AC2 spin-offs, a kind of shamelessly capitalistic endeavor by Ubisoft (in the simple sense of capitalizing on success). For players of Creed 2 (such as myself), it's well-trodden ground in terms of gameplay, but the real treat here is Rome. Call me a conspiracy theory, but I imagine Ubisoft very intentionally left Rome out of the original game, with the knowledge that it would hold significant draw for an expansion. I mean, imagine trying to sell a game featuring only Rome vs. only Florence. No insult to my Florentine readers out there, just, you know. Rome is basically one of the most famous cities ever. And it is cool to explore. The juxtaposition of ancient (even within the context of the game) Empire artifacts with ongoing Renaissance constructions gives the city an age and mystique that is lacking from most historical-game-locales.

Games Finished:

Shock Troopers (NeoGeo / Wii VC)

This game will inevitably remind players of Metal Slug, or Gunforce 2 if you're a real smart-brain. After spending substantial time with it, I've really come to appreciate the minor advances it offers over competing military shooters. The lifebar (and healing items) allow a relaxed play-style which punishes players for laziness, while never irreversibly damaging their chances at success. One of the things I hate about shmups is that if I fuck up a lot at the beginning, I'll have zero chance to make it to the end. Recoverable hit points allow the player to make up for their mistakes with diligence. The second, more unique feature, is "Team Battle" mode, wherein the player chooses a rotating roster of three (of eight)  characters instead of just one. This allows various strategies for health and ammo management, as well as boss/obstacle handling. I just realized I said "military shooters" at the beginning of this paragraph, a term which has a much different meaning in 2013 than it did in 1994. I meant games like CommandoIkari Warriors, and Mercs, not Cods of Duty.

Mutant Mudds (3DS eShop)

This was not a 100% run, but I finished everything possible with the main character (which unlocks a secret character and twenty bonus mini-stages for her). Mudds probably isn't a game I'll revisit soon, simply because the levels advance so linearly that by the end, the early stages seem trite. It's heavy on simple one-time collection and leaves most of its personality to the buried hidden stages - getting through the primary levels is more just a rehearsal for those more significant challenges. Definitely worth playing, but not a new classic.

Ristar (Genesis / Wii VC)

Wait a minute, what version is this screenshot from? That is NOT what that boss looked like when I played it
I think Ristar was the first Virtual Console game I ever bought. Though I enjoyed the visual detail and stretchy arms gimmick, I always struggled to make it past the halfway point. In replaying, I realize that this is because the game often delves into puzzle-platformer territory, yet remains as punishing as early Sonic or Super Mario. When you have to replay a puzzle segment for the third or fifth or tenth time, just because you couldn't defeat the mini-boss, you're likely to lose patience. This time I toughed it out, actually got better to the point where I rarely died, and kicked the game's ass. And my reward was that a lot of the later levels and bosses were really cool and improved my opinion of the game. Plus (at the behest of Golem) I played through with the sound on and really appreciated the music (though a certain song reminds me an awful lot of Mega Man 2).

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