Super Mario Kart: Genesis

The Mario Kart series is one that has had great success and I consider myself something of a connoisseur. Who could’ve guessed that what was essentially a spin-off of Nintendo’s flagship series could become incredibly popular in it’s own right? Shigeru Miyamoto is known to have at least a small amount of magic powers and maybe he foresaw the success of a lighthearted, family friendly racer in his crystal ball. The same crystal ball that keeps telling him to ‘release a new Metroid’ every time Nintendo’s latest console is flagging. The original Mario Kart was a huge success and led to a series which has a rumoured eighth iteration coming up for the Wii U. The series has evolved to have a large roster of characters and tracks, Mario Kart Wii even started having different vehicles. However the first game is far simpler, having only SNES hardware to work with, less buttons and absolutely no motion controls at all. Despite this, the game plays well. There are several game mechanics which didn’t make it to later iterations but nevertheless, once you get the hang of it, Super Mario Kart it is still some laid back fun.

Perhaps the first thing that should be talked about, is the strange graphical properties of the game. I’ll try and explain this the best I can but I’m not sure how well I can articulate it. Basically, the game is not really 3D. Everything is actually rendered in a 2D sort of way. What is actually happening is that there are multiple 2D planes being rendered simultaneously. The sprites for the racers in their karts are perpendicular to the track, which is also 2D but not sharing any axises with the kart sprites. At the same time as this the background, which is essentially a skybox, is on the same axises as the kart sprites but operates as separate entity. This is only something that becomes obvious when trying to turn round corners. Again, this is something that might be hard to explain and understand so bare with me. When you turn a corner on Super Mario Kart I’m not entirely sure what happens but I am reasonably sure the kart sprite stays static and the track and the skybox rotate. The background rotates in such a way that, if you suffer from motion sickness, you may find reasonably nauseating. That’s the best I can really do but feel free to come round and play some if you want to better understand what I’m talking about. On top of this, the item boxes and coins that are on the track are both flat on the track. You may find this slightly odd if you played the later games, but it works fine and is understandable given the hardware limitations. The game is 21 years old, so some graphical imperfections can surely be forgiven. If they can’t, I recommend you play some iOS games. They may be shit, but at least they look pretty.  Apart from the occasionally oddities that I just mentioned, the game looks fine. It’s some 16 bit SNES classic stuff, it’s not as good looking as Super Mario World and can be a bit cluttered at times but it’s perfectly acceptable.

Gameplay wise, it’s Mario Kart. You have played a Mario Kart game. If not, why not? Your younger siblings probably have, maybe even your parents? Your Grandma got a Wii? Why not buy her Mario Kart 7 for a birthday or Christmas any have some fun with her? You go round corners at varying degrees of accuracy and curse the existence of the various colours of shells that exist within the game. Thankfully, the hated winged blue shells are not in Super Mario Kart. This is very good for me, as the very sight of them makes me come out in hives. Nothing is more frustrating then being knocked out of first place by the guy in fifth place and then getting overtaken by twice by people who weren’t even involved in the whole ‘blue shell’ business. A couple of nuances that didn’t make the cut to late games exist here however. One of which is coins. There are coins littered about the track and you can pick them up. I’m not sure if having more coins maybe make you go faster in the style of Crash Team Racing, but you definitely lose coins when you get hit by a heavier weighted kart and if you get bumped by a kart when you have no coins you spin around in a hand chewingly frustrating manner. It’s not as annoying as the delayed banana spin in Mario Kart 64 (which may be an individual problem with my game) but it’s still very irritating. As far as other mechanics are concerned, I don’t think you get a boost from drifting but it may be that I’m shit.

Content wise, there aren’t that many tracks really and the weapons are reasonably limited. However, there are only 16 bits in this game so you can’t expect too much complexity. The track count is perhaps the most disappointing as I am reasonably confident that in a Grand Prix you play each track twice, the second time in reverse. There are also only 8 characters, which pales in comparison to the rosters of later games, but you can still play as the core favourites. You can’t play as Shy Guy, but honestly who cares? Really, you have to remember that this game is older than I am and, for the time, was very impressive.

Super Mario Kart then is a game that you can have fun with. One of my favourite things to do with Mario Kart is to play it with a friend and then laugh at how unfair it can be whilst still boasting mercilessly at every victory. On the SNES you can only play with 1 other person as opposed to the potential 4 player fun of the N64, Gamecube and Wii and it doesn’t quite have the ‘let’s-laugh-at-the-game-potential’ of Mario Kart 64 but it has it’s share of  moments. Fun can still be had with this game but it takes some time to get used to and is pretty damn hard at times. I would recommend mainly for a nostalgic trip back in time and if you are looking to try out the Mario Kart series for the first time I would point you towards Mario Kart: Double Dash for the Gamecube, which has the best easy-to -learn-but-still-hella-fun gameplay.  Super Mario Kart isn’t bad, but it’s a bit odd and can feel a bit dated at times. Overall, play if you want to. But you aren’t missing out on too much if you never touch it.

Also, award yourself some points if you noticed (perhaps with some amusement) that the title of this piece has the word Genesis in, the North American name of the Super Nintendo’s competitor. Of course Sega does what Nintendon’t, by this I mean of course fade gradually into obscurity.

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The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time

I am currently finding it impossible to sum up how I feel about Ocarina of Time. I can certainly start by saying that this post will not so much be a review, but instead a chronicling of my thoughts and feelings on the game and it’s place in the Legend of Zelda series and the world of video games in general. Ocarina of Time is one of those games, like Half Life 2, which is consistently placed under a banner that reads ‘Best Games of All Time’. The reasons why OoT is considered so highly have been explored hundreds of times in hundreds of different mediums, so to do so again would be simply regurgitating what has already been said.

Critically, the game is great. This is a game I played a bit when I was younger when it was first out and got stuck in the notorious Water Temple about two thirds of the way through the game. This time however, the game was a breeze. There were a few bosses that gave me some trouble, Phantom Ganondorf in the Forest Temple being one particular thorn in my side. But most bosses I found completing easilyafter a few attempts at the very most. The puzzles were all fairly simple but not enough so to make them feel insultingly easy. The story line was reasonably engaging and I felt pretty involved. I felt like the Hero of Time that Hyrule needed, going around beating the shit out of stuff with various tools and backflipping all over the place.

A few comments about the game’s difficulty are necessary here I feel. To begin with it must be said that this game is not difficult. What it can be is obtuse. Like all games with puzzles, you can spend hours on a puzzle only for the answer to be staring you in the face the entire time. Whilst this can be frustrating, it cannot be deemed hard. Some of the bosses are a little tricky, but that trickiness usually comes from knowing how to defeat them. Once the strategy is known, the execution is usually easy enough. For instance, I mentioned earlier that I had some problems with Phantom Ganondorf, this is because in the bosses second phase you are supposed to hit his magic attack back at him with your sword. However, the game is not very forthcoming about this. The only thing you have to reflect back at enemies are the missiles of the Deku Scrubs, an action you complete with your shield. Navi’s helpful hint tells you to ‘return a magic attack of your own’, which sounds like you have to use your own offensive magic to defeat him. This is not the case. Through trial, error and wasted arrows you will eventually discover how to defeat Phantom Ganondorf and then curse the game for not just hinting at that somehow. What makes this more enraging is the fact that the boss of the Spirit Temple requires you to reflect magic with your shield, although this is the Mirror Shield so it is a million times more obvious. This is am example of an obtuseness that is a consistent theme throughout the Legend of Zelda series. I challenge anyone to try to make any progress in the first game without at least a map of the overworld, if not a basic guide. That is not to say this makes the game bad, it just makes it a little frustrating at times. However, I urge anyone to not simply turn to a walkthrough unless you’re reasonably desperate. Beating things without outside help is just so much more rewarding, despite the occasional frustration.

Now on to something slightly different. Ocarina of Time’s effect on video games. I feel that OoT’s resounding success and critical reception has shaped Nintendo’s direction in regards to most of her major series. Ocarina of Time meant a change in format, from a top down view like the original, Ocarina stepped into a brave new dimension on the N64. The second Zelda game, The Adventure of Link, had side scrolling elements that were condemned by fans of the original. The SNES Zelda game, A Link to the Past, went back to the formula of the original, despite the capability of the SNES to render basic 3D as proved by games like Starfox. Nintendo went for a richly detailed 16 bit world instead of basic 3D, a wise move. However, OoT was such a success that all forthcoming Zelda games on console were in 3D, not counting the awful ones for Phillips CD-i. As soon as technology allowed it, handheld Zeldas made the jump to 3D as well. This proved that Nintendo had great faith in this format and the question arises whether this would have happened had Ocarina of Time been received poorly. Nintendo walked a fine line, many N64 games were simply awful (see Superman 64), their application of 3D causing only problems. Ocarina of Time was successful and forever changed the format of one of Nintedo’s best selling series.

Ocarina of Time also takes a pivotal role in the recently released Legend of Zelda timeline that is contained within the ‘Hyrule Historia’. The game is the point at which the timeline splits into 3 alternate timelines. Anyone who knows anything about the Legend of Zelda know that Nintendo have recently pulled this timeline out of their arse and to pretend that they always had this in mind is something that carries very little weight. Ocarina of Time takes a central role in the timeline and I would argue that this is because the game is the most famous and well received of the entire series. Many people prefer ALttP or Majora’s Mask over Ocarina of Time, but this does not change the fact that Ocarina of Time is probably the most well known. OoT’s central place in the timeline also allows for Nintendo to perpetuate their ‘three timeline’ bullshit for longer due to the centrality of time travel in the narrative. A concept that practically asks for confusing and nonsensical plot holes.

Now it comes to the point where I must conclude this ‘review’. The fact that I have rambled on for over one thousand words is, perhaps, a testament to how much enjoyed the game. It is true to say that I had great fun playing and completing it. I am certainly considering a replay and trying to learn some of the glitches that allow you to complete the game in under half an hour. Or the series of actions that allow you to get the Hover Boots early and stroll through the earlier Temples. However, I have also yet to find everything in the land of Hyrule, so maybe I’ll just play through it again and endeavor to discover everything about the game. The very fact that I am considering this should tell you what I think of the Ocarina of Time. I usually end these ‘reviews’ with a recommendation or lack of one, so this particular post is no different. You should play Ocarina of Time. Be it on the N64, the one that comes with 3 other Zelda games on the Gamecube or even the reboot on the 3DS. Ocarina of Time was a breakthrough when it was released and, whilst it’s individual achievements have been surpassed many times in the 15 years since it’s release, it’s still fun to go see what all the fuss was about it. It’s worth it.

Dishonored – High Chaos or Low Chaos?

Dishonored is one of two modern games that I’ve played in a long time. It is the one I enjoyed more and have actually played it to it’s completion. Whilst I have completed the main story of the other game (Skyrim) as well, the radiant quests mean that the game can never truly be completed. At least, not technically. Dishonored is very different from Skyrim, and not just because of the lack of useless and unfulfilling radiant AI quests. Despite the fact that the game’s are so different, there are actually developed by the same company, Bethesda. Famous for developing a slew of critically acclaimed games such as the newer Fallout games and the Elder Scrolls series, Bethesda scored another critical hit with Dishonored. The game is worthy of high praise but that is not to say it is entirely without fault.

To begin with, the game looks good. It doesn’t look great, but good. Graphically the game is fine. There’s not really a lot to say, photo-realism is clearly not the intended outcome. The NPCs are slightly stylised and cartoony and look fine. There are some occasional textures that don’t look great but apart from that the game looks nice. I was playing it on an Xbox with an AV cable instead of HDMI, so there’s a possibility the game looked better in HD or on PC. However, there is an argument that I play a lot of old games and therefore think anything modern looks great compared to counting the pixels and polygons in my SNES, Mega Drive and N64 library. That’s really all there is to say about the graphics of this title; nothing special.

Another aspect in which the game succeeds but does not particularly excel is in the story. You play as Corvo, the Lord Protector of the Empress of Dunwall City. A whaling city set in a Steampunky Victorian era. A plague has befallen the city and Corvo is sent around the other cities of WhereverLand inquiring about a plague cure. Corvo returns and the Empress is, rather predictably, murdered and her daughter is kidnapped. Corvo is then blamed and taken to prison, you escape the prison and join a revolutionary cell to reinstate the Empress’ daughter. I prefer to think of the revolutionaries as terrorists trying to unbalance a regime that is simply trying to stabilise in times of plague. This way, when enacting a supposedly noble cause by slaughtering innocent guards, I get to feel gloriously dirty. Anyway, Corvo goes round slaughtering a variety of targets and there is a twist that, whilst not quite expected, was not unsurprising. Overall the story is reasonably enthralling, you do feel involved and the emotional attachment to the Empress’ daughter Emily is enough for you to care about her and her relationship with Corvo. Having said that, the use of a vulnerable young girl does seem like an easy option from a writing perspective and you don’t really care about any other characters, apart from maybe the guy that boats you to and from missions. However, to reveal why would be to unveil spoilers. That sentence in itself is probably a spoiler but come on, the game came out last year.

There is, however, one place where the game does shine through. The gameplay. Corvo scales buildings and sneaks through Dunwall in an incredibly satisfying way. Guards can be hunted down and dispatched easily whilst dealing with a group of guards is challenging. So sneaky individual pick offs are the best way to go say. Having said that, I never worked out how to deal with guards with dogs taking out either one would alert the other, who would then alert others etc. I always tended to avoid them and sneak past them, the fact that I could do that is a point in the game’s favour. The freedom within the mission levels is perhaps the greatest thing that Dishonored offers. It’s so hard to find a game that genuinely gives you a degree of freedom these days, games have a tendency to focus on linear levels. They set the player down in a corridor pointing toward the objective and tell them to go nuts. Dishonored places you in a field filled with boxes and other debris and tells you the objective is in that direction and leaves you to it. The player also gets the choice of nonlethally completing all the objectives which is usually more interesting and slightly more challenging. However, this does eventually lead up to perhaps the games’ most fatal flaw. The game does provide you with magic powers and there are some upgrades to these powers, that are given to you by some kind of deity or something (it’s not really explained at all, they should have just made Corvo a wizard), which I have seen being referred to as ‘token RPG mechanics‘ but I don’t think this is a valid criticism as there are only a handful of abilities and half of them are passive anyway. On top of this, collectables are needed to increase these powers and, whilst the game does effectively tell you where they are, some are still pretty hard to find. This way of upgrading powers actually encourages exploration of Dishonored’s levels and accruing enough collectables to fully upgrade everything is a hell of a task.

The aforementioned fatal flaw is something that really tarnishes the game for me personally. The choices you make throughout the game effectively decide on whether you get the ‘High Chaos’ or ‘Low Chaos’ ending. A pathetic attempt to disguise what is effectively a good or bad ending cutscene and final level. I am also unaware of whether the ending depends on the killing of henchmen or just the completion of objectives or, if both, how heavily they are weighted within the game. I found myself altering my gameplay when the game informed of this moral choice system, however I probably would have taken this route anyway, seeing as how combat was very simple and I only alerted a lot of guards when trying to do a nonlethal takedown which didn’t work for whatever reason. On top of the fact that the moral choice system seems unnecessary the in-game consequences don’t even make sense. For some reason; the bloodier the toppling of the tyrannical regime is, the more riots there are and the plague is more abundant. How exactly does killing more guards and assassinating the targets cause there to be more plague? Are the guards secreting and anti-plague aura that prevent the spread of the bacteria? When I read this on a loading screen I could feel my immersion being slowly dragged under a moving car.

That aside, Dishonored is a game I liked. I would recommend this to someone looking for something a little different from most modern games. It’s easy to enjoy the freedom and choice that Dishonored’s levels give you and if you don’t get to caught up on the moral choice system or just don’t care about getting the good or bad ending, it can be thoroughly enjoyed. The game’s flaws can be overlooked and even if that is too much of a challenge for you, the gameplay (the most essential part of any game) is solid enough to earn my incredibly prestigious recommendation. Play this game, it is a good game, you will enjoy it. If you don’t, you should think very hard about why.

Star Fox (SNES)

This piece recently featured in my universities entertainment magazine. So for all non-attendees of the University of Southampton I thought I’d upload the unedited version here. Enjoy!

Hints have been dropped that Nintendo are looking to develop a new Star Fox game on their console. This would be the first Star Fox game on a console since 2002 and would hopefully see a return to form for the stellar series after the woeful Star Fox Adventures on the Gamecube – a game that can barely be called a part of the Star Fox series due to the lack of lasers, outer space and, simply, being good. This provides a great opportunity to look back to where the Star Fox series first began, a humble space shooter for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Star Fox (or Starwing in Europe) was released in 1993 and boasts the accolade of being the first Nintendo game in three separate but equally exciting dimensions. What Star Fox handily provided was an opportunity for Nintendo to show off their fancy Super FX chip, which would allow for greater graphical processing and hopefully blow their competition out of the water. This very much worked, as people in 1993 marveled at the impressive visuals of the title. Today, the graphics are not quite as impressive, although the graphics have retained a certain charm through their simplicity. The game does not look bad, it looks simple and entirely inoffensive. The simplicity means you are never confused as to what things are, you can tell instantly what is an asteroid and what is an enemy fighter and it is through this simplicity that the game’s visuals have gained a timeless quality. As far as other aesthetics of the game go, the sound is very good. In fact I would go as far to say this is some of the best video game music I have ever heard.

However, it’s all very well the game being aesthetically pleasing, or at least inoffensive, but that pales into insignificance if the gameplay is bad or even just not fun. Yet, that is one problem that Star Fox does not have. The gameplay is, like the graphics, basic. Star Fox is a rail shooter, so control over your Arwing (space fighter) is limited to how you move around the screen, this is 1993 after all. I must say, I almost prefer the rail shooter approach to the more open system used in the game’s successor, Starfox 64 (Lylat Wars in Europe), as that often entails you chasing round the final enemy in an effort to out-turn each other, something that can quickly get irritating and tedious.

There are 3 different camera views which add an essence of variety to the levels of which there are plenty. You choose one of 3 routes at the start of the game, so you’ll never play all the levels in a single play through. The three routes are actually the difficulty setting of the game: one being easy, one being medium and the other hard. Although to determine which is which the manual needs to be consulted. This is an interesting and rewarding way to have the difficulty, as increasing the difficulty also effectively unlocks new areas of the game. This gives the game great replay value as well as rewarding more skilled players.

Overall, Star Fox is a game I would recommend. Even though the franchise it started is not huge (Fox and Falco are perhaps more well known for their appearances in the Super Smash Brothers series) Star Fox is definitely a classic. The simplicity of the game means it has a timeless quality that equates to the game still being great fun to play 20 years after its release.

Sonic 3D: When good series go bad.

If you read my review of Sonic the Hegdehog, you’ll know that I liked it. If you didn’t read it, why not? Read it now. Go ahead. I’ll wait until you get back.

Okay, so now you’ve read that you’re aware that that game was amazing. It was fluid, the controls were great, most of the levels were great and the music was pretty awesome. In contrast, Sonic 3D marked the point where Sonic started his slow spiral into a haze of mediocrity and drug abuse. Sonic 3D: Flickies Island (or Sonic 3D Blast in NA and Japan) was released in November 1996, 5 years after the original. It marked a brave and foolhardy step in a new direction for Sega, they had decided it was time to take Sonic into the realms of 3 new and exciting dimensions. It was a decision that they probably didn’t give much thought to, because it was a terrible, terrible thing to do.
For a start, Sonic made his name as a 2D platformer, so why fix what isn’t broken? Maybe they ran out of ideas or perhaps the piggy bank that funded the cocaine ran low, after all it was the 90s. Maybe they just wanted to try something new. Either way, 3D in 1996 was a horrible idea. Because of limitations at the time, the game is isometric which isn’t a huge problem in itself, Diablo and Diablo 2 were both isometric and those games were very good. However, when the isometric game in question has platforming elements and is controlled using the D-Pad of a Sega Mega Drive controller, massive gaping holes in the ‘let’s make Sonic 3D’ plan start to emerge. Problem number one is that, owing to the isometric viewpoint, you can never really see where it is that you’re jumping. A key problem when the enemies in the game, who must be killed to advance, need to be jumped on. This is also a huge problem with any kind of platforming that the game halfheartedly wheels out as if to remind us of Sonic’s golden past, I could only bring myself to play through about 8 levels (not including boss fights) and any bits that required a precise jump were thankfully few, but the ones that were there took me many, many attempts to get right.
Controlling a 3D model in a 3D environment with a D-Pad is awkward enough as it is but when the isometric element is added along with the need to make precise jumps then the game may as well just come with a warning label advising you not to play it.

However, the introduction of 3D brought in another problem. Due to the limitations at the time and the fact that the game was made to be released on the elderly Mega Drive (Genesis) as well as the Sega Saturn the graphics are somewhat lacking. I could go into more detail about the graphics but all that really needs to be said is that it looks like ass. Seems like the Mega Drive didn’t have enough blast processing to make this game look any good. The graphical disappointment is most apparent in the  flooring tiles each level is covered with. Each level has 2 different colours of untextured tile that make up the floor for the entire level. It just looks so bad, there’s really no excuse for it at all.
Another problem that game has, is that the gameplay is horrible and tedious. The story goes that you have to go round Flickies Island killing Robotnik’s mechs and turning them back into Flickies (small birdy friends of Sonic, apparently). Each section of each ‘Act’ you have to collect 5 Flickies before jumping into the magical progression ring and moving on to the next section of the level. Already we can see some problems. For a start, the completion of the level requires you just to kill 5 enemies, wouldn’t that be really easy? Well yes, it certainly is incredibly easy and, because of this backassward decision to have this be the major challenge of the game, Sonic Team lifted their faces from a bucket of wacky dust long enough to decide that this required an artificial lengthening of gameplay. Yaaaaay! So the game has you wandering round multiple times per ‘Act’ on what is essentially a fetch quest to find birds that you get from killing enemies. In essence, this game has no challenge. The challenge comes from obstacles like jumps that are only made into obstacles by the aforementioned bad controls and horrible choice of an isometric view point. The game is boring. It is dull. It is not fun to play. So I stopped, I got more than half way through but I just couldn’t go any more. There are only 7 levels, making this game not particularly long but incredibly tedious and to make matters worse, there isn’t an easy stage select code like in Sonic 1. I did find one, but I couldn’t get it to work so maybe it only works on  the American and Japanese versions or something. Either way, having to replay this boring, badly designed, ugly to look at, frustrating to play game from the beginning every single time is a prospect that makes me feel physically ill.

Overall, Sonic 3D is a game that I would never want to play again. Everything about it is bad. With the original few Sonic games, Sega built themselves a golden mountain of brilliance and Sonic 3D came along and poured petrol all over the mountain and set it on fire. Everything about this game is inferior to the preceding Sonic games, there is literally no reason to play it. It doesn’t even have any good music. Compare that to Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1, then you’ll know what I mean. Sonic 3D disappointed me in every single way and I’m playing this game 16 years after it’s release, I can’t even begin to imagine how horrible it was for a fan of the franchise back in November 1996. Nice one Sega.

Lord Of The Rings – Return of the King

Lord of the Rings, Return of the King is a good film. However, LoTR, RotK is a bad, bad, bad game. You may asked what I expected from a movie tie-in game, long known for being mostly abysmal, the answer is that I expected the game to be functional at the very least. The box for the game goes further than my expectations in hyping the game up by claiming that you can ‘Be the Hero.’ which is nowhere near as fun as you might expect.

The game doesn’t start off well when it makes you watch a long clip from the film before you get to gameplay. If I’m playing the game, I’ve probably seen the film right? This is a movie tie-in isn’t it? Why would you show a clip from the film? Presumably because it means you don’t have to bother making cutscenes, you already don’t have to bother writing a story because it’s a tie-in, so why bother making cutscenes as well? Rather amusingly, the tutorial jumps straight from a clip of Gandalf riding down the hill towards Helms Deep into the game’s version of Gandalf, highlighting the poor graphics and character models (also Helms Deep was in the Two Towers so why is it in the game for Return of the King?). The tutorial then continues its descent into farce by telling you the the A button (I was playing this on GameCube) is ‘Speed’. It doesn’t give you a sentence. That’s all it is. Top right of the screen. A = Speed. What? It turns out that this means a fast attack, but why couldn’t they put that instead of ‘Speed’?. Also B= Parry, Z= Action, Y=Fierce, L+A = Ranged and R=Finisher, no mention is made of X which is an attack that doesn’t use the character’s weapon and yet is slower than a ‘Speed’ attack, so it has no use.The tutorial is pretty short and simple, like a tutorial should be, but it also serves to highlight some glaring issues that will only become more apparent and more obstructive later on. The first is a that it is often extremely hard to tell what you’re targeting with your ranged attack, a small green dot is above who or what you’re targeting but when this is combined with the muddied visuals then it is often very hard to tell what exactly you are shooting at. Another complaint is that it becomes very clear very quickly that the game throws a lot of enemies at you and this makes it very obvious that the combat is terrible. Not just bad, terrible. I found the easiest way to win was to mash the fast attack button because it’s quick and you can easily stun-lock enemies into a combo and an easy kill. The fierce attack is needed to take down enemies with armour or shields but this is the only time it needs to used because it’s slow and cumbersome. On top of this when you’re facing multiple enemies parrying is pointless because groups of enemies always seems to attack one after the other, leaving no window of time in which you can counter. Talking of enemies, they very obviously telegraph their attacks, which makes them easy to parry, but they also have a lot of unnecessary animations which look like they’re about attack but them don’t, which is simply annoying. So combat basically boils down to how fast you can hit A and whether you can hit the enemy before they can hit you.
Getting back to the muddied visuals, it’s sometimes not really obvious where the hell you are supposed to go and that’s really saying something for a game as linear as this. The level in the Path of the Dead is especially guilty of being dark and confusing to navigate. Another visual problem is the camera, it’s immovable but that’s not a bad thing in a game that isn’t a platformer, the main problem is that every time you enter a new ‘room’ or ‘screen’ or whatever you call it, the camera snaps to a different angle to the previous screen. Sometimes to the complete opposite position than before often meaning you walk back the way you came without realising it. Which gets annoying very quickly. In general really the graphics are just bad, particularly the character models which are just lacklustre, there’s not really a lot more to say overall.
However, there are a lot of other complaints I have about the game, particularly about the co-op aspect of the game. I often feel that bad games are more fun when you play them with friends because you can laugh about them with your buddy but not this game. LoTR, RotK actively punishes players for having friends and playing co-op adds several unbearable aspects to an already frustrating game. For a start, you can only play the ‘Path of the Fellowship’ (one of three paths, Path of the Hobbits, Path of the Wizard and Path of the Fellowship) which denies access to 2/3 of the game. This is even more ridiculous when you consider that the Path of the Hobbits has TWO PLAYABLE CHARACTERS IN IT. WHY CAN’T I PLAY AS FRODO AND A FRIEND AS SAM, WHY IS IT THAT ONLY AVAILABLE IN SINGLE PLAYER AND WHY CAN I ONLY BE THE FAT ONE INSTEAD OF THE WHINY ONE? Who thought that was a good idea? Who designed this game? Apparently it was done by a squad of brain dead, leprous monkeys because on top of this there is a lives system in co-op when there isn’t one in single player and you get one life between the two of you. This means that if one person dies it’s fine, they respawn, but if the second person then dies then it’s game over, start from the last checkpoint. What? How does that make any sense at all? Also the experience system is completely retarded, you gain experience individually but when you buy upgrades at the end of the level it pools it so that one person can spend all the experience on themselves? What? Why? How does THAT make any sense either? Whoever designed this game clearly put no thought into the co-op aspect and completely butchered.

I also mentioned checkpoints earlier, another aspect of the game that appears to have no rhyme or reason. I swear that there are about 4 more checkpoints in the first level for Paths of both Hobbit and Wizard (Osgiliath and Isengard respectively) then in the Path of the Dead one, which is frankly just strange. Also, Gandalf never stormed Isengard with the Ents? Why put that in the game at all if it didn’t happen in book or film? Another bamboozling design choice on top of many others. As well as all this appalling design, this game is incredibly frustrating and I am ashamed to say I only beat one level that wasn’t the tutorial (The Path of the Dead). This is because of clunky, unclear combat and several individual problems. In Gandalf’s level I kept getting trampled repeatedly by friendly Ents and then being continuously stun-locked and dealt massive damage over and over again until death. In Frodo and Sam’s level, there was a part where you had to get past a load of orcs on a roof whilst not setting off the Nazgul meter that the level introduced that seemed to work completely at random and instantly killed you if it was set off. As for the King of the Dead, the second level for the Fellowship, well that was just an insultingly simple boss fight followed by a back track through the first level but now with falling debris which meant if you weren’t standing in the right place when you went from screen to screen you would be instantly killed and it would be back to the last checkpoint, so I gave up.

I doubt I’ll ever beat this game, I’ll keep trying but I can’t promise I’ll be trying for much longer. This game is bad, plain and simple. There are a number of simply baffling design choices that make this game not only not fun to play, but also frustrating and unpleasant to look at. If you enjoyed the film or book of Return of the King I urge you to read or watch it again instead of playing this game. It would be a far more enjoyable experience as well as take you significantly less time.

Racing Games – F-Zero X

F-Zero is a series that is unlike any other. There are currently only a few games in the series, the most recent being the highly praised F-Zero GX (2003) on the Nintendo Gamecube, but the game I want to write about exists on the Gamecube’s predecessor, the N64. F-Zero X was released in 1998 making this game 14 years old. This series of unique racers is made exhilarating, fun and incredibly challenging by the incredible speed that the vehicles in the game travel at. The F-Zero games are best described as high speed racers, because that is the main aspect that sets them apart from other racing games.

F-Zero X is a particular noteworthy because it was the first game in the series that entered the realm of 3D. Graphics wise, the game looks good although it hasn’t aged particularly well, although that is true of almost all of the N64’s library due to the polygon style of 3D  that was popular in the late 90s. At the time, the game was in fact criticised for low visual detail but this is for a very important reason. The game sacrifices some detail to maintain a solid 60 frames per second and in a game of the sheer speed of F-Zero X I much prefer a higher FPS over graphical quality. As far as the games overall look,  it is incredibly colourful and bright which again is important to allow distinguishes bewteen different racers and parts of the track etc. If you don’t go into F-Zero X expecting stunning visuals, you will be disappointed. But you’ll barely have time to complain about the shitty draw distance and lack of detail because of how much fun the gameplay is.
F-Zero X’s gameplay is just good. There’s not much to say about it, there’s an accelerate button and a boost button and it even uses the L and Z buttons to kind of strafe left and right which allows you to easily knock your enemy racers off the track and into oblivion. The game is nicely challenging and it may take a while to get used to the speed of the game. Consistently winning races either requires you to know the tracks pretty well or to have fast reaction times as the speed is very fast and the corners are very tight. I don’t really know how much could be improved gameplay wise. It’s all very tight and it just works well, there’s nothing awkward or unintuitive and I can’t really find much bad to say about it.

As far as the rest of the game goes, it’s all good. There are a large number of racers to choose from (30) and they all have different stats and mostly different visuals allowing for easy distinguishing between racers. There’s a good amount of tracks, there could be more but the tracks take long enough to master that they have plenty of replaybility and they vary between short fast tracks to lessons in frustration as you repeatedly slam into walls and die because you weren’t cautious enough. All in all, the game is fantastic. Fun, fast and colourful the game controls well, looks passable and offers a nice challenge. Completing a Cup feels satisfying partly because of some of tracks are difficult and partly because the game is just so damn fun to play. In short, I consider this game an overlooked classic and  I would recommend F-Zero X to anyone looking to play a racing game, or an N64 game or just looking to have fun.