Flipnic

Gamestyle Archive Intro: an overlooked title and the GS review that arrived in January 2004 from Daniel. I might have to keep an eye out for this game.

flipnic

“Flipnic is an enjoyable simple-action amazing pinball game for you!” You’ve got to love how well ‘Engrish’ manages to put across the feel of a game far better than any western blurb could ever hope to. Sony Computer Entertainment Japan have tried many times to bring over their in-house projects to the rest of the globe, and Flipnic is the latest.

Pinball is an odd choice for a conversion from the real world to the digital one. It’s happened before though, with varying levels of success, but never has it been portrayed in quite the way it has in Flipnic. Gamestyle can only describe the attempt as ‘Pinball Evolved’ – whilst retaining the basic ethos, Flipnic introduces new elements to the mix of bumpers and silver balls. And, coming from the makers of the PS2 launch title, Fantavision, this bizarre hybrid is likely to pull in similar, like-minded fans…

Each level (or table) has a certain number of objectives that must be cleared in order to progress. These objectives are split across several sections of the table, each with their own flippers, and usually connected to the maze-like entirety of the table via metal runners (the kind you’d normally see on a real pinball table). Objectives might require hitting a certain number of bumpers within a certain time limit, or collecting some coins, or travelling though a ramp a prescribed number of times. Certain areas of the tables open up once objectives have been met, and allow you to continue to explore. And what sights lay awaiting!

Flipnic is a ‘flippingly’ beautiful treat for the eyeballs. The graphics are vibrant and colourful, and the animation and framerate as smart as you could hope for – considered how much is happening on screen at any one time. The style of each level varies considerably too; from the Biology level (a jungle environment replete with trees, flamingoes, chameleons and a stunningly-rendered waterfall), the Metallurgy level (made from metal components and frequented by UFOs), and the Optics level (a virtual reality table with semi-transparent neon features). Throughout each of the levels are similar metal rails – presumably to showcase how SCEJ have really gone to town with the rendering of metallic surfaces – and the reflections on the ball and rails look superb!

Unfortunately, after the overwhelming first level, there does seem to be a degree of laziness apparent with the designs of the tables. The organic visual details are dropped and the structure becomes less forgiving. Luckily, there are plenty of extra ‘missions’ per table – so replaying the first table over and over is often desirable, even if it just to enjoy whizzing around the jungles of the Biology world. Very relaxing. Until, that is, Flipnic begins to drive you slowly insane…

There is a fundamental flaw with the game of pinball itself which, despite Flipnic’s best efforts to counteract, remains in place here. Control is the problem – or rather, the lack of it. Your only interaction with the ball comes when it is in contact with the flippers at the bottom, therefore the vast majority of the time you have very little control over where the ball goes. Losing lives (by losing the ball through any of the gaps) is not always the fault of the player. Sometimes it will simply be beyond your physical capabilities to prevent it, and this causes frustration. Flipnic tries to address this by positioning extra bumpers in key locations – such as the gaps either side of the table – thus blocking the ball for one bounce and allowing it to return into play. These extra (blue) bumpers can be ‘recharged’ by hitting the blue power-ups that usually appear nearby, but they can also be swapped from their in/out position by using the ‘left flipper’ button when available. Unfortunately, this also means that simply using the left flipper can leave you totally defenceless (through losing your ball down the side of the table in a moment of brief panic). The left flipper button will also toggle other bumpers along the table – which begs the question: how did SCEJ manage to get a two-button control scheme so very wrong?

The left D-pad pulls the left flipper, and the Circle button fires the right one; simple enough, but this leaves all other buttons open for use – and yet two (essential) commands actually share a button! It’s totally unnecessary, and a rare example of how a simplified control system can overcomplicate the gameplay. Bewildering, to say the least. And, not content to let that gameplay rest upon the outcome of fate, there is also the ability to ’tilt’ the table (nudge left or right) by using the shoulder buttons. It can prove mildly useful – as long as it isn’t overused – if your ball is heading directly into a hole and you have a second or two of warning. However, as thoughtful a gesture this is, there is often too much action occurring too close to the bottom flippers for the ‘nudge’ action to have any sort of effect.

With UFOs flying around ground level in one example, Gamestyle’s spherical silver warrior was flipped up into one of them – only to be ricocheted back through the resulting gap faster than it took for the flipper to return to its relaxed position. Quite irritating. However, that’s not to say this is a skill-less game – far from it, in fact. The Help mode talks the player through various techniques that can be used on the tables. Pinball enthusiasts will probably already be fairly proficient with techniques such as ‘holding’, ‘transferring’ and ‘half pushing’ – and the demonstrations really do show you how it is done. Taking these techniques back onto the tables will gradually see improvements, but newcomers must be aware that Flipnic is an unfairly challenging (and often frustrating) game to play without first knowing how to handle the ball.

In addition, each new table can only be unlocked once the required missions have been cleared from the previous table; so the five-minute trial run available for new tables – before they are fully unlocked – is a nice taster, but there isn’t enough time to properly explore every avenue. So this means that each table must be mastered in turn before the next one can be tackled – meaning if you happen to get stuck, there’s not much you can do about it (other than practice)! The tables are a joy to explore, however since many routes can be taken accidentally, you might end up going around in circles. If you happen to miss a route or flip up into the wrong one, it can take an age to find your way back again – and this adds to the irritation when you miss a key mission item by a few millimetres through no fault of your own.

Certainly Flipnic is not a game to be rushed through; the small number of tables (with huge amounts of extra missions per table) and aimless bouncing to-and-fro make that perfectly clear. A different frame of mind is required to really ‘get into’ it – and a relaxed attitude is essential. Thankfully, Flipnic has its own relaxed attitude; there are zany mission introductions (“Watch out, a big UFO is coming!”), some bright and breezy tunes, and the comical voice-overs will no doubt bring a smile to your face. Indeed, the production values in general are very high, and for a budget title (Flipnic retails at less than half the normal RRP) it is quite surprising to see such lovingly-crafted detail and effort brought forth. The fourth table is an interesting change – as it converts to a two-dimensional ‘Breakout’ style game, where you control sliding paddles instead of the usual flippers (but you still have to complete similar objectives). The geometry and sense of gravity is strong – despite the simplistic visuals of the stage – which again makes for a compellingly-playable experience.

But what else can Flipnic offer besides ‘Pinball Evolved’ (i.e. the main mode, which itself is strewn with mini-games and sub-missions)? Well, there’s the two-player mode, and although it too suffers from the tragic fate of unlocking newer tables, each one features a different and unique type of gameplay based loosely upon sports. Football, basketball and tennis have been morphed into ‘Pong-like’ competitive games, where the winner is the one that scores the most. A nice addition, if somewhat limited.

Flipnic almost manages to attach itself to the amalgam of classically-obscure, quality PS2 titles – such as Rez, Frequency, Fantavision, Gitaroo Man et al – however, due to one or two structural flaws and frustrating play mechanics, falls slightly short of such nobility. But it cannot be accused of being anything other than a unique and refreshing experience that mostly pushes all of the right buttons. And at a budget price, it deserves to picked up by anyone suffering from over-familiarity with the usual ‘blood ‘n’ guts’ paradigm.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

Naval Ops: Warship Gunner

Gamestyle Archive Intro: now this is a game I do remember as it dared to be different and was one of the more unexpected Japanese titles to receive a PAL release. This review dates from October 2003 and JJ.

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Initially, Gamestyle was expecting Naval Ops: Warship Gunner to deliver a gripping World War II experience wrapped around the tactical flair so oft-displayed by Koei throughout its history. How wrong we were.

The opening sequence of Naval Ops sets up a scenario reminiscent of the alleged “Philadelphia Experiment”. However, this time you do indeed travel to a parallel world and see what is happening on the other side. This new world is almost identical, except a war is raging between the Freedom Fighters and the ruling Empire Forces. Here, victory is still decided with battleships and aircraft carriers, but now abetted by modern weapons such as lasers and missiles (alongside more traditional weaponry). This mixture of WWII ships and hi-tech armament is prominent throughout the main story mode. Historical war fanatics will be thankful that a WWII option accompanies the main mode, but minus the story. This option removes the destructive weaponry, and instead provides trainee captains with depth charges, anti-aircraft guns and those tremendous 14-inch-plus cannons. With or without these weapons, the ships themselves carry famous names such as the Bismarck, and are scaled replicas of the originals. Brilliant. Does a floating fortress of 65,000 tons, with nine 18.1-inch cannons at your disposal, sound like fun?

Gamestyle accepts this is no realistic simulation: enough fundamentals have been altered to give Naval Ops an arcadey feel. These metallic beasts now glide through the water with little resistance, and the whole battle system has been given a hefty dose of laxatives. Confrontations are based upon a style similar to that found in Dynasty Warriors – where bigger weapons, constant fire and swift movement will result in victory. Any necessity for tactical play has been thrown off the port side, as Naval Ops feels very much like a first-person shooter on water. By this analogy, Gamestyle means the focus is very much on maintaining quick movement to dodge incoming fire and circle targets – pounding your opposition into the watery depths. The most effective view is the default third-person viewpoint, as the aerial stance limits the area displayed; whilst the first-person view (enjoyable for pinpoint accuracy) does not allow control of the steering at the same time.

The speed of combat and its ferocity are not the only symptoms of a simplification in the game design. For every vessel that you sink, there is a chance of a bonus item being left behind (found happily bobbing on the ocean). What’s more, during battle you are allowed to conduct a limited number of repairs, which fully replenish your health. In spite of refreshment strategies afforded by the various bonus items, Naval Ops is a particularly unforgiving and difficult game to master or, as Gamestyle would hasten to advise, to appreciate fully. The mission structure is partially responsible, as it doesn’t allow for deviation from its linear route – but at the same time cannot be accused of being tragically realised. Forty varied missions form the main challenge (split equally into four sections), but failure to complete the next mission will result in a proverbial scuttling. The rigid storyline does not allow for any branching either, and despite a promising opening sequence, fails to further develop or capture the imagination of the player; instead mooring itself in military action.

The critical stage of the game is always in the dock beforehand, where you can spend points on developing new technology or manufacturing/buying new parts for an existing vessel. It is essential that your boat is fully-tailored for the missions ahead, as opponents increase in numbers as does their class of vessel. The menu system is cumbersome, and only improves over time; however, for Gamestyle, this is where the true joy of Naval Ops is to be found. Being able to construct and deploy a battleship of your own design is the stuff of childhood dreams, and far more memorable in a videogame (package) than a plastic assembly kit. There are factors to consider: such as cost, weight, armour, weaponry, and more besides. The opportunity to build the weird and wonderful is enhanced through good performance, opening up bonus items and new opportunities. The ability to possess several vessels at any one time adds more freedom to experiment, alongside the ability to scrap them. It’s a real shame the level of work needed to reach this plateau is beyond the pale of most players – however, this is a game that won’t appeal to the mainstream.

Visually, there is little on show here that will impress anyone. The oceans are undefined, and the coastal environments lack any real detail; even the ship models are not nearly as impressive as one might have imagined. Conversely, there is no ‘fog’ to speak of, thereby creating an impressive draw distance with a solid framerate in tow – small mercies that again enhance the arcade nature of combat. Matters improve somewhat when entertaining the soundtrack, despite some average-at-best voice acting. The sounds of gunfire and shells landing are well-matched with the efficient graphical notes. Releases such as Naval Ops: Warship Gunner should be applauded, as they allow us to deviate from the usual fare served up by publishers. The overall concept of the game is promising, and Koei should be congratulated for green-lighting such a release. However, Naval Ops doesn’t know whether to call itself an adventure or something much deeper – underpinned with the trimmings of a simulation. This personality ‘conflict’ has resulted in a game that fails to match the auspicious concept.

Gamestyle Score: 6/10

Gamestyle Offline Magazine Issue 8

Gamestyle Archive intro:we’ve reached the end of the GSO numerical run of editions. It’s fair to say we’ve saved the best till last in terms of content and design.

While the website itself has been destroyed by the stupid actions of hackers over the years, these magazines remain complete and give a taste of what the original host was truly like. The lead article is Halo 2 and from there we hope you enjoy GSO 8.

 

 

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GSO8

Turok Evolution

Gamestyle Archive intro: Chris tackles and infamous gaming series often subject to some lavish marketing stunts and claims. Turok on the N64 was a fun diversion but nothing more; could the Gamecube prove to be a more suitable host?

Writer: Chris Faires

Published: September 2002

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Turok Evolution eh? No doubt you’ll have read our excellent reviews of the Xbox versions released over a month ago. Consistent with the delayed Gamecube release, and for absolute balance here’s a delayed review of Turok Evolution GC. I’m gonna presume that you’ve read one or both of the previous Evolution reviews, and that saves me repeating a lot of points. A brief introduction: Comic book adaptation… N64…Dinosaur Hunter, T2, Rage Wars, T3: Shadow of Oblivion… total 6 million copies sold… dinosaurs… huge guns… decapitation… boom! You play as Tal’ Set, a warrior who transported to the Lost Lands to battle with Lord Tyrannous’s minions, the slags. Sorry, I mean Slegs, evil lizardmen who are as bright as the Blazin’ Squad. Your mission: to defeat Captain Bruckner, originally from your world but who has sided with Tyrannous. He must be stopped at all costs, for some reason or another.

A Nintendo console is the spiritual home for Turok titles, and it seems fitting that the GC is home to the better version of Evolution. Not that the game is radically different from the PS2/ Xb versions in content, but it’s worth remembering that all three versions were coded separately, and choice seems to be GC. The main reason for this has to be the Gamecube pad. Less clunky than Xbox’s, its compact enough for you to be able to reach all the buttons, even the Z button has a purpose in engaging the sniping function. The combination of analogue and C sticks work well in tandem, better than I expect the two PS2 sticks will. The controls aren’t anything special in Evolution, but they’re a massive improvement on the default controls for Turok 2 which awkwardly used the N64’s C buttons. Here, the default controls are inverted so personal preferences will rule whether you want to change this or not. I do because I like up being up, but I dislike the fact that Evolution won’t remember this, and requires me to select the option every time I load my game file.

First impressions are good. The gameworld is well realised, a resplendent forest with a decent draw distance with antelopes frolicking by the trees. You couldn’t kill one of those mellow, passive creatures in cold blood, could you? Well, that sniper mode is very tempting. Almost…too tempting. The slegs are slightly different. If they see you, they’ll start shooting, and they won’t stop. Ground based troops will hunt you down, whereas snipers will stand their ground. Acclaim have vaunted their ‘Squad Dynamics AI’, alas I can’t see any noticeable differences or an intelligence compared to Timesplitters2 or Halo. They’re more than just cannon fodder, they can hide, retreat and follow, but they have barely been trained in armed combat, let alone ‘Squad Dynamics’.

It’s very reminiscent of Turok 2, albeit without a pseudo-epic storyline and huge levels. The levels are now chapters, and include split sections with precise instructions. Linearity is more the case as you’ll have to get from A to B by pressing (can you guess?) Switches! and Jumping! from platform to platform. There isn’t too much of this, but there aren’t enough quirky missions either, like luring a T-Rex over a cliff to his death using a toy Iguanodon on the end of a fishing reel. Graphically the game is very smooth, although there is a small amount of pop-up in the background, what irritates the most is foliage that covers your view but doesn’t hide you. Up close they appear more blocky than you would want, and you get the sense that Evolution hasn’t as much detail per pixel as Turok 2 had. Ah well, at least you can move sprightly now.

The sound is worth mentioning, from the score, which uses various instruments including some nice pan pipe work, to the sound effects of the weapons, henchman and dinos brought to you in an excellent Dolby sound mix, which I’m sure sounds brilliant on a surround sound system. This goes little way to explaining why Turok has received such a critical lashing. The multiplayer game, despite several variants, is terrible. The flying levels show a willingness to experiment but the controls aren’t good enough. The major factor must be that that experimentation doesn’t show up enough. Dying frustrates on long levels, as although you have infinite level restarts and a generous array of health packs there aren’t interlevel checkpoints, so death means starting with full weapons right at the start of that section. The range of weapons are good, but even a mushroom-cloud creating nuke isn’t as fun as a cerebral bore was.

Turok Evolution seems a victim of it’s own hype machine, a big release that has underwhelmed reviewers and gamesplayers. It’s not a bad game by any means, some criticisms of previous titles have been addressed, but it just feels like a continuation of its predecessors rather than a leap forward for the series. Compare it to it’s current peers the cerebral Hitman 2 and the option-packed Timesplitters 2, and Turok comes a disappointing third. If you’ve got a GC and aren’t bothered with friends, or maybe you like sniping lizards and animals, you’ll find a place in the Lost Lands. If you consider all these games to be too easy, then you’ll want to check out the GBA Version.

The ‘Evolution’ in the title shows that someone in Austin has a wry sense of humour. I can’t see many gamers maintaining their interest in the series unless problems like the weak AI and over familiar territory are massively improved. Some have claimed that Turok is heading for extinction, and it certainly looks that way unless Acclaim want to hear my suggestion: Turok vs Jurassic Park, kinda like Unreal Tournament with dinosaurs, system linked or on Xbox live.

Gamestyle Score: 5/10