Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wii Hidden Gems #5 - Geometry Wars: Galaxies

In the very early days of the Xbox 360, there was one game that kept gamers coming back for more thanks to its simple yet highly addictive gameplay.  Sure, Project Gotham Racing 3 was a fine launch title, but eventually you would come to the end of it.  Not so with Geometry Wars, however, as you could always go back and try and beat your high score.  It was essentially an update to the classic twin stick shooters of old such as Robotron 2084, spruced up with some funky graphical tricks yet still traceable in its lineage to classic vector games.  Imagine if MB were still making new Vectrex consoles today, just perhaps this is what they would look like.

I remember reading at the time that the fancy warping of the background grid and the particle effects flying everywhere were only possible thanks to the power of the Xbox 360 and the game couldn’t be replicated elsewhere.  Yet along came British development studio Kuju and proved everyone wrong with today’s Hidden Gem Geometry Wars: Galaxies.  Not only does the Wii version do everything that the downloadable 360 title did, it also does a whole lot more besides.  They even released a version for the DS, though that one is a tad compromised due to some unfortunate slowdown.   What exactly makes this spin off game better than  the original though? Let’s take a look…

Graphics: 9 out of 10
As I alluded to in my intro, the visuals in Geometry Wars: Galaxies are very true to the original version, yet Kuju have expanded on the original premise with new enemy types, and many different level layouts instead of just the simple oblong arena of the first game.  The game may look simple in screen shots, yet it can be quite spectacular at times when seen in action, due to the crazy amounts of enemies, bullets, and “Geoms” flying around the screen.  Throw a few black holes into the mix, and things really start to get crazy.  These troublesome enemies suck everything towards them as you might expect, and once they’ve reached critical mass, they explode in a deadly hail of play seeking bullets.  Expert players will actually allow this to occur though, as these bullets can be shot down for a lot of points.  Then there are the snakes – I really hate these bastards.  They typically turn up at the worst possible moment in a large swarm and kill me.  Argh!

Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
The music in the Geometry Wars series consists of some nice techno beats, which get the blood pumping nicely.  It’s not spectacularly good stuff, but not particularly offensive on the ears.  The sound design is where things get rather clever though.  Each enemy has its own unique sound, so expert players could probably shut their eyes and be able to tell what’s just appeared on screen.  This can be helpful in some of the new, larger stages that have to be scrolled.  It’s not just the enemies that have smart sound design though, this extends to the whole game, so you will know when you’ve earned an extra life, or achieved a medal for example, without having to glance up at the top of the screen to verify.  Very handy.  Too many games overlook things like this, so Geometry Wars: Galaxies is to be commended.

A typically explosion filled scene from Geometry Wars: Galaxies.
Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
The game design of Geometry Wars was pretty much perfect back when it was based on one single, simple level.  Kuju have essentially just expanded upon this winning formula and added a few new wrinkles to spice thing up a bit, and keep you coming back for the long haul.  Firstly, there’s the multiplier.  Now, as you collect the little while diamonds dropped by slain enemies called Geoms, you will gradually increase you multiplier all the way up to X150.  Should you die, it’s reset all the way back to X1.  Seeing as some of the gold levels can be ridiculously high on the tougher planets, getting your multiplier up to the max and then staying there for as long as possible is vital to your success.

Connected to this are the new Drones, little friendly AI controlled doobries that fly around your ship and perform various tasks, such as enhancing your own firepower, actively trying to protect your ship from harm , or my favourite – zipping around and picking up loose Geoms for you.  As you collect more and more Geoms while playing the game, your active Drone will become more effective and level up.  You will also unlock more Drone types in this manner.  There’s quite a range of different types, which gives players a variety of different tactics to try while going for that all important high score and the ever elusive gold medals.

Geoms are also used as currency, to unlock more advanced galaxies.   You start off with a basic tutorial galaxy unlocked, and another slightly more difficult one, but there are many more after this, made up of multiple planets.  Each planet offers up its own unique spin on the Geometry Wars formula, be it a constricted arena in which to fight off the hordes of killer shapes, or indestructible objects in the middle of the play space.  Each level has multiple medals for you to earn, with the early levels having tricky yet achievable targets, and the more advanced planets having mind bogglingly high medal thresholds. I’ve played both the DS version and the Wii version quite a bit, and where a lot of the medals were just a question of being patient in the DS version because there are less enemies on screen and the slowdown actually makes things easier, this is not the case on the Wii.

Innovation and Cleverness: 6 out of 10
I can’t be too generous here because this is essentially a sequel to an already established formula, though the new aspects of the gameplay do add a lot of depth.  There’s not really a whole lot more to say here!

Value and Replayability: 9 out of 10
The original Geometry Wars was already endlessly replayable in theory as it was an old school arcade style high score chasing game.  The vast range of new levels and deeper gameplay ensure that you won’t get bored with Galaxies for a long time.  While I might not spend hour upon hour at a time playing the game, it’s one that I’m constantly coming back to for a quick fix.

Overall: 9 out of 10
Geometry Wars: Galaxies is one of my favourite titles for the Wii, and a must for those looking for a simple yet addictive blast of retro style gameplay.  All the new additions go a long way to enhancing the overall appeal of the game and give you ample reasons to keep coming back.  It will take you a long, long time to earn all of those medals.  Here’s a tip though: make sure you have a classic controller, you’ll need one!

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Wii Hidden Gems #4 - Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles

There have been quite a few attempts to adapt the Resident Evil franchise into an on rails light fun game over the years.  I actually quite liked Survivor at the time of its release on the PS1, though it has dated really badly now.  Having heard bad things about the sequel (that was based on Code Veronica) I gave it a miss, but then I did pick up Dead Aim for the PlayStation 2.  It was OK, though the controls were somewhat clunky.

Nintendo's Wii seems like the perfect fit for a new Resi shooter, as it has already proven it can handle the genre extremely well through titles like Link's Crossbow Training, Ghost Squad, and the downloadable Wild West Guns.  So in 2007 Capcom released The Umbrella Chronicles, which features various scenarios taken from earlier games in the series: namely 0, 1, and 3.  Fan favourite Resi Evil 2 has been skipped over for now, though it's included in the sequel Darkside Chronicles that I will also be covering soon.

Interspersed with the stages based on the stories we know and love are side missions where you get to take control of characters like Wesker, Rebecca Chambers, Ada Wong and Hunk.  Poor old Barry Burton gets somewhat left in the cold, unfortunately!  With three missions for each of the three games, and another twelve besides those, Umbrella Chronicles has plenty to offer fans of the series.  How about the execution though, does it finally get right what the previous games have managed to get wrong?

Graphics: 8 out of 10
The Umbrella Chronicles takes its visual style from Resident Evil 0 and the remake of the first game, so it looks just like those two titles.  Capcom have really done an excellent job of ensuring that the geography of the locations visited in the game matches that of the games that levels are based on, which is a real treat for fans of the series who have completed these games multiple times and know their way around the Spencer mansion off by heart, for instance.  Enemies look like they did also, and there's a nice variety of zombie designs so you're not being attacked by clones the whole time.  Some of them are even wearing hard hats or body armour, which means you have to change your tactics as a result.

As good looking as the Resi 0 and Remake levels look, it's really the ones based on Resi 3 that will have the most impact, as this is the first time they've been given a visual overhaul since the now slightly crusty looking PlayStation original was released. Seeing how great the decimated streets of Raccoon City and the Nemesis looks, it makes me feel that it's a shame that Capcom never got around to giving the much loved second and third games in the series the same remake treatment they gave the original.  But I digress - this game really does look great on the Wii, and enemies even react to being shot in different places.  You would hope that this would be the case, but it hasn't always been so in the previous on rails Resi games.

Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
The menu music is quite memorable and suitably creepy and Resident Evil esque. The music that plays during the game itself is also fine for the most part, but tends to blend into the background a bit amongst all the gun shots.  It's good to hear that they've got the little details right like the same noises as you click through your inventory - you wouldn't think that things like this would be all that important, but it helps make the game feel like it is genuinely part of the Resident Evil "brand".

This consistency carries over to the voice acting as well, as the voice of Wesker will be familiar to those who have played more recent entries in the series (though if memory serves me right he's not the original actor who played him).  I didn't really recognise anyone else as being from other games in the Resi series, though that doesn't mean they weren't!

Umm, Rebecca? You've got red on you.
Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
The game play in The Umbrella Chronicles is fairly solid and satisfying for the most part, but there are a few minor irritations.  Some of the bosses (in particular the big Leech monster at the end of the Resi 0 section) can be a nuisance to kill.  Of course with a bit of patience and some practise you will win the day eventually, but the first few times you will probably suffer a frustrating death.

It is good that you can go back to missions you've already cleared and earn more stars, though.  You can spend these stars on upgrading the weapons that you've found so far (and therefore unlocked).  The upgrades include total ammo capacity, clip capacity and fire power, and the weapons comprise the usual types that you find in these games: sub machine guns, shotguns, grenade launchers and more.  You will always have a pistol on hand that has infinite ammo, and that's pretty effective at taking out most fodder enemies, but you will definitely be needing the better weaponry when faced with lickers, hunters, and bosses like the Tyrant.

As the levels proceed, you can destroy certain items in the background to uncover hidden documents, more ammo for the special weapons, green herbs which heal you instantly, and first aid sprays that effectively give you a continue.  Each level typically lasts 10 - 15 minutes and is split up into smaller sections with at least one checkpoint in the middle.  If you reach a checkpoint, or the boss of the stage, you can restart from that point should you die.  You probably will, too - as the game can be fairly challenging even on the earliest difficulty.   The optional scenarios feel noticeably harder than the main ones, too - especially as you have to play these alone (at least to begin with).

Innovation and Cleverness: 6
Making a sort of "Greatest Hits" package out of the Resident Evil series is a great idea, and a real treat for fans, and Capcom really nailed the whole atmosphere.  That being said, it doesn't really bring anything radically new to the light gun genre.  That's OK though, where the game is lacking in innovation it makes up in polish - something which has been a bit lacking in the previous light gun games based on the franchise.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
Light gun shooters are traditionally fairly brief experiences, but there are a lot of missions in The Umbrella Chronicles.  Throw in multiple difficulty levels, branching routes in some of the stages, and a two player co op mode, and you have a decent amount of content for you to sink your teeth into.

Basing the value on the current price that you can find the game for (which is around £5 used and £15 new), I can say that you definitely get your money's worth.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles is a great offering for fans of the series, and is enhanced greatly by the option to play along with a friend. Everything feels authentic and handled with care, which is sadly not always the case with this franchise! Although the game leaves out the best games in the series in number 2 and number four, what is on offer is still good and the fact that it fills in gaps in the story is great.  I will be back with another review of the sequel once I have time to play through it all, in the meantime you should seriously think about adding The Umbrella Chronicles to your collection!