BACK TO THE INDEX.
The War Machine (Springs to Life) Part 1.
-By Philip Wesley-
-Presented by DMG Ice.com-
-May contain harsh language-
|The first Philip Rational of the new year is a five parter.
So, expect a lot of interesting theory and a lot of criticism. No
political bent in this one now. Thankfully, the elections are over and
most of the mature people have already moved on. I have already moved
on, so I will focus more on games and the real handheld war. Just to
set the table, consider this to be our "State of the systems" edition
of Philip Rational. In this edition, we will cover three main topics:
The Nintendo DS launch, the best GBA game of 2004 and why, and the
upcoming tsunami of titles.
The Nintendo DS/Sony PSP launches.
The Nintendo DS launch in the USA and in Japan went fairly well except for ONE thing: Not many of the games were done yet and the system launched with only a handful of fairly good games; yet only a few of them used the more interesting aspects of the Nintendo DS. Overall, I was only slightly impressed with Nintendo's launch of the DS. The truth be known, there was NO KILLER APP for the system at launch. Super Mario 64 DS and Ridge Racer DS were both ports. The URBZ was just an enhanced Game Boy Advance game. Rayman was delayed and games like Mr. Driller did not properly show off the abilities of the system. Games like Madden 2005, Asphalt GT, and Tiger Woods showed off a quick sample of what the systems 3D power could be at its lowest level. Sega's Feel the Magic XY/XX showed off a bit of the touch screen/microphone ability of the system. In Japan, Wario Ware was a killer app, but was not followed up quick enough by other killer titles. I suppose that you go to launch with the games you have and not the games you would like to launch with. Personally, the launch went well and a lot of systems have been sold. The system has already sold almost three million units and by the time the PSP lands in the USA in March, the Nintendo DS will be very far ahead world wide. However, the launch should have had a "killer app" title and because of that fact: Software sales have been out-paced drastically by hardware sales.
Then again, it DID have a killer application title in the United States of America and Canada: Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt. Why was a demo the killer app title in this launch? Because Nintendo and Nintendo Software Technology are using the feedback generated from the demo title to further tweak and polish up the full game. If you thought the demo was pretty decent looking, wait until the full game is shown off. The full game is set to launch later this year, most likely AFTER E3. The game will benefit from what the launch could have benefited from: Time. I think that Nintendo was in too much of a hurry to get the unit out during the Christmas season, and because of this.. most players will find that the best titles for their new Nintendo DS are also for the Game Boy Advance. Nintendo created a bit of a "circle of harm" where the Nintendo DS unit sales chomped at GBA unit sales; while the GBA software sales chewed up Nintendo DS software sales. Needless to say, that is not too good. However, as more (and better) games become available, the Nintendo DS software sales will rise to match it. The big tests will be Another Code, Fire Emblem, Pokemon Diamond/Pearl, Xenosaga, etc. RPGS will be the best sellers on this system.
To the point, the PSP launch was also terrible. Sony did not release enough units and there were no killer app games for that system either. Gamers in Japan picked up the unit, it seems, mostly for the potential of the unit. They aren't buying music from Sony for the unit, and even with downloadable movies already out for the system, sales of those have been low as well. Hot Shots Golf and Dynasty Warriors helped the unit a bit, but right now.. the PSP is weak and the Nintendo DS is weak. Both are easy to knock over. The Nintendo DS has to have a few more games out to strengthen it. In particular, it needs an RPG. Games like Coded Arms and Metal Gear Ac!d may sell the PSP in America or Europe; but they don't sell it in Japan where First Person Shooters are a dead genre. (Don't believe FPS is dead in Japan? Ask Red & Black.) Grand Theft Auto for PSP will sell it in droves here; but Japan won't care two shakes about that game. The biggest seller on the PSP there will be the Train Similuator, I would almost bet on that.
Both systems had "problems" with glitches at launch. The Nintendo DS had a few units with dead pixels and the PSP had the same problem. If it has an LCD screen, chances are that it will have a few dead pixels in a few units. NO BIG DEAL. Nintendo and Sony will replace that unit for you. The biggest problems with both system have to do with their design though. The DS has some sharp sides to it and those can cause cramps with prolonged play. The PSP has two major problems with it: The Square Button and the holding springs. The Square button is off-center and causes people with larger hands or longer fingers to press it with only about a 80% chance of successfully inputing feedback. In English: You press the button and sometimes it does not respond. The other flaw has to do with the internal spring that holds the UMD inside the unit. The video going around the internet shows a player squeezing the sides of the system as he plays it, this causes a bit of undue pressure on the inside of the unit and causes it to activate the spring; ejecting the UMD disc. Most gamers also have a bit of a temper. First time we see that crappy red car zoom right past us unfairly in Ridge Racers, our hands are going to tense up and it's going to eject the game. I suppose that Sony thinks nobody ever gets frustrated? I suppose they think we don't fling our systems and controllers too? Maybe Sony thinks that nobody drops their Clie units or that no smaller children will own a PSP? Sony should build items that can take abuse. Everyone who owns an iPod has dropped it at one point in time. I've seen a GBA go through a washing machine and still work to a playable extent. It seems to me that Sony thinks we should all break out plastic gloves while using their system. Maybe we should use the included lanyard to hang it around our necks as we play?
I mentioned earlier that the Nintendo DS launch was missing a lot of great DS games. I loved Feel The Magic and I really enjoyed Super Mario 64 DS; but the games and devices that get the most play time in my DS are Game Boy Advance games. In particular: Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Final Fantasy 1 & 2, and the Game Boy Movie Player from Movie Advance. With the upcoming flood of titles before and after E3, this will change soon enough. Thank God.
Why Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is
the best Game Boy Advance game of 2004.
I have to warn you that this section contains spoilers for Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. I have read a lot of reviews for this game and I think the criticism about it is skewed and reveals one major difference between reviews at DMG Ice and reviews at other sites: We finish games before we review them at least 90% of the time. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories featured a customizable card system that was both simple and complex. The more effort you put into building a deck, the better the game becomes. Once you beat it and unlocked Reverse/Rebirth and the Link Mode, the games complexity became even more obvious. Stomping an opponent in Link Mode is worth the time and effort to level up and arrange up to three different deck styles. The ability to create your levels inside the game also adds to customized game play experience that this game offers. The best part of this game is developing decks to match your play style. If you prefer magic, load your deck with magic cards. If you prefer combos, set your deck accordingly. The same applies with physical attacks. Nothing is quite as satisfying as setting up a deck with mostly high level attack cards and just pummeling Heartless into submission ala a classic beat-em-up game. Is the gameplay complex enough? Yes, the gameplay engine is complex enough to completely elude many of the reviewers who reviewed this title. Now to address the criticisms aimed at this game.
The most frustrating criticism is that of the storyline. One convention of many anime is the dreaded "recap" episode. Some recap episodes are better than others and many just show off footage we've already seen. One of the best Recaps I have seen was in the series Kino's Journey (Kino No Tabi) and what made it unique was that it recapped episodes we had not seen. Chain of Memories is a bit like that, as the areas are familiar; but what happens in them is twisted and unique to this game. There are no really new areas aside from Castle Oblivion and Twilight Town. The whole point of this game is that Nami -a new character- is manipulating Sora's memories so that the Organization may use him for their own ends. Because the plot demands it, this is a bit of a skewed recap episode. The new information here is in the purpose of the Organization and the introduction of characters like Axel, and Nami. Both characters will have brief roles in Kingdom Hearts II on the Play Station 2. For that reason, the story -from Sora's side- is good and important to the plotline as a whole. Sure you go through areas you've "seen" before; but that is the way it is meant to be. New villans like Vexen, Marluxia, and the rest of the Organization set the pace for the darker PS2 sequel. You are treated to a bit of a character study in Sora's game and a little bit of plot enhancement. One of the major qualms people had with the first PS2 game was a lack of character development. This game is meant to establish Sora's basic character by adding more layers to his somewhat simple nature. Once you beat the game, you unlock the REAL meat to this game: Reverse/Rebirth.
When you play through as Riku, the game takes somewhat Evangelion-esque turns. While Sora's game is more universal, Riku's game focuses completely inward on him. We are introduced to even more Organization members as well as expanding roles for DiZ (Ansem?) and Mickey. Many people were bothered by Mickey showing up in the first game; but I suppose that was because they did not read Ansem's reports. In this part of Chain of Memories, we find Riku reflecting into his own nature and we also get a lot of very sweet correspondance with Sora's game. This mode in Chain of Memories answers a lot of questions about the underlaying plot of Kingdom Hearts. You also get to play as Riku, which bodes well for the PS2 sequel. I hope they let us play as Riku in that one too. Riku's mode is a bit scaled down in terms of gameplay in favor of adding more to the plot. If you take Chain of Memories as a two part game, than you will not be disappointed in anyway.
One of the best parts of Kingdom Hearts was that it WASN'T a port of a previous game. Most of the hot titles this year were ports of previously released games and that is why I do not qualify Metroid Zero Mission or Final Fantasy 1 & 2 as candidates for Game of the Year. People criticized Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories for the music in the game as well. This leads me to believe that they did NOT beat the game. The game features a huge amount of technology advances for the Game Boy Advance. The first and foremost being the game paks size. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is a whopping 512Megabits (64Megabytes) and it uses that space to hold about five minutes of PS2 style FMV, a whole lot of voice acting (in battle folly), and the song "Simple & Clean" by Utada Hikaru with complete vocals. The song plays over the end credits and that may be why the mention of the song is missing from almost all the reviews of this title that I have read at other sites or in the print media. In other words, they did not finish the game before reviewing it. The in-game music consists of new and old music compositions and this also has to do with the dictation of the plot. The story demands the use of these songs. The graphics are very excellent in this game, in fact Sora and Riku are some of the most detailed character sprites on the Game Boy Advance. I will admit that part of me looks at Sora's main sprite with contempt; because he seems to be modeled -sprite wise- after Crono from Chrono Trigger. Nice one, SquareEnix. You know that we want that game. Knowing that you COULD do that game easily makes it hurt that much more. The sound is rather good too, as hitting a Heartless with your Keyblade sounds solid and "crunchy." The only other game with that solid "crunchy" sound to it is when you hit something in Astro Boy or the Game Cube Viewtiful Joe. That solid sound makes it that much better.
People are critical of the games card battle system as compared to the more "active" system used in the PS2 game. The PS2 game is more of an action game when it should have been an RPG. The card battle system fixes that and the gameplay in the GBA game sacrifices the stupid Gummi Ship, Trinity Mark, and Dalmation fetch quests in favor of a tighter package. Personally, I have no qualms with the card battle system and will state that this game features the best card based engine I have seen since Pokemon Card. The countless Yu Gi Oh titles on the GBA can not hold a candle to this games card engine. Part of the reason I enjoyed this game also has to do with the characters in this game. I enjoy Disney, especially the older Disney properties and I enjoyed the amount of respect that this game gives the characters. I would have really liked to see Disney properties like The Great Mouse Detective, The Black Cauldron (Disney's take on The Book of Three), or modern properties like Lilo & Stitch represented in this title; but I think SquareEnix is saving those for Kingdom Hearts II or any future sequels. The Game Boy Advance lends itsself to developers trying new things, portable systems in general allow developers to try new things. The card battle idea here works well. In combat, I still move my character in real time and I can still pummel enemies like I want to. Of course, this is provided that I have put together a proper deck. Chain of Memories requires way more brain power than some reviewers and critics are willing to put forth.
Kingdom Hearts is fun, revolutionary, AND worth your time. In short: I believe this game to be one of the best offerings the Nintendo Game Boy Advance has put out this year. It narrowly edges Astro Boy: Omega Factor because of the darker plotline. I stand by my defense of this game. Speaking of games, let us now take a look at what the Nintendo DS will be getting in the next few months.
The up-coming Deadly Storms.
One of the most biting criticisms of the Nintendo DS is the lack of games. January was PATHETIC in the United States. All we got was ZOo Keeper. In fact, leading up to E3, February and March look weak too. April will get some pick up in terms of new games, May will have a few with a huge amount of announcements, followed by drastic pick-up in June all the way into a bit of a large scale invasion for the holiday season. The obvious games will be sports related with NFL/WWE/NBA/MLB/FIFA titles. The next bit will be from Nintendo. Nintendo has Super Princess Peach, Another Code, Yoshi's Touch & Go, Wario Ware Touched!, Advance Wars DS, Fire Emblem DS, Mario Kart DS, Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, a new Super Mario game, Kirby's Magic Paintbrush, Jam with the Band, Metroid Prime Hunters, Soul Calibur, and more all in line to be released THIS YEAR. A few of these titles will be out before E3. Nintendo will probably show off a 1080 Snowboarding title, as well as a Wave Race title for the DS at E3 as well as Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, Another Code, a Starfi game, and few more titles. Also out this year are Xenosaga, Lost in Blue, Monster Farm, Rayman DS, Bubble Bobble Revolution, and more. Needless to say, the DS will get some very hot titles in the upcoming monthes. I'll go more into specifics on that and the upcoming Nintendo DS OPTION PAKS later on in the other parts of this series. See you later!
-Editorial by Philip Wesley-
-Sources: Nintendo, Media Create, Sony
-Property of dmgice.com-