Friday, November 6, 2009

Rank Up! - Ratchet & Clank

Originally it was my plan to review every single Ratchet & Clank game from start to finish. Unfortunately, I became ill during this mission, so that obviously didn't happen. Regardless, the newest adventure in the Ratchet & Clank series, A Crack in Time just released this past week. I don't think there's any better time to take a look at the various titles from the Ratchet & Clank series and rank them from best to worst.

Here are the games we'll be ranking:

Ratchet & Clank (PS2)
Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando (PS2)

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal (PS2)

Ratchet: Deadlocked (PS2)

Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (PS3)

Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters (PSP/PS2)

Like Naughty Dog before it, the team at Insomniac sold off their first mascot to another company. The company had previous worked on Spyro the Dragon, a character now a mere shell of his former self. Insomniac moved from purple dragon to yellow lombax as they came out with Ratchet & Clank. Since then seven mainline titles have been released in less than a decade. We will list from the very first Ratchet game all the way up to the very first portable entry of the series. To make a point, there's really no horrible game on this list. Every Ratchet has had something special to offer to the series. Without further ado, let's get to the rankings.

6) Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters (PSP/PS2)

Apparently size truly does matter as this Ratchet & Clank, while not bad by any means, suffers from a lack of two analog sticks, a short single-player mode, and a game not developed by Insomniac themselves. Instead High Impact Games (who worked on Daxter and the upcoming new PSP Jak & Daxter game) took on the job and did a rather decent job. Size Matters is a forgettable adventure, but it's still much fun.

5) Ratchet: Deadlocked (PS2)

It's funny-- I argue that the Ratchet series has become complacent with same-old, same-old gameplay, yet when one tries to change the formula around, I don't like it as much as the original! This is the case with Ratchet: Deadlocked, the only game in the series that isn't an action-platformer or features Ratchet and Clank teaming up together. What the game is-is more of an arena battler, combat-centric shooter. Despite the change of genre, Deadlocked is quite enjoyable, but those expecting traditional R&C action should look elsewhere.

4) Ratchet & Clank (PS2)

This is where it all started. This may be the most difficult game of the series solely based on the fact that you have a limited supply of health to work with. The option to increase your health wasn't available simply by taking down foes. Essentially it was six hits or less, and you were S.O.L. Another problem with this game is the lack of checkpoints. Don't misunderstand me, there are checkpoints, but they're so few and far in-between that dying can be quite frustrating. Overall, the premier installment of the franchise is still quite a good one.

3) Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (PS3)

The first current generation installment of the Ratchet series, Tools of Destruction, follows Ratchet on his path to find out what happened to his race all the while dealing a power-hungry despot who wishes to eradicate every last lombax. The game starts off with an action-packed level full of wonderful set pieces and explosions. Tools of Destruction looks exceptionally beautiful. It's not so much that there are any major problems with this game-- it's just that the next two are just a bit better.

2) Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal (PS2)

In Up Your Arsenal, we were introduced to the most entertaining main villain of any bad guy in the series, the nefarious Dr. Nefarious. Most of his scenes were comedic gold. The tried and true action of the Ratchet series was present and accounted for, but after playing the game before it, Going Commando, things felt samey straight down to the arena battles and looking for sewer crystals in one of most boring levels in series history. This time around, weapons could be upgraded four separate times, growing stronger with each new level of increased power. One of my favorite parts of Up Your Arsenal is a series of five 2-D side-scrolling platformer/shooters starring everyone's lovable idiot, Captain Qwark. Heck, I'd spend good hard money on a PSN game full of levels of this type! That's how good they are.

1) Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando (PS2)

The best of the best, Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, combines the perfect amount of action with the perfect amount of platforming. Unlike the original Ratchet, weapons can now be upgraded to become more powerful simply by using them frequently. Apart from the traditional run, gun, and jump action the series is known for, there's several bits of variety thrown in for good measure including space dogfights, fast-paced hoverbike races, coliseum battles, and fights with you controlling Giant Clank. The levels are some of the best designed, there's a heavy focus on both platforming and shooting, and the polish of the game is amazingly apparent. Going Commando certainly is my favorite Ratchet & Clank game.

And that does it for this list. My worries with the Ratchet series is that Insomniac has busted out seven games in less than a decade. Many of which feel the same gameplay-wise. Here's hoping we don't get burned out on this excellent series!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Wii, The Third Parties, The Casuals, and the You

I've been mulling over a bunch of different ideas these past few days. I hadn't written a thing for weeks. I was struck with gastritis, and writing was something of a chore. When something fun grows into a chore, perhaps it's time to move on for a bit. Well, that's exactly what I did. The topic of Satoru Iwata discussing the Wii falling into a slump in its home country (not releasing a steady stream of games for your own console will do that to you) was brought to my attention. It evoked ideas of third parties, the idea of so-called "casual gamers" moving on, and "core gamers" not being satisfied and wanting more. (Well, when the hell don't gamers want more? It could be a bumper crop, and they'd still want more. Most are insatiable that way.) All this casual/core mumbo jumbo is bullshit. Let me start by saying that-- and bluntly so. It's a perfect way for message board gamers to feel superior to someone. Yes, we're feeling superior to people over what video games we play. We've reached an all-time low.

It takes a big man to admit he has a problem.

Something I've seen on various internet forums is this argument that Sony brought gaming to the masses. This part is true. No doubt. Saying that they did it without the help of casual gamers is completely false, however. Back in the Sony dominance era, the term casual gamer was used for people who don't play games very often or not very seriously. But since the Wii started its reign of dominance, the definition has changed. Why? Because agendas have changed. Now the PS2 casual gamers who bought little else than sports titles and Grand Theft Auto are the core gamers, and essentially casual gamers are now simple-minded grandmas, grandpas, and soccer moms. Casual is the new kiddy-- the new way to slam Nintendo and their console. As I've stated before, the whole casual/hardcore terminology is a load of bullocks. The terms mean nothing. The definitions are constantly changed depending on a person's agenda. (And don't get me started on how pathetic it is that message board gamers have agendas towards something as frivolous as video games.) Sony's success is very much due to people who casually play games much like Nintendo. The differences are that: 1) one company banked off the success of its predecessor while the other had to start fresh after failing with their last console. Third parties flocked to last gen's winner, were hesitant to put anything on a two generation loser, and 2) The group of gamer who is casual in the sense that they stick to one genre or series moved to the 360 where the genre of the generation, the shooter, is now popular. It says a lot when Microsoft's big game of the year is consistently some variety of shooter.

A big problem with the Wii are sales of certain third party titles. It seems like a crap shoot of what will and won't sell-- quality be damned. The sales of some third party games are bad, so that means third parties will give Wii owners less quality than before. It's a chicken and egg scenario. One reason that third party sales are bad is because the quality has always been poor. When something of quality actually comes out, it doesn't get marketed. Somehow Wii owners who are called soccer moms and internet-illiterate are supposed to know of these niche games yet HD owners get commercial blitzkriegs constantly when they're supposedly the ones who frequent message boards. In fact, Wii games get 1/4 the marketing and advertising of a typical HD game. No wonder these games don't sell. Something like Little King's Story wouldn't even be stocked by most major retailers, yet it's surprising and disappointing to see the game bomb? Of course it's going to bomb. It's only available in a select amount of retailers and has no television advertising.

The Conduit, a supposed big Wii third party, got commercials late at night on Spike TV and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Meanwhile, a plethora of HD exclusive games get plenty of airtime, prime time, daytime, crime time, and all the time. Is it any wonder that these Wii games don't sell? For every one Conduit commercial you could probably see four or five spots for Borderlands. Yet it's fair to blame the Wii community for being unaware? Are these games assumed to sell because of the large user base? Then why did third parties routinely air TV ads for their Playstation 2 games-- with an even bigger user base? In North America, no third party Wii game has gotten the marketing push of any competent HD title. Heck, we're still seeing games being sent out to die like Muramasa, A Boy and His Blob, Dead Space Extraction, and Rabbids Go Home. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Reflex Edition is an egregious example of this. It's a week away from release and no videos or footage have been released. All that's been revealed are a bunch of pre-alpha screens. Are third parties purposefully setting their titles to fail? Where is the logic in that? In Japan, a huge chunk of advertising and production values were put into Monster Hunter 3. It has sense sold nearly a million copies. There must be something to learn from this.

If you run out of bullets, you can always
kill enemies with your jaggies.

Lastly, one thing that usually ticks me off is the whining of Wii owners for HD-exclusive games to be downported to the Wii or given their own versions. What makes the Wii and the PS3 and 360 great is that they have experiences exclusive to one another. There's games and experiences on the Wii that you can't duplicate on the HD twins and things on the PS3/360 that can't be duplicated on the Wii. The way I see it is that we already have two consoles where the main demographic marketed and has games made for are that of teenage boys and the adults with the maturity of them. We don't need a third. This industry is juvenile enough as it is. Don't get me wrong-- there's plenty of adult experiences on all three consoles, but the majority of third parties and one particular first party caters heavily to this lowest common denominator. Just because the Wii is the market leader does not make its owners entitled to every game under the sun. It worked last generation because the tech specs were so close. Not so this time around.

So it's an interesting position the Wii has now. Third parties continue to ignore the system after their less-than-stellar games failed to appeal to console owners. Nintendo themselves seem to not even realize that marketing their own games goes a long way as the failures of Wario Land: Shake It, Excitebots, and Japan's Sin and Punishment 2 show. The system will no doubt be the winner of the generation with a catalog of varied games that should appeal to most people, but can third parties get it together on Wii or Wii's successor? Don't worry. This is a rhetorical question.

Central City Census - November

The month just flies by when you're taking time off, no? Let's check out October's Central City Census results. These will be far more interesting than the New Jersey and Virginia governor elections, but not as maddening as the denial of the same-sex marriage law in Maine.

Man, that's one sexy census. The Wii's cheaper, but the majority of the voters already own one. Three of you will be picking up a Wii as first time buyers, two of you are rebellious enough to be buying a second, and three of you either stopped caring or don't care for the Wii. No one who sold a Wii before will be buying a second one. This is very interesting. I think I will jump to a senseless sensationalist conclusion on this like a certain owner of a certain Nintendo fan site. Perhaps not.

Are you left-handed or right-handed? lulz! ^_^ Anyway... The holiday season is here which means game publishers will stupidly put as many big-name games into one month as possible, oftentimes resulting in disappointment for most. This November is no exception, mind you. Which of the following big-name titles are you most looking forward to this November? Be hasty as my census can get very impatient.

Review Round-Up - October

Permission to pee pants, sir!

October has come and gone with tricks, treats, and a grab bag of new game reviews. The list is shorter than usual for obvious reasons, but there's still worthwhile selection of interesting games to view. Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, Mario Kart DS, and Mario Kart: Double Dash!! all take top honors this month. Truly it was a month of Mario with half of the games all featuring the portly plumber. Meanwhile Dead Space Extraction was a fun romp, but I can't help but feel disappointed by it (though the money I received for selling it made me feel a little bit better), Motorstorm: Arctic Edge roared its way to a 9.0 despite being severely overlooked by gamers around the world, and classic reviews (in italics) of Mega Man X Collection and Mario Party 8 rounded out the month. Stay tuned for November as new reviews are coming your way. Mario just won't go away as we take a look at Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games (or whatever its called) and New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Perhaps we'll also check out Nathan Drake's newest adventure in Uncharted 2 and hang out with a boy and his blob in the game of the same name.

All scores are out of 10.
5 = Average

Dead Space Extraction (Wii) - 7.0
Motorstorm: Arctic Edge (PSP) - 9.0
Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GCN) - 9.5
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (DS) - 9.5

Mega Man X Collection (PS2, GCN) - 8.5
Mario Kart DS (DS) - 9.5
Mario Party 8 (Wii) - 6.5

A month of ghosts, goblins, horrors, and standing
around waiting for something to finally happen.