Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie

Oh man, Power Rangers. Where do I start? If you grew up in the 90s and claim you never watched this show, you are a dirty rotten liar. And don't give me that "Well, I mean, I watched it, but I never actually liked it" garbage. Power Rangers was awesome back when it first came on, and everybody knows it. Then they added the Green Ranger, who could summon robotic dragons out of ponds using a flute, and it only got cooler. Eventually, the series reached that breaking point of popularity where they just couldn't stop themselves from making a movie. And that means they'd have to make a game based on that movie. But on the Game Boy? I'm definitely going to curb my enthusiasm.

Monochrome Rangers.The first problem is obvious just from the player select screen. You get to choose which Power Ranger you want to use for each stage, but you know how we tell the Power Rangers apart? Color. You know what the Game Boy can't display? Color. So unless you've memorized the details on the helmets of each Ranger, you don't really have a clue who you're choosing. And if you have memorized their helmet details, we have another problem entirely. If you look reallllllly closely, you can sort of see some boob contours on the two outer Rangers, which are indeed the females. But really, there had to be a better way than this, right?

Once you choose your Ranger, you choose which stage you want to play. There are six stages, and you can choose from five of these from the start of the game. The sixth can only be played after the first five have been completed. Each stage has a different boss at the end, though none of these but the last one have anything to do with the movie. Actually, for being a movie-based video game, Power Rangers is shockingly unrelated to the film. Not that I was expecting a scene-by-scene recounting or anything, but these levels are completely random! One stage has you riding mine carts and avoiding falling stalactites. One has you walking through empty buildings fighting laser-shooting robots as tall as your ankles. Don't recall that from the film.

Goop Soup.And not to keep harping on the Game Boy's color handicap, but what do you make of this situation? You go to the level whose boss appears to be some sort of giant mutant rat, and before long emerge from a door to find this. Where do you go? I'm standing on land, but I'm surrounded by what looks like bubbling lava. If only this were in color at least I'd have a better idea what I'm up against. So I try to figure out if there's something I'm missing. Maybe I can leap and grab onto those ladders to cross. No, that didn't work. Maybe if I go back through the same door I'll be in a different spot than I came from. Nope, no dice. Maybe I'm supposed to keep killing those infinitely-spawning satellite things that keep floating around, and something will happen. But you know what? By that point you are giving this game way too much credit. You just walk through the goop. Hell if I know what it is, but it doesn't hurt you. Nevermind that any other time I've seen anything that looks like that in any game, it's damaged if not instantly killed me. But how silly of me...these are the Power Rangers. They'll be fine.

The mechanics of the gameplay are just odd. I don't want to say they're bad, because they're honestly not, but they're definitely odd. Whenever you start a stage with whatever Ranger you chose (whether you knew which one you picked or not), you will be in their ninja outfits. You may recall that the movie introduced the whole Power Rangers Ninja crap. So you'll run around in your headbands and "ninja gear" initially. Enemies will keep coming at you, and you can punch and kick them into submission. Every couple guys you kill will fill one bar of "POWER." When the meter fills, you can press Select to strike a pose while a beam of light shoots down at you from heaven and bestows your armor on you. It will completely refill your life and you'll do double-damage the rest of the stage.

Certified BA.As you continue killing enemies, your power meter will get to full again. Now when you press Select, the coin for whatever ranger you have will flash on the screen while you pose, and everything around you will die. Even bosses will lose absurd amounts of life from the attack, so it makes sense to just save your power for them. This attack is also probably the first time you'll realize who you selected. "Oh, the Mastodon coin. I've been the Black Ranger this whole time!"

The only gaping issue with this system is that if you die before the boss of a level, you'll respawn in your weaker ninja garb. Depending on how close you were to the boss area, you might not have enough enemies to kill to get back your Ranger armor, which can be a nuisance. I mean, if you get to the boss with your armor, and then the boss beats you, you'll continue at the boss fight in your full armor again. But if you get there without the armor in the first place, you're just screwed. You have to either beat that guy at half strength or redo the whole stage. Can't you just give me my armor, please? It's the Power Rangers for crying out loud. I've a right to complain for even having to earn the suits in the first place.

Flying Putty.The enemies themselves are pretty standard and uninspired. Yes, we get it, there are putties in Power Rangers. They make odd noises, attack in groups, and tend to get the snot beat out of them. "Blade blasters up!" is probably the most frightening thing these guys have ever heard. But can we do better than this for the game? I'm not saying invent enemies completely, but some more variety in the putties would be nice. As it stands, the game features putties that walk toward you slowly, and putties that are somehow on jetpacks. That's about it. The other baddies are just laser turrets or bats. For an action game, it makes the combat very dull. I realize it can be hard to balance making the game challenging with making it play well and being faithful to the core material, but this was a pretty lackluster effort. You abandoned the whole "Stay true to the source" mantra when you chased me through a mine shaft with a giant tunneler, anyhow.

Now, with six selectable Rangers that have only the most minuscule visual differences, you'd hope they at least played uniquely. Well, yes and no. There are two "types" of Rangers here. The Red, White, and Blue Rangers all do high damage but are slow and less mobile, while the chicks and the Black Ranger (poor guy) are weak and take hits like wusses, but are quicker and can jump a good deal higher. The difference in damage dealt isn't really noticeable outside of boss fights, but the damage taken certainly is. So that means you'll usually want the stronger Rangers, yeah? You're more survivable, clear stuff quicker, can take down bosses more easily...

Physics Failings.Except that the boss battles are awful. A few of them, such as Goldar here, feature platforms above the floor. Only the weaker Rangers can jump high enough to land on these platforms. Or, as you can see, to hover off the side of the platform. No, that's okay game, you don't need functional programming. Just keep doing your thing. The boss is a moron, too. He'll just stand in place swinging his sword up and down, hoping you walk into it. Occasionally if you're across the screen he'll dash at you, or sometimes he'll teleport a few steps away, but mostly he'll just flail. And if you're above him, he can't hit you. Not to mention you can jump upward through that platform to land on it, so you can just drop down, kick him, jump back up, and repeat ad nauseam until he dies.

The technical flaws don't even end there. You can walk through the boss. You can stand in him, occupying the same space. And you won't take any damage. He'll stand there flailing wildly, trying to exorcise you from his bodily confines, but there is nothing he can do. Why is it that one of the safest spots to fight a boss in this game is inside the boss itself? Of course, you can't hit him from there either, so eventually someone has to move. Now again, you'd think if you're down there, you'll want the stronger Rangers. But there's an entire boss fight that is literally impossible without the higher jump. This big Tengu (vulture sort of thing) keeps flying in and out of the screen, and it's only vulnerable if you hit it on the way up or down. But the only way to do that is from the elevated platform, which you can't jump to if you're one of the stronger Rangers. Hope you didn't pick one of them to do this stage, because it looks like you're going to be dying very shortly.

Beg to differ.Eventually you'll get to the final stage, where you have to fight the first five bosses all over again with intermittent combat areas. At the end you'll have a showdown with the movie's primary villain, Ivan Ooze. He sits in a throne and flicks crap at you. Seriously. Defeating him reveals his second form (multiple forms for an end boss?! Preposterous!!), which is remarkably easy to kill. And at least here they do make sure you've got your armor for the task. You'll beat Ooze and he'll shatter into a bunch of pieces, after which the credits roll and whatever Ranger you beat the game with will say something completely unnecessary. It's not very exciting.

To be fair, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (The Game) really isn't terrible. It really isn't great either. In fact, it really isn't anything at all. It's an easy game, but if it were more difficult it probably wouldn't actually be any more fun to play. I mean, the Power Rangers were freaking sweet back when they hit the scene, but it's no surprise that the ceiling of quality on a Power Rangers video game would be pretty low. It's a game that suffices to waste some time, and you won't really regret playing it per se, but there are plenty of better titles to spend a few hours with. Ones that are in color.

Bottom Line: 10/20

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Doom II: Hell on Earth

It had been a little less than a year since id software's hugely popular Doom had hit the shareware scene like a hot pancake ready for love. And the masses, they spake, and request they did more visceral carnage. Well, masses from sixteen years ago, do I have news for you. Enter Doom II: Hell on Earth.

Losing battle.If you'll recall, by the end of the first Doom game you, as an anonymous space marine, successfully avenged the death of your pet rabbit by annihilating all the forces of hell you found on two Martian moons and even in hell itself. Sadly, while you were working on that, the demons were busy invading Earth and doing a pretty darned good job of it. Apparently by now they've killed off billions of humans on the planet, and the rest are trapped in a spaceport trying to escape the planet. The demons know this and have shielded off the spaceport to trap them on Earth, dooming mankind forever.

Of course, the legions of hell didn't count on you being a part of their plans. When you emerged from hell at the end of the first game (in the bonus episode, especially), instead of coming back through the Deimos gate you entered in, you emerged from a gate on Earth. So here we go again. I would like to then take note here that the entirety of Doom 1 and 2 are continuous, beginning to end. This means this space marine never eats, sleeps, pees, takes a drink of water to our knowledge...anything. Though I guess from seeing the stills at the end of Doom 1 we realized he never had to breathe while on the surface of the Martian moons, so maybe basic human functions are just too mundane for a guy so clearly badass that he can take on hell and win - twice.

Chainsaw.The violence is definitely ramped up in this one. Because the graphics and engine and all other technical aspects of the game are identical to the first, the increase in savagery had to be accomplished through quantity over quality. By this I mean the monster count in Doom II is staggeringly high, making the first game look downright tame by comparison. It's odd then that only one weapon was added to the game. That weapon though, hilariously, is the "super shotgun." The shotgun was like the second best weapon of the game already! But now you can get a double-barreled version that takes twice the ammo but delivers about 150% more pain. That's a bargain, folks, and when you see how quickly this bugger knocks stuff out, you'll be hooked for the long run.

Which brought me to a very unexpected problem as I played through the game: low ammunition. Now don't get me wrong, ammo was littered around the levels at least as liberally as it had always been. But the sheer number of monsters this time around had my bullets and rockets constantly streaming forward, and ammo conservation suddenly became a real issue. And this was decidedly in the game's favor. The first time around, of course, I just saved ammo on everything by shotgunning everything down and by the end killed the last boss in three quick BFG hits. But here I occasionally found myself running on my last 5 rockets and nothing else, and it was exhilarating.

The end.Of course, success is a little more difficult to come by when that's where you find yourself, but at this point you start to realize that success is always fleeting in Doom anyway. Sure, you cleared Phobos, but now there's Deimos. Sure, you cleared Deimos, but you still have to delve into hell yourself. Sure, you killed off half of hell, but now they're taking over Earth. And the story in Doom II works largely in the same manner, with you actually reaching the spaceport and allowing that ship to escape, then resigning yourself to death with a pat on the back. What? I mean, I get that you're tired and probably pretty hungry, but your planet is swarming with demons. And you're cool with it now? At least the dudes in space have a conscience and radio you to go track down the other hell gate and destroy it. Strangely, they keep referring to the demons as aliens - not sure what's going on there, but whatever.

But this does bring up a great point of divergence from the first Doom, and quite a welcome one - because Doom II is supposed to take place on Earth, in cities, the levels are no longer just cramped corridors of some moon base, but are often very large and open. A couple of the middle levels make good use of various tall buildings to decorate the city, all of which are accessible, while the main area still provides tons of breathing room. It's certainly a pleasure to get away from the confines of tight metal halls once in a while.

Rez machine.And while Doom II only introduced a single new weapon, it went a little crazier on adding new enemies, actually doubling the number of non-boss demons in the game. There is now a "heavy weapons guy" with a chaingun, skeletal revenants with twin shoulder-mounted missile launchers, floating jerks who incessantly spawn flaming skulls and spit them at you, an obese mass of flesh with its arms replaced by flamethrowers...but the most infuriating new enemy is definitely the Arch-Vile. This dude has the fastest move speed in the game, the highest health of all standard monsters, literally sets you on fire from any distance he pleases, and resurrects other monsters at will. Freakin' A, man. Cut me some slack. It even makes some creepy whispering noise when it knows you're there. Unsettling.

In fact, a lot of the game is "unsettling," though never in a bad way. The level design is far more clever in terms of setting you up for a surprise or an "oh my gosh" moment than ever before. For instance, there is a level called "Dead Simple" which has you spawn in an enclosed room with four of the aforementioned Fatty McFlamethrowers (officially called a Mancubus, but I like my name better). This is the first time in the game you see them, and when they start launching their crap at you you'll wish it were the last. Instead, killing them merely opens the walls around you. At this point several "arachnotrons" come after you, which are little brains mounted on steel legs with rapid fire plasma guns. Yeah. About that. Not cool.

Army of barons.Or IS it? Doom II's designers got so giddy with this sort of thing that they began riddling all the maps with traps of all sorts. There's even an entire level called "Tricks and Traps" which features, amongst other things, the room here pictured. That is absurd, guys. Need I remind you that the big guy in the back of the room is the baddest boss from the first game, and that all the pink guys in the middle are also bosses? And there's an army of them? What? Know what's worse? When you finally finish the rest of the level and run to the exit, the walkway drops as you go. If you hesitate in the slightest, you end up in lava and get to restart the whole level. That's cold. There's one level in which you can find a health pickup that puts you back to max health, which naturally is extremely valuable. Unfortunately, collecting it triggers a loooooooong series of monster teleports. I'm not exaggerating when I say you'll soon be besieged by about forty monsters of various types all at once, just because you picked up the health you so desperately needed in the first place. It's brutal.

And my point is that this is actually a good thing. You start to become paranoid of picking up any helpful item for fear that it will only ruin you to do so. Which is precisely the sort of vibe a game like this should give you - fear and uncertainty. Luckily, there are also a couple ridiculous levels like "Barrels O' Fun" which exist solely to enjoy crazy situations like, say, rooms lined with monsters as well as explosive barrels, and a little phenomenon we like to call "chain reaction."

Out of control baddies.One of the best touches of both Doom games so far that gives both of them that extra little edge of enjoyment is monster infighting. Let's face it - demons are demons for a reason. They're not going to be very loyal or reliable, even to others of their own ilk. So if a demon attacks another demon, tempers are gonna flare. You as the player can abuse this at will, catching demons in the crossfire of other demons and then watching them ignore you so they can rip each other to shreds. On levels like the game's final showdown, in which monsters spawn infinitely and continuously in a relatively small area, this tactic is almost even necessary for survival. And it results in some downright nutty kill percentages when all is said and done.

All in all it's a little surprising how much new stuff Doom II was able to cram in there without actually changing anything from the base formula of the game or any of its technical specifications. There were a lot of new and fresh ideas injected into Doom II; even subtle touches like doors that will only open when you shoot them (and yet these were somehow the obstacles that stumped me the most). Plus, unlike in Doom 1, the final boss doesn't die in four shots from the BFG-9000. In fact, Doom II's final boss is immune to the BFG. It's like a real boss for crying out loud! Crazy talk! The main complaint with the first game was the repetition and tediousness of much of the stage design. Somehow all of that is gone now; even key hunts aren't boring or monotonous, since the range of locales to explore is so heightened. Doom II is the perfect example of taking something old and making it new without really even changing anything at the core. Except the difficulty. Gird those loins, guys. This one's a challenge.

Bottom Line: 16/20