Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Oregon Trail

Oregon Trail for the Apple IIe redefined the way gaming was done. It boasts a non-linear storyline, a fully customizable player party, multiple minigames, and more.

General storeFirst things first. Choose a career. With unparalleled customization, you can be a carpenter from Ohio, or even a farmer from Illinois. This choice will have a drastic impact on your gameplay, determining just how well you might be able to repair wagon wheels, or collect fruit. As if this wasn't enough, you then proceed to name your entire wagon party. Any name you wish. Finally, you can even choose what time of the year you want to leave for Oregon. Even the weather is at your command!

The game opens simply enough, with you and your family of poor, still-healthy Missourians at the general store, buying supplies for the long and arduous journey.

Died of typhoid As you travel the trail, you'll encounter hardship after hardship. From broken legs to disease, from the savages whose land you're stealing to deteriorating wagon axles, this game has it all. Don't expect your entire family to make it to Oregon. I promise at least one of them will die. Probably more. And if you think you're making it without getting 50% of your possessions robbed from you along the way, well my friend. You have quite the surprise in store.

TombstoneEventually, hopefully, you reach Oregon itself. Along the way you'll have ended up doing a lot of river crossing, for better or for worse, but primarily you'll have spent many a day hunting. Hunting is perhaps the chief reason Oregon Trail is played. What better illustrates the American independent spirit than walking out into the untamed wilderness with a rifle and killing off the rest of the bison in the country? If that ain't patriotic, I don't know what is.

HuntingIt's also easily the most fun thing to do in Oregon Trail, as the rest of the game generally consists of you watching an ox plod along, occasionally finding out that there is inadequate grass, or a poorly marked trail, or that Michael has died of a fever. Hunting tosses all that aside, giving you complete control over yourself as you can turn in a whopping eight directions to shoot prey that probably has no business being in the area of the country you are travelling. And of course, no matter how well you hunt, you're only as good as how much you can bench.

DrownedLastly, Oregon Trail is educational. It teaches you what life (and death) was really like for the pioneers of the west. Coonskin caps, covered wagons, and all the cholera you can eat are the orders of the day, and Oregon Trail delivers them in spades, giving you a real feeling that you're actually there, experiencing it all, no longer able to control your bodily functions. Its stunning graphics and crystal clear sounds immerse you in the environment of 19th century America like no other game could ever do. The game even opens with an information screen daring you to feel the reality of it all course through your veins.

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Oregon Trail invites everyone to come enjoy the power and glory of Willamette Valley in the fall (or winter, if you suck). So hop on board your wagon, caulk it across some rivers, raid some general stores, hunt some bears, and break your arms on the way to Oregon. I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed. And even more certain you won't survive the trip. Check it out. It's the good high.

Oregon Trail - 15/20

Friday, June 26, 2009


Godzilla is a movie star (top billing over Matthew Broderick, at that), a template for all sorts of other Hollywood monsters, a symbol for poor dubbing in films, and an icon of all things Japanese. Unfortunately for everyone involved, he's also the title character of this rotten Nintendo game.

Title screenGodzilla is designed to be a side-scrolling action game. While it succeeds at the side-scrolling, it comes up remarkably short in the "action" category. The plot is that the race of beings inhabiting Planet X - that supposed 'bonus' planet in our solar system - have somehow assembled an army of space monsters. 'Space monsters' is, I'm told, the proper scientific terminology here. The denizens of Planet X want to invade Earth with this army. While it's not clear in the least what their motives are, they sure are dogged about it.

This leads the Earth to send its trusted guardians, Godzilla and Mothra, to combat the threat. Now I was concerned that this meant Godzilla had gone soft, because I distinctly remember him terrorizing cities. But after looking into a bit of Godzilla history, it seems that the reason he and Mothra are teaming up is because of territorial issues. Space monsters invading Earth doesn't exactly make for a happy home. So, you as the player get to control both of these um, things, as you play through the game.

Map screenAs you can see at left, the map of the Earth is incredibly detailed and accurate. Godzilla can move two hexes per turn, while Mothra can cover four. What hex you land on determines the kind of terrain you'll encounter...partially. But more on that in a bit. See those two other monsters down at the bottom right? Them's your "bosses."

On this map are Moguera, some sort of robot thing that likes to shoot fire, and the incredibly irritating Gezora. The latter of these is literally incapable of damaging you, but merely flicks a tentacle in your face repeatedly, disabling your movement. When you want to fight a boss in the game, you simply land on the hex next to it, complete the normal stage, and you face the boss at the end of it. Other bosses you'll fight in the game include a hydra, a robotic Godzilla, a quadrupedal dinosaur, and a monster comprised entirely of smog. None of them is particularly difficult; however, you'll be forced to fight them on every single map until the game is over.

Martian surface?The maps themselves are supposed to represent the planets. You progress from Earth outward in the solar system, such that completion of the Earth map takes you to the Mars map, and so forth. Every planetary map brings more of the same. The levels look basically like what you see at right, regardless of the planet. I wish I could even say that each planet simply offered a palette swap of the basic level to distinguish them, but palette swaps happen completely at random in this game. Occassionally levels will also have you fight large brain mushroom things, whatever they're supposed to be.

The only real noticeable difference between the planetscapes is what's in the background, but there's even fault to be found with that. In order to show that you are on a given planet, it shows that planet in the night sky as the background. So, for instance, to play on Saturn, a gas giant to begin with, the background is a clear view of Saturn. What? Imagine going out at night and instead of a full moon, you see the planet you're supposedly standing on. What do you do? If you answered "Get a psychiatric evaluation," you are correct. It's mind-boggling.

Planet X surfaceYou'll encounter a variety of non-boss enemies throughout your planetary romps, but this is by no means a good thing. Enemies are so strange and random that the game never finds any sense of self-consistency or personality. You'll fight anything and everything that is animated. This includes the expected, such as tanks and aircraft, to the wholly absurd. Things like punching a volcano to make it explode, or a pillar of planetary crust that keeps bouncing up and down, or flame-launching totem poles. Most infuriating, there's this one fireball-ish enemy that not only cannot be killed in any way, but also seeks you and when it hits, does so repeatedly until it leaves the screen, often killing you at early stages. There are no continues.

Along these same lines, there are two ways to complete any given map. First, you may finish the end stage of the map with both Godzilla and Mothra. Second, if one of the two dies, you must beat the end stage with the remaining one. What this means is that if you beat the end stage with one character and the other one dies afterward, it is game over. The game ignores the fact that one of your dudes is on the next planet and healthy. Back to the title screen. Why bother?

Godzilla vs Mecha-godzillaAt least the two playable characters are themselves reasonably different. Godzilla moves slowly, but has a lot of power, and can attack high, medium, or low. He is also able to jump and duck, though his size prevent these from being incredibly useful most of the time. His special move (fueled by "POWER," as you can see) is his atomic breath, which pretty much kills anything it hits. Mothra, on the other hand, is much quicker and more agile. She takes up less space and is harder to hit, but does significantly weaker damage. She also is able to fly over much of the terrain and drop bombs, or poison darts, or spore, or larvae, or whatever you want to call those weird blue pixelated things, down upon her foes.

And a note about the "LEVEL" appearing in the above screens: this is not level as in the stage you are on. This title attempts to pass itself off as an action RPG, by having the playable characters level throughout the game. Your game score is your combined experience points, if we may even use the term. After you score a certain amount of points on a given character, that character levels. It will gain an extra health and/or power bar, and that's about it. While bosses may require a bit more health to defeat, the levels are otherwise virtually meaningless. They exist to provide an illusion of depth that simply doesn't exist.

The EndAll in all, the tediously repetitive gameplay is enough to make you either quit the game altogether or kill yourself along the way. Even the ending sucks. Before you reach the inane screen to the left, you are treated to a wall of text explaining a note that the defeated civilization of Planet X has left. It states something along the lines of "We got beaten because Godzilla is more powerful than we thought, but don't worry, we'll be back." It would be terrible enough if it was left at a simple cliffhanger sort of thing like that, because this game should never, ever see a sequel. But the Planet X-ians went on to insist that they would never give up their dreams to invade Earth, and even if it took eons, would form a new space monster army to do so. All this is being said as they settle on a new world in another solar system.

What's your problem man? Why do you want to kill Earth so much? There's only one answer I can think of that would explain the blind hatred Planet X has for Earth - Earthlings made this atrocity of a game.

Bottom Line: 4/20

Sunday, June 21, 2009


There are a plethora, nay El Guapo, two plethoras of games out there that use the X-Men license in some way. Some of them are good. Some are pretty bad. And most, like most games in general, fall somewhere in that mediocre middle range. This arcade classic is one such game.

X-Men for the arcade was pretty much your standard beat-em-up game, albeit with a couple twists. First, you were using X-Men. Secondly, there were 6 different joysticks for the 6 mutants you could control, though only 4 people could play simultaneously (on most machines...some allowed the full 6, and some versions only allowed 2). Those six mutants are: Cyclops, Colossus, Wolverine, Storm, Dazzler, and Nightcrawler.

Save the City.Now, I know what all of you are thinking. "Who in the world is Dazzler?" To be honest, I've beaten this game numerous times and I still have no idea. She's kind of like a blonde Jubilee with a marginally more useful mutant power. Anyway, you and your friends (should you have any) are charged by Professor X with the task of, well, see above.

And that's just the first of a number of alarmingly poor, and therefore hilarious, lines of dialogue in the game. Professor X has more than his fair share, with gems such as "Go and rescue Kitty from the cave!" or "Magneto is in another place.....GO, X-MEN!" It's kind of like the arcade beat-em-up version of "The princess is in another castle!" Only at least the guys in Mario didn't have herpes.

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Anyway, back to gameplay for a moment. Though there are six heroic mutants to choose, not all really warrant any true consideration, since the difference between them boils down to their mutant powers. The mutant power mechanic is interesting here. Using one consumes three bars of your life gauge, unless you have only three or less remaining, at which point you may only use as many as you have "bonus orbs," received for killing bosses. Because mutant powers are so devastating, this prevents people from just spamming them and beating the game. Or at least, doing so without a lot of quarters.

So Cyclops will get you an optic blast, as expected, that takes out enemies directly in front of him. Wolverine clinks his claws together and stuff in front of him dies, too. Dazzler shoots a pink bomb of energy that lands across the screen, hitting enemies at a distance. Storm launches a tornado that covers the whole vertical length of the screen, but can't hit behind her. Nightcrawler teleports randomly around the screen, destroying whatever he happens to touch.

Colossus roarOf course, none of them really hold a candle in my book to Colossus, the only real man of the bunch. Biceps of steel. Literally. The programmers of the game realized that his mutant power didn't extend beyond his steel skin, so pressing the mutant power button wouldn't really do much good. At a loss, they decided to simply have him flex and roar, causing anything in the vicinity to explode.

Aside from this, there are only two other buttons in the game: jump and attack. Attack does a variety of punches and kicks, depending on your character and your positioning as regards the enemy. Throws are possible too, naturally. All in all the fighting aspect of the game works well, despite a few annoying spots in which it is impossible to get out alive. But they're few enough that the flaw is easily forgiven, particularly when experiencing the game with some buddies. It's a co-op to beat the game, but a sort of contest too, to get the most kills.

Golden robots.But then there's the plot. Or, at least, I think it's a plot. Actually, I'm not really sure what's going on at any point during the entire game. At first, there is simply an army of mini-Sentinels attacking some city, and it's your job to stop them. Ok, cool. You kill a couple classic X-Men villains along the way, shut down the robot factory, all good. But then Professor X gets kidnapped and you have to travel to some jungle island to save him. And here you get more mini-Sentinels, as you soon discover every level will simply palette swap them and call it a new enemy. The final level featured golden ones, apparently to indicate their supposed "difficulty" to dispatch.

At one point during this jungle adventure, Magneto appears to blast you off a cliff, while exclaiming "Hahaha, X-Men. Welcome to DIE!" This game doesn't get much mention in the way of bad translation, and maybe it's no Zero Wing, but sheesh. Many strange enemies and bad lines later, you eventually kill a boss to have Professor X congratulate you as follows: "X-Men. Nice job. Magneto is over there. Follow me!" You, being an idiot, follow him, only to find out it's actually Mystique and now you have to fight through a whole 'nother level of little robot things. Way to go.

SentinelLater, when it seems like you're making headway, and it seems like the game has fully embraced its own personality, you are given a new telepathic order. "X-Men, X-Men! Magneto is planning to attack Earth from his asteroid base. You must foil his plan before it's too late. Go after the giant Sentinel!" And just like that, the game degenerates into another let's-fight-in-space-because-it's-the-future sort of thing. It seems to be the fallback for when designers run out of ideas but need to crank out some more gameplay time.

Finally, after killing countless Sentinel whelplings, you get to fight Magneto in the epic showdown. This fight isn't for the faint-at-heart, as he will throw taunts at you the entire duration of the battle. These include, so far as I can tell, the following utterances of an obvious evil genius:

  • "I am Magneto! Master of magnet! Hahahaha!"
  • "I am Magneto! You are nothing!"
  • "Come, X-Chicken!"
  • "You shall meet with my wrath!!"
  • "I kill you!"
  • "Dead! Hahahahaa!"

Ground punchUpon defeating Magneto, you are told that you have had success and saved the Earth, but that wait! The game is not over yet. Expecting some sort of dramatic epilogue, you wait somewhat eagerly for your new challenge, only to find that you're now back at the beginning of the first level! Now it'd be one thing if this happened Legend of Zelda style, so you went through the game again on a more challenging difficulty. But that's not the case in the least. I suppose it's kind of them to let you continue to play out any accrued credits, but you're making me replay levels thinking there's some light at the end of the tunnel, when there's really not. In the end, it frustrated me enough that I decided to start smashing the gonads of my foes. And you know, it really made me feel a whole lot better, both about life and this game.

If you're a fan of bad translations, decent beat-em-ups, and a whole lot of random screaming, X-Men is right up your alley.

Bottom Line: 13/20

What is this place?

I have decided to, for various reasons, open an individual blog here. I was an author for a website called Domus Ludorum, but my fellow authors abandoned the project, and the site came under heavy attack from spammers. I tired of trying to combat the spam with limited administrative privileges, and of being the sole source of content on what was meant to be a five person endeavor. So I am transferring some content here, with the intention of following through with new content once that is complete. These are the Games of My Life.

This blog is an ambitious, personal project as outlined below:

My goal is to post a game review of every game I have ever beaten in my life. Here's some answers to possible questions about the endeavor.

Q: What constitutes "beating" a game?
A: I am considering a game as beaten when it has been completed start to finish on (at least) the default difficulty setting, without cheating. For games that allow the player to continue playing after the story's ending, the story's ending will be considered to be the "finish" for the sake of this exercise.

Q: What constitutes cheating?
A: Cheating includes the use of cheat codes, glitch exploits, patch workarounds, save states, and et cetera. Save states are not always cheating, however. Many of the games I have completed have been played via emulator, as I have no access to many older game systems (much less their games). In these cases, if I must leave my computer for a while, I'd rather not leave my emulator running in the meantime. As such, I will use a save state and load it upon return, as a sort of extended pause feature. There are also a number of games that feature unlimited continues. In this case I will often use a save state at the spawn after a continue has been used (the idea being to simply skip the game over/continue screens and get right back to gameplay). Uses like these provide no gameplay advantage and are merely a convenience to the player - as such I do not consider them cheating.

Q: Does this potentially include any kind of video game at all?
A: No. Only games that can be beaten (or have all their story content completed) count. An MMORPG like World of Warcraft can never truly be beaten, and as such will never be on this list. An exception might be if the MMO ceases development and release of new content, in which case completing the highest challenge might be considered "beating" the game. This will be handled on a case-by-case basis, but is unlikely to occur. Furthermore, as a rule, only games that are or have been available for retail can apply. This includes full versions of old shareware games (the original Doom was shareware, for instance), but does not include flash games or their derivatives, even if available as a purchased download. Browser games and internet games of that sort are therefore excluded, even in their full versions. There may be cases in which completing such a game is more of an achievement than completing a given retail game, but I needed a clear line and this was it.

Q: Why only include games you have beaten? Why not ones you've played a reasonable amount as well?
A: For one thing, that drastically increases the number of games I would need to review. For another, I believe that one can only get a full and complete sense of a game after actually completing it. If you have beaten a game I am reviewing, you will be comforted by knowing that I struggled through the same things you did and really understand what I'm talking about. If you haven't, my review is more reliable, as it comes from someone who has fully experienced this game and is not based solely on initial impressions.

Q: So how many games is this, anyway?
A: While at first the undertaking sounds intense, generally there is the sense afterward that "Well, how many games can that really be?" The fact of the matter is, most people who would call themselves gamers, even casually, have beaten a lot more games than they realize. The difference with me is that I've actually kept track, and have completed quite a bit. As of this post I have completed 225 games that match the above criteria, and this number is always rising (albeit slowly nowadays - the current number can be found on the blog's sidebar menu). So your first instinct was correct - this is a LOT of games to cover.

Q: What will be the format of these reviews?
A: I have settled into a comfortable format, I believe, with these reviews. The general format will be a coverage of the gameplay, the general plot, what stood out to me as good or bad about the game, and will feature probably on average 4-6 screenshots of gameplay (of me playing the game myself, when possible), complete with rollover text and captions. At the end there will be an overall score out of 20.

Q: Why out of 20? Why not 10, or 5?
A: A scale that rates out of 5 offers too little flexibility, I feel, in giving impressions of the game. An exception is when the scale increments every half point instead of every whole point (i.e. 3, 3.5, 4, etc). But then it is essentially utilizing a 10 point scale, and no longer a 5 point scale. Similarly, most reviewers utilize a 10 point scale that increments every half point, giving 20 ratings. I use the 20 point scale incrementing in whole numbers for the sake of uniqueness and to do away with the half point system.

Q: Is 10 the average score then?
A: Probably not. A game receiving 10/20 is completely mediocre. There is nothing special to recommend it, and its shortcomings aren't so severe as to make it painful to play. The average score according to my calculations thus far is 14/20. This is due to a couple reasons. For one, game companies are more accountable now. In the 80s, companies could release anything and if it was well marketed, it would probably sell. Think terrible games with movie tie-ins, that sort of thing. Now there is easy access to multiple reviews of any game, often a day or two before its actual release. Consumers are better avoiding awful games, so companies are making a higher quality of product on average. Secondly, because this is a list of games I have beaten, many times if a game is not very good, I will not complete it. There are exceptions, of course. But I generally don't seek out terrible games to play and finish, and the scores reflect that.

Q: Is there some sort of order to how these reviews will be released?
A: Yes and no. I will strive to avoid overloading a certain genre or time period with successive reviews. That is, doing 15 reviews in a row of NES games likens me to a retro reviewer, and doing 8 shooters in a row gets boring for me and you both. I will attempt to vary the order of reviews to keep things relatively fresh, although I have beaten more "old" games than newer ones in general.

Q: What about games in a series? Will you follow any chronology?
A: Mostly yes. I will follow the chronology of the games (or in some cases of their release dates) when reviewing games in the same series. This means I will review Mega Man 1 before any other Mega Man game, for instance. However, I will not review multiple Mega Man games in a row. For a series like the Final Fantasy series, I will address the "numbered" games in their order, but the spinoff games (Tactics, Crystal Chronicles, etc) are fair play at anytime, as they do not fit into the core chronology of the whole. Unfortunately this also means you may have to wait on me to finish certain games! For instance, to return to the FF series, I have beaten the original Final Fantasy on the NES. I've also completed many of the later numbered games. However, I have never beaten Final Fantasy II (mainly because it's really not good...really). So I'll have to get around to playing and finishing that one before I can throw up reviews of the later games.

Q: Why does it matter that much to not sway from that order?
A: For a game series with storylines that overarch through multiple installments, the need is obvious. For games like Final Fantasy or Mega Man, the need is not there from that particular angle. However, I feel there is a lot of value in "building up." That is, usually new installments of game series add new features to the series bit by bit as the games progress. It serves the review format better and creates less confusion to simply discuss how the game differed from the previous one (and allows a closer appreciation of the changes), than to spend a paragraph every time relating the features of all the games surrounding it and where it fits in.

Q: What's the timetable for the release of these reviews?
A: The first few ones should come out by the end of June 2009, I'd expect. After that, I'm not holding myself to any given timetable for releasing them. I'm not going to say once a week or twice a month or anything, because I don't know what my schedule will look like, what my motivation will be like, and so forth. The reviews will come out when I churn them out, whenever that may be.

Q: So we just have to check back here every day to see?
A: Ayup. Bookmark it. Takes two seconds to check each day.

Q: What about reviews of things other than games?
A: I don't intend to review anything other than games on this site. The idea is to establish a review database of all these games, and attempting to branch into other content would cloud that somewhat. There is a chance I might do other game-related things, but don't count on it. The reviews are the point of this site and it's best to keep focused.