Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes


Released on June 28, 2000, on the Sega Dreamcast, after a successful life in arcades, Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes pits a giant combined roster of Marvel and Capcom characters against each other in chaotic, 2D fighting mayhem.


Eighth grade. Don Carter's Bowling Alley, Baton Rouge, LA. I love bowling. I love hanging out with my friends. But the thing I love the best is when no one is anywhere near the Don Carter's Bowling Alley arcade, so that I can play the 2D fighting masterpiece, X-Men: Children of the Atom, without the threat of some game rat with a handful of quarters scoping me out, and coming over to slaughter my character and take over the cabinet.
I have never been great at fighting games (except for a stretch of mid-2000 when I briefly became an ace at Soul Caliber). If anyone other than my friends who are also not great at fighting games challenges me to fighting games, I will probably lose. This has always been true, even earlier in junior high when Street Fighter II was still shiny. Nothing in 1995 was worse than finding X-Men: Children of the Atom free, winning a couple of fights against the computer and feeling like a badass, then having some high-schooler waltz over and ruin it with a quarter and his superior fighting skills. Yes, 1995 was a pretty chill year for me (it was one of the best years of my life).
As time passed by, and home console technology improved, I rejoiced. Now I could play 2D arcade fighting games on my Dreamcast without worry of some professional jerk ruining my fun. Better yet, X-Men: Children of the Atom's descendant, Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes, was coming to Dreamcast--combining favorite characters from both Marvel Comics (The X-Men, Avengers, Spiderman, etc.) and video game studio Capcom's (Mega Man, Resident Evil, Street Fighter, etc.) storied histories.
By this point in history, arcades were becoming a dying destination. Finding a fully-loaded one was becoming next to impossible. Thankfully, the now demolished Siegen Village movie theater procured their own Marvel vs Capcom 2 machine. I figured I'd give it a spin before purchasing the home console version. Rather ironically, I used a trip to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as an excuse to play me some 2D fighting goodness...and then, the unthinkable happened: some junior high kid a foot shorter than me challenged me to a fight. I soon learned that Marvel vs Capcom 2 did not feature breakable, interactive, expanding environments like X-Men:Children of the Atom. It did, however, feature a combo system so blindingly fast, I actually broke into laughter when the 13-year old kid billion hit combo'd me, swiftly sending my Wolverine, Cyclops, and Storm tandem to the grave.
This did not appear to be the game I wanted, and stores in Baton Rouge didn't seem capable of stocking the Dreamcast version anyway. I forgot about it for a few years until I came across a complete copy for $25. Marvel vs Capcom 2 generally sells for considerably more than $25, so I scooped up this mint copy. I've now had the benefit of playing an "arcade bully-free" Marvel vs Capcom 2 for quite a few years. Is it the classic it's been billed to be, or is it the senseless, hyper-speed oddity that freaked me out so many years ago?
Longer: this cast of characters, or the introduction to this review?
Yeah, you guessed it. It's both, of course.
First, we should talk about aesthetics. New Age of Heroes is pretty. The 2D characters are well-animated, though they don't look as ridiculously good as their Dreamcast brethren in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike and Guilty Gear X. However, Marvel vs Capcom 2's ridiculous hyper-combos are animated insanity. When a certain amount of regular moves have been landed or attempted on the opponent, the player fills up a gauge at the bottom. When the gauge is full, a hyper-combo, like Mega-Man morphing into a giant, laser-firing robot, Iron Man unleashing a massive wave of energy, or Wolverine unleashing an unbelievably fast salvo of claw-swipes, can be used. These are all nuts.
Hey, Cyclops, instead of standing around looking annoying, how about you stand around getting hit with cannonballs from a pirate ship?

Yeah, now you look way less annoying!

Except your visor. Haha, it looks so dumb!

You get to use three fighters in a fight, one at a time, switching freely, until all have been KO'd, or you have KO'd all three of your opponent's fighters...or the game's 99-second fight timer runs out...or your cat rubs against he power outlet and unplugs your Dreamcast. However, if you build up your hyper-combo gauge three times over (you can fill it up to four times over), all three of your characters can attack with their hyper-combos at once.This looks spectacular. The game's graphics do feature a divisive aspect, however. Instead of utilizing 2D, as it does with the fighters, the developers animated the MvsC2 backgrounds in 3D. The player's range of motion, however, is still 2-dimensional.The results are strange, and shouldn't work, but as I'll address again momentarily, this is one trippy game, and in that context, the backgrounds work.
Why is the game so trippy? In addition to the aforementioned backgrounds, MvsC2 plays like a strange drug trip. You can be winning a fight, when suddenly the computer decimates you with combos for a minute straight. I don't mean hyper combos either--MvsC2 utilizes some insane air combo'ing, where you can hit your opponent into the air, then use your various punches and kicks to deal blow after blow that your foe can be helpless to defend against. Unfortunately, that never really happens for me, and I am generally on the receiving end of these air combos. I am just not good at fighting games, particularly ones where you have to tap out dozens of button combinations to pull off these sorts of moves. Thankfully, MvsC2 understands players like me.
And their solution is far better than Mega Man's general, "launch a fireball and yell like a kid" problem-solving method.

New Age of Heroes, thankfully, features an adjustable difficulty level. This way, I can play on easy, and enjoy more reasonably-paced fights, instead of nightmare acid trip clobberings. This also makes mastering the game's simple control scheme far easier. Each fighter has a light and heavy punch, and a light and heavy kick. Many fighters feature the classic down, down-right-, right, push B projectile moves from previous fighting games, as well as directional variations. This only uses four of the Dreamcast controller's buttons, though (not counting the joystick or directional pad). The two shoulder buttons are used in certain combinations to respectively do hyper-combos, tag-in a teammate, or call said teammate to rain down an assist move (these fights, outside of hyper-combos or brief assists, are mano a mano)--this, of course, all adds to the chaos, but as mentioned, in the easier modes, at least it is controlled chaos. Thankfully, the game features a practice mode to hone all of these skills, as well.
In practice mode, Doctor Doom just looks at you smugly, instead of floating around like a chump, as usual.

Wait, did I say, "Dreamcast controller?" I guess using a Dreamcast controller is okay, but for fighting games on the system, you should really splurge and pick up the Agetec Arcade Stick controller. As of this writing, it is still reasonably priced used, and makes playing fighting games on the Dreamcast so much more fun. Speaking of fun...
Hey, you know how I mentioned an acid trip a minute ago? Speaking of that, Marvel vs Capcom 2 features a bizarre acid-jazz soundtrack that is extremely out of place, but pretty hilarious. I'm not sure if it is intentionally so, but listening to the wonky vocalist belt out over-dramatic lines over weird saxophone melodies, while the Incredible Hulk throws boulders at Mega Man's face is pretty funny. The announcer also sounds like he's been hitting the uppers pretty hard, speaking in a strange, almost psychopathic smiling voice. Even some of the character voices, like Sabretooth and his weird lisp, accentuate the craziness--though most characters speak in voices more apt for their characters. Oh, yeah, also, the menus feature a bunch of bright, swirly colors. What's not trippy is excellent replay value, and New Age of Heroes has it, and that segue was terrible.
The player begins with a limited roster of characters, and must fight and win in the game's arcade or score attack modes to earn points, so that further characters can be unlocked from the in-game store. The game's roster is huge, featuring dozens of Marvel Comics and Capcom games most beloved characters, as well as a few newcomers, unique to this game. Get all of the characters, and then you can earn alternate uniforms for them. Buy all of those, and you get the option to use the same character as all three members of your team. Mastering the game will also take time, and playing it is fun, so you are going to want to try to do that.
Yep, this is what OCD looks like.

I forgot to mention, there's some weird story about how all of the characters are fighting so that they can reach, fight, and defeat some weird shapeshifting beast named Abyss--you fight against seven sets of foes gathered from the game's cast in both arcade and score attack to reach him/it. You know, typical fighting game stuff--with that said, every character has the same ending...you are using three at a time, anyway. You can also play against a friend, hopefully not that jerk from the Don Carter's Bowling Alley arcade. That's always fun, particularly if you are evenly matched, but even better if you actually are that jerk from the Don Carter's Bowling Alley arcade.
Unless mankind finally invents both time-travel, and reverse aging, I will never get to play mid-90's 2D fighters as a teenager ever again. However, old enough to be President me can laugh with my son, as we unleash yet another cheap laser burst from Cable into Juggernaut's face...because like all good fighting games, Marvel vs Capcom 2 features some really cheap characters. That wasn't where I intended to go with that sentence, but I guess I should talk about it. This game features several characters who can shoot laser projectiles that do damage even if the opponent is blocking. You can block with the back button--sometimes it doesn't work, but against these types of moves, it never works. So feasibly, you can just stock Cable or Iron Man, and have them shoot lasers at your haplessly blocking enemy until they die. This takes little skill, and you definitely shouldn't do it, especially if you are fighting against your own child. That is, of course, unless you are teaching them to do it, so in the future, when arcades hopefully make some inexplicable comeback, they can be that kid. Yes. The cycle continues. FOREVER!


9.0
Graphics
Beautiful, crazy fast animation, bright colors, and trippy visuals, though not quite on par with the best of the Dreamcast best.
7.5
Music and Sound
Weird acid jazz soundtrack casts a bizarre atmosphere, as well as do some of the character voices, though most voice-acting and sound effects are solid.
9.0
Gameplay
Some of the zaniest, most fast-paced 2D fighting ever, at the service of an insanely vast Marvel and Capcom combined cast.
9.5
Lasting Value
Collect every available fighter, earn every costume, play the game to you and your friends' hearts' content, and congrats, you're eligible for Social Security!


9.2  FINAL SCORE

Monday, October 31, 2016

Jurassic Park 16-Bit Showdown



If there's a film event that joined Generation X'ers and Millennials together in the early 90's, it's Star Wars: Episode One: The Phantom Menace. Psyche, it's Jurassic Park. Displaying never-been-seen special effects, utilized by famed director Steven Spielberg to maximum effect, Jurassic Park contained a wow-factor just as great for jaded teens and 20-somethings as it did for (likely terrified) kids. Best-of-all, the film led many to Michael Crichton's source material, an incredibly fun book of the same title. Both are set on Crichton's fictional Isla Nublar, an island off the cost of Costa Rica, where an eccentric billionaire has used DNA technology to create a theme park featuring real-life dinosaurs. The dinosaurs break loose, and the humans become their modern-age prey, and/or Kleenexes. While the film contains numerous iconic set-pieces, the book somehow features a multitude more. With the film's famous, world-building aesthetic (the movie itself even features a gift shop!), coupled with the film's and book's action and varied geographic locations, the Jurassic Park world was ripe for video game interpretation. Thankfully, game developers didn't disappoint.
Jurassic Park came right in the middle of home console video game's 16-bit generation, with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (or SNES) and Sega Genesis vying for power. The war between these two consoles meant a wealth of video game goodness for 90's gamers, including SIX! 16-bit Jurassic Park titles. And while Dr. Grant, the film's protagonist, may have been a mild-mannered paleontologist, he stars in the majority of these games as John Rambo's more violent step-brother. Here's a head-to-head look at all six Jurassic Park 16-bit games in order of their respective release dates, followed by a final ranking list.
Welcome to Jurassic Park...16-Bit Showdown.


Jurassic Park, Sega Genesis August 26, 1993

The first 16-bit Jurassic Park game to market was the Sega Genesis version. An unbiased playthrough now confirms how it came to market so early--the game feels rushed. JP SG (You're hearing it referred by that here first!) is a 2-D platformer/shooter, featuring seven fairly short levels. The controls are very stiff, with timing sometimes seeming off between button-pushing and on-screen action, and abundant graphical slowdown sometimes causing the game to stutter and jumps to become more difficult. Speaking of jumps, the game developers (Blue Sky Software) seemed to realize their game was not going to take long for an average player to complete, and added several unfair elements to the gameplay--or possibly, they didn't fully understand how to design a game--but I prefer to assume the latter. To quote page 22 from the game's own instruction manual, "You can't always see your next foothold. If you must jump blind, go for the middle distance." This is a game that features bottomless pits at the bottom of most levels, and player damage seemingly anytime their character falls from a height of more than two feet. This game has no excuse to make the player jump blind. Trial-and-error jumping certainly stretches out the playing time (because you'll keep dying), but it also isn't a fair gameplay mechanic. Of course, a blind-jump would be forgivable if it only happened once, but it occurs throughout the entirety of the game--it's almost JP SG's genre. Then there are the "low-roof" jumps, where the player has to somehow, with the game's faulty controls, jump to a platform directly about their current standing place--hit your head on the roof, and it's down to the bottomless pit again. It's like ET for Atari, though thankfully, instead of tapping on the controller forever, you just die...er, your avatar just dies. However, with all that said, Jurassic Park for the Genesis has charm in spades, which is why it still kindles fond memories in 90's videogame players that burn just a little bit, but are still fond anyway. First of all, the graphics look great, with detailed backgrounds, trademark Genesis shadow and light work (to mask the system's limited color palette), and nice, digitized-looking animation for the dinosaurs and Dr. Grant. The way Dr. Grant moves just looks...cool. Like I said, charming. Also, the music is a classic Genesis score, with Sam Powell employing the system's trademarked bass-and-beat-heavy sound, but adding in a surprising amount of atmosphere, particularly a noirish tone in the Power Station stage.  So, firing off tranquilizers at dinosaurs is enjoyable when the graphics, sound, and controls all hit together (and when they don't, outside of the slowdown, it is always the controls' fault). Also, the developers did have one good idea to extend gameplay: adding the carnivorous, swift-yet-heavily toothed-and-clawed velociraptor as a playable character. Bounding around as a six-foot reptilian tank with razor-sharp teeth and claws, and a vertical that could clear your neighborhood Denny's, is a blast. Though the raptor only gets to romp through five of Dr. Grant's seven stages, one of which is about six jumps long, and is not immune to also having to make blind leaps, the option to choose it extends and diversifies gameplay. In the end, the first released Jurassic Park 16-bit game is good for some nostalgia and production values, and it's cool to have two very different characters to choose from, but it just doesn't play that great. If only the developers could have taken some extra time to iron out the kinks...and add a couple extra levels. I mean, they've been extinct for 65-million years, what's another two months?

Graphics: 8.5/10
Sound: 8.5/10
Gameplay: 6.0/10
Lasting Value: 5.5/10
Overall (Not an Average): 6.3/10.0




 


Jurassic Park, Super Nintendo, October 1, 1993

Ocean Software's SNES Jurassic Park game, released several months later, is a bit more ambitious. Instead of side-scrolling ,the game goes for an isometric, top-down view when the player, as Dr. Grant once again, ventures across the park, and a first-person perspective when Dr. Grant enters a building. The isometric graphics are solid, resembling The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and create a convincing Isla Nublar. The 3D graphics, while primitive now, were cutting-edge for a console, and a rare-feat at the time (and even include green-tinted night-vision sections!).  The excellent usage of these perspectives makes for a far more immersive experience, made even better by the game's best feature: the Jonathan Dunn-composed music. Full disclosure: Jurassic Park for Super Nintendo features one of my all time favorite video game soundtracks. It is completely unique, bouncy and energetic outside, dark and tense inside, but always atmospheric and enveloping. The sound quality is so high for a 16-bit game (music, done on an in-house audio board, is often the best feature of Ocean-developed Super Nintendo software), it seems like it is coming from a CD. The brooding track that plays when the player ventures near the ocean would be a standout on any modern games score. I can't praise this games audio component highly enough, including the excellent, Dolby Surround-enhanced sound effects (dinosaur noises everywhere!), and periodic digitized speech, including a game-opening "Welcome to Jurassic Park" that magically transports the player (or at least this player) to Michael Crichton's fictional island. The gameplay is fun, but doesn't quite measure up to the production values. While the controls are fantastic outside, and at the least, competent inside, the game suffers from two major flaws: it gives little direction to what the player is supposed to do, and it gives no opportunity for the player to turn off the SNES until Jurassic Park has been completed. There are no ways to save, and no passwords. The player has to figure out what to do, completing various tasks around the island, as well as find 18 raptor eggs, before the game is completed. Shortly after this game was released, I spent several days playing, dying and getting many game overs attempting to figure out what to do. This culminated in an all day session, where I reached the end of the game, only to realize I had only found 17 raptor eggs. There was one hidden egg I could not find, and when I finally gave up and turned off the SNES, I didn't play the game again for another five years, this time with detailed notes, including the location of that stupid final egg. The game is fun to play through, though, with enough weapons to keep things interesting (you get to use the same ones inside and outside), and a good layout when you know what you are doing--plus, it is fun to explore, and the game mostly rewards exploration, except when you discover the T-Rex. Overall, with any kind of save system and a slightly longer challenge (the game can be beaten in under two hours once you've mastered it), this game would be an absolute classic, even with the nebulous goals, but as it is, it is only pretty good.

Graphics: 8.5/10
Sound:10.0/10
Gameplay: 7.0/10
Lasting Value: 7.0/10
Overall (Not an Average): 7.5/10.0







Jurassic Park, Sega CD December 17, 1993

Here's the real oddball of the bunch. Jurassic Park for the Sega CD (a Sega Genesis add-on...which could play CD games) conforms to none of the gameplay norms of the other 16-bit Jurassic Park games. Everybody loves a rebel (except that guy who kept yelling at James Dean in that movie), but unfortunately, Jurassic Park for Sega CD is the worst of these six games.This plastic disc contains an early 90's first-person, PC point-and-click adventure game, except its on a 16-bit add-on console. The player, not Grant this time, but some nondescript scientist, is choppered onto Isla Nublar shortly after the events of the first game, and placed in what is essentially a wrap-around, okay-looking 2D hand-drawn panorama of the Jurassic Park beach, to give the illusion of a 3D-environment. There are roughly 30 of these panoramic screens, representing the entirety of the park, that the player will travel to and through, as they search for and incubate eggs from seven different dinosaur species. Each panorama is connected by an FMV "travel-video" of either filmed footage of driving through representative terrain (i.e. a jungle), CGI steps or tunnels, or a quick hand-drawn montage to represent movement. These are...pretty low-res and grainy. To start, the island is bereft of people, and the game does a good job of creating a feeling of isolation. However, actually progressing in the game can be quite a chore. Often, the player has to look around to see if the environment contains a grabable object. If so, they can add it to their, thankfully, limit-free inventory. Then the player must figure out where to use it. The problem is, most actions must be incredibly precise to progress, and it is easy to do what one is supposed to actually do, not get the desired result, and assume that the solution attempted was incorrect. For example, a certain moment in the game presents an overturned jeep next to an angry looking triceratops (dinosaur animation with the environments isn't incredible, but gets the job done). If the player honks the jeep horn, the triceratops rams the jeep...then kills the player. I should probably mention: this is a point-and-click adventure where the player can frequently die. But back to the puzzle. If the player honks the horn a second time, at just the right moment, an object flies out of the car that the player must pick up...but then, the player must honk the horn again at just the right time, or they will again get gored to death. If the second honk isn't timed perfectly, at an arbitrary moment, it's a horn through the gut. The action must be partaken again to retrieve yet another loosed item, and then the player must high tail it out of there before they might possibly get gored again.  I understand that a Jurassic Park with harmless dinosaurs doesn't really make sense, but with that the case, the puzzles should be more intuitive, and less temperamental and timing based. Speaking of timing, and making matters worse, the player has a twelve-hour time-limit to complete the game. While the timer unfolds in real-time when the player is exploring a screen, it automatically drains many minutes any time the player travels to another screen--thus exploration is almost discouraged.  There are also a few point-and-click shooting segments (with non-lethal weapons) against dinosaurs and some late-comer malevolent humans that are incredibly cheesy(all 16-bit JP games from here on out will feature human villains, who are attempting to steal the park's dinosaurs...don't worry, though, the dinosaurs are still not your friends). Speaking of cheesy, Spencer Nilsen, creator of the groundbreakingly atmospheric soundtracks for the Ecco the Dolphin Sega CD games, lends a strangely uneven score to the game. While many moments are simply soundtracked by well-done island sound-effects (also, the player's own varied, terrified death screams are a hilarious game highlight), some moments are punctuated by music. Instead of a cohesive sound design for Jurassic Park, Nilsen seems to be employing the "Hey, what sounds does this keyboard have?" technique. For some reason, this time he is really fond of whistles. For better-or-worse, it's 90's through-and-through. Thankfully, though, this game isn't a complete drag. Information kiosks are scattered around the island featuring videos of real-life paleontologist, Robert T Bakker, talking about dinosaurs. This is undeniably cool (and educational!). Also, the odd puzzle really does satisfy, particularly a mean-spirited one involving a frog. The game's hub area, the movie's famous visitor's center, is fun to explore, featuring a computer where the player can save their game (and receive amusing update messages from a mainland scientist(if this review had been written in 1993, "a cute mainland scientist")), and also houses the incubator where eggs must be placed to complete the game. A couple of park employees from the film have visit-able offices, as well, which definitely sweetens the experience. It's those extremely dorky ties to the film that make the game worth playing. Otherwise, it's a forgettable, highly uneven experience.

Graphics: 6.5/10
Sound: 7.0/10
Gameplay: 5.5/10
Lasting Value: 5.5/10
Overall (Not an Average): 6.0/10.0







Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition, Sega Genesis, September 5, 1994

Jurassic Park returned to the Sega Genesis barely a year after the original, with Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition. It's clear after playing this game for a few minutes that BlueSky Software wanted to right some of the wrongs of the original game. The first game's biggest issue, it's tight and inconsistent controls, have been remedied for Rampage Edition. Dr. Grant and the Raptor, who both return here selectable at the start, control smoothly. It's actually a joy to move them around levels now. Gone are the blind jumps of the original, as well as the jump damage. The player generally never has to jump blind, and on the rare occasion that they do, doesn't have to worry about falling to oblivion, or cracking open their skull. The game is still a side-scrolling platformer/shooter with some moments of normal-paced level exploration, but more than anything, Rampage Edition is a chase game. The Aviary Stage sees Grant running from a marauding Pterodactyl that can bring him to the start of the Stage, the Cargo Ship Stage sees Grant climbing up to escape floodwaters, the Savanna Stage puts Grant on the back of a Gallimimus (a lightning-quick, ostrich-like dinosaur) in an attempt to outrun dive-bombing helicopters and vicious raptors, the Rapids Stage sees him taking a boat down rapids and waterfalls (way more fun and playable than the original's Boat Stage) as rival boaters and dinosaurs give chase, and the Final Stage sees Grant try to make it down the river and off the island before the jaws of his old buddy, T-Rex, can clamp over his head. Thankfully, this time around, Dr. Grant has more than just a bunch of puny tranquilizer weapons at his disposal. Now Grant wields as diverse a mix as shotguns, machine guns, a flame-thrower (complete with a corresponding crispy-critter death animation for foes), an all-powerful electrical ray (complete with an x-ray-to-dust death animation for foes(and lending this game the now-defunct "MA-13" rating), among several others. The raptor gets to have more fun now, too, with an upgraded jump attack, and a chance to "Raptor Rage." A "Raptor Rage" occurs when the raptor finds and eats several boxes of lysine (scattered around each level), whereupon the screen tints red, and the raptor becomes invincible, killing most foes by simply touching them. This allows the raptor to tear through stages with Sonic-esque speed, which greatly utilizes the Genesis' faster-processing power. The graphics stand out, as well, featuring a black outline around each character this time (which is a divisive choice, but one I don't believe lowers the graphical quality below the first game), the previously mentioned death-animations, and even a Grant pistol-twirling animation when he is idle. This is certainly a more 90's "extreme" and fun game, and the blinking and salivating raptor on the game's startup menu, backed by an opening heavy-metal-esque musical theme attests to this (though strangely, Sam Powell's music this go-round is a little more minimalistic than before, though still driving and quite good). However, the game's menu screen also attests to this game's great flaw. Players will immediately notice that there is no "Password" option like there was in the first Jurassic Park Genesis game. This seems like a huge problem, until the reason for it becomes clear--Rampage Edition only features six levels. If you know what you are doing, you can beat this game in fifteen minutes. Less if you're the raptor, as it only gets five levels, which are all basically identical to Grant's first five levels. Because of  this, Rampage Edition feels like a great demo, and not a complete game. The game also offers the player a chance to collect items, but those items serve no purpose whatsoever in the game. The short play-time and item dead-end lead me to believe that once again, BlueSky (perhaps due to Sega's command) rushed their game to market. They had time to remedy the first game's flaws, but not enough time to actually craft a full-game around these better game mechanics. The result is a fun, but short-to-the-point-of-disposable romp.

Graphics: 8.5/10
Sound: 8.5/10
Gameplay: 7.2/10
Lasting Value: 4.0/10
Overall (Not an Average): 6.5/10.0







Jurassic Park 2: The Chaos Continues, Super Nintendo, January 1995

After working on such an ambitious first Jurassic Park game for the SNES, Ocean software decided to make something decidedly more simple for the second: Contra in Jurassic Park. You read that correctly. Instead of a combined isometric and 3D shooter/exploration game, the little-known Jurassic Park 2: The Chaos Continues is a supremely difficult 2D run-and-gun/platformer, ala Contra. While the game doesn't feature the graphical insanity of Contra III, it looks very solid, with some nice detail, atmospheric fog, some cool lighting effects, and a fully animated opening cutscene. The real star of this game, though, is the sound. The aforementioned cutscene features minutes of actor-recorded speech, virtually unheard of in a SNES (or Sega Genesis) game. The Dolby Surround-enhanced raptor-squeals and weapons-blasts are great, but once again the game standout is its soundtrack. Jonathan Dunn, the excellent composer of the first game, stepped down this time, with Dean Evans taking soundtrack duties. However, instead of a drop-off, Evans comes up with something that is possibly better than Dunn's work for the original. Befitting the The Chaos Continues' militaristic nature, Evan's compositions are bombastic, symphonic, percussion-led tracks that again sound CD quality. The atmosphere is so thick, you  can cut it with a raptor claw, especially in the darker, more mysterious tracks, with "Dark Jungle" a particular standout among any music composed for any video game, ever. The gameplay doesn't quite match the outstanding music, but the Jurassic Park 2 is still quite fun. Either one or two players can take part in their choice of six missions, in any order they choose. After each mission is completed, the player must tackle an emergency follow-up (which is timed, and follows a story-order, meaning the order doesn't change, regardless of what level the player chooses), plus an additional final stage for each difficulty level, meaning fifteen total levels for the hardest difficulty. Levels generally consist of shooting everything in the way, man (a rival genetics company is causing havoc...erm, chaos on the island) and dinosaur. The dinosaurs, except for raptors, must be taken down with a non-lethal weapon, while human foes must be taken down with lethal ones (dino-tranqs don't effect them). Raptors can thankfully be subdued by any means necessary (and here they're meaner than ever). Ammo is sparse, and there is a dino count at the top of the screen that announces the amount of the great reptiles (minus raptors) currently living on the island. Use a lethal weapon on one, and the count goes down. Take it down too low, and it's game over. Thankfully, the count rises as you play (because dinosaurs are like bunnies), so there is some forgiveness in that aspect of the game, but otherwise, The Chaos Continues gives no quarter. A handful of bullets or dino-bites mean death, and death means starting a level at the beginning. Once the game's small handful of continues is exhausted, it's game over. There is no way to save progress. There are no passwords. Like the first SNES game, once you get a game over, you lose all your progress, and get to start from zero. Death doesn't come so easy (outside of getting T-Rex'd) in the first game, though. Here, death is constant, until the player has mastered the game. Thankfully....
I would generally never suggest this, but Jurassic Park 2: The Chaos Continues demands it:
At the level select screen, enter: L, L, L, R, R, R, L, L, R, R, L, R, L, L, R, R, L, L, L, R, R, R.
Boom. Infinite continues. Just like Contra. Or sort of. You'll still have to start the level from scratch every time you die...but you won't lose your game progress. This cheat is vital to enjoying Jurassic Park 2. It allows you to fully explore what The Chaos Continues has to offer, but it doesn't make the actual gameplay easier. You'll still have to become a hardened pro to get through any of these stages. I will unabashedly say that I beat the game this way on the easiest difficulty, after many hours, but afterward, when trying the hardest difficulty with no cheating, I tore through the levels like a master. This is one of the few games where cheating actually makes you better at the game later on when you don't cheat. And the gameplay is so fun, cerebral in the way strategy is involved in weapon selection and ammo consumption (though a selectable standard weaker lethal weapon and a weaker non-lethal weapon, respectively, never run out of ammo, and should be leaned upon when possible), nice and crazy when guns are blazing against raptors and mercenary commandos. And finally, Contra for the SNES has myriad bosses scattered across each level-Jurassic Park 2 has a T-Rex, choppers, and a Schwarzenegger-wannabe with a flame-thrower. While there isn't near the enemy variation of Contra, the game's bad guys are quite serviceable. The "regular" flamethrower stormtrooper is particularly nighmarish, as he can kill Dr. Grant in just a couple of seconds. These guys are almost always in the most inconvenient spot for Grant to deal with, too, requiring lots of strategy and experience to take down efficiently. My rambling is showing my sweet spot for this game. Like the first Jurassic Park for SNES, The Chaos Continues would be a heralded classic if it featured any type of save system (and also if one otherwise awesome level did not contain an unfairly unclear objective). As it is, though, this unfairly obscure Jurassic Park sequel is still nearly great...and even a bit better than the first game.

Graphics: 8.0/10
Sound: 10.0/10
Gameplay: 7.5/10
Lasting Value: 7.5/10
Overall (Not an Average): 7.8/10.0

 




The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Sega Genesis, September 16, 1997

Few people know that a second Jurassic Park game was released for the Super Nintendo. Even less know that a THIRD game was released for the Sega Genesis. The Lost World, having little to do with the Jurassic Park sequel it takes its name from, is one of the last games ever released for the Sega Genesis, first available in stores two years after the release of the Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn, and a few weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of the Nintendo 64's release. Because it was released so late in the Sega Genesis life-cycle (less than two years before the Sega Dreamcast was released!), The Lost World is a little known oddity, which is a shame, as it may just be the best Jurassic Park game every released, 16-bit or not. Eschewing the 2-D side-scrolling platformer action of the previous Genesis Jurassic Park titles, The Lost World takes up the overhead, isometric view of the first Jurassic Park game for SNES. While The Lost World doesn't feature the SNES game's first-person interior perspective, it does feature four pseudo-3D, "Mode-7"-style boss fights that are quite technically impressive for a 16-bit system, and particularly the Sega Genesis. While the isometric graphics aren't quite as strong as their SNES counterpart's, featuring far less color variation (a whole lot of green and brown), they are still pretty easy on the eyes. Likewise, while the sound quality isn't up to the SNES games' standards, the score and sound effects are still quite good. Taking full advantage of the Genesis "drum n' bass" favoring sound capabilities, The Lost World's soundtrack sounds like a lost Daft Punk album--its only flaw is that the entire score is maybe seven tracks long, though none ever get old. Also, while the sound effects aren't up to the Dolby Surround quality of the SNES games, they are still quite nice, particularly the booming blast of the shotgun. But while the SNES games hold a technological advantage over The Lost World, The Lost World holds several distinct strengths over the SNES games. Those SNES Jurassic Parks feature far more complex and longer-lasting gameplay than the first two Genesis ones, but the first SNES game features plenty of objectives that are never really spelled out, and have to be intuited by the player. The second SNES game divides itself into many missions that can be completed in any order, and most give a very clear briefing of what must be accomplished, but neither game gives the player any sort of game-saving option, and no password to pick up where the player has left off. This means the player must undertake many long-hour single-sitting sessions before the game can be completed...which can lead to much frustration. The Lost World features four stages with multiple missions (adding up to nineteen total). Each stage's missions can be completed in any order, outside of the boss battle, which is naturally always last. These missions come in a variety of forms, from searching caves to collect items, to marching across the landscape to destroy enemy encampments (like several of its predecessors, The Lost World features both dinosaur and human antagonists), to herding dinosaurs into cages, to driving away from an angry T-Rex. With such a diverse group of missions with optional completion paths, the lack of some type of saving feature would be brutal. Thankfully, this isn't an issue. The Lost World features a lovely password system, offering a password for any level completion combination when a level is completed. No matter what order the player completes missions, there is a corresponding password to pick up at that point of progress. For once, it feels like the game developers have some empathy for the players.  This means The Lost World is truly the only pick-up-and-play game of this bunch that still takes an actual time commitment to complete (about ten hours or so on single-player mode). As a bonus, when certain missions are completed, "just-for-fun" passwords are given, unlocking bonus modes and features. Speaking of modes, this game features multiplayer co-operative and versus modes. It's an actual full-game experience! Of course, none of this would be worth anything if the game wasn't fun to play--but thankfully, it is! Though The Lost World leans on film nostalgia less than any previous Jurassic Park game, it might just be the most enjoyable to experience. While it may take the player a moment to get used to the lack of a jump button, the nameless mercenary protagonist is a breeze to control (and he can move in any direction!). Weapon selection is vast and fun, and the option to control an SUV and hovercraft at certain points in the game is extremely cool. The pseudo-3D boss fights feature some great, arcade style shooting action, and can be breathlessly paced. While the main game action sometimes features some graphical slowdown when too many enemies and objects are on screen, this doesn't detract from the overall gameplay experience. Also, as a final sort of bonus, Appaloosa Interactive (same company that made Ecco: Defender of the Future for the Dreamcast) does not appear to have rushed this game. The Lost World contains many special touches, like the dinosaur and human antagonists fighting each other if the player stays out of the way. But best of all, unlike Rampage Edition, The Lost World's special items actually hold a purpose. Scattered thoughout each level are Jurassic Park tokens. Every time the player collects six, a crate is airdropped to that very spot, containing armor, ammo, and an extra life. It's a small, but great touch. So while The Lost World is harder to find than the other Jurassic Park games, with just a handful of copies appearing on EBay, its barely known existence keeps its price low, and it deserves a spot in any 16-bit or Jurassic Park fan's collection. It's a true hidden gem.

Graphics: 8.0/10
Sound: 8.0/10
Gameplay: 9.0/10
Lasting Value: 8.5/10
Overall (Not an Average): 8.5/10.0



This was an outrageously fun way to spend a month. I should note here, I do not publish a review until I complete the game(s) I am reviewing. These write-ups take into account the full games, start-to-end. I've put many hours of play-time into each of these to inform my opinions.  Honestly, if I factor in my personal bias, my favorite game here is The Chaos Continues. It sets off a special dopamine nostalgia release in my brain--I love the music, how it feels to control...really everything about it, despite its considerable flaws. However, remaining objective, The Chaos Continues is not quite the best of these games. Here's how I rank all six, objectively, following the scores listed above:

1. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Sega Genesis, 1997)
2. Jurassic Park 2: The Chaos Continues (Super Nintendo, 1995)
3. Jurassic Park (Super Nintendo, 1993)
4. Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition (Sega Genesis, 1994)
5. Jurassic Park (Sega Genesis, 1993)
6. Jurassic Park (Sega CD, 1993)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Vs. Street Fighter Alpha 3 Review Showdown

Vs.

For our first review, it's time for a face-off!There can only be one "Best Streetfighter Game on Dreamcast," and since we're pretending that Street Fighter III: Double Impact doesn't exist (maybe we'll hang out later, Double Impact?), it's come down to a 3rd Strike/Alpha 3 battle royale. Both games have their merits, but there can only be one Highlander!...
Street Fighter...
Let's start with the graphics.
Well, this isn't really fair. Alpha 3 is an older game, based on Sega's CPS II system board (originally developed for the ancient classic, Super Street Fighter II), while the newer Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike runs on the CPS...III. That's right, Street Fighter Alpha 3 is DVD and 3rd Strike is Blu Ray. 
Screw you, Alex!
Alpha 3 looks like a souped up version of the arcade game us old folks went nuts over in the early 90's (I mentioned it in an above parenthetical) and 3rd Strike looks like a Disney film...and I don't mean it's cute. 3rd Strike's just that pretty--one of the better looking pure 2D games ever made. 
Featuring flowing cloth, writhing muscles, Chun Li, and a color scheme best described as "muted neon," 3rd Strike's visuals are timeless. In motion, it is nearly peerless on the Dreamcast, with only Guilty Gears surpassing it in the 2D realm (though with a vastly different art style).
Alpha 3, on the other hand, looks like a game the Dreamcast could run it its sleep. Alpha 3's graphics are basic upconverted Playstation graphics, and considering the Dreamcast is four times as powerful as the Playstation, that's a shame.  
That's not to say Alpha 3 is ugly, but compared to a more graphically advanced game like 3rd Strike, it looks downright primitive.

Screw you, too, Zangief...but on a less graphically impressive scale.

However, both games do run smoothly, with blinding, insane combos pulled off with nary a slowdown, though 3rd Strike's are far more impressive.
How about music and sound effects, though? Again, I'm going to have to rule in 3rd Strike's favor. Both games favor the general Street Fightery dance music nonsense blueprint. It's the kind of music you might not listen to on its own, but that gets your blood pumping when you play. 3rd Strike's is just better, though, both subjectively (cuz I like it better) and objectively (because the keyboard samples used are of a higher quality). and also because Capcom somehow convinced stellar Canadian rapper, Infinite, to rap on 3rd Strike's intro, character select screen, and end credits. A guy rapping about which character the player is going to select should not be aurally appealing, but somehow Infinite pulls this off. Perhaps this is because the songs have that awesome late 90's indie rap feel (expect some sweet, atmospheric horn samples). Whatever the case, they work, and give 3rd Strike a far more memorable soundtrack than its predecessors, including Alpha 3.
3rd Strike's character voices and face-smacking sound effects are just a bit crisper, as well.
If you want to get further into the production standpoint, 3rd Strike features gorgeously minimalistic menus, featuring a bright yet earthy scheme reminiscent of Aphex Twin's cover for Selected Ambient Works Volume II.
Shouldn't that say "Untitled, Untitled, Untitled, Untitled, Untitled, Untitled(Rhubarb)?"
Yes, I earned Gill. Yes...it took me a long time.
Meanwhile, Alpha 3 features menus that are a little more...busy,
Technically, that's because Alpha 3 has a million more modes, but we'll get to that.
along with character artwork that is a little more TV anime than Disney film.
Pictured: Ryu before his big fight with  Rurouni Kenshin. Also, this game has a lot of characters.
Also, one can clear the menu off the screen by pausing 3rd Strike, making gameplay picture-taking a snap. For the sake of this review, I wish Alpha 3 had that option, as well, as taking screenshots of it was so difficult, I had to use that pun in the previous sentence.
Now that aesthetics are out of the way, it's time to fight.
Vega! I said fight, not...nevermind. 
Let's start with the old timer. Or better yet, let's start with what these two games have in common. 
Street Fighter games feature mano y mano battles between two...street fighters, who compete in best of three round matches. Each fighter has a light punch, light kick, medium punch, medium kick, heavy punch, heavy kick, along with a throw or two, and several special moves unique to each fighter. These special moves are performed through Street Fighter's revolutionary button input system, where the player might have to quickly push the directional pad from down to forward then tap "punch," or hold back then tap forward and kick, along with a multitude of variations. Hitting an opponent decreases their power gauge, and completely depleting it, or having more left than the opponent when the fight timer counts down to zero, results in a round won.
There are also super combos unique to each character (usually involving a gauge that must be built up through landing regular attacks), which deal greater damage, but involve inputting even more complex button combinations. 
They're called "Super Arts" in 3rd Strike. Pictured above: Dudley getting "Super Art"ed.
Screw you, Dudley!
Every character has different range and speed, as well, and their moves and techniques attack at different angles. Gameplay is highly refined, as the game developers have to create 20 some-odd characters, make them vastly different from one another, yet still equally competitive with one another in a fight. Both of these games, as with just about every Street Fighter game ever mad, do an incredible job at this. Sure, there are several similar characters (Ken and Ryu, Juni and Juli, Yun and Yang are all essentially the same from the neck down, with nearly identical moves), and sure, some characters have a slight advantage over the others (Ken and Chun Li in 3rd Strike), or a slight disadvantage (Sean in 3rd Strike), but for the most part, the developers have miraculously created a huge crew of diverse characters who can hold their own against one another.
Now, let's fight.
Alpha 3 features the most characters and modes of the two games. Both games feature the classic, "beat a character, advance to fight another random character, repeat ten-ish times, then fight the final boss" mode of the arcade games from which they were ported. This mode makes up only a small portion of Alpha 3, though.
Screw you, Vega!
In addition to arcade mode, Alpha 3 features an RPG-like "World Tour" mode, where the player can fight again and again...around the world to build up stats. This mode is pretty cool. You level up, RPG-style after fights, turning your character into a major badass, who can then be inserted into any other mode of the game. 
It's as nerdy as it sounds!
World Tour mode also presents some fun scenarios, like having to fight multiple characters at a time, having to fight using only combos or throws...sometimes you even get paired up with someone else to deal out a hilariously unfair beating.
Hey, Adon, I promise we just want to talk.
Hahahahaha! Sucker!!!
Other modes include a survival mode, where the player tries to see how many one-round fights they can win with one power gauge, There's also a dramatic battle mode, which pits multiple fighters against one, just like in the World Tour mode. Also, if you have friends, you can team up and play this mode together, but I don't have any friends, so nevermind.
Both games feature a training mode, which is great for learning each characters' moves to prevent or cause a later beat-down. Both games feature the usual two-player versus mode, so you can go head-to-head with a friend, if you're special like that. I bet you are so proud of yourself, having friends who want to play retro video games with you. Well, good for you! THAT'S JUST GREAT!!!
In lieu of all these extra modes like World Tour and Survival Mode, 3rd Strike doesn't have anything...and it doesn't need it.
Instead of a bunch of great modes, 3rd Strike has one incredibly awesome, ridiculously highly-refined, meticulously fine-tuned one (along with the aforementioned versus and training modes, but those would have ruined the flow of my sentence, and caused me to use even more adverbs).
I haven't even delved into Alpha 3's three "-ism" fighting styles, where the player can select whether they want to be really strong, do a lot of combos, do both, block in the air, and all this other insane minutia that I frankly don't care that much about. 3rd Strike let's you play around with that stuff as a bonus reward for beating the game with all of the characters (both games contain merit-based unlockables), but it throws only one real gameplay option at you: an arcade mode that leads directly to a character select screen, that leads directly to a fight.
I'm not going to lie: I prefer the minimalism of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. The gameplay feels just a bit tighter and balanced to Alpha 3's arcade mode, and the better graphics and sound lift the experience even higher. The cast of characters is even more diverse, featuring several fighters that aren't even human, and stretching the dynamic possibilities of fights even more. On top of that, 3rd Strike's characters are bursting with more personality than Alpha 3's, even though Alpha 3 has more of an integrated storyline for each character built in to its arcade mode. For instance, 3rd Strike's Sean is charming and fun to use, even if he isn't quite as strong as the other characters.
He shoots...
He scores!!!
He has the same character design as Ryu and Ken...but don't tell him...he's really touchy about that, along with his Mickey Mouse-shaped back mole...he really needs to get that thing looked at.
While 3rd Strike's arcade mode may not include as much of a story for each character, each character does have a unique ending, and a few share dialogue before a fight with certain fighters. Most have a special nemesis to fight before they face Gill, the game's supernatural final boss.
Despite the minimalism, 3rd Strike's arcade mode does include some new additions that are unique to it compared to Alpha 3.
First, there's the ratings system, where a player is graded after every fight. The higher the grade, the higher the player's score will be in the end.
I need a D+ opponent, stat!
The game also brings back Street Fighter II's awesome every-three-fights-or-so bonus rounds, with the SUV smash bringing back the most nostalgia.
Screw you, car!
However, what really sets 3rd Strike apart from every previous Street Fighter game is the parry.
A player parries by tapping toward their opponent the moment the opponent is attempting to attack. If performed correctly, the opponent will flash blue, and for a very brief moment, be stunned, giving the player a split second to retaliate with a counter. Of course, if you mistime the parry, you get clobbered. You could always hold back instead of parrying, but blocking does not completely mitigate damage, nor does it stun your foes.
Parrying is a bit like putting your hand flat on a table and rapidly stabbing a knife in the gaps between your fingers ala Lance Henricksen in Aliens. You really don't need to do it, but it sure looks cool.
I can play through the game on the easier modes (you can set the difficulty on the options screen) without parrying. Unlike James Cameron-directed table abuse, though, parrying can help a lot when dealing with the higher difficulty settings, or facing off against a professional human opponent in the versus mode. With my old geezer reflexes, I am awful at parrying, but the times I've made it work, like parrying a Gill deathblow and countering with one of my own, successfully ending the match (and the game), have given me a greater high than almost any other video game accomplishment. Successfully parrying really gives a great feeling.
Parrying adds an entirely new level of strategy and skill-mastery to 3rd Strike. It also helps add to 3rd Strike's replay value (mastering parrying and the use of all 20 characters puts 3rd Strike's play time on par with Alpha 3's) and gives the game an even more unique feel.
Screw you, Gill! Also, Q rules.
Really, that's what pushes 3rd Strike up to the top for me. It's got such a wonderful, unique personality, from the aforementioned Disney-esque graphical style, to the muted neon color scheme, to the highly original and highly likable stable of characters, to the singular high of a perfectly placed parry, to the inexhaustible, timeless cool of the indie rap soundtrack, I respect and enjoy Street Fighter Alpha 3, but I love Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. I love it even more than the nostalgia-soaked Street Fighter II, and that's saying a lot. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is a beautiful game.
Also, if you're 12 and lonely, it's got just as much Chun Li butt as Street Fighter II.
She has to wear that to fight efficiently.
It's function over form, really.
Not to be outdone, Alpha 3 has plenty of Cammy butt for the kids (Chun Li is inexplicably wearing track pants (It's like they don't even want you to look at her butt!)).
From a gameplay standpoint, I want to reiterate that preference between these two games is almost subjective. 3rd Strike is a bit more refined than Alpha 3, but Alpha 3 has so many modes. It's really a matter of taste: do you like to master one complex thing over a long period of time, or do you want to have a ton of different things to do?
However, from a graphical, audio, and design standpoint, it's no contest: 3rd Strike wins hands down.
Nice job, buddy. I knew you could do it.
Better luck next time, Saikyo Dojo. Also, what is a Saikyo Dojo? Is it Salkyo Dojo? Samyo Dojo? Snkyo Dojo? Saik Yo Dojo? "I don't see any Dojo here...Psyche! Yo, Dojo!"? Choose a better font next time, Capcom
Of course, there is an even better choice than choosing between the two.
Buy both!
And finally, I feel like I have one more thing to reiterate.
Screw you, Alex!
Screw you, Dudley!
Screw you, Zangief!
I'll get to you later, Rolento.



___________________________________________
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike
2000 Capcom

Graphics - 9.5

Sound - 9.0

Gameplay - 9.5

Lasting Value - 9.0

Final Score 9.3

Vs.

___________________________________________
Street Fighter Alpha 3
1999 Capcom

Graphics - 7.5

Sound - 7.5

Gameplay -9.4

Lasting Value - 9.0

Final Score 9.0