By Video_Game_King 23 Comments
King Kong 2: Ikari no Megaton Punch
(Wait, there was a second King Kong?) Like, this isn't just a version of Donkey Kong 2 that was renamed to remind Universal Studios who was on top? Turns out there was, and apparently it was important enough to get a couple of video game adaptations....exclusive to Japan. I'm quite sure you could have predicted what this game would be like as soon as movies came into the mix: it's got all the bat-shit insanity of any Japanese game from that time and all the quality of video games based on movies of that time. (Which is to say that it's not very good.)
I might as well tackle this in order, so the bat-shit insane part. Now does anybody remember the first King Kong? You know, that movie about a the Beast from Beauty and the Beast visiting New York and fucking shit up or something like that (it's been a while, OK)? Well, if you can believe it, this game is even stranger than that. King Kong's on a journey to rescue his girlfriend. OK, that doesn't sound strange, but you have to realize that his girlfriend is just a pink version of him. (I guess his fling with that actress was just the world's most gruesome one night stand.) Oh, and did I mention that his girlfriend was captured by space robots? Oh, how I wish I was making that up....and how I actually liked any of that. Unfortunately, though, very little of this carries over into the actual game. Yea, you can go from a dock where you punch orcas to a night carnival (again, these are all real things), but the levels themselves are pretty bland. I'm pretty sure this text has more colors than these levels, so it's not much of a surprise that they start to look kinda samey after a while. It doesn't help that this is what you'll be listening to for the majority of the game. Yea, it's an OK song, but it can't carry nine entire levels.
But at its heart, this is still King Kong, and that means one thing: destruction. Wanton destruction. This is how you advance throughout the game: smash things until the game approves of your nihilistic tendencies. Do I have to go further into that? I don't think so. It's pretty obvious how fun it is to destroy everything on screen. Good thing, too, because the main gameplay isn't too hot. Not necessarily bad enough to make me throw a particularly ikari Megaton Punch (whatever the hell that means), but not too good, either. Speaking of ikari Megaton Punches, that's about half the combat in the game: punches. The other half is a limited supply of rocks, meaning 90% of the combat is just punches. Sounds good, right? After all, more mindless destruction equals more good, right? No, not at all. Jumping around as Kong is fun, since it feels like you're a little kid jumping on your little brother's Lego city because FUCK HIS LEGO PEOPLE; punching as Kong feels like a chore wherein you carefully disassemble your little brother's Lego city because what the hell are you doing? Bosses can be more fun, since there's strategy to the punching and everything, but what with them being bosses, don't expect this to happen too much.
Instead, imagine them as the carrot on the stick, since much of the game is about finding your way to these bosses. I'm not sure why a gorilla is tempted by carrots, but logic has no place in a game where King Kong has a girlfriend who needs rescuing from aliens. Oh, right: remember that thing I said about having to rescue Lady Kong? (Well, her name is Lady Kong.) That involves collecting a bunch of keys spread across eight levels. But don't think that it's like Mario, but with giant hairy men (as tautological as that statement is); instead, you can move freely between worlds gathering keys. Unfortunately, since there's no real indication of which worlds you've completed, it's pretty easy to lose track of which worlds you've been to, making progress pretty damn confusing. Although I guess on a single level...level...things work out pretty well. There are quite a few secrets to be found in each level, giving you decent reason to take your time and not blast through things. Then again, I'm not sure why a reason is needed; you discover these secrets by stomping all over buildings, and isn't unbridled chaos enough motivation on its own? No. Not really.
- Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was a water tower's worth of brown acid that killed the beast.
- How do you make punching not fun? Make it atomic and angry.
- I'm not sure what's more confusing: the 40 minutes it took me to complete this game, or the 40 seconds comprising the following video.
Now this video I'm about to post may appear strange, and while it is, give me some credit. There's some curious horror lurking beneath the surface that I must prepare you for. There is no sound; just you and two Fire Emblem characters getting naked and spinning for your delight. Now, there was sound at one point, but Victor didn't authorize sound in this video. Who the hell is Victor? How the fuck should I know? All one can know is that he did not give these Professor Brother rag dolls permission to get down and dirty.
(Guys?) I don't know how to feel about this. On the one hand, this is a strategy RPG, and I'm certain it's been a while since I've covered one of those. These games fucking rule, man, and I always look forward to rubbing that in your faces. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure at least one of you has heard of Vandal Hearts (it got a modern prequel thing everybody forgot about) On the other other ha-Anyway, the game. It's a strategy RPG from a company not known for strategy or RPGs (neither word comes to mind when your most famous game is Contra), meaning it's incredibly simple. I don't think I've ever seen something so utterly simple and bare bones...yet somehow, it still works out.
Don't believe me? Just look at this game. Have you ever seen anything so damn simple looking. The characters all look like something out of a really good looking SNES game (hard to pass off in early 1997), and blowing them up to occupy 30% of the screen for an attack doesn't exactly help. If anything, it makes things worse, since now, it makes it clear that the environments don't hold up well, either. I'm fine with box-y environments in a grid-based game, but not so much with low resolution textures. Trust me: the words "dot matrix" will spring to mind pretty quickly. Also, not necessarily bad, but weird is how it handles in-door environments. Instead of slapping that shit into a black void of utter nothingness, each in-door area gets slapped on the type of background you'd see tiled on the back of a crap Geocities website. Not that there's anything wrong with that in and of itself (as I said two lines ago), but the weird part is something that can't be expressed in pictures: movement. The backgrounds move. That may not sound like much, but when I first started the game, I thought the characters were on a boat going somewhere, only to find out that it was a prison most unboatlike in nature. Although for how bad (or, in this case, simply off-putting) the game looks, it does have some pretty cool looking moments. Watching a unit die No More Heroes style (right down to the M rating) absolutely never gets old, and some of the later spells can do some freaky stuff that's fun to watch.
Oh, what's that? You wanted something about how it works, not how it doesn't? Oh....alright. Well, how about the story? That's kinda cool, I guess. Why am I being so hesitant about it? The political themes, for one. Now, I have nothing against political themes in strategy RPGs (WHY THE FUCK WOULD I!?), but I do have a problem with the types of political themes present. Namely, all this democracy bullshit present. Here's the set-up: long ago, there was an evil empire being all evil and stuff. Along comes a religious hero and frees the land from the empire's tyranny, and then promptly hauls ass outta there. I'm certain it's to run away from the tyranny of choice, but the game paints it as him trying to give people the gift of free choice or whatever. So time passes and things get dark again. How do we know this? Because the government is doing things and they're taxing people and stuff. If you haven't caught on about now, it can read a lot like something Newt Gingrich would beat Bill Clinton to death with. It certainly doesn't help that as soon as the hero leaves the world, things go full-blown Nazi (that's not a joke). Fortunately, though, the actual political elements are handled pretty lightly. The focus is more often on the characters (more on that in a bit, though), and the politics are only there to give it all some context and cohesion. Consider them thinly spread spices on the Vandal Hearts dish instead of an overpoweringly strong oily naked man. (I needed to go with something Greek to put in the meal. You know, because of the democracy thing.)
So what's the real meat of Vandal Hearts? Well, the gameplay, really, but what I wanted to say was "the characters". It fucking better be, too, because there are a ton of characters in this game. No surprise, given that Konami was behind this, but that doesn't change the fact that there are more characters in this game than there are people in Michigan. You know what, though? I'm perfectly fine with it. If it manages to develop all the characters as well it does, it can have as many characters as it wants. Every character, no matter how minor, gets some time in the spotlight. Yes, even Generic Monochrome Pirate gets some story love. Of course, that's only for about one battle, but he's the exception rather than the rule. You know the best part about these characters? That character development stays pretty consistent over the course of the game. Zohar's story's not gonna end five minutes after you meet the fucker; it's gonna end five minutes after the credits (because there's an epilogue five minutes after the credits). That way, it feels like the characters serve some purpose in the plot instead of the writers checking off a list of which characters got a backstory of some type. True, some characters get better stories than others (Kira is pretty cool while Elena gets stuck with a predictable plot twist), but on the whole, the cast is enjoyable. Also cool is how when you promote a unit, they get a 100% complete makeover, as th...
At some point, I'm going to have to explain the game, right? I've gone four paragraphs (pretty much an entire blog) without doing so. Might as well be now, I suppose. If you haven't caught on, yet (I'd be shocked if you haven't), Vandal Hearts is a strategy RPG. Specifically, it's Fire Emblem. See if any of this sounds familiar: turn begins, and you move all your units, attacking enemies in some sort of rock-paper-scissors weapon triangle I never bothered learning. (That last part is where the analogy breaks down.) Should a unit die, they're gone for
ever the rest of the battle. Oh, and the main character's an idealistic noble youth who eventually lays claim to the Super Awesome Magic Sword of Game Titles. Not that I'm calling the game bad or anything. Yea, there's not a whole lot of depth to it (there's a branching class system, but there's always one class that's infinitely better than the alternative (THEY WERE WARNING US)), but still, it manages to do a lot with what it has. Turns out you'll be doing a lot of cool stuff in order to protect democracy, like trying to avoid suicidal villagers or a turn-based stealth part followed by a prison break. And that's not even going into the trials, although that's mainly because I didn't experience half of them. Still, what I did experience was pretty damn good.
Though there is one minor problem, and it's one that I find myself encountering a lot: it's a bit on the easy side. It's not full-blown easy, like it's the Kirby of strategy RPGs or anything (although now that I've brought it up, I sincerely wish that to be reality), but it can still be a bit easy in some areas. Notably, anything that isn't the middle. (There's a sandwich joke in there, somewhere.) In the beginning, there really isn't a lot of strategy to the battles. OK, there is a strategy, but there isn't a lot of tact to be found in "steamroll any nearby units until the game spits out money". Though to be fair, it is the beginning of the game, a time when the developers are introducing mechanics to you. Once that's out of the way, strategy enters the picture, right? Yea, it does, as I mentioned before, but it promptly takes a back seat in the game's final moments. At this point in the game, your team will consist of two wizards with spells that cover half the map in pure death, three or four snipers who can land an arrow in your urethra from twelve miles away, and a ton of physical units to pick off anything that survived this onslaught. What can possibly stand up to a team of urethra-splitting wizards? Goddamn nothing. Still, I'd recommend Vandal Hearts as some simple fun.
- Have you ever wanted to play a video game that looked like a shoe box diorama? Yes? Well...uh...yea, this game will fulfill that role rather nicely.
- At times, it's hard to tell if you're leading a rebellion or just organizing a Tea Party rally.
- An interesting and engaging, if anemic, strategy RPG.