Reader Reviews

Featuring: Super Mario World, Suikoden IV, Project Zero 2, Guilty Gear X2 #Reload and PlayStation Portable.

The No More 800 Word Paragraphs Please Edition

Super Mario World (SNES)

  • by Alan Stringer
1

Unless you have been living in a cave for the last 15 years, there is a very good chance that have played it at some stage. Super Mario World was a launch title for the SNES, and easily the best game available at launch.

Once again, that pesky princess has been kidnapped by Bowser, and it’s up to Mario (and Luigi in two player mode) to rescue her through 7 zones and a whopping 96 levels. Yes, you did read that right – 96 levels. Rather then take a similar approach to Sonic and make you do one level after another without pause, SMW takes a similar approach to Super Mario Bros. 3, and gives you a world map. You progress through the zones by defeating the boss in each zone's castle.

While there is a rough set path through all the zones, there are all sorts of shortcuts and bonus levels available to open up. Some levels have two different exits, and finding the hidden exits opens up new paths and bonuses, while the regular exits open up the next level. This approach means you can finish the game in just 15 levels, or explore every nook and cranny of the map for that all important 96 levels cleared. And trust me, you WILL want to explore every nook and cranny.

As for the levels themselves, it’s pretty much standard 2d platformer fare – avoid or kill the enemies, pick up power ups and reach the end of the level. However the level design is very well thought out, and the design of the map makes it enjoyable and rewarding to find all the secrets. Then there is Yoshi the dinosaur. Yoshi adds a great extra level of depth with his abilities to fly, eat enemies, and extra jumping height. Probably the best thing about Yoshi though, is being able to use him as a sacrifice when plummeting to your death by jumping off him – the extra height you gain by doing so should help you reach the nearest platform. When riding Yoshi, he also acts as a defence against attacks, and if he is hit, he will run off away from Mario until you jump back on him. Useful if you have no power ups available to use or need to keep them until a later stage.

Mario is one of those games that was highly entertaining at release, and even 14 years after its release it’s just as entertaining. I’ve started the game a dozen times over the years easily, and see no signs of getting bored with it. During my recent revival of interest in retro gaming on the original hardware, I purchased a boxed copy from eBay and I’m having fun with it all over again. I simply cannot find any reason for complaint, and it’s a perfect example of why 2d platforming will never get old despite the move to 3d two console generations ago. I’ve played Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine and find them both much less fun then SMW. 3d may add an extra visual dimension, but this game proves that the gameplay didn’t need it. Super Mario World is the definition of perfection. Who needs 3d? I know I don’t.

10 out of 10

Suikoden IV (PS2)

  • by decoded
2

Having released the first two Suikoden games in Europe for the original PlayStation, Konami, for whatever reason, opted to deprive the territory of the excellent third instalment for PS2, thereby earning them a place alongside Namco (who look increasingly unlikely to localise Xenosaga) as this generation's villains in the eyes of European RPG fans. The news that Suikoden IV would see the light of day in Europe was well received and Konami were loved once more. But of course, since I'm an impatient sod (and was hopeful of a Suikoden III save transfer feature that never materialised) this review is of the US import version.

The game begins on the island nation of Razril, with the player assuming the persona of a young knight on the cusp of graduation. To start with the hero and his fellow knights are handed dull menial tasks such as fetching/delivering documents between islands, giving you a first taste of the tedious seafaring and horrendous random encounter rate that plagues Suikoden IV. But before long the inevitable regional conflict breaks out and our recent graduates are thrust into an epic adventure.

Only it really isn't particularly epic. Suikoden IV is a short game (20-30 hours for the main quest) compared to most RPGs and its predecessor, which isn't necessarily a negative. However, the time isn't used effectively and most characters are left woefully underdeveloped, despite some promising introductions. The same can be said for the lightweight plot, which is slow to get moving, never hits the highest highs and leaves you largely in the dark as to the true motives of the enemy for way too long.

One visual difference between Suikoden IV and the previous game is introduction of a 360-degree rotatable camera. Some will welcome this addition but I have to question its necessity. More disappointing were the bland textures that render the environments sterile and soulless, with some towns coming off worse than others but none being particularly memorable. Thankfully the character designs, cut-scenes and slick animation redeem the visuals somewhat. The music must have been so nondescript that I find myself unable to comment, but the English voice acting (a first for the series) is almost uniformly excellent.

With the battle system Konami went back to basics, dropping the skill system from III that allowed almost endless customisation and reducing the number of fighters from six to four. The stingy rations of magic means that most battles will be fought with basic attacks only, although certain combinations of characters will result in combo attacks becoming available. It's also very easy; there are few bosses throughout the game and routine battles are just that – I'd estimate that ninety per cent of them were fought and won by using the handy "auto" command. Making a return are one-on-one duels and introduced are vaguely strategic turn-based ship battles that work with a rock/paper/scissors system, but they aren't especially interesting or challenging. Both represent a welcome reprisal from endless turn-based fighting, however.

One thing that strikes me is how small the play area actually is; remove the vast stretches of dull, monster-infested ocean and you're left with a handful of small, uninspiring islands. Exploration is repeatedly curtailed by random battles that pop up with infuriating frequency (though some pain is eased by the swift, easy nature of the battles). To compound the problem it's very possible to sail straight past a tiny island because your ability to see in the distance is severely reduced by fogging. The map is revealed sparingly as your boat travels across the sea and unhelpfully only ever displays destinations you have already visited. And since most events occur in towns or in the field there are practically no dungeons to explore. I see this in a positive light however, since negotiating archetypical fantasy labyrinths while being interrupted by battles every five seconds is not my idea of fun.

But Suikoden has one last – and typically brilliant - trick up its sleeve. Recruitment of the 108 stars is the series' trademark and much fun is had scouring the islands seeking these characters out. Some are easy to convince, some will have prerequisites and some will require you to have a particular character in your party before they will agree to join you. Once recruited they will make their way to your ever-more populated base and it's a joy to behold to see it flourish from near-deserted to bustling. Before long you won't even need to leave your base; plenty of mini-games, shops, a training room and more will gradually become available. And you could easily lose hours trading items between towns and become the Del Boy of the seas!

Suikoden IV is an enjoyable game and definitely has some of that Suikoden magic, but it's hampered by its simplicity, some questionable features and uninspiring design. It will make a suitable JRPG experience for a novice gamer but ultimately I expected more.

5 out of 10

Sony PlayStation Portable

  • by Klaus Preisinger
3

When somebody confronts you with a device called the PlayStation Portable you do not expect that much. Sure it’s a PlayStation, and yes it is portable, so why throw away your Game Boy for that. For one, as soon as I got my PSP, I just smiled at every Game Boy owner in town pointing out that “mine is bigger”. Ok, occasionally someone answered “Yes but I have two”, but I should point out to you my dear reader that Sony claims to be providing more than an opportunity of engaging strangers in weird conversations.

In fact, Sony tries to battle Apple and Nintendo at the same time. Sounds easy to me, pack more power than the DS, check; include MP3, check; include photo to rival Ipod Photo, check; add movie feature just in case, done. The question is does Sony have a winner like this? The answer lies in pesky details. Of course you have seen all the screenshots and readied some Pounds to get the latest versions of your favourite yet never ending franchise. Need for Speed, FIFA, GTA, they are all going to be yours again and again. Hardcore gaming fans might get bored but at least it ensures that the PSP will not fail due to lack of games.

Graphics and sounds are more than nice making the PSP the first choice for portable gaming. Batteries last for around five hours, which is more time than most regular people have for gaming per day. In terms of listening to music or displaying pictures the PSP is also very straightforward. Just buy a Memory Stick big enough and slot in whatever you like. Since you get 512MB for a very decent £35 this should be no trouble at all.

If you are wondering whether you can trade those files via the inbuilt WLAN, the answer is obviously no. Though Game Sharing, meaning the spawning of a multiplayer version of a game - known to the PC world since Warcraft and Starcraft - or the copying of a demo version, is a much talked about feature, Sony doesn’t seem to like the idea of giving you a portable file-sharing device just yet. There is also no word if the additional content you are supposedly be able to download for games like Wipeout Pure will have a price tag attached to it or not. My feeling however tell me that this the dumbest rhetorical question ever asked.

But let’s move to another PSP key feature, the whole Movie Player buzz Sony created. In theory you can watch your favourite movies on the PSP. In practice all you have to do is to buy them again at full price. At least in Japan UMD movie discs cost the same as DVDs - £20 - which is not a good sign for the rest of the world. This is a major setback for my mobile movie plans since the “hours-of-fun-per-Pound” value of movies is considerably less than that of games. Additionally UMD discs feature half the DVD resolution, less channels for audio and probably less extras too. Since most DVDs quickly drop to low prices after their initial release I suppose that UMD movies are going to be of little attraction. Even if you like to watching comedies while sitting in the dentist’s waiting room, Sony would do well in remembering that most people do not watch every movie ten times to justify the money spent. In some cases they cut the justification part but in most cases they’ll cut the expenses. I also find it hard to phantom that some multimillion special effects have nearly the impact on the PSP viewer than they have at the movies.

That in mind Sony created a program called the Image Converter - Price tag around £10. Apart from images it converts videos so they can be played on the PSP from your Memory Stick. But for no apparent reason Sony restricted the maximum resolution your own videos can have to 320x240 - That’s half the screens native number of pixels. On the bright side the picture quality is not too horrific at first glance, if you consider that most movies are made for dark rooms like cinemas. However, you will soon find that the PSP's display performance is not sufficient to watch gloomy movies like Resident Evil in daylight surroundings. Having these issues and with home cinemas and HDTV looming around every corner the PSP’s video capabilities look meek and overpriced.

So how do I rate something which delivers on its first premise, being a portable PlayStation, but partly fails to be all these things Sony wants it to be? I devised a formula so you can create your individual vote based on my opinion and your priorities: Distribute 10 points on the following attributes, multiply them with my factors and then add them all up.

Gaming: [ ] x 1.0 =___

Mp3: [ ] x 0.7 =___

Viewing Pictures: [ ] x 0.9 =___

Videos: [ ] x 0.4 =___

Project Zero II Crimson Butterfly (PS2)

  • by tengu
4

Why the hell weren’t Konami taking notes? THIS is how you do ghosts in a videogame!

Right off the bat, I want to point out that I absolutely love this game. I can honestly say that this is the best survival horror game I have ever played, and I’ve played just about all of them (Well, in the current generation of consoles at any rate).

Playing the game in the usual ‘Resident Evil’ inspired manner, you control teenage girl Mio, who is accompanied everywhere by twin sister Mayu, as they investigate something strange in the neighbourhood of a deserted village populated by all manner of ghouls and ghosts determined to put the heebie jeebies up any unfortunate they come across. The plot of the game revolves around some mysterious ritual that killed everyone in the village years before and a vengeful ghost who has seemingly possessed Mayu. To say any more would perhaps give too much away, but suffice to say the story is fantastically creepy stuff.

Like the previous game in the series, Project Zero II’s main gimmick is its camera based gameplay, where you can switch to a first person perspective at any time in order to take snapshots of attacking ghosts at the right moment to exorcise them. You can upgrade your camera’s abilities using the points you get photographing the spooks and utilise all manner of special attacks and film types in order to survive the ghostly onslaught. The controls are really simple and will be second nature before you’ve cleared the first chapter of the game.

The best thing about this game though, without a doubt, can be summed up in one word: Atmosphere. The feeling of fear and anticipation you get while playing it is stronger than you’ll get from watching any horror film. The style of the game is reminiscent of classic Japanese horror films like ‘Ring’, ‘Dark Water’ and ‘The Grudge’ and recreates the feel of those movies perfectly. It even pays homage to Ring at one point of the game when [Editor's note: Er, definitely look away now if you haven't seen Ring!] you come across a well underneath a house, and when you approach it, a long haired, female ghost comes crawling out of the well and starts shuffling toward you. A very nice touch I thought.

[Editor's continued note: Ring virgins may now return.] The graphics are obviously fantastic, with each ghost horrifyingly detailed right down to the mangled limbs and slashed up faces and the actual locations all looking suitably creepy and run down and appearing just as impressive through the camera’s first person view as they do from the standard third person fixed camera perspective. There’s also some really pretty CGI cut scenes in the game at certain points as well. It sure looks the part, and the excellent soundtrack with all its spooky and unsettling background noises adds perfectly to the atmosphere. The voice acting in the game is even quite decent, which isn’t something you always get in survival horror titles (*cough* masterofunlocking *cough*).

If any real complaint could be levelled at this game, it’s that it is quite short and the actual play area of the game is very small when compared with the expansive environment of something like say, Silent Hill 2. It felt much shorter and smaller than any other survival horror game I can recall playing through in recent memory at any rate. Saying that though, when I’d finished it the first time, never before have I felt so compelled to play through a game again. There are some decent rewards to be had from multiple plays of the game, so in my opinion it evens out nicely.

Basically, what you have here is probably the scariest game ever made (So long as you play it right. Meaning at night, on your own, and in the dark.) and a gaming experience you would have trouble comparing to many others. This game is just total atmosphere and if you’re not afraid when you play it, then you’re probably already DEAD! Or just not terribly impressed with the game, whichever. I loved it and that’s all that matters.

9 out of 10

Guilty Gear X2 #Reload (PS2/Xbox)

  • by Matthew Vice
5

At last, we have it. To say that we’ve been made to wait far too long for this game would scarcely be an exaggeration. I remember saving up bits and pieces of cash in hopes of purchasing the original Guilty Gear X2 almost two years ago – cash which I eventually blew on something else, having given up hope of ever seeing the game on shelves in this country (South Africa). Now that it’s finally here however, not only do we have Guilty Gear X2, but Guilty Gear X2 #Reload, which comes complete with a modest set of extras. Does this make it worth the wait? Let’s see how it fares…

I always like to start off with a word or two about how a game is actually played, and this one has a lot to offer for something as limited as a 2D fighting game. For starters, the game offers a more-than-adequate cast of 23 selectable characters, two of which only appear once you’ve achieved certain things in the various modes. And in this game, each character is completely unique, there’s none of that similar/clone character routine here.

The sheer amount of techniques on offer is also impressive, almost everything that has appeared in other 2D fighters in the recent past appears here in some form or another: Double Jumps, Air Dashes, Dust Attacks (similar to Capcom’s Aerial Raves, for those in the know), Dead Angle Attacks, Flawless Defence, Recoveries, Roman Cancels, False Roman Cancels, Jump Cancels… The list goes on – it’s almost overwhelming at first.

Each character also possesses their own set of original moves, some of which are so unique that they can be used in ways never before seen in any other 2D fighting game. For example, some characters can charge up various moves in their arsenal to get different or stronger effects out of them, some characters can do bizarre things like poison their opponents or disable their special moves, some can set traps and some can even summon creatures to aid in their attack.

Guilty Gear X2 also uses the old Super Power Bar concept, you know, the bar each character has at the bottom of the screen that fills up as you fight, eventually enabling your character to unleash devastating super attacks. Although using this bar for supers in Guilty Gear X2 is just the tip of the iceberg, there’s more to it in this game. There are a number of modes available for players to test their skills in also, beginning with the rudimentary Arcade, Survival, Versus and Training modes and including Medal of Millionaire, Story and Mission modes.

The Medal of Millionaire mode is much like Arcade mode, but score can only be acquired by picking up medals dropped from the opponent as you beat the tar out of them – the more impressive your offensive, the better the medals you acquire. Story mode is pretty self-explanatory and features multiple endings per character depending on your actions during various fights. The Mission mode is also worthy of note, and is a great place for those who consider themselves above average as fighters to see just how clever they really are. There are 100 missions in total, each one with specific goals to be achieved and various handicaps placed on the player (and on rare occasions on the CPU opponents). For example, you might be given a mission where you have to fight a CPU opponent who has an infinite super bar while you are unable to jump and only able to inflict damage by doing a combo of over 2 hits. The missions can be done in any order you like, but the catch is that you cannot choose the character you use in any mission, you have to use the one given to you – making a more holistic knowledge of the game a necessity. Every time you complete about five missions you are instantly rewarded with an awesome piece of artwork which you can view any time you want in the Gallery Mode where you can also view the Arcade and Story Mode ending art as well as the game’s intro or a very cool, short anime feature clip based on the previous game.

Guilty Gear X2’s practice mode is also worthy of a mention in that it’s probably the best practice mode yet seen in a fighting game. Not only do you get to practice your moves and combos on an indestructible dummy of your choice, but you can also input a few seconds of commands into the training dummy and have them execute it at will. This is especially useful for characters like Anji, Baiken and Axl, who have counter-type moves which can only be activated when an enemy attacks and not on an innate dummy.

This brings me to my final point about Guilty Gear X2’s gameplay… It has often been said by those who have had the game long before us that Guilty Gear X2 is a cool fighting game because it has as much depth as you want it to. Having been a Guilty Gear player for some time, I must concur. True, there is a lot of satisfaction and advantage to be gained from mastering all the technical intricacies of this most unique fighting system (such as a Gattling-combo - Jump-cancel - Air-combo - Roman Cancel - Air-combo - Super attack), but the more old-school players who prefer to keep it simple will find that the game rewards their style of play too. Behind the scenes there is some interesting damage-scaling based on any number of factors to ensure that Guilty Gear X2 can cater for almost any flavour of player.

Graphically there is no doubt that this is the most gorgeous-looking 2D fighting game currently available. The high resolution graphics really do give GGX2 an edge over all the competition. Animation-wise the game has been improved over its predecessor and now holds up well against all the rest. The animation might not be as smooth as, say, Mark of the Wolves or Street Fighter III Third Strike, but its more than adequate. And on mere presentation, GGX2 is oozing sheer style from every orifice, with flashy titles and scrolling banners wrapping themselves around animated splash screens and moving text and graphical touches adding that little bit of appeal here and there like buxom, bikini-clad tarts at a bike show. The characters are all awesome-looking and everyone is sure to find something that they like, especially if they have a liking for anime style artwork.

Guilty Gear has always had some rather unusual characters, and GGX2 has taken this concept even further. You have your badass-looking characters like Sol Badguy, Johnny and Baiken, who are just plain cool, then you get your more unusual characters like Anji-Mito and the rather odd Venom, and then you have the likes of I-no, Eddie, Faust and Zappa, who are clearly the conjurations of a broken mind. All of the characters are also brimming with personality, which has always been one of the nicer points of 2D fighting games in general, and GGX2 takes the concept even further with little animated touches here and there during the bouts – such as characters adjusting their grip on their weapons while they have nothing better to do or flicking their hair out of their eyes after an executing an explosive move. Zappa’s ghosts will look around while he stands still and when he manages to attach one to his opponent, they will hover around, curiously examining their target, often going as far as dipping their heads to look into the opponent’s face. Certain of Baiken’s moves, like her Youzansen, will cause a small rain of cherry blossoms to fall, with each blossom moving individually, as if each trajectory is calculated at random in real time. These might seem like small things to mention, but you cannot fully appreciate how much they add to the experience until you see it in motion.

Sound wise the game also manages to surpass all of its competitors in almost every department. There might not be any 5.1 surround support or anything, but that really is a moot point. For one thing, Guilty Gear has always prided itself on its hard rock soundtrack, and it really is cool. Now that all the music has been done properly, it sounds even better and everyone will no doubt have their own personal favourite song. I, for example, have always loved Ky’s theme song, “Holy Orders (Be just or Be dead)” and Millia Rage’s theme song, “Writhe in Pain”. The final stage theme, “Midnight Carnival” is also a powerful number: starting off with an operatic opening, it moves seamlessly into a rock soundtrack of the same tune – really becoming of a final boss fight.

For some people, the music may very well be the best part of the whole game. And don’t think for a second that these are merely cheesy, fighting game tunes - each character really has their own full, 3-5 minute song. The game shines, sound-wise, in other ways also. The voice acting is another major part of the experience, with GGX2 having, at the very least, about three times more recorded voice samples than any other 2D fighter. Admittedly a lot of the appeal might be lost if you have no interest in Japanese dialogue – but the amount of effort put into the voice acting, and the amount of emotion conveyed by the characters as they scream at each other while they execute moves and give/receive pain can surely be understood even without a degree in linguistics.

For those who do understand a fair amount of Japanese, some of the special intros can be quite amusing, like Johnny and May, for instance, who rabbit on to each other for almost 30 seconds before the fight begins (you can skip this, by the way). The sound samples used for the moves are also more than a little impressive. Sol’s fiery moves all come accompanied by room-shaking explosions and Ky’s electrical moves give you the first hand butter-knife-in-the-toaster experience all over again (or maybe that’s just me). The rustling of Axl’s chains is also pleasant, as is Robo Ky’s typical robotic clunking and squeaking. I think it’s safe to say that, as far as sound goes, Guilty Gear X2 is just as artful as it is with graphics and gameplay.

To pull it all together, I’ll say that Guilty Gear X2 #Reload is what every 2D fighting game should aspire to be. The graphics, sound and gameplay by far outstrip what has become accepted as the norm over recent years – and not only that, but it combines these three into one amazing package offering months, if not years of fun and a lot of gratification with it. However, I must say that, as good as it is, it is still nothing more than a 2D fighting game, perhaps the best 2D fighting game ever, but still a 2D fighting game. If you are not a fan of this particular genre (and I pity you if you aren’t) then this game might convert you – then again, it might not. So think carefully if you’re sitting on the fence, otherwise, if you’re and avid fan of 2D fighters, why the hell don’t you have this already?

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Tom Bramwell

Tom Bramwell

Contributor  |  tombramwell

Tom worked at Eurogamer from early 2000 to late 2014, including seven years as Editor-in-Chief.

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