Metroid Fusion

Super Metroid is widely considered the best game in the Metroid series. Metroid is known for its variety of weapons and suit upgrades, its rewarding exploratory play, and of course, the enemies. In 2002, the franchise finally split into two genres. Metroid Prime would begin a series of first-person shooters, which at the time was considered a letdown to fans, even though it turned out to be a great game. Because of this, many were clamoring for a new game in the classic tradtion. Enter Metroid Fusion. This game has everything you could want in a Metroid game, from the weapons and upgrades, to the swarms of enemies, and the exploratory nature of the gameplay. But let’s not forget the story, which is integral to everything Metroid.

The game opens on a black star field with the words “Nintendo Presents … Metroid 4.” Very simple, yet appropriate. A quick clip plays, with a cargo ship with the letters “B.S.A.” on it, Samus flying alongside. She receives a warning that an asteroid belt is ahead, but she zips ahead to investigate. An explosion follows, and the next thing you see is the Metroid Fusion logo, and the familiar Metroid theme we all remember.

The basic story is that while on SR-388 with a Biologic Research Labs team, Samus becomes infected with “X”, which served as food for the Metroids. Samus returns to her ship, but the organism infests her central nervous system. She passes out and proceeds to crash into the asteroid belt. Luckily, the ship ejected Samus, and she was recovered by the research team and returned to the Galactic Federation’s Headquarters. All was not well, however, as the infestation multiplied quickly, corrupting Samus’s Power Suit. Worse yet, her body had become so reliant upon the suit that it could not be removed without killing her. Parts of the suit needed to be surgically removed, but the X in her nervous system was too deeply embedded to destroy.

Using a cell culture from the baby Metroid Samus rescued in Super Metroid, they manage to save her. X is no longer deadly to Samus; she can absorb them just as the Metroids did. However, she and her Power Suit are forever altered. The research team captured additional samples of X and the remaining pieces of Samus’ Power Suit and sent them to the B.S.L. station, but there is an explosion in theQuarantineBaywhere they were being stored. Samus is sent to investigate this explosion, and thus begins the game.

First and foremost, the game feels like a Metroid game. It should, considering the people that developed Metroid Fusion (Intelligent Systems) also developed Super Metroid. But the story line is what really sets Fusion apart from other games in the series. It’s solid, engaging, and firmly rooted in the mythos already established.

The game is absolutely gorgeous to look at. It’s not quite as dark as other games in the series (due to Nintendo’s mandate to use lighter color palettes on GBA due to the dim screen), but it still captures the feel of earlier adventures quite well. There is a bit of slowdown in some of the boss battles, but this can be forgiven, as there are often many sprites being moved across the screen at the same time.

The game controls the same as the other 2D Metroid games in the series, which is definitely helpful. There are a few tricks in store even for the fans, as the game is clever enough to use the fans’ memories against them. More than once, you’ll find yourself overlooking something as insignificant or impossible just because it didn’t work that way in the past. The only real loss here is the omission of the classic Bomb Jump technique, although you can still jump with the Spring Ball.

Metroid Fusion is an amazing addition to the franchise, and now that it has been rereleased through the Ambassador Program on 3DS, a new generation of gamers can access this GBA classic. For those who were not able to participate in Nintendo’s program, there is a great chance that Game Boy Advance will be available on the eShop by the end of the year, and Metroid Fusion is very likely to be among the first batch of games announced.

 

I am Number Four

For someone who doesn’t watch that many movies, I am Number Four might be just what they’re looking for. If this were my personal situation, I think that I might have liked it much more.  Unfortunately, this is not the case, and instead, we get an attempt to merge Twilight and the Michael Bay formula, as well as a majority of other much better productions. The storyline contains everything from teenage dramas, superhero adventures, romances, science fiction, and action/adventures. It’s not just the lack of originality in I am Number Four that I have a problem with; it’s the fact that it cherry-picks well known material and presents it with a distinct lack of intelligence and elegance.

This may be just fine for teenage girls looking for some eye candy in Alex Pettyfer, this movie’s Robert Pattinson stand-in. Instead of a sparkling vampire, Pettyfer plays an alien who must save the Earth from uglier aliens. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get very involved in D.J. Caruso’s latest film when the clichés include the football captain bully, the cheerleader turned social outcast and the science nerd who’s actually pretty cool. Here, the blend of computer-generated monsters and forced dialogue does absolutely no service to the source material, the popular sci-fi novel from Pittacus Lore, the pseudonym of James Frey and Jobie Hughes.

Four tells the story of John Smith, the fourth of nine aliens from the planet Lorien who are being hunted, in consecutive order, for some reason, by the evil Mogadorians. How do we know they’re evil? They look like Lord Voldemort rip-offs, complete with trench coats and scalp tattoos. Our heroes, on the other hand, are a much better looking lot. The boys are ripped, while the girls are stunning and ride motorcycles.

Smith attempts to blend into the student body of anOhiohigh school to avoid being the latest extraterrestrial casualty. Even though he’s misunderstood by everyone except the nerd, the ex-cheerleader, and his beagle, Smith thinks that he may have finally found a home in the little town ofParadise. Before very long, however, he’s fighting the bullies and doing a rather good job of drawing attention to himself, leading to the quick arrival of the Mogadorians, who descend on the town in search of Smith and his father figure, Henri, played by Timothy Olyphant.

The fight scenes are effective, and the special effects are handled competently byMichael Bay, which means that more than a few things get blown up by the end of the movie.

Unfortunately, the screenplay, credited to three writers, does Caruso no favors. It makes up new rules as it stumbles along (to explain away plot holes), and promptly ignores the ones it previously established (in order to cover up even bigger plot holes). Details are quickly revealed and then overlooked. Henri carries around a glowing box which, or so we’re told, contains secrets handed down by Smith’s dead father. But the box is never opened, and nothing comes of it.

That’s the main problem with this movie. It spends too much time trying to appeal to the young teenage audience with its attractive cast, and not nearly enough on finding a way to competently tell the story that Frey and Hughes created. Just track down a copy of the book and its sequel, and skip the movie.

Super Mario 3D Land

Nintendo’s EAD Tokyo studio, who made Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat, as well as the two Super Mario Galaxy games, never worked on a portable system before making Super Mario 3D Land. Fortunately, they have some kind of inherent knowledge about to make a fantastic portable experience, as they created a game that doesn’t only excel at being a great Mario game, but also at being an amazing portable game in its own right.

I spent the first half of Super Mario 3D Land believing that I was playing the easiest Mario platformer ever. That soon turned out not to be the case at all. The simplistic early levels seem to be nothing more than a ploy to lure the player into a false sense of security before drastically ramping up the difficulty. Or, if you’d like to take a more positive note, they get you acquainted with Mario’s new abilities, some of the enemies and obstacles you’ll face, as well as the new control scheme.

The game controls like you would expect from a 2D Mario game in a 3D space. This is even more apparent with the inclusion of a run button, something that was never featured in analog control Mario games.  Wall jumps are still around but strangely, backflips can only be pulled off when moving. This can make some of the platforming slightly more difficult. Regardless, once you learn the rules, the controls work. Outside of a few depth of field issues, the controls never failed me.

Much like in Super Mario Bros. 3,  the levels are bite-sized. A proficient player could blast through a majority of the game pretty quickly, especially if they held on to the Tanooki Suit. However, even if you do take your time to explore and find all the marvelously well-hidden Star Coins, none of the levels are more than about 5 minutes long. It succeeds perfectly as being a game you can just pick up and play a few levels when you’ve got some time to kill.

The 3D effects in the game look fantastic, and for the most part, they aided me in my quest. However, there were a few times where I felt the 3D betrayed me, as I had immense difficulty judging distances. This could possibly stem from the fact I wasn’t quite used to the 3D, but since there isn’t another game like this, this might be a common issue for most players.

Super Mario 3D Land is packed with content, with eight main worlds containing five or six levels each (in addition to a surprising amount of bonus levels). The boss battles, featured at the conclusion of each world, include a variety of call-backs from previous games, including rematches with Boom-Boom from SMB3. However, these can range from challenging and fun to downright repetitive and lame. The best are definitely the Bowser-focused ones which feature platforming instead of direct boss interaction. All around, the available power-ups are great and feel empowering, with the exception of the propeller block, which makes for a cool 3D effect but lacks any meaningful gameplay.

EAD Tokyo’s 3DS debut is wonderful, and is filled to the brim with seemingly endless creativity. While it may take a while to build up, and it lacks the rich variety of secrets you’ve come to expect from games like Mario 3 and Super Mario World, Super Mario 3D Land eventually becomes a demanding and addictive platformer. It’s also easily one of the most beautiful 3DS games, as well as one of the best-looking Mario titles. If you own a 3DS, you should definitely consider picking up Super Mario 3D Land. It’ll last you quite a long time, and it’s a superb new Mario game.

999

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, a Chunsoft published interactive novel, is an amazing accomplishment. The game is able to present an extremely compelling narrative that you will want to play through multiple times, something which is often hard to come by in text-heavy, story-centric games.

During the course of the game, you control Junpei, an average college kid, who wakes up on a decades-old cruise liner to discover that he’s been kidnapped, along with 8 other passengers.  Each has been given a number, represented by the bracelet attached to their left wrists, and given exact instructions for how to survive: exit through the 9th door. All nine people have been chosen to play the “Nonary Game,” a life-or-death adventure in which they will be forced to split up and explore the numbered doors which line the boat in an attempt to escape the ship and find their way home. Their kidnapper, known only as “Zero”, has given them explicit instructions about who can pass through the numbered doors. If any of these are broken, a bomb inside of the rule-breaker will detonate, killing them instantly.  If that’s not enough tension, they only have 9 hours to escape the boat before it sinks, killing them all.
If this setup sounds grim and foreboding, that’s because it is. This interactive novel features violence and gore, a majority of it done through text description. This provides a dismal atmosphere for the game which could never have been accomplished through any amount of shocking artwork. However, the game is not bereft of happiness. As Junpei gets to know his eight companions, the sense of humor and personality quirks written for each character begins to shine through.

As the tern “visual novel” suggests, the majority of your time in 999 is spent interacting with other characters and reading dialogue and exposition. In-between these lengthy interactions, you find the actual gameplay of 999 – solving puzzles to escape the traps and obstacles Zero has set up throughout the ship. Players use the stylus to move between rooms and examine the objects they find in typical adventure-game style. These puzzles are tricky, but rarely reach the level of difficulty that a player might be compelled to resorting to an online walkthrough. In most cases, solving the various puzzles gave me a strong sense of satisfaction as I advanced through the story.

999 has six different endings, depending on the choices you make throughout the game, some of which are prerequisites for others. While at first this may seem like a tedious undertaking in order to grasp the full story, subsequent playthroughs are made easier by allowing players to fast-forward through dialogue they have already witnessed, which consists of 75 percent of the game. Some of the endings will also contain videos that provide hints about how to reach other endings on subsequent playthroughs.  Only after reaching the true ending will players be able to finally piece the mystery together and completely understand the plot. A singular playthrough will only reveal background information on a few characters, and only allows access to a number of the puzzles.

The story itself is rather well written, with plenty of twists and turns as you play. It is a storytelling accomplishment, and one which is truly unique to the DS platform. The graphics in the game are standard adventure game fare, with many cardboard cutouts placed against static backgrounds. The art is nicely done, but doesn’t do too much to lend to the total atmosphere of the game. The majority of characters only have a few frames of animation, which leads to a comic-book-style of presentation. The music doesn’t do much to add to the game’s environment, and I found myself muting the game after hearing the consistent beeps of dialogue being displayed.

From start to finish, 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is an fantastic experience, the quality of which has been difficult to find on DS. A game which unequivocally expands the narrative video game genre, it does so with an engrossing story that draws players in until the final loose end is tied up, 6 playthroughs later.

Galactic Attack

Not many games are as privileged as Taito’s vertically scrolling shooter as to have three names. After it was released in Japanese arcades as Rayforce, it was ported to Japanese Saturns as Layer Section, and finally arrived on North American Saturns as Galactic Attack.

The game marks the beginning of a shooter trilogy for Taito, which continues in Layer Section 2, also known as Raystorm, which was released both for the Saturn and the Playstation. The series then came to an end in 1998 with the prequel RayCrisis: Series Termination, which was only available for the Playstation.

The story in Galactic Attack is nothing new, but it finds a way to remain compelling all the same. A sentient computer known as “Con-Human” is developed by humans to solve the world’s problems. As one might expect, it rebels against its masters and begins altering the earth’s environment in order to suit its own needs, as well as building up a stockpile of weapons. Humanity has suffered great losses in the wake Con-Human’s takeover, and all their hopes ride on the prototype: “Project Rayforce.”

Compared to other games of its kind, Galactic Attack is definitely above average. Crisp controls and solid graphics, cause it to excel in the presentation categories, although the music is not particularly memorable. However, the very steep difficulty curve may discourage some from progressing very far in the game. The first 4 levels play perfectly, with a challenge that will prove ideal for most fans of the genre. However, once you reach level 5, the level of difficulty spikes dramatically, and your ship’s equipment suddenly appears drastically inadequate to combat the hoards of enemies.

Much like Xevious, the Rayforce series of games outfits your spacecraft with a generic, forward-firing laser, as well as lock-on missiles. The latter work through a targeting reticle, which allows you to find enemies a layer beneath you, and fire upon them with streaking, bending lasers. This is what makes Galactic Attack stand out from amidst a crowd of other space shooters, as it allows the developers to portray two parallel paths which the player must pay attention to in order to survive. While at first, this may seem like a throw-away gimmick, it actually infuses the game with a further level of complexity, which I appreciate. You can earn power-ups that increase the amount of simultaneous lock-ons, and can increase the power of your main laser. However, no further weapons are ever unlocked, even after finishing the story.

The boss fights scattered throughout each stage are rather challenging, and require a combination of both your main laser, as well as heavy use of missiles, in order to be brought down. Unfortunately, the four continues supplied will only prove sufficient after much practice, and for most, the demand on their patience will be too great. Even so, for fans of difficult shoot-em-ups, I would still highly recommend picking Galactic Attack.