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I make games. I also play them. I talk about both activities here.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Games I'm Playing Right Now - Part 7

I've run out of things to say temporarily, so time for everyone's favorite recurring series!

Tekken – Dark Resurrection (PSP)

Tekken, as a series, is a damn fun thing. I’ve been a fan of some level or another of the series since its first iteration, graduation from Street Fighter and various SNK fighters to the graphical showcase that was ultra-low quality 3d. My love affair with Tekken grew to its pinnacle with the release of Tekken 3. It was simply the smoothest, most fluid 3d fighting game ever created, and I dedicated years of my life to its study.

Tekken 3 was released in 1997. Since then the series has suffered the embarrassment of Tekken Tag Tournament, and Tekken 4. I know both of these games have their fan bases, but for me and many other “old men,” these games represent a significant change in the series. In short, they just don’t feel right – they don’t feel like Tekken. So it was with great disappointment that I held Tekken at arm’s length for nearly a decade while fans and developers alike agreed that what the series really needed was to go back to what worked in the first place – Tekken 3.

Tekken 5 and Tekken – Dark Resurrection play damn near exactly like Tekken 3. The rough edges have been smoothed here and there, and yes of course there are lots of new moves, but at its core these new Tekkens are just prettier, shinier versions of the game I’ve loved for years. True to form Namco has packed Tekken DR with tons of extra gameplay modes – the majority of which I have not touched. Most of my time has been spent playing the Tekken Dojo, which is essentially Virtua Fighter 4’s Arcade mode, replicated nearly feature for feature. Tekken wisely borrows many concepts from VF, most notably its character customization option, which allow you to take money earned from beating various AI characters and purchase items with which to append your character. My one complaint is that there aren’t enough cool compositions you can create with these purchased items – in VF you can assemble items that completely change the look of your character (my favorite is the full set of Roman armor available for Jeffry), whereas in Tekken the majority of the gear is just mismatched knickknacks. Nevertheless, this game is easily my favorite game on the PSP and I give it my maximum recommendation.

Prey (PC)

I’m playing Prey on my computer that costs as much as every other gaming device combined. Thus, it’s a very, very beautiful experience – one that unfortunately will be short-lived. I played the Prey demo prior to picking up the actual game, and in hindsight I realize this may have lessened my impression of the final game. The Prey demo is about all the Prey that I needed, I’ve come to realize. I thought the demo, which reportedly comprises the first 20% of the game, was well paced and appropriately impressive. I particularly liked the inclusion of the song Barracuda in the bar’s jukebox - to this day Barracuda is still my favorite part of Prey. Once you get past that first 20%, Prey kind of dissolves into a very basic, boring game. The much celebrated portal technology fails to impress; I’ve been traveling through portals since Super Mario bros; I’m not sure why I’m supposed to be blown away simply because Prey’s portals are placed in tiny boxes or hang in thin air. Then there’s the walking on walls (or ceiling) stuff. I’ll tell you what that did for me – it pointed out how nonsensical and arbitrary the level design seemed. Little in Prey makes sense, which is only remotely forgivable when I concede that this race of invaders whose space station/vessel I’m storming is incredibly advanced, and perhaps their sensibilities are on a far more efficient level then mine – basically your standard suspension of disbelief bullshit.

I thought the weapon selection was kind of interesting, and the first boss you fight (I call him the first because I got a weapon from him; it’s debatable that there are encounters prior to this that could be considered bosses) is very cleverly designed. The “you don’t die” thing is handled pretty miserably though – I’d almost rather die than go to that weird spectral realm where I shoot red and blue wispy things to regain health. And speaking of spectral realms, I thought the spirit form use in the game is depressingly basic. Invariably you’re only asked to go into spirit form to pass through intermittent force fields or pass over gaps. Once on the other side you hit a switch that disables this force field or closes the gap, and then it’s back to regular gameplay. The whole thing strikes me as kind of half-assed.

I haven’t played Prey for over a week or so, and it’s unlikely I’ll go back to it again.

Simple Series 200 Volume 101: The Onichanpon (PS2)

The Onichanpon is part Dynasty Warriors, part Devil May Cry action game from the fine people at D3. It is the special edition version of The Onichanbara 2, which I guess means that The Onichanbara series is something of a success. This can only be further evidenced by the series making the next generation leap to the Xbox 360. I must admit, the game’s appeal is easy to understand. A bunch of girls running around, killing zombies – I know I’m sold! The game itself plays well for a D3 game, but if I were to compare it to a God of War or something, I might find it lacking.

Unfortunately I’m not without complaint. The game’s structure is tragically basic. Essentially, you select a pair of girls that you control one at a time. The option to hot swap between the two girls happens with a trigger press, and while playing one girl, the other regains health. You take these two girls and perform a dungeon clear, over and over and over again. During these clears, you are able to complete various macro goals, like killing every single enemy on a level or clearing a level without using any items. These macro goals, once completed, unlock various things in the game like costumes and additional characters. Other than these diversions, the game offers little to keep the player motivated, which is expected from a Simple Series game but nonetheless a bit disappointing. I expect to see more effort made with regard to the moment to moment play in the 360 version of the game, which despite my complaints, I look forward to greatly. If you’re anything like me and enjoy sampling as many video game flavors as possible, this game is easy to recommend. If you’re the type that is extremely critical and demanding of your releases in every facet, I encourage you to steer clear.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja (PS2)

I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I picked this game up after seeing it get reasonable praise in various magazines. Play even said it was like the best fighting game since Power Stone or something equally ridiculous. I can say that Naruto has some really cool ideas in it – even the ones not stolen from Smash Bros. or Power Stone. I particularly like the projectile system, which kind of reminds me of the help system in Marvel vs. Capcom. But I get the feeling that I’d enjoy the game a whole helluva lot more if I gave a damn about the license this game is based on, and I hate when that happens (particularly since I don’t really care for anime in general). The game has these supers that consist of really long animated sequences. You can even extended the length of the already long sequences by imputing additional buttons at various points in the supers. I assume that these are taken from various points in the actual anime, but for me these sequences ended up being an enormous chore, especially when on the receiving end of them, where my only option was to enter counter button sequences to reduce the overall damage – which is actually a really cool feature. If such a mechanic is used without being associated with really long, bizarre cut scenes, I bet it would meet with great success.

The game looks pretty enough, although I’m pretty tired of looking at grainy cel-shading on the PS2. I just can’t recommend this game to anyone unless you’re a fighting game aficionado like myself or a fan of the anime - and even then I can’t guarantee you’ll like it.

Something tragic happened this summer, in that I purchased a great many more games than I actually played. Chalk it up to a busy time at work but several games have fallen to the wayside – hopefully I get a chance to tackle them all, but with the 4th quarter approaching (and with it, an avalanche of new games), the odds don’t favor it.

Thanks for reading.