Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Video Game Swag: GameSpite Quarterly Issue 5

I've just finished reading the latest hardback edition of GameSpite Quarterly, this time devoted to the NES and its 25 year legacy. The book is split into seven sections which cover the major events that occurred during the lifetime of the console including the launch of Nintendo Power magazine, Nintendo's many legal battles, bootleg cartridges and more. Sprinkled amongst these articles is coverage of all of the key games that were released for the platform, both good and bad.

As always this is a excellently written tome put together by Jeremy Parish and his team of regular contributors from the GameSpite web site. It weighs in at over 440 pages and as Jeremy has already said they're not likely to ever produce such a long book again due to the insane amount of work that goes into it. I have recently bought GameSpite Year 1 Volume 1 as well and the evolution from that early book to this latest one is clear to see - with fairly mundane and simple layouts put together in the free BookSmart software giving way to extremely professional looking articles that have been set out in Adobe InDesign. While in the face of it the book isn't cheap at just under £24 for the deluxe hardback and just under £12 for the standard edition, bear in mind that this is a print on demand enterprise put together in what little spare time the creators can afford. For the stingy or hard up, all of the content will eventually appear free of charge on the web site, but the books do make a great addition to any retro gamers library.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Wii Hidden Gems #1 - The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces

So here I am with the first of my new Wii Hidden Gems series - which incidentally will be full blown reviews rather than using the format of my older Hidden Gems articles. The Sky Crawlers game is based on a series of novels by Japanese author Hiroshi Mori. His books have been adapted into an anime film, the game which I'm covering here and a manga series. The basic premise is somewhat strange - although the world is actually at peace, in order to prevent a full blown war from breaking out amongst the aggressive human population, several corporations stage battles for show. Both the film and the game make reference to "Kildren" - genetically engineered children that are immortal unless shot down in battle, when they are simply cloned and the copy is sent out again with a new identity. The game is a combat flight sim developed by Project Aces - the same team that have worked on most of the Ace Combat series, and it shares many similarities with those titles. Now that I've filled you in on what the game is about, let me try and explain why you should give it a try.

Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Project Aces
Expect to pay: £10 (source: Amazon Marketplace)

7 out of 10

Sky Crawlers
is by no means an ugly came unless you happen to get fairly close to the ground whereupon the textures and general lack of detail leave you in no doubt that you’re playing on a machine that has less power under the hood than Xbox 360 or PS3. There are a nice variety of different skyboxes throughout the missions creating the atmosphere that you are flying against a sunset or during a thunderstorm for example. The various different planes (more of which can be unlocked) all look good and like they could feasibly be real machines, and importantly there is no trace of slowdown when there are a lot of bogies in the sky. Aside from the in game graphics another major visual component of this game are the anime style cut scenes, which have been given the same level of polish as the feature film. You don’t get to watch one of these after every mission but there is over 30 minutes of animation spread between the games 17 missions. All in all Sky Crawlers is a decent looking Wii game but obviously if you put it up against its fully HD counterpart on the other current generation consoles then it is going to suffer.

Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
I’m going to mention the voice acting first because surprisingly I feel that it is a good deal better than the voice work in the English dub of the film. Whereas a lot of the acting felt stilted and lacking emotion in the movie the VA’s tend to do a much better job. I definitely recognised the acting talents of Heather Hogan as Lt. Orishina (probably most well known for playing Collette Brunel in the Tales of Symphonia games).

The music is also nicely composed and features Celtic influences which helps gives the Sky Crawlers universe its own unique feel. The music was also a strong component of the animated film so its good to see this carry across from one medium to another.

Neeooooowwwww... dugga-dugga-dugga-dugga!

Game Mechanics: 7 out of 10
As mentioned previously, The Sky Crawlers takes place over 17 separate missions, some of which have multiple sections. These predominantly involve shooting down other planes, but there are a few missions which diverge from this pattern to involve taking reconnaissance photos, destroying generators before shields can be activated, or protecting a downed sea plane from both naval and aerial attack.

I have to praise Project Aces/Namco now for being considerate enough to provide multiple controller options for the game. The default controls sees you using the nunchuk in your dominant hand as the joystick of your plane, and the Wii remote as your throttle control. You can also perform various evasive maneuvers by carrying out motions with the remote, and these can be very important in some of the trickier missions as they allow you to position yourself directly behind an enemy plane and take them out efficiently. These can sometimes make the missions rather too easy though and reduce the amount of actual dogfighting skill necessary to take down the opposition. You can also use either a Gamecube controller or a Classic controller, which is typically something that only Nintendo is thoughtful enough to offer. I have played many Wii games which are hampered by there insistence that you must use the motion controls and nothing else (Tiger Woods 2010 comes to mind).

Innovation and Cleverness: 6 out 10
Though I have said that the Classic controller is my preferred control method for playing Sky Crawlers, the motion controls are in fact very well implemented and do a good job of making you feel that you are in control of a plane. There is also the small but very useful addition of a zoomed in targeting reticule that appears one you are in a certain range of your target, which makes lining up shots in the the middle of a hectic dogfight much easier.

Value and Replayability: 7 out of 10
It will probably take you in the region of 10 hours to play through the main story mode on the default difficulty setting. Then you have the option of either playing individual missions again in free play, or playing through the whole story again a second time on the hard setting. Though the amount of play time you will glean from this game is by no means huge, it is quite possible to find a new, sealed copy of the game for £10 which means that I still recommend that you pick it up, especially if you're already a fan of the film. The game and film are best experienced as part of a package, as both of them fill in missing details of the others storyline and are more understandable (not to mention enjoyable) once you are aware of all the back story.

Overall: 7 out of 10
Sky Crawlers is a game that is likely to fly under the radar of many, especially in the west where there original series of novels haven't been translated. Fans of anime and aerial combat games should definitely take the time to check this cross media project out, as there's a lot to enjoy.

Wii will rock you.

Please forgive the rather tired and obvious pun - it's been a long week and we're only at the halfway stage! Today I would like to announce some plans that I have, although I'm not going to do anything rash like commit my self to a schedule or anything like that as that is a surefire way to guarantee that it won't actually happen! Anyway, I've been thinking for a little while that it would be nice to shift the focus away from Xbox 360 for a little bit and onto other platforms - beginning with the Nintendo Wii. The Wii has been very under represented on this blog and also gets a fair bit of stick from both hardcore gamers and journalists alike - with even the best games the system can offer often receiving the dreaded "It looks good, for a Wii game" comment.

I would like to readdress the balance a bit by introducing two new series of articles - Wii Essentials, and Wii Hidden Gems. The first will include games that should be in anybodies Wii collection and will cover some of the more obvious titles that I have been meaning to talk about but never have for one reason or another - such as Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime Trilogy, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and others. The second will try and unearth some of the Wii's less well known but no less deserving titles. Games like Little King's Story, A Boy and His Blob, and Sky Crawlers. The first of each of these will hopefully appear fairly soon but like I said I'm not going to doom this enterprise to failure by promising exactly when they will appear. Once I get into my stride and get a few of these up I may well follow up will something similar for some of the other platforms that I haven't given much coverage - the Nintendo DS, or more retro coverage for example. I'm quite excited to get working on this at the moment, so maybe I will strike while the iron is hot and start working on the first one now! I've even created logo's for them, look:

In future, clicking on these banners will take you to all of the articles within each series - for now they will only bring up this one though!