February 28th, 2008

As I mentioned a long time ago in this blog, I’ve been trying to branch out into more niche games. So far I’m very pleased with how I am doing and have covered a lot of ground but unfortunately I’m falling short in the shmp or shoot ’em up genre. Luckily a few weeks ago a newsletter from my favourite Anime/Games store arrived in my inbox informing me that they had a few new copies of Ikaruga for the Gamecube on sale. Being familiar with the game and it’s strong reputation I went out and snatched a copy as soon as possible.

I must say Ikaruga has answered a lot of questions for me. You see, I’ve been a part of the RacketBoy.com retro gaming community for some time now and I’ve noticed whether it be on the blog or on the forums, these guys have a profound love for Treasure, the developers behind Ikaruga.

From my experience with Treasure’s games I thought that they were quite a good developer but not on the same level that these guys were touting. As much as I did my research to try and further understand this developer I simply could not understand these guys. Which is one of the reasons why I bought Ikaruga.

It might sound greatly exaggerated but as soon as I turned on Ikaruga it all started to make sense. As I continued to experience the game’s challenging (but never impossible) levels it continued to make more sense and draw me closer into this game’s main theme. Its much like an unwritten law between gamer and developer and it really is quite profound and provocative.
ikaruga screenshot gamecube
I’ve continually been thinking about this aspect of Ikaruga’s game design and what makes it so brilliant. Because it wasn’t simply that I was playing the game vertically nor was it that I was fairly new to the shmp genre which made me appreciate this fine game. It is the games design, sure I am no expert on shmps but what Ikaruga does it does to perfection. At first sight it seemingly overwhelms you with an array on black and white bullets which you need to avoid or absorb depending on your ship’s state. But once you begin playing through the first level and then the second and so forth you understand that this game is not half as difficult as it looks from a distance.

With solid pattern recognition and nimble analogue stick movements Ikaruga is game which is beatable (well on a few continues at least) with dedication. If you respect Ikaruga for being the formidable challenge that it is then it will reward you for what you put in.

A lot of my feelings about Ikaruga were summarized well in The 100 Best VideoGames magazine which came out some time ago. Theres definitely a lot of mistakes in this publication such as spelling, grammar, general gaming knowledge and ridiculous game inclusions. Actually there is surprisingly amount of mistakes but there are a couple of articles which really do amplify the spirit of the game well and I think that they nailed Ikaruga’s page.

So I quote (The 100 Best VideoGames, Pg54, Derwent Howard, 2007):

“that nothing short of perfection will be rewarded. This isn’t a game in tune with other of the other current gaming buzz words – it isn’t interested in emergent gameplay, it doesn’t want to let you express yourself through customization, or tailor the experience to match your preferences. Ikaruga is a gauntlet, thrown down by four men you’ll likely never meet but whose intention you understand perfectly. The challenge may be steep, but somehow the game never demoralizes. There is never a sense that its designers wanted to get one up on you. Instead, throughout the crushing defeats and the slow ascent from C+ to B to B++, there’s the sense that the challenge is as tough as it is because the designers have too much respect for you. They believe you to be equal to the task, and so failing at the game becomes failing to them as well as yourself.”

So as you can probably tell, I love Ikaruga. The experience is remotely different from anything before it is a simple game just like other games that fall under one of gaming’s oldest genres; the shoot em up

Awesome Otacon (Metal Gear Solid) Clock Widget

February 26th, 2008

If you are a regular reader then you will know that I am dying in anticipation for the eventual release of Metal Gear Solid 4 for the Playstation 3. It really is tearing me up with anticipation. Anyways with my anticipation so high I have been doing whatever possible to curb the waiting pains.

This includes reading up about the series, viewing the franchise’s gorgeous artwork, pulling apart previously released trailers etc. During this time I was also in search for some Metal Gear propaganda and as I was searching around I stumbled upon this cool little Otacon clock widget for your desktop:

otacon widget

The sprites are taken from MGS2 (end of the Tanker chapter). As you move your cursor around Otacon follows it with his eyes, he also blinks as well. Very cute.

You can increase Otacon’s size, set an alarm and use various time modes. I love this little widget, helps ease those pains. So be sure to download yourself a copy from Konami’s website.

3D Vs 2D, Capcom Vs SNK, Street Fighter IV Vs The King of Fighters XII

February 23rd, 2008

capcom vs snk

A Brief History Lesson

Back in the 90s Capcom’s legendary Street Fighter series and SNK’s also legendary King of Fighters series were two of the best 2D fighters on the console and arcade scene. Street Fighter 2 set the standard for 2D fighters to come and for a long time was the copy and paste formula used for all developers when making 2D fighters. One of these developers which were known for this was SNK whom borrowed heavily from Capcom’s winning formula on several occasions. SNK managed to crave its own niche into the genre with it’s 3 on 3 fighter, best of the rest, The King of Fighters for the Arcade and NeoGeo CD.

For many years in the 90s these two franchises stood toe to toe with each other, dividing the fighting community with each game’s own unique style. The two developers noticed the divide and agreed on working together to build the Capcom Vs SNK fighting series. Which eventually resulted in 3 titles; Capcom Vs SNK, Capcom Vs SNK 2 and SVC Chaos.

Since the mark of the millennium (did you catch that one) this long rivalry slowly began to fade away. The dying down of the arcade scene and the lack of a new Street Fighter title in recent years has almost killed this fascinating rivalry. That was until now.

Recent Developments

fatal furyBack in December I posted about the first Street Fighter 4 screenshot. One which finally revealed the real direction that the series was indeed taking. Abandoning Street Fighter’s faithful 2D sprite heritage Capcom decided to make Street Fighter 4 a three dimensional fighter.

I’d like to say something like “this divided long time series fans” but to be fair I don’t really follow the fighting community so I’m not really sure if it did. But I think that it would be safe enough to assume that a few people were upset. As much as some may deny it the 3D character models do totally change the gameplay completely. Thats not to say that Street Fighter 4 won’t feel like the previous games of the series (judging by impressions of the game so far it does actually feel like a tribute to SF2).

I’m getting of track here. With the prior announcement of a high definition remake of the original Street Fighter 2 the gaming community were expecting Street Fighter 4 to go down the same route. But it didn’t and for a lot of people this would have hurt pretty badly (I know it did for me). It would have been incredible to see how Capcom’s sprite work would have translated into gorgeous, detailed, smooth scrolling and animating HD sprites. True high definition sprite work for many traditional/old school/purist gamers is something of a dream, a dream which we may have considered never coming true.

I say may because this is where SNK and their King of Fighters come in. Just recently at the AOU convention in Japan, off screen media was leaked of gameplay video of the new game (KOF XII) for Taito’s Type X2 arcade platform. You can watch the video below or read a fantastic breakdown from Arcade Renaissance here.

YouTube Preview Image

Although this is off screen video it already paints a picture of exactly what to expect. That is the dream has come true; high definition, ultra smooth 2D sprites. I must say it simply looks fantastic, doesn’t it? I mean imagine what it would look like on screen.

I’m excited and so I should be. SNK have made a very bold move here and have thrown down the gauntlet. They have done something usually reserved for long time rivals; Capcom. The pure quality of sprite work and animation seen in the video are simply firsts in it’s field. Look at the crowd scene in the fight between Kyo and Ash. The subtle effects look fantastic too.

In reality SNK aren’t really taking much of a risk as they are just upgrading the same fighting game that they have been upgrading for the last 14 years. What they are doing though is saying: “Hey all of you Street Fighter fans whom wanted a HD 2D Street Fighter 4. Why don’t you come here and take a look?”. SNK are doing a Capcom and it is putting themselves in an advantageous situation.

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