Favorite Characters – South Town

July 11, 2014 Leave a comment

South Town iconYeah, this is kind of a cheat since South Town is a location and not actually a character. But in a way, it is a character because of how much personality it adds to the games that use it as a backdrop.

South Town is the setting for many of the games in SNK’s Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series’, and even makes occasional appearances in The King of Fighters. It’s an American seaside city that bears resemblance to Miami, Florida, and is the home of another of my favorite characters, Terry Bogard.

Call me crazy, but it looks like it would be a cool place to visit. It’s got beaches, amusement parks, themed restaurants, fighting tournaments, crime lords overtaking it every other week—it’s a happening place!

Fatal Fury screenshot

Sound Beach (Fatal Fury)

I think there are two main reasons that South Town strikes me as such a vividly realized locale. First, with it being the backdrop for so many games, it had time to develop and evolve. Areas like Sound Beach, Howard Arena and Dream Amusement Park reappear throughout the Fatal Fury series, and we get to seem them from different angles and at different times. It contributes to making these places feel more “real.”

Second, a lot of fighting games have an international setting, which allows for a big variety of backgrounds all over the world. But when the game was limited to only one city, the developers had to create a lot of variety within that one area to keep things interesting. Additionally, they made the backgrounds very dynamic, filled with animations and with time passing between rounds. As such, South Town became a very detailed and fleshed-out place.

Fatal Fury 3 screenshot

Howard Arena (Fatal Fury 3)

For me, one of the biggest appeals of fighting games is the characters. But I have to admit that, with a few exceptions, the character designs in the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series’ are not the most interesting to me. But really, it’s South Town, itself, that creates so much of the appeal and personality of those games, and makes up for the somewhat bland cast.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I would love to see SNK Playmore make a game with a freely explorable version of South Town. Preferably a River City Ransom-style beat’em-up with the Fatal Fury characters. It would be great to wander around the city and have my own adventures.

So, yeah, South Town isn’t really a character, per se, but it is definitely filled with character. It’s vivid depictions make it memorable, and it’s always fun to revisit it through the various games it’s featured in.

Deeper Waters – Sonic the Hedgehog, Part 4

July 4, 2014 Leave a comment

Sonic iconAs you can imagine from the name, the Spring Yard Zone is filled with springs, but it also contains another new gimmick: pinball bumpers. As with the Special Stages, it seems that Sonic Team was having fun with the idea of Sonic being able to roll around as a ball. But the whole idea of Sonic in a pinball machine is such a clever and natural fit, that it would be a recurring theme throughout the entire franchise, including two dedicated Sonic pinball games. (Was there ever an actual Sonic pinball machine? I’m not aware of one.)

Still, the pinball theme of the Spring Yard Zone is a little more rudimentary here than in later titles. There are no actual flippers, and no slot machines or other such gimmicks are present. However, the level design is certainly reminiscent of a pinball table, with springs launching Sonic up shafts into fields full of bumpers and more springs. There are also many tall vertical wells that Sonic will bounce up and down in, and all of the springs and bumpers offer plenty of opportunity for him to build up speed.

Sonic the Hedgehog screenshot

But as is the case with Sonic’s first game, there are also quite a lot of slower sections that force him to come to a complete halt. Most notorious are the staggered moving blocks that Sonic must slowly and carefully move between, lest he get crushed or hit by the attacks of some annoyingly placed Buzz Bombers. But even these slower parts demonstrate that the Spring Yard is the most vertically-oriented of all the zones in the game.

Sonic the Hedgehog screenshot

There are more secret areas here for clever players to find, but something I neglected to mention in the previous part is that starting with the Marble Zone, they’re implemented differently than they are in Green Hill. Sonic is no longer required to spin and crash through walls to find the secret areas, he simply has to walk through them. Perhaps this was a more practical game design decision, as until the Spin Dash was introduced in the sequel, it was challenging to build up enough momentum to crash through walls in this first game.

An interesting detail to make note of in Spring Yard is the background. It depicts foliage close to the foreground with a silhouetted cityscape behind it, and mountains in the distance with a purple sky. The time of day seems to be dusk, suggesting that time has passed from the first two zones.

Sonic the Hedgehog screenshot

The confrontation with Dr. Robotnik gets even more dicey here than in the previous fights. Robotnik flies back and fourth in his Egg Mobile, and occasionally drops down to destroy the strange looking blocks that make up the ground, leaving nothing but a death pit below. It’s a simple pattern, but it imposes an inherent time limit on the battle. Once all of the blocks are gone, Sonic will have nothing left to stand on and he’ll plummet to his demise. For the most part, Robotnik hovers just out of Sonic reach, so the main opportunity to attack comes when he drops to destroy a block. Still, aggressive players should be able to make short work of the Doctor in only a couple of cycles.

The Spring Yard Zone is a fun gimmick that shows off the style of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s fast and goofy, and it returns to the wide open level design that highlighted Green Hill. The increase in enemies and traps, as well as the presence of bottomless pits, make this the most challenging zone yet, but things are about to get much more perilous.

Screenshots captured from a longplay video by RickyC.

Arcade Mania – Metal Slug 3 (2000)

June 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Metal Slug 3 iconYou’d be forgiven for thinking that every game in SNK’s Metal Slug series was essentially the same. In a lot of ways they are. From the debut of the original in 1996 up to Metal Slug XX in 2009, the basic formula wasn’t messed with too much. This includes Metal Slug 3, but for a lot of fans, it’s still considered among the very best in the series, and there are a few good reasons for it.

Released in 2000 for the Neo Geo, Metal Slug 3 was the last game in the series to be released before SNK’s initial bankruptcy and subsequent rebirth as SNK Playmore. While the earlier games laid the basic groundwork, Meal Slug 3 goes all out to be the biggest, most epic game in the series. It’s certainly one of the longest MS games, with four moderately sized stages followed up by an enormous fifth stage that’s longer than the first four combined. There are also numerous branching paths and hidden areas, so replaying the game can always provide a slightly different experience. The number of “slugs” (aka vehicles and animals) you can ride has also been greatly increased, with some really crazy ones like an ostrich and an elephant. This was also the first Metal Slug game with underwater swimming sections.

Metal Slug 3 screenshot

The story is… well, who cares what the story is, it’s Metal Slug.

For me, this was the first Metal Slug game that I was really able to get into, and I played it a good bit in the arcade. It’s still a personal favorite of mine that’s never quite been topped, and it came out at a time before the formula had started wearing itself out. But even now, with its enormous variety and relentless energy, it holds up well against many of its own sequels. Perhaps the series might have done better to try to dramatically reinvent itself after MS3‘s penultimate statement, but instead it settled into a comfortable rut with only minor tweaks being made. That’s not to say the series hasn’t been experimented with with its various spin-offs, but those games amount to little more than curiosities.

Metal Slug 3 screenshot

Metal Slug 3 is available in many formats, including the original Neo Geo MVS and AES releases, as well as the PS2 and original Xbox. It’s also available as part of the Metal Slug Anthology for PS2, PSP and Wii, and is downloadable on the Wii Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, and mobile devices.

Yes, you can say that all the Metal Slug games tend to blend together, and if you’ve played one, you’ve played them all. But if you do only play one Metal Slug, I highly recommend you make it Metal Slug 3.

Site News – June 20, 2014

June 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Apologies for missing two weeks in a row. I’ve been distracted by some personal matters, but hopefully I’ll be able to get back to posting regularly again soon!

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Games I Like That Most People Don’t (Part 1)

June 6, 2014 2 comments

Fox McCloud iconWe all have unique preferences when it comes to certain games. Sometimes we’re not into the popular games that most people love, and sometimes we love games that get a lot of hate. It can be frustrating when a game clicks with you, but no one else seems to “get it,” or vice versa.

This is my personal list of games that I’ve enjoyed, but that tend to be unpopular among the larger gaming crowd. It’s just a personal examination of how I was able to enjoy these games when other people didn’t.

Ultima VIII: Pagan (1994)

The infamous Ultima VIII was a big departure from the preceding games in the once revered Ultima series, which emphasized large, open worlds, tons of quests, and an unparalleled level of interactivity. It was the Elder Scrolls of its time. But in an attempt to streamline the game, Pagan was made simpler, more linear, and more action-oriented. It also had an extremely rushed development cycle as EA forced the game out the door to meet an annual release schedule resulting in, essentially, a half-finished game.

Ultima VIII

The technical shortcomings undermine some really interesting concepts, but overall, fans tend to object to the game’s simplification and darker themes. Even series creator Richard Garriott considers it one of his “bad” games. There are no companions to recruit and only two real side-quests to discover. The game also eschew the series’ emphasis on virtues in favor of placing the player into morally ambiguous situations.

I admit, I have a love/hate relationship with the game myself, but as much as I could criticize it for its shortcomings, I also appreciate the things it does right. It has an amazing atmosphere and tone. The world feels mysterious yet compelling. I also liked its attempt at creating a more streamlined experience. I’ll also admit that it was my first Ultima game, so nostalgia does play a small role. It has some major problems, to be sure, but I feel that if it was more technically robust and fleshed out the way the developers intended, fans would’ve been more accepting of the thematic change in direction the series was trying to go in.

Instead, we got Ultima IX

Secret of Evermore (1995)

The first and last game developed by Square USA, Secret of Evermore is an unfortunate victim of association. Borrowing its mechanics from the much more popular Secret of Mana, Evermore put a decidedly American spin on the formula through its story, concept, graphics, music, and even humor.

Secret of Evermore

Most of the criticism aimed at Secret of Evermore stems from the belief that it somehow replaced the localization of Seiken Densetsu 3 (aka “Secret of Mana 2″). This is a myth that has been debunked by the developers, themselves, and it’s sad how many people still believe it. Still, fans seem to hold a grudge against Evermore simply for being the game they got rather than the sequel to their beloved Secret of Mana.

And this is the interesting part to me: I didn’t play Secret of Mana back then, and so I have no nostalgia for it. I played Evermore first without having any personal attachment to its spiritual predecessor, and I loved it. I appreciated its distinct flavor versus the traditional Japanese RPGs of the era, and I played through the game multiple times. It wasn’t until 2008 when Secret of Mana was released on the Wii Virtual Console that I really had the chance to dig into it. After years of all the hype at how much better Mana was supposed to be than Evermore, I have to admit that I came away from it a little let down. It’s interesting to me that my feelings towards both games are the opposite of everyone else’s, likely because I just happened to play them in the opposite order.

Star Fox Adventures (2002)

This spin-off of Nintendo’s Star Fox series didn’t start off as a Star Fox game at all. Rather, it was an original concept known simply as “Dinosaur Planet.” The particular details of how it became a Star Fox game vary depending on the source, but the final product brought Fox McCloud out of his Arwing (for the most part) for a Zelda-style action-adventure.

Star Fox Adventures

This game is a little difficult for me to discuss because, unlike the other games in this article, I honestly still don’t fully understand why this game gets as much hate as it does. Some people just don’t think it’s a very good Zelda clone. Some people nitpick about whatever small details. Some people simply complain that it’s a Star Fox game.

I guess this just boils down to difference of opinion in its purest form. For me, it’s a very solid, enjoyable action-adventure game with a lot of charm. I certainly enjoyed it enough to play through it multiple times. I will admit that I have nostalgia attached to it, as it was the very first GameCube game I bought. But still, it’s like there’s a significant disconnect between the game other people are describing and the game I’ve actually played. I have yet to understand for myself what this game’s great sin was.

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