A Space Shooter For 2 Bucks! Review

This is probably the first (and as of yet only) game on the PSP/PS3’s “Minis” line, Sony’s somewhat troubled attempt at the indie game & app market that Apple is currently dominating right now.  I was gonna do a review of the PSN version of Angry Birds, but all I can muster about it is “Skip this ugly, buggy version and just get an iPhone to play it on for a quarter to none of the price.”

The game, as implied by its title, is straightforward. It doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, it just puts some bitchin’ rims on it.  A vertical-scrolling bullet-hell shooter that will keep you sidetracked for about 3-4 hours on the first play-through, and a little longer if you want to 100% the game.  The protagonist, Commander P. Jefferson, is a brutish, macho, obnoxious, one-liner spewing former school bully who now as an adult takes his aggression out on extraterrestrials in his rickety gunship  while assisted by a gentlemanly AI/comedic foil, Edward VI.  You can choose stages and acquire new weapons or armor once you beat bosses, Mega Man style.  You also earn currency to buy and upgrade weapons while harassing the shopkeeper/love interest, Jenna Velasquez.

The Pros:

  • It’s a Space Shooter! It’s basic, somewhat repetitive, and unoriginal, but it’s also tried-and-true. It’s definitely fun, and it can be played for hours or just minutes at a time.
  • It’s Two Bucks! While it isn’t that epic a game, it certainly has enough there to get lots of value out of two-hundred pennies.
  • It’s honest about what it is: ASS4$2 is a same that seems to revel in it’s shallowness, which borders between funny and annoying.  The game has an irreverent sense of humor, and even though the characters are mostly static pictures, the banter between the Commander and the other characters are often hilarious and worth listening to at least once.

The Cons:

  • Space Shooters aren’t perfect:  This genre may not be for everyone; it takes some time to getting used to, and there’s so many bullets and ships and items filling the screen you may be overwhelmed and not know which are good and which to avoid.  Also the game is more linear than it lets on.  The stage select screen shows the level of difficulty in each level and you’re pretty much going to have to play from easiest to hardest while strengthening your ship to adjust to the increasing difficulty.
  • This game has Space Bugs: There’s a really, REALLY irritating problem with the save system: sometimes when you finish a level it will revert the game to the state it was before you started the level, thus forcing you to play it all over again. This seems to happen at random (it happened to me at LEAST three times), and every review I’ve seen of this game reports this same problem, so it’s not just me. It doesn’t break the game, but it’s really infuriating when it happens.  I know video games are generally a big waste of time, but you shouldn’t actually FEEL like a game is wasting your time.

In short, this is a game that’s totally worth two bucks. And hopefully this means there will be more PSN Mini games that are worth anything in the future.

Final Score: 8 out of 10 Recommended!

It’s On, Like… That Game With The Monkey In It.

Between this, Mario Galaxy 2 and Super Meat Boy, the platforming genre has been going through a kind of Renaissance this year. Donkey Kong Country Returns is a rebirth of 1994’s Original Donkey Kong Country on the SNES—which was in and of itself a rebirth of 1981’s Original Donkey Kong—which makes this some type of Moebius loop of rebirthing.

The original DKC was a huge hit—It was the biggest-selling game (over 8 million!) on the Super NES, single handedly winning the 16-bit console war for Nintendo over the Sega Genesis/Megadrive. It used pre-rendered 3D models to create 2D sprites and environments, which was state-of-the-art back in ‘94, when you could call the original Doom a “3D” game without any sense of irony. It spawned two sequels but the series was forgotten when the next generation, led by Sony and their first ever console the “PlayStation”, gave us ACTUAL 3D graphics and gameplay.

So now it’s 2010, the system is the Wii, and DK is back—again—but this time around Retro Studios (Metroid Prime) was in charge of development in place of the long-since-defected-to-XBox Rare.  Strangely enough though, Retro made it look exactly like something Rare would have made if they were still doing the series—which is a good thing.  DKC Returns gives DK the the New Super Mario Bros. treatment, using modern 3D graphics to recreate old-school 2D platform jumping.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything new here. In fact, Retro has mixed things up quite a bit while retaining the best core elements of the original.  DK’s banana hoard is missing once again but K.Rool and the Kremlings are absent this time around.  Instead the enemy is a tribe of evil Tiki things that appeared out of a volcano and hypnotized the local wildlife into stealing all of the island’s precious potassium source.

Anyhow, on to the actual review:

-The Pros-

  • Retro figured out a Donkey Kong game should be about Donkey Kong.  The cast of superfluous apes has thankfully been cut down, so no Dixie or Chunky or any other character nobody cares about. Diddy Kong’s still around, but instead of switching between Kongs, Diddy takes up the Kazooie/Clank role and clings to Donkey’s back to give him improve movement abilities, like a rocket-pack boost and a longer rolling attack.
  • Classic platforming and OCD collecting goodness. The level designs are top-notch, tons of hidden stuff like in the old games.  Bonus rooms hidden in places you wouldn’t think to look.  K-O-N-G letters and puzzle pieces are scattered throughout each level. You’ll be playing for days overturning every rock and blowing every dandelion in order to get them all.  Plus making the game in full 3D allows for creative platform designs that spin, turn and rotate much like in New SMB.
  • It’s really goddamn hard. REALLY hard.  In spite of each Kong having two hit points instead of one, this is yet another DKC game where you will die A LOT.  Most deaths will come from pitfalls and crashing on the mine cart ad rocket barrel levels.  Though there are bananas everywhere, and you can buy life balloons with coins, but even so you will burn though dozens of lives.  I managed to max out my life count to 99 luft balloons, and it was cut down to 40 once I managed to finally beat the Volcano levels and the final boss.
  • The details. DKCR is a GORGEOUS game.  The music is great too, all great remasterings of the classic tracks from the original game. The enemy design really looks like something Rare could have done back in the day, most of the Tiki enemies are shaped like drums—their design just screams, “Hey! Jump on my head!” even moreso than Goombas.  The sunset levels, where everything is shown in silhouette, are incredibly creative. There’s also tons of hidden references and other little touches that really make the visuals a joy to behold. A secret area underground shows a tunnels with marching termites in it. Ancient temples with hieroglyphs shaped like sprites from the original arcade game. Factories are decorated with familiar blue ladders. And a special guest from the old days appears in the background of one level—I won’t spoil it for you.

-The Cons-

  • Enough with the bullshit waggle already. Just about every Wii game Nintendo produces has to have arbitrary waggling to justify the motion control being there. In games like Mario Wii and Wario Land it usually just serves one purpose. But in Donkey Kong the remote-shaking, together with the D-Pad/analog stick serves for THREE different moves(rolling, blowing, and ground slapping) which is simply NOT a good idea, especially in a platformer where precision control is essential. I can’t tell you how many times I died because an attempt to do a ground-pound made me roll off a cliff instead.  Also, I made the mistake of using the Wiimote by itself like a NES controller. I didn’t find out until late that it works with the Nunchuk, and it works A LOT better that way.
  • What’s that? Still don’t have an HDTV yet? Fuck you. Hope you like eyestrain!  It’s 2010 and I still use a standard definition tube TV.  Nintendo basically went into the HD generation kicking and screaming, and until recently still made games for us technology primitivists. But alas, they are forced into the 16:9 format and they make it so SD sets letterbox their games now.  So now I have to suffer, along with everyone else who plays games on a TV less than 5 feet long, with shrunken-down images on an already not-so-big screen.  I found myself having to lean in to see shrunken obstacles that can kill me instantly.  This became especially prominent in one section where I entered a room and had to fight a group of hummingbirds.  No, really.
  • No underwater levels. Oh no wait, that’s a good thing because underwater levels suck. Nevermind.
  • Fuck the Super Guide. I’m playing to get my ass kicked, not insulted! Most of these cons don’t really seem to be about Donkey Kong, but Nintendo recent games in general.  Along with New SMB Wii and Mario Galaxy 2, dying on a particular level enough times will pompt the “Super Guide” to try to play the game FOR you. It’s one thing that you’ve become a replacement for the parents of the kids who play your games Nintendo, but now you’re trying to replace their older brother, too?!

To finish, this is one of the best platformers and best Wii games I’ve played this year. It’s control issues keep it from getting a perfect score though. Retro studios has done a great job all in all, and it makes me wish they were still doing Metroid Games. (Stupid stinkin’ Other M.)

FINAL SCORE: 9 out of 10! Highly recommended!