Saturday, July 24, 2010

Transformers: War for Cybertron Version Comparison

While this is technically going to turn out to be pretty much a review of 2 games, I don't have a picture for it.  I had a couple ideas but it's been 4 days since my last post and I couldn't think of anything simple enough to draw that I could get done tonight.  I might update the post later with an image but for now, just text.
So here we go.

Transformers War for Cybertron (XBox 360) Versus Transformers War For Cyvertron Autobots/Decepticons (Nintendo DS)

So, as I've mentioned in the past, at first I was expecting to grab just the 360 version and then I decided on one of the DS games instead.  Ultimately, I ended up getting the 360 version as well when my brother agreed to split the cost since he was interested in it it's his XBox.  As for why things played out like that:  I was hyped for the home console version of the game because the trailers made it out to be gorgeous, both visually and in playability.  Shortly after the game came out, however, some bits of news irked me.  A single-player campaign that apparently lasts all of 8 hours, 4 per faction, is...well, just laughable for a home console game of this age.  I'm probably a bit spoiled on lengthy single-player experiences because I love adventure games and usually have only a passing interest in any given shooter.  In the end, that's hypocritical anyway since that con doesn't hold up as something that makes the DS game better since the DS game's campaigns are about the same length...well, maybe it does since handheld games don't carry the same capacity so being just as long as the console-counterpart is a little strange.
And then the total lack of offline multiplayer was another factor that drove me from the 360 version.  To this day, I just can't understand any point in giving a game online-only co-op.  I'm pretty sure just about, well, everybody would like to play co-op with their friends and/or siblings without forcing them to buy their own copy.  I'd personally rather be paired with a lobotomized monkey than with the average Live player; you know, for the extra IQ points.
Of course, the DS version doesn't have much going for it in simplicity of getting some multiplayer action going either.  In this case, there's no online play...which ironically is just as much of a problem as 360's lack of offline play, because the DS is portable.  These games do not feature single-card multiplayer and I don't personally know anyone who owns any of the DS Transformers titles other than myself (even though the 2007 DS games were the best games for that movie) so I actually have no idea what the multiplayer is like because I can't play it.  If there was online, I could.
But since I'm already on multiplayer, I might as well give the credit where it's due now.  Even though the genre is one I'm pretty much indifferent to, the 360 War For Cybertron does a damn good job of pulling off a well-polished multiplayer mode.  The only problem seems to be the same problem that the movie games had:  There's no tactical advantage in playing as something that can't fly.  So while it's not perfectly balanced, you have the choice:  Play as a flyer so you don't gimp yourself, or play as something ground-bound to give yourself an extra challenge.

Before moving on, let's sum up these last few points.

Longevity - Both games are short experiences and very underwhelming in that respect.  The DS pair together is just as long as the 360 game.  While the DS pair is, obviously, a pair (Autobots and Decepticons) and not one game...I still have to give this to the DS game.  The campaign of a handheld game shouldn't be the same length as it's console counterpart; and even though it's easy to argue that it's not (since you would need both of these games for that to be true), it shouldn't be up to half as long either.  The DS wins here more for the 360 game's subpar performing than for anything the DS game actually did.

Multiplayer - Well, what can I say?  Both of them completely limit their potential for multiplayer for absolutely no good reason other than to utilize a marketing strategy to sell more games that doesn't work.  I'd gone to the point of occasionally pestering my brother to buy one of the counterparts to the DS Transformers games I own but he simply has no interest, nor does anyone else I actually know.  And it's pretty damn weak that if I want a co-op experience that's actually enjoyable in the 360 game, I have to find somebody I'd actually want to play with and say "Hey, you see this game that you may or may not want?  Why don't you go and drop $60 on it so we can play together!".
Dear 360 Version Developers:  "Co-operative play should be available offline!"
Dear DS Version Developers:  "The DS has online capabilities, use them!"
The 360 wins this round because you can actually play multiplayer without depending on some arbitrary circumstance.

Alright, let's get the boring part out of the way now:  Soundtrack.  While I can't say any of the tunes were bad in either version, none of them were likable or memorable.  They were just kind of...there.  The original music fits just fine but you'll probably be unable to remember a single note of any of it when you're not playing.  To be honest, I'm starting to wonder if there actually was background music in the games myself, I'm just speaking from what I remember to be true.
Oddly, this is still an easy point for the 360 version because of the credits song.  Stan Bush performs an all-new original song based on Transformers that plays during the credits of the home console version.  I was greatly disappointed that this was missing from the DS game.
For those who don't know:  Stan Bush is just short of being a legend among Transformers fans almost entirely for his single "The Touch".  It, along with another of his songs "Dare", was prominently featured twice during Transformers The Movie (1986).  Even though I personally like "Dare" more, "The Touch" was played during two of the most memorable scenes in the entire movie, being pretty much the "Autobots Triumphing Song" it pretty much became something of an anthem to Transformers fans.  Ironically, "The Touch" wasn't originally meant for Transformers and was going to be used in a different film (Cobra); I don't know why it wasn't but whatever.
Stan Bu--I mean 360 wins.

So, from Soundtrack, we can jump into general audio where we find voicework, and from that we can move onto...Presentation (worst segue ever).  This is a very easy point for the 360 game.  The DS version doesn't really have any significant presentation.
In the 360 game, we get fully-animated cut-scenes and the entire game's dialogue is fully voiced right down to the narrator who may or may not be the narrator from the original cartoon (I haven't checked but it sounds like him).
In the DS game, we get no cut-scenes at all, voice-over only for the dialogue that comes before missions (which is especially strange because there's dialogue during and after the missions too), and I don't even remember if there was narration.  Granted, since you can use any character you have unlocked on any mission, I understand that there's no voice work for the duration of the missions themselves.  It still doesn't excuse the lack of voices for the post-mission dialogues though; they're "presented" exactly the same as the mission briefings.  Incidentally, this quote unquote presentation consists of inanimate face graphics and text against the same background as the menu.
Presentation goes to the 360, hands down.

A better segue:  Presentation deals with the looks and sounds of things, graphics deal with...the looks.  Here's another area where I just ask myself "What's to say?".  Both games look entirely standard for their system from a tech standpoint.  A lot of the designs are cool, though unfortunately Optimus looks a little goofy in my opinion.  To give it to the 360 would be unfair because the DS can't physically produce the same graphics; much like it shouldn't be able to produce a campaign of the same length (...but it did).  And to give it to the DS version just wouldn't make sense.

Genre:  This is a weird one and I already pretty much said what I think of this area in an earlier post.  Basically, I'm comparing the genres of the two games and deciding which is a more appropriate approach to making a Transformers game.
The 360 game is a 'second-person' (I guess) shooter and treats itself just like it; which is good in getting a polished experience out of a game.  The perspective is a little jarring for anyone who hasn't played a similar game like Gears of War but after a few minutes, you get used to it.  In the end, the 360 game is a well-done shooter that feels like...well pretty much any other shooter except with the ability to turn into vehicles which honestly doesn't seem to add that much.  Nonetheless, it certainly is a "good" game.  It's not great, it's not subpar (overall), it's good.
The DS game is an action-adventure game with some light shooter and RPG elements.  Aside from employing shooting, obviously, the only other shooting element is that it's level-based; rather than having a large world to explore like a standard adventure game, you get isolated levels...but exploring those levels is still rewarding.  Coincidentally, the light RPG element is also "level-based" in that the characters you use gain Experience Points from defeating enemies or collecting Energon to level up.
I think the DS version uses a more appropriate genre...or rather mix of genres.  It's just that horrible lack of polish that's keeping it from being a better game.  I certainly had fun with it, but the challenging parts were an annoying kind of challenge rather than a fun kind.  Still, the DS game certainly has some other things going for it too, pros that apply more to someone who's a Transformers fan first and a gamer second.
For instance, the DS games feature a larger character roster for their respective factions.  Not only that, but we actually see some love for 3rd season G1 characters like Ultra Magnus and Hot Rod (emphasized because he's called Hot Shot in the game...ugh).
Transforming is more useful in the DS games, and can change how you advance through a level.  Large characters can boost through walls and small characters can drive through narrow tunnels.  They may have made vehicle modes a bit too useful though because most of the vehicle guns are stronger than anything else in the game.  A lot of the enemies you find are stationary turrets that don't attack until you get pretty close to them so they're completely helpless against the vehicle weapons.  Still, it's a lot easier to dodge in robot mode because you can lock on to your enemy, circle around and jump if you have to.  A hit-and-run strategy doesn't always work, but it's a good idea when you need to regain health.
On that note, there's a couple gameplay quirks to compare.  In the 360 game, each mission gives you one of 3 characters to pick from and it usually consists of one big name and two "meh" characters (like Megatron, Brawl or...whoever else was the other choice on the first mission).  Unless you're weird like me and intentionally avoid the obvious choice, even the fact that the game is giving you the option seems more like an obligation than an attempt to bring variety to the fun.  In the DS games, you can pick any characters at all from the roster to go on any mission (so long as you have those characters unlocked); and you can take two of them along and switch between them; whereas on the 360, you control one of the trio of selection and the other two are either AI or online monkey co-op buddies.  As insignificant as it seems though, I have to give props to the 360 version for including the ability to just makes traversing an area more fun.
One more thing:  Boss battles.  In the DS games, you actually fight the bosses.  You fight named characters consistently throughout the game.  In the 360 game, you only directly fight the final boss of each campaign (Omega Supreme and Trypticon).  Every other boss pretty much forces you to fight a bunch of minions and then attack an exposed weak-point.
Speaking of minions and gameplay, melee attacks are mostly useless in the 360 game except against small minions like the Dark Energon Spiders.  With how annoying (read: not fun) it is to fight these things, one could question why melee attacks are even present in the game since the only thing they're useful for shouldn't be.  This is something I have to give at least a little credit to the DS games for; they fall just short of getting a perfect balance between gun play and close combat making both fun.  It also helps that there's no ammo limit in the DS games, replaced with 'cool-down' where you simply have to wait for your weapon to recharge.  The 360 version expecting us to believe a race a sentient robots that use laser rifles for weapons most of the time have a limit to their ammunition is just..weird.  Incidentally, Health is replenished the same way in the DS games; a process you can accelerate by adding to a characters 'Regeneration' stat when they grow a level.

So, the choice of genre and presented ideas goes to the DS games, no question.  But due to a lack of polish, the DS games still fall into an area of 'decent', leaving them short of 'good' and thus not beating out the 360 game.

Conclusion:  You may think this is weird but if you're both a Transformers fan and a gamer...I recommend getting both games like I have.  The gamer side will find fun in both, just a little more in the 360 version.  The Transfan side will find fun in both too, just a little more in the DS versions.

Oh, and since I forgot to work it in anywhere, I should probably mention that in the 360 version, you customize your own characters to play with.  Not counting Escalation mode which is another co-op mode in which you choose from already existing characters and try to survive through waves of enemies.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Buncha Sketches

So, sketches I've done that I've been meaning to post have accumulated quite quickly.  That said, he's a bunch of sketches.

Caricatures of two of my favourite celebrities, Penn & Teller.  They're not to scale...or rather, the scale's been greatly exaggerated.

More of Nelia, this just being an 'expression sheet'.

Same thing for Rick.  Simpler personality, less expressions.

A new design that friends seem to be fond of.  This is my first finished design for one of my project's villains, Baram.

A close look at Baram's head.

And Baram posed.

Squarbo, my pot shot at Square Enix's character designs.

And to finish off, the earliest concept I finished for this project (so it likely will look very little like the final design), a clean sketch of the central protagonist Aluxes.  I plan on waiting until I get the other main characters designed before I tackle finalizing the main character, to ensure he looks 'right' with the rest of the cast.

And Now for Something...Only Slightly Different

So, rather than review a few of the titles I've been playing lately, I think I'm going to take a critical look at the differences between the DS and 360 versions of War For Cybertron.  However, I won't be doing that in this post since I haven't organized my thoughts on the matter but I'll give a small summary on how I feel:
In overall 'finished-ness' and polish, the 360 game definitely has the edge so I would say it's a better game.  On the other hand, I think the DS version has a more fitting approach to making a game for the franchise, being more action-adventure with some shooting than a straight-forward shooter.  I really think the formula the DS game uses could make for the best Transformers game period if it were polished some more, but as long as it has Activision attached to it, the chances of that happening are pretty much nil.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Back on Track With the Old Friend

So, to touch on a subject from a few posts ago and keep it updated:  2 more episodes of Futurama have premiered since I last spoke of it.
The fourth episode of the new season, Proposition Infinity, was a fairly well-rounded one.  It's the first of the new season to feel pretty in-line with the older episodes.  I attribute this to the fact that there's enough plot to actually fill the episode (I'm looking at you, In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela) and the plot has a clear focus (unlike Attack of the Killer App).  Incidentally, the episode begins with a scene of Kif and Amy together so it appears I was wrong in my prediction that the Kif subplot of the second movie might actually be worth something.  Back to the episode itself though, there wasn't really anything wrong with it.  I suppose they retread 'Robots Dating Humans' for a second time, but they took a different approach.  Again, we had some pretty flat humour but not to the same degree as in the second episode so it didn't detract too much.  An average episode.
Onto the fifth episode which premiered just last night:  The Duh-Vinci Code.  As you can probably guess from the title, this episode is full of references to The DaVinci Code.  References or not, it was actually a pretty strong episode.  It starts out with some really amusing one-liners, which may just be a tad too rapid but enjoyable nonetheless.  The episode then slows down for a little while, but at about the halfway point, it picks back up and becomes a pretty entertaining watch.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Transformers: Robots...In the Home

Well, I caved.  I mentioned that I had become disillusioned with War for Cybertron on the 360, but I've now purchased it anyway (in agreement that my brother would pay for half of it).
I was a little surprised by the campaign.  Yeah, the campaign as a whole is short for being the total single-player experience of a game.  However, the individual chapters are freaking long for single levels.  I only played one chapter the day I bought the game.
Anywho, I haven't gone online yet but I'll be sure to get around to it.  Escalation sounds like it'll be fun.
As for other games, I beat Mega Man 10 on Easy mode so I'm not sure I'll review it based on that.  I beat War for Cybertron Autobots (the DS game) so I may get around to reviewing that.  I also recently played through Bowser's Inside Story.
But for a really quick opinion on each:
Mega Man 10 - It's Mega Man.  'Nough said.
Autobots - Good.  Not great.
Bowser's Inside Story - Great.

Friday, July 9, 2010

So Many Desires, Only Time for a Select Few

So, to get right to the point, I've always been the type of person who instantly wants to start on any project that seems like fun the moment I get the idea, regardless of the status of other projects I've been doing.
That said, my previously mentioned RPG idea is something I definitely intend to try to see through but other things have, as always, come up.  I've started working on a 3D model of the Transformer Ultra Magnus, basing it off of a toy I have.  And, of course, I've also been doing plenty of drawing just to ensure I don't get rusty.
On that note, here's the sketch I posted yesterday cleaned and vectorized (and also with mild anatomy correction):

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Personal Project Full Circle

So, in writing out that rant on Final Fantasy a while back, I re-revisited my approach to the 'personal project' I've been briefly talking about as of late.  At the moment, I don't recall whether or not I've mentioned that I originally conceived the story premise as an idea for a video game (particularly for an RPG) but that is how it started.  I'm sure I mentioned that I thought it would probably wind up as a graphic novel.
However, as the title suggests, the idea has gone full circle and I'm back to planning it out as a game.  It's been brought to my attention that RPG Maker XP and its successors are legally obtainable outside of Japan unlike those that came before it.  While a lot of the computer science buffs will always turn their nose up at people who make independent games with pre-built engines...well, I couldn't care less about their opinion.
The RPG Maker series is a something I'm pretty familiar with and I'm confident I could make a game that was (more or less) truly my own with one of the programs.  I've got several gameplay mechanics figured out and written down; in case you hadn't guessed, the battle system is very similar to the theoretical system I proposed in my criticism of Final Fantasy.
The only problem this presents is that I'll have to rework some character bios.  I hadn't really worked hard on the cast until recently (during the graphic novel approach) so certain things I came up with simply will not work in video game form.
For now, I will leave you with a digital rough sketch of Rick in a kicking pose.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Can't Believe I Haven't Made a Post About This Yet

So yeah, the new episodes of Futurama started...over a week ago.  I'm astounded that my favourite show came back and this is the first post I've made of it.
Anywho, as was inevitable there's been some negativity surrounding the new episodes.  A tiny bit of negativity coming from me but I haven't completely wrote the show off.
I enjoyed Rebirth.  The plot was a bit convoluted and the "Futurama Feel" seemed all but absent mostly due to a very restricted setting (i.e. almost entirely within the Planet Express building instead of heading out into space).  Nonetheless, there were some good jokes and it covered the plot points that needed covering.
On a side-note:  Did everyone but me suffer hearing loss during a certain part of this episode?  I keep seeing so many complaints and confusion over whether or not Fry and Leela are a couple.  A particular line of Fry's in Rebirth pretty much confirmed that they're not.  "Well you know how I feel.  I waited a thousand years for you, I can wait a little longer."  It's not completely direct but I don't see how anyone who's ever watched TV before wouldn't realize that this line was meant to re-instate the status quo.
The next episode, In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela, was one that I did not care for.  I suppose that makes me seem really picky since this one did involve going out into space for a new experience but...oh well.  I realized lately that unlike most fans, I don't like Zapp very much.  He's had some great lines over the course of the show but it seems like episodes where he's heavily featured are among the least entertaining (on that note, I hated Beast With A Billion Backs; the movie in which he had the most presence*).
But as for the episode itself, I found there to be a lot of just very flat humour.  Futurama has always had a dry wit that I've loved but this went past being dry to just being dull/stale/whatever.  I just didn't think most of the jokes in the episode were funny at all.
As much as I hate the idea of 'shipping' I still couldn't help but get a little annoyed at Zapp getting to bone Leela again.
In the end, I didn't consider the two premier episodes bad at all.  They're not among the worst we've seen in the series but they're not great either.  They also seemed to recycle a lot of old plot points; Leela being in a coma, Fry dating a robot, an evil sphere relevant to the destruction of planets on its way to Earth, etc.

And now the third episode which premiered...earlier tonight by my internal clock.  I've been a bit of an insomniac lately so 4:49 AM Friday is still Thursday as far as I'm concerned.
Attack of the Killer App featured some heavy pop culture derived humour.  It centered around the crew all getting an eyePhone and using it to post on Twitcher.
This episode has been getting a lot of flak.  People seem to be really angry at the overdone, over-direct references among some other things.  Personally, the references didn't bother me at fact, I enjoyed them; the episode left me genuinely wishing I could have an eyePhone.  The references are a bit more forward than Napster was in I Dated A Robot, but hell I wouldn't want them to retread ground by treating it the same way.
The most flak has been directed at 'Susan Boil'.  Apparently Leela has a regrowing boil on her ass that's a caricature of Susan Boyle (a person whose existence I was completely unaware of until earlier 'today').  I hated this too.  It was annoying, unfunny and, considering the amount of times Leela's butt has been shown before, it's a continuity-stickler's nightmare*.
Some other negativity has surrounded the conclusion of the episode.  I fully understand why as there are some strong scenes early on that really set up the plot to revolve around one of Mom's evil schemes.  However, the episode ends without any resolution to the scheme, instead opting to focus on Leela.  I have 2 problems with this:  The first is the aforementioned setup, the second is that the first 2 episodes of the season were already centered around Leela.
However (bold and italics means this word is important), in spite of all the negativity and my own criticism, I still strongly feel Attack of the Killer App to be the funniest episode of the 3.  There were horrible choices in the storytelling but in the end, Futurama is a comedy (well, you may argue it's a dramedy).  In that respect, this episode did significantly better in providing laughs than the first two.  In fact, the entire first act is pure gold.

So that's my slant on the new season so far.

Now to take care of those asterisks:
*Both asterisks are going to relate to my problems with the second movie, Beast With a Billion Backs.
On the first note, Zapp Brannigan's involvement in the movie ironically had nothing to do with why I disliked it.  In fact, he's one of few things in the movie that actually moved the plot forward.
I took issue with the plot.  The story the film tells is about 5-minutes long painfully stretched out over an hour and a half with a lot of pointless sidestories.  Bender's entire plot was meaningless and detached; it only served a purpose at the very end when Hedonismbot mentioned a "damned army", which is something Bender could have come up with on his own anyway.
The Kif plot wasn't as pointless as it served as a reason for Amy and Kif to split up which I believe is going to be necessary to make sense of the episode coming next week.  Regardless, it was still really boring.
As for the second note, having implied myself as a 'continuity stickler' (which I am) there was something else that bugged me in Beast With A Billion Backs.  Zoidberg's 'double vomit' as a sign of joy.  Zoidberg's been seen happy, happier in fact, before and has never shown this trait.