Friday, October 26, 2012

TMNT 2012 Thoughts

You may be aware that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have recently received their newest television revival in the form of a computer animated cartoon on Nickelodeon.  I've never been a really big fan of the franchise but I've always had some interest in it so I decided to give it a shot.  I'm now caught up with all 5 episodes that have aired and have some thoughts I'd like to share.

What I like:
-The animation.  It's good.  It's skillfully done, it follows all of the principals most of the time and, when it doesn't, it's clearly intentional; dropping fluid animation specifically for the sake of comedic emphasis, and it works.
-The turtles' designs.  For the first time, all 4 turtles have totally unique bodies; they aren't just recolours of the same model.  They each have their own height and body type, and each part of their body is uniquely molded.  They even have character specific battle scars, such as Raph having a prominent crack his left pectoral shell.
-The stories.  The 2003 series hit a really good balance of still being a goofy Saturday morning kid's cartoon on one hand, while still treating it's audience with a bit of respect and having a lot of well-written story arcs.  So far, the new series seems to be doing that pretty good as well.  There haven't been any real arcs per se, but the episodic stories are well-told.
-The voice acting.  The first time I watched the 2003 series, I was really thrown off by Raphael's voice; seeing one of the Ninja Turtles and hearing a voice that deep coming out of him was really strange.  I quickly got used to it and ultimately really liked it in the end, but that initial awkwardness still stuck in my mind.  That's not the case in this show.  Each of the turtles sound very much like what you would expect to hear out of their appearance; Raph isn't super-gruff but he's still a hothead and still sounds the part.  Donatello, played by Rob Paulsen, is a particular standout; he's fantastic in the part.
-The character interactions.  While exaggerated in the manner of most children's cartoons, the banter between the turtles feels very genuine.
-Some of the humour.  There's a couple gags I'm not fond of (more on that below) but there are a handful of jokes in the show so far that are actually pretty funny.

What I don't like:
-The villains.  3 of these first five episodes have centered on a group of villains called The Krang.  If you're familiar with the 80's cartoon, and certain parts of the 2003 cartoon, to a lesser extent, you'll recognize that as the name of a single villain from them.  In the 80's cartoon, Krang was a secondary villain to Shredder.  He was an alien-brain-thing with a humanoid robot body.  The Krang in the new series are a large organization of alien-brain-things with humanoid robot bodies.
As for why I don't like them...they're boring.  They have an overly robotic way of talking (things like 'We must go to the place that is not the place that we are in because it is the place that we must be.') which, while I understand that it's meant for child-oriented comedic effect, gets really annoying.
-Mikey's running gag of naming villains and other things.  5 episodes in and this exact same, lame joke has been done 3 times:
Mikey: "It's Spider Bites!"
Others: "..."
Mikey: "Y'know, 'cause he's a spider and he bites--"
Others: "We get it!"
That's not the exact dialogue but the point is it's not funny, it makes me cringe, and it's a recurring theme.
-Anime expressions.  While it's not super-exaggerated, the turtles will often times adopt certain expressions that are staples of anime in response to some situations (usually in response to insults or fear).  I don't mind the concept of their facial features changing for the sake of expressions like that, it just bothers me that I can almost pinpoint exactly what anime the animators were watching when they decided to include those expressions (hint: it's Naruto).  If they had been more original with the (and I hate to use this term) cartoony expressions, it would have been better.
-April's design.  Not much to say about her, she just looks awful.  Her design looks like something rejected from the early production stages of a Pixar film.  She barely looks like something I'm supposed to think is a human being.  I'd say it couldn't be much worse but then I looked at her upcoming toy...
-The theme song.  Uuuugh.   The "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" chant sounds just fine but the rap interludes are abysmal.

If the first 5 episodes are a good sample to go on (and they probably should be), it's a pretty good show and I think I'll try to keep up with it.  As of now, I think the 2003 series will probably remain my favourite but the new show definitely has the potential to change my mind.  If you haven't already, give it a shot.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Lickle Samson!

I want to talk about a game I recently discovered...
Lickle!  I mean, Little Samson!  I mean, Lickle Samson!

Samle Litson is an NES platformer from 1992 and basically was made by a team of programmers who had recently left Capcom.
I'm not going to waste any time building things up; this game is amazing.  Pixel-perfect platform, beautifully-done 8-bit graphics, super-polished controls, wonderful level design and great diversity in the gameplay.  You take control of 4 separate characters, the titular Little Samson/Lickle, Gamm the Golem, Kikira the Dragon and K.O. ...the mouse!
Each of the 4 characters has unique abilities and you'll be guaranteed to use all 4 of them in any given level (following the 4 intro levels where you have to play as them separately).  The levels are all planned in a way that each character has a section where they're the best choice.
Lickle can jump high, shoot magical bells (..yeah), and climb on walls and ceilings.  K.O. can also climb walls and ceilings, move through small passageways, and, despite having the least health, has the strongest attack:  Bombs.  The mouse uses bombs.  Aw yeah.
Gamm moves really slow but can walk on spikes, has the most health, and can attack upward and (when jumping) downward.  Kikira can fly for about 5 seconds (similar to Princess Toadstool in Super Mario Bros. 2), shoot fireballs in spurts of 3 that 'swish' upwards and charge her fireball up to deal more damage.
Throughout the game, you will find health bar upgrades that you can use to extend each character's life.  Each character has his/her own max health bar length so, even maxed out, the characters are still pretty balanced.
There's a lot to say about the game but to keep it simple, this game is a ton of fun.  Play it.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dragon Ball Video Games: A Retrospective Part 10

Attack of the Saiyans

This one's an interesting outing. Attack of the Saiyans is a turn-based JRPG, like Legend of the Super Saiyan, only unlike Legend of the Super Saiyan, it's actually quite good. The game begins with the Piccolo Jr. Saga and ends with the defeat of Nappa and Vegeta on Earth; making it among the games that cover the least of the anime's plot.
Visually, the game has some of the most stunning 2D environments Dragon Ball games have ever had. The overworld character sprites aren't quite as impressive; they get the job done just fine but they're very tiny and sometimes seem rather out of scale with the locations around them. Thankfully, the in-battle sprites are very nicely done.
I don't have much to say about the sound because I don't remember any of it; I most often play handhelds with the volume turned down for various reasons.
But of course, it all boils down to gameplay. Attack of the Saiyans takes a lot of notes from various successful RPG franchises (Final Fantasy and Pokémon being the most apparent) and adds a lot of its own stuff too and very little of it feels wasted. The battle system has attractive and easily understod presentation, it's streamlined and efficient and there was definitely a lot of thought put into it.
Traversing the overworld is similar to Legacy of Goku II and Buu's Fury where certain locations have full maps that you walk around but you also have to fly from landmark to landmark over a simplified world map. The game doesn't offer a lot of minigames (if any, don't remember at the moment) so there isn't a huge variety in the kinds of things you get to do but what is there is usually pretty fun.
My only major gripe with the gameplay mechanics is the lack of touch screen support. In-battle, your options are displayed on the touch screen so it only makes sense that touching them would select them, right? Just like how it is in the DS Pokémon titles? Alas, nope.
I greatly dislike this because if there's one thing that turn-based JRPG's desperately need to consider, it's how to make their battle systems as streamlined and efficient as possible. Plain and simple, scrolling through text box list after text box list with the D-pad and A button is not fun.
The saving grace is that the battle system isn't based around text box lists but instead takes the Lufia approach by having the four basic options in each of the four directions on the D-pad. Also like Lufia, and this I consider a fault, is that it still requires you to press A after you've pressed the direction. I know this seems like a minor gripe but if the options were just quick-keyed to the directions on the D-pad, it would help the pacing of the battles and keep the longer encounters from seeming to drag too much. Of course, quick-keying wouldn't matter if they would have just let you touch the options that are displayed on the touch screen.
But I digress; as I said, Attack of the Saiyans is a good game. It's an all-around solid RPG with mostly very minor flaws.
I've always found irony in the game's title difference between Japan and North America. In Japan, this was the first game released under the 'Dragon Ball Kai' title, but it came out over here before Kai began airing for us. So, the title was reverted to Dragon Ball Z. The irony is in the fact that the game includes almost all of the filler from Z which Kai existed to remove; scenes including Goku falling off of Snake Way and getting stuck in Hell, his encounter with Princess Snake, etc. Additionally, the game also adds some entirely original filler. So despite being a 'Dragon Ball Kai' title, it goes out of it's way to be more like Z than Kai.
On the anime side of things, I don't like filler, but I don't mind it in video games; especially RPG's; because it's an opportunity to provide more gameplay to the player. Although, some of the new filler makes absolutely no sense to the point that the game creates a large plothole.
Among these new scenarios is an actual adventure to gather the dragon balls and wish Goku back to life (which, even in Z, happened off-screen). Here's the kicker: Goku joins your team on this adventure. Baba allows him to return from the afterlife in order to help the other Z-fighters collect the dragon balls.
Think about that for a second.
Goku is brought back to life so he can help his friends gather the items that will bring him back to life.
OK, so it is a temporary resurrection but if that was an option, why bother in the first place? Why not just bring him back when Vegeta and Nappa arrive? Plus, if he's already come back once then he should already know that he has to run back along Snake Way when he's wished back.
So yeah, very major plothole. Thankfully, this is a video game and not a movie, so a plothole like that doesn't make the whole product bad.
Following the original gathering of the dragon balls, if you wish you can gather them again (ignoring the canon a bit where the dragon balls turn to stone for a year after every use) and make a wish from a list of options. You can do this multiple times until you've made every wish you have the option to make. Among these is to wish to battle the 'Ultimate Enemy' who turns out to be Legendary Super Saiyan Broly. Logically speaking, the strongest evil character to appear in Dragon Ball Z is Buu, but considering Broly is both a major fan-favourite and a Saiyan (keeping in theme with the game's title), I can understand why he was chosen for the “ultimate enemy”. And he absolutely lives up to the title. Even if your party is totally prepared to defeat Vegeta (the proper last boss of the game), Broly will be strong enough to take out any party member with one hit. Your team needs to be prepared to obliterate Vegeta about 30 times over if you want to be able to defeat Broly in this game.

And finally, we move on to Dragon Ball games I've played for the Wii.

 Budokai Tenkaichi 2 & Budokai Tenkaichi 3

I'm putting these two games together because they're basically the same game with a difference in character roster. As I already mentioned, Ultimate Battle 22 began the unfortunate trend of fans putting demands for more characters ahead of demanding better gameplay and that culminates to its peak in the Tenkaichi series.
Well over 130 characters and it doesn't matter a damn bit which one you choose because they all play the same...well, so long as you don't choose Yamcha if your opponent is a Saibaman.
On that note, that's the one thing I do really enjoy about these games; the easter eggs. Yamcha is instantly defeated if his enemy is a Saibaman and uses their self-destruct attack on him. At the same time though, that particular easter egg is one of those things that breaks the game in a way that makes it a very poor choice for competitive play. Imagine tournaments being held with this game having to ban a character like Saibaman because of that.
Additional fun easter eggs include certain versus character interactions (such as when #18 and Zangya are pitted against each other), and dialogue that occurs on the menu screens when left for too long (such as Nappa asking Vegeta if turning Super Saiyan would grow out his goatee).
But the actual game portions of the game are just soulless. At least in the Budokai games; specifically 3; there was clear, sincere care and effort put into creating a fun fighting game. The Tenkaichi games, while I do have some fun playing them, feel like they've made no effort to hide the fact that they are shameless cash-ins on a successful franchise.
Visually, the Tenkaichi games are OK. The toon-shading + rendered outlines looks pretty much like the anime most of the time, excepting occasional clipping errors and jagged geometry. The character portraits on the character select screen bug me; they're vectorized 2D drawings but they're drawn in a way to be more accurate to the game models than the actual manga or anime; by which I mean they're drawn with that same jagged geometry.
Once again, we have lazy ports graphics-wise because Tenkaichi 2 and 3 are both PS2 titles and have no visual updates on the Wii despite the fact that the Wii is capable of better.
Tenkaichi 3 has different controls than 2 on the Wii, mostly improving the motion control and eliminating some of the pointless inputs. For instance, in 2, you had to move the nunchuk forward to dash while moving the control stick alone, no matter to what degree, just floated slowly in whichever direction. In 3, the slow floating occurs when you tilt the control stick slightly and dashing occurs when you tilt it all the way (totally removing having to move the nunchuk to dash). This makes sense since you'll very rarely want to move slow anyway.
Unfortunately, I don't really have much else to praise about these games. They're just very dull experiences and, looking back, I have no idea why I bought both of them.
I will however say that being able to run straight through mountains as any of the giant characters can be a lot of fun and was especially humourous when I did so as Janemba's first form surprising my brother whom I was playing against at the time.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Dragon Ball Video Games: A Retrospective Part 9

So, unfortunately, I don't have any screenshots to compliment the remainder of the games I'll be talking about.  On the bright side, we're almost finished with this retrospective.  I'd guess 1 or 2 more posts after this one will wrap it up.  I actually had quite a bit of fun doing this so I might choose another franchise to do the same with in the near future (top choice would be Zelda but retrospectives on that franchise have been done to death).
Well, on with Part 9: DS Games Part 1!

Incidentally, I still think the original DS looks way cooler than the Lite.

DS games are, refreshingly, less of a mixed bag when it comes to Dragon Ball games. None of the ones I've played are outright terrible games and some of them are even stand-outs in their respective genres.

Erm, Puar?  What are you looking at?
This is one of those stand-outs. Dragon Ball Origins is similar to the DS Legend of Zelda titles in that it is controlled (or can be controlled) entirely with the touch screen. I've always liked this idea and never understood those who don't (seriously, why would you want games developed in such a way that totally subverts the entire point of being on their respective system?). Anyway, Origins is a pretty good game, and one of the best-looking games the DS has to offer. It is one of very few games on the DS that uses 3D graphics and doesn't look awful.
The game is hard to categorize into a specific genre since it blends the action adventure elements of the aforementioned Zeldas with straight-up platforming style progression. You do traverse somewhat open environments in all directions, obtain skills and upgrades and battle enemies in real-time combat. The game is also separated into stages and boss battles.
All there really is to say about it is it controls well, it looks good, it has a well-put-together difficulty curve and it's fun to play. Check it out if you get the chance.
My only slight disappointment with the game is that it only covers up to the first World Tournament saga, meanwhile a Dragon Ball title on the previous generation handheld (Advanced Adventure) covered far more.

Now with 50% less upskirt-looking cats and 50% more blackface!
Origins 2
I've only played a demo of Dragon Ball Origins 2 but all in all, it seems like more of the same. That's not a bad thing and there were some minor tweaks that made the controls a little better and added variety to the attacks. If you care about having the whole story and are a fan of the first Origins, I'd say go ahead and pick up Origins 2. Keep in mind that you are almost buying the same game again, just with a story mode that covers the Red Ribbon Army saga to the King Piccolo saga, along with some minor control tweaks. That doesn't make it a bad game, but it does make it an underwhelming sequel.

The American boxart is very lame in comparison so I'm using the Japanese here
Supersonic Warriors 2
The sequel to one of my favourites of the Dragon Ball fighting games. I have mixed feelings about this title as it adds a lot but also drops some of the things that were strong points in the first game.
The character roster is more diverse and the character select is more streamlined. However, as mentioned in Part 8, even the game's Free Play mode lacks the feature of being able to build teams that have multiples of the same character. In fact, it even locks you out from having multiples of a character even if they show as separate characters on the character select. For instance, if you have one of Kid Gohan or “Teen” Gohan (quotation marks used as he is not a teenager) or Adult Gohan on a team, you can't have either of the other two. Come on, game, I want a team of all 3 Gohans!
One of my favourite things to do in the first game was to face 3 of the strongest Vegetas with a team of 1 base-form Goku. It was a great way to create some challenges for yourself and it's gone from the sequel.
The graphics are 'theoretically' improved. The sprites of returning characters are the same and the new introductions keep in consistent style. The backgrounds are actually 3D rendered environments this time, but I actually find myself preferring the backgrounds of the previous title. It might be because the 3D backgrounds occasionally showcase the DS's limitations with jagged geometry and low-resolution textures, but I also find the backgrounds of the first game just a lot more appealing to look at; they seemed more colourful and lively.  Honestly, I find several of the graphics, especially character portraits, to be...'over-streamlined' if there can be such a thing; much of the charm they had in the first game isn't really there anymore.
The story mode feels very uninspired. Once again, every character has their own, unique, 'What-If' story, however this time around very few of the villains get a story where they win. The stories just barely stray from the actual canon and often times will tell you that your character lost a battle regardless of whether or not you actually lost the preceding fight. Compared to the predecessor, this story mode severely lacks originality.
The controls, thanks to the additional buttons on the DS, are a bit more efficient. It isn't a huge improvement but certain things like special moves take less awkward button inputs now. In the first game, special moves were performed by holding R and pressing A+B; holding R was sort of a toggle into energy attack mode. Now, special attacks are a simple press of A+X.
Additionally, there are Team Attacks now. If you have your energy maxed out and you have a pair characters on your team that have a team attack, you can do so by a button on the touch screen. Some of these attacks are really cool, Cell's and Frieza's being my personal favourite.
Supersonic Warriors 2 improves upon the first game but also downgrades and does so in such a way that it ends up being just as good of a game. On the whole it's not an improvement nor is it worse. It's just somewhat different.
Still, both are good games. Go for either one of the two.

Next Time:  The Finale!  The remaining DS title and Wii games.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dragon Ball Video Games: A Retrospective Part 8

I think I'm going to go cry in the corner now.

 I do not think the standard beat'em-up genre has aged very well. Spider-Man Separation Anxiety was one of the games I played most in my childhood I just get bored playing it for anymore than a few minutes. Ditto with Double Dragon, ditto with River City Ransom. Certain exceptions come in the form of BattleToads and, as much as I hate to admit it, The Death and Return of Superman (the latter of which being probably the best 16-bit era beat'em-up I've played despite being very hard from the get go...and I hate Superman).

So, the thing is, I already don't like the genre of Dragon Ball GT: Transformation. But even if I did, I can tell you with relative certainty that I would still absolutely despise it.

Transformation is beyond bad. It's seriously like Legacy of Goku all over again. It oozes design choices, gameplay mechanics, presentation and graphics that I can't believe are part of an official product. The character sprites seriously look like they were drawn in MS Paint by people who were new to computers.
Although I guess some of the environments look OK.

 The fact that this game was eventually released on a dual-game cart with Buu's Fury is just insulting. The first two Legacy of Goku games saw a similar release and, as insulting as that is, at least it makes a little more sense with both games being of the same series and genre.
I'm only going to waste two more words here: Stay away.

Do I really need to say anything about this game? Watch any gameplay footage of it and you can see in a few seconds that it's just terrible.

 The physics lack any polish whatsoever, the pacing is awkward, and the mechanics are very basic and generic leaving effectively no reason for this to be a Dragon Ball Z game. You don't even fly or see transformed states (such as Super Saiyans) in this game unless it's part of a special move.

 The graphics are especially awful. The backgrounds are poor renders of bad 3D models and the character sprites are even worse renders of even worse 3D models; also very, very poorly animated. Every character looks like they're suffering from neck pain in this game.
This game feels like it was built with an alpha build of Fighter Maker 95.

 Oh, and I absolutely despise how the advertising for this game boasted it as the first Dragon Ball Z game to feature Broly as a playable character. That's a lie and you know it Webfoot! Just because Super Butouden 2 didn't see a North American release does not mean it doesn't exist!
I will say the game does have some OK extras including a screenshot gallery, character bios and the like. Still, extras have no bearing on whether a not a game is good. This game is definitely not good. Not even close.

 The only reason I own this game is because it was a birthday present from my high school sweetheart and I have a vice about returning or selling gifts.

Supersonic Warriors
Ah! A saving grace!

 Now, my brother plays several fighting games professionally, as do several of his friends. Speaking with them, I've been informed that Supersonic Warriors is not a great game for competitive play due to game-breaking maneuvers and some blatantly overpowered moves. However, I do not think that should make or break the game for you; I still think it's a great game, and you will probably never play anything else quite like it (except maybe the DS sequel).

 Somewhat in the vain of Legends, Supersonic Warriors is a tag team fighting game that's entirely designed around air combat. Unlike Legends, it's very good.


Visually, the game's just under the best-looking of the respective handheld's library. The physics are just fine; in fact, since the fighting all takes place in free-range flying, certain physics like gravity are rarely even an issue. The controls are responsive and easily understandable and the gameplay is very straightforward.

Much like any of the Dragon Ball fighting games, you have physical attacks, fireballs, and special energy attacks. This time around, your special attacks are not determined by unique button combinations but by your orientation to your opponent while all specials use the same button input; it's somewhat Smash Bros.-like in that sense (where B is your special attack button and what special is performed depends on the direction you press).

 Certain game mechanics can actually be used to pull off some of the more flashy maneuvers seen in the anime as well. For example, you can actually land a strong hit against an opponent, dash behind them and land another strong hit, but you do it manually. This kind of move in just about any of the other fighting games would be automatic as part of a special combo, but here you actually get to really do it yourself.

 The character roster is quite large so I won't be listing it off. This game features a free-play mode in which you can have teams of any combination of 3 characters, including multiples of the same characters; a feature unfortunately missing from the sequel.

 One of the overpowered special moves that stops this game from being a top pick for competitive play is Frieza's Death Ball. This is Frieza's 'above the opponent' special which he fires towards the ground. If this attack misses, it's actually worse for Frieza's opponent because it starts a timer (90 seconds if I recall correctly). When the count down finishes, the stage explodes and Frieza wins. Obviously, Frieza can still lose if the opponent defeats him before the timer runs out; the balancing issue comes from the fact that Frieza is one of the faster characters in the game. It is very easy for Frieza to out-maneuver other characters and just wait-out the timer. This makes the best option for the opponent to intentionally be hit by the Death Ball, which causes considerable damage.

 The story mode is actually a collection of 'What-If' stories assigned to each character. Depending on what character you choose, you are treated to a story that deviates from the anime to a variable degree in such a way that it makes that particular character the victor over most, if not all, of his or her opponents. This means that villain story modes will actually conclude with the villain succeeding.

Personally, my favourite story is Piccolo's. Near the end, Piccolo uses the dragon balls to revive King Piccolo and fuse with him to make him strong enough to defeat Buu. That is really cool.

If I had to make one complaint with this game, it would be wasted potential in the character roster. It is a large roster but every character has 3 'forms' and for several of them, all 3 forms are the same appearance despite the fact that those characters had multiple forms in the show. For example, all 3 of Cell's forms in this game appear as Perfect Cell. In a sense, I could understand leaving out his first form, then having his second form, Perfect Cell and Super Perfect Cell, but to have all 3 of his stages be Perfect Cell just seems nonsensical.  Simlarly, Buu's forms are Fat Buu, Super Buu, and a stronger Super Buu despite the obvious choice that could have been made of Kid Buu.

I feel like I could go on for a good while about why I really like this game but I'll just give a closing statement now. Supersonic Warriors is very unique and a lot of fun. That's all the reason anyone should need to play any game.

Advanced Adventure
After all the crappy games I've talked about so far, I am elated to arrive at this one. I'm just going to say it right at the beginning: Advanced Adventure is a great game. No. It's a really great game. It is a beautiful stand-out in the entire action/platformer genre.

 If you've ever wondered what a Dragon Ball game would be like with the amount of care and polish that goes into classics of the genre such as Mega Man X, here's your answer. This game looks great, plays great, sounds great, it's a must-have for any fan of both Dragon Ball and video games and I strongly recommend it even to people who are only fans of either one of the two.

 Playing this game, you can just feel the amount of care that went into every aspect of it. The pacing of the movement, the gravity, height and arc of your jumps, the sound effects and animations for every last attack, it's all just perfectly put together. It's easily one of the best games the Game Boy Advance has to offer.

Impressively, Advanced Adventure tackles almost the entire Dragon Ball anime (i.e. not Z or GT), starting right from the Emperor Pilaf arc and going all the way to the final confrontation with King Piccolo. And speaking of confrontations, this game has a unique fighting game-esque battle system for the major boss fights which, after completing the main adventure, is unlocked with a character-select to be played as its own separate mini-game. The system reminds me of the Super Gokuden games except far, far superior (read: it actually makes sense).

 Advanced Adventure is a very easy game to play, all of the controls are totally straight-forward and the few tutorial-style tips you get are never overly intrusive (a problem all too common in modern games). Easy to play does not mean easy to master or beat though. There is a pretty strong difficulty curve going through the game and, especially playing on Hard mode, the game will tax your ability to time every move you make.

There's a bit of arcade-style beat'em-up influence in this game as well with certain sections of a stage locking you in place until you defeat swarms of enemies. These are, in my opinion, the one weak point of the game but they only just barely overstay their welcome.

Goku has a huge variety of attacks at his disposal and progressing through the game builds onto his abilities. You progressively get longer basic combos and strengthen the Kamehameha.

 The game, again, looks great. Where Hyper Dimension is one of the greatest achievements in pixel art that features detailed pixel-by-pixel gradients, Advanced Adventure is one of the major games in pixel art that doesn't, instead opting for more traditional shading but doing a damn good job of it.

 The amount of polish in this game is stunning. You really feel powerful as you plow through enemies. Anybody with an appreciation for good game design should have no reason to dislike this. It's impossible to describe just how good it feels when you play Advanced Adventure.

I have one request to those reading this: Play this game.

Next Time:  Nintendo DS Games Part 1

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dragon Ball Video Games: A Retrospective Part 7

The Game Boy Advance saw quite a few Dragon Ball titles and, to the best of my knowledge, I've played all of them extensively (except for the one based on the Trading Card Game).  That said, both today's and tomorrow's posts will almost certainly be exclusively GBA-related.  Today's post is all about the Legacy of Goku Trilogy.

Aw yeah, just look at that title screen that doesn't even have the title of the game in it.  Quality stuff!
 Legacy of Goku
Why? Just...why?
Please keep in mind that I am not targeting either of this game's sequels with the following comments.
This game sucks. This game really, really, really, really, really sucks!

Stockart Gohan Portrait

Every time I've played this game, I find myself just dumbfounded that it's actually an official product. Everything about the game's design screams unlicensed, Chinese black market game. 

Problem #1: Not being able to move on diagonals. This is an action RPG. Not being able to move on diagonals is a criminally stupid oversight in this genre. Even in the NES days, this was barely acceptable (the same oversight is in the first Zelda game* while other titles like Crystalis and Willow had diagonal movement).
*Yes, I know Zelda is an action/adventure game rather than action RPG, that doesn't change the point of the criticism.

The collision and hit detection are phenomenally poor. All of the mountain walls in the game don't stop you from moving until Goku's sprite is entirely flush with them making him appear to be a paper cutout. Your punches will often miss when they clearly make contact and yet do damage when you're blatantly punching beyond the enemy.

Poorly Drawn Master Roshi
 Additionally, transitions between areas is absolutely instantaneous which is incredibly jarring. In any competently made RPG, the transitions when going from one area to the next contain, y'know, actual transitions. Here, it just pops onto the next screen.

How Do I Perspective?

 Problem #2: The presentation just makes me think of a 12-year-old using PowerPoint for the first time. Message boxes have a tiny silver border containing a very gaudy, flat blue. Text is coloured with an invasive yellow gradient and the font has a cheesy pseudo-futuristic appearance. Character portraits are either taken from poorly rendered screenshots of the anime, poorly rendered stockart, or are just outright bad drawings of the character made for the game; it's not even consistent. Your health and Ki bars are marked by Comic-sans-ish, blocky 'H' and 'K' letters.

Incidentally, this might be the only game I can think of that FUNimation is attached to to actually use the term 'Ki' rather than just translate it to 'energy'.
That dog seriously nearly killed me.
Me, Goku.  A Dog.  Goku.  Dog.

 Problem #3: Every gameplay mechanic involving a special ability seems to have been designed to include said abilities with as little effort in the programming as possible. Just look at how you fly! You press R to enter a limited flight mode, and you have to keep your flight counter up by collecting orbs with feathers on them...what? What?

How Do I Collision?
Problem #4: The choice of enemies and the strength of enemies is just perplexing. At the beginning of the game, you can easily be killed by...a dog.
Did the developers just totally miss the part where the player is freaking Goku!? Y'know, Goku? Anime Superman? And no, they're not wolves.  I thought they were at first, but they used the same sprite in the sequel for NPC dogs.

Raditz: Maximum Derp
Other early enemies include snakes that are nearly impossible to see because their bodies are literally two-pixels thick, and crabs that take dozens of punches to kill and are immune to your weakest fireball attack.

 Problem #5: The graphics are just bad. When they don't use low quality JPEG renders for landmark locations (such as Master Roshi's house) they are almost frighteningly reminiscent of the graphics I used to draw into RPG Maker 95's tileset when I was 8 years old.

 For some reason, Webfoot (the developer) decided that nearly every sprite in the game needed to fit within the same pixel limitations. Because of that, several characters appear way off-scale with each other, notably Recoome and Burter who are enormous in the anime and here are the exact same size as Goku (and everyone else). This is also a problem with Goku's hair, his spikes are scrunched up in order to fit within the width limit. Worst of all, Goku's circumcised hair spikes remained in Legacy of Goku II, not being redrawn properly until Buu's Fury.
Oh no, my best friend died.
Well, I better just continue to
express mild curiosity.

Seriously, look in those screenshots to the right there, especially the one with Frieza in his second form.  Frieza's second form is one of the largest characters to appear in the anime.  Here, he's almost the same size as Goku.  Also, is it just me or does he look like he's really uncomfortable walking with his arms snug against his sides?

 Problem #6: You only ever play as Goku and the game tries to follow the anime too closely for its own good (and yet also manages to add a painful amount of excruciatingly stupid sidequests). Because of this, huge chunks of the story are skipped over entirely. Remember all that stuff that happens between Goku's fight with Vegeta and his arrival on Namek? You know, Gohan, Krillin and Bulma heading to Namek by themselves, collecting the Dragon Balls while playing an epic game of cat & mouse with Frieza and Vegeta, and then teaming up with Vegeta only to nearly be killed by the Ginyu force? None of it's in this game! Hooray!

 Problem #7: GGUUURRAAAAAAH! This game is just really, really awful, OK? Don't ever play it.

What is especially hilarious about this game is the fact that there is a bug that makes you invincible (get hit with a projectile while flying) and Webfoot also included a cheat code for invincibility. Yeah, way to test your game.
This is with the glitch active.  All Frieza does it walk up to you.  He doesn't attack.  He just moves closer until he's practically making out with you and just stands there.  You can follow up with as many successive punches as you like and he still won't hit back.  'Cause Frieza's just a cool guy like that.

The Game Over Screen.  Courtesy of a Dog.

Legacy of Goku II
No! It's back! Noooooo—What''s actually...good.
Yeah, this might be the starkest case ever of a quality jump between two games in a series. Legacy of Goku II is actually a good game. It's not a remarkable game but being the successor to what could very well be the worst video game I have ever played*, that's still astounding.
*Well, at least the worst game I've played that was both actually a licensed game and I played on a legitimate cartridge.

There's diagonal movement now! The dumb, pointless flying mechanic is totally gone! Characters have decent pixel-art portraits! Text boxes are neat-looking while being unobtrusive and can even be manually positioned with the L and R buttons! The health and energy meters look like something you'd actually see in a typical real game! The environment graphics are fantastic! Basic enemies are varied and consist of large, wild animals and things that you can actually understand being able to hurt a Z-Fighter (and not a god damn dog)! You get to play as 5 different characters! The character sprites...still don't look great. But hey, at least they aren't all confined to the same resolution in this game!

While the natural environments in the game look very good, the city environments are rather drab but they get the job done.

 Being an action RPG, there are puzzles to solve along with the enemies you combat. None are particularly taxing on your brain and, in fact, one of them is a series of switches that have to be in a specific setup that the game gives you absolutely no hints about; so that just becomes a game of Press All the Switches at Random and Hope It Eventually Works!

 The combat is much improved. Enemies still don't have the greatest AI, but when backed into a corner, they'll slide around behind you which makes it so you have to keep moving while fighting. Since this game covers the Cell arc of the show, you'll be fighting the androids. True to the anime, if you use energy-based attacks on either #19 or #20/Dr. Gero, it will heal them.

 The game even features a couple surprisingly extensive sidequests with very satisfying payoffs.
Of course the game isn't without it's faults. If you get the timing and spacing down just right, you can pummel even large groups of enemies for a while without ever being hit. The character portraits, while enormously improved over the previous game, do look a bit amateurish and lack multiple expressions. The character sprites have lots of animations but they're just not particularly well-drawn and look out of place occasionally in the beautiful natural environment areas.

 Much of the game's dialogue is verbatim from FUNimation's dub of the anime. I'm undecided how I feel about that. It's not really a point for or against the game, it's something that is what it is.

That's How You Perspective
 The difference between these first two games just floors me.  For the longest time when I was younger, I really wanted to see a Dragon Ball Z game with similar mechanics to the Zelda franchise.  When we finally got Legacy of Goku, boy was I disappointed.  I'm not sure I ever would have bothered with the sequel if I didn't get to play it for free thanks to a friend lending it to me.
Webfoot (yes, it's actually still the same developer) went pretty all out with available hardware even adding animated effects like the fire seen to the left (though a still image of it doesn't really enforce my point here) and weather effects like snow and rainstorms.

If it wasn't for the variable quality of some of the graphics (Chi-Chi's portrait looks downright creepy), Legacy of Goku II would be among the very best looking games the Game Boy Advance has.

 This is a good game for big fans, casual fans, and gamers who are into the genre. Again, you won't see anything revolutionary here but it's still a pretty fun title.

Buu's Fury

 The final installment in the Legacy of Goku trilogy and it's...a bit better than the second one. There are some minor differences in the gameplay, such as a much more in-depth leveling system, with which I find myself unsure whether I consider them improvements, downgrades, or just differences.
No question about it, this is the best looking of the trilogy. Character portraits are now of truly professional pixel-art quality and have multiple expressions, character sprites while still a weak area are generally improved, several environments have multiple layered animations running, etc. It's at least on par with how good common RPG's on the system looked (which was usually pretty good).
However, message boxes have become a little more gaudy again with an overdone, golden "hi-tech-y" border.

 This game ditched the enemy-sliding mechanic that Legacy of Goku II had which stopped you from cornering enemies and replaced it with some arguably better mechanics.

 First off, the game now features blocking; both player characters and enemies can block. Second, the timing for pulling off successive hits on an enemy is now much more strict. Third, some enemies don't get knocked back by your attacks at all and can still attack you even while taking damage.

 I do think the game is objectively better than Legacy of Goku II, but I personally have never cared for manual stat leveling, and the Buu arc is my least liked portion of Z (I do still like it). Because of that, Legacy of Goku II is my favourite of the trilogy but speaking strictly as a gamer, Buu's Fury is the best of the three. It's still not spectacular, but it reaches the level of “pretty good”.

If you're a Dragon Ball fan, I say definitely check it out; if not and you're still curious, give it a shot.

Incidentally, during the 'Minute of Desperation' portion of the final fight with Kid Buu, if you pause the game and un-pause, Goku's Spirit Bomb will vanish. Just a minor bug I remember discovering on my first playthrough. And speaking of bugs, if you want to max out your Senzu Beans early on, use the one you're supposed to give to Videl. Videl will still receive a bean even though you've already used the only one you had and due to a programming oversight, you'll end up with 255 Senzu Beans.

Next Time:  The remaining Game Boy Advance Titles