An ode to survival horror

Looking back at my top ten games from the past decade, I thought I’d dedicate my posts this week to a genre that was mentioned a few times: survival horror. The two most popular series belonging to this genre are of course Silent Hill and Resident Evil. I’ll start out with Silent Hill; I’ll say what I like and what I dislike about the series. Next time I’ll discuss Resident Evil, and at the end I’ll reveal which series I prefer.

The original Silent Hill game was released for the PlayStation more than ten years ago now, in 1999. The graphics are way outdated today, and I can’t lie, they look pretty terrible. That only adds to how impressive the fear aspect is in this game. To this day, playing the original SH still gives me a strong sensation of uneasiness as I advance, and oftentimes I find myself hesitating to go through the next door, or around the next corner.

That’s because Silent Hill has never been known for relying on the sort of “things jumping out at you” approach to horror. This series forces players to think, and you’ll do plenty of that, and when you’re done you still won’t be able to understand absolutely everything. Konami knows how to create chilling stories that really grip you. This series plays on your imagination, and you almost always have an extremely limited field of vision, with only a flashlight to illuminate the darkness.

The original game focuses on the story of protagonist Harry Mason, a widower, who is searching for his lost adopted daughter, Cheryl. Harry awakens after crashing his car in Silent Hill. During his journey through the demented town, Harry learns of a dark secret about Cheryl, whom he and his wife found on the side of the rode. Though there are monsters (which are really personifications of Harry’s own fear, you’ll later learn) to fight, the real monsters of the game are members of the terrifying cult The Order. The story of The Order unfolds throughout the game, and later on in other games in the series. The character development in this series is one of its strongest qualities.

Silent Hill is also famous for its puzzles, which at times can be frustratingly difficult. Often times, frivolous item collecting is also necessary to complete these puzzles. Solving one puzzle can require several trips back and forth between different rooms. The puzzles can certainly be tedious, and the reward often feels not worth all of the effort.

The earlier games in the series have hair-pullingly awful control schemes. This aspect of the gameplay much outweighs the graphical limitations when considering elements that may defer players from giving the originals a chance these days. Understandably, though, this aspect also adds to the terror experienced while navigating Silent Hill. The thought of not being able to maneuver the character sufficiently when faced with danger is a brilliant tool to instill fear in the player (though probably unintentional at the time). The controls do become easier to deal with after the first couple of hours, though, and it’s worth gritting your teeth for a while to continue the game, because the stories are so well done.

This series is also known for its wonderful soundtracks. The voice acting in the first and second games is pretty god awful, but the music of this series has always been genius.

As far as recommending individual games, I would definitely suggest beginning with the original, to get the feel for the series from its start, and also to learn the story. I would then recommend going on to play Silent Hill 3, which is my personal favorite game of the series. This game also continues the story line of the first game (Silent Hill 2 is a completely separate story). After that I would recommend the new Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the Wii. This game is meant to be taken as a completely separate entry from the rest of the series, but it is still very much a SH title, and definitely worth playing and replaying. Homecoming for the PS3/XBOX 360 is also a good game, and it really goes in depth with the story of The Order. I would recommend Silent Hill 2 for people who are already fans of the series, because I honestly feel it’s one of the weaker entries (even though other fans will argue endlessly with me on this). In SH2 you are introduced to Pyramid Head, the series’ most famous antagonist. I would not recommend playing Silent Hill 4, but rather reading the story somewhere or watching a playthrough online. The gameplay is really just a pain and poorly developed, but the story is really interesting. I’d also recommend playing Origins last; the gameplay’s not so great, but it does provide a great background story and is worth one playthrough.

All in all, any fan of survival horror needs to check this series out. Just keep in mind that Silent Hill has its strong points and also some really weak points.

I would suggest checking out IGN’s review of the original Silent Hill for more information about the series’ starting point.

Best Nintendo game of the previous decade!

The time has finally come, folks! The time for me to announce my personal favorite Nintendo game from the last decade. There were some great competitors up for the grand prize, and it wasn’t easy, but there is one game that sticks out in my mind and captured my heart above and beyond the others. Though all of the games that made it to my top ten list truly deserve to be there, this title just wouldn’t belong at any position other than first.

So, here it is…the award goes to…

1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 64)
This game just barely qualifies for the competition with its 2000 release, but I’m glad it made the cut. There is so much to say about this addition to the Zelda series. First of all, this game required the expansion pack for the N64 because of the detailed graphics, which still look awesome today. When I think of the look of Majora’s Mask, I think of an overall mysterious atmosphere, with tons of beautiful colors in all of the areas the young hero explores. After saving the land of Hyrule and becoming known as the Hero of Time in the previous game, Link travels to the much more mysterious land of Termina, with the central hub of the action taking place in Clock Town.

While MM only has four major dungeons to conquer, it offers many more side quests than its predecessor, Ocarina of Time. One of the most enjoyable side quests is the trading of the land title deeds with the Deku scrubs. Each trade allows Link access to something useful, for example a piece of heart.

Along the journey, Link must collect masks to return to the (very scary) Happy Mask Salesman. Link must collect all masks within the game before he is allowed access to the legendary Majora’s Mask, which was stolen by the Skull Kid. The Happy Mask Salesman informs Link that, when in the wrong hands, Majora’s Mask is capable of great destruction and chaos. Link must return the mask the the salesman before Skull Kid succeeds in destroying the entire land of Termina. Some masks are collected during the main story, and others are more side quest-ish. There are also four transformational masks that change Link into different forms (Deku Scrub, Goron, Zora, and Fierce Deity), that are collected whilest completing dungeons (except for Fierce Deity, which is attained only after having collected all other masks).

Some masks have extensive stories to complete before you earn them. For example, the Couples Mask has certain tasks to complete on each of the three days. 

The game takes place within a recurring three day time cycle. On midnight of the third day, Skull Kid pulls the moon down, crushing all of Termina, if Link is unable to stop him. Obviously, the game is much too extensive to be completed within the first three day cycle, and therefore Link is forced to complete as much as he can (or as much as the player wants to) within three days, and then time must be reset. During a reset, various items and amounts of progress are lost. Side quests, for example, should be started when enough time is allowed to complete them before the cycle needs to be reset. Link does learn an ocarina song that allows him to slow the flow of time, which helps tremendously. The time cycle in this game definitely adds a large amount of difficulty, which is much appreciated considering there are only four major temples.

Another thing I love about the three day time frame is that the game has its own schedule. For example, standing in a certain area of town on the first day at a specific time, you’ll see various characters completing certain routine activities. There are also specific time frames (a couple of specified hours on a certain day) in which you are allowed access to various places, for example the Stock Pot Inn – which has a small window of opportunity in which you can get a room reservation.

All Zelda fans, in my opinion, NEED to play this game through at least once. If the time cycle annoys you, just be patient, it doesn’t take long to learn the Inverted Song of Time, which allows you to slow the time flow. The updated graphics are really impressive for the N64 still to this day. The soundtrack is awesome. The game gives you plenty to do in between completing dungeons-mainly the collecting of the masks, among other things. The time scheduling is probably the most impressive element of this game. I love being able to see the same events happening at the same time upon a reset of the cycle. I also can’t stress highly enough how much FUN this game is to play. In today’s world of video games competing to have the best graphics or the best online modes, it makes a look back at these classic, fun games necessary every once in a while.

Check out some great details of this game on Zelda Universe. You’ll find plot summary, characters, maps, ocarina songs, strategies, cheats and more.

So now it’s your turn. I want to know what you consider the best game from the previous decade. Go!

Top 10 games (#4, 3, 2…)

I’m almost to the end of the countdown! These are the Nintendo titles of the previous decade that are truly worth owning, because besides being great upon first play, they also have longevity. These are the games that you’ll be popping in between releases of upcoming titles.

Without further ado…

4. Soul Calibur 2 (GameCube)
I can’t tell you how many hours of my life this game claimed during its prime, and continues to take to this day. If you’re a fan of fighting games, you’d be foolish to not give this one a shot. The Soul Calibur series is among the best of the genre. SC 2 offered an astonishing improvement from the original, which was available for Sega Dreamcast. Tons of new characters were added to the fighter roster, including a special character that depended on the platform you bought the game for. In the GCN’s case, this special character was none other than Link! SC2 also featured many new levels, an expansive solo quest, and the ability to choose from an arsenal of weapons before starting battle.

3. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (GCN, Wii)
This game was worth waiting for the Wii release due to the impressive motion controls, which forever changed the way Link’s sword was handled. The game also offered a more extensive journey for Link, with an average file taking about 25 hours to finish with a reasonable amount of side quests completed. TP offers more dungeons and a much larger version of Hyrule to explore. As always, the soundtrack is nothing less than beautiful, but I found the biggest gems to be the remixes of the classic Zelda songs (such as the Fairy’s Fountain theme). This is the Zelda game that’ll leave you wondering where all of the hours disappeared to since you sat down to begin playing. 

2. Resident Evil 4 (GCN, Wii)
Another game worth waiting for the Wii release to experience the motion controls. RE 4 was a complete revamp of the series, which allowed for the ease of controlling the protagonist, Leon. Resident Evil series veterans know the paradox of the protagonist and smooth, painless controls in past titles. Not only are the basic controls impressive, but the interactive features of the game are a superb addition. For example, when Leon has to outrun something from a cutscene, the player will have to respond by shaking the Wii remote back and forth rapidly, and then help Leon to dodge by performing a combination button press indicated on the screen. Although many RE veterans argue that this game is not as scary as past titles, the horror element still clearly remains. RE4 doesn’t allow players to have a break even during a cutscene, as many of them are brief and are immediately followed by a necessary instant response from the player. The game is also pleasingly on the long end, with plenty of action and suspense to keep players working toward the ultimate goal: to rescue the president’s daughter…while not becoming a snack for the Ganados or Cultists.

Got an iPhone? Check out Resident Evil 4 mobile edition.

Interested in buying one of these awesome Nintendo titles, but can’t find them at your local game retailer? Check out eStarland for a wide variety of video games, both old and new.

My #1 Nintendo game from the last decade to come later this week! Stay tuned, folks! Also please feel free to comment with your favorite games from 2000-2009!

Top 10 games (cont’d)

I’ll pick up my countdown where I left off:

7. Luigi’s Mansion (GameCube)
This game was among the top reasons to own a GameCube back in the day. Finally, an adventure featuring Luigi instead of his brother. The game’s story followed a gullible Luigi who was convinced that he’d won a contest and received a free mansion. Luigi later finds out that Mario has been kidnapped by the Boos and that he’ll have to dispose of them all if he wants to rescue his long lost brother. Equipped with only a vacuum, the player guides Luigi through the haunted mansion searching for Boos to vacuum up. Each main room has its own unique boss fight tailored to fit the personality of that particular ghost. The player also performs various tasks such as watering plants and searching through cabinets throughout the game to gather money. After completing the game, Luigi is rewarded a real mansion built by Professor E. Gadd using the money that Luigi collected throughout his journey (obviously, the more money gathered, the better the mansion turns out). The game has attractive graphics and the mansion is fun to explore even while not hunting ghosts. It was such a successful story that I’ve found myself playing through this title a few times over the years.

6. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube)
This is the Zelda title that divided long-term fans of the series. The cell-shaded graphics were a big topic of debate and unfortunately a huge receiver of negative criticism. Putting the change in appearance aside, this game felt as much a Zelda title as all others in the series upon play-through. All the right elements are there: great story, exploration, dungeon battles, gradually acquired skills and weapons, boss fights, side quests, and of course, a kidnapped princess. When entering this game with an open mind, the graphics actually become quite pleasing after a while. The amount of detail for the style is incredible, and it gives the game an artsy, intriguing feel. My only complaint about the gameplay is the amount of time spent sailing. Once learning a specific song that allows Link to transport to various spots on the map without having to sail the entire distance between points, however, it becomes more bearable. Still, the amount of sailing feels a bit excessive even then. The most rewarding part of the game, for me, was the journey beneath the ocean to see Hyrule, and a statue of the Hero of Time from past Zelda games. This is not a title to be missed, tedious sailing or no.

5. Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
The Super Smash Bros. series has yet to release a game that is anything less than awesome. This title had a huge response from eager fans, with long lines forming at various retail chains for a midnight release. The anticipation was certainly justified by yet another great addition to the series. The same great cast of characters returned with some new faces, including Sonic, cartoon Link, Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid series, and many others, some unlockable and some available from the beginning. The stages were all well done and enjoyable, and the new adventure mode, Subspace Emissary, provided for a great co-op journey with a friend in between regular battles.
Still haven’t unlocked all the characters? Check out the guide to unlocking all 16 extra characters on Super Smash Bros. World. 

The real best games of the past decade to come later this week! Stay tuned!

My top 10 games of the decade

Alright, as promised, I’m counting down what I feel are the top ten games from the past decade. Since just counting down the best video games in general would be chaos, I’m going to stick with what Nintendo Power did and simplify my countdown to include just games that were released for Nintendo (a couple of them may have also appeared on other platforms).

Here are the first few:

10. Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles (Wii)
RE: DC is a rail shooter that retells the events of RE 2 and RE: Code: Veronica, which, first of all, are two of my favorite RE games. The graphics in this game are beautiful, and extremely impressive for the Wii. The main protagonists are Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, naturally.  The levels are expertly crafted and the voice acting is done very well. The game is a great time whether you’re playing solo or co-op with a friend. If you’re in the mood for some mindless zombie blasting without the hassle of navigating, this is the game for you.

9. Super Mario Galaxy
Though I enjoyed Super Mario Sunshine, this game is clearly the superior title. The level designs are phenomenal and the graphics are breath taking for a Mario game. On top of the fun basic story line, the game has tons of replay value (you can play through again as Luigi and explore new experiences) and encourages you to keep playing until you collect all of the stars once you’ve finished the game with the minimum requirement. 

8. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
I was so thrilled to see a Silent Hill title come to the Wii, but I never could’ve imagined just what an amazing use of the Wii remote it would have. The speaker on the remote acts as Harry Mason’s cell phone, and holding the remote up to your ear when accepting a call is a great way to make the player feel immersed in the game. In fact, there is plenty of interactivity between the player and the game in this title, which is what makes it so impressive.  When you turn the game on there is a psychology warning that the game will psychologically profile you as you play. I have never seen something like this before. You begin the game by filling out a survey, and based on your answers, many different aspects in the game will be altered to fit with your responses. As a result of your answers, characters will have specific personalities, monsters will appear a certain way and so on. Because of this feature, the game has almost unlimited replay value. You can alter all or a couple of the answers on your survey the next time you begin a file and experience a much different game. Throughout the game there are also subsequent sessions with Dr. Kaufmann, where you’ll be asked to answer more personal questions, which in turn will also affect your game and ultimately the ending you receive. This is a really interesting new adventure for Harry and long-time fans of the series will really appreciate the new title, as long as it is interpreted separately from the rest of the games rather than as canon. The use of the Wii remote and nunchuck to shake off enemies in an appropriate direction also makes the player feel more a part of the story. Check out screen shots, descriptions, and more at Konami’s official website for the game.

More of my countdown to come later! =)

NP’s Top Ten Games Part Deux

Alright, here’s the other half of Nintendo Power’s list:

5. Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
Finally, one I agree with! This latest addition to the series was a huge success, and so highly anticipated and critically acclaimed that I found myself waiting in line for the midnight release, and playing a few hours before bed on a school night. I wasn’t disappointed, either. With the ever-improving multi-player modes and a new co-op story mode, Brawl is definitely deserving of an honorable mention of the best games of the decade, even if it doesn’t end up making my personal top ten. 

4. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GCN)
Yet another entry I completely agree with, and definitely feel will wind up on my personal top ten list. This game split fans of the series down the middle. Many people didn’t want to give it a chance because of the new style of cell-shaded cartoonish graphics. Those stubborn people missed out, big time. The gameplay definitely feels like a Zelda title, and the story and dungeons are well crafted.

3. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (GCN/Wii)

I can definitely say that this game will also appear on my top ten list. While it was an amazing game on the GameCube, it was worth the wait for the Wii system to experience this game with the new Wii motion controls. Swinging the Wii remote to swing Link’s sword massively trumped the old style of striking the B button repeatedly, and changed the series forever.

2. Resident Evil 4 (GCN/Wii)

You’ll be seeing this one on my list as well. A great remix of the Resident Evil series, this game made endless zombie sniping an awesome time for all. The use of the remote for the Wii version of the game made aiming more precise than the red laser sight on the GameCube version, which in turn made those endless hordes of ganados seem like a fun challenge rather than a headache to navigate through. The motion controls also incorporated other great interactivity between Leon and the player, who had to respond to rough situations with a quick button press or swing of the remote to correspond to the danger.

1. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)

This is surely an awesome and fun game, but I really disagree with it being on this list, especially as the list’s topper. This is not the best Mario game in the series, and certainly not Nintendo’s best work of the last decade. The level designs and treatment of gravity are quite impressive, and the game has lots of replay value, but I feel like Nintendo Power just wanted to see a Mario game top the list too badly. This spot could have been donated to a much more deserving game. IGN may actually agree with NP’s decision, though. Check out their review of the game here.

Look for my list of the top ten games of the decade to come this week!

NP’s Best Games of the Decade

In its recent March issue, Nintendo Power magazine compiled a list of the ten best games of the decade. Of course, all of the games on their list are strictly on Nintendo platforms. Seeing their list inspired me to comment on their picks, and then to provide a list of my own afterward.

Nintendo Power’s Top Ten Games of the Decade

10. The World Ends with You (DS) 
First of all, I’m not a gamer that’s big on handheld systems or the games themselves typically. I’ve never played nor seen this game played, so I can’t really offer any comment other than I’d reserve all of the slots on my personal list for console games.

9. Mario Kart Wii (Wii)
I’ve yet to play a Mario Kart game that isn’t a lot of fun, yet I find this title undeserving of holding a spot on this list. It was nice to see Nintendo dish out a racing game with a higher difficulty level than players are used to, however, and the Wii remote/racing wheel combo made for a fun method of steering. Still, this game is most likely one I’d play with a group of friends, rather than solo.

8. Metroid: Zero Mission (GBA)
I’ve only played a couple of games from this series, and this was not one of them, so sadly I cannot offer much comment on this choice.

7. Elite Beat Agents (DS)
Wow, this is one of the titles on the list that made me say, “Really?” aloud to myself as I read it. Personally, I felt like way too many music and rhythm games were released during the past decade. The trend simply exploded, and honestly it was a little annoying to see preview after preview of yet another music game. The Guitar Hero and Rock Band series are one thing, but all of the spinoffs made my head spin after a while.

6. Metroid Prime (GCN)
This is one of the Metroid games I have played, and I can honestly say I wasn’t blown away by it. The game was slow to get in to, with very tedious play and boss fights that took a ridiculous amount of time and effort. Perhaps if I’d followed this series from the beginning, I’d have been much more impressed by this title. For now, however, I must respectfully disagree with this choice by Nintendo Power.

This list will be continued in my next post! To subscribe to Nintendo Power, check out their website here.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4?! FINALLY!

 

Sonic 4!

Sega is bringing  oldschool Sonic back! It’s been 16 years since a numbered Sonic game was released. The original game came out in 1991, its sequel in 1992, and Sonic 3 followed two years later in 1994. Since then the “little blue blur” has been featured in tons of other  games, all of which being 3D. The most successful Sonic series to be released since the numbered series is Sonic Adventure; the first game of the series was released on the Sega Dreamcast in 1999. Most other Sonic games sadly have received mostly bad reception, both from critics and from gamers. The 3D style Sonic games have been directed mostly at the younger generation of players, whereas the oldschool side-scrolling Sonic games were fun for all generations and remain lots of fun to this day. 

The new game will feature updated graphics from the first three games, with 3D character models. The levels, of course, will remain 2D (as far as we know currently at least). 

The game will be released in episodes, with a rumored few levels at a time being released as one episode. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode 1 will be released this summer. The game will be all downloadable content, and will be available through WiiWare, PlayStation Network, and Xbox LIVE Arcade.

Sega is slowly revealing characters and enemies making a comeback into this new game on its official website. Check back regularly to get all the details, and read the news updates as they come.

While you’re waiting these next few months, it might be a good idea to dust off your old Sega Genesis to sharpen your high-speed side scrolling skills once again.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii-Quick Review

Super Mario Bros. is probably the first game series one would associate with Nintendo in its beginning. In the original games there was little more for a player to do than run, jump, fly, and pick up turtle shells to throw at enemies. New Super Mario Bros. Wii took that highly successful formula and revamped it quite a bit, while still managing to keep a lot of the feel of the earliest Mario games. 

The most obvious returning element to the series is the side-scrolling progression of  game play. The new addition to the series has proven that this method of play is still fun and effective.  Players who go for this game are going to want at least some of the oldschool feel of the series, and the side-scrolling level design definitely works to satisfy that craving. 

The incorporation of the Wii’s motion controls translates smoothly and efficiently. The new controller techniques are smart and not overly used. Jumping, grabbing objects, throwing, and other basic actions just require a simple button press. Fancier moves such as a spin jump make use of the motion controls and require the player to twist or shake the Wii remote in a certain fashion. The new controls, for the most part, are fun and only enhance game play. However, it is sometimes difficult to perform these movements while also trying to carry an object along, which requires holding a button down constantly. This is only a minor setback. 

The music is an element that can be debated. The inclusion of slightly remixed takes of the songs from the older games in the series are quite enjoyable, and really work to satisfy that nostalgic craving for the series. The new tracks, however, make one wonder if New Super Mario Bros. Wii is trying too hard to be a new game. The new tracks come off as cheesy at times, and the enemies on the screen even stop to dance along on occasion. This feels too cutesy for the series and makes it seem more aimed at kids. The most disappointing part of the new soundtrack is what plays after Mario jumps onto the flagpole at the end of a level. The player expects the original tune from the older games to congratulate them, and the new, more hyper-sounding tune that plays while Mario says, “It’s Mario Time!” or something of that nature is very disappointing and almost maddening. These little catch phrases that Mario has are also highly unnecessary and annoying.

Our old pal Yoshi does make an appearance in the game to aid you along your journey. Another great blast from the past and an excellent choice by the developers to include him.

The new multiplayer modes (supporting up to 4 players) are a great inclusion and make this a great game to take to a get together with friends.

Overall, this game is a lot of fun and a great reminder of just what an amazing creation the Super Mario Bros. series is. Players should start this game off with an open mind- expecting many returning elements from the older games in the series but also the mix of many new additions. It doesn’t rank nearly as high as the original Super Mario Bros. games by any means, but it’s a great game to add to any Wii game collection.

Read GamePro’s review of this game here.

Some mixed news for us snowed-in folk

Famous game designer Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo has officially announced that they are currently working on new hardware, and has confirmed the rumors that Nintendo has a secret project in the works. As of right now there’s no further information, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what the new product could be. Could it be the long-rumored HD Wii? Another upgrade to the DS Lite? Or is it something completely different, which will become the next home console? The rumors have been circulating for quite some time, but Miyamoto’s announcement has finally given those waiting for more Nintendo products hope. The full story is on 1up.com.

On the subject of a rumored HD Wii, Netflix VP of Corporate Communications Steve Swasey echoes the words of Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime in saying that HD is not necessary for Netflix’s services nor the Wii. Swasey argues that Netflix and the Wii are already enormously popular, despite their lack of HD support (most of Netflix’s content is not available in HD). This full story is also available on 1up.com. 

Shigeru Miyamoto has attributed his inspiration behind the last Mario platform adventure (not counting New Super Mario Bros. Wii), Super Mario Galaxy, to a pet hamster he was baby sitting during the game’s development. Miyamoto was concerned about the difficulty of navigating and controlling Mario while in space, especially with the concern of semi-realistic gravity coming into play. Observing the activities of the hamster inspired Miyamoto to break down many of the environments and planets Mario visits into spheres, which allowed for easy control and transfer between worlds. Read more about it here. 

Namco Bandai is looking to cut 10% of their workforce; an estimated 630 jobs. The publisher has a projected fiscal-year loss of $343 million. They attribute this huge loss to a fall in software sales, and cite Tekken 6 as the only release to have succeeded expectation-wise. Full story here.

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