Panzer Dragoon Orta

Gamestyle Archive Intro: one of those rare moments when GS awarded a perfect 10 score to Sega’s shooting epic. This review is from Alex and dates from December 2002.

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Sega, eh? Despite producing some incredible hardware they’ve never really been commercially successful with their own consoles since the Megadrive era. They’ve had their hardcore fans (this reviewer included) but for the most part gamers have ignored the Saturn and the Dreamcast in favour of the relevant PlayStation iteration. Reasons why folk chose to do this is sadly beyond the scope of this review, I’d be here for hours lamenting over the whys and wherefores, and it’s all sadly academic anyway, as Sega’s own-branded machines are confined to history, their software reduced to the bargain bin and the oft-seedy realms of the bearded collector.

Regardless, they’re still pumping out some amazing software, and whilst the Xbox hasn’t received the very best of Sega’s current generation games, titles like Jet Set Radio Future and House of the Dead 3 at least look the part, even if the gameplay isn’t quite up to scratch. Gamers old enough to remember Rainbow, though, will no doubt fondly remember the Panzer Dragoon series back in the day, when Tomb Raider was a Saturn exclusive and Wipeout looked gorgeous on the black box – and there isn’t a set of games in history that has a stronger following of dedicated fans, gamers willing to fight to the death over the sadly mistaken beauty of the titles.

It’s hard to describe the Panzer Dragoon series (Saga aside) without upsetting someone. At it’s heart they are a cross between Space Harrier and Rez, viewed third person and directly into the screen. Orta is a direct follow up – although not necessarily in terms of storyline – and doesn’t move too far from the tradition. You’re still on the back of a dragon and you’re still up against thousands of enemies. Your dragon has 3 freely-interchangable types.

Firstly, you start out in Base mode, which has a large number of lock-on targets, a decent rate of fire for your normal gun, and average defense. You can also store up to two glide moves which work a little like the brake and boost in Starfox< for the N64. A tap of the Y button switches to Heavy mode which is a bulkier version of the dragon, with fewer lock-on targets and a slower firing rate, although both missiles and the gun dish out higher damage; your defensive capabilities are lower, though, and you can’t glide. Finally, you have the Glide Mode, which is a small, nippy model, with a automatically targetting machine gun, up to 3 glides, heavy armour (oddly enough) but no lock-on missiles.

As you can tell, selecting which mode to use at any given time is a requisite, and it’s a skill you’ll need to have mastered by the end of the first of ten levels. The game’s split into ten levels, although Sega like to call them ‘episodes’, and within each of these is the level boss. Brilliantly, the bosses don’t always appear at the end of the level leaving you to delicately nurse your post-boss battle wounds through other scraps before you get to the end of the section.

Whilst early on in Orta the tale follows something of a rudimentary storyline, later on in the game the various cutscenes dissolve into a sub-Rez level of storytelling: ultimately, of course, the whole thing revolves around 360 degrees and the final boss shouldn’t really come as any surprise, but to get there you’ll be led through some fairly preposterous levels. This shouldn’t cause too much concern, though, as graphically, well, Orta is a thing of beauty. People often like to link games with art, but this truly is the next generation. Without a solitary doubt, Panzer Dragoon Orta is the single-most visually impressive videogame in existance – it really is that good looking. Everything from the liquid smooth 60 frames a second to the gorgeous models, the amazing graphical effects like smoke and fire, the way the game effortlessly throws hundreds of things at you at once without a single stutter – it’s breathtaking, and the only downside is that nothing is going to come anywhere near for a long time yet.

If you’ve seen the screenshots (especially those from level 2 that are full of trees, water and plants) and you impressed then wait until you see it in motion. Wonderful. Sadly, not every level is quite as beautiful as some of the others (the penultimate level is somewhat of a disappointment visually), but there’s more than enough here to justify maximum marks for aesthetics; it really is that far ahead of the pack, and hats off to Smilebit who must be feeling very proud with what they’ve managed to pull off. Aurally it’s almost as impressive – the music is certainly epic and orchestral (and most definately lives up to the high standards set by the previous Dragoon games), and the sound effects match up just as well, but there’s something oddly dumbing about 3 hours of gameplay with only 3 different samples for your guns. It grates, not massively, because you do need to fire almost constantly, but it’s a shame Smilebit couldn’t have varied the sounds a little more. It’s all in Dolby Digital, though, and for fans of the series it’s quite delightful.

Those worried about the lack of first-run gametime need not be too troubled, though – whilst you can reach the end in under 3 hours, it’s a different story entirely on the higher difficulty levels – Sega really do cater for the hardcore and this reviewer was forced to re-asses his gaming skills after facing the final enemy on any level above easy. Of course, this being a Panzer Dragoon game there’s plenty of things to see and do once the main game is over – the Pandora’s Box in Orta features not only a complete sub-game (with multiple levels, cutscenes and it’s own storyline) there’s also a number of side-quests featuring episodes that run concurrently alongside those in the main game, but with different characters and so on. Glossaries and encyclopedia’s make for essential reading for PD fans, too.

Orta stumbles slightly in the presentation stakes though. Whilst the English subtitles, menus and appendices are greatly appreciated (despite this being a Japanese release) the menus themselves aren’t as attractive as the rest of the game, and the Pandora’s Box feature becomes far too messy to really appreciate fully without wading through realms of text and menu options. There’s also loading delays that tend to get in the way slightly. However, it’s not my intention to let these niggles get in the way of what can only be described as the finest on-rails shooter in existance.

Panzer Dragoon Orta is most definately the best of it’s genre and for shooter fans it’s absolutely unmissable. Those with even a passing interest in Sega’s most commercially underrated series, though, will already have it pre-ordered, and if you haven’t, you’re going to be missing the ride of your life. Orta oozes playability and style, and is a real graphical tour-de-force for the Xbox. Enjoy.

Gamestyle Score: 10/10

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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

Radiant Silvergun

Gamestyle Score intro: a game so great I actually mentioned it in my wedding speech in 2004. A marvellous experience that arrived on the Sega Saturn in 1998 and received an overdue revamp for Xbox Live in 2011. To this day stunning. Dating this review is difficult however I’d expect it to be from around 2000.

Writer: JJ

Published 2000

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Radiant Silvergun – no doubt you’ve heard of it, a couple may have seen it and perhaps a lucky few may have even played it. One of the unwritten rules of gaming is that often towards the end of a consoles’ life, some of the best games will appear and many of these won’t be released outside of their native country – for instance Treasure’s latest title (Sin & Punishment N64) won’t be seen outside of Japan.

This happens to every console and no doubt more examples will be seen on the N64 & Dreamcast in the coming months. Radiant Silvergun is by Japanese developer Treasure who since their formation in 1989 have created a reputation amongst developers and gamers for their originality and gameplay. Radiant was released in 1999 to excellent reviews world-wide however due to the flat-line status of the Saturn abroad it was considered commercially unviable to release the game in the West. Since then it has gained a cult reputation as being one of the best shooters (if not games) ever made and a title that made the Saturn sing like no other. For a shoot ’em up Radiant has a decent plot driven by anime sections and radio communication between the main characters. The story is set in the future where scientists have discovered a diamond shaped object and attempt to open it on earth. Upon opening the object a massive destructive power is unleashed, destroying the planet. Not all is lost however, above the planet, residing in orbit are a group of pilots who after discussion decide to travel back in time and prevent the disaster from happening. Treasure tends to do things their own way and for Radiant they introduced a whole range of weaponry, enemies to fight and secrets to discover.

As with all of their games Radiant is difficult at first, perhaps even sheer impossible without the use of continues however you soon realise the ingenious game design. You have a selection of seven unique weapons which you can fire using various combinations on the pad, each has their own specific purpose. Through experience and playing the game six of the weapons levels can be increased, eventually making the earlier levels fairly easy with your increased strength. For the spectacular bosses you will require all the fire power that you gained and even then its still challenging. Your seventh weapon is the Hyper Sword that can be used once you have collected enough power balls. This is the most devastating attack in your arsenal – it hits everything on the screen, causing immense damage and proves very useful when the screen is full. Not only is the gameplay exceptional but the actual visuals are stunning (both 2&3D), proving that the Saturn was perhaps the ultimate 2D console.

The game moves at a constant rate with hints of slow down during the clashes with end of level bosses. The collision detection can also be suspect at times but this is more of a bonus. Some of the effects in the game will have you looking down to check which console you are using. I have played most shooters available on the Dreamcast and Psone but few come close to the standard set by Radiant. The soundtrack is truly one of the best that I have heard and in the options you can sit back and enjoy the tracks or you could have downloaded them from Napster. Yet despite all my praise I would think that many of you will still be thinking its just another shoot ’em up? It certainly is, however Treasure have taken the original genre and injected much needed dose of class A drugs. This is gameplay at its finest.

Not only does the game support two players, it also has a different route if you perform badly on the earlier levels and you can collect dogs! In the options you will notice your kennel which contains the number of dogs that you have discovered and they’ll be there barking at you. By collecting these four-legged friends you open up hidden extras making the game last longer than most. To collar one you need to use the radar attack, which is the only one capable of finding and hitting dogs. They are hidden in certain locations on levels, which may increase your chances of destruction but its well worth it. You will also notice that your enemies are divided into different colours and by only hitting the same colour you will build up your chain bonus but it isn’t easy! The game is built for replay value. Be warned that you and your friends will become easily lost in Radiant Silvergun and without realising it waste at least three hours. I’m very critical of everything in general but this is the game I go back to the most – even though it caused the destruction of my last Saturn through overheating!

Gamestyle Score: 10/10

Star Wars

Gamestyle Archive intro: this review stems from another discovery; a set of spreadsheets that may hold some of the earliest Gamestyle reviews. The site had a great retro section during its early incarnation and now we’ll be able to put some of this back online – there are some drawbacks but we’ll tackle those in a separate article. In essence we cannot say when this review was posted online but we know the writer is Lee Bolton. Welcome back.

Writer: LB

Format: Mame

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(As I started this review, Episode II’s title has been released, Attack of the Clones, A title which harks back to Flash Gordon serial days which in all is a good thing but back to the early 80s…)

Here’s I’m looking and playing the superb Atari 1983 arcade release, Star Wars which at the time boasts the top whack vector graphics and superb sound FX. Atari then, Were the biggest arcade developer and Star Wars was a welcome addition (Until then we had to play the rather good but limited Star Fire (Exidy), A game that ripped off SW ships that as a kid I knew no better) Star Wars puts the player in charge of Luke Skywalker on his battle against the evil empire and the dreaded Death-Star. Set against three levels, Luke must first dog-fight the TIE-Fighters and Darth Vader in battle around the Death-Star. Luke then hits the surface and has to nav between towers and fireball spitting towertops to reach the trench in which he must dodge catwalks and laser-bases and even more fireballs. Luke’s ultimate aim is to reach the all-Important port which he must fire two deadly missles into to blow the Death-Star away. You only have 6 sheilds to protect yourself with against attack (or fiddle around with MAME great dip-switch settings for 9 shields if thats your bag) and these must be guided wisely.

All this is shown in superb Vector Graphics. Now Vector Graphics are a love or hate affair. Anyone old bloke who remembers such C64 and Spectrum titles as Elite (Firebird 1985) or Starglider (Rainbird 1986) either remember the chunky slowness of it all or another world..but in lines! Star Wars used this to a tee. The Graphics wizz around with such speed, it gets all of a frenzy as the TIE-Fighter float around the screen giving you hell. The Sound is another plus point, For 1983 this was the bees knees and it still is. Anyone dare put 10 pence into the slot and hear Ben shout out “May the Force be with you” will remember THAT gaming moment.

The sound is sampled straight from the movie which adds anormous atmosphere to the game and even adds tension (Lee was shooting down fireballs in the dogfight on Level 5, fireballs and TIE’s attack, Luke shouts out “I can’t take”, Vader “I have you now”…and Lee crumbles to the floor, that sort of thing). Cool stuff indeed. The game is a faultless one, I’ve played loads of Arcade games and only one has ever come close to this (Atari’s underrated I-robot) But I will save that for another time, Star Wars shows that classic games never go out of style and that goes with good game design. Yes, the game repeats itself but as a sure-fire blaster nothing comes close. If you see it in an old arcade somewhere, play it and see how games should be made.

Star Wars Facts: Star Wars was constructed from a two year old game project, Warp Speed. Strange Like the films, Empire SB was also a great arcade game, Return of the Jedi was not. Although released by Atari through a hardly seen rom release for C64 and Atari machines, The official Coin-op conversion to home computers came in late 1987 many years after the arcade game first appeared by Domark and was pretty poor. Play the MAME emulated version.

Score 10/10

Super Mario Advance 2: Mario World

Gamestyle Archive intro: This review comes from a zip file where the reviewer (Chris Parker) kindly enclosed the text and bitmaps and a jpeg screenshot. It is also a rare example of a Gamestyle Ten score. Also note the various scoring categories – these were dispensed with in later versions of the site as we preferred an overall score.

Writer: CP

Format: Game Boy Advance

Published: January 2002

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As has been said many times by many a reviewer, Gamecube was the first Nintendo console to launch without a Mario killer-app. Obviously, with the GBA coming a six months previous to the N64’s cubic heir (well, in most countries) this must mean that the GBA had a Mario game on launch.

Didn’t it? Well…..yes. Yes, in that there was a game on the shelves with Mario’s iconoclastic tash and name plastered on it, but alas – the gameplay was not the quintessential Italian plumbing joy that most prospective buyers assumed it to be.

A confused mix-match between turnip-chucking and multi character hopping through shy-guy infested levels, never really set the world alight with innovation or general class. But one thing it did do was shift an awful lot of copies.

Thankfully Nintendo, in their ever generous mood of late, have seen fit to give us an update of what some might call the ultimate Mario game. None of that Mario Bros 2/Doki Doki Panic malarkey anymore. This is Mario World. Undoubtedly one of Nintendo’s greatest titles ever commited to cartridge.

As with all Miyamoto epics it starts off small. The very first level settles you in to the perfectly balanced left-to-right formula of collecting coins and squashing goombas. From then on, the large for it’s time and still nicely endowed game map, sprawls out across the title’s name sake: Mario World. Encompassing the rich green hills and blocks and snowy moving platforms that gamers have loved for years, is no mean feat for Nintendo’s handheld and although the 32-bit processor is capable of so much more – one thing made perfectly clear by this title, is that Nintendo meant it when they said the GBA was the ultimate 2D console. The scenery glides by seamlessly, Mario moves on a precise 2D plain with his trademark pixelised grace, and the game even switches into Mode 7 for some of the scaling boss battles.

The gameplay mechanics throughout are classic Mario, and the whole thing handles wonderfully on the tiny machine. Levels consist of pleasing cerebral challenges as you progress and as ever you really feel that Miyamoto (or Shiggy as he is annoyingly referred to on your typical Nintendo forum) has created a labour of love. Each level has it’s own, distinctive tune composed by the greatly talented composers up at NCL over ten years ago.

Note-worthy additions to the SNES original though, are rare. You do, however get the slightly pointless opportunity to play as Luigi by tapping one of the shoulder buttons before entering a level, although beyond a slight variation in handling this makes absolutely no difference whatsoever.

Secondly, Nintendo have bewilderingly tagged on the Mario Bros mini-game that was seen in the first Mario Advance. Now, don’t get me wrong here. But surely there must have been something else slightly more suitable than a mini-game that has seen it’s day already more than twice now. Perhaps a race style duel like that seen in Mario Bros DX on the GBC? Well maybe with the inevitable Mario Advance 3.

Luckily, they have also left the wonderful aural side of Mario World well alone, with the only real addition to the games acoustics being the inclusion of Mario Advance 1’s tinny Mario speech, so now you can hear the immortal “Lets-a-go” when you fire up for a quick game.

But then, it never is a quick game with Mario World. Sure, you could blast through a favourite level of yours. You could take a five-minute whirl at the seemingly pointless Mario Bros add-on. But Mario World always spirals into a heavy, yet joyous gaming session where Mario and the ever-vigilant enemies hold your attention and your thumbs for the longest time since Mario 64.

In fact, it’s been 6 years since a brand new Mario game in the normal jump and collect vein has graced a console. Sure there’s been several Wario Lands, and the odd Party here and there, but Sunshine in the summer of this year will be the first genuinely original Brooklyn-based plumber platformer since the flabber-gasting roller coaster of Mario 64.

The thing is, after re-experiencing Mario World and the 40 hours+ of gold plated gameplay that entailed. Sunshine and the surrounding rumours of cel-shading and backpacking, all pale in comparison.

Miyamoto could give Peach a tash, make Mario an uber-realistic BT salesman, cel-shade every darned game on the Gamecube; and we wouldn’t give a stuff. Simply because, what we have here is beyond doubt the GBA’s best game along with Advance Wars; and a heart-warming reminder of by-gone days where Link and the Moomins were never mentioned in the same sentence.

 

Graphics 10/10- sprite based, and still a damn fine looker.

Gameplay 10/10 – vintage, classic and most importantly – nigh on perfect

Sound 9/10 – tinny in places, but catchy all the same. Voices may grate if you aren’t Charles Martinet’s biggest fan.

Mastery 9/10 – doesn’t suck the juice from the GBA as much as, say Ecks vs Sever – but it does a fine job all the same.

Longevity 10/10 – 112 levels, and an okay multiplayer. Buy it, spend 40 hours+ completing it, then play it again. And again. And again…

Total (not an average) 10/10 – Words almost defy me. This is the game to convince young whipper-snappers that 2D is king, or the title to make SNES fans like us weep. An incredibly ambitious, well rounded and superb game. And most importantly – now playable on the toilet.