Pacing the Cage

All about old-school video games. Reviews, lists and more.

Archive for April, 2009

Bad camera! Go to your room!

Posted by ptcgaming on April 30, 2009

Wait a minute... I thought this was a LINEAR level?

Wait a minute... I thought this was a LINEAR level? (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

I recently purchased and downloaded  a copy of “Super Mario 64” to my Nintendo Wii. I remembered playing the original on an actual Nintendo 64 console, and I even own the updated DS version, which isn’t as fun without an analog stick for control. So I almost immediately booted the game up and began playing, and less than five minutes into it I was reminded of a harsh reality.

The camera on this game is really bad.

That’s right, I’m looking at you, Lakitu Cam. You shifty, unpredictable little turtle, you. While this game originally received high marks overall, this quirky camera style was the one thing many reviewers were critical of. It moves, shifts, zooms and rotates on whim while you’re moving, and there’s no telling what it’s going to do next.

Seriously. I ran up the same ramp 10 times once, and the camera angle was different almost every time. This is great when you’re trying to move across a narrow bridge, jump over an opening or complete one of those linear levels scattered throughout the game. And switching to the first-person “Mario” camera angle doesn’t help either, because even though it stays directly behind you, it zooms in close to, well, Mario’s behind.

Fortunately the camera issue was fixed by the time “Super Mario Galaxy” was released on the Wii.

Now don’t think I’m just picking on “Mario 64,” because this is truly a great game. I don’t know how good or bad the other console versions are, but the camera on the GameCube version of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is even worse. In some places where Harry is shimmying across a ledge against a wall, if you recenter the camera for a better view all you see is the back of the wall. And in some places the camera can’t even keep up with Harry, kind of like in those old “Sonic the Hedgehog” games where Sonic would either run or jump out of the screen because he was too fast.

It is true that a bad camera can ruin a game. The Lakitu Cam tends to give me a headache after a while, and it frustrates me when a bad camera angle causes me to fall in a hole or miss a jump. Fortunately, Nintendo seems to have seen the error of its ways and fixed the problem.

Thanks, guys. You saved me from a recurring headache.

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Posted in Miscellaneous | Leave a Comment »

Legend of the static arcade screen

Posted by ptcgaming on April 28, 2009

When you played games like "Galaxian," this is what you got: A single screen where all the action takes place. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

When you played games like "Galaxian," this is what you got: A single screen where all the action takes place. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

For those of you who didn’t grow up in the age of “Pac-Man” or the Atari 2600, the concept of all the action in a video game taking place on a single, static screen might sound strange. But if it weren’t for “Donkey Kong,” you might have never had “Super Mario Bros.” With no “Space Invaders,” “Galaxian” or “Asteroids,” you might have never had “Star Fox.” And without “Frogger” you might have never had, well, a dozen or more ports, copies or clones of “Frogger.”

Truth be told, many of the most famous (and even hardest) video games and franchises ever developed began as a game on a static screen. In “Donkey Kong,” you controlled Jumpman as he attempted to rescue the heroine from the giant ape’s clutches. Jumpman eventually became Mario, with a color palette swap his brother Luigi was born, and the rest is video game history.

“Pac-Man” was a staple in the 1980s, and anyone who watches “Seinfeld” reruns knows the importance of having the highest score in “Frogger.” (Just a side note: You couldn’t actually enter your initials on the high score list, and George’s score was way more than the actual “Frogger” world record.)

Sadly, I think that over the years these games have become less appreciated. High-end graphics, enhanced sound and universal controllers have put these games on the back burner. I do wish today’s gamer could experience the challenge of “Joust” or what Mario was like when he was just a plumber clearing out the sewers of New York City. I stayed up late many nights playing home console versions of static-screen staples such as “Space Invaders,” “Galaxian,”  “Donkey Kong Jr.” and “Centipede,” among others. And it was great, even without the 3D graphics and surround sound.

Posted in Arcade, Retro Gaming | Leave a Comment »

Do you miss the arcade?

Posted by ptcgaming on April 23, 2009

The lines to play "Street Fighter II" at the arcade were usually pretty long. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

The lines to play "Street Fighter II" at the arcade were usually pretty long. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

I remember many moons ago, while growing up, how every shopping mall had an arcade. There was even at one time a standalone arcade in the town I lived in. There was wall-to-wall video games and pinball machines (you know, those things young kids say grandpa played).  I remember lines waiting for turns at machines, and how you put your quarters on the console shelf to proclaim “I got next.”

Sadly, those days are just about gone, at least where I live. While the local movie theater has a few games, the nearest “arcade” is in one of those arcade/pizza party/goofy golf-type places a half-hour away. And I’d have to purchase a movie ticket to even have access to the mini-arcade at the theater!

So my question to you today is “Do you miss the arcade?” Answer the poll below, and leave any additional comments in the “Comments” area.

Posted in Arcade | 1 Comment »

Retro Game Review: Tomb Raider

Posted by ptcgaming on April 22, 2009

The original "Tomb Raider" was quite the spectacle when it was first released.

The original "Tomb Raider" was quite the spectacle when it was first released. (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

Platform: Sony PlayStation
Released: 1996
Developer: Core Design

Background:Ah, Lara Croft with guns, guns and more guns. Lara’s first foray into the “Tomb Raider” series was quite the spectacle when first released, sending the heroine into the depths of massive caves, underwater and of course into tombs. This was also one of the only games to ever care the you-know-what out of me on a few occasions. While “Tomb Raider” looks primitive compared to more recent additions (including a remake of this one), it was indeed something, well, different. Not too many games featured gun-toting women as the main character, which may have been a big draw for, um, male gamers.

Graphics: 3.5/5
As far as the original PlayStation’s capabilities go, there are some games that do indeed look better than this. And while Lara might look a little “square,” many of the enemies, especially the wild animals, look pretty realistic. One complaint, though, would be how many of the wall textures blend together, sometimes making it hard to see whether or not there’s an opening ahead.

Sound: 4/5
The voice acting is clear, but the repeated grunting when you climb something can get old. Most of the voice acting is done during the cutscenes, which is just about the only time Lara comes in contact with humans (the NATLA villains, specifically) other than a few random sequences during gameplay. The music is well-done, but you’re sure to know when trouble is ahead. That’s when the “trouble ahead” music starts.

Controls: 3.5/5
For having to move Lara around with a digital D-pad, the controls work, well,they’re OK. Your thumb might start to hurt after moving her around for more than an hour at a time, because using the D-pad isn’t nearly as fluid as using an analog stick. And the developers at Core made sure you have to use every single button on the controller, since they each do something different.

Gameplay: 4/5
This game is a lot of fun (Play it in the dark. That adds some suspense). Lara automatically aims at her nearest foe, which is great for run-and-gun action. Solving puzzles slows the game down a little, but not nearly as much as you’d think. The story is pretty straightforward, and you’ll figure out what’s going on after just a couple cutscenes. But that’s not what makes the game.

Overall: 3.75/5
You’d be hard up to find anyone who played this game and didn’t like it. I remember there being this argument about whether “Tomb Raider” was in fact better than “Resident Evil.” I’m not sure which is better, especially since they have different game tempos. But one thing’s for sure – this is a game that fired off several more additions and two full-length feature films, the first of which wasn’t all that bad. Now that’s something you don’t hear every day.

Posted in PlayStation, Reviews | Leave a Comment »

Retro Game Review: Star Fox 64

Posted by ptcgaming on April 22, 2009

"Star Fox 64" is a marvel to look at and hear, but that doesn't mean it's without flaws.

"Star Fox 64" is a marvel to look at and hear, but that doesn't mean it's without flaws. (Screenshot from neoseeker.com)

Platform: Nintendo 64
Released: 1997
Developer:Nintendo EAD

Background:The original Star Fox for the Super NES pushed the envelope for home console gaming (For more on that. click here). So, Shigeru Miyamoto decided to push the envelope with Star Fox again, this time on the Nintendo 64 console. While the game at its core is a 64-bit remake of the original, it’s just as revolutionary. With outstanding graphics and sound, this is definitely a must-play for N64 console owners and Wii owners willing to drop a bargain bin price of 10 bucks to download it off the Virtual Console.

Graphics: 5/5
If there’s one thing Nintendo’s developers have been good at over the years, it’s being able to take an already great concept and make it even better. Just take a look at the graphical improvements from “Super Mario 64” to “Ocarina of Time” to “Majora’s Mask” and you’ll see what I mean. Star Fox 64 is no different. The graphics are better than even SM64, which has been hailed as one of the greatest games ever. The 3D universe is more vibrant and vivid than ever, and there are not any very noticeable glitches in what you see. Everything is so fluid it’s hard to imagine you’re playing a video game released more than a decade ago.

Sound: 4.75/5
Best voice acting on a cartridge-based game. Ever. And that’s saying a lot since the Neo Geo was pretty good with sound, too. All the voices are extremely clear (A big chunk of space on the cartridge went toward sound). But I knocked a small chunk off the score because after a while the things they repeatedly say get a little annoying.

Controls: 2.5/5
The problem I have isn’t with the buttons. It’s with the analog stick controls that pilot your Arwing. They’re much too sensitive, and quite often I catch myself burying the nose into the ground because of the smallest movement.

Gameplay: 3/5
Part of the drop in points has to do with how the sensitive controls affect gameplay. And I’ve read a lot of reviews that say the game’s very easy and very short, which must mean I’m pretty bad at it. I find it quite difficult. Of course, I only have time to play it for a few minutes at a time, so I haven’t had much practice with it. It is a fun game, though, just tough.

Overall: 3.81/5
Don’t get me wrong, this a great game. It’s a step above the original SNES version, which says a lot. It’s beautiful to look at and hear, but it’s not without its quirks. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in rail shooters, because you won’t be disappointed.

Posted in N64, Reviews | Leave a Comment »

Character File: Ryu Hayabusa

Posted by ptcgaming on April 13, 2009

 

"Gee, that looks really far!" (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

"Gee, that looks really far!" (Screenshot from Wikipedia)

First appearance: “Ninja Gaiden” (Arcade/NES, 1988)

So your dad has disappeared and now you have to seek revenge on those who may have done him wrong. What is a ninja to do? How ’bout slap on the ol’ ninja getup and start kicking some serious tail, of course!

From the beginning, Ryu Hayabusa’s adventures haven’t just been full of butt kicking and wall jumping. They’ve also been pretty hard. The original NES trilogy has been deemed one of the most difficult series of games ever developed for the console.

Ryu is definitely one bad… dude. Using his mighty sword and the occasional Spirit Clone, Ryu can literally defeat demons and darkness. The problem is once he completes one game-long mission, circumstances require another one to begin. Of course, this leads to great job security.

In fact, Ryu is still a video game staple today. While his roots began at the arcade and with the NES and Sega Master System, he’s still trouncing foes today via the Xbox 360. The 3D environments on the 360 of course allow his character to appear more dynamic and much more detailed. He’s also been featured in the “Dead or Alive” video game series.

Ryu fans who also like “Halo 3” should be happy to hear there is an unlockable armor called “Hayabusa” in the game. The pieces of armor are earned by collecting all hidden Skulls in campaign mode. The “Katana” body piece can be earned by achieving a 1,000/1,000 gamerscore.

Posted in Arcade, Characters, NES | 1 Comment »

Our Favorite Games II: The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time

Posted by ptcgaming on April 1, 2009

ocarina-of-time

Platform: Nintendo 64 Released: 1998

Right off the bat, I’m going to upset a whole lot of you. This game is overrated. Great? Yes. Perfect? Far from it. Manual targeting wasn’t that innovative at the time (PlayStation games were doing it at the same time. See: “Syphon Filter”)., “Super Mario 64” had already revolutionized 3D gaming on the N64, some of the enemies blended into the backgrounds and dear lord I wanted to kill the Navi thing about five minutes into the game. On top of that, it always seemed like a 3D version of the SNES classic “A Link to the Past,” still the best Zelda game in my book.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’ll be more positive, since this game has sold in the neighborhood of 7.6 million copies and I’m a Zelda nut who has played almost every installment to begin with. For those of you who don’t know, “Ocarina” was initially planned as an anchor game for a disk drive add-on for the N64. This peripheral was only sold in Japan, featured a grand total of nine (!) games and was deemed a commercial failure (Only like 15,000 of these puppies were sold. But there was a 3D polygon program for it that was like “Mario Paint” on steroids!). It was instead moved to the actual console, at the time the largest game Nintendo had ever created.

“Ocarina” features a vast Hyrule full of color, with custom music for each region of the land. Each region also seems to have its own personality and inhabitants. The addition of Epona to help quickly take you places is a plus, too.

Being the first Zelda game in 3D and with the new, non-linear combat system made the series feel fresh. The adventure is long, and the ending cut scene is more than 10 minutes long, but you’ll get sucked into the story while playing and forget about how long it’s taking. And it was good to see both Link and Ganon looking like “humans” for a change. Without Ocarina, we probaly would have never seen masterful graphics like in the GameCube/Wii Zelda contribution, “Twilight Princess.”

Believe it or not, as powerful and in-depth as “Ocarina” was, it may have been eclipsed by “Majora’s Mask,” another Zelda title for the N64 released just a couple years later. “Majora’s Mask” built on an upgraded “Ocarina” game engine (which, coincidentally, was  built on an upgraded “Mario 64” engine) and required an expansion pack containing additonal RAM in order to run on the console. It’s even more of a graphical treat than “Ocarina,” even though it wasn’t as popular. It did, however, receive comparably high scores.

Posted in Favorites, N64 | 2 Comments »