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    Feb 9th, 2007 at 23:11:25     -    Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PC)

    After playing the game a little more, a few things have started to bother me. In cutscenes, the simplicity of character designs really stands out. Characters don't move their mouths when they talk, and choppy animations or splicing together of voices really detracts from the experience. What's more, mapping the mouse to the second thumbstick is OK all the time except when shooting. Unfortunately, shooting is the only time when it's really important to be as accurate as possible.
    As many times as I'm sure it's been said, Rockstar just nails the soundtrack. The radiostations have realistic playlists and the DJ's and fake commercials are very funny. I would say that the music is probably overall not quite as good as Vice City, which had hilarious 80's style commercials and music. However, since San Andreas is set in the early 90's, hip-hop was well on its way. The Rockstar DJ's are smart and put in a lot of remixes and rare versions of songs that are now considered classics. Including full radio stations is now not a very new idea, but it's really been changed up in a good way in each recent GTA.
    Another thing that is really well done in San Andreas is the way the environment is slowly opened up more and more. I still haven't gotten to travel all around California of visit San Fierro, but usually things that prevent the player from progressing further before fulfilling some mission objectives really get on my nerves, but San Andreas puts you in such a big city even at the very beginning of the game that this isn't a problem. However, I did sometimes get frustrated when I saw something that I was pretty sure was a secret area, but jumped into an invisible wall over and over becasue I hadn't progressed far enough in the game to be finding secrets.
    While I do have some reservations about this game, they are mostly due to the fact that the game is already 3 or 4 years old and not being played on a PS2. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is set in an amazing and fun world to explore in. Beyond updated hi-res visuals, I have no idea what Rockstar has planned for GTA4. I am very excited.

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    Feb 9th, 2007 at 23:10:57     -    Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PC)

    This week, I played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I have played Grand Theft Auto 3 and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City quite a bit at friends houses and was a really big fan, so I expected to like San Andreas. However, I mostly had played the previous two GTA games on PS2. I don't have a PS2, so I'm playing San Andreas for PC. I don't really like how the game feels being controlled by a mouse and keyboard, so I decided to play with my USB XBox 360 controller. This is now supposed to be the "standard" PC controller, with automatic, built-in support in all Windows games. However, San Andreas was ported to the PC before Microsoft was pushing XBox 360 controllers for Windows, so the automatic support on "gamepad" mode is extremely minimal. The left joystick controls movement, but the right joystick is impossible to assign to anything, as are the triggers and D-Pad. I spent quite a long time on the internet trying to find a patch or some way to let my gamepad be the main controller. I ended up finding a program called ControlMK which let me map a keyboard button or mouseclick to each controller button and control the mouse with the right joystick. It took quite a while to get everything set up properly, but the game really feels a lot better played with a controller like it's meant to be.
    For all of its depiction as a mindless killing game, the GTA series, now in at least its 10th installment, has a surprisingly complicated plot. San Andreas starts out with the main character flying from Liberty City (New York) back home to San Andreas (LA) after hearing that his mom has died. A cop, played by Samuel Jackson picks him up immediately and drops him in the territory of a rival gang. The next big section of the plot shows him getting his old neighborhood gang back together. The plot isn't the most interesting story in the world, but its clear that they put some time into it, and its nice to have missions that aren't totally random assignments from my cell phone like in some of the earlier GTA games.
    I remember being stunned the first time I saw GTA 3, and being really impressed by the improvements in Vice City, but that was a few years ago. I understand that San Andreas is improved from Vice City, but the engine is looking really tired in 2007. I'm not sure if the graphics were ported to PC poorly, but I'm really just barely there even with everything turned up to maximum. Still, the point of GTA isn't detailed textures and individually rendered fingers, but rather the scope of the world the player is set in. In that respect, San Andreas is fantastic, a shot out of the park. In GTA 3, you could tell the city was supposed to be New York. In Vice City, Rockstar really nailed the 80's Miami feel. San Andreas, though, looks exactly like LA. The game isn't just set in LA, but rather lets you explore most of California. I am from San Francisco, so for me the real test is how they depict "San Fierro," but as far as I've gotten into the game I am really blown away.

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    Jan 31st, 2007 at 13:00:00     -    Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

    I started to play Super Mario Bros. 3 seriously in high school, and I would say that it is without qualification one of if not the best video game of any sort ever made. Upon release, it made all previous Mario games (and probably all contemporary platformers) look totally out of date. The physics in SMB3 are perfect - flawless. The power-ups are fun and surprisingly rich. Enemy design is great. The level design is stunning. The graphics are fantastic. Super Mario Bros. 3 has no room for improvement, at all.
    One of the most important things to keep in mind about Super Mario Bros. 3 is the limitations of the NES. Super Mario World for the SNES has the same style of gameplay as SMB3, but with better graphics, sound, level elements etc. However, SMB3 is remarkable in its use of the capabilities of the NES. No game like SMB3 had ever been seen on the NES before, in terms of graphics, game complexity and diversity of levels. Even Kirby, Nintendo's swan song for the NES, doesn't really seem much more technically advanced. The fact that a perfect game like SMB3 could be designed within the constraints of the NES only makes the game deserving of more praise.
    The story of Super Mario Bros. 3 is, like all Mario games, totally stupid. Rescuing the princess is the kind of cliche that shouldn't be recycled under any circumstances. Of course, this kind of non-story that frames the game is most likely intentional. There are no goals in the game other than to get to the end of the level and occasionally defeat a boss, so no story is really necessary. Even putting bosses in at the halfway castle and at the end of every world, Nintendo's nod to a structure within the story, is not an important part of the game. Mario's trademark of insanely difficult levels and ridiculously easy bosses is really established here with SMB3.
    SMB3 is a game that has held up through the ages. It is the definitive platformer, Mario, and Nintendo game. Its praises cannot be sung enough.

    This entry has been edited 2 times. It was last edited on Jan 31st, 2007 at 19:19:06.

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    Jan 12th, 2007 at 02:00:47     -    Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters (Arcade)

    I played Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters on MacMAME. I only discovered MAME recently, and it's really blown me away. The Mega Man game I played is a lot of fun. The plot, like most Mega Man games, is cliched and not very important-- the good Dr. Light creates Mega Man to battle the evil robots of Dr. Wiley. That's not to say that the plot is totally irrelevant-- there are three plot lines that can be played with four main characters. Each plot line has a different objective-- find Dr. Wiley, rescue the girl or find the stolen parts which will give you special powers. The different paths all end the same; you'll get the powers, the girl will be OK, and you'll fight the same final boos regardless of the path you choose.
    The gameplay is excellent. I am most familiar with the Mega Man games for the Famicom and SNES. This arcade version is primarily different in that the stages are just boss fights, where the Nintendo games were definitely level-oriented, with boss fights along the way and in the culmination of the level. That makes the Nintendo games more about memorizing the level-- knowing where to jump and where to stand your ground, etc. In this arcade game, everything is necessarily sped up; you get to the boss right away, collect new weapons after each boss, and you can switch characters any time you die. Music and sound effects are much improved in this arcade version. Another thing that was new for me was the player characters. I have played some of the Mega Man X series on SNES, but playing as other characters is fairly sparse and mostly driven by the plot. The four characters you can play as have similar powers, but have different power-ups, physics, and so on. Mega Man was the easiest for me to play, but I tried the other characters and enjoyed the contrast, though it is somewhat difficult to adapt in a game like Mega Man, where intuitive understanding of game physics is so important.
    The graphics of the game are fantastic. There is an appeal that well done 2d graphics have that the most processor intensive 3d (or even cell-shaded) graphics can never have. Backgrounds are stylish, explosions and energy bolts look great, and character animations are smooth and really beautiful. Playing on an emulator can really destroy gameplay and even subtle problems with graphics can ruin the experience, but MAME seemed to run the game flawlessly. (I am especially surprised because MacMAME is designed for OS X, but not intel processors.... Therefore, when I play Mega Man on my intel-based Mac, I am literally emulating an emulator.) The one problem I had with the presentation of the game is that the level is only slightly wider than the screen, so occasionally an enemy will be standing at the opposite edge of the level from you, but is mostly or entirely not displayed. The only way to re-orient the screen is to move toward the enemy. Needless to say, this can be a frustrating problem.
    Overall, Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters is a really fun game. My main problem is that it's not especially long and doesn't have a ton of replay value. On a real arcade this might be somewhat different, but with virtual quarters, beating the game straight through wasn't especially challenging, though the final boss and a couple of other enemies did give me a bit of trouble. If I had only played as Mega Man, I probably couldn't have played this game for an hour and a half. Having a number of reasonably different characters to play as does increase the value of the game a lot. I would definitely recommend this game to a friend, and I'd love to hook it up to my tv when some friends were coming over.

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