Wednesday, March 26, 2008

[Retro ≠ Good] Taboo: The Sixth Sense

Home videogame consoles have been around for the better part of 40 years so far and haven't shown any signs of slowing with gems like Bioshock, Mass Effect and Portal being released within the last six months and plenty more promising titles upcoming. Still, sometimes you just have to dust off the old NES, grab that wooden sword and lay waste to all the Moblins, Tektites and Octorocks in Hyrule 2D style. It's fine to revisit an old favorite. It's another thing entirely to convince yourself that every single game made before 1998 is good simply because it's "retro". I've played a whole lot of them and, friend, let me tell you, some of those games are great and some are worse than chugging a 60oz. Big Gulp™ of pureed herpes. Which is a perfect segue for the first game we'll be exploring in the new Retro ≠ Good section.

Taboo: The Sixth Sense is a Tarot card reading game for the NES. No, it isn't an adventure game in which you collect Tarot cards. Nor is it a puzzle game in which you must match up similarly designed cards to get rid of them. The only thing this game does is read a fortune and, if you count this as a feature, picks your lucky lotto numbers as long as the lotto you're looking to play doesn't use numbers over 40 and, nowadays, most do.

To get an idea of how the game is at fortune telling let's consider something that seems entirely unrelated - somebody who works as a German-to-English translator. You hire the translator to accompany you in Germany and you're all set, everything translates properly, the translator provides a useful service and does a great job. If, however, you rely on machine translations from Babelfish you'll soon find out that it is translating the English for "Where can I find the nearest bathroom?" to the German for "Why is the walking of proximity toilets?"

Now consider the human Tarot Card reader - vague and worthless on their very best day. What happens when you entrust an already worthless service to a computer is the video game equivalent of dividing by zero - utter chaos and confusion at every turn. Since the technology driving the game isn't sophisticated enough to really understand the question you asked, or know anything about you personally, it can't give you an actual answer, but only some extremely vague suggestions on how you can make up your own answer. For example I asked it "Will anybody ever read this blog?" As we all know, the answer is "no" and as the picture shows, questions to the divine powers that control the Tarot don't support word wrap. After asking, the game informed me that my significator card is the Two of Coins which meant that "Your present position is avoids changing or difficult situations."

No, we can't just chalk that up to Engrish because the game is made by Rare, a British publisher. There's no excuse.

Let's assume that we should remove the word "is". Now it's saying that my problem doesn't change and avoids difficult situations. It's up to you to figure out what the hell that even means and then shoehorn your own fortune into it, which makes the game all the more unnecessary.

After plodding through several more vague assertions the game gives me my no-longer-relevant lotto numbers and sends me on my way, wondering what in the hell I was supposed to get from all of that. Total play time: about 2 minutes.

Taboo is possibly the very worst videogame I have ever played, offering no gameplay - no game - whatsoever, but is one of the only games that I would ever applaud for having a total play time of less than five minutes. I can't help but wonder who is the bigger nutcase - the guy that thought he could sell games based on this premise or the people that proved him right.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Reviewbot: Super Smash Bros Brawl (Wii)

Writing a review on Super Smash Bros Brawl at this point is like putting up a Firefly fansite littered with “I Support Ron Paul” banner ads. It isn’t exactly something I would say that internet is severely lacking, but I’m compelled to throw my proverbial hat into the overflowing sea of Brawl fanboydom anyway. So, before I mix further metaphors, let us delve into what will probably prove to be the most popular game of 2008 and possibly of the Wii's entire lifespan.

It’s worth mentioning the genius hype machine that is the Smash Bros Brawl Dojo website. Every single piece of information on this game was listed months before the game launched and was slowly meted out, piece by grueling piece, to the gaming public. The information ranged from the mundane (You say Mario is going to be in it? Astounding.) to the truly exciting (Sonic is in it?! HOLY FRIGGING CRAP – MY CHILDHOOD IS OFFICIALLY COMPLETE!) and made sure to keep legions of nerds waiting with baited breath until the game’s release and even enticing stragglers and people who wouldn’t have cared nearly as much if it weren’t being played up as the only videogame of any value that will surely make all other videogames look like worthless garbage.

Just about everything from Smash Bros Melee has found its way over to Brawl, including Classic Mode, Multi-Man Brawl, Tournament mode, etc. and they all remain virtually unchanged from the predecessor, changed only in that they now have more characters and more items - including Assist Trophies and Final Smashes. Assist Trophies can be collected like any other item and used immediately to summon a character that will assist you in battle. The Trophies can be helpful, like Andross or Excitebikers, to annoying for you and everybody else, like Nintendogs and Mr. Resetti who both obscure the screen's viewing area.

One of the newest and most important things Brawl brings to the table is an Adventure mode that doesn't feel completely tacked on. The Subspace Emissary adventure is much more in depth than the Melee Adventure Mode and adds a storyline that joins all Nintendo characters - good and evil - together to fight a new, evil third party, the titular Subspace Emissary. Despite being written by Kazushige Nojima, known for his work on Final Fantasy VII among other games, the storyline feels like it could have just as easily been written by Mad Lib.

"Nintendo Character and Nintendo Character were brawling at the Stadium when Female Nintendo Character That Isn't Samus Aran is kidnapped by Low-rent Kingdom Hearts villain. When trying to rescue her, our heroes run into Nintendo Character in place."

Aside from a somewhat weak, but not entirely terrible, storyline is Subspace a good addition to the game? Definitely. Would it work as a stand alone game - no. Not one up to Nintendo's usually high First-party standards, anyway.

Another much needed addition to Brawl is online play. Nintendo's online play is much like a mug of homemade hot cocoa brought to you by your mother while you play outside in a blustery, snowy winter day. A welcome and desperately needed addition to a day that was already filled with youthful mirth. Friend codes, unfortunately, ruin this glee and, continuing with the wintery metaphor, it's much like after you've excited yourself for the delicious warmth of the hot cocoa your mother says "I tried to scoop as much cat piss out of the mug as I could. I probably got most of it." and ruins what would have otherwise been a high point of your day.

Sparing you another overly abstract analogy I will also say that, so far, the online play is, for lack of a better word, broken, only allowing me to connect to somebody about 4 times of the approximately 20 times I've tried. Even then, human opponents are unceremoniously replaced with computer-controlled opponents if they drop out so it's feasible that I've never played against another living person online since I purchased the game. They haven't exactly proven to be big proponents of online multiplayer in the past, but hopefully Nintendo makes an exception this time and takes the necessary steps to correct SSBB's wifi issues.

Brawl's other new features are much too numerous to go into great detail over all of them but, quickly, they include Boss Battle Mode and All Star Mode in which you select one character to defeat all the Subspace Emissary Bosses or Brawl Combatants, respectively, getting only three heart containers that you can use between matches to replenish your life. Rotation mode is a new mode that, essentially, just tells other players in the room that it is their turn when somebody loses.

Brawl remains true to the theme that keeps players coming back and playing the game for days, weeks and even years - the collection of worthless trinkets, sundries and baubles. And when it comes to self-referential knick-knacks, I assure you, Brawl delivers with several hundred different trophies and stickers to collect from what must be every Nintendo franchise in history (even the unpopular and oft forgotten ones). Of course, what is collecting stickers and trophies if you can't show them off? The correct answer is "Dignified" but Brawl has decided that would be boring and has added Diorama Mode which allows you to choose 4 trophies, place them in front of the background of your choice and shoot a picture. Similarly, you can also arrange stickers in your album and take a picture of that. I personally only use the in-game snapshots for lurid Princess Peach upskirts, but to each his own I guess.

Brawl represents exactly where Smash Bros had to go as a franchise and delivers a very satisfying sequel, introducing a slew of new characters, fun new game modes, improving older modes that desperately needed it(Adventure Mode) and leave game elements that really didn't require a whole lot of revamping alone (Classic and Brawl). The game has a few flaws but, with the exception of the crippled wifi play, they're all very easily forgivable and considerably outweighed by things the game completely nails. If you own a Wii, you should own Brawl.

(Note: Effective immediately Slothbot is ditching numerical scoring and switching over to a more universally understood letter grading system)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Thriftbot: Surgery on the cheap is always a good idea!

A quick perusal through Circuit City's bargain game bin today was just about to end in another crushing disappointment after shuffling through countless copies of 2-year-old college football games and unnecessary Gamecube wires until I found multiple copies of the excellent Wii game, Trauma Center: Second Opinion.
Apparently, Circuit City thinks now that New Blood is out TC:SO is only worth a scant $18. Fine by me. If you're a Wii owner, you don't own this game and you have a Circuit City nearby it'd probably be a good idea to stop by and check out their bins for some low priced treasure.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Super Smash Bros Brawl - the worst Nintendo game ever made?

No, of course it isn't, it's positively stellar, but sensationalist headlines get readers.
I'll write up a full review in the future.
As for first impressions - I've been playing the game for 9 1/2 hours straight with little more than the occasional bathroom break. So yeah, it's good.

Another good thing - I'll probably stop making updates about SSBB now that it's out.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Wii must devolve to evolve

I've been skeptical of the Wiimote since the announcement that Nintendo's next gen system would be motion sensitive, fearing that all their games would end up being gimmicky and the whole thing would get old fast. I wish I could say that Nintendo has allayed these fears more than a year after the Wii's launch but, unfortunately, they haven't. The Wii has been a magnet for trash shovelware, phoned in remakes with tacked-on waggle and games that would be good if they didn't shoehorn motion sensing into them.

What can be done to fix the Wii's problems with game quality? Nintendo seems to have been the first to find the obvious solution: If you don't need the Wiimote - don't use it!

The upcoming first-party games Super Smash Bros Brawl and Super Mario Kart will both support a Wiimote turned on its side, a Wiimote and Nunchuck combo, a Wii Classic Controller and Gamecube Controllers. This is a great move on Nintendo's part since playing Smash Bros would get old real fast if I had to do an interpretive dance every time I wanted Link to throw a bomb.

This announcement should serve as a message to all of Nintendo's third party developers: Motion sensitivity is encouraged but it is optional.