super pac-man: saving the world one ghost at a time

in honor of pac-man joining the smash bros. roster, i thought i’d dust off my copy of the wii namco compilation, namco museum megamix (i’d played xevious a couple of years ago) and chow down on some tasty ghosts. that compilation doesn’t include ms. pac-man, which wasn’t actually developed by namco and thus, despite its enduring popularity, tends to be less acknowledged by them in general. so instead i ended up playing super pac-man (released to arcades in late 1982).

i’d heard of super pac-man, but its availability has been somewhat spotty over the years and it wasn’t until namco museum remix and namco museum megamix that it became more readily available. at its core the game is much the same as the original pac-man in that you’ll be chomping everything in sight and avoiding ghosts until you get a power pellet, at which point the tables turn and you try to chase them down to rack up points. super pac-man adds a new twist in that some munchables are locked behind doors, and you have to nab keys located in regular spots on the board in order to unlock them. a “super” pellet transforms ol’ pac into the eponymous “super pac-man” who not only becomes big and can “fly” over ghosts and burst through doors without a key, but he can also zoom around the board by holding down a button while steering as usual. there’s also a bonus level every four boards which is the same as a regular board except there are no ghosts, you have constant super power, and there’s a time limit.

i should preface my analysis of the game by saying that ms. pac-man was one of the games i made a beeline for at my local chuck e. cheese’s growing up and that i owned the original NES version of pac-man, and so although i’m not anywhere near a competitive player, i’m not a casual player. i enjoyed the change of pace of super pac-man, and it was interesting to see how even though the board remains the same, the layout can feel quite different based on which doors are open and which are closed. the game becomes increasingly harder by making it so that keys open doors that are located far away from them, which does help add variety.

as someone who grew up playing pac-man and ms. pac-man the problem, though, is that this game doesn’t really let you get settled into a groove. in pac-man seeing the same board over and over again got a bit tiresome, but ms. pac-man has four boards which provides a good amount of variety. there’s no way of just looking at a board in super pac-man and knowing which doors the keys will unlock, which is good for variety but bad for getting into the zone. with more time i’m sure you could learn that board # X corresponds to configuration Y and i suppose eventually i would be able to adjust to having to spend every moment reacting on the fly, but in the end i just felt like the changes gave the game a new feel that just wasn’t as much fun. (compare to pac-man arrangement from 1996, which i quite enjoyed.) the wii remote controller worked fine, although the D-pad didn’t allow the really precise movements the game required: next time i’ll have to try using the nunchuk or wii classic controllers instead. last thing: as with other games on the compilation, the version of the game in namco museum megamix offers a stage select, which is great to have.

save the world with these super pac-man links:
entry at wikipedia
entry at strategywiki.org, includes a run-down of ports of the game
table of games included in each of the various namco compilations
– apparently there was a pac-man board game by milton bradley. weird! the pac-man wikia has more info.


simian villainy returns in donkey kong 3

i played through donkey kong jr. earlier this year, and i finally filled in a gap in my video game experience by playing through the often-ignored follow-up, donkey kong 3 on NES. those two NES versions, along with the NES version of the first donkey kong game were all based on arcade releases, and they were all released at the same time in north america (june 1986).

although DK jr. has vague similarities to the first donkey kong game, the same can’t be said for this release. as has often been noted, in those early days carbon-copy sequels weren’t churned out with nearly the same alacrity as nowadays, and i came to DK3 with very little previous knowledge outside of seeing a screenshot or two. the first two games are platformers with an emphasis on running and jumping, but i was surprised to find out that DK3 is actually more of a shoot ‘em up.

there’s a lot of interesting gameplay packed into the single-screen arcade experience. the setup is that DK has invaded “stanley the bugman”‘s greenhouse and stanley, armed only with his trusty bug spray, has to get rid of DK and exterminate the bugs in order to save his plants. the player has to juggle several objectives at once: spray DK enough times to make sure he doesn’t descend far enough to attack stanley himself (thus losing a turn) (stanley can use his bug spray to push DK up off the screen and to the next level in every first and second level of a cycle, and get his head stuck in a beehive in every third level); spray individual bugs that fly around, each with unique behaviors; spray worms that crawl along and can’t be defeated but will pause if hit, often impeding progress; and in a mechanic somewhat similar to defender, make sure none of the bugs make off with any of the five plants, which provide bonus points if they’re saved. once per turn there’s also a can of super spray, the game’s equivalent of an uzi, that basically gives you a free pass through the next couple of levels.

in terms of the pace the game is pretty typical old-school arcade style in that there are only three levels and they loop pretty much infinitely. this game does introduce new enemies at various points, providing slightly more of a progression than some of the other games which increase difficulty by just adding more and faster enemies. like other classic nintendo NES games of the time, there’s a harder mode (“game B”) that can be selected from the start screen, and an alternating two-player mode.

as for the game itself, at first i found it completely foreign (nintendo has very rarely explored the the shooter genre), but after a while i enjoyed the game for what it is. the different bug types are easy to identify and are satisfying to defeat, and having to both manage DK and save the plants from the bugs makes the game feel more dynamic. stanley has more ability than the ship in galaga since he can not only run back and forth, but also move up and down a couple of levels vertically. the game has the usual bright and cheery nintendo exterior, and the game overall doesn’t have significant drawbacks. the first two stages are very similar while the third stage is too easy in comparison, and many times you can just jump in and defeat DK quickly. if you don’t manage to do that you end up spending a lot of time on the more challenging (and thus more fun) gameplay of dodging and defeating bugs, which would seem like a downside, but defeating all the bugs in a stage nets you more points overall, so for an arcade game it’s a reasonable design. (apparently in the arcade version starting with level 160 the game starts repeating only the first (and hardest) stage, although it’s not clear if this is intentional or what happens on the NES version.) all in all i enjoyed it overall, and the game provides a fairly satisfying, if somewhat uneven, amount of challenge and fun. i wouldn’t say it’s become a great favorite, but it’s an interesting curio in nintendo’s catalog and should be more interesting to fans of shooters, classic arcade gameplay, and/or the donkey kong series, but i imagine most others would find this to be too old-school to spend much time with.

check out these villainous simian donkey kong 3 links:
miiverse community
– nintendolife has reviewed the wii, 3DS, and wii u virtual console releases of the game. the 3DS VC review is the most positive of the three.
entry at strategywiki.org, which includes a guide and descriptions of all the enemies as well as differences between the arcade and NES versions.
the entry at mariowiki.com has much the same information but a few more tidbits
entry on wikipedia


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

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