Friday, February 19, 2010

Back to the Future

Do you remember that time when you were a Japanese kid in the 80s and your life revolved around the Famicom. You and your friends never stopped talking about the gaming idol Takahashi Meijin whos super finger could push a button 16 times a second. And you couldnt wait for that awesome 8-bit rpg that just keeps getting delayed to come out. No?

Me neither, then none of us are the target market for Retro Game Challenge aka Game Center CX: Arino's Challenge. Its a game where you are transformed in to a Japanese kid and teleported back to the 80s. To be able to return back to our time you have to complete a number of challenges based around fake Famicom games. The game is basically meant to be one big nostalgia trip.

I never played a Dragon Quest game back in the day and the idea of idolizing a guy for his ability to push the A button seems a bit silly. But it turn out that being a Swedish kid with a SNES during the 90s wasnt all that different, so I can relate somewhat. Plus playing awesome retro games is always fun. Especially when they are slightly more playable versions of Galaga, Star Soldier and Dragon Quest.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The rouge paradox

The concept of permadeath, that is having your character die permanently and removed from the game upon death, would be impossible to insert in to your average jrpg like say Final Fantasy VII. Your characters require such an enormous time investment that losing them after dozens of hours of playtime would be unacceptable. Therefore games with permadeath like Mystery Dungeon have to be rather short affairs. They can still offer significant length due to high difficulty but a skilled player needs to be able to plough through them in one sitting. This is the only way permadeath can be balanced with the character building aspect of rpgs.

Rougelikes such as Mystery Dungeon solves this by having your character level up very fast, making the prospect of doing it all over again less daunting. Console based rougelikes do however usually offer you the ability of upgrading once equipment and saving it in some sort of storage between deaths. The later areas then naturally start to more or less require this high level equipment that has been gathered and improved on under multiple play throughs. The problem is that we are then faced with the unacceptable combination of permadeath and significant time investment in once equipment, equipment which will be lost if carried by the player upon death.
This is why most Rougelikes are broken unless they offer some sort of ability to safeguard this valuable loot. But to offer such a thing would sabotage the high risk gameplay, which makes the genre so appealing in the first place.

Scary hardcore gaming

In my explorations of the varied world of gaming I have run in to some really hardcore stuff. You might remember the near impossible achievements in Mega Man 9 or the crazy overpowered enemies in Etrian Odyssey. Which I somehow managed to overcome but this latest fascination of mine takes the price, Shiren the Wanderer.

Its a roguelike Japanese rpg from the Mystery Dungeon series, but unlike its more modern companions like the Mystery Dungeon games starring Chocobos and Pokemon or the new Shiren for Wii, this DS game is a true rougelike which strictly follows all of the conventions. Which means when you die your character is bumped back to level one, you lose all your equipment and you have to start over from the first village. Add to this that the game is balls hard and unfair in every possible way. There are enemies that turn your rare items into riceballs, undetectable traps that makes your weapons rust to pieces and enemy attacks that lowers your Hp to 1 no matter what kind of armor youre wearing.

Much of this unforgivable gameplay probably has to do with the game being a port of a 15 year old japan exclusive SNES game. Not all tho, for they have made it even worse. While the original had three save slots à la Zelda which could be manipulated to some success to make the game manageable this is removed from the remake. You lose your lvl 99 sword which you spent the past 10h working on, its gone. Unless (and this is new for the DS game) you have a friend who just happens to own a copy of the game along with some kick ass skills, who can come and rescue your corps using the DS wireless features. But the likelihood of that with a niche game with this level of difficulty is close to nil.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Zelda Zelda Zelda!

I have been playing a lot of A Link to the Past lately and it struck me how much that game is like Ocarina of Time. Although I played A Link to the Past before Ocarina back in the day never noticed how much they are alike. I was so blown away by the 3d graphics to notice that they are basically the same game. And Im not talking about the big stuff like Kokiri village or Gannon returning in monster form, whoops spoilers.

No Im talking about the little things that I so distinctly remember from Ocarina but I totally forgot I had experienced before on the SNES. For example to reach the Zoras you have to walk upstream through this really long shallow lake to find the Zoras hidden away, I remember this blowing my mind in Ocarina. But wait, that was in A Link to the Past too. And in the beginning of Ocarina when you visit Zelda you can see a portrait of Mario hanging on the wall inside the castle. I thought that was so cool back in the day. But what I had forgotten was that in A Link to the Past there were Mario portraits hanging all over the place. This amazing Nintendo synergy wasnt all that original.

I have always believed that it was Ocarina of Time that revolutionized the Zelda games and created the modern Zelda formula Nintendo have so slavishly followed since. But it turns out its A Link to The past they have been remaking over and over again.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

To warp or not to warp

For some stupid reason I decided I wouldnt go to bed until I beat Super Mario Bros 1. Im a bit rusty so it took much longer then I anticipated but after a few tries I kicked King Koopas ass and save the princess. However I did use warps do beat it.

Now here is my question; is that cheating? Can one really say to have beaten SMB after warping past most of the game? Im not really sure.

Edit: Instead of sleeping I kept looping through the game a half dozen times. Beating the harder second quest over and over again. Until I eventually got a one life clear (1LC) on hard mode, yay.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Legend of Mana and post-structuralism

Constructivists, poststructuralists, interpretivists and deconstructionists all share the belief that the world (reality if you will) primarily exists in our own minds. There may or may not be a real world out there but what we have access to is our minds own recreation or complete creation of reality.

This is the philosophy which Legend of Mana is built upon. As the first character you run in to tells you; the world is shaped by your imagination! The town of Domina exists because you think it does.

This has some interesting implications for the world design in Legend of Mana. It is pretty much up to you to decide what the world looks like. You freely place towns and dungeons on the world map, their placement then determines their difficulty etc. This sort of non-linear gameplay gives Legend of Mana a distinct character making it stand out among its fellow psx rpgs.

Adding to the collection

GameCenter CX


You have probably heard of GameCenter CX, that crazy Japanese tv show where this guy Shinya Arino tries to beat various near impossible retro games. Its the show that Retro Game Challange for the DS was based upon.

Anyway as Im sure you can imagine this is pretty much the perfect tv show for me. The problem is that its never been released outside Japan and up until now I havent been able to find it subbed on the web either. Until this morning when I stumbled upon it on Youtube. It turns out this guy starwind3441 has subbed the first 11 episodes and put them on his youtube page.

I especially recommend episode 10 when they play Super Mario Bros 2, the impossible Japanese version not the re-skinned version of Doki Doki Panic we got in the west.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Games of the decade

As we move in to 2010 I thought it would be kinda fun to put together a list of the ten best games of the past decade. Keep in mind that I put all of five minutes in to this list so Im sure I missed some great games but hey top ten lists are always fun so here we go.

10. Crazy Taxi (DC)
9. Picross DS (DS)
8. Monkey Ball Banana Blitz (Wii)
7. Mega Man 9 (Wii/PS3)*
6. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
5. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat (GC)
4. Final Fantasy XII (PS2)
3. Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess (Wii)
2. Super Mario Sunshine (GC)
1. Legend of Zelda Wind Waker (GC)

*I left the 360 version of the list because you cant play Mega Man 9 without a proper D-pad.