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29 April 2012

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword [Wii]

Plot Synopsis: 7/10
According to the official timeline, Skyward Sword kicks off the entire Zelda mythology. In it, Zelda, as always, gets swept away by the forces of evil, and Link takes it upon himself to go find her and, if need be, rescue her. In the process, Link has to travel back and forth between their home in Skyloft and the surface world below, fighting the usual rogues' gallery of monsters on the way.
As much as I love the growing mythology of the franchise, there are only so many times I can save Zelda before I start getting angry with her for failing to take some rudimentary self-defense courses. She is royalty, after all. But, all in all, the story is reasonably well written and executed, so I'll score it a 7.

Game Play: 5/10
Ugh. The more games Nintendo puts out, in this franchise, the more difficult the controls get. I'm having a hard time referring to them as intuitive, these days. I have to admit, I'm downright annoyed that the game won't even let you start playing without a Wii Motion Plus accessory attached to your Wii remote. For those of us who bought a Wii before those were standard equipment, it's just one more thing I have to shell out money for, in order to play the game.
On top of that, some of the puzzles and dungeons in the game are unnecessarily hard. At one point, I said to myself "I'm just going to sit and run through this one next dungeon. It probably won't take TOO long." Right. I like to think I'm a fairly intelligent, advanced gamer. I didn't even make it to the boss of that particular dungeon until four hours later, and that was while using a thorough online walkthrough to help move me along a little faster than I might get through it on my own, otherwise. Four hours. Four hours to get through one stinkin' dungeon. One. Out of god only knows how many. That is a textbook definition of the phrase "unnecessarily complicated", if you ask me.
I have to score the game play a 5 out of 10. The controls are too unintuitive, and the puzzles and dungeons are unnecessarily difficult. Add to that, the fact that I had to buy an accessory I hadn't previously needed, just to play the game, and I should probably be scoring the game lower. I may be letting my appreciation for the series' mythology color my judgement, here.

Graphics: 8/10
Here's where the game starts to redeem itself. The visuals are very nicely rendered. They have a distinct style that is easy to see and understand. Nintendo seems to have backed off of the "HD means lots of lens flare!" issues that were present in some of the earlier games. No complaints at all. 8 out of 10, for this game.

Audio: 8/10
The music for this series is always impressive, and Skyward Sword continues that trend. Even during those times where I was stuck in the same area for an hour or more, the music was never so bland and repetitive that I felt a need to mute the television. Again, no complaints at all. 8 out of 10. I'd vote it even higher if the individual tracks were a little more memorable (aside from the main theme we've come to know and love, of course).

Overall Score: 5.5/10
I know people are going to think I'm nuts, but just remember, this is my opinion, based on my own personal experiences with video games, and preferences. That said, I have to admit that, while the mythology of the Zelda series is very rich, and continually fascinating, the games are just getting too complicated and complex for my tastes, to the point where I just can't enjoy them like I used to. As such, averaging out the scores for each category I rated, Skyward Sword gets a mere 5.5 out of 10. The games themselves, in this franchise, just aren't my cup of tea, plain and simple.

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 [DS]

Plot Synopsis: 4/10
You play a stowaway on an airship that was headed to a monster scouting championship of some kind. The airship crashes on an island, and you have to track down the other survivors and find a way off the island. As you do so, you discover that some of the island's indigenous monsters are intelligent, and run a scouting challenge of their own, and you have to get through it in order to get their help in getting off the island.
I have to score the plot a little low, because I really feel like Square-Enix phoned in the plot, here. Considering this is a sequel to a previous game, I was expecting a bit MORE story, not seemingly less. I'm a little disappointed.

Game Play: 6/10
The controls are fairly basic and intuitive. The A button confirms things. The B button cancels them. Press A to interact with things. Control pad to move around. Occasionally, a plot point interrupts the actual game play for a couple of minutes, and then you get back to things. You can save virtually any time you want, outside of battle. One thing that bothers me, though, is the utter lack of touch screen controls, in this game. This isn't even the first game in the franchise to be released for the DS, and yet, the touch screen controls are almost non-existent. Again, I find  myself a bit disappointed.
And so, I give the game play a 6 out of 10. I might have scored it higher if I could've at least used the touch screen to type out the names of my monsters instead of arrowing over constantly to each letter, but no such luck. I don't know what Square-Enix was thinking.

Graphics: 7/10
The graphics are reasonable, but I don't see much improvement over the last installment. We see the typical Dragon Quest style of artwork, so there are no major changes there. I think there are only so many ways that can change before it becomes different from the series' specific visual style, so I can't complain too much about the relative lack of changes, here.
I'll rate the graphics a 7. They have a distinct style, and have hit that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" point.

Audio: 6/10
The music, as is often the case in J-RPGs, is well-produced, but somewhat forgettable. I won't find myself humming any of these melodies when I'm not actually playing the game. Hence, the score of 6 out of 10.

Overall Score: 5.75/10
Square-Enix seems to be doing something that Squaresoft tended to do, back before the merger with Enix. They are phoning in their spinoffs. If you want to play a monster-catching game, stick with Pokémon.

06 July 2011

9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors [DS]

Plot Synopsis: 10/10
The game starts with Junpei waking up disoriented and locked in a room on board a large boat, when the room begins filling with water, forcing him to find a way to unlock the door in order to escape. When he does, he finds 8 other people who awoke in a similar situation. From there, the 9 have to work together in order to survive being locked on board what appears to be a sinking ship. How they got there and why they are there is a mystery that needs to be solved along the way.
I'll give the plot a 10 out of 10. It's not often you see a relatively original storyline with a sense of real urgency.

Game Play: 7/10
At it's core, 999 is a point-and-click, search for clues, interact with your surroundings type of game along similar lines as the Myst series and Trace Memory. Unfortunately, it is also VERY text heavy, which disrupts the action and the urgent pace of the game. It tends to feel a bit jarring, at times. Though, I suppose that can also make the player sympathetic toward the disorientation that Junpei is feeling. I don't know. I'm giving the developers the benefit of the doubt, here.
The game play gets a 7 out of 10. You point and click to find things, then you solve puzzles to proceed. Nothing new, and nothing that needs too much improvement. Not that the developers seem to have tried...

Graphics: 7/10
Typical generic animé style visuals. On the plus side, everything is easy to read, and you typically know exactly what you're looking at. I just can't help but feel, though, that animé style visuals are extremely overdone, and other styles could have been used to greater effect, given the nature of the game.
The graphics get a 7 out of 10. They're decent and clear, but boring.

Audio: 5/10
There is no voice acting, in this game, which I will count as a blessing, given the relatively disappointing production of the game. The music is rather disappointingly generic and unimpressive techno-inspired background noise. The only thing I will say in the music's defense is that it is typically fairly fast-paced, lending to the sense of urgency in the majority of the game. The occasional sound effects are accurate, for what they depict, but a bit loud and jarring compared to the music.
I have to give the audio a 5 out of 10. The music was disappointingly bland, and the sound effects weren't balanced, volume-wise, with the music.

Overall Score: 7.25/10
I was actually somewhat disappointed by this game. The concept was really impressive, but it seems like that's where the risk-taking stopped. The music was bland and unappealing. The visuals followed a style that runs far too rampant in the gaming industry and has almost become a cliché of itself now. I expected better of Aksys.

Plants vs. Zombies [DS]

Plot Synopsis: 8/10
Um. Well, there's not much of a plot to be had. Zombies are invading your house. You plant various types of plants throughout your yard to stop them. If you succeed, you move on to the next increasingly difficult level. That's all. No need to slow down a pretty simple concept with too much story. Some concepts just work better with little to no explanation or back story, requiring the player to just suspend their disbelief and just go with it. This is one of those games.
I'll give the "plot" an 8 out of 10. I know it sounds silly to essentially rate a LACK of a plot so high, but I'm giving it a high rating because I think the game would have suffered if the developers insisted on adding an actual story to everything.

Game Play: 8/10
The game play, here, is like a dumbed-down version of those real-time strategy games where you have to position your troops in the right places in order to stop the enemies' advance. The zombies approach your house, and you place plants in their path to stop them. Different plants do different things, but all can act in your defense.
Also, this game is a great time-waster. If you've got time to kill, each level can be completed in a relatively short amount of time. The game then autosaves when you finish a level, and gives you the option of returning to the main menu instead of proceeding to the next. When starting up the game, it will auto-load your save file and let you start at your next uncompleted level. So, you can easily power on, play a quick level or two, then quit out of the game and power off.
As you play through the game, you can also unlock various minigames and extras, once you hit certain milestone numbers of levels beaten, adding to the game's replay value.
The game play gets an 8 out of 10. It is a very simple concept. The difficulty comes from trying to fend off increasingly high numbers of increasingly strong zombies at once.

Graphics: 8/10
PvZ's graphics are very cartoon-like in appearance, which is fitting for the rather silly game concept. It's not supposed to be scary, and the developers aren't shooting for any awards for beautifully rendered cutscenes. They're just trying to make an entertaining game.
Plants vs. Zombies' graphics get an 8 out of 10. Stylistically, they match the silliness of the overall concept. They're easy to read. You can tell what you're looking at, at any given moment.

Audio: 6/10
There isn't much voice acting, in PvZ, beyond the occasional typical zombie moaning and groaning, which is all perfectly adequate. The music is also best described as adequate. It does the job, being light-hearted when the game calls for it, and being slightly ominous sounding for some of the more intense levels. Nothing jumped out at me as being particularly good or bad.
I'll give the audio a 6 out of 10. The music isn't bad. The developers took such a deliberately relatively minimal approach to so many aspects of the game, I just think it could have benefitted from slightly better music.

Overall Score: 7.5/10
This game is a whole lot of fun. I can't rightly say that not much went into the production, but the developers clearly knew what did, and what didn't, need to be done in order to make a better-than-average game. They kept the gameplay simple, the concept light-hearted, the graphics silly to match, and they didn't go overboard on the writing of the music. I actually feel a little bad that the audio score brought down the overall score.

05 July 2011

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective [DS]

Plot Synopsis: 8/10
Ghost Trick is, at its core, a murder mystery. However, you are the victim. As your spirit leaves your body, not only do you realize that you've lost your memory, but you also learn, through the help of what appears to be a talking lamp named Ray, that you have special abilities that you can use to avert people's fates. Except your own, of course. That would be far too simple. You learn this as you witness another woman get murdered after checking your corpse for signs of life. Thus, you decide to use your newfound abilities to rewind time and avert her fate, saving her life, in the hopes that doing so may help you to learn who you are and why you were killed. Solving the mystery starts there.
I'll give the plot an 8 out of 10. It's relatively original, and it does have a few plot twists that I legitimately did not see coming at all.

Game Play: 9/10
Ghost Trick's game play is quite simple, really. The player simply has to mash the A button to get through the cutscenes between puzzles, then drag the main character's spirit from one object to another, interacting with some objects on the way, in order to get to change enough things around that a given character's fate is averted. The complexity comes from determining what exactly needs to be done in order to avert the particular character's fate in the first place.
I'll give it a 9 out of 10, for having just the right amount of simplicity and difficulty.

Graphics: 7/10
The graphics are alright. Not spectacular, but I've seen far, far worse. They're fairly simple, and have a distinctly cartoony look to them. Some characters have blue skin. Others have purple skin. It's a bit unrealistic, to say the least, but still looks interesting. Things are easy enough to read to make it through the game without too many issues.
I'll give the graphics a 7 out of 10. I'd consider them to be slightly above average.

Audio: 6/10
There is no voice acting in this game. The music, much like the graphics, are adequate, but nothing spectacular. The songs are well written, and fit the scenes, but are easily forgettable.
I'll give the audio a 6 out of 10. The music is okay, and no voice acting is better than bad voice acting, but nothing about it jumps out at me.

Overall Score: 7.5/10
This game is a lot of fun. The pace keeps you wanting to play. Each chapter is short enough to get through without it feeling tedious. The story keeps you guessing. All in all, I found the game to be entertaining, and well worth playing.