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Review – Contra (NES)

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Contra, why would we want to review a game that is like ten Twenty years old? I mean why not do the SIMs Second Life? or Lord of Destruction World of Warcraft? Or Half Life Half Life 2 – Episode 2, or whatever, the list goes on, the idea is why not something current. Well sometimes a game is just too go to be considered too old. When you can spend an entire night playing a ten year old game over and over you know it’s got to be a pretty decent game.

You see back before 3D everything there was 2D everything. Back before war games were all first person shooters, they were side scrolling platform games. The platform game is almost a lost art. Occasionally they still get released, great games like Strider 2, Silhoette Mirage or of course the immortal (literally) Mega Man series. Or you could also count the 1000 pieces of shit cranked out daily for the GBC (Trust only those made by Komani and Capcom, and sometimes not even those). Anyway Contra beget Wolfenstein, beget Doom, beget Half Life . When someone asks what the best game ever is be sure to reply River City Ransom, but when someone asks what the third best game ever is be sure to say Contra (Half Life being number 2 duh.)

So the plot for Contra is, you are the military’s elite commando and its your job to combat the entire Red Faction army. At least its probably something like that, I don’t have the instruction book around and there is no real in game story. For 6 levels you fight Red Faction forces and break into their main base only to suddenly be fighting a bunch of aliens. Where the hell did that plot point come from?

Anyway after killing the Alien leader, A.K.A. the “Obligatory Konami Brain Boss” you helicopter off the island (where did the chopper come from anyway?) and the island explodes. You can always tell a great game because at the end the hero will fly away in a helicopter or a space ship as the island or planet they were fighting on completely blows up for no real apparent reason. Then you’ll get a nice congratulatory message about saving the world then the credits roll then the best part comes. The game starts over. Back to level one.

There are literally hundreds of these Red Faction islands around, all of them identical except that each time the soldier will have a bit more ammo (as in they shoot you more). After blowing up one island where does the chopper go? Why it flies off to the next island. Good work soldier, you saved the universe, from one threat, now it’s back to work on the next island. This gives the game great replay value. Just put in the KONAMI CODE for 30 lives then see home many times you can complete the game before loosing all 30 lives and 3 continues (90 lives +extra lives from points). How’s THAT for a great way to waste an afternoon or a whole day.

But wait, what about your buddy, he want’s some of the action too? Well sometimes the military sends its marines in by the pairs. You can play two players in this game simultaneously. Which is twice the fun, expect when the Spread gun appears, because everyone always wants the spread gun.

Review – Back to the Future (NES)

Ok, let’s cut to the chase, this game sucks.

I have long pushed this game as the worst game I have ever played, though I’m not so sure about that anymore.  Back to the Future is was a pretty bad ass awesome film, even back when it was new when this game came out.  You’d think that some of that would translate to the game on SOME level but it didn’t.  It’s essentially a bastardized version of Skate Or Die that has almost zero to do with Back to the Future.

So admittedly, the expectations of what makes a video game was somewhat different back in the days of the NES.  There weren’t highly detailed cinematics and for the most part, gameplay was pretty straight forward and unvarying for most games once it got rolling.  The whole idea of the stages mixed with mini games presented here is actually pretty dynamic and an interesting idea.  If only it didn’t feel so divided from the plot of the movie it’s based on.

Marty traverse across Hill Valley battling foes straight out of the film such as giant killer bees, and guys with panes of glass and armies of bullies.  He fends them off with his trusty bowling ball.  I’m not sure there were ever any bowling balls in any of the movies even as background items.  But then yeah, it’s an 80s video games, so some liberties with the plot are probably needed.  There really isn’t a genre of game that would really work for a Back to the Future Game.  Most people just want to drive the Delorean, which these days is best accomplished with a GTA Mod.

The real killer on this game, has to be the excruciating difficulty.  A lot of old school NES games are pretty difficult.  Blaster Master, Ninja Gaiden, these are all pretty tough games which require some skill to beat.  Completed Back to the Future takes a miracle.  The first issue is the dual timers.  Each stage has a timer, this isn’t too bad, it keeps the player from lollygagging through the stage and encourages being reactive.  The game also has a second timer in the form of the fading photograph.  The photograph lasts between stages but is refilled by these little clocks.  The issue is that these two mechanisms often work completely against each other.  Picking up enough clocks to keep the photo alive will often result in the stage timer running out.

There is also the whole deal of powering up to the Skateboard.  Marty starts out on foot but can pick up a much faster skateboard.  Losing the board is pretty much a guaranteed loss vs the timer.

If you can manage to keep your skateboard and beat the timer, you get to face off against some ridiculously tough mini game “boss” stages.  Throwing beers at bullies or catching kisses and musical notes.

The icing on the cake in this excruciating run is the music.  The exact same 30 second crap repeats endlessly from more or less the moment you turn on the console to the moment the game ends.  It’s like Chinese Water torture for video games. 

The whole package is just one big terrible mess.  Probably the only reason I played it as much as I had was that at the time I owned something like 5 NES titles.  It’s a pretty crappy game, but it’s still one I remember very well for this very reason.

Review – Bionic Commando (NES)

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NES – 1 Player – Capcom

If you ever hear someone complain about the “difficulty” of modern games, tell them to go play almost any NES classic.  Not only will they find many extremely difficult games, but they will be difficult games by design, not because the computer uses cheap AI to “always win”.

Bionic Commando is one such game.  Honestly, this, and any game in the Ninja Gaiden series, are some of the toughest NES games out there.  Possibly one of the toughest games ever.  The one major pitfall of this game is its lack of password or save features.  Yeah, having to write down a 16 digit set of random letters and numbers is a pain but it’s better than starting fresh each time.  Of course, a battery back up save file would be even better.

Honestly though, the modern philosophy of save everywhere, save often isn’t something I’ll cry about.

But enough about save files and passwords, let’s get to the game itself.  There’s actually quite a bit of variety at work here.  On the surface, Bionic Commando is a pretty straight forward side scrolling shooter.  It also has this clever gimmick in the Bionic Arm.  Your player can’t jump, instead he must use his quick grabbing arm to climb platforms and swing across pits.  It’s a lot of fun and ads a lot of interesting twists to the standard philosophy of shooter game play.

The arm isn’t the only thing about this game that helps it shine though.  If it was, Bionic Commando would just fall into the category of gimmick game.  No, the game play method and philosophy isn’t pretty in depth as well.  Between areas or levels, one must traverse an over head map.  Levels don’t have to be played in sequential order, in fact, it’s impossible to finish the game if you try to do so.  I’m pretty sure there are some levels you have to enter, collect an item, then leave for a different level.

Additionally, some levels are “neutral zones”.  You have full regular control, but shooting in these areas will bring down a mass of opponents on both sides of the war.  Essentially, you enter these areas to collect information or items.

On top of the standard levels, the map is full of mobile “levels”.  These are more like bonus rounds.  They play for a top down perspective similar to the older game Commando.  Truth is, this game is actually a pseudo sequel to the game Commando, these missions are meant as a throwback to it’s predecessor.  If you navigate the map well, you can often avoid these encounters but more often than not, you’ll get stuck in one or two.

Game play isn’t always set out with the standard “finish the level” either.  As mentioned, sometimes you simply need to collect an item to proceed.  There’s often a communication link you’ll have to hack into in order to gain access to a future area.  If you fail to break through, enemy forces will detect you and attack in mass.  This ads some level of covert operation to the game play.  It’s beneficial to avoid attracting the enemy.

All of this complicates things quite a bit.  Add in to this a fairly high base difficulty and a pretty long length and it makes for a game that’s hard to complete.  Completing it rewards you with the classic video game scene of, Hitler’s head exploding.  Ok, in the US version he’s not technically “Hitler” but the uncensored Japanese version is full of Swastikas and Hitler.  In the US version you’re fighting the Badds, in the Japanese version, they are Nazis, of the FUTURE!

Despite its high difficulty, Bionic Commando’s sheer variety of game play makes it a lot of fun to play.  Even if you can’t finish it, it’s still worth playing.  Heck, the Bionic Arm can be used for all sorts of random fun by itself.

Review – Final Fantasy XI Beta (PC)

NOTE: This review was originally written for the PC Beta of FF11. I have no intention on ever purchasing the full version of the game as I do not like MMORPGs. (Additional Note, original date is approximate)

Apparently Final Fantasy is a lot like Star Trek. Both are only good when they end in an even number. Also both have the one exception to this rule in slot 7. Guess 7 really is a lucky number. That isn’t to stay Star Trek 1/FF1 are bad really, just really long and boring.

With the creation of Final Fantasy 11, Square has decided that the entire system needed an overhaul. Considering it hadn’t changed in 10 incarnations, all of which have done extremely well, messing with things in any excessive manner comes off as a bad idea. So are things better or worse? Well instead of keeping cliche suspense, I’ll just say it’s not worse, it’s fucking horrible.

There are to types of RPGs in the world. Well at least as far as electronics world is concerned. The basic categories are “console RPGs” and “Computer RPGs”. Computer RPGs hark from the days of DnD, with excessive leveling and stat building where the player is in more or less complete control of the hero’s actions and thoughts. These are generally slower paced and focus less on story. Console RPGs started as simplified DnD games, they have become increasingly more simple as years have progressed, which only helped to widen the gap since the days of yore. Consoles are generally limited by their method of input and inability to store lots of changing variables (stats) for long periods. Final Fantasy 1 had a large array of different weapons and armor for each character, Final Fantasy 10 has 1 type of weapon and 1 “shield” for each character. To make up however Console RPGs are generally much more character and story driven.

This has lead to a split with electronic RPG players, while some will play both, many computer RPG players find console RPGs to be too simple and linear while many console RPG players find computer RPGs to be excessively complicated and tedious. What does any of this have to do with FF11? Well for the uneducated, Final Fantasy 11 is a Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Game” or “MMORPG”. This means it’s about as Computer RPG like as you can get. It also means 50 dollars down and 10+ bucks a month to play. Have you seen or heard of Everquest? Ultima Online? If so, you’ve seen FF11.

After going through roughly 348 menus of Play Online garbage, you’ll finally be able to start playing the game. You’re greeted by the standard FMV opening. It seems some little kid’s city is attacked by a bunch of ogres or something. There is a huge battle and the kid’s sister is killed while leading him to safety. The kid returns later with a huge army of people, which turns out to be useful since the city has long been deserted and overgrown. I have no idea what this means regarding anything in the game, but it looks pretty impressive. The CG is very nice. Too bad it’s probably the only bit of CG in the entire game. FF10 had excessive CG, FF11 doesn’t have any main characters, so it likely has none.

Now you get to create your character. You can chose from 5 races, two of which are gender specific. Why the two gender specific races are not considered one race is beyond me as both of them are cat based. Anyway, you can chose from a big hulking cat guy, an anime cat-girl, male or female Elves, Male and Female Humans, or Male and Female retarded midgets. According to the FMV opening the midget things are the Black and White ages of past games, except they have “adorable” faces instead of menacing black holes. After picking a race you can select from a vaeriety of heads with selections like Squall with Brown Hair” or “Rinoa”. For the most part the heads resemble characters of old games, too bad the clothes will never match, I could go for making “Squall”. Sadly, This game is all medieval in a horribly FF9 way.

After choosing your look, you get to pick a class and start location. Start location doesn’t much matter, though you’ll probably want to Synchronize this with any friends also playing. I did not take notes, but I’m pretty sure the starting classes were just the old Final Fantasy 1 classes of Fighter, Thief, Monk, Black Mage, Red Mage, White Mage. For the record, I picked a human female with black ponytail head and Red Mage Class. At the time I figured everyone would be picking elves or stupid midgets and Female Human would be one of the least popular. Turns out Female Humans are all over. At least she has a NICE ASS. Red Mage seemed like a good idea since they generally start strong but end weak and I’m not likely to be playing too far into this garbage.

So the game starts off, I’m in the middle of a huge town and a bit of story flashed by as my character walks along. Finally I am instructed to visit Reet who has nothing better to do than stand around all day helping NOOBEEs like myself. Reet didn’t seem all that interesting though and I had a friend in the same room to help out anyway. That same friend went and bought me a bunch of good armor then told me “Don’t fight anything that’s not a bee or a worm” before leaving to places unknown in the world of FF11. So I spent the next two hours fighting giant Hornets and Tunnel Worms and attained the almighty status of level 4. Unfortunately that’s pretty much all I accomplished. The enemies hadn’t dropped a single piece of gil and I hadn’t completed any sort of quests. Instead I had a large collection of Elemental Crystals and Insect Wings which I sold and bought a sword with. At that point it was getting pretty late so I decided to give it up for a while.

This seems like a good place to talk about the battles. In previous Final fantasy games, your party of characters would wander the world map until attacked at random. The screen then does some sort of crazy transition effect as battle music starts playing. Everyone lines up on one side of the screen while the monsters line up opposite. Each round you pick a command for your characters to execute such as magic or fight. In FF11 you wander the map, all the enemies are clearly visible, none of them attack without provocation (NOTE Some later enemies will attack). To initiate a battle you click on the enemy and select “Attack”. If you’re in range, the battle will start and all you are required to do is stand there until either the enemy dies, or you die. You can move your character around during the battle but it has no impact on the battle itself. I found myself running back and forth around the enemy in hopes that because the bee didn’t actually hit me with its attack animation I would not take damage. This never actually occurred though, you take damage anyway, even if you are 20 feet behind the enemy when it strikes.

After learning some magic you can interact with battle a little more, however the spells all seem to do damage equal to roughly half a regular attack so chances are you’ll just end up standing there staring at the enemy anyway. Cure is just as bad as you’ll take damage equivalent to whatever you heal in the time it takes to cast the spell.

After the battle you’ll find some items probably and gain a bit of experience. Like most computer RPGs experience levels are increasingly difficult to obtain. For example, to get to level 2 you’ll need like 500 exp, but level 3 will take 750 exp. By the time you are going from level 98-99, you’ll need approximately 1 octillion experience. In layman’s terms, at 50 exp a monster, that is “A Whole Fucking Lot”.

Both during battles and while wandering the map you’ll have a choice between 3rd person or 1st person views. While it’s slightly easier to navigate in first person view, I find it frustratingly limited. After playing so many First Person Shooters, I feel like I should be able to easily leap over those pesky fences and rocks as I navigate the world or I should be furiously clicking away with my sword and wailing on the enemy during battles. Everything is menu based. You can easily walk around the world while navigating your status and item menus.

Well, easily depends on location. So far I’ve found that during the daytime hours, while trying to fight off hornets in the desert, my course disappears completely. The sand is both blindingly bright and the same color as the courser. I’ve encountered a similar problem in another area where you enter a dark cave. The entrance is full of black pillars that are more or less invisible, it’s easy to get hung up on them.

Speaking of navigating the world. The areas are HUGE. You’ll want a powerful graphics card to run this game on your PC. You can see for miles with little to no fog and full frame rates. Unfortunately it’s a little too huge. The massive areas are just another aspect that makes this game so frustratingly boring (aside from excessive level requirements and boring missions). It takes like 5 minutes to get anywhere in the city and the dungeons are confusingly shaped (I got lost in one cave) and they really should have a map function. The town could easily have been one screen in size with everything closer together. The town could have easily been only one “screen” in size with everything more compacted. I’m sure they were trying for “realism” but frankly, I can only take so many trips across town to sell off my useless crystals before I get tired and leave to play something else. I guess the other alternative motivation was to give players plenty of room to walk around. Presumably if you had a couple of thousand people wandering around the town it would get pretty crowded. I can’t see that situation ever occurring though.

So a few days later I decided to return to the game. People are claiming there actually is a plot buried in here somewhere and I still haven’t done any missions anyway. After returning to Reet to learn where I can pick up missions (Reet wasn’t helpful here either and I still had to wander around looking for the guardhouse). My mission (which I chose to accept) was to find the foreman of the mine and pick up a report, then deliver it to some guy at the Presidential Office. After a 5 minute jog to the nearby mines, I proceeded to search the area for the foreman. Lucky for me the guard handing out missions neglected to give me any clue as to where to find this foreman other than “At the Mines”. After talking to every NPC in the area for some hope of a clue I decided to enter the mine itself. I was fairly well armed and leveled after all, I should have nothing to worry about. It turns out the mine is just as large as the city and just as populated. After wandering aimlessly for a half hour talking to all the NPCs, I finally found a foreman. NOTE: A foreman. This foreman informed me I must go “deeper in the mines” to find the person I wanted. At least I had finally found a helpful NPC. So I proceeded into the deeper undeveloped part of the mine, which turned out to be full of bats or various types, I finally found the foreman and picked up my orders.

I’d like to take a moment to pause here and discuss the item system. During my initial search for the foreman, I was offered a reward for killing monsters in the mines. All I had to do was bring him 3 “Pinches of Soot” to prove I was there. During my wandering, I fought many monsters and did indeed win my three Pinches. Unfortunately I also discovered I have an item cap of 30 items, half of which was already tied up in equipment it wouldn’t let me sell (Apparently you can’t sell starting equipment). So I had to drop a bunch of worthless sounding items and fight even more monsters to win back what I already had won. I should also point out that items don’t seem to “stack”, meaning my inventory would have say two “Wind Crystal x 1” instead of one “Wind Crystal x 2”. In the end I couldn’t find the guy offering the reward once I had left the cave so I only ende up feeling ripped off and pissed.

Back to the subject of huge worlds and leaving the cave. I actually managed to find the foreman pretty quick once I got down in the cave. It took me another hour to find my way back out. While I have a map of the town and the nearby desert, I don’t seem to start with a map of the cave. Eventually I ran into another player who escorted me to the exit.

Report in hand I made my way to the President’s office, hoping for some sort of payment or reward, after all, I wasn’t getting much gil from these hornets and worms. Of course I ended up with an all too familiar feeling. You see there is a reoccurring theme in this game. Basically you, as the player are given some sort of quest or order. This order is accompanied by zero clue as to where the end location actually is or what you’re actually supposed to do when you get there. Basically what I’m saying here is, like the Mission Giving Guard, The Foreman, and the Mine Exit, the President’s office was not on the map. This of course lead to another bout of boring wandering talking to NPCs with nothing useful to say. For future reference to anyone reading this. The President’s office is in the Metalworks. Eventually I managed to get this bit of info out of a guard on the other side of the town from the mine. Once again though, I got to wander around the Metalworks with no clue as to where to go. This time however the problem stems from that reoccurring texture problem. You see the Metalworks had two levels to it, but the elevator is the same shade of brown as everything else in the game, so it completely blends in until you see someone riding on it.

After even more wandering talking to NPCs looking for a clue the mission was completed. No reward though, and I imagine this same mission is given to all the players. Why this guard needs reports delivered to him ever few minutes by whichever sap adventurer happens by next is beyond be but hey, I’m just glad to be done with this boring fetch quest. Now maybe I’ll get a real quest. Infiltrate the Shinra headquarters maybe while getting detailed plot information regarding Ancients. Oh wait, MMORPGS don’t have real plots. Back to the Mission Guard. Job two is to meet up with Cid to do some geological surveying. Maybe that mine job isn’t looking so bad after all. After going back to the President’s office, (NOTE: the guard is literally on the other side of the town from the Metalworks), I talk to Cid who wants me to take an Acidity tester out to… somewhere… and see if it changes color. I would like to point out that testing the acidity level of an area is not Surveying. Not wanting to argue I set off to complete my task. This time I felt a bit more confident as Cid had actually told me “It’s near South Gustaberg”, meaning “the desert”. Well of course when I get to the desert there is nothing labeled on my map anything remotely similar to where I’m supposed to take his acidity tester, so I finally decided the game was shit and gave up.

So, if you like having nails driven into your skull, I’d suggest picking this game up when it’s released! I mean repeated fetch quests where you’re given no clue where to go are such awesome fun! Here is hoping that Final Fantasy 12 doesn’t such this much ass. In the mean time, I’ll be giving my money to Valve (Half Life 2) and Bungi (Halo PC) over Square.

Just one final note. I’ve consulted with some people farther along in the game than I managed. It’s more of the same garbage for the rest of the trip.

Review – Movie – Cool As Ice

So Ice and his group come into this little Nowheresville town. Vanilla ‘Johnny’ Ice and his buddies stop at this motorcycle shop where Ice runs into this girl nammed Kathy (Ice is cool and calls her ‘Kat’) that he thinks is attractive and swipes her planner. Common movie set-up right? Well, Later he goes to meet up with the girl only to find that she has already gone out with her boyfriend to the local hang out. Ice asks for directions from these two men outside of Kat’s, the girl’s house. This sets up a key event later. Since the two men are actually out to get Kat’s father.

Ice heads out to meet Kat, only to end up preforming rap in place of the horribly pathetic band there. After Ice dances with Kat, she requests that he give her book back, and he says he will tomorrow. Kat then proceeds to break up with her boyfriend and gets taken home by Ice on his bike. Also while Ice and Kat are out the two men mentioned previously speak to Kat’s father and we find out they are apparently after $500,000 from some sort of extortion scheme from when Kat’s father was in the police force. After dropping off Kat, Ice heads back to the garage where Kat’s old boyfriend is beating on the other band member’s bikes with a bunch of other guys.

Vanilla proceeds to beat the shit out of the group in a show of just how tough he is. The next morning Kat wakes up to find Johnny Ice in her bed and they go out and spend a day together, when they return home Kat is forbidden to see Ice anymore since her parents suspect he is in cahoots with the two evil ex-cops threatening them (since he was asking directions from them earlier, he is obviously in league with them).

The next day Kat gives Ice the cold shoulder and he decides to leave the town after spending some time with Kat’s video game obsessed brother (we see him playing Tecmo Bowl in one scene and hear him playing Mario 3 in another). Soon after Ice drops off Kat’s brother the kid is kidnapped by the two cops. In a convenient twist, Johnny Ice shows up for one last goodbye to Kat only to find a tape left by the bad guys on the doorstep. When he gives the tape to Kat’s parents they mistake Johnny once again for being in cahoots with the two ex-cops. Before Kat’s father can call the cops on Johnny Ice, Kat runs off with the tape to Ice and they discover the location of the kidnappers through the ever cliche “There is background noise on the extortion tape that we recognize” trick.

So of course Ice saves he day and redeems himself with Kat’s family, and Ice’s band spends the whole time listening to music and goofing off with the mechanics in the garage. Little Tommy get freed and turns himself into a little Vanilla Ice wannabe. And of course Johnny Ice and Kat get together happily ever after. Not before one last confrontation with the Ex-boyfriend where Ice and Kat leap off of the boyfriend’s corvette on Ice’s bike.

Overall the movie is OK, once it gets past the first 20 minutes where it seems to making a lot of effort to make a joke out of itself… and you can’t get much cooler then Ice
Ice Baby!