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Review: SingStar Guitar

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

I know what you’re thinking. When SingStar Guitar arrived, I was thinking the same thing. We have Guitar Hero and Rock Band in a billion incarnations, is there really any need for this? How can SingStar Guitar possibly compete with an existing line-up of thousands of songs, full instrument sets and the impending release of what will likely be the all-conquering music game of all-time with 17 fret guitars and MIDI keyboards that is Rock Band 3.

SingStar Guitar

SingStar Guitar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The answer is, SingStar Guitar is aimed at a different market, and I was shocked and dismayed to discover that the game is really rather fun.

The gameplay is the familiar highway that you would expect, with the chaff stripped out: there is no star power, no multiplier and only three difficulty levels (using 3, 4 and 5 of the buttons respectively). The presentation is very clean and SingStar-like and I actually prefer it to Rock Band’s highway. Obviously, the emphasis is more on pop music.

Regarding the logistics, SingStar Guitar is basically like any other SingStar disk: you get 30 songs you can sing, but this time you can play them on the guitar as well. Wisely, London Studio have implemented support for all existing Guitar Hero and Rock Band guitars so you won’t need to gunk your house up with even more plastic junk peripherals. The SingStore has been enhanced to allow selected songs you already own to be upgraded for guitar playability for a small fee. These upgrades are being released fortnightly along with the regular SingStore song releases. If you already own SingStar, your game will be patched to version 5.0 next time you play, which will allow you to use your guitar, so there is technically no need for the disk. The only difference between SingStar Guitar and other SingStar disks after patching is that the Guitar disk includes 30 guitar-compatible songs out of the box.

Now that’s out of the way, why should you bother to buy this, or upgrade your existing songs?

  1. Roles: any combination of one or two players can be assigned to any combination of instruments, ie. One player can both sing and play the guitar at the same time, or two players can sing, or play the guitar, or both. The single player singing and playing guitar simultaneously mode makes for some very tough challenges and is a lot quicker and less hassle to set up than in Guitar Hero or Rock Band which requires you to fudge it by creating two players. Also it’s not possible to have two people singing at the same time except in the latest Guitar Hero and Rock Band releases supporting 3-part harmonies.
  2. Load times are instant – load times in Guitar Hero and Rock Band are considerable.
  3. You get the music video. Which turns out to make quite a difference.
  4. Every song is scored out of 10,000. This means your scores are comparable across songs – something you can’t do in Guitar Hero or Rock Band, which may be important to you if you are competitive like me.
  5. You can’t fail. The song won’t stop if you play poorly, which is much better for social players and parties.
  6. No need to change disk during parties.
  7. If you prefer pop music, SingStar is clearly going to be a better choice for you, musically, than the other games.

Of course, there is no career mode, no character customization, no bass play or drums, no challenges. And right now, there are only the 30 songs on the disk plus another 8 or so released on Wednesday 20th October on the SingStore which you can actually play – however this will change pretty quickly in the coming months. Your desire to play therefore will have to come from self-motivation to beat your own scores and those of your friends.

There isn’t much more to say. As usual it’s another solid SingStar disk release, more of the same, but with added plastic. I didn’t think the guitar element would be much good, but in fact it was, and made me inclined to upgrade some of my other songs for guitar play.

You can find the full track list here: http://www.totalmusicgaming.com/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=1158

7/10

Review: WRC: FIA World Rally Championship 2010

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

Need For Speed Hot Pursuit. Test Drive Unlimited 2. F1 2010. Ferrari Race Challenge. Man Furismo Jive. We are currently in the process of being rained upon by driving games, so you could be forgiven for wondering if it was even necessary to release WRC FIA World Rally Championship at all. The good news is, this is Black Bean’s best driving game to date. The bad news is, that’s not exactly a groundbreaking achievement.

WRC: FIA World Rally Championship (2010 video ...

WRC: FIA World Rally Championship (2010 video game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WRC is of course nothing like any of the other games I mentioned, it’s also nothing like DiRT 2 so if you’re expecting that kind of adrenaline rush, look elsewhere. What we have here is a serious, slow-paced take on pure rally driving. There are no crazy race modes: this is rally, after rally, after rally. Therefore, if you like rally driving, you will probably love this game. If you like Split/Second, you’ll hate it.

Let’s start with the positives. This game is crammed with things to do. There is a very long campaign – The Road To WRC – as well as a separate campaign-ish mode where you play all the special stages and championship rounds of the real 2010 WRC according to the official calendar, which is also incredibly long. Two to four players can also sit down and set times in turn-based play with no restrictions on stage, rally or championship setup. Finally, the online mode is excellent, and although everyone – up to 16 of you – drives in their own instance trying to set the best time, you can see the ghosts of the other players which makes it feel much more like a race and much less lonely. There are a decent variety of online modes with the obligatory ranking tables and XP/levelling, I had no problem finding a game and there was no lag during play.

The Road To WRC career mode is broken down into ten levels, each of which has six events. You have some leeway in the order you complete the events within a given level, with subsequent levels being unlocked by reaching a certain completion percentage.

Like Need For Speed Shift, there is a well-paced reward system with constant livery, colour, car, sponsor and event unlocks as you complete each event. The trophies are also very well-designed and paced, and will encourage you to play plenty of different game modes.

Let’s talk difficulty. This is a two-pronged affair: you can set the various driving assists, and you can change the AI difficulty independently via a slider, giving you many difficulty levels to choose from. There are three default combinations of settings when you start the game but you can tweak as you see fit, and there is no punishment for playing on an easier setting. This is a good thing, because playing with any combination of assists other than everything turned on will immediately thrust you into F1 2010 Expert mode levels of toughness. With all assists on, you rarely need to brake although getting round the stage without crashing once is still a moderate challenge unless you drive carefully. Cut down on the traction control and brake assist and you are going to need every ounce of concentration to keep the car under control – so this should appeal to arcade and simulation fans alike. Similarly, with the AI on the easiest setting, it is ridiculously easy to win, even if you crash constantly, but on the hardest setting they are ruthless. Black Bean should be commended for this range of settings because it vastly broadens the appeal of the game.

I will say that driving ‘alone’ constantly is quite a lonely experience, so you should bear in mind that you will only see other cars on the track during online play. In offline play, you simply see the current times of the AI cars. This is though, naturally, par for the course with rally games.

True to form, between each special stage you can customise your car settings (downforce, suspension, all the usual suspects) and spend your allotted repair time choosing which bits of your car to repair, with each repair type costing a certain amount of time. Use too much and you receive a time penalty.

The driving physics themselves are.. a little strange, I would say. You get to drive over tarmac, gravel, dirt, ice and so on, with the car behaving differently on each surface, and differently from car to car as well of course. I’ve never driven a rally car, but it did seem awfully hard to do long drifts at speed, similarly the handbrake does not quite function as it does in other games. I’m not going to level this as a criticism because the controls are perfectly fine and I don’t know what it’s really like to drift in a rally car, so note this as an observation only. If anyone here remembers the awful driving mechanics of V-Rally 3 on PS2, fear not, the controls in WRC are solid.

I played the game using a Logitech Driving Force GT Pro wheel – wheels of course being a must have for any serious driving game fan – and the control was excellent, however there was quite a large steering deadzone with the default settings. Fortunately there are many sliders you can use to tweak the wheel to your liking. The force feedback worked flawlessly.

As always, there are some problems. For one thing, the presentation is awful. Just awful. While the menu music is unobtrusive enough, the menus themselves are dull and bland, using black, white and green for the most part. The backgrounds are low res and not animated. It makes the whole thing feel completely soulless. Worse still is that the in-game graphics are pretty shoddy. The cars are low on polygon count, the pop-in is moderate-to-severe in places with bushes appearing randomly for example, and the overall scenery is barely above PS2 graphical standards. Normally I don’t care about graphics in a game. Lately I could pick RUSE and Sports Champions as examples of games with mediocre graphics that are great fun to play, but in WRC’s case, the poor graphics actually hurt your enjoyment. We have come to expect so much more than this, graphically, even in run-of-the-mill titles. In WRC’s defence, there are absolutely tons of special stages and what scenery there is is very varied, so you won’t be seeing the same thing over and over.

There are two interior views which is a very nice touch that can enhance gameplay, but the interiors are not representative of the actual cars themselves. The cars get nice and dirty but damage modeling is minimal to non-existent.

Another major gripe is that nothing is explained. This is fine if you’ve watched a bit of rally on TV, but if you don’t know the difference between N4 and S2000 cars, or what the green and red lines mean on the left side of the screen while driving, the game isn’t going to tell you. It also amazed me what counted as a clean section: you can crash three times and still be told you did a clean section.

A couple of nice touches: you can choose whether your co-driver has a male or female voice. You can have three career profiles at once. If you quit out of a long event half-way through, your progress is saved.

Pros:

  • Long campaigns, lots of stages, tons to do
  • Online modes work great

Cons:

  • Significantly marred by terrible graphics and presentation
  • Offline multi-player is turn-based only

At first, playing WRC was a slog. In truth, the more I played it, the more I liked it – once you get used to its quirks and nuances. There are a lot of nice touches and thoughtful features, spoiled by the presentation. Ultimately though, while I couldn’t recommend WRC to just anyone, it is a solid but slightly soulless game and has the official WRC license, which if you have at least a passing interest in rally games makes this the only realistic choice. Just don’t expected to become a rally fan if you aren’t already.

7/10

Review: My Aquarium

September 30, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

Now released on PSN and XBLA is a port of last year’s Wii title My Aquarium. Let’s get this out of the way first: this is not a game, it’s a virtual aquarium. Know this before you make a purchase.

This is another kind of anemonefish. A little ...

Fishie!

I actually started a saltwater aquarium this summer to get away from my PS3 a bit, and have crammed my head with new knowledge on the steep learning curve from never having owned a goldfish to keeping some of the toughest marine animals a hobbyist can acquire, so it was with both trepidation, excitement and idle curiosity that I just had to check out what My Aquarium had to offer.

You are offered the opportunity to manage up to six aquaria, two small, two medium and two large. Into these you can place whatever fish you want, and decorate with various items. You can name the fish if you want (which prevents them from getting eaten), and feed with three types of food. Trophies are available for keeping fish alive, feeding smaller fish to larger fish, breeding the fish and so on. A quick press of a button removes everything except the tank from the display so you can enjoy your fish swimming around.

First the good: as a keeper, I was really enthralled to see the application actually has a database of saltwater fish with accurate 3D models and information. If ever I want to buy a real fish, I can just take a look.

Now the bad: everything else. The application is well-constructed and easy to use, but it just isn’t fun. At all. I can’t imagine anyone actually booting this up to look at their fish. There are weird omissions, for example you can’t place corals – and why not? They are some of the prettiest things you can put in a tank – there are no invertebrates, most of the important food types are missing and there is no maintenance required. In a nutshell, there is no progression, and thus little reason to come back to it. Worst of all is that there are only a few fish unlocked at the start, and the process of unlocking new fish is simply to wait a few days. It will take an eon to unlock everything. The publishers have also had the cheek to offer paid DLC to acquire certain fish that aren’t in the original download.

I am probably jaded from owning an aquarium, since it is easy to sit and stare at your animals for hours, bond with them, talk to them and enjoy their behaviour and the general feeling during maintenance that you are making your fish happy and giving them a pleasant and healthy environment to live in. My Aquarium evokes no such emotions, and while I never expected it to be anything like a real aquarium, it is not even fun in an EyePet-like way because from day 1 nothing ever changes.

Pros:

  • Pretty fish
  • Easy to use

Cons:

No replay value

  • Unlockables take forever and aren’t based on anything you do
  • Lots of missing items you would expect in a virtual aquarium
  • Just isn’t particularly fun in the first place

There is nothing wrong with My Aquarium per se. It does what it’s supposed to do. It’s just pretty tedious.

2/10

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Review: Space Invaders Infinity Gene

September 30, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

Technically I could review this game in one line: it’s great, just go and buy it. Unfortunately we have to spin rhetoric over a certain minimum number of words so here are the beans:

Space Invaders Infinity Gene

Space Invaders Infinity Gene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Space Invaders Infinity Gene is a 21st century remake of Taito Corporation’s true classic, Space Invaders. Those of us old enough to remember going into the pub and putting 10p in those top-down machines with old-school CRT monitors rounder than a well-lubricated sphere will no doubt have fond memories (I was -1 years old so what I just wrote is a lie).

Retro games on PSN and XBLA have made me nervous lately. I’m not a fan of most of them, and I suspect like most of us, each time I buy one I curse myself for not learning from previous mistakes. Infinity Gene is published by Square Enix, recently responsible for the epicly bad Thexder Neo. Fear not, however, because Infinity Gene is a modern remake of a cult classic at its very best.

Last year saw the rather good Space Invaders Extreme of which this is the sequel. Sadly it was only available on XBLA – PlayStation 3 owners can now rejoice as Infinity Gene is available on both platforms.

First, this game is huge on style: it’s almost entirely black and white with a mono-spaced font (yes you read that correctly, that is stylish), and old school music. However everything has been renovated; it is in one way completely faithful to the original, yet in another way it raises the bar massively and kicks it into 2010 with great success – which is a good thing, because if it was faithful to the original, it would be Capcom Classics, which was rubbish.

For example, the backgrounds are in cool 3D wireframe, sometimes quite deliberately aliased awfully with 2-frame animation just like in the 80s, other times they are smooth with many polygons and beautifully animated, throwing in tinges of colour. Some enemies are blocky 2D sprites, others are 3D masterpieces. Gameplay is usually in the traditional top-down view but you will sometimes find yourself flying into tunnels, other times there will be a mix of 2D and 3D baddies on screen simultaneously while your ship moves in 2D, which actually works really well. Only the power-ups are coloured, and while there is occasional confusion on what you can and can’t touch, this is a minor problem compared to other recent retro titles, with the shade of grey usually indicating quite clearly if something is in the foreground or background.

The effects are also oozing with style: collect a power-up and a simple rectangle expands to show you have collected it. Shoot an enemy and it disappears with a single-frame white circle explosion. The backgrounds are really trippy at times, and the sound effects match up too, with classic animation and explosion sounds mixed in with more modern effects.

Onto the meat of the game then, and be warned: if you play for only 5 minutes, you will be convinced it is awful. The first level is the classic wave of space invaders with a ship that fires slowly and only moves left and right. At this point alarm bells were ringing in my mind, but the scene cuts away after a few seconds to the real game, which rapidly becomes fast and frenetic with weapons of mass devestation, fast-moving ships and enemies, mini-bosses and full-on boss battles coming thick and fast. There is plenty of variety in the baddies and the bosses are for the most part well-designed.

The game is almost as well-balanced as Soldner X 2 for difficulty, and with your choice of starting weapon and difficulty level, you can make the game as easy or hard as you want. The difficulty curve increases gradually and starts to get really tricky around the early level 20s. Infinity Gene is also brimming with game modes: the main campaign consists of 31 levels, there is a bonus mode with numerous extra levels you unlock as you play through the campaign, a challenge mode with 99 randomly generated levels, and my personal favourite: music mode.

In music mode, you choose a song from your own collection and the game generates a level based upon it, somewhat synchronized to the music. The brilliance of this is that you always get exactly the same level for a particular song. Testing with trance, dance and even Lily Allen all worked flawlessly and the levels were interesting and varied.

Infinity Gene has the one-more-go factor in a two-pronged way: not only do you always want to see what comes next, but as you reach certain point threshold the game triggers ‘Evolution’, each time adding something to the game. Initially this is very basic stuff like being able to move up and down, collect power-ups or execute Nagoya attacks (a handy bullet-dodging technique which makes the game a little bit more forgiving), but as you progress you’ll unlock new weapons, levels, difficulty levels, music and game options such as number of starting lives. Multiple playthroughs are required to reach every stage of Evolution, but you’ll be fine with this because once you unlock the fearsome Field weapon you’ll definitely want to go back and rack up a huge high score – and you’ll need to in order to beat some of the rather difficult trophies on offer. Another nice touch which keeps you playing is that your online rank is shown in real-time as you play, and it’s satisfying to see this ticking down as you plaster the hordes of enemies.

What are the downsides? Well apart from the occasional confusion about what is in the foreground and the fact the campaign will only take you 3-5 hours to complete, there are a few bugs. After the first time I switched the game off and re-loaded it, none of my high scores registered on the stats screens or leaderboards. The leaderboards only have My Score and Global – no Friends option which really kills your ability to compete. There is also a potentially serious issue unique to this game: it may actually hurt your eyes. The game has many fast-moving backgrounds with extreme contrast and I did actually have to break because of eyestrain once or twice. It is not an exaggeration to say that if you have epilepsy (as I do) I would strongly advise against a purchase unless your medications are working.

Pros:

  • Massive style which is matched by substance
  • Tons of replayability for fans of unlockables
  • Lots of game modes, with music mode being particularly fun

Cons:

  • No friends leaderboard
  • No replayability if you’re not a fan of unlockables
  • May cause eyestrain in some players

Space Invaders Infinity Gene is not just the best re-creation of Space Invaders I have played, it is also one of my favourite PSN titles of 2010. This is an absolute no-brainer recommendation to anyone who played the game or its clones in the 80s, and for anyone who hasn’t played it, you will enjoy a very quirky and unusual top-down shooter.

9/10

Review: Söldner-X 2: Final Prototype

June 25, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype is the epitome of 2D scrolling shoot ’em up gaming, cloning the classic R-Type and improving on it in every respect. If you played Soldner-X: Himmelsturmer last year, you may be nervous about this purchase. I was too, but don’t be: Eastasiasoft have taken everything that was good about the first game and fixed everything that was bad. The result is a slick, polished and highly playable 2D shooter.

Set across seven luscious levels (of which only five are accessible at the start), the aim is of course simple: shoot everything, avoid bullets and collect power-ups. Each level takes about ten minutes to complete including the final boss, and if that was all there was to it, it would become quickly boring. Fortunately, Soldner-X 2 is a dream for those who like challenge stages and unlockables.

Let’s start with the gameplay first. Your ship has two weapons to start with, plus one extra which can be unlocked, or swapped out for weapons collected by power-ups. By taking out the baddies you collect chain rings which boost your chain bar. If you can manage to fill this within a certain time, a power-up is released in addition to those which spawn when you kill enemies. Conserving bullets and taking down opponents quickly extends the time you are allowed to fill this bar.

There are, as you might imagine, tons of different types of power-ups to collect. Chasers add mini-ships which follow you and shoot at the enemies; regular power-ups increase the firepower of your currently selected weapon, and to a lesser extent those of your other weapons. Shockwaves and so-called limit attacks can be acquired which do massive damage to everything on the screen, plus plenty of other goodies.

Dotted around the stages are various secret keys. Collect 4 out of 5 on each level to unlock additional stages. Collect all 35 for a silver trophy.

Difficulty-wise, Soldner-X 2 strikes gold. The game can be as easy or as difficult as you like, which is in stark contrast to the rather tricky affair that was the original game. Two difficulty levels are unlocked at first: Beginner is dead easy, you will be able to complete the whole game without losing a ship, and Normal is not that challenging either. Later difficulty levels up the ante considerably once you’ve unlocked them. The real masterstroke though is that the game features dynamic difficulty, relative to the base difficulty level you’ve selected. You have a rank, either S (the best) or A-G, which goes up and down and is indicated in the corner of the screen along with your trending as you play. The more efficient you are, the more enemies and bullets are thrown at you. Perform poorly and the difficulty will be cranked down.

This may sound like a recipe for disaster, but it is perfectly balanced – never making the game too easy or too hard, again, relative to the difficulty you originally selected. You can also start the game from any stage, and the game thoughtfully provides you with a bunch of power-ups at the start commensurate to how far into the stages you have selected. This also makes hunting down those secret keys less of a chore.

Allow your health to drop below a certain amount and Beserker Mode is activated; much like in the original game this reduces the damage you take but increases your damage output. Survive long enough to pick up some health and normal gameplay will resume.

A tutorial system has been added which is less intrusive than the original game – but a little too unintrusive in fact. The top-left of the screen blinks to tell you to press triangle when a new tutorial is available, but if you don’t press it within a few seconds you’ll miss it altogether. Some of the tutorials are somewhat important to understanding the finer points of the gameplay mechanics, required to get the most out of the game. Fortunately, they are all available for re-reading in the options menu, which is also accessible during the game’s pause screen.

Soldner-X 2 includes two-player offline co-op which works seamlessly, with all power-ups shared except chasers. This does however mean that if your buddy picks up a naff weapon, your tertiary weapon slot acquires it too at the expense of what you previously had equipped.

The graphics are crisp and smooth, with excellent use of colour making this the most beautiful-looking 2D shooter on the PS3 to date. Boss designs are adequate but not breathtaking, and the music is the typical kind of mellow background dance noise you’d expect from any self-respecting 2D shooter. There is plenty of variety in enemies, however many of the backgrounds are quite dark so some of the levels can feel slightly samey – though there are many differences between them.

Onto the unlockables then. Soldner-X 2 features a challenge mode with a large number of tasks to complete, ranging from collecting 999 chain rings on a stage, to maxing out a weapon’s power in a certain time, to finishing a level without missing more than 3 enemies, or without killing any enemies except the boss. Some of these challenges are fairly simple and can be attempted on any difficulty level; others are punishingly difficult. Trophies are awarded for some of the challenges and you will be able to rack up more than in the original game because they are better balanced. It is really in the challenge mode where most of the fun and replayability of this game lies.

Since many people looking for classic shooter action will have already purchased the first game, I’d like to touch on some of the differences. First of all, the ill-thought out gameplay mechanic which causes your chain bar to be reset when you switch weapon has been scrapped. Your health slowly regenerates if you perform certain tasks, which it doesn’t in the first game. Issues with the backgrounds being too bright and easy to confuse with enemies have been resolved, with a much better contrast between foreground and background in the new game. The cheesy cut scenes between levels have been removed, and the difficulty can now be made much more forgiving if you are just in it to see what comes next. I also like the radio chatter during boss fights where your ground controller lets you know which parts you’re supposed to be attacking. Finally, the vast amount of unlockables: ships, stages, weapons, ‘specials’, challenges and difficulty levels, plus trophy collecting, give Soldner-X 2 far more replayability than its predecessor.

Online leaderboards are present and correct, but a pain to scroll through; there is no online play.

Pros:

  • Addictive, massive replayability due to tons of unlockables
  • Difficulty can be made as hard or easy as you want
  • Good variety, good graphics
  • Seamless offline co-op

Cons:

  • Only 7 stages, so you’ll be replaying the same areas over and over

There are quite a few single-stick shooters on the PSN store now. In my opinion, this is the best of the bunch. It has been well-designed, balanced and tuned to perfection, and is a big improvement on the original. If you have been thinking of buying the bundle, I would recommend you save a few pounds and just go for this game as it will hold your attention much longer than Himmelsturmer.

8/10

Review: Demon’s Souls

June 24, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

This review is based on the US import version of the game. The European release comes with a strategy guide in addition to the game.

While reviewing Demon’s Souls, quite a few people have asked the question, “Is it really as hard as everyone says?”. The answer is no: it’s harder – but before you go back to Virtua Tennis 2009’s career mode, allow me to explain further.

Demon's Souls

Demon’s Souls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are different kinds of hard in a video game. There is the Mirror’s Edge hard, where you know exactly what to do but you always mess up one tiny little move and the whole game becomes a trial of nerves and shouting. Then there is the Resident Evil 5 boss hard, where you need pinpoint accuracy and tons of luck and ammo to take down a tricky enemy, you repeat it over and over and eventually get frustrated to the point of throwing your controller.

Demon’s Souls is different: it’s all about the planning. On the face of it, the basic combat system in this hack’n’slash-style adventure RPG is fairly simple to operate, and as long as you retreat and heal when you need to, you can progress. The difficulty comes from a few things: first, the world is full of traps, ambushes and areas that are tricky to navigate. What this basically means is you will repeat the same areas over and over, slowly memorising the correct path and where the traps are, getting a little bit further each time. Each attempt is like a training run allowing you to improve your strategy bit by bit. Having said that, it is annoyingly easy to fall to your death while fighting an enemy on a narrow platform, and sometimes you’ll be randomly overwhelmed by enemies you’ve successfully tackled many times before; so expect to repeat each area many, many times.

The second prong of difficulty is grounded in the absolutely punishing conditions which befall you upon death. Die once and you turn from living form to Soul form and your health is cut to half (or some other percentage depending on your stats) until you complete the area or satisfy certain other conditions like taking down one of the epic bosses or completing a co-op or competitive multi-player task (more on that later). You’ll also lose all your currency, although your weapons and inventory stay intact. To recover your money – which is denoted as Souls in the game – you need to get back to where you died and touch your bloodstain. Woe betide you if you die on the way though, as only your most recent bloodstain is retained, and there is no bank – the Souls you have on you are all you have – so the chances of you losing the majority of your Souls altogether is excruciatingly high. Expect to play the vast majority of the game in Soul form with half your health points. The other difficulty is that the distance between checkpoints is bordering on the insane; be prepared to lose 30-45 minutes of play time on a regular basis.

As a final word on difficulty before we get to the meat of the game, it took me over 6 hours and probably 40+ attempts to complete the first dungeon. I’m not great at video games, but I’m not terrible either. There are no difficulty settings to make it easier. However, the game exudes a certain elusive addictiveness. You will get fed up of re-spawning at the same point over and over and turn the game off, but a couple of hours later you’ll be ready to try again with the “this time I’m going to get further” attitude. Because each individual fight isn’t usually intrinsically too hard, Demon’s Souls has a knack of keeping you coming back to try just one more time, and see what comes next.

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Categories: Game Reviews Tags: ,

Review: Prince of Persia Classic

June 8, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

Nostalgic remakes of classic old games have got me a bit worried lately. We fondly remember these pivotal defining titles of our hobby, but gameplay mechanics have moved on a lot, and much like movie franchise tie-ins, I’ve discovered that replaying these titles in 2010 sadly often isn’t as fun as I remembered it to be.

Prince of Persia (1989 video game)

Prince of Persia (1989 video game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So after the mediocre Mega Man 10, the decent-not-great Digger HD, the antiquated Bomberman Ultra and the truly awful Thexder Neo and Frogger Returns plus whatever else I’ve forgotten, it was with some trepidation that I powered up new PSN title Prince of Persia Classic, one of my favourite classic games of all-time.

I’ve hated every single Prince of Persia game since the original. Sands of Time, The Two Thrones and the recent Forgotten Sands were all a bit meh, for me this was one case where 3D spoiled a perfectly good concept. So how did this re-implementation of the original fare? Pretty well actually.

For those who never played the original back in 1989 it is a little difficult to describe because at the time it was unique. It is a straightforward pure platform game: explore a labyrinth of loose floors, switches, locked gates and annoying things that kill you, grab the obligatory health potions and make your way to the exit. What made it unique was the way it played: Prince of Persia was the first platform game to use a realistic avatar which climbed, jumped and rolled in a way that looked truly human, despite being a 2D game. Battling enemies takes the form of sword fights, and these too had realistic animations and required skill to win. You can think of it as early imitation mocap that was way ahead of its time.

The game also had a couple of interesting mechanics. There are spikes which shoot up from the ground to kill you, but if you walk slowly you can navigate your way through them. Each screen shows three levels of platforms, but off to the top you can just vaguely make out what is above you, allowing you to spot different routes and dislodge loose tiles to climb up. The other aspect is that while most platformers at the time were really grid/tile-based games where pressing left or right once moved you precisely one square (think Manic Miner), Prince of Persia has pixel-granularity free-roaming – something we now take for granted. Walking, running, jumping from stationary and jumping during movement all move your character very specific distances, so when you are confronted with a path full of spikes, switches you want to avoid and choppy choppy guillotine things, selecting the correct movement strategy is essential.

It’s all rather banal compared to modern gaming, but fans of the original will be thrilled to hear that Prince of Persia Classic is an extremely faithful reproduction, with exactly the same mechanics and levels, with everything slightly improved. Your character will edge forwards or backwards when you try to climb a ledge so that pinpoint precision isn’t required. The graphics are now parallax 3D and the perspective shifts ever-so-slightly as you walk, making everything feel more dynamic. The graphics themselves have been perfectly upgraded to modern standards while remaining completely faithful to the style of the original. And of course, there are the obligatory online leaderboards.

There are 14 levels to hack, slash and explore your way through – the goal being to finish within 60 minutes, although the chances of you managing that on your first playthrough are zero unless you have super-human dexterity. Most objects are deadly and kill you in one hit, but when fighting enemies you have a health bar which can be replenished by picking up health potions. Each level has one or two checkpoints; when you die, starting the level from scratch will reset the timer to the amount you had when the level started, but continuing from a checkpoint will continue the countdown from where you died. Don’t worry if the countdown reaches zero: the game won’t end, it just means you suck.

Is it any good? Well, yes and no. It certainly is one of the better budget remakes out there, but it can be infuriating to play. New parry and time-slowing mechanics have been added to swordplay to make it more interesting, but the outcomes can seem almost random. Sometimes you will take a guy down with 5 or 6 straight hits in a row; other times no matter how good your parry timing is, he will completely thrash you. When each enemy has 6 or 7 health points, you only have 5 or 6 and have to work through three enemies to reach the next checkpoint, this is a recipe for frustration and I threw my controller at the sofa at least twice before the game was over.

The sound is annoying too, especially the re-spawn sound – and you’re going to die a lot – plus there is no in-game music so it’s a rather quiet affair. The other sound effects are functional and unremarkable.

Perhaps the most shocking omission – and this is actually against Sony’s QA policy – is that there is no trophy support. Nothing. None. Nada. Very poor show.

Pros:

  • Extremely faithful re-production of the original Prince of Persia
  • Improvements to graphics and swordplay mechanics

Cons:

  • Not much replay value except for beating your time
  • Can become something of a grind
  • Fights can be infuriating
  • No trophy support

While I enjoyed Prince of Persia Classic, it’s hard to recommend to someone who has never played the original because they will see an old-school platformer and wonder what the fuss is about. If you have played the original, you can’t go wrong with this for 5 bucks, it’s a perfect yet slightly improved re-creation, although be warned that the repetitiveness of the levels may bring you to a point where you have to drag yourself to continue playing. Once you get into it though, you’ll want to finish it, if only just to get it over with.

The score I’ve given below is for those who have already played the original. If you haven’t, you should probably pass on this.

Score: 7/10

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