Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ghostbusters the Video Game: Bustin' Make You Feel Good!

If you’re anything like me, you used to spend your Saturday mornings in front of the television with a bowl of Cap’n Crunch waiting for The Real Ghostbusters (and that God-awful Slimer show) to come on, you dragged your poor mother to the theater the morning Ghostbusters II hit the theaters and you can practically recite the Ghostbusters film word for word. If that sounds like you, just get in the car and don’t take your foot off the gas until you’re at the mall, because Ghostbusters The Video Game is what you’ve been dreaming about for the last 20 years.

For the other six of you still reading this review, I can wholeheartedly say that the newest incarnation of the franchise is the definitive Ghostbusters gaming experience. Up until now, that was sort of like saying that it’s more fun to be beaten with an aluminum pole than with a steel one infested with tiny, venomous beetles. But with a story written by Dan Akyroyd and Harold Ramis, the men behind Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, and the voice talents of Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and wisecracker Bill Murray, Ghostbusters The Video Game will be sucking away your free time for days to come.

Its 1991, two years after Vigo the Carpathian tried to eat baby Oscar with a gooey bathtub and Lady Liberty took to the streets of New York via an NES joystick. The busters, now a city-funded operation like the police and the fire department, must track down the source of the newest surge in supernatural activity that’s crippling the Big Apple.You play as the new fifth Ghostbuster who’s supposed to represent the player, but it’s hard to feel a connection to a generic dude who communicates though frantic hand gestures and getting hit with debris. I’m sick of the silent protagonist shtick and I’m sure most people would have rather played as one of our four iconic heroes, but it’s a minor gripe: The guys come along with you every step of the way, although Winston shows up late to the party yet again. At least he made it this time – remember how Sega ditched him completely in the fun-but-flawed Genesis title?

As one would expect from seasoned comedians, the dialogue and voice acting is top notch. The script is oozing with nods to the films and the guys spout one-liners like a broken fire hydrant. Of course, Peter is as sarcastic as ever, and even item descriptions have a comedic kick. If the game itself becomes boring, the humor and the storyline will keep players engrossed until the game’s conclusion.

The graphics are excellent. The environments are crisp and detailed and the ghosts are slimy and disgusting. The character models share the likenesses of their on-screen counterparts, but after 25 years with the film, the gang looks a little weird with polygonal skin.

Perhaps the game’s greatest accomplishment is that it the player truly feel like he or she is a Ghostbuster. Fighting and incarcerating spirits a lot like wrangling cattle or tying to stop a child from running into a toy store: One must be patient, and at first, it’s more difficult than trying to push smoke into a bottle with a baseball bat. But within a half hour, the player has a good grip on the action, though the default control scheme leaves a bit to be desired in the weapons department. Movement is done via the two control sticks and can sometimes be a little chunky, but it’s nothing that can’t be forgiven, or a least ignored.

The action can be tense like Silent Hill as the player tracks down spirits with his or her PKE meter, or it can be frantic with waves of ghosts descending with reckless abandon. Both styles keep the player entertained on their toes.
The multiplayer is fun with teams of up to four taking on different tasks together, such as busting bunches of ghosts or protecting valuable artifacts from ethereal assailants. The team aspect helps players bond, but the action gets stale quickly. The story mode is where Ghostbusters The Video Game really shines.

Unfortunately, recycled elements from the Ghostbusters mythos give this title a “been there, busted that” feeling, knocking it down a notch. It’s a catch 22: It would have been downright sinful to make a Ghostbusters game without Slimer trashing a hotel and Staypuffed stomping through NYC, but it’s sometimes tough to accept Ghostbusters The Video Game as the sequel to the films like Aykroyd intended. Several parts of the game shamelessly play on two and a half decades of Ghostbusters nostalgia, but many players will eat it up with a silver spoon. The rest of us can’t help but smile and move on, hoping the rest of the game will be more of its own title than a shadow of things past.

That being said, Ghostbusters The Video Game stands up both as an entertaining extension to the Ghostbusters universe and a good video game experience. Existing fans and people new to the Ghostbusters mythos should take this one for a spin, because bustin’ really does make you feel good.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Puke Along with Panic!

Imagine if every time you pressed a button on your cell phone, chose a channel with your TV remote, or clicked a mouse, there was a 50 to 90 percent chance that it would backfire, filling your living room with zoo animals, blowing up Mount Rushmore or even sending you on a one way trip to visit Satan himself, who will puke on you. This is the crazy concept behind Panic! (known as Switch in Japan), Data East’s best contribution to any Sega system, and quite possibly humanity’s greatest achievement.

The gameplay is simple: You’re transported from scene to scene, where you pick from a set of a buttons on screen, press one and watch the consequences. That's it. It’s pure brilliance.

The Monty Pythonish graphics are a perfect fit for the bizarre action and the music adds to the humorous atmosphere. The short, high-quality tunes establish a plethora of emotions, from relaxed and whimsical to pressured and tense. Honestly, some of the scenes are harrowing to play though, like the one with an imposing alien standing before you, or the one with a Frankenstein monster lying dormant (not for long!) in a gothic castle. And it’s not just the scary scenes that can make the player a little uncomfortable. One of the best things about the game is that even in a normal scene like a snowy field or a motorboat on a sunny day, you’ll still have the constant fear that you’re going to press the wrong button and sumos will jump out of the ceiling and puke on you. Or your lawnmower will spin wildly out of control and eat your baseball glove, your house and even your dog, and then puke on you.

But you're also afraid you might press the “right” button. Though Panic!’s fun comes from never knowing what you might trigger by pressing a button, you also don't know which switches have gags, so sometimes, you're teleported out of a scene without viewing all of the possible tomfoolery. That's right, you'll WANT to screw up in this game, because "winning" isn't half as fun as having a hippo in a tutu crush your poor character into a pancake, say something incoherent, and then puke on you.

In an industry increasingly obsessed with making video games so realistic that players can alter the texture of their shoelaces and are docked points for forgetting to trim their character’s nose hairs, a game where you simply point, click and pray is refreshing. Do yourself a favor and play Panic! - I promise it won’t make you want to puke.

Friday, June 5, 2009

ESSENTIAL Guide for Earthbound N00bs

For anyone who has never tackled the massive challenges of the high-selling, smash hit SNES roleplayer Earthbound before, the thought of battling your way through the game tooth and nail is more than a little intimidating. Snarling, fashion-conscious crows block your progress right off the bat, mugging you and reducing fat pig boys like Pokey to quivering mounds of stupid. Later, the child-smashingly evil Dungeon Man eats your characters alive, forcing about 70 percent of people to go right at the first intersection IN HIS GIANT, FREAKISH STONE BOWELS. And don't get me started on the resort town, Summers. With all that LSD disguised as “magic cakes” and that horrible Club Stoic (read: gang), instead of Summers, it should be called SINNERS if you ask me! Anyway, you've probably wet yourself already just reading this. So, you ask, what’s an Earthbound n00b to do?

Well lucky for you, I, Matt, am here to give you a much-needed hand! (Or two... or three!) I know everything there is to know about this game! See, I've been playing Earthbound for at least 67 years, meaning that I haven’t shut off my Super NES since World War II. I’m 26 years old, practically an OLD MAN, so I MUST be wise.

And I am. So wise, in fact, that I’m going to help you get through the ordeal that is Earthbound. Sure, I could sit here and tell you to go to Onett and cook Pokey breakfast and equip Paula with the lead pipe in the conservatory, but being 26 years old, I HAVEN’T got much LONGER to LIVE. Besides, having played through Earthbound over the many, many years I’ve lived, I’ve learned that success in this game can be boiled down to obtaining three key items. What’s more, I’m going to tell you how to do it free of charge! This is as good as it gets, folks. You can’t even get a better deal from that reject hint man, and he sniffs glue!

The first item you should set your sights on is the picture postcard, which is a picture… on a postcard! (Diabolical!) If you throw one at your enemy, it has a good chance of cutting them in half, and an even better chance of setting them on fire. Giygas’s toadies won't be able to lay a hand on you with one of these babies in you inventory!

Although picture postcards are readily available at one of the shops in Saturn Valley, that’s nearly one-third of the way through the game. Not even Superman, Rocky Balboa, or a giant radioactive scorpion could make it that far without one of those potent postcards. Luckily for your frail behind, there’s another, quicker way get them. After trudging through Peaceful Rest Valley, there’s a girl who asks for donations for the Happy Happy Cult. If you oblige, she’ll give you a postcard in return. Since nothing else up to this point is nearly as important as the postcards, be sure to give her ALL of your money. Remember, the more money you donate at a time, the more powerful the postcard you will receive. I once donated $30 MILLION to her, and I got a postcard so big, it made that blue cow EXPLODE just by looking at it. And don't worry about not having money to buy food items, because you can always steal raw eggs from that lame-o self service stand in the middle of town. Besides, Salmonella builds character and fiber is overrated.

Anyway, be sure to fill everyone’s inventories with postcards! Except for Jeff. He’s a loser and would probably nerd them up with his stupid nerd germs if he touched them. In fact, you should have just left Jeff in the garbage can you found him in on the top of Twinkle Elementary!

Oh, wait. That was Loid in Earthbound Zero. But that doesn’t change the fact that Jeff is a wienie.

But don’t think you’ve it made yet, because we’re just getting started! Aside from the picture postcard, nothing stops sinister aliens in their tracks quite like the Suporma, which, when used, plays the DEADLY song “Ode to Orange Kid.” To get it, all you have to do is give the Orange Kid in Twoson the wad of bills you would normally give to the Runaway Five’s greedy manager. It’s kind of mean to leave the band rotting in the Topolla Theater for the rest of their lives and all, but that’s a lot better than letting the world be taken over by BLOODTHIRSTY ALIENS and the like!

Anyway, using this item in battle has been known not only to utterly destroy enemies in the current fight, but even enemies (and innocent bystanders) for miles around. One time I used the Suporma on Mondo Mole, and Ness was cleaning the charred remains of enemies, dogs and Mr. Saturns off his shoes all the way to Fourside. And another time I used the Suporma, it was so powerful that beams started shooting out of my television set. It blew up THE ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD and severed one of my brother’s arms, but it was okay because my brother had two arms at the time, and you only need one hand to play Earthbound anyway.
It's THE Screen shot!
The Suporma is indeed mighty, but be warned: Don’t have Poo use the Suporma, because instead of playing that rockin’ song about the Orange Kid and busting some heads, it only replenishes six of his hit points. However, the Suporma is the only weapon in the game that Poo can equip, raising his offense by a staggering three points.

Next up, the Video Relaxant. It’s the last and most important item an Earthbounder needs for success. Nothing short of a party of 10,000 Drunken Flying Men could even come close to its destructive power. When you have Ness check it, the description reads, “What the hay is this?” What is it!? What ISN’T it! At first glance, it might appear to be an item the programmers dummied out of the game, but it really holds not only the secret of defeating Giygas and winning the game, but the secret of LIFE ITSELF. In fact, the Video Relaxant is so awesome, no one’s ever received it before without cheating – except for me. And furthermore, I’m going to tell you all how I did it.

First, kill off Jeff. This has nothing to do with getting the Video Relaxant, but everything to do with the fact that Jeff sucks. Now, put down the controller, log on to Starmen.net, and send a personal message to RaveFury. (That's me.) This also has nothing to do with finding the Video Relaxant; I just like getting PMs.

Actually, the more that I think about it, I can't remember exactly how I got it. I think I cheated.

So, with these items in your possession, the three chosen ones and Jeff should now have a fighting chance against the universal cosmic destroyer, Ben Affleck. Err, Giygas. But don’t think you’re in for an easy time now that you have the three greatest items in the game, my brave but inexperienced friends! Giygas is strong and crafty, like Batman or Bill Clinton (or Bill Clinton dressed as Batman), and he cannot be defeated with the three power items alone!

Keep your inventory full of rulers, protractors and especially the devastating plain roll, because all of them will come in handy during the final conflict. Don’t forget to utilize those postcards WHENEVER you get the CHANCE, and if you particularly dislike your neighbors, feel free to use the Suporma!Also, be sure to use Edward’s/Gilbert’s “hide” ability eight times in a row, don’t allow Giygas to get all seven Chaos Emeralds, and if things get REALLY rough, cross the streams. It’ll be a tough fight to be sure, but take it from an Earthbound veteran: excessive nose hair might be embarrassing, but if you have enough of it, it can be braided and used as a makeshift rope in times of need.

Happy Earthbounding, good luck, and tell that clown Giygas that Matt sent you! Now go and make this OLD MAN proud!