Monday, 30 June 2014

Article 100 - Chrono Trigger


Let the epic, begin

So it's the 100th article of the blog and I thought I'd go and look at what I feel is on the best RPGs of all time and nay, best games of all time. Yes, I believe this game should be in anyone's Top20 list, likely in my own Top5. The problem with such lists is that they always swing and sway but I'd place Chrono Trigger there any day. Here's why.

Looks lovely and happy, that never is going to last long is it...

Let's get the basics out of the way first. You play as Chrono and his band of friends that he picks up from around time and space, sort of like a kid Doctor Who and you find out that when you try to use a teleporter at the local fair, some girl's pendant sets off a temporal flux and you're flung back in time 400 years to where you realise that some asshat has bollocksed up the timeline by mistakenly assuming that the girl who has gone with you, is the queen of that time period. This causes a huge bullshit session of the girl you're with being unwritten from time as the queen of that time is your friend's ancestor.

We don't really know Flea's gender, we don't care either, kill it.

All this is carefully explained with monsters and images by the way in such a way most kids could get this, really playing to the mass audience with aspects of consequence and causality. To which you and another friend and a man-sized frog (keep with me) go and rescue the real queen to set the timeline right again. This is just the first hour or so of the game.

Batter up, it bashing time.

Eventually your rag-time friends from across time spanning back to the age of man vs. dinosaurs (don't think too hard on this) to the future where the apocalypse has had an apocalypse (Yes, Blood Dragon, well done), you're left to hop back and forth through time, fixing the problems as you go and solving things in a sort of Dr Who meets Back to the Future in order to try and stop the world ending in 1999 (You start in 1000), while the future in 2300 is bleak and shitty.

Looks nice and friendly.

Each time period represents issues within our own history. 65 mil BC is our dino era with mankind learning basic language skills and fighting T-Rex's as often as one lights up a cigarette in a sort of "evolution represented by one big punch up" race between dinos and apes. 23,000bc has the segregation system in place of the underlings represented by non-magical users and the uber-class of magical users which also seem to cause most of the problems in this game. 600ad is your usual might and magic era, expect knights, maidens, talking frogs and an out of place magic user. 1000 ad is pseudo steam punk pleasant modern day, 1999 is just one event, the end of the world and the game's final boss and 2300ad is the bleak future of starvation, dying, disease and lots of robots and mutants. There's also the end of time populated by one old dude, a god of war and a streetlamp straight from some old 1960s film-noir.

5v3, no contest.

It's varied, it's memorable and it approaches the time travel aspect in a rather interesting way. Initially you'll be hopping through gates from one time period to another until you get to a point where you get the "Fly around the main map and time hop when I want" but until then it's fairly rail-roaded. The more interesting aspect taken into account is that nearly EVERYTHING you do has an impact later in the game. Even the first area, where you're walking around with the new girl, all of your actions can bite you in the arse 4-5 hours after they've happened. Summarised in such a way that you realise that 'yes, doing that in game would make me look like a total prick' in one of the biggest parodies of the genre before accepting it wholeheartedly in the next breath.

Large zombie skeleton things, not quite what you expect to see in 600AD

As you progress through the game you'll end up solving quests and puzzles that require thinking in time zones. Need a forest now? Go build it back a few hundred years ago. Mum's a cripple? Go back and save her from the accident she had.

The Epoch, a time machine unless you named it something else. I called it Dave.

Aside from this, the game has over 10 endings and variations all depending upon when and how you fight the final boss. The variations depend on whether you completed the big missions to improve things while the actual endings are all about at what point in the game you decide to destroy the giant flea from space that screws up time, Lavos. Some endings are done purely for laughs, while others take a serious "Here's the consequences of your actions deal".

Either everyone got tired, or you screwed up.

As a game, it's an RPG so you've your chars and their experience, stats automatically are designated on levelling up but you can also boost them with items if you can find them. You'll get a weapon, helmet, armour and accessory for each character (some can't be adjusted, but usually you can) with greater armours and weapons throughout the game and some coming from some very convoluted missions. So a lot of the personalisation with the characters is gone as you can't focus their talents and are just told "You levelled up, here's a spell that makes an enemy's arse explode" while fighting in a zone of monsters with no buttocks, or something similar...

This only goes to show how BADLY you messed the game up.

Combat takes the guise of mostly scripted events, even the location and placing of characters is pre-determined while some of the attacks and techniques you can use are 'area of effect' or 'line of sight' and characters are kept stationary except when attacking. There is no "random" battle, monsters you fight in a zone/area will be there each time you go through that zone/area, giving you a chance to be ambushed just the first time you go through (or if you forget) while other fights are entirely of the "walk into them and kick arse" type. You can often prepare for a fight with the right items and checking health/mana levels.

Oddly enough, you see this in all points in time, can fight it all points too.

Each fight gives you the choice to attack with the weapon, use a technique or combo technique if multiple compatible characters have the right moves available i.e. Froggy and Chrono can perform an X-attack, while Froggy and Marle do a different attack with different results and impacts, some techs can be done by all 3 working together. However later in the game, individual chars tend to be able to just hit high on their own anyway. Chars can also use an item instead and at the start of the game these will likely be essential to recover health and such.

Magic and technology, looks friendly with that blue-hue trim over the planet.

Enemies run the variation of being standard, high-def low-magic, high-magic low-def, switchers and puzzles where you have to do one thing, then another, then another to kill them. Bosses are almost all puzzles, particularly the final boss when you realise just what actually IS the real core of the boss. Other bosses need to be destroyed in order of parts, or have weaknesses initiated by magical impacts. Magus being a key one as he'll fight with magic and changes immunities every other turn or so. Puzzles of such degree that even when playing through in the New Game+ modes, you'll STILL have to be careful. Yes you can hit harder than GOD and already killed monsters and enemies that transcend time and space, but that robot dragon will only die when you hit it in the RIGHT ORDER.

Yep, riding dinos. How else do you get around?

There's a lot to do in this game, puzzles, quests, missions, so many things one can miss and WILL miss even after many years of playing (I've still not seen ALL the possible endings, most of them however), questions to ask yourself such as "Do I take the item now, or wait 400 years and take it later?" "Do I give it for free or make him pay? What's the knock-on implications for this?" "Do I really want to save a crippled mother's legs?" Some very hard questions one has to ask oneself.

The game has some truly inspired graphics and interior decor.

As a story, the pacing is fairly solid up until the final session when the last few dungeons are just a long slog of "Oh this guy again, ok let's hit him with attack A C B... and again a few rooms later... and again... here's his powered up form so let's... just... do... the same thing again..." While the missions and questions to improve the world before you fight the final boss add a little extra element of thought and impact rarely seen in games at that time. It gets complicated after a while but never so much that it becomes unfathomable and new elements are introduced gradually rather than being tossed in.

This enemy cannot die. You can re-fight it again and again and again. Why didn't they send this into battle instead?

Some parts of the game are poorly thought out however, one in particular is where your band is kidnapped and held hostage and while attempting a daring escape, need to recover their weapons, items, armour and gold, of which some can be left behind and lost forever. Also, if all three of your party fight with weapons, you'll HAVE to stealth it around the level and getting caught puts you right back where you started making it a sort of Spy By Trial And Improvement type of deal. Other parts include mandatory repetitive battles that serve no real purpose other than to pad the gameplay out, of which there's a lot of it already while other parts of the game.

Nope, not dead yet, in fact it's only just begun.

The music within the game really adds to the atmosphere and ambience created in tandem with the artwork and graphics. Every piece of music is not only distinguishably different, but either increases a sombre mood, enhances an adrenaline rush of a boss fight, or more epic boss fight, or highlights the joviality of a scene punctuated by the more light-hearted and flittery scores of music composed for use in this game.

The final boss, but which part is the REAL thing? Hint: Not the big thing.

With regards to the graphics, everything looks stunning, from the spell effects to the time travel warps, to the characters themselves and the detail and attention on the backgrounds is mind-blowing to see from the logs of wood on houses to the slates and cobbles in the streets. Even the smallest time zone, the end of time, is lavished upon in detail and gloom adding a real impact that this is all that's left once time itself has finished. An old man by some cobbled streets with a single lamppost almost out of Victorian era industrial revolution times.

Grim, bleak, mortifying. Detroit never looked so good.

Does it have replay factor, yes by the bucket-load. With each completion players can run through again on New Game+ giving them the chance to play in a different manner, try different things and gain items they couldn't have done the first time through because of the "This OR That" choices that had to be made. Try to win the trial by jury, complete or fail to complete specific quests, save people or condemn them and see what the impacts are upon the game's world. With also over 10 different endings including the "I beat the game by myself as one character because I took the second teleporter right at the start" which, while difficult, isn't impossible and certainly feels great when fighting the last boss through time and space SOLO. (Yes... yes I have, thank you for asking).

Well he IS the God of War.

It's bright, it's bold, it's different and done very well and remains a game I'd recommend to anyone who hasn't played it before and especially in this day and age where it can be found on handhelds and mobile devices. Pick it up, have a taste of how it should be done right and realise that few games will compare even closely to this one.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

SWIV (SNES)


Super SWIV, Sticky Weapons Invading Va... no I've no ideas there at all


SWIV, or is it Silk Worm 4? Or Super Weapon something Vehicle? Damned if I know but it did have an arcade version some years back with some home ports to machines like the NES and C64. But what do we have here on the lovely little 16bit beast of the Super Nintendo? Well it's got a jeep that jumps and a helicopter... So at least we have some level of consistency there. It's not a side-scroller however, now it's deploying that vertical shooter mechanic going from bottom to top instead of left to right and there's the issue that the bullets seem to hit you whether you're in the air or on the ground, like enemies are firing columns of lasers at you regardless of where you are.

But I'm bitching over technicalities here. What we have is a solid, edging towards quite difficult, shooter.

Sadly, very few of these projectiles are mine...
You can be either the Jeep or the Helicopter. They have their advantages and disadvantages, such as the jeep is multidirectional and lock-angle in shooting, while the helicopter just shoots forwards. The jeep can jump over items and cover, the helicopter never has to worry about these things. The Jeep can crash into tanks, the Helicopter doesn't. The jeep goes under planes and helicopters, the helicopter crashes into them. The jeep has to change into a boat (still multidirectional but with less friction) and a jet, the helicopter has to change into a jet as well but the gameplay for the helicopter remains the same. It just shoots forwards and gets hit by airborne vehicles, which the jeep now has to adapt to, quickly.

Incoming nuke!

Plot-wise, we're looking at the highly original idea of Artificial Intelligence being used to control drones that are tanks and war machines, which then get pissed off around shut-off time and decide the ultimate answer is "Humanity: Fuck them!" and go on a rampage. So the counter answer is to send in two vehicles to battle the entire army of war machines. Normally this is suicide, but in video games it's more a case of the best solution and leaves bosses with this exchange.

"An enemy approaches? It has ... no shields and a really weak weapon... I shall not survive this day"

So we're not being any more original than Terminator aside from dropping the bullshit time-travel plot device. Sarah Connor is safe once again.

It's not Limbo, I just nuked the site (not from orbit)

The game however is tough, you start with your vehicle which is a one-hit-point-wonder and as soon as anything viable hits you, you're dead. You lose a life and all your weapons are downgraded a level. Each weapon has up to 7 levels, ranging from pitiful level 1 to I AM BEYOND GOD level 7. Die enough times and your weapons can disappear except for the bullets, that's always with you at least. You can get Bullets (standard machinegun stuff), Lasers (hits all instantly in a line), Plasma (becomes spread as you level up) Flamethrower (gets bigger and longer as you level up), Ion lasers (which split when they hit and split again, quite useful actually). Accompanying this, you'll get power weapons which can be used at any point and multiples of them collected by are used in the order they're collected. H, for homing as it fires 8 homing missiles, X for... no idea, but it fires a triple rocket that steamrollers all it hits, S for Surrounds with a huge ring of multhitting fire and lastly one that is used JUST on the last boss after you blow the dome up.

Yet his badly functioning headphones are still there

The levels quickly become swarmed with enemies and finding your power ups can be a task as they're often hidden off to the sides and you need to let the level scroll across to meet you. Which means you can run into the box that has them and blow up if you're the jeep. In cases of things like mines, you can shoot them to release shields, then shoot THOSE to nuke the site (sadly not from orbit) which doesn't kill you, but does end everything else. While the shield keeps you alive a lot longer if you collect it rather than shoot it.

Killed it, eventually.
The bosses however take the cake for being ridiculously awkward. Several have instant hit weapons where you need to be out the way or get slaughtered, some use ring attacks, some use bullets and lasers, others swarm you with the minions and it generally boils down to either being a whitewash with your overpowered I-Killed-God-In-My-Sleep weapons or a long uphill slog while you hit the tank with a pea-shooter firing mushy peas. Doomed to fall out, slop over your shirt and make you look like even more of a tit.

And now the assault of the large balls aiming for my face... wait, what?

Co-operative play is a little off, since there's the struggle for who will play which vehicle (or not if you're lucky), weapons are spawned more numerously from the crates but then it becomes a free-for-all to get those lovely bonus icons and weapons and the action is too relentless to sit back and try and organise things. So you'll likely end up with someone with ALL the weapons and someone with nothing, and both getting wiped out left right and centre. Aside from that, the co-op really sells the spirit of the co-operative play... bullshit.

I'm on a boat! I'm on a boat, everybody look at me coz I'm sailing on a boat!

The audio is a bit of a mixed bag, there's lots of good solid sounding explosions and impacts, while the music is faded, wish washy and generically repetitive, though the boss music does remind me a little of a toned down Terminator theme during chases. Maybe there's more inspiration (read: shameless stealing) from Terminator than originally thought. But if you're going to steal something, steal from something good at least and this game does that.

Multi directional firepower! Helps if you can hit the target though...

It's tough to get started in this game, but if you manage to find a few hidden caches of weapons (go right straight away at the start of level 1) you can get up the firepower to run through the not-too-long levels to butcher the bosses and destroy the game in fairly quick order. You could do a lot worse.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Zombies Ate My Neighbo(u)rs


NeighboUrs, thank you very much.

It's hard to take a horror concept seriously when you've a back history of campy, cheesy, badly-made movies that don't really play on people's fears but instead, simply become risible with the low budget special effects, the poor acting and the god-awful monster suit some poor sod has to wear. So what course of action can one take with such things? Quite simple, lampoon the whole thing, make fun of it and create a parody of the whole situation. That is exactly what Zombies Ate My Neighbours is all about. Take the old clich├ęs of the film industry, throw them all together into a game and you'll come up with basically this, an interesting take on the top-down, 8-way shooter from Konami.

Chilling out by the pool, don't expect this to be safe later on.
Take your two kooky kids (or one nut job and likely his hot sister/unlikely friend, still playing on the bad B-Movies situations here) who realise there's monsters invading their place. Armed with the trusty water pistol, they're going to take on the monsters, the zombies, the werewolves, the blobs, plants, clones, hockey-mask-wearing-chainsaw guys, demonic dolls, giant ants, Martians, mad scientists, Frankenstein's Monsters and Dracula just to name a FEW of the creatures you'll find in this.

The variety and difference in levels is huge, but keeps the game fresh.
Your main objective, is to find all the innocents in the level and then exit through the magic exit (it just appears where you are...) without all of your innocents dying off. If you lose them all, game over right there and then regardless of the lives you have left. On some levels you're GOING to lose people and just hope you're not starting with just one person. In other levels you'd better be REAL quick on the task before some change into monsters and others are outright killed by the zombie you can see walking towards them while you're on the other side of a wall. A touch of unfairness in there but you CAN win some people back if you get sufficient scores during the levels. So a little bit of balance there.

Silverware for a one hit kill, nearly every monster has a weakness.

There's a LOT going on in this game. For a start, there's plenty of levels, plenty of items and plenty of weapons. Though in some ways there's TOO many. Aside from SOME of the monsters I named at the top and some more I just recalled, Mushroom people, Fish men, there's a lot of items to be found and used ranging from keys (more about that in a moment), inflatable clowns (decoys), Pandora's Box (the Big Weapon of the game, does a LOT of damage but rare), health packs, potions to turn you into an invincible monster, or a ghost, or random ones that can turn you into a zombie and kill the other player and innocents. Weapons range from water pistol, to soda can (grenade effectively), bazooka (great for blowing down walls), weed-whacker, tomatoes, plates, cutlery (silver... great for werewolves), ice-lollies, fire extinguishers (freezes some enemies, kills fire ones), bubble guns (great against ants) and many more including secret bonus ones.

It's the Blob! Where's Steve McQueen when you need him?

Therein, lies a problem... You've only one way to navigate through each list, with one button for each list taking you to the next weapon and not going backwards until you reach the end and come back to the start. So if you go past the weapon or item you're looking for, tough shit, you're going back through that list again. Not so great when you've rampaging monsters running after you, or, god forbid, need a health pack as you're on the last sliver of health.

Yes he made those holes, yes he killed the innocent, yes he's hard to kill.

Those aspects, as well as the unfairness of losing innocents to monster attacks you either can't see or they turn into monsters (nice going Konami, that's a half-foot floppy dickmove to the face...) some of the maps have wonderful little things called doors. These doors require either a key, being a monster to punch it (and damaged walls) down, or a bazooka to blow it apart. Unless it's a skull door, in which you either have a skull key or you're not getting in. Some skull keys can be found in hideaways, some in secret places (need a bazooka and knowledge of it BEING there) and some are on bosses. Such as the giant baby... Moves fast, flattens you and gives you NO chance to move once hit until you're standing up again, so it can railroad you to death it wanted. It also flattens innocents which then fucks your game up.

Either for fights like this or getting through lots of walls, monster potions are helpful.

The levels themselves however are bright, varied and intriguing. There's a few running themes in the levels, you've your backyard suburbia, malls, factories, hedge mazes (with those hockey guys... you either know what I'm talking about or you'll learn quickly to fear them), swamps, football fields, pyramids, castles (usually with vampires and/or Frankenstein's monster, or worse, a BIG boss), with some levels set in the daytime, some in the night-time. The music accompanying the levels ranges from the chirpy upbeat numbers that bounce jauntily along, to the sombre and ploddingly paced themes that would accompany a long hard slog ahead, to the downright fear inducing which usually goes along with any level that's got Hockey Mask guys. And then there's the giant baby music, which just sounds hilarious and would be were it not for the fact you've a giant baby with which to contend.

I'm the one in the far bottom-left.... maybe...

It's a long game, it's a hard game and in many places it becomes unfair and unwinnable. But if you're lucky, and you're careful, you can get through this but good luck trying to get to the real bosses and even more luck to you if you're heading for the secret bonus levels. Grab some codes off the internet or add in some Action Replay stuff and you'll still find this a tough one to crack. But still worth a good long look if only for the references and overall fun this game initially gives you before it ramps up the difficulty until it's leaning over you and coming down like a tonne of bricks.