Sunday, 26 August 2012

Cross pollination

Big news on today on Crystal Blue Dreams! Well maybe not that big, but worthy of a post at any rate.

I have joined the very talented team of writers on the books of up and coming website: Future Retro Gamer. My main focus will be on writing retro reviews and over the next few months I will be aiming to contribute a good number of articles on games for a variety of systems.

Fear not though avid readers! I have absolutely no intention of abandoning this site, and you can expect some decent updates at (hopefully) regular intervals. As I don't tend to write reviews in their purest form here, FRG gives me a chance to try my hand and see if I can cut down the waffle a bit!

Anyways, if you're interested then please have a read of my first review for the site (it's a beauty of a game)...comments and feedback are welcome both there and here.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Control freak Vol I: The SGB Commander


Over the past couple of months it has been well documented (on my Twitter feed at least) that I have a rather deep seated (and pretty weird to be honest) interest in console controllers. In fact, after a recent scout around my house it turns out that (if you include light-guns, sticks and a Dreamcast Keyboard) I have 107 of the things! I know...it sounds as nuts to me as it does to you.

Anyways, seeing as I probably own about 1/5 of the world's controller population, I thought I would talk a little bit about some of the more interesting examples I've snared over the years. And you never know, after reading this you may even catch the bug slightly...

Straight out of 1994...a vintage year!
First up we have the SGB (Super Gameboy) Commander for the Super Famicom. Manufactured by Japanese by controller gurus; Hori, it was released in 1994 with the intention further enhancing the big screen Gameboy experience by making it easier to access and navigate the often clunky Super Gameboy menus. The first time I saw this in good old Super Play I knew I wanted one, but as with most interesting SFC peripherals of the time, the chance of a release outside of Japan was slim to...never.

Thank you Genki!
Happily, with the retro scene being what it is these days, I managed to acquire a Commander from one of my favourite stockists of ├╝ber desirable Japanese goodies: Genki Video Games.

So all after all these years of waiting, was it worth it? Well yes, very much so!

First off, I think it looks stunning. Its design closely mimics that of Gunpei Yokoi's original (and also charming) Gameboy, with Hori even opting to use the same A and B buttons and d-pad from the controller's big brother. They even went to the trouble of placing a mock speaker in the corner...that's just ace in my book. As a fan of old video game stuff, the looks get a big thumbs up from me.

If you're going to mimic, then mimic the best
The build quality is also right out of the top drawer. It has a sturdy and chunky feel to it, and like the best controllers it doesn't feel like it will snap in half or fall apart when you reach the exciting part of a game...or that bit on Megaman 2 when Cut Man keeps cheating and the controller gets slightly thrown at the wall.

Importantly every one of the buttons and the d-pad has a classy feel to them, with no nasty clicking...quite rare in a third party peripheral. Although this one was licenced by Nintendo, which may explain why it's so impressive (access to the Kyoto parts bin!).

What a Christmas bundle this would have made...
With the SGB Commander being designed primarily for use with the Super Gameboy, it's layout is slightly different than your standard SFC/SNES controller. The shoulder buttons have been re-located so that they now flank the usual diamond layout of A, B, Y and X, my index fingers did feel lost for a moment but after that it all feels pretty natural, almost like a curvy NES pad.

I've used for a good few hours now on stuff like The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Monster Max and Super Mario Land 2 and was really impressed. I even found myself messing with the menus and changing the colours just like in the old days...blue Link still looks amazing!

Friends reunited?
The Commander also doubles as a replacement SFC/SNES controller by way of a little switch above the start and select buttons. While it isn't ideal for action heavy titles like Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II, it will get you by in a good number of regular games, and in fact for slower paced games such as Sim City and Aerobiz I actually found myself favouring it over the regular pad.

A Triforce moment...
So there we are, although it was kind of pricey for a controller (£25), to me it was worth every penny. I'm very much looking forward to using my SGB Commander when I'm next scaling Tal Tal Heights, shooting down Tatanka and saving Dreamland.

Right, I'm off to trawl car boot sales for more pads!

By the by; if you were interested by this article, then please feel free to take a look at what I thought of Namco's weird and wonderful Negcon.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Ten reasons to buy (and love) Xenoblade Chronicles

Resplendent red sword, giant mech, long grass...good to go
This article was originally started in January 2012, mere minutes after I had bid a wistful farewell to the glittering cast of Xenoblade Chronicles. As a few of my dear friends are currently (or soon to be) wading through the bewitching world of the Bionis, it seemed right that I finish it off. I hope that along the way, this short article will inspire a few more people to experience Monolith's magnum opus, and if not then at least show that it was in fact Nintendo's much-derided Wii that boasted this generation's stand out RPG.

By the way; if the following seems a bit 'fan-boy', then I apologise. It has though, been a long time since any game enchanted me in such a way as this.

Onwards we go...

Having recently invested a significant amount of time (a little over 208 hours) into Xenoblade Chronicles, I feel confident in proclaiming that it is without doubt the finest 'new' role-playing game on sale today, and indeed the most exceptional since (the quite astounding) Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. I would even go as far as to say that it is easily one of the most impressive, striking and memorable video games I have played in the last decade.

Coming up are ten attempts at me trying to explain my thinking.

1. It's on the Wii...


...and it's quality, I mean the kind of quality we used to see from Square when they were still good (cue the sound of jaws hitting floors). I can remember when the first videos of Xenoblade were released, and thinking to myself that there was no way such a game could be headed to the Wii, this was a RPG for crying out loud! Not since the heady days of Squaresoft and Enix on the SNES, had a Nintendo home console been able to boast such a magnificent example of the genre.

Although it true that the Wii does have a decent array of quality titles (here's my list of some of the more surprising), there is no getting away from the fact that it is now and always will be, known for the deluge of lazy, gimmicky and often shamefully unfinished mini games it was burdened with. And actually it is this apathetic and half arsed approach from the many companies which makes Xenoblade shine even brighter...it clinically puts about 95% of the system's software developers to shame. You realise very quickly that if these developers had put in even half the effort into their games that Monolith Soft did with Xenoblade, then Wii owners wouldn't all have been left drowning in a shite infested sea of Carnival Games and Petz Horse Club.

It has depth, technical flair and genuine warmth in abundance and it highlights just what the little white machine can actually do in the right hands.

2. A mind blowing story


There have been many an RPG through the ages that can boast an epic storyline, and plots full of intrigue and suspense. There are even a select few that manage take us on a roller coaster of emotion and stay with us forever. Xenoblade sits comfortably in the latter category; it dispenses liberal helpings of joy, sadness, fear, and hope, all of which conspire to stir up real emotion and pull the gamer deeper into the world.

I fear I cannot do this staggering tale the justice it deserves without ruining it for people who are yet to experience it...but suffice it to say that it is all there and so much more. There is love, war, oppression, death, brutality, friendship, and it is all written in such a way that it worms it's way into your heart and captivates you from the very first scene to the closing credits. You are taken on such a grandiose journey that for me, the story of Xenoblade takes it's place alongside those of Final Fantasy VI, Suikoden II and Wild Arms...it is nothing short of sensational.
The expansive Gaur Plains...pretty ain't she?!


3. The streamlined battle system


There's no disguising the fact that in terms of battle systems; Xenoblade is what FFXII should have been. And although it can take a bit of getting used to (you can't play it like a Final Fantasy game) it is an absolute joy once you're fully clued up. Left behind are the monotonous and dreary slogs of Squenix’s recent instalments, and in it's place is a fresh approach to active time and menu driven battles.

When an enemy is encountered, the transition from field to battle is seamless and there is no noticeable change to the game's pacing. Each fight skips along at rate not knots and although there are times when things seem to happen beyond your control, it all fits together and delivers a satisfying experience. The player is able to fully participate as the computer AI does a fairly decent job of looking after your comrades so you can concentrate on strategy and knocking seven bells out your adversaries.

The battle system seems to take as much inspiration from the ARPG genre as it does from the traditional ATB and turn based models and Monolith look to have recognised a negative shift in the tolerance of most new gamers toward slow-paced battles. The genuinely refreshing thing is that even though the system is designed for speed and ease of use, there is a ton of depth to it and more than enough strategy and customisation to keep hardcore pointy hat fans satisfied and engrossed.


4. Dazzling cutscenes


Although it is a bit 90's of me to sit here and wax lyrical about the quality of cutscene in a Japanese RPG; there is no denying that Xenoblade's are needlessly fantastic! It's obviously no revelation that the technical quality on show is nowhere near that of a PS3 or Xbox 360, however there is bucket loads of evidence to show that Monolith are wringing every last drop of power they can out of the Wii...you can almost hear it struggling to process what is going on.

There is also the thoughtful addition of interactivity within certain scenes that can directly affect your party's view of one another. This is achieved by raising or lowering the 'affinity' between two members of your group, and this leads on to how they interact in the future. While it is hardly a brand new concept, it does bring a pinch of player involvement into the some cutscenes, and this only adds to the overall mood.

Every scene is presented with what feels like a 'glow', and all are exquisitely acted out (even in the English dub) with very pretty and refined in-game character models. The one area that leaves a bit to be desired is the facial expressions of the characters which look a touch dated (128-bit standard perhaps)...but it would take a cruel critic to let this detract. As much as the JRPG genre seems to divide people's opinion, there is no other style of game that can seem to match an RPG for cutscenes when it is on song.


5. The sheer size of the thing...


...is bordering on ridiculous! The vastness of the world of Xenoblade is one of it's (many) trump cards, and one which it plays with continual and devastating effect. It's worth pointing out though that constant care is taken to not expose the player to too much too soon. However, once the game gets into it's stride, it seems very much like everywhere you can glimpse is reachable...very little is out of bounds.

I guess that the potential problem with a world of this size is the danger feeling it is almost too easy to get lost and sidetracked from the quest and story (this is probably more among novice players). This can lead to a game feeling like a dumbed down MMORPG (think FFXII again...sorry Squenix fans), happily though this is never the case with Xenoblade. The vistas can sometimes seem slightly intimidating with their scale, but it just seems to make the whole thing epic and make you feel like an explorer. In addition, there is always a handy pointer showing you the direction in which you need to head. Exploration is very much encouraged and is used as a clever way of gaining experience for your party...negating the need to build up as much as you would expect.
You can see why I'm besotted, no?


6. Sublime visuals


Most of us know that there is no way a Wii title can match the graphical prowess of the PS3 and Xbox 360. Once you spend some time with Xenoblade's rather special graphics though, it would honestly take a heart of stone forged from the mines of Narshe, to deny that this game is desperately pretty. You need only experience the splendour of the Eryth Sea Ether Fall or the golden snow of Valak Mountain to see this. I would defy anyone who does appreciate graphical finery not to be at least grudgingly impressed by this game's offerings.

There are few (if any) games on the Wii that even come close to the grandeur of this game. The impressive landscapes can be seen from miles away and the whole world is presented with a sheen that belies the game's humble underpinnings. I would go as far as to say that even Nintendo themselves would struggle to match this level of attractiveness.

When you can fall completely in love with a game (as I did), from merely gawping at the title screen, you know you're onto a winner. Watching the Monado blade stood amongst the tall blades of grass, while they gently sway with the wind, as the hours move elegantly by and day fades into night, is strangely breath taking.


7. An immaculate soundtrack


From the moment that you hear the stirring piano keys of Yoko Shimomura's opening score, you are left under no illusion that this game will be something special and your ears in particular are in for a treat. The main theme perfectly sums up the game's emotional nature, with it's gentle beginning giving way to an epic orchestral climax. 

I might as well cut straight to the chase now, the music in this game is nigh on perfect. I listen to a lot of video game music, and RPG music in particular, and if I'm honest, Xenoblade is the only video game OST I've heard that can hold a candle to Yasunori Mitsuda's Chrono Cross. Interestingly you can hear the great man's influence in throughout every track, although he is only credited for a small portion of the overall score. From the intrepid aria of Gaur Plains, which makes you feel like even more of an explorer; to the heartfelt 'Rikki's Tenderness', which evokes such emotion, we are reminded once again that this is the kind of music only the Japanese do well.

The background music will change (sometimes drastically) depending on whether you are wandering round during the day or at night...and some of this after dark music is nothing short of divine, Satorl Mash and Agni Ratha being prime examples.
None of that motion control malarkey here!

8. The ridiculously talented development team (Monolith Soft)


Let's be honest, if you were looking for a company to step up and deliver a gob smacking RPG in this day and age, then you could do far worse than go to Monolith Soft. The company is made up (for those who are unaware) of former Square employees...and not just any employees, many of the Monolith staff were responsible for genre defining games such as Chrono Cross, Xenogears and the Xenosaga series...not to be sniffed at.

I can't help but feel Nintendo played an absolute blinder when they bought Monolith from Namco and made them a first party developer. The company just oozes quality and has a genuine love for the RPG. If the rumour that they are working on a WiiU RPG turns out to be true, then it could help Nintendo to shift just a few more machines.

9. It "rescues the JRPG" as a genre


The game seems to have the ability to satisfy the modern gamer's desire for a more fluid and less arduous adventure. It allows the player to 'warp' to most landmarks in an instant (personally I think this is lazy, but I do see it's advantages), and it goes a long way to removing the need to level up your character to by fighting enemies over and over again. All this, helps the game to flow in a way that I've never really experienced in a traditional RPG. It's certainly no action RPG, but it does take a lot from it's sibling genre. Worry not though stats fans! At the same time, Xenoblade manages not to alienate the more hardened RPG fans by stuffing itself full of lovely customisation, neat skill exchanges and some truly magnificent side quests.

Over the last few years or so, there have been many in the gaming industry telling us that the Japanese RPG is dead, dying or just completely stagnant. While I would agree that there is far less development and evolution in this genre than many others, to just dismiss it in this way is total horse shit. The fact is the JRPG has simply had it's fifteen minutes of fame. The days of Squaresoft mega summons and Konami stars of destiny being the trendy thing in gaming are long gone. The JRPG has simply retreated back into obscurity, where it will still be loved vehemently by it's fans. I've no doubt that western gaming's latest mistress; the FPS will also one day experience this fate (I've got the champagne on ice for that day!). But all this aside, Xenoblade has been a welcome breath of fresh air for the genre and has done some exemplary work in appeasing many of the naysayers.
As heart warming as a lunch scene can be...


10. Influenced the starting a powerful fan movement


When Nintendo of America announced that Xenoblade Chronicles, the Last Story and Pandora's Tower; three of the Wii's most promising titles, would not be receiving a release in North America, there was, as you would expect a good deal of disappointment and anger from fans. This feeling was exacerbated further because all three games had been given the green light for translation and release in the PAL territories...I for one actually felt this went some way toward making up for Chrono Trigger and Earthbound (sorry American friends!).

The feeling of the fans became so strong that Operation Rainfall was formed. The following months saw legions of dedicated fans lobbying Nintendo of America via email, letter and even phone call, in the hopes of persuading them to release this trio of games. In what must be regarded as a victory for all fan-kind(!), Nintendo finally announced plans to release Xenoblade and The Last Story in North America.

I find it incredible and quite moving that the desire of ordinary people to experience 'mere' video games, could lead to such a movement and in turn, convince one of the world's premier entertainment companies to change it's mind. Everyone involved deserves massive thanks, and has my unwavering admiration.

In summary


I am well aware that my fevered ramblings do not really do justice to this jewel of a game. So I implore and even beg of you, if you have any interest at all in the RPG genre or even just in video games that are designed and built to be as good as they possibly can, then get this game.

I think it speaks volumes for me to say that Xenoblade Chronicles is worth the price of a Wii all on it's own...it is just that good. With any luck, it's commercial success and critical acclaim will help to ensure the continued translation and release of more Japanese RPGs.

The Last Story sure has a lot to live up to...

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Trifecta of Tragedy


Greetings one and all.

Seeing as this is my first proper post in what feels like a very long time (more on why at a later date), I find it strangely apt that I am writing this in honour of what can only be described as, a monumental occasion in the gaming calendar. 

To help celebrate the inaugural Review a Bad Game Day put together by the marvellous folk over at 1 More Castle, I've decided delve into the murky (and sometimes turd filled) waters of yesteryear. This whimsical journey will take us back in time to some of video gaming's golden eras, and remind us that sometimes not even the most rose tinted of spectacles are enough to blur out some of the cataclysmic mistakes of the past. 

During the next few hundred words or so, I will be taking a look at three of the most notorious and disgraced video games from my youth. Now it’s worth me pointing out that, until quite recently I had never played (or even dreamed of playing) any of these godforsaken monstrosities, and all three were chosen specifically for the severe amount of flak they received from magazines in the 90's. Will a mature pair of eyes allow me to see these games in a positive light? Read on to find out...

NB - All scores are being given in good old fashioned magazine style percentages...because it's just better that way!

Right, let's get to it:

Pit Fighter (SNES)

We start in glorious 1993, when the still young (in the UK at least) Super Nintendo was busy making it's mark on the gaming landscape. Stellar titles such Super Mario World, F-Zero, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past had gamers up and down the land purring with delight...apart from those of a Mega Drive persuasion!

Also around this time, Atari's rather fun and flamboyant looking, arcade brawler; Pit Fighter made the jump from cabinet to console...destination: SNES. To be honest, I'm not sure exactly what happened here, but something (namely the entire game) seems to have got lost in translation.

I might as well come out with it right away: this game is fucking awful. And I don't just mean the regular Duke Nukem bad; we're talking full on Ebola virus bad here. It's so grim that I'm still unsure it should even be classed as a 'game', but anyways...

Visuals

Anyone familiar with the arcade version of Pit Fighter will probably remember it looking rather impressive back in the day, it's use of live actors and blue screens to achieve a quasi-realistic look was quite notable. So when you consider the level of graphical prowess available on the SNES, it wouldn't have been too optimistic to expect a decent portion of this detail to feature in the home port...but oh dear. I'm being totally truthful when I say that Pit Fighter on the SNES would be put to shame by the majority of average NES titles, let alone the likes of Street Fighter II and Dead Dance.

To start with, the fighters look (for all the world) like the developers just dumped some skin coloured blobs into the game and then gave them different coloured trousers so you could tell who you were controlling. With so little detail present, it can get difficult to work out what's going on. To make matters laughably worse, the game seems to posses about 5 frames of animation...that's not 5 frames per second, just 5 in total. I actually thought it was a defective copy, and it's not unusual to witness your character going from standing totally still to something like an axe kick in one frame.

This graphical wizardry (phnar phnar) is also present within the scores of crowds that gather to watch your epic battles. For some reason, they all seem to move as one ugly brown mass...it really is depressing. In fact the only break you receive from the brown onslaught seems to be when a player is defeated, when for reasons unbeknownst to me he turns a stony grey. Almost like you've cast Petrify on him...only you haven't because unfortunately this is not Final Fantasy, it's a piece of dog shit called Pit Fighter.
Check out this 'digitised' powerhouse I've chosen
Sound

Further plumbing the depths of despair is the Pit Fighter soundtrack, which predictably is terrible. This is an achievement of some note considering there isn't actually a single sound played until you select your character (once again I thought the game was broken!) and are greeted by a ridiculous cry of "HUH". Once the bout begins things degenerate further still, with an decidedly rank bit of slap-bass that seems to loop about every 15 seconds or so. We all know that these were tough times and 8Mbits of storage is not much, but come on!

Playability

Game play is where Pit Fighter really gets into it's demonic stride, and manages to serve up the worst user experience that I can think of. You choose from three fighters, each of which is supposed to have the obligatory strengths and weaknesses, and then you find that none of this makes the slightest difference to the game in any way. You are immediately thrust into a match with a hooded bad guy called 'The Executioner', this guy basically pummels you with one of three moves until you die...this happens a lot.

Getting slammed in the very first fight is annoying enough when you have no real clue what is going on, but every time you are defeated, it's back to the title screen...via the Game Over screen, which you will become achingly familiar with. To make things just that little bit more arduous as well, if you do manage to fluke a victory, your character does not have his energy replenished between matches. Yep, you have to go through the entire game on one bar...further evidence of how broken and unbalanced this thing really is.

I don't feel that I have enough words to adequately convey just how rotten this game is. The controls are a total joke; pressing one button seems to unleash three completely different moves?! There is next to no collision detection, sometimes you strike your opponent, other times you don't...it seems to be up in the lap of the gods. And when you finally do get the hang of what's going on, you quickly realise that most opponents can be bested by constantly hammering the A button with a bit of backing off now and again. This tactic will see you fly through the game.

I also have no idea why they decided to exclude the arcade's magnificent three player mode, but I get the feeling that even that would have made no difference in saving this game, so they probably thought "why bother?"
The screen I became most familiar with
Longevity

In a nutshell there isn't any...

Seriously, once you had played this game for about ten minutes or so I can promise you would never ever want to come back to it. Pit Fighter has no redeeming qualities, and is abominable even with a friend along for the ride. To rub salt to an already gaping and gangrenous wound, when it was released in 1993, THQ decided to charge £45 a copy! Just to put that into some sort of perspective, that is the same as Super Probotector and Final Fight...outrageous.

Overall score: 8%


Time Cop (SNES)

Our next stop is 1995, and whilst the SNES was cementing itself into the hearts of gamers with the likes of Secret of Mana, Super Metroid and Killer Instinct; a small company called Cryo were busy beavering away on a gaming semi-sequel to the lacklustre film; Time Cop (starring the Muscles from Brussels: Jean Claude van Damme).

Video games based on movies were certainly not a new concept back then, and on the whole were usually dire affairs, created to squeeze a few extra green-backs out of the latest craze. Time Cop sought to right this wrong by giving the player an exciting look into a (yet again) digitised and PC inspired future.

The thing is though, what they actually gave us must surely rank as one of the most dreadful action platform games ever created.

Visuals

To be fair, Time Cop's graphics are actually not that bad, and while they never trouble the silky delights of Donkey Kong Country, they certainly don't sink anywhere near the level of George Foreman's KO Boxing. The game's characters are surprisingly well animated, and they run, jump and fight with a grace and fluidity that defies the rest of this rotten game. Unfortunately, making the sprites look this attractive seems to have taken up the majority of the game's memory because every baddie looks totally identical. Couple this with the fact there is no transition animation between actions (for example: walking to shooting) and you quickly get an idea of the path Time Cop is headed down.

The backgrounds range from dull brown warehouses, through to some average looking alley-ways all the way to the sea bed. While none of it is particularly bad, it is also never anything other than functional it does seem to repeat faster than the backgrounds in a Top Cat cartoon.

Unfortunately, some semi-pleasing character animations can't save Time Cop from looking like Lester the Unlikely's slightly more serious cousin. It's attempt to mimic the PC craze of realistic digitised graphics, leave it looking uninspired and hugely bland...it is almost as if the developers got to a certain point and then suddenly realised that they lacked that all important ingredient we know as talent.
In the future, all will be swathed in luscious brown
Sound

When Time Cop was released, the Super Nintendo was home to a multitude of sumptuous gaming soundtracks. Composers such as Koji Kondo, Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu had set a very high bar and shown just what the console could do...it's just a shame that all three of them must have been busy on the day the Time Cop team called them for some much needed assistance.

It is not that Time Cop has a diabolic soundtrack or anything, but the majority of it is about as memorable as wallpaper paste, and when it does try to stand out, it's for all the wrong reasons. The first level throws up some sort of pseudo dance (bad even in the 90s) track with a vile, cheesy voice shouting "FBI" and "Get on it"...it's horrendous stuff. I can't help but think they should have just left the game devoid of music, it may have made more of an impact...oh, and freed up some valuable space for the graphics.

Playability

As any gamer worth their salt could tell you, action games of this ilk are defined by how they play and feel. The ability of the game to excite and test you is paramount, and though Time Cop certainly does test you (and your patience); it is for all the wrong reasons. It's hideous collision detection, and weird lack of reach from the main character are somehow just very wrong and further add to the feeling that this game was developed by idiots, most likely drunken idiots.

The game never once threatens to thrill or captivate you in the way that a Konami, Treasure or Capcom offering would, and in fact, this only serves to remind us just how far behind the greats, companies such as Cryo actually were.

Once again, I find myself struggling to put across in words just how poor this game is...it brings shame to Jean Claude van Damme, that's how bad!
By a long way, THE only fun bit in the entire game
Longevity

As with Pit Fighter, there is very little incentive to ever revisit Time Cop (which is cause for celebration, trust me). It's one of those games that leaves you wondering how it ever made it out the testing phase, and further makes a laughing stock out of the Nintendo Seal. It is dull, annoying, tedious, unfair, shallow, boring, monotonous, slow and only slightly preferable to eating glass.

Luckily Cryo beat a hasty retreat from the realm of the SNES and never returned...the world was a far better place for it. And I think it speaks volumes when I say I'd rather watch the Time Cop movie ten times on the run, than play this game for just ten minutes, a strong statement but a true one!

Overall score: 12%


War Gods (N64)

The final destination on our miserly mystery tour sees us enter the heady days of 1997, where Nintendo's newly launched N64 had been causing a noticeable furore...for reasons both good and bad.

Whilst the system effortlessly pushed out some of the most significant video game offerings of the decade, legions of N64 owners were left starved of a flagship 3D fighting game to rival the 32bit gladiators; Tekken and Virtua Fighter. To make matters more sour, PSX and Saturn fans could point to sizeable stables of sensational brawlers, whereas loyal Nintendo fans had to make do with mediocre offerings such as Mace: The Dark Ages and Bio Freaks (the less said the better).

So, step up Midway and their ambitious port of gore filled arcade smash; War Gods...

Visuals

I still remember seeing War Gods in the arcade and being quite impressed by the look of the thing, although it lacked the finesse of Soul Edge and the polish of Street Fighter EX, it was still striking and the (outrageous) trademark Midway blood and guts was difficult to ignore.

Having seen just what the N64 could do in the right hands (usually Nintendo, Rare and Konami), I was convinced that War Gods would look at least passable when it was ported over to the 64bit beast...but as we all know, "passable" never really happened, in fact it only just about managed poor. What we got instead was shocking character models that seemed to (inadvertently) skulk about like zombies from Resident Evil, a terrible frame rate and a mystifying lack of detail in each of the quite frankly absurd "deities". This lack of detail does serve to hinder the effect given off by some of the (quite humorous) fatalities...for instance not being able to tell what limb you've just ripped off your opponent is a bit of a letdown.

Unforgivable when you consider this was on the console that gave us Goldeneye...
This is similar to what I did in real life, after playing War Gods
Sound

While it's quite difficult to forget that War Gods is an abomination, one of it's major (and very few) plus points is the soundtrack and FX. The music tracks are some of the better examples from the N64'a catalogue, and in truth belong in something much more accomplished. There are plenty of hearty screams and bone crunching sound effects too which are good for a chuckle if nothing else. The voice acting is also spot on, with the announcer being the best of the bunch.

Playability

Here's a big shock for you, War Gods has none...ok, it has a bit but not much, and what little there is, will never trouble a proper fighting game. The game is horrifically unbalanced, to the point where one opponent my destroy you five times in a row, and then the next three you can smash without breaking a sweat. This lack of natural progression only adds to what already feels like a rushed and unfinished game.

Admittedly, War Gods is not helped by the standard N64 controller, which however you look at it, just wasn't designed for fighting games of any kind. However this is not enough to excuse it's completely abysmal control system, and the inclusion of a Virtua Fighter style '3D dodge' button adds nothing to the party, other than bringing about a sort of strange and retarded dancing mini-game. It's certainly not what you would expect to see Paul Phoenix and co doing.
A hostile takeover of McDonalds in action
Longevity

The one thing which War Gods has going for it, is that it's a bit daft and when you get into the two player mode, it can be a laugh for an hour or so. Although it's nowhere near the standard of Tekken, Fighting Vipers or even Fighter's Destiny, you can have some fun brawling with the ridiculous characters and watching the comedy fatalities is genuinely funny (but in that "not meant to be" kind of way). As you probably guessed though, this smidgeon of fun does not last too long and it won't be long before War Gods is given away to charity or sold on eBay in the hope that some curious or sadistic soul takes it off your hands.

The most disappointing aspect of War Gods on the N64 is that is that it's shite...erm, so I guess then that the second disappointing aspect of War Gods on the N64 is that with a bit more effort and attention to detail, Midway could've had a decent game on their hands. As it stands though, you can't help but feel they had the goal gaping and still managed to miss.

Score: 26%


The verdict

Happily the arduous expedition which has seen us take a look at some truly depressing excuses for entertainment is close to an end. And I can safely say, I would rather endure root canal than spend another moment with any of these cartridges.

Being something of a Nintendo (and in particular a SNES) fan-boy, this was always going to hurt. All three of these games are nothing short of abysmal, and I feel genuinely sorry for anyone who shelled out for them at full price when they were originally released. But, while all the animals are equal, one is more equal than the others...and that one is Pit Fighter!

A truly deserving victor, Pit Fighter is not just the worst game on the Super Nintendo, but by far the worst game I have ever had the misfortune to play. I can only hope that this review saves just one person from ever experiencing it's ghastly horrors.

Thank you for sticking with me through this most seedy jaunt, I sincerely hope you are not too shaken by the sights witnessed today! Be sure to head over to the Review a Bad Game Day website for further tales of despair.

About the reviewer: 

My name is Paul; I'm 30 years old and have been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64. In gaming terms I am happily stuck in the 90's, where I spend my time deep in obscure Super Famicom RPGs and bizarre 2D fighting games. Follow me on Twitter for ramblings about Hori controllers, an unhealthy love for SNK and general retro chit-chat.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Crystal Blue Dreams - an update

Greetings to anyone who reads this blog or is visiting for the first time. As you may be aware, it has been some time since I last posted anything on the site...this is due to not very interesting personal reasons which I will not dwell on here.

The good news is that Crystal Blue Dreams is back...and so am I! I've no idea how often new content will be added or just what format it will be in, but I will do my best to ramble on about gaming related topics, just as I have done previously.

The first new post will be a special piece to help celebrate a wonderful and quite awful occasion: Review a Bad Game Day. For my part I will be looking at some of the most terrible games that I could think of, and letting you know exactly how bad they are...just what are these games? Well, you'll need to keep checking back regularly...or you could wait till 08/08/12 when Review a Bad Game Day is officially taking place!

Anyways, until then...