Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Wacky Races | PlayStation 2 Tuesdays #11

I have long been a fan of the kart racing genre, ever since the very first game in the Mario Kart series was released on the SNES and I spent many hours playing against friends and my brother in both the Grand Prix and battle modes. There have been many games since then that have all attempted their own variations on the formula, and the Mario Kart series has remained far ahead of the competition in my opinion. A couple of games have come close to beating it over the years - namely Crash Team Racing and Diddy Kong Racing, and then there are dozens of mid tier kart racers that are decent enough but not strong enough to be included in the A list.

Wacky Races starring Dastardly and Muttley is one such game, which was originally released for the Dreamcast before being ported over to the PS2. I used to love the old cartoon that the game is based on, and the developers have done a great job of converting the 2D cartoon into a cel shaded 3D world. All of the old favourite characters such as the Ant Hill Mob, Penelope Pitstop, the Slag Brothers and more are all present and correct, though some like Professor Pat Pending and Dick Dastardly himself have to be unlocked by progressing through the Adventure mode.

Speaking of which, the adventure mode is basically a copy of the one found in Diddy Kong Racing, with individual races awarding you a star for winning them, and more advanced racers locked away until you earn a certain number of stars. After a while boss challenges will also open up - beating the first one in a world will unlock another attack for your character to choose from, and then beating the second will open up that character. After all the individual races is an environment are dealt with, you can then choose the Wacky Cup Challenge - which is a five race tournament. Beating that then unlocks the Golden Muttley Challenge, where you have to win all the individual races and must collect the hidden golden muttleys around each track while you do so. Beating those then allows you to take part in the Battle Arena Challenge, which is similar to the battle mode found in the Mario Kart games - drive around for a fixed amount of time, hit your opponents with weapons, earn points, win. Aside from all those modes there are also time trials for you to beat.

Brrr, this looks rather chilly!
Unlike other games in the genre, there isn't a fixed range of items for all characters to use - instead each character has their own unique items. You start with three unlocked, and earn more by progressing through adventure mode. The items themselves fit into the usual types: ones that you can shoot your opponents with, speed boosts, shields and the like. As for the different tracks you'll be tearing around, there are four different environments in the game: a wild west style area, a snowy mountain, a big city and a forest. Each of these have five tracks within, which to a pretty good job of distinguishing themselves from each other. A few of the tracks can be quite annoying to beat, especially when you're still getting used to the layout.

I'm not sure whether the guy narrating the game is the same one who used to voice the Wacky Races cartoon many years ago, but it sounds remarkably close. In fact, the game has nailed the style of the cartoon all around, and is a pretty fun game all around. It even features a multiplayer mode that supports four players, though I can't really comment on how good this is as I have not had the chance to try it, sadly. In terms of cost, Wacky Races will likely set you back less than £5. At that price it's worth a look, though it's not the best kart racer money can buy by any means!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Katamari Damacy | PlayStation 2 Tuesdays #10

About 7 or so years ago now, I bought a second NTSC PlayStation 2 so that I could play imported games without having to go through the hassle of having my console chipped or using any other tricks to run US games.  I don't regret doing this as it allowed me to enjoy many RPG's that either never made it over here in Europe or took their sweet time getting a release.  The initial impetus behind this decision was not made to play an RPG however, it was so that I could play Katamari Damacy.

The King of All Cosmos has gone on a bit of a bender and in his drunken state has accidentally knocked all of the stars out of the night sky, so it's up to you as the pint sized Prince to roll up all sorts of junk into a ball until it's large enough to become a star and return things to their previous state.  During the early levels you will find yourself rolling up tiny items like paper clips, mice and the like, as as the game grows on the contents of your ball of crap slowly increase until your picking up cars, people, and entire buildings!

The controls take a bit of getting used to at first, as manipulating your ball is like driving a tank.  You push both analogue sticks up to go forwards, both back to go in reverse, and one forward / one backwards to turn.  After a little while this will become second nature though, and you will have a huge grin on your face as you careen around the place hoovering up kitties and all manner of other stuff.  Trying to roll over items that are too big will knock parts off your Katamari, so you have to build up gradually.

The gameplay is fun, and the graphics while a bit basic are nice and colourful and stylised - however probably the absolute best thing about the game is the soundtrack.  The music is absolutely amazing and comprises of some extremely catchy J-pop. I bet you won't be able to get the music playing in the background of this video out of your head after it's finished! In a addition to the standard single player "make a star" mode there is also a multiplayer mode which is quite good fun.  The idea here is simply to pick up more stuff than the other player within a three minute time limit.

That's an impressive ball o' shite you've got there!
There were quite a few sequels to the original Katamari that were released over the years following it's release, some of which came out on other systems like the PSP and Xbox 360.  I haven't enjoyed any of them as much as the first though - partly because the basic gameplay can start to get a bit repetitive after a while, and also because they have never quite matched the brilliance of the music found in that very first game.

Picking up a copy of the game today will likely set you back around £10. If you've never experienced a game in the series before, then maybe the original and arguably the best is a good place to start. Now, let's enjoy some more of that soundtrack!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

R-Type Final: PlayStation 2 Tuesdays #9

In the mid to late 80's shoot 'em ups were all the rage, but since then their popularity has waned. Recently however, the arrival of download services from all three console manufacturer's has seen a revival of classic arcade style games that can be picked up and put down quickly and easily, and we've started to see shoot 'em ups come back into fashion. Even the holy grail of vertical shooters, Radiant Silvergun, can be experienced by the the masses for a low cost thanks to it's release on Xbox Live.

As the name suggests, R-Type Final was supposed to be the very last game in this series developed by Irem.  It was followed up by two more games on the PSP though: the Tactics games. If it was the swansong of the series, it would have gone out on a fairly high note, as R-Type Final delivers an atmospheric trip down memory lane and features dozens of different ships for the enthusiast to collect, as well as a branching route through the stages. Fans of the old games will see familiar bosses such as Dobkeratops (the one that looks like H.R. Giger's Alien) in new surroundings, and stage three is another huge enemy dreadnought as is traditional with the series.

Even on the absolute lowest difficulty setting of Baby, R-Type Final can be an absolute bitch. Don't expect to get very far into the game on your first try. Luckily however, each time you see the game over screen the game gives you slightly more credits than the last time, and your skill should also have improved a bit so you should get slightly further in. I'm not really a fan of the modern day bullet hell shooters myself, I prefer the old style games where the enemies attack in exactly the same way each time so you can learn and adapt through trial and error. This is the category that R-Type Final falls into.

Each of the many many different ships that are gradually unlocked as you play feature their own style of weaponry, so it's worth trying each one out as you get access to it to see which one suits you best.  The all still use the Force though, the little bolt on shield thingy that has been a hallmark of most of the games in the R-Type series since its inception. More than ever before, the difficulty and the level design will force you to detach your Force pod from the front of your ship and move it to the back, as enemies swarm at your from both sides.  On the lower difficulties at least, dying doesn't mean you lose all the power ups you've picked up along the way, you return in the state you left in. The game is still tough, even like this!

There are 100 ships to unlock in R-Type Final, making it a completionists dream!
R-Type Final is not my favourite game in the series by any means (that would be R-Type Delta for the PS1) but it does have it's charms and it holds infinitely more charm to me than whatever me-too FPS is currently in vogue at the moment. The game can be found for as little as £5 used and about £15 for like new copies.  Irem still apparently functions as a company, though their output has dwindled in recent years, which is quite sad.  Maybe they could licence out some of their properties to other developers like Capcom did recently with Strider.  I would love to see new versions of R-Type, Dragon Breed, Ninja Spirit and Steambot Chronicles!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Space Channel 5 Parts 1 & 2: PlayStation 2 Tuesdays #8

This time, I am here to talk about Space Channel 5 - part one and part two. I know technically that's two different games but they're so similar in style and execution I have decided to group them together.

At it's most basic level, the Space Channel 5 games are based on repetition. You watch your opponent do a variety of moves taken from the four directions (up, right, down and left), a "chu" button (X on the PS2) and a "hey" button (the circle button). Then you repeat the moves in the same order, and you also have to get the timing right as well. If that sounds very simple, it is. If that sounds boring, it isn't. Why? The wonderful music and the style of the game.

Space Channel 5 has music running deep in its veins - funky, 60's esque carnival music, often with latin american flavour. The main theme that is the backbone of both games is a piece of music called "Mexican Flyer" by Ken Woodman and his Piccadilly Brass. It wouldn't sound out of place in an old spy film. Alongside this are many other types of music, from waltzes, electric guitar solos, a bit of techno and even some inspired by the work of Michael Jackson (who makes a guest appearance as Space Michael).

This colourful scene is from Part 2, which is much more varied than Part 1.
The 60's also pervades the style of the game. It's all bright orange PVC and curves. The curves are not just to be found on the retro chic space age decor, but also on the leading lady, Ulala. She has been voted sexiest lady in a game on more than one occaision, but of course I really couldn't comment on something as sad as that. *Cough*.

If you don't know the plot, basically, some aliens called the Morolians have invaded Earth and are forcing humans to dance. Why? You'll have to play the game to find out. The script is rather daft and cheesy, but certainly fits in with the style of the game. Ulala says such things as "I feeling kinda... funky!" before a boss battle, and rather worryingly even says something along the lines of "No, not there! Ooooh!" when she gets touched up by a plant in part 2.

Both games only take a couple of hours to complete. Is this a major problem? Not for me it isn't. The music and the sense of fun that the game exudes keeps me coming back time and time again. I must have completed both games at least half a dozen times by now. What's more, they won't break the bank... or the first one won't at least. It can be found online for about £5.  Part 2 seems to be a bit more elusive, and therefore goes for around £25. Do you need both? Not really, as they're fundamentally the same. However, part 2 has a bit more musical variety, the game is a bit more technically accomplished and the levels are more elaborate, so it may just be worth the extra money.  I recommend trying the first one at least at the low price, then maybe shelling out for the second if you find you enjoy it as much as I did.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Kya: Dark Lineage & Kao the Kangeroo: Round 2 | PlayStation 2 Tuedays #7

Today, we’re going to look at not one, but two platformers that really took me by surprise.  I recently had some store credit for my local pre owned game and movie shop, and was struggling to find games that I wanted to make up the full amount.   There were a few games that I weren’t too sure about, but I decided to take a bit of risk and pick them up – they were only £2 each, after all.  Much to my surprise, both of them turned out to be really well put together, and I ended up playing each of them for way longer than I expected to when I just chucked them in for a quick go.  Please note that I haven’t yet finished either of these games, but the quality of what I have seen is really high, so I am fairly confident in recommending both titles especially as neither of them will break the bank.

First up, we have Kya: Dark Lineage, which was published by Atari and developed by Eden Studios in.  Eden Studios are more well known by gamers for their driving games, such as the V-Rally series and Test Drive Unlimited, but they certainly have proven with Kya that they know what they are doing when it comes to putting together a polished platformer.  The game begins with a CGI scene set in our world, where Kya hears a creepy noise in her house at night and goes to investigate.  She discovers that her half brother Frank has found a secret room that Kya’s long absent father had blocked off.  After picking up a strange amulet, Frank is sent through a portal to another world and, fearing for his safety, Kya dives in after him.

After a rather rough landing she wakes up to see a group of furry creatures called Nativs looking down at her.  Before she has long to take stock of her situation however, she is forced to run for her life as the group comes under attack from the evil Wolfun.  After a very extensive tutorial sequence the group eventually arrive to the safety of the village, when you are then told how to fight and given your first proper mission in this new world.  Kya: Dark Lineage impresses from a technical standpoint right away – the graphics rival the likes of Jak and Daxter in terms of their detail, and loading times are cleverly obscured to the point where you barely notice them.

The game frequently switches from one style of gameplay to another, such as floating on a stream of air, riding a magic board down a slope, or beating Wolfun into submission.   Not too far into the game, you are informed that these Wolfun are actually Nativs  in disguise.  Once they have been knocked out, you can use your power to revert them to their original form.  As you save more and more Nativs throughout the levels, new shops will be built back in the hub village.  The items sold there will usually grant Kya some new ability which she will need to learn in order to advance any further.  The currency for these shops comes in the form of Nuties, which are dropped by enemies and also found in crates that can be destroyed.

The other game I would like to cover is Kao the Kangeroo: Round 2.  I was vaguely aware of this title before buying it but had always dismissed it as just another generic platform game.  However, just like Kya I discovered a bit of a hidden gem.  Development duties this time belong to a Polish company called Tate Interactive,  and the game was published by JoWood Interactive in Europe.  I have not played the first game in the series that was available for the Dreamcast, but it would appear that this game picks up some time after the end of the first one, with Kao incarcerated in a cage by a dastardly hunter.  After being broken out by his parrot friend, you are told that the hunter as also captured many other animals, and from there in becomes your mission to set them free.  Kao, armed with his trusty boxing gloves, a deadly spinning tail attack and other items like boomerangs, sets off through several worlds with 4 or 5 missions within them, in order to help his friends.

I was really surprised with just how well this game is made.  The controls are really solid and responsive (which is of vital importance in a platformer), the graphics are excellent, and a nice variety of things for you to do just in the first world.  It is very much a collect-a-thon style platformer in the style that Rare made for the Nintendo 64, though thankfully it doesn't go overboard with it like Donkey Kong 64.  Instead your limited to three things you have to hunt down and pick up in each level: stars, which are typically dished out for defeating enemies in combat, coins, which are strewn everywhere throughout a level as well as found in breakable post and crates, and purple gems with a usually a bit more tucked away than the coins, and unlock extra mini games in the hub world.

Like I said at the beginning, I was lucky enough to find both of these games for £2, though they normally go for a bit more than that.  Should you happen to spot either of these games in your local game shop or perhaps at a car boot sale or flea market, I would certainly consider giving them a go if you enjoy a good 3D platformer now and again.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Announcing the PSP Vault series on RMGB TV

I have just launched a new video series on my YouTube channels which will showcase many different games for Sony's fantastic handheld, the PSP.  Now is an ideal time to start collecting PSP games as they are both plentiful and in most cases, cheap.

There will be two versions of each video - an overview with a voiceover by myself that will be no longer than 10 minutes in length on RMGB TV 1, and then a "XL Edition" that will be up an hour long, without any commentary.  This is in case you want to see more of a game and hear what it sounds like.

You can find the playlists for each of the different versions below. I will try and upload a new video every Friday or Saturday, time permitting. Enjoy!

Regular Edition:

XL Edition:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Shox | PlayStation 2 Tuesdays #6

We're at the halfway point of this season of PS2 Tuesdays, and this time I'm looking at another rather by the name of Shox.

The EA Sports BIG range started with SSX right back when the PS2 launched, and since then there have been many other games in the series which all share a similar style. Each game in the series is high on action and thrills, and usually adds some twists to an established sport. We've had motocross action in Freekstyle, Sled racing in Sled Storm, a mean game of basketball in NBA Street 1 & 2, a gangsta rap flavoured fighting game in Def Jam Vendetta and most recently NFL Street. Amongst all these games Shox was released, and it gained very little fanfare and press compared to it's series siblings. Is that because it's a bad game? No way, Shox is one of the best arcade racers I have played in recent times, and now I will attempt to explain why.

Imagine an arcade racer in the tradition of Ridge Racer or Sega Rally. Colourful well designed tracks and cars you can slam round corners with the greatest of ease. Shox has both of these things and much more. The vital sensation of speed that so many racing games crucially lack is present and correct, and even more importantly the game is great fun to play. It basically takes the idea of rallying, with the off road courses and real cars that have taken part in the WRC over the years, and then throws the point to point time trial nature of the real thing out of the window. Races take place over 3 laps against a field of five other cars. There are 6 races in a particular class, and four classes to work your way through. Each progressive class has a more powerful selection of cars.

The gimmick to this is the Shox zone. There are three of these zones in each track, and when you enter one a timer starts to tick down. This time is divided into gold, silver and bronze sections, and the faster you are the better the medal earned in that section. Get a gold in all three Shox zones during one race and you activate the Shoxwave - a bubble of air that travels around the track in front of you. If you manage to catch up to it and drive in it you get a huge increase in the amount of cash you earn.

This cash can be used to either buy new cars outright or gamble to try and win them. Gambling starts off being very expensive and risky, but every time you lose a gamble the cost is halved, and the challenge is made slightly easier. So if you keep at it eventually you will win because the CPU driver will be driving so badly you could get out and walk and still beat him. This kind of removes the challenge of the game and makes buying the cars a pointless exercise when you can just keep gambling until you win.

Adding to the replay value of the game are the platinum cars, which are basically the same as the normal cars but with improved handling, speed and a nice shiny metallic paint job. Before you start a race you can see what car you have to use on that particular track to get a platinum, and earning it involves getting 3 gold Shox zones with that car on that track. As well as the extra cars, there's another reason to earn platinums on the tracks - you have to earn at least 8 in order to open up the last four races in the Shox category and complete the game.

Graphics are very good - fast, smooth, colourful and vibrant. Considering there are only 3 different environments spread over 28 tracks there's a surprising amount of variety in the design of the tracks. You will pass golf courses, drive along a tropical beach and even down a toboggan run! The cars are solid and there are even damage and dirt effects that gradually build up over the course of a race, although this doesn't effect your handling or performance in any way. The cars all look like their real life counterparts too, and they range from Lancia Deltas through Mitsubisha Lancers, Subaru Imprezas to the powerful B class cars that have been banned.

Shox manages to catpure the feeling of classic arcade racers such as Sega Rally Championship and Ridge Racer.
The music is excellent too, and really adds to the excitement during a race. The style is dance music which is very heavy on bass, and it dynamically changes when you enter or leave a Shox zone, kind of like the music in the SSX games which changes depending on whether you are doing well or badly. The sound effects are nothing offensive or amazing - the usual range of engine noises and crunches when you inevitably hit something.

The overall difficulty level is fairly low as you can just keep trying a race until you manage to win. Some of the races took me a fair few tries though, mainly because the pack is always quite close behind you at all times. One mistimed corner or collision on the last lap is enough to lose you the race, but you can restart at any point from the pause menu. The platinum challenges do add an extra degree of difficulty if you feel like beating them all, but at the end of the day the game wont take you that long to beat. You will be having fun all the way though at that's what counts. You can find Shox very cheaply (for around £3) so it is extremely good value for money.

The only other thing to mention is the multiplayer mode, which is competently done but cant compete with the likes of Burnout 3's Crash mode. The graphics are noticeably less detailed, the Shox zones are absent and there's no music, but at least it maintains the 60 frames per second speed of the main game.

Overall I can really recommend Shox. It's the sort of game I would have happilly put £1 coins in a few years ago when the arcades were still popular, and this sort of game is quite rare nowadays. It's not in the same league as something like Burnout 3, but if you've already finished that this is the next best thing. Go and track down a copy, I'm really glad that I did.