In this month's edition of "Press Start," Peter "The Rizk" Rizkalla takes a look at Super Paper Mario for the Wii, The Red Star for the PS2 and Crackdown for the Xbox 360.
There is only one thing that really makes a game system great and that is great games! I don't care how powerful the Xbox 360 is or the PlayStation 3 is or the Nintendo Wii is. Great games have always been around since before any game systems were anywhere near as powerful as the ones we have today. So how does one make a great game? Well that really depends on the person you're making the game for but if you want a more solid answer I guess a much better question would be, "What are the characteristics of a great game?"
I've said it before and I'll say it again... you can tell a game is great when you can't seem to put down the controller. We're gonna take a look at Super Paper Mario for the Wii, The Red Star for the PS2 and Crackdown for the Xbox 360 and find out if these games really do have the ability to transform a videogame controller into crazy glue in this months issue of Press Start!
Super Paper Mario for the Nintendo Wii; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Intelligent Systems; Release Date: April 9, 2007; ESRB Rating: E for everyone; Genre: action/adventure; Players: 1; Support: Wii-mote only; Online: N/A
2D vs. 3D
I always say that gameplay should always come before graphics. I'd rather have a game that plays great and isn't all that flashy than a game that looks gorgeous with all the glitter and tinsel, but gets boring after five minutes. But the absolutely uncommon thing about Super Paper Mario is that the graphics themselves are actually a key part of the gameplay!
Super Paper Mario is not your typical action/adventure title. It does, however, follow in the same vein as its Nintendo 64 and GameCube predecessors. Like the other titles in the Paper Mario series, SPM stars Nintendo's famous mustachioed plumber, and every other character in the game, as flat 2D sprites. But, unlike the other Paper Mario titles in SPM, players can flip between 2D and 3D graphics at the push of a button. If you're confused already don't worry, we'll get through this, just be strong.
When Peach Met Bowser
Ok, so you can probably guess exactly what the storyline is in this game. Princess Peach gets kidnapped again and Mario has to save her. Although King Bowser is not the guy who kidnaps her, in fact the guy who kidnaps Peach has the cojones to actually kidnap Bowser as well. It's all part of an evil scheme to fulfill an ancient prophecy, which will lead to the same goal of any truly evil villain... the destruction of the universe!
At first the game looks like a 2D side-scroller that was rendered in a program like Flash or After Effects, but when the player flips worlds, the environments become 3D while the characters remain paper thin 2D sprites. For example, when Mario turns to walk in different directions he flips like if you were holding a sheet of paper and you flipped it to see the other side.
SPM was actually slated to be a GameCube game. But patient fans have been rewarded for their wait with the addition of a few extra Wii features that would have been impossible on the GameCube without some sort of attachment. Of course we got the basics; running, jumping, item usage, bopping enemies on the head, picking them up and throwing them, the works. There's also the ability to shake the motion sensitive Wii controller to make certain attacks more destructive to enemies. Players can also point the controller at the screen to view hidden items in the levels that cannot be seen with the naked eye or by flipping dimensions.
Along the way more characters join Mario in his quest including playable characters to which players can switch to at any time and in-game helpers known as "pixls" which grant the characters additional abilities.
Flipping dimensions is essential to progressing through the game and finding hidden secrets, but remaining in the 3D mode is timed. A timer appears when in the 3D mode -- when time runs out the character will begin to take damage so players can't stay in 3D for very long. It's kinda like holding your breath under water for too long.
It Don't Make Sense to be Chubby and Thin
Super Paper Mario is a good game and good games are exactly what the Wii really needs right now. Graphics (whether in 2D or 3D) look very crisp and clear with high resolution texture mapping and accurate lighting. You would never think you were looking at a 3D environment when looking at it in 2D mode.
What aches hardcore is that there is too much dialog; it's almost like an RPG that there's so much reading to do. That is actually typical of Paper Mario titles, but it just gets old and you'll often find yourself saying, "C'mon, I want to play already!" In any sense, SPM is great fun and an artistic masterpiece but I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's a "must have."
The Red Star for the PlayStation 2; Publisher: XS Games; Developer: Acclaim Games; Release Date: April 23, 2007; ESRB Rating: T for teen; Genre: action; Players: 1-2; Support: N/A; Online: N/A
Back from the Dead
Now this game has some history behind it! If there was ever a game that had to go through Hell and back to get published, it's definitely The Red Star. Let me fill you in. A small time, independent comicbook studio named Archangel Studios received the opportunity from Acclaim Entertainment to create a game based on their flagship comic title The Red Star. Production on the game had been going so smoothly that Sony released a disc, which included a playable demo of The Red Star in an issue of its PlayStation Underground magazine back in August of 2004.
What happened was Acclaim Ent. apparently didn't exactly have the best money management skills and the company went bankrupt exactly one month after the release of The Red Star demo. The Red Star was dead. That is until Howard Marks purchased Acclaim and reopened the studio under the name "Acclaim Games." This isn't the first time that Marks decides to bring a company back from bankruptcy; back in 1991 him and Bobby Kotick did the same thing for Activision.
Now we are celebrating the birth of "the game that should have been and finally is!"
For the Motherland!
The Red Star is set in the game genre of top-down action shooter. Players can choose to control one of three different characters. There's the distance fighting sorceress, the fast and agile rebel and every ones favorite the muscle-bound, powerhouse soldier. The story offers an alternate history where these fighters are caught in a war of politics and deception while fighting against their own country, the United Republic of the Red Star (the U.R.R.S.)
Each character has an arsenal of moves, including guns, melee attacks, chain combos and super maneuvers. Players fight their way through an army of henchmen and gigantic, mechanical weapons of mass destruction. At the end of each level players have the option of amplifying a certain characteristic, such as resilience to attacks and faster "cool down" time of overheated guns.
Gameplay feels solid as players have very accurate control over the direction of their gunfire and power of their melee strikes. When performing a combo, players can hold down the melee button to unleash a much more powerful strike which sometimes has a different effect on the enemy than just tapping the button normally. Some moves will cause damage to all enemies surrounding the character while others might concentrate on one enemy, launching him into the air and causing some serious damage. Players are also given the ability to shield themselves when they see attacks coming from all directions. To balance things out, the shield works well against striking attacks, but poorly against bullets and projectiles.
Red Star also gives players the option of inviting a friend to play through the game and, together, engage in a cooperative beat-down! This is actually a good feature to take advantage of considering the difficulty can sometimes be absolutely unmerciful!
Very creative and smooth animations give the combat that bone-crunching feel. The playable characters are very balanced and the multiplayer will keep players glued to the controller until 5:00 am the next morning. The seemingly endless strings of attack combinations will have players restarting levels over and over to try to pull off that combo that they discovered.
Sometimes the action slows down dramatically and the top-down view can be a problem when trying to fight off bosses. It also would have added to the feel of the game if there were deeper and more booming sound effects. Some of the sound effects sound like popcorn popping instead of bullets being fired. Red Star works great as a two-player game, so the lack of online play isn't really a deadly blow, but more gameplay modes would have been nice, like a survival mode or a versus mode. All these little issues are very bearable and don't really interfere with gameplay, especially when you consider that Red Star was released with a $20 launch price tag!
It's good to see that Red Star finally went gold after all the garbage it went through. It would be great to see a sequel with more polish on the newer generation systems.
Crackdown for the Xbox 360; Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios; Developer: Realtime Worlds; Release Date: February 20, 2007; ESRB Rating: M for mature; Genre: action; Players: 1-2; Support: system link; Online: cooperative campaign mode and downloadable content
Bringing Law to the Lawless
Have you ever sat at home alone at like 3:00 in the morning playing Grand Theft Auto 3 and not even trying to complete any of the missions, but just driving around the 3D city blowing up stuff and trying to perform crazy jumps by driving off of any bridge or ramp in sight? I know I'm not the only one. Have you done it so often that after God knows how long you've played, you're finally bored with it?
Have you ever said, "Is there any other game I can do this in besides any of the Grand Theft Auto games?" Then the next question you need to ask yourself is, "Where can I get my hands on a copy of Crackdown?" Games with non-linear gameplay and full-roaming 3D worlds have been pretty popular since the release of Grand Theft Auto 3 back in 2001. Similar games started popping up out of nowhere; The Getaway and True Crime: Streets of LA are just a few. Now David Jones, the creator of Grand Theft Auto, has added to the list by creating another similar (yet very different) non-linear, full-roaming action game.
It's Like the Incredible Hulk Meets Dragnet
There's not much depth in the Crackdown story, but let's be honest, we can be certain that the target audience for Crackdown is not the gamer who is looking for a rich storyline. But, thankfully, there is a story to hold the game together. The police have lost control of the streets of Pacific City. Rival gangs now run the show and the cops have neither the manpower nor the resources to take the streets back. So (at the risk of sounding like an over used cliché) desperate times call for desperate measures.
The police recruit the services of a disgraced scientist to create a genetically enhanced police officer; one who has the ability to leap over buildings, lift cars and busses and even regenerate his consciousness into a new body when he's been killed. Players take control of this new he-man police officer and start transforming gangsters into cannon fodder! Players can choose the appearance and ethnicity of their character from a list of created choices.
When starting a game, players will notice that the entire 3D world is texture mapped in a cel-shadder. Cel-shading is most often used in more lighthearted titles and games that attempt to emulate a 2D appearance, so it's surprising to see a game that is so serious and so "adult" take on this choice of texture mapping. As players play through the game, they will begin to notice that the appearance of the main character begins to change as he becomes stronger and more experienced.
There are various stats that will increase as the player plays through the game, making the character a better marksman, a better explosives expert, a better driver, etc. Players won't be able to lift busses right at the beginning of the game, but that'll come sooner than later. In addition to the characters constantly changing appearance, police vehicles will also transform when the character steps into them. For example, when an experienced character sits in the driver's seat of a little two-door police coupe, based on his stats and strengths, that two-door coupe will transform into a 12-cylinder beast on wheels.
The shooting system is pretty standard, but still fun to use. Players can lock onto almost anything and anyone in the game to take aim and fire at. When an enemy is too far away, players can make the character crouch to increase the accuracy of his shots. As you reclaim agency supply points back from gang possession, the character will be able to teleport from point to point without having to drive. Also, confiscating enemy weapons and storing them in agency supply points allows players to use those weapons against the very gangs that they were confiscated from.
An interesting thing to note about Crackdown is its challenge. Even on the lowest difficulty setting things can get pretty nuts! When attempting to infiltrate another gang hideout and kill their boss, the game will tell you if the course of action that you are choosing has a low percentage of success or not. A lot of times busting down the front door and charging in for the kill will lead you straight into a tidal wave of grenades. Coming around the back door or finding another entrance to gang infested hideouts could be the best way to not get blown to Bejesus and back!
They Dropped a Dumpster on My Brothers' Head...
The city streets in Crackdown are huge and the buildings are super tall.
Performing stunts with the vehicles in the game are not only fun, but the game places certain areas for bonuses if you can pull of certain stunts. The graphics and animations are very smooth and multiplayer is an absolute joy. An interesting note about the multiplayer option, players can play together either by linking two Xbox 360 consoles and two screens or over Xbox Live. Realtime Worlds did not offer the ability to play cooperatively on one screen using a split screen function. That course of action is actually a noble one because trying to squeeze two gameplay views into one screen would be a crying shame and a waste of the awesome resolution that the Xbox 360 can display.
Loading times can be as painful as pulling teeth and the camera can get pretty wild when being attacked from multiple directions. One thing that Crackdown deserves is more publicity. When it was released, Crackdown came packaged with an invitation to play a beta demo of Halo 3, which is scheduled to be released on May 16, 2007. This shows very little faith on Microsoft's part in the game development ability of Realtime Worlds. The Halo 3 beta could have just as well been advertised on Xbox Live and distributed in a different manner. Crackdown is too good of a game to be overshadowed by what it came packaged with.
Peter Rizkalla is a life long fan of videogames and the videogame industry. He has worked in videogame companies, including THQ and Namco, and has won several awards for his animated short films, such as his videogame themed Flash film Toadstool Funk.