Gradius III (SNES)
Desert Strike (SNES)
Yu Gi Oh! Worldwide Edition: Stairway to the Destined Duel (GBA)
Ladies and gents, I have returned, and not empty handed. =)
Would it hurt your feelings to know that I was too busy playing games to write in my gaming blog? Aww... poor baby. =(
Now, shut your cry hole and listen up.
Everyone who knows me well also knows that I love shmups (shoot-em-ups, for those of us not paying attention). Gradius is one of my favorite series, and although I've played Gradius III extensively before, I have not owned a copy of it since I was fairly young. I was fortunate enough to stumble across a copy some weeks ago, but it was in poor condition and I wanted to wait it out and get one in better shape. Sure enough, the week before last I found one in mint condition. The plated connectors aren't even scratched. Judging by the fact that there was little wear and no high scores, I figure it must be barely played, if played at all. It was a real find.
Obviously, this is the King of all Gradius' (Gradii?). If you haven't played a Gradius game, do yourself a favor and start at the beginning. Work your way up to here and you'll see what a real gem Gradius III is. First of all, you get to select from a nice assortment of powerup trees. Second, the kickin' music. Third, the gameplay you've come to know, expect, and REspect: Konami at it's best.
The game is a challenge, surely, but Konami (in their genius) gave you the option to EDIT your powerup tree, giving you shmup freedom unparalleled (at the time). Of course, those familiar with the game know the disappointment that came from not being able to totally edit the tree, since several powerups were missing from the list of available pre-set trees. This was, of course, to keep the game from being too easy, as a combination of 2-way (top and bottom) missiles, Top-Forward and Straight Backward Double, Penetrating Cyclone Lasers and Stationary Options, along with the almighty CRUSH and a Surround Shield would make you practically invincible. Even still, the Edit Mode gives you the ability to flex your shmupping muscle and customize your ship to personal preference, whether you like the Coverage of a Double with Variable Options and quick missiles or the all-out arsenal of Stationary Options, Cyclone Laser and Napalm Bombs (me!), Gradius III has you covered.
The game is extremely fun, and the Edit Mode gives more variety than even most modern shmups can muster. This game is truly a testament to old-school goodness.
Fun Fact: I love combat helicopters. Therefore I have a history of checking out any helicopter-based game I hear about, and Desert Strike is one of them. I remembered everything about it except the gameplay, and that's because I'd never actually sat down and played it. I remember reading about it and it's many sequels in EGM 'back in the day', but I had choices to make. I couldn't just go buy every game I wanted to, and our Blockbuster was notorious for carrying stupid games and neglecting popular ones (due to the fact that the Manager was a know-it-all moron who thought that Contra was about the Iranian Conflict), so rental was usually out of the question. If I saw a game I wanted more, I bought it. Desert Strike and it's sequels suffered that fate. I just didn't want it as much as the other games on my 'to buy' list.
I'm actually glad that I didn't buy them back then, though. Only now could I truly appreciate a game like Desert Strike. Ignore the stupid cutscenes, and the entire game is a true joy for anyone who loves Helicopters the way I do. Especially ignore the stupid 'news report' at the beginning of the game. Why in the hell would a member of the media blare out that the US Military is choosing to base the fate of the world on a single chopper? If this was supposed to be a 'strike from the shadows' sort of stealth operation, that bitch just blew it.
At any rate, it's based (loosely, of course) off of Operation: Desert Storm, and from the moment I took in the horribly written dialogue of the opening sequence I thought, "Oh, my! Isn't this topical?" Obviously that's because we're in a war with Iraq right now. It was like coming full circle, only without the complete circle. I'm babbling. I'll stop now.
The gameplay is from an isometric perspective. The action sees your chopper (which is a Comanche, by the way), loaded to the gills with ammo and missiles doing what every red-blooded human being loves to do: blow shit up. You are given a series of tasks you have to perform in order to progress, and each of these is harder than the last. Nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the game is quite simplistic in it's premise, but then again, most games are. The difference? This one is quite difficult.
It's a game where you have to plan everything in advance and execute it just as you planned it. Even little mistakes cost you big time. You have no life bar. The only way you can check how much armor is left on your Copter is to pause the game and check out the numerical readout. Otherwise, they tell you right before you bite the big one. You also have ammo counters, of course, and although the payload is a bit unrealistic, you need every bit of it and then some. It's not even THAT unrealistic, just slightly. Example: in a reach RAH 66 Comanche you'd have about 500 Rounds of Ammo in the Machine Gun. Here, you have over 1,000. You'd only have about 14 Stinger missiles, and here you have about 30. Even still, I've never heard of a single Comanche having so many targets at once. =)
This isn't a shooter by any means. This is a game where caution and precision are rewarded more than simple destruction. By sweeping the outskirts of the area and clearing out smaller targets, you make it easier for yourself in the long run... but don't take TOO long. That fuel counter is constantly running, and in more than one mission you don't have many opportunities to refuel or rearm. Making every hit count and not dawdling around are very important. That leads to a bit of trial and error in the harder sections, but there are plenty of games like that in my all-time favorites list. =)
You have to watch your Fuel, Armor, and each of your weapons at all times to make sure that you aren't short on any of them at a critical moment. As far as Fuel and Weapons go, you can find barrels of fuel and caches of weapons here and there... hidden in buildings, loaded into the backs of trucks, etc. However, as abundant as they are in the first section of the game, the second section quickly teaches you that abundancy isn't always the case. The same goes for POWs. Rescuing POWs gives you much needed Armor, and it's the only way to regain it. There are only so many to rescue, and they give you 150 Armor each (your max is 600), so if you carry too many back, you waste the trip, Armor-wise. Conservation is the key to survival, as running out of anything means disaster.
The game is very enjoyable. It reminds me of the helicopter portions of the old computer game 'Return Fire', a game I was obsessed with for quite some time. I have not played the other two games in the series that I acquired: Jungle Strike and Urban Strike. I plan to learn everything about Desert Strike before moving on, as I plan to write FAQs for each of these underappreciated games.
Yu Gi Oh! Worldwide Edition: Stairway to the Destined Duel
I've been avoiding Yu Gi Oh games since the moment I got my GBA SP for a reason. I knew this one was coming out. I held out until the preorders began, and I put my money on the table so that I could get the game come April 16th. Indeed, come April 16th, I went and picked the game up, and I've been hooked ever since.
Everything that my wife and I loved about the card game is in this game and more. In case you are unaware, Yu Gi Oh is a collectible card game, or CCG. If you want to know what a CCG is, go look it up, as it would take me way too long to explain here. Let's just say it's one thing that I've always been into that I could never get my friends into back in the old days. I had a couple of friends outside of my main circle of friends who would play (exception: Jeff playing L5R), but mostly I found my opponents through word of mouth in High School and at our local gaming stores. Anyway, moving on...
Yu Gi Oh has cards up to the English set "Labyrinth of Nightmare" (LON), but includes many cards that haven't yet been printed in English. This means that there are well over 1,000 different cards to collect. You pick out of three starters, but each of them has a Dark Magician Deck theme (though one includes all five pieces of Exodia!). It is based on the plot of the Battle City portion of the series (which I have yet to actually see). You travel around to different sections of the city, challenging opponents from the anime series. Each of them has their own deck and individual strategies. You can also talk to passersby who offer pretty dumb advice for anyone who's played the actual card game, since they are very basic hints.
After each duel (or hint), a day passes in the game. Special events happen on certain days. Each Tuesday, the 'Duelists Weekly' magazine comes out and provides you with a selection of five cards. Every Saturday there is a tournament, although you don't know where it will be held (and you can only see where it's being held if you're in an adjacent area of the city). Every couple of weeks there is a 'Target Week', where you have to hunt down two duelists in the city and beat them in a duel before the week is over. There are championships galore, and even a small plot involving the card thieves known as the Ghouls, and the villian Marik.
All of this is just gravy. The real gem is the game itself. It really is a portable CCG, with a large catalogue of cards that are far easier to acquire than if you got them in real life (i.e. You get a pack of cards after every duel; In real life that would cost you $4). Certain rares are actually quite common, and certain commons are actually quite rare. Other than that, everything is fantastic. Konami has divided the catalogue of cards into different packs (based on popular cards), and you pick a pack from those available. You get a selection of five cards from that set, with it's own series of commons, uncommons, rares, super rares, ultra rares and secret rares.
The game itself plays flawlessly, flowing through each phase of the turn and telling you when they come up. There are very few gameplay glitches (Legendary Fisherman is the most glaring one... grrrrr...), and everything I wanted out of the game I got, and then some. I play it every single day, getting new cards and coming up with new decks.
It's an extremely strategic game, where you can't always rely on a good opening draw or a lot of rare cards to get you the win like in lesser card games (*coughMagiccough*). You need to get inside your opponents' head, and while it's much easier in this game than it is in the actual game (the computer becomes predictable to the point of ridiculousness against certain opponents), that's what the GBA Link Cable is for. =) Grab a friend who's even remotely interested in a CCG video game done RIGHT and get this game.