Review A Bad Game Day – Robopon: Sun Version

You can already see where this is going.  Robopon?  A ‘version’?  This game is certainly a Pokemon rip-off.  That doesn’t make it inherently bad, though… there are plenty of games ‘inspired’ by Pokemon, heck, even whole franchises that manage to bring interesting and different spins on monster collection formula that Game Freak has capitalized on.  Of course, Robopon is not one of those games.

For starters, Robopon doesn’t merely take inspiration from the Pokemon series of games:  It outright lifts the idea wholesale and replaces “monsters” with “robots”.  The name Robopon is startlingly close to Pokemon, the tagline “Build’em, Collect’em, Trash’em!” is clearly a robot flavored version of “Gotta Catch’em All!”, and the original release came with two versions (Sun and Moon) with a third enhanced version (Star) coming later.  Nevermind the fact that only the Sun Version came out in the West, cutting players off from being able to collect’em all, effectively ruining one of the game’s main aspects.

Truly inspiring robot designs. Well, I guess Game Freak has their off games too.

Why Atlus decided to localize this, instead of their own in-house Pokemon clone, Devil Children, is understandable, but still a shame.  Perhaps they figured the similarity in name would trick some poor, unknowing parents into buying Robopon for their children.  Or maybe it was a more honest intention… after all, “Pokemon with robots” is far more marketable than “children collecting an army of demons to summon”.  Maybe Atlus actually expected children to want this game; that, in their Pokemon deprived minds (hey, they only came out once a year!), anything involving the words ‘collecting sentient objects for battle’ would have them clamoring to the closest Babbage’s or EB Games.

A sentiment I can completely understand, as I was one of those children.

Yes, that’s right, I played Robopon, and many other Pokemon clones, completely of my own free will.  Pokemon Red and Blue may not have been my first video games, but they were my true ‘introduction’ into the world of gaming, the first games that truly clicked with me.  After I had beaten both versions enough times (yes, I was that kid), I started to branch out, look for most monster collecting games to satisfy my unending hunger.  This usually led to some pretty interesting choices, like Dragon Warrior Monsters, the very fun title that helped me move on to ‘true’ RPGs, and a Digimon World title, which I didn’t appreciate at the time but was really quite competent.

But then there was Robopon.  I think I saw it in the game store and recognized the cover as a clear monster collecting game, or maybe I read about it in a Pocket Gamer magazine and made a poorly informed decision.  Whatever the case, I got my mother to buy me this game, and the moment I booted it up, I started what came to be one of the most regretful portable gaming experiences of my early days.

Okay, seriously, this is a little too close for comfort.

After getting the all too similar looking title screen, you are introduced to the player character, whom you can name.  A very short introduction makes you, a preteen boy, the president of a Robopon company.  As the President, you do… nothing of import to the company, but eventually you take the Robopon you collect and battle the Elite 8, in order to beat the school bully and become the best Robopon trainer around.

So… the story is rather weak, but what about the graphics?  There’s probably a reason my brain subconsciously tried to type ‘craphics’ in that last sentence.  Robopon appears to take the sprites of Pokemon Gold and Silver (which isn’t actually possible, considering their original release dates), garishly colored them, and shoved them together in such a manner to assault the eyes constantly.  Considering it was a couple years ahead of Pokemon Crystal (the first full color Pokemon title), Robopon really had a chance to stand out with some impressive, colorful graphics, but Hudson Soft really dropped the ball on that one.

But, any self-respecting gamer knows that graphics aren’t everything… and other gamers don’t put much stock in a storyline… so how is Robopon’s gameplay?  Well, technically battles aren’t too bad.  Your team of Robopon fights your opponent’s team of Robopon in one-on-one matches to the death.  Your Robopon can learn a variety of abilities with different attributes, which are effective against some types of Robopon but ineffective against others.  Robopon stand face to face against one another on a blank white screen, and when they attack, a short animation relevant to the attack pops up before dealing damage.  Move names can be a little difficult to decipher, but quite frankly many early games had this problem, so it’s hard to knock Robopon against it.

But while basic gameplay in itself isn’t particularly bad, it does nothing to really stand out, either.  Worse, though, is that’s the title’s game balance is a bit off.  I remember the point I finally gave up on Robopon:  One of the Elite 8 had a certain robot with a skill that would absorb physical damage.  It was still relatively early in the game (I believe), so I didn’t have a competent Robopon that could use any ‘magical’ spells that the enemy was weak against.  The foe would use this move every turn, without fail, so the battle would always lead to a stalemate.  The solution?  I needed to find a new Robopon or greatly level up some of my current robots… both of which taking hours of grinding.  Not being entirely smitten with the game, it’s easy to see why I would put the title down.

There’s just an extra inch or so there, nothing out of the ordinary at all.

Oh, but Robopon doesn’t like to be put down.  If you stop playing Robopon, it has ways to bother you even in the real world, haunting you in the middle of the night.  See, Robopon is actually a bit of a monstrosity of a cart.  Within its extra plastic top contains a few pieces of hardware designed to make the Robopon experience more enjoyable, including an infrared sensor to make trading between friends easy (but without Moon version, what’s the point?).  The title also had an in-game clock, wherein Robopon would have different events happen on different days.  When an event would begin, a separate little device within the cart would beep, alerting you to the new event and that you should play Robopon right this second.

In the typical fashion of the earlier technology days, this alarm was a loud, annoying beep.

Most events started at 12:01 AM.

For weeks after I stopped playing Robopon, that noise would go off at seemingly random intervals, begging me to just turn it on one more time.  Because I really wanted to play it after it woke me up in the middle of the night.  Eventually, my stepfather had to find a screwdriver that would unscrew the tiny battery port and remove the alarm battery.  Why not just turn it off?  Because you can’t turn it off.  Not with a little switch, not in the game, not at all.  It was terrible.

So yeah, Robopon?  A very not fun Pokemon rip-off.  Well, at least to me:  The original game did well enough to get a sequel on the Game Boy Advance (of which both versions got localized), which means… something.  Who knows, maybe they’re even good, but I don’t plan on finding out.

As a super bonus, you can look at this Let’s Play to see Robopon in action.  Also a man dressed in a fairy outfit (?):

 

Summer Gaming Challenge #2 – A Link Between Worlds

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is one of those titles I really wanted to delve into, but kept getting distracted.  At first, I just wanted to finish Etrian Odyssey IV (which is a big mistake; there’s a reason why it’s taken me over a year to get to the final Land), then I had to review games, then I became smitten with my Vita, and the list of excuses continues on.  Eventually, when the Summer Gaming Challenge came around and I asked my boyfriend for suggestions, this was one of the titles he recommended above all else.  So, seeing as I needed a few portable titles to play on the transit to school and work, I delved in and began Link’s new adventure near the beginning of my challenge.

And I just could not stop playing it.

I am one that needs to be in the “right mood” to enjoy a Zelda or adventure-y title:  If I’m not in the mood to explore and solve puzzles, I’ll quickly drop the game, like I have with 3D Dot Game Heroes and Phantom Hourglass.  When I started A Link Between Worlds, I wasn’t sure if I was in “the mood”.  I kept dying in Hera’s Tower, and had a general lack of interest in transversing Hyrule.

When I get to Lorule though… everything changed.  The joy of exploring the entirety of the land more or less unhindered completely sold me on the title.  It was actually a good while until I entered my first dungeon in the dark world; I spent a goodly amount of time just walking around the land, trying to find more cracks, more Maiamais, more save points so I could travel around on a whim.  Collecting rupees also was fun, as being able to afford and straight out buy Ravio’s items lends to a sense of accomplishment… and then you can go and get them upgraded on top of it!

The dungeons themselves were pretty easy overall, but then again it may have been simply because I’ve learned the tricks Zelda games expect my to catch over the years.  I still got stuck on a few things (the Dark Palace was a little annoying because of… well, it was dark), but other than wondering about whether a few items were in the game I never had to consult a guide.  I still died a lot, though.  I never said I was good at games.

The story was pretty nice, and pretty light.  I already knew about the big plot twist, but it was nice nevertheless.  Of course, being a Zelda game, and one inspired by older iterations at that, I didn’t expect an epic, sweeping plot to guide me through the world.

But yeah, A Link Between Worlds?  Fantastic game, definitely in my Top 3 Zelda titles (which is a list that’s never definitive, mind you), and another winner for my Challenge.  Looking at my list, this probably won’t be the end of the good times, either, so it’s going to be a fun summer.

Summer Gaming Challenge #1 – Journey

I’ve been lazy with writing these (I’ve already beaten my second game!), but no more.  The first game I’ve taken down for my Summer Gaming Challenge is Journey, a title I forgotten about but decided to switch in once I saw someone else put it on their list… and, well, I’m glad I did switch it in.

Journey really is a beautiful adventure.  The graphics are fantastic, and give an amazing atmosphere to the whole ordeal.  The spoon fed story is also great, and leaves a lot open for interpretation.  In terms of the gameplay, it’s simple and easy to progress without getting too stuck, and there’s a palpable reward for exploring the area (basically, it’s easier to move around).

When I went in, I expected to play the whole Journey by myself; it’s been a long time since the game was released, after all.  Most of the first half of the game ended up with me playing alone; it did not impact me negatively really, as I took my time exploring the areas and collecting extensions to my scarf.  At one point, though, I kept hearing chirps (the noises the characters make) and looked around to see, to my surprise, another player a few feet behind me.  From there, everything changed:  Playing with another player and working the puzzles with someone else gave Journey a whole new layer of enjoyment and underlying emotion that it brought the title to new heights.

See, together or alone, Journey is… well, a journey:  A path taken to find the truth, to find peace, to find… anything, really.  When there is someone beside you, it makes the journey that much easier, as you know there’s someone right there beside you, sharing your pain and triumphs alike.  As my partner and myself trekked up the snow-laden mountain, keeping close to each other to keep warm and able to use our dwindled powers (most of our scarves were ripped off when I caught the attention of an enemy), I felt an honest connection between the characters on the screen.  It was a joy to see the two working together, struggling to make it to the end of their trek, and that I was a part of it.

It made it all the more painful that I lost my partner about halfway through the climb up the mountain.  While the player likely disconnected or decided to quit (I was a bit slow, after all), I felt as if my companion had died, and that my avatar had to finish the quest on their own.  Why couldn’t he make it?  Was the cold too much?  Losing the companion at that point made the atmosphere feel all the more real; it made it feel as though I had to push on for my partner’s sake, lest it’ll all be for nothing.  It’s quite impressive that a simple thing that happens online all the time could provide this amount of pure emotional force behind it.  It just goes to show how much attention was put into the product that nothing breaks your immersion into the atmosphere of the game; in fact, in some cases little occurrences might even drive this point home further.

But really, Journey ended up being a beautiful title, and a great start to my challenge this year.  Here’s to hoping I’ll have a great run of classics to keep me rolling through the summer (spoiler alert: I do)!

Summer Gaming Challenge 2014

It’s that time of the year again… time for the Summer Gaming Challenge!  I’m going to be a little lazy and just cut and copy the information from a post I made elsewhere here.

The Summer Gaming Challenge is when you choose ten games to play over the summer that are considered ‘classics’ that you’ve not played for one reason or another.  Since Racketboy’s a retro community, they tend to stick to older games, but it really can be a game from any generation.  Most of my games tend to fall in the modern generations.

My time span will be from June 1 to around the end of August (haven’t decided if that’ll be the day my fall classes start or the end of the month).

Here’s my list for this year:

  • Shadow Hearts (PS2)
  • Luigi’s Mansion (GC)
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the 7 Stars (SNES, via Wii VC)
  • Radiant Historia (DS)
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga (PS2)
  • Suikoden (PS1, via PS1 Classics)
  • Ni No Kuni:Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)
  • Shenmue II (Xbox)
  • Journey (PS3) [Post]

I actually have a nice representation of consoles this year… which I decided to do since last year’s method of only doing two consoles failed pretty hard.  I actually wanted to include a lot of retro games this year, but since the Retron 5 took forever and a half to come out, I suppose it’ll have to wait until next time.

There’s actually a few games on this list that I’ve already started (NNK, DDS, and Shadow Hearts) that I’ve never gotten around to finishing.  Mario RPG and ALBW I’ve really been wanting to play, but never found time.  I feel like I have an obligation to play Shenmue II, and the others were mainly chosen by Slayn Bacon, because I couldn’t decide anything (some of the others were games he picked too, but I had at least an idea that I wanted to put them on the list in the first place).

As usual, when I beat a game I’ll write up a quick post about it; and if I beat an RPG that’s not in RPGSite’s database, I’ll also write up a formal review there.

This year, I’m hoping to beat at least five of the games.  Of course, I’m gonna try to beat them all, but I also have to be a little realistic!

Review a Great Game Day – The World Ends With You

There’s always something to be said about a game that does something wholly unique.  The developers are trying to step out of the sometimes restricting box that is game design, and make a big splash with giving gamers something… well, different.  The problem, however, is that when developers try something “new and unique”, it tends to be less than perfect.  Perhaps the gameplay didn’t pan out, or the idea itself didn’t mesh well with the setting it was in, or maybe the idea with just a bad one from the get-go.  Regardless of the reason, though, games that are dubbed “unique” and “different” tend to carry the stigma of being… well, not always great as a video game itself, but more an interesting piece to ogle and marvel at. At its best, a piece to remember in the annals of gaming history as the stepping stone to a new genre or way of thinking within the industry; at its worst, a forgotten title that will squander in obscurity.

That being said, there’s little better than a unique, interesting title that manages to hit all of its high notes wonderfully; a game that both oozes originally and is still a solid, enjoyable game.  A package so completely new and refreshing that even the most jaded gamer can appreciate it… and that is precisely what The World Ends With You is.

The Reaper’s Game is what brings the plot together, but the characters are easily the more interesting part of TWEWY until the end.

The World Ends With You stars Neku, a somewhat socially inept teenager that is in a game for his life and very existence.  See, he and the other participants have died, but if they survive the Reaper’s Game, they are revived and allowed to continue their lives.  Surviving this game isn’t all that easy, though; since the Noise (the typical mob enemies of the game) exists in two different “zones” at the same time, so the only way to fight back is to make a pact with another participant in order to fight the Noise in both zones at once.  This is all wrapped around a plot involving the Reapers themselves and their motives, and the players that fight in order to live on.

This short synopsis might make it seem like the game’s story is obtuse and hard to grasp, but it’s really presented in a easy to digest manner.  The World Ends With You focuses on the characters first, and the overarching plot of the Reaper’s Game second.  The main character might be a bit cliched–Neku is an asocial moody teenager, Shiki has confidence and image issues, Beat and Rhyme have a typical example of a broken home–but they are still relatable and interesting enough to keep from getting stale.  A lot of this comes from the plot device of the Reaper’s Game entrance fee.  This involuntary fee is whatever the player holds most dear, and the revelations and mysteries surrounding what the characters have lost to play this game is really quite intriguing.  As you learn about the players’ past and what was taken from them, it’s all the more painful when you realize that only one player can win the Reaper’s Game.

The overall plot involving the Reaper’s Game itself is pretty interesting as well, but it takes a bit of a back seat until late- and post-game.  Even so, the reason for the Reaper’s Game and the politics behind it all is arguably the most interesting part of the game.  In addition, while all of the pertinent details of the game involving Neku and the others are revealed by the end of the tale, you can learn more by obtaining Secret Reports.  These Secret Reports are obtained by replaying through the various days and achieving certain tasks within each day.  These reports offer a lot of information on the Reaper’s Game and the reasons behind it, and offers a way for a curious player to learn more, while not bogging down those that only wanted the main plot.

Riding giant stuffed cats into battle; yep, this is Japanese all right.

It’s clear to see that The World Ends With You’s story holds up well, but how about the gameplay?  TWEWY is an RPG, but its battle system is wholly unique from other games of the genre.  As stated in the story, you’ll have to deal with Noise to survive the game, and the Noise exists in two zones at the same time.  Therefore, Neku has to team up with another player in order for them to effectively fight the Noise.  So, during battles, you control both Neku and you partner at the same time.  Neku is on the bottom screen, and you use the stylus and (generally) tapping the various pins you have equipped to attack.  Your partner, however, stays stationary, and you use the D-pad (or buttons, if you’re left handed) to attack the enemies.  Also, how your partner attacks depends on the partner themselves, so as the game progresses you’ll have to learn how to handle your new partners and use them effectively in battle so you won’t fail.  Partners share a health bar as well, so if either character gets hit too often, it’s game over for both characters (and for you).

As such, it becomes a battle of making Neku dodge attacks on the lower screen, and having your partner counter Noise on the upper screen before they get to attack.  This is enforced by the “sync puck”; basically whoever has the puck is the one that can attack, and after an attack they pass it off to the other player.  It sounds very hectic, and at first it is; thankfully the game makes your first partner very easy to control, so you have time to learn how to multitask and deal with the Noise before it launches its full force at you.  Eventually, the partners you control will be that much more complicated, and the enemies harder to manage and counter.  The World Ends With You manages to provide a good challenge throughout, so gamers aren’t likely to be bored when they get to a boss battle.

Pins, bro. You got them.

Another big part of the game involves the various pins you collect throughout the game.  These pins are what you equip to Neku for his various attacks, as well as the items used for the Pin Slammer mini-game.  Of course, different pins have different attacks, and they also level up and evolve when you use them.  How they level up depends on the pin itself:  Some level up from battle, others from Pin Slammer, and some even level up by other means.  While sometimes it’s difficult to tell how exactly to level the pins up, it keeps them viable throughout most of the game, where the “best pin” depends more on your favored play style than on a specific pin.  Granted, there still are ultimate pins, but getting them is by no means required to finish the title.

Even in the visuals department, The World Ends With You is a winner.  Graphically, TWEWY was stylish before Personas 3 and 4 made it cool to do so, and with good reason.  The setting of TWEWY is Shibuya, Tokyo, one of the biggest shopping/fashion centers in Japan.  As such, this game’s stylish nature is a bit of a love letter to the area it’s representing, giving the game the unique energy that the real-world Shibuya gives off.  In fact, TWEWY takes this one step further with its equipment system; you don’t really buy armor as much as you buy new outfits, but every outfit needs a certain amount of courage to wear.  It makes sense, considering that Shibuya is where fashion statements are made… and some statements are louder and harder to pull off than others.  It’s really a small thing (much like how many games restrict equipment by levels), but just the little details help bring make the title that much more refined and polished.

Then, there’s the music.  You’ve probably heard some of TWEWY’s tunes before; most of the tracks are techno-y, J-pop-y, sometimes rap-py conglomerations that are upbeat and interesting.  It’s not really for everyone, but given the setting, the music is a perfect final touch for this game.  The tracks are very catchy, and sound exactly what would be blasting out the various Shibuya fashion storefronts day and night.  This might sound worse than it is, considering the… somewhat unusual choices youths make in terms of popular music, but there’s no worries here:  The World Ends With You’s tracks are all solid, more like a hand picked “best of” album than a mountain of the popular songs of the week.

It’s almost criminal that The World Ends With You is not more popular.  The title did achieve some mild success when released on the DS in 2008, and has gained a cult following, but the RPG has since, for the most part, been forgotten.  There was an iOS port released in 2012 that brought the title back in the spotlight for a bit (mainly because of the secret ending that hints at a sequel), and Neku making a cameo in Kingdom Hearts III, but TWEWY is mainly ignored when discussions of RPGs or DS games are brought up.  It’s a bit of a shame, really, that such a unique RPG is left in the dust when it should be a beacon for gamers that are tired of the ‘typical’ RPG; while The World Ends With You may still use a few genre tropes, it is such a wholly different experience that every gamer should try out.

Are We Moving Towards Another Game Industry Crash?

Today, Amazon unveiled its new piece of electronic wonderment–The Amazon Fire TV.  Of course, this $99 device streams the typical video services and offers the ability to look at your photos on the big screen, but the interesting part is that the Amazon Fire TV also plays games.  There’s not many, of course; right now there’s the Minecraft Pocket Edition and a few Amazon exclusive titles, but the potential is there, and amplified by being able to use a touch device like a tablet as a secondary controller for the console.

But, the Fire TV is just another device in a growing pile of consoles (multi-purpose or otherwise) trying to bulldoze their way into the current gaming market.  Aside from the “Big Three” with their consoles and portables, and the always evident PC market, there’s the mobile market, the OUYA, Oculus Rift, a plethora of Steam Boxes, Amazon’s device, and whatever else another company may think is a good idea to release.  The market is being overwhelmed with people trying to get a piece of the profit pie, and this behavior could easily make the entire industry fall in on itself.

A second fall of the gaming industry seems a bit extreme, but it has happened before.  When the game industry crashed in 1983, we saw many of the same ailments within the industry as we do today.  There were far too many consoles in the market at the time:  The Ataris, Colecovisions, Odysseys, and so on flooded the market and led to consumer confusion.  You couldn’t know what to get without an absurd amount of research, and many people will end up either making a bad decision (and therefore end up distrusting the industry) or never partake in the purchase in the first place.

But it’s just not the consoles that were the problem with the collapse; it was the games, as well.  Shovelware flooded the market, further breeding consumer distrust and confusion.  Too many consoles, too many games, and not enough quality control are the main reasons that the industry collapsed in on itself back in the day.

But, doesn’t that sound familiar?  The supersaturation of consoles aside, we are accosted by multiple game releases every day.  The indie movement may have brought gaming development to a whole new level, a level where developers may make what they wish without the restrictions of a company needs for profits, but it has also led to an incredible amount of failed, broken games.  Moreover, the Xbox Live Indie Game program and Steam’s policy changes allow poor quality games to flood the market.  With the sheer quantity of games on the market and with more coming every day, it is difficult to know what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s even out there to play.

So, will the games industry collapse again?  It’s hard to tell.  It’s clear there are signs pointing to it, but the first fall didn’t happen in one day; it slowly tumbled over a number of years.  Nintendo, the previous savior of the gaming industry, appears to be struggling to stay afloat.  Microsoft and Sony have turned their consoles into multi-entertainment devices, which may or may not be an effort to keep in line with the obviously cheaper options like the Amazon Fire TV which can also play games.  The “AAA model” of game development that companies so heavily rely on big bucks for bigger profits is beginning to fail the big numbers companies spend those big budgets on.  The PC market is suffocating under the strain of thousands of games spread over various distribution services, with little way to organize and differentiate.  If something isn’t done soon, it’s very likely that everything will fall under a slew of badly programmed mobile titles… although, industries in general are a very fickle thing; maybe nothing bad will come of it after all.