Stupid Parts of Great Games: Pokemon Red/Blue

The classic Pokemon games for the Game Boy were fantastic foundations for what became one of Nintendo’s most lucrative and beloved franchises, but they weren’t without their fair share of issues, both in the gameplay and in the fictional universe. I will list a few below, although I probably haven’t “caught ’em all.”

1. Bad Parenting

In the universe of these games, children can leave their homes at the age of 10 to embark on a journey to degrade and enslave little creatures known as pokemon. With no parental assistance, these kids go out into the world teeming with these sometimes hostile animals with no money in their pocket except for what they can beat out of other “trainers.” They have no place to sleep, protected from danger only as long as that danger is at a lower level than whatever they have. Do the parents hate their children so much that they can’t wait to kick them out, or is the world really that safe that they have nothing to worry about?

2. Team Rocket is Too Nice

Well, the world isn’t completely safe, because the sinister, militant cult known as Team Rocket prides itself on stealing these already kidnapped creatures from helpless children, with the ultimate goal of ruling the world or something similarly stereotypical. So when your character takes it upon himself (not herself – gender equality didn’t come around until later in the series) to invade a Team Rocket base and put an end to all their tomfoolery, how is he resisted? A pokemon battle, of course!

Apparently these people have never heard of guns, swords, or even plain brute force before, because if a measly 10-year-old beats them in a pokemon fight, they respectfully step aside and let the kid continue invading their base. In fact, these villains have such good manners that they even offer to pay their pre-pubescent assailant money for their victory. Or maybe the kids mug them…. whatever the case, these villains are doomed from the start because they just can’t bring themselves to be villains. Where’s the evil in this organization? Why should I take them seriously?

3. Random Encounters

This is a typical walk through a cave in Pokemon Red/Blue: Take a step inside. A wild Zubat appears! Run away. Take a few steps to the left. A wild Zubat appears! Run away. A fork in the road – will I turn up or down? I’ll try up… and a wild Zubat appears! Run away. Oops, looks like this wasn’t the right way to go. Turn around and… a wild Zubat appears! Run away. So obviously I have to go down. Hey, there’s an item sitting over there, too! Almost to it when… a wild Zubat appears! Run away. Okay, I’ve got the item and it’s a… pokeball. Yeah, like I didn’t already have 50 of those. But wait… am I at a dead end? Is this really the right way? The wild Zubat that appears tells me nothing. Run away. Apparently I missed something earlier, because there’s nowhere to go.

There’s a vast stretch of ground where I came from. Maybe if I’m lucky I can avoid… another wild Zubat appearing! Run away. Oh, there’s the right path. It looks like I’ll have to use Strength. Crap, I don’t have that yet. I guess I’ll just have to exit the place and come back later when I have it. But when I turn around I find that a wild Zubat has appeared! Run away. I’m one step from the door when… a wild Geodude appears!? Can’t run away. Well, I guess I’ll have to fight it. All my Charmander knows is scratch. Well, that and Flash, since I had to teach that sorry excuse for an attack to somebody to navigate through this cave. Geodude lands a critical hit, and it’s super effective!? Charmander faints? I’m out of usable pokemon? I hand this wild animal some cash? What is going on here? Screw this. I turn off the game and reload my last save… which puts me back at the end of the cave. A wild Zubat ap – FUUUUU!!!!

4. Realism Only When It Is Inconvenient

The pokemon world is not realistic… most of the time. You can fit a bicycle inside of a backpack, digitize living creatures so that you can store them on a PC hard drive (WTF?) and go years without ever visiting a single restroom. But if you just threw your only Master Ball to catch some sweet legendary pokemon, you had better hope that you remembered to leave a space in your party or PC box. If not you’ll get some message that says, essentially: “Oh no, your box is full! Normally we (the disembodied text boxes talking to you while you sit alone in a cave) could wirelessly transfer your newly enslaved physical creature into our computer system, but we have yet to discover the technology that allows us to switch boxes when necessary. As a result, you, sir, are screwed.” And just like that, you’re forced to release good ol’ Articuno back into the wild, never to be seen again. Better call those schoolyard kids up, because there’s some trading to force them into.

5. It’s a lie!

Much like the cake, the games released in America as Pokemon Red and Blue are flat-out lies. It’s similar to America’s Super Mario Bros 2 – gamers weren’t actually playing Super Mario Bros 2; they were playing a completely unrelated Japanese platformer. What we were being told was Red was really a modified version of Japan’s Blue, and what we assumed was Blue was really an upgraded version of Green.

Green!? That’s right, kiddies. The first two pokemon games that ever came out in the Land of the Rising Sun were Pocket Monsters Red and Pocket Monsters Green. The color blue never entered the scene until Pocket Monsters Blue appeared as a special mail-in offer to readers of the Japanese magazine CoroCoro. Blue featured new tweaks to the engine, graphics, script, and cave layouts of the previous games. When the time came to bring the cash cow known as Pocket Monsters (or Pokemon, for short) over to America, the translators used Blue as the base, but divided it into two different versions that each included exclusive pokemon (to encourage trading amongst owners of separate versions), as had been done before with Red and Green.

Ever wonder why we in America saw the Game Boy Advance remakes of Red and Blue as FireRed and LeafGreen? Because Nintendo of America knew they had lied to us. They were saying, “Here’s what actually came out in Japan, and instead of changing the colors like we did before, we’ll treat you with respect this time around and give your cartridges the correct pigmentation. Aren’t we cool?” No, Nintendo. The damage has already been done.

By Josh60502

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“Ikaruga” Xbox 360 Review

Whenever a list of the greatest Dreamcast, Gamecube, or space shooter games is created, there’s always one title that pops up: Ikaruga. Still, it’s a game that has lived in obscurity, and undeservedly so. When it was released a few years back on the Xbox Live Arcade, the veil of mystery surrounding this legendary game lifted just a bit, as many more people were given a chance to experience it. I was one of those people who hopped on to the Ikaruga fan train after playing this XBLA port, and I’m here now to tell you why.

The space shooter genre is now popular mostly among hardcore players who aren’t afraid of a serious challenge. I missed the Super Nintendo/Genesis/Arcade heyday of these games, and have never found them all too appealing. However, I was willing to give Ikaruga a look because of the fact that it was developed by Treasure, who I consider to be my favorite game developer. Sure enough, after playing the trial version of the game the week it came out, I knew I had to buy it.

Believe it or not, this is one of the easier parts

Ikaruga is unique from other space shooters in that there is a polarity system in the gameplay. Basically, your ship’s polarity can switch between black and white at the push of a button. The enemies are all a specific color, as are their bullets. Your ship is immune to bullets of the same color, and if you shoot an enemy of the opposite color, you do double the damage you would if you were shooting them with the same color. There is a lot onscreen to juggle when you play Ikaruga: first, you have to make sure you aren’t running into anybody or any obstacles. Second, you have to keep in mind what color your ship is and know when best to switch. It actually doesn’t take all that long to grasp the polarity concept, allowing new players to have an enjoyable time even when they are getting destroyed by the relentless onslaught.

As is the case with most of Treasure’s games, Ikaruga is not very long. It’s entirely possible to experience the whole thing in one session, although getting all the way to the end without seeing at least one Game Over takes no small amount of practice. Luckily, the game can be tweaked to accommodate players who haven’t yet mastered the art of a full-combo, flawless Ikaruga run. In the options menu you can choose from three difficulty levels, lower the amount of points necessary to gain a new life, and turn on continues (trust me, you’ll want to do that). Additionally, the more you play the game, the more continue credits you unlock. So while none of these things changes the fact that Ikaruga is a brutally difficult game, they keep it from becoming frustrating and unfair.

This is a game that begs to be played more than once. There’s almost always a better way to complete a level due to the combo system, which awards extra points for players who destroy ships of a single color three times in a row. Also, a hidden mode known as “Dot Eater” challenges players to make it through the levels without firing a single bullet, completely changing the way you approach each stage. The game can be played cooperatively as well if you plug in a second controller, where you and your friend will benefit from each other’s shared firepower while drawing from the same supply of continues. If none of your friends are up to the challenge, you can always look for a partner over Xbox Live, although it is very rare that I ever find anybody online to play with.

There is a reason Ikaruga is such a legendary game. Few space shooters are this challenging and yet so accessible, allowing players of all sorts of skill levels to enjoy the masterfully crafted levels. If you still haven’t given this game a look, try the trial version on Xbox Live or hunt it down for the Gamecube or Dreamcast and get ready for a crazy but satisfying ride.

Pros: Accessible yet challenging, well designed levels, unique polarity system, tight controls, great soundtrack, multiplayer

Cons: Short length, nonsensical story, requires more patience than some casual players may be willing to give

Final Score: 9.2 out of 10

By Josh60502

Categories: Gaming, Reviews, Xbox 360 Tags: ,

“Super Mario Galaxy 2” Wii Review

July 10, 2010 1 comment

There is a reason that there are more die-hard fans for Nintendo than any other video game company, and that is because of the revolutionary, generation-defining, and magical games they put out every so often. When the first Super Mario Galaxy was released, it was met with unanimous praise. However, even when Super Mario Galaxy 2 was announced, fans couldn’t help but wonder if the sequel would just feel like a half-baked level pack that got cut out of the first game. I’ll admit that I can’t compare the two games because I never played the original, but I can most definitely assure you that Super Mario Galaxy 2 does not feel like a collection of rejected ideas. Far from it.

The Mario games have never put storytelling forward, and even though Galaxy 2 is the same in this regard, it doesn’t stand out as a fault. The game opens up with a picture book explaining the setup. It seems typical enough until all of a sudden you’re given control over what you thought would be a still image and the impromptu gameplay that results acts as your tutorial. Unexpected polish like this can be found in almost every aspect of the game, and as a result the quality of the presentation takes a firm spot at the very top of the Wii’s library of titles. The graphics are fantastic and the numerous environments that you experience during the adventure all offer their own unique way of dropping your jaw in awe. Considering the non-high definition hardware Galaxy 2 is running on, this is all the more impressive.

Something else whose high quality threw me off was the music. Not everything is orchestrated, but the songs that are give the game an epic feel. The melodies of the new songs written for this game are memorable and the rearranged versions of old tunes are a pleasure to listen to. Some songs are light and playful while others are grand and powerful. The music always fits what’s going on, but the compositions go the extra mile and provide not just background noise, but fantastic music that could be easily listened to outside of the game. (Now only if Nintendo would release the soundtrack over in North America…)

The controls take advantage of the Wii remote in the best way they can. Mario is controlled with the analog stick on the nunchuck while an onscreen cursor (moved by the Wii remote) can be used to collect star bits (innumerable little objects similar to the coins seen in every other Mario game) as well as shoot them at enemies. All of the other maneuvers Mario has picked up in both his 3D and 2D games throughout the years such as the ground pound and wall jump (among other things) make an appearance, and they have never controlled better. The 3D Mario games have not always had the tight controls of the 2D ones, but with Galaxy 2 that trend has ended. Whenever I died in the game, it was because of a wrong move or a tough enemy – never because of a finicky camera or unresponsive controller. Simply navigating the environments is a joy, which goes a long way toward making the game fun.

The true genius of Super Mario Galaxy 2 lies in the level designs, which are some of the most well-thought-out and creative I have ever seen. Almost every one has its own unique gameplay hook, which keeps the game engaging throughout the entire adventure. The  levels throw out the laws of physics, gravity, and conventional video game platforming to create experiences that are both fun and highly original. Just when you think you have seen it all, a new crazy environment pops up to blow your mind yet again.

Added to these levels are a variety of new power-up suits, which give Mario all sorts of unique abilities. One turns him into a ghost, one lets him fly around like a bee, another changes Mario into a rolling boulder, and another gives the plumber the ability to create cloud platforms right below him, just to name a few. Yoshi makes an appearance as well and with him comes a whole new set of challenges and power-ups. Mario games have always set the standard for the platforming genre, and with Galaxy 2, you wonder how much higher that bar can be raised.

If there are any problems with the game, it would be in the pacing. The levels you play are chosen from a world map, and many times the way forward is blocked until you collect a set number of stars. Most levels offer a handful of attainable stars, so you’ll find yourself forced to revisit many levels you had previously beaten in order to collect as many as you can. Luckily, many times the levels’ layouts will completely change if you choose to go for a different star, providing a good balance between familiar elements and completely new trials when you end up playing through that level again. However, my problem was that I would have to find so many extra stars to advance through the game that I felt like it was grinding to a halt. I wanted to see a completely new environment – not revisit an old one. Even though I would essentially be playing a different level when I went for a new star in an old level, I still felt a slight bit of annoyance at this.

That’s a minor gripe, though. In the end, I walked away from Super Mario Galaxy 2 with a renewed faith in Nintendo and the Wii. This game may not yet have the nostalgia attached to it that makes some of the older Mario‘s so much more dear to me, but this is certainly the best Mario platformer I have ever played. I can easily imagine that 15 years from now a whole new generation of gamers will collectively list Super Mario Galaxy 2 at the top of their most-loved childhood games. This experience is absolutely not to be missed by anyone who owns a Wii. I’d even go so far as to say that Galaxy 2 is worth buying a Wii for. And I’d add that in the future, people will have a hard time wanting to get rid of their Wii because of how great this is. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is truly a game that will be cherished for years and years to come.

Pros: Incredible level desgin, great controls, fantastic soundtrack, finely tuned level of difficulty, top-notch visuals, polished in every aspect

Cons: Pacing slows down when you’re forced to backtrack through levels

Final Score: 9.7 out of 10

By Josh60502

Podcast Episode 10 – Breaking Your Soul

E3 2010 has come and gone, but Josh60502, JustMattPwn3r, and LostAddict1993 still have much to say about it. We discuss our general lack of interest in Kinect, Sony’s Kevin Butler fan service, and Nintendo’s rekindled love for the hardcore gamer (even if Zelda is looking a little shaky). After running out of topics, we fumble around for ideas and end up talking about Super Mario Galaxy 2, Sin and Punishment: Star Successor, the Final Fantasy series, and the dangers of going through an “eBay phase.” Also, we remind everyone that Death Note is indeed the greatest manga ever created.

Give us a listen and leave some feedback somehow, so that you might not have to wait months for the next podcast again.

Listen to it in your browser, or subscribe on iTunes.

By Josh60502

Stupid Parts of Great Games: Final Fantasy VII

June 25, 2010 6 comments

Welcome to a new series for Frayed Wire: “Stupid Parts of Great Games”, where I nitpick about some of the minor (and major) flaws of a beloved or classic game. And what better way to start than with the RPG with perhaps the biggest, most hot-headed fan base in existence? The angrier the comments, the happier I’ll be.

1. Deformed Arms

Final Fantasy VII may have been hailed for its graphics at the time it was released, but looking back at it today, they’re not exactly jaw-dropping. Sure, this is understandable when you consider that this came out in 1997, but one thing will never cease to annoy me – those unnatural, blocky character models.

When you’re in a fight or watching a cutscene, Cloud and co. look like normal human beings (or cat things… depending on what character we’re talking about). However, when you’re traversing the game’s environments (which is, by the way, most of the game), the polygon count of the characters is forced to take a drop, and you’re left with… things… that are deformed and wholly unappealing to look at.

What’s going on here!? Why is Cloud’s arm super skinny in the middle and then freakishly huge at the end? And what’s with the black tip? I mean, come on, does he have hooves or something!?

2. The Utter Annihilation of the Solar System? It’s All Good!

In the last boss fight of the game, Sephiroth can use an attack called “Super Nova” which sends a beam of energy through space, blowing up planets and eventually running into the sun, causing it to explode. In turn, the explosion consumes several more planets until making its way toward (Final Fantasy VII‘s equivalent of) Earth. Don’t get me wrong – it’s pretty cool. The only problem is that this attack makes no logical sense. What’s that? I’m looking too deeply into this? Shut up, this is what the “Stupid Parts of Great Games” series is all about.

Oh no! Not advanced calculus problems!

First and foremost is that Super Nova can’t actually kill you. It only takes away a percentage of your health. Read that again: this can destroy the solar system in one short 2 minute cutscene, but it can’t make a blonde-haired emo kid and his under-leveled companions even faint. Say what!?

Also is the fact that the game can still be finished after this attack is used. Sephiroth can die and everyone is happy, but I guess people around the world will have to get used to it being night 24/7 due to the fact that there IS NO SUN ANYMORE. At least they have electricity powered lights, right? Oh wait… maybe blowing up the massive Shinra power company wasn’t such a great idea after all…

Now some of you out there may be arguing that Sephiroth actually causes the Big Bang at the end of the attack, because it’s possible for him to use it more than once in the fight. But even if all these planets are resurrected, that doesn’t change the fact that they were completely wiped out a few minutes before. All life forms anywhere would have died in the first explosion (including those on Earth when the attack hits the ground and moves toward Cloud and everybody else). So even if the planets are brought back, the population still has to start again from scratch!

The only way out of this line of thinking that I can see is to say that all the same people who died were brought back to life in the Big Bang… but in that case, what would be the point of the attack in the first place?

3. Typos

I understand that there’s a lot of dialogue in Final Fantasy VII. However, that doesn’t make the typos any less funny.

No, this translator are not paying attention.

Final Fantasy VII had powerful and immersive dialogue? Off course it did!

Another one of my favorites is JENOVA’s only line in the whole game: “Beacause, you are… a puppet.”

A typo even showed up on the game’s box! If you had one of the first prints of the US version, the “i” in the word “masterpiece” on the back of the case was floating, causing it to read “masterp ece”. I wish I had a picture, but perhaps to the game’s benefit I can’t find one.

4. Aeris’s Death

The most memorable scene in Final Fantasy VII (and one of the main contributors to the raging fanboy devotion many people have for this game) is where Aeris gets killed by Sephiroth. She’s just kneeling on the ground when all of a sudden that white-haired pretty boy comes swooping through the air and plants his sword straight through her. Of course, Cloud and everyone else is there to see it happen, and they develop a new hatred for the game’s villain. It’s a turning point in the story and in some peoples’ opinions, one of the most shocking and tear-jerking plot twists ever in a video game. It’s also one of the biggest plot holes in the entire game’s story.

Let me explain.

Getting to this pivotal moment in the game takes hours and hours of playtime, many of which are spent in battles. Now anyone who has seen even one of these fights take place knows that the Final Fantasy VII characters don’t go down easily. They can be poisoned, burned, shot, sliced, or whatever by some crazy looking monster, but still have thousands of hit points left. Aeris is no exception – by the time she kicks the can, she’s seen her fair share of pain in battles as well. So now you’re telling me that she gets instantly killed by just one little poke from Sephiroth’s sword? She doesn’t even bleed!

Now maybe you’re thinking, “Oh, well, Sephiroth is more powerful than everyone else, so his attacks do a lot more damage.” Okay, but even if I entertain that cop-out answer, there’s still one glaring flaw in the plot:

Why can’t somebody just use a phoenix down and revive her!?

It works every time up until that point in the game! No matter how badly something overkills one of the characters, a phoenix down will always bring them back to life! Is there anyone who can explain to me why they can’t just quickly whip one of those bad boys out and save Cloud the trouble of dumping Aeris’s limp carcass into a pool?

I like to imagine everybody somberly walking away from the place, crying and whatnot. Tears streaming down his face, Cloud looks into his bag and sees a phoenix down. With everybody else looking at him, Cloud glances back at the pool and then back at his bag a couple of times. “FUUUUUUU-!!”

By Josh60502

Categories: Uncategorized

What to Expect From E3 2010 – Sony

June 9, 2010 1 comment

With a slew of great games having come out on the Playstation 3 this past year, Sony has proven themself a worthy competitor in the video game market. Fantastic exclusives have been the discs spinning in many PS3 owners’ systems, so this year at E3 I think we can expect to see a lot of talk of sequels. Killzone 3 has been announced and shown off a little bit already, as has LittleBigPlanet 2, but I expect there are still plenty of games up Sony’s sleeves that are waiting for a proper unveiling at their press conference this year. Infamous 2, Resistance 3, maybe some sort of Uncharted sequel (possibly on the PSP), are all big possibilities.

While it’s obvious that Sony has some great games coming down the line, one place they have yet to fully prove themselves is in their motion controller. Will the Playstation Move keep up with Microsoft’s Natal? Both companies are sure to push their respective motion controlled experiences at E3 this year, and on Sony’s end we’ll probably be seeing these games get a sizable chunk of time devoted to them at the press conference.

Sony’s Playstation Network has long been considered inferior to Xbox Live, but that may change after we find out more about the “premium service” Sony has coming up. Will the added features players get for subscribing be worth the fee? I predict Sony will clearly lay out all the details regarding this service at their conference, including the price. It will be interesting to me what exactly the added features will be. Cross game chat? Movie rentals? Free downloadable games, or perhaps some sort of rental service for them?

Another topic that several companies will be tackling this year is 3D. It’s all the rage now after the success of Avatar in theaters, but consumers have yet to be convinced that they need to go out and buy a 3D compatible TV. Will we see an “Avatar of games” – that is, a title so groundbreaking that it convinces everyone that 3D is worthwhile? I’m betting we won’t. Rather, I think all that will happen is some games will be announced as 3D compatible. Killzone 3 is already confirmed to be that, and some of the Ps3’s other big upcoming games will probably jump on the bandwagon as well. I’d be surprised if Sony unveils something 3D related that is truly spectacular at their press conference, but you never really know. I always find myself getting surprised at these press conferences every time.

By Josh60502

What to Expect From E3 2010 – Nintendo

Nintendo’s E3 this year will not be too surprising, if my predictions end up being correct. It will, however, be enlightening and interesting, as we will finally find out about all the weird things they’ve been quietly introducing.

First and foremost is the 3DS. Essentially a normal DS with some added 3D capabilities, many questions remain. How will it look? How will it give a 3D effect without requiring glasses, as it claims? (My guess is that it will be that Viewmaster-type 3D… if anyone remembers what a Viewmaster is.) How much will it cost? When will it come out? And most importantly, what sweet new games will come out for it that will make me want to run out and buy it? I still have only the original model of the DS (“Old Clunky”), but I know people who have over the years bought not only the original model but also the DS Lite, the DSi, and maybe even the DSi XL. What is so great about the 3DS that all those people should upgrade yet again? Nintendo hasn’t always had the greatest sense of what their press conference audience wants to see, so I don’t think it’s ridiculous to guess that they might neglect to give the 3DS the really strong showing that it needs. It will be interesting to see how they manage to show it off at all to the audience. Will the giant presentation screens be able to convey the 3D effect? I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing how they end up doing it.

Possibly the weirdest part of Nintendo’s conference at E3 last year still needs to be cleared up. I’m talking about the Wii Vitality Sensor, that little white… thing… that does… what exactly? Wii Party, the new game in the Wii Sports/Play/Music line has been announced, but little is known about it. I think it’s entirely possible that it might use the Vitality Sensor. In fact, this sounds like a pack-in combo the more I think about it. Nintendo loves to pack in all their new accessories with a game, so why would this be any different? The only question that remains is how that thing will be used. If Wii Party is a primarily multiplayer game, does that mean everyone will be passing around that sweaty little white thing and taking turns putting their finger in it? Sounds kind of gross.

It’s pretty obvious by now that Nintendo doesn’t feel like they need to win the hardcore audience over. But even though they appear to be content as the king of the casual market, I think we will still see Nintendo unveiling more about some hardcore-minded games. Metroid: Other M will probably get a mention, as will the new Zelda game. I’m hoping to hear a lot about the latter title in particular, as it’s pretty much guaranteed to be great already.

Out of the three big companies, Nintendo’s press conference will probably be the worst, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be bad. I just don’t see Nintendo trying anything particularly crazy. They’ve already got a ton of sales under their belt, and they’ll just try to prolong them a little more for the next year. We won’t see anything crazy like a new system this time around, but maybe a cool game we didn’t see coming will pop up. I’ll be watching what they do, but Nintendo doesn’t have me pumped this E3 like Sony and Microsoft do.

Categories: Gaming, Wii, wiiware Tags: , , ,