By Video_Game_King 22 Comments
Jet Set Radio
(Or Jet Grind Radio for American readers.) Now before I actually say anything about the game itself (outside the sinister tone, of course), let me clarify that I'm not talking about the Dreamcast version, as should have been evident from the banner. That's too obvious. Instead, I'm going to lecture you on the oft-forgotten GBA release. Trust me, there's a good reason it was forgotten: it's a clunky, confusing shadow of what was probably a decent game on the Dreamcast. (I say "probably", as I've never played the Dreamcast version.)
That said, though, at least some of the quality that's probably in the original, maybe, still shines through this iteration. Granted, it's mostly in the story and core concept....OK, only the story and core concept, but it's still there, damn it. So what is the core concept, exactly? It's the future (I think), and the police force of Tokyo has gone to shit. They're responding to graffiti not with security cameras or anything sensible, but a goddamn military invasion. Oh, and something about demons at the end. And that's the gist of things in Jet Set Radio. I know that doesn't sound too impressive, but it all lies in the presentation. I'm not talking about the graphics (although they are at least technically impressive), but the overall atmosphere of the game. It's just how positive it is and all the style that makes the enjoyable parts enjoyable. All the vibrant colors and the music that sounds like it's cheering you on is enough to make you raise your hands and woo in triumph. Then mutter angrily as you realize you tossed your GBA three yards across the room.
But style alone does not a game make. You need more than that, and in Jet Set Radio's case, you get flow. Oh so glorious flow. Like an oddly circular river (what are those things called? I think it begins with an M?), everything in this game revolves around the flow, tagging especially. On its face: pretty lame. What? Spraying's nothing more than quick time events? Where's the fun in that? Everywhere, man. Those quick time events lead into each other all the time, making you feel hip and stylish and other 80s/90s words when you complete a pattern. And then you move onto another one, and another one, and another one. I know that sounds tedious and a little daunting, but it's the best part of the game, since you're jumping from tag to tag, avoiding the incompetent paramilitary force while the game yells "JET SET RADIO!!!". But it's not like tags are the only things the game offers. You also get some games of actual tag (awesome), unlockable characters (not awesome), and even some other things (varying in their degrees of awesome). Wow! What more could you ask for!?
A working game, for one. Unfortunately, a lot of what I said before is just in theory. Now it's time to get real. You know how I said the game thrives on the flow? That's when there's any flow at all. Most of the levels are sparse open worlds (although the sparseness might be a problem on my end), and they don't really do a lot to point you in the right direction. Sure, there might be a few tags nearby, but that's all you're getting. Want more fun time? Run around the level in the vague hopes that you're going to find a tag. You know what would help? A map that told me where they are, or at least a count telling me how many are left. Now to be fair, the game does provide both these things; it's just that they're tucked away in the pause menu. Have fun pausing every twenty seconds just so you can find another tag!
And have fun actually getting to that next tag, because the controls aren't too good, either. Not surprising, given that the game is isometric and isometric games tend to have iffy control schemes, but the problems go beyond that. First up: tank controls. Nothing else need be said. Second: turning can be really goddamn loose. So much as tap left or right, and you've already pulled a full 1260 turn. That's not a good thing when you're trying to land on a precise railing to get where you want to go. I guess that's why so much as being in the same neighborhood as a grindable surface will lock you onto it. To be fair, though, I ultimately have mixed feelings regarding that. On the one hand, trying to land exactly on one of these things wouldn't be too pleasant, for reasons I have previously described. On the other hand, there are times when you want to jump past a railing (possibly to get to an impossible-to-reach tag), and the game simply won't let you. This inevitably leads to you grinding a rail again and again in sheer frustration. Do I need to say anymore? Just stay away from this. Stick to the one people have actually heard of. Trust me: you're not missing out on anything.
- A game so positive that it couldn't possibly exist today. (At least not now.)
- If Tony Hawk had more vandalism, is what I'm saying.
- You'd think that a game that relies on its smooth pacing wouldn't fuck it all up with the level design and controls.
You know what? This ought to approximate the Jet Set Radio experience, and possibly the experience of the next game.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
(Why, this is a game people actually know exists!) It's been a while since I've done one of those. (Of course, by a while, I mean two weeks ago.) What game am I talking about? The one in the title, and the banner: Circle of the Moon, the GBA follow-up to Symphony of the Night. In fact, that's the best way I can possibly describe it. All I have to tell you is that this game was released early on for the GBA, and it follows Symphony of the Night, and you'll have a perfect idea of just what this game is.
But I'm still going to devote a lot of words to describing it, as is tradition. And as is tradition, I shall begin with the terrible, terrible story. I'm not kidding: the story's bad. So bad, in fact, that it was excised from Castlevania canon. Not that there's a lot to remove in the first place. Dracula's coming back to life, because his minions have been redecorating the castle and want his final say on the paint job. But the Graveseses won't be having any of that! They'll....just fuck around until the game decides it wants to have a conclusion. But until that point, the story consists mainly of Hugh Graves being a whiny goddamn bitch. That is in no way an exaggeration or misleading; every line of dialogue out of this chucklefuck is a complaint regarding Nathan being the one the master chose. I imagine he chose him because a bland, dimensionless character is a better choice for a protagonist than a petty, angsty one, but it's not like that matters; they're pretty much the only significant characters in the story. It's just these two, a few one-off characters, and Dracula, near the end, who remains the loveably smug prick he's always been. So at least Konami got that right.
You know what? Maybe I should talk about the things they did get right, like the combat...sort of. Don't get me wrong; it does some interesting stuff. The card mechanics, for instance, encourage exploring around, whacking things, getting whacked, and generally playing the game, so that's always welcome. Plus whips return, for once, and it's always fun to kill somebody with the power of rhythmic gymnastics. But here's where things take a turn for the odd: I had absolutely no interest in the combat. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with it, but it's just so much more rewarding to see a hallway full of powerful enemies and jump over every last one of those fuckers. Better still when they're tightly packed and you have to react super quickly to push through. Granted, this will inevitably make you underleveled and turn forced combat (IE bosses) into a pain, but I'm fine with that. Bosses should be challenging, and while being twelve levels too low usually simply makes bosses longer, I still appreciate having to work for those nine simultaneous level-ups I get from beating Death. Somewhere, the enemy designer for this game is reading this, and he is crying.
I'd tell him not to feel bad, but most of my consolations would be in terms of the level design, and I suspect that would send him over the edge. I'm still gonna gush all over the level design, though, because I love the level design. This game knows what it needs to be a good Metroidvania: a loose collection of power-ups and a huge map to jump around. Yes, you're gonna feel like an OCD maniac, discovering the wall jump and immediately going to whichever parts of the map are only half-filled in, even though they're miles apart. But you know what? That's what's so fun about the game: discovering things for yourself and carving out your own path in Dracula's castle. I'd say it helps that there's a decent variety of areas to explore, but I'm none too thrilled about that aspect. Several of the areas simply aren't that fun, like that waterway filled with blood (trust me, it's not a particularly great area) or that place with all the stupid block puzzles. Still, I'd recommend this game, if you have some time to kill on a bus or something and don't have a PSP available.
- A bland protagonist searching for his whiny brother? Sign me the fuck up!
- Actually, do sign me the fuck up, because I'm a fan of ignoring the hell out of the combat...
- ...especially when that means I can plunder the depths of Castlevania.