Review: Cruis’n USA

Sometimes yours truly will sporadically take notes as he plays a video game set for review.

Here are some notes from yesterday while trekking through Cruis’n USA, an arcade racer developed by Midway in 1996:

“The general grime seen and felt while playing suggests the gulf between 1996 and the late 80s was not as big as it should have been.”

In regards to the music: “Instant thoughts of stripper clubs in the early 90s. My brain imagines big haired women in their ugly outfits doing really awful dances, while a 300 lb dude in the back grunts and moans into his microphone to a backing band. Lyrics include: ‘Yeah, woah-oh. Woah, woah, woah, woah-oh-oh, oh.’”

A thrilling moment: “I am driving in the ‘Redwood Forest,’ and I literally just struck down a giant, impossibly huge redwood tree by grazing it with the side of my automobile.”

A startling discovery: “‘Indiana’ is the same exact track as ‘Iowa.’ Hmm.”

Noting the graphics: “I think I just saw a waterfall that did not move.”

And, finally: “I just ran into the White House.”

As described earlier, it is an arcade racer, somehow published by Nintendo for their 64-bit console. It has “cool” cars, and they all like, move down roads, man. Little “obstacles” like barrels and very tiny signs fly into the air upon impact of your car, to no detriment of either your vehicle or the environment around them. The barrels simply vanish, probably en route to mid 90s polygon heaven.

At every finish line, a bunch of really ugly .gif-like people doing a three frames a second animation await you, all standing in harm’s way because you did like, an awesome job, man. Your car instantly stops the moment you’re about to hit them as if someone pressed pause on your RCA VCR. This is when a busty woman from a bad hair metal video thrusts her breasts into a trophy I’m assuming is now yours.

The main single player “campaign” is of a 20+ minute ride through the United States. Roads seem to grow more windy and treacherous from the west to the east as you go along, as if road planners or whatever suddenly got more ambitious and/or evil. Sometimes while driving through its various locales a voiceover girl will intone something casually descriptive, like: “Check it out, San Francisco,” or “So this is the Grand Canyon.”

“Wow, Mount Rushmore.”

The white hot action features a little radar on the right side of the screen, showing oncoming cars in gray and opponents in red. It is so tiny that it is completely pointless, as other cars will fly into yours way faster than you would ever expect. Everyone drives in every lane in this game — the left one, the right one, backwards, forwards. If this were real life, we would all be dead ten seconds after starting up our cars.

Or perhaps not! Driving head-on into oncoming traffic at 90 MPH simply makes your car do a cute, ballerina-like spin on the road before robotically re-aligning itself into a perfectly straight line. Sometimes your car does whip-like flips, too, and throughout all of this your 1994 Pontiac Grand Prix looks just fabulous with nary a dent or scratch in sight. I guess if this were real life, it would like, totally rule, man.

There is a (local, duh) leader board called “Hot Times,” where you put your three lettered initials on a license plate and watch it cheesily twirl up a wall before being nailed in with what sounds like a powered screwdriver. Instead of initials, I tend to prefer things like “ASS.”

For challenge, there is an always-there timer, counting down the seconds to your inevitable doom should you not reach the next checkpoint. This is a feature in nearly all arcade racers, at least the ones from the 90s and (especially) the 80s. Unfortunately, or fortunately for five year olds, you will most likely never feel burdened by this, thus no challenge. The game provides copious amounts of time for you to drive down bland roads.

The actual gameplay is reminiscent of many a time had in the corner of the local movie theater after spending $11 to see something probably mediocre — a dusty Midway developed arcade racer beckons you, usually with “Rush” somewhere in the title. It plays the same but now in your home, and with all the time in the world becomes something rather tedious very quickly. It also plays exactly like Rad Racer from the NES, which at least had the audacity to feature good music.

The worst part about all of this, though, is that it can actually be moderately entertaining. It may be the video game equivalent of a bad 80s music video, but a part of me really enjoys that. It takes bland but serviceable gameplay and outfits it in a smelly early 90s exterior. Everything is hilarious, everything. The way your car moves. The awful gif people standing everywhere. The barren roads. How “Indiana” and “Iowa” are the same exact tracks. The music. The muffled sound effects. The sexist nature of how every female is either bikini clad or had been through obvious plastic surgery. It is all wonderful in its awfulness, like a good bad movie. And although this may not quite be the “Troll 2” of video games, it comes awfully close. Notice the word “awful” in the past two sentences.

+ Uhm, it is very funny.

– The gameplay.
– The soundtrack. Jet Moto but a lot worse.
– The tracks either look all the same or are the same.
– The presentation.
– The sound effects.
– Everything.

 OUT OF 

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Review: Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

It was more than a disappointing decade ago when Nintendo unleashed Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards onto the masses — a game most have since described as “mediocre,” “not Kirby’s best,” “too easy,” and “only meant for kids.” How delightful! These same thoughts echoed through my mind while playing the Virtual Console re-release in early 2008. It just felt dull — Kirby appeared to move about two miles an hour in what seemed like overly simplistic environments. I made it halfway through world two and promptly called it quits before nearly falling into a deep coma.

Alas, slow ass Kirby and I were destined to meet again. The hilariously sad nature of my checking account has resigned me to actually playing through the dozens of old games I already own via the oft neglected Virtual Console but had never finished. Which accounts for probably, oh, 90% of them.

Thanks to the recent Return to Dreamland haunting my brain with glowing praise from many a Nintendo fanboy, I found the second (or third or fourth) best Kirby related thing I could play: this here goofy title. After pushing myself through the first two worlds and reaching the third (only three years later), SURPRISE SURPRISE! I realized I was having a pretty great time!

One caveat: you must accept the easygoing, carefree nature of the Kirby world before playing. Kirby is not just meant for eight year olds — it is also for those who want to have simple, lighthearted fun. Who doesn’t want that? Except like, a lot of people apparently?

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards is a 2.5-D platformer, and that is where most of my enjoyment comes from. The 1/2 is a totally superficial bullet point regarding its presentation, but there is some odd magic derived from this. (Basically, your character moves on a 2D plane — left and right — in environments that are actually three dimensional.) These types of games are rarely made anymore; most developers creating a platformer now settle for a more “classic,” flat look established in the 16-bit era. This is of course fine, but the fake 3D in these forgotten titles is a rather cool distraction. (Game series like Pandemonium and Klonoa fit the bill quite nice.)

As with most Kirby platformers, the pink puff of happiness has the ability to suck up different enemies and mimic their powers. A swiftly moving ball of flames will give you “fire,” a tiny volcano will give you “rock,” etc. These powers are humorous and rather simple by themselves, but unique to this entry is the option of combining two powers — be it the same two ones, like fire and fire (which just amplifies the original power up), or two different ones, like bomb and fire (which transforms Kirby into instant, screen-destroying fireworks).

Every level also contains about three Crystal Shards, thus the title. Of course, there is a general Nintendo-like non-story about collecting all of these to rid Dreamland of evil (which is manifested in black orbs with a creepy eye in the middle), but this will easily be ignored and merely looked upon as The Actual Challenge For Those Who Want It, a transparent feature experienced in all modern Nintendo platformers. The challenge is not finding them per se, although locating some in the later worlds will be difficult — it is more about experimenting with different combinations of powers to obtain the titular objects.

The amount of levels you get is not that many (three/four in each of the six worlds), but collecting all 100 Crystal Shards will take at least a good seven or so hours. The more you play, the more enjoyable the game gets as well; the level design gets tighter and the graphics become kind of pretty — if only in that hilarious N64/PSX way I will always be nostalgic about.

The Crystal Shards is also an anomaly in a couple of ways; while the recent landslide of Nintendo developed 2D platformers has rendered its specialness quite moot, it was absolutely rare in the N64 era — an honest to goodness 2D platformer devoid of those three dimensions and all the awkwardness they used to entail (sluggish camera controls, mostly). The simple nature of this game turned off many a nerd back then, as it almost seemed reductive to just be moving — slowly, too — left, right, and nowhere else.

Another noteworthy thing for useless fact junkies like me, is that it is also one of the only (to my knowledge) 2.5-D platformers Nintendo has ever made.

It is an easy game in hindsight. Once you get past the sections that kill you a few times and grab that shard, there is little reason to go back again (other than for some simple fun, something not many people seem to enjoy). But, hey, I had a lot of fun despite its few shortcomings. It was worth the $10 I spent three and a half years ago, and it is worth your $10, too.

+ A very charming game
+ Simple, relaxing fun
+ New combinations of power ups are always gratifying
+ Great graphics for the N64

– A little too simple and easy
– The music is mostly forgettable late 90s “techno”
– Kirby moves really slow, which makes it hard to get into at first (hint — press the d-pad twice in the direction you want to go)

Percentage of game complete: 100%, about 6 or so hours

 / 

Games Are Expensive! I Should Maybe Play These

Dear Nerd Diary,

I have gone back and forth and back and forth between OKAY I REALLY AM GONNA BUY THAT NEW KIRBY GAME and WELL MATT MAYBE YOU SHOULD THINK ABOUT BUYING SOME FOOD FIRST.

This is a problem.

It is further compounded when I gaze longingly towards my SD card on my Wii: dozens and dozens of games I have purchased, sometimes for more than $10, 90% of them barely played. What the fuck is my problem?

So, I am going to bombard this blog with five billion reviews, hopefully. I must resolve this issue — I will play every single one of these games to (near) completion, review them, and then by the time I’m done sometime in 2013 I can begin buying new games! What a great idea.

First up: Kirby 64. Expect a pretty positive review, maybe.

Kirby 64; Awful StarFox GCN Game

Dear Nerd Diary,

Last night while watching some YouTube videos of the new Kirby game (it looks pretty fun!!), I turned on my Wii and started actually playing Kirby 64, a purchase I had made over two years ago and really did not even start to play. That is the state of my money problem — I buy things and then do nothing with said things. The simple ACT of buying something is worth it for me, almost more than the game experience itself. I might as well be buying salami in bulk!! EW!!! I HATE SALAMI!!

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (or Sharts as I will now call it) is AMAZING! What a cute, simple, FUN platformer for the good ol’ N64.

I am enjoying it quite a bit. It’s very slow paced and easy from point A to point B, but not if you want those three secret Crystal Sharts in every level. You have to really work for them. Also, special to this Kirby game is the ability to combine powers, which leads to an endless supply of goofyness. Ice + Bomb? SNOWMAN THAT EXPLODES. Bomb + Fire? FIREWORKS KIRBY. Ice + Rock? A CURLING PUCK.

Hmmm.

Love, Matt

P.S. Don’t buy StarFox Assault just because SF643D is amazing. Lesson learned. It is pretty mediocre.

Mario Party Is Alright Sometimes

No one loves Mario Party, because it was the casual’s game of choice for a billion years, not to mention Nintendo whored it out for 8 iterations in like 7 years. Every single chapter in the MP saga is the same, a few boards to have your character walk around with a mini game at the end of each turn. Whoever gets the most stars wins, etc etc.

Years pass and Mario Party is a bit more passé. Thank god, the games are now finally under $50. (Except for 8. Never get 8.) Truth is, Mario Party 1, 2, 3, 7, 6, whatever — they’re all actually good games. And with each new one came a more polished and robust system, somehow. (Although 8 sucked. Never get 8.)

Mario Party 2 is on the Wii Shop Channel, that awful clunky thing, for a mere 10 bucks. Yeah yeah, it should be like $5. Anyway, 10 bucks for a pretty good time with some drunk friends who don’t hate playing a game that has some random british guy (?) screaming “STARRRRT!” everytime a mini-game filled with rainbows and clouds with smiley faces begins.

Mario Party on the GameCube got better. Jenn, my pal, got the fifth one for 20 bucks used. Not bad. It’s really nice — graphics are smooth and pretty, the boards are cute and fun, the mini-games easier to control and you can be on teams. I know I know, sounds really exciting.

MP is also nice when you’re in the pits, when life hands you a basket full of lemons or something your grandma would say. It’s simple fun, and the feeling of fucking your friends over by stealing all of their stars is kind of next to none.

Just don’t get Mario Party 8.

Dire Dire Docks

One thing a Mario game before 2007 wasn’t really known for was an emotionally stirring tune. This is not to say that there were no great songs; a lot of them were quite catchy, ones that memories were built upon. We can talk all day about the first Mario theme, which somehow little kids still know and recognize as a quintessential Mario song. The second Mario game in the states featured even more sophisticated melodies in its music, with interesting drum patterns and a soundalike stuttering guitar, mysteriously achieved with the very limited NES tech.

This became an expected part of the Mario experience. Songs that had the damned ability to stick in your head forever, songs that made you smile. Songs that became so well known and repeatedly listened to that they almost always faded into the background, with conversation between friends taking precedence.

In 1996, Nintendo had finally launched its 64-bit console a long time after the competing PlayStation, and along with it came Super Mario 64; arguably the birth of the true 3D platformer. (I once read an interesting article that said the genre could have gone way of either SM64 or the PSX Jumping Flash, a great little series in its own right.)

Players were suddenly immersed in an absolutely huge world. It masked its linearity with the concept of completing mostly required goals in almost any order the player wanted. It was something else.

Music was again status quo, what with Bob-Omb Battlefield‘s typically catchy melody among other music scattered across the beginning levels. Nothing profound, just mere Mario songs. Well, until you reached Jolly Roger Bay.

It at first sounded like any other Mario-esque water theme, maybe a bit more calm. Which completely changed when more careful listening was applied, however, and one began to realize that, woah… it was kinda beautiful. It flowed, it moved.

Suddenly Jolly Roger Bay seemed like serious business. It was serious in a more artful and emotional way, something you could not say about previous Mario levels and their accompanying music. It made you feel something.

That was just on the surface, literally.

By simply jumping into the water, strings were magically and simultaneously laid on top of the beautiful piano. This served to only deepen the relevance of the melody. It could now be the soundtrack to any serious moment; something beautiful or something sad. An awe-inspiring sunrise or a really shitty day. It was heart wrenching.

The severity of the dramatic heft is equal to something you’d hear in Final Fantasy VII or VIII (or the first Mario Galaxy). Surprisingly, “Dire Dire Docks” doesn’t become this overwrought portentous monolith in comparison with the more simplistic, yet stellar gameplay. It really enhances it.

There are a few songs in Galaxy that stir up as much beauty as this one does, but for years it seemed like an anomaly in the Mario canon. Especially when Super Mario Sunshine came and went with its catchy, nonchalant songs featuring fake ukulele.

The importance of “Dire Dire Docks” in my life has only increased, and has led to awkward moments where I drunkingly gush about the beauty of the song to other uninterested drunks at random parties.

It can be a dramatic magnum opus, or a relaxing and beautiful song that has an amazing calming effect. Depends on the day. Either way, it’s the best song in the Mario series.