Date archives for December, 2008

December 22nd, 2008

Review: Dinosaur King

The old saying goes “talent borrows, genius steals”. If that’s true, the developers of Dinosaur King have IQs in the thousands.

Over the years we’ve seen many companies try to beat the success of Pokemon, each with their own set of cuddly and heavily market researched monsters. Of course, nobody can beat Nintendo at their own game, but that hasn’t stopped Sega trying with Dinosaur King, based on a popular 4kids cartoon series, as well as arcade and (naturally) trading card games.


December 21st, 2008
Blog Entry

Carnival of Video Game Bloggers, Christmas 2008 Edition

What better gift this Christmas than the best articles from the brightest stars in video game blogging? Let’s get on with it!

On the first day of Christmas, Julie Maloney gave to me, "How I Lost Sixty Pounds", posted at The Cool Mom Guide.

On the second day of Christmas, Nikhil Mahajan gave to me, "Falling PC Game Demos", at Free Full Version Download Games & Buy Games.

On the third day of Christmas, Tony Huynh gave to me:
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1;
Call of Duty: World at War Through the Eyes of a Game Designer;
Pimps at Sea err I mean Age of Booty & Gen 13 Cosplay;
My Student Films 2: EverQuest Documentary and Guilty Gear Isuka Trailer;
Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 2
and Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP!

On the fourth day of Christmas, Scott Davis gave to me, "Call of Duty: World at War – Game Review" and "Video Game Survey: I?m Not as Big A Geek as I Thought" at

On the fifth day of Christmas, Fiona King gave to me, 50 Video Games Your Girlfriend Will Like at Nerds Do It Better, THEN gave me 50 Best Video Games for Senior Health at U.S. PharmD.

On the sixth day of Christmas, Gene Simmons gave to me, $100,000 Flash Game Experiment – part 1 at Accumulate Profit Margin Invest Destroy.

On the seventh day of Christmas, Alvaro Fernandez gave to me, "Games for Brain Health – Novelty, Variety and Challenge" at SharpBrains.

On the eighth day of Christmas, Glen Despaux gave to me, "Gears of War 2 Review" and "Starting Up" at GameQuery, saying "This is my new blog dedicated to helping gamers. I am hoping to draw attention and have people submit queries to my blog."

On the ninth day of Christmas, Michael Puskar gave to me, "Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash!: All Your Free Time Are Belong To Us" at Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash!". The tag reads "the beginning of a Five Part Series dedicated to video games of different decades and systems."

On the tenth day of Christmas, Eclipse gave to me, "Winning, Losing, and Fun Factor" and "Geeky Christmas Songs and Videos", at Gaming My Way.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, Morscata12 gave to me, "Unconventional MMOs – Why Not?", at Morscata12, saying "article discussing the prevalence of fantasy/scifi themes in all modern MMO games".

On the twelfth day of Christmas, Ben Roper gave to me, "Review: Gears of War 2", at The Only Review.

On the thirteenth day of Christmas, I gave to myself, The Sega Top 50, a list of the greatest games ever made.

If you’d like to see your gaming posts up here in lights, simply fill in the Blog Carnival submissions form. It couldn’t be easier!

I’d like to wish all our contributors and readers a very Merry Christmas and a happy and productive New Year. Look for the next Carnival here on January 22nd!

December 20th, 2008
Blog Entry

No. 20 – Shining Soul II

SSoul2A straightforward hack and slash action RPG, Shining Soul II may not be the Shining series’ finest moment but it remains a highly enjoyable game in its own right.

A decent multiplayer action-RPG is hard enough to find on any console, but especially on GameBoy Advance, but with a few friends Shining Soul II stands out as a rewarding and exciting adventure that would be right at home on DS or PSP these days. Collecting speech bubbles, consoles and Sega logo letters is a dream come true, although deciding who gets them is often more violent than the combat itself. 

The range of characters, equipment and skills prevent SSII from becoming too repetitive, the difficulty level is well judged and the next level up always comes just in time. I’ve already written fairly extensively about it in Truly Under-rated Games: Shining Soul II and Sega’s DS Surprise: Best Case Scenario, so all that’s left to say is that it’s Sega’s strongest action RPG and, in my eyes, one of their finest (yet overlooked) games in the past five years.

December 19th, 2008
Blog Entry

No. 21 – Story of Thor II

Story_of_Thor_2 Too easily dismissed as a Zelda clone, this Saturn sequel to the 16-bit original is a beautiful blend of combat action, puzzle and platforming.

On the surface it’s clearly inspired by Zelda, with the real time combat featuring a range of moves and items such as bombs and arrows, and the top-down, free-roaming map system bears some similarities too, but these features aside it’s totally different (though that sounds slightly sarcastic!) The stronger emphasis on the RPG trinity of HP, MP and EXP and the use of ferocious elemental attacks sets this apart from little Link, and the use of spirits in puzzles is quite inspired – you start off lighting torches to open doors (hmm…) and later have to float on clouds and zap lightning bolts. If you’re here searching for the rumoured seventh spirit, Baluu, I’m afraid you’re out of luck: it doesn’t exist. Sorry.

Atmospherically the game deserves strong praise, with the dungeons each possessing a rich artistic quality that complements the Disney-like main character Leon. There are elements of Ray Harryhausen present too in the cackling skeletons and other undead warriors, although these are tempered by some poor sprite-scaling in places. Aurally, Story of Thor II is extremely good, with a rich and rightly-praised soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro, by this point well out of his Mega Drive dance days. There are no RPG-style melodies here or mock-historic tunes, just a subtle backdrop of sound that enhances the atmosphere no end.

With an expansive world to explore and some tremendous ideas and gameplay touches, Story of Thor II is worthy of a place alongside Zelda in the action adventure genre. Surely it’s about time we had the second sequel, though?

December 18th, 2008
Blog Entry

No. 22 – Revenge of Shinobi

Revenge of Shinobi Full of fantastic set pieces like the train roof battle and boss fights against Godzilla and Spider-man, Revenge of Shinobi’s class shows from start to finish. Much slicker and more polished than many other games at the time, Revenge of Shinobi has more of a shooting element to distinguish it from Sega’s other famous sidescrolling series, Golden Axe and Streets of Rage.

A simple story – a lone ninja on a journey to rescue his girlfriend from an evil crime syndicate – provides plenty of opportunity for out of the ordinary locations and enemies, with one of my favourite stages being the level set in a car pound, your ninja garb looking slightly less than stealthy amongst the compacted steel and machine gun bullets. Your enemies also vary from run-of-the-mill grunts to highly trained kunoichi, with some traditional Shinobi themes thrown in for the bosses.

The soundtrack cemented Yuzo Koshiro’s reputation as a master of Mega Drive melody, and the “bad” ending was the first moment a video game ever made me feel genuinely sad. I remember watching Naoko die, having a drink to calm my nerves (it was milk – I was only about ten) and going straight back to save her. It’s still one of my fondest memories of any game; a completely unexpected moment in what, on the surface, seems a straightforward action game. I guess a ninja game should deceive along the way, though.

December 17th, 2008
Blog Entry

No. 23 – Headhunter

Headhunter copyA real blockbuster in many ways, Headhunter is an example of an extremely Western Sega game, more than influenced by countless "high-octane" Hollywood movies and TV series. It may not be wholly original, but what it does it accomplishes very well.

Set in a Western-American city in the near future, you control Jack Wade, a once-great bounty hunter sadly bereft of his memory who seeks to regain his skills and uncover a sinister plot revolving around the powerful Stern Corporation. It’s pretty by-the-numbers for most Hollywood films, but it certainly allows plenty of room for exciting motorbike rides, disarming bombs and silent sneaking. It’s almost like a prototype for 24 in terms of atmosphere and visuals, and I can’t help but think a post-24 Headhunter 3 would be amazing.

Stopping Headhunter reaching the top twenty is the fact it’s quite happy to borrow rather than innovate. The driving, stealth and shooting elements are all quite basic, without any of the invention seen in Metal Gear Solid, a clear point of reference. That’s not to say it’s completely without its own ideas – the news reports that punctuate levels bring some welcome levity to Jack’s story of amnesia and organ-theft.

Anyway, that’s enough about the game, now onto the real reason for its inclusion in any "best ever" list: the soundtrack. The compositions of one Mr. Richard Jacques have taken on a life of their own beyond the boundaries of videogames, performed live in concert many times and recognised as one of the all-time great media scores.

The first game soundtrack ever recorded in the Abbey Road Studios, it’s a stunning fusion of orchestral and electronic that works on a number of themes and motifs through a huge range of tracks. Whenever I listen to a great piece of music, Sega-related or otherwise, I’m always struck by the fact that there are absolutely no wasted notes, and nowhere is this more evident than Jack’s Theme. Light flute ripples contrast with the taut strings and piano, and the brass is so wonderfully bombastic it could have come straight out of any action film. Each phrase is sheer precision, executed flawlessly yet full of character, and there are so many false finishes and crescendos by the time the final flourish kicks in you’ll be convinced you are the quintessential gruff action hero. Which, if your name’s Jack Wade, you are.

In the great scheme of third-person action adventures, Headhunter comes off worse in comparisons with the Metal Gear Solids and Grand Theft Autos of this world, but it’s still a highly enjoyable and important game that’s as much a prestige piece for Sega as anything they’ve produced.

December 16th, 2008
Blog Entry

No. 24 – Jet Set Radio

JSR When the first screenshots of Jet Set Radio were revealed I distinctly remember thinking “what the Hell is that?” What we all now know as cel-shading was invented there and I had no idea what to make of it. When I finally saw the game moving, though, it was a revelation, completely stylish and original and probably the coolest-looking game ever. Like Comix Zone, it’s a great marriage of form and function – Jet Set’s aesthetic embodies its rebellious “graffiti is art” message, and the same goes for its soundtrack, for which the word “eclectic” may well have been invented. Running from hip-hop to J-pop, it’s every bit as individual as the game, and special praise must go to Hideki Naganuma for crafting a large portion of the soundtrack, and naturally Richard Jacques gets a Sega high-five too.

jgr300Right, but what about the actual gameplay? Well, it’s a 3D platformer-stroke-skating game that challenges you to spray your individual tag on a number of targets around the play area, all the while escaping the enthusiastic but incompetent police. Simple tags are done immediately, but for the more complicated ones you must execute a series of analogue stick commands, giving things a nice feeling of tactility. Speaking of tags, not only can you download images from the Internet to use as graffiti, you can design your own using a pretty clever editor, giving you all you need to plaster the streets of Neo-Tokyo with pro-Sega propaganda. 

Jet Set Radio gets in at the expense of its better-looking Xbox brother by being much more in-line with what Sega is about – whereas Future is a bit grimy and grungy, JSR is cheeky and cheery. For a game that looks this good to be a perfect balance of style and substance is a real achievement, and one that lands Jet Set Radio a deserved place in the top 25.

December 15th, 2008
Blog Entry

No. 25 – Sonic and the Secret Rings

Secret Rings I just had to rewrite the Sonic Adventure entry as I’d claimed it was my favourite of the 3D Sonics. In terms of memories and nostalgia it certainly is, but I’ve put every bit as much time into Sonic and the Secret Rings, and I’d have to put them about equal in my estimation (but I’ve separated them just to make it more interesting to read).

Realising that Sonic dies most when he falls off platforms you can’t judge properly, Sonic Team put the little blue chap on rails and get you to steer him from side to side, jumping and braking accordingly. It sounds much too simple but, when combined with the intelligent use of automation – Sonic happily hops onto tight spaces on his own – it makes the job of keeping him alive much less of a one-sided affair. In fact, at first you could even argue it’s too easy, as the game starts off so slow you barely have to do anything to get to the goal except hit the odd spring and avoid some spikes. But once you’ve increased your skills a bit the game starts to speed up, and you find yourself shaving thirty or more seconds from your best times.

The pace of progression is absolutely spot-on, giving you enough skills to pass the new levels whilst encouraging you to discover new elements in previously conquered stages. Even when you get to level 50 or 60 there’s new skills that let you overcome obstacles, extend your homing range or move more freely through the air. There are some who argue that the mere presence of equipping skills in a Sonic game amounts to a cardinal sin – I won’t mention Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood! – but with so little freedom in the levels there has to be some way of giving the player incentive to keep exploring, and the new abilities you unlock certainly do that. Like Sonic himself in the game’s levels, you’re always moving forward.

You’d think that learning from Sonic Heroes would put Secret Rings in everyone’s good books, but as usual it divided opinions. Personally I see it as a continuation of the Sonic Adventure and Heroes ethic: levels are essentially set pieces chained together ad infinitum, but it feels much more like you’re on a 2D plane thanks to the control system. It works because it reduces Sonic to his streamlined best, darting past danger and using the amazing Speed Break move to blast through enemies with extreme pace. It looks like Sonic Unleashed will use a similar move and build on this very strong outing for Sonic to make the hedgehog 100% healthy again.

December 14th, 2008

Review: PictoImage

A work of art, or a real mess?

With the DS’s touch screen and wireless communications, it’s a wonder there’s no Pictionary game available. Lucky for us, here comes Sega to plug the gap with PictoImage, their take on the classic draw-it-guess-it game.


Blog Entry

No. 26 – Guardian Heroes

Guardian Heroes A manga-styled 2D beat ‘em up that showcases everything the Saturn is brilliant at and more. Guardian Heroes is from legendary developers Treasure, and is so good they obviously realised they’d never top it and decided to make shooters instead.

From the opening cinematic (that possesses one of the finest opening tunes ever) to the ending scene, the whole game drips class from every pore. A combination of side-scrolling fighter and action RPG, Guardian Heroes offers a huge cooperative adventure with branching stories that I’ve never managed to see in its entirety, and with around thirty sizeable stages to play it’s not hard to see why. It goes without saying that an Xbox Live Arcade resurrection would be unspeakably amazing, but I’d even settle for a PSP port on a "Treasure’s Greatest Hits" package (think about it – Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga, Gunstar Heroes, Guardian Heroes and Silhouette Mirage on one UMD? Yum!)

The real reason to play Guardian Heroes though is almost certainly the chaotic six-player mode, which is quite unlike anything else around then or even today. Forty or so characters you defeat in the single-player mode are all available here, from the flame sword-wielding Super Han (not, sadly, Super Hans) to the Undead Warrior and giant Cyclops to tiny rabbit Nando. With handicaps and teams set it’s into the arena to bash lumps out of each other, and although it’s not the most tactical fighting game of its time it’s varied enough to make it worth coming back to. And if all else fails, boost yourself up to level 200 and laser everyone.

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