Mega Man Anniversary Collection

Gamestyle Archive intro: the archive wouldn’t be complete without a Mega Man entry and here Adam tackles the Anniversary collection.

Writer: AG

Published: June 2004

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Your palms are sweaty as you traverse the dangerously placed platforms, knowing with one wrong move your character will plummet to his doom. As you jump over to the next section you are caught with a bullet – you didn’t see it coming – and because of this you are now sent back to the beginning of the level. This is what its like playing a Mega Man game, as they are the pinnacle of frustration, but somehow you just want one more attempt before giving up in a fit of rage and flying consoles. Gamestyle felt this way while experiencing Mega Man Anniversary Collection, it may be tough, but Gamestyle loves it nonetheless.

Celebrating the 15th anniversary of Mega Man, this retro compilation contains all eight of the original Mega Man games, each one however virtually plays the same with only a small handful of gameplay enhancements happening over the course of the series. This can be forgiven though as while nothing has evolved, the gameplay has remained as good as ever and is the usual case of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”, a phrase that could very well be the motto for all Capcom sequels. Starting from the beginning then. The first Mega Man game laid the boundary for what would turn into ones of Capcom’s most legendary series. What was unique at the time was being able to choose what level you wanted to tackle first, would you try to take down Ice Man or opt for Fire Man? Its solely your choice, but there is also a tactical element to the proceedings. Beating each boss also gave you his ability, and if you chose to complete the levels in a specific order then it would be a far easier gaming experience. So, beating Elec Man first and obtaining his Thunder Beam would give you an ideal advantage over Ice Man. While this may seem simple, later editions in the series weren’t quite as straightforward and required lucky guesses instead of a more Pokemon style paper, scissors, stone system. Still, Mega Man paved the way for future games in the series and is still as enjoyable today.

The first Mega Man game gave birth to the series with an enjoyable opener, the two following sequels however surpassed the original in every way. Mega Man 2 threw away the difficult learning curve of the original instead opting for a simpler approach. Mega Man 3 however is believed by many to be the best of the Mega Man ‘originals’ and Gamestyle can’t argue with that. The game features a near perfect level design with a difficulty placed somewhere between the toughness of Mega Man 1, and the easy nature of Megaman 2. The greatness of Mega Man 3 was also helped by the inclusion of the dash manoeuvre, which gave Mega Man the ability to slide under objects and avoid enemy fire. Something that would prove critical later in the game.

The fact that the Mega Man series was still enjoyable when they reached the 4, 5 and 6 mark is a testament to how strong the gameplay was in the first place. New bosses and levels were introduced, the only slight hindrance was that graphically nothing had really changed (as it was still on the dieing NES console) and Capcom seemingly had begun to run out of names (Gyro Man? Dust Man?). Gamestyle are being overly critical though, as even though the games were still firmly cemented in the past the gameplay still raised a smile. Mega Man 7 though took a graphical leap forward (thanks to the extra power of the SNES) and reminds us somewhat of the Mega Man X series, with its vibrant visuals, clever level design and memorable music.

A nosedive was inevitable though and it happened with the final entrant in the compilation, Mega Man 8. Entering the realm of 2.5D, Mega Man 8 may have looked wonderful and contained some wonderful FMV sequences, but that is meaningless when the game is incredibly dull. For starters, on some levels it can be difficult to figure out what is in the background and what is in the foreground thanks to the new visual look. Something that causes you to try and avoid things that were harmless, inadvertently sending you to your doom. Level design also hit a series low and the bosses are the most frustrating Gamestyle has ever encountered. Still, one bad game in a compilation of eight is certainly no bad thing. Being a celebration of Mega Man’s 15th birthday it would be wrong not to include hidden extras, and there are plenty, all of which have to be unlocked by using a lost art known as “skill”. The highlight of the extras would have to be the two hidden games, Mega Man The Power Battles and Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters, both of which are quite entertaining to play (especially with a friend) but are only really enjoyable in short bursts.

Other hidden stuff include interviews with the Mega Man creator and a bunch of remixed tunes for your listening pleasure. A few changes have also been made, most notably, you now don’t have to remember those infamous passwords, instead you can save straight to the memory card. A new, easier setting is also available to the Mega Man newcomers, who can’t quite get to grips with the, at times, sever difficulty. The final new inclusion that can also help the new players is the ‘Navi Mode’. By turning this on you get helpful hints through the game and sometimes Beat the Bird or other friends show up to point you in the right direction. I’m glad to see Capcom offering the player a chance to get assistance during the game, after all, most of us know how infuriating these games can be. While this review is of the Gamecube version, the PS2 edition has one major difference, that being instead of the bonus interviews you get remixed music (during gameplay) and a free anime cartoon. But, whichever one you opt for, you won’t be disappointed, as this is a compilation that deserves to be in every retro fans collection.

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

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Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes

Gamestyle Archive intro: most of the Gamestyle team were at the ECTS event in 2003 and enjoyed a day out playing video games including The Twin Snakes. Daniel James enjoyed the experience and gives us the full review.

Writer: DJ

Published: March 2004

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After being less than blown away at ECTS last year by a preview build of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes it pleases Gamestyle to say that things turned out for the better. Playing the finished version feels like meeting an old friend again for the first time in years: You’ve both grown up; you’re both a little wiser; and you’re not entirely acquainted until you get to talking again. Once you do, it’s like you’ve never been apart – you remember the good times, make each other laugh again and (on this salutary occasion) contribute something new.

For the uninitiated many figure Metal Gear Solid to be ground-zero for the modern explosion of popularity in stealth-action games. It defined the genre featuring a highly-focused ruleset governing modular levels primarily viewed from a top-down perspective. In play each room provides a wealth of opportunities for meeting the challenge of making it to the exit – avoiding all the enemies or taking them out silently is entirely up to you. A radar system that sits comfortably in the top-right corner of your screen makes the task a bit easier than it initially seems. Displaying both enemies and their range of vision (shown on the radar as a cone) you won’t have to guess at the safety of hiding spots (unlike other more recent entries in the field). It may not be particularly realistic, but it makes for a more fair and manageable experience. If spotted by the enemy their alert status raises (easily identified by an animated exclamation point over their character on screen) – meaning they will ruthlessly hunt you down. Hiding silently is your best option here because attempts to fight it out will lead to your demise – and when your mission is of global importance staying alive is the ONLY option.

An excellent story (that twists, turns and intravenously feeds you with just enough mission information) propels the gameplay. Terrorists have captured Shadow Moses Island and are threatening to launch a nuclear missile unless the government responds to their demands. As Solid Snake, you have 18 hours to infiltrate the base and establish whether or not the terrorists have the ability to launch a nuclear weapon – and stop them if they do. Operating solo your ‘Codec’ (a two-way transmitter imbedded in your head) provides the only means of communication with HQ (or anyone else with a Codec system). It can be used to gain helpful strategies when you are stuck (by consulting with your handlers) and smoothly integrates the save function into the game. The already renowned in-game cinematics which push the story forward have been given a major overhaul. Featuring some expertly directed action sequences they keep the adrenalin running right at the limit. Some elements cross that line tantalisingly depicting Snake performing actions beyond what he can do in the game – jumping over missiles, dodging bullets with balletic grace and busting martial arts moves in Matrix-style slow-motion. If nothing else, they are incredibly impressive.

Apart from the pronounced visual makeover Silicon Knights made some other additions to Konami’s seminal 32-bit classic. Although Gamestyle is sure the intentions were good, the results vary due to some interference with the perfected balance of the original form. Firstly (and most notably) nearly all of the moves from the game’s sequel make it into this update. Introduction of the first-person viewpoint means you can now tackle guard patrols from afar, opening more possibilities for clearing rooms; however it also makes a certain first boss encounter almost without challenge (squeezing off a few headshots easily delivers a quick victory). This ‘change of perspective’, compared to the occasionally too close top-down view, affords new insight that almost suggests toggling into first-person as standard practice. Other options – like the ability to hang over upper platform railings, hide in lockers and use the M9 tranquiliser gun (to put guards to sleep and covertly drag them from patrol routes) – mean you can avoid detection in more ways than before; but they also make patrol routes less effective – why wait for the opportune moment to pass when you can circumnavigate guards in a far easier manner? In other words tackling a room full of guards is no longer solely a case of finding a silent route from A to B, without crossing over any lines of sight from patrols or cameras.

The extra avenues available give more freedom but at the expense of some of the rewarding calculation needed in the original. In order to compensate for this, the ‘Genome Soldiers’ finally live up to their initial description of having highly developed senses of hearing and vision. They also exhibit a new-found sense of professionalism (periodically radioing in with their status). This makes the opening levels of the game decidedly difficult to pass as a result since you will only have your initial abilities. But the difficulty soon levels off accompanied by an increase in the amount of fun you can have with the acquisition of every new gadget. Other than the above issues, further criticisms would be nit-picking – things that only fans of the original would pick up on.

It is precisely these fans who Gamestyle feels will be disappointed because ultimately The Twin Snakes offers very little new content. Indeed, the VR training mode from the original is no longer present (though a Boss Survival mode replaces it); and a few visual anomalies even creep in with one or two out of place lesser-defined textures and a particularly bland night vision goggle effect (hardly even required due to the game’s poor contrast level making everything look grey and murky). Likewise, although of high standard the remixed music and rerecorded voices (some more monotonous than the original) may not find appreciation with nostalgic fans. Without the training mode you’re thrown in at the deep-end and control can be a little daunting, but it all clicks after a while. Snake now moves with full analogue freedom using the control stick, which seems to make perfect sense. For the most part control is very responsive and doesn’t interfere with spying gymnastics like pressing up against right-angled walls and surfaces (though crawling can be a bit tricky).

It seems almost unfair to bring up the one or two very minor problems with The Twin Snakes because everything about the game is of a higher standard than you’d find almost anywhere: the excellent characters, the consistent and strong gameplay, the exciting action sequences, the high-quality graphics, and the thrill of stealth in all its glory. Plus the extras (hidden dog tags to collect from guards throughout the game, new ways to tackle each situation) along with the usual added replayability (thanks to bonuses such as Stealth Camouflage, Unlimited-ammo Ribbon, the Camera and the Tuxedo) make this an excellent package. It’s a trade-off of perfect balance with extra freedom. One with which after playing all the way through, Gamestyle can find little overall complaint. If many of the extra moves and features have no actual requirement to the gameplay, their presence is of very little detriment (and offers some new ways to have fun).

Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes continues the same stealth appeal as its forebear for an audience who never knew, and Silicon Knights’ unique style fits in nicely with the way the game never forgets it is a game. There’s not much here to renew interest for old fans (save the most dedicated), but for everyone else prepare to be amazed – Solid Snake is back!

Gamestyle Score: 9/10

Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

Gamestyle Archive intro: it seems an apt time to put a Mario Kart review into the Archive given the recent current generation title hitting the market. What can I say about Mario Kart? Alex was a huge fan and when we were down in London at the Nintendo games show wanted any snippet of information about the game and how it played. I think at this time he was also doing a site specifically about the game itself. Enjoy.

Writer: AC

Published: November 2003

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It’s been the longest six months we can remember; from the first shots and details in late April to the finished game landing on our doorstep just last week, it’s been one wild ride, and joyously dragged out – some twisted quirk of time seemingly warping every second into an hour. However, two (very sore) blisters and one broken Wavebird later, we’ve finally completed the latest in the celebrated Mario Kart series, and unlocked all there is to see. And we’ve loved every minute of it. Those old enough to remember the first shots of the game will have no doubt been with us for the duration of the title’s development, or at least the portion of it that was made public.

Whilst Miyamoto-san hinted at special, as yet unseen features to the genre some time back, no one expected that to mean the now-familiar two characters per kart mechanic. Message boards were full of screaming zealots demanding the game be exactly the same whimsical ride that had come before; one character, one kart. And presumably represented the same group who complained about Zelda’s new look (but have since quietened down). Because the overhaul works – better than you’d have expected it might. Screenshots and previews are great, but nothing can convey the skill-set and tactics required to successfully master the dynamic new playing style.

In much the same way that N64 Tetris allowed the player to tap R to ‘save’ a block, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! unlocks the ability to switch the two characters around – one driving, one in charge of weapons. With this new notion, weapons can be stored (by switching the weapon-wielding character at the back to driving duties for a while) and then brought out again at any given opportunity. It’s deeper than that, of course; each of the 16 default characters (all familiar to Nintendo regulars, except perhaps Baby Luigi) is charged with one of eight special weapons, and although the normal item blocks remain, there’s a slim chance that players will be awarded that characters’ special – a more devastating, destructive item that (with skilful use) will often determine the outcome of a race. Team character is forged, then, with these special weapons in mind – do you go for all-out attack with Mario and Luigi’s fireballs, or opt for a more balanced partnership with Koopa’s triple shells and DK’s giant bananas? The two choices determine the available karts – larger characters can only fit into the larger karts, and normal Mario Kart statistics apply here; greater top speed is often offset by lower acceleration (although later unlockable karts balance these out somewhat). The differences are less pronounced than in previous Kart games, so it’s really more a case of selecting the characters for their special weapons rather than the karts you’ll get to drive. Naturally, there’s a wide selection of tracks to drive in, too – spread over four cups (the fourth is unlockable early on), there’s the usual Luigi and Mario circuits, the obligatory slippery ice level, and some other familiar favourites.

Whilst the selection on offer doesn’t deviate too much from earlier Mario Kart games (some even use the same names as they did in Mario Kart 64), the driving model has completely changed; offering a much tighter control method, cornering is far more precise. And whilst counter-powersliding still rewards you with a small boost, it’s easier to pull off, even on the straights – something you’ll need to be doing when tackling the course ghosts in Time Trial mode. Which is where the game really starts to shine; the normal Grand Prix mode is all well and good, but you’ll probably see the end of each speed class (50, 100 and 150cc engines remain as normal) within the first weekend. Time Trial, however, will last months (if not years). Not only does each course have a ‘time to beat’, but once beaten the Staff Ghost is unlocked, who more often than not will make a mockery of your previous attempts (for some considerable period). They are tough – easily as tough as those in Nintendo 64’s F-Zero X – and Nintendo have made no allowances for those not willing to invest the time to beat them. Practice, practice, practice – and we’re glad of the challenge.

Elsewhere, the game features an extensive Battle mode option, with three main modes (a capture the flag-like Shine Thief; an all-weapons blazing Balloon Burst; and the best, a crazy bomb-filled mode where every weapon is explosive and widespreading) and at least four courses. Whilst another couple are unlocked during the normal Grand Prix play, there’s plenty of variation here if you want to just grab three friends the moment you unwrap the cellophane. A great co-operative Grand Prix mode (two human players per kart) and the usual Versus modes round off the package, which will keep Kart fans busy for months – and that’s without mentioning the LAN play and potential online play via PC tunnelling software.

Graphically, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. While the whole thing shifts incredibly smoothly at a comforting 60 frames a second, there are few graphical flourishes (noticeably, just depth-of-field blurring and some heat haze on the desert course), and coupled with the rather simple Karts and character-modelling, the display is rather unassuming. It’s clean and crisp though, and we’d certainly prefer the smooth framerate to a jerky one, but next to Mario Golf, Yoshi and Co. look a little bit ‘last-gen’. Textures are also hit and miss; some wall and track textures are very high resolution, while others are laughably blocky. Aurally it’s a similar story – the music tracks don’t stand out as much as one might have liked, and few are memorable after switching off the console. They are well-produced though, but obviously in MIDI (rather than the traditional music found in other titles).

Sound effects are again crisp and well-engineered, with some trademark Nintendo noises thrown in (think: green shells) amongst the newer voices and weapon effects. It’s all solid enough, but it’s a shame you can’t lower the music in relation to the sound effects. There are other niggles, too. There’s no widescreen support, which might not be a problem for some but it’s frustrating after having experienced the full 16:9 panoramic splendour of F-Zero GX, for example. The game is also frustrating, especially at first, when you’re constantly bombarded with weapons from all sides – there’s certainly too many item boxes on the tracks for comfortable driving-based play; all the emphasis is on weaponry and when to use them. Thankfully, Time Trial remains purely skill-based, aside from some track-based nuances such as random spinning fireballs and the like. Don’t be put off, though – even with these cons, the game is still quite brilliant. It unmistakably screams Nintendo!!, and if that’s a good thing to you then you’re going to be in heaven.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is nicely presented (and there are no load times at all), it’s packed with pure playability and has enough ‘whimsical’ substance to last just as long as the others. Fans of the previous games will relish the new challenges on offer, and anyone new to the series will no doubt have a whale of a time in multiplayer alone. As for Gamestyle – having beaten Grand Prix (and unlocked some familiar Mario Kart faces and tracks) – we’re sticking to Time Trial, so we’ll see YOU on the TT ratings page!

Gamestyle Score: 9/10

Star Wars Rebel Strike: Rogue Squadron III

Gamestyle Archive intro: a massive hit at the time, Rebel Strike only showed flashes of what could be achieved on the Nintendo Gamecube.

Writer: JJ

Published: November 2003

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In principal, evolution ensures that things improve over time, removing the mistakes of previous incarnations. However, flaws exist in nature and even moreso in human creation. This brings us nicely onto Rogue Squadron, which in its third instalment should now be in its prime.

The game structure is the same as before; select a plum variety of moments from the Star Wars universe and exponentially grow these into full levels within the game. A majority of mouth-watering moments have already been shared previously, so Factor 5 has had to look elsewhere, and avoid the cherry-picking of previous Rogue releases. Running through the list of levels confirms some fine selections – in the form of Sarlacc Pit, Hoth, and the Death Star. Whereas the previous Rogue Squadron games were predominantly airborne affairs, Rebel Strike has expanded its remit to include on-foot and land vehicles, such as Speederbikes and Imperial Walkers. Admittedly, this has opened up a new realm of picturesque moments to enjoy, but has also increased the number of potential problems. The speeder and on-foot sections are tragically realised. The former is very much on-rails, and the environments fly by with little consequence for the player. The limited control, desultory visuals and camera positioning create a ramshackle impression; such levels could have been knocked together in a matter of days.

There is no polish here, only dry rot, and it’s seeped right into the core of the whole experience. The root of the problem (outside of level design) lies with the abysmal camera, which looks set to challenge Dino Crisis 3 for awkwardness. In space, the interior-cockpit view is rendered ineffective through a cluttered HUD, and outside its perspective induces tunnel vision. However, it frankly gets worse indoors – suffering from the same problems which plagued the Capcom release. Fixed camera angles simply force the player to shoot at enemies off-screen (no further explanation is required). A match made in pitchfork heaven is the only way to describe the camera and the on-foot sections of Rebel Strike. Words alone cannot prepare you for such a tragic marriage of inconvenience; save for actually experiencing the union. The on-foot sections hark back to releases of yesteryear, where following a linear route (with finger firmly depressed on fire), you navigate tragically short levels. Such apathy is not welcomed nor fitting for a series of this stature, and as such leaves a bitter aftertaste. Even the normally ‘stellar’ flying levels feel diminished and incomplete.

Admittedly, the sense of scale has been dramatically improved, thanks to a reworked graphics engine, and potential obstacles and enemies are displayed with visual fidelity (which does little to trouble the framerate at any time). However, Rebel Strike falls foul of the curse of open space in videogames – there is no clear sense of direction or position. The battle may be raging around you, but the player’s role in the proceedings is ill-defined; and more importantly, mission targets can at times be difficult to locate. Such issues with level design, camera foibles and other miscellanies were surely highlighted during testing. It is unfortunate that these were either downgraded or deliberately overlooked, but the damage to the series is momentous. Star Wars Rebel Strike: Rogue Squadron III falls woefully short of cutting-edge standards set in motion by BioWare’s Knights Of The Old Republic, for example. In spite of this avalanche of criticism, there are fleeting moments to savour in Rebel Strike (notwithstanding predictable AI patterns) that are worth revisiting time and again.

Still, Gamestyle predicts that only the most devout Star Wars fan will likely be ‘recycling’ energy for such a prolonged period. The medal structure, which rates performance and opens up a range of bonus items and levels, has been retained. Here lies the true challenge of the game, which at its most basic level, would not last beyond the weekend. In an attempt to boost longevity outside of gold medals, Factor 5 has included a co-operative mode and the de-rigueur ‘fun’ addition of a versus game. This reminded Gamestyle of the limited two-player options available in Ace Combat, but with the inclusion of wingmen. Again, fun in smallish doses, but after the expansive Crimson Skies (for Xbox), things just don’t compare. The cut sequences that are scattered throughout the levels form part of the Achilles heel of Rebel Strike – but obviously excludes footage taken from the films themselves. Gamestyle acknowledges the satisfaction gained from a series of artful encounters, which further drives the story, but those offered are lacklustre and only disrupt the relative fluidity of gameplay; appearing at inopportune times, forcing additional loading (oftentimes for the sum benefit of ten seconds’ duration) and infuriating the player.

The production values are additionally disappointing – drab character models and environments, with pedestrian animation. In fact, they can be quite laughable. The introduction/disco sequence is meant to be humorous, but not at the expense of laughing at its own plot-twists and events which play out through the game. Whilst the pre-production focus may have slipped with its cut sequences, things remain solid in audiophilic terms. Consumers often overlook the Gamecube as an underpowered performer, but the Pro Logic II soundtrack is as effective as anything else on the market. The game still bristles with ‘tech-demo’ appeal, and is a good showcase for the console, especially when left to run in stores. Only when the bystander picks up the controller is this grand illusion shattered – seemingly through flawed and self-limiting gameplay.

Star Wars Rebel Strike: Rogue Squadron III harks back to (Nintendo 64’s) Shadows Of The Empire, which was bearable thanks mainly to its memorable flying levels. If anything, this release proves that the series has now run its intended course. What is therefore required are fresh ideas and a dramatic overhaul as, in its ‘finished’ state, this is a bitter and extremely hoary pill for all Gamecube owners to swallow.

Gamestyle Score: 5/10

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles

Gamestyle Archive intro: The return of Square Enix to a Nintendo console – there was much hype and anticipation around the Crystal Chronicles. So much so that Richard took a crash course in Japanese to experience it first.

Writer: RM

Published: August 2003

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How long has it been since Gamestyle has played a title with the names Nintendo and Square mentioned together in its credits? Possibly the last game developed by Square on a Nintendo console was Super Mario RPG on the Super Nintendo back in 1996, if our memory serves us right. So it comes as a really pleasant surprise that after all those years devoting its efforts to the Playstation, Square finally returns to the Nintendo fold with two new Final Fantasy games – Final Fantasy: Tactics Advance for the GameBoy Advance, and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles for the Gamecube. (Technically, the return of Square games to a Nintendo system was marked by Chocobo Land on GBA back in December 2002, but the games that truly herald such an event are these new Final Fantasy releases.) Created by Game Designers Studio – a new division of Square Enix – Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles’ development was supported by Nintendo, hence the Gamecube/Game Boy Advance ‘connectivity’ idea. And therein lays the game’s appeal… and its problems.

Crystal Chronicles’ storyline is classic Final Fantasy – literally. There’s not much here besides a band of adventurers who travel the world to revive the power of the Crystals that keep the world in balance. This reminds Gamestyle of the original Final Fantasy all those years ago. This time though, instead of Light Warriors bringing light to the Orbs, it’s four kids and a Crystal Cage full of magic water. This magic water protects the game’s heroes from a deadly mist that has surrounded the world and plunged it into a state of decay. Your merry band of adventurers – played by up to four people using their GBA-SPs (preferably) as controllers – take to the dungeons scattered about the world map and trounce enemies in standard-realtime, action-RPG style instead of turn-based battles. Options are limited: fight, defend, and then whatever magic spells and items are equipped in the player’s command slots (you start with four and then gain more as the game progresses). The inventory system is not quite satisfying in that each character’s inventory is limited and you’ll run into that brick wall sooner than you think, constantly finding yourself dumping out items. What’s worse, if you bring your character into another player’s memory card for a team-up game, you can’t carry items back and forth, only weapons and status upgrades. This prevents outrageous cheating perhaps, but is somewhat annoying.

There is also practically nothing in the way of plot or character development – the emphasis is placed firmly on multiplayer dungeon exploring, which is a letdown compared with other Final Fantasy games. Each player has a different display on their Game Boy screen, determined randomly (and switching each time the party enters a new area) – a level map, an enemies radar, a treasure radar, and an enemy-stats display. Since the television screen only shows a little bit of the level at a time, the maps become necessary for navigation, which means that all four players have to constantly check their maps.

When enemies pop up, the player with their stats at hand needs to check for weaknesses and hit points. Since each player only has a tiny bit of the total picture, this encourages constant communication. One piece of information on each player’s screen that they might not be willing to share with the group is their own bonus condition for the current dungeon. This can be a certain task (deal out a lot of physical damage), something to avoid (don’t get hit with magic), or something silly (do get hit with magic). The player who fills his bonus requirements best gets first pick at the artefacts that are found throughout the dungeon. These artefacts are the only way your characters can level up, so they are quite valuable, and having first crack at them is nice. And thus an element of competition is added to this mostly co-operative game. As you can see, there’s quite a lot to the multiplayer mode. And all of these facets are carried over into the single-player. Unfortunately, that’s all the single-player mode really is – a toned-down, inelegant version of the multiplayer game. In place of your friend’s characters, you have your loyal Moogle to carry the Crystal Cage for you. (Spraypaint your Moogle different colours and you’ll change your GBA screen type.) The problem is of course that it’s like, say, playing Mario Party by yourself: you can squeeze out some fun here and there, but it comes nowhere near the enjoyment of playing with three friends. And the same applies for the story – with a tedious main character and a shallow plot, Gamestyle finds it hard to see why anybody would want to play Crystal Chronicles in single-player mode more than once.

Where Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is beyond reproach is in the production values. It is a strikingly beautiful game; each new town or dungeon is like a new work of art to discover. Sprawling with life and detail, they have enough eye-candy to make you want to revisit them time and again. The lush rolling hills of green contrast with beautiful bodies of water and lovingly rendered skies bring a natural, almost pastoral look to the world.

In particular the music, composed by Kumi Tanioka, is done in folk-style and recorded live with ancient instruments from flutes and accordions to pan pipes and violins, producing a wonderfully authentic sound. Crystal Chronicles’ screen text is completely written in Japanese. In order to overcome the language barrier, Gamestyle took a crash-course in Katakana (one of four character sets in the Japanese language, and the easiest to learn) which proves useful in most Japanese games. However, Crystal Chronicles’ text is displayed in a decorative font which doesn’t make it any easier to read – and there was enough Kanji that we were unfamiliar with, making the game hard to understand. Unless you’re either a native Japanese speaker, or very fluent, you may want to hold out for the translated version (or play with a translation guide close at hand). It’s still playable though, in spite of the Japanese text. This Final Fantasy outing isn’t as story-heavy as other Final Fantasy games, so you’ll possibly manage quite well if you can’t decrypt Japanese.

The multi-GBA approach is refreshing, interesting even, and works remarkably well. But let’s face it – who knows three other GBA-owning friends who would be willing to come over on a regular basis to play multiplayer Crystal Chronicles? Frankly, Gamestyle can’t see this happening very often. Because of these niggles, it’s hard to pin down a satisfactory verdict on Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. If you’re looking for a solid RPG experience, either wait for Crystal Chronicles to be translated into English and released in spring of 2004 (so you can understand the story), or look elsewhere.

As fun as Crystal Chronicles is – given the right mindset – Gamestyle has to conclude that it’s not a “proper” RPG. While obviously lacking in the story department, neither the single nor multiplayer modes really capture the Final Fantasy zeitgeist, instead having more in common with action-adventure titles like Gauntlet or Zelda. If you’re a fan of Square’s games generally, and/or just appreciate innovative gameplay like we do, Crystal Chronicles is a pretty good buy… but your ‘best bet’ is perhaps waiting for the English translation.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour

Gamestyle Archive intro: Alex was/still is I presume a massive Nintendo fan so imported the Gamecube rendition of Mario Golf whilst us mere Europeans had to wait until mid-2004 to get our round in. 

Writer: AC

Published: July 2003

Toadstool_Tour

Gamestyle has to admit a certain fondness for the latest in the age-old Mario franchise: filling the gap between platforming and karting quite neatly (at least in the States), Mario Golf gives Nintendo fans another dose of the old faithful cast and crew, with a few new[ish] faces bolstering the otherwise familiar line-up of characters. In what amounts to nothing more than an unashamed upgrade to the Nintendo 64 version of Mario Golf, Toadstool Tour brings new courses, new game modes and some quite gorgeous new graphics.

What it keeps much the same, however, is the swinging method. Rather than going down the route of Tiger Woods and friends, Mario et al must use the rather antiquated ‘Press A at the Sweetspot’ version of videogame golf, and little has changed since playing Leaderboard on an old 4-colour 286 over a decade ago. Basically, players hit A to start the swing then B at the desired power; finally, a further tap of A to set the direction and the ball’s away – and should this prove too tricky for younger players, A instead of B at the set-power stage automatically does the rest of the swing, with a slightly random outcome. Naturally, then, this allows Camelot a little room for improvisation and poetic licence with the normal physics of golf; double tap A on the way down and you’ll hit the ball with top spin, likewise a double hit of B will spin the ball the other way on landing. There are other spin combos, with obvious results.

Whilst initially Gamestyle would have preferred a more ‘mature’ swinging device, the Gamecube’s tiny C stick wouldn’t necessarily lend itself to precise direction, and once you get to grips with the game’s somewhat unique ball physics (the bounce is especially unpredictable) the easy spin setup does seem to prove valuable. More complicated shots can be attempted by hitting the ball at various spots, mainly to get extra height or curve the path of the ball around an obstacle, and with at least three button presses and this added thumbstick manipulation, there soon becomes plenty to do during the swing for even the most capable of gamers.

So, chaotic ball physics aside, does Toadstool Tour offer a decent game of golf? The answer is most definitely “yes”, and not just one game either; aside from the main Tournament modes (set over six 18 hole courses) there’s a plethora of game modes – including Closest to Pin, Speed Golf, and the more Mario-like shooting through rings and collecting coins. Each of the 10 or so game modes are completely self-contained (with high score tables and so on) and are mostly multiplayer, providing some great post-pub gaming moments – presumably a not entirely unintentional feature of the game. Games can get tense and challenging, with each character playing slightly differently and having different abilities. Mario Golf even offers a silly taunt option; tap the stick and the screen soon fills up with both complimentary and derogatory comments.

Speaking of filling up the screen, this is where Toadstool Tour fails to impress: while load times are virtually non-existent and the menus are all wonderfully intuitive, the actual in-game presentation leaves a lot to be desired. In a word, it’s messy – there’s far too much information crammed onto the 4:3 display (a widescreen mode would have helped to push out the HUD to the sides leaving more of the course visible). If it’s not the rather pointless Mario and Boos pointing out the power and wind direction, it’s the infuriating presence of more Boos scrolling past the screen after a couple of seconds – reminding you that “A starts a swing”, and other daft lines. Fine for the first ever game, but after 20 hours of play Gamestyle was well aware of how to play the game, thank you.

The music and sound effects are particularly grating, too, but the game’s playable without both, so switch your amp over to the CD player for the duration. So, with the patronising and clumsy screen display out of the way, all that’s left is to say that Golf fans (and Mario fans in particular) will find plenty to do here – the graphics are excellent (and locked at 60 frames per second), with well defined courses and helpful grid lines, and the tournament courses range from the gentle and forgiving first course (which closely resembles a ‘normal’ golf course) through to the fan-service Peach’s Invitational (complete with her castle, chain chomps and warp pipes), and a final hard-as-hell 6th course in and around Bowser’s castle.

There’s much enjoyment to be had here, it’s just a shame a little more effort wasn’t made to make it more grown-up for those of us more familiar with videogames; and there’s absolutely no excuse for the game to be scheduled for a mid-2004 release in Europe, either…

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

Lost Kingdoms 2

Gamestyle Archive intro: I’ve never played this title nor the original in the series but I do have the game in the attic. I was never a huge fan of these card-based games however they did have their fans. Alex enjoyed the sequel experience with this one.

Writer: AC

Published: June 2003

 Lost_Kingdoms_II_cover

Whilst the PAL release of the original Lost Kingdoms was a pleasant diversion, the fact that a sequel was in the works for its native Eastern audience came as a complete surprise – let alone promise of a European outing – given the rather subdued reception the first game received over here. Whether it’s leftover cash from Hawk and Co, or just genuine PAL generosity we’ll never know for sure, but you can’t fault the publisher for trying; had neither game seen these shores local Gamecube owners would have been up in arms at being left out. Again. But both have been released – and here’s the crux: the original is the superior game of the two, and crucially, this holds true whether you’ve played it or not.

Essentially, those familiar (and appreciative) of how Lost Kingdoms ‘worked’ may find the changes made to the mechanics in this sequel rather confusing and distracting, and yet the more complex card management and progression present here is likely to be an unassailable metaphorical brick wall of creature names and spells to gamers new to the series. Despite a new set of lead characters, there’s enough hidden familiarity within the game to make you feel like you’ve just started watching a made-for-television drama – only to find you’ve already missed the first hour. So, here’s an – assuringly adaptable to the prequel – recap: Lost Kingdoms 2 is a card-based action/role playing game, in which the principal female (the player) must battle the forces of evil using only these cards. There are no (direct) weapons with which to fight monsters, only skilful use of the four currently available themed-card types, selected at random from an ever-increasing customisable deck.

If you’re still reading, chances are the slightly quirky way of combat holds some level of interest – think Pokemon crossed with PSO and you’ll be somewhere near. Each card falls into one of five categories – when chosen, some summon a creature that walks around your immediate area fighting off monsters; some revive your health levels or allow you to enter previously unreachable areas of the level, and some transform your character into the figure on the card temporarily. The depth here (random selection aside) stems from the card attributes – based on the common elements, eg Fire, Water, Wood and so forth. It’s fairly obvious that some attributes are stronger against others, and vice versa; for example Earth cards are more useful against water-based creatures, whereas Fire cards are quite weak. Collecting these cards happens continuously throughout the course of the game, and as your deck is finite in size, selecting the appropriate cards’ types and attributes for the mission ahead forms most of the strategy in Lost Kingdoms 2 (despite some trial and error and the frustratingly chaotic chance of getting the card you want at the time you require it). The fact that your controllable character relies on card effects that aren’t wholly controllable when played, means that most of the combat will result in your running away from the monsters while desperately trying to pull the card most suited to the job from the pack.

Thankfully – or not – the monster AI is basic at best. In an unintentional nod to Phantasy Star Online, simply keeping a short distance away is enough to make most enemies forget you existed, and they’ll happily wander off and leave you in peace; of course purists will be right after the trickier enemies in order to complete their card collections, but for the most part fighting can be avoided if you can draw enemy creatures away. If this sounds unfamiliar to owners of the first game, it’s because From have radically changed the way monsters appear – no longer are there random battles (although there are still occasional set-pieces) which whisk you away to a confined battleground; here creatures walk around at will, and battles thus are much looser and slightly more vague in their effectiveness. Initially appealing (especially against the random battles of Final Fantasy, which still grate) but ultimately becoming rather dull, these ‘real time’ fights just don’t hold the same level of tension and difficulty as they did in the first game – and the decision to switch the main focus of the game in this manner is somewhat questionable.

The camera has suffered too: there’s now a lock-on function (of sorts) but it’s problematic and unreliable, and the number of zoom levels is now reduced to a digital two – there are no Wind Waker-like definable angles here, even the left-right motion is awkwardly reversed (as in Eidos’ Herdy Gerdy). The framerate has halved too, and whilst this has given the Gamecube’s innards more room to handle prettier textures and more polygons, the pace of the game feels somewhat slower overall, as if a mild dose of bullet-time has drifted into the proceedings. This is not a title dependent on speed though, and Lost Kingdoms 2 does looks good overall; those all-important cards are nicely detailed and the whole display is rendered in crisp resolution.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

Lost Gamecube reviews part 1

Gamestyle Archive intro: As I’ve mentioned, we do have some excel files for several formats (retro, Gamecube, Playstation 2 and Xbox) that contain some of the earliest Gamestyle reviews. These are categorised after format by when they appeared online and after this, the cells contain the author, score and review text. 

For whatever reason many of these are incomplete when its comes to the text; some hilariously so. However others do contain an essence of what the review was. The most difficult aspect is actually identifying the title being reviewed from what remains of the text. I think its important to catalogue and archive whatever we can and maybe one day, we can restore full reviews as they become available. So here are some on our wish list.

excel

 

Scooby-Doo! Night of 100 Frights

Author: DJ

Score: 5/10

Scooby Doo. Loved by many, hated by myself. I could never see the appeal of 4 gormless teenagers running around with their klutz of a dog, solving the same mysteries week after week. The fact that the series is still going strong all over the world and that a film has recently been made of their exploits shows how little I really know about the franchises popularity. So without further ado let

 

Driven

Author: JJ

Score: 5

There are few harder tasks in videogaming than taking a license based on a poor film about the Grand Prix lifestyle and creating a racing game. Every system has its fair share of racing games with the majority of them being instantly forgettable but this did not deter Bam Entertainment

 

Super Monkey Ball

Author: AA

Score: 9

Monkeys in Balls ehh? What will they think of next? A monumental game though, as it is the first Sega title to be the released on the Nintendo GameCube. Not so long ago these two gaming giants were at loggerheads, but since have jumped in bed together. Super Monkey Ball sees you take control of one of four monkeys. Aiai, Meemee, Baby or Gongon, all varying in attributes, but none that make a considerable amount of difference. Your job is to guide these little critters across over 100 levels. The major difference being you do not control the ball, but instead the platform, ala Marble Madness. The game, like many of Sega

 

Unknown title (believe this is Universal Studios Theme Parks Adventure)

Author: JJ

Score: 2

At the launch of every console there is one title that is quite often, rightfully ignored due to the its obvious flaws and shortcomings. Would you on launch day take Incoming over Sonic Adventure when the Dreamcast first hit the shelves? No I didn

 

Virtua Striker 2002

Author: CF

Score: 2

There are few things that people should actively hate. Government ministers, money-grabbing lawyers, the rise of the Far Right, smug ego-crazy TV hosts, penalty Shoot-outs, Maradona’s cheating hand, and Chris Waddle’s mullet in 1990. Add to that list the original Virtua Striker. From the arcade to the Dreamcast, it just doesn’t play like a football game should do, and in my time I’ve played quite a few football games. Some, like European Super League, just seemed like a good idea that went wrong through poor programming, but Sega’s Virtua Striker appeared to be intrinsically flawed and irredeemably awful.

Now, Amusement Vision have brought an enhanced version of the third edition of VS, and I Just Can’t Wait, No, Really I Can’t. The problems with the earlier versions of the series are still present and correct. Said problems being the feeling that you aren’t totally in control of your players because there isn’t either a change player button or a un button, which in tactical and gameplay terms restricts you a great deal. I suppose that the argument for Virtua Striker is that it’s old-skool football gameplay, I mean there was no run button in Microprose Soccer or Emlyn Hughes International Soccer. But, welcome to the twenty-first century Sega, come and join us and Pro Evolution. We’re playing football, what are you trying to do there?

It’s hard to like Virtua Striker. It’s doing something differently, but that ‘thing’ is the holy game of football, and it doesn’t seem right. The players are little more bright than those on a foosball table. They run away from the ball if they are tackled, leaving you to compensate. Tackling is actually really easy, and players will dive in to get the ball, or walk over the ball and come away with it, or just take out the player in possession. Passing is less easy. Many times the ball will bounce off an opposing player, to your or his benefit, but passing is tricky thanks to the minimalist methods- that is, they go a set distance and can’t be changed. The obligatory dodgy camera doesn’t help by swooping down far too low, so when you’re through on goal but being chased by three defenders they block your passage of vision and won’t be able to avoid their slide tackles. Built into the game engine is a change in formation and tactics- offensive, normal and defensive. But there is less inclination to use them if the AI isn’t up to much. I mean, for England there’s the massive choice of playing 4-4-2 def or 4-4-2 straight. You can, however, select which formations to choose from in the edit mode, but you’d expect a wider choice to be made just from the options screen.

Unfortunately, the AI is rubbish. I sent a great through ball to the French left-winger, only for him to run backwards immediately, turn around and then run onto the pass. The inability to change players at your whim soon frustrates, in offense and defence, as you can’t choose who you want to use to challenge the opponent. The arcade roots are compromised with a substitute mode, effectively useless because it’s so difficult to tell what subs are good and who isn’t, thanks to the ratings system of ever so slightly different coloured bars which have to be interpreted by standing right next to your TV and squnting at the screen. This also affects your motivation for the ‘road to international cup’ option, where you take a squad and have 4 years (split into weeks) to train them up into the winning ticket. As the difference between players is a matter of pixels, what does it matter? A good idea is screwed in practice. There is no commentary used, apart from a Power Stone-esque voice-over which soon becomes incredibly annoying. “Almost”, he says when you miss, “goal goal goal” overexcitedly when you do. When he says “corner kick” you know that you’re firmly in Soccer (and not football) territory. The crowd noise is good, as is the music, triumphant gaming trumpets marking goals and victories, but it

 

Unknown title

Writer: DJ

Score: 9

One thing you are always going to find in schools up and down the country is snotty-nosed kids hanging around the always banned bike sheds discussing their favourite things, while simultaneously taunting the glasses wearing, carrier bag holding fat kid. Depending on the generation you grew up in these topics could have ranged from the coolest character in Battle of the Planets to your favourite ring tones (for the new millennium

The Legend of Zelda The Wind Waker

Gamestyle Archive intro: one of the elite games in the Gamecube arsenal arrives in the archive. Zelda has an effect on gamers that few other series’ can match. Even now we’re waiting for the next Zelda experience.

Writer: AC

Published: March 2003

windwaker

What is more astonishing than the sheer scale and scope of Miyamoto’s adventures in and around Hyrule is the distance they’ve travelled in the last 16 years. From innocent yet bold beginnings on the NES in 1987 through to the 64-bit crowning opus that was Ocarina of Time in 1998, gamers have begun to expect, and receive, gaming legends. A few blips in the schedule (The Adventure of Link, and those CDI ‘interpretations’) aside, the Zelda games represent the very apex of game mechanics and level design, and few can argue with that save ignorant zealots.

Presented with a vast, freely explorable Overworld and a series of unfolding Dungeons, the games make no apologies for following a set of strongly defined guidelines, or standards; progression on the Overworld is limited in key areas until items and abilities are got from the associated Dungeons, and thus the storyline finds its pacing and structure. The Wind Waker keeps to this tradition intently, yet offers a wildly different, initially jarring change to the normally lush green fields of Hyrule: the Great Sea. It’s difficult to explain why without giving away spoilers, something Gamestyle tries intently to avoid when reviewing such games, but it’s fair to say that any reader interested in the game has certainly seen screenshots and previews, and as such will be well aware that the majority of the travelling on this particular Overworld is done in a small boat, sailing from island to island. It’s this initial change to how the game works, much like Mario’s recent acquisition of FLUDD in ‘Sunshine’, that seemed to find gamers first source of angst. Further gameplay reveals that a good amount of time is spent travelling to and from certain islands, indeed, but ultimately this is much like the horse infused roaming in Ocarina of Time, and that game aside Link has often been forced to walk the required distance to his destinations.

Naturally, the great expanse of water means that a good deal of time will be spend staring at blue waves, but cynicism aside this is not a deliberate attempt to extend the duration of the game; rather a way of creating a feeling of size and depth. In contrast, return to Ocarina of Time (supplied free with Wind Waker, gratefully) and notice how small the Overworld is now compared to your initial awe-struck introduction to Hyrule Field some 5 years ago: if nothing else, Wind Waker offers a lot of ground to cover. Not that this is an entirely positive experience, mind, and until you obtain the ability to warp instantly to key areas of the Overworld far too much time is spent on the back of your boat. However, the disciplined amongst you will take this time to map out the islands you’ve visited, a task made much easier by the release of the somewhat dumbed-down American version (maps fill themselves in automatically, certain treasures are now much easier to find, and so on) – it’s now immediately clear that the first initial bouts of sailing are designed almost entirely to force you somewhat into partaking in a spot of cartography: certainly you’ll be rewarded later in the game for your efforts earlier on.

Again, it’s easy to explain why you’re doing all this sailing but then the joy of a Zelda game (and much of Nintendo’s games in general) is finding out the details for yourselves, and so Gamestyle won’t be spoiling the story here. It’s fairly obvious, though, that this sailing is interjected, several times, by the need to venture into the Dungeons of the game. With less in number than most Zelda games – Majora’s Mask aside – it’s down to how well they are integrated with the story and how fun they are to play that’s key. Thankfully, they shine brighter than ever: each and every dungeon is a masterpiece of level design, surpassing even those from Ocarina of Time for sheer brilliance and ingenuity, but Gamestyle will give nothing away here regarding themes or bosses, safe to say that everything just fits in beautifully. The logical and structured progression of the Zelda series is in full effect here – Link will start out with nothing but his pyjamas, but will gradually collect and use the various weapons and tools that he has done throughout the other games. New items include (naturally) a sail for the boat and alternate uses for the grappling hook and bombs, but you’ll have to discover what those are when you play the game.

The last few Zelda games (including Capcom’s Gameboy Colour titles) have all utilised some method of controlling nature, be it through time travel, or changing seasons and so on. In Wind Waker, Link obtains the eponymous Baton of Wind, and conducting said item offers similar scope to the Ocarina of Time, but with naturally more earthy results. Graphically it’s a step away from the Nintendo 64 Zelda games, this time opting for somewhere between cel-shading and old-school cell animation. Suffice to say that the new look has garnered a great deal of attention, not always positive, but when you finally get to play the game you can see that Nintendo have made a brave but inspired decision: the animation is offered room to breathe and looks tremendous, and although still screenshots may make the characters and landscapes look simple and ill-defined this couldn’t be further from the truth – aesthetically the game offers the most suitable graphics possible and the consistent quality and depth throughout the entire game is incredible.

We’d mention the flickering lights, the infinite view distance or the amazing polygon count on certain islands, but then we’d have to tell you spoilers, too. Aurally it’s a similar matter: whilst few of the characters actually ‘speak’, most have a few token soundbites, half of these suit the game’s underlying humour perfectly. Link’s trademark shouts and screams are present and correct, and most of the music is recycled and remixed from earlier games, which rather than sounding old and reused actually bring a sense of familiarity to the game – fans of the series will recognise when there’s danger about, or when daylight is about to break just by the music played, and new gamers will no doubt love the score too. Obviously, with this being a Zelda game fans can expect much of the same with enough new twists (and a fresh story) to make them happy enough to splash out the cash; certainly the generous inclusion of Ocarina of Time (running high resolution on the Gamecube, naturally) and its Master Quest, a purchase of Wind Waker offers tremendous value for money. Whilst Link’s latest adventure certainly isn’t the longest, and many of the side quests don’t actually require completion, it’s still a brilliant game.

It’s perfectly formed and structured (especially if you discipline yourself to map out the Overworld as you go rather than leaving it until the very end) and fans of the games will adore the familiar mechanics. It’s not for everyone, sadly, but for anyone with the faintest love of adventure and who possess that ‘saving the world’ gene that most of us have, Wind Waker is unmissable.

Gamestyle Score: 9/10

Ikaruga

Gamestyle Archive intro:we still have fond memories of the Dreamcast original which came after many had abandoned the console. The Gamecube version reached a wider audience.

Writer: AC

Published: January 2003

Ikaruga

Whilst the Gamecube pretty much died on it’s arse this Christmas in Europe, overseas it was an entirely different story – between the US and Japan Nintendo’s latest console was playing host to the likes of Metroid Prime, Resident Evil Zero and Super Monkey Ball 2 and was just about to let loose the frankly amazing Zelda. None of these titles are likely to make it out over here in the next couple of months, though, leaving many PAL gamers once again feeling left out and neglected: Star Fox Adventures only lasts so long. However, there was another silver bullet bubbling just beneath the aforementioned big game titles – one that every discerning gamer was eagerly anticapting – Ikaruga.

Released last year as the Dreamcast’s final “f**k-you” to those that had written it off and ignored the fine system (many choosing the PS2 route instead) and it was incredible, despite being a hardcore, niche title that was never released outside of Japan. Importers went crazy for it though, any follow-up to the seminal Radiant Silvergun (in name at least) was always going to be something special, and Treasure did not disappoint those prepared to invest the time and money. And now it’s out on Gamecube. Where Ikaruga differs from the usual run of shooters is the main gameplay mechanics – instead of having to dodge every bullet and destroy every enemy (which is the norm) Treasure have introduced a positive/negative thread throughout the entire game.

What this means in essence is that your ship has two freely-switchable modes – a positive (white) one and negative (black) one. Whilst white, your ship is able to absorb bullets fired from white enemies, and vice versa for when you’re in black mode – enemies, lasers, even destructable blocks are all colour coded in this very simple way – it’s massively effective though, and adds a number of layers to the gameplay. On the most basic level it means that if there’s a screen full of white enemy fire it makes sense to switch to white mode so you’re invulnerable to the bullets. However, your own bullets do twice as much damage to enemy ships if you’re the opposite colour so if you can dodge the raining fire of white hail then being in black mode means you can dish out twice the pain to the enemy. It doesn’t stop there though – in certain game modes destroying enemy ships when you’re the same colour releases little pods you can pick up which charge your homing missiles (the only other fire apart from your lasers), and also starts notching up your chain (combo) counter which can have exponential effects on your score. It’s a brilliant concept (although we’ve come to expect such qualities from Treasure) and one that works perfectly throughout the entire game, even with regards to the inspired boss battles at the end of each of the 5 levels.

Of course, control is one thing that all shooters live or die on – if you can’t get your ship where it needs to be you’re just going to get frustrated. Somehow Treasure have tweaked the movement speed to absolute perfection – your ship always seems to move exactly as you want it, and despite having no analog speed control (although you can use the analog stick to move digitally) there wasn’t a single moment when I crashed because of an inadequecy on the part of the game. Firing defaults to the B button and the ship switch is tied to the A button. The homing missiles, once charged, are released with a quick tap of the R button – all these can be changed to your liking though, but I found them to be just perfect.

Whilst nothing has changed in terms of story (which will mostly be lost on non-Japanese speaking gamers) it’s worth quickly running it past you. The text in the manual describes a nation called Shintsusha who have just got hold of Ubusubagami Ouki No Kai – The Power of God. Using it for evil purposes, they start raging war on surrounding nations, and you, Shinra, as the sole survivor of the rebel Tenkaku organisation (opposed to the Honrai) crash land on Ikaruga. You meet Kazemori, the village elder, who helps you recover and then sets you back against the Hourai in Ikaruga (the ship) to finally settle the score. It’s not really required, though, because the gameplay is perfectly self explanatory once you’ve got to grips with the black/white mechanics. It’s actually pretty much identical graphically to the Dreamcast version (although it’s not quite as sharp due to the NTSC Gamecube not outputting a SCART-compatible RGB signal, meaning the best option is a blurry S-Video lead) but the tiny flashes of slowdown present in the DC model have been eliminated entirely – Ikaruga is as smooth a game, visually, as anything else out there, even with hundreds of bullets and enemies flying around and the gorgeous backdrops scrolling past in full 3D. For a Gamecube game it’s also remarkably high resolution which is a nice change from the blurry visuals found in the likes of Mario Sunshine.

The sound effects are great too, the intermittent speech is suitably atmospheric but I’m still not convinced of the musicial style used in Ikaruga, it just seems a little too sedate but there’s nothing stopping you playing some fast techno through the stereo instead. Ikaruga is an oddly different experience depending on the music you choose to play: it’s possible to create an apparently awkwardly slower game with some classical music instead, but of course that’s up to you. Don’t be put off by the fact that Ikaruga is Japanese though – whilst the brief lines of text in-between chapters are entirely in Japanese, the menus are in English so it’s always clear what you’re doing if you can’t wait for the US release in March (there’s still no PAL release confirmation at the time of writing though). The manual’s not as import friendly but you’re not going to miss out on much except a description of the various game modes and controls – all of which are immediately obvious – as is a quick run through the tutorial.

With respect to the various modes in the game, Ikaruga includes a practice mode (where you can play any completed chapter on any difficulty level) and Conquest Mode (which is new to the Gamecube version) which enables you to choose Demo Play or Slow Play on any of the sections to any level – watching how the pre-recorded experts play in the Demo mode is quite astonishing. There’s also a challenge mode which gives you a score-related password when it’s game over which you can upload to the game’s website to see where you rank amongst the other gamers. Ikaruga is also very configurable with regards to the number of lives and so on, but this also extends to the screen layout – Ikaruga in it’s default mode is a very ‘vertical’ game – it only uses about half of the screen – but you can just various levels of zoom and even display the game rotated at 90 degrees if you fancy recreating the arcade cabinet (although this means you’ll have to tip your TV on it’s side which I can’t recommend).

Ikaruga, then, is brilliant. It’s hugely playable, graphically sublime and even more importantly, once again Treasure have raised the bar for top-down shooters. In one-player mode it’s a mesmerising, trance-enducing experience, and by yourself you might as well lock your arse away in a dark room because you’re not ever coming out. The Power of God? Not quite, but Ikaruga is most definately divine. Another essential piece of Treasure software and a shining moment for the Gamecube.

Gamestyle Score: 9/10