Friday, February 14, 2014

Penny Squeezins: My Latest, Cheapest Game Purchases

Good golly Miss Molly, I was supposed to be updating this blog! A thousand apologies, folks. My early impressions of the Wii U haven't been fully fleshed out and my top forty list of Genesis games has hit an Earthworm Jim-shaped roadblock, so how 'bout some brief reviews of the games I've bought (for stupidly low prices) over the last couple of weeks? Maybe I'll throw in my thoughts on the recent Nintendo Direct presentation as a bonus.

Android (played on Nexus 7 2013 edition)
Price: 99 cents

Oh, you'll miss plenty with control like this.
(image courtesy of
What's most amazing about the Android format is how a tiny phone can offer everything you love about the home console experience. Well, everything but the fun, anyway. This port of the Dreamcast favorite Crazy Taxi is just one example, looking and sounding very much like the real thing but quickly running out of gas thanks to its awkward touchscreen control. You can also play the game by tilting your Android device like a steering wheel, but neither option compares to an analog thumbstick, and you won't be able to use one on 'droid unless you're willing to root your system and jump through a whole lot of hoops.

The predictably lackluster control makes Crazy Taxi a largely hands-off experience. Nevertheless, you'll be surprised by how faithful it is to the Dreamcast game while you're kind-of sort-of playing it. Music by The Offspring and Bad Religion blasts in the background as you tear through the city, picking up passengers and taking them to such iconic locales as, uh, Pizza Parlor and the Fried Chicken Shack. Even without the official license, it's not hard to figure out what that red roofed restaurant is supposed to be... not that Pizza Huts even look like that anymore. Remember, Crazy Taxi was released nearly fifteen years ago! (Why yes, you are old.)

By the way, there's a rumor floating around on the internet that Sega was able to survive its many dumb mistakes because it patented the navigation arrow and fleeing bystanders in this game. Thanks to the popularity of sandbox games and the necessity for a navigation arrow in their massive worlds, Sega gets a steady stream of profit from video game sales, even when those games aren't their own.

Nintendo 3DS
Price: $15

I scored a digital copy of this game from a member of Cheap Ass Gamer, the internet's foremost pincher of gaming pennies. Normally, I wouldn't be interested in Link's latest adventures, but I'd gotten tired of endless rounds of Super Street Fighter IV and wanted something meatier in my 3DS library. Besides, at fifteen dollars, who could resist?

Ravio: Because the Zelda series needed
more creepy, disturbing sidekicks.
(image courtesy of Operation Rainfall)
I haven't really dug that deeply into A Link Between Worlds, but I've been impressed with what I've seen so far. The bird's eye view attempted in A Link to the Past is better realized here thanks to the system's more advanced technology and 3D display, and that Zelda brand confusion is kept to a minimum now that you've got a map marked with the next location you need to visit. Some critics have complained that the game treads on overly familiar ground, borrowing its level design and overall look from A Link to the Past, but as someone who grew up with a Genesis and never played that game, it all seems fresh to me. In fact, I think it's actually the third Zelda that comes up short in a comparison. I bought the Game Boy Advance version of A Link to the Past from another CAG member shortly after I got this one, and it seems so dated next to the 3DS game that it seems almost... quaint.

Xbox 360
Price: $10

I'd be perfectly happy if Sega made a game
that was 100% this and 0% new Sonic.
(image courtesy of Miikahweb)
Many people cite this and Sonic Colors for the Wii as the turning point for the Sonic series, which lost its way starting with Sonic Adventure 2 and spent the rest of the 2000s making more people miserable than the Bush administration. From my brief time with Sonic Generations, I'd have to agree that it's a step in the right direction, although not without a few stumbles. The game starts with classic Sonic, pleasingly plump and mercifully mute, speeding his way through an absolutely gorgeous 21st century re-imagining of the Green Hill Zone from the Genesis game of old. Once you zip past the sign that marks the end of the stage, the spotlight shifts to modern Sonic... and that's where the headaches begin. The action is seem from behind crappy Sonic's back and the control is noticeably more awkward, in keeping with later titles like Sonic Heroes and the universally reviled Sonic the Hedgehog 2006. Maybe I could get used to the way the modern Sonic stages feel with a little practice, but geez, I like the way classic Sonic handles now.

Xbox 360

Price: $1

This game's pretty sweet! Well, sweet-ish.
(image courtesy of Digital Trends)
(also, please stop hitting me)
This was the best deal of the bunch, although it took a lot of work! When I purchased Sonic Generations from a pawn shop, I found a lonely copy of Skyrim behind the glass display, lying there naked and shivering without its green plastic case. I was offered an incredible deal on this poor, orphaned disc, but only on the condition that I couldn't return it and acknowledged that it may not work. 

At first, it didn't... the disc was badly scratched and had cracks in the spindle. I could get as far as the title screen with it in this condition, but two brisk cleanings with a dab of toothpaste got it to the point where I could transfer the data to my Xbox 360's hard drive. It's a clumsy workaround, but hey, it gets the job done!

Anyway, about the game. It's extremely similar to the previous Elder Scrolls installment, with two immediately noticeable differences. The first is that the interface has been rebuilt and streamlined, which is good news for newcomers but a little awkward for veteran Oblivion players. The second is that the setting has taken a sudden turn for the Norse, with snow-capped mountains in the distance and characters speaking in Swedish accents. It's a jarring shift that hits you like an Ikea chair to the face, but I suppose I shouldn't complain. After all, Bethesda also replaced the Oblivion gates and their long, boring dungeons with thrilling battles against massive, fire-spitting dragons. Good call!

Wii U
Price: $11

I'll discuss this in more detail when I review the Wii U in a future blog entry. However, what I'll say now is that Mass Effect 3 is the kind of game the Wii U desperately needs to be competitive with Sony and Microsoft's systems. Of course, the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 got their versions of Mass Effect 3 a couple of years ago, but having the game at all is a step up for Nintendo, which missed out on the entire franchise in the last console cycle.

The only Commander Shepard you'll ever need.
(image courtesy of Leviathyn)
Mass Effect 3 continues where the last two games ended, with Earth conquered by the Reapers and the rest of the galaxy in deep shit. Once again, it's up to Commander Shepard to assemble a force to repel the Reaper assault, while also thwarting the sinister intentions of the shadowy Cerberus. As Ms. Shepard (please don't play as the guy), you'll spend equal time negotiating with being from other planets and blasting them into space-burgers with a small team of your best soldiers. This time, you can customize the experience to your liking, turning the game into a full-blown cover shooter, a story-heavy RPG, or a well balanced blend of the two play styles. There's also a digital comic that offers a quick summary of the events from the past two games. You know, the two games that were never released on a Nintendo system. (Thanks, Nintendo.)

I've spent a few hours with Mass Effect 3 and am already coming to the unfortunate conclusion that it's not quite as good as the sublime Mass Effect 2. Combat is looser, with less emphasis on finding cover, and the storyline is depressingly bleak... yes, even more so than the previous game. On the plus side, the acting is up to its usual high standards, with Jennifer Hale being the Captain Janeway you always wanted, instead of the one we actually got. (Who's that guy on the front of the box? Uh, I think he's the janitor or something.)

Oh, one other thing. The Wii U port of Mass Effect 3 lets you the game directly from the gamepad, freeing up the television for other family members and giving you the freedom to play it just about anywhere in the house. You can have Mass Effect in the kitchen, on the can, or even in the tub if you're willing to take that risk. It's a much better handheld option than Mass Effect: Infiltrator on the Android, which looked like an authentic Mass Effect experience but lost much of its heart.

Satoru Iwata
Price: Free

If you can't trust a Chuck E. Cheese character
with a bad comb-over, who can you trust?
(image courtesy of Shack News)
For those of you who don't know, Nintendo Direct is a monthly video broadcast with the president of the company announcing upcoming games for the 3DS and Wii U. These announcements are typically followed by gameplay footage and (often frustratingly vague) release dates.

This month, Satoru Iwata revealed the latest addition to the Super Smash Bros. cast, Little Mac from the Punch Out!! series. (That's the game where Mike Tyson beats you bloody in a matter of seconds, making it an extremely realistic boxing simulation.) He also announced the long-awaited comeback of the Koopa Kids (they'll be in Mario Kart 8, alongside their pop Bowser), and a video game which lets you ply a bulldog with doughnuts to receive real-life discounts on downloadable content. The broadcast ended with footage of a mysterious science-fiction action-RPG (anyone catch the name of this?) and Bayonetta 2, the Wii U-exclusive sequel to Sega's madcap beat 'em up.

At least the punching bag from Waku Waku 7
is still getting work.
(image courtesy of... me!)
That was about it for the memorable moments. There was a lot of footage of Kirby: Triple Deluxe, as well as the launch of the latest game in the Steel Diver series (this is a series now?! Oh lord...), but there wasn't much else for Nintendo fans to get excited about. That's a pity, because if ever there was a time for Nintendo to release a breakout hit, it's now. I don't think another Yoshi's Island sequel that fails to capture the magic of the Super NES game is going to cut it.

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