Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pokémon Soul Silver journal - entry one

I've decided to revisit the Pokémon franchise, starting right back where it all began. I watched the television show and greedily collected the trading cards almost immediately after they hit US shores, but I didn't get into the games with Red, Blue or Yellow versions. At the time, I only had my Nintendo64, and my first handheld - a turquoise Gameboy color - was a few years off. I played some Pokémon here and there, whenever friends would let me try battling wild Pokémon on their Gameboys, but most of my early exposure was through the two previously mentioned mediums - television and cards. I did rent Pokémon Snap about three or four times from my local Blockbuster, though, and at the time the 3D-rendered Pokémon blew my mind.

My brother and I shared a copy of Gold Version, which we purchased not long before Crystal was released. We poured hours into it, trying to catch Ho-oh, battling through each gym leader and the Elite Four, and giving some of the most ludicrous names to our Pokémon (including a Jynx named 'I'm Ugly' and a Murkrow named 'Elmo Dunbo' - apparently we had something against Sesame Street's Elmo at the time, and were so vehement about it that we rushed in spelling the word 'dumbo'). But as time passed, I found myself less interested in the series. There were too many new faces to keep up with, and I found a lot of them to be lackluster in comparison to the first two generations. While some of my friends kept up through Ruby and Sapphire, none of us really cared to stick with the games past Emerald.

That is, until the reviews for Black and White started pouring in, gushing about how these were considered two of the best Pokémon games to date. That, along with my growing distaste for many new-age RPGs, piqued my curiosity enough to lead me to look into the recent entries. I still wasn't sold on Diamond and Pearl, and while Platinum seemed a better option than either of those two, I wasn't willing to jump in blindly after having been gone for nigh on ten years. I was genuinely interested in trying out Black and White, and though some friends of mine chimed their positive experiences with it, I wanted to take things slow. How happy I was to know that Nintendo had listened to the calls of gamers like myself.

My brother and I are currently revisiting the glory days through the DS remakes of Gold and Silver - he is tackling Heart Gold, while I'm trekking through Soul Silver. These journal entries will serve as part personal progress, part thoughts thus far (which I can refer to when writing up my final review on the remakes). One standout quality of Heart Gold and Soul Silver that I love is how much more user-friendly the gameplay is. Leveling up happens at a much quicker rate, and every one of the trainers belongings is much more easily accessible - items, Pokémon, Pokedex, radio, map, and phone - thanks in large part to the dual screens. The game is also flexible to players. When choosing attacks in battle, you are not required to use the stylus. You can just as easily turn to the Gameboy-style controls of the buttons and D-pad. It's all a matter of personal preference, really. And when your Pokémon want to learn a new move, you can look over what kind of move it is before choosing to teach or not to teach it to your Pokémon - the attack power, percentage of accuracy, and element are all presented in one place for you to compare and contrast before making any decisions.

The gyms have seen an aesthetic update. They still play out largely the same, though getting to the gym leader sometimes requires players to solve short puzzles and even participate in a handful of double battles (carried over from generation III and IV). Buildings are much more distinct than they were on the Gameboy Color. Instead of scouring a city for the two buildings that read 'Poke' and 'Mart', you need only seek out the building with the red and blue roofs respectively. The Pokemart also has a spinning gas station-style sign next to it, making it even more recognizable. Same goes for the gym - instead of being one unnecessarily large building, it's a piece of modern architecture, in a semi-dome shape. I realize all of this is due to the fact that Heart Gold and Soul Silver are running on the same engine used to make Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum, but it doesn't make any of it any less welcome.

I turned to the same starter Pokémon that I did almost a decade ago - in fact, so did my brother. I have nothing against Totodile or Chikorita, but I have a soft spot for Cyndaquil. Plus, I gravitate toward fire Pokémon in general, so it really only made sense. And the first Pokémon beyond Cyndaquil that I added to my party was a Sentret. Yes, Furret might be an HM hoe, but he's my HM hoe. I also picked up a Hoothoot and a Weedle. Last time around I focused on Butterfree, and I'd honestly never tried working with many poison types or bug types in the past. Getting a Beedrill was one of the first challenges on my list of personal achievements in-game this time around. Geodude was also an early addition to my party, and has since proved invaluable on a number of occasions. Mareep was caught not long after the first gym, with the intent of ultimately adding an Ampharos to my lineup (I'm getting there, slowly but surely - Flaffy is one of my most prominent team members).

After a pretty terrible beating in Ecruteak City's gym, I focused almost exclusively on leveling up my Evee and Gastly. The former panned out quite nicely with an Umbreon now at my disposal, while the latter has been put on hold. I still want a Haunter - he's one of my favorite first-gen Pokémon. As much as I like ghost types though, I'm not great using them. Plus, I'm past Ecruteak, currently in Olivine, so the need currently isn't as dire. Magnemite is the most recent addition and quite useful - since I've gained the ability to surf, he's been frying one Tentacool after another and stacking the exp. I guess I had forgotten how strong some of his electrical attacks are. He's only a handful of battles away from becoming a Magneton.

The Safari Zone has just opened up, and I think I'm going to take a bit of a break from the main game to search for some Pokémon that I cannot get through other means. As a whole though, Soul Silver is treating me very well. There is some grinding that needs to be done from time to time, and part of that is due to the fact that I try to keep my party as balanced as possible, while still mixing it up every so often. I'm really glad Nintendo chose to include all the areas past Johto - Kanto was fun to revisit in Gold version, but the fact that I can now go beyond even that to get some of the Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald Pokémon is icing on the cake.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Halloween special - five scariest video games

In the spirit of the Halloween season, I thought it appropriate to visit some video games that did a really great job of creeping me out over the years. While my original focus was going to be solely on the 'scare factor' these games delivered, I realized games can take more than one approach to this. Some of these games utilize the more traditional 'jump-out-of-your-seat surprise' routine, others use the bizarre and unexplainable to mess with players' heads. Some are even almost wholly reliant on the atmosphere of the game's environments to convey the dark mood. In light of this, the list that follows is comprised of the top five games that I found to be the scariest, eeriest, or most haunting in nature.

#5 - Bioshock

This is a game that is more invested in delivering its narrative than it is scaring players. And what an awesome story it is. But the developers decided to have some fun with scaring the crap out of players just the same, at a few key moments in Bioshock. There are the generic situations wherein a Splicer will run around a corner and catch you off guard - the Houdini splicers are notorious for this, with their ability to teleport. But I found fighting Houdini splicers to be more tense than scary. The Spider splicers, on the other hand, are pretty creepy. They crawl on the ceiling of Fort Frolic, making a clink-clank noise with their hooks, and jabbering on about how they want to hold your Little Sister. Because of the multi-level layout of Fort Frolic and the fact that it's such an expansive area, you can't always see where these enemies are. A few of them go the extra mile and dress up in plaster, posing as statues until you turn your back.

The worst offender, though, is the Medical Pavilion. It's one of the first areas you explore in Bioshock, and is home to the crazed Dr. Steinman, who spends his days turning people into Picasso paintings. Watching him gouge a corpse before he introduces you to his other works is pretty disgusting. Meeting the other denizens of the Medical Pavilion will give you the heebie-jeebies. Most notably, a group of splicers shut the lights off and run circles around you. Another hides behind a casket, waiting to attack should you choose to approach it. Another medical member crawls around inside the morgue compartments, while one of his colleagues floods the Dentist practice with gas to temporarily blind you so that he can sneak up behind you, not attacking until you turn around and see his mutated face up close.

Though the game does contain some great moments to scare players, they are mostly limited to a few areas. Don't get me wrong - the points in question are very effective, and the crazed behavior of the splicers is in keeping with the overall theme of the game. But as a whole, Bioshock does not exude 'scary' like the rest of those on my list. With that said, on to number four!

#4 - Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4's setup is a great teaser of everything that will ultimately unfold. After a drive down a muddy, unpaved road deep in the forests of Spain, Leon is separated from his chauffeurs. From the sounds of things they have met an unfortunate fate, but Leon has to press onward to rescue the daughter of the President of the United States. He comes across a village of locals who are burning the corpse of one of the drivers, and the moment Leon steps past the fence line, they all swarm him, wielding sickles and hatchets. With limited ammunition, Leon seeks to barricade himself inside one of the ramshackle houses. As soon as he's blocked the door, the sound of a chainsaw can be heard as a man wearing a potato sack over his head makes Leon his number one target.

Few games start of as intense as Resident Evil 4. The survival-horror elements are retained throughout the rest of the game by limiting Leon's ammo supply at key points, and subsequently throwing seemingly insurmountable odds at him. This can be anything from a cabin where Plagas-infected locals spill in from every window on either floor, or trying to balance fighting an El Gigante whilst ensuring Ashley's safety. Aside from this tension, there are plenty of jump scares sprinkled throughout, from dodging the spear-tipped tail of Salazar's Verdugo to a flaming body suddenly erupting from behind a door.

Enemy designs ooze horror through plentiful variation. Sure, it's both bizarre and gross when a Plagas rips open the skull of one of the Ganados and begins to flail about its tentacle blade. But it's even more unsettling to deal with the borderline-invisible Novistadors that crawl around the castle sewers and puke acid all over Leon's face. Or the Garradors, who - though blind - will slowly walk about a room, waiting for Leon to make the slightest noise which will prompt them to charge, running their blades through his head. Or perhaps the creepiest of them all, the Regenerators, whose heavy, nasally breathing can be heard from a few rooms away, leaving players confused as to which door this nasty actually lies behind. Plus, Regenerators have multiple Plagas within their body that can only be pinpointed with a thermal scope attachment for the sniper rifle. And the time it takes to stop, zoom, fire, and reload cuts close to the time it takes the Regenerator to reach Leon once he's been spotted.

I would rate this game higher, but the longer you play Resident Evil 4, the more comfortable you get with it. It still maintains its identity, but the jump scares become less frequent and the tension amounts to more of an action-packed experience than a horrific one.

#3 - The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

I know what you are probably thinking: 'how in the world can he rank Majora's Mask higher on the scary-scale than Resident Evil 4?' Well, it's a different kind of scary - frankly, I think the terms 'haunting' and 'eerie' are more appropriate when describing Majora's Mask. It's also much more consistent than the jump-out-and-get-you moments in Resident Evil 4.

Majora's Mask is the darkest of all the Zelda titles. It's also one of the most depressing and twisted games I've played in general, regardless of genre or date of release. The game presents you with a daunting task - stop the moon from falling and subsequently crushing all the inhabitants of Termina. Oh yeah, and you only have three days to do that, so get crackin' or everyone's going to be pummeled into the ground. As you meet each character and help them in both the main story and sidequests, you relate to them and begin to genuinely care about their individual stories. It's one thing that I've always found Zelda games to be great at. No one will be spared - not even young Romani, who will be abducted by aliens if Link is unable to defend the ranch. Even though the moon falling is the work of Skull Kid, I still felt like I would be guilty of not saving everyone if I failed to complete the game.

In Ocarina of Time, Link became friends with the sages and Shiek, all of whom proved strong in their own distinct ways. Though Link had to rescue each from a sort of slumber or imprisonment, they aided him in his quest to stop Ganondorf. In Majora's Mask, the heroes of Termina - Darmani the Goron and Maiku the Zora - both die. Each of them teaches Link a new song before passing on to the afterlife, and leave him with transformation masks. Link is essentially wearing the faces of a dead Goron and Zora, which is about as gross as it is disturbing.

From the ominous chanting in the Stone Tower Temple, to the bizarre twangs at the Great Bay Coast, to the downright stomach-churning sounds that carry across Ikana Valley, the soundtrack does more than its fair share to emphasize the haunting nature of Majora's Mask. It is a perfectly creepy marriage to the dark color palettes exhibited in the game's dungeons, and the designs of enemies like the monstrous fish Gyorg and the grim-reaper-inspired Gomess. The atmosphere of this game seriously creeped me out as a kid, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't still find it disturbing today. I mean, have you seen Link's Elegy of Emptiness statue?

(Fun fact: If you look at the mask on the cover of the game cartridge, official game guide, or even a Google image of it, Majora's gaze follows you no matter where you are standing.)

#2 - Limbo

Limbo is a curious case. It is largely a throwback to old school platformers, and relies heavily on puzzle mechanics which are clever and challenging. The game itself is not terribly long. What makes it so creepy is little more than the art style. Were it not for the classic horror black and white filter, enemies would appear as other humans much like the protagonist. Monsters would be visible from a distance, and players would know where to jump to avoid spike pits and bear traps.

But then, the game would lose all of its atmosphere. Frankly, the story is completely up to interpretation, not delivering any voice work or text boxes. Players are meant to believe there will be some sort of prize at the end of the road - the gray, darkening road. The ending is melancholy and open-ended, while the journey there is marked with grotesque insects and humanoid figures that seem hell bent on your destruction. Traps riddle the forest floor, and one flick of the joystick could mean the difference between staying afloat by aid of a box and drowning. Limbo utilizes the most simplistic approach to horror, and it works incredibly well.

#1 - Silent Hill 4: The Room

Where Silent Hill 4 surpasses the competition with flying colors is every unexplainable element therein. Giant two-faced baby monsters chasing you through corridors, tentacles rising up from the floor to grab your legs – it’s all so alien and bizarre that one can’t help but respond with instinct, running away at the sight of these creatures. The fact that you are only allotted the use of certain objects as weapons doesn’t help the situation either. I mean really, are you going to charge headlong at those two-faced baby monsters with a lead pipe? I don’t think so.

But the horrors are not limited to the different Silent Hill portals. Each time you return from your… ‘adventures’ (for lack of a better term), there’s something new and out-of-place in your apartment. It might be the upper half of a human torso sprouting out of the wall above your bed. It might be a bleeding bag in the fridge that emits sounds similar to a cat. It might even be a bunch of crying baby fetuses that have somehow manifested themselves inside of the walls. Even if you do your best to avoid these more obvious scare tactics, you might witness a disembodied head fall by your window. Or perhaps Robbie the Rabbit is staring you down through the hole to the neighbor’s apartment.

The game couples dark fantasy elements with an art style that performs a balancing act between gothic and industrial. The soundtrack often aims more for odd, inexplicable noises than actual music. All of this topped off with the fact that you are alone and trapped like a rat for the entire game perpetuates a sense of serious tension and anxiety. The fact that, more often than not, you have no idea what to make of things makes this the single scariest video game I have ever played.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Anime review: Halo Legends

Halo Legends is a series of short animated stories from the Halo storyline, and reaches beyond the constraints of the games. The episodes visit planets and characters explored in the books and comics, while others are completely new to the franchise. Since this is the first review I have done of this sort of collection, I will be providing each individual anime entry with its own rating (out of a possible five ranking), and then providing an overall rating for Halo Legends as a whole (which will be out of the standard ten-point ranking system I use). Please note that the overall rating is not an average, rather a rating based on how well the sum of the Halo Legends's parts work together in delivering stories and expanding the Halo universe.

Origins serves as a quick recap of the events of the original Halo trilogy, and is divided into two parts. The first half, drawn in a style akin to that of American comic books, tells the story of the Forerunners and struggle with the Flood. This covers everything from their first encounter with one another, to the Forerunner’s construction of the Halo array and subsequent demise.

Part two does the same, except for the subject is that of the Humans. This is presented through a much more detailed and gritty animation style, with many of the background images something of a blur between painting and photography. Cortana explains how humanity acted throughout their history on Earth, and though they sought prosperity among the stars, ultimately carried their destructive, militaristic nature into space. Despite this humanity unites under the threat of the Covenant, and the two unite in turn under the returning threat of the Flood. It’s all visually pleasing, but is only going to be eye-opening for anyone who is jumping feet-first into Halo: Legends with little knowledge of what happens in the games. For the rest, it’s recycled information.
3 out of 5

The Duel explores the tale of one of the former Arbiters and his fall from the graces of the Covenant hierarchs. His dissent arises from concerns over the well-being of his home planet of Sanghelios. The pride of the Elites is used as very direct comparison to the honor code of the Samurai, which is made even more evident through the Shogun-inspired armor donned by Covenant forces and the watercolor animation present for the entire episode. It’s an interesting look into how the role of Arbiter went from ‘honored right hand of the prophets’ to ‘branded with the mark of death’. But the Japanese style is so forced that it draws away from the story.
2 out of 5

Homecoming follows a Spartan named Daisy, who wears the CQB armor variant. The episode is presented as a parallel of two stories - her present-day mission in a Covenant-occupied city, and her experiences as a young inductee to Dr. Halsey's program. In the present, Daisy puts her life on the line to escort Marines to an extraction zone so they can escape, while the past has her running away from Halsey and coming face-to-face with the flash clone that has become her replacement in the civilian world. Both present and past storylines build up a great deal of tension, but in different ways. The animation style is an interesting hybrid between that of the American cartoon/comic book and early digitally colored anime, like Gundam SEED.
4 out of 5

Odd One Out is the most directly comedic entry into the collection, and features Spartan 1337 as its protagonist. After this new Spartan falls out of the back of his Pelican, Master Chief and Cortana assure the crew that 1337 is capable of taking care of himself. At the same time, the prophets send a biological experiment named Pluton to fight 1337, believing him to be Master Chief. What ensues is a ridiculous parody of Dragonball Z and Halo that manages to balance its humor with a halfway-decent, if not bonkers, storyline.
3 out of 5

Prototype utilizes a very pleasing animation style, heavy on glow lighting in sparks and gunfire, while still paying attention to finer details. There is a nice utilization of smoke and mist effects, and the episode is surprisingly colorful for having an overall dark, industrial color palette. Beneath this layer of visual goodies lies the story of a group of Marines trying to provide cover fire for escaping civilian transports. When the Marines become pinned down, their squad leader, Ghost, activates a prototype Spartan suit that is more mechanized than the armor worn by Master Chief or most others. Though he is defying orders, Ghost states that he will destroy the suit and all of its data once his squad has safely escaped. The fight sequences snowball into one continuous adrenaline rush, akin to Gundam Unicorn, and utilize a number of interesting and varied camera angles. The story of Ghost as an individual is also explored, specifically his belief that he is responsible for the death of his entire former squad.
5 out of 5

The Babysitter follows an ODST squad on a mission to assassinate a prophet. Their camaraderie takes center stage as some of the sqaud members have trouble accepting a Spartan along on their mission. Along the way, some other minor points are touched on, such as the dangers of the drop pods (or 'helljumping', as the ODSTs refer to it), and Forerunner structures. The animation is something of a cross between Cyborg 009 and Gundam 00, with characters having slightly exaggerated facial features and bright color palettes. The lighting effects are top-notch, and breathe life into the forested planet the ODSTs have been sent to.
4 out of 5

The only pick of the bunch to be fully rendered in 3D animation, The Package follows one of Master Chief's missions between the Halo novels and games. Dr. Halsey has been taken prisoner by the Covenant, and it's up to Chief and four other Spartans to fly to her rescue, mounted on booster frames that bear more than just a passing glance resemblance to Gundam 0083's Dendrobium. The space sequences are phenomenal, evoking a Star Wars feel, while the occasional shift to first-person view during the on-foot sequences inside the Covenant ship is a mildly amusing, nostalgic nod to the Halo video games. There are some slow-mo action scenes, though these are used sparingly. The inclusion of Fred and Linda will be a treat for those familiar with the novels. For those who aren't, it will make the narrative that more interesting, with more than just Chief's perspective presented.
5 out of 5

Halo Legends is an interesting collection of short episodes that expand upon the sci-fi universe introduced through the games. The first few episodes aren't the best start to the collection, but it gradually picks itself up, pressing forward on its own two feet by the final episode. There are a few characters from outside of the original trilogy that make appearances, and though most of their roles are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, fans of Halo 3: ODST, Halo Wars, and the various novels will enjoy connecting the dots.

My rating: 8.0 (out of 10)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Valve announces in-game editor for Portal 2

According to Valve, early 2012 will see an update for Portal 2 that will allow players to create their own test chambers and challenges. This applies to both single-player and co-op chambers. Players can then vote on and share their creations online. This news comes from GameTrailers, who has stated that little else is currently known about the update. There has yet to be confirmation if this new feature will apply solely to the PC version, or if it will include the console versions as well.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

XBLA review: Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition

As a genre, fighting games are relatively foreign territory to me. I played a ton of Super Smash Bros. when it first hit the N64, and the same story carried through to Melee and Brawl. The thing I appreciated most about those fighting games was the fact that they were so accessible. True, it would take anyone time and patience to master each and every character, but newcomers could still compete decent enough in a throw-down of Nintendo’s best. Besides that, I only had a few cracks at the arcade version of Mortal Kombat at a local roller skating rink during elementary school field trips. In my early years of gaming (as well as today) my forte was in adventure and platforming games. I was all-too aware of the fact that arcade-style fighting games were largely dependent on players memorizing a list of moves and combos, which differed from one character to the next. That factor probably played the largest influence over my lack of interest in the genre for years to come.

However, in recent years I have rediscovered the genre as something of a beacon for old-school gamers amidst the onslaught of mainstreamed and over-hyped titles (the majority of which happen to be first-person-shooters). These arcade fighters stick with a classic formula, and – while they may provide tutorials of sorts – are not going to hold your hand the entire time. They will dish out one beating after another, and it is up to each individual player to find his or her own unique style of play to combat this. And that is one of the aspects of this genre that I truly admire – the flexibility players are granted through the variety of characters.

Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition is a game from the golden era of fighting games. The characters are varied but still very well-balanced, a result of years of trial-and-error on the part of Capcom and other companies. There is a myriad of different subgroupings to each fighting style. While Elena and Ibuki both focus on fighting from a range, the former does so with kicks and acrobatics, while the latter relies on swift kicks and throwing Kunai. Though Ryu and Akuma might seem like polar opposites skinned over the same move set, it is apparent that Akuma’s energy blasts are not as potent as Ryu’s, while his kicks and supercombos trump those of the series’ posterboy. Despite the fact that there are some striking similarities that can be drawn between some of the characters, it is impossible to find any two that are direct copies of each other.

The arcade mode lasts through nine standard fights, with two minigames thrown in the mix, and a boss fight at the conclusion of all this. Before each fight, players are presented with two opponents to choose from. While these are characters that will have difficulty playing both offense and defense to the player-controlled character, the last couple of choices narrow down to a “lesser of two evils” scenario. Beating the ‘final boss’ Gill as each individual character will prompt a cutscene that explores their story in more specific context.

The combat itself is very fluid. Combos and supercombos are a bit easier to chain than in the likes of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, primarily due to the fact that Third Strike is a past-gen game ported over to a current-gen console with a very different controller than that of the Dreamcast. Players can tweak the difficulty setting at the main menu as they see fit, as well as access training modes to hone their skills both offensively and defensively. The CPU does an impressive job responding to players. Only on rare occasions will it feel a bit cheap. For example, opponents that use blast attacks (most notably Ryu, Akuma, and Urien) do have a tendency to spam these when low on health. Also, players should be aware of how much space they have to work with on any given level, as some of the more physical combat-oriented characters (Yun, Yang, Dudley) may corner them and proceed to mercilessly launch-kick and punch them until their health meter is depleted.

The graphics maintain the traditional look and feel of the side-view and character sprites, but the level of detail presented in each character model and level backdrop is simply gorgeous. This makes a perfect marriage to the soundtrack, which is a combination of hip-hop, techno, and ethnic music. Players can earn points by completing various challenges in game – defeating opponents with 20 supercombo finishes, beating Yang as Yun (and vice versa), etc. – as well as completing the arcade mode each time through. They can then spend these points however they see fit on soundtrack pieces, concept art, and short videos to revisit whenever they wish. There is also an option to upload fights to YouTube, though this seems more of an afterthought with the video quality of these replays set at a 240p default. It would have been a better idea to let players save a handful of their favorite fights to their system's hard drive, retaining the HD quality playback.

Street Fighter III: Third Strike is a great fighting game all around. The final fight against Gill is brutal, and frankly the most uneven aspect of the experience. But the fact that players can jump in and play online is a great addition, and the unlockables are nice for nostalgia’s sake. Players can adjust the difficulty setting as they see fit within a pretty specific skill range, accommodating for both veterans and newcomers to the franchise. The faces may not all be familiar to those who played the previous titles, but every playable character in Third Strike: Online Edition is balanced to perfection.

My rating: 9.25 (out of 10)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pokemon Gold Version dream team

I was recently talking with my brother about Pokemon Gold version and our most frequently-used Pokemon therein. I collected plenty of the cards in elementary school, and played Red, Blue, and Yellow versions through copies my friends owned. But I never got into the Gameboy games until the second generation games rolled around. My brother and I opted for Gold version due to the fact that most everyone else we knew had Silver, and simply put, we wanted to be different.

Our team started out simple, as is the case with pretty much any starter party in Pokemon. Cyndaquil was the clear choice for us as our first Pokemon. We caught ourselves a Pidgey, a Sentret, gradually working our way up to slightly larger catches like Ampharos, Miltank, and Butterfree. Cyndaquil levelled up and evolved into Quilava; Sentret followed suit into Furret. We managed to get our hands on an Evee, which we deliberately directed towards Espeon (again, to break the mold of eveyone else opting for Umbreon). Espeon quickly became my favorite, with Furret and Quilava not trailing far behind. Butterfree proved useful on a number of ocassions, while Ampharos was ultimately traded out for a Raichu that was received through a game-link trade.

Ho-oh was the most difficult catch. He followed shortly after our catching of Sudowoodo (the latter of whom turned out to carry a much different skill set than expected and was quickly shipped off to Bill's Pokemon storage). Despite a few failures, we managed to stagger Ho-oh's health enough to capture him, due in no small part to Espeon and our now-Typhlosion.

There were a number of alterations the party lineup during the years my brother and I played Gold version. Pidgeotto was a prominent member until the addittion of Ho-oh nullified his usefulness. Seel saw a brief inclusion, as did Golduck and Snorlax. Muk and Gyrados made the cut the first few times we took on the Elite Four. But the team pictured above is the lineup we used most often, and identified as our favorites.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron character speculation

I'm a big fan of the Transformers. As a kid, I watched the original series, and revisited it when my younger brother first got into Robots in Disguise and Armada. I watched all of Michael Bay's explosion-fest theatrical takes on the franchise, and thoroughly enjoyed the War for Cybertron game. After the announcement that Grimlock would be joining the cast in Fall of Cybertron, I did a bit of deeper digging and discovered that Wheeljack and Sunstreaker would also be joining the Autobot's fight against the Decepticons. While Optimus receiving a bit of a makeover for the sequel was mildly amusing, I was more interested in who else might be climbing aboard for the sequel.

What follows is entirely speculation - they are my own thoughts/wishes on who might be in the new game, and have not yet been confirmed by High Moon Studios.

- Trypticon: I don't think we've seen the last of Mr. giant robo-dinosaur. He survived a fall from space to Cyberton. I'm pretty sure he could just as easily survive a fall into the lower levels of the planet.

- Constructicons: With Grimlock on the Autobot side, it only seems logical that High Moon Studios would balance this with something similar and classic for the Decepticons. I don't know that we will necessarily see any other Dinobots, but the Constructicons seem plausible. Assuming this sequel is longer than its predecessor, a few more boss fights would add to the epic scale and fan-oriented nature of the game. And I can think of no better giant green-and-purple robot to face down than Devastator.

- Shockwave: His appearance as a DLC multiplayer character in the first game led me to believe that me might have been intended as a cast member, but ultimately left on the cutting room floor. I don't know how they could go about the sequel without incorporating Shockwave in some way or another, considering how much of a tribute the games are to the old cartoons.

- Arcee: Another multiplayer character from War for Cybertron, Arcee could add some variety to the scout-class characters. Whereas Bumblebee was the excited young trooper and Sideswipe was sort of the cool kid on the block in Jazz's absence, Arcee could act as a more careful and reasoning balance to the boys. Adding Chromia and Elita-1 in as her squadmates for a mission or two could lead to some interesting and creative tactics with the scout-class abilities and weapons.

- Jazz: He was a DLC character. He was a scout. Same stuff that I said before, just as they apply to Jazz.

- Ironhide: He made a brief appearance in the first game, portrayed as an war-hardened bot. It was a cool balance between G1 Ironhide and his live-action movie counterpart, and I think High Moon can more greatly explore the history he and Optimus share.

There's a taste of what I think could end up being in the final product. As for the rest of the cast from War for Cybertron, I think most of them will be returning, though there may be a few exceptions with some of the less-prominent characters (like Warpath and Barricade). As new information is revealed, I may revisit this list to make additions.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 'Change the Future' trailer

A new trailer for Final Fantasy XIII-2 has been released, and provides more insight into what the story will entail. It seems the events at the conclusion of Final Fantasy XIII opened a rift to another world, which is where Lightning ends up. The rest of the cast will travel back and forth between their world and this new one, it seems. I'm really digging some of the new character designs. And Caius looks like a cool antagonist - from this trailer alone, I'm sold on this sequel.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Transformers: War for Cybertron sequel named

The sequel to Transformers: War for Cybertron finally has an official title - Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. Grimlock has been confirmed to join the cast of classic Autobots and Decepticons. The game is scheduled for a Fall 2012 release.

I can only assume the sequel will pick up shortly after War for Cybertron's conclusion. With the Ark nearing completion and Megatron still at large, it's quite possible that the Transformers will make their way to planet Earth before Fall of Cybertron comes to a conclusion.
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