Zack and Wiki

I’m not sure if I’ve written about this before, but before I started this blog, I had a plan to have one hundred posts ready to go before I started. I made a list of everything I wanted to cover, all of the movies, TV shows, comics and games that I wanted to write about. At least, the list of things I wanted to cover in early 2010. I didn’t complete that list, because I realized that if I tried to stick to my hundred articles I would never start posting. So I put the list away and just wrote about what interested me whenever I had the time. Recently, I found my list of proposed articles. It was kind of surprising, seeing what I thought I wanted to write about a decade ago and can’t understand why. (I guess I thought I had something to say about Chuck and According to Jim? I’m not sure what my intended angle was) It also is filled with things I truly wanted to write about and have never gotten around to do so. So I am going to make an effort to cover the remaining items on the list, even the odd ones if I can find something to say about them. (I feel like I’ve written this post before, but I’m not sure I posted it.)

I am starting with one of the games on my list, the only one that really hasn’t stood the the test of time: Zack & Wiki: The Quest for Barbaros Treasure. I know why this game was on my list. Even in 2010 this game was already sinking into obscurity. That felt wrong to me; I was annoyed that this charming, solid adventure was being washed away as another piece of Wii shovelware. I fired it up just after Christmas and even a more than a decade later, it remains charming. There are some flaws, but for the most part Zack & Wiki remains an enjoyable way to spend six to eight hours.

Zack & Wiki is essentially a point and click adventure game. Using the wii remote as a pointer, the player moves Zack around the stages and solves puzzles. Zack himself is little more than a blank avatar, but Wiki, his flying metallic monkey friend, has several skills. By shaking the wii-remote Zack shakes Wiki like a bell. This draws attention from big enemies. It also turns most enemies into items that can be used around the map. Frogs turn into bombs, pirate goons turn into blocks that can be moved around, snakes can be turned into a grapper to get hard to reach items. Most of the puzzles are built around that ability. There are some keys and levers and the like, but mostly it comes down to finding enemies, turning them into items and using them where appropriate. The hardest part of the game is that you have to do things in the proper order, frequently without being able to tell what the proper order is before you do things.

That is where the big flaw with this game comes in. This is a game the requires experimentation, but the scoring system punishes experimentation. You can also get stuck, where the only option is to give up and start over, even if you only need to move back one step or two. Or if you are at the end of an hour long stage. It would take a very small change to make for a significantly smoother experience.

Graphically, it seems to take a lot of its inspiration from Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. It has that same sort of cel-shaded cartoon look. The games look remarkable similar, which is far from a bad thing, though it is worth noting that this game probably looks slightly worse than Wind Waker and came out nearly a half a decade after that game. The look of the game is a draw, even though it creates some confusion. It looks like a kids cartoon, and the largely charming antics of the Calvin & Hobbes-esque titular duo reinforce that kiddy appeal. But the game is a fairly difficult puzzler. This is not a game that kids will likely have a lot of success.

Still, the cast is undeniably charming. Zack with his oversized pirate hat and generally troublemaking ways. The rest of the crew of the Sea Rabbits, who are more than a little reminiscent of Tetra’s crew from Wind Waker, are largely amusing. Then there are the villains, from the Rose Rock pirates, a group of incompetent goons and their mean anime girl leader Captain Rose. Each area of the game has some obstacles, from a group of furry goblins to the cutest possible baby dragon. The look of the game is simply charming. There is a story, but there isn’t a lot there.

In a lot of ways, Zack & Wiki is about the perfect Wii game. It is a game that would be easy to move off the system, but since much of the puzzle solving is done with motion controls a lot of the appeal would be left behind. It feels like it should have been the start of long running series, but sales prevented that. I am glad I found the excuse to play it again.

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The Ultimate Monster Hunter

So it has been more than a month since I last posted on this blog.  There are several good reasons for my absence.  First, I had a couple of 65+ hour work weeks, leaving little time for anything but work or sleep.  Then there were two games that simply consumed me.  The first was Etrian Odyssey 4, which I will write about later.  The second, and the one that took up much more of my time, is Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.

I was really waffling on whether to buy MH3U or not.  I was also considering plunking my April video game budget down on Lego City Undercover.  I am still thinking of picking that up at a later date.  Despite not really enjoying the demo at all, I rolled the dice with Monster Hunter.  MH has always seemed like something I would like, but playing the series has never really worked out.  I didn’t have access to a PSP for the early games, and Tri came out for the Wii when I was short on cash, so I passed on it.  Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has been a revelation.

Something about this game has just grabbed me like few games have.  Despite my heavy work load I’ve managed to put more than 100 hours on the game since its release.  There are so many different monsters to hunt, so many different weapons to forge (even if sticking to just one or two types) and armors to make.  Then there is the deliberate, methodical pace to the fights.  You swing big weapons at big monsters, the point of the game is to pick and choose the ideal moments to swing to deal the most damage and avoid the counterattacks.  It is a fairly unique combat system, slow and heavy that seems simple on the surface but there is plenty of depth in the different elemental damages, status effects, stunning and traps and capturing.

Where the game really shines is in making the player feel awesome.  You start out hunting small things, herbivores and little raptor looking dinos.  Then you get your first big hunt, the great Jaggi, a large version of those little dinos.  For a new player this is a significant challenge.  This is the first monster that actually fights back in any real way.  It is legitimately dangerous.  After you beat it and move on to bigger and tougher monsters.  When you next encounter the Great Jaggi, it has went from being a threat to being fodder.

Then there is the Lagiacrus.  This water dwelling beast is the big boss of the first half of the game.  It is first seen in a gather mission where the player is unable to damage it.  It is scary, significantly larger than anything faced previously.  The big scare is when you run to the supposed safety of dry land, only to have the monster follow you right onto the shore.  It is some time before you face the beast again.  This time there is no fear.  You fight it on land and it flees to the water, then you chase it right back into the sea, diving in after it to finish the fight there.

Moments like this just keep happening.  There is always another level of awesomeness for the player to attain.  There is always another giant beast to hunt and slay.  It hooks you and just keeps you coming back.

This is also the first game I’ve ever played online in any significant way. I played some online games in college, but that was usually just hopping on with my roommate for some Halo 2.  This is my inaugural online experience.  And there is nothing quite like getting a good group of players together for some monster hunting.  Sure, you get some dicks.  People who like to blare crappy music over their mics or only want to do the “required” quests, but for the most part the experience has been great.

I guess what I am saying is I love this game, and will probably be playing it for some time.  If anyone want to do some online hunting, my NNID is RascallyBadger and my hunter name is Skoce.

Video Game Archaeology: Trojan

This examination of Trojan is the first entry in what is hopefully a long-running and well-loved feature on my blog: Video Game Archaeology. For Video Game Archaeology I will search out games that I am personally unfamiliar with, games that I have never played, never seen played, even games that I have never heard of, and then I will play them. Also, I will try to find out their lineage and their importance, if they have any. I know that many games get forgotten not because they were badly made, but due to mnay reasons that have nothing to do with the games quality, like timing or trends. I hope that in my searches I will find some lost treasures, but more likely, I will uncover lots of junk. Is my knowledge of a game a good indicator of how well known it is? While I do not presume to know everything, I would say I have quite a bit of knowledge on the subject. The games do not have to be completely unknown; I am just hoping to avoid games that are well known.

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Wolf Pups and Trotmobiles

I want to fully recommend OkamiDen to anyone who owns a DS, but I can’t.  Not because OkamiDen is not a great game, it is, but because it too similar to its prequel Okami.

The original Okami, whether on the Wii or PS2 version, is one of the best games of the last ten years.  It is one of the few games that not only uses the Zelda action/adventure formula, but also uses it as well as the Zelda games do.  Aside from playing perfectly, Okami also looked and sounded wonderful.  It looked like a Japanese watercolor painting come to life.  Okami was just a joy to play and even to watch.  Video game consumers upheld their reputation for ignoring wonderful things by ignoring Okami.  Twice.

OkamiDen, part sequel, part remake, part port, is just the same as its predecessor.  Capcom did a terrific job fitting the game on the DS.  But in the first 5 hours or so, I have seen nothing that was not present in the first game.  It is arguably the best Zelda-like game on the DS; the only actual complaint I have with the game is that the first few dungeons are a bit too simple.  However, if the original Okami is available you should play it instead.  But that little wolf pup (Chibiterasu, the main character) is just so damn cute.  I can’t help but love him.  Play OkamiDen.  Buy it right now and play it.  Just don’t expect the same mind blowing experience as the original Okami.

I also beat Steambot Chronicles this week.  I need to write a big long love letter to this game, but I can’t.  Not right now.  Maybe it’s the fact that I played most of the game more than 2 years ago and it’s a little fuzzy.  Or maybe that fuzziness comes from the fact that I just had my wisdom teeth removed and am currently taking Vicodin.  Either way, I don’t have it in me right now.  But Steambot Chronicles is a very good game. Made by Irem and published in America by Atlus, Steambot Chronicles is a somewhat clunky sandbox game (GTA) with a great hook:  you control a mech (called a Trotmobile in the game) through a Miyazaki-esque world.  About half of the game is played by piloting a mech.  The controls take a little getting used to; one control stick controls the left leg, the other the right, L1 and R1 attack with the left and right hand respectively.  But once you master them, stomping around in a giant mech is just delightful. Your mech originally called the Earl Grey II but you can change it to whatever you want, is highly customizable.  There are all kinds of weapons/arms, legs and bodies, as well as different headlights and roof attachments.  In it, you can do all sorts of things: fight in arenas, transport people and goods, go mining, etc.

There are plenty of things to do outside the mech.  You can choose the amnesiac main character‘s, named Vanilla Beans, dialogue.  You can play him as a cocky jerk, a shy hero or anything in between.  It can make each playthrough slightly different.  One of the first things the player does is join a band with the people who found him on the beach.  By playing a Guitar Hero-esque mini-game, you can play a dozen or so instruments.  The songs are cheesy, but they fit the general tone of the game. That tone is earnestness.  This is a very earnest game.  It is somewhat sloppy, somewhat unfocused, but very earnest.  It is not a game for everyone; someone could easily be put off by the somewhat clunky nature of everything in the game.   But the world and tone make it a game that is easy to love in spite of its flaws.