Smash Bros. Melee Preview

 Gamestyle Archive Intro: another GS preview from August 2001 when we were all waiting for this new Nintendo series. Writer JJ.

Smash Bros. Melee
Version: Gamecube
Developer: Nintendo/HAL
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Beat ’em up
Players: 1-4
Accessories: TBA
Release: November 2001
Link: http://e3.nintendo.com/gallery/supersmashbros/
 

Super_Smash_Bros_Melee_box_art

One thing that is for sure about the video games industry is that it is far from predictable.   Certainly some firms are more painfully obvious than others i.e. Electronic Arts but once in a while a developer will surprise us all.   Super Smash Bros. on the N64 was a big surprise, Nintendo doing a beat ‘em up, involving their most famous characters?   Unbelievable and frankly stupid were my first thoughts when I first heard this amazing news.   Rather than go down the Way of the Exploding Fist style of fighting, Nintendo took a different approach.

For a machine that lacked a single decent fighting game for most of its life, Super Smash Bros. on the N64 was its only shining light and showed that when Nintendo decide to make a game, more often than not it is excellent – no matter what genre they choose.   Smash Bros. Melee continues the Nintendo practice of exploiting their back catalogue through sequels or side projects.   For some a sequel on launch day is an unusual choice, given the range of games that they had to pick from.   Yet perhaps it’s an admission that not having a decent fighting game blighted the N64 and the Gamecube must have a decent fighter from day one.

The most important aspect of any fighting game is the control system deployed by the developer.  Arguments ensue about which fighting game has the best method but Gamestyle just doesn’t care.   The ideal system is one that is firmly of a pick up and play nature but has enough depth to keep the fighting fans occupied and offer combinations.   The Gamecube controller is far more suited to this genre than the N64 version ever was.   This is perhaps a reason why the developer has upgraded the fighting system as the amount of control is greatly improved.   The original was very much offensive with little time for tactical or defensive fighting styles.   Now you can block by using moves of your own or have the ability to evade and deflect opponent’s attacks.   This will no doubt result in longer battles with the most skilful player being victorious rather than the first to pull off a special move but will it affect the offensive hungry American market?  No more Attack! Attack! Attack! Kill! Kill! Kill! But instead tactical, stylish, cunning and skilful – just like Gamestyle UK!

Along with the excellent Powerstone series, Super Smash Bros. was the only fighting game to achieve a playable four-player mode.   The fighting genre needed some fresh ideas and both these titles found new fans amongst gamers.   The intense battles to be had in the original are only perhaps equalled by 2D fighting games for their speed and ferocity.   For the 128bit version Nintendo are once again plundering their back catalogue to bring us new characters.   Each character will have new multiplayer levels and this includes the hidden characters.   While new characters are included several old ones will be available once again (as Mario, DK, Link, Yoshi, Ness, and Pikachu) complete with new special moves.   Unlike the single player mode the multiplayer has been tweaked rather than radically altered.  More options are available to allow you create the game you wish to play including Tournament and custom rules – standard options in first person shooters for sometime now.   Settings can be altered on handicap, stages, damage percentage and more items to choose from.

The game promises to offer plenty of modes to give the fighting fans happy for many months to come.   While not much is known about the Tournament mode it we expect that it will include a league championship format with player records ongoing – 64 players in total!  I wonder how they came to the number 64?   The Melee mode is a straightforward hit anything that moves option with the victor being the last person standing.  The Decision and Coin modes offer new gameplay elements that do not involve beating your opponents senseless.   Decision mode introduces tactical elements into the game.   Whereas before characters could use their special attacks whenever possible this mode places a limit on the number of times the effective moves can be implemented.   The mode is scored on the basis points given for combo moves rather than kills.   The advantage of this is that it forces the player to become experienced with a character of their choice.   The Coin Mode has coins raining down from the top of the screen and in this game the winner is the player with most coins.   Whether the rumoured Sonic character is actually in the game, the coin mode is perhaps a nod to the Sega mascot otherwise why not use gold rings?           

As with most fighting games the single player mode on the original was limited and only useful to unlock the hidden characters.   To address this problem the developers have made the levels more interactive by including platform elements.   Perhaps we can expect this to be a Nintendo version of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon with the fighters flying across the screen.   Each level as mentioned previously will be true to your opponent character.  Link will found in an underground maze but before you can take on the Nintendo hero you will have to fight your way past several Redead and Octorocks.   Of course no Zelda level would be complete without platforms and playing each level should bring back memories (good and bad) of the original Nintendo games.

So far this is one of the best looking games on the Gamecube that we have seen, in fact it is stunning.   Everything has been given an overhaul including the animation and character details.   The Gamecube has provided some excellent 3D and lighting demos so far and this game delivers on both.   Nintendo want you to beat up their flagship characters but want them to look good in the process.  The only drawback that we can note is perhaps the game camera focuses too closely to the characters making them appear too big.   Perhaps this is just a setting to show the game off rather than an actual problem we will have to wait and see.

It will be interesting to see how the game compares graphically to the forthcoming PS2 duo of Virtua Fighter 4 and Tekken 4.   While all are firmly placed in the fighting genre, Nintendo have taken a more fun approach combined with the four-player madness, which makes it such an exciting title and once again a refreshing change.     

Luigi’s Mansion Preview

Gamestyle Archive intro: seems like only yesterday we were waiting for the Gamecube and one of the lead titles was Luigi’s Mansion. This preview is from June 2001, writer JJ.

VERSION: Gamecube

DEVELOPER: Nintendo

PUBLISHER:  Nintendo

GENRE: Adventure

ACCESSORIES: unknown

PLAYERS: 1

RELEASE: Europe Easter 2002

 luigimansion

Nintendo are well known for only releasing games when they are finished and not beforehand.   Details of all the forthcoming Nintendo Gamecube titles have been kept firmly under control by the company, no doubt to keep secret many innovative features.   When it comes to Gamecube previews this is all the more harder, because we don’t really have much to go on or comment about.  Based on the movies and information available, Gamestyle presents its first albeit short Gamecube preview.

We all know Mario but what about his younger brother Luigi?   This is his first solo game and like incorrect initial reports wasn’t put together between projects but was conceived as a fully-fledged title.  All we need to say is two words, Shigeru Miyamoto.

There has been talk recently of the need to make Mario and his clan more appealing to gamers of all ages and not just kids.  Luigi’s Mansion is the first title to be developed under this new initiative.   Everyone first thought that the Gamecube would be the first Nintendo console to launch without a Mario title in its ranks and that Luigi’s Mansion would be the main focus.  However with the recent Spaceworld announcement that a Mario title does exist, although in what state isn’t known, it could be that Luigi is pushed aside by his older brother.   Whatever the case, Mario will feature in Luigi’s Mansion but on a minor scale.   One genre featured highly in our recent Console Rage feature was platformers that are synonymous with Mario and Nintendo in general.   It therefore comes as a pleasant surprise that what has been seen so far of Luigi’s Mansion does not include any platforms!

The storyline is that Luigi has inherited a mansion and decides to visit his windfall along with his brother (Mario) who will meet him when he arrives.   It becomes obvious to Luigi that not only is the mansion haunted but that his brother has vanished, no doubt taken by some unseen force.   It’s therefore up to Luigi to rescue his brother and rid the house of all supernatural activity.   That’s all 90 plus rooms one by one needing to be cleared.   The only help that you will receive is from a friendly ghost expert who offers advise, apart from that you only have a torch and vacuum cleaner to do the job.   Brings back memories of Ghostbusters on the Spectrum.   More items that you can equip have been promised and added to your vacuum cleaner, with only a water-spraying item having been confirmed so far.   These will no doubt prove useful in solving the many puzzles that will stand in your way.

Although Luigi and the Casper inspired ghosts are quite comical, Nintendo have tried to convey a sense of being alone, claustrophobia and apprehension.   Make no doubt; this game isn’t a Resident Evil or Alone In The Dark more a humorous Nintendo take on such intense games.   The use of the torch in the game is very important and similar to that used in the recent version of Alone In The Dark.   Ghosts easily scare Luigi and therefore unexpected surprises will result in loss of health and much screaming!  From what we’ve seen the graphical power of the Gamecube as been put to good effect.  Real time lighting, shadows and reflections are all in evidence as you scour room after room with your only source of light.   Everything you see within the mansion is interactive, the typical Nintendo stance – no pre-rendered backgrounds here!

Ever since Mario 64 most 3D games have struggled to put together a controllable and effective game camera.   Luigi’s Mansion features a unique camera in the fact that walls dissolve thereby offering you a better viewpoint and not spoiling the experience.   Once you’ve seen Luigi’s Mansion in motion you have no doubt what a fun, exciting and fast game this will be to play.   What we know so far has given rise to more questions such as will the GBA plug into the game and allow you to use it as a map/ghost sensor?   We already know that Luigi has a Gameboy in the game that does the same job.   How much of a role will Mario play in the game?

Whatever questions we have this is a must have purchase on launch day, roll on 2002.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong

Gamestyle Archive intro: we’re at the end of the first excel Gamecube review spreadsheet and we’re finishing with a big budget movie adaptation that turned out rather well. If I’m not mistaken this also marks the debut of Drew Middlemas into the archive who was with the site for sometime.

Writer: DM

Published: November 2005

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If there are two words that are almost guaranteed to leave gamers in a cold sweat, those words are ‘movie licence’. Over the years we’ve been subjected to layer upon layer of the most awfully-derived trash imaginable, and genuinely good licensed games are rare – shining like a beacon of purity amidst the decay. Or to put it another way: for every Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, there are at least ten Charlie & the Chocolate Factories. Fortunately for us, Peter Jackson’s King Kong is one of those rare exceptions, a game that stays faithful to its licence while still providing a game that’s interesting and fun to play.

Created by the same team responsible for the criminally-ignored Beyond Good & Evil, this follows the story of the film to the letter. It is in how the plot of the film plays out before your eyes that makes this game such an excellent use of the licence: viewing most of the game through the eyes of one Jack Driscoll, the events of the film play out before your eyes with no ‘cut-scenes’ as such (aside from when loading up the next area), and it is this that truly helps to immerse you in the storyline. It is clear that a lot of thought was put into this game – above and beyond that required for most movie licences.

Like Metroid Prime, the perspective may be first-person but that doesn’t make the game a first-person shooter; there is no interface, no health meters or health pick-ups to be found – all it takes is a couple of solid hits and you’re stone-cold dead (although the evolved ‘V-Rex’ can kill you instantly). The point of the game is to survive, not to charge around with all guns blazing. The sense of realism afforded your character is genuinely unnerving, especially in light of the many superhumans who populate game history, and makes for some truly panic-inducing scenarios; gamers who don’t adjust sharpish will wind up dead pretty quickly. The real crux of Peter Jackson’s King Kong is in using the environment to your advantage.

There’s a clever ‘food chain’ system in place, where killing small monsters can divert a bigger dinosaur’s attention when he feasts. The spears you can find are the most useful weapons – used not only to attack but also to skewer small animals as bait – and they can also be ignited to set long grass on fire (which keeps dinos at bay). Guns and ammo, meanwhile, are extremely scarce, but if you manage your resources effectively you should always have enough to scrape through. Group dynamics also play a large part in the game, via your interaction with the other survivors. Fortunately, the AI of your party is decent, and they can take care of themselves (although it doesn’t mean you won’t have to save them on occasion). In fact, because the AI of your partners is so effective, you feel genuinely vulnerable when the game forces you to split up; it emotionally hooks you like few other games have managed to do, and that works strongly in this game’s favour. Playing as Kong himself, meanwhile, is still fun, but not nearly as engaging as the human levels. The combat system works fine – although the temptation to button-bash is very strong – and platforming is largely prescripted. That said, there’s something enormously gratifying about breaking the jaws of the V-Rexes that gave you so much grief as Jack.

As expected of a film licence, the graphics and sound are utterly superb, providing a huge level of atmosphere. Skull Island is superbly realised, if a little samey from area to area, and there are some standout set-pieces like Brontosaurus Valley. The humans are superbly-rendered, but of course Kong is the real star of the show; his personality really shines throughout the game – although this means the ending is all the more heartbreaking, even if you’re familiar with the Kong narrative and its inevitable outcome. So far this sounds like the perfect film licence, but alas it falls just short of perfection. The game is extremely short-lived, and not that difficult once you know what you’re doing (lasting about eight hours on the first playthrough). There is also an extreme linearity to the stages – because effectively they’ve been designed to steer you through the story. It’s not such a bad thing considering the all-around quality, but we found ourselves wanting to see more of the island than we did. The graphics can also get repetitive from area to area, but since almost all of the game takes place on one island, that’s entirely forgivable.

With all of this taken into account, Peter Jackson’s King Kong is possibly too brief to warrant a full-price purchase. If you can rent it or find it cheap, however, Gamestyle highly recommends this title – which has firmly restored hope that truly great games can be born from a film licence.

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

killer7

Gamestyle Archive intro: a hugely distinctive game that soon moved onto other formats; killer7 was pretty unique and another brave release from Capcom on the system. This review also is the second last full review on the Gamecube excel spreadsheet. We have another version to search through but apart from my own GC reviews this could be it.

Writer: JJ

Published: July 2005

killer7

If Gamestyle were handing out the Most Stylish Game Award of 2005, killer7 would (natch) eviscerate the competition. From the control system to the loading screens, everything plays a unique and distinctive role; killer7 also marks the end of an era – being the last of Capcom’s highly-touted releases for Gamecube. Needless to say, the production cycle ends with a bang. Spanning two discs, the initial experience threatens to come off its meticulous rails by being a little too different. Variety is welcome in all its forms, but when a game is this avant-garde, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s simply a ‘fashion’ statement.

The story certainly takes no prisoners as you become a master assassin who has somehow managed to acquire seven alter-egos. Unfortunately, for the rest of humanity, each of these egos has specialised skills and murderous abilities (eg, stealth killer, sniper, powerhouse attacker and so forth). Each personality can be called upon to overcome bizarre obstacles – and in this freakish game world, switching between them comes naturally. At first, everything is tranquil but the peace is shattered when an old foe unleashes the Heaven Smile – a doomsday cult who have no qualms about blowing themselves up in your vicinity. These cumbersome opponents slither towards you in kamikaze fashion (only becoming troublesome at close range), whilst bosses and other creatures continually up the ante. However, boss encounters are sometimes too vague – with no helpful pointers or clues to speak of – but killing them does yield rewards, as the spilt tidal wave of blood can be used to upgrade the abilities of your killer7.

Normally, Gamestyle is quite comfortable with on-the-rails shooters such as Time Crisis and The House of the Dead, despite a stringent control system which only affords character movement in two directions – forward and reverse. However, in terms of adapting to this game, killer7’s main conceit is gunplay and little else: there is no alternative control scheme nor let-up during the opening stages of the game, so you must hit the ground running. This truly is a baptism of fire, as you attempt to break free of every other control system you’ve experienced. For many, the story and strong visual motif will prove attractive, but perhaps not enough to justify getting one’s head around the unwieldy control and repetitive opening stages.

Gamestyle would urge players to stick with it, because killer7 becomes a compulsive experience – not least because of its astonishing cut sequences (which surely must rate as some of the best ever to be bundled within a game). Since Gamecube was the format of choice for development (well, before Sony got in on the act), you’d expect killer7 to be a tour de force – indeed, loading times are minimal and the framerate remains rock-solid. Capcom’s mastery of the ‘cube is bettered only by Nintendo themselves: in fact, it’s hard to describe just how well-integrated the cel-shading, character design and voice acting truly is, yet this outstanding environment is hard to appreciate when you’re hamstrung by mental controls. If only, Gamestyle muses… if only you could freely explore, rather than follow the branching path.

Every now and then a title comes along that truly divides gamers, and killer7< is certainly one of these. By being different and daring and altogether difficult, it has alienated many. But by sticking to their (un-)fashionable guns, their purist vision and actually getting the game out there (with a Mature rating, no less), Capcom have created something of worth – and something worth remembering for years to come

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

Sonic Gems Collection

Gamestyle Archive intro: Daniel always enjoyed a Sonic release and this collection offered a huge assortment of Sega’s mascot escapades in one handy package. This review was the NTSC import version.

Writer: DJ

Published: August 2005

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Politics are the bane of any gamer’s life. For reasons of age-rating appropriateness, the western release of Sonic Gems Collection does not contain the Streets of Rage trilogy as unlockable extras – understandable, but disheartening all the same. Nonetheless, Gamestyle has endeavoured to bring you the definitive review, which led us to seek out the ‘definitive’ version (in this case, the Japanese edition).

On first impression, Sonic Gems Collection appears naught but a leftover of the wonderful Sonic Mega Collection; its principal attraction – the much-lauded Sonic CD (which is really just a messier version of Sonic 1, albeit with added extras and proper redbook audio) – was omitted from the first compilation, but ironically, it isn’t as good as any of those were. Some of its ideas are quite intriguing on paper, but fail to convey during play; for example, the time-travel feature whisks Sonic back into the past (whereby the level adopts primitive stylings) or into the future (where either peace or chaos ensues – depending on your actions in the past). It also allows you to explore old routes which may have become blocked over time – the problem is that, unless you’re already familiar with the level layouts, you’ll be none the wiser to any metamorphosis. However, the method of temporal shifting (by running for a prolonged duration) comes across as very satisfying, and the end-of-level bosses are better than most.

Sonic CD also suffers aesthetically: sprites and backgrounds are lacking in detail compared to latter Megadrive games, and the sporadic decor usually hinders your view of the route. However, the aforementioned past/future changes are very cleverly done and show a keen eye for detail. The music is also streamed from the disc (unlike the synthesised sounds of previous Sonic games); unfortunately, this results in the loss of those ‘classic’ double-speed music effects. Even with its slightly muted look, Sonic CD is still the prettiest of the Sonic Gems on offer here. Sonic The Fighters, the quirky arcade brawler (which never made it to a home console, prior to this), barely surpasses PSone quality with its blocky 3D characters and simplistic arenas. The conversion to Gamecube has served it well, as the framerate is slick and solid and the resolution better than we expected. Using the analogue stick can be unwieldy for managing jumps and ducks, whilst the D-pad is sufficient. Sonic The Fighters ticks mostly the right boxes for a beat ’em up: characters can perform quick or slow attacks, use throws and parries, defend, perform aerial assaults or slam opponents against the arena wall (with excellent ‘bendy’ physics). There are problems: cheap tactics can keep you at bay while your opponent perpetually juggles you in the air; long-range attacks can leave you defenseless; speed differentials can create unfair advantages; and novices can easily mash their way to victory.

Two-player mode is fully supported (including the normal ‘story’ mode), but you won’t find any depth – it’s straight-up arcade fun. Next is Sonic R, the dubious Sega Saturn release from Traveller’s Tales (a company notorious for creating alluring games which play like sludge). Sonic R was technically impressive for the Saturn – although this port appears to be taken from the sharper PC version – but the controls attempt to mimic a racing game whilst keeping a platformer’s perspective, which just feels wrong. The level designs are confusing, treading too fine a line between open paths and ‘short’ circuits. The soundtrack is ridiculously cheesy (but in tune with the characters), and the draw distance has been improved; the game even runs smoothly in four-player split-screen (which provides some nominal entertainment). Sonic R is definitely the least interesting of the three main games, so onto the additional ones…

The GameGear titles offer a streamlined approach to Sonic platforming, due to the limited display options and truncated levels; the most noteworthy example being Sonic 2, which features none of the smooth-flowing omnidirectional slopes of its 16-bit counterparts (apart from some prescripted moments). It’s also unforgivingly hard, and not aided by poor camera tracking. Play becomes nothing more than a tedious memory test as you struggle for extra lives, hoping to get just one level further before being summoned back to the beginning for the umpteenth time. Sonic Spinball is hardly worth mentioning; if the superior Megadrive version failed to engage on anything other than a cursory level, then this jerkier version won’t turn any heads either. Then there’s Sonic Drift 2, which is an absolute mockery; the original 8-bit hardware could barely render the track, let alone the carts speeding around it. Here it’s downright painful to look at and near-impossible to play. Matters improve somewhat with Sonic & Tails 2, originally released near the end of the GameGear’s lifespan, and the difference is immediately noticeable: better animation, more detailed levels, smoother controls, and the music isn’t too bad either. It’s also more forgiving and loads more fun than Sonic 2.

The final two GameGear titles are notable because Sonic is absent and because they’re not strictly platformers: Tails’ Adventures is a kind of slow-moving platform/RPG hybrid (which has some nice ideas thrown in), and Tails’ Sky Patrol is a survival-flying game where you must stay airborne by not ploughing into anything solid (easier said than done – the clipping is horrendous). Gamestyle doesn’t welcome arbitrarily locked away additions at all, especially when the method for accessing them is so laborious (Sonic Gems seems to require ‘X’ amount of playing time) – but Vectorman 1 & 2, Bonanza Bros. and Bare Knuckle 1, 2 & 3 are, incredibly, better than the main games. The outstanding ‘modular’ animation of Vectorman makes for some truly fluid jumps, the blast of his gun-arm illuminating the surroundings. Vectorman 2’s more stylised look creates one of the best-looking 2D games around – but both are extremely hard to play (especially with the minuscule D-pad).

Bonanza Bros. is perhaps one of the few ‘stealth’ games to be genuinely entertaining and funny, as two players must creep into various buildings to steal whatever they can without being caught. Finally, Streets of Rage (aka Bare Knuckle): undoubtedly the jewels of this collection, these side-scrollers offer brutal 2D action. The simplicity of the punch/jump-kick method makes these games immediately accessible, and the ability to experiment with a range of suppression moves ensures that you’ll be back for more. Co-operatively, these games are even more appealing, as you can hold enemies and allow your teammate to strike them with weapons.

Bare Knuckle 2 is the pinnacle of the series (with larger sprites and better music), while the third and final instalment is simply a lazy reprise. Ideally, we would have preferred Sonic Gems Collection been an adjunct to the first disc, but its lower price-point ensures that this is no missed opportunity. The inclusion of the Bare Knuckle trilogy earns this more longevity; but even in its stripped-down western form, the few rarities included should be enough to warrant a purchase.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

StarFox: Assault

Gamestyle Archive intro: Richard tackles a classic Nintendo franchise that fails to live up to expectations .

Writer: RM

Published: April 2005

starfoxassault

One year after defeating the diabolical Dr. Andross and saving the planet Sauria, Fox and his team-mates are recruited yet again to stop a renegade member of the mercenary StarWolf team who’s managed to assemble a small troublemaking army on the planet Corneria and rattle the Cornerian fleet. As they battle the army on Corneria, the Starfox team uncover a sinister and grander plot involving a strange race of bio-mechanical lifeforms…

Many of you will remember the original Starfox, released in 1993; with its Super-FX chip, it was a shrewd marriage of technology and timing, allowing a 2-D console (the original SNES) to display crude 3-D graphics. The game took only an hour or two to beat, but the novelty of its gouraud-shaded polygons and reflex-driven gaming won over players and critics and established the series for its next two incarnations. Unfortunately it’s been a slow slide downhill since 1993, mixing traditional on-rails gameplay (Starfox 64) with more varied Zelda-style adventuring (Starfox: Adventures). Starfox: Assault is a further step back, dishing up a great-looking shooter with a few addictive levels, but one that can’t keep its priorities straight.

Nintendo has once again handed out its Starfox franchise to a third-party developer (this time Namco’s Ace Combat team). Starfox: Assault is an action-adventure blend, combining space combat with third-person action sequences that take place on a spread of planets and orbital stations. The series has always been at its best in space, and that’s never been more evident here. The Arwing’s controls are spot-on, facilitating tight turns and quick lateral rolls with ease. On the higher difficulty levels, enemies display passable tactical skills and present a rousing challenge, and the end-stage enemies are fantastic: cackling jigsaw machines waving transforming appendages around with destructive aplomb that make the most complex transformers look like grade-school action figures. While a few of the scripted space sequences are too brief and easily beaten, the two or three open-ended space battles (such as the one between the Starfox and Starwolf teams) hint at where the series could go in more capable hands.

Starfox: Assault can be played in single or vs. mode, with up to four players participating in split-screen combat. As missions are completed in solo play, new levels are unlocked in multiplayer mode. Players assume the role of Fox McCloud, leader of the Starfox team, in “shooting” and “all-range” stages. Shooting stages involve piloting a space fighter called an Arwing along a pre-scripted path, while “all-range stages” allow free-roaming control of Fox himself within a small area, and sometimes requiring the use of either an anti-aircraft tank (the Landmaster), the Arwing, or both. On occasion, Fox’s team-mates experience trouble and must be assisted lest they resign from combat, lowering the final rating. The Arwing is manipulated with the control stick and can turbo forward or brake, but never fully stop, while the Landmaster is capable of limited hover-flight and can be exited at will. Destroying certain creatures, or groups of enemies, unlocks items such as shield rings (restores shields), smart bombs, power upgrades and a variety of weapons such as homing launchers, plasma cannons and sniper rifles. At the end of each mission players are rated on items collected and enemies destroyed, and locating 10 silver badges in story mode unlocks a bonus copy of Namco’s 1982 arcade shooter Xevious.

Ground combat is a less pleasant affair, turning Fox into a super-sprinter racing through tiny arenas to collect power-ups and destroy guarded nodes. For some reason, Fox can run about three or four times faster than in Starfox Adventures but turns from left to right like a tank in molasses, cramping combat and frustrating the navigation of narrow walkways. And while Fox’s team mates occasionally show up to help out, getting them to move around is impossible, making one wonder why they were included at all, beyond the occasional bit of radio chatter or as liabilities for the player to protect.

This is a decent rental, and if it was just another game, it might warrant half a mark higher. But this is Starfox, and it needs to catch up with the times. Players want games that speak to a franchise’s strengths – in this case, the space-combat sequences, preferably in open and dynamic 3-D environments, not clinging to yesteryear’s rails. At medium difficulty, it takes five hours or less to blow through, and considering its other missteps, that’s just not enough to recommend.

Gamestyle Score: 5/10

Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat

Gamestyle Archive intro: Chris tackles an overlooked Gamecube title hinting at where the Nintendo Wii would take us next.

Writer: CF

Published: February 2005

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Why hasn’t Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat been hailed from the rooftops as one of the most audacious releases of all time? Following on from the excellent Donkey Konga, a rhythm-action game that came with a set of bongos, is the sequel of sorts: a sequel to a peripheral rather than a game (although as a 2D platformer it works as a spiritual successor to the acclaimed Donkey Kong Country series. Except, of course, the control method is not via an ordinary controller, but the bongos.) What makes this more than a wild idea at a Kyoto R&D brainstorming session? What on earth makes this more than a twinkle in a programmer’s eye? A challenge by Nintendo head honcho Satoru Iwata – that’s what – to create an action game that players could play using their recently-acquired bongos; to prevent those bongos from sitting on the shelf like some huge trophy of Nintendo fandom.

Fast-forward to Gamecube, present day. Gamestyle sits comfortably, begins. Hits the right Bongo, Donkey Kong (DK) goes right. Hits left, he goes left. Both together will make DK jump. It’s bizarre at first, as your physical actions control the fluid movement of a character on screen, instead of indicating a particular beat. So you control DK as he leaps, swings, swims and generally monkeys about. A few minutes in and Gamestyle works out something: the calibration is perfect – absolutely perfect. With the calibration laying a solid foundation, the game itself is a joy to traverse.

Platformers excel in two dimensions, and to most gamers in their double-digit years, playing Jungle Beat will be intuitive; almost second nature. Awaiting you are 17 fruit-monikered stages, consisting of two platform levels and a boss fight. Cliched settings aside (all present and correct: the jungle, the [wait for it] ice kingdom and the [what could it possibly be?] volcano-based arenas), the design is unquestionably solid, if not excellent. DK needs to collect bananas – which he gathers mainly from beating up enemies. However, his tally of bananas can ripen if they are picked up using the handclap rather than the traditional walkover method. Indeed, there are parts of Jungle Beat when you’ll do nothing but clap whilst flying through the air to collect surrounding bananas. Bananas mean everything. They are DK’s life meter, and they are the score signifier. For each stage you’ll need to accumulate at least 500 bananas to take into the boss battle. Any damage to DK will reduce the number of bananas and your overall score. The higher the score, the more crests you’ll accumulate to open later levels. Jungle Beat experts will want to aim for 1200 bananas – for each level – to gain prestigious platinum crests. Some measure of replayability is essential, as Jungle Beat is very short for a platformer. As a piece of innovative coding, if not an out-and-out experiment, this is realistically to be expected. Disappointingly, however, it isn’t that taxing until the latter levels, and what’s worse is that the element of danger – so important for a platformer – is (bosses aside) only noticeable after the halfway point. Unless you’re a perfectionist, it’s hard to see how much long-term value these levels will provide. Being able to play some of the race levels as a time attack mode would have been a positive step.

It may be shortlived, but it has a definite ‘Wow!’ factor. It definitely feels different to play, and that must have charged Nintendo’s ‘clever’ batteries – the emphasis is on collecting bananas rather than jumping to meet pixel-perfect jumps. (Gamestyle might cheekily suggest that DK has more in common with Sonic than his old adversary, Mario, in this respect.) The levels evolve gently; helping you out are a range of animals which variously fly, swim and run better than you can. Indeed, one level is purely an aerial race, where you latch onto a Helibird’s feet and have him whisk you away. Gamestyle’s favourite is Mooshin – some kind of snow-yak with a blonde Mohawk – who dashes through the artic like Rudolph caught short. The bosses evolve too. There are four kinds, with grinningly-excellent names such as Rogue Hog and Ninja Kong. Employing 3D models, the graphics during these encounters particularly stand out, and the use of TV-style cutting is a clever sign of presentation seeking to fulfil its tongue-in-cheek purpose.

Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat is a concept that works, because the better you are, the higher you score. It can be played casually – a virtual ‘trip’ controlled by the bongos – or it can be played pedantically, as you hunger for every last banana. As a platformer, it’s solid, it’s enjoyable. It’s got the ‘Wow!’ factor, yet it needs something more to bolster longevity (and bring it out of the ‘novelty game’ category). As a Gamecube release, it really is daring. Gamestyle can’t recall any similar title that has been created for a peripheral so obviously detached from the maker’s intent. If Nintendo really do want to concentrate on innovation moving forward, Jungle Beat is a most promising start.

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

Pikmin 2

Gamestyle Archive intro: Richard returns with another Gamecube review but only gives out an excellent score.

Writer: RM

Published: October 2004

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When the original Pikmin came out, few could understand the innovative concept at work; which appeared to be a cross between Lemmings and an RTS. The goal was to control little critters who could help repair Captain Olimar’s broken ship so he could return home. Pikmin 2 continues right where Pikmin 1 left off. After returning home from the long trip, Captain Olimar finds out that his company (Hocotate Shipping) is in serious debt – to the tune of 10,000 pokos. The only way to pay this off is by collecting valuable treasure (like bottle caps, cans, etcetera) from the planet that Olimar has just left.

To save his company – and his job – he sets off to the planet of the Pikmin to find more treasure. However, this time Olimar knows better than to go alone and he brings Louie along to help him out. Louie isn’t just a character that follows Olimar around, but an essential part of the gameplay. In the original game, you were able to direct Pikmin to do various tasks – such as building bridges, destroying walls, battling enemies and recovering parts of your ship. Normally you would have assigned one task to a group of Pikmin, then another task to a different group of Pikmin. Now you can achieve two things at once: the catch with this strategy is that you don’t have to physically run over and control each group of Pikmin – with Louie around you can effectively ‘micromanage’ your Pikmin’s tasks because he has all of the same abilities as Olimar.

Besides micromanagement, Nintendo has made sure there are specific puzzles that require the use of both characters. Louie is just one of the gameplay tweaks to be found in Pikmin 2. Also conspicuous by its absence is an absolute time limit; you don’t have to leave in thirty ‘days’ (or within any amount of time). This gives the player more freedom to explore the world at their own leisure. However, until the game is completed, day and night still regularly pass. Every time you land your ship you begin with a full day to go item searching – you have to finish before nightfall or you and your Pikmin will be eaten by the inhospitable inhabitants. Another change from Pikmin 1 is the addition of underground areas. These not only expand the size of the levels, but add a new dimension to gameplay – because here you don’t have the ability to make more Pikmin. To make matters worse, the underground areas are typically populated with more (and occasionally stronger) enemies. Players must think carefully and tactically during battles so as not to lose any of their precious Pikmin.

Perhaps the biggest addition to the game are two new types of Pikmin: fat purple Pikmin are the strongest of the bunch who can carry ten times their weight (and weigh ten times as much). Naturally, there are new objects that require the strength of over 100 Pikmin to shift – and since you can only have 100 Pikmin on the field at any given time, their assignment is clear. The other new addition is the white Pikmin. These guys are immune to a new threat – poison – and also have the ability to attack enemies with their own poison for extra damage (thus making them useful for fighting large enemies). The familiar red, blue and yellow Pikmin all return, making a total of five different types of Pikmin. (Incidentally, if you haven’t played the original: red are immune to fire and are good fighters; blue are the only ones who can go underwater; and yellow are immune to electricity and can be thrown the highest.)

Presentation is similar to the original game, and likewise, the music is soothing and subtle (with the added novelty of Pikmin singing in chorus as they follow you). The first Pikmin game focused almost exclusively on outside areas. In Pikmin 2, the environments are more diverse – backgrounds have an organic feel to them, scenery is lush and filled with plenty of green bushes, and the water is coolly-reflective. There’s even a nice graphical flourish that sees Sakura petals blowing along the ground (or conversely, a gentle amount of falling snow). While the visuals are generally pleasing to the eye, the style isn’t nearly as fresh as the original game. Also, compared to other Gamecube games, Pikmin 2 doesn’t particularly stand out.

While Nintendo may have failed to spruce up the graphics, they certainly haven’t fudged on replay value. The game alone gets points for being open-ended; you can spend an unhealthy amount of time simply scouring the world for all of the hidden items that need collecting. Should you tire of this, you can always invite a friend over for two-player matches where your respective Pikmin compete to find five yellow marbles the fastest. If you’re still not satisfied, whack in the e-reader to introduce some new mini-games. With an added multiplayer mode, Pikmin 2 is bound to please Gamecube owners for some time to come.

Overall, Pikmin 2 expands upon the Pikmin series. It adds a few new gameplay elements, has multiplayer support, and is perfectly suited for players of all ages – not too difficult and fairly straightforward. Even though Pikmin 2 may not feel as fresh as the original, it’s still fairly novel and a nice change from the slew of first-person shooters and 3D platformers that get lost among the crowd.

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes

Gamestyle Archive intro: Richard was a regular writer at the site hailing from the Netherlands and the in joke was he liked to give out 10 scores on a regular basis. However if you reviewed the cream of the Gamecube releases then such scores were more likely, such as this entry in the Metroid series.

Writer: RM

Published: December 2004

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In 2002, Nintendo and Retro Studios surprised fans and sceptics alike with Metroid Prime; a game we all thought could never survive its dimensional transition. Taking the series’ bare bones, Retro wrapped it in a completely new skin – albeit attaching the oft-derided first-person view. However, despite this cosmetic overhaul, Metroid Prime remained a true Metroid game at heart – and one that left us dumbstruck by its aesthetics and environmental consistency. And really, that was all that mattered in the end.

Two years later and we’re graced by its sequel. With the groundwork already laid, Retro Studios had ample room to push this series further than it’s ever been. But was Prime simply a fluke of design, or does Echoes truly compare; truly consolidate Retro as one of the best developers around? Responding to a Federation distress signal from a planet called Aether, Samus’ ship is struck by lightning and she crash-lands, finding the entire squad of Federation troops wiped out. The planet has been dimensionally split in two, and the denizens of each world are warring for the energy the other possesses. When the only means of transferring energy between the two worlds is bonded to Samus’ suit, it is up to her to restore Aether to its original state. But there’s more to this story than simply good versus evil – Dark Aether is teeming with Phazon (the mutagen ore that Prime’s story was based around) and there’s a ‘Dark Samus’ lurking about the planet, absorbing the Phazon into her/its power suit. The Space Pirates are here as well, looking to mine the Phazon for their own ends. That’s a lot of potential storyline for one game, especially considering Echoes’ only vehicle for delivering the plot is a Logbook composed of data and research logs you’ll find along the way.

Whilst Metroid Prime 2: Echoes essentially plays out like the original – your 3D map and HUD are basically identical – it does make improvements where needed. Your Logbook is infinitely more organised this time around, and you can actively keep track of the scan-percentages and logs you’ve found in the game. This actually does make a difference, since browsing your Logbook is easy and the information added is often interesting, crucial to the plot, or both. Your Scan Visor has also been given a makeover. You can scan almost everything in the game (whether or not it goes into your logbook), and colour-coding of objects lets you instantly tell if you’ve already scanned them – in the case of bosses with multiple forms, scan them each time for the necessary information. This system quickly grows on you and you’ll often find yourself doing quick 360’s around an area looking for a glimpse of red or blue objects that may’ve been missed. Scanning and collecting information is very important, and this new system is much more user-friendly than Metroid Prime’s.

Samus Aran moves and controls just like she did in the original. If you’re new to the 3D Metroid games, the opening sections serve as a mini-tutorial of the basic mechanics (you can rush through this if you’re already acquainted). The same thing applies to the super-helpful, yet ever-so-subtle Hint System, which indicates where your next destination should be on your 3D map. Forgive the pun, but Echoes’ graphics initially seem to ‘echo’ its predecessor’s. If you look closer, there have been significant gains; Retro continues to amaze and impress with their unmatched art direction, and certain environmental features will leave you awestruck. Aether is a beautiful, complex world and is filled to the brim with organic detail – from its flora and fauna, swarms of minute insect and animal life, to its convincing landscapes. No two rooms are identical and entering each one is like opening a visual present.

The technological Sanctuary area is so intricately designed and textured that we can’t begin to imagine how Retro worked up the original drafts. Character and object models are also greatly improved; sometimes subtly, while at other times they’ll jump right out and hit you (literally – like when an enemy leaps out of the water and shakes itself off before attacking you, sending particles flying). Another dramatic moment is when you enter a room and see it filled with a huge, electrified gyroscope – a set-piece that you’ll eventually walk and ‘spiderball’ on. The lighting effects are also crisp and authentic, with smoke billowing out of engines and elevator platforms looking fantastic. Immersion is all around you, but this can be Echoes’ downfall as well as its greatest strength… Because when you’re noticing everything with your ‘third eye’ (not a reference to Dark Samus, mind) you inevitably get caught up on imperfections: like Retro reusing many of the same enemy designs and behaviours from the first Prime. Familiar enemies rear their ugly heads (and tails); airborne pirates fire the same missile patterns and fly around identically as before; Chozo Ghosts typically disappear and respawn; Visor upgrades that look new but essentially perform the same – and of course the annoyingly unnecessary end-game key ‘hunt’ that sends you all over the world again. Whether or not you can live with these things is up to you.

Similarly, the audio score can be scrutinised. Gamestyle isn’t for one moment suggesting the music is bad – most of the tracks are ambient sci-fi stuff that really sets the mood well – but considering our favourite parts of the original Prime were its melodies, the music in Echoes feels slightly underdone. It’s still equally accomplished but somehow not as endearing. Alas. It’s worth nothing, however, that Retro has compensated for our ‘loss’ with some superb sonic effects; visuals are perfectly represented by environmental noise and clatter that really bring Aether to life (especially if you have surround sound and a good subwoofer). The metallic thud as an elevator reaches the bottom of a shaft literally feels heavy, and the rest of the game’s sound is of equal calibre.

To match such thrill-a-minute environments, the level design, puzzles, and boss fights are all insanely original. Paths that would’ve ingeniously led you to new weapons in Prime are considered simple byways in Echoes (usually resulting in a missile expansion or energy tank); and where Prime had largely-forgettable bosses, Echoes has no end of unique stand-offs that require weakpoint manipulation and precise execution. You also gain new abilities in Echoes; previous abilities can be used in conjunction with newer ones – but what irks us is that while simple upgrades are easily noted and often (ab-)used, new abilities (and arguably much cooler ones) like the Screw Attack/Wall Jump are criminally underexploited. Then there’s the multiplayer mode. It’s really nothing special and feels like an afterthought. We’ve endeavoured to remain hopeful – since Retro has rightfully established itself as one to watch, having aimed for and achieved spectacular results with Metroid’s dimensional transition – but in the end it turns out that multiplayer-added value has been ‘spectacularly’ diminished here.

Ultimately, we were blown away by Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. It’s not the completely groundbreaking experience that Prime was, but we’re more than willing to forgive its debts, because the game stands firm as an extremely well-produced, creative and, most importantly, fun endeavour that is a strong contender for Game of the Year (and a must-play for fans of the first Prime). The score given is well-deserved, because Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is truly a work of art.

Gamestyle Score: 10/10

Megaman X: Command Mission

Gamestyle Archive intro: all of sudden there is an influx of Megaman reviews in the archive with the latest being Command Mission. A by-product of this review comes in the original format version we have on excel, which includes the banner code for lik-sang.com. Remember them?

Writer: AG

Published: November 2004

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You have to hand it to Capcom, they certainly know how to exploit their franchises. There’s the endless flurry of Street Fighter games, Resident Evil and the one that must take top spot is Mega Man, Capcom’s little blue mascot. Starring in God knows how many games over the years, the Blue Bomber once dipped his toe into the world of RPG’s with the Battle Network series on Game Boy Advance – and now, on Gamecube, he’s gone and taken the plunge head-first by starring in his first ‘real’ role-playing game. Don’t expect anything new though, this is classic Mega Man all the way.

What is very much an RPG affair still has a number of characteristics that tie it to the Mega Man universe. You have to conquer a total of ten stages, each with their own end-of-level boss, and each one becoming decidedly more difficult as the game progresses. Some well-known allies also make a welcome return (such as Zero and Axl), not to mention a few new characters being introduced. The plot of Command Mission is also a surprise as it actually throws a few twists and turns your way, and will have most of you hooked until the very conclusion. This is no doubt helped by the mostly decent voice-acting and, for once in his career, Mega Man hasn’t been given the speech patterns of a five-year-old child. As with all RPG’s though, it will either rise or fall on how simple and effective the battle screen layout is. Thankfully, Command Mission manages to rise above the pitfalls of other games in the genre and offers a simple-to-use interface that can be seen as an introductory step into the world of turn-based combat. The A button is used as a simple strike, whereas the X and Y buttons both other offer alternate ways of engaging the enemy, and then there is the ever-helpful Hyper Mode and Action Trigger: both deal out damage to the enemy but can only be used at specific times during the fight (thus adding a layer of strategy when timing your strikes).

Planning your moves is also helped by the handy data cockpit found at the bottom of the screen, simply showing the order of moves and how much energy each one of your assailants has. If, however, you find yourself overpowered by an enemy then you’ll be pleased to know that save points are quite a regular occurrence. While at the start you’ll only be able to save the game, at later stages you can be transported back to the Hunter Base where you can recharge your Sub Tanks and Life Energy. Returning to the mission sends you back to the starting-point – but you needn’t be alarmed as you won’t have to fight all manner of sub-bosses again.

Ubiquitous cel-shading is the graphical style of choice for this game, and unlike others it does suit the Anime style of the Mega Man world incredibly well. The only real downside is the rather bland environment, which offers no real detail and, in many levels, the same scenery simply being repeated time and again. Musically, everything is very much in keeping with previous Mega Man games and doesn’t really offer anything new. The in-battle sequences on the other hand can be quite charming at first, but because some fights have a tendency to drag on for a while, the music can grate (especially during the boss fights).

One of the main problems with Command Mission is the overall linearity of it all. For the most part, there’s only one avenue to the end-boss, with no need for exploration – thus making the whole experience a very shortlived one, especially for an RPG. Nowadays it’s not unusual for games of this persuasion to reach the fifty-hour mark; whereas Command Mission will probably only take around 15-20 hours till completion (also accounting for the little side-quests that are included). Despite this however, Megaman X: Command Mission is far from being a bad game. While it may not stand up to the ‘Final Fantasies’ of the genre it’s still worth considering – especially if you’re after a quick RPG fix before the next big release.

Gamestyle Score: 6/10