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Retro Game Night: Night Slashers X

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This week, and for the first time ever, we are using emulation to capture a Beats of Rage engine remake, Night Slashers X. This was originally a 1994 Data East arcade beat-em-up that got ported over with extra violence on the open source brawler engine, Beats of Rage.  This also marks the first video in full 1080p HD!  Watch for more HD videos, most of which should be in 720p or 1080p in the future.

Written by Fred Rojas

November 16, 2014 at 10:15 am

Podcast: Ah Ah Ahhhhh

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This week Fred and Jam are discussing the misadventures of Master Chief, at least in terms of the Bungie developed ones.  What started out as a Real Time Strategy (RTS) title for the Mac ended up ironically being the launch title for the Microsoft Xbox that has withstood the test of time and is to this day one of the strongest properties in gaming.


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Written by Fred Rojas

November 12, 2014 at 11:00 am

Review: Project Zero (Fatal Frame) 2: Crimson Butterfly

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pz2_boxff2_boxConsole: Playstation 2, Xbox, Wii
Released: 2003
Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo
Digital Release? Yes, PSN version compatible with PS3 for $9.99
Price: $24.77 (disc only), $26.88 (complete), $56.88 (sealed) per Price Charting

Jam’s Take:

Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly is a sequel to the original horror PS2 hit that brings more of everything. More ghosts, more places to wander around and more pictures than a bachelors degree in photography. But is this game a picture worth hanging on your wall or maybe more suitable as a Christmas greeting card?

After surviving the mansion incident from the first game you find yourself now playing as a totally different character in a different setting. This time you play as a young girl called Mio Amakura and occasionally your messed up twin sister Mayu. After becoming lost in Minakami forest you stumble across a village. What could possibly go wrong here? Well it doesn’t take long for you to figure out that the place is haunted with the tortured souls of its dead inhabitants as well as that something weird is affecting your twin sister Mayo.  The plot is completely separate from the original Project Zero title. The only main link being that you find the Camera Obscura, which is the same device in the first game, as a weapon.  You use it to snap the things that go bump in the night – this time its an entire village as opposed to just a mansion.  The plot of this game is rather complicated and felt quite hard to follow. Like the first game, there are several documents littered around the place providing you with some background information on what happened to the village and its inhabitants.

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Project Zero 2 does make a couple of changes to the series as well. First off, the game now has a novice mode for those gamers who are just utterly terrified of the “brave” normal mode. Saying that, even normal mode comes across as significantly easier than the first game in the series.  The most significant gameplay adjustment is taking pictures of the ghosts. Like the first game you wander around in third person and when you want to take a picture you switch to a first person perspective. A small yellow bar will be highlighted indicating that your picture will damage the ghost. Items of interest can be photographed and highlighted in blue in the view finder, taking the picture will usually help unlock a door or solve a puzzle. In this game you are practically encouraged to get up close and personal to the ghouls to take damage from them, the closer you get the more the yellow bar fills. If your used to the charging mechanic of the first game, that mechanic may confuse you at first as it is not made entirely clear when taking a picture will damage the ghost. Similar to the first game there is an opportunity to take a picture at just the right point to do maximum damage, called a “Zero shot,” and your HUD bar will highlight totally red when you have this opportunity. Unlike the previous games ghost encounters may have more than one ghost, they may even last longer, which is saying a lot as ghosts encounters in the first game were not a short experience. Not only that, encounters can be random anywhere in the game, it is not advised to hang around in a room doing nothing for too long.

You can upgrade the camera, which has been made a lot easier from the first. You accumulate points to upgrade by snapping pictures of the ghoulies and you also find spirit stones for upgrade slots hidden around the game. To upgrade the camera you need to use a spirit stone first to activate the slot and then have enough points to solidify the upgrade. This unique way of upgrading seems to be a way of preventing the player upgrading the camera too quickly.  Just like the first game you can also load your camera with different types of film that will do different amounts of damage and specific effects. These are in limited supply and scattered across the village.

You will regularly encounter puzzles throughout the game and many of them involve you using the camera at a specific spot to unlock a door. The game will also give you logic puzzles to solve like rotating dials to match the colours.  A lot of the game feels like a giant Easter egg hunt where you wander around an area looking for key items to solve a bigger puzzle.  You can save your game as many times as you want at designated lamp points; however, if there is a ghost in the area the lamp will go out preventing you from saving. Taking a snap shot and vanquishing the spook will enable you to once again use the save point. This mechanic was in the original game as well and is a great way of making you feel that nowhere is safe.

ff2_3Graphically the game does an excellent job of recreating a spooky village. You really feel like you’re alone as you wander around this creepy place with the sense that something is watching you, and it usually is. Ghosts appear to look surprisingly solid, which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing. Ghosts take on the forms of members of the villagers who once lived there and there are a huge number of ghosts in comparison to the first game. You’ll encounter blind ghosts, priest ghosts, children ghosts, and my favourite the crazy suicide ghost who attack you by constantly falling from a high up altitude. Of course this ghost was not meant to be funny but it did make me laugh more than tremble with fear. There are of course a lot of ghosts which just seem to hang around in the village. They won’t attack you, they act as the collectables in the game. Taking images of ghosts in the game and saving them to a separate photo album file will unlock additional costumes for Mio and Mayu.

The question I just could not help asking in Project Zero 2 was: so when does this game get scary? To be fair this game has several eerie moments but I never particularly felt scared or in danger when playing this game. Once again I am comparing this to the original game which seemed to contain scenes I found very unsettling. Saying that the developers apparently toned the horror down for this game to encourage players to actually finish the experience.

Project Zero 2 is certainly easier than the first game and a lot more accessible to people new to the series. Ammo and health items are very easy to come by even on standard difficulty. Some may find the pace of the game a little slow and frustrating as you wander around the village looking where to go next, the game does have a handy map if you get completely stuck. Once you get over the first few hours of the game you should be able to finish between eight to ten hours the first time through. The game does have multiple endings to experience and you are encouraged to play through the game multiple times to unlock extra difficulties, costumes and collect a picture of every damn ghost in the game if your a hardcore collector.

Overall, Project Zero 2 is a solid game but as you could tell from this review I could not help constantly comparing it to the original. The game changes the gameplay mechanics for the camera in a way I don’t think is as enjoyable by timing the right shot as opposed to charging it up. The story didn’t really draw me into the world or care as much for the main characters. When the game was finished I was quite surprised as it just seemed to abruptly end. Saying that, the game is a lot easier and more appealing to people new to the series. Unfortunately the game will still only appeal to a niche audience. If you want to try a horror game that tries things different from the typical survival horror experience I recommend giving this a try. If you liked the original I’m pretty sure you’ll find this game enjoyable. For everyone else this is a tough game to recommend. Though I had fun with the game I favour the original more, but felt compelled enough to look at the sequel.

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Fred’s Take:

Unlike Jam, I have not played the first and thus do not have to worry about comparing the two.  What I have a harder time with is wrapping my head around why this game is so popular in US horror gaming circles.  I get what appeals in other Japan-centric games like Silent Hill or even potentially Resident Evil - disturbing images and big squishy monsters – but I never understood that supernatural appeal vibrant in Japanese ghost stories.  These stories in visual media always break the universal rules of good horror: they are complicated tales instead of a simple plot, you see the danger in full view instead of off screen or lingering in the shadows, and they don’t clearly end.  Fatal Frame II is all of these things and I just don’t understand the appeal.

ff2_4Despite this fact, it is a decent game that encompasses solid mechanics and a great world to explore.  Whereas many found it to be an unsettling attack to the senses, I found to it to be a great exploratory simulation of events and locations I’d never have to the guts to tread in real life.  I always talk about games being haunted house simulations, which is more of an American view in that I’m expecting big gory beasts and graphic violence, whereas Fatal Frame II is literally a series of haunted houses you have to reconcile.  The village is flooded with souls that are both at peace and tortured, but you may never know who these people are or why they fit in either camp (except for whether or not you can damage them with the camera) thanks to the brunt of the plot being in collectible books.  Reading those books isn’t the issue, its knowing whether or not you have found all of them and the game’s complete lack of care whether you did or not, that I start having issues with.  When unraveled the tale is quite simple, but far be it for the developers to present it that way and instead you end up circling the same concepts and stories a few dozen times before you can comprehend what even happened by the time the credits roll.  Fatal Frame II does effectively capture the strongest sense from Japanese ghost stories, which is to screw with your perspective and corrupt something you love.  It’s very good at that.  It messes with you.

Combat is consistent, although figuring out the inner workings of how that all comes to pass takes time.  Just when you think you’ve figured out a mechanic, the game allows other ghosts you encounter to change or break the rules you just figured out.  Perhaps you could always snap a shot of a ghost coming out of invisibility the last time but this time the ghost’s ability is to disappear when it’s fully visible and you have to hit it at a different time or distance.  Maybe the ghost is in plain view but because the camera doesn’t turn yellow/red you can’t snap a photo for damage.  Maybe a girl is literally falling out of the sky to her death and although she’s invisible has the ability to hurt you when she lands even though other ghosts walk right through you.  It’s a bit irritating at first until you realize you have plenty of health and healing items for trial and error, but when faced with a ghost that can’t be exorcised or one that kills you in a single touch (or both) the annoyance of the battle system can get the best of you.  I just had a hard time being threatened by enemies that I can walk through, in many points of animation can’t harm me, and consistently go invisible.  Then again, I was scared to death and on the edge of my seat as I navigated a room plagued by a one-hit death ghost.

With all the focus on exploration – whether it’s fighting a new enemy, looking for something specific, or trying to find out where your half-goofballs sister is gallivanting to next – I was hoping I’d be looking for more interesting items.  The random unnecessary books that document the past, present, and potential future of The Lost Village and your place in it are fascinating little tidbits of lore, but those are completely optional as are the content spirits lingering about.  What is necessary is annoying fetch quests that have you finding stupid little stones in the ground with fragments of a key, assembling a doll from six or seven different parts strewn about, or traversing an entire house only to find the item you need was in the first room you entered and having to re-trace your steps twice while you fetch and return with that item.  It makes the relatively short game a bit long in the tooth.

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In the end I guess I just wasn’t in the mood for a traditional, non-violent, complicated ghost story about fetching things while your sister goes crazy.  I did, however, have a good time getting through the game’s 6-8 hour initial campaign and appreciating the moments, stories, and enemies that did make me smile and nod.  Fatal Frame II is different from other games and it’s well executed in what that specific game is, which is perhaps why it stands as such a pivotal title in the genre.  Everything you experience, down to the final moments and multiple endings, assure you that if you’re a fan of the likes of Ringu (The Ring) or Ju-On (The Grudge) that you’ll be right at home with the eerie atmosphere Fatal Frame II has to offer.  For me, this was nothing more than a unique style to a niche genre that, while well executed, just wasn’t that much up my ally.  Still, if you feel at home with a good old fashioned Japanese ghost story, complete with cryptic outcome, this may just be the game you’ve always been looking for.

Final Scores   Jam: 2 out of 5  -  Fred: 3 out of 5    (Review Policy)

Written by jamalais

October 30, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Podcast: Crimson Butterfly

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This week Fred and Jam tackle a horror game that is often mentioned as one of the scariest and best horror games to ever release.  Oddly enough, neither of the guys have played it despite being self-proclaimed survival horror fans.  Regardless, they tackle this popular title about a pair of twin girls who descend upon the spirit-infested Lost Village and uncover the tragedies that happened there.


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Written by Fred Rojas

October 29, 2014 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Ghouls, Ghosts, ‘N Goblins

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This week Fred and Jam are discussing the Capcom series Ghosts’N Goblins (or Makaimura if you prefer).  Easily one of the most punishing franchises ever created, the boys tackle the trials and tribulations of Sir Arthur on a never ending quest to save his girlfriend.  Along the path he will traverse to various worlds, see terrible beings, and of course battle the many derivatives of the Devil.


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And just for fun, have a video of me cussing out the original for two hours:

Podcast: Silent 3vil: No Escape

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This week Fred and Jam feature special guest Vos5 to discuss the third installment of both the Resident Evil and the Silent Hill series.  Where RE3 was more of a side story to try out new mechanics, Silent Hill 3 returned to its roots to be the official sequel for the original and maintained most of the gameplay mechanics.  Both have high regards with the fans but are also shadowed by the more popular predecessors.


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Written by Fred Rojas

October 1, 2014 at 11:00 am

Version: Doom

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I was gonna write a retrospective on this, but honestly in podcast form we’ve covered Doom not once, but twice!  From those episodes came a project that has taken six months and over six hours to put together in one near 15 minute video.  I compare the PC, 32x, Jaguar, SNES, PS1, 3DO, Saturn, and GBA versions of Doom so you don’t have to, complete with bad language and snarky remarks (sorry parents).  Check out this version of Versions for Doom, but fair warning: there is some adult language.

Written by Fred Rojas

September 7, 2014 at 11:00 am

Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds

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buffycb_boxSo after already saving the world in the first Buffy game on the Original Xbox, I was curious when the apocalypse beeped me for the sequel. My main interest was to see how the creators did and if they were able to improve on the issues of the first game. Developed by Eurocom, these guys had their work cut out for them as not only was this game released just a year after the Xbox exclusive, it was also multiplatform released on PS2, Gamecube and Xbox in 2003.  Lets cut to the chase and find out if this game was doomed to the hellmouth or was it everything Buffy fans wanted?

Chaos Bleeds is set during season 5 of the TV series and is actually believed to be based on a lost episode of the show. This time the big bad is “The First” – anyone familiar with the TV show will know this nasty. The basic storyline is: The First has a bet with Ethan Rayne (another popular bad guy-who worships chaos) and they must each summon five heroes or villains to fight it out. The winner of the bet gets the ultimate prize of a nice little condo overlooking the sea. Naturally Ethan goes for Buffy and her Scooby gang, except they want to find a way to destroy The First so at present no one can win the bet.  Once again the story is engaging and certainly feels like it could exist in the same universe as the TV show. It’s just a shame that much of the plot is ruined by some bad voice acting, but we’ll come onto that later.

buffycb_xanderAs well as playing fan favorite Buffy, this time you control a whopping six characters throughout the campaign: Willow, Xander, Faith, Spike and Sid the dummy – who incidentally was only in season one for a single episode, but sure why not.  While it was a nice idea to have you playing as other protagonists, there is little variation in the way each one controls.   It really takes you out of the experience when Xander is just as strong as Buffy, but combat is switched up with Willow casting spells and Sid the dummy being small but not very combat savvy. There was an opportunity here to create a more unique experience for each character, such as a stealthier approach for Xander,  but sadly that’s not the case.

The graphical style in some ways feels improved, the death animations of the vampires look really good this time around with added extra bones, however in another more prominent way the graphics also fail to hold up. A lot of the models for key characters appear off and don’t resemble a believable likeness to the actors.  The game once again features areas from the TV series, but they just don’t seem quite right in comparison to the show. One little gesture of credit has to go to the developers who  thought to put posters of films Josh Whedon had written like Alien Resurrection and Titan A.E in the Sunnydale cinema. This was possibly my favorite part of the game and a great bonus.

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To the games credit they trim the awful platforming segments from the original game down to two segments.  Instead, we get these small puzzle sections where you’ll quite often find yourself backtracking through levels to find certain items to complete. Along the way you will also have to check everything, as it’s never clear what can and cannot be interacted with. While doing your backtracking enemies will infinitely respawn making each segment more frustrating and an added obstacle this title could have easily done without.  One major improvement is the game features checkpoints during levels which are reasonable and not too far apart.

buffycb_zooCombat seems to be a lot easier than the original, but also similar in that you just beat up the bad guys a bit and stake them.  Staking the bad guys has also been made a lot easier with the use of a single button. Even if you have another weapon equipped a press of L1 (left trigger on Xbox) will automatically switch to the stake and go for the heart.  A lot of the times it will look like your character stakes the enemy somewhere else like the leg, but it still seems to kill them – kinda weird but apparently gets the job done. This even works for any other enemy, whereas before you’d just punch them till they died. Instead of throwing a few enemies at you, the game decides to just bombard you with enemies back to back. This makes it comes across as very cluttered especially when vampires, werewolves, demons and zombies seem to be teaming up to take you down. It gets boring pretty quickly and only suits to prolong the game experience; in this case the term “less is more” feels appropriate.

Chaos Bleeds also features a generous amount of boss battles and all the boss characters are infamous villains from the TV show.  Most are pretty decent and require a little thought to conquer, however some go for the whole “lets throw tons of enemies at you while you are trying to do something important.”  This leads to cheap deaths and game rage. Bizarrely, I found the final boss encounter in the game to be way too easy and possibly the easiest fight in the whole game.  It’s almost as if the developers just gave up at the end.  Even the end cut scene itself seemed pretty anti climatic, especially when you look back at the original.

buffycb_willowThe voice acting is a mixed bag.  Giselle Loren once again fills in for Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy and a lot of the actual TV cast also lend their voice talent to the game.  One huge mistake is the voice actor for Willow: Kari Wahlgren.  I guess she tries to catch that nervous Willow feel from the show but instead comes across as really irritating and oddly sexually charged.  If Willow didn’t talk much it would be easy to ignore but for some reason she is given a lot of dialogue and it just doesn’t work. This probably wouldn’t sit well with fans of the character in the TV show, especially since the Willow in series five has come into her own. The writers made the right move in reducing the repetitive puns from the first game but instead replace it with dialogue that occasionally just doesn’t fit to the scene.

Music is pretty forgettable in the game. The infamous theme is featured in the main menu but you aren’t treated to an awesome montage this time around. Occasionally through the game you would hear memorable scores from the TV show but not much else. The sound effects are ok, but the best part is still staking the vampires which gives the familiar death scream from the show.

The single player game will probably keep you busy for just over ten hours of game time and there’s only one difficulty setting.  It’s not too difficult, though I recommend playing this in short gaming bursts due to the areas of frustration mentioned earlier.  Once you’re done you probably won’t ever play this again unless you want to go back and search for every secret. There is also a multiplayer for up to four people and a couple of game modes like survival and bunny catcher, but I really didn’t give much time to this. What modes I did play came across as random and maybe something you would bring out at a gaming party for a bit of fun, somewhat similar to bringing out a bad film to watch with friends just to laugh at it.

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Overall, I guess Eurocom did an impressive job making three ports of the game in a very short period of time. The sad part is the game feels like it could be something so much more with polish and a bit more time. What we have instead though, is a game with a decent story but cringe worthy voice acting. Gamplay elements have been improved from the original but have been substituted for many more problems which is a shame. Hardcore Buffy fans will look through the errors and play this game anyway for everyone else, this game just doesn’t seem to hold up not even in a guilty pleasure way.

Now-what is left to say but…Grrr-Aaarrg.

Final Score: 2 out of 5 stars

Written by jamalais

March 7, 2014 at 11:28 am

Podcast: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Game Club

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In the late 1990s Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show became a phenomenon.  Along with its grand success that launched quite a few television careers, the show’s unique take on both teenage and adult themes coupled with a “monster of the week” outline was perfect for a video game.  A sordid development that delayed the title more than two years and migrating over two systems, Buffy found a home as an Xbox exclusive that both charms and makes you want to rip your hair out.


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Written by Fred Rojas

March 5, 2014 at 11:00 am

Know This Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

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As I was looking into doing a history on this fantastic studio I came upon an excellent reference that was so good there’s no point in me doing one.  While it’s easy to rag on big media conglomerates, IGN’s Mitch Dyer did a fantastic story of the origins of Ubisoft Montreal that includes stories of Splinter Cell‘s origin, the reinvention of Prince of Persia, and the visual treat that is Far Cry.  It’s a fascinating story that documents the major franchises you can thank that studio for and a must read for gaming history buffs like ourselves.  Head on over and check out House of Dreams: The Ubisoft Montreal Story when you can.

 

Written by Fred Rojas

February 27, 2014 at 8:44 am

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