Category Archives: retro gaming

Je ne comprends pas The City of Lost Children, d’accord

There were two big events in my childhood/teenhood that caused me to stay home from school for several days and recover in bed or on the living room couch with lots of tea, buttered white toast, and TV sitcom marathons. Also videogames on the television, all on my SNES or PlayStation 1 with the kewl PSM lid cover, but I did eat up nearly an entire run of Gilligan’s Island at some point too though perhaps that was just a highly visual fever dream. My favorite character is Mary Ann, by the way, and the episode most firmly cemented in my brain revolved around a method actor visiting the island and pretending to be a Tarzan-like jungle lord. Shrugs.

Right, back to the stay-at-home events. One had to do with me getting my wisdom teeth removed, and the other was related to an injury to my left knee that required surgery, pain killers crushed up in applesauce, and physical therapy. Both were not fun and had me in various states of wooziness, and I don’t remember exactly which event it was, but for one of them, my mother let me rent a bunch of games for the PlayStation to keep me entertained. Me thinks it was for the wisdom teeth removal, since I knew when that was happening and wanted some guaranteed pleasures during the downtime.

Well, I selected three PlayStation 1 games from our local store that rented games (not a Blockbuster, sorry), all on their box art alone–Destruction Derby, The City of Lost Children, and Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror. I mean, look at how cool these covers are:

Er, maybe not. Well, I thought they were killer then.

Of these, I remember enjoying Destruction Derby a lot, not understanding how a point-and-click adventure game worked in Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror, especially using a controller, and being completed dumbfounded by The City of Lost Children, which, if you didn’t already know, is an adaptation of the 1995 movie of the same name by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Also, if you’re not familiar with the film, you have no chance of understanding what’s going on in this game–trust me on this. The introductory cutscene doesn’t really explain anything, not even introducing you to the character you will be playing as for the entire game. Thankfully, the manual offers a brief summary of the plot, but even that is not much to work from.

I’ll do my best here. The City of Lost Children takes place in a nameless, steampunk-inspired city by the seaside. A less-than-good scientist, most likely evil, has his henchmen kidnap children in order to steal their dreams to prevent the process of his premature aging. Y’know, normal kidnapping reasons. Anyways, the opening cutscene shows one of these children getting kidnapped, and that’s really all the information the game gives you before giving you control over 12-year-old Miette, which means “crumb” in French. You start inside a classroom, with a pair of Siamese sisters at the front telling you to go steal money from some hut because they said so.

Little to my teenage knowledge, this was an adventure game. Not exactly a point and click one, but still one where you walked around, gathered items, and made progress by using those items on people or other items to make things happen. Like a Metroidvania, but with less action involved. Considering it would still be many, many years before I would fall in love with the genre, I probably went into The City of Lost Children thinking it was in the same vein as things like Resident Evil or Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Boy was I not at all right. Not one teeny tiny bit. I’d later come to have fun with Blazing Dragons and Discworld II: Mortality Bytes!, so this being an adventure game alone had nothing to do with my terrible time with it. That is a result of it being exceedingly obtuse and poorly designed.

A strong memory that stands out: Miette, saying “I can’t do anything” or “I can’t manage it,” every time you interact on something she can’t do anything with. Which was on a lot of items in that early portion of the game I banged my head against. Compound this with the sluggish, tank-like controls and sometimes odd camera angles that made it hard to see where something lead to another screen, and my rented time with the game was spent wandering around the first few areas aimlessly until I decided enough was enough and at least knew what to do with my vehicle in Destruction Derby–crash it. Which is a shame, because I thought The City of Lost Children looked stunning at the time, and, while the polygons are not as sharp as today’s standards, there’s still a strong, off-kilter aesthetic here from Psygnosis, the British developer that gave us gems like Colony Wars, G-Police, and, uh, Hexx: Heresy of the Wizard, that makes this one of the more unique-looking games from the generation.

Anyways, I’m sure someone has paid it forward and done a recorded playthrough of The City of Lost Children and put it up for free on the Internet for everyone to watch. Maybe one day I’ll even search it out. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this random trip down my memory lane.

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Adding to the Backlog – Three More PlayStation 2 Titles, Woo

I’m not out to collect every single PlayStation 2 game ever made, because they sure did make a whole lot of them, but I have a list of several titles that I missed during the console’s heydays and am genuinely interested in acquiring and, when the time is right, playing. Yes, playing, because I love games of varying ages, especially JRPGs from this specific era in the industry, for reasons I’m not totally clear on just yet. They don’t make them like they used to, and when they try, they don’t always succeed. Anyways, for a good while there, I was able to find some PlayStation 2 cases at my local GameStops, but they eventually needed more shelf-space for other things, like amiibos and virtual reality gear, and stopped stocking them.

Recently, at a comic convention last April, I was able to grab a working copy of Dark Cloud, which I once had and was actually the very first game I got for my system as a young boy with some steady income before being dumb and trading it in for something else. The game, not the system. I’m still rocking my original PlayStation 2 because I take good care of my stuff. Right, the last time I added a bunch of old-ish games in one solid lump was back in February 2016, with me stocking up on an astounding ten games for my collection; you’ll not be surprised to learn I’ve not tried a single one of them yet. Sigh. One day, when the world is full of free time and no consequences or guilt-laden clouds.

Over the weekend, while Melanie was taking a buttercream flowers class, I had an hour or so to kill in Somerville, NJ, and so I stopped in Retro Classics to peruse their wares. I’ve been in the store before, picking up PS2 copies of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and The Hobbit for my constantly growing assemblage of all things related to The Lord of the Rings, but the last time I went I forgot to bring a list and found myself second-guessing whether or not I had this or that copy of said title and was reluctant to make any purchases. It’s always good to be prepared, and this time I totally was.

Here’s what I got:

That might not seem all that exciting of a haul to you, but Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse is something I’ve never seen out in the wild, and my love for strange JRPGs from this era was too strong to resist grabbing a copy for around $15.00. Perhaps I now have more of a reason than ever to finally play through the first game, eating up those lengthy anime-driven cutscenes and e-mails and card-based minigames, knowing there is actually more to follow. The store also has a retail copy of Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra, but it was a little too pricey for me at the moment. You can see that I also nabbed Wallace & Gromit in Project Zoo, which pairs nicely with my case-less copy of Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and X-Men Legends so that I can go back to the beginning of when these comic book hero videogames became more RPG than mindless punching and optic blasting. I’m pretty pleased with the trio.

Anyways, that’s all for now. Alas, most of my list of desired PS2 games are really obscure beasts, like Summoner 2, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Legaia 2: Duel Saga, and I just don’t think I’ll ever run into them at a store and I’m too timid to try and find them online for a “good” price and deal with trusting a stranger somewhere in the world to deliver on their promises. I’ll keep looking, but I won’t hold my breath. Because I’ll run out of air rather quickly. Until then, looks like I have some other things I can play. Y’know, when I find the time.

I’m floating in a most peculiar way in Jetpac’s space

Y’all should know by now that I’d  do nearly anything for a free game. Some things I won’t do include swimming with sharks, eating an entire jar of mayonnaise, or going on one of those roller-coasters where you are dangling in the air from shoulder straps, your feet inches away from smacking into something solid and breaking into a thousand pieces. Otherwise, so long as I don’t end up in a lot of physical pain, I’m game.

And so, during this past week of E3 2017 shenanigans, there was a chance to earn Rare Replay, No Time to Explain, The Final Station, and a bunch of other digital rewards for zero dollars by simply watching Microsoft’s press conference live through Mixer, its streaming service formally known as Beam. Alas, I was too late to catch the conference, but there were other chances to participate throughout the week.

Of all those goodies, Rare Replay is the “game” I was most excited to receive; it’s a big collection of Rare’s history, a company that, after reviewing its portfolio, I have actually had little contact with, but appreciate their humor and love of colorful graphics from afar. I think I have only ever played one Rare game found in the collection, and that was Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. Outside the collection, I’ve enjoyed Marble Madness, Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (sorry, not you, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!), and that opening level repeatedly on an emulated copy of GoldenEye 007 (please don’t arrest me). So there’s a lot to try out for the first time in this collection, and I have no intentions of playing through it in chronological order, but I did start it all off with Rare’s first game Jetpac, back when the company was called Ultimate Play the Game.

Jetman’s plight in Jetpac is one that pre-dates Groundhog Day, the film, by about ten years, but surely was an inspiration to anyone thinking about what it meant to be stuck in a time loop, repeating the same day and tasks again and again. Jetman must assemble his rocket (which spawns in installments scattered around the map) and fill it with a select amount of fuel before taking off to the next planet. This procedure is then repeated, over and over, with no end seemingly in sight. In addition to this, Jetman has to defend himself from the planet’s native aliens, which a varied and have different attack patterns. Some move diagonally, and others lock on to the tiny astronaut and follow him around the screen. He’s got a ray gun that shoots horizontal lasers for defense, and things like gems can be collected for bonus points.

By and far, my favorite thing about Jetpac is its wraparound world. You go to one edge of the screen, cross over, and appear on the other side. This is extremely handy when trying to avoid a group of enemies or make a shortcut to the rocketship. I’m sure this wasn’t the first game to do this, but I’m too tired to look up when Mario Bros. came out versus this game. Regardless, it works, and I have to say that, some 34 years later, the game plays pretty great. Jetman is pretty quick to move around, and the only problem I had was with collision on the platforms, which made him bounce back, often right into an alien enemy I was trying to avoid. The repetitious gameplay gets old, but one has to remember that this came from an era of high scores and bragging.

Thankfully, Rare Replay throws in some additional things to do, both in their milestone quests and snapshot features. Milestones are things like “kill X number of aliens” or “fill your rocketship up with fuel X times” while snapshots make things a little more tricky. One took away Jetman’s laser gun, forcing you to maneuver on your own quick wits, and another tasked him with completing five wraparounds in a row without dying. I happily completed all of these and popped every Achievement related to the title.

There are other games in the Jetpac series left to try out in Rare Replay, but I don’t know what I will tackle next. I suspect I’ll save some of the collectathons for later in life, when I have the time and am in a find shiny things kind of mood. Either way, I highly recommend you check out Jetpac and to not be put off by its age or graphics, of which I think the latter is pretty cool. The sound effects department is lacking, but I absolutely love the bright, crisp colors–the blurry screenshot above doesn’t do it justice, I know–and there’s a surprising amount of strategy and skill involved in bringing canisters of fuel to and fro. Certainly more than I expected when first launching it, and it’s always great to see where a company started. Here’s hoping Sea of Thieves incorporates some elements from Jetpac, like bringing bits of grog back to your ship one glass at a time until there’s enough to get the entire crew wasted and off to some other island.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #59 – Jetpac

Rebuild your rocket
Collect parts, fuel–defend it
Love the wraparound

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Mega Man X

games I regret parting with Mega Man X

Mega Man X, as far as I can remember, is the only game in Capcom’s long-running and blaster-charging run-and-jump action series where an innocent-looking robot boy obliterates rogue worker automatons that I’ve beaten. Granted, I haven’t actually played all that many, and that’s mostly because they are challenging gauntlet runs that punish more than they reward. Still, back when I was younger and only had so many games to play and few IRL distractions, practice made for better attempts, and I eventually saw credits roll on Rockman’s first appearance on the Super NES. I absolutely know that getting all the capsule upgrades played a big part in this accomplishment. Without them, I probably wouldn’t have gotten past Chill Penguin. Sick frost burn.

Do you know Mega Man X‘s somewhat maturer plot? If you do, congrats. You can skip ahead two paragraphs. If not, allow me to summarize. Dr. Light created Mega Man X, commonly known as just X, years after the original Mega Man series, with a key difference: the ability to make his own decisions. However, Dr. Light was not completely blind and thus recognized the potential danger of this model, sealing X away in a diagnostic capsule for over 30 years of testing. X’s capsule was uncovered by an archaeologist named Dr. Cain almost a hundred years later. Excited by the possibilities X presented, Dr. Cain disregarded Dr. Light’s notes and warnings and created a legion of new robots that replicated X’s free will–Reploids.

Unfortunately, a virus spread and caused these Reploids turn deadly against humans. Shocking, I know. And so these Reploids became dubbed Mavericks, which lead to the formation of a group called the Maverick Hunters to combat them. Because what else are Maverick Hunters gonna do, y’know? Anyways, the Maverick Hunters were originally led by Sigma, the first Reploid created by Dr. Cain, until it also turned violent and declared war against humans. X joined the Maverick Hunters under its new leader Zero to save Earth from total evil robotic domination. It’s a story much more complicated and involved than the original NES games, which, as a young man with a blossoming brain and beginning to dip his toes in things like anime, I enjoyed greatly.

Mega Man X introduced a lot of new elements to the series. Like the Central Highway Stage, which is basically a tutorial level that allows players to get a feel for the game before setting out to stop the usual kill list of eight named bosses. It is in this level you are first taught how to dash along the ground, cling to walls, and wall jump, as well as dashing and jumping simultaneously, increasing X’s speed in the air. These modifications give X far more mobility than in previous games, which, often required precious timing and accuracy, especially when trying to jump from vanishing platform to vanishing platform. I don’t remember if I played Super Metroid before or after Mega Man X, but the wall-jumping is much easier to nail in the latter.

Besides gaining new weapons after kicking the metal butts of every robot leader, X is also able to upgrade parts of his armor, such as his helmet, boots, arm cannon, and chestplate. These are found in hidden capsules, and they are, as far as I can recall, fairly well hidden, save for the first one, which you have to stumble across for story purposes. X can also charge up the weapons he takes from defeated bosses, giving him a secondary fire mode. More options equals more fun, and some levels even feature alternate paths. Also, completing certain stages ahead of others will subtly affect the battlefield. For example, if you clear Storm Eagle’s aircraft carrier stage first, Spark Mandrill’s power plant stage will suffer from electrical outages.

And now, for everyone’s enjoyment, a list of the bosses in Mega Man X, which, at the time of its release, I thought were beyond cool, but now see that as simply uneducated madness:

  • Chill Penguin
  • Spark Mandrill
  • Armored Armadillo
  • Launch Octopus
  • Boomer Kuwanger
  • Sting Chameleon
  • Storm Eagle
  • Flame Mammoth

Actually, I still think Launch Octopus is pretty killer. We can blame that on Kojima and Decoy Octopus, I guess. Pretty much any combination of [cool word] plus octopus sounds fantastic. Like Fugazi Octopus. Or Mozzarella Sticks Octopus. See–works every time.

Giant Bomb is currently working their way through the Mega Man games with their premium video series Blue Bombin’, and I’m not sure if they’ll be playing the Mega Man X series of games, but here’s hoping they at least give the first one a chance as it certainly switched some things up for the little blue boy who could. I’ll always remember it fondly and wonder why on Earth I thought it was a good idea to give away this classic SNES cartridge (plus original packaging and manual) for a few measly bucks towards an original PlayStation 1. Sigh.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

Spyro 2’s guidebook is stuffed full of gems, talismans, and orbs

gd-spyro-2-riptos-rage-final-thoughts

Earlier this year, I put the original Spyro the Dragon to bed. This was a game that I had started playing in 2014 and really liked, but moved away from over the years, only returning to it in 2016 with the drive to see its credits roll. Shortly after, I started playing Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and vowed to not take the same length of time to beat it. And look, I remained true to my words, even if I maybe never said them out loud here, but whatever. That’s two purple dragon romps down for the count, with a third still waiting in the wings. Soon, Spyro: Year of the Dragon. Very soon.

Let’s see. After saving the world and many elderly dragons from Gnasty Gnorc in his last adventure, Spyro and his friend Sparx decide to take a vacation to the lovely, picturesque Dragon Shores. Unfortunately, while there, they are sucked into a magical vortex that takes them to a realm called Avalar. All three of Avalar’s worlds are in danger of falling under the power of a Napoleon-like dictator named Ripto. In order to save these worlds from destruction and tyranny, Spyro must travel to and fro, helping out who he can while also collecting a number of things: gems, talismans, and orbs. I emphasized the last one on purpose, with more to say later in this post.

For good and for bad, not a lot has changed since Spyro’s last outing. Which, in terms of narrative, wasn’t that long ago. When it comes to development, there was only about a year between the release of the first game and the second. Anyways, you’re still charging enemies, breathing fire, jumping, gliding, and collecting butterflies to power up Sparx and stay alive. A couple new moves have been added to the little dragon’s arsenal, such as being able to swim underwater, using ladders to climb higher up, and an overhead smash stomp that I think I only used once or twice for a story reason and never again. There are hub worlds, which contain gems and orbs to find, and then within these hubs are warp gates to individual levels that will hand out talismans as a reward for finishing its main through-line. Story progression is gated by a specific number of these things, so it is in your best interest to get as many as you can…as soon as you can.

Alas, I really hit a wall between the third world of Winter Tundra and the final boss fight against Ripto. I needed 40 orbs to move on and was only somewhere around 25 at the time. This meant I had to go back, multiple times, to levels I had already completed and find the extra challenges to do to earn an orb. Generally, these challenges are towards the end of each level, which means a lot of replaying, something I already do excessively in them numerous LEGO videogames. I found that some of the orb challenges rated five stars were easy peasy and others rated two or three stars to be impossible. Some of that has to do with controlling the camera or Spyro, as moving him with both speed and skill is not easily doable; I preferred the slower challenges, like herding cows into a fenced off area, instead of chasing after thieves or playing a lackluster minigame of hockey.

I hope I’m not seeing a pattern when it comes to these final boss fights. The one against Gnasty Gnorc was long, frustrating, and had the nasty sting of having you redo the entire thing if you messed up once. Yeah, yeah…gaming in this generation is spoiled by lots of checkpoints and saves and magical power-ups to get us through the tough parts, but it really felt like the main chunk of the game sat at a difficulty level of 3 and then the last fight was cranked up to 11…just because. Well, it’s all that again with the final stand against Ripto, which is broken into three sections. Two are on the ground, easy enough if you keep dodging and picking up sheep for health, and the last has Spyro flying above a pit of lava, dodging incoming homing missiles while also trying to dish out his own damage. It definitely took me more than five tries to put Ripto in his place.

Spoiler alert: there are no plans to collect the remainder of orbs (15 left) to open up whatever is hidden behind that sealed door at Dragon Shores. There will never be a plan. If anything, I hope to start Spyro: Year of the Dragon soon, though that may be a more likely candidate for 2017 under the assumption that there are even more things to collect in that one. Mmm. I’ll also freely admit that I’m now much more curious about how things went for Spyro on the PlayStation 2 when Insomniac Games handed the reigns over to another developer and moved on to the Ratchet & Clank series.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with my favorite code for Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!, which is my favorite hidden code from every game ever, no matter what the genre – Big Head Mode! Pause the game, and then enter Up, Up, Up, Up, R1, R1, R1, R1, Circle. You are very welcome.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #70 – Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!

2016-gd-games-completed-spyro-2-riptos-rage

Vacation ruined
Dictator Ripto, must stop
Collect all them orbs

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.