The Designer’s Drugs: Resident Evil: Revelations

 

Medium: Game ‒ Nintendo 3DS

Stimulus: Resident Evil: Revelations

 

 

Resident Evil 4 was the last time I remember feeling unadulterated joy toward a video game.  The action was fantastic, the enemies were intelligent, and the role playing and treasure hunting elements made for a lot of replay value.  I positively beamed the first night I played it.  For me it was easily the best game of the past decade.  As such, it serves as the measuring stick by which I’ve judged the Resident Evil games that followed, and like its fellow 3DS game The Mercenaries 3D, Revelations doesn’t measure up.  It’s an okay game on its own merits, but I expected a portable version of Resident Evil 4, and this isn’t it.

The biggest issue I have with Revelations is that there are two, count em, two zombie-type creatures in the entire game ‒ and they’re easily the best adversaries.  For a series that has built its entire reputation on zombie hunting ‒ to say nothing about the awesomeness found as the series progressed and the infected became intelligent ‒ this is unacceptable.  Instead, the player fights clawed, shambling, dumb sea humanoids that seem like they’d belong more in Dead Space than here.  There’s even a big hulking hellbeast with a functioning chainsaw arm with functioning chainsaw sounds, which made me wonder how it keeps its gas tank filled.  More annoying, these twitchy inhumans shudder around like mental patients and always seem to twist out of the way of the player’s shots at just the right moment.  There’s a rifle in this game for long distance shots, but considering these jerky movements and the fact that the monsters rarely show up until they’re right in your face, using it is pretty pointless.

The point is that I really, really missed smart zombies.

There are two game modes: a story mode and a stripped down, more minigame version of the story mode called Raid Mode.  The weird thing is that Raid mode feels more fleshed out than the main campaign, which switches perspectives far too much, forcing the player to operate as different characters instead of advancing the abilities of a single one.  Campaign Mode also forces the player to run around with a scanner separate from one’s weapons, scanning all surroundings with it to find extra items and secrets, Metroid Prime-style, while one hopes not to run into any monsters while so unarmed.  This is really clunky and annoying.  In contrast, Raid Mode features actual character levels and offers far more weapon customization.  The scanner doesn’t even make an appearance.  Campaign Mode feels like something to be endured; Raid Mode feels like something to be enjoyed.

The 3DS Resident Evil games have been the only 3DS games I’ve played so far which made me question the technical limits of the system.  In The Mercenaries, the glitches were limited to shaky movements of far-off enemies; in Revelations, the limitations seem to result in a very stripped-down world where you’re herded from Point A to Point B, which is just as well because it’s not that much fun to explore anyway.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that there are swimming stages in Revelations, the bane of all video gamers’ existences!  Joy.

Yeah, I’m bitter that Revelations isn’t as good as Resident Evil 4, but you know what?  That game is, what, eight years old now?  Why shouldn’t this game have been able to blow that one out of the water instead of being a half-hearted clone?

 

The Designer’s Drugs: Top 11 of 11

So here’s my crappy end of year list.  I don’t think I liked enough albums, books, or other entertainments to warrant separate best-of lists for each medium, so I’m just smashing everything together. Deal with it.

11.  Medium: Literature. Stimulus: George R. R. Martin – A Dance with Dragons

Finally, George R. R. Martin continues his Song of Fire and Ice series with a gigantic book that nonetheless picks up the pace and is much more exciting than its predecessor.

10.  Medium: Film. Stimulus: Red State

The guy who directed Clerks and Mallrats makes a serious movie about Fred Phelps-grade religious fanaticism and David Koresh-grade domestic terrorism.  On paper, you’d think it wouldn’t work, but it works pretty goddamn hard.

9.      Medium: Game. Stimulus: The Nintendo 3DS

Most video game systems suck and have a crappy library of games in their first year.  The Nintendo 3DS bypassed this by cutting the crap and releasing upgraded versions of the company’s best games 15 years ago, Ocarina of Time and Starfox 64.  It worked.  Add a highly serviceable port of Street Fighter IV, a Mario game that is the 2011 version of 1990’s Super Mario Bros. 3, and the requisite round of Mario Kart, and the opening salvo of the 3DS hasn’t been too bad at all.

8.      Medium: Album. Stimulus: Austrian Death Machine – Jingle All the Way

If you haven’t listened to the Arnold Schwarzenegger-themed metal genius that is Austrian Death Machine, do it.  Do it now!  Their latest release is a two-song EP based on Arnold’s epic Christmas movie, Jingle All the Way.  “I’m Not a Pervert,” based on Arnold’s failed attempt at gaining a bouncy ball from a stupid kid at the Mall of America, is the feel-good Christmas song of the year.

7.      Medium: Literature. Stimulus: Albert Brooks – 2030.

A believable, grounded account of American decline without the usual futuristic vibe.  Usually, books about the future are pretty devoid of compassion and pretty bonered out on robo-fascism, but Brooks plays it calm and presents a future with real people – and, equally important, real language.  This examination of overpopulation and boomer entitlement reaching old age is less fiction than it is frightening inevitability.

6.      Medium: Album. Stimulus: William Shatner – Seeking Major Tom

Shatner Shatners it up and sings cover songs about space.  How could this possibly go wrong?  The answer: it won’t.

5.      Medium: Album. Stimulus: Peter Gabriel – New Blood

I think that instead of the usual gathering of singles into the usual stale Greatest Hits collection, all musicians who reach such a reflective point in their careers should do orchestral renditions of their best songs.  Especially the B-52s.  Consider Peter Gabriel and this beautiful retrospective to be my prime argument for this.

4.      Medium: Literature. Stimulus: Andy Schoepp – Time Ninja

Once more, the great Andy Schoepp delivers over the top martial arts action in book form, yet this time he outdoes himself.  Time traveling ninjas, giant robots, and hot assassin babes make for an epic tale.  I’ve said it before: if Andy Schoepp’s work doesn’t kick your ass, then you don’t have an ass.

3.      Medium: Album. Stimulus: Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials

This is what pop music should always sound like: well-crafted yet forceful, ambitious yet immediate, intellectual yet emotional.  Ceremonials is titanic sonic literature.

2.      Medium: Film. Stimulus: Hobo with a Shotgun

This ridiculous, ultraviolent, pun-heavy bit of low-rent cinema made me grateful to be alive.  Seeing an old grizzled hobo dispense buckshot justice to an awesome family of gleefully murderous gangsters was a joy.  Remember: when life gives you razor blades, you make a bat covered in razor blades!

1.      Medium: Life. Stimulus: Protests!

It’s breathtaking to see people giving a shit and fighting corrupt systems of power worldwide.  In America this seems even more amazing, because we’re currently the spoiled children of the planet.  Divide that down to the Midwest, where the secondary holy mantra that follows “go [insert local NFL team]” is “don’t rock the boat,” and consider my mind blown.  My expectations for humanity this year were completely shattered, and that feels wonderful.

The Designer’s Drugs: Super Mario 3D Land

 

Medium: Game – Nintendo 3DS

Stimulus: Super Mario 3D Land

Anno: 2011

 

The thing to note about the newest Mario game is that, while it is technically a 3D game, it would be more accurate to say that this is an old school side scroller with a z-axis.  Were it not for Mario’s ability to run into the background, 3D Land would be an exact installment in the retro New Super Mario Brothers franchise, complete with three golden coins hidden in each stage for the obsessive compulsives to hunt down.  Beyond that faint whiff of side quest, it’s a very businesslike game, all Point A to Point B and very little world exploration.  I’d call this the spiritual successor to Super Mario Brothers 3, especially considering the direct lifting of the flight-granting raccoon suit from that game.

I’ve always kind of loathed the platforming aspects of 3D Mario games, since it can be hard to gauge where one is landing.  3D Land does a great job of handling this problem, as one isn’t required to perform any exotic angled leaps and Mario’s shadow is always in view.  If the latter wasn’t true, the game would be impossible.  By having the stages run on more or less fixed pathways, the camera isn’t given the freedom to go haywire and wreck the gameplay.  In a 3D game, this is really remarkable.

What is kind of nice is that, following the short conflict between Mario and the King of the Koopas, the game doubles in size and allows the player to run through a series of remixed stages which ramp up the difficulty to a significant degree.  Some of these special stages are simply new layouts, but many of them also feature the added challenges of having only 30 seconds on the clock and/or a treacherous little shadow version of Mario chasing him through the stage and trying to do him in.  The exploration factor decreases even further at this point, and the change in pace from leisurely to frantic kicks up the excitement.

I know that there’s a school of gaming that professes that if you’re not spending a hundred hours engaged in a game’s repetitive and pointless side quests, you’re not getting your money’s worth.  A tireless player can achieve everything there is to achieve in 3D Land in a couple of sittings, and the game is 40 bucks, and it’s worth every penny.  This is the year’s purest example of a game being allowed to simply be a game, and the result is a lot of quick, easy fun.

 

The Designer’s Drugs: Samurai Warriors: Chronicles

 

Medium: Game – Nintendo 3DS

Stimulus: Samurai Warriors: Chronicles

Anno: 2011

 

 

I’m a big fan of the tactical warfare disguised as button mashing idiocy genre that Koei’s Warriors series pioneered a decade ago with Dynasty Warriors 2 (for the record, number one is a lackluster-looking ancient Chinese history-themed street fighting game that isn’t recognized as part of the series in Japan).  With this 3DS installment of the offshoot franchise Samurai Warriors, the rampage through Asian history finally feels as fun and functional on a portable system as it does on a console.  Here, there’s no punching one’s way through a stage the size of my bathroom and into a loading screen fifty times per mission.  Each battlefield in Chronicles is complete, and one can run around at will, which is nice.

There are a few drawbacks to the game, most of which I feel exist because Chronicles is a first-year game for the 3DS and was obviously rushed out the door to get a jump on the homesteading.  The game’s menu and special features are very bare bones and don’t explain much of anything, for starters.

Yet the biggest weak point is a total lack of voice work in English.  Every voice in this game is speaking Japanese whether you like it or not.  This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the player wasn’t too busy dodging swords and arrows to read the dialogue bubbles at the bottom of the screen, but as it stands, English would have been a big help.

Another awkward issue in the language department is that whoever set up the printed dialogue in said bubbles was kind of a schmuck.  More than once there were bizarre uses of the enter button where a word would be cut in half to end one line and begin another.  I’m not talking between syllables, either, but within one syllable.  D-on’t?  Don’t.  The game’s Dan Quayle-like usage of two different spellings of the word heroes is also a nice touch.

Translation issues aside, Samurai Warriors: Chronicles brings a lot to the table.  The action, as always, is furious and strategic, but I really liked the addition of four character team-based gameplay, where one can tap the 3DS touchscreen and direct and switch between heroes on the fly.  This beats the hell out of the old model of playing through a stage with one person and having to fly off to the other end of the board whenever some jerk ambushes your leader.  It’s also wonderful not having to play through with each character individually, though the friendship system in Chronicles does require you to buddy up with the dozens of other fighters one at a time to unlock certain features.  The repetition is thus lessened but not eliminated.

Still, tactical button-mashing has never been done this well on a portable system, and that eclipses all shortcomings.

The Designer’s Drugs: The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo DS

Medium: Video Game – Portable

Stimuli:  The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo DS

Annos: 2007, 2009

 

I don’t like touchscreen video games.  Playing a game with imprecise wipes of one’s greasy fingers or clutching a pen to write one’s way to victory is to me way too gimmicky and usually not very fun.  As the years have passed I have grown to really like the dual screen setup of the Nintendo DS, but I stick to the games that run on d-pads and buttons.  Any game that primarily requires me to poke that tiny bottom screen gets nothing but distance from me.  For example, Metroid Prime: Hunters was a crappy first person shooter that was almost as unplayable as it was bland, and Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword was another severe franchise disappointment that had none of the superninja excitement of the rest of its family.

Yet I’ve always had a morbid interest in playing the DS entries of the Legend of Zelda series, two games which run primarily by poking that bottom screen.  My loathing of the style kept me away for a long time, but I finally decided to give them a try.  While Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks didn’t come close to converting me away from d-pad gameplay, they largely convinced me that good touchscreen games could be made – or at least one of them did.

They’re basically the same game, the cartoon visuals of The Wind Waker mixed with the top-down 2D gameplay of A Link to the Past.  Young Link rides around the land, enters a dungeon, gains a magic item, and uses that item ad nauseum to clear said underworld.  Side quest, wash, rinse, search for heart containers, repeat.  The action was fun but extremely unsurprising.

The main difference in gameplay is that Phantom Hourglass uses a boat as transportation while Spirit Tracks squires Link around in a train.  The train sucks hard.  Really, this brings up a larger point.  Despite the fact that Phantom Hourglass is the earlier game and has rougher controls and a time limit dungeon the player must complete multiple times, it is far better.

The elaborate train controls of Spirit Tracks, which grossly interfere with getting where one wants to go and defending against enemies along the way, are the most obvious point against it.  On the other hand, one draws a line on a map in Hourglass, and the boat goes on its merry way.  Oh, and that game also features teleportation at will, which doesn’t appear in its successor.  I don’t like overworld traveling in any game, but Hourglass is about as good as it gets.

The gameplay sins of Spirit Tracks don’t end there.  They also include the forced use of the DS microphone which one must blow into to use a gameplay item and a plot-advancing musical item.  One is also treated to such joys as having to control two people at the same time and the subsequently unplayable dungeon puzzles that come with that clunky setup.  Best of all is the horrible, horrible end boss sequence, which brings all those clunky train riding, flute playing, simultaneous two player elements into one titanic clusterfuck with the additional bonus of having to play meteor tennis with a giant behemoth – and if you miss one ball, you must start, all, over, again.  I ended up swearing heavily at my DS at this low point in my gaming history.

A game should be difficult because a player sucks.  It shouldn’t be difficult because the controls suck.  Spirit Tracks unfortunately takes from both columns.  Phantom Hourglass is much better, though the more solid and careful nature of its gameplay also kept it from blowing my mind.

I don’t regret playing these games, but I think I’ll stay off the touchscreen for the time being.

The Designer’s Drugs: Glorious Nintendo 3DS First-Year Plan

EPIC!

 

Medium: Game – Portable

Stimulus: The Nintendo 3DS First-Year Rorschach

Anno: 2011

 

Last Friday, I picked up a brand new fire red Nintendo 3DS.  I’m pretty pumped about my new acquisition.  I can take or leave the 3D screen option, as it’s pretty hard to maintain a steady gaze and fight off the eye strain.  But I love the improved touchscreen, which is so much more responsive and usable than the old clunky Nintendo DS screen.  The inclusion of motion sensor controls on the system, in which you get to aim the screen instead of simply aiming a controller, also works wonders.

I’m pretty skeptical about game systems in their first year.  The hardware can get pretty buggy, and a solid collection of titles doesn’t develop until at least the second year of a system’s life.  Yet I found four games for the 3DS that looked good enough to merit picking up this new piece of technology, and I obtained them all.  Three of these games are remakes, and one is an established minigame set loose on its own.  Yet each one is a blast; even the worst of the bunch is above average.

Submitted for your approval: the best of the Nintendo 3DS, thus far.

 

Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition:  I remember getting written up at work for Protestant-bashing on a St. Patrick’s Day years ago, ditching out to take an extended break at Best Buy, playing the original version of this game there, and feeling okay with the world.  This is the better version of that game.  It plays as great as I remember, but the real star in this edition is the touchscreen, which is an absolute godsend.  No more fighting like a thumbless, black eyed chimp trying to enter convoluted commands to execute one’s special moves; the four touchscreen buttons can be programmed to bust out any command with a simple tap.  The simplicity is breathtaking.

 

Resident Evil – The Mercenaries 3D:  The weakest of my four purchases is still a fine game.  The premise of this minigame turned full release is simple: choose a character, choose a mission, and shoot as many zombies as possible before time runs out.

The Mercenaries does have a few issues, though.  It suffers from a weird form of slowdown when there are many baddies onscreen, in that the zeds furthest away seem to run around in a stilted slow-motion.  Also, this is not a game to go in for the long haul; missions get pretty monotonous quickly.  This one seems built for multiplayer.

Is it worth new game price?  Probably not, but The Mercenaries is everything good about Resident Evil ultraviolence distilled into a quick little injection.

 

 

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D:  This is the flagship, the standard-bearer of the 3DS.  There is no question.  In what seems to be a trend with this system thus far, Nintendo took a decade-old game for the Nintendo 64, made it beautiful, and added some neat tricks to the gameplay.  The result is not only an epic, sprawling quest that doesn’t feel old, but also a game that is far superior to most new releases.  Vital and magnificent.

 

Starfox 64 3D: Nintendo’s other big rerelease from the Nintendo 64 days is a pretty slick update on Starfox 64’s classic of space combat.  The big selling point of this version is the ability to steer one’s spaceship with the 3DS’ motion controls, which is a cool feature but also one I think works best in combination with the traditional and more stable analog stick steering.  Again, this is an old game that has much more life in it than a lot of new games have.

 

The verdict?  The 3DS is worth the purchase.  It doesn’t hurt that the system’s price just dropped a hundred bucks, either.

The Designer’s Drugs: The Gaming Rampage Rorschach

No Fuckin' Around.

Medium: Game – Portable Systems

Stimulus: The Gaming Rampage Rorschach

Anno: Various

 

Following my recent return to the world of disposable income, I went on a small spending spree and collected a few new games for my PSP and Nintendo DS.  As there’s not really much in the way of music or books that I feel like talking about this week, I decided to get a little mileage out of my video game consumption.  Presented here are my takes on my recent acquisitions.

WWE All Stars is a horrible game, at least for the PSP.  It may be better on consoles.  I had a lot of fun actually playing the street fighting/wrestling hybrid, once the game finally got around to being a game.  To get there, however, one had to sit through literally minutes of crap, every single time: loading screen, match introduction, loading screen, first wrestler’s introduction, second wrestler’s introduction, loading screen, and finally the game!  No way.

Tenchu: Shadow Assassins is another bad PSP port that may have played better in its original form on the Wii.  In any event, it completely eliminated all the traditional Tenchu fun of running around on rooftops and leaping down to ninja-slaughter one’s prey.  Instead, this game’s assassins sulk around in whatever shadows there are, attempting to manipulate one’s way into the kills.  Not as fun.  Not even close.

The 3rd Birthday is a serviceable, action-oriented sequel to the classic horror RPG, Parasite Eve.  I generally think that the PSP sucks at action games, but this was a nice challenge against that prejudice.  Here, a sexy blonde goes back in time on missions designed to soften a Cthulu Apocalypse, and one possesses soldiers, Agent Smith style, in the conflict against the tentacle beasts.  Neat.  I do wish that what little coherent plot that existed wasn’t written by a fifteen year old with a boner, however.

My two favorite games of the recent times were on the Nintendo DS, both of the old school 2D variety.  Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is one more awesome DS game in the series, this one a heavily magic-based expedition in the vein of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest.  Instead of simply bumming around Dracula’s stately abode, one gets to travel the countryside and interact with villagers while getting in all that trademark Metroidvania exploration.  It’s a lot of fun.

But the best game of my recent rampage had no pretense at all.  Contra 4 is simple, aggressive, wonderful action.  You run around.  You get weapons.  You shoot aliens.  You die – a lot.  And you have a blast doing all of this.

Sometimes all a game needs to be great is to simply be a game.

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