Play Impressions (8/4/08)

April 8th, 2008

capcom vs snk header

Its been some time since I’ve shared my thoughts on what I have been playing lately. Frankly it hasn’t been very much at all. As usual I’ve been working on the old stuff that I am happily clearing out, not much retroness in the past month and there aren’t any new releases that particularly interest me. Except for House of the Dead Return which is still overpriced down here in Australia. Fortunately I had the opportunity to finish House of the Dead 4 at an arcade lock-in a few days ago, that should tie me over in the meantime.

I might also play through Kirby’s Adventure on the NES again sometime soon. I’m thinking of doing a video feature highlighting it’s sublime visual and aural prowess. How does that sound?

Capcom Vs SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium 2001

Continuing on with my quest to substitute my previously abandoned love for 2D fighters, Capcom Vs SNK 2 has been the latest gaming snack between study breaks for my brother and I. After settling into this Street Fighter/KOF hybrid it becomes clear that there is a lot to appreciate about this title. Capcom have successfully merged fighting styles from both franchises together with complete respect to the original titles. Characters can evade attack, dash, long jump much like in the KOF games yet there is still a feeling of tactical precision and real time chess like elements which the Street Fighter series birthed. On top of this the game plays in 3 Vs 3 matches with unfortunately no on the fly character switching.

Along with this unique blend of play comes the aptly named groves which are similar to ‘isms’ from Street Fighter Alpha 3. Each groove includes (and excludes) various play mechanics as well as a different way to perform special moves. Some specials require button holds to charge up the special meter, others increase with the damage dealt.

The hybrid of game styles, grooves, varied characters, 3 Vs 3 play all add on the layers of depth. There are so many options at hand here that you really can tailor the game to match your individual play style.

Fight wise I just love the feel of this game, keeping with the hybrid nature this game feels faster, flexible and more acrobatic than Street Fighter and more up to speed with the KOF series. Its just so much fun to play, the game feels versatile yet true to it’s roots.

The mix of 2D sprites and 3D backdrops is also interesting and adds to the flavour of the game. A few of the backdrops don’t feel close or far away enough to the sprites which can feel a little distracting at times. Some character sprites (Morgan’s) are of a painfully lower resolution which is extremely off putting and frankly ugly.

These blemishes as well as a few tacky presentation issues do little to hinder the overall enjoyment that I have had and undoubtedly will continue to have with this title for a long time.

Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones

Some gamers prefer Intelligent Systems other portable strategy title; Advance Wars. I myself? I’m a Fire Emblem fan. Both series’ have stood toe to toe in Japan for the past 20 years, originating on the Famicon (NES).fire emblem sacred stonesMuch like any new iteration from either series, Sacred Stones doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Theres no real reason for it to though as this is only the second FE iteration to hit Western shores. What it does do though is add a set of new over world mechanics which vary the gameplay considerably. Instead of continually playing a set of battles tied together with the same face sprite orientated cut scenes, Sacred Stones allows you to navigate around a world map in between battles. Enemy groups appear on the map and you can choose to gain experience by back tracking to do battle with them. It works similarly to Final Fantasy Tactics except enemy groups stay fixed in the one spot.

fire emblem sacred stonesEven though the over world map is a fairly simple mechanic it adds a lot of breathing space. You can now buy new gear, organize your party and items before you begin a chapter. It also removes the static, dated feel of the linear, battle by battle game structure. In this version you can battle creatures as well as humans and there are a handful of new classes to upgrade up to.

So while the core gameplay remains largely unchanged the new features go a long way to fix the previous problems between levels. The strategy is still, of course incredibly addictive. For example, in one instance I was playing this one chapter on and off for about a week, probably totally 10+ attempts. Sure I was replaying the same level, each time slightly varying my attack plan but still this was highly addictive as the series has proven to be.

Theres not much new here but that isn’t what we should be asking for. As a huge fan of this series I am glad to be re-treading old ground over new soil.

Images From Hardcore Gaming101

God of War

I’d just like to point out that I decided to play this game following that the hoo-hah surrounding the latest PSP miniaturization and my guilt of having this title on the shelf for probably too long now.
kratos platform god of war
For a few years now I have maintained a strong interest in what David Jaffee, the creator of God of War, has had to say about game design and the industry. One of the core reasons for this is his frank and open commentary, he just says it up front, how he perceives things, be it right or wrong. I admire that.

In anycase, playing God of War has only refreshed my knowledge on his game creation philosophies. God of War is not about side quests, collecting items, complex leveling up or any of that nonsense. It is self admittingly, a linear point A to point B, balls to the wall action title designed to impress at every instance possible. And impress it does.

While tearing my way through the first area and then some more of this game I started to realize a few issues with this style of game design. Firstly this game reminded me of 3 similar titles on the PS2 being; Onimusha, Devil May Cry and Prince of Persia. The problem is that between the three games there is not a lot of significant difference. Yes sure each game has it’s own respective combat system which all handle very well but on the whole you are still consciously button mashing your way through a room of baddies only to progress to the next room of baddies to later be broken up with some one dimensional puzzle solving. Don’t read it wrong folks, I love this genre, infact it is my favourite 3D genre the action adventure but this feels feels like busy work. for the sake of busy work. It reminds me of some of the issues raised by myself, Draining Souls.net’s Adrenis and Mike from FPS Rantings in this article.

The other issue has to do with streamlining. God of War suffers from something that I feel many RPGs also suffer from. It provides big rewards for little actions. In RPGs, asynchronously menu navigation requires less active game participation and yet through it you can be the savior of the earth. God of War does the same thing but with the aid of quick time events. QTEs allow you to pull off some crazy, edge of your seat attacks with little effort. It isn’t so much that I despise QTEs rather some of the placement of these events.

For example when facing the menacing Hydra boss in the first area of the game. I spent a considerable amount of time widdling the mythical beast’s health down, putting in a hard slog (playing this on very hard..I think). Then with a quarter of a health bar left Kratos launches into a QTE, flinging the monster’s eyeball through the the mast pole of the ship, effectively killing it. Do I not feel a disconnect here?

Having returned for some thorough play time I now feel a little torn over my previous comments. Still I feel as though that these factors are present within this game. I will have to write up a full critique once I have completed the game.

  • I always like to see another blogger writing about games that are older than a couple of months. I feel like I’m usually a little bit behind the curve when it comes to playing new games, and I’m constantly trying to workthrough my backlog.

    I’m working on Sacred Stones right now myself. I also much prefer Fire Emblem over Advance Wars, I think largely because I like having individual units over creating nameless hordes of weapons. I like it for all the reasons you mentioned, but I don’t feel the same connection with the characters as I did in the previous version. They seem much more flat and lifeless in SS. But I’m only a few chapters into it, so I’ll see if that improves.

  • I wouldn’t worry about it. If every game blogger/writer/website is covering all of the latest stuff then who is there left to cover everything else? It’d be kinda boring if we were just like them, don’t you think? I certainly don’t feel behind at all. These games are still and will always be relevant for me. No shame there.

    Yeah I feel the same way about the characters in this one as well. I quite enjoyed the personalities and pysnergy between characters in the original yet in SS, you’re dead on it feels very flat. Especially Seth, that guy’s serious nature just dampens the whole atmosphere for everyone and he gets so much screen time too. I blame him. ^_^