just dancin’ to michael jackson: the experience on wii

i played through just dance 2 a couple of years ago to see what the hype was all about, and had been somewhat surprised at how enjoyable it was overall. there have been a plethora of sequels and spin-offs since then, and rather than move on to the numbered sequel, instead i tried out michael jackson: the experience on wii next. on wii the game came in two editions, the difference being that the limited edition included an extra track and apparently a replica of jacko’s famous sequined glove, and i believe was only originally available at walmart (walmart = boo! hiss!).

anyway, although i’m far from a huge MJ fan, i definitely respect his multiple talents (i hadn’t realized that he’d written most of his own songs) and his long career. the game does a pretty decent job of paying tribute via a range of tracks that include some of his earliest and latest work, although it immediately becomes clear that the game is really just an artist-specific just dance game (apparently the first of its kind, and the game was followed up by black eyed peas and ABBA releases). the visuals do a pretty good job of recalling the original music videos via MJ’s avatar and the backgrounds, although i have to say one of the things that really disturbed me was seeing MJ on screen performing choreography that he wouldn’t have been caught dead doing: i don’t think MJ would ever have had to resort to doing the running man or jazzy broadway moves. as would be expected, the choreography is most successful for the songs where MJ danced a lot in the accompanying music video. in those cases the choreography in the game is generally simplified, “inspired by”, and more repetitive versions of the barrage of complicated movements in MJ’s actual video, and works reasonably well in terms of the game experience. the songs that have completely made up choreography are much less believable, esp. since the movements often don’t shy away from rehashing choreography from just dance 2. i’m guessing the average player prob. won’t mind it as much as i did, and in any case the dancing fulfilled my main goal, which was to spend part of my video game time off of the couch and moving around.

as with just dance 2 the game provides a surprisingly decent amount of movement, although i’m not sure i would call it a “workout”. also as with just dance 2, since the motion detection is via the wii remote there’s an emphasis on arm movements in the choreography, although, again, there are plenty of foot movements that are essentially optional that help keep you interested on repeated plays. as with just dance 2 the movement recognition can be a little capricious, but oftentimes it’s not too hard to figure out how the game wants you to be doing a particular dance move. and also like just dance 2 you can have friends join in (some of the songs include different choreography with duet or back-up dancer roles) and scoring is fairly incidental to the gameplay, although this game does include unlockable extras in the form of clips from MJ’s music videos and video clips where dance instructors walk you through choreography that’s actually from the music videos. all in all no huge surprises in this game, but i found it to be enjoyable overall and won’t mind dipping into the just dance series again in the future.

just dance with these michael jackson: the experience links:
review at nintendolife.com
– i’m surprised that the game has a low score on metacritic since at its core the game is pretty much the same as the just dance games. maybe MJ fans are more demanding than the average video game reviewer?
entry on wikipedia. apparently the xbox 360 version (which used kinect) has completely dwifferent choreography. i checked out a couple of videos of that version on youtube and it looks even more simplified than the wii choreography which to me seems like it would be fairly boring, although that version got better reviews.


rule the world with cookie clicker

i don’t play a lot of PC games or browser-based games, but i got interested in cookie clicker from a video game web comic i’d come across and liked called the gamer cat. i’m guessing that comic is reasonably well known, but in any case it was only after the third mention or so that i looked it up, and, somewhat surprisingly, the game was actually pretty fun. this review will tell you everything you need to know, but the gist of it is that you click on an icon of a cookie to “bake” a cookie, and pretty much immediately you earn upgrades. the main entertainment of the game comes in the form of unlocking upgrades so i’ll refrain from too many spoilers, but basically the game exploits what is apparently a basic human obsession with seeing numbers increase and unlocking completely meaningless virtual achievements (there’s something irresistibly satisfying about seeing your rate of cookie production increase from 2.916 billion cookies per second to 2.917). it’s pretty fun, although by the time i got to the twist that comes near the “end” of the game i’d lost interest and was ready to retire my baking equipment. the game is extremely polished and has retro-style graphics (although no music), and when combined with a funny premise and ludicrously simplistic mechanics and some entertaining writing it ends up being quite addictive, if not long-lived. an entertaining diversion, and one that will leave you with a craving for cookies and a newfound appreciation of the art of baking cookies, not to mention a new way of looking at grandmas.

rule the world with this cookie clicker link:
– you prob. will only really need one link, which is to the wikia for the game. happy clicking!


successful sin and punishment: star successor

one of the great things about the virtual console service that debuted on wii is the chance to play rare titles that are hard to obtain, perhaps the most satisfying of which are the hitherto previously import only titles. the original sin and punishment for N64 was one such title: despite having english voice acting in its original release it was never released outside japan on the N64. i played that title about two years ago on the wii’s virtual console, and although i enjoyed it at that time i noted that unlike the N64, the wii, with its pointer controls, seemed absolutely made for this type of on rails, light-gun-style gameplay. i have no idea how well the original game sold, but a sequel, titled sin and punishment: star successor, was released for wii in 2009. the virtual console of the first game came just two years before the release of its sequel so it’s unlikely that the response to the virtual console release prompted the sequel: it’s more likely that the original was released to hype the international release of the sequel. regardless of how they made it to our shores, i and many others were happy to get a chance to try both games, not least because they were developed by treasure, a company who i have come to count on to deliver consistently solid action titles, often with shooter elements.

sin and punishment 2 improves on the original release in several key ways, the most obvious being the pointer controls. in the original game you used the main control stick to move your character but had to aim your reticule with the second control stick (although on the original N64 controller you had to use the yellow arrow buttons), but in this game you just point to where you want to shoot. this def. doesn’t make the game overly easy, as the game is packed full of boss fights (which i now recognize as being a treasure hallmark), which require varying ratios of dexterity versus powers of observation. even getting to the boss fights takes some strategizing as well as skill: as in the original your character has the option of shooting or using her/his blade for close attacks (for example, to reflect a missile back to her/his opponent), or dodging by doing a quick roll in any direction (incidentally, the controls were subsequently echoed in the flying sections of kid icarus: uprising). on top of a decent length for the normal-mode campaign (howlongtobeat.com estimates it at 6 hours) the game has easy and hard difficulty levels, online leaderboards (although taken offline earlier this year), and two characters with different shooting abilities (charge shot or lock on to multiple targets). in order to achieve the highest scores you’ll need to keep track of the game’s hidden achievements which take the the form of medals that appear due to certain unspecified conditions (see this link for what seems to be a comprehensive list).

although kotaku ranks the game as one of the best of the wii’s library, i just couldn’t bring myself to add the game to my list of greats, despite greatly enjoying the majority of my playthrough (on normal). the game’s story is fairly nonsensical, but not nearly as hard to follow as the original (reading the instruction manual gives you a lot of the context that is otherwise missing from the game). the graphics are pretty good for the wii (esp. given all the action happening onscreen) and i don’t remember there being significant amounts of slowdown. the game has some fantastic over-the-top moments of awesomeness and at its best it throws you scene after scene of unique scenarios that all work within the game’s mechanics, but there are definitely some stages and boss fights that pale in comparison so much that they cause the overall experience to suffer and really lose a lot of momentum. the beginning in particular is quite slow, although that could almost be forgiven as it eases the player into the experience. but the game also revisits set pieces from the original, which i found somewhat disappointing, and if i hadn’t played the original i may have held this one in higher esteem. unlimited continues definitely improve the overall experience, although the two-player mode is pretty lame (basically the second player just gets to act as an off-screen shooter and point to add his/her firepower to the first player’s). the boss battles are generally satisfying, although you should keep in mind that you should always try using your sword attack to clear an area or reflect projectiles back to the enemies.

all in all this was definitely one of the top games i’ve played thus far this year as well as one of my highest-ranked wii games, but its occasional dips in awesomeness prevented me from giving it full marks. no telling if we’ll ever see a sequel, but i for one would be psyched to have one. fortunately there’s still plenty of other treasure games for me to try out in the meantime.

some successful sin and punishment: star successor links:
nintendolife gave the game a 9. gonintendo.com gave it similarly high marks.
entry at wikipedia
info on a few unlockables at gamefaqs. for info on the variants, see this thread.
iwata asks entry
info on the game’s “true” ending (from completing the hard mode; will only mean anything to people who played the first game)


under the microscope with flow and art style: rotozoa

flow art style: rotozoa
flow art style: rotozoa

thatgamecompany has gotten loads of acclaim for their 2012 PSN game journey, so i thought i’d see what they hype was all about and start with their first game, flow, originally released online as a USC grad student project in flash. the game is stylish to be sure, and the gameplay is easy to understand: direct a snake-like microscopic organism and eat other creatures to expand your body. the gameplay is simple and a runthrough of the main experience can be completed in less than an hour. i got bored in a fraction of that time, though, and i agree with gamespot’s review of the PSN version which said it lacked “a lasting gameplay experience” and that “the aesthetics clearly take precedence over all else” and that “not everyone is going to have interest in spending money on a game that’s equivalent to an attractive screen saver you can steer”. although i’m all for “artsy” video games, i wasn’t particularly taken with this one, although i liked the concept of ascending and descending layers (like floors of a building) in order to reach the goal. i’m pretty surprised that they stretched the original flash game to a PSN title that pretty much just seems to add tilt controls and new creatures to play as (and of course, a slew of achievements of varying degrees of pointlessness), but even more surprising is that that version has 4.5 stars (user rated) on the PSN page and a price tag of $6. the reviews on metacritic give perhaps a better sense of the range of reactions, but for my part i find myself wishing there was more substance as opposed to just pure style.

i actually played the game several months ago, but thought it was too short to devote a whole post to. for completely different reasons i played through the bulk of art style: rotozoa (aka art style: penta tentacles). i’ve been documenting my gradual survey of the series, although up to now i’ve been playing mostly puzzle games on my DSi XL. rotozoa is a wiiware release, and unlike the other games in the series i’ve played is an action/arcade game rather than a puzzle game.

from far away the game looks somewhat similar to flow (and i’m def. just one of many who has noted it) in that you’re a little microscopic organism feeding on smaller creatures and growing in size. in the main mode of rotozoa it’s your tentacles that are growing, though, and the game starts with you having to grow two different-colored tentacles to a certain length, with the ability to both move your little organism and rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise. the higher levels increase your tentacles to three, four, and finally five (each a different color), and the behaviors of the creatures you’re feeding on (“goobugs”) get increasingly difficult to manage so that at the highest levels the goobugs intentionally try to hit you from the side opposite to their matching color tentacle.

as can be expected from being a part of art style series, the game glows with its clean, cool aesthetic. the visuals are eye-catching although a little on the simple side (although understandable given that it’s a wiiware release), and the music is suitably hypnotic. the game is more like the classic video game snake (which according to wikipedia has roots that go even further back) than flow in that the longer your tentacles get the harder it is to match the right tentacle with the right colored goobug. although the gameplay itself is fairly worthwhile, i didn’t find it to be nearly as addictive as the puzzle games in the series. i was never that big on snake type games anyway, although this game probably beats out the other snake-like game i played recently, the “square” mode of maboshi’s arcade, another wiiware title. the game is easy to get into, but at higher levels starts to fall into the “more frustrating than fun” category, and getting the “all complete” achievement for each level (no damage and no special moves) looks like by all accounts to be a lesson in self-masochism. still, there’s a decent variety of modes, and the gameplay is pretty solid for people looking to tackle a challenge that requires precision and patience. overall this is an example of a game that combines style with substance and doesn’t sacrifice gameplay for aesthetics.

get under the microscope with these art style: rotozoa links:
glowing review at nintendolife.com
entry at wikipedia
some info on unlocking the second and third sets of credits


run ‘n gunnin’ through smash TV

when it comes to co-op sessions with my bf, i tend to try fairly random games to see if any happen to pique his interest since the usual staples (e.g. mario kart, smash bros., etc.) are somewhat lost on him. most recently we tried out the arcade version of smash TV via the midway arcade treasures compilation on PS2 (also available on gamecube, and xbox). this review gives a good run-down of the SNES port, and i agree with his description that this game is a unique blend of run ‘n gun with shoot ‘em up elements. basically you’re a guy with a gun moving from single-screen room to single-screen room, 2-D zelda style, shooting down waves upon waves of baddies. the 360-degree shooting action reminded me somewhat of the geometry wars games, although the over-the-top gladiatorial game show festivities of smash TV are far from the clean, cool aesthetics of those games.

as an arcade classic smash TV was clearly designed to munch quarters: it starts off at a pace where a decent amount of skill will get you through unscathed, but by the time you get to the middle and late stages it’s clear you’d need a lot of practice to last even a minute. thankfully this release provides unlimited continues, so getting to the end is just a matter of patience. the power-ups are fun and somewhat reminiscent of the contra series, which preceded it by a few years. the contra series also includes co-op to double the fun, and both share a vaguely similar “rad” late 80’s vibe as well, and although the contra games also included top-down stages, smash TV‘s single-screen stages are way more fun. bosses are large and colorful and its humor is still effective 25 years later. a common point of discussion regarding the console versions is the various levels of awkwardness of the controls: in most cases you’re left having to use four buttons to replace the 8-way joystick for indicating your firing direction. in my casual run-through i didn’t find it to be a problem, but if you were trying to really refine your game an alternate scheme would be highly beneficial. there’s a maze aspect to finding the easiest path to get through each set of levels which would also make more of a difference on a coin-counting playthrough.

it’s just as well that i never encountered this game in the arcade growing up since i would’ve wasted a lot of money on it. as it is, this was a nice short game, and i wouldn’t mind giving it another whirl at some point, although i’m leery of other versions such as the popular SNES version since they lack the unlimited continues of this port.

run ‘n gun’ through these smash TV links:
– coincidentally, this was a together retro club pick right after resident evil, which i just posted about. reading about the club’s experience with the monthly picks is always entertaining.
– there seems to be more info about the SNES version than the arcade version, and it looks like a very faithful port (which is somewhat surprising considering that enemies get mowed down in bursts of blood). here’s some footage and comments on that version of the game. apparently there’s also an NES version (among many others).
– in retrospect i should’ve tried out the game that immediately preceded this one, robotron: 2084 from 1982 (which is also available on the same compilation)
entry on wikipedia


lumbering resident evil

i’ve been playing a lot of relatively fluffy stuff lately, so i thought i’d buckle down and try to finish off a game i’ve had to return to many times, resident evil on the original playstation (specifically the director’s cut version which features dual shock support, an easy mode, and a rearranged mode (which works much like the zelda series’ second quest), as opposed to the original release). i’d played the much-lauded RE4 ages ago, and although i felt it dragged on i enjoyed it overall. at the time i’d noted that the common knowledge was that that game had gone in a different direction from the previous three entries, so it was interesting to compare the old vs. the new style of RE gameplay.

where to begin? first off, the pace of RE1 is much, much slower than RE4. the game’s “tank” controls (whereby you control the character from his POV as opposed to how he’s facing on screen) takes a bit of getting used to, and although i appreciated how this allowed the developers to avoid creating full 3D environments as well as carefully control a variety of camera angles that would heighten the suspense, i never really got to “like” them and found them to be fairly annoying overall. it’s easy to have your character do stupid things like rub up against walls as he/she is running down a corridor, and this really destroyed any sense of immersion for me. a steady barrage of load screens also really slows down the action, and the 3D graphics are blocky, as you’d expect from a fairly early playstation title.

RE1 is also different compared to RE4 in that instead of the linear path of varying environments that RE4 had, the bulk of the game takes place within a single mansion, with new areas opening up in a more metroid-like fashion. the game does alternate sections within the main mansion vs. fairly standalone areas connected to the mansion, so you’re not often running through the exact same corridors over and over again. also, the hazards change anyway, so i didn’t feel like the locations got too boring.

i found the game generally tedious for the same reason as RE4, which is that i ended up doing multiple sections of the game twice, once just to explore and figure out what i was supposed to be doing, and once to do it more efficiently and save on ammo. having the ability to save be tied to the survival horror/low resources aspect of the gameplay is also annoying, but i can bring myself to accept it. combat is cumbersome at best and downright obnoxious at worst, and, not knowing any better, i had picked chris instead of jill and thus ended up having to manage a ludicrously small inventory with only six slots.

i crept through the game and eventually got to the last section, but by that time i just couldn’t bring myself to spend another two or three hours finishing it. instead i fired up RE2 and played through a few hours of that, and already it feels faster paced: load screens are a lot faster for one thing, and the characters seem to move faster and more smoothly as well. although there were some memorable moments, i didn’t feel particularly “spooked” by the game, and the gameplay def. fell more in the “frustrating” rather than “fun” category for me. i appreciate that RE1 was groundbreaking in many ways, but i’m glad i can finally cross it off my list and explore the rest of the series as well as others in the genre. it will also be interesting to try out its remakes on gamecube and DS. eventually!

check out these lumbering resident evil links:
– the game regularly appears on “top games of all time” lists. it was listed at #28 on 1up’s list from a couple of years ago.
entry at residentevil.wikia.com
evilresource.com includes a nice interactive map
nice retrospective on the game at gamespite.net
a let’s play series on youtube
a video showing off chris’s second outfit, unlockable if you beat the game with him once


impressive flipnote studio

even though flipnote studio has been and gone, i’ve been sort of avoiding spending much time with it since it usually just reminds me how little i have in the way of artistic skillz. i’d made little 5-frame doodles with it before, but this time i made a conscious effort to sit down with it and explore it in order to get a better feel for the app and its set of tools by actually creating a couple of slightly longer animations.

well, it’s just as well that the sharing service was discontinued a year ago, because my creations were pretty dismal. still, it’s easy to see why many people called it the DSi’s “killer app” when it released, esp. since it was free. technically there’s not much about the app that couldn’t have been achieved on the regular DS, though (with the exception of the minimal camera features and the fact that it’s a downloadable title). also, there’s a fair amount of awkwardness shuffling between screens and menus due to the fact that the DSi only has one screen that’s touch enabled, which makes the whole experience a bit more cumbersome than it would otherwise have been. still, eventually i got more used to its setup and, as evidenced by the huge number of quality flipnotes online, it feels like your creations are pretty much only limited by your talent, time, and imagination. when the service was still up the app had a nice feature where you could easily browse random flipnotes and mark ones you liked as favorites, which was fun to use.

its sequel, flipnote studio 3D, has been delayed outside of japan for almost a year now, supposedly due to the huge amount of server load it has caused. no word yet on when it will be making its long-awaited appearance, but its unique pricing scheme (which rewards people who create, or curate!, worthwhile content) is intriguing, although its friends features have been affectively neutered. anyway, even though i expect it to be pretty much the same as this edition, i’m looking forward to checking out other people’s amazing creations while trying not to dwell too much on the resulting blows to my artistic self-esteem. ;)

impressive flipnote studio links:
– although the website for the original version has been discontinued (although supposedly we’ll be able to view people’s transferred flipnotes in the new website), there are many great flipnotes that have been still preserved online. nintendo ran a mario and a zelda flipnote contest, and even released a “mario drawing song”. awesome.
– the app has some advanced features that are revealed after you spend some time with the game. flipnoteartist.wikia.com includes even more-advanced techniques that help take serious artists’ flipnotes to the next level.
random site that has put together a handy flipnote help card that you can print out and keep in your DSi
glowing review from nintendolife.com
entry at wikipedia
– aardman animations made a series of flipnotes. this one is basically an extended (and totally awesome) commercial for the DSi itself.
– this guy made two music videos of his original songs entirely out of flipnote. here’s the first one.

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