Monday, November 24, 2014

Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey

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Released on November 11, 1996, by Midway Games, and developed by William's Entertainment Inc.,  Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey is a port of the arcade sports game of the same name.
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The Personal Story:
For Christmas, in 1996, my cousin received a Nintendo 64. Less than a year later, I purchased it from him. For that one Christmas, though, the 64 was his. At that point in history, the Nintendo 64 owner had eight games to chose from. One of those games was Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey. My cousin received Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire and Wave Race 64 for Christmas, but later that week, we renter Killer Instinct Gold and Gretzky. Gretzky was a good time, and we enjoyed the multi-player, but in two days, it went back to Blockbuster. As for me, I had Super Mario RPG waiting at home in my Super Nintendo. I forgot all about Gretzky, even when I later took the Nintendo 64 for my own. One day, though, when taking inventory of Nintendo 64's sports games, I remembered Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey. By then, the game was bargain-binning for under $5. Time to strap-on the old skates.      

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Graphics: Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey was the fifth game ever released for the Nintendo 64 in America. At this point, developers had only scratched the surface of the Nintendo 64's graphical capabilities. With that said, Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey's graphics, while not even close to standout, aren't bad. The players are a little too burly for hockey, but they are modeled and animated well. They better be, considering the arcade nature of the game allows for a max of only 12 overall players on the ice at one time. The rink itself looks okay. The crowd is static, but the ice looks alright, even with low-res writing and logos plastered all over it.

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Sound: Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey's audio leaves little to be said. The voice-over commentary is fairly limited, with a few comments said over and over again. One particular comment about "Robin Hood and his merry men" stealing the puck will be ingrained in the player's mind forever because the commentator mentions it a maddening amount of times. Thankfully, the commentary's limited lines are at least read well and enthusiastically. As for sound effects, players let out strange, awkward "oof" sounds when they are smacked down to the ice, but the sounds of stick hitting puck, as well as skates shredding ice are satisfying. Menu music is generic, 90's sports game rock music.

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Gameplay: Want a realistic representation of the game of professional hockey? Do not play this game. Want to play an NBA-Jam'd out version of hockey? Look no further. This is 3-on-3 hockey with 10+goal games, shots that set the net on fire, goalies that can turn into brick walls, the ability to beat your opponent into the ice like a rag doll...and instant replay to watch it all over again. The game also features frequent, game-stopping fights with multiple fighting moves. Referees only exist to drop the puck on the ice. The skating and player-smashing physics are excellent, and the controls are fairly tight, though there are times where it feels like the other team has the ability to tackle the player far faster than the player can get rid of the puck. Teammates and goalies can also show a startling lack of intelligence. Gretzky includes a slightly more realistic "simulation mode," as well as the ability to up the player count to 5-on-5, but in Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey world, the more unrealistic the gameplay, the better. The gamer has the option to play through a full-season of hockey, though few will want to play 80+games of Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey on their own. The full-value of the game is found in the multi-player modes. Plug in one controller, and a friend can join in for a cooperative mode. Plug in three, and four players can play, two to a team, in 5-on-5 madness. Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey was the first in a storied line of Nintendo 64 games to allow four people to play at once--the first page in the legacy of "The Fun Machine." This four-player mode is a blast to play, though it is also a good way to lose friends. Nothing like checking your best buddy into the glass, and stealing away his game-winning shot. Nothing like doing it again, ten minutes later, in the next match. It should also be noted that Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey features every existing NHL team from the year 1996, as well as almost every player who hit the ice that year. With that said:
Fedorov and the Red Wings forever!

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Lasting Value: As previously stated, while Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey's single-player mode is fun to play, the fun doesn't last. Bring along some friends, though, and the fun can stretch on, in theory, forever.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE ON WAYNE GRETZKY'S 3D HOCKEY: A year after Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey hit the shelves, Midway released Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey '98, which features the exact same game engine, graphics, and sound as the original, with only slightly tweaked gameplay. Months later, Midway released Olympic Hockey Nagano '98, the same exact game as Gretzky '98, with a few Olympic teams added in. Stick to the original.

Nothing fancy, but animation and ice physics are well done.
Music and Sound
Entertaining, but highly repetitive commentary. So/so sound effects and music.
Arcade-style hockey, with a single-player mode that is fun for a little while, and a four-player mode that is fun for a long while.
Lasting Value
Single-player for as long as your attention span lasts, multiplayer until you run out of friends.  


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion

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Released on August 30, 2000, by Acclaim Studios Austin, Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion sends a new Turok into one last Lost Lands fray, this time to stop the threat of the world-consuming Oblivion forever.
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The Personal Story:
After all the hype for Turok 2 in 1998, and my, at the time, failure to play that particular game well (I have since mastered it), I was pretty Turoked-out. By the time Turok 3 was released, I had graduated high school and moved on to other things. The Nintendo 64 was reaching its twilight, and I was giving far more attention to my Sega Dreamcast than to the good ole fun machine. I read IGN 64's lukewarm review for Turok 3, felt strange that Turok 3 even existed, never gave it another thought. Years later, I pulled my Nintendo 64 out of storage and had the revelation that it is the greatest video game system ever made. I finally played all the way through Turok and Turok 2, and enjoyed both experiences immensely. I knew the moment I finished 2, I would have to complete the trilogy, but finding info on Turok 3 was a bit like doing research on a party I missed...and that few attended. Apparently, the video-gaming world had been far more concerned with the newly released Playstation 2 than taking another trip to the Lost Lands. Still, I managed to locate a copy of Turok 3 for myself. Time to find out what I missed.  

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Graphics: The first moments of Turok 3 gameplay are graphically stunning. As seen in the final picture of this exhibit, the player begins in a fully furnished apartment, the roof smashed, rain falling through, lightning striking and illuminating the room. A vortex to another dimension spins in the sky, and large moving tentacles hang from the skyscraper across the street. A flying police car passes back and forth outside the window, lights blazing, as a futuristic ground vehicle, based on the body of a Star Wars AT-ST walker, stalks the streets below. This may be the single greatest graphical moment in Nintendo 64 history. So much detail and color, so much going on onscreen at the same time, such dynamic lighting, and so much movement. This moment blows many Nintendo 64 games out of the water, and the rest of this dystopian future stage is of near equally high quality. However, as good as the level itself looks, the game quickly begins to feel like a straight to DVD-sequel to Turok 2. Turok 2 featured incredibly high-quality textures, and amazingly high-detailed, life-like enemies, who, when slaughtered, died in drawn-out, gruesome, and high-detailed fashion. When shot, the mostly unmemorable villains of Turok 3 just fall over swiftly and fade away. Even the first Turok had some grisly death animations, yet Turok 3 takes no joy in what was once a series highlight. Turok 2 also featured some excellent texture work. Turok 3 features outstanding textures at points, as well, but many levels also include some inexcusably blurry and pixelated work. The Lost Lands Junkyard stage in particular features some really ugly moments, as well as some unpleasing color schemes. Like its predecessor, Turok 3 also features moments of graphical slowdown, particularly in a lava stage, where Turok must ride an air vent. This does 
unfortunately hamper the gameplay in that particular moment of Turok 3. However, the amount of actual, game-hampering slowdown in Turok 3 was greatly exaggerated by many journalistic reviews of the game, upon its release. It actually doesn't happen very often. Overall, Turok 3's graphics are maddeningly inconsistent. The first and last stages are particularly beautiful, with the high quality texturing, sharp-detailed, dynamically-lit areas expected of a third-generation Nintendo 64 game. However, other stages are loaded with ugly textures, and the limited animation routines throughout are more of what one would expect from a first-generation title. Finally, it should be mentioned that the Turok series' ever-present distance fog is almost absent here in Turok 3. There are some moments where the player can see for miles. This is, outside of one major factor mentioned below, Turok 3's greatest improvement over the first two games.

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Sound: Turok 3 features a dynamic, symphonic (synthesized) soundtrack that changes as the player enters different areas of each of the game's five enormous stages. The music fits each region well, and the changes are pretty seamless, but there is nothing here the player will hum, or even remember the next day. Still, Turok 3's soundtrack gets the job done, blood-pumping during a fast-paced shootout, slowing down introspectively when things are calm. It's pleasing to the ears, and the sound quality of each track is top notch. Sound-effects are as mixed a bag as Turok 3's graphics. Enemy bullets ping around the sound-channel realistically, and monstrous roars are suitably scary, though they are sometimes recycled from past Turok games. Footsteps and incidental sounds are great, but a few of Turok's weapons, particularly the shotgun, sound strangely limp and weak. Finally, Turok 3, befitting its status as a major third-generation title, and as the last game Acclaim released on the Nintendo 64, features loads of character speech by amateur voice-actors, as well as a multitude of cutscenes. While Turok 3 was created before celebrity or professional voice-acting was commonplace in video games, the speech in the game is still quite nice, and does a great job of further immersing the player in Turok 3's world.

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Gameplay: What makes a Turok game? Is it a pre-historic setting? Is it grisly death animations? Tribal warfare? Dinosaurs? You're not going to find much of that here. Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion looks and plays differently from past Turok titles. If anything, it is more visually reminiscent and close in design to the original Half-Life, the classic PC first-person shooter. Turok 3 even features a military scientific base level that looks like a direct rip-off of Half-Life's Black Mesa, replete with a tentacled-boss (also, the stage continues the strange trend that every Nintendo 64 first-person shooter released in the year 2000 must feature a deep-water submarine pen...Perfect Dark, The World Is Not Enough...). 
Many members of the original Turok team had left Acclaim Studios by this point, which may explain the shift in visuals and design. This may also explain why the gameplay's fun-factor, like every other element in Turok 3, is inconsistent. The opening dystopian future stage is the best designed and most fun to play, with interactive events throughout (for example, being led through the sewers by a civilian who ends up being gobbled to bits, all in real-time), and various modes of gameplay, as Turok fights through the streets, swings across rooftops, evades fast-moving trains in a race through subway tunnels, and slugs it out with a grotesque, enormous level boss (as mentioned above, many of the in-level enemies are unimpressive, but Turok 3's bosses are a sight to see). The game is at its best when the stages are more varied and interactive. Otherwise, lacking the over-the-top violence and spectacular weapons of previous entries, Turok 3 is just an average first-person shooter. However, it must be said that Turok 3 includes, in addition to the lack of distance fog mentioned above, a major plus that previous entries do not: the ability to save anywhere. Previous Turok games often forced the player to play for hours and walk for miles without a save-point in sight. One could put a night into the game, die before finding a save-point, and have to do the whole thing over again the next night. Turok 3's save-anywhere function removes a world of inconvenience. In addition to the single-player mission, Turok 3 includes a decent four-player deathmatch multi-player mode. While the multi-player can be fun, just as Turok 2's can be, Turok 3 features the same, frequently-mentioned flaw as all but one of the Nintendo 64''s first-person shooter death-match featuring games: it isn't Goldeneye.

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Lasting Value: 
The stages in Turok 3 are smaller in size than Turok 2's labyrinthian death-traps. They often hit the sweet-spot in length--long enough to be a challenge, but not long enough to be exhausting. Unfortunately, there are only five of them, taking on average an hour to beat. This means the game can be completed in only five hours. Turok 2 took 25 to complete. Turok 3 does feature the option to play through as two different characters. As Danielle, the player can jump higher and access higher sections of each stage with a grapling hook. As the smaller Joseph, the player has the ability to creep through tiny passages, as well as see through pitch-dark tunnels with night vision. Because of this, certain areas of the game are only accessible to one of the characters, and the player must play through as both to see all of Turok 3's world. Still, playing through as each character only adds up to ten hours of gameplay. There are cheats, but as Turok 3 lacks the heavy fire-power and thorough death-animations of Turok 2, running around with every weapon and blasting apart foes after already beating the game doesn't hold as much appeal. The four-player deathmatch mode adds to Turok 3's total value and play-time, but only for so long as the player and friends can keep the Goldeneye cartridge out of the system. In the end, Turok 3 is a game worth-playing, but it pales in the reflection of its legendary predecessors. 

Frustratingly inconsistent. Sharp, incredibly-detailed third-generation Nintendo 64 worlds, brought down by some poorly textured areas and limited character animations.
Music and Sound
An effective if unmemorable dynamic score. Hit and miss sound effects. Nearly an hour of recorded speech spruces up Turok 3's audio package, though.
Once the interactivity of the earlier stages begins to wane, an average shooter reveals itself. Quite fun to play, but nothing remarkable.
Lasting Value
Short single-player mission, though replaying it with another character stretches the experience. Four-player deathmatch is a decent way to pass time with friends.  


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers

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Released on May 31, 1999, by Kemco (and developed by Infinte Ventures), Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers features hours of first-person puzzle-solving action in The Castle Shadowgate, as the halfling, Del Cottonwood, attempts to use his wits to stop the resurrection of the evil Warlock Lord.
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The Personal Story:
During the Nintendo 64's heyday, I never took much interest in Shadowgate 64. The reviews were average, and the screenshots were not inspiring. However, the title kept popping up, particularly when I looked at EBay listings by people selling their Nintendo 64 and games. For whatever reason, many seemed to have Shadowgate 64 in their collection. The game certainly filled a niche: the Nintendo 64 didn't exactly feature a lot of puzzle-heavy graphic adventure games. Eventually, curiosity got the better of me, and I picked up a copy from the very location that had piqued it in the first place. 

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Graphics: I hope you like brown and gray. That's what Shadowgate 64 gives the player in spades. Granted, the game takes place in a medieval castle, but the grainy, blurry, low-resolution graphics do Shadowgate no visual favors. Considering there is very rarely anything moving onscreen, and that Shadowgate 64 was released more than halfway through the Nintendo 64's run, this is inexcusable. This game should look sharper. Movement is at least quick and smooth, and once the player has gotten used to Shadowgate's visual style, it works well enough. The game's autumnal atmosphere is decently conveyed. W
hen the player finally begins to run into other people, the models and design are not bad, though certainly nowhere close to the system's best. Shadowgate 64 does do a great job of saving its better graphical moments for last, though. Rumors of beasts and warlocks are payed off quite well, as Shadowgate shockingly gets its stuff together, and delivers. Yes, that is a dragon hovering high above the castle in the photo below, but if you want a closer look, you've got to play the game and earn it.   

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Sound: Shadowgate 64's soundtrack is like a 64-bit cross between Chrono Trigger's and the Legend of Zelda's, though not quite up to the level of those two(and few if any games' soundtracks are). Where Shadowgate 64's graphics are lacking, its soundtrack creates that relaxed feeling of medieval mystery the developers were shooting for. It's fun to hang out in certain rooms just to hear the lovely music in the background. The sound effects and overall sound design aren't quite up to that level, though, as there simply aren't many (a splash here and a crow calling there), and the sound quality isn't that great. Despite coming at the tail end of the Nintendo 64's second generation, Shadowgate 64 features absolutely no speech (excluding a brief chant near the end). As Shadowgate 64 does not feature a great quantity of character interaction, character voices would have helped enhance immersion into the game's world. Instead, everything is handled via text box. Considering the amount of reading the player already has to do, thumbing through the castle's books and observing its surroundings, a break from text boxes would have been nice.  

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Gameplay: Shadowgate 64 starts off slowly--very slowly. The player begins the game stuck in the castle jail, slinks out, and gradually makes their way from underground caverns to the castle innards, to the castle grounds, and back and forth through all of them again and again. During the game's early portions, not much happens. For quite a while, the player wanders around the castle alone, exploring aimlessly, and with no character interaction. This may be the point where some players call it quits, and they cannot be blamed. Lousy graphics and unexciting gameplay give little reason to think the game will get any better. However, as one gets deeper into Castle Shadowgate, something strange happens: Shadowgate 64 gets under your skin. This isn't a great game. Some of Shadowgate 64's puzzles are logically ridiculous and sometimes the player is just running fetch quests...the graphics are muddy and mostly unappealing...the soundtrack is good, but the player never hears a human voice...and somehow these elements all come together to create an enjoyable product. This is only because, as slow and aimless as the game begins, it really starts to come together in its second half. Del finally begins to run into other humans, and finds an item that drastically changes the dynamic of the game: a ring that allows him to see and speak to the dead. As Del meets the castle's past denizens, Shadowgate's history is slowly revealed. This is the reason to keep playing. Finding and retrieving items for the deceased to give them closure is highly enjoyable and gives Shadowgate 64 pathos. The game builds on this, adding in cooler elements and environments. This all builds to an epic,final 30-minutes that is absolutely euphoric. Despite how satisfying the ending is, it doesn't change the fact that getting there is not an entirely smooth experience. This explains why Shadowgate 64 holds a dedicated cult following to the present day (and why this gamer has already played through twice), yet seldom finds itself on any best of lists.

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Lasting Value: A first play through of Shadowgate 64 may take anywhere from 8-12 hours. Playing through a second time, knowing all the castle's secrets, the game can be beaten in under three hours. There is nothing to earn, and only one difficulty level. The only reason to play again is listed in the gameplay section: the castle gets under your skin, and once you understand why things are the way they are, you want to visit it again. Knowing all of Shadowgate 64's secrets actually makes the experience more enjoyable--and that's not something to be said about many games.

Muddy, low resolution castle, but the game handles its big moments well.
Music and Sound
Sparse sound effects and no voice-acting, but the soundtrack is excellent and evocative.
A sluggish start, featuring non-intuitive puzzles and little action, eventually gives way to more involving gameplay and interactions.
Lasting Value
Only takes ten hours to beat, with nothing to unlock, but Castle Shadowgate is a comforting place to revisit.  


Monday, August 18, 2014

Turok 2: Seeds of Evil

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Released on October 21, 1998, by Acclaim Entertainment, Turok 2: Seeds of Evil sends players back to the Lost Lands to vanquish unspeakable evil, in more epic, hyper-violent, first-person shooter action.
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The Personal Story:
Turok 2. I can't remember any Nintendo 64 game having more pre-release hype outside of a certain other sequel to another highly popular first-person shooter. Turok 2, sequel to Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, was going to have the best graphics. The biggest levels. The most and coolest weapons. The most detailed and disgusting death-animations. On top of that, another burden was placed on the game: despite a wealth of great games, the Nintendo 64 was not exactly known for having an edge. While Playstation owners had numerous adult-geared titles to choose from, the 64 had, at the time, the reputation as a "kiddie system." Turok 2 had to be the game to break the stigma. By the date of its release, Turok 2 had no chance of meeting its enormous reputation. The simple allure of being sixteen and playing a game where I got to blow monsters specific limbs off without my mom knowing was enough for me to circle my calendar, though. While low, sixteen year-old finances kept me from purchasing Turok 2, I caught a ride to Blockbuster to rent it as soon as I possibly could. What I got wasn't exactly what I expected. The graphics were awesome. The gameplay was violent. The game felt epic. But it was so. Incredibly. Difficult. The levels might as well have spanned a thousand miles, with only two or three save points with a hundred miles between them. I spent two of the three rental days just beating the first level. The final morning, I used cheats just to get a look at all the weapons I was certainly never going to earn, and the levels I was certainly never going to reach. That was it. The game went back to Blockbuster. I rented it a few more times, but only for parties, where my friends and I enjoyed the multiplayer deathmatch until we got tired of it and pulled out Goldeneye, yet again. Years later, I found Turok 2 selling for $3.99 in the used video game store bargain bin. I couldn't resist the purchase, but years went by before the cartridge ever found my Nintendo 64. By that point, though, I was no longer a teenager of meager ability. I am The Curator. 

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Graphics: Turok 2 certainly delivers on the graphical front. While the trademark Turok fog is back, it stays way further out in the distance than in its predecessor. The developers also wisely set four of the game's stages at night, or in indoor environments, so the far distance can simply be dark instead of foggy. As far as the environments themselves, textures are quite good, and the detail is high. Real-time lighting and shadow effects are also top notch. The game's six stages all have a unique appearance, which will be further discussed in the "GAMEPLAY" section. Turok 2's enemies are well-animated and more highly-detailed then perhaps any to appear on the system.  Muscle-movement is even visible under the skin, and Turok 2's dozens of enemies all move realistically. Animation routines are seamless to the point they are seldom noticeable. When a monster roars at Turok, the player can see its tongue-flapping, and count individual teeth. Turok 2's death-animations are also as gruesome as advertised, with enemies coming apart based on where they are hit, and by what weaponry is devastating them. Overall, these are 2nd generation Nintendo 64 graphics at their best. 

Speaking of weapons, Turok 2's look incredible. The amount of detail put into each gun, blade, and instrument of destruction is stunning--in years since, their high aesthetic quality has barely been improved upon. All of this graphical superiority comes with a bit of a price, though. The game does run noticeably slower than its predecessor--Turok: Dinosaur Hunter's blazing speed is noticeably absent. Framerate slowdown also peeks its ugly head into Turok 2 from time to time. While this only occurs when environmental detail is very high, and plenty of enemies are attacking, it certainly affects gameplay and makes aiming at those moments difficult, even if they seldom occur.

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Sound: Turok: Dinosaur Hunter's music was a source of contention for some players. While the minimalistic synth lines and tribal beats perfectly fit the prehistoric atmosphere of Dinosaur Hunter, many gamer's wanted something more sophisticated. Even Turok: Dinosaur Hunter's creators admitted they had much bigger plan's for that game's music, but had to scale back to save cartridge space. Seeds of Evil arrives on a cartridge twice as large as its predecessor's. The developers maximized the increase in data space by creating an epic, symphonic score that often sounds as if it is being created by a real orchestra. Turok 2's music gets the blood pumping, amps up the suspense, and makes the game feel even more huge. The only flaw is the lack of dynamics when the player changes areas in a particular world. For instance, stage 2, Slaughter by the River of Souls, begins as a triumphant dinosaur ride, as Turok blasts his way through the city gates--the music is appropriately victorious. However, later on, the stage shifts to a Quake-like trek through haunted graveyards, and battles against the grotesque undead. A more horror-themed score would fit this portion of the level, but the score never changes. It's still the same rousing theme from Turok's Styracosaurus based adventure. This is a missed opportunity, especially considering Banjo Kazooie showed how effective dynamic music changes could be, and only months before Seeds of Evil's release. Turok 2''s sound effects miss no opportunity, though. Raptor's make unearthly noises, monsters unleash blood-curdling screams, and dying beasts loudly gurgle their own blood. Each gun sounds fittingly fearsome, and explosions rumble the walls. Finally, few things chill as much as coming to a halt and hearing the continuing sound of footsteps the player thought were their own. 

Turok 2's cutscenes feature full speech, as each world is explained in detail. This is a quality touch, and fills out the gaming experience nicely.

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Gameplay: Turok 2 features the same control scheme as Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. In other words, the player will spend about ten minutes flailing around in frustration, and then spend the rest of the game forgetting they are even holding a controller. While Seeds of Evil features a few simple puzzles, the majority of the game is spent blasting bad guys. Thankfully, Turok 2 makes this a joyful task. Picking up and trying out new weapons, as well as running into new enemies is always a thrill, as is developing a strategy and picking the best weapons for knocking off each respective foe. Turok 2 features the usual pistols, shotguns, and rocket launchers, but these can have upgrades, and even alternate ammunition. For instance, the game's shotgun upgrades to a "Shredder," which concentrates fire, and causes it to bounce off of the walls. However, explosive ammunition is also available for the gun, essentially giving it four different functional uses. The game also includes less...conventional firearms. The incredibly disgusting "cerebral bore" fires a spinning drillbit that slowly digs its way into an enemy's skull, exploding upon brain contact. Turok 2's flamethrower blasts out gorgeous polygonal fire, and may be the most useful weapon of all. The "war blade," exactly what it sounds like, straps to Turok's wrist, and is one of the first first-person-shooter hand-to-hand weapons to actually rival the best projectile ones. The "razorwind" is basically a bladed boomerang (which comes back blood-soaked after enacting mayhem upon a room full of foes). As previously stated, this game is gruesome, as the price for all this weaponry is fountains of blood and flying limbs...and at times, again, as previously mentioned, Turok 2's framerate. 

With all that said, Seeds of Evil lives and dies by its levels. Here is a breakdown of all six, and how fun they actually are to play.
1. The Port of Adia -- Begins as the standard first level of a game, giving the player plenty of time to learn the controls, as it very slowly unveils new enemies. The stage is set in a seaside city full of shipyards and medieval architecture, including an abandoned archery range where the player can hone their aiming skills. Adia appears to have been broken by a siege, with the streets full of fire and corpses. It also introduces gamers to the Seeds of Evil's enormous length. Hours may pass before the player comes across Adia's first savepoint, even longer before the next. Turok 2 success requires immense patience from the player. To build up enough lives to make it through the game's later, difficult bosses, gamers will have to blast through rooms until health and ammo are low, then backtrack to an ammo and health regeneration area, stock back up, then think about their next move. Sometimes stealth is key. While this certainly adds a bit of realism, it also adds quite a bit of inconvenience to the player who doesn't have three or four hours to kill at a time.
2. Slaughter by the River of Souls -- River of Souls sums up both everything that is excellent and frustrating about Turok 2. The level starts out with perhaps the most thrilling moment of the game--a ride on a Styracosaurus that is fully armed with mounted rocket launchers and cannons, loaded with infinite ammo. Turok and his steed must fight their way through the gates of a city full of of temples and Byzantine-styled architecture. The trouble begins when Turok hops off the Styracosaurs' back. The rest of the level is enormous, full of backtracking, and labyrinthine, confusing tunnels. Unfortunately, River of Souls has as few save points as The Port of Adia, but because of Souls' size, they are even further apart. This results in an exercise of equal parts exhilaration and frustration. The player must find several haunted, Quake-style graveyards in order to destroy a certain amount of soul gates, witches, and the living dead. This is extremely cool, except for the fact that finding these graveyards is insanely tedious and confusing. Controllers will be thrown. This leads to a Turok 2 player's best friend: a Prima strategy guide. While some players may feel like assistance of any sort is taboo, an exception can be easily made
for Turok 2. This is because Seeds of Evil's in-game map is awful, and most players without a complete photographic memory will otherwise have to resort to drawing their own map in order to not get terribly lost. The strategy guide is highly recommended for this reason, and Prima's in particular, as the drawing of its maps are the most detailed and accurate. Using it will save the player countless hours of frustration, especially during a particularly hazardous journey through underwater tunnels later in the game. That said, Slaughter by the River of Souls has broken many a player who chose to go in without one.
3. The Death Marshes -- This stage should have set the tone for the entire game. It is not short, but it is fast-paced, action-packed, atmospheric, and laid out clearly. The player may die at the fist of one of the Marshes' immense beasts, but it won't be because they are lost, and backtracking through the same area again and again. The level also takes place at night, effectively eliminating the game's fog issues, and heightening suspense. Best of all, the dread-enhancing symphonic intensity of The Death Marshes' score is not only a game highlight, but a benchmark among all of the Nintendo 64's musical moments.
4. The Lair of the Blind Ones -- Rivals the River of Souls as Turok 2's most frustrating level. This is a shame, as The Lair of the Blind Ones is the game's most visually resplendent stage. Seemingly sprung from the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien himself, The Lair is a massive system of caves featuring towering waterfalls, dark pools, plentiful mushrooms, ancient bones, glittering tunnels, oversized spiders, and horrifying monsters. Unfortunately, it is also full of numerous confusing, twisting passages, perilous to the player, and far from any save point. The Lair does feature the game's first boss, though, a huge beast that underlines the EPIC in Turok 2's description.
5. The Hive of the Mantids -- A very cool stage that forces Turok to descend from the more technologically-enhanced levels of the titular Mantids' hive down to the putrid bowls of its nests. The first portions of the stage are brightly, almost garishly colored, and become trippier and trippier as Turok progresses. Eventually, as he nears the bottom of the Hive, colors get earthier, and the surroundings get nastier, with eggs, larva, and revolting queens around every corner. Thankfully, the layout is manageable, and the stage is great fun throughout, even as it raises the game's level of challenge. The Hive also features a boss who one-ups the Lair of the Blind One's final foe.
6. The Primagen's Lightship -- Turok 2's final, and most difficult stage, featuring deathly traps, and more intricate problem-solving than previous stages. Beautiful lighting and cool architecture will often lure the layer into a laser pit. The Lightship features "Mother" as the stage's final boss, before the player returns to the game's Hub to meet Primagen, Turok 2's overall final boss. No other detail of description is needed for "Mother." With a title like that, the player is sure to be in for one disgustingly difficult treat.
The Hub -- Floating among stars and nebulae, the Hub features gates to all of Turok 2's stages. The player must pick up keys throughout each level in order to open the gates for the next ones. As a lovely bit of detail, the developers placed little visual clues around each level portal to keep the player from being confused and re-entering the wrong stage--there's a gate for Adia, a dome for River of Souls, a Death Flag for the Death Marshes, mushrooms for Lair of the Blind Ones, and appropriately technologically advanced ones for Turok 2's final two stages. The sentimental player might notice the fungi sprouting around Lair of the Blind Ones entrance portal, then reminisce about the time they threw those Sunfire Pods to the cavern floor and burnt all those cavedwellers' skins off. The center of the Hub houses the Primagen, Turok 2's final boss. As the developers surely realized the game they were making was insanely difficult, they made sure Turok 2's final boss was no different. The player is advised to max out their lives before visiting the Primagen. They are going to need them.
Finally, Turok 2 also includes a surprisingly enjoyable deathmatch mode. While not as deep or fun as Goldeneye's (the standard-bearer for all multiplayer deathmatch modes), the developers managed to pack in some pretty fun elements. Perhaps the most different and...hilarious option is the Frag Tag, otherwise known as "Monkey Tag." This mode is known as "Monkey Tag" because one player is chosen to be a defenseless monkey, ruthlessly hunted down by the other players, until the monkey player is able to find a tag pad, and pass the duty of monkey onto another player. The regular deathmatch modes are also fun, but again, just can't touch Goldeneye's. Beside the fact that it features fewer options, Turok 2's deathmatch's most egregious offense is a lack of a radar screen. Once one has put in a few hours with Goldeneye, and gotten used to the radar screen's intuitive convenience, it is hard to go back.

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Lasting Value: After beating Turok 2, the final screen might say 21 or 22 hours played...but the player knows the truth. After dying countless times, and turning off the Nintendo 64 in frustration, the number is most likely closer to 30, and for some players, 40. Acclaim gives a pretty great reward for all this challenge, though. If the player begins a new game after beating Turok 2, they are given the option to play with every weapon in the game, unlimited ammunition, invincibility, and the ability to warp to any level at will. This feels like a well-earned privilege, and allows the player to go back to the game's deepest pits of torment, where they can say, "This is where the bad thing happened to me," before then screaming, "But they'll never hurt me again," and burning down everything in reach with unlimited flamethrower. The multiplayer modes will keep the player and their friends busy for a while before finally tiring of it and going back to Goldeneye. Overall, the player certainly gets their money's worth with this one. It may not have lived up to its "Greatest Game Ever!!!" hype, but only one game truly can. Turok 2: Seeds of Evil is still a very special, memorable game, and one with a place of honor in the Nintendo 64 Museum. 

Beautiful, dynamically lit, highly detailed environments and enemies, marred slightly by distance fog and a sometimes glitchy framerate.
Music and Sound
Cinema-worthy soundtrack, window-rattling weapons and explosions, blood-chilling enemy shrieks, and full speech make for one gorgeous auditory package.
A single-player campaign that can be jaw-droppingly incredible, but sometimes incredibly frustrating, and a very solid deathmatch multiplayer mode.
Lasting Value
25-35 hour single-player mission, though few will want to relive the trauma without cheats. Multi-player can also consume quite a bit of time.  


Monday, July 7, 2014

Hybrid Heaven

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Released on August 31, 1999, by Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka, the aptly titled Hybrid Heaven futures a unique combination of 3-D fighting, RPG, and action-adventure elements, as secret service agent, Johnny Slater, attempts to stop sinister forces from transforming Earth into the titular land.
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The Personal Story:
Despite its predecessor vying for the title of "Greatest RPG Platform of All Time," the Nintendo 64 features a near black hole in the Role-Playing Game department. Being a Nintendo diehard since the late-80's, I decided to enjoy everything else the Nintendo 64 had to offer, going back to RPG titles I missed on the Super Nintendo to get my fill in that department. My Chrono Trigger file wasn't going to get leveled up to "**" all by itself. The wealth of Super Nintendo RPG's filled this role so well, I missed out on the small handful of Nintendo 64 RPG's released, despite owning a Nintendo Power issued with Hybrid Heaven featured on the cover. Half a decade later, I saw Hybrid Heaven in the $5 bin at the used video game store. Why not?  

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Graphics: Without an Expansion Pak, Hybrid Heaven is a good-looking game. In the Expansion Pak-enhanced High Res mode, Hybrid Heaven is sharp and beautiful. The player must traverse the depths of a subterranean alien shelter, containing some of the largest environments on a Nintendo 64 cartridge. Konami could have taken it easy, using the setting as an excuse to create monotonous, repetitive levels. Instead, Konami stretched their collective imaginations to create some very original-looking levels. All nine stages look unique from one another (and that's with two of the stages being the same area--the second time through, it's on fire and falling apart). Of particular note are the deepest stages, where Konami goes all out to create a spooky (not scary) alien vibe--lights that hold no function, geometrical designs that make no sense. Real-time lighting is stellar, yet subtle, and even includes floor-lighting during a few of the more atmospheric fights. Character models and designs look great, with the exception of a few of the monsters (who suffer from the stereotypical "wait what?" lost in translation of Japanese culture to American eyeball). Animation is surprisingly lifelike. Fire and water effects are nifty, if not quite up to the standards set by the system's best.

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Sound: Hybrid Heaven features an ambient score, fitting for the setting. Music builds naturally, with stages often containing music of a near-meditative quality at the start, with feistier touches slowly added as the player progresses, to often driving percussion and bass as the stage gets more frenetic. Battle-music gets the juices flowing nicely. Fight sound effects are awesome-every punch, kick, grapple, body slam, and bone-crunch sounds authentic. Explosions are great, though the sound of Slater's weapon during the game's adventure areas, the defuser, is a weird wet pop. If Hybrid Heaven's sound design has a major flaw, it is the lack of full speech. The isolating nature of the gameplay (running around an enormous, nearly abandoned alien structure) does not necessarily call for speech, but Hybrid Heaven's involving story does. Most of the game's twists and turns are conveyed by dialogue, between multiple characters, during conversation. Characters speak via text box, all text white, and at times the identity of the speaker in a long conversation can be confusing. Speech would have made Hybrid Heaven's story far more enveloping, but unfortunately, Konami could not access the compression techniques pioneered by Factor Five the year before (and used by many third generation games--released in August of 1999, Hybrid Heaven falls at the very end of Nintendo 64's second generation of software). The full speech in the games opening and closing cutscenes, however, is appreciated.

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Gameplay: Hybrid Heaven's gameplay features a tiny bit of negative, and a whole lot of positive. The negative is the game's action-adventure sections. These portions of the game aren't very good, but they also thankfully take up very little of the player's time. They simply exist to connect the game's far superior fighting portions to one another. Slater must use his weak defuser gun to take out a variety of electronic monitoring devices. He also has to climb over ledges, avoid obstacles, and solve very simple puzzles. This element does highlight the beauty of Hybrid Heaven's environments, and as previously stated, mainly functions to get Slater from one fight to the next. The fights make this game, though. Hybrid Heaven's completely unique fighting system is incredible fun. When Slater comes across an enemy, the game goes into battle mode. As his power bar fills up, Slater gets the opportunity to attack. All the while, he is free to move around the room as the player pleases. Whatever body part the player decides to use for attack is leveled up. If one has a preference for kicking foes with Slater's left leg, Slater's left leg will be stronger than the rest of his body. Conversely, if Slater gets kicked more often in his left leg, his left leg will be more resilient than the rest of his body. If a foe uses a new move on Slater (whether it be a kick, punch, or wrestling move), Slater learns that move. The OCD player, never avoiding a fight, is rewarded mightily. Hybrid Heaven provides many areas with regeneration pads, where the patient player can fight a foe again and again, collecting item after item when the enemy is defeated. Thus, by the end of the game, the player who has put in 25 hours (versus the 20 it takes to rush through) can absolutely unload on Hybrid Heaven's multiple final bosses. This is incredibly satisfying.

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Lasting Value: Completely mastering Hybrid Heaven's fighting system takes time. The player can try rushing through the game, but slowing to down to turn Slater into an unstoppable fighting machine is far more satisfying. Hybrid Heaven isn't a short game, nor does it outlast its welcome. It ends just when it should. For players who haven't had enough, Hybrid Heaven features a neat multiplayer option, where two players can duke it out in a slightly toned-down version of the single-player fight mode. As a final little cherry on top, Hybrid Heaven contains a single player battle mode, where the player can hone their skills in a safe area that has no bearing on their single-player campaign.

The alien architecture looks nice without an expansion pack, but brilliant with it. Smooth framerate, and well-animated characters, though a few of the monsters look silly.

Music and Sound
Ambient score suits the setting, and punches, kicks, and body slams sound right on, but the lack of full speech hurts the presentation of Hybrid Heaven's story.

Shooting element is weak, but a miniscule portion of the game. The meat, running around a giant alien dwelling kickboxing mutants in a deep, semi-RPG style, is a blast.

Lasting Value
The 25-hour single-player mode is the star, but 2-player brawls, as well as a practice-fighting mode are decent distractions.