INFO: My “Retro Vault” reviews are not scored. Instead, I just talk about why I have fond memories of whichever game I’m writing about at the time. Generally, I won’t pick out any bad games for the Retro Vault feature, so scoring them is essentially useless anyway. Enjoy the read.�
Remember the Super Scope? That clunky and oversized SNES gun that went through batteries faster than Homer Simpson does beers? It sure was a piece of garbage and most of the games that it supported were pretty much not worth any of your time. There was, however, one game that was incredibly epic. One game that I wish would get a proper sequel, or be re-released on the Nintendo’s WiiWare service. This game is none other than the sequel to Battle Clash, Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge. With a name like Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge, how could this game possibly suck? That’s easy to answer. It can’t suck. At all.
I first played Metal Combat in 1994, shortly after it was released in North America at the end of 1993. I would watch in awe as my brother fought through stage after stage with the Super Scope. When I got my hands on it, I found the gun controller to be very bulky and exceptionally hard to get used to. After I was able to adjust, I learned to love the game and played the hell out of it probably more than my brother did.
Metal Combat, the sequel to the drastically inferior Battle Clash, put players in control of the ST (Standing Tank, another name for mech) Falcon. The Falcon’s weapon systems were controlled by the player, which is where the Super Scope came into play. In many ways, this was one of the first and only SNES titles that felt like proper first person games. The game was played from a first person perspective and the Falcon’s cannon was, quite literally, the bulky plastic device that was resting on your shoulder. Metal Combat was a fiercely immersive game at the time, and it utilized the Super Scopre brilliantly. I can’t really say much about the controls because, well, it was the Super Scope! Point and shoot, we all know the drill. It was essentially just a very graphically advanced Duck Hunt.
The joy of playing Metal Combat came from the battles. Each stage was a one on one fight with an enemy ST that you had to destroy. The cool thing is that they were fully destructable and you could blow off their arms, legs, weapons, whatever. It was up to you to destroy your enemies in whatever way you wished, which was a very cool change of pace because back in 1993, most gamers were used to just pointing their characters at the enemy and shooting it until it died. Metal Combat moved the bar up substantially for SNES games, and the level of immersion that the destructable bosses provided was awesome.
I’ll always remember the bosses in the game very well. They were very memorable, except for a select few. Garam, Wong, Viscount, and Thanatos will always be remembered fondly by me. Three of those bosses (all except Wong) were featured in the original Battle Clash and were the only returning characters aside from the player’s ST Falcon. That says just how badass and cool they were at the time.
One aspect of Metal Combat that was loads of fun was the two player mode. Yes, this game had a freaking two player mode! The coolest thing about it was the fact that the second player actually played as the boss characters. Now how cool is that? At the time, it felt like the most amazing versus mode in the world to me and I loved playing as the boss characters while my brother or friends would play as one of the protagonist characters (Falcon or Tornado, the latter being unlockable). Viscount was always my favourite, because he seemed like a knight-like mech. He had a badass shield and, instead of a sword, had a powerful cannon that had one of the most devastating attacks in the entire game if it hit properly. I cannot even begin to describe how cool this versus mode was to me back in 1994. In recent years, I’ve played it with friends on emulators. While the challenge of the Super Scope isn’t present, we would still have some incredibly close battles.
There was also a time trial mode, which was pretty enjoyable. Essentially, the player had to play through the bosses and try to better their times on each boss. I eventually got most of the bosses down to being defeated in five to fifteen seconds each. In order to defeat them so quickly, you have to find their weak points. Some bosses make it really obvious, like ST Wong who just has to be hit in the middle once with your most powerful attack. Others, like Garam, often hide their weak points and force you to play a waiting game until they expose it for you, or you could just blast away whatever covers the weak point, which is fun too.
Overall, I have to say that this was by far the best Super Scope game ever developed, and I am shocked that Nintendo has never decided to resurrect the Battle Clash/Metal Combat franchise. The Wii is the perfect console for it, so the fact that this gem remains totally unknown to the newer generations of gamers is a damn shame, it really is. Especially since the developer of the game, Intelligent Systems, still makes games for Nintendo.
I demand a new game in this franchise! Nintendo, do us Metal Combat fans a favour and bring this awesome series back to life!
“Polyphony’s flagship series finally makes it’s official debut on the Playstation 3, and the wait was worth it.”
It has been five years since Gran Turismo 4, which is the same length of time that Gran Turismo 5 was in development for. An extremely early GT5 prototype was shown at E3 2005, and since then there has been a wave of jaw dropping trailers as well as disappointing delays. It is November 2010 and, finally, Gran Turismo 5 has crossed the finish line. Was the five years of development worth it, and does the quality of the game reflect the half decade of work?
Upon booting up Gran Turismo 5 for the first time, most users will be required to update to the latest patch immediately, which is close to 200 megabytes. Following this, the game will ask if the player would like to install 8 gigabytes of optional data. Well, considering the fact that the install size is a massive 8 gigabytes should be more than enough to convince the average player to go ahead and go through with it. I did not play Gran Turismo 5 without the install, but I cannot imagine doing so. The game has to load so much data and changes menus so frequently that it would be insane not to do the 8 gigabyte install.
After all of the patching and optional installing is out of the way, which will take roughly an hour in total, players are treated with a cinematic intro movie that runs for a staggering six and a half minutes. The intro walks the player through the construction of cars all the way up to the exciting GT-esque racing that the player bought the game to experience. The intro does start out a little slow, but towards the end it is crammed with more action and excitement than you would ever expect to see in a Gran Turismo title.
Once you reach the main menu, there are a few choices available. GT Mode (or simulation mode for those who have not played Gran Turismo lately), arcade mode, course maker, GT TV, and the options menu are available to check out. I’ll cover the meatiest bits at the end, so first off is the options menu. The amount of individual options that the player can play with is nothing short of exceptional. Dozens of settings for race wheels, television display, and even proper custom soundtrack settings are all contained in the options menu. There’s a lot to check out, so players who are decked out with a racing wheel, a music collection on their PS3, and the Playstation Eye will have lots of cool settings to check out and play with before racing.
GT TV is a feature I’m not too interested in just yet, as I am still enjoying the main game far too much to give it much attention. However, I do know what it contains. In GT TV, players will be able to check out GT5 related videos, watch Top Gear, historical videos about various cars, as well as support for the PSP that will enable you to watch GT TV videos on your handheld.
The course maker is an interesting feature that I’ve played with a little. It allows you pick a theme (circuit, kart track, snow, gravel, etc.) and then generate a random track. You don’t too much control over the design of the track, but you can adjust the complexity, road width, and corner sharpness of each section of the race track. The control you have is very limited, and really all that you can do is decide whether or not the track will be basic or complicated. It’s not a critical feature in GT5, but it’s a little fun to check out from time to time. I don’t enjoy making tracks to race on in it, but I do get a bit of a thrill out of making test tracks in it and then giving them a shakedown in time trial mode.
Arcade features many familiar mainstays of the racing genre. You can compete in single races of varying difficulty levels of your choice, go rallying or karting, attack lap times in time trial mode, or even play with a friend in split screen mode. There are a few dozen “arcade mode” cars that you can choose to use. There is nothing arcade-like about the cars, they are merely just vehicles that the game lets you use in arcade mode rather than having to unlock cars in GT Mode to use. This lets you use various cars in arcade mode without going through the hassle of tackling several GT Mode races just to purchase new vehicles. The cars that you do obtain in GT Mode can also be used in arcade mode, but the way in which you set them to be selectable in arcade mode is a little peculiar and perhaps even archaic. Within GT Mode, you must go to your garage and select a car that you own, then bring up the menu and choose “add to favourites” for the particular car. This allows it to be driven in arcade mode. I do not understand why you have to do this just to use your GT Mode cars in arcade mode, as it seems like a very unnecessary step that only wastes the time of the player. I’ve forgotten to add cars to my favourites on several occasions and had to go back and forth between the two game modes just to enable the car for arcade mode and then select it. This process can take two or three minutes sometimes, which is a bit of a bother.
GT Mode itself is where players will spend almost all of their time. The standard simulation mode is contained here, which involves car dealerships, a tune up shop, A-spec and B-spec races, special events, and more. Upon entering GT Mode for the first time, players will have to purchase a car from the used car lot and then practice their skills in the license tests. Players who feel sure of themselves can skip the tests entirely and just go straight to racing instead, since the license tests are completely optional now.
There are several different kinds of races in GT Mode. First is A-spec, which is essentially just standard single races or tournaments that follow certain themes such as only allowing Japanese cars or European antique cars. Winning these races will grant you credits (currency) and experience. Complete all races under certain categories and you will often be rewarded with cars. B-spec races are identical to A-spec races (same categories, events, etc.) only instead of you driving, you get to instruct an AI “apprentice” sort of driver. You will issue him commands to ease up, increase his pace, or attempt to overtake other drivers. Your B-spec drivers will usually struggle initially, but as they drive more often, they will level up and become better drivers. Some B-spec drivers will just struggle with certain kinds of cars. For example, I stuck my B-spec driver in a 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray, and he made countless mistakes, spinning out at almost every corner. Afterwards, I stuck him in a Toyota FT-86 Concept ’09 and he immediately proceeded to kick ass, winning race after race. I then figured that the twitchiness of the Corvette may have been too much for my B-spec driver, as even I had troubles with the car. The FT-86 was a much friendlier car to drive and felt great, which my B-spec driver seemed to agree with.
I mentioned experience points, which is new to Gran Turismo. Obtaining experience from events will allow you to level up, which unlocks new special events and allows you to drive higher tier cars. In previous Gran Turismo games, you could essentially just grind credits and then purchase the best cars, but now you must reach the proper level to pilot certain cars. I always used to buy a Doge Viper as soon as possible, but I had to be level 12 to get the one I wanted in GT5 (the Viper SRT/10 Coupe ’06). When I finally reached level 12, I was ecstatic to purchase the car, and then proceeded to lovingly throw it around the corners of a self-created test track.
The special events in Gran Turismo 5 are great. Initially they may feel challenging or perhaps unfair, but after realizing that the special events take not only raw skill but also careful planning and quick thinking to win, they become extremely intriguing. I struggled with one event that involved racing a pretty ugly Toyota bus around the Top Gear test track, and I just couldn’t figure out how to win it. The best I could muster was 9th for a full day until I went back to the event, observed the AI carefully and planned out several various overtaking moves. When I felt ready to challenge for the gold again, I pulled through and came in first position. It was an awesome feeling to conquer the event, and I felt like I really achieved something. The feeling of accomplishment that I have received from Gran Turismo 5’s various events and races easily trumps any other game that I have played recently.
Now that I have discussed the majority of the game’s content (except the online play, which I have not yet played but here is quite good), I want to go over how the game itself plays. There is really only one thing to talk about, and that is the racing.
As in past Gran Turismo titles, the huge collection of cars present in GT5 (slightly over 1000) contains some pretty awful turds, but most of the cars are either pleasant or flat out awesome to drive. The Toyota bus for example is a wretched vehicle that I never want to drive again, while the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is perhaps the smoothest handling vehicle that I have ever used in a racing game, and I have fallen head over heels in love with it. Few cars handle terribly, and those that do not feel like they are just bad cars, no. Instead, the poorer cars instead just feel like untamed animals that fight with you and challenge you for control. It’s an exhilarating experience to drive such cars, as even the real shit boxes possess lots of personality.
In terms of sound, not many cars sound terribly interesting. Many of them sound like they have generic stock engine noises that we’ve heard several times over now from various other racing games. However, my Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI GSR ’99 is a real treat to listen to. It sounds ALIVE, as if it is breathing. NASCAR and karts also sound pretty fantastic and really capture the essence of their real life counterparts.
The graphics in Gran Turismo 5 seldom dip below “good.” Most of the time, I would rate them as being either good or great. The only time the graphics appear to be “average” or perhaps bad in any way is when there is lots of mist or smoke being kicked around. For some peculiar reason, mist and smoke effects cause cars who get caught inside of them to look very pixelated. Even the premium model cars, which are ordinarily gorgeous, look like PS2 era vehicles when caught in mist or smoke. Fortunately cars are rarely ever in this situation, their stunning beauty rarely comprimised by strange graphical issues. A few cars do have polygon tearing issues, which is very odd in this day and age. I’ve only witnessed it on the NASCAR cars in replays, but there may be other cars that are the victim of polygon tearing.
In terms of trackside graphics, it’s a bag of mixed nuts. City tracks look absolutely fantastic and are perhaps the best looking environments I’ve seen on the Playstation 3. However, once you move away from the city tracks, you will find two dimensional trees and bizarre instances of distant objects popping out of nowhere, rendering far later than they should. These aren’t gamebreaking and don’t really make the game ugly, and at very high speeds most of the graphical problems are hard to even notice. However, tracks with many slow corners give you ample opportunities to pick out the game’s graphical flaws.
There were a lot of debates online which are even going on now over the premium and standard model cars. The difference between the two is that premium model cars have interior camera views and every piece of the cars’ exterior is modeled to perfection. Standard cars do not feature any kind of in-car camera view and have lower polygon counts. Many frustrated gamers, particularly at GameFAQs, have gotten very upset over standard cars, calling them nothing more than reskinned vehicles from Gran Turismo 4. Some have said very unkind things towards the standard vehicles and have spoken harshly of Polyphony Digital as a result. So, what’s my verdict on premium and standard cars? Well, unless you are intentionally looking for any kind of graphical difference and freezing your replays in order to do so, you probably won’t notice a damn difference between the two. Yes premium models look absolutely stunning, but standard models are not the ugly abominations that the internet trolls make them out to be. They honestly look just fine and can easily go toe to toe with the premiums. In my opinion, the only advantages that the premium cars have are in-car cameras, fully modelled exteriors, and more thorough damage models. Aside from that, they look pretty much just as good. I’m being brutally honest here, standard cars are not an issue at all.
So how does Gran Turismo 5 hold up? Were the five years of development worth it? In my opinion, yes. Many people are upset and let down by the game’s critical reception, but those are the people who overhyped the game and hailed it as the greatest game of all time long before it even came out. The truth is that Gran Turismo 5 is not the best game ever made, far from it! But, is it still a good game? Yes, it’s a good game. In fact, Gran Turismo 5 is an exceptional game. The care taken to create this wonderful product is very apparent to anyone who plays the game, and the quality of the racing is definitely unmatched. In time, I expect Gran Turismo 5 to most likely become my favourite racing game that I have ever played. So, is it worth checking out? If you are a fan of Gran Turismo or racing games in general, then yes. Even fans of Forza (which I did not want to even mention in this review) should find some aspects of GT5 to be extremely enjoyable.
While there are a few graphical and technical issues with the game, none of them directly harm what this game does best, and that is delivering some of the absolute best racing to ever grace a gaming console. This is, without a doubt, Polyphony Digital’s finest work ever. Bravo, guys.
“A fangame that is overshadowed by a tool that comes packaged along with it.”
Super Mario Bros. X does not really know what it wants to be. While this fangame very clearly pays tribute to the Mario franchise, the sight of Metroid and Zelda graphics, along with odd gameplay mechanics that don’t seem to fit in a Mario game, one can’t help but wonder if the creators of this game lacked a little vision.
The default campaign that comes with Super Mario Bros. X is fairly clunky, but it should be able to hold your attention for a while. I found that, while the levels were somewhat enjoyable, they did not capture the old-school Mario feel at all and just seemed to want to pretend to be Contra or Metroid while wearing a Mario disguise. Make no mistake, almost everything that you probably grew to love from Mario 1, 2, 3, or World is probably here, but few elements seem to be used properly in the default campaign.
I found a few issues with the enemies in the game as well. As a huge Mario fan who has sunk dozens upon dozens of hours into Super Mario World, I was able to quickly realize that some enemies don’t behave as they should. For example, the thwomp (the square rock guys who try to squish you) drop too late and too quickly. In real Mario games, it was possible to pass by under them or even jump past them before they would hit you, but that is not the case here. In SMBX, thwomps drop pretty much when you are right beside them, and they drop slightly faster than they did in Mario World. A few other enemies behave oddly as well, such as Birdo or Hammer Brothers.
The controls are also a little stiffer than they are in a typical Mario game. Sometimes I had a few issues maneuvering Mario properly even on the most simple of platforms. I also find his acceleration into a run to be a little unusual. Something about it just feels incredibly off, but I can exactly place what it is that I don’t like about it. Mario’s acceleration just does not feel right.
If I were to review Mario Bros. X solely on the default campaign that comes with the game, I’d probably give the game about a 7/10, but there’s something that comes with this game that drives the score way up and pretty much renders the default campaign as an optional set of levels for you to plow through if you’re bored. So, what is the magical part of the package that overshadows the main game? Well, it happens to be a level editor.
The level editor is by and far the best point of Super Mario Bros. X. Users can create their own Mario levels using graphics and music from any of the first four Mario titles, as well as a few samples from Metroid and Zelda. I don’t agree with those two games having any kind of representation in a Mario fangame of this magnitude, and Link being a playable character makes my mind implode. As a very biased Mario fanboy of twenty years, it just doesn’t feel right to have Metroid themed levels in the Mushroom Kingdom, but it’s optional content so I can’t really condemn it.
I’ve made several Mario levels so far, and I have to say that I am very pleased by how robust Super Mario Bros. X’s editor really is. Recreating old Mario levels from any game is one hundred percent possible, as is forging brand new levels that combine graphics and enemies from any of the old Mario titles. It’s a great little tool for sure.
One other cool thing that this game has to offer, which I haven’t been able to try and likely never will due to various reasons, is the two player co-op mode. Rather than taking turns playing levels like in the old Mario games, in SMBX, the two players get to play the same levels together. Available characters are Mario, Luigi, Toad, Peach, and Link. There’s a good amount of variety there, and I’m sure that anyone who is able to take advantage of the two player mode will really enjoy it, as it seems well made judging from what I’ve seen on YouTube.
Overall, SMBX is a passably decent game if you ignore the level editor, though the character variety and co-op mode should make the game closer to being fairly good. However, if you are a fan of level making and such, then expect to have a lot of fun with this game.
Super Mario Bros. X can be downloaded here: http://www.supermariobrothers.org/smbx/
In 2004, I felt that my interest in RPG Maker was really starting to wane and that I would probably stop using the program soon unless I came up with something that I truly enjoyed working on. I decided that, for whatever reason, an action RPG with Final Fantasy 4-esque graphics would be the best way to go. Looking back on that decision today, I am certain that if I had proceeded with my initial idea, I definitely would have failed horribly.
When I began gathering resources and plotting out my action RPG that I had taken to calling Blackmoon Prophecy, I began to realize that I was almost subconsciously mapping the game as a Final Fantasy fangame. So many elements from the old Final Fantasy titles were present, probably because of the ripped graphics I was using. I decided that maybe an action RPG wasn’t the thing for me to tackle at that moment, and I decided to turn Blackmoon Prophecy into a real fangame. It then became Final Fantasy Blackmoon Prophecy, and my simple goal was to emulate the feel and gameplay of the first six titles in the Final Fantasy series.
I had previously made one Final Fantasy fangame in RPG Maker 2000 called Final Fantasy Mythologies in 2002 or 2003, and it was pretty terrible. In my heart I felt that it was a gem, but as an actual fangame? Well, it was pretty terrible. Only I could enjoy it. I wanted to do better with Blackmoon Prophecy, and I also wanted to dispell the illusion that all fangames suck. That is a belief that has been a part of the RPG Maker community since it’s early days in 1999 and 2000, and a slew of awful Dragon Ball, Final Fantasy, and Pokemon abominations did not help fangames receive a better image. There certainly were good fangames, but they were few and far between. I wanted to make my mark on the fangame side of the RPG Maker community, which is why I chose to make Blackmoon Prophecy feel and look like the old Final Fantasy games. I did not want the game to forge it’s own unique identity, no. All fangames that have done that have mostly failed. I decided to play it safe and, hopefully smart, by modelling practically every aspect of Blackmoon Prophecy after the first six Final Fantasy games.
I released several demos between 2004 and 2007. Initially, not a lot of people took to Blackmoon Prophecy. There were lots of bad maps, dialogue was overly juvenile, and the overall presentation (such as battle animations) was a little disheartening. With each demo, I refined the game more and more to carry a more authentic Final Fantasy feel until it seemed that almost everybody who played the later demos at least partially enjoyed the game. Negative feedback dropped quite a lot over the three years of demo releases. It has now been about three years since the last demo and I can safely say that the refinements I’ve made since then are very thorough and vast. Many dialogue sequences and maps have been completely remade and, in some cases, areas of the game have been completely removed because I deemed them to be too amateurish.
While Blackmoon Prophecy will never feel 100% like the classic Final Fantasy games due to the use of RPG Maker 2003’s default systems, I really do believe that I’ve come closer than any other fangame author in the RPG Maker community. At times, an uneducated viewer could probably mistake Blackmoon Prophecy for a legit Final Fantasy game. A very authentic Mystic Mysidia is ripped from Final Fantasy 4, and Final Fantasy 6’s auction house has been recreated very faithfully as well. Little things like that give Blackmoon Prophecy a distinct Final Fantasy feel. I’ll never nail it perfectly though, but then again I sort of feel like the atmosphere, feeling, and gameplay of the old games are lost forever. Final Fantasy remakes on portable consoles always feel like they have less soul than the originals, and the recent Final Fantasy IV: The After Years on the Wii felt nothing like the game it was meant to be a sequel to. It felt like a strange fangame of sorts. It just seems like nobody can really capture that old feel anymore. I don’t think I can capture it, but I can at least emulate it.
So, exactly what is this Blackmoon Prophecy game about? In traditional old-school fashion, this is a game about saving the crystals from an evil villain and that’s it! It sounds simple because, like the old games, it is. Of course there are many plot devices and storylines that play out, but at it’s core, Blackmoon Prophecy is just an old-school game about saving the world.
The game is set in Gaia, a world that is governed by four major powers – Branch, Ivalice, Lenadia, and Lindblum. Branch is a war-ravaged nation with a predominantly dragoon-based military, Ivalice is your typical shady Empire, Lenadia is a peaceful and vast land ruled by King Gorn, and Lindblum is an economic powerhouse.
The players assume the role of Vahn, a dragoon from the Branch Kingdom. A year has passed since the Crystal War which saw the King of Branch wage war on the world via crystal power. The King was defeated by the other nations, and the crystals returned to their rightful shrines across the world. Now, something mysterious is clearly going on. Strange happenings have been occurring at the Water Shrine, and a local dragoon named Darius has been acting peculiar and defiant in many cases. Can Vahn get to the bottom of it all?
Throughout Vahn’s journey he will team up with a black mage, white mage, summoner, ninja, blue mage, swordsman, dark knight, and a treasure hunter. Each have their own distinct abilities and all excel at different areas of the game. For example, the dark knight is able to manipulate the shadow resistance of fellow party members and enemies. If he lowers an enemy’s resistance several times, he can then use his Black Strike ability. On it’s own, it is an average shadow elemental attack, but after manipulating the enemy’s resistance, it turns into a devastating attack. A few minutes after the dark knight joins, there is a boss battle in which all three opponents are immune to shadow attacks, which makes him useless in that fight as a combatant. As well, the white mage is very weak against shadow elemental attacks and, in that same fight, can be hit by a shadow attack that deals roughly twice as much damage as her maximum HP. Since she is the primary healer, having her in a fight in which she can be killed in a single blow is risky however, if the player were to keep the dark knight in their party, they could theoretically use him exclusively to support the white mage and keep her alive. Situations like that arise pretty often, but a few characters are lucky enough to not be affected much, such as the black mage who commands at least one spell of every element.
In terms of emulating older Final Fantasy games, there’s a long list of things in Blackmoon Prophecy that may be nostalgic for a few people. Characters such as Cid, King Gorn, Siegfried, and Ultros are present while towns like Cornelia, Kohlingen, Mysidia and Silvera are recreated in some form or another. There is a choboco race track where players can bid on the winner and receive prizes, and an auction house where the player can having bidding wars with NPCs over items. A few location names, such as Ebot’s Rock, Mount Matoya, and Gulgur Volcano may remind players of the good ol’ days as well. The summoner character is of course another source of nostalgia with her summons such as Ifrit, Ramuh, and Shiva. More obscure summons like Zoneseek are also in the mix. You name it and I’m probably trying to capture it in some form or another!
I’ve been working on Blackmoon Prophecy quite a lot recently and, at the pace I am going at right now, I think I’ll finish in the summer of 2011 sometime. Finishing this game is definitely one of my goals, and will probably be one of my New Year’s Resolution as well. This is one of the very few things I have ever put online that was enjoyed by quite a few people. That sort of thing can make a person feel good, and I’d love to finish this game and release it to the masses. Stay tuned next year, it may happen!
Click here to visit The Review Depot’s Blackmoon Prophecy section.