Inside Pulse 12

Retrograding Advance 12.17.02

Retrograding is going to be about old games, systems and other stuff. The other Columnists like Ron and Bebito are the people you go to for current US releases, news and rumours. I’m the guy who comes off like an old hermit raving about the Neo*Geo and how games are far too easy nowadays and why can’t you whippersnappers appreciate how ahead of it’s time Dragon Force was. So why am I covering 3 GBA games, all recent releases and one not even on American soils except for badly copied Roms that have half the dialogue wrong?

Well, it’s because there is a lack of GBA games because everyone here focuses on the Big 3. But being I’m currently trapped in Europe and it sucks horribly to be a hardcore gamer over here, I’ve taken to the GBA like New Jack takes an exacto knife to Fat (oops MASS) Transit. Or was that it bad taste since he’s dead? Anyways, Chris had kindly let me be the guy to look at old games, and GBA games simply to fill a niche market. And being the kind of guy who owns two Sega CD systems, the old and expensive Neo Geo and actually still plays Vampire Chronicles and SSF2TCEX on his Dreamcast over the web, I know niche markets all too well.

So once a week you get retro ramblings from me, and once a week you’ll get anything from GBA to Japanese and UK imports that will never make it to the US. And god forbid if this takes off I’ll do a mailbag as well.

But now, let’s look at some quickie reviews!

POKEMON RUBY/SAPPHIRE
System: GBA
Genre: Collection RPG
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Nov 21st, 2002 (Japan)/March 2003 (USA)

Okay, as you might have guessed, this review is based on the Japanese version I picked up from an Import Store in the UK on Weds. If there’s enough demand (and seeing that this is a wrestling site there probably won’t be) I’ll do the comparison between the US and Japanese versions in March.

So, it’s Pokemon, the best selling video game, toy, and cartoon of all time. The franchise to end all franchises. A game loved by hardcore gamers, kids, and a staggering amount of casual gamers everywhere. Hated by overly macho jerks who refuse to admit something cute can be fun and cool. (Man, wait until the GCN Zelda game comes out) But truth be told, Pokemon is what every video game franchise longs to be: in terms of sales, popularity, and trend setting. Pokemon broke so many boundaries it wasn’t even funny, and you have to respect that even if you want to Thunder Fire Power Bomb Chansey again and again until it no longer can breath. And Pokemon R/S does the same things.

What’s new? First off, there is 100 new Pokemon. Yes, that brings the total to 351. What else is new is that Nintendo and Game Freak realises you all have lives and that no one can devote their existence to catching them all. It took me over 100 hours to catch ’em all in GSC and I’m not spending the equivalent of a week straight without sleep to catch the rest.

What else is new are the starters. Sure they’re the typical Fire/Grass/Water starters, but there’s a twist. The Fire Starter (not to be confused with Drew Barrymore or Prodigy) is Torchic and becomes a fire/fighting hybrid. A new combo for the game, and is hands down the starter you want simply because Steel has replaced Dragon as the End boss type. Treecko is your usual sucky grass type and looks very creepy. And Mudkip is water/ground, another new combo that is very cool both in play and in theory.

There’s also tag team Poke’ battles. Which is my all of my Pokemon have names like “Ax, Smash, Crush” or my final team of “Gordy, Hayes, Garvin, Roberts, DDP, Armstrong.” It’s a very cool innovation that makes Pokemon feel totally new.

There’s also a secret base mini game, where you can design your own base and decorate it ala your room in G/S/C. It’s very cool and there’s dozens of locations to choose from. There’s also a Battle Tower that plays like Pokemon Stadium, Pokemon sex is back, and the game never actually ends, which is ultra cool.

There’s also different stats like size, intelligence, berries of all sorts to improve your Pokemon, new casino like games, and you can play as a boy or a girl. But these are all merely variations of what has already been done, and I can cover them more in depth with the release of the US version when I get IM’s and emails galore asking where someone can get a Charmander (and before you ask, you can’t. For NOW)

The down side is that after you beat the Elite Four, there’s not as much to do as you could in GCS, the graphics are barely better than GBC graphics and there’s such an overload of Dragon and Steel Pokemon that their rarity and coolness factor has plummeted. The new Pokemon aren’t as cool as some of the old ones like Girafarig or Octillery, and because you can about as many Pokemon as you could in old RGBY, the variety of teams you can make and will encounter against your friends is SEVERLY limited.

Some with every sequel, there’s some innovation and some back pedalling.

Gameplay

Pretty cut and dry here. Like all RPG’s, Pokemon is easy to learn the controls to, and although the system has changed, it still takes less than 15 minutes to master the system, but the battling and understanding of Pokestats and powers takes far longer. If you have played any of the Pokemon games before, you won’t even nee the manual. You can just jump right in. Random battles are obviously in the game, but unlike every other two bit RPG that uses them, you want random battles to help you catch new Pokemon.

In all, everything plays perfectly, and if you import the game, you should be able to play and understand the game without knowing a lick of Kanji.

Graphics

Okay, graphics. As I said earlier, it’s not much better than a GBC game. In no way shape or form does the new Pokemon game take advantage of the fact the GBA is a better system internally than the PS1. But to be fair, the graphics are cute, and the Pokemon couldn’t look much better than they do. But there is no denying Pokemon R/S could have gone on the GBC, much like PS4 could have fit onto the PS collection I’ll be talking about later.

Sound

Okay. I love Pokemon music. It’s cheesy, it’s catchy, it sticks in your head hours later, and it drives the fiancee insane. And these tunes are no different. They’re oddly familiar just like GSC’s was, but they are still unique and different. Each Pokemon makes their own sound and there is a noise for ever little aspect of the game, from the berry game to healing your Pokemon. The graphics may not have improved, but the music and sounds have still managed to stay as important and catchy to Pokemon as they’ve always been.

Fun Factor

Well, to be blunt, there won’t be a better RPG for the GBA for quite some time, although Lunar Legend and Ogre Tactics are probably damn close. But mutliplayer battles, customization and catching, and minigames and quests galore really make this game stand out from the pack. And of course it is Pokemon, and that means cute cockfighting seizure monsters for the whole family. There is no reason to not pick up this game the amount of time you play it compared to the dollar value isn’t going to be matched by anything BUT another Pokemon game. 100 hours+ for 30$. Just swallow the pride and stop believing the bs about Pokemon being a Kiddie Game and we’ll have be happier.

Ratings
Gameplay: 10.0
Graphics: 5.0
Sound: 8.0
Fun Factor: 9.0

The 411

Preorder this puppy! It’s simply the next phase in a staggeringly popular Video Game chain, than unlike oh say, TOMB RAIDER, manages to stay consistently great and fun which each new version. But like the other Pokemon games, Ruby/Sapphire is bound to copy Capcom and release a slight upgrade to this down the line. With the release date for the American version so close to passing, save your money and wait the few months for the non-import. But seriously, ignore the cute factor and try it. You won’t be sorry!

Overall Score: 8.0

UPDATED WITH NEW SYSTEM SCORES ON 05/19/05. NOTE THESE SCORES REPLACE THE ORIGINAL ONES

Story: 5
Graphics: 5
Sound: 8
Gameplay/Control: 10
Replayability: 5
Balance: 7
Originality: 5
Addictiveness: 8
Appeal Factor: 8
Miscellaneous: 6
Overall: 6.7

Final Score: 6.5

Right, now that we’ve gotten the eventual typecasting of Alex as a Pokemaniac out of the way, let’s look at probably the most amazing game curently out for the GBA. A game that even makes me exclaim, “Well crap, this is hard!”

ROBOTECH: THE MACROSS SAGA
System: GBA (geez people, do I even need to say that?)
Genre: Shooter/RPG
Publisher: TDK
Release: October 2002

In many ways, Macross is superior to Battlecry. You get to play as the actual Robotech characters from our youth, including my beloved Roy Fokker. You get the original theme music is cuddly midi form, and Macross follows the plot of the cartoon nearly perfect, except Roy and Ben don’t die, and you can play as Miyria from the start. But everyone from Goval to Breetai is here and Macross marks the first ever Robotech game that hasn’t sucked worse than a redux of Q*bert.

For those of you under 21, Robotech was one of the big three Robot cartoons in America in the 80’s. Transformers and Voltron were the big two, but Robotech appealed to a more mature and sophisticated audience. (and this is coming from someone who has worked with TF’s for a good portion of his life. After all, where do you think Jet/Skyfire came from?) Robotech had death, had bad guys winning, and a good portion of Canada getting nuked. It had only shades of gray instead of Black & White, and covered love, identity, and man’s base nature. It was f*cking intense. And it was far superior to the Japanese version, simply because the US actors had emotion in their voice. And Max Sterling going on to play Leonardo in TMNT was righteous too. Robotech was a US brainchild that took three separate Japanese Anime series and combined them into one big storyline. The books do a much better version of this (and are expensive as hell), but the first leg of the Series is one of the best rewritten shows ever. However, Dana Sterling and the Invid storylines sucked wang, and thankfully due to the nature of this game I don’t have to go into them. Let’s just leave it at Zentradi and Veritechs kick ass.

Gameplay

Think Gradius with half a dozen playable characters and transforming planes and you have the gist of it. You can play as Roy, Max, Ben, Miryia, and Rick, and later on can unlock another SIX playable characters/ships, including an F-16. A Zentradi Pod for Miryia, Rick’s stunt plane, and Minmei. Just kidding on the last one, but the ultimate unlockable is as absurd as getting that crappy singing annoying twat. Each plane has their own strengths and weaknesses from Ben having the most life (ha ha ha considering he dies early on in the series) to Roy being the best overall pilot (see Ben commentary). Max Sterling is a bitch to play as he takes one hit and he’s a corpse.

Now here is where it gets scary difficult. There are two playing levels: Normal and advanced. Advanced is psychotically hard even for hardcore shooters and Robotech fans and makes the game last forever. Here’s the next bit. You have five lives to beat the whole game with. No continues. Very rare extra lives. And after you beat a level and save your game, you’re still stuck with a minimal amount of lives. So if it took you all but one life to get past level 1, and it will your first time, you have one life to beat the remaining 9 stages. INTENSE! And I love every profane minute of it.

Luckily there are two counters. The first is that you can avoid a lot of combat until the end of the stages where there’s so much gunfire on the screens it makes Bangai-O look tame. The second is you et XP that can be exchanged for upgrades so you can give Max more life, Roy more missles, make Rick not suck. Stuff like that. But that’s the catch. To get your ship better, you need to blow away everything. And to blow everything away means you have to risk death. If you get past the first level without at least 25K in EXP, you might as well stop there and try again.

Best of all is the Vertiech controls. It’s easy to control one, but takes forever to master the different forms and abilities you have in each form. In Plane and Guardian form, the D pad controls your movement and the A button shoots, while the B button is your special missles. The Veritech plane form is you fastest and most efficient in terms of handling and dodging. Guardian lets you touch the ground without dying and gives your more armour, but you are slower and weaker in terms of offense. Battloid mode means you can’t fly without pressing the B button and you can only use your guns, but it stops the side scrolling and in many levels makes it easier for you to survive by standing on the ground and blasting away with your 180 degree range of fire.

This is an extremely hard game however, and if you get easily frustrated or are prone to give up on a game that you can’t beat right away, than look elsewhere. This is the type of game for someone that enjoys a super hard challenge. Nuff said.

Graphics

Everything looks just as it should. Animated cartoon without cell shading. Everyone looks like they do. All the vehicles and their various forms are distinguishable and incredible. This is one of the best looking GBA games out there and it’s so bright and vibrant you don’t need a megaton watt bulb directly overhead to play it. I have yet to encounter slow down, even with over 2 dozen ships on the screen at once, and that impresses me most of all.

Sound

The heart of Robotech is its music. After all, Minmei stops the war almost single handedly. Of course, with horrible songs like “This is my chance to be a Star,” and “My boyfriend is a pilot,” you have to really wonder what happened to Earth to allow such crap to become popular. Thankfully none of those songs made it into the game. But the very cool Robotech theme music is intact and brilliantly turned into MIDI quality. Other pieces from the episodes’ background music have made it in and are as catchy and fun to hear as ever. Although you really are too busy paying attention to the non stop action to coo at the tunes.

Speaking of the action, the firepower sounds are all specific. A Zentradi pod will not sound like a Veritech fighter and vice versa. Little things like that help make this game great.

Fun Factor

It’s super hard, gives you 12 characters to play as, follows the plot so well that even if you haven’t seen the cartoon in a decade it will all come back to you, and has finally given the Robotech license the respect the name is due. The only problem is that it’s made fore hardcore super shooter fans and it may distress even some Robotech fanatics with how hard the game is. But that’s how the Macross saga was: brutal with lots of death. Simply put, this game is more a very specific fan, and it may just happen you don’t fall into it. However, I’m serious going to stake my reputation as a gamer on the line and say this is not only the best GBA shooter ever, but one of the five best Shooters ever made, standing alongside Bangai-O, Radiant Silvergun, Ikarge, and the Gradius.

Ratings
Gameplay: 9.0
Graphics: 10.0
Sound: 8.0
Fun Factor: 8.0

The 411
Well, I said it above. You are not going to find a better shooter unless you own a Dreamcast or Saturn. And for only $30, you have a game you will keep for the rest of your life. If you like a challenge, blowing shit up, and saving the world from giant aliens that sell less than the Undertaker, this is your game!

Overall: 9.0

UPDATED WITH NEW SYSTEM SCORES ON 05/19/05. NOTE THESE SCORES REPLACE THE ORIGINAL ONES
Current System:

Story: 9
Graphics: 10
Sound: 8
Gameplay/Control: 10
Replayability: 10
Balance: 7
Originality: 8
Addictiveness: 8
Appeal Factor: 6
Miscellaneous: 10
Overall: 8.6
Final Score: 8.5

And we are done. Next week we’ll look all three Phantasy Star games on the PSC for the GBA. And if you guys want it, a Doshin the Giant UK exclusive review. Take your pick, and remember you can always reach me at alexanderlucard@usa.net or on AIM as Darquefyr