Kirby's Return to Dreamland
(And so the streak continues!) How long has it been going on for? A little over six months? REALLY!? Can I keep it up? I seriously doubt it. What's keeping the streak going for this blog? This time, it's Kirby's Return to Dreamland, or, more appropriately, Kirby's Return to Form. Now remember the last game in the series? The one with all the yarn and shit? The one that sold kinda OK and got favorable review scores? Apparently, Nintendo forgot that last part, because Return to Dreamland ditches all that in favor of a much more traditional Kirby experience. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though; traditional Kirby was pretty damn awesome, so do the math.
Yet there may be another reason why Nintendo chose to ditch the yarn thing: because this is a direct sequel to Epic Yarn. (Keep in mind that Kirby was only yarned up because he was in the Yarniverse or some shit.) Hell, now that I think about it, this is the Odyssey to Epic Yarn's Iliad. Kirby and friends (and a Waddle Dee in a do rag) have just returned victorious from their war in Patch Land, only to find that more troubles face them on their return home. On his way back to Dreamland, Kirby must fight bums and escape opportunities to have all kinds of nas-wait, that's the actual Odyssey. Kirby would never do anything that awesome; he's just too cute to handle a bum fight, especially in a game like this. (Go ahead. Prove me wrong.) Hell, look at the main villain who isn't the main villain at all. They couldn't make that guy the least bit threatening, and that's supposed to be the most threatening thing in the game. Imagine what the rest of it is like. Not that I'm complaining or anything. After all, it gives the game a neat feel to it, like Nick Jr.: The Game. (Only good.) Hell, just look at this and try not to develop a warm, fuzzy feeling in the hole in your chest that was once a heart. Wait, I've already said "hell, look at" with the main villain. Looking back on that guy, though, the game can look kind of like an SNES game, giving it this retro feel that I just eat up. Sure, it's not as cute as Epic Yarn, but it's still pretty goddamn saccharine. Just like every Kirby game.
And just like every Kirby game, the real meat of the game is in the billions of power-ups. (Ignore the meat that you collect to fill up your health, because that is not true meat.) I'd list off some of the cooler powers in the game, but why would I? There are 24 of the shitting things, and it only gets more complex when you actually pick one of them up. Gone are the days of simply pressing a button and having it do something; today, you can press a button in different ways and have Kirby do a billion things. Don't believe me? Look at the pause screen....oh, right; there aren't any screenshots of that on the site. What it would show you, though, is a list of moves resembling a Tekken game. That may sound impenetrable for something like a children's platformer, but it ends up working really well. Most of the moves are easy enough to figure out on your own, and dear god, does it get quite a bit of mileage out of these power-ups. Although I don't remember power-ups being absolutely necessary, they do make it easier to get through a lot of the levels, if used correctly, so there's some variety and strategy to be found in something so oddly simple. There's even some thought put into how to use the new super-powerful-ultra-destroyer power-ups, a concept that utterly confuses the hell out of me. The best part, though? The multiplayer. Turns out that Kirby's friends (and that Waddle Dee) wanted to get in on the action, too, and although I haven't played any of it, from what I can tell, it adds a helluva lot to the game. Each character comes with their own special power-up, like a mallet or a sword or a do-rag, that nobody else has. Fine, Kirby can still gain all their powers and more, but what if you want to be a ninja the entire game? At least this way, you still get some good use out of your abilities and everybody plays an important role. Awesome, right? What's that? Not in the mood for pre-determined power-ups? Think a Waddle Dee in a do rag is stupid? No problem, then, as you can play as multiple Kirbys (I could probably write an entire blog on how confusing that concept is), allowing you to suck up all the powers you want. Hooray for added layers of depth and strategy!
Of course, that's assuming you'll be using strategy at any point, which would be ignoring an oddly important aspect about the game: the utter lack of difficulty. Remember how Epic Yarn wouldn't allow you to die? How can a game like this, where you can die (I know from experience that I'll explain in a bit), be easier than that? Well, it finds a way, first by resenting any and all attempts for you to die. I've tried to kill myself (again, getting there), but the game wouldn't have any of it. Any time an enemy died when I was near death (that temporary invincibility time apparently reverses polarities and turns you into a goddamn death ball), they'd drop a hot dog they had been smuggling in their pocket, as if the game felt bad that I was so near death. But I don't eat no pocket dogs, so I pressed onward...and collected a billion stars, giving me enough lives to qualify as an avatar. Even when I tried to ignore getting all those juicy stars, I still made it through the levels; hell, I even managed to 100% the damn things. I wasn't even trying that hard. It was just so easy to spot where one of those gears was and how to get one (if a game hands you a power-up, take it) that it was near impossible to miss them. The few times I did end up missing one, I'd end up killing Kirby over and over again just to punish him for such transgressions....and I still made it through the game relatively unscathed. The only challenging parts were those occasional shadow levels with the scrolling wall of doom, and even then, the game felt guilty about even approaching a reasonable difficulty. Damn it! Why is this game so easy? Oh, right: that "traditional Kirby" thing. Maybe I should work on Kaizo Kirby's Dreamland and hope everything balances out in the end.
- Soooooo cute!
- Man, Kirby really knows how to make a solid platformer.
- Kirby, you slut.
I've completely forgotten about Epic Yarn, so is this depiction of it as a gritty reboot accurate?
Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain
(Hey, I have to keep things kinda obscure, don't I?) I mean, how many people have even heard of this game? Enough, apparently, since it spawned about a billion games before dropping off the face of the Earth (and not up to my place, either, as it's just as obscure up here as it is down there). Is there any reason why it just disappeared from the gaming scene? I have no clue, as I've only played one of the damn things. But is there any reason that it got as many sequels as it did? Right now, again, I've very little idea. I mean, yea, the game's kinda generic, but somehow, it gets the job done.
But damn, does it get the job done with style. Now keep in mind that I said it does it with style; not necessarily that what it's doing is particularly stylish. I mean, it's just a typical fantasy story: a nobleman walks into a bar, only to walk out seconds later and die. Of course, the story doesn't end there (this ain't Phantom Brave, people), as Kain becomes a vampire, for some reason. That reason? Kill some people around Nosgarth so that something or other will happen. I honestly don't remember a lot of the details, and what I do remember isn't particularly interesting. It's pretty much killing Gepetto, going back in time for twenty minutes, and not much else worth talking about. So where's the personality come in, again? Well, it's all in how willing it is to embrace the whole vampire thing. If there's some super obscure fact about vampires, Blood Omen's gonna effing commit to it. Hell, just look at a screenshot of the game. That's not some Disney medieval fantasy world where you throw up a castle and call it a day; that's medieval ass medieval. Think that's impressive? (Probably not, but just say that you do so I can get on with this.) Just wait until you see what it does when vampires come into play. What's that? Vampires can turn into mist and wolves and shit? Turn that into a gameplay feature! But don't have Kain cross running water, because that crap can kill a vampire. It's amazing how far they went with the whole vampire thing. Actually, now that I think about it, Kain probably sums up the game best. Remember that thing about him being human first? You'd think he'd have some qualms about eating other people to survive, but nope, that's not the case. Kain just fucking dives into the vampire thing and never looks back.
Actually, there's good reason he never looks back: this game looks like crap. I know that this is a particularly old game, so it's fairly comforting for me to say that that's only 60% of the reasons why this game doesn't look too hot. I mean, just look at this game. Yes, I realize that it was made in 1995, a time before the invention of polygons and when creating textures meant "open paint, choose color, use Fill tool", but there are just so many other problems here. Whatever animations aren't simplistic and mechanical are laughably cartoony, like The Secret of Monkey Island. with vampires. I know that may sound cool (even though Monkey Island doesn't lend itself too well to vampire lore), but for a game (at least trying to be) this serious, it makes it hard to enjoy the story. The game doesn't sound much better, either....OK, that's a lie; the game sounds fine. Hell, Kain's sophisticated voice is what gives the game so much of its personality. The problem seems to be that the game doesn't know how to handle the voice work, at least on a technical level. Artistically, it's got this shit covered; like I said before, Blood Omen fucking commits, making sure that characters who don't sound like rich, sophisticated noblemen (anybody who isn't Kain or a vampire, really) instead sound like Cockney disasters. Sure, the graphical style makes it seem more like somebody pulled the string on Malek's back than it does him actually talking, but I'm willing to forgive that. What I'm less willing to forgive is just how it's all handled. The game never stops for voice acting, which, yes, sounds admirable, but it becomes a bit ridiculous when Kain's yelling "VAE VICTIS" while also explaining how this new weapon allows him to vae vicits the hell out of some goblins. Then it becomes outright annoying when you try to open up a menu, only to realize that Kain has to finish his damned monologue before you can swap out weapons. (I'd call it "covering for load times", but the game has no qualms about telling you how crap the load times can be.)
Shit. Somewhere along the line, I forgot that this is a game and not a long forgotten Pixar movie (OK, this one is actually viable). Let's see, where to start?...Combat, I guess? I mean, what better way to demonstrate how much of an asshole Kain is than by mashing a button repeatedly until somebody dies? How about manually sucking up your foes' health to increase your own? Yes, you can do that, and yes, it's just as satisfying as it sounds. So this game is just "mash enemy, eat their flesh, repeat till end", right? Would I even bother asking a question like that if the answer was yes? Look past that shit I said before; you'll discover some actual depth to this. I know that I said that the combat is button mashy, but it's a special type of button mashy. You actually have to get into a type of rhythm with it, lest you want medieval men carving you up like crazy. Not only do you have to figure out your enemy's rhythm, but your own, too, since each weapon handles pre-Wait, that reminds me: there are tons of weapons and spells at your disposal. OK, to be honest, you'll probably never use offensive magic that isn't lightning, but at least the option is there for when you can't electrocute something to death. Weapons, on the other hand, are something you'll switch out like crazy simply because of their versatility. (There are non-combat reasons for that, but more on that in a bit.) Need to carve up a crowd of enemies in about five seconds? Better break out the axes. But make sure to switch to the flame sword for those generic fantasy enemies that populate the second act, because they'll fuck up anything stupid enough to use an ax against them. Sure, you'll stick to the mace most of the time because it automatically turns most enemies into free health banks, but it's still nice to know that you have all these options.
So I guess that leaves the world and exploration and all the other parts of the game that are stronger than the previously listed parts. You know all those combat upgrades I mentioned before? Turns out that there are also some non-combat upgrades, like being a wolf or laying claim to somebody's soul. It lends the game a Metroid-y feel (DON'T FUCKING SAY IT), and just like any good Metroid game, there are about a billion secrets to find. These can be pretty well hidden secrets, too, so there's definitely some decent motivation to explore the world and pay attention to some random rock you happened to pass twelve years ago. Awesome, right? There's just one caveat to all this, and it's a weird one: you actually have to explore the world for it to work. Yes, I know, shocking, but hear me out. I didn't really bother exploring the world beyond, and I'd probably regret it if I was more emotionally invested in the game., because once you take away the exploration, there's not much to it. In fact, there are only about ten hours to it, and they aren't particularly remarkable. A lot of the experience is in the dungeons, which tend to follow the formula of "encounter locked door, find switch to open locked door, go through previously locked door, repeat a bunch (maybe with a new power, maybe)". There are towns, but since this game is set before Mahatma Gandhi became a vampire (yes, that happened), most humans will simply do their best to kill you. So out go any hopes of buying stuff and NPC talk, and in come labyrinthine town design. I'd have added "and my recommendation" to that first part, but you know what? I'll still recommend this game, even if tentatively. Yea, it doesn't do anything particularly special, but you've got to admire how enthusiastic it is about that nothing special. Hell, maybe even the later games in the series are interesting enough to justify playing this game (from the looks of it, you'll need all the help you can get understanding this series' story).
- I think this describes it best (look, there's a reason why I took so many goddamn screenshots).
- Wait, there are tactics to button mashing? HOW!?
- Oh, and there's an interesting world to explore, provided that you actually explore it.