Retro Corner: Streets of Rage

Streets

Ah, Streets of Rage. A perfect example of early gaming’s ‘simple yet effective’ milieu.

You stride man-tastically from left to right (unless you’re playing as the woman, though she’s pretty darn butch too). You punch any villains you encounter in the delicate fleshy bits, and you stride forward some more. This wasn’t the era of bafflingly convoluted Da Vinci Code style plotting, it was the time of quick-fix arcade action. Few games embodied that spirit better than Streets of Rage.

In this 1991 Mega Drive beat ‘em up, the city (imaginatively named ‘The City’) has been overrun by thieves, muggers, murderers and every other sort of unsavory dude. The enigmatic Mr. X and his criminal syndicate have taken control, and the streets are as dangerous as a Gotham back-alley at midnight. But fear not, because three different Batmen are here to help.

Namely Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding and Adam Hunter. The trio were police officers, who left the force when the corruption began. The only ones who weren’t tempted to the dark side by Mr. X (and his promises of doughnuts, presumably; that being the old cop joke). Bar one other, whom we will meet later. But anywho, they have pledged to clean up all of the rage that has spilled onto the street. Via any punchy means necessary.

This whole situation has gone a little awry.
This whole situation has gone a little awry.

There’s a marginal difference between the three playable characters. You can choose speed over power, vice versa, or take the average-at-both route. In any case, with a friend or alone, it’s on to a series of sidescrolling levels, with a boss to dispatch at the close of each.

There’s some nice variety in the locations. On your homicidal sightseeing tour, you’ll take in a beach, a cruise ship, an odd sort of factory, the typical downtown area, and a couple more besides. That beat ‘em up favourite, the large moving elevator, is also included.

The combat is rather rudimentary in this first outing, with just a combo button, jumping attack and grapple available (other than limited pick-ups). Rather spangly special moves and such weren’t introduced until Streets of Rage 2 and 3. Nevertheless, there’s a timeless sense of fun to be had here, with a heaping helping of nostalgia to help it along. The genre is a dying art today, but indie releases with fancy new 2D art keep those old memories of taking down Mr. X at a friend’s house after a long school day alive.

Source of images: gamefaqs.

Whatever Happened To… The Alien Hominid?

Alien Hominid

Ah, this little dude. Many tedious school periods were spent in his company, stealthily knifing and blasting my way through an hour that would otherwise be dedicated to the foreign policy of Louis XIV or some such. In those days, finding a game site that wasn’t blocked at school made you feel like a futuristic space-prophet genius from the year 5000.

Yes indeed, Alien Hominid began life as a humble Newgrounds flash game. A deeply simplistic, utterly uncompromising arcade beat ‘em up, which cast you as the adorable extraterrestrial with an insatiable hunger for blood.

The premise is essentially E.T gone horribly, horribly wrong. When this yellow fellow crash lands on Earth, he doesn’t make friends with a boy called Elliot and cruise about with him on a flying bicycle. Not even slightly. Instead, the FBI swiftly locate the wreakage, confiscate him ship and leave him for dead. Is the Alien Hominid amused by this? He is not.

Your objective is to fight your way to the FBI’s base and recover your craft, which calls for a crop of side-scrolling, deeply violent levels. Think Streets of Rage with suits-and-sunglasses special agents in place of the unwashed punks, and you’re kinda sorta there.

Alien Hominid 2

By beat ‘em up, I really meant more of a shoot-n’-slash ‘em up (because that’s a thing). Both you and your opponents –generally– are killed in a single hit, which you can administer via your ray gun or a close range knife attack. You can also, if you’re feeling theatrical, leap on opponents’ shoulders and bite their heads off. It’s all very Itchy and Scratchy.

The game was a hit for its gleeful, toontastic violence, and its unconventional sense of humour. In the snowbound level, riding a vast yeti through hordes of FBI guys and watching as it barrels through and/or eats them was hilarious. There was great potential to take this concept all kinds of places, and the recent resurgence of games with magnificent 2d art would have appreciated more from the Alien Hominid.

The little guy warranted a console release a few years later, and a port for the Game Boy Advance. Beyond an HD re-release of same in 2007, though, this face-biting fiend hasn’t been seen since. The world needs more hideous, yeti-based violence.

Top 5 Souls Bosses

Gaping Dragon

Bosses

To celebrate the launch of Dark Souls II, I have prepared my top five favourite bosses from the entire Souls series. These games do almost all of the bosses so effectively that it was truly a challenge to come up with the top five, but, I persevered and will explode your mind with my exceptional choices.

To make this list, each boss had to be unique, atmospheric, well designed, and have wonderful music to boot. They must also be a boss that cannot be exploited easily, a la Gwyn.

Maneater
Hey nightmare, where’d you get them teeth? 

5. Maneaters

Of all the bosses on this list, I have never been so enraged by a fight in the Souls series.

Picture this if you will: you traverse a hideously atmospheric tower of thinly crafted bridges, hidden elevators, and winged creatures that ambush you from all sides. After somehow making your way through the dark pathways, killing your beloved Yurt, and trudging through a vile swamp of red pus and pulsating veins, you find yourself atop the highest tower. You naturally assume that after the nightmare that is ‘Tower of Latria’, they’d throw you a bone and give you a pushover for a boss. This is not the case however, as you’re fighting two large, flying, snake tailed, lion headed creatures that are relentless in their combined assault. The devilish design of Demon’s Souls is never more apparent than here as you’re forced to fight them both at the same time on a narrow bridge, where one charged attack from either one will send you falling off the ledge into the chaos.

This is made even worse by the fact that as you’re attacking one, the other is either floating in the distance shooting dangerous magic at you, or out of sight, waiting in the shadows to ambush you from behind. There is no brilliant tactic for this fight, it’s simply a battle of attrition as you slowly chip away at them, while using all of your precious herbs to counteract their ridiculously powerful attacks.

It may sound like a nightmare, but it’s an utterly fantastic nightmare.

Artorias
I apologize for what I am about to do to you.

4. Knight Artorias

Knight Artorias was a boss that reminded me how effective a straight up brawl can be. He is a unique boss in that he isn’t a huge, towering brute, simply a skulking knight with a greatsword. That said, he is a ruthless, intimidating boss with immensely satisfying, unpredictable attack animations and a power up stage that will kill you in seconds if you do not stop it. What makes him truly interesting though, is that he has arguably the best sub plot in the game.

If you’ve fought him, you’ve probably noticed that his left arm is limp, and that he uses his two-handed sword with one arm. This is because he died to protect Great Grey Wolf Sif when he was just a pup.

Artorias and Sif have a connection that touches most people that play the Souls series, but witnessing all of the events that unfold – that I dare not spoil – make this fight feel very unfortunate. I never want to actually fight Sif or Artorias because they don’t feel evil or malevolent, just an obstacle that you must overcome to progress.

No+you+don+t+_0d6d1966b44400444415b11bbed86534
Where is your God now?

3. Manus, Father of the Abyss

Manus is a fight that I hate and love. I hate how challenging it is, yet love the feeling of completing it. He is like no other boss in that there is a specific pendant you can loot beforehand to defend against his dark magic attacks. It was an excellent design choice as it really changed up the pace of the Dark Souls bosses. To use the pendant, you had to equip it to your Estus slot, so you’re effectively swapping between Estus and the pendant making an already tough boss fight that much harder.

The other thing that makes him so memorable to me is his overall design. He’s horrific, grotesque, and he glows in a way that almost makes him beautiful. Those red eyes are the only thing that stands out in the endless black, so he has a sort of aura that he gives off that makes you feel uneasy.

What’s more, he has a massive arm that will repeatedly smash everything in the immediate area, and getting caught in even one combo will give you an almost guaranteed game over. He is excruciatingly hard, and the only thing that makes him easier is that you can summon Great Grey Wolf Sif.

Not only is Sif the best summoned phantom in the game, but this fight makes Sif and Artorias’ story all the better, and I cannot get enough of it.

Flamelurker
Come back alive, I need your business.

2. Flamelurker

Flamelurker was easily the best boss fight I’ve ever had in a game until I played Dark Souls. He is a bit underwhelming to look at as he is just a hulking beast that is essentially on fire, but what he lacks in design creativity, he makes up for with near-perfect design. He intimidated me so much from the fan outcry online that I literally gave up on Demon’s Souls for several years until I had the gall to take on him and the rest of the game.

Flamelurker starts off as an easy enough fight. He’s menacing and fast and can appear to be overwhelming, but he doesn’t do much damage so you can generally shrug off his hits without worrying… that is, until you actually start to win.

He is amazing because he ramps up in difficulty as the fight progresses. What starts off as a manageable encounter leaves you sweating, shaking, and heart pounding after you win or lose. He becomes more aggressive as you take off his HP, throwing fists, breathing more fire, and charging you like a bull. If this weren’t enough, the radius and damage of his attacks increase, essentially making it nearly impossible to get more than two or three sword attacks in before you have to run and hide to recover health, assuming he doesn’t trap you in a corner or do the aforementioned bull charge.

Good luck is all I have to say.

dark-souls-ornstein-and-smough
Oreo and Smores.

1. Ornstein & Smough

A lot of people must’ve expected this to be the number one spot, and that means that you understand the absolute perfection that is this boss. Like Flamelurker, O&S was the one encounter I was absolutely dreading in Dark Souls. They are notorious for being merciless and cruel, but everything about this boss fight is just perfect.

You have Anor Londo; the most beautiful area in Dark Souls that subsequently has the most vicious and menacing boss encounter. It is a perfect contrast to the appearance and warm atmosphere of the environment. Furthermore, the music is a dissonant god chorus that sums up the essence of O&S’s terror, making the fight with them all the more intense and nerve-wracking.

In the fight itself, you fight both Ornstein and Smough at the same time, but it is not simply a two on one encounter. Depending on the order in which you kill them, they have a drastic change of character that shocks everyone who has taken part in the battle. If you kill Ornstein first, Smough crushes his body with his massive hammer, absorbing the power of lightning to use against you. If you kill Smough first, Ornstein grows dramatically in size, making him Tower Knight 2.0 with lightning and agility.

This is incredibly daunting because you had just spent countless lives trying to kill them, and after a gruelling fight that drains your Estus and elevates your heart rate, just to have From Software slap you in the face for getting cocky.

It is this design that truly makes Dark Souls shine, and while I could gush more about this boss fight, I needn’t, as you have either experienced it and know of what I speak, or you haven’t played Dark Souls and should immediately.

The VGamerZ Retro Corner: Flicky

Flicky

Before Sonic, there was Flicky.

This little bluebird can claim to be among Sega’s early almost-mascots-if-you-squint-a-bit. It was eclipsed in this role by Alex Kidd a year or two later, but let’s disregard him. His terrible sideburns and jumpsuit combo deserves to be consigned to the drawer marked ‘crap from the eighties that must never see the light of day again,’ after all (see also: Culture Club).

Anywho, Flicky was released in good ol’ chunky arcade cabinet form in 1984. It’s a simple story of motherly love, heroism and throwing plant pots at angry iguanas. Let’s take a look.

As far as plotting goes, all we need to know –and all we’re told, come to that– is that Flicky’s chicks have been stolen. To retrieve them, you’ll have to journey through a series of arena-ish levels, and guide the hapless younsters to the exit door. Opposing you are Tiger the cat and Iggy the lizard, both of whom will be hunting you along the way. In short, with all the platform-hopping involved, it’s a little like a vertical Pac-Man.

Flicky 2

This obscure, cutesy release is surprisingly frantic. There are a dozen or so chicks to gather in each stage, and they remain suspended in place until you gather them. Touching them will cause each wee bird to trail behind you, and huge score boosts are available for ‘delivering’ several at once. But there’s a catch. A big, irritating, furry catch.

Contact with the roaming enemies will break the ‘chain’ at the point they touched (contact with you, meanwhile, will merely KILL YOU IN THE FACE). The stray chicks, so docile before, will suddenly start dashing about like Usain Bolt after some questionable seafood. Once this happens, your panicking charges will be spread throughout the level, a couple of cats will be closing in, that darn lizard will be climbing up the walls towards you… It’s so easy for a tiny slip to cost a huge amount of sweet, sweet points.

Flicky is more fiendish than something with such an endearing exterior has any right to be. I have fond memories of the game, as one of the first I played on the Mega Drive/Genesis, but it’s also one of my gaming demons. There are 48 levels in total, and I have never seen half of them. One day, I shall reach that gloriously anticlimax-y congratulations screen. One day.

Whatever Happened to… Final Fantasy Job Classes?

Final Fantasy

Back in the days of yore, when we sported ill-advised hairstyles and mobile phones the size of housebricks, things were simpler. Our RPG stars were succinctly characterised into ‘jobs,’ and everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing. Final Fantasy Warriors would righteously smite enemies in the eyeballs with pointy swords, White Mages would heal them, and Janitors would sweep up the monster guts afterwards.

Truly, it was a golden, sense-making age.

Job classes were introduced in the first Final Fantasy installment. After naming each of your four intrepit heroes, you’d assign them a role, a literal job. This defined the weapons they could equip and the abilities they could use in battle, and had a huge impact. Thief, Black Mage, Warrior and so forth are each gaming icons in their own right, though the characters themselves were nameless (beyond whatever you chose to input).

Final Fantasy White Mage

It was quite a rudimentary system in its original form, offering only a scant few choices. As the series progressed, though, more and more rather eccentric jobs were added. By Final Fantasy III, we had the brilliantly camp –Peter Pan called, he wants his tights back– Ranger, a projectile fighter who favoured the longbow. There was also the Viking, complete with horned helmet and defensive abilities that allowed him/her to shrug off bullets like the Terminator.

A few games later, Dark Knights and Berserkers and all kinds of other crazies were vying for our attention. I remember delighting in switching between many different jobs, just to see what each can do and experiment with fitting a party together. Ah, memories.

Then there was Final Fantasy VII, which did away with jobs entirely. Instead, each party member could be customised with Materia stones, allowing anybody to use any skill freely. Since then, the series has brought us many different ways of dealing with this. There was the junction system of VIII, in which you could merrily assign magic to every stat; similarly making your characters serve any purpose you wished.

The final PlayStation installment came closest to rekindling the magic. Final Fantasy IX did not mention any jobs by name, but simply locked each party member into an appropriate set of skills. The game was an intentional homage to the series’ roots, but didn’t quite scratch the itch in this regard. The recent Bravely Default does so with aplomb, though.

Top 10 Negative Aspects of Titanfall (Beta)

Titanfall

Titanfall is currently on open beta for Xbox One and PC. Although the available content is still very limited, it’s entirely possible to acknowledge the basic features of the game, as well as its positive and negative aspects.

In general, Titanfall is having a great reception but there are several matters that players would severely like to see improved upon release.

Here’s a list of the top ten Titanfall cons that I’ve spotted:

1. Artificial Intelligence is Too Basic and Unchallenging

AI pilots are present in every match but unfortunately, their behavior is purely synthetic and unnatural. They’re extremely easy to kill and their offensive response is no better. Titanfall’s AI urgently needs a player-based system in order to make AI units at least a little challenging.

2. Pilots, Titans and Equipment Can’t Be Customized

It’s a strange fact but a very realistic one. Players have absolutely no appearance customization in Titanfall – pilots, titans and every piece of equipment can’t be redesigned or remodeled. Basically, everyone looks the same. There seems to be no space for personal details – a very tragic feature for a next-gen title.

Titanfall3. Graphical and Texture Restrictions

Titanfall has a quite vibrant and joyful graphical theme but the texture quality is not the best. In both platforms, Xbox and PC, the visuals definitely lack definition, especially at close ranges. But it’s on Xbox One that things really get ugly with the increased general lack of detail.

4. Match Limitation at Twelve Players (6v6)

Twelve players per game (6v6) seem like a fair number for a match, however FPS players are used to play in larger scales and they are demanding more alternatives. For now, Respawn Entertainment seems to be reluctant about adding further match limitations. But in my opinion, it would be a great bonus to play with even more players, maybe a 10vs10 or 15vs15?

TF_Fracture_Battle5. Random Slight Frame Rate Drop

There are endless complaints about random frame rate drops during Titanfall matches. It could be a beta issue but maybe it’s not. Whatever the case, it really needs to be resolved as soon as possible since it drastically affects gameplay and players’ performance.

6. Pilots and AI Units Have a Similar Appearance

There’s no visual differentiation between human and AI pilots. Due to customization issues, everyone seems to look the same. It’s not too hard to know when you’re fighting an AI unit because they’re really easy and unskilled; still it’s quite annoying that distinction is inexistent.

Titanfall7. Smart Pistols are Overpowered

Smart pistols are the strongest weapon in Titanfall right now. This weapon automatically locks onto nearby targets and it deals high amounts of damage. This slightly overpowered weapon will most likely suffer some alterations before the release date-it’s a question of gameplay balance.

8. The Cloak Ability Can’t Be Fully Controlled

The cloak is a tactical ability that allows all classes (currently three) to become invisible for a short period of time, however it’s not fully controlled by players. Once you decide to enable this ability, you’re not able to turn it off; you have to wait until it completely drains out.

Titanfall9. Some Burn Cards Grant Extreme Bonuses

Burn Cards can be obtained by successfully completing certain challenges and they grant unique bonuses. It happens that some of those buffs are extremely devastating for the enemy team. Example: Map Hack card, which grants full minimap vision.

10. Auto-Eject (Assault Titan) Has 100% Survival Assurance

The assault titan has a different second kit from the other two titans. It’s called auto-eject and it automatically ejects and cloaks a player when the titan is doomed. Unlike the other titan users, assault pilots will have the chance to escape unharned and walk away safety in their invisible cloaks.

Whatever Happened to… Final Fantasy VII’s Whole Darn World?

Final Fantasy

First and foremost, those who are utterly and thoroughly outraged by seventeen-year-old spoilers need to leave now. We’re going to prattle a little about the ending of Final Fantasy VII, and how thought provoking it all is.

Throughout the game, you’ll detect a central theme running in tandem with the story. This theme being, “Y’know, maybe all planet-ravaging big business greed isn’t such a good thing. We’re kind of being bad people, right here.” This is represented, of course, by the Shinra, and their Mako reactors.

It is their shenanigans that kick off the whole story, when our hero Cloud –inadvertently– joins a ragtag band of eco-warriors called Avalanche. But it’s not until much later that the planet’s crisis comes to light. Weirdy beardy floating dude Bugenhagen explains it to us. Our only hope to defeat the ultimate black magic, the meteor, is the ultimate white magic: Holy. The issue here is that Holy will eradicate anything it deems harmful to the planet. Which means anything.

This whole plan of using it hit a small snag, though, when the bearer of Holy was stabbed in the face. Still, it all worked out in the end.

Final Fantasy VII 2

But did it? Did it really?

As players will know, the game’s ending is brilliantly ambiguous. After hippy-haired mummy’s boy Sephiroth is finally dispatched, Holy and the Lifestream combine to kick Meteor’s rocky ass. After which, a fleeting post-credits scene leaves us pondering the fate of humanity. It shows flaming dog-boy Red XIII five hundred years later, surveying the ruins of Midgar with his cubs. The place looks like a verdant paradise now, with greenery and trees and… y’know, that stuff.

So the question is: what of us? Did Holy smite us in the ‘nads with the extinction stick, or were we deemed good for the planet? This query remains pertinent today, and you can’t pick up a newspaper without being reminded of it.

What Did Video Games Teach Us in 2013? #2: Pirates Make Great Assassins

Pirates

One of the biggest games of last year was a late entry indeed. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a colossal undertaking of bowel-loosening proportions, the most ambitious freeroaming adventure since Grand Theft Auto V. It just made the cut, arriving as a launch release for the next-gen consoles and a little earlier elsewhere.

It is also, for reasons unknown, full of pirates. Real piratey pirates of badassery, with big ol’ beards and everything.

If you saw Johnny Depp drunkenly prattle on about the freedom a ship affords in Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll understand why this dramatic departure was a fine fit for the series. In this installment, we take the role of seafaring ne’er-do-well Edward Kenway. He inadvertently becomes embroiled in the conflict between the Assassins and the Templars, in the midst of thieving, pillaging, plank-walking and beard-growing and whatever else pirates do all day.

Assassin's Creed 2

This premise, and the Caribbean setting, lend the game scope for an absurd number of sidequests and distractions. There’s buried treasure to hunt, new sailors to recruit to your motley unwashed crew, a ship and arsenal of weapons to upgrade, and so much more. Again, in the same vein as GTAV, it’s a game in which you can ignore your main objectives for hours at a time, and yield rather good rewards for your troubles.

But most pertinently, it’s a game in which the protagonist is a pirate assassin. That’s key, right there.

What Did Video Games Teach Us in 2013? #1: Wonder Trade is Not Wonderful. At All

Trade

Pokémon X and Y were, tentatively, quite revolutionary for the series. The sixth generation brought us mega evolutions, which made the likes of Gengar even more bowel-looseningly terrifying than they already were. It brought us a spangly new 3D battle system, which had a kind of ‘tiny Pokémon Stadium in your hands’ kind of feel. But the most addictive-yet-ridiculous new addition? Wonder Trade.

Accompanying the usual GTS online trade functionality, there was… this. With Wonder Trade, you can select any ‘mon from your party or PC box, and sent it off to a random player across the world who is currently doing the same. Theoretically, this allows for all manner of exotic beasts to join your collection, and is a great boon for pokédex-aholics.

In practice, alas, it’s mostly a way to fill your boxes with utter craptastic. Bidoofs, Caterpies, Zubats, all of these. Many times over. Did I mention that Zubat is a ghastly abomination from the depths of the Devil’s bowels, who nobody —ever— likes? Because it is.

Source of images: www.leviathyn.com
Source of images: www.leviathyn.com

As well-intentioned as this function is, it relies upon players NOT being swines. Which, where Pokémon is concerned, is quite difficult. These are those very same players, after all, who have made the GTS such a pain. I see you there, requesting a level 100 Mewtwo for your Magmar, and I wish you all the best. Not.

This isn’t to say that you won’t find some benevolent souls there, sharing perfectly-bred pokémon with great IVs, egg moves and hidden abilities. But it’s a wheat/chaff deal, with a mountain of chaff and a tiny speck of wheat. Still, this has made the practise of Wonder Trade Battling –in which you receive 6 pokémon and must use them as your team– absurdly entertaining.

Whatever Happened to… the Prince of Persia?

Persia

Oh, Prince. Princely, prince-ish Prince. You used to be cool. Persia

I wistfully remember you, back in your salad days, bounding over bottomless pits with all the grace and youthful vigor of a gazelle. You’d deftly avoid having your gonads punctured by one of those darned spike traps, dispatch a traitorous guard or two, then swagger back to your palace to charm the women of Persia.

Charisma, that’s the word. From those baggy desert-pants to that utterly craptacular little goatee, the Prince was the man. The quiet and unassuming yet effortlessly badass man. This was the Prince we met in 2003‘s series reboot, Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time. It was not, sadly, the Prince that appeared in its sequel, Warrior Within.

"Look, Ma! Watch those heads FLY!" What the hell, prince?
“Look, Ma! Watch those heads FLY!” What the hell, prince?

In this second release, our hero was beset by what I dub ‘Sonic syndrome.’ This is characterised by a desperate attempt to appear ‘cool’ and ‘edgy,’ and generally exhibit as much irritating attitude as possible. As such, the intro to Warrior Within treated us to gloomy backgrounds, horrific metal music, mucho swearing, and a slow-mo shot of the practically bare ass of our lady-pirate enemy. About five minutes of it. The combat took a disembowel-ingly violent turn, and the whole thing was infinitely darker than the beloved Sands of Time.

Dignity? Nope. Charisma? Nope. And in terms of ‘coolness,’ it was about as cool as an elderly bespectacled maths teacher wearing a baseball cap backwards and attempting to rap along to Eminem’s My Name Is.

Which is not, I think we can all agree, very cool at all. What happened to you, Prince? What happened indeed.