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Spooky Plays: D

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Welcome back to a world of horror and fright. You may remember last year when I did a review of a game that not many would think of when pondering the options to step into a good atmosphere that sends chills down spines and squeals up throats. Thief: The Dark Project was that game, and the horror came from the masterpiece’s years spent in development hell when its focus was changed about a half dozen times. Well, if you want to read more about that game check it out right here: https://whydidiplaythis.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/unexpectedly-spooky-thief-the-dark-project/ . In contrast to a jumbled mess of juxtaposed design and experimentation that somehow worked brilliantly, this year I bring you D. Just D. The letter D. No more. No less. D.

D is a horror puzzle game developed by WARP and published by Acclaim. It was originally created and released on the 3DO, but given the system’s less than stellar sales records, the game was ported over to Sega’s Saturn and Sony’s Playstation, as well as DOS in the Western markets. In Japan, the Saturn release was a smash hit, debuting at the top of the sales chart. Acclaim insisted on porting it over to the other consoles themselves, and localizing it for the international market. The Saturn port was also successful on the sales charts in the West despite that console’s lukewarm reception. Sadly, Sony did not manufacture enough copies to even dream of satisfing pre-order demands for the Playstation release, and few more were ever produced. This leads to the oddity of the Saturn version being the easiest to find in the US. There’s not too much difference in price between the two though, Saturn averages out to be cheaper. The 3DO version stands up as the hardest to find and most expensive release. I blame this on the fact that searching for just “D” leads to so many other results that its annoying to find this specific game for any of its systems.

The game’s development is a wonderful tale in and of itself, with Kenji Eno going to extreme lengths to keep the real story of the game hidden, even from his coworkers, in an attempt to sort of cheat his way into a publishing deal. He made the game appear more like it was a clean cut adventure game with high quality graphics, not unlike Myst before it. Since Kenji Eno personally visited manufacturers in the USA to switch out his clean version from the real version he also bypassed any possibility of censorship.

Even today the horror imagery and well detailed (for the time) art design and environments stand out among its peers in the genre. Where Resident Evil would release after this game and rely on bad voice acting and jump scares, D does an excellent job of instilling a creepy atmosphere around the player and the young woman you control, WARP’s digital actress Laura Harris.

One interesting way that this atmosphere was achieved is a design choice that forces the player to sit and play the game. There is no saving or pausing. You have two hours of real time to finish the game from start to ending. That may seem like a short time, but I ended up being about ten minutes shy of beating it when I first played it. The second time was the charm for me.

One of the reasons you might get stopped and take a bit longer to finish the game is the puzzle design. Its quite reminiscent of point and click adventure games, but given its short length, most of these puzzles lack the depth or insane difficulty of some PC adventure games that are similar to D’s presentation. The exploration and movement works well for being limited to a controller. The odd part about the game’s movement design is that some rooms have paths that go all over the place. One example of this is in one of the bedrooms. You’ll step inside and be looking at a painting, and you can only walk towards this painting at first. Later you’ll need to get into a table to the right of the painting, but to get to the table from the painting you have to turn left, walk to the other door, then turn and step to the bed, turn to the left again, and then step forward to the table. You can’t just turn right when you’re already standing next to the table.

The game certainly feels aged though. Compared to other horror games its quite tame. As you play you’ll find the atmosphere is where the real tension is, and there are some creepy images and unexplained phenomena throughout this mansion Laura finds herself in. The occasional dessicated corpse catches her by surprise, and a wall of spikes early in the game might be only real jump scares in the game, but none of them are harmful. This game did influence later titles when it comes to presentation though. D’s unexpected success in all markets is simultaneously a beginning and an ending, as slower FMV puzzle games were nearing their twilight. D’s future influence lies in its tight artistic designs, well produced visuals, and its use of sound to create a setting and experience that will stick to the player. Its length actually helps it in this case. Since the game is so short everything that happens gets stuck in your mind, and you’ll rarely find yourself scratching your chin trying to remember something like you might with a long winded RPG or even other horror games!

If you have about $20-40 burning up your pocket or paypal balance, and you want a good, creepy experience that doesn’t require a long term commitment, then D is a fantastic purchase.

Psychotic Reviews: Crash Bandicoot: Warped

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After the criticisms of the second game Naughty Dog regrouped and started working on a new followup. This third in the series would be the most ambitious yet. After two extremely successful games Naughty Dog had a large budget to work with, but less than a year to build and finish the game. Like its predecessors the game saw immense success in Japan, and dethroned Crash 2 as the most successful Western developed game in the country. It was the first non-Japanese game to earn the Platinum Prize for selling over 1 million copies in Japan alone.

Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped would move away from the tropical islands somewhere off the coast of Australia and have our heroes trek through time. Dr. Neo Cortex is one again Crash’s adversary, but he is shown as little more than a subordinate under the powerful mask Uka Uka. Since Crash has had his own mask since the beginning this only serves to increase the rivalry between the two as well as deepen the story of the series. Each world’s boss also contacts Crash a couple times as you beat levels, so even they get more character development than most video game bosses. I’m not sure how many people really care about the story of platformers, but its there if you do.

In my review of the second Crash game I had some issues with the level design, and that level design showed unpolished physics which hurt the controls. The level design has been changed more to focus on the 3D elements of the Crash formula. Side scrolling is used fairly sparingly. The ice problems are gone as a result of the time trekking levels, there’s just not an Ice Age level in sight! Much more variety has been added to the overall level design. There are racing, jet ski, and flying levels on top of the usual platformers, so this game has wonderful shifts of pace that keep you on your toes.

There are also more playable characters. Crash’s sister Coco is available as the playable character in certain levels only, and like Crash she gets to ride a cute little animal (a tiger in her case), ride a jet ski, and fly through the skies. Crash does all the racing though, which only shows that the team was already building Crash Team Racing when they were developing this game. As you defeat bosses you get extra abilities to help you explore future levels and complete the bonus areas. These also help to access previously blocked off areas in previous levels.

The difficulty has been toned down quite a bit. I did not run into any problems getting through levels until the last few, and even those were not hard to overcome. Boss fights are mostly a joke, and a formality. Because of the lowered difficulty this feels the most kid friendly of the trilogy. This game could seem easier to me though since I did own this growing up, and I might still have some muscle memory buried deep down in the back recesses of my mind. Overall I do consider this the best game in the trilogy, despite the low difficulty. There’s just so much variety and fun to be had in this game. If you’re looking for legitimate challenge the first Crash is what you want. In my opinion the second game is the worst in the trilogy, but its by no means a bad game, just annoying.

Psychotic Reviews: Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back

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The international success of the first Crash Bandicoot allowed Naughty Dog to get started on a sequel, and most of the team made the transition intact. This let them build on the ideas from the first game and polish its problems up, while adding new ideas. Sadly this created quite a few new problems. Despite all these new issues Crash 2 was more successful than the first game, replacing it in Japan as the best selling Western developed game when it released. Its international sales ended up with the game falling a bit short of its predecessor though.

If you recall my previous review of the first Crash, my main issue with it were the quirky controls. These have been improved slightly, but are still not where I would like them to be. Ice levels can be quite infuriating until you figure out how the game calculates momentum. That is to say, it doesn’t stop calculating momentum even after you smash into a wall. So these ice levels can involve you moving in place until this momentum will eventually stop, then you go flying in the opposite direction. Also beware of small boxes with gaps across from them, you might think that hitting the box would stop you, but if you try and immediately jump onto the box you will assuredly overshoot it and fall to your death. All of this is just trial and error and has absolutely no regard to player skill, you’re just meant to figure this out on your own and probably die doing so.

Progression and exploration have been changed as well, with a hub based world instead of a linear map system like the first game. Each hub has five levels, and you must find the crystal in each level before you can go on to challenge the boss and move onto the next world. Each world has a similar layout of levels though, and there’s not much variety. When you move from one world to the next you can expect to play a combination of a polar bear level, a rock level, an ice level, sewer level, a temple level, a jet ski level, or an outdoor island level in every single world. The only thing that changes is the actual layout of the level, gone are the unique backgrounds and settings that permeated the worlds of the first game.

Each level does contain a bonus area that you can use to gain extra lives, but you also need to break every box in these bonus areas if you wish to collect the gems. There are also secret areas in many levels that require a colored gem to access. These colored gems are extremely difficult to find, mainly because the way you get them is so cryptic. You will almost never guess or find how to get a single one of these colored gems without a guide. In the first game the colored gems were collected by just getting to a certain number of gems, so there was nothing special you needed to do other than find out which levels you can get a gem in without a colored one. For most of the game your success is limited to trial and error. Deathtraps litter the levels, so you’ll probably have to farm the early levels for lives so you can learn how to avoid cheap deaths. That really sums up how this game is designed.

There are some new additions to the control sceme, a slide and jump added onto the spin, a face plant to break certain boxes and kill some enemies. This adds in more variety than just a simple jump attack and the spin, but it fails to add enough to save the game’s poorly designed levels and bad physics as a result of said design. This may be the weakest of the original trilogy but I still have one game to play through and examine first.

Psychotic Reviews: Crash Bandicoot

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Many remember Crash Bandicoot being an unofficial Playstation mascot after his release until the launch of the Playstation 2. The first trilogy of his games are fondly remembered as early 3D platformers done right. The series was created by Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin of Naughty Dog, who went on to develop it for Universal Interactive Studios. Sony Computer Entertainment joined for publishing and marketing after the game’s E3 showing in 1996, making these early games exclusive to the Playstation. One of the reasons why Crash was chosen as an international mascot by Sony was due to its success. At the time it released Crash Bandicoot became the most successful Western developed game in Japan, mix that with the overwhelming sales in the Western markets and Sony had a killer app on its hands.

What about the game helped it become such a success though? Crash was instilled with tight art and design philosophies. While it can be said to be a 3D platformer it is not a full roaming 3D platformer like its peers at the time Super Mario 64 and Croc. Those games and many other games using the 3D perspective up to this day would suffer from camera issues. Crash avoided this by having linear paths to follow, while also mixing up the gameplay with areas based on 2D platformers, with side scrolling action. This helped keep the game from having a crippling camera that could quite literally be your lifeline. How many of us remember making leaps of faith because the camera sucked? Crash avoids this by keeping the path straight and keeping the camera in front of, behind, or beside our bandicoot hero.

The controls in this game feel a bit stiff. The game controls quite well overall, but there is a bit of a pause in starting the running, as well as jumping control. Just holding the button down while you’re jumping feels fine, but having to make precise, short jumps can be rather annoying at times. There are a few levels which are almost sadistically designed to exploit this issue with the controls. Most of the levels are quite tight, and there is variety between the themes and worlds on top of the perspective. The game is anything but boring and predictible for your first playthrough. Boss battles are easy. They are spread throughout the worlds though, so the big boss fight is not always at the end of a land.

The music fits the game quite well. Crash is set in a chain of Pacific islands, so the Tiki styled theme is quite strong with it. The music and the levels fit in with this design quite well. The final world is mostly machine based though, and that has to do with Dr. Neo Cortex and him being a mad scientist and all that jazz.

Its quite easy to see why Crash would be the sensation it was, and why the once wombat, now bandicoot became the face of a system. Naughty Dog would develop two more Crash platformers, and a racing game, before moving onto another series for the Playstation 2, Jak. These three early Crash games are still considered the best in the series, and after playing the first one now and with nostalgic memories of Crash Bandicoot: Warped, I do remember why this is believed. These games are not too expensive, and are quite common. This first game can sell in the $20-30 range, but 2 and Warped can be bought in the $10-15 range and have that extra polish. I found all three of them at a thrift store run for $4 each, so deals can still be had for them with local hunting.


Bane of my existence.

Psychotic Reviews: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

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Right then, we’ve all had our fun with the ol’ point ‘n click right? Well we’re not going to monkey around ‘ere and take a good, wholesome look at Discworld, released for almost everyfin’ out in ’95. You can find this ol’ game for DOS, Mac, Playstation, and the Sega Saturn (if you live in Europe or Japan).

Ok, I’ve had my fun trying to act like I have an unspecified English accent, my fake accent is better in person I swear, you twat! Since the game is based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series of novels you can expect the same writing from the books. The plot is mostly based on the novel Guards! Guards! but Rincewind is the main protagonist of the game. No complaints in the writing and story department.

Already puzzling just to leave the room!

I recently found the Playstation version, which was only ever pressed and released in the old longbox form in the USA. This is an incredibly early game in the Playstation’s lifecycle, but it was primarily developed for DOS. Even though the game is 2D the optimization for the PS1 is not smooth, and slowdown occurs seemingly whenever anything of note happens, even if it repeats constantly.

Saving and loading is annoying in this game, to save the game you have to reformat the save seemingly randomly, which erases the file, just so you can save another file. Its strange and just too many steps to save a game to a memory card. Loading is also stupid, you have to let a new game start, open the menu, then load the game from there. This just shows how poorly optimized the game is, but since its one of the first PS1 games ever can it really be blamed? I say yes.

I will say that the voice acting in Discworld is amazing. The game was developed by British companies Teeny Weeny Games and Perfect 10 Productions, and published by future Sony studio Psygnosis (RIP). The British is strong with this one, and the cast shows its brilliance throughout the game. Rincewind is (mostly) voiced by Monty Python alum Eric Idle, who is a great fit for the humor of Pratchett’s writing style.

He was not at all afraid to be killed in nasty ways.

Like any point and click adventure you will be charged with solving many puzzles, both large and small. Some of these puzzles are insanely easy, the item to use will be glaringly obvious, other times you’ll have to really sit down and go through your entire inventory to exhaust all your options before you come across the correct answer. If you’re a fan of Pratchett’s work you may enjoy this game if you have any bit of love for point and clicks, if you can’t stand the genre at all then this game could become quite the nuisance and annoy you.

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that despite its technical problems I still find the PS1 version to be quite playable. The bad news is the price. If you’re going online to buy this the cheapest and easiest option is to buy the Playstation release. The price could still run you $30+ though if you’re wanting the box and manual, and its sequel is not far behind. If you luck out like me and find it in nice shape, and complete, for $5 at a thrift store then take that sucker home!

Now I’m really in the mood to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Happy 2013 to my followers! Here is my gift to you while I go watch the full movie.

Why Did I Play This? Classic Edition 3: Final Fantasy II

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The third edition of Why Did I Play This is a look back at one game from a major series that is instantly recognizable. Back in the day I was a massive young Square fanboy, huge into Final Fantasy, and anxious to see the release of every new game, whether it was the major releases on PS1 or the remakes and re-releases the company did as well. The PS1 with its loading times was my first experience with such classics like Final Fantasy, FF4, FF5, FF6, and Chrono Trigger. Notice how one specific game is missing from this list that only comes from 3 different double releases from Square on the PS1.

Final Fantasy II

Oh man. Black sheep of classic RPG gaming franchises, you got your Phantasy Star III, the grand ocean faring Suikoden IV, *cough* Dragon Warrior VII, umm Ultima II, and not last nor least, Final Fantasy II. Now I’m not talking about the American FF2, or as we should all know, really FF4, oh no that’s a good game. I’m talking about the Japanese Famicom FF2, or rather the first release it got in America.

Oww, even the original logo hurts.

Now at one point in my life I was a Final Fantasy FREAK. I had gotten hold of my second gaming system ever after much parental persuasion, the Sony Playstation. And back when going to Blockbuster to rent movies and games were cool, I tried out many recommendations from friends that also had the system, of which a shortage did not exist. I rented Final Fantasy VIII, yes I was a bit late, but still to this day I’ve never bought a system at launch, and actually loved it for the time. Looking back I could actually be typing up an entire blog post about FF8 myself, but I chose the earlier entry as I could not stomach it back then, and still cannot now.

Time to get owned.

So we all know that Squaresoft was on its last legs when Hironobu (The Gooch) Sakaguchi saved the company with a little game called Final Fantasy for the Famicom and NES when it came stateside. But they opted out of releasing the second and third entry of that series in the USA. So my first introduction with this game came with the Final Fantasy Origins pack for the PS, as I was at that age where I ate up all of those FF games. I went back to buy FF7 and was blown away like many youngsters were, buying my own copy of FF8, then looked forward to FF9 (which is still my favorite in the series.) Then my first real game hunt began as Final Fantasy Anthology was nowhere to be seen in my locality until we got a couple used games stores open up in the area. I bought the first copy I could find, then waited anxiously for the release of Final Fantasy Chronicles, then Origins.

Amano = Awesome

Imagine my surprise, when after I beat Final Fantasy in the Origins pack and go to fire up the second game for the first time and start my epic quest following Firion, Guy, Maria, and Leon… and get my backside beat up and down the first battle screen. Then I get saved by a random badass Princess Hilda, minus Leon, the only decent character out of the four! The Emperor is actually quite the sinister villain, even poisoning an entire city’s water supply. This act was so awesome, so intense that it was in fact copied by fan favorite villain Kefka!

So you just run around, fighting the oppression of the evil Empire of Palamecia, going dungeon to dungeon with a random plot based fourth character, some you wanted to keep but were not allowed to, you had to get Leon back in your fighting group. Finally you reunite with Leon after the party and him meet at the Palamecian castle and watch the Emperor turn into El Diablo himself and summon a new home up from the pits of Hades to help him devour this world! Quickly stop him!

El Diablo noooooooo!

For the time this was actually a well thought out, very well executed storyline given the technological limitations of the NES. The game was prettied up for re-release after re-release starting with Origins so it was quite easy to look at with pretty, well detailed sprites that barely made the PS even try to think very hard. But this game suffers from such crippling gameplay flaws that I could not even force myself to sit through the story, I kept hitting a brick wall because of something so important to an RPG being completely broken and random half the time!

Yes that’s right, leveling is completely broken in this game. In the 8-10 hours I managed to torture myself by playing this game I had no idea how to level up stats, then it finally hit me, you level what you use! But how do you use HP, which all my characters seemed to never have leveling up? You take damage, a lot of damage. I ended up having half the party get killed off during random battles because their HP was so low they would get one shot! The only two worth anything in the game were Firion and Guy because of their high strength to do massive melee damage. Maria literally went half my playtime without once getting an HP boost. What the hell? I think I got as far as the Dreadnought because I kept getting owned and no amount of grinding was helping me. No matter how high your healer’s magic score is it does not matter when she literally has 40 HP and gets hit for 60. Even if Guy and Firion are overpowered they will eventually get overwhelmed after I run out of items trying to escape the dungeon.

Much prettier, but I’ll still die.

The broken leveling was such a deal breaker and let down for me that I have yet to pick up FF2 since I put it down, as my PS2 days came along I went for trying almost any RPG experience I could get my hands on, and I wish I still had them all but hey it gives me future goals of rediscovery. Anyway in conclusion FF2 suffered the problem that many second entries were infected with during the NES days, too much experimentation, cool ideas that could only be poorly executed, all while keeping the overall feel of the original source material. It featured a great story that was bogged down with literally endless grinding as you hoped that you took that extra point of damage or did that extra damage to get your individual stat boost. The most important feature of the game was royally messed up during the experiment of Final Fantasy II, and no amount of nostalgia can save the game as there is literally none for the NES young ones, or even those like me who had a horrible gaming experience on the PS Origins release during the younger years of existence.

Until next time. I might even go back to a game I’ve long forgotten sometime on this blog and remember how awesome it is.

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