Wednesday, August 25, 2010


This classic blast from the past has lost some of its flare.

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy Advance
Published by: Hudson Soft
Developed by: Hudson Soft
Genre: Action
Players: 1
US Release Date: 1987
ESRB Rating: Everyone - Mild Cartoon Violence

Story: As with many early video games, Bomberman lacks any form of deep, significant storyline, instead focusing on addicting, arcade-style gameplay. Bomberman is a robot worker who has tired of his monotonous existence in an underground bomb factory. He decides to throw away his old life to pursue a rumor that robots who escape the factory are transformed into humans upon reaching the surface. Unfortunately for Bomberman, he must first navigate a 50 floor maze of bricks, swarming with enemies he must blast into oblivion with his trusty bombs (which I assume are stolen company property).

The story doesn't deviate beyond these basic building blocks. To be honest, back in the '80s, no one really cared - they just wanted to blow shit up.

Escaping: You're doin' it wrong.

Graphics: Anyone expecting Bomberman to include hyper-realistic graphics, saturated in a lush color palette obviously missed out on the NES, and maybe shouldn't be reading my articles without parental consent. For those of you who are old enough to have enjoyed what the NES had to offer, you already know that there isn't a lot to Bomberman's visual presentation, beyond endless walls of drab bricks, goofy-looking enemies in various basic shades, and the frequent, cross-shaped blast of fiery, bomb-spawned destruction. Basic animations deliver exactly what they're intended to: enemies (and Bomberman) die with cartoony anguish etched into their faces, bricks disintegrate into nonexistence upon being blasted, and Bomberman waddles across the screen with all the finesse of a burnt-out, middle-aged, workaholic spending his lunch break at the company gym.

Despite the lack of any mind-blowing contributions to video game graphics, there is one major feature that sticks out about Bomberman: the eponymous character of the game, Bomberman established his signature look early on. Bomberman's classic appearance has remained, for the most part, unaltered, despite his jump from the NES onto almost every major gaming system since 1987. Without this introduction, perhaps the Bomberman of today would be without his unmistakable anime-inspired eyes, ball hands, white helmet, and stupid-looking antenna.

Despite his most genuine efforts to enforce justice, Bomberman's destruction of his underground factory made him an easy target for Homeland Security.

Sound/Music: Not much here, to be honest. Music is a standard, NES, bleeps-and-bloops fanfare, with little variety and surprisingly little staying power, despite the maddening repetition. The sound of Bomberman's detonating bombs is appropriate, and the "bling" noise when you acquire a power-up is cheerful and bright. However, the incessant tapping of Bomberman's footsteps might drive you to the point of intentionally killing the little bastard, which will leave you scratching your head in confusion when he lets out a death cry that can only be described as a mix between a duck call and a Japanese dirt bike.

Listen around 4:00. You'll get what I mean.

Gameplay: Bomberman is built on a user-friendly, action-oriented, arcadey gameplay style. As Bomberman, you must blast your way through a gauntlet of 50 brick mazes, teeming with various monsters, all possessing the ability to inexplicably kill you with a single touch. You may defend yourself by dropping bombs, which will explode after a set amount of time, destroying any bricks or enemies within their blast radius. However, each stage also has a 200 second time limit; if the timer reaches zero, then swarms of difficult enemies invade the screen to kill you. Fortunately for Bomberman, power-ups are randomly hidden within bricks in each stage, capable of giving him new abilities to fight off his enemies. Eventually, Bomberman is able to walk through brick walls, detonate bombs when he pleases, and strategically place up to ten explosives on the screen. Constantly upgrading Bomberman's abilities is a surprisingly satisfying journey.

Unfortunately, by the time you've collected enough power-ups to obtain all the available abilities, the game has lost most of its challenge, and therefore most of its fun. On top of the disappointing challenge curve is the absolutely atrocious enemy AI (or lack thereof). Although some of the more "challenging" enemies of the later game will give chase to Bomberman if they see him, most will still mindlessly charge into the path of an exploding bomb; this, paired with the giant mess of power-ups already accumulated by this point in the game, almost completely eliminates any need to fear death from your enemies. Essentially, enemies will begin to serve only as a minor annoyance, rushing ahead of each other with an idiotic determination to become bomb fodder. Even the ghosts of Pac-Man had the sense to flee once Pac-Man had eaten a special dot. In fact, the biggest challenges you'll probably face are: (a) accidentally trapping yourself in between a wall and a bomb in the early stages; (b) accidentally bombing a doorway, which will release new hordes of annoying enemies in your direction; and (c) keeping yourself interested enough to plod through all 50, quasi-identical levels. Players are given the opportunity to play a "bonus" stage after every five normal levels, but these also grow old, as their only purpose is to allow the player to go on a murderous rampage in hopes of earning extra lives, which are completely unneeded. Yawn.

Bomberman's Jesus Bomb crucifies another enemy.

Overall: While Bomberman is by no means a bad game, it really can't be called a great game either. Mediocre at best, Bomberman follows its formula almost too well, growing stale quickly and completely. While later iterations have added multiplayer, new upgrades, and boss battles, I feel that these areas were not where the critical flaws of the first game resided. Rather, instead of adding more, I feel Bomberman on NES should have offered less: cutting the number of levels in half, or even by a third would have made this experience far more enjoyable; offering players less power-ups would keep the challenge of the later enemies pertinent, and would require players to utilize some form of strategy to overcome adversaries.

While it may sound like I'm dishonoring and discrediting what Bomberman did for gaming (trust me, I'm not), I can't bring myself to call a game "great" simply for nostalgia's sake. However, I can confidently say that I'm glad Hudson Soft continued the Bomberman series after this incarnation: I consider some of this title's sequels and spin-offs among my favorite games of all time, and none of them would exist without Bomberman's foray onto the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

Score (out of 10): 6

Thursday, July 22, 2010

7/22/10 - What I'm Playing Update #2

Hey readers! Once again, I prove to everyone on the internetz (yes, with a "z") that I lack the focus, fortitude, and free time to post on a regular basis. I apologize that I'm so incredibly unreliable, but I can assure you that I'm doing plenty of "field work" in the area of video game review (i.e. sitting on my couch, playing Modern Warfare 2 in my PJs, and drinking hard liquor). Unfortunately, a couple of the titles I'm currently playing have got me caught up in some pretty intense grindfests and side quests - I will do my best to overcome my desire to level up 50 more times in Star Ocean: Second Evolution. I've recently completed a bunch of other games, and promise that reviews for them are on the way. In the meantime, I hit you all with another fistful of "What I'm Playing."

Keep in mind, I'm still working on some of the games from my last "What I'm Playing Update," but this is a list of titles that I'm concentrating on the most.

What I'm Playing:
-Fire Emblem (Game Boy Advance)
-Star Ocean: Second Evolution (PlayStation Portable)
-Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana (PlayStation 2)
-Mass Effect (Xbox 360)
-Fracture (Xbox 360)
-Bioshock 2 (Xbox 360)
-Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Xbox 360)
-Brütal Legend (Xbox 360)

I realize that this lackluster post can't fill the void in your heart, dear reader, but I promise once I'm less stressed, I will continue my review rampage through the video game kingdom. In the meantime, please continue to support my writing (or send me massive floods of hate mail...your call) and flex your patience muscle, as I prepare myself. Thanks again for reading!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dissidia: Final Fantasy

The ultimate wet dream for any Final Fantasy fanboy.

Platform: PlayStation Portable
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: Square Enix
Genre: Fighting/Action-RPG
Players: 1-2
US Release Date: August 25, 2009
ESRB Rating: Teen - Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Partial Nudity

Story: Dissidia's story can best be described as a unique amalgamation of some of the most beloved quests in Final Fantasy history. Serving as a mash-up of the first ten games, Dissidia finds our heroes mysteriously drawn together in a common universe. Early on, it's revealed that the goddess of harmony, Cosmos, has called upon each of the heroes to defeat the god of discord, Chaos. Consequently, Chaos has also summoned champions of his own - as a result, some of video gaming's most sinister badasses will go toe-to-toe with the series' coolest heroes. The game picks up with the forces of light fighting a losing battle against their dark counterpoints; Cosmos, in turn, begs the heroes to find ten crystals scattered throughout the realm. Each hero sets out on a "Destiny Odyssey" to find the only objects capable of repelling the advancing darkness.

Themes from the original games make themselves pertinent throughout Dissidia's epic yarn, providing this game with an almost unlimited source of fan service. While this is enough to make any fanboy (and I use this term as endearingly as possible) wet his pants with delight, the game's storyline lacks any standalone "oomph" of its own; in truth, Dissidia's original plot is pretty bare-bones and rarely strays outside the established cliché "good vs. evil" of yesteryear. Along with this, the pacing, as well as the overall coherency of the story don't really satisfy until several chapters have been completed. While this certainly isn't horrible in any way, shape, or form, it would have been refreshing to experience an original, well-constructed story as deep as any of the games Dissidia is based off of. That being said, Square Enix was sure to pack in plenty of extras, providing an incredibly wealthy treasure trove of backstory for those die-hard and patient enough to unlock them all.

This is a game all about men who love flowers! Kind of.

Graphics: If the PlayStation Portable was the United States during World War II, then Dissidia would be its CG cutscene nuke. Bad historical metaphors aside, Dissidia is arguably the best looking game on the system: event graphics are beautifully-rendered, character models react and flow realistically, and environments are each alive with their own energy. I can't count the number of times this game took my breath away or awed me into a speechless stupor - from the moment the UMD loaded and the opening cutscene assaulted my senses, to any of the countless, gravity-defying standard enemy battles, Dissidia had me marveling at the capabilities of the tiny machine in my hands. Far more than mere eye candy, Dissidia wows with supreme technical prowess and as much attention to detail as any of Square Enix's console titles.

Garland and Cloud in one of their regular "Whose sword is bigger?" battles (i.e. "Who's overcompensating more?").

Sound/Music: Dissidia boasts a soundtrack of massive proportions, ranging from the nostalgic anthems of the great Nobuo Uematsu, to the wound-up, high-energy rock offerings of "Your Favorite Enemies." Classic Nobuo Uematsu tracks are prevalent throughout most of the game, with some transforming into hyper-intense battle remixes - mere ghosts of their former melodies haunting the interludes and choruses of the synthesized fanfares. Not necessarily a bad thing, Dissidia's soundtrack comes across as a hefty helping of the familiar, served up with a dash of innovation; a balancing act that should satisfy both the new and old camps.

The sheer amount of spoken dialogue in Dissidia is also quite impressive, as every cutscene in the game contains some form of voice acting. The voice actors chosen for each character are all pretty fitting, and do a decent job (with several mediocre exceptions) of portraying their roles as agents of harmony and discord. Nothing stellar, but definitely appropriate for what the title is.

Ah, the backhand: the core of any father-son relationship.

Gameplay: Part fighting game, part action-RPG, Dissidia plays a lot like an episode of Dragon Ball Z: spells fly through the air at breakneck speed, explosions destroy parts of the environment, and attacks are swung so viciously that the opposing character is knocked clear across the stage. There is even a "chase" mechanic in Dissidia that allows you to catch up to and smash your opponent's falling body over and over again - if that doesn't scream "anime fight scene," then nothing does. Battles also seem reminiscent of the Struggle Battles of Kingdom Hearts II, but instead of balls, each player has a "bravery gauge" that can be drained through the use of "bravery attacks," and an "HP gauge" that can be drained by landing "HP attacks." It may sound strange, but in practice it's a wonderfully-constructed battle system that sets up the player for some really great strategic plans of attack. Implementing a theme common in many later additions to the Final Fantasy franchise, Dissidia allows characters to execute stat-boosting transformations, similar to "Limit Breaks," upon collecting enough "EX gauge" points; many times, these transformations can alter the course of a battle or offer an opportunity for a one-hit kill on your opponent. For those unfamiliar with the high-speed world of fighting games, Dissidia even offers a "command input mode" that makes the game play out more like a traditional action-RPG, and keeps Dissidia from pigeonholing itself purely as a fighting game.

The action-RPG elements of Dissidia are perfectly woven into the customization and battle systems of the game: attacks are techniques and abilities your character learns over time, equipment offers boosts to your primary stats, experience points are awarded for attacking and defeating opponents (sometimes during battle), and exploration occurs on a chessboard-like overworld. New equipment can be purchased with the money you collect from fights (as long as you meet the level prerequisites), and, like many action-RPGs, abilities can be "mastered" with repeated use. Even better yet, the game keeps track of your stats in real-time, granting bonuses (like extra money or experience points) on certain days of the month, and awarding you with special prizes for meeting certain preset criteria, offering the player a rewarding and entertaining achievement system. The overworld element of the game can get tedious and dry at times, but Dissidia serves up its battles with an extra-large helping of awesome sauce. For those who can't be satiated by the campaign, Dissidia offers a plethora of modes, as well as system-to-system linking for some of the best head-to-head multiplayer battles the PSP has to offer. With over 20 characters to choose from, each with their own fighting styles and attacks, solving the epic question of "Who would win in a fight: Cloud or Squall?" is made that much easier.

Squall: "Bang, bang! You're dead!"
Tidus: ":("

Overall: To be honest, flying through a 3-D arena, blasting spells and dodging sword swipes is the sweetest combination of intensity and fun I've ever experienced on the PSP, and I'm not the least bit embarrassed to admit I've invested dozens upon dozens of hours into this game. Equal parts fighting bonanza and action-RPG paradise, topped with a spoonful of addictive, hardcore level-grinding incentive, Dissidia delivers on all fronts. This isn't to say that Dissidia is for everyone, or that it is totally devoid of some truly frustrating moments (final boss battle, anyone?), but Dissidia is easily one of the most technically-sound and polished products I've ever laid my hands on. Old-school fans and curious fighting/action-RPG enthusiasts should definitely give it a try - adding it to your collection won't be too far behind.

Score (out of 10): 9

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Follow my blog with Bloglovin'!

If you haven't become a Blogger follower of New Game Smell (or even if you have), then use Bloglovin' to keep up to date with it conveniently and easily! New posts coming soon!

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Puyo Pop

A puzzle game that will have you addicted before you can say "campy."

Platform: Game Boy Advance, Neo Geo Pocket Color, N-Gage
Version Reviewed: Game Boy Advance
Published by: THQ/Sega
Developed by: Sonic Team
Genre: Puzzle
Players: 1-4
US Release Date: October 5, 1999
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Story: Puzzle games, as a whole, have come a long way in terms of story. Normally heavily-steeped in the realm of science-fiction or fantasy, we find ourselves chaining together multicolored gems to blast our enemies with fireballs or jumping through walls via space-time portals. While character development might still take a backseat to gameplay, it can safely be said that puzzle games now primarily utilize protagonists undergoing some sort of conflict or quest. This, in itself, is a gigantic step away from the impersonal falling, gray blocks of yesteryear - finally, we puzzle fans are able to take control (to a degree) of a hero with a purpose. No matter how kitschy many of these so-called "stories" may seem, it's at least something.

With this being said, the story of Puyo Pop is as kitschy as they come. Apparently, Puyo Pop is part of the Puyo Puyo series of puzzle games, all starring a young sorceress Arle and her fat, bunny-ish pet named Carbuncle - this being the first Puyo Puyo game I've played, I had no preexisting connection with these characters. Arle and Carbuncle travel their fantasy setting in complete, oblivious glee, and are randomly challenged to puzzle battles by a plethora of insane characters that would fit in with the cast of any teen anime series. In fact, Puyo Pop's story is most easily-digested if you play it expecting just that: an extremely campy, goofy, sugar-coated anime show. This is a Japanese game, and Sonic Team does not want you to forget it. Since there really isn't much in terms of deep story or character development, forgetting might prove easier than they anticipated.

...a wild Pokémon appeared! What? Wrong game? Damn.

Graphics: Drawing heavily from the pool of easily-accessible anime artist talent in Japan, Puyo Pop is a festival of bright, explosive colors and gigantic, glimmering eyeballs. While by no means impressive, the static "cutscenes" still make great use of the Game Boy Advance's extensive color palette. Battle screens come alive with a multitude of little details and animations that any puzzle fan can appreciate. Don't prepare to be dazzled, but Puyo Pop certainly knows how to keep things bright and fun.

Wait until you see Arle's REAL excited face.

Sound/Music: Puyo Pop's soundtrack consists of all that is bouncy and light-hearted, wreaking absolute havoc on the Game Boy Advance's horns and chime synthesizers. Regardless of its bubblegum-sweet sensibilities, I found myself unintentionally bobbing my head along to some of the tracks each time I booted up Puyo Pop. High-energy, and never dark or sinister in any way, Puyo Pop's music is a fitting addition to this game's cotton candy theme.

Going hand-in-hand with Puyo Pop's musical score is the game's sound effects, which sound like they were borrowed from an early Super Nintendo RPG; note that this isn't a bad thing. Sonic Team has even included tiny voice clips (in original Japanese!) during battle, breathing even more life into the already frantic fights. These vocal bits alone add another ten points to Puyo Pop's already appropriate placement on the "kitsch" scale.

Gameplay: The battle elements of Puyo Pop play almost exactly like a relatively-unknown Windows game, called Qwirks (from Tetris creator, Alexey Pajitnov) that I used to have as a kid. A set of two, colored blobs are dropped into the play area; matching four or more of these pieces, or making chains will remove them from the play field and drop clear "blocks" onto your opponents side, which will prevent them from creating sets or chains of their own. If you or your opponent's screen becomes too full to fit another block or blob, that person loses the match. It may sound basic (and in truth, the concept is), but each stage you unlock yields new enemies, who become progressively harder as the game goes on. The in-game tutorials are worked seamlessly into the experience and prove to be helpful practice for future opponents, giving the game a smooth learning curve. The whole gameplay experience is a prime example of the key elements true puzzle fans look for in a game: simplistic controls, pick-up-and-play concepts, and a gauntlet of intense, fast-paced challenges. Additional time with the story mode will unlock new obstacles and a bonus challenge mode, but the real fun is available if you have a link cable: a single game cartridge allows up to four players to duke it out, Puyo Pop style, giving this already addictive title some great replay value.

Forget swords and magic - you know it's on when the blobs start falling!

Overall: If you decide to take on Puyo Pop, I hope you have your tent and sleeping bag ready, because this title is beyond "campy." While many will be turned off early by the cutesy art style, bouncy music, and sickly-sweet dialogue, I urge you to stick around for what is, at its heart, one of the most entertaining puzzle games of the Game Boy Advance's time. The core gameplay is solid as a rock, and is sure to not disappoint those looking for an exciting, high-paced puzzle experience - even if it is drenched in an extra-large helping of kitsch-syrup.

Score (out of 10): 8.5

Monday, April 26, 2010

4/26/10 - What I'm Playing Update #1

Hey readers! I realize I haven't been posting a whole lot as of late. This is partially due to me being on vacation last week in Ocean City, MD, and not having much access to video games or writing time, and partially (mostly) due to me being incredibly anal and self-conscious about my writing; I refuse to post a review unless I feel it is my absolute best grammatically, content-wise, and otherwise. I also won't review games I haven't beaten recently (to help maintain accuracy in my writing); this combined with the fact that gaming time has been scarce as of late (mostly due to my job) makes the blog grind to a crawl at times - for this, I sincerely apologize. I also maintain a food blog, which demands some of my time to maintain, as well. Regardless, I know this is annoying (for you AND for me), and I promise more reviews are on the way!

In the meantime, I've decided to start posting "What I'm Playing Updates," which are exactly what they sound like: updates on what games I'm currently in the middle of (at the moment, it's A LOT). These will be posted in no particular interval, but at random when I feel the blog is slowing down.

Feel free to leave a list of the games you're currently playing in the comments section!

What I'm Playing:
-Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (PlayStation 2)
-Need for Speed: Underground 2 (PlayStation 2)
-Phantasy Star (Sega Master System)
-Shining in the Darkness (Sega Genesis)
-Earthbound (Super Nintendo)
-Final Fantasy III/VI (Super Nintendo/PlayStation)
-Robotrek (Super Nintendo)
-Aaahh!!! Real Monsters (Super Nintendo)
-Final Fantasy VIII (PlayStation)
-Azure Dreams (Game Boy Color)
-Robopon: Sun Version (Game Boy Color)
-Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (Game Boy Advance)
-Lufia: The Ruins of Lore (Game Boy Advance)
-Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescure Team (Game Boy Advance)
-Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone (Game Boy Advance)
-Dissidia: Final Fantasy (PlayStation Portable)
-Final Fantasy XIII (Xbox 360)
-Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Xbox 360)
-Prey (Xbox 360)
-Lost Odyssey (Xbox 360)
-Gears of War (Xbox 360)
-Prototype (Xbox 360)
-Bioshock 2 (Xbox 360)
-BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger (Xbox 360)
-Sacred 2: Fallen Angel (Xbox 360)

And yes, I am playing them ALL to some degree - while I haven't touched some for months (I still plan on finishing them and remember where I am in the storylines), many of these games are actively accessed whenever I have time to play. My severe ADD keeps me jumping back and forth between them, but at the moment Sakura Wars, Final Fantasy XIII, and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance are consuming a majority of my game time. The fact that I have so many games going at once means that beating them takes a little longer than if I were to just concentrate on one and power through it, but I figure with this approach I'll eventually have more than enough to write about. Don't hate and remember to keep reading!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Assassin's Creed

Ubisoft puts a hit out on boring gameplay.

Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360
Published by: Ubisoft
Developed by: Ubisoft Montreal
Genre: Action
Players: 1
US Release Date: November 13, 2007
ESRB Rating: Mature - Blood, Strong Language, Violence

Story: The year is 2012, and you are placed into the shoes of...Desmond Miles, a scrawny, weenie of a bartender, who can't even run. Desmond is kidnapped by Abstergo, a pharmaceutical company using cutting-edge technology in secretive, and most likely illegal research. Abstergo makes Desmond a guinea pig for a machine called the Animus - a piece of equipment reminiscent of the chairs used by Neo in The Matrix, and capable of letting an individual relive the memories of their ancestors via their genetic code, in a virtual reality/dream-like state. After Desmond is plugged into the Animus, the game shifts points of view, as well as time periods: enter Altaïr ibn La-Ahad (say that three times fast), an assassin from the year 1191, during the Third Crusade of the Holy Land. This viewpoint starts off with Altaïr's master and leader of the the Assassin's, Al Mualim, tasking the young assassin with finding an artifact known as the "Piece of Eden"; however, during the mission, Altaïr breaks the three rules of his sect's Creed, endangering the lives of his companions and failing the mission. Altaïr's rank is stripped, and it is up to the player to complete missions for Al Mualim, in turn restoring his honor within the clan. The primary targets of these missions are members of the crusading Knights Templar, all of whom are connected in some sort of secret plot.

As the player progresses through the game and the bodies start to pile up, the story develops from simple, badass assassination missions into something much more: the rabbit hole gets much deeper, twisting religion and mythology into a conspiracy that binds the past and the present together. Loyalties and ideologies are tested, but unfortunately so is player patience - there are moments during Assassin's Creed during which the story crawls to a snail's pace, bogging down an otherwise intense and action-packed experience. While these instances can be painfully boring at times, pushing through them will reward the player with some really deep, unique storytelling - with Ubisoft doing an amazing job of incorporating some historical accuracy into the mix - that is well worth the wait.

"Hello Face?"
"Yeah, Hidden Blade?"
"Let's meet up sometime. How about now?"

Graphics: Graphically, Assassin's Creed is a mixed bag: for every glaring jagged texture and moment of framerate lag, there is an equally impressive breathtaking environment or top-notch character animation. There were times during Assassin's Creed when I literally put down my Xbox controller and just stared at the beauty unfolding on my TV screen; Ubisoft did an excellent job of injecting real, vibrant life into the cities of Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus. Lighting effects and impressive fabric movement effects are just some of the minor details the development team threw in that make this title really shine. The occasional poor framerate only seems to affect the game during intense action/chase sequences, or when new areas of a city are being loaded (and trust me, the cities are pretty much huge), and even then only minimally detracts from the experience.

The realism of the character models and details of the environments add some incredible emotion to each and every interaction, making it amazingly easy to get pulled into the world of the 12th century Holy Land. Blood splatters from felled guards, the flash of blades in the sunlight, and the wind blowing through Altaïr's cloak as he sprints across rooftops are all captured with the brilliance of a Hollywood movie. Even the menus are designed with aesthetic value in mind, coming up sharp, bright, and crisp.

Though at times flawed, Assassin's Creed is overall a very pretty game, and shows off some of the 360's finer graphical capabilities.

Views like this one made my jaw drop so far that it hit me in the crotch. So worth it.

Sound/Music: Assassin's Creed boasts an impressive score composed by Jesper Kyd, ranging in tone from dark and brooding, to majestic and epic, to high-paced and explosive. Chase scenes, battles, and story elements are all appropriately accompanied by Assassin's Creed's sweeping soundtrack. A Latin chorus and powerful orchestra add to the ominous and heavy tone already set by the game's storyline.

Sound effects in this game are fitting for the settings and inevitable ensuing action: marketplaces are initially filled with quietly murmuring crowds, preaching holy men, and whimpering beggars; start a fight with a Templar guard, and the whole street will become a mess of screaming civilians and clanging swords. Ambient noise is an important part of the experience, with some missions requiring Altaïr to eavesdrop on conversations from nearby hiding places. Guards will also offer verbal cues that they are suspicious of your actions, making it easy to know when to duck into an alleyway or bale of hay to avoid detection.

As far as voice acting is concerned, Ubisoft did an excellent job of for one individual: Altaïr, our bold protagonist. While the rest of the cast does a great job of spicing up the dialogue with vibrant emotion and authentic-sounding accents, Altaïr's voice actor seems intent on draining all life out of his performance. I have trouble believing that Altaïr is committed to his mission or beliefs when he can't inflect beyond a plodding monotone.

Despite this solitary drawback, the audio of Assassin's Creed is as solid as it gets.

Gameplay: What is cooler than being an assassin? The answer should be "nothing"; however, Assassin's Creed suffers from several drawbacks that prevent it from achieving this idea. While the gameplay may feel varied during the first few hours of your quest - and believe me, the gameplay is incredibly solid - eventually the novelty begins to wear thin. Altaïr's action sequences are broken up by Desmond's interactions with members of Abstergo in the present, which end up being utterly forgettable at best. While it's a blast figuring out the most efficient strategy of assassinating a major target, the path to get to these too-few-and-far-between missions quickly becomes undeniably tedious. Assassin's Creed tries to remedy this by including a number of "side quests," but these ultimately end up being pointless (unless you REALLY want those achievement points). My biggest qualm is with the investigation quests: pickpocketing Templars or eavesdropping on two palace guards is entertaining for only so long before it becomes a mindless chore. Should you fail a timed assassination of Templar targets for one of your assassin brethren, you will be forced to listen to his full explanation of your mission, without an option to skip the dialogue. A flawed lock-on/camera system combo will occasionally impede some from successful combat encounters.

Fortunately, Assassin's Creed offers some great nonlinear gameplay to spice up the tedium of random guard fights, exploration, and investigation quests. The open world, Grand Theft Auto-style "kill anyone, at any time" ideal works well with this game, allowing the player to choose when to take on certain tasks essential to progressing the storyline. While the weapons roster is limited to only four different blades (longsword, short blade, hidden blade, and throwing knives), experimenting with each to find out its unique tactical advantage is guaranteed entertainment. Assassin's Creed also boasts one of the most fluid, user-friendly counter systems I've ever experienced, making devastating combos and reversals as easy as a single button-push, and allowing you to sit back and watch Altaïr's brutality unfold on screen.

In terms of gameplay, the strong points outweigh the weaker moments of Assassin's Creed, but unfortunately stepping into the shoes of an assassin feels far less badass than it should.

Altaïr is a master of disguise, capable of avoiding detection by any pursuer. Here he is using one of his favorite, most efficient disguises: Bench-sitting guy.

Overall: Without a doubt, Assassin's Creed does exactly what an action game should do: it gives the player the opportunity to take on the role of a hardass protagonist and embark on a quest of considerable proportion. Assassin's Creed does a great job of presenting its unique plot of conspiracy and mystery, while its soundtrack sets an appropriately ominous tone; a strong battle system, and some gorgeous graphics help flesh out an overall entertaining package. Unfortunately, this game falls victim to a handful of flaws not uncommon to this particular genre. In truth, the positive aspects of Assassin's Creed outdo most, if not all, of the negatives, leaving the player with a solid game definitely worth checking out. Unfortunately, the drawbacks that are present detract from an experience that should have otherwise been far more epic. Without ruining anything, the disappointing, cliffhanger ending of Assassin's Creed opens the doors wide for Assassin's Creed 2, a sequel so powerful that any downfalls of this game can be easily overlooked and forgotten. So, go ahead and take the plunge, and let Altaïr's 12th century world of secrecy and death consume you; you might walk away a little disappointed, but I guarantee you'll crave Ubisoft's second helping of this series.

Score (out of 10): 8

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sonic the Hedgehog

Giving speed freaks their fix since 1991.

Platform: Sega Genesis, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS (Sonic Classic Collection), Xbox 360 (Arcade)
Version Reviewed: Sega Genesis
Published by: Sega
Developed by: Sonic Team
Genre: Platformer
Players: 1
US Release Date: June 23, 1991
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Story: The story of the original Sonic the Hedgehog game can easily be lost in the avalanche of sequels, spin-offs, and various media surrounding the franchise's mythology. However, returning to the first Sonic Team-developed game, we find the story to be delightfully simple, in a Mario-esque way: Sonic, our blue, super-fast, hedgehog protagonist, must battle the villainous Dr. Robotnik (sometimes known as Dr. Eggman) for control of the Chaos Emeralds, which will consequently save the wildlife inhabitants of South Island. Said creatures have been transformed by the evil Ph.D. into robot "badnik" versions of their previous selves, intent on killing Sonic. However, there is one major problem with this classic story of good vs. evil: Sonic has taken the time to put on a pair of red shoes, but what is his excuse for not throwing on pants as well? He must not mind the breeze down there while traveling at super-speed. Yikes.

Little known fact: Dr. Robotnik always rides into battle blasting his favorite Journey cassette tape.

Graphics: Sonic the Hedgehog occurred during the 16-bit era of gaming, and makes some great use of the Genesis' engine. Colors are bright and rich, creating some excellent environmental textures (take note of the twisting runways and loops). Environments themselves are designed in such a way that many of them seem to possess a life of their own. Character designs for Sonic and his enemies are cartoony, but detailed enough to give each model individuality. Despite the, at times, blistering speed of the game, it is possible to take a step back and notice the slew of minute details the programmers threw in that really make this game shine. And who can forget the flashing, psychedelic backgrounds of the bonus stages? Even college didn't get that intense for me.

Sonic could have prevented this accidental enema if he had only PUT ON SOME PANTS.

Sound/Music: Sonic's soundboard is (understandably) fairly limited. Springs will "boing," rings will "bling," and so forth. The soundtrack consists of a number of plodding, synthesized loops that serve purely as background music. Nothing really memorable here, but in the grand scheme of things, sounds and songs are not what drives the Sonic experience.

Gameplay: When it first was released, Sonic the Hedgehog introduced a handful of fresh twists that made it quite a refreshing installment in the classic platformer market. Sonic still utilized the core platformer elements of "collect things" (in this case, golden rings, 100 of which granted the player an extra life) and "start stage, finish stage, kill boss." While the established ability set of walking, running, jumping, and swimming was also still present, the sheer speed of gameplay was amplified to unseen levels. The addition of springboards, tunnels, loops, as well as many other creative game mechanics not only placed an emphasis on dashing/rolling through a level in as little time as possible, but encouraged it. Even to this day, sprinting through a level in less than a minute is a thrill; however, in this great moment of innovation, Sonic also finds one of its more prominent drawbacks.

Unfortunately, following the action at such a ludicrous speed is quite difficult: dying due to a random pitfall or spike trap will happen frequently, and it's only through trial-and-error that these breakneck sequences can be truly mastered. Luckily for a majority of Sonic's levels, there are multiple, branching paths that vary in difficulty and utilize different play mechanics (for instance, one path may take you upwards, where you will have to dodge timed spike traps, whereas the bottom path will force you to navigate an underwater maze and fight for air). Power-ups also help increase your survival rate (such as limited shield or invincibility), as well as the unique "ring shield" feature: as long as you possess a single ring or more, you can survive *most* attacks without instantly dying.

Sonic also features some varied, interesting, and fun boss fights at the end of each of the six "zones" (each broken up into three "acts"), where simplistic strategy can be used to overcome Dr. Robotnik's evil inventions.

Sonic throws in some more variety through the use of bonus stages, which can be accessed by collecting over 50 rings in a level. Within these bonus stages, Sonic can collect extra continues (for use during an inevitable "Game Over") or a Chaos Emerald; collecting all six Chaos Emeralds will award the player with the game's "good" ending (although, in my opinion, going through the trouble is really not worth it).

Hurray, physics!

Overall: While the story and soundtrack are bare-bones as they come, Sonic the Hedgehog manages to produce a great experience through some really brilliant graphics and gameplay mechanics. For those of you whose childhoods were devoid of a Sega Genesis, picking up a copy of Sonic has become much simpler these days, with numerous reincarnations flooding the market. Despite Nintendo's takeover of Sega, Sonic has remained a staple in the world of iconic video game characters, and playing through this game again as an adult easily reminds me of why. While many of Sonic's sequels and spin-offs have improved on the original formula, one needs to keep in perspective that this is the game where it all started. For those of you unsure about this title, downloading a ROM of the original cartridge might prove to be a more cost-effective way of testing the waters (but I certainly don't encourage illegal downloading of any sort. No, definitely not me). Chances are, you're going to need the "save state" function to make it out alive, anyway.

Score (out of 10): 8.5

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Super Mario Bros.

If you've never played this game, I suggest you give up gaming. Forever.

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Published by: Nintendo
Developed by: Nintendo EAD
Genre: Platformer
Players: 1-2
US Release Date: 1985
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Story: Who doesn't know the story of Mario? For those of you out there who remain unenlightened (read: ignorant), I will explain: Mario and Luigi are Italian plumbers (and, surprise! Brothers!) who are transported to the Mushroom Kingdom to save Princess Toadstool from the clutches of King Bowser, leader of the evil Koopas. Mario and Luigi must use all of their skills and cunning (which consists of running, jumping, and occasionally swimming) to outwit the Koopa king's army of minions and ultimately save the princess from whatever fate awaits her. Seriously though, does anyone else ever wonder what Bowser even intends on doing to/with the princess? Don't think about it too might hurt yourself.

This screenshot should be as iconic to you as a gamer, as bread is in the sandwich world.

Graphics: What can I say? It's the NES: 8-whole-bits of power coursing across your screen. While not much on the original Nintendo can compare to any of its successors, Super Mario Bros. definitely incorporates some quality visuals. While it's nothing too fancy, this early entry manages to effectively portray lush, green vegetation, bright blue sky, and fluffy white clouds as you sprint through the Mushroom Kingdom, slaughtering its denizens. Your transformations into Big Mario, Fire Mario, and Star Mario are all quick and only minimally flashy. Fire effects in Bowser's various castles are appropriately fiery. Goombas (the evil, mushroom foot soldiers of Bowser's army) are flattened to hilarious effect when you stomp on their heads. It's nothing special these days, but it sure did look nice back then.

Last time *I* jumped onto the top of a flagpole and slid down it, I didn't get 5000 points; I got blisters on my hands, and was later arrested.

Sound/Music: I guarantee you've heard the Mario Bros. theme song blasting from some douchebag's cellphone while walking through the mall at some point in your life. While I'm a fan of Koji Kondo's magnum opus, I feel the four other tracks he composed for Super Mario Bros. are deserving of much more attention than they have received over the past 25 years. From the light fanfare of the water worlds to the dark, menacing theme of Bowser's castle, Kondo's soundtrack remains appropriate throughout. I know I'm not the only one who can attest to getting sweaty palms when the timer hit "99" and those songs sped up to a terrifying tempo.

The sound effects of Super Mario Bros. are some of the most iconic in the genre of platforming: the "boing" of Mario's jump, the "boop" of stomping on a Koopa Troopa, and the gut-wrenching death-trill when an enemy or pitfall kills you. Simple as it gets, but just as unforgettable.

Gameplay: The basic premise of Super Mario Bros. is to rescue the Princess Toadstool from King Bowser by making your way to his castle. There are eight worlds, each consisting of four stages, to make it through before your final confrontation with the supreme Koopa. Each stage has a set time limit, and it's up to the player to get Mario through the hordes of enemies and past the various pitfalls before the timer reaches zero, which will cause him to inexplicably die.

Mario can initially perform two basic actions: run and jump. Fortunately, there are flashing blocks marked with a "?" littered throughout the Mushroom Kingdom that contain various power-ups. Should Mario collect a red and yellow mushroom, he grows to double his size and can smash bricks with his upraised fist while jumping. He can also take an extra hit of damage from enemies before dying. Fire Flowers will grant Mario the ability to throw fireballs at his enemies, and Starmen (bouncing, flashing stars with eyes) will give Mario temporary invincibility, allowing him to kill enemies simply by sprinting into them. Hidden throughout some levels are green and orange mushrooms that will give the player an extra life; the player can also earn extra lives by collecting 100 golden coins, which are found almost everywhere in each level. Levels where Mario must swim instead of walk on land occur at various points throughout the game, adding a small helping of welcome variety to the experience, but the gameplay objectives of these levels are virtually identical to their dry land counterparts.

There are a variety of enemies, power-ups, and secrets strewn throughout Super Mario Bros., and even a two-player mode (which consists of one player controlling Mario and one player controlling Luigi, each taking turns at beating a level). It's easy to see why this game served - and still serves - as the template for many of the games that followed it.

Son of a bitch, not again!

Overall: Super Mario Bros. is, without a doubt, one of the biggest landmarks in video gaming history. Without it, who knows if Nintendo would have continued the Mario franchise, which would have left us without many of the groundbreaking sequels and spin-offs the series inspired. Having been re-released countless times on countless systems, it is clear that Super Mario Bros. continues even presently as much more than a fond memory in the minds of many. If you're a gamer and you're a fan of any platformer, be sure to remember Mario's place at the roots of the genre; not as something archaic and defunct, but rather as the inspiration for many other great titles of today. Super Mario Bros. was not just the quintessential game of its time, but one of the quintessential games of all time.

Score (out of 10): 9.5

Friday, March 12, 2010

Geometry Wars Evolved² (a.k.a. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2)

Because who really wants to play Algebra Wars?

Platform: Xbox 360 (Arcade)
Published by: Activision
Developed by: Bizarre Creations
Genre: Shooter
Players: 1-4
US Release Date: July 30, 2008
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Story: You control a spaceship. Evil, neon, glowing shapes are floating through space, trying to crash into, and ultimately kill you. You have laser blasters. Go.

Graphics: If you ever wondered (for whatever reason) what playing the game "Asteroids" on mild hallucinogens would be like, then look no further. Menus are simple in design and easy to navigate. The game screen is littered with constant multicolored explosions as you destroy your enemies with flashing laser blasts and bombs. Your ship and enemies are basic outlines of geometric shapes - the graphics themselves are barely a step above an Atari 2600. Despite this graphical simplicity, the flashing, glowing, neon dynamic of the visuals definitely adds a level of excitement and chaos to the whole experience; unfortunately, this same dynamic sometimes overwhelms the senses in the same way a strobe light in a dark room can. Overall, however, this game is incredibly fun to watch, and appropriately arcade-y.

Unless you enjoy seizing, I highly-recommend any epileptics to stay far away from this game.

Beyond the sounds of your laser blaster's "pew pew," and the inevitable "boom" of your ship exploding, there's not a whole lot on this game's soundboard. The soundtrack consists of various techno/electronica tunes, with thumping bass and ambient synthesizer loops - fitting background music for a high-speed shooter, but nothing you'd find DJ Tiësto spinning in a club. In other words, it's ultimately forgettable, albeit appropriate for an XBLA entry.

Gameplay: I personally haven't played any other Geometry Wars incarnations, but I am told that the gameplay has remained virtually identical from version to version. While I can see how some find this notion stale, I like to live by the motto "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Especially for those new to the series (as I was), Geometry Wars Evolved² offers plenty of exciting, unique challenges - six modes of ball-busting madness are available to unlock, as well as an addicting local multiplayer mode for up to four people (although I would have really liked if the multiplayer was online as well). Each mode offers its own challenges and unique spin on the basic gameplay mechanics. The controls are some of the most user-friendly on the system, allowing almost anyone (sorry, one-armed man from "The Fugitive") to just pick up a controller and play. The object of the game is so tried-and-true that it should be ingrained in the minds of every gamer out there: bad guys appear on the screen; use laser beams to kill the bad guys; don't die. However, the ridiculously-steep level of challenge will turn many gamers off: this game ramps up the difficulty almost TOO quickly, and without any warning. There are moments where the screen will become so saturated with enemies and particle effects, you will rely solely on luck to survive. You will die. A lot. But chances are you'll have more than enough fun to come back for additional servings of punishment. And let me tell you, this game can really dish it out.

The number of expletives I've uttered while playing the mode "Sequence" (shown above) has definitely broken some sort of world record.

Overall: Playing this game is a lot like stepping into a nightclub - you'll be bombarded by flashing lights, loud techno music, and who can forget the giant, floating shapes trying to kill you? This game will frustrate you beyond words, but therein lies some of its ironic beauty: how can something so incredibly basic (i.e. move ship, shoot bad guys, win game) manage to generate so many challenges? As a gaming society, we're used to blowing away our enemies with super-charged weapons against highly-detailed backdrops; Geometry Wars Evolved² strips away everything that it doesn't deem essential, leaving only the naked gameplay to interact with. Geometry Wars Evolved² will grow on you, and you will find yourself replaying its game modes over and over again in desperate attempts to best your high scores or unlock its insane achievements (like just making it through the near-impossible mode "Sequence"). It's the type of game that doesn't fall back on a lot of needless gimmicks, rather hearkening back to the coin-operated arcade machine era. Just like those games of yesteryear, Geometry Wars Evolved² is fast, challenging, and most of all fun in its simplest of forms.

Score (out of 10): 8

Monday, March 8, 2010


2K Games plunges players headfirst into a world of Rapture. Enough said.

Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Mac
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360
Published by: 2K Games
Developed by: 2K Boston/2K Australia/Irrational Games
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: 1
US Release Date: August 21, 2007
ESRB Rating: Mature - Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language

Story: Welcome to Rapture - a utopian society built by the great visionary Andrew Ryan and the world's greatest minds, located conveniently on the bottom of the sea. Well, that was Rapture before people started getting cabin fever from being cooped up in a giant sardine can...I'm sure the gene-modifying and mind-altering drugs they were regularly mainlining didn't help either. At this point in the storyline, everyone in Rapture is pretty whacky-bananas; the city has fallen far from its former glory as a pinnacle of human achievement, and has become a leaking, dripping, dark, dank, giant bucket of crazy. Enter Jack (your character): he's your average plane crash survivor, who is thrown deep into Rapture's now-ugly belly, as well as into a desperate fight for survival against crazed mutants and Rapture's mechanical defense system. As the halls of the underwater dystopia become more dark and twisted, so does the story - not long after entering Rapture, you will find yourself becoming gradually more entangled in a web of deception, identity crisis, and conflicting philosophies. Without giving too much away, there is an incredibly (potentially) rewarding morality system the player is faced with at key moments in the game, involving the life or death of none other than children. Of course, the player also has the option to skip out on a majority of these events; I'll warn you ahead of time, chances are you won't get too far in the game if you go this route, but it is possible. That's part of the beauty of BioShock: it's a game you decide how to play, and your enemies AND your environment will be more than willing to adapt to your every move.

OK, remember when I said that you can play BioShock any way you want? THIS is definitely the wrong way. Wrench < Big Daddy

Graphics: BioShock is beautiful. If there is one thing I love about this game, it is the amazingly-warped 1950s theme and persistent sense of foreboding that the art style strongly conveys. The environments leak and rot away with the same dank, grim atmosphere as a deep sewer, the enemies and characters all look and behave like evil, twisted versions of "I Love Lucy" characters, and the special effects capture a sense of realism that makes destroying and maiming feel that much more gratifying (come on, you know you're only playing a violent game like this to quell your passive-aggressive yearnings). It's quite easy to become completely immersed in the sights and lights of Rapture. If you don't have an HDTV, I can't even begin to explain to you what you're missing out on.

Outside of the realistic qualities of BioShock's graphics, the 2K team manages to cram plenty of cartoony, retro-style commercials and advertisements into the mix, adding even more authenticity to the '50s vibe, as well as a large helping of dark humor: watching a cartoon ad of a man lighting another person on fire by snapping his fingers - all to cheesy music and a pleasant, female narrator - is just too absurd of a juxtaposition to take seriously. While 2K has shown us they're more than capable of bringing their A-game to the realistic graphics table, this added retro advertisement bit will reassure anyone playing that they certainly haven't lost their sense of humor.

BioShock is full of faux-retro advertisements and commercials, depicting only the best parts of the '50s: Domestic violence.

Sound/Music: BioShock features some of the most amazing audio this side of Perfectville, USA. The voice acting is incredible: emotion is conveyed in a purely realistic fashion; when a character is afraid, you will hear their voice quiver or go up in pitch; enraged individuals will scream so vehemently, you will swear that spit is flying out of your speakers; even the scattered audio diaries you will listen to around Rapture reveal most of the individuals as bored, exhausted, and teetering on the brink of insanity, despite the lack of visuals.

BioShock's soundtrack is top-notch, featuring authentic music from the '30s, '40s, and '50s, as well as some truly powerful original orchestral tracks by Garry Schyman. But even more significant than the music are the sound effects in BioShock. Sound effects are such an important part of the BioShock experience: ambient clinking, dripping, and the pattering of footsteps make up much of what you will hear. Some of the eeriest moments of the game are spent just...well, listening. Instead of stomping around like a brute the entire time, stopping and listening for telltale signs of enemies is an oftentimes useful strategy, especially since most of them make A LOT of noise (i.e. screaming at each other, foraging through trash for resources, talking/singing to themselves, or in the case of the game's hardass enemies known as "Big Daddies," the menacing stomping of their heavy, metal boots). If you actually take the time to hear what's going on in the game, you'll get a lot more from the experience.

Gameplay: BioShock includes some truly entertaining gameplay features that adhere to all player styles. There are plenty of weapons, special powers (called "plasmids"), and items strewn about Rapture, just waiting for you to discover - using all the weapons and plasmids in combination to find out what works best in certain situations is great. Along your journey, you will find money lying about or on the bodies of the dead, which can be used in vending machines that sell ammo and other items vital to your survival. Weapon upgrade stations, hidden plasmid upgrades, and random audio diaries give the player enough incentive to roam off the beaten path and into the labyrinth of random rooms that make up Rapture. But this is just the beginning of what makes BioShock such a fun game to play.

More so than most similar FPS games, BioShock promotes the use of strategy when dealing with the hordes of enemies found in the halls of Rapture. While it is possible to charge through the entire game like Rambo on bull hormones, some players may find it more rewarding to explore other options - see a large group of enemies in the distance? Why not snipe them off before taking them head-on? Don't want to waste your limited ammo reserve? Hack a security bot to do your dirty work for you. Don't quite feel like fighting at all? Sneak by that group of enemies too busy screaming at each other. I don't want to sound confusing: there are random enemy attacks and sneaky bastards hiding all over the place, ready to jump out at you; enemy AI will adapt to your tactics, and you will be forced to fight (after all, this is a first-person shooter). However, the way you approach much of this game is largely up to you, and therein lies much of the beauty of BioShock.

Raiden's got nothing on THIS lightning. Now if you could just Superman dive across the screen...

Overall: An engrossing story, great visuals, fun and interesting gameplay mechanics, and some of the best audio effects I've ever experienced on the 360 round out one hell of a trip. Multiple endings exist based on certain choices you make in the game, giving BioShock some pretty decent replay value. Still, I wasn't able to give this a perfect 10 out of 10, due to the lack of a multiplayer component (which was added in the sequel). Also, I felt that the frequent random enemy attacks were a bit too frequent: despite being included to prevent lulls in the action and to add an ominous atmosphere, I feel they stopped being intense early on in the game and more of an annoying hindrance. Regardless, BioShock remains one of my favorite single-player experiences on the Xbox 360, enough so that I pre-ordered a copy of the sequel when it recently came out. If you enjoy a good story with a lot of creepy atmosphere (and a lot of offbeat humor), then you may want to take a stroll through the underwater halls of Rapture.

Score (out of 10): 9

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Final Fantasy X

The first Final Fantasy on PlayStation 2 proves a timeless classic almost a decade later.

Platform: PlayStation 2
Published by: Square/Square Electronic Arts (US)
Developed by: Square
Genre: RPG
Players: 1
US Release Date: December 18, 2001
ESRB Rating: Teen - Blood, Violence

Story: Final Fantasy X, much like its predecessors, does not follow any pre-existing storyline established by the series. Instead, the tenth installment follows a teen sports star named Tidus (let the pronunciation war begin!), who is ripped away from his life of luxury by a mysterious creature known as Sin, and into the distant future in the world of Spira. There, he becomes the guardian to a summoner named Yuna, who is on an ancient quest to find the aeons and defeat Sin to bring peace to Spira. If you think that's confusing, then you're in for a trip: the story continues to branch and twist, but never totally leaves the player behind, instead explaining each plot development or at least dangling hints in front of their nose. Final Fantasy X boasts a great, fully-fleshed-out cast of characters as well; I had a tough time letting most of them go when I beat the game. It also includes one of THE BEST love stories in RPG history - don't think you're too "manly" to acknowledge love; it makes you look like a massive douche. Once you start along the path to Zanarkand, it will be very, very hard to stop. Final Fantasy X's story ranks among my favorite of the series.

If you thought Tidus and Yuna's love story was "gay," then you are an insecure, dumb, little penis.

Graphics: Though dated by today's standards, Final Fantasy X's visuals rank among the most beautiful and detailed on the system: environments are large, lush, and vibrant; characters' facial expressions and body language convey natural emotions during scenes of dialogue; menus are bright and easy to manage. Square's cutscenes are leaps and bounds ahead of the competition in this installment, bringing a level of hyper-realism to the characters and displaying some really gorgeous water effects. When viewing this game for the first time, it's crazy to try to imagine the visuals getting even better as the series progresses.

Sound/Music: Series composer/musical genius Nobuo Uematsu returns, with the help of Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano, to deliver another Oscar-worthy score. The music is appropriately epic, triumphant, and sad, adding unspoken emotion to each and every moment of the Final Fantasy X experience. Sound effects are typical RPG fare, with one major addition: Final Fantasy's first attempt at voice acting. While the entire game isn't fully voiced (come on, let's not get totally banana-crazy here), every major section fits in at least a few lines of spoken dialogue. I personally found it a welcome addition and almost flawlessly-executed (with the exception of the infamous "laughing" scene). I'm glad Square stuck with the idea after this game.

Gameplay: Final Fantasy X makes some big changes to leveling up - in fact, forget what you already know about leveling up (for the most part...unless you've already played Final Fantasy XII or Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga). Enter the Sphere Grid: hated by some, loved by many, I rank this among my favorite character development systems to date. Sure, you still collect XP to some degree, but instead of a random stat generator boosting your parameters and giving you skills at preset levels, you get a little more freedom in your characters' development. Each time your character acquires the required amount of XP, you get to move to a "node" of the sphere grid (assuming you have the proper sphere in possession). In the beginning of the game, each node contains a different character-specific skill or build statistic; as the game progresses, however, each character gains access to the skills and parameter builds of all the other characters. You want your mages to be able to lay a beat-down with their staffs? Done. Tired of your warrior/tank being slow as a constipated turtle taking a dump? With enough time, effort, and patience, you can have that dude casting fireballs 23849757 times a turn (OK, maybe nothing THAT crazy). Confusing as hell to read, I know - this is more reason to check out Final Fantasy X and (possibly) fall in love with the Sphere Grid.

This installment of Final Fantasy follows the turn-based combat of yesteryear, back before the ATB system made its debut on our battle screens. However, Final Fantasy X places heavy emphasis on strategy, maybe more so than any previous incarnation; especially during battles later in the game, it becomes frequently necessary to swap out teammates to find the party that will be most effective against an enemy. These less action-centric battles may not appeal to all, but I found it satisfying that the slower pace of combat was balanced with a myriad of strategic options that felt both refreshing and rewarding.

Final Fantasy X boasts some truly epic boss fights. This dude is just a small-fry compared to the size of some.

Overall: What else is there to say that I haven't already said? Great graphics, great music, some pretty decent voice acting, and a rich, deep battle and level up system come together to form one killer package. Final Fantasy X ranks not only among my favorite Final Fantasy games, not only among my favorite RPGs, but among my favorite games of ALL TIME. It's a game I'm inclined to replay enough that the case never gets dusty. If you for whatever reason missed out when it was first released (or the 9 following years), you shouldn't have to pay more than a cool 20 bones to play what I consider a gaming landmark and masterpiece. Hats go way, way, waaaay off to Square for this one. And seriously...don't be afraid to cry, or at least fall in love with some of the characters.

Score (out of 10): 10
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