Metroid II: Return of Samus (is Substantial)

Until Metroid: Other M was released on the Nintendo Wii, Metroid II: Return of Samus, released for the Game Boy, was often considered the weakest entry in the Metroid series. Objectively, Metroid II may not be the near the top of the Metroid tier list but it is a very good game in its own right. Many features, now staples of the Metroid series, that were added in Samus’s second outing made it feel like a true sequel and greatly expanded on the original Metroid’s universe and game-play.

Samus is back. This time, she brought save files.

Samus is back. This time, she brought save files.

Battery Backup

Metroid games, especially the first time you play one, are not something you can experience in 30 minutes. Due to this, all Metroid games feature a way to save your progress. The first thing to do when playing the original Metroid is grab a pen and paper. Metroid featured a password system that contained 24 character passwords consisting of 65 possible options per character for an astronomically large 6524 possible passwords. The very first thing to do when starting Metroid II is to take a sigh of relief as the password system is replaced with battery backed save files.  This, in addition to save locations being peppered liberally throughout the game, make for a more comfortable game.

Fun, Interesting Items

Around... around... around...

Spider Ball is way more fun than it should be.

The original Metroid contained a handful of items that augmented Samus’s abilities. While these items were fun, Metroid II took it to the next level.  In terms of firepower, Metroid II almost doubled the amount of types of beam weapons you could fire. Only one beam could be used at a time, it gave the player the option to keep which ever beam they preferred, creating a small sense of customization. Where Metroid II really shines, is the expansion of mobility based items. In addition to the morph ball and the high-jump boots, this sequel added spider-ball (roll around on walls and ceilings), spring ball (jump freely while in morph ball form), and space jump (jump in midair, endlessly). These items were all extremely fun to use and made exploring the game feel genuinely exciting.

More Forgiving

I played very poorly. I apologize.

Samus encounters her first alpha metroid.

Metroid II: Return of Samus is not an easy game but it’s also not too hard. It manages to stay in that healthy middle ground where you should plan on dying a few times but not to the point where it gets frustrating. One of the most annoying aspects of the original Metroid was dying. In its case, upon death you would start back at the beginning of the area with a mere 30 health (very, very little) and however many missiles you had left.  In order to not risk dying again, you would have to exit and re-enter rooms, killing enemies to farm for health and missile pick-ups. It made death a total mood ruining event. Metroid II circumvents this issue in two ways: saves and recharge points. Dying in Metroid 2 merely takes you back to the exact state and spot (down to the pixel) you were in when you last saved. In addition to this, scattered around the game are special persistent recharge items that can completely refill your health or missiles. Death meant that you could immediately give it another go instead of wasting 5 minutes just to put yourself in a survivable state.

Streamlined Progression

I think it's acid... could be <i>any</i> fluid!

One of the many acid pools blocking your progress.

Metroid II: The Linearity of Samus? Compared to the “go-and-do-whatever” Metroid, its sequel follows a very specific progression. The game logs the current count of metroid creatures still left. Using this count, the game blocks off certain areas of the game with acid. When a certain number of metroids are defeated, the acid level lowers allowing you to access more areas. With this, Metroid II is more of a “do-what-you-can-then-move-on” type of game.

Thia type of progression is beneficial in at least two ways. First, it controls the difficulty of the game, allowing it to become progressively more difficult as you go. The original Metroid allowed free exploration which also meant you might find yourself in an area that is far too difficult for you to handle, leaving you frustrated. Second, it keeps you from becoming lost. Metroid and Metroid II are similar in that there are many areas that look identical and even use the same exact layout. However, the metroid counter tells you exactly how many more you need to destroy to move on. Using this, you can can tell exactly how much else you need to do in the area before moving on, keeping you on track.

The Sum of its Parts

If you couldn’t tell by now, I feel that Metroid II: Return of Samus is a fantastic game. I didn’t even get to discuss how atmospheric and fitting the soundtrack is (and it is!) or how they managed to fit a console-like experience onto a handheld system. Metroid II continued to push the limits of what can be done on the Game Boy and in video games in general. While some criticisms (which I dare not discuss!) are deserved, Metroid II: Return of Samus was, and still is, an amazing game.

Or… it might be…

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The Immortal (is Not Fun)

I was very saddened by the loss of Nintendo Power. No, I did not have a subscription for much of its existence but I appreciate its legacy. Nintendo Power offered a small glimpse into the future of games and the not-so-Mario games of the current Nintendo generation. Although my memories are weak with age, I will never forget the one game that necessitated the existence of the Nintendo Power magazine:

Oh god, why?!

Electronic Arts presents: You are going to want to kill yourself.

The Immortal is an isometric adventure game where you take the role of a wizard-looking man who is on a journey to escape a dungeon and potentially rescue another man from maybe another another man. The Immortal also happens to be a port of an Apple IIGS game. Let me first mention that I had no idea a computer called the Apple IIGS even existed until now and that the most bearable part of The Immortal, the graphic violence, is severely toned down in the NES port. Also, it’s probably worth noting that I wish this game was never made.

I was not prepared.

Prepare to continue dying.

To say the least, The Immortal is a very hard game. More accurately, The Immortal is so difficult that it borders on being a psychological test. It is designed to be extremely unforgiving and extremely trial and error based. This game loves you kill you. It loves to kill you constantly. I loves killing you even though you are careful. This is mostly because everything will kill you. In fact, in 75% of the cases, there is no way to tell what will kill you until you are killed by it. If you are prepared to be killed, you are prepared to play The Immortal.

Getting killed every 20 seconds isn’t necessarily the worst part of this game. The worst part of The Immortal stems from what I would like to call its “bad adventure game” aspect. A good adventure game rewards you for thinking abstractly enough to figure out the puzzles. A bad adventure game gives you little to no clues to complete necessary puzzles and punishes the player for attempting creative solutions. In the first level alone, there are three items that will instantly kill you if used. This wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t limited to 3 lives. Yes, after 3 deaths you must start over from the beginning of the level. The Immortal’s main issue is not that it is a bad adventure game, it’s that it’s just too frustrating to play to have an enjoyable, rewarding experience.

In order to get any enjoyment out of this game, you must be using a guide. When I was a child, I watched my brother play through this game using his trusty Nintendo Power. Nintendo Power was known for containing vary detailed guides and their The Immortal guide was top-notch. The puzzles and proper orders to complete this game are far too challenging to attempt without a guide, especially with the 3 life limit. Nintendo Power was a real life saver. Using a guide, you can turn The Immortal from an aggravating, brain-melting death-fest to just an aggravating death-fest. Although it’s no longer brain-melting, it doesn’t make it any more fun.

Please do not play The Immortal. It is not worth it. Or maybe it is… what do I know?!

Every Unique Death in Level 1

Immortal, The (U)- death

You will see many of these. Some of them more than once. The rest more than 10 times.

  1. Worm trap
  2. Ground flame trap
  3. Goblin smack
  4. Wall fireball
  5. Bat attack
  6. Using worm bait
  7. Arrow from wall trap
  8. Hidden pitfall
  9. Using mushroom spores
  10. Invisible Shade enemy
  11. Falling down ladder hole
  12. Reading Amulet incantation

Useless Bugs and Glitches (are Fun)

As a computer scientist, I understand that as the complexity of a computer program goes up, so does the chance of bugs. Especially when it comes to video games, it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible,  to consider every single scenario of user input during every single possible state of a program. Many video games are plagued with bugs and glitches whose effects can range from “helpful” to “progress destroying”. These are all nice and exciting but what about the bugs that can be described as “not useful nor hurtful”? Before I go on, I define a bug or glitch as “an unintended effect of a programming error or oversight”. This might actually be the exact definition of a bug or glitch… whatever!

This post is dedicated to all those video game glitches out there that don’t particularly do anything yet I am still compelled to perform them. In honor of these programming errors, here are some notable examples:

Legend of Zelda: Links Awakening (GBC) – Forest Mystery Tile

Those moblins will have nightmares for years.

Link has no qualms with tearing the world apart piece by piece.

Whats happening:

Link picks up a piece of the forest scenery and it instantly becomes a rock. The rock behaves like normal rocks and can be thrown at enemies.

How to perform:

While in the forest, any top-right corner tile acts this way. There are several occurrences of it in the forest. Just walk up to it and pick it up using the bracelet.

My best guess as to why it happens:

This is most likely an simple oversight when configuring the tiles. For whatever reason, the specific type of tile was set to act like a rock and a normal wall. This may have been used in this fashion early in the game’s development or may just have been a mistake. At some point, that tile was changed into a normal forest tile and nobody remembered to check the attributes. The probably didn’t catch the error because it operated correctly as a wall tile. It’s not a very technical guess but it may be somewhat correct.

Why it’s Turbo-Awesome:

Have you ever got so mad you just wanted to take a chunk out of the world and throw it at someone? This glitch lets you do just that… as long as you’re in the forest.

Marvel vs. Capcom (ARC) – Spider-Man’s Anti-gravity Attack

mvc_spiderflip

I bet hit spider-sense didn’t see that coming.

What’s happening:

First, Spider-Man throws Captain America and then performs a normal standing roundhouse. Next, Spider-Man throws Captain America and performs an aerial version of the roundhouse even though he never jumped.

How to perform:

With Spider-Man, perform a throw using the heavy kick button. As soon as the throw completes, hit any attack to perform the aerial version while floating slightly above the ground. The timing is extremely difficult and is easier if you just repeatedly press an attack as the throw is ending. I believe it works with any attack but the kick shown looks the funniest, in my opinion.

My best guess as to why it happens:

The fighting game genre is incredibly complex with thousands of combinations of inputs, states and reactions. There is no way for me to know exactly what is happening. If you watch the throw, it puts Spider-Man into the air as he spins the opponent around. During this time, the game sets Spider-Man to a “aerial” state. When Spider-Man finishes the throw, he lands and then it resets his state to “standing”. I believe there is a brief period between “throw” and “standing” where the game sets the speed and position of a “standing” character but is interrupted by performing the kick, leaving Spider-Man in an “aerial” state. Due to this, Spider-man does an “aerial” attack even though he is on the ground with no vertical velocity. After the attack is finished, it rechecks Spider-Man’s position and correctly sets his state as “standing”.

Why it’s Turbo-Awesome:

It’s really easy to do and looks awesome. It’s almost like a secondary way to taunt your opponent! After a spinning your opponent around, you spin your self around just for the heck of it!

Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES) – POW to Heaven

I know Luigi can jump high but not <i>that</i> high.

This is most certainly not the Mushroom Kingdom.

What’s happening:

Luigi is launched into the air via log until he hits the top of the screen.

How to perform:

Throw a POW block and have it hit the ground while you are standing on a falling log.

My best guess as to why it happens:

I have no idea. POW blocks have always done strange things. Honestly, I have no clue why this would happen. It doesn’t make sense at all. Nintendo, you so craaaazy.

Why it’s Turbo-Awesome:

FLY, LUIGI! FLY! No further comments.

Blaster Master (NES) – The Suicide Mobile

Those damn Lightning Beings are getting crafty...

Jason must have pissed off the wrong people…

What’s happening:

When Jason enters the tank, it immediately explodes, killing poor Jason in the process.

How to perform:

While in the tank, take damage until you have one hit left. Then, while on the ground, take one more hit and immediately exit the tank. Jason will jump out before the tank gets a chance to explode.

My guess as to why it happens:

When you get hit, you have a brief period of invincibility. This allows you to some breathing room if you are surrounded by enemies. Many games implement this feature as it would be unreasonable to have your entire health bar drained in a fraction of a second for colliding with an enemy. As far as I can tell, the game only checks to see whether the tank should explode when it is not in the invincibility state. Thus, when you get hit, you have a brief moment during the invincibility state to have Jason jump out. When Jason jumps back in, since it is not in the invincibility state, the game checks if the tank have any health, confirms it does not, and explodes it.

Why it’s Turbo-Awesome:

Every single time I plays Blaster Master, I have to perform this glitch at least one time. It is always hilarious to see something suddenly explode. Just watch that GIF a few times. Poor Jason has no idea what’s coming and then BOOM! Pure, useless, buggy satisfaction.

So, What’s the Deal?

Video games are designed to be fun but remember that these games are designed. People sat around and planned and programmed how they want you to play their game. What I find to be incredibly fascinating are the things you can do that the game was never designed to do! Most games have several of these oversights in them which allow the player to escape the designed rules of the game. Some of the most interesting times I’ve had with video games is when I am testing and pushing the limits of what the developer intended.

I am compelled to perform these glitches whenever I play these (and other) games as it reminds me that video games do not just a belong to the developers. They belongs to those who want to experience it. It belongs to the players. Video game players willingly enter the worlds created by these developers just to experience the world the game can offer. These little glitches and bugs represent a portion of the game world that the player experienced before the developer even knew they existed! Video games developers work extremely hard to give us a chance to have these experiences, intended or not. So remember, when you’re playing a shiny new game and something a little out of the ordinary happens, sit back and enjoy it. With all the quick patches and updates that come out for games these days, these experiences might not last.

Blaster Master (is Awesome)

I remember being a child when renting video games was still a thing that people did. Those days were so awesome! It was really exciting looking at a whole shelf full of games and getting to pick just one. It was quite possible that whatever I picked would make or break my entire weekend. Now, I don’t remember exactly when I first played the it but I can still vividly remember the entire game. I imagine myself running inside, jamming the cartridge into my NES, hitting power and just sitting in awe at the absurd awesomeness that followed:

You can't see it here but the letters flash like crazy.

I am so pumped!

Blaster Master is a game for people who love games that are fun. It is one of those games that, as soon as it starts, you know you’re in for a treat. The name itself “Blaster Master” speaks volumes. What are you going to do? Blast! What it your blasting skill level? Mastery! Why are you going to do it? Nobody cares why,  especially the developer Sunsoft! When Sunsoft brought the game to the US, even they knew that people don’t care and just want to shoot things with a sweet looking tank. Take a look at this amazing, hyper-realistic cinematic masterpiece of an introduction (starts with him poking the bowl):

There's just more to love, now.

Admit it. You would do the same if you had the chance.

This is absolutely the greatest possible opening for this game. I will accept no arguments.

In case you don’t understand the GIF, let me explain: Jason’s frog escapes from his bowl, leaps to a nearby radioactive waste container out in front of the garage, instantaneously begins to mutate to enormous sizes (by frog standards), leaps down an enormous-frog-sized hole, and is pursued down the hole by his loving owner, Jason. Jason then discovers a suit of armor and tank and decides it is the key to recovering his beloved frog.

Grey? Gray? Whatever... just shoot it!

Shootin’ some grey things and grabbin’ some P’s.

Blaster Master is awesome. Some people will claim otherwise (take note of these people for they should be ignored in the future) and they are objectively incorrect. Yes, it is a little rough around the edges but what NES game wasn’t? The general gameplay consists of Jason driving a tank around side-scroller style searching for things to shoot until you find Jason-sized doorways . You then explore these areas sans-tank in a top-down overhead fashion looking for more things to shoot until you can find something really big to shoot. Destroying the really big thing grants you a tank upgrade that allows you to explore more of the world to find bigger and better things to shoot.

The creatures you end up shooting look very bizarre. Take a look at the grey thing in the picture, for instance. What is it?! I’ve examined the sprite but cannot figure it out at all. It’s a grey bipedal person-oid that hopped around like a madman. Why do these things even hate Jason and the tank? Maybe they just have some sort of inherent hatred for “masters” who “blast” things? Regardless of why, these guys sure are fun to blast!

I just like to call him the "brain" thing.

Apparently, his name is Cramitor…

Besides the sheer satisfaction of shooting things, Blaster Master offers quite a big adventure. The game is Metroid-esque in the way that, although the game is split into distinct areas, you are free to go back and forth as you please between locations. In fact, the overall design requires that you revisit old areas. One of my favorite aspects of Blaster Master is how fun it feels to explore the game. Instead of just painting each area with different graphics and calling it new, the developers made each area feel unique as each area has a distinct look, music, and level construction. Because of the fun and interesting upgrades backtracking never feels dull as it gives me new chances to try out the tanks new abilities.

The tank decided to take dip too...

A leisurely swim after a rough day of killing things.

The upgrades give your tank abilities you never even knew you wanted. How about one that lets you fly? Death from above! How about literally driving up the walls? Do it! Walls not enough? How about driving on the ceiling? The sky is the limit! It’s almost as if the people at Sunsoft thought to themselves “What is more fun than a jumping tank of wanton destruction?” in which  one man, probably sitting in the corner of the room drinking a juice box, said, “How about instead of just jumping it can go, like, where ever?” I assume this was immediately followed by a round of high-fives.

Let’s face it: this game is frickin’ awesome. It’s not perfect but it’s just so great to play. Who cares about the little problems when there is so much fun to be had. If you haven’t played Blaster Master yet, I preemptively accept your apology. Now go out and play it somehow. You owe it to yourself.

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge (is Okay)

I recently purchased Shantae: Risky’s Revenge on the iOS App Store. I’ve known about this game for quite some time as it was originally released as DSiWare in 2010. I am slowly becoming a fan of WayForward and had heard great things about the Shantae series but had yet to play one. When I saw that it was on sale in the App Store for $2, I had to make the purchase (on Christmas gift card credit!) immediately.

That skull top is pretty cool, though.

Don’t get excited people: she’s 15.

For those who don’t know, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is a non-linear 2D platformer. You control half-genie Shantae in her quest to save the land from Risky Boots, an evil pirate (maybe?) type of thing. While the game is played in a strict progression, it is not level based. Shantae is free to explore anywhere her current powers will allow and backtracking is prevalent. There are plenty of upgrades throughout the game that keep the game fresh and interesting.

For what is effectively a Nintendo DS game, Shantae looks and sounds fantastic. I was really pleased by the sprite work and animations but that is to be expected from WayForward. The graphics, not including UI elements, appear to be exactly the same as its DSi counterpart, which isn’t a bad thing. My only gripe about the music is that it sounds a little compressed like a DS game, not an iOS game. I understand the graphics being the same but you’d think they could up the music quality given the platform.

Shantae is a really great game but WayForward really dropped the ball on the iOS implementation. Yes, it looks and sounds great and the overall design of the game is terrific but the controls are not up to par. Most people who play games on the iOS platform play games that were built from the ground up on the iOS platform. Games that were ported from platforms that have physical controls and buttons need extra love to make the transition to capacitive touchscreen. Shantae: Risky’s Revenge did not get that love.

There are a couple signs that WayForward did not thoroughly think through and test the controls.

First, there is no pause button. None whatsoever. You can go into the inventory menu to pause the action but otherwise, there is no way to pause. What this also means is that there is no way to return to the title screen except for restarting the app or killing yourself. This seems extremely odd for a game with a multitude of achievements.

Awesome desert locale

Just chilling in the desert.

Second, the item button is on the top left. This makes no sense whatsoever. For whatever reason, WayForward decided the best place to put an extremely common action was the furthest point away from all other actions. It is very clunky to have to stop moving just to use an item. Just look at the picture on the left. To use an item, you press the circle in the top left. Does that look fun? It’s not.

Third, the attack, walk, and mode button is all the same button: the “action” button. Normally, if you attack and continue to hold the button, Shantae will begin to dance. During her dance, the action freezes until you let go of the button (dancing is required as it lets Shantae switch forms.) If you attack an enemy and hold the button slightly too long, the game will stutter for a fraction of a second while she starts to dance. This is not a major issue but it is annoying. What really baffles me is how to get Shantae to walk. In order to walk, you must attack and continue to hold the button. Sound familiar? That’s because it is exactly the same way you start dancing. Dancing takes priority over walking which means if you want to walk (which you could only discover by accident), you have to jump, press and hold attack and then land after your attack is completed (if you land before the attack is completed, Shantae will begin to dance.) Then, and only then, are you able to see Shantae’s walking animation. Yes, walking is not necessary, but it’s still a shame.

Last, the controls are not customizable in any way whatsoever. In fact, there are no options to speak of at all. This means that my complaints are set in stone. Certain much maligned iOS ports, such as Grand Theft Auto 3, were criticized for poor controls but at least in GTA3 you had a multitude of control options. If the controls were terrible, at least you had the power to make them as comfortable to you as possible. What Shantae: Risky’s Revenge really lacks is the feeling of comfort; it always feels a bit awkward.

More could probably be said but it’s not really necessary. The game is very fun, playable and well worth the $2 I paid for it.

What does it all mean, though? WayForward obviously put a lot of work into this game as it’s fun to play and engaging. You can get it on the iOS shop for $4.99 (or wait for a sale like I did) or you can get it on the DSiWare shop or 3DS eShop for $12. Here is what I suggest: wait until it is released on the PC. It may be released on the Steam platform sometime in 2013 and will be, as far as I can tell, the superior version. Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is a good game but the iOS port deserved just a little more love to make it a great game.