Lotro Log #1 – 16th June 08

16 06 2008


Current Level: 11
Epic Quest: Prologue, Chapter 3

I have long held the belief that writing a single review of an MMO beyond covering the question “Is it broken?” is largely pointless. Due to the nature of the genre, one person’s experience can and will differ vastly from any other persons. This is my second attempt to play Lotro and I am finding it remarkably different from the first time. The biggest contributor to this is the fact that I am playing a hobbit rather than a man, so consquently I am in a totally different zone. Well actually, lets go back to the beggining.

When you first start a character, you are thrown into this linear instanced single player tutorial section which gets you going and provides a bit of action straight of the bat. This sequence had Black Riders hastling hobbits looking for Baginses and such things. Once you have learnt how to both click on things, and click on other different things, you are graduate to actually being able to play with other players. You find yourself in a non-instanced newbie area which is sectioned off from the rest of the game. Actually i was most disappointed to find that it was the same place that the humans go at this point so I had already played through it. At level 5 you run out of quests here, do a story mission, and then I was sent back to the Shire to start the proper game.

While Bree-land felt a bit sparse of quests and towns, there being a mere two before you ended up wandering into Bree, the shire is a sprawling mass of hobbit villages and seemingly endless quests. I think that for the proper Lord of the Rings related experience, it is definitely best to start as a Hobbit. It just seems the right place to start. You potter around doing relatively unimportant quests of no real consequence, which is appopriate to the ramp up that I know is coming later. You also get to see ‘famous landmarks’ like Bag End. Here’s a holiday snap.

Enjoying

* The shire is beautifully constructed. It’s largely based on this marvellous piece of art which Tolkien seemingly doodled on the back of a napkin. All those villages are present. You start in Little Devling, and find Michel Delivng, Waymeet, Hobbiton, Bywater, Overhill, Needlehole, Tookborough, Brockborings, Scary, Frogmorton, Woodhall and Stock. Each village has a distinct look, and has a lot of content which is usually about 4-10 quests.

* Playing a Minstrel. There is something oddly badass about whipping out a lute and playing chords as a bear comes charging at you. The minstrel is basically a healer/caster, but using a lute instead of magic. The reason for this is that characters in Lotro don’t have hit points, they have ‘morale’. Apparently the only effect of being gnawed by a bear is a slight loss of morale. Anyway, the minstrels little tunes boost morale which sort of makes sense, I guess.

Hating

* There is some pretty blatant attempts to waste the players time going on. There are these postal delivery and pie delivery quests. Both have the player trying to delivery post and pies between the various villages while avoiding hungry hobbits or nosey hobbits. Most of these quests take about 5-10 minutes of boring running from one town to another, and if you can mess up at the last second and have to start all over if you get too close to one of the hobbits. It’s rather aggravating really.

* Group quests. Well I haven’t found many of these so far, but I’ve got one in my log that doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere any time soon. The server I am playing on seems a little dead and no-one seems to be around to do it. This is a problem I had with Wow as well. The only option really is to wait till I really outlevel it and come back later.

Desire to Continue: 9





Lotro Log

11 06 2008

I recently had this terrifying desire to play “Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar” or Lotro as the kids on the streets are calling it. Frankly I am just glad it wasn’t a desire to play Wow again. I think I am scheduled to have one of those around whenever the Wrath of the Lich King expansion comes out. As I haven’t been finishing a lot of anime recently, and I find writing games reviews oddly hard and un-fun, I have decided to write some stuff about my experiences with Lotro until the time when I inevitably freak out and uninstall it forever. again.

What’s a Lotro?

So yeah, Lotro was the first big MMO that had the misfortune to be released after Wow. Actually that’s probably a complete falacy but I can’t be botherd to check it up. It borrows a ton of stuff from Wow, which is probably a good thing as that game did so many things totally right. It’s good that I can just press the same buttons and have pretty much the same things happen.

Lotro is of course set in everyone’s favourite Tolkien-esque fantasy world Middle Earth. Actually it’s only set in a bit of it. Middle Earth is big in the books, and while they could of compressed it bizarelly like Azeroth, they instead went the better of option of just making everything totally massive. Lotro is currently set in the part that most people remember from the time they tried to read the book and gave up at the Tom Bombadil chapter. You’ve got The Shire, Breeland, Rivendell and various other places between there and the Misty Mountains that they probably either scraped from a single mention in an appendix, or just made up.

One odd thing to note about it is that this is nothing to do with the Peter Jackson films, so it definitely doesn’t look exactly like them, but it’s still recognisibly middle earth and even seems to nudging you in the ribs trying to remind you of the films at times.

You played it before?

Yeah, I played it when it first came out back in Jun 07 I think. Me and a couple of friends played it for a couple of months.

What class?

A minstrel. Largely because I find the idea of bards and minstrels to be hilarious. I got to level 13 or so.

What are the graphics like?

What they lack in style compared to Wow they make up for in Bloom and technical fanciness. The water in this game looks most excellent. The game seems to of gained some fancy Direct X 10 features since I last played, though this might be just because I actually have a DX10 card now. There’s a slider for Bloom level in the Advanced Graphics options menu which I have slid all the way to max, because I find Bloom funny for some reason.

Why did you quit?

I eventually freaked out when i could see it becoming the same time consuming monster that Wow is. Like, everything took to long, and I was going to have to be increasingly reliant on grouping with internet jerks to get things done which is something I could really do without. Funny for someone playing an MMO to think that really.

Wait, why did you decide to start playing again?

Oddly, the only original thing about Lotro is the thing that caused me to come back. The game has this thing called an ‘Epic Quest’, which is a quest chain that goes throughout the entire game. In it you are basically following the Fellowship in their quest and helping them out as they travel around doing the events from the book.

The epic quest is structured into books which is split into about 10 chapters or quests. Some of these even have crazy cutscenes and stuff like Sauron’s eye will appear in your mini-map whenever you are near a rider. They’ve been releasing new books for free in patches which is awesome. I sort of wonder how far they’ll ever actually get through the story before the game dies for some reason. They are currently working their way through the second of the six volumes of the story.

There is a new expansion set in the Mines of Moria which sounds really great apparently contains another 6 books. Playing through this quest is the real reason why I am starting this again. It’s just a really interesting and compelling idea. It’s a shame that I know I’ll need five other people to get through a lot of the parts of it. *sigh*

So are you starting over?

I logged into my old character and discovered that I had totally forgotten how to play, or what I was doing, so I have decided to start over. I have created myself a Hobbit minstrel this time so I get a different starting area.

I am not planning on playing it for much more than an hour a day. Though I’ll have to see how I do with that. I have no desire to lose my self to a bloody MMO again.

So yeah, Lotro. I’ll do a proper log of what I’ve been doing when I have something to say.





Sam & Max 203: Night of the Raving Dead Review

6 06 2008

Title!
Developer: Telltale Games
Platform: PC
Genre: SAM & MAX, WHAT PART OF THAT IS UNCLEAR?

Warning: I spoil all!

This game has zombies in it. Do I need to go on? I guess if you for some reason are not the zombie-obsessed type of person, more convincing is necessary. New York, and indeed the entire world is overrun by zombies. The zombies are by all accounts largely well behaved and aren’t really being too much of an inconvenience, but that doesn’t stop Sam and Max from feeling obligated to trying to stop them anyway. Unfortunately, firing bullets at them seems to have little to no effect, so they have to rely on the usual combination of puzzle-solving and wit to see them through.


Zombies!!!

Most of the regular characters have returned for 203, with the exception of Bosco who is pleasingly absent from this entry. Bosco is an okay charcter, but he sort of wore out his welcome in the first season where the writers never gave him anything to do other than put on his accent of the week and overcharge for vital item. Other returning characters are Cybil Pandemic, Stinky, the ever awesome Agent Superball and some minor characters from episode 102 show up again.

You may remember that I had beef with the puzzles in the previous episode, I am pleased to report that the puzzles in this episode are a lot better, and while some are relatively fiendish, it never delvolves into illogical nonsense. The limited number of items and locations in each episode means you should never get stuck for too long anyway, as you can always try everything with everying relatively quickly if needed.


Jurgen got back to stuttgart in time to see Kraftwerk

The investigation eventually (quickly) leads you to Stuttgart which is the source of the zombies. A euro-emo-vampire named Jurgen is creating a zombie army for reasons that could probably of been explained better. Jurgen has quite a prominent role in the episode, so it’s fortunate he’s such an amusing character with great voice acting. Most episodes only have the main baddie showing up at the end, so it’s good to have him around for most of the episode.

The new location in this episode is Jurgen’s castle exteriors and interior. They seem to be limiting themselves to 3 new screens per episode, which is perhaps a bit too little? The new areas look very good though, and could almost be described as atmospheric. This episode also features more Flint Paper than ever before, which is totally awesome for the following reason: Flint Paper is totally awesome. If that wasn’t clear, he’s Sam and Max’s psychotic PI neighbour who solves crimes using bullets and fists.


A gun in one hand, a brain in the other. Fully awesome.

There a lot of refferences to zombie culture, like Resident Evil, George Romero and his films (and John Romero who I’m glad isn’t too obscure a referrence to make yet). The zombies themselves are they type that like brains, which might turn off zombie purists, but it’s fine here because brains play an important role in some of the puzzles. The episode has one of the best twists yet in half way through, and if you are planning on playing it at this point, I strongly advise you not to look at this image, as it will spoil the suprise totally.

One of my favourite aspects of Season 2 has been what they have done with the driving sequences. In the first season they were incidental and poorly developed. In this season they have become full blown mini-games complete with easter eggs. In the first two episodes of season 2 the sequences involved Sam and Max are driving along a neverending road, and you are challenged to run over various things. In this one, the perspective has change to a sort of Paper boy like setup, and you can chuck SOL discs at zombies which works okay even if it is a horribly dated joke).


Is this the zombie of the good lincoln or the evil lincoln?

In these sequnces, if you play them long enough you’ll see some odd things that if shot or run over will unlock a decal for your car. You get these from running over zombie parties, shooting down blimbs or swinging pianos, etc. If you collect them all you get an entirely cosmetic car upgrade like a giant engine. The best thing is that the decals and upgrades are persistent between episodes which means that I obsessively collect them all. Not that it takes very long or anything, but it’s a nice touch.

Overall, this is a much better episode than 202 or even 201, but still not as good as 104 or 105. I talk in code! The next episode looks to be Bosco centric, which I’ll have to see how well works out.

Arbitrary Rating: 8 – Zombies





Game Huh? Part 1 – Received what now?

10 05 2008

Small Girl: Please sir, can you rescue my bird. It is trapped under the rubble of the fountain.

[Kaim discovers a bird sitting on the rubble of the fountain, not actually under the rubble mind you.]

Small Girl: Thank-you for rescuing my bird. Oh look! Something is stuck on it’s wing! Never mind, you can keep it.

[Received 6 x ANCIENT STATUE]





Sam & Max 202: Moai Better Blues Review

1 04 2008

 Title!
Developer: Telltale Games
Platform: PC
Genre: Adven…It’s Sam & Max, dammit!

Warning: This review is positively spoiler-stuffed.

Telltale games have done an excellent job being the only developers actually able to produce the much vaunted Episodic Content that everyone was blathering on about a while back. Episode 202 is the 8th episode they’ve managed to get out, and they are still as reliable as ever. Unfortunately, this probably the weakest of the ones I’ve played so far. The worst episode in the first season was episode three or 103 – ‘The Mole, the Mob, and the Meatball’, which was mainly far shorter than the other episodes, and not really that funny or interesting.

Episode 201 was a great start to the season, and had Sam & Max going to the North Pole to deal with an out of control Santa. Rather than that reasonably solid premise albeit slightly borrowed premise, Episode 202 has you going to Easter island, to do a succession of unrelated tasks that might stop a volcano, or Bermuda triangles, or become a priest, or something.

Like most Sam & Max episodes, this one starts in your office. By this point in series, the majority of the actual objects in their office have been replaced by references to the earlier episodes. I was fine with this when it was limited to the items in their closet, such as Brady Culture’s afro, and Leonard Steakcharmer, but now it’s a totally insane pile of crap that I can barely remember where half of which came from.

Triangle
I hope you like triangles, because this episode is stuffed with them.

A scream from outside shows that Cybil is being chased around the street by a floating triangle thing, and the first part of the game involves working out how to stop it. This section is fine, and by the numbers. You wander around and talk to Stinky, Bosco, the usual. There’s nothing especially wrong or difficult about this section, infact the solution to the triangle puzzle is remarkably simple (It involves triangles).

After you’ve stopped it, you go through the triangle and wind up on Easter Island. It is populated by Ocean Chimps, Moai heads, and the baby versions of famous lost people, like Glenn Miller and Amelia Earhart. Now I’m all for having new characters in these games, infact I would say that the desperately need as many of them as possible, but seriously? 5 new characters who are all babies? It’s just disturbing.

Urgh
Oh good, babies.

Anyway, it’s in this section that the game really starts to break down. For the first time in the series, I got the feeling that I was fighting against obnoxious adventure-game logic that would make the Gabriel Knight developers choke on their biscotties. You want an example?

So….

There’s a baby version of Jimmy Hoffa guarding a cave that you wish to enter. Hoffa is thirsty, and you have to give him some water from the nearby fountain of youth in order to de-age him out of existence. The fountain of youth is full of piranhas that are preventing you from scooping up any water. There are some sentient Moai heads nearby who control the elements. There is a head that can control the wind, but is too depressed to demonstrate it’s power. There is another Moai head that is buried in the earth which controls thunder, and will produce a miniature thundercloud above it’s head when angered. There is also a series of Bermuda triangles that can be moved around the area by shooting colour coded poles.

Stupid bloody puzzle
That giant sandal shows up in your office in the next episode. Oh, the referenceness!

What do you do?

Naturally you adjust the triangles so that one is opposite the Moai head that will blow wind when happy, and the other is near the Fountain of Youth. You play a conch recording of baby Glenn Miller’s latest hit (inspired by your car horn), which will make the wind-controlling head start whistling. You then shoot the buried head so that it creates a thunder-cloud. The cloud is blown through one triangle, out the other and over the fountain of youth. The thunder cloud emits lightning that kills the piranhas. This allows you to safely collect the water, and de-age baby Jimmy Hoffa out of existence and enter the cave.

…huh.

Can’t I shoot the fish? Can’t I just shoot Hoffa? Why didn’t the fountain de-age the fish? Isn’t it awfully convenient that all these portals are all over the place? Why is any of this logical? It’s all too computer-gamey! Now I’ll be first to admit that complaining that a computer game is too computer-gamey is inherently dumb, but then SO IS THIS FUCKING PUZZLE. Yeah, I showed you!

On top of that, the writers seemed to of forgotten to write jokes, and a plot at this point. The game just sort of ends without much of a climax. Something about an evil fish? I dunno. The hint system which amounts to Max almost telling you the answers to the puzzles should get you through it, so you don’t have to keep alt-tabbing to a walkthrough, it’s just a shame that the puzzles aren’t logical enough to be worked out on their own.

Anyway, if you are playing through these episodes it’s not like you should just skip this one or anything. It’s also incredibly unlikely that you would start the series at this point, so this is a review for people who are going to play this game anyway, or not at all regardless of what I say. Oh well, at most it’ll only consume 3 hours of your time, and is still vaguelly amusing. The next episode is about zombies, and from what I have played of it is much much better. Zombies always makes thing better.

Arbitrary Rating: 6 – Babies





The Unnamed Games Podcast – 02.03.08

27 03 2008

Podcast. Blogcast. Pod carts. Pawed Carps.

*Ahem*

In the last year I have been listening to more and more podcasts. I started listening to Gamespot’s Hotspot, and from there picked up 1up’s 1upyours, and have most recently have been listening to Giantbomb.com’s Giant Bombcast. Inspired by all these fine folks and their seemingly infinte capacity to spout hilarious words about games down a microphone, I have joined forces with Josh Barton of joshbarton.co.uk to bring the world our first Podcast!

Using equipment I found lying around near my desk, and free software downloaded from the internet, I am proud to bring you our first attempt at podcastering that we recorded back in February at some point. It’s mostly about Burnout Revenge, and whatever we were playing at the time, and you can probably hear some trains going past in the background. I’m sorry but I couldn’t find the ‘Remove sound of trains’ audio filter. You also get to hear my weird voice, although I am probably the only person who considers it weird as it sounds totally different when echoing around inside my skull.

Download at your peril! (1:03 – 29.2MB)

If you wish to ask us a question, you can contact both Josh and myself by writing words in an email client, filling in podcast@joshbarton.co.uk as the recipient, and then finally clicking ‘Send’. If you successfully complete the above, then there’s a chance we will read it out on the next podcast in a vaguely mocking tone.





The Spiderwick Chronicles – Demo Impressions

21 03 2008

 Spiderwick
Developer: Stormfront Studios
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: Movie Tie-In

I sit here waiting for the demo of ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’ to download, it’s 630.21MB, so isn’t taking that long really. I have decided to ‘live blog’ my experiences of this demo. Well I guess it’s technically not ‘live’ per say, more just sort of written on the fly.

I know absolutely nothing about The Spiderwick Chronicles. I am vaguely aware that it’s a movie, probably a fantasy movie judging by the little logo I am staring at. Looks like a Harry Potter rip-off or something. The little synopsis of the demo promises a mysterious book, fantastical creatures, an ogre, and an unseen world which I guess I am down with. There had better be no bloody whimsy though, that can fuck right off. This is the first new demo that’s shown up on XBL for weeks and weeks. I really have no idea what’s going on with that.

Okay 55%…. guess I’ll read a bit of my book till it’s done…

Okay, done. Let’s fire this up now. The Nickelodeon, Paramount, Sierra and Stormfront Studios logos burst onto the screen in stunning HD. I’ve never noticed how Paramount and Sierra sort of have the same mountain in their logo.

Title screen has a spooky house, and Potterish music playing. I’ll just hit start. I have the option to play as Jared or Thimblejack, I’ll chose Jared as it’s the first option. Ooh, dumped into the world with no fanfare.

“Your brother Simon has been captured by Goblins! Catch the Health Sprite at the end of the driveway and then head into the woods to search for Simon.”

Right, it makes an bad first impression due to ugly graphics. It’s in third-person and controls a bit like a 3d Zelda game or something. I’m playing as a Harry Potter look-alike with a monocle thing. Hitting A swings a baseball bat, X makes him do a weird slide move. If I get too close to scenery it switches for first person view, but this transition is sort of broken and the view just jumps around crazily.

“Play the full game to explore this area.” the game says, ‘this area’ referring to a garage. I’m sure the inside of a garage is very neat and all, but I think it’ll have to do better than that to convince me. Okay, time to hunt down the Health Sprite. He’s a sort of green dude, who I have to hit with a dream-catcher thing. Doing this prompts me to paint it, which means moving the analogue stick around to uncover a picture of it within a certain time. Right, did it after 3 goes, so can now heal myself yay. It’s now telling me to go save my brother.

Argh, tiny frogs are attacking me! Frogs, meet baseball bat! Well that was underwhelming. ‘Collected Goblins tooth’. They were goblins? How the fuck do frogs kidnap my brother, especially when they can be beaten by a baseball bat swung by a 9 year old boy? Okay, next area!

Yes, it does look this bad.

I am now in a large woody area with a million bloody sprites wheeling about the screen. Trying to capture any of them pops up the tedious painting mini-game. This doesn’t pause the action either, so stuff comes up to you and wails on you while you are painting. Just like in real life. There are more frogs, and oddly placed puddles of lava preventing me from going down some paths. The main character says things like ‘All right, another goblins tooth!’ in a very grating fashion.

“The old quarry is this way. I bet that’s where the goblins are!” says Jared. No shit!

Ooh, a jumping puzzle, but there’s no jump key, it’s 3d Zelda style jumping where he leaps of cliffs, often to his doom . About 50 frogs later (The frogs have started wearing hats), I have finally found the path to the old quarry.

“MISSION ACCOMPLISHED To find out what happens next, play The Spiderwick Chronicles game.”

That’s pefect, I was just starting to get sick of it. My brother will just have to fend for himself.

I guess I should give Thimblejack a go.

Do not play.

Oh bloody Hell! I am now controlling a miniature Rat man, who only talks in rhyme. I am running around on a giant desk, or maybe I’m tiny? Whatever, it’s got some of the worst visuals I’ve seen on the 360. The background of the room is a very blurry texture wrapped around just away from the desk. Did anyone really think this looked good?

Okay, I can’t take this. I’m done. I must not be the target market for this game. I assume that the target market is ‘people who like bad games’.

Conclusion: If you want to play Zelda for idiots, or some horrendous shite movie-tie in, then this is the game for you.





Game Over?

13 03 2008

I just died in a JRPG…. it said “Game Over” and everything! I’d almost forgotten what this was like…

This bastard totally bloody killed me. The Cunt.

A wise man once said “I have been shot down at the first hurdle.”, these words nicely sum up the situation. Kaim the Immortal sets off on a quest to discover a thousand years past and the secret behind his immortality, but barely makes it over the first mountain range when a giant dragon named Grilgan shows up. Despite Kaim’s best efforts to exploit it’s weakness to fire attacks, Grilgan spams an attack that damages all members of Kaim’s party for over 200 HP, 3 turns in a row, and they all fall down dead. So much for being immortal…

Would you like to continue from the last Checkpoint?

Yes <-
No

Perhaps this is actually the true nature of his immortality. When I one day die, I will look out for this prompt too.

Anyhoo.

I’ve been reading a lot of opinion about Lost Odyssey recently. One thing that has repeatedly cropped up is how this game is apparently a step back for the JRPG genre. I assume that the last JRPG any of these reviewers played was Final Fantasy 12. For those of you who don’t know, FF12 dropped turn-based combat in favour of a more real time affair like an MMORPG. For some reason everyone decreed this as revolutionary (Hey guys, ever played the .Hack games? No? oh), and apparently any JRPG that dares use a traditional combat system is some sort of primitive throwback.

For some reason it didn’t occur to them that FF12’s combat system wasn’t really all that great. It didn’t give you enough direct control over your party to play effectively, so all actions had to be automated. You could program the AI of every member of your team, so they would heal if their health dropped below 50%, use antidote if poisoned, regain mana if out of mana, attack leaders target, etc. All you the player was left to do was hold down the analogue stick in the direction of the thing you wanted to die. The game bloody well played itself. Was this really better? Really? Really, really?

Thank Christ that the people at Mistwalker realise that while FF12 was neat, it was sort of a totally different genre to the first 10 Final Fantasy games, and wasn’t really going to become the norm for the genre. Did everyone stop making 2d platform games when Mario 64 came out? (Don’t answer that).

Another thing that seems to burst forth from drooling fingers of reviewers of this game is a phrase along the lines of “JRPG haters will just find more things to complain about here, but fans of the genre will love it.”. Wow man, that’s fucking deep. What awesome logic. People who hate JRPGs will hate this JRPG? Brilliant!

Are people who don’t like these games studiously buying and playing each one, declaring it to be shit, but then saying to themselves, “Maybe the next one will convince me!”. I can only assume so.

Bonus Except from Review of Gran Turismo 5 –
“Driving game haters will not like this driving game, but fans of the genre will be right at home.”





Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door Review

13 03 2008

Developer: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo
Platform: Gamecube
Genre: JRPG

Thousand Year Door Title

Warning: In this review I may use the word ‘juxtaposition’. Please treat it accordingly.

Taking an existing franchise into a different genre is always a risky proposition. Fortunately for developers Intelligent Systems, Squaresoft made this particular leap for them 8 years prior with the magnificent Super Mario RPG for the SNES. The original Paper Mario came out towards the end of the N64’s life, and no-one really played it despite it being critically acclaimed. I recently played through the version on the Wii Virual Console, and can highly recommend it to anyone who thinks they can stomach playing an N64 game in this day and age.

Paper Mario is a weird idea in itself. In these games, the characters and large portions of the scenery are apparently made of paper. The original game didn’t do much with this idea, but they’ve totally taken it to the next level here. By that I mean that Mario can turn sideways, into a tube, and occasionally he turns into a paper aeroplane or boat. Great stuff. I’m really not sure at how the ended up at the idea of having Mario made of paper, no seriously what the hell was the thought process behind that? The only thing I can possibly think was that it had something to do with developing a simple art style that the N64 could handle.

Nice art style
It’s best not to ask really. Looks nice though.

With the additional power of the Gamecube the character detail has been improved a lot, so the camera can zoom right up close without them going all pixely and crappy looking. I could hardly say that this game pushed the graphical capabilities of the Gamecube particularly hard, but it doesn’t need to. The art style works, and it’ll probably still look passable in a million years if you’ll forgive my hyperbole.

Mario RPG games always start in Mario and Luigi’s house. Yes, for some reason they share a wooden house, and sleep on bunk-beds. I guess it makes sense. Anyway, Mario gets a letter from Princess Peach inviting him to come and assist her in a far off city. Mario dutifully rushes off to the city called Rogueport which serves as the game’s main hub (it is a port with rogues in it, if the name wasn’t clear enough). Once there he discovers Princess Peach has been kidnapped. If I were Mario I’d just assume that if she left my field of view for any period of time then she’s probably already totally kidnapped. While attempting to find her, Mario ends up trying to unravel the mystery of a giant door beneath Rogueport. This adventure sends him off all over the world to find 8 brightly coloured thingymabobs that’ll will apparently open the door once collected.

Much of the charm of the game comes from the juxtaposition of having cutesy mario creatures in an actually well realised and slightly dark game world. Rather than in other mario games where a koopa’s soul job is to walk along a path, here you meet a koopa who is trying to overcome his cowardly nature, and having a hard time with his girl-friend. Rather than being stomped on by Mario and blown up as usual, you meet a bob-omb who is in mourning for his deceased wife. These oddly realistic situations are forced on cute characters to hilarious effect, and overall it’s extremely effective in making the mario universe, such as it is, a rich enough backdrop to have an RPG on.

Giant Boss battle
Some of the bosses struggle to fit onto the battle stage.

Combat in the Paper Mario games is a turn based jrpg style affair. Unusually for a jrpg though, the numbers involved are really small. An enemy will likely have less than 15 HP, and your normal attacks will do 1-8 damage or so as the game goes on. This makes a welcome change from the meaninglessly inflated values of recent Final Fantasy games, where the hardest boss has 50 million HP, rather than the mere 200 HP in this game. Most of the actions you take in combat have some sort of skill test that if you do correctly will make the attack more powerful, or an enemies attack less powerful. This usually involves hitting A at the exact moment the animation of the attack connects with the enemy. If you are feeling risky, you can defend using the B button which not only negates all the damage of an enemie’s attack, but actually does some damage back to the enemy. This is appropriately hard to pull off, but very good when you do get the timing down. Every enemy’s attack has different timing, and a lot of the attack animations are designed to confuse you as to exactly when the damage is going to occur.

A new aspect to the combat is that the combat scenes take place on a theatrical stage, in front of an audience. The stage is dressed with a rough impression of the area you were in before, but obviously done like stage backdrop. If you do impressive moves, you will win over more members of the audience, who throw crap at whichever side they don’t like, sabotage the stage dressing, and occasionally get eaten by the more ferocious enemies. This doesn’t add an awful lot to the combat as the things they throw do very little damage. It is fun to hear the roar of the crowd when you pull of an impressive move though. As you progress through the game the stage becomes more elaborate, and eventually gets wrestling-style fireworks going off at the start of each battle.

Goombella and a Koopa
This koopa may look all cutesy, but he’s probably worried about his mortgage repayments.

As you progress through the game Mario gets seven different companions who are roughly gender swapped versions of the companions from the first game. There is a Goomba, a Bob-omb, a Koopa, a Yoshi, and some other random ones. These party members participate more in the combat now, and have their own HP, which has made the combat a bit deeper. Outside of combat you can have one selected at once, and they will do all the talking for Mario who is largely mute as always. They have written unique conversations depending on which companion you have for some of the game, which is a nice touch.

There are 8 main chapters in the game, each concerned with Mario recovering one of the 8 thingumies he needs to open the door. Structurally, you usually have to go to a new town, then onto a dungeon where you will face a boss. One of the chapters mixes things up by having you have to work your way up through a fighters arena to claim the champion’s belt which has the needed thingy attached to it. This overall structure hasn’t varied massively from the first game.

Also carried over from the previous game are the intermissions between each chapter. During thse you take control of Princess Peach as she explores the weird futuristic base where she has been captured, and befriend a creepy computer who develops a crush on her after watching her take a shower. This game also adds a second sequence between each chapter where you get to play as Bowser. Bowser is annoyed that it isn’t him who has kidnapped the princess this time, and is following Mario around trying to work out what the hell is going on, which results in him constantly turning up too late to get anything done. These sequences are hilarious, and as a bonus it occasionally cuts to a Super Mario Bros. style side-scroller sequence where you control Bowser, and smash your way through World 1-1 of the original Mario.

Super Bowser Bros. World 1-1
“Have some of this!”

If I had to find criticism with the game, I would suggest that the side quests involve slightly too much tedious backtracking. These side quests come from a job board that gets a few jobs added to it each chapter, buy they invariably involve revisiting a ton of previous locations for very little reward. Another annoying aspect is that certain enemies can lock you in to a stun cycle. There are these flowers-enemies that cast ‘Sleep’ on you every turn unless you can hit a very hard defend move, and the sleep lasts for 2 turns. It doesn’t take a genius mathematician to see the problem with this. I’d also say that the mana/flower points are largely useless due to not enough ways to refill them. I’d advise anyone starting the game to only ever upgrade their Badge Points and HP when they level up.

Overall the game is probably slightly worse than the original. It copies the formula almost exactly so comes off as a sort of retread with better graphics. I’m glad they chose to mix up the formula as much as they did with Super Paper Mario, which I will presumably get around to playing now that I have finished the first two games.

Arbitrary Rating: 9 – Mario è fatto di carta





Tomb Raider Retrospective Part 3 – Tomb Raider III (1998)

8 03 2008

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 

Tomb Raider 3 Logo

Facts

  • Was set in India, Nevada, A South Pacific Island, London and Antarctica.
  • Lara could now crawl, sprint, and swing from monkey bars.
  • Was the one where she went to Area 51
  • Added water currents, a Kayak, and a freeze-to-death bar.
  • Biggest breasts ever.

Now here we have the game that caused me to originally give up on the series. Core’s engine programming dudes had been hard at work splitting the virtual atom into it’s component triangles. By that confusing statement I mean that their engine was now capable of rendering three-sided shapes, and did so with reckless abandon. Harnessing the power of triangles, they were capable of creating the most realistic environments yet in the series. That isn’t of course to say that they looked particularly good, or even slightly good, but the environments didn’t look just like a stack of deformed crates any more which was refreshing if nothing else.

The first level is set in an Indian jungle, and it showcases what truly amazing environments can now be made. Or rather, it looks fucking terrible. Every cheap trick to simulate vegetation is used, the most common being just a flat sprite with some leaves on. The whole effect is that pretty much everything in the first four levels looks like the stage dressing in a primary school play. The first level also introduces insta-kill quick-mud (which looks just like regular mud. Have fun with that.), irritating water currents that stop you from getting where you want to go, and has you shooting hundreds of innocent poison monkeys.

A jungle, apparently.
Tomb Raider 3 was an ugly ugly game.

This opening level really was a nightmare, and it even used my favourite trick in which you die immediately upon starting the game if you don’t jump over a pit with pinpoint accuracy. The level design was messy looking and many steps harder to work out where the hell you were supposed to go than the previous game. I had just finished Tomb Raider 2 when a demo of this level came out, and it’s fair to say it put me right off. You can’t blame me for not wanting to play an uglier, more frustrating version of an already ugly and frustrating game, surely?

The overall plot has something to do with a meteorite that split up in earth’s atmosphere a billion years ago, and Lara needs to go around the world collecting the bits of it for some reason. If you are that interested, you can watch the entire plot of the game here, but it really wasn’t the high point of the series if there was in fact a high point. A graph of the plot quality of the tomb raider series would look something like this:

presumably amusing graph

Once the opening bore-fest is out of the way, the game presents you with a list of three locations you can go to next, in a back-of-the-box feature known as non-linear levels! What this really meant was you were screwed unless you went to Nevada first, because there was a sequence in that area of the game where they robbed you of your guns and never gave them all back. So any collected in the other two areas would be lost forever. Great work guys. You eventually unlocked the last level set in the Antarctic, where they stole idea from classic movie The Thing. In fact, a lot of the game seemed to be stolen from various things, which the designers would probably write off as homages.

In Nevada, when not fending off attacking eagles, Lara’s aim was to break into Area 51 of all places. Yep, there was even a UFO there. Lots of army servicemen for her to murder as well. The only explanation I can think of for this sequence is that the X-Files was popular at the time, so they wanted to do something along those lines. Hey Assholes, it’s called “Tomb Raider”. Raiding Tombs. Tombs. Raiding. Christ.

Aldwych
A photo-realistic representation of a tube station.

Lara also went to London in a sequence ripped of from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. She finds a weird society of people living in the underground tunnels which apparently exist in beneath London. As a resident of London, this part is especially hilarious. I’m really not sure why they bothered trying to do real locations in their engine, because the results are just bad. Lara also ends up breaking into the National History Museum, where there are security guards for her to murder, and an entire sphinx. Now I’ve been to the National History Museum and I didn’t see no damn sphinx, which raises the question once again of why they bothered naming where she was. I think they assumed no-one would ever get past the opening level in order to verify what it said on the back of the box.

Lara murders a lot of people in this game. Well, she murdered a lot of people in the last game as well, but those people were almost certainly evil. In this one she kills US servicemen, and night security guards at a museum. Oh, and the majority of a primitive and previously undiscovered tribe living in the South Pacific. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt that making her into a cold blooded killer wasn’t the greatest move. It’s not like the game presented you with a choice about it either. It was probably a misguided attempt to make the series darker, which designers love doing. Either that, or they weren’t really thinking to hard about it due to the impossibly tight release schedule imposed on the series.

By the third entry in any series is when most series try and get back to their roots in order to recover from the misstep of the second entry. The roots of Tomb Raider are of course the raiding of tombs, and to be fair she does do that at least once in this game, though it’s really more of a temple than a tomb if you have to get all technical. In order to cement this back to the roots direction, the designers decided to stick in yet another lost valley stuffed with dinosaurs. How many of these bloody things are there anyway? It’s truly amazing that no-one who isn’t Lara Croft hasn’t discovered them considering their abundance.

The mansion in this game was expanded with a hedge maze, a 4×4 race track, an enormous fish tank, roof, and tons of other crap. It was the biggest and most secret-stuffed that the mansion ever got, and was probably the best thing about the game. It also had the farting butler that you can lock in the freezer  as well, for all you immature gits.

Next time on Tomb Raider Retrospective, Lara goes back to her roots, in another back-to-her-roots adventure!

Tomb Raider Retrospective
Introduction
Part 1 – Tomb Raider (1996)
Part 2 – Tomb Raider II (1997)
Part 3 – Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft (1998)
Part 4 – Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999) – coming soon
Part 5 – Tomb Raider Chronicles (2000) – coming soon
Part 6 – Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003) – coming soon
Part 7 – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend (2006) – coming soon
Part 8 – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007) – coming soon