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    Mar 6th, 2008 at 01:58:59     -    Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (PS2)

    GAMEPLAY

    Similar to the last session, I enjoyed the platforming levels but disliked the levels that focused on challenges that completely changed the control scheme and play style. This world had two challenges like this, although admittedly I didn’t find them as difficult (and therefore as irritating) as the previous one. I noticed that these challenges required further suspension of disbelief than usual. In this case, one challenge involved a character being challenged to a race and then given a well-guarded item by the antagonists for winning, while the other involved sending a character with no combat or stealth skills after an item, forcing the player to provide him with cover fire.

    Apart from their divergence from the core game mechanic, I think I often disliked these levels because they were required to progress in the main game, giving me the impression that I was being forced to do something that reasonably shouldn’t have been required. I noticed this because I found some optional challenges to be much more rewarding. The timed challenges, in particular, were fairly difficult, forcing me to complete levels with near-optimal performance. However, they weren’t required to progress in the game; they simply unlocked developer commentary for the level, which, as a game design major, I enjoyed a good deal. (I even heard them mention in passing the observation on enemies that I had already noted for the design section.)

    DESIGN

    The game combines the usually cartoony style with a darker, more subdued atmosphere. The former is apparent through the character design, with colorful models of unusually-proportioned anthropomorphic animals, and through the crooked, angled appearance of a lot of the environment. (For example, the sides of the ladders are illogically jagged.) The colors in the environment, however, are darker and more uniform, and it is perpetually night or evening in the levels. The music is similarly rather soft and subtle, only picking up when you fight an enemy or set off an alarm.

    One interesting notes is that it is often apparent how an enemy will attack even before you are spotted. Close-range enemies carry large, conspicuous weapons, projectile users idly toss around their weapons of choice, and one enemy that attacks you with belly flops practices the attack while standing by. The bosses’ styles of attack are similarly apparent: the first actually tells you what he’s about to do, and the second predictably uses the pair of large guns he’s carrying. However, the first boss switches to a different attack style when he’s almost out of health (probably intended as a surprise), and it isn’t initially apparent in the second boss fight that the bullets are impossible to avoid without cover.

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    Mar 3rd, 2008 at 03:10:07     -    Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (PS2)

    SUMMARY

    Sly Cooper is a 3-D platformer, focusing on the usual elements of moving and jumping to avoid obstacles and enemies, as well as a moderate stealth element that makes the game focus a bit more on avoidance than direct conflict. As the player completes linear levels throughout the game, more levels, and eventually the boss for the set of levels, become available.

    GAMEPLAY

    The character designs all looked slightly off to me, since I’ve become more used to the later two games in the trilogy, which changed the art a bit. The proportions and polygons were just a little different from what I was conditioned to expect. I’d also lost my touch a bit, as well; I died more times than I should have (i.e. ever, in the first few levels), and had to backtrack for some of the items I wanted to collect.

    Each first set of levels was introduced like an episode of a cartoon, complete with ‘titles’ for the levels rather than normal location names. (For example, I believe the first set was called “Tides of Terror.”) The story was pretty standard, though, and it mostly just served as an excuse to break up levels, teach the controls, and provide some moderate entertainment. It wasn’t a huge motivating factor for me; I was fighting a villain whose only interactions with me were a brief introduction at the beginning of the level set and a couple of loudspeaker announcements he made while I was playing. It did, however, give the optional items in the levels (pages of a book that teach you new abilities) a bit more of a personal feel, since they were related to the plot.

    The game was fun when I got used to the controls again. The stealth aspect wasn’t as strong as it could have been – most enemies, in particular, had to be dealt with directly – but the normal platforming elements were still enjoyable. The one level I didn’t like was essentially a minigame that focused on shooting things while in a submarine. It usually annoys me when I have to perform some task that is totally unrelated to the main game mechanic. I also encountered a few technical issues (slowdown, a freeze that forced me to replay the boss), though these may have been related to playing the game on a (backward compatible) PS3 rather than a PS2.

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    Feb 20th, 2008 at 23:50:13     -    Super Mario World (SNES)

    GAMEPLAY

    I noticed during this session that I tended to try to rush through levels, often to my detriment when it sent me straight into enemies or bottomless pits. I think this was because it’s impossible to unlock everything from most levels in one run, and trying to find everything on my first run is normally one of my main motivations to take my time and explore. However, I still did some searching in the levels that I knew contained paths to special switches (rather than the usual series of secret levels), since I knew these would impact the difficulty of the game later.

    I didn’t enjoy this session quite as much. I had enough other work that playing the game started to feel more like a chore, a feeling that was exacerbated by the fact that my cartridge didn’t keep my last save and I had to start over from the beginning. One interesting thing I noticed was that a good deal of the music was the same basic tune played in way that matched the scenery, a fact that had escaped me before.

    DESIGN

    Super Mario World keeps the player’s interest by regularly altering the appearance of the landscape and the style of play this requires. A level that involves passing through large groups of enemies might be followed by one that takes place primarily underwater, which may itself be followed by a Ghost House full of indestructible enemies and hidden passages. The bosses in each world that I played all required different strategies, though I recall that the bosses later in the game use more difficult versions of earlier patterns. The variation almost inevitably leads to certain challenges that aren’t as enjoyable as others; I remember disliking the first boss when I was younger because it had to be forced off a platform rather than dealt a particular amount of damage.

    There are a few issues surrounding the powerups. The cape can potentially make a number of levels very easy. It appears that this was intended in some levels where groups of coins are placed high in the air, but it might have been a good idea to place obstacles in the air to deter flight. A few too many of the abilities are mapped to the same button, which creates problems at times. For example, if the player release the Y button after catching a shell in Yoshi’s mouth, Yoshi will be unable to run without also spitting out the shell. Finally, while it is nice that the game allows the player to store an extra powerup if it isn’t needed, it is a bit annoying that mushrooms will overwrite either of the other two (superior) powerups when this happens.

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    Feb 20th, 2008 at 01:34:04     -    Super Mario World (SNES)

    SUMMARY

    Super Mario World is a two-dimensional platformer. The player controls the character, Mario, to navigate through levels while avoiding obstacles and defeating enemies, mostly through variations on running and jumping. The player can collect a limited number of powerups that allow Mario to take extra damage and give him special abilities, such as flight and projectile attacks.

    GAMEPLAY

    As it had been a while since I had last played this game, I was surprised by how demanding the early levels were. They weren’t extremely difficult, but they were certainly less safe than the tutorial sections to which I’m accustomed. Part of this probably stemmed from my instinct to try to defeat every enemy I encountered, though; Mario isn’t really built for combat in this game, with his low tolerance for damage and very limited repertoire of attacks. (Without powerups, it consists solely of the ability to jump on enemies.)

    Once I got used to the game, it was fun. My favorite levels were generally the more open ones that focused on navigating across platforms from left to right, as opposed to, say, the walled-in underground levels or the segments that focused on avoiding a pillar that was trying to crush me. The one problem with the open levels, though, was that it was tempting to abuse the cape powerup to simply bypass the entire level; the lack of obstacles often allowed me to fly straight from one side of the level to the other.

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