Gaming Frustrations

Have you ever had that game that you feel would be an easy 100% but some glitch or strange programming decision bars your path? Well, you are not alone because I have been suffering from it for the last 13 years with Donkey Kong 64. I swear, every single time I try, I am stopped dead in my tracks by one seemingly innocent minigame. Yes, those of you that have played it know the one, BEAVER BOTHER!! I honestly believe that this game was created to make grown men cry tears of bitter defeat. For the uninitiated, let me spell it out for you. You play as a crocodile and your goal is to herd beavers into a hole. A certain number must be obtained within the time limit and should you fail, you have to start over again. Now this may seem like an easy concept, and it should be easy, but there is one fatal flaw, one little thing that makes it a million times harder than it should be. The programming on the beavers is broken beyond repair. They always stand on the edge of the hole but never, ever, go in. I have spent at least a half hour trying to beat the two in Creepy Castle, but its impossible. Sadly, I am so invested, that I will play it until I win….I just hope that it happens before I lose my sanity. If anyone knows a trick to complete it, let me know!!

 

My thoughts exactly

My thoughts exactly

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Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows Of Amn (With Throne of Bhaal) Review

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For many geeks/nerds/artist types out there, the game of Dungeons and Dragons is a big past time. With some imagination, you and your friends can create and shape a world full of magic, monsters and wonder. Now taking a game such as that and making it into a video game may seem tricky in 2000 a team at black isle studios did the impossible, they created not only a fantastic dungeons and dragons game, but crafted what is (in my opinion) the greatest role playing game ever conceived. Some may disagree with that statement, but they have to admit, the game is still extremely good.

Set in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of dungeons and dragons, Baldur’s Gate 2 tells the story of the lord of murder, Bhaal, and the mortal children he left behind. Naturally,  you character is one of them. Anyway, you begin the game in the Lair of Jon Irenicus, a mad wizard with insane power. Believe me, this guy is scary, cool and unrelentingly powerful. Naturally, you spend the first hour or so escaping his compound. Once you leave, then the world opens up and gives you free reign to explore. For starters, the main city of Athkatla is enormous and filled with all sorts of magic, monsters and a healthy dose of corruption, which you can either help spread or destroy, your choice. But outside of Athkatla, there are rolling hills, plains, forests, ruins and castles to explore and, for the most part, they are free to explore when you want.

Irenicus

Irenicus

This freedom is the greatest aspect of Baldur’s Gate 2, you feel as though there are hundreds of choices to pursue, despite the main story leaning you towards a certain direction. I should also note that after the second chapter, you will be forced to follow a specific series of events before freedom is given back to you, so make sure you have done as many quests as you can before you end the chapter, trust me, you will know how to end it. Fortunately, some of the best moments in the game occur when you are following the main story. Such as the battles in Underdark or the final confrontation with Irenicus. Speaking of the story, its phenomenal. It is unpredictable and Irenicus is constantly making moves against you, which makes it feel dynamic and gives a sense of urgency.

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Next is the gameplay, it is similar to the first Baldur’s in that you control a party and each different character class gets his/her own set of skills and abilities. However, unlike the first game, the variety is greatly expanded upon! Not to mention, you start the game at level 7 which makes you feel pretty powerful from the start. But don’t think you will be able to destroy everything from the onset, there are many beings in the Realms more powerful than you. Also expanded is the enemies list. You will fight everything from evil dwarves to a troll that wants to cook you, but it doesnt end there, you will encounter doppelgangers, dragons and some wicked demons. And each encounter with them is interesting, sometimes there is more to a fight than meets the eye.

Speaking of the eye, I must comment on the graphics. They aren’t the best of the time, but the world feels so alive. People are walking through the markets, random fights break out, and there are laws that must be upheld. I also must comment on the spell effects, they are simple but brilliant, the battles can turn into a dazzling spectacle of lights and sounds as enemies are hewed asunder and magic missiles rain out all over the place!

The sound is also very admirable as well, the music is epic during the battles and calm whilst walking the country. Unfortunately, the music and sounds are recycled a lot throughout the game and it can become old over time. But that’s to be expected when you sink 100+ hours into a game inst it?

Now its time to move onto the expansion, Throne of Bhaal. My words cant really describe it but I will try. The developers striped away a lot of the open world freedom of the original for some of the most amazing set pieces I have seen in a rpg. Not to mention, the level cap has increased dramatically and the action becomes even more intense as the game goes. Thought some of the fights in BG2 were crazy? Well, they are childs play compared to Throne of Bhaal. You can go the entire game of BG2 without fighting a dragon, but Throne makes you fight several, and there are stronger foes than that. It is insanity! Because of these enemies, the game feels a bit more difficult than before, which is welcome as BG2 isn’t the trickiest game I’ve ever played. The story, unfortunatly, isn’t as strong as the other one but what is there is still well executed. Besides, the story isn’t what Throne is all about anyway, its more action oriented and is focusing on a giant war between Bhaal’s children, or at least the power hungry ones.

All in all, BG2 and Throne of Bhaal are amazing gaming experiences with loads of variety, fantastic settings and an spectacular story that is begging to be played through multiple times! Not only is Shadows of Amn one of my personal favorite games, but I feel that it is the best RPG ever made!! And it is followed up by one amazing expansion, fantastic stuff.

BG2: 10/10

Throne of Bhaal: 9/10

Blast Corps Review

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Blast Corps is awesome, developed by rare in 1997, I feel that it hasn’t received the attention it deserves as it is often overshadowed by Banjo Kazooie, Goldeneye or Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Which is a shame because its one of the better games on the n64

The concept behind blast corps is simple, you destroy buildings to prevent a truck carrying nuclear missiles from crashing. To do so, you command a variety of demolition machines that range from a simple dump truck to a combat rolling robot. All of these machines behave differently, the bulldozer, for example, can level small buildings but will need to push TNT crates to destroy larger ones. On top of destroying these buildings to keep the world safe (which you get paid in game currency to do) you will be saving people (by destroying buildings?!?) crashing into radio beacons to open secret levels, collecting RDU’s (not sure what that means exactly) and going through time attack missions. Now, the simple act of driving into a building would get old fast, fortunately, the later stages of Blast Corps function like fast paced puzzles, you have to think quickly and have good reflexes in order to obliterate the buildings in time, which is what makes the game so much fun.

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Don’t let it crash!

Sadly, all is not perfect in the world, the game is fairly short, getting all the collectibles in a level does add some replay value but for many, there isn’t much to hold their attention after every level has been completed. I also have to complain about the controls a bit, while they work quite well, I have tremendous difficulty using the dump truck, controlling that thing properly is a monumental challenge and one of the robots seems to only do its attack when it feels like it, there is no indication that there is a cooldown on it either, which is a bit of a letdown.

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I despise you backlash

Unfortunatly, thats about all there is to say about the gameplay, it really is that simple, however, as with all rare games, I feel that I must comment on the music and graphics. The graphics are alright for the system and get the job done, however, its not nearly as pretty as Banjo Kazooie. But that is all supplemented by the music. Its chaotic, funny and energizing. Also, the explosion sounds are satisfying as heck. By the way, if you have played Goldeneye, you will notice that one of the explosion sounds is similar to that of the D5K Deutsche.

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Blast Corps is a fantastic game that seems to have gone overlooked, which is a shame because it is another classic game from Rare, despite a couple of minor flaws! Play it!

8.5/10

Guardian Wars Review

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Guardian War, also known as powers kingdom is a game for the 3do system. Before I go forward, a little history lesson. The 3DO was released in 1993 and was a very powerful system for the time, however, due to the high price of the console, poor design choices and a lack of game support to draw in a crowd, the system quickly faded away. Considered a failure, the system has some good things going for it, some of the best console ports of games are on 3DO and then there are more obscure games such as Guardian War.

The story of Guardian War is simple, an evil being known as Azrael has unleashed Chaos and destruction onto the world of Power’s Kingdom. Monsters now infest the planet and all the plants and trees are losing their, “vital energy,” due to the destruction and carnage that chaos has wrought. Finally, the Goddess Erald had enough of that and decided to create a golem to kill Azrael. This golem must travel through Powers Kingdom and awaken his/her/its followers from their shrines and slay all the evil in the world.

Guardian War will feel extremely familiar to anyone who has played the Final Fantasy Tactics games. However, there are some slight differences. For starters, you begin with 2 golem’s and have an overworld with a bunch of levels. However, you need to complete each level before you can move on to the next one, it should be noted that you cannot go to levels you have previously completed. Once you pick a level, you are transported to a map that your characters move around on. The goal of each map is to destroy all the monsters and to find the treasures within them.

Once you come upon some enemies, then the gameplay changes. All of your warriors come out and combat is handled in a turn based manner. And, as with all turn based games, you get a variety of options on each of your warriors turns. You can attack, use spells (if you have them), go into a defensive position and take a lot less damage or use items or potions. All of this can be done after moving a select difference. Early on, this system is extremely simple, but as the game progresses, it becomes fairly complex. But don’t let that scare you, the complexity isn’t overwhelming like some games tend to be.

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On the subject of difficulty, you will notice that some area’s are just plain unbeatable with your current party. Thankfully, there are several things you can do to make life easier. For starters, each golem can be equiped with a variety of equipment based on what body they use. The body’s range from knights to wizards to ninjas. These bodies give different abilities such as healing or a basic slash attack. Another mechanic that I simply love is the ability to use 3 bodies worth of abilities on any golem. Another great thing the game gives you is what I call, “Grinding Zones.” These are areas that stay open the entire game and allow you to go back to them as much as you want. These are great for leveling up underdeveloped heroes or to sharpen the skills of others. For some, the idea of grinding is a terrible thing, but I can safely say that I have only spent about an hour of grinding on my playthrough, so it isn’t that bad.

Next I feel that I should at least comment on the graphics and sound. I personally love the look of the game, there is a charm to it that you don’t see in games today. The enemies are scary and cute in equal measure, which makes me almost feel bad for slaying them….almost. The environments are simple but have enough detail as to not hurt the eyes during gameplay, I love the temple environments. Finally the music is actually pretty good. The overworld theme is full on heavy metal, perfect for getting you in the mood for some action, while the level themes range from chaotic to soft and smooth. Great stuff. Now unfortunatly, the sounds the combatants make during the fights and the spell sounds are rather lackluster. Not a one of them blew me away, Thankfully the graphics on the high level spells are awe inspiring.

Finally, I have to note that for a strategy game, it is father simple. Once you understand how to mix and match bodies and equipment, you pretty much have the hardest part of the game down. And because the game disperses shops that sell you the best equipment you can get at that time, there really is no excuse not to have the best gear. Sadly, this is the games biggest flaw, its a bit too forgiving for my taste.

In conclusion, Guardian Wars is a fairly deep and complex strategy game (at first) that has gone rather unnoticed. Which is a shame because it offers up some fantastic gameplay that allows for a good amount of experimentation. Though it is repetitive, especially when you have to grind, Guardian Wars throws enough new enemies, abilities and Items in your direction that you won’t be thinking about the flaws for too long. A solid game!

7.5/10

Duck Hunt (Quick Review)

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Mans Best Friend…..

For many, owners of the NES, the second game that they played was duck hunt. It came packaged with one of the editions of the NES and allowed players to use a light gun to shoot at the ducks that passed by the screen. Now you may be thinking, “Thats it? Sounds boring.” Well, believe it or not, it is actually pretty fun. For starters, if you go to play this today, make sure you have an old school CRT television. Why? Because for whatever reason, the gun doesn’t work as well on a flat screen television. The next thing you will notice are the multiple game modes. There is game A, B and C. The difference is that A and B are duck games (where in A one pops up on the screen at a time and B is two) and C is shooting clay pigeons, a harder version if you ask me.

 

Finally, all that you need to do is shoot the screen with the gun. If you hit enough targets, you advance to the next round, if you don’t then you lose. Also, if you miss the ducks in a section, the dog will laugh at you like a massive jerk. I kind of wish you could shoot it, but sadly you cannot. Really, that’s all there is to it, its a simple game with simple controls and mind numbing repetition. It is fun for about an hour or two, but quickly loses steam. If you are an NES collector, I highly recommend it just because of the novelty of being able to shoot things with a gun, but if you are looking for a game with a long life, look elsewhere.

6/10

Metal Gear Solid (Series Review)

It is time to give the Sony systems some love and do a review of some games for them. And what better series to do than Metal Gear Solid! For many, it is the reason they purchased a ps1, ps2 or ps3, and I admit, its the reason I bought them as well. Now I am going to do a series of short reviews on them, like I did with the Halos.

But first, a little history lesson. Metal Gear Solid, is actually the third game in a series of games known as Metal Gear. The general idea behind the games is that of stopping nuclear disaster. Sadly, I have not had the chance to play the first two metal gear games, but it really isn’t too important to the overall story, you can fill in the pieces.

Metal Gear Solid

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Oftentimes considered the best game on the original playstation and I feel that I have to agree. Your goal is to sneak agent Solid Snake into a terrorist held building and stop them from launching a nuclear missile. To do this, you lead snake through the compound and use a radar to stay out of enemies fields of vision. While this sounds simple, its actually pretty tricky as they will hear you, see your footprints or even notice when an enemy has been dispatched. These mechanics are extremely fun to play around with and reward creativity, try hiding in a box and sneaking around really carefully. Combine this with fantastic story, characters, boss battles and some good plot twists and you have a masterpiece of gaming.
10/10

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

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Released in two forms (Original and as Substance which came later and had extra content) This highly anticipated sequel to the playstation 1 has recieved a lot of mixed emotions from fans. For starters, it retains the gameplay elements of the first game and adds some layers of polish and depth to it. Not to mention, better graphics. But the polarizing part of the game comes in the form of the games protagonist, Raiden. Many feel that he is a bit of a wuss, and I admit, he kind of is at times. Another point of contention is the fact that the plot is so complex and so confusing at the end that it would make most people’s head spin. Despite these negatives, It is still a fantastic game that offers some of the most engaging and dynamic stealth gameplay there is.
9.2/10

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

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Forget the original release, you want the Subsistance version of this one. Instead of a top down view, you are treated to a third person view, which is freaking awesome! Anyway, on to the game. The third Metal Gear  Solid game is actually a prequel to all of the events of the other games. It takes place during the height of the cold war and features a host of new characters. The game mechanics have changed dramatically as well. You now use a variety of camouflage to blend in with the environment, must treat severe wounds using the right combination of medical equipment and you also need to eat in order to restore your stamina gauge, which lowered can have a negative effect on gameplay. Not to mention, the graphics are still pretty good and a lot of the music feels like it should be in a James Bond movie. Add a great story, characters and voice work into the mix and you have one of my personal favorite games.

10/10

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

Simple cover, freaking awesome game!

Simple cover, freaking awesome game!

THE reason I got a ps3. The gameplay is a fantastic combination between the second and third and it just adds a pile of options. There are tons of ways to approach every area. Do you fight your enemies head on? Do you assist one side in a battle? Do you free the hostages to create a distraction? Or let the hostages be the distraction? It’s so much fun to experiment with this game. The combat has been streamlined from previous games and is now easier than ever. I also need to mention the storyline. I honestly think it is the best in the series, It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it is a rollercoaster ride that has a very satisfying conclusion. I go back and forth on whether I like this or MGS3 better. But there is one thing for sure, this game is awesome!!

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
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Though it is more of a direct sequel to metal gear solid 3, it should be noted that this game does fill in some of the story between 3 and the events of later metal gear games. I find that the gameplay is pretty good overall, it feels a lot like metal gear solid 3 and has similar elements. But it also includes a pokemon esque sort of team building mechanic that is fun to play around with but can get tedious and boring fast. There are other mechanics that I haven’t talked about but I never got the opportunity to use them sadly.  Overall, a good package, and one that is well suited to the psp, but it isn’t my favorite MGS game.

9/10

All in all, the Metal Gear Solid series is one of the best that there is, the gameplay is phenomenal and the story’s are extremely interesting. I highly recommend giving them a go, but do not, I repeat, DO NOT play them out of order as it will be the most confusing jumble of events you have ever seen. Despite this, they are all worth playing and each have unique mechanics that make each and every game feel fresh. Good stuff!

Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness (Review)

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Today, the word Warcraft is associated with MMORPGs and often used to ridicule nerds. However, back in the late 90’s Warcraft meant something totally different. It stood for epic conquest between orcs and humans, intense fantasy battles filled with mystical creatures and some not so mystical creatures. It was about collecting gold from a mine, wood from the forests and oil from an oil well. Yes, Warcraft was originally an RTS series and the second one is considered by many to be the best in the series.

First a little background, Blizzard had released other games such as the Lost Vikings, Rock N Roll Racing and Blackthorne, but their first big success came in the form of Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, released in 1994. It didn’t necessarily redefine the rts genre for the time but it certainly became a hit because of balanced gameplay and addictive multiplayer. Because of its success, its only natural that a sequel should be made. Well in 1995 gamers got to play the highly anticipated sequel, and were treated to some of the best RTS game play of its time.

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As with it’s predecessor, the game focuses  around the Orcs and Human Alliance who are at war with each other. For what reason, I do not know, but does it matter? Anyway, when you boot up the game, you get several options to choose from. I recommend the campaigns as they are a good learning tool and they scale in difficulty as you complete levels. I personally found the campaigns to be a bit easy at times, and they never really became hard, but for players who don’t play a lot of RTS games, it will be just the right level of difficulty.

The next option is to play against the AI in custom battles. Now this is where the game shows it’s age a bit in my opinion. There is no mini map to show what the map looks like before you play, maybe there is something I don’t know about but the fact that you have to guess what the map will look like is rather frustrating. The first game I played ended up being a map with several islands and I actually ran out of gold before I could build a transport ship, as I spent a lot on upgrades early on. This made my angry, as you may imagine, so I had to quit and restart on a different map. However, there is a plus side, once you know what maps to pick then you can engage in some fun battles with the computer. As with the campaign, the AI isn’t extremely difficult so you always feel like the battle is fair, unlike Starcraft 2 on  Insane difficulty, I swear, that game cheats.

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Anyway, on to the gameplay. If you have played a Blizzard RTS even once in your life, you know what to expect. You start out with almost nothing, and have to collect 3 different resources. The two you need to concern yourself with early on are Gold and Lumber. So you have your peasant or peon collect resources, all while building buildings or hiring new peasants/peons. Once you have a suitable amount, then it its on to building a barracks and hiring warriors. Once you have an a suitable army, usually a few men early on, then it is on to the navy. This is where the third resource comes in, Oil.  I won’t go into further details as it will only confuse the uninitiated. But I can say one thing, the build up of resources and the creation of units/buildings is very slow compared to future RTS games, so prepare to spend some time on each match.

Next, we have combat, something that has a tendency to bother me at times. Basically, each and every unit has attack and defense values. Sadly, each unit doesn’t have  a base damage such as in other games. No, they have ranges of damage. I am not sure how it works but a low level unit can do anywhere from 2-9 damage every time he/she/it hits. It seems that this could add a level of unpredicability to each fight but it really doesn’t. Basically, if you have low level units fight high level units, they will die. If two low level units fight each other, then it is a toss up. Usually whomever hits first wins. It’s actually really simple. However, there is one negative about combat and units in general. You can only select 9 at a time. Thankfully, for large armies, you can apply hot keys using CRTL and a number from 0-9 and use that to quickly switch between groups of 9. Honestly, I think that is the one major flaw that plagues Warcraft 2 and Starcraft for me. I love the games to death but I wish I could select everything at once.  In terms of gameplay, there is way more involved such as unit abilities, ground vs. air and a variety of other topics. But I won’t go there, its far too much to cover, but lets just say that a well placed ability can make all the difference in a battle.

Now, we move onto the graphics and sound. Firstly, the game looks awesome, it has a cartoonish fantasy art style that is rich with color and has some fantastic texture work for its time. I think games need to be colorful like this again, today, there is too much brown, black and grey. I want some color!! Also, the music is epic and the sounds, well, are simplistic. Plenty of tings and bangs. Despite the simplistic sounds for combat and buildings, the voice work is awesome and some of the quotes have become iconic, such as the peasants saying, “Yes Me Lord.”images

Finally, there is multiplayer! Oh man this is seriously fun to play at a LAN party. I find it is at it’s best during team play, because it allows for some serioulsy fun tactics and strategies. Such as having one person go all air and the other all land. Also, if you can get your hands on it, Blizzard released a Battle.net version of the game which allows for users to play on battle.net that was introduced when Diablo was released. For those that don’t know what Battle.net is, it is a basic gaming service that allows people to easily connect an play games.

Overall, this is a fantastic entry in the RTS genre, though it hasn’t aged as well as Starcraft has, its still a lot of fun and is loaded with personality and deep gameplay, and thats not even including the awesome multiplayer offerings!!

8.5/10