Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Alter Echo for the PS2 and Xbox review

Sometimes, it just sucks to be a reviewer and a gamer at the same time. It sucks more when that specific gamer/reviewer is also a tester for a game company like me! I say that because a lot of games recently have shown that the company that made the game, didn’t test it well enough, which just makes my blood boil to the extreme. I know it can be because of budget or time, but there is no excuse to release a half-baked product. Speaking of half-baked products, let’s take a look at one of Outrage’s last games, Alter Echo. Released in 2003, Alter Echo was released during the time when other games like Panzer Dragoon Orta, Devil May Cry 2, Silent Hill 3, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Beyond Good and Evil, Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando, Jak 2, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time were released. So, why was this game somewhat overlooked and only given an average rating from reviewers and critics? I can think of a few reasons.

The story starts out with a ship heading to a planet with a young shaper called Nevin, who can use a substance called Plast to shape it into anything he wants. He is accompanied by two other people, but is quickly separated from them by an unknown attack on their ship. Nevin then falls to the planet they were approaching, but is saved by a new form of plast called echo plast. The echo plast then gives Nevin a new shaper suit and the ability to turn into three different forms. It is up to Nevin to stop whoever created the echo plast, save his two friends, and get off the planet. So yeah, to fill in a void I left out of the plot, the echo plast was made by a powerful shaper named Paavo who went nuts and was the one who shot down the ship Nevin was on.

The game play featured in Alter Echo is an action/plat former/third person shooter/stealth. Nevin has three forms he can turn into. His first form is his default form, called sword form, which has nothing to do with the sword form used in Kamen Rider Den-O. He can basically do strong attacks and normal attacks in this form, and isn’t anything different than what other action games have shown. I will say that it is a lot better than the first Jak and Daxter game’s physical combat moves. His next form is a bulky muscular suit of armor with a big gun called gun form, and still doesn’t have anything to do with the gun form from Kamen Rider Den-O. In this form, Nevin can take out long-range enemies and groups of enemies quickly by the giant gun he uses. He can also stand in certain areas and become a turret-like gunner, and shoot down enemies in one area. The final form is the stealth form, which turns Nevin into a tropical tree frog on steroids. No, I’m kidding, but he does look weird and you can see the form on the front of the cover on the box. He can basically lunge at enemies and slap them around, go invisible and get back turrets, and launch enemies into the air with his tongue. During the game you can upgrade all your forms with more moves, better armor, a better sword, and you get the idea. Another main gimmick of the game is to control time to take out multiple enemies. You basically have to play a game of Snake, controlling it with the directional pad or face buttons and go over enemy icons or over controls to unlock bridges and such.

The graphics in the game are surprisingly colorful. I was surprised to see so much color since it seems like during the mid to late 2000’s, people forgot we could use color in games and not just gray, brown, and black. It gives the game a very comic book feel, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was based on a comic book. The music is also fun to listen to, but isn’t worth finding a soundtrack for. The voice acting is well, half and half. Some people do a good job and some just don’t do a good job at all.

Now, it is time to give this game a well-deserved beating for all the bad parts it has. First off, the camera is far too close to the person. I mean, look at camera angles from games like God of War 3 where it gives the camera a great position to be in, giving the player enough room to see what is going on around him. The enemies can be really cheap since during the rest of the game, you end up fighting enemies who are guard-happy and are very tedious to kill. It seems like they can hurt you faster and easier than you can. Another thing that annoys me about the forms is that during the beginning part of the game, you get all three at the get-go, and then the villain, the jerk that he is, takes them away from you. I mean, if you were going to take them away, then why give them to you in the first place?! The biggest thing that I just HATE about this game are the bugs that frequently pop up. The bugs I am talking about is that the game kept freezing on me and it had an issue with reading the disc. I mean, what kind of cheap testing team did Outrage have? No wonder they went out of business. They just made poorly made decisions, like “hey, let’s not advertise the game or have a good group of game testers!” Stuff like this annoys the ever-loving heck out of me! I mean, if it’s not ready, then don’t release it where a player can only get in an hour and a half of playing and then the game crashes and can never be played again unless you start a new game. What were they thinking?! Did they think the showstopper bugs were not important, or did some moronic tester not report them and instead went partying? Another issue I have is with the facial expressions on the people. They all look the same throughout the game. Did they just watch the most depressing film ever and not want to live? Well, I didn’t want to live either after finding out how bad this game is. Another thing that I have an issue with this game is that no one has ever seen fit to report in their reviews that the game kept crashing on them or freezing. Were these people stupid or were they focusing on something else and just didn’t know the game crashed or froze?

Overall, Alter Echo had interesting ideas, but was not executed at all very well, the combat is sluggish, the plot is boring, and the game kept crashing and freezing on me. Avoid this game at all cost! Heck, I would play Dark Void again and watch The Never Ending Story 3 rather than play this game. Now, I’ve got another candidate for my list of games to blacklist and destroy.

This game gets a 2 out of 10

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

XIII for the PS2 review

When you think of a first person shooter, what usually comes to mind? Resistance and Killzone on the PS3, Left 4 Dead 2 and Halo 3 on the Xbox360, and Golden Eye on the N64. I basically have listed the more popular ones. I know I didn’t add Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield Bad Company 2, but I don’t know much about those games, and that is just me. I’m not much of a FPS kind of guy. It seems harder though to make an original FPS without some jerk to say it looks likes another FPS that is out. I mean, sometimes it’s good to say that since a game like Haze looks like a poorly made version of Halo. There have been some attempts at doing something different with an FPS game like Mirror’s Edge with its platforming. However, I think an interesting take on the FPS genre is stealth. I don’t mean being a sniper and sitting your butt in one place during the entire match and killing everyone, I mean a game like XIII. I wouldn’t say it’s a good example of doing something different with a FPS, but at least it tried.

The main story of the game revolves around a guy name XIII, who was found badly injured on a beach in New York, and has no memories of the past. He must find out what he did, since he is charged with the assassination of a past president. It’s interesting since it seems like the beginning was based on the Kennedy assassination. It shows the president getting shot in his car by a sniper during a parade. However, I have never read XIII, and I know nothing about it, but it caught my eye because of the title and the graphics, which I will talk about later. So, yeah, it’s your basic, guy has amnesia and must find out what he did or has done and who he is. It’s not like we haven’t seen this before…wait.

The game play featured in XIII is a mix between a first person shooter and a first person stealth game. Like I said, it’s hard to make a first person shooter game original, and when someone attempts to do it right, sometime it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The first person shooter aspects aren’t anything new since you have your normal variety of weapons like pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle, and the works. The stealth section of the game is that basically you sneak around during some levels where you have no weapons and have to use stuff like bottles, ashtrays, and chairs to take out people who do have guns. You can take the guns off of people, but then it turns into a normal shooter. You do get some unique weapons, like throwing knives and a crossbow with a sniper scope, which can be cool since if you get a head shot on someone, it shows a quick three-sectioned comic showing the bullet or arrow heading to the guy’s head and hitting him. Other than that, there is a multiplayer section, but no one is on it and I think it might be shutting down, but I don’t know

The graphics are pretty unique, but nothing we haven’t seen in cel-shaded comic-style graphics. I mean, if you look at games like Jetgrind Radio, Killer 7, and No More Heroes 1 and 2, they also have nice cel-shaded graphics. I also like the voice work in the game. One of the most surprising voice actors I saw in the game was the Mayor of Quahog himself, Adam West. I was surprised since you see this guy doing voice work in shows like Family Guy, Boondocks, and other things, then you look at him as the 60’s Batman. It’s weird where he has gotten from back then to today. I happen to like his voice in the game. We also have David Duchovny, who was Fox Mulder from the X-Files movies and TV series doing the voice for XIII. He does a good job doing the voice. The music is also well done, giving the sound and feel of the game something like the film, The Professional or the anime series Noir or Cowboy Bebop.

Now, it seems like there couldn’t be a lot of things wrong with this game, but there are a few things. First off, the controls seem really finicky. They are just all over the place, kind of like that game Mr. Mosquito. It kind of makes you feel spoiled by the controls in shooters of today. The polygon count on everyone is pretty low. It looks okay as a PS2 game, but everyone seems so blocky and not animated as well. I don’t know if it was a budget thing, but it’s annoying since this game came out in 2003, and by then I think people should have gotten some knowledge on how to use the potential of the PS2. The voice work could have been better since some voices are just annoying, and it sounds funny when people say the word “alert”. It sounds like they are saying “ALEEEE!”

Overall, this game sounds good and is interesting, but falls short of expectations. It isn’t the worst game of all time, but it’s definitely not the best. I know some people think this is an underrated gem, but I think they need a brain scan. I would say it’s worth checking out as a rental, but just like Dark Void, it is mostly forgettable and shouldn’t be picked up more than once. I have read that some people want a sequel to this, and I would be interested in seeing if they do, but I highly doubt it with the game’s sell numbers.

This game gets a 5 out of 10

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Muramasa: the Demon Blade for the Wii review

Recently, I have been checking out games that had unique art styles or character designs. Two games that I found interesting were Beyond Good and Evil and Psychonauts. Sadly, I can’t talk more about these two games because of technical issues that I had with the games themselves, and as a tester that makes me mad! However. some good has come from this. I have also been thinking about a wonderful PS2 game called Odin Sphere, which I reviewed last year and was one of the reviews that led up to my 100th review special. It has such an amazing art and animation style that it was definitely one of the high points. Of course, Vanillaware the company who made this game is famous for making beautifully detailed 2D games. Most recently, they came out with a game called Muramasa: The Demon Blade for the Wii. I think it was stupidly overshadowed, since it was also released on the same month as another great game, Batman Arkham Asylum, was released. Well, I finally got time to play it and I’m happy that I have.

There are actually two stories in Muramasa: The Demon Blade. One of them revolves around Kisuke who is a fugitive ninja who died in battle, but was brought back to life by the spirit of a wandering swordsman. He lost his memory of what had happened in a past event and now must regain it through a vast journey. The second story revolves around a cute princess named Momohime, who gets possessed by a foul-mouthed wandering soul of a samurai named Jinkuro, and is forced to fulfill the plan of the foul soul. It’s interesting since both of the characters, Kisuke and Momohime, will from time to time see each other, and it’s kind of funny when it happens.

The game play is of a 2D side-scrolling action adventure game, kind of like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, because you do cross a good chunk of Japan, and you do have to do some intense backtracking to get to areas you couldn’t get to earlier. Your main form of attack is using either a normal sword or long sword. A long sword does more damage, but of course the attacks are slower, and the normal sword does multiple fast attacks, but the attacks won’t be as strong. A cool thing is that each sword comes with a special attack that will hurt the enemies more, but will drain the sword’s gauge. You basically go through Japan, killing demons, swordsmen, and other things as you collect souls and spirits, and then visit the great spirit himself, Muramasa. He will help you make stronger swords through an ability tree-like system, since you can only wield three swords at a time and in my opinion, it will take some time to find the right ones for certain fights. You do collect other items like smoke bombs and food through your journey. One thing I do have to advise is that the swords will break if their spirit gauges run out and it will take some time to refill unless you use sharpening stones or something.

One thing that Muramasa does better than a lot of developers is having a wonderful 2D presentation. I’m not talking about games like Splosion Man or New Super Mario Brothers Wii, since those are 2.5D games. This is a strictly 2D game with wonderfully detailed graphics that are hand drawn. All the monsters and enemies are wonderful to look at and have a very creative design. It shows that Vanillaware knows what they are doing, since they are famous for their amazingly detailed 2D animation. The music is also very well done with very Japanese-sounding music from games like Way of the Samurai and other kinds of Japanesesque games. This, of course, is done by Hitoshi Sakamoto, who you all know from past reviews of Odin Sphere and Gradius 5. There are other composers, but it was mostly Hitoshi who did the sound track. It’s well done. Even though there is no English voice acting, the Japanese voice acting holds up very very well in my opinion, and it feels like you’re watching a Japanese samurai film of some sorts, but even crazier. The game can be challenging, especially on the harder difficulty levels, but it’s a good challenge.

There are a few things I don’t like about this game, but they are very minor. The first thing I don’t like is how big the backtracking is. I mean, I am somewhat used to it because of games like Banjo Tooie and Tomba 2, but it just seems a little sluggish. I’m also very annoyed that you can’t hold onto more than three swords and one armor item. I mean, I don’t mind it since, in a way, it is like Odin Sphere, but still, I thought they would have given the player like 5 weapon slots and three armor slots. Then again, the game play is more on the line of attack and defending, so I guess it would be a little unfair of you got more slots.

Overall, this is a great game, and it’s sad that I don’t hear a lot of people talking about it. It’s really fun and it’s beautiful to watch. I say if the game is about 20 dollars or so, pick it up. It’s worth those 20 dollars. This is just another one of those under-advertised gems for the Wii. Go pick it up. I can’t wait to see what Vanillaware does next.

This game gets a 9.8 out of 10