Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bad Levels in Gaming History - Volume Eight

Level design is something that has always fascinated me. Its importance in making a game fun to play cannot be spoken enough. In fact, level design can be the difference between a solid game and a poor one-- no matter how good your gameplay actually is. Of course, even some of the greatest games possess a level that make you think the intern got to design it on the main designers' days off. That is what this series of articles focuses on-- those poor levels in games that are either poorly designed, just plain boring, tedious, annoying, frustrating, hard for the wrong reasons, or a combination of several of those ideas. Once you have looked at the examples provided, feel free to chime in with your own picks for bad gaming levels.

For a look at past installments of Bad Levels in Gaming History, look no further than these links:

The Library - Halo: Combat Evolved (XBX, 360)

Whether you're playing the original Halo: Combat Evolved on the O.G. Xbox, or playing the remake in the Halo Anniversary Edition for the Xbox 360, one level that stands out as a slog no matter which version of the game you play is the Library level.

You get an NPC, 343 Guilty Spark, as your guide, and your job is to walk the master of unlocking (move over, Jill Valentine) to various locked doors that need opening by said guide. When you aren't dealing with the ever-annoying Flood enemies as you progress through the level, you're trying to survive in various firefights against Flood of various shapes and sizes (and weapons in the case of the rocket-toting variety).

All of it is an immensely slow and admittedly boring going of it through a level full of Halo's most annoying enemies. It's not well designed, it's certainly not fun, and it wasn't really made better with Halo Anniversary Edition.

Grannies World Tour, 8-Bit Edition - Rayman Legends (Multi)

Rayman Legends' predecessor, Rayman Origins, gave players who strove for 100% completion a wonderful final level to play. It was a hard-as-nails, but fair platforming challenge known as the Land of the Livid Dead, unlocking once all ten skeleton teeth were collected from treasure chase levels.

It seemed that Rayman Legends had a lot to live up to in giving the player a great reward for making it to the end of the game, a true platforming challenge. Instead, Rayman Legends was a loud fart of a final bonus level. In fact, the entire bonus world was pretty lame, but most notably the final bonus level, Grannies World Tour, 8-Bit Edition stunk the most.

The bonus world featured the popular music levels in the base game. Only this time different graphical effects got in the player's way as a means to sabotage their run. Such things included making the player play the level on an upside down screen, pixelating the screen to massive proportions, static and fuzz a la old CRT sets, and having a 4 x 4 display of miniature screens of the level.

What tricks does Grannies World Tour, 8-Bit Edition have under its sleeve? Why, it puts the player through all of these visual and graphical magical tricks to make going through a level where timing and precision jumps are necessary to survive next to impossible. Yes, jumping to the beat of the music is important, but when you have no visual in a section where you're running up a shaft filled with spikes on either side of the wall, this becomes mighty tricky, and frustratingly so. It's not a hard level because of its design; it's purely because of the cheap graphical tricks in action that makes the level so unnecessarily and aggravatingly difficult. That is not good or fun level design, no matter how you slice it.

Demolition Man - Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PS2, XBX, PC)

We mentioned Supply Lines from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in a previous volume of Bad Levels in Gaming History. Now we look at San Andreas' predecessor with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and its ultra annoying mission Demolition Man. A key difference between Supply Lines and Demolition Man is that the former is an optional mission, although incredible unfair, while the latter is a mandatory story mission.

What does Demolition Man entail? Well, actually the demolition here comes from a miniature RC helicopter which protagonist Tommy Vercetti is forced to pilot through a multi-story building being constructed. The goal is to drop bombs at several key locations, and this is all the while workers take potshots and attack your hard-to-control toy helicopter as you fly it through the construction site.

Not only is the helicopter a pain to move around the tiny, cramped spaces offered by the building under constructed, but the goons trying to bat your copter down are quite persistent. Plus, did I mention you have a limited amount of time to do all this? What all this adds up to is a mission that is worth praising for trying to keep Vice City's mission variety fresh, but one that fails in being anything close to fun.

Mos Eisley and Beggar's Canyon - Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (N64, PC)

With it being exactly one month until the North American release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it seems like the perfect opportunity to dig deep into the Star Wars series of games, particularly Shadows of the Empire. Now, this game was a fantastic early 3D Star Wars game for the Nintendo 64, releasing the same holiday season as the system itself. A PC port released the following September in North America.

While the opening level is indeed one of the game's best, a different vehicle mission holds some notoriety in these parts of SuperPhillip Central. It's the mission that takes place in Mos Eisley and Beggar's Canyon, a speeder bike run through both locales. It has Dash Rendar chasing after several bikes, having the player attempt to careen through the tight and narrow spaces of the course while trying to smash into the bikes, jostling them into walls.

This level is, dare I say, fun in some regards, but it's also a nightmare in others. The controls aren't the tightest, and the narrow passageways that you have to go through and tricky turns make for a ride that is less than fantastic. It's a problematic level in many forms of the word, but thankfully, it's just one rough level in an otherwise enjoyable early 3D Star Wars game.

Death Mountain - Zelda II: Adventures of Link (NES)

A bad level can easily be well designed or at least designed competently. However, in Death Mountain's case from Zelda II: Adventure of Link, the area in particular seems to do more in the way of being designed to frustrate and aggravate the player rather than make them feel fairly challenged.

Death Mountain is a labyrinth of caves that offer the game's hardest regular enemies as well as troublesome platforming challenges. Throw in many dead ends, as a maze is wont to have, and you are dealing with a truly difficult area of the game in an already difficult title to begin with.

To have a chance of surviving Death Mountain, your Link needs to have a fair amount of health, magic, and other attributes that most likely need to be grinded to high levels just to stand said chance. It's too annoying of a place to pass as anything but bad by level standards because if you need to grind in an already grind-heavy game to stand a chance of survival, then you know your level isn't very good. At least this is the argument that SuperPhillip Central presents. Do you agree?

Monday, November 16, 2015

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Really Retro Edition

As is customary most of the time at the start of the work week, SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs are here to soothe you with their sultry songs from video games both past and present. This edition is all retro with music from systems like the NES, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Sega Saturn.

We start off with the action-packed Radiant Silvergun. Then we kick some ninja butt with The Revenge of Shinobi. Next, Top Gear (no relation to the car-enthusiast show of the same name) and Contra get their time in the sun. Lastly, Ninja Gaiden's NES debut ends this edition.

If you want to take a trip back into the past with past VGM volumes, look no further than the VGM Database.

v1006. Radiant Silvergun (SAT) - Return (Early Take)

We begin this edition of SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs with the most recent console in this edition, the Sega Saturn. That's how retro we're going with this edition, dear friends! Radiant Silvergun's soundtrack was composed by the great Hitoshi Sakimoto, a man who went on to compose one of my favorite soundtracks of all time, Final Fantasy Tactics.

v1007. The Revenge of Shinobi (GEN) - China Town

Yuzo Koshiro is one of the most impressive video game soundtrack composers around, and his early works really rock. Not literally, as this song from The Revenge of Shinobi's China Town level is hardly what you'd call rock 'n roll. Regardless, Mr. Koshiro's works both past and present never manage to fail to impress, if I do say so myself.

v1008. Top Gear (SNES) - Track 1

Kemco and Gremlin Graphics teamed up to release this 1992 Super Nintendo release, Top Gear-- known as Top Racer in Japan. Top Gear is a notable game in the Super Nintendo's library as it was one of the first racers for the system. Top Gear also gets credit for having a sensational soundtrack, as this theme, among many others in the game, shows.

v1009. Contra (NES) - Ending Theme

All right. Time to admit it, kids and kidettes. You used the 30 live cheat to get through Contra, didn't you? It's okay. We pretty much all did. Heck, I'd argue that the first level, the Waterfall, is one of the hardest, making it easy to see the Game Over screen before even finishing that level. Still, even with 30 lives in tow, Contra is still quite the challenging game, so this ending theme is your reward for hanging tough.

v1010. Ninja Gaiden (NES) - Unbreakable Determination

Earlier in this edition we had Sega's ninja series, Shinobi, represented. Now we give our full attention to Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden. Watch out for those quick-to-respawn enemies as you make your way through level 4-2 on Ryu Hayabusa's quest to seek revenge for the death of his father. As many know, Ninja Gaiden would be rebooted on the Xbox, even having THIS game as an unlockable bonus.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

PictoParty (Wii U eShop) Review

We're halfway through the month of November and there is no first review for the month in sight! ...Until now. No worries, dear friends, SuperPhillip Central has a wide amount of games we're covering from now until the end of the month, so have no fear!

Our first review of the month is a Wii U eShop game that released a couple of weeks ago. If you know Pictionary, then you probably know what PictoParty is all about. Nonetheless, does this game draw a good conclusion or not? Find out with my review!

Be quick to the draw.

Pictionary is an old board game that gives a player a word to draw while the others quickly try to guess it. It's decades' old, and it never fails to bring a good time if you have the friends and family members for it. The Wii U even had an unofficial version of Pictionary with its Sketch mini-game from Game & Wario. Funnily enough, despite the more comprehensive and complicated modes in Game & Wario, the Stortzum household spent more time playing Sketch than anything else in the collection.

It's about time that a developer takes a concept immensely suited for the Wii U GamePad like Pictionary and make a digital version of it. Enter PictoParty by Retroid Interactive, a studio mainly comprised of two individuals. While you need at least two people to play, which may be a roadblock for some less socially oriented, PictoParty shines as a great party game for Wii U system owners.

If you've played Pictionary before, then the concept of PictoParty is simple enough. The GamePad player serves as the drawer, given a set time limit to draw objects and activities for the player viewing the television screen to guess. The better you draw, the more likely it is that the other players will correctly guess the item you're trying to draw.

Obviously this is a drawing of someone throwing a baby across the room.
...Oh. It's someone being tickled? Riiiiight!
Obviously you're not just drawing random things. You get a word on the Wii U GamePad screen that you attempt to draw. If a correct guess is given by the TV viewers, then you tap the "Correct" button. If you get stuck or cannot figure out how to draw the word given, you can tap "Pass". However, tapping Pass can give you a time penalty. This penalty can be set at the beginning of a round, as well as how long a given round is, what in-game dictionaries like Food or Activities words will be pulled from, and if players can utilize color in their drawings.

As stated, you can add and remove any dictionary (or category) of words you'd like to make games as easier or as harder as you'd like. Obviously having a game full of only one dictionary, Animals, is much easier than having a game full of every dictionary within PictoParty. Additionally, some words used in the game are a little bit obtuse. For instance, I don't even think Bob Ross (RIP) could come up with how to accurately draw an "inflatable boat" or "savanna" for players to quickly guess.

The addition of colors makes otherwise tough items to draw
much easier for both the drawer and the guesser(s).
You're not just limited to PictoParty's dictionaries, either. You can opt to create your own dictionaries full of any words you'd like. You can even bring your (im)mature sensibilities to the table and have a game full of dirty words. Just remember not to invite the kiddies to these games!

PictoParty is indeed an entertaining game, and it is one that even had my mom enjoying it, constantly saying "let's do just ONE more round". After about four more rounds, we were finally done that evening. However, at the same time, if you already own a copy of Pictionary, you pretty much own a physical version of PictoParty. It's just with Retroid Interactive's game you don't have to fumble with pencils, pens, cards, paper, and the like. It's all streamlined with PictoParty. Still, if you're looking for a more modern version of Pictionary, then PictoParty is an absolute joy for family members and friends to spend a riveting evening around the TV and Wii U GamePad for.

[SPC Says: B-]

Review copy provided by Retroid Interactive.