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    Mar 5th, 2008 at 22:30:07     -    No More Heroes (Wii)

    Take 2:
    Gameplay


    My second play through confirmed some of my previous notions, and dispelled some others. The challenge did increase, and some enemies turned out to be a bit more challenging than the suited security guards. Every once in a while, the game will drop a few enemies who also hold electric katanas. These guys actually have a chance to kill the PC, especially if you encounter them in groups. The trick to beating them seems to be luring them off one by one, as the AI for these NPCs has them only moving to attack Travis when he gets within a certain threshhold distance from them. So they can be separated and easily dispatched via a divide-and-conquer strategy. AI is not the hallmark of this game.

    As for the other, lemming-like waves of non-katana wielding enemies, they got a little tougher as well. It takes longer to kill each indivisual enemy, and that means Travis has to focus on each one longer, leaving him more vulnerable to attacks from other lemmings. The purpose of these waves is still not to kill the player, but to attrit his health before more dangerous encounters.

    The second boss battle was interesting, and confirms my guess that Boss battles were the focus of the game. Each boss has a unique pattern of attack, but lemmings are pretty identical regardless of the level they're associated with.

    The mini-missions continued after the second boss battle. Every boss I defeat 'unlocks' a new mini-mission, most recently, Travis has proven himself worthy of mowing grass. I'm slightly less annoyed by these mini-missions than before, because after I defeated the second boss, I unlocked a handful of new areas in the city, including stores where I can upgrade my katana, skills, and buy new clothes. Before, the only thing to spend money on was the right to take the next boss fight, but now you have a choice on how to spend your money. If you want to, you can zoom straight along to the next boss fight, or you can spend your money tricking out your character's skills if you don't mind doing silly repetitive mini-games.

    Design:

    No More Heroes stands out in one respect in that it innovates very little. Its game mechanics are a hodgepodge from a bunch of games that previously didn't overlap much. Collection, customizable outfits, customizable character, mini-games, and free travel in a city are not mechanics that are considered essential in the beat'em'up genre, but No More Heroes smooshes them all together.

    The game doesn't aspire to be very challenging. When the character dies, he's respawned from a nearby point in the same section of the level. So punishment for failure is a maximum of 5 minutes of time. Short-term rewards for success are seeing your enemies explode in various interesting animations, with the occasional reward of sustenance in the form of health power ups. Long term rewards for sticking with the game are access to the storyline, and the chance to play special encounters versus bosses.

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    Mar 2nd, 2008 at 18:44:23     -    No More Heroes (Wii)

    NO MORE HEROES

    Overview

    No More Heroes is game of games. It exemplifies and exploits all the idiosyncratic elements of classic video games, and tries to put them all into the same game-play experience. The result is a very bloody, action-packed, and somewhat repetitive game.


    Gameplay

    You take on the role of Travis Touchdown, a loser turned assassin. Travis' trademark weapon is an electrically charged Katana which he won in an e-bay auction. He meets a lady in a bar who apparently works for a shady organization that manages contracts for assassins. She determines Travis is the 11th best assassin in town, and offers him the goal of someday rising to become number 1. Travis accepts, and next we know it Travis is assaulting a mansion full of suited security guards with earpieces and sunglasses.

    This is where the gameplay begins, which is a shame for the story. It is a kind of interesting background, and the game attempts to shove it down your throat in a 4 minute cut-scene. I would have liked to experience the change from Travis being a loser to Travis being a bad-ass with an electrifyed katana. Instead, the game opts to throw you right into the action after a minimal briefing.

    The gameplay itself is extremely stylized and extremely simple. The player will tap the A button on the wiimote for Travis to swing his sword, and repeated taps will lead to a combo. Once Travis has finished a combo, an arrow will appear on the screen. The player will swing the wii remote vaguely in the direction the arrow points, and Travis will perform a finishing move, slicing his opponent like butter, butter that will erupt in a fountain of blood at the slightest knick. The style guide here is Kill Bill, where realistic physiology takes a back seat to artistic liberty.

    How do these guys shave in the morning?!

    After the initial cool factor of making a huge mess in the mansion's entry hall that you won't have to clean up, gameplay bogs down. There isn't much variety or challenge to the game, at least in the initial level. Travis gets a huge health bar, and there is practically no chance that it will be depleted by the time the character gets to the boss of the first level, but even if it does, there are copious chances to raise your health via power-ups. I'm not sure if you even need to be conscious to play this game. Just tap the A button for a while, tape the control stick to the right so Travis turns in place and you're likely to be fine.

    The boss fight was more engaging, though again, not particularly challenging. The boss had an Australian accent and an improbably sized sword, and would occasionally do some damage to Travis. I think this implies that the bosses are supposed to be the meat of the game, and after I beat the boss, the game somewhat confirms this by showing Travis advancing a rank to become the 10th best Assassin in town. But you need to pay the shady organization a bunch of money in order to gain the right to challenge the next higher up.

    This forces Travis to do stupid mini-missions, like collecting coconuts for a street vendor. I've only done one mini-mission so far, but it was so menial that I had to walk away from the game. The mini-games shamelessly extend the playtime of the game, without offering any entertainment value in themselves. I hope some of the other mini-games are more interesting.

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    Feb 20th, 2008 at 08:38:19     -    Final Fantasy (PSP)

    The second play session was a little bit more frustrating. I saved the princess, and the king is so grateful that he builds a bridge to the next continent so that I can continue on my quest. I guess he just didn't feel comfortable having 4 dudes in town that just embarrassed his armed forces. So, after I've achieved the first story goal, I'm supposed to make my way to the next town to solve their problems. Unfortunately, there's a huge forest in between me and that town, and with the random encounters found in that forest, I have to make a few trips back to the original town to heal up at the inn.

    This game places a lot of emphasis on levelling up, and buying gear. This surprises me, because its sequels make it very easy to advance the plot, so easy that it's hard to avoid. This one spends a lot of time focusing on random encounters, which you use to advance your characters' stats. I find it tedious, because combat is slow and a little bit clunky. After you pick your actions, there's nearly a minute where the player is not making any decisions, he's just watching the turn play itself out. This isn't awful for the first hour of play, when everything is still new, but when the game forces you to spend lots of time in battle just so you can progress the story, it becomes maddening. An option to process the battle all at once, without animations, would probably make this aspect of the game more fun.

    Design:

    The game gives you some power to customize your characters, and this lends itself to the player creating stories and personalities around the party members. (The game gave me a new appreciation of 8-bit theater, http://www.nuklearpower.com ). The party members themselves don't actually display any personality in the game, they don't have any speaking lines, and there is no dialogue between you and anybody you talk to, but giving the player control over what each character can do, and making the player invest time in “earning” those abilities, is extremely engaging.


    The game also does have a freeform aspect to it. The player can visit past areas, he's even given reason to, because item and inn prices in earlier towns are lower than prices in towns you discover later on. Also, each store has a unique inventory, so you can backtrack to go tweak your characters after you've gained some levels.

    The game mixes in medium term rewards (gaining levels) with long term rewards (advancing the plot.) But in the short term, I think it is lacking. You probably gain a level every 20 minutes of adventuring, but there isn't much to do to entertain yourself in the meanwhile. When you advance the plot, you fight a boss monster, one that probably has a fair chance of defeating you, even if your party is at near full strength. As a reward, you get access to a new part of the world, with more difficult random encounters that provide experience points enough to keep levelling at the same pace.

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    Feb 20th, 2008 at 06:51:17     -    Final Fantasy (PSP)

    With a dozen sequels, and an ardent horde of fans, Final Fantasy kicked off one of the great franchises in video game history. The original in the series is surprisingly similar to the latest, with random encounters, epic storyline, and fight/magic/item combat decisions. You control an adventuring party of 4 characters, dubbed the “Warriors of Light,” on a quest to save the world from darkness. You'll spend a lot of time travelling between towns, levelling up, and defeating boss monsters deep in dungeons. Is it formulaic if you discovered the formula?


    Gameplay:

    You start out at the character selection screen, presented with a sample party of 4. You can modify the classes of this party, and provide names for each of the characters. You get to choose the classes of each of your characters, from hitpoint heavy fighters, to limited use black mages. I chose a party of a Fighter, Martial Artist, White Mage and Black Mage.

    You start out in a castle, with a lot of NPC sprites wandering around in random seeming directions. If you want, you can move your sprite over to them to hear their one line of dialogue, but most of them don't have much interesting to say. However, you do get the gist of the story from these initial interactions. The princess was kidnapped by a knight gone bad, and apparently the “Warriors of Light” are the only ones who can do anything about it.

    You leave the castle, and the game goes into a mode with your sprite superimposed on a map of the world, with forests, rivers, and towns. There's a town nearby, so I went to go investigate. This boots me back to area exploration mode, with townsfolk NPC sprites wandering around waiting for you to ask them questions. But added to this, are houses with stores with which you can equip your party. Also, in the town lies the ever important Inn. There you can save your game and replenish the health and magic of your party.

    Leaving town, you proceed to your goal of rescuing the princess, moving through trees, and through valleys. Along the way, you'll be jolted out of your world map journey by random encounters. You'll enter a third mode, combat mode, which shows a graphic representation of your party on the right, and the enemies on the left. You select the actions of your party, given choices: Fight, Magic, Drink,Item, and Run. You select actions for your entire party for 1 turn, the computer selects actions for the enemies behind the scenes, and you watch the turn play out. This is repeated until your party flees, wins, or is killed. Rewards for winning are Experience points for increasing your characters' levels, and Gold to improve your party's equipment.

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