Konami… What’s up? (Originally written in February 2011)

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So I had gotten Konami’s latest game Hard Corps: Uprising when it came out with the intention of reviewing it. However upon playing it I had very mixed reactions to it. On the one hand, yo it’s Contra! It plays just like contra, with the same great side-scrolling shooter control scheme plus some nifty additions like Running, double jumping, air dashing, and special abilities that you can unlock. That sound awesome right? Well yeah, it is! In fact when I say it plays like Contra, what I mean to say is that when you first press start at the menu it plays the Contra music, pressing up up down down left right left right B A while the first stage is loading you get a metal remix of the first stage music. Hell even if you don’t use the code you get a different redone version of the first stage anyway. Right off the bat this game looks and feels great!

Me-> “Hey it’s the boss from the first stage of contra… Cool!”
Me-> “Hey it’s the boss from the first stage of contra… Cool!”

Then you start noticing things. Nothing big, in fact a lot of things I’d complained about sound petty, but they add up. So let’s get into it. *Holds breath* The first level is way too long, with one mini boss and three boss battles where the last two are back to back. The chekpointing is messed up, if you die on the last boss from the first level then you go back two bosses and twice there’s an out of nowhere quick time event that never happens again for the rest of the game, where if you mess up you die. And again, if you die on the last QTE then you go back and fight the last two bosses. There are two game modes, arcade and Rising mode. Arcade mode is the standard way you’d play a Contra title, start from the beginning with a set amount of live and play till you die. Then there is Rising mode, which is the same thing except you get points after each stage that you can spend on upgrading your character.

This game right?
This game right?

Now I’m going to stop right here and just talk about the problems with Rising mode for a bit. Where to begin? Like I said before, Rising mode has everything arcade mode has plus upgrades. So there is no reason to play the arcade mode other than to get achievements that are only obtainable in that mode. You get too few points for each level also. Even perfecting a level, getting an “S” rank, and never getting hit, you still don’t get quite that much. There is only 8 levels so you’ll wind up playing around each stage 10 times or more before you max out your character. And while I’m on that subject, you can only upgrade the stats of one character at a time, so because it takes so long to upgrade your guy it once more means there is no reason to play any other character. There is one exception, with the character of Sayuri who is DLC and only uses a sword. She is different enough to justify playing as another character. This brings me to my next point.

On the day of Hard Corps: Uprising’s release there where two DLC characters, Sayuri and Harley Daniels. Now I don’t mind having day one DLC. A game gets made and there is the submission period which takes a while, plus HC:U was a part of the Xbox live house party promotion, so undoubtedly that had to be finished and submitted well in advance. So they had time to work on some DLC in between the game being finished and the game coming out. But these weren’t extra levels; these weren’t bonus characters that they added in after the fact. When you start up the game the first thing you see is a lengthy anime intro showcasing the four main characters. Two of those main characters are DLC. Keyword “MAIN CHARACTERS.” That would be like if they released Super Mario Bros. 2 but you had to buy Toad and Peach for $2.50 each right off the bat.

Who are these other dudes? Cough up five bucks to find out.
Who are these other dudes? Cough up five bucks to find out.

When I first started writing this I had intended it to be a review of HC:U, but it was when I got near to the end of my review when I typed something that caught my own eye. I wrote “Hard corps: Uprising, even though it has solid fun gameplay, is unfortunately deeply flawed. HC:U may be filled with really great ideas that work on paper, but the execution of those ideas all seem archaic and in the end ultimately fall flat.” As soon as I wrote that I realized that I could have copied those sentences and pasted them on other Konami games; specifically last year’s Castlevania harmony of despair.

The core mechanics of both games is fun, but it requires far too much level grinding and map memorization. Another problem shared between these games is the lack of explanation of vital gameplay systems. Both games have a hidden depth that is not explained whatsoever. I could write paragraphs just about all the things these games expect you to know, but don’t bother to explain. There is yet another problem these game encounter, overpriced DLC. Konami seemed to wise up a bit after the first few DLC’s for Castlevania HD because at first they were (and still are) selling a single map for $5, then as they released more maps and characters they started lowering the price to $4 then $3 and the latest character packs are now $2 each. There is even more to complain about with shoddy online options and how in HC:U the second player doesn’t receive any achievement points.

In a game that has 6 levels and costs $15, charging $5 just for this one map is outrageous
In a game that has 6 levels and costs $15, charging $5 just for this one map is outrageous

*Finally releases breath from earlier* Yet even after all the crap I just talked about these games, there is still something that I love about them. Something just snaps into place after a while. After failing over and over and using continue after continue on a boss near the end of HC:U (the final one on the Train) I said “screw this!” and started from the first stage, only to find that I had become such a badass that I didn’t die once until after I had gotten back to the same boss. If you spend enough time with these games you will eventually snap into it. You just get in the zone where you’re doing everything right and it feels like magic. But unfortunately it takes way too much time and effort to upgrade your weapons and abilities for these games to really start to feel truly fun.

I’m not trying to hate on Konami, I just want to point out some of the design flaws that bog down so many of Konami’s games. So what have we learned?

  • Don’t sacrifice gameplay for great ideas. If your ultimate goal is to have the player all powered up and awesome by the end of the game then don’t make the journey to get there tedious and time consuming. And for gods sakes stop putting in beginners traps where you will undoubtedly die the first time you come to this new obstacle or area, just because you didn't know that one of the 20 random 3D objects in the background will all the sudden come flying at you and instantly kill you.
  • Don’t let ideas of the past ruin games of the future. In times of old, arcade games were designed so that you would put in a quarter, play for a few minutes, then die. The reason games have lives and continues is that they needed people to keep paying to keep playing. Somewhere along the way people decided that lives = challenge. Now a days there should be no reason why we should ever run out of lives, or at least run out of continues. We have already paid the company for the game, it’s ours, there should be no reason that you have to stop us from having fun and bring us back the beginning of the level when we die.
  • Don’t half-ass online. This one is self-explanatory, How many times do you play a game in its online mode and you feel as though you stepped back in time 10 years? Check where the game was made, because typically Japanese game developers have a very basic and clunky online interface. It’s something that even many Japanese devs have complained about, that online infrastructure in Japanese games has failed to evolve with the times since the inception of online gaming.
  • Explain yourself! If I see that I have a new ability, I shouldn't have to go to my pc and google how to use it. Just tell me somewhere what it does and how to use it.

Konami has been creating high quality games for decades now, and for every Castlevania we get a Simons Quest. For every Contra we get a Buck O’Hare. Konami has a long running history of producing some of the best and some of the worst games out there. Often times these bad games show potential, but fail do to fatal oversight of key gameplay aspects. So I just have to ask. Konami… what’s up?


DSi XL Deus ex, the revenge: Xtreme; origins. Or my DSi XL review

While at first glance you might look at the DSi XL as just a large DSi... and you would be right of course.  But is that really a bad thing?
 To be honest when I first heard about the XL I literally laughed out loud.  "So your going to make a new DS, twice the size as the last one you just recently came out with, and not upgrade or ad anything new to the system?  But why!?"  In short, old people.  Japanese old people to be specific.  Apparently Nintendo is not content just  with turning  our moms into a  "casual gamers," they have to go after our grandmothers too!  The only problem?  Granny cant see so well now a days .  Hence the DSi Xtra large!  At least I assume that's what the XL stands for, then again they never officially said that DS stood for Duel Screens did they?

 Double Sexy including Xtra Lube? I don't think that's what it stands for.
 Double Sexy including Xtra Lube? I don't think that's what it stands for.

All that aside what comes out of the package is pretty standard fair.  Big DS? Check!  Very large multi lingual instruction manual?   Check!  Full sized not-stylus pen?  Whaaaa!?  That's right, Nintendo packed in a same-color-as-system pen in addition to the slightly larger then normal stylus.  I'd tell you more about the not-stylus but being that it's not attached to the DS like the stylus is, I immediately lost it the first day I got my XL.  I swear it's around here somewhere.  Other then the pen though, it's the same as a DSi.

Now I'm going to be honest with you, yes this system will just barely fit in your pocket, It did mine anyway, but this is no longer a portable gaming machine.  In the sense that it can be moved easily form one place to another yes ok, it technically IS still portable, but I dare you to walk around in public playing on this monstrosity and not feel awkward or embarrassed.  However I'm just fine with it being non portable.  Personally I don't play games on the go.  If I'm out somewhere it's because I'm shopping, eating, working, or hanging out at one of my friends house.  I don't play games during any of these activities, except when hanging at a friends place, but even then I'm playing in a home next to a TV anyway so  that doesn't count!  

Now do you remember Pokemon stadium for the N64? (Trust me this will tie in soon)  Remember the little dongle that came packaged with the game that let you hook up your gameboy copy of Pokemon Red or Blue?  Well besides allowing you to transfer your Pokemon back and forth from gameboy to 64 it also let you play your Red or Blue version on the TV with your 64 controller.  I would play Pokemon for hours like this, and every time my brother or parents saw me doing so they would always say the same thing.  "Why don't you just play on your gameboy? You can take it anywhere.  Go outside or to your room, quit hogging the TV!"  But why would I want to do that?  I'm in an air conditioned house sitting in a comfy chair playing a great game.
This guy remember?
This guy remember?

That is exactly how I feel about the DSi XL.  I always play my handheld games inside in my extremely comfortable chair anyway.  Why not let me play on a larger screen?  Also, unlike Pokemon stadium where the screen would be all stretched out and, lets face it awful looking, the XL screen is just shy of being twice the size of the DS lite, all the while looking sharp and crisp.  The only way to appease me more would be to add functionality like the PSP Go, on which you can hook it up to your TV and also use bluetooth to connect a PS3 controller to the Go, allowing you not only more solid feeling controls, and not only the comfort of having a non cricked neck from looking down for hours, but also a kings crown for making an already lazy activity even lazier.  Wishes aside, the XL is a fine piece of hardware, and if you don't already have a DSi you might want to pick this not so little guy up.  

 A crisp looking large screen.
 Longer lasting battery life.
 All the functionality of the DSi. 
 Makes some precision games just a little bit easier.
 Nice wight to it, heavy enough to make it feel solid, but not to heavy to make your arms tired of holding it.

 A little pricey, coming in at $189 msrp.  Although many retail stores offer deals if you trade in old DS hardware.
Not a wide selection of colors.  Only two for now.
Feel like a dumbass for buying it when one week before its release Nintendo announces the next DS