There was a post on Kotaku that made the rounds awhile back that attempted to answer the question, “What if Super Mario Bros. was made in 2010?” Although I myself would’ve added a ton of logos at the beginning, it hit the mark, showing just how much mandatory tutorials, dumb achievements, and so forth routinely interrupt what used to be a pure experience.
All together now: SPUDOW!!
Remember when you would go to an arcade, or turn on your NES, to play, say, Super Mario Bros.? You’d just get a starting screen with a small copyright notice and an option to select the number of players, and away you’d go. No fuss, nothing telling you how to move or attack before setting you free to explore the world, break blocks, defeat enemies, or what have you. You just dove right in and played. These days, it’s hard to find that sort of experience outside of retrogames (of course) and casual games, or as they might be better termed, “retrogames from the future”.
One of the current kings of retrogames from the future is Popcap, and one of their handful of popular titles, even amongst “hardcore” types, is Plants vs. Zombies, a strategy game where the goal is to use garden vegetables and the like to keep a horde of brainthirsty undead from making it all the way across your suburban lawn and into your equally suburban house. It had been enthusiastically recommended to me not long after its release by CloudANDTidus, and although I took forever even just to check out the demo (sorry about that, Clidus), I’m glad I did. Plants vs. Zombies is fun, funny, addictive, and aside from a brief logo screen, an equally brief bit of loading time at the beginning, and a small smattering of Steam achievements (none of which are of the silly “First mission beaten” variety), at its core, it feels like it could’ve been made twenty years ago.
A bit more about how the game plays. As I understand it, Plants vs. Zombies is in the trendy “Tower Defense” genre, which I am not too familiar with. However, if a “Tower Defense” game means an RTS without building construction and offensive maneuvering, where all one has to worry about is unit generation, resource gathering, and defending the base, then I guess Plants vs. Zombies fits the bill.
Vasebreaker requires a lot of luck, but is also a lot of fun.
The game takes place on a loosely defined grid outside your home. Only Peashooters (which, naturally, shoot out pea bullets) are available at first, but new species become unlocked as the Adventure mode wears on. So too do new enemies show up, and features become unlocked, including the Minigame, Puzzle, and Survival modes. Some of these modes, particularly Vasebreaker and certain minigames, have a heavy element of luck involved, but this is obvious by their design and does not make them any less fun.
The pacing and aesthetics have a lot to do with keeping things lively. The individual missions, whatever mode they’re in, are just the right length, and can be paused at any time and picked up again later, even if you quit out of the game. The awesome end credits notwithstanding, the music is inoffensive and not particularly earwormy, which is fine with me. Your plants are brightly-colored and bouncy, with beady, dark pupils, while the zombies are bug-eyed and tend to shamble forward at a more languid pace. In between all this, you’ll talk to your neighbor Dave, aka “Crazy Dave”, a scruffy fellow who wears a saucepan on his head and knows a thing or two about zombies (he can also be counted on for some lines of laugh-out-loud dialogue, including a gamer’s in-joke or two).
This game offers so much variety and straight-up fun that it’s hard to put down at times. Flaws are few, the most damning being that your mouse cursor stays the same as it is in Windows. The lack of a custom, game-specific cursor wouldn’t be a problem were it not for the fact that the action can get very hectic at times, especially in Survival mode, and it’s far too easy to lose track of the damned thing. I also wish there was a way to archive the Tree of Wisdom’s sayings for future reference, but there doesn’t seem to be such an option, unless I’m overlooking something. Other than that, I’ve no complaints, and like CloudANDTidus did before me, I urge you all to at least check out the demo for Plants vs. Zombies as soon as possible, or at least before the zombies eat your brains.
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Rather, it’s Steam’s fault as to why I haven’t been posting here lately. They had a sale on Tropico 3 that I couldn’t pass up, so I bit on that, and also finally picked up Plants vs. Zombies, and ended up being hooked on them both. Oh, and if those two weren’t enough, on the same day I bought them, Kirby Super Star came out on Virtual Console! It’s been a long time since I purchased three games in one day, and I think three downloadable titles all at once is a personal first.
You said it, Crazy Dave.
Plants vs. Zombies was the first of the three I dove into, playing all the way through to the end of Adventure mode and then some, until all the minigames and other extra game modes were cleared. Tropico 3, being a management sim, was a much lengthier time-sink, moreso when taken into consideration the fact that a fair number of the campaign’s missions simply require you to stay in power for a set amount of time, rather than just amass a certain amount of resources or some such. Both games had their share of quirks and annoyances—the latter moreso than the former—but I’ll get into those later, really. I also have to beat Dragon Quest V, but one reason I’ve been putting that off, besides the PC game distractions, is that I don’t want it to end…
Have to play more of Kirby Super Star as well. Did clear the first two platforming games in this most unusual collection of little Kirbies—neither of which did much for me—awhile ago, but recently I went back to it and made some more progress in “The Great Cave Offensive”, a treasure-hunting platformer which is pretty decent. I’m still dreading additional attempts at the racing/eating game against King Dedede, which gets especially tricky on the third course (no pun intended); they’re the types of races where memorization will doubtless play a big role in beating the damned things.
Also, been going back to Pokemon Platinum every once in awhile. I’m currently somewhere in the third gym. Party-wise, Bronzor’s kicking ass and Combee is the cutest thing to happen since Piplup. One thing that’s annoying about only playing Pokemon occasionally is that all the berries that I had planted die out. Oh well. However, I’ll be going away on a trip at the end of the month, which will, hopefully, give me ample opportunity to rebuild my berry hoard.
Finally, I made an attempt at Cave Story‘s Sacred Grounds (aka “Hell”) a few weeks ago. This required playing through the entire game again in order to unlock the place, and although the WiiWare version’s “easy” mode made this a snap, I messed up one of the requirements more than halfway through and had to start all over again. The second time around, I got the secret, “hardcore” version of the Last Cave and, after the endgame, was able to descend into the even more intimidating Sacred Grounds itself. I managed to make it all the way to the first form of Hell’s final boss before dying, and this, remember, was on easy. There’s no way I would’ve made it that far in normal mode. Anyway, after giving up, I looked up a speed run on YouTube (spoilers, of course). Braggadocious, of course, but more importantly, insane.
Coming soon, some reviews! That is, if I’m not sucked into more PC games this week…
I finally got around to beating Halo last night. Real-life things, plus the absorbing magic of Dragon Quest V, had kept me away from it for awhile. There were also the Windows issues: that I had to boot into Windows to play it (I’m a Boot Camper), and that my desk is near some very sunny real windows, which in the latter case meant that play sessions were largely restricted to evenings.
Anyway, I enjoyed it. Continuing to be led by sidekick/moral center Jiminy Cortana, I got through a tough spot I had been stuck on, the last of the overly samey bits, and even spotted a Marathon reference in a cutscene. It was all quite entertaining, and I’d like to play more in the series, but there’s the problem of most of it being console-exclusive with no mouse and keyboard support. What would be the point of me playing Halo 2 PC if I can’t play Halo 3 PC? Still pondering my options here. Part of me’s thinking that since I had no problems that one time I played GoldenEye 007 on the N64 back in the day, I should have no real issues using a controller. On the other hand, I really do prefer mouse and keyboard control for first-person games (Wii Remote and Nunchuck are good, too, but that won’t happen for Halo 3, and something tells me Natal wouldn’t be comparable). Anyway, I think I’ll be playing FPSes more often again in general. Metroid Prime Trilogy‘s already in my backlog, and there’s several PC ones that Cyrus and I’ve got sitting around as well.
Now, on to Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride. I can’t say enough good things about this game. It is the best Dragon Quest I’ve played thus far, and is one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played, period. The world, dungeons, fighting, music, and so on is all typical highly-polished DQ goodness, but the story is where DQV really shines. Without giving away too much, the tale is about how a boy becomes a man, and the hardships and joys that he faces along the way. The game’s centerpiece, as hinted at by the subtitle, is the hero’s wedding. The events leading up to it and the eventual choosing of the bride (probably the only part in the game where the player’s actions have any real impact on the plot—keep in mind this is a JRPG!) are a little predictable, but an absolute pleasure to take in. This is a real gem of a game, and as such, it’s a little disappointing that it’s a remake, and thus a reminder that they don’t quite make ’em like this anymore.
In the midst of all this, I got a beta code for StarCraft II! It came from Amazon, not long after word got out that some retailers would be including codes as preorder bonuses. My preorder for the Wings of Liberty Collector’s Edition was already in by that point, so I was good to go; the code was certainly a nice surprise to find in my inbox that morning.
I haven’t played all that much SCII Beta though. Well, I’ve played enough to check out some of the new units, especially the Protoss ones. However, I don’t like playing online much to begin with, so even just my feelings going in were mixed. Might mess around with it some more—but with a stronger focus on Terran and Zerg—before the beta ends, but it’s not a huge priority.
Finally, soundtracks! I’ve been on an OST buying spree, and with the number I’ve bought (and the amount I’ve spent), I think I’ll be set for awhile. Here’s what I’ve picked up:
Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter Original Soundtrack – This was pretty much what started this binge. The music was really good, and when I saw Hitoshi Sakimoto‘s name in the credits, well, then I knew why. I simply had to have this OST. Ordered from YesAsia, but they couldn’t get it, so I ended up buying it from Otaku.com instead.
Radiata Stories Original Soundtrack – Another so-so JRPG whose soundtrack I enjoyed semi-recently. Figured I might as well get this one, too, so I also ordered it from YesAsia. Had better luck, and currently it’s the only OST still en route.
Klonoa of the Wind 2 ~Something Forgotten Wished by the Wind~ Original Soundtrack – A long-time want. Ordered and arrived from Play-Asia.
Tales of Legendia Original Soundtrack – See note for Klonoa of the Wind 2, though the former was a higher priority.
Halo Original Soundtrack – I was familiar with some of the music already, but while playing the game, the whole OST impressed. Picked up at Amazon.com.
Devil May Cry 4 Original Soundtrack – Also bought via Amazon, but it’s not the Japanese release. Like the Halo OST, it’s published by Sumthing Else.
Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack – If you’ll remember, I recommended picking this up in lieu of the game itself. Listening to it right now; it’s damn good. Otaku.com only ships via EMS, which is expensive, so I tacked on a couple of other OSTs when I got the BoFV one from them. This was one of them.
Front Mission 5 ~Scars of the War~ Original Soundtrack – …and this is the other. Both are ones I had had my eye on anyway. This is also the only OST I’ve ordered that I haven’t heard anything from; however, I like the composer and love the series, so I don’t think I’ll be disappointed.
I also made a set of trades over at VGMdb recently: a couple of spare DDR demo disks for copies of the Grandia 2 bonus disk (which I already had a copy of, but one that was damaged to hell) and a DDR SuperNOVA/Ultramix demo disk (which is wholly new to my collection). It was my first trade conducted through the site and went swimmingly.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Don’t know what I’m going to do today, gaming-wise; I’m exhausted, so I’m kind of iffy about putting more time into Dragon Quest V. I (finally) checked out the Plants vs. Zombies demo last weekend and really enjoyed it, so maybe I’ll get that and do some lawn defense.
Just when Retro Game Challenge had distracted me from Tales of Legendia to the point where I’m on the very last challenge, along comes a game I’ve played before, several years ago, practically begging for me to play it again. It happened during a weekend last month, when my husband and I sought to spend some time together on a LAN game of StarCraft, via Brood War; instead of playing against each other (since I am, admittedly, a bit better than he is), we decided to do the Diplomacy thing against a bot. The bot player was too good, and we quit. I can’t remember if I suggested that he play StarCraft’s main campaign—a great way to learn the game’s basics—or he decided to on his own, but watching him do so arose in me feelings of nostalgia, and after downloading and installing the latest patch, I started up a new game myself.
The story of StarCraft is an epic one about three races, and told across multiple planets: the many Terran colonies, the Zerg’s ashen world of Char, and the Protoss homeworld Aiur. Much of it makes for your standard boilerplate sci-fi stuff, with humans caught in the middle of a struggle between alien races, one of which is a hivemind, and the other a noble, idealistic people who love their homeland. There’s also the Xel’Naga, a precursor race that (according to the manual, select bits of which I read for the first time ever during this playthrough) functioned for the Zerg and Protoss in much the same way as the unnamed aliens who sent the Monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey; of course, they’re talked about from time to time, but never seen, as they were gone a long, long time ago. And of course, no discussion of StarCraft’s story is complete without the characters; there’s Kerrigan, of course, but also Raynor, Duke, Mensk, the Overmind and its Cerebrates, Aldaris, Fenix, Zeratul, and, my favorite of the bunch, Tassadar.
The lore wasn’t the only reason why I wanted to play the game again. There’s also the missions themselves. Each of the three “chapters” focuses on one race at a time, where the player takes on the role of a Terran Commander, Zerg Cerebrate, or Protoss Executor. As for why I said earlier that these missions are a great way to learn the game, it’s because not everything is given to you at once. The missions start out simple, with hard caps on the types of units and structures one can create, but gradually become more and more complex. Mixed in with all this are a few infiltration missions, where the player controls a small detachment of troops to navigate an interior space with (which are always, by some quirk of chance or design, Terran facilities). These missions, particularly the one in the Protoss campaign, require just as much strategy as the regular RTS ones, and make for a nice break from said regular maps whenever they occur.
While the gameplay is as engrossing as ever, it’s remarkable how well StarCraft has held up in other areas. Graphically, this flat, sprite-heavy game has aged very gracefully, and the same can be said for the voice acting and music. If there is one spot in which StarCraft obviously shows its age, it’s in the CG FMVs which play between certain missions. The animation is smooth in that particular “old 3D computer animation” way, and the character models, especially those of the Terrans, are just as dated. As a technical aside, I had some stuttering starts whenever an FMV would play; not sure if it’s a codec issue or if it’s something else about my Mac Pro, but it’s likely another consequence of StarCraft’s age.
Anyway, I devoted many hours and a fair chunk of the past couple weekends playing those thirty campaign missions in StarCrack, and I loved every second of it. Even the very tough last Terran mission, which, while not driving me absolutely bonkers like it did the first time around, still had it’s fair share of challenges. Even that infiltration mission on the Protoss side, in which everyone in my party had died by the time I reached the goal, save for the one unit who mattered. Even though I have to play through two-thirds of the game to get to my favored Protoss in the first place (it didn’t help that the Zerg are my least favorite to play). And even those early Zerg missions, where I had to do without that race’s better flying units, but along the way and afterwards gained insight into how and why to use Zergling rushes. It’s StarCraft, and it’s awesome, and that’s the only reason I need.
Postscript: After beating StarCraft this past weekend, I finally went back to Retro Game Challenge today and beat that. Tales of Legendia, which I’ve been away from for too long, awaits me tomorrow.