Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Short 'n' Sour - Splatterhouse 2, System Shock, and Back to the Future (NES)

Splatterhouse 2

Platform: Sega Genesis
Developer: Namco
Released: 1992
Genre: Beat 'Em Up

The Game
It's been three months since Rick donned the Terror Mask and splattered the walls of West Mansion with the vile ichor of monsterkind. Nightmares haunt his sleep and he begins to hear the voice of the Terror Mask again, telling him that Jennifer doesn't have to die. Heeding its siren call, Rick returns to West Mansion to once again wear the mask, using its unholy power to save his girlfriend.

The Good
Far improved graphics than the original (even though Rick still does his little "jump without bending his knees" thing). The scenes in between stages give a small glimpse into Rick's thoughts as well as setting up the next level. There's a new password system allowing the player to get back to the last level they reached without having to play through from the beginning all over again.

The Bad
At first I was excited about Splatterhouse 2. Better graphics, actual story elements, and so on. But as I progressed through the first three levels (which is as far as I got), that excitement gradually wore thin until it finally evaporated.

What I came to realize was despite the prettier packaging, Splatterhouse 2 is still basically the exact same game as its predecessor. Perhaps even more so. Rick doesn't have any new moves in his arsenal, just the old punch-kick-jump-jumpkick routine. He's got some different looking weapons (like what appears to be a human thigh bone), but their basic use - to smash enemies quicker and with a gorier death animation - is still the same. Having gone through the whole rote memorization routine with the first game, I find that it's even more strictly adhered to in this one. The second stage was pure drudgery as I worked my way through the same choreography over and over again, adjusting my moves slightly here and there until I got it exactly right, and the third stage was so set in its own little rhythms, so stuck in a rut that it was painfully obvious a blindfolded man who already knew the right sequence of moves could make it through without breaking a sweat, that I finally gave up the entire exercise as completely pointless.

There's no life to the game, no real strategy. I might as well be playing a memory game with playing cards. Hell, if the playing cards also had images of monsters being squished in horrifically violent and disgusting ways printed on them, the illusion would be complete. Splatterhouse: TCG.

I wonder if there are enough Splatterhouse fans out there that I could market this idea to.

System Shock

Platform: Computer
Developer: Looking Glass Studios
Released: 1994
Genre: First Person Shooter, Action Adventure

The Game
In the year 2072, a hacker is hired/blackmailed into removing the ethical constraints on an artificial intelligence named SHODAN, who runs a space station for the megacorporation TriOptimum. In return, he receives a set of military grade cybernetic implants, and the surgery keeps him in a healing coma for several months. When he wakes up, he finds that SHODAN has gone completely megalomaniacal and intends to use the resources of Citadel Station to take over the world, wipe out all current life, and start anew with herself as Earth's malevolent goddess. Time to rage against the machine.

The Good
A lot of the good things that I mentioned in my System Shock 2 review are here in a sort of larval form, but . . .

The Bad
. . . the larval forms aren't just underdeveloped, they're also poorly implemented in many ways. I don't want to blame the developers here, because they were all wonderful ideas, as SS2 demonstrated five years later. This game was simply way ahead of its time and suffered from it, being limited by the technology current at the time as well as utilizing a lot of FPS conventions that we take for granted now but were completely new back then, untried, untested.

I won't go into all of it (this is supposed to be short, after all) but the control scheme, I think, is the absolute worst part of the whole thing. It's a fully-realized 3D environment, but the mouse doesn't control where you're looking. Instead, it's in a constant interact mode with the game world, leaving all camera controls to the keyboard, which is extremely awkward. The mouse can be used for some limited movement of the character himself, but since you need to use the mouse to click on doors to open them, this can be slightly problematic. The character can be posed using various keys, enabling him to lean to either side, duck down, look up and down and all around, and this all sounds fine in theory, but in practice it made me feel more like I was trying to pose a mannequin the entire time rather than move around like an actual human being.

Have you ever seen the movie Meet Dave, where Eddie Murphy is a spaceship piloted by a bunch of tiny aliens? There's a scene where they're first trying to get used to walking the ship around naturally (part of which can be seen in this trailer), but his limbs kind of go all wacky-like the whole time. This is sort of what trying to drive the Hacker around is like.

I'd already tried playing SS a few times before and ended up quitting after just a few minutes every time. This time I finally made it to a cyberspace node and found the controls there slippery and difficult to get a good feel for, so sadly I had to quit again. It was after I shut the game off and relaxed back in my seat that I realized that I had been tensed up the entire time I had been playing because I was concentrtating so damn hard on just moving around. This does not strike me as an indicator of good game design.

I'm thankful as all get out that SS led to the far superior SS2, but damn. It's just . . . horrible. A great idea buried by its own terrible interface.

Back to the Future (NES)

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Beam Software
Released: 1989
Genre: Action Adventure

The Game
In this game based on the hit movie of the same name, Marty McFly has to race his way across Hill Valley so he can hop in the DeLorean time machine and blast back to the future! Can he make it through the various dangers of 1955 to make it back to his home era of 1985? Only time will tell.

The Good

The Bad
That's weird. I don't remember the part of the movie where Marty was running along a street filled with hula hooping girls intent on killing him with their purple spit. Maybe it was in the deleted scenes. I also don't remember him PISSING ME OFF SO GODDAMNED MUCH. He doesn't even really look like Marty but like one of Biff's bullies in a muscle shirt, his hit detection is shit, he has two clocks running against him at once (the disappearing photo as well as the standard level timer), and his theme music sucks. According to Wikipedia, the background music is supposed to be a sped up version of "Power of Love", but I don't believe that for even a second.

Now, moving away from things I don't remember, I do seem to remember this game being better when it was one of the mini-games in Skate or Die. I may be wrong in that. But I also remember playing Paperboy (another game that will likely end up in the Short and Sour stack), and I'm pretty sure BttF is just as horrible. For example, the whole programming the game where power-ups and other items are sitting in spots where no one could possibly ever retrieve them without losing a life. That's smart work, folks.

I don't think I've ever made it past the malt shop "boss" level. It's a combination of said level being stupid hard and the fact that I just don't give enough of a shit about the game to try and get any further. I decided to give up the future during this playthrough after I actually managed to block a good number of bullies but then got thrown out anyway and had to start the whole last section over again just to get back to the malt shop.

Fuck that.

Like System Shock above, I was tensed up during most of the time I was playing. A game should have you on the edge of your seat with excitement, not shriveling up into yourself because you're afraid to make even a single wrong move. BttF was poorly designed, poorly executed, and there's plenty of good reasons why everyone - including the people who made the films - hates it.

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