Classic Gaming Retrospective – Mega Man 2

Mega Man 2 box art
Next up in this Mega Man Retrospective is arguably the greatest Mega Man game ever, Mega Man 2. This is the first game in the Classic series to feature eight master robots. These robots were created by Dr. Wily. They’re also some of the most memorable robot masters ever.

Air Man, for example, is the subject of a popular song amongst fans and internet meme enthusiasts, Air Man ga Taosenai (or Can’t Beat Air Man) by a Japanese group called Team.Nekokan. I’m a big fan of this song, myself.

Metal Man is known for his weapon, the Metal Blade, which is one of the best weapons in all of Mega Man. It’s more powerful than the Mega Buster, and it has so much ammo that you can use it for an entire stage and still have enough left to take down a boss at the end.

The soundtrack is also legendary. Wily Castle Stage 1-2 is my absolute favorite music track in all of gaming. On OCRemix.com, Mega Man 2 is the fourth most remixed game on the site. A group called The Megas created an album comprised solely of covers of Mega Man 2 music, along with lyrics for each song that tell the story of Mega Man, Dr. Light, and each of the master robots. The Megas’s album is definitely something worth checking out.

Mega Man 2 had the first jet (Item-2), shield weapon (Leaf Shield), Wily Castle map screen, and the only robot master (Metal Man) to be weak to his own weapon. Hit Metal Man with the Metal Blade during the boss rush, and you can take him out in two hits.

In terms of robot masters, we had Air Man, Metal Man, Crash Man, Flash Man, Wood Man, Bubble Man, Heat Man, and Quick Man. Metal Man was unique in that he wouldn’t attack you until you attack first. Air Man has one of the more difficult stages, second only to Quick Man’s stage which has the insta-kill lasers. Heat Man’s stage has the obligatory disappearing block puzzle, a significant part of which takes place above a pit.

This game has three items you can get from the various bosses, along with their weapons. Item-1 is a platform item that floats upward and disappears after a few seconds. Item-2 is the precursor to Rush Jet, and is quite possibly the base for Proto Jet from Mega Man 9 and 10. Item-3 is a wall-climbing item, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since. It would bounce on the ground until it finds a wall, after which it attaches itself and starts crawling upward.

This is the peak of the Mega Man series. That isn’t to say that the rest have been bad. But everything just came together in this game. Memorable characters, one of the greatest soundtracks in gaming history, awesome gameplay, and overall a great experience.

Braid review

I will be continuing my Mega Man retrospective. The column on Mega Man 2 will be coming later this week, with the rest being posted once per week. However, I want to have at least one other post on the site per week (unless I get lazy), so that it’s not just all Mega Man for the next ten or more weeks. With that said, here’s my review of Braid.


Braid title screen
Braid
Developed by Number None (XBLA, Windows) and Hothead Games (Mac, PS3)
Published by Number None (XBLA, Windows) and Hothead Games (Mac, PS3)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade), PS3 (via PlayStation Network), Windows, Mac


Braid was originally released in 2008 on the Xbox Live Arcade, and in 2009 for Windows, PS3, and Mac. I just recently bought the game for 800 MSP off of the XBLA, which is equivalent to $10 (USD). I know I’m behind on the whole Braid craze, but I was bored and I figured I’d give it a shot.

GRAPHICS: The game looks nice. I might even say it looks really pretty. But I’m not entirely sure this particular art style is a favorite of mine. In many aspects, the game’s art style does resemble a painting. But it just didn’t click with me, and anything else I can say on that would sound like nitpicking. Yeah, the game looks great, but I think it could have been better.

Great look, but not my favorite. 7/10

SOUND: The background music is good, I guess. I honestly didn’t notice it much. But that’s usually what background music is supposed to do, be in the background. The sound effects are pretty standard. Nothing much to say about that. There’s no voice acting. Everything is done via text, which is a bit disappointing, but for an “indie” game it isn’t surprising.

Okay sound effects and a background music that does its job. 8/10

STORY: I… Umm… What? The story told by the text of the books is confusing to say the least. I went online to see if I had missed something, only to find out that the story itself is “open for interpretation,” and that there is no official interpretation of what these books mean. I suppose the one thing in the game that isn’t quite open for interpretation is a line in one of the early books about the Princess running from a monster, and then the final level in which the Princess appears. Other than that, there’s nothing really solid to go with.

A confusing array of story snippets that ultimately have no true foundation. Worst of all, this is by design. 3/10

GAMEPLAY: The game revolves around a series of time manipulation powers. The only power that is universal is the ability to rewind time. Some worlds have their own unique ability. The goal of the game is to collect the puzzle pieces in each level and then complete the jigsaw puzzles for each world. Getting the pieces is a puzzle in its own right, requiring clever use of your abilities and precise timing. Since this is also a platformer, you’ll be required to time jumps and climb ladders. Not all solutions are readily apparent, and I ended up going online for a video to see how I’m supposed to get the piece.

A challenging puzzle platformer. 9/10

OVERALL: With all this said, the game is short. Far too short, in my opinion, to justify its original $15 price tag, and even at $10 it’s still a bit too much for so little. Once you beat the game, there is no replay value whatsoever, unless you like time trials. And you can beat the entire game in about three or four hours. In my opinion, that’s far too short for anything costing more than $5. I can understand the game cost a lot to make, but it’s still too short for the price. On the PC, however, there is a level editor, so you can at least download new, fan-made levels to play. So if you’re going to get it, PC is the way to go. That is, if you can get enough quality fan levels. 7/10

Classic Gaming Retrospective – Mega Man 1

Ed DiFolco and Big D discussed the classic Mega Man series, primarily the first three entries, in the second episode of Pixels & Bits. Having grown up with an NES, I also played Mega Man as a child, and I remain a fan of the classic series to this day. So I thought I would jump on the bandwagon and give my own retrospective of the series. This will be broken down into several parts. This first part will focus on a bit of background history as well as the first Mega Man game.


Mega Man box art

The classic Mega Man series started as Rockman in Japan. However, it is said that the game was originally supposed to be a licensed Astro Boy game, but the deal fell through and Capcom instead redesigned the game and characters into something original. The story of the Mega Man series is rather simple. Dr. Light and Dr. Wily were associates in the field of robotic science. Dr. Light created a series of robots, including his own lab assistant Rock and housecleaning robot Roll. At some point, Wily grew jealous of Light and turned evil, reprogramming Light’s six construction robots in the process. Light didn’t have any combat robots, so Rock volunteered to be altered so he could fight Wily and the robots. At which point, Mega Man was “born.”

While all other games in the classic series had eight, the first Mega Man only had six master robots. The game had a score system which was never used in any sequel, and never really had a point as it couldn’t save your scores. It’s also the only game to feature score bubble pickups. There isn’t a whole lot to say. This game set the classic formula that the series still uses even in the most recent incarnations.

There was a remake of this game on the PSP called Mega Man: Powered Up, which introduced a chibi art style, two new master robots, voice overs, and a new “Powered Up” mode which features redesigned levels.

Along with the original six master robots (Elec Man, Cut Man, Guts Man, Fire Man, Ice Man, and Bomb Man), Powered Up adds Time Man and the amusingly racist Oil Man, whose Japanese design looks like someone wearing blackface. Capcom did try to dull the cries of racism in the West by changing his skin to dark blue and his over-sized lips to yellow in every region outside of Japan, but it’s still hard to look at him and not see blackface.

I never played Powered Up, as I don’t have a PSP, so I can’t comment on that game directly. But the original Mega Man is still a classic.

Final Fantasy XIII review

Final Fantasy XIII logo

Final Fantasy XIII
Published and Developed by Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 3; Xbox 360


Final Fantasy XIII is the latest in the storied Final Fantasy series of Japanese Role-Playing Games. If you’re a gamer, or know someone who is a gamer, chances are you’ve heard of Final Fantasy. I played this latest installment on the PlayStation 3. Does this game live up to the epic pedigree?

GRAPHICS: Starting with the seventh game, the Final Fantasy series has been all about flashy visuals. Sometimes I wonder if Square Enix places a higher standard on graphics nowadays than anything else. Needless to say, Final Fantasy XIII looks beautiful. That is, once you get beyond the claustrophobic corridors. Other than the lush, open areas later in the game, there isn’t a whole lot to see. You walk around in various metal environments, which look nice in their own right, but aren’t spectacular. The areas covered in crystal, however, look great. And once you get into the more natural environments, the beauty of the game starts to shine.

Enough about the environment. The characters look good, as is typical in Square Enix games. There are some pre-rendered cinemas, and while you can generally tell when they start, the in-game models are almost as good. Maybe when Final Fantasy XV comes along, Square Enix can finally retire the pre-rendered cinema. Though I don’t see that happening, honestly.

The user interface is decent. It does its job and doesn’t get in the way much. The battle effects are nice, but you might not notice them a lot. Finally, at several points in the game I found myself utterly clueless as to what was happening in a cut-scene. The camera shakes wildly all over the place, they cut between angles frequently, and I often have no idea what I’m seeing. More often than not I had to consult the Datalog to know exactly what I just witnessed.

Pretty environments, nice characters, but far too much shaky cam in the cut-scenes. 8/10

SOUND: It’s pretty good for a Final Fantasy game. But where the hell is my victory fanfare? The one I’ve heard since the series began? Instead I get this super lame jingle to let me know I won. What the fuck? Now I haven’t played Final Fantasy XII, so I don’t know if that’s the game that murdered the victory fanfare, but that’s just pathetic. That was one of the staples of the Final Fantasy series. Hearing that fanfare brings back fond memories of the series. Replacing it after such a long time is just ridiculous.

The voice acting is good, I guess. The sound effects are good. Pretty much everything else is okay. I just didn’t pay much attention to the quality of everything else because I was too busy raging over the victory fanfare.

They replaced the victory fanfare! 0/10 (yes I can be petty)

STORY: The quality of the stories in Final Fantasy, especially since number seven, is debatable. The story in FFXIII is decent, but it seems all too familiar. It doesn’t help that the story doesn’t pick up until at least ten to twenty hours in. The absolute worst part of the story is the Datalog. To fully understand what the hell is happening, you need to reference the Datalog every time something is added, simply because it will tell you things that the game doesn’t show you in a cut scene. It comes off as a crutch Square Enix uses far too often. You’ll see a cut-scene where the characters interact, and then the Datalog will give you insight on their personal motivations and what they thought about during the scene. Things that you either have to pay close attention to know or that are simply not alluded to at all.

Another annoying part about the story, which is another crutch Square Enix used, was the scene where the party members act all emo and angsty, then one of them gives a pep talk about hope (the concept, not the character) and how everything will be just fine. They repeat this scene ad nauseam. I think every character had their time to give the pep talk, but Hope (the character) gave the pep talk the most. It got really bad when every few cut-scenes featured this speech, and I just wanted the twats to shut up.

An all too familiar plot that takes a long time to get good, and the annoying twats that tell it. 6/10

GAMEPLAY: While the story can take ten to twenty hours to finally start making some sense, the tutorial takes almost as long. I know many games introduce mechanics later on in games and then offer tutorials on how to use it. But Final Fantasy XIII continuously introduces new mechanics every hour or two for the first fifteen hours. And then suddenly the tutorials stop, and that’s when things start getting good. I can understand not wanting to bog down the player with a ton of different gameplay facets, but maybe you shouldn’t have so many to start with.

Eidolons, this game’s version of Summons, are pretty much useless. Unless you’re about to die and don’t have any medics, which is virtually impossible. MP is non-existent, and all actions (magic, attack, etc.) take up portions of your Active Time Battle gauge. This means magic is free. So if you have two medics in your party, you can heal your group almost instantly and with no penalty. But only once you gain access to the Paradigm system. Before then, you’re stuck with Potions. And I need to mention that Potions, the only healing item that I ever saw in the game, become virtually useless about five hours in or whenever the Paradigm system kicks in. Sure, Potions heal everyone at once, but they heal such a tiny amount that it’s not really worth it once your HP goes above 600.

Another useless feature introduced late in the game is the ability to train any party member in any Crystarium role. This sounds great, but in practice it isn’t worth it. You’re much better off using your Crystarium Points to keep building your existing roles than trying to teach new ones. The roles that a character don’t start off with have a bare minimum amount of abilities (a fraction of what a native user gets) and cost extreme amounts of CP.

Overly complicated mechanics, some of which are useless, and a tutorial that never ends. 7/10

OVERALL: Flashy graphics, an okay soundtrack, a been-there-done-that story, and uselessly complex gameplay make for a decent Final Fantasy but far from great. 7/10

RISK: Factions review

RISK: Factions logo

RISK: Factions
Published by Electronic Arts
Developed by Stainless Games
Platform: Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)


RISK is one of the all-time classic board games. There have been several versions of the board game, as well as many different computerized adaptations. The latest of which is RISK: Factions on the Xbox Live Arcade.

RISK: Factions allows players to play either the classic RISK rules or the more recent 2008 rules. Factions also adds dynamic map features and five factions (humans, cats, robots, zombies, and yetis). Up to five players can participate at one time. Now let’s break things down into categories.

GRAPHICS: The maps are nice to look at and the user interface is easy to navigate. If you’re playing the Classic RISK mode, there isn’t much else for you to see. The Factions mode has cartoon portraits of each faction leader, as well as animated battles. The characters are nicely animated and very expressive, and the battles are quite entertaining when you aren’t cursing your luck with the dice. The single-player campaign has five missions and each mission has a cartoon introduction created by Powerhouse Animation Studios. The cartoons are well animated and are each rather funny to watch.

In all, the cartoons are great, and everything else is nice and simple. 8/10

SOUND: In the Classic mode, the sound is minimal. I think there’s some background music, and you get sound effects for the battles, but there isn’t much else. In the Factions mode, the dynamic map elements and the animated battles have some nice sound effects. The voice acting in the campaign cartoons is excellent. The voices fit the characters perfectly and do a lot to give them personality. I wish that the faction leaders talked during the actual game instead of being restricted to the cartoons, though. Hearing smack talk from Generalissimo Meow would make me so happy.

To sum up, the sound is bland in some parts, but excellent in others. For the cartoons alone, I give the sound 9/10.

GAMEPLAY: I could spend hours detailing all the rules and gameplay quirks. In the Help & Options menu there is a “How To Play” option that gives you a quick primer on both the Classic and Factions rules. If you’re new to RISK, read that and you’ll get caught up. Anyway, the controls are basic. It’s more or less point and click. As the game is a mix of strategy and chance, you will often find yourself poised to take over an entire continent, only to end up a few armies short by the time you reach the last territory. That is the frustrating part. But there is nothing sweeter than making a successful run and expanding your empire.

The gameplay is both simple and complex, as well as frustrating and oh so fun. 10/10

OVERALL: If you’re a fan of turn-based strategy, RISK: Factions is the game for you. At only 800 Microsoft Points ($10), you can’t get much better. 10/10