Friday, December 10, 2010

Review: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door



Nintendo is well known for taking Mario and putting him into games of unexpected genres, and usually adding their own unique twist to that genre. One of the best examples is the Paper Mario series, a simplified take on RPGs that has secured a distinct following in the gaming community. Starting out on the Nintendo 64, it became one of the few RPGs for the system, which continued with a sequel on the Gamecube. Unfortunately, the latest entry in the series has abandoned the RPG elements in lieu of standard 2D platforming. So today, I'm going to review the last RPG in the series, and one of the most fun games for the Gamecube.

Gameplay

Paper Mario 2 [or Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, if you're not into the whole brevity thing] is a very different kind of RPG. It is still turn-based, like most games in the genre, but it includes much more user input than most. During battle, you can press buttons at certain times in order to make an attack more powerful. Most attacks actually depend on precisely-timed button presses for maximum damage. This works very well for keeping you interested and engaged in the battles, as you have to pay close attention as to how you execute your moves. You're not just going through menus; it really feels like you are doing the actual fighting. Another abnormal aspect of the battle system is the low scoring, in that even late in the game, you probably won't reach a maximum of 100 HP. In fact, the toughest boss in the game, which is a hidden one, at that, only has 200 HP. If you're used to playing RPGs with comically-high status numbers like Disgaea, get ready for a bit of a shock. But, after getting used to the system, I came to the conclusion that it works just fine for this type of game. Paper Mario 2 is meant to be a simple, entry-level RPG, and it succeeds greatly on this level. A nice touch to the battles is that you can see enemies on the screen, and launching a preemptive attack on them gives you an edge in the coming battle, much like in the Persona series, only much more lenient. You can tell that a heavy emphasis was put on interactivity in the battles, and that Nintendo wanted to stay as far away from the stereotypically dull battles of most turn-based RPGs. The world map is also atypical, in that it is not an actual map; just an overall collection of normal screens. It is an odd, but effective way to make the world seem big. Instead of conveying it artificially by a world map, it really makes you move across the world by yourself, if you can see what I mean. There are warp pipes that let you go long distances, but that is about it. The gameplay in Paper Mario 2 is best described as unique, and is much better for it. It always keeps you interested, and coming back for more.

Gameplay: 10/10


Story

Since Paper Mario 2 is an RPG, I can't use the standard cop-out here. Luckily, there is actually a very good story, but, in true Mario fashion, in anything but an ordinary way. Instead of telling a dramatic, epic tale like in most games of the genre, it goes for a much more lighthearted and humorous approach that is quite refreshing. The characters are witty, colorful, and interesting; the villains in particular are a total riot, and it is almost a shame you have to fight them! Another nice part about the game is the fantastic locations you visit. A floating vegas-esque city, a monochromatic giant tree, and even the moon! There is an unbridled sense of creativity in the game, making it always a joy to play. As I said, the dialogue is entertaining, the locations are unique and interesting, and everything is just plain fun. Kudos to Nintendo for doing something different, and making it work.

Story: 9/10


Sound

As you might expect, the audio in Paper Mario 2 has a perky, whimsical quality. It's anything but serious, and suits the game nicely. Nintendo gave it a whole lot of personality, even in the [relatively] dramatic moments, it still sounds funny, in a good way. The sound effects are also humorous, making the entire audio experience in Paper Mario 2 to be something humorous and quite fun. Few of the tracks feel truly out of place, so for most of the areas you will encounter will be accompanied by a suitable tune. The only bad thing I can say about the audio seems awfully low-fidelity for a Gamecube game; sounding more like its Nintendo 64 predecessor than other disc-based games. Other than that, you are in for some nice tunes in Paper Mario 2.

Sound: 8.5/10

video

Graphics

The Paper Mario series employs a unique art style that can best be described as faux-3D: 3D models that look like 2D sprites. It gives the game a certain charm that few other games can match, and allows for some incredibly expressive animations, mostly from Mario himself. Everything looks full of life and is vibrant and colorful, and even the one level that is intentionally monochromatic is still infinitely more interesting than most games that are unintentionally so. I cannot overstate how great the animations are in Paper Mario 2; they give a great amount of characterization, and can describe a character just as well as dialogue. Since the game supports progressive scan 480p, the faux-2D visuals look especially nice at a higher resolution. Yet another reason too seek out a Gamecube Component Cable. ;) Another excellent aspect of the graphics is the amount of models that can be on the screen at once; the game obviously borrowed some ideas from the famous 'Mario 128" Gamecube tech demo, as some scenes can have around 100 models on screen at once! I was very proud that the 'Cube could handle such a feat.

Graphics: 9/10


Extras/Value

Sidequests are the name of the game in Paper Mario 2, with over half a game still left after you finish the game. Among other things, you can participate in a cooking minigame with dozens of recipes to find, take personal requests at the hub city's "Trouble Center", searching for all the hidden star pieces and shine sprites in the game, or undergo the "Pit of 100 Trials", a hidden dungeon in the game that is exactly what it sounds like. Standard RPG fare, but it is appreciated to have so much of it in the game. Also, most of the sidequests are actually enjoyable, as opposed to endless and boring rare monster hunts seen in other games. Finally, and possibly the most fun, are the missions that take place at the end of each chapter, in which you play a short stage with Bowser, who mostly retraces Mario's steps about 1 chapter behind the plumber. The stages are quite varied, and the dialogue is some of the best anywhere in the game. In other words, you will be looking forward to them, in particular. The game is currently going for $15 at Gamestop; not bad at all for a Role-Playing Game AND a First-Party Gamecube title. I would highly recommend picking it up if you enjoy RPGs, or are just Nintendo fans.

Extras/Value: 9/10




Overall

The Gamecube was pretty starved for RPGs, but in all honesty, it got some of the best ones of the generation, and Paper Mario 2 is a great example. It had buckets of personality, dashing visuals, and simple-yet-fun gameplay that is unconventional for the genre. It is an awesome game that deserves to be played by every Gamecube fan, and at least tried out by every Gamecube owner. If you care about RPGs and have some spare cash, put this near the top of your purchase list. You won't regret it.




Overall: 9/10

This is Lisalover1, folding some origami to simulate a boss fight.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gamecube Controller Adapters


The Gamecube was blessed with a great controller, a topic that I have gone into detail about before. But, the trouble is, it's only for the Gamecube. It's restricted to one console, and you can't use it on other consoles, or more importantly, your computer. Thankfully, there's a solution for that. Various adapters have been made to do this, so whether you are emulating the Gamecube on your PC, or just prefer to use it for games, a USB adapter is a good solution [your only solution, really, as opposed to building a custom controller, or a dedicated Gamecube USB controller].

As I said before, a USB adapter for a Gamecube controller is particularly useful for Gamecube emulation on the PC, and hopefully soon, on the PS3. If you have a powerful enough computer to handle it, and don't mind emulation, then you have what is effectively a portable Gamecube. You can even use retail Gamecube discs in your DVD drive, if you're touchy about piracy. The secondary purpose of the USB adapter is to use the Gamecube controller for other systems. While this is normally achieved via emulation, but the PS3 can also use USB controllers. Unfortunately, it doesn't work very often or very well for most Gamecube controllers, but it is fun when it does work. Using the GC controller for emulators in other systems is a delight, for the Nintendo 64 in particular, where you can substitute the C-Buttons for the C-stick, and on the PS1, where you can use the GC's analog sticks in place of the Dualshock.

So, if you're interested in using a Gamceube controller on your computer or your PS3, then give the adapter a shot. If not, then no need to go out of your way. I would only get it if you can think of a good use for it.


This is Lisalover1, hoping this didn't sound like an advertisement.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review: Animal Crossing


Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in America [and a belated Happy Thanksgiving to Canada]! You're probably going to be with family a lot over the holidays, so I'm going to review a classic Gamecube game that you can show everyone. Every now and then, we need a break from all the action that most games give us. We need a break from the high-octane power fantasies that are most prevalent in gaming today, and simply try something more soothing. We just need something to calm our nerves. I heard someone say once [although I don't quite remember who] that Animal Crossing is not just relaxing; it's practically healing, which is why it is good that games like it exist. Animal Crossing fills a much-needed gap in the gaming world, and it is appreciated for that. So, what exactly makes Animal Crossing not just a good game, but a necessary game?

Gameplay

Animal Crossing is a Life Simulator, in the same vein as titles like Harvest Moon or The Sims. You go about the game day-to-day, talking with neighbors, collecting items/furniture, making money, decorating your house, etc. There's always something to do, so you're sure not to get bored for some time. The game was first advertised as "the game that keeps playing, even when you're not", and it really lives up to that idea. Everything in the game happens in real-time, so when the sun rises/sets in real life, it will probably also do so in the game. Certain activities are only available at certain times on certain days, while many very rare events happen randomly, in which case, you just have to keep looking for them every day. Holidays in Animal Crossing generally involve some sort of festival in which every member of the community participates. It's actually quite fun to play on these days; some of the outcomes of festivals may even get you a really rare item. And therein lies the core of the gameplay; item collection. Your ultimate "goal" in Animal Crossing is to pay off your debts, expand your house, and decorate it. There are other goals to accomplish, such as completing every entry in the town museum, but as I said, the main goal is to make your house awesome. There are hundreds of different items and pieces of furniture to collect, and you can make your house look like whatever your imagination and pocketbook will allow. You can even collect miniature NES systems that include certain games, which is a really nice touch. Some items can only be obtained through extensively complicated and difficult means [more than one has you participate in an event on the Animal Crossing website!], but usually these items are really interesting and fun. As with all Life Sim games, Animal Crossing is extremely addictive, meaning you can easily log months of game time in, seeing everything the game has to offer. Also, when you're done in your town, you can visit a friend's town, too. All you need is their memory card, and you can visit, meet your friend's neighbors, check what is available in their shop, etc. These things add infinite replay value to the game [if you could call it replay value; the game never really ends]. Animal Crossing also features a certain level of multiplayer; up to 4 players can live in the same town, so if you'll forgive the horrendously-overused cliche, it really is a game for the whole family. I do wish Nintendo would have incorporated direct online features into the game. The Gamecube needed to prove its worth in this area very badly during its life, and it was never utilized very well. A feature where you could download new holidays, events, items, or neighbors would have been a great feature, and would have given the game even more play time, and always give you something new to do. The sequel, Animal Crossing: Wild World for the DS had online functionality, but only to visit other player's towns in multiplayer. This was still a great idea, but I just wish it, along with the DLC, would have been with the series from the start. It would be the final piece in the puzzle of a truly living, breathing world in your 'Cube.

Gameplay: 9/10


Story

In Animal Crossing, you play as [insert name here], a new citizen in the quiet town of [insert name here]. As you progress though the game, you meet new neighbors, such as [various] or the ever-cheerful [to be determined]. Okay, enough with that joke. As you can see, a lot of the game's story is either nonexistent, random, or player-determined. The only things that remain predetermined are certain NPCs that stay in town regardless of what events happen, like the extortionist asshole shopkeeper, Tom Nook [to whom you must pay back your SUBSTANTIAL house debt], the incredibly lazy museum curator, Blathers, and the absolute bane of my existence, Resetti, an unbelievably long-winded mole that shows up every single time you neglect to save your game, and whose lectures get exponentially longer and more irritating each time you do so. Your normal neighbors are much more manageable, and are actually nice to you. There's really not much else to say about the story in the game; there is none. This doesn't mean that the Life Sim genre is universally devoid of story, though. Certain games in the Harvest Moon series have completely demolished this barrier. Once again, a game like this doesn't need a story, because the gameplay is more than enough. I'm starting to sound like a broken record, aren't I?

Story: 8/10


Sound

I'm going to be honest; I din't like the music in Animal Crossing. It came across as bland, repetitive, and even irritating at times. The sequel's music was actually much better, and conveyed a more soothing, pleasant tone. I don't know what happened with the Gamecube version, though. The whole thing just feels wrong. It feels like Nintendo wanted to create an almost comical effect with the audio, but it really falls flat for such a slow-paced game. The one good thing I will say is that each tune seems to fit the situation well; they are just for the most part not very good songs. There a few nice ones in there, like the rainy day song, which I posted here, but overall, it's just not very good. As I said, the music in Wild World is leaps and bounds better, so don't get too discouraged. Nintendo should have gone back and taken another look on what this series is really about to make good music for it. As it stands, the music is mostly tolerable, but certainly not great.

Audio: 5/10


video

Graphics

Animal Crossing actually originally debuted on the Nintendo 64 in Japan, where it was called Doubutsu no Mori, translated into Animal Forest. There were several differences between Forest and Crossing, but the core game remained the same. The good news was that Animal Forest was a really great-looking N64 game, which translated into a good-looking Gamecube game. Also, the updated Gamecube version supports 480p, a higher resolution than the N64 version offered. But realism isn't everything. Far from it; the best thing about the game's graphics is its charming art style. Everything in the game is presented in a cartoony fashion, with basic, pastel textures and definite angles, which are all very easy on the eyes. While the game failed in finding suitable audio, it greatly succeeds in a suitable art style. Some of the objects in the game, particularly background objects, are in 2D, which help even more with the game's aesthetic. While the game's graphics won't blow you away, they certainly fit the gameplay like a glove.

Graphics: 7.5/10


Extras/Value

I mentioned before that there are a bunch of neat easter eggs in Animal Crossing, like the collectible NES games, for example. There is a bunch of hidden furniture to collect, which gives you a real sense of accomplishment when you collect a whole set. There is also an island that you can visit off the coast of your town, which can only be accessed on a Game Boy Advance via a Gamecube-to-GBA Link Cable. It's a nice little bonus feature, and there are some special items that can only be obtained on the island, so if you want to get something really rare, you might have to hook up your GBA. There's another function that the GBA has in the game, though. You can use the E-Reader device for the system, and scan cards on it to unlock even more things in the game. While the E-Reader may have been a commercial flop, it is still a cool idea, and demonstrates Nintendo's resourcefulness. There is so much to unlock in this game that I don't think anyone has ever legitimately unlocked everything. Even if it has been done, it might take a couple years of play. You're really going to get your money's worth with Animal Crossing. Speaking of which, the game is currently $10 at Gamestop; not too shabby.

Extras/Value: 9/10




Overall

Animal Crossing is not meant to be a game that is played constantly [although many people do so]; it is meant to be played in short bursts, and is designed around that style. It is a game that you can put countless cumulative hours into, perfecting and completing everything over time. Nintendo really made a good move in localizing this oddball title, because it is really something unique and fun. Of course, it has now become a lucrative series, but it was a bit of a risk back when it was first released. I can now honestly say that this is one of the 'Cube's best time-wasters, and is a joy to play. If you haven't tried Animal Crossing before, you should probably try Wild World first, but the Gamecube version holds up well, too.




Overall: 7.5/10

This is Lisalover1, and I know you cried a little at that last image.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Review: Star Fox Assault






































Star Fox has caught a lot of flak from gamers over the recent years, for very little good reason, besides the derivative Star Fox Adventures, also on the Gamecube, which was negatively received. But Assault is different; it has the same rail-based 3D shooting that the series is famous for, along with several other modes. So, why did nobody give Assault a chance? Why is it never included in people's lists of best 1st-party Gamecube games? To be honest, I'm not sure. Keep reading to find out why Star Fox Assault is worth your time.

Gameplay

Star Fox Assault starts out with an intense rail-shooter space battle, much like the previous games in the series, and certainly shows that it is out to prove that the franchise is still alive and kicking in what it does best. The control is smooth and responsive, and all the standard attacks [Shot, Charge Shot, Bomb], so anyone who has played a Rail Shooter before will know what to do. The only issue I had with the controls while piloting were that the Y-Axis control was inverted, and not the X-Axis, but you can change that in the options menu. The piloting sections are cool, and if any of you Gamecube owners out there were ever jealous that Panzer Dragoon Orta was an Xbox exclusive, then these stages will ease your pain. There are also missions that take place on-foot, that allow you to use multiple weapons or a tank to shoot your way through enemies. These levels are very fast-paced and have a fair bit of diversity among equipping weapons; Pistols, Rocket launchers, Sniper Rifles, Grenades, etc. You wouldn't expect to find more than one or two extra weapons in a game like this, and to be honest, you don't really need them, unless required by mission parameters, but they are a ton of fun to use. As I said, you can also drive a tank, if you like. The tank cannot use the extra weapons, but has better defense, can hover for a brief period, and can kill weaker enemies by running over them. These missions reminded me a lot of Capcom's PN-03, another Gamecube exclusive, which is a very good thing. The third type of mission is an aerial dogfight mission, which is like the pilot missions, but gives you total freedom of movement. This mode is nice, too, and is on par with many other aerial combat games, but doesn't bring anything really new to the table; it just does the essentials notably well. There are also a couple of different sub-missions that occasionally take place after a main one, and sometimes ground and dogfight missions are combined, having you hop in and out of your Arwing to manage enemies in the air and ground. The worst part about the game, though, is its length. There are only 10 missions, so you can finish it in a day, which is a real shame, because this game has a lot of great ideas, and the gameplay is just fun in its purest form, but you only get a few short hours of it. I would have loved to see at least another 10 levels; more if possible, but I guess beggars can't be choosers.

Gameplay: 8/10


Story

I was seriously surprised by Star Fox Assault's story; it was much deeper than I expected from an action game. I have never gotten very far in a Star Fox game before, but I always assumed it had little story, and didn't really need one, but this game's story totally came out of left field. I'm not saying it's anywhere near what you might find in an RPG or an Adventure game, but it stands heads and shoulders above other action and shooter games, making it feel more like an action movie. Now, don't get me wrong; I don't want to make this out to be any more than it is, but I still think Nintendo should be commended for writing up something quite different. I had some issues with awkward dialogue in the game; mostly from the fact that it was written with kids as the primary audience, so it is jarring [and kind of funny] to hear frequent profanity substitute words. It just feels really out of place. Other than that, I think Star Fox Assault has a relatively good story when compared to the rest of the genre, but once again, it is crippled by the disappointingly short length of the game.

Story: 8.5/10


Sound

What do you know? I was surprised yet again by Star Fox Assault. Since this is a science fiction game, I expected a soundtrack heavy with rock and techno tunes, but all the music in the game is actually orchestral! It sounds very good, too; I can tell that a fair bit of work was put into the music. I thought the orchestra music would sound out of place in a game like this, but with all the huge battles going on in each mission, it fits like a glove. The sound effects, on the other hand, sound pretty generic and basic, but in retrospect, it's probably better that they didn't interfere with the background music. The voice actors for the characters seem different than the ones I remember in Star Fox 64, but then again, I remember them being much more annoying in that game. All the actors are well-suited for the characters they represent, so no complaints there. Overall, I seriously enjoyed Star Fox Assault's soundtrack; maybe not enough so that I would put it on my MP3 player, but enough to make me come back to the game.

Sound: 8/10


video

Graphics

The graphics in Star Fox Assault are all right when doing ground missions, and are great when doing pilot missions. All the chaos going on in the background of the latter mission type really gives you the sense of an epic battle in space. That, and the detail on each ship looks nice, making it all the more shocking to see all of this happening at a quick, steady framerate, especially on missions where two both aerial dogfights and ground combat are going on at once. Thus, it isn't the game's graphical detail that is impressive; it is the amount of action going on at any given time that makes you wonder how it is possible. It just all comes together to a game that has much more technical than visual prowess. The graphics are still above average, though, especially during cutscenes, where everything is bumped up to a much higher level of detail. I would still say that the in-game graphics are a step down from its predecessor, Star Fox Adventures, but it is likely just to allow for faster action and a better framerate; because of this, I think it is a fair trade-off.

Graphics: 7/10


Extras/Value

In order to offset the disappointing length, a 4-player battle mode was included that, honestly, is one of the best multiplayer experiences I have had the chance to play on the 'Cube. The mode is fun and addictive, and move along at a speedy pace, like the rest of the game. Unfortunately, there is no option for CPU-based multiplayer, so you're going to actually need some friends with you to play. But, it isn't that big of a deal; it is worth getting everyone over for some good shooting action. Just like the main game, Dogfight mode, Ground mode, and a mode that combines the two are available for multiplayer, which can lead to some really interesting and clever strategies that add a lot of depth to the game. I'm going to go so far as to say it may be worth it to buy this game just for the multiplayer, as it is just that much fun. I haven't had such a good time with a local 4-player game since Super Smash Bros. Melee. A lot of people don't know this, but it was actually Namco that did most of the development work on Star Fox Assault; Nintendo only did a bit of the development work, and all the publishing work. Thus, completing the game on Normal mode unlocks Namco's classic SHMUP, Xevious, for you to play. It's just a nice little extra cherry on top that isn't necessary, but is appreciated nonetheless. Star Fox Assault is currently selling for $15 at Gamestop. Despite how much fun this game is, I'm still going to have to recommend that you try and find it cheaper; maybe around $10 or so, due to the game's length. I have seen many copies sell for about $5, so you should have no trouble finding one. But when you do see the game, by all means, buy it, especially if you are planning a game night with some of your friends, and need to stock up on good 4-player games.

Extras/Value: 7.5/10





Overall

Star Fox Assault, at its core, is a great game with a ton of neat and creative ideas, but all of that is cut short by its terribly brief length. The multiplayer mode offsets this, but there is no excuse for a short single-player mode. If Namco and Nintendo had put a bit more time into this game to add at least 10 more levels, this would be less of a problem, but as it stands, this game was too much crammed into too little of time. It is still an extremely fun game, and is definitely worth a purchase, but unless you frequently play games with your friends, you will just beat the game and move on, which is just a tragedy for such an otherwise good game. But, as I said, I am pretty sure you will still love Star Fox Assault, with its fast, furious, and exciting gameplay, so give the game a shot when you happen to see it for sale.





Overall: 7.5/10

This is Lisalover1, repeatedly shooting the obvious glowing weak spot.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Gamecube Audio/Visual Choices


There are a lot of ways to get A/V output from an electronic device. Tons of different cables, connection setups, television inputs, sound systems, etc. If you don't know what you're doing, things can get confusing in a hurry. After hearing some requests for clarification on Gamecube A/V setups on Racketboy Forums, I decided to make a post that goes through the many options that a Gamecube owner has to get the Audio and Video connections that bet suits their needs. So, let's see what the good old 'Cube has to offer!



RF Adapter

We're starting with the most basic connection available; RF [Radio Frequency]. This gives the worst-quality video and audio, only offering Monoral sound and a very blurry picture. In my opinion, the RF Adapter should only be used when all you have is an old TV. Using RF cables on an old Tube TV will make the image tolerable, but using them on a new, flat-screen TV, especially on a big screen, will look terrible, so avoid an RF Adapter at all costs if you have a television that supports better connections. If you have a Super Nintendo or Nintendo 64, it probably came with an RF Adapter. Since the latter consoles and the Gamecube all use the same A/V connection, you can use the same RF Adapter across all the systems. Anyway, like I said, avoid this cable whenever possible.


Composite Cable


Composite is the standard Audio/Video connection in use today; it comes bundled with most devices that require A/V output, as most TVs support it. It offers slightly better video quality over RF, and much better audio quality, as it supports stereo audio. This is the cable that came with the Gamecube, so it is likely the one you are using. It uses 480i as its highest resolution, which is relatively low on the scale of resolutions. That's the bad news. The good news is that all Gamecube games, and modern games in general require support for at least 480i, so there is no chance of incompatibility. Also, some developers use this low resolution to hide graphical impurities, like what Konami did with Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation. This is less common these days, but crafty [or just lazy] developers can still make use of this technique to make games look better to the eye than they do to the machine. That doesn't mean that games will look worse with better connections; game developers know that they should institute backup plans for higher resolutions; they just might look different. Composite video's most infamous failing is dull, washed-out colors. Here's an example of Tales of Symphonia's Title Screen via Composite, S-Video, and Component cables. Note that this game does not support 480p, so this image is purely the result of cable types' effect on an image:
As you can see, there is quite a difference between them. The image in the Composite and S-Video pictures is noticeably darker and blurrier than the Component image. Composite video is certainly not optimal, but it is a step up from RF, so if you're comfortable with the standard resolution, then stick with Composite.

S-Video


S-video, while still set at a 480i resolution, delivers a much clearer image than Composite, and is the preferred connection type for older consoles, because it is common, yet still a definite graphical enhancement. I can't say I would normally recommend S-Video for a Gamecube A/V setup. If you want a better image, in my opinion, you should just find a Component Cable. The only two reasons I could recommend it is if the most advanced connection your TV takes is S-Video, or you are unsure about buying a component cable, due to the prohibitive cost. I can understand that, but S-Video isn't really that much of a graphical leap up to justify a new cable purchase. Trust me, it's worth it to go for the Component Cable. Get an S-Video cable if you want the best video signal available for a North American Gamecube, without buying the former.

SCART

This one is for European and Japanese Gamecube-owners only. SCART is more or less the international version of S-Video, although that may be an oversimplification. Technically, SCART is superior to S-Video in image quality, but still inferior to Component. It is the best-quality 480i image you can get, and is cheap. As I understand it, European Gamecubes do not have a Digital Video port, so this is the best connection available to them. A SCART connection carries both audio and video, so you don't need a separate cable for audio. Because of this, many regard it as the precursor to the more modern HDMI cable.

Component Cable

Gccab.jpg gc cable image by mazda_zzz

This is arguably the best video cable available for the Gamecube, given the factors of quality, rarity, region, and game support. The Gamecube Component Cable was released only in Japan, but it works just fine on North American televisions. It supports 480p resolutions, and many games released in the NTSC-U regions still support it, despite never seeing an official release. Games that support it tend to see a dramatic increase in image quality over Composite, so I wholeheartedly recommend it if you want to see the Gamecube pushed to its graphical limits. Here is a picture showing the difference between Component and Composite video for the game The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess:
As you can see, the difference is night and day. The only drawback to this great accessory is that it is ridiculously expensive; it can easily go for around $50. If you're patient, you could surely find one for less [I got mine for $15], but you may be waiting a while. But, if you really care about image quality, then it is my opinion that the Gamecube has the best-quality 480p graphics of its generation, and it is worth every penny. An absolute must for any GC collector. Plus, it upscales games played via the Game Boy Player to 480p! Two very important things to remember, however: 1. DO NOT GET A 3RD-PARTY COMPONENT CABLE. Only the official Nintendo cable supports 480p and uses the Digital Video port, so any others are just a waste of money. 2. If your Gamecube lacks a Digital Video port, then you cannot use the Component Cable. You can check your Gamecube by looking to see if there are 3 ports in the back of it. If there are, then you can use the cable. If not, then too bad; I'm very sorry for you.

D-Terminal


Getting even more region-specific, D-Terminal cables are only available in Japan, and only for Japanese TVs. It supports both 480i and 480p, so it is as good as a component cable, but only a fraction of Gamecube-owners will have a TV that supports the connection. D-Terminal actually supports up to 1080p resolution, so technically, it is superior to Component, but not on the Gamecube, where both are capped at a 480p resolution. It should be noted that this cable is as expensive, if not more expensive, than the GC Component Cable, so unless you're a 'Cube collector or own a Japanese TV, I would recommend skipping out on this one.

VGA Cable


This is where you have to be more careful. VGA is the connection generally used to connect a computer to a computer monitor, but it can also be used for game consoles. The trouble is, there was never an official VGA Cable released for the Gamecube, so you are going to have to rely on 3rd-party solutions. Unfortunately, not all VGA solutions are the same. The most common type you will find are VGA boxes, which, while still allowing you to connect to a monitor, do not use the Digital Video port, and thus, cannot do 480p. Fortunately, VGA boxes are cheap and plentiful. I have not had good experiences with the image quality of VGA boxes, but if you absolutely must connect your Gamecube to your monitor... keep reading. The other solution takes a bit more time and effort, but may be worth it. It is possible to modify an official Component Cable into a VGA Cable; you just need to have a bit of experience in console mods to make it happen. Since the official Component Cable costs so much, and this is a bit of a risky procedure, I would recommend having someone else who is more experienced handle the project. It will cost more than a VGA box, but if you are in a situation where you need to connect your GC to a monitor, and still want the best image quality, consider this route.

Portable Screen


There are two available types of the Portable Gamecube Screen. Most of them use the standard Composite connection, but I believe the screen made by Interact supports the Digital Video port, so you should be able to get 480p video on that screen. Now, be warned; most portable screens are very low-quality, regardless of the type of connection you use. Still, it is a great solution for those who want to play their Gamecube on the go. For those who want to go a step further in their quest for a mobile 'Cube, you can get the Gamecube Rechargeable Battery Pack, which plugs into the bottom of the system, like a Game Boy Player. It only gives two hours of battery life, but by combining the screen, battery pack, and a wavebird, you will have a completely wireless setup! Finally, for those just wishing to show off, there is the Gamecube Hip Screen. Ever wish your GC had VMU functionality like the Dreamcast? Well, this is probably the closest you are ever going to get. The Hip Screen is a special controller with its own tiny monitor on top of it. It is insanely expensive, and not worth it at all for the non-collector. But it still is quite awesome; that, you cannot deny.

Video Capture Device

Blackmagic Design Video Recorder USB Capture Device for Mac OS X

If you want to play your Gamecube on your laptop without emulation, this is your only option, and it's a doozy. A video capture device is technically only supposed to record video from a device, but it can be used to view it, too. You can get a USB video capture device for most connection types; a Component one is shown above. These capture devices can be really expensive; the one shown above is about $150. I honestly can't recommend the latter to anyone because of this, unless you absolutely, positively have to connect your Gamecube to your laptop screen. There are cheaper capture devices out there that only support S-Video/Composite, so you can save some money there, but, as I said, I would avoid this route altogether, if I were you.

Optical Audio































Get out your soldering irons again, because this is another one that will require a mod. Optical audio, also known as SPDIF, is currently the highest-quality method for getting Gamecube audio, but no cable ever supported it, and technically, the Gamecube shouldn't support it; the Digital port on the system is for Video only. But, through the magic of console mods, you can get perfectly clear audio from your purple lunchbox. Once again, I suggest sending your Gamecube to someone more experienced with this mod if you plan to do this. I can't say I have tried this myself, but I have heard from others that the sound is gorgeous, compared to standard stereo. Oddly enough, many games in the GC library support Dolby Pro Logic I/II for surround sound, such as Resident Evil 4 and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. This is a necessary mod for all you audiophiles out there, so if you're interested in the best sound possible from the system, get cracking! [Or hacking, as it would seem]. Before you start on this, though, you should know that you can only use optical audio if you have a compatible speaker system and reciever. You can't just plug the cable into your TV.


There you have it; those are pretty much all the ways to get Audio/Video signals out of a Gamecube. The best possible setup would be a combination of a Component Cable and an Optical Audio mod, but I have a feeling that few Gamecube owners have actually done this. If you do, you might just have the most enviable Gamecube around, and you will certainly have the best-looking and sounding one. I hope I helped clear up some confusion about possible A/V setups, and now it is up to you to decide which one best fits your needs. I am including a couple links below about some of the more unusual things I mentioned in the article.

Gamecube A/V Mods: http://forums.benheck.com/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=5035&start=75
Gamecube Hip Screen: http://www.amazon.com/HIP-INTERACTIVE-Screen-Pad-GameCube/dp/B000078D1V
Video Capture Tutorial: http://dvr.about.com/od/tvcapturemethods/ht/ht1.htm


This is Lisalover1, exploring the vast jungle of cables behind my TV.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Resident Evil 4


There are a few games in every generation that will be remembered forever. Games that not only surpass the barrier of the humdrum and shovelware, but break it into a million little pieces. These games make us remember why we pick continue to pick up our controllers, and immerse ourselves in a virtual world. They remind us why we loved games in the first place. Resident Evil 4 is one of those games. It is the game that convinced thousands to pick up a Gamecube, and that Nintendo might just have a place in the hardcore market, after all. I won't be answering any questions in this review. You know this game is great, I know this game is great, and everyone else, except Survival Horror genre purists, knows this game is great. I just am going to clarify why.


Gameplay

Resident Evil 4 is a major departure from the first 3 titles in the series, in an innumerable amount of ways. The first being the most noticeable; instead of the fixed perspective found in games 1-3, the camera now was fully adjustable, and allowed for much better control and exploration. While some complain that giving the player more control takes away from the fear in a Survival Horror game; I am going to have to disagree. A genre should not list weaknesses as strengths; while there are some exceptions, universally-accepted categories such as control should not be excluded. Why? Think about this: How many great games have you played that had bad controls? Not many, I bet. Speaking of controls, Resident Evil 4 makes full utilization of the Gamecube's dual analog sticks, and allow for quick, precise movement. This is especially necessary when it comes to weapon aiming. When preparing to fire a weapon, you are given an over-the-shoulder view of the area, along with a [very, very VERY useful] laser aim that pinpoints your bullet's path. You're going to need it, too. RE4 requires you to be very conservative with your munitions, so headshots are necessary to kill enemies as efficiently as possible. This can get quite hectic later on, when enemies are faster, more numerous, and take longer to kill. But, that's all part of the fun. They don't call it Survival Horror for nothing. Throughout the game, you can purchase a variety of weapons with which to dispatch enemies, ranging from simple pistols to shotguns, sniper rifles, Grenades, and even Rocket Launchers and Mine Throwers! But, that's not to say Leon will become a walking tank. You cannot carry an infinite amount of items; everything is managed via a grid-shaped inventory screen, in which you can re-arrange items to fit everything in. Clever packers will be able to make good use of the system to manage weapons, healing items, ammo boxes, and accessories effectively. The game isn't just action, though, but there is more of a focus on it than in other games in the series; there are also numerous logic puzzles to be solved to progress through the story. Some can be solved with a glance, but others present a greater challenge; there is one "Sliding Tile" puzzle in particular that was positively infuriating, but none of them are completely unfair, and they can all be solved with a little brainwork. There was one thing that really stood out to me about the gameplay, though. It is a very rare quality that few games have, but the ones that do are phenomenally better for it: Flow. Allow me to explain. In Resident Evil 4, you are never left in the dark [metaphorically, of course] and wondering what to do next. Your next destination is always either obvious, or marked on the map screen. I didn't have to look at a guide once throughout the game's exploration sections. And that's what flow is; an addictive, perfectly paced element in a game's progression that makes it hard to put down, and RE4 has it in spades. If you're like me, and have a laughably short attention span, and can never bring yourself to finish most games, then this game is definitely for you. Resident Evil 4 is a great example of several new gameplay risks balanced perfectly with rock-solid core gameplay. Whatever complaints I had with the game were minimal, and were drowned out by the overwhelming great aspects of the game. But, for the sake of critique, I think I should say them, anyway. I stated earlier that the camera was a huge improvement from previous games. While that is true, there were still some problems with it. For one, the 3rd-person perspective innately comes with the problem of the character obscuring a portion of the screen, which is not a problem for the most part, but can become annoying in tight passageways and when aiming. Also, the camera sometimes defaults to an awkward position in certain hallways, so I have to keep holding the C-Stick in a certain direction to have a normal camera. But, as I said, these complaints are minimal. RE4 is a triumph.

Gameplay: 10/10


Story

Leon Kennedy, previously seen in Resident Evil 2, is a US government agent sent to a remote Spanish village to rescue Ashley, the president's kidnapped daughter. When he arrives, he finds that the townspeople are violent and hostile, and want him dead. Having no choice but to kill them, he proceeds through the village to look for Ashley, and eventually gets tangled up in a huge mess involving a militant religious cult, an ancient virus called Las Plagas, and even the ominous plans of the series' main villain, Albert Wesker. There is much more to the story, but I don't want to spoil anything. What I do want to talk about are the incredible boss battles in the game. Most of the bosses are horrific experiments conducted using Las Plagas, including a giant fish, ogre-like titans, and many things that are so grotesque, I'm not even sure how to describe them. The game has many cutscenes, and many have such good graphics that you can't be sure if they are FMVs or if they use the game engine. I sure couldn't tell. But, I'll get to that later. A bit of the story is told through various notes and journals that you pick up throughout the game. They are optional, but are interesting, and provide a backstory for the events in the game, and sometimes even provide hints on how to progress through upcoming segments. the story in RE4 is definitely more well-handled than I expected, but it's not mind-blowingly spectacular. There are several Action and Survival Horror games with better stories.

Story: 7/10

resident-evil-4-20041206035724077.jpg image by onthe_linegyrl

Sound

I'm coming to realize that there is a reason that there isn't much music in Survival Horror games. It is a matter of atmosphere, making the player feel alone and scared. While that's all well and good, and I think I understand it a bit better now in the context of the genre, there's still not very many different tracks in Resident Evil 4. But, like Luigi's Mansion, the songs that are in the game are phenomenal, and suit each situation perfectly. There are songs that send chills down your spine, and several that just give an eerie presence. The songs are re-used a bit too often, and it is very common that there is no music at all. But, I have noticed that whenever this happens, there is a very good reason. For example, when you are supposed to pay more attention to the environment around you, or when a boss battle is coming up. The game's dialog is good enough, but Leon seems to have an infinite stockpile of cheesy one-liners, which make some cutscenes cringe-worthy. The voice actors, though, are well-chosen, and speak their lines believably. The sound effects are awesome, like they should be in any game where atmosphere is a primary concern. RE4 uses Dolby Pro Logic II, just like Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, so every sound in the game can be "heard in the right direction", even if you don't have a specific speaker setup. The surround sound helps quite well when trying to pinpoint the location of a hiding enemy. Overall, RE4's audio is terrific, and stands out when coming through your TV/Speakers.

Audio: 9/10

video

Graphics

Now we come to the biggest part of the game, or at least the most-discussed part of Resident Evil 4; the graphics. And they are impeccable. I seriously had to think if I had ever seen any oXbox games that looked this good! They blow everything else I have seen on the system out of the water, with maybe an exception or two. RE4 uses every trick in the book, and then some, especially the gorgeous 480p resolution. It isn't something I can accurately describe with words; it is something you have to experience to understand. Despite the unmatched graphical prowess, I never once encountered slowdown, and the game always ran at a steady framerate. This is the Gamecube being pushed to its absolute limits. The oXbox was never pushed to such an extent, as far as I know, and even though the PS2 was, it never even came close. I don't think that the 'Cube was ever intended to do graphics like this, but RE4 proves that it is not only possible, but they made it look easy! I cannot stress enough how amazing the visuals are. If for no other reason, the game is worth a playthrough for them alone. "But, there was a PS2 port, wasn't there?", I'm sure you're saying. Well, you would be correct, but I played a bit of the PS2 version, and quickly discovered how noticably inferior it is to the Gamecube version. The loading times are longer, the graphics are much worse, the colors are more washed-out, the controls are more finicky, and it is overall an inferior game. You wan't proof? Check out the video below.

Graphics: 10/10

video

Extras/Value

Capcom always likes to add a little something extra to their Resident Evil games, and the tradition lives on in RE4. Upon completing the game, you are given two new modes: Assignment Ada, where you play a series of short missions starring Ada Wong, a character you meet up with in the second half of the story, and The Mercenaries, an arena survival mode where you must kill as many enemies as you can before your rescue chopper arrives. This mode allows you to play as 6 different people, so you're not restricted to just Leon. Also, upon completing Assignment Ada, you are given another series of Ada missions, entitled Separate Ways. There are also various costumes and new weapons to unlock, so you can be sure that there is plenty to do after you have finished the main story. The extra modes are surprisingly deep; the Ada missions can go on for longer than you would think, and it is fun to play as different characters in The Mercenaries after seeing the back of Leon's head the whole game. There was also a special edition RE4 Gamcube released, but I believe it was exclusive to Europe. Resident Evil 4 currently goes for $15 at Gamestop, so you have no reason not to pick this game up. It is criminal that someone is selling this game for so low; it should be at least $20. Also, another way to tell that the 'Cube version of the game is superior to the PS2 version is that the latter goes for $6 less. Yeah; stay away from that port.

Extras/Value: 10/10

DSC00339.jpg image by bobaloob



Overall

There's no mistaking it; Resident Evil 4 is a classic, and one of the best titles to grace the Gamecube, and as many say, of all time. Capcom put their heart and soul into creating it, and remains as a shining example of what electronic entertainment should be. Everything is polished to a blinding finish; it all comes together to be something that can only be described as a masterpiece. The only reason I had never played it until now was because I never was fond of Survival Horror games, but now I'm giving the genre a second try. So, even if you were like I was, you should still play RE4. Every gamer should at least give it a try, since it is a game with such universal appeal. In short, you MUST play this game.




Overall: 9.5/10

This is Lisalover1, piecing together my Jet Set Radio Halloween costume.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Review: Luigi's Mansion


The Gamecube is an odd console when measured against the other consoles in Nintendo's history. For one, it was the first of their systems to launch without a Mario platformer, a move which some claim was ill-advised, given the competitive state of the market at the time, when the 'Cube seriously needed early adopters. But the Gamecube launch was not completely absent of Big N's star franchise; we got another thing that was very odd and certainly different. A survival horror game featuring Mario's little brother. It was ultimately overshadowed by other launch titles such as Wave Race: Blue Storm and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 2, and was criticized for not being a "true" Mario franchise title. So, were the ignorant hordes right on that claim, or, like Luigi himself, can Luigi's mansion stand on its own? If you couldn't already tell from the previous sentence, the answer is the latter.

Gameplay

In Luigi's Mansion, you obviously play as Luigi, who has to work his way through said mansion, sucking up ghosts in his Poltergust 3000 vacuum. You go through 23 different boss ghosts in the house, along with 50 mini-boss Boos. The combat system is really something unique and fun; to capture a ghost, you must quickly shine it with a flashlight, then suck it up with the Poltergust, holding the control stick in the opposite direction, until the ghost's HP reaches 0. Boss ghosts, however, take a little more cunning; they will usually disappear when you look in their direction, so you must figure out their unique weakness before you have a chance at fighting them. It is a very interesting gameplay mechanic that integrates puzzle gameplay into action gameplay. It never gets old, especially when Luigi acquires fire, ice, and water power-ups later in the game, adding other layers of strategy to the process. It is always satisfying when you defeat a boss, especially some of the later ones. As I said before, there also mini-bosses in the form of Boos, that, while not as difficult to catch as boss ghosts, escape if not caught on the first try. The gameplay is overall just very fun; I would say that this is the closest we will ever get to a good Ghostbusters game, but since a new one was released a while back, I can't say that anymore.

Gameplay: 9.5/10

Luigis Mansion Ghost Hunt Mario: A Retrospective Part 3

Story

In Luigi's Mansion, Luigi is sent a letter saying he has won his own mansion, despite never entering any contest in the first place. Mario gets the letter before Luigi, and finds it suspicious, so he goes to investigate. Luigi is worried when Mario does not return for a while, and finds the letter himself, and also goes to look. Upon arrival, he finds that the mansion is haunted. Inside, he is attacked by some ghosts, and is saved by Professor E. Gadd, who fights off the ghosts using a special vacuum he invented called the Poltergust 3000. They both run back to Gadd's house afterward, where he tells Luigi not only that the mansion only appeared a few days ago, but that Mario is trapped inside. Thus, Luigi volunteers to use the Polturgust to rid the mansion of ghosts, and save his brother. See? The game has a story! But, that's about it; not that it matters in an action game. It does have that distinctive Nintendo charm, which is evident throughout the entire game. The story in Luigi's Mansion is not anything special, but like I have said for all action games, it doesn't need to be. Simplicity is key.

Story: 8/10


Sound

I have good news and bad news here. The bad news is that there really isn't much music in Luigi's Mansion. It is mostly just silence and sound effects. The good news is that when there IS music, it is very well-done, and sets the eerie, yet comical mood quite well. It is certainly creepy, but not in a Resident Evil sort of way; it is certainly a more lighthearted horror game, so the music must reflect that. If only there were a bit more music, though. Maybe I'm missing something, and horror games don't need a lot of music, but I think I'm on the mark. The sound effects, however, are very well-done, and take advantage of the Gamecube's audio capabilities. The fidelity is great, and it really helps immerse you in the game. I know I've said this before, but since the 'Cube was the first Nintendo game console to use discs, audio quality took a huge leap from cartridge audio quality. That's not to say that cartridge audio is bad; quite the opposite, because we all know that it is isn't the quality of the audio file, but the artistic quality of it that matters. Luigi's Mansion succeeds on this front, but like I said, I just wish that there were more songs.

Sound: 7/10


video

Graphics

As one of the launch titles for the Gamecube, Luigi's Mansions had a lot of expectations to meet to show off the potential of the new system, and justify a purchase to potential buyers. Fortunately, Luigi's Mansion looks great. It is an effective tech demo for the 'Cube, showcasing multiple physics, lighting, and smoothing features that makes this game one impressive piece of software. Obviously, one of the most prominent graphical effects in the game is lighting, and the game comes up with some creative methods of using lights in dark places that makes environments feel more natural. Luigi's flashlight is another demonstration of the effect, and it can be used anywhere. Another obvious effect is transparency, for the ghosts. It isn't anything special; the Playstation made a big deal about 3D transparency effects when up against the Saturn, but the effect is greatly improved in this game. Physics also come into play a little bit. You can vacuum up things like sheets from different angles, which is so cool-looking that it seems almost out of place in a Gamecube game. Yes, Luigi's Mansion indeed turned a few heads at launch, if for no other reason than for its graphical prowess.

Graphics: 9/10


Extras/Value:

If you beat Luigi's Mansion once, you can unlock the "Another Mansion" mode, where some minor changes are made to the mansion and boss battles, so it is not a true second quest mode, a la Zelda, but it is still some incentive to play through again. Also, upon completion, you are given a grade, determined by the amount of money you collected while playing. If you get the highest grade, then Luigi gets the real mansion that he was promised! No more living with Mario! One more thing is that you get different award levels depending on how efficiently you capture ghosts; so if you're a completionist, you will want to get the gold award with every boss. Other than that scoring system, there isn't much else to do after completing the game. The game currently goes for $15 at Gamestop; not bad for a 1st-party Gamecube game. I would try and find it cheaper if you're only slightly interested, but otherwise, go for it.

Extras/Value: 7/10





Overall

Luigi's Mansion was a good example of taking one of their existing franchises, and doing something very different with it. Nintendo has always had that sort of bravery with their series. It doesn't always show, but when it does, the result is usually surprisingly good. Metroid: Other M is a fine example. People always accuse The Big N for resting on its laurels, but I think that they are quite open to new ideas. In short, leave them be; they know what they are doing. If you are looking for something different to add to your Halloween survival horror game lineup, give Luigi's Mansion a shot. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.





Overall: 8/10

This is Lisalover1, knowing who to call when there's something strange in the neighborhood.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Gamecube Shoot Em' Ups

The Shoot Em' Up genre is one of the defining genres of hardcore gaming. The best of the best can still get their ass kicked on a regular basis. This is one of the most appealing aspects of the genre, since only the most devoted will ever take down the final boss. A delicate combination of dexterity, decisiveness, and luck are necessary to survive a Shooter, and, dare I say, no system is complete without at least one good SHMUP. That being said, the best systems have a good library of these games, and the Gamecube is one of those systems. So, without further ado, let's start on the list of Gamecube SHMUPs!


Ikaruga


The most well-known shooter on the 'Cube, and certainly the most well-respected, Ikaruga is what happens when a shock of innovation is given to the genre. In the game, you have a ship that can switch between a white mode and a black mode. While in white mode, you can absorb white bullets, not being damaged by them. However, you can still be damaged by black bullets, and vice versa. However, shooting bullets of the opposite color of an enemy does more damage, but obviously leaves you more susceptible to damage. It is an interesting system of risk and reward that really gives the game personality. The other reason Ikaruga is so revered is its difficulty. To be blunt, Ikaruga is mercilessly brutal, but it is that special kind of difficulty, that, while frustrating, is always pushing you to keep trying and go "just one more round". The controls are also perfectly executed on the controller, with notably precise movement and response time. As we know, good controls are essential to an enjoyable game. To put this another way, if you die in Ikaruga, it's your own damn fault. The game also looks fantastic, running in 480p, despite it still being in arcade screen mode. There are options to have fullscreen gameplay if you have a screen tilted on its side, but I never got a chance to test that out. Once again, I must say that Ikaruga's visuals are stunning. A lot of the graphics look like they belong in a mid-to-high-end Xbox game, expecially the detailed backgrounds. All this can be expected, since the game was made by Treasure, a company with a long-standing pedigree for making outstanding games, such as the spiritual predecessor to Ikaruga, Radiant Silvergun; another extremely fun SHMUP, and an exclusive to the Sega Saturn. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking it up. Anyway, Ikargua is one of the best shooters of the previous generation, and was not available on the PS2 or Xbox; a scenario where usually the opposite was true. the Gamecube did not have too many SHMUPs, but the ones it did have were quite good, as you will see later on in this post.


Chaos Field


Chaos Field is a very different kind of shooter. In most games in the genre, you must go through several waves of enemies before you reach the boss at the end of the stage. Well, in Chaos Field, there is no small fry. Only bosses. That means no enemies that die with a few hits, and no legions of tiny ships that you can easily mow down. In many ways, Chaos Field is more of a SHMUP trainer than a true-blue shooter, in that the parts of the game that train you to be a better player; the bosses, are all you get. You get right down to Bullet Dodging 101 at If It Moves, Shoot It University. Basically, if you can survive Chaos Field, you can succeed in most shooters. Anyway, in this game, you choose between 3 ships with their own individual pilots and shooting styles. Pretty standard in terms of a shooter. But one of the nicer game mechanics in Chaos Field is what I call the "Windshield Wiper", a beam of light that circles around your ship that, while clearing all bullets in the immediate area, does not allow you to shoot. This is a handy tool for when things get too hectic, and traces back to my idea that Chaos Field is a SHMUP trainer, as opposed to an all-out bulletfest. That doesn't mean that the game is bad; it is very enjoyable when measured up against the genre's high standards, but I think a little more effort could have been put into the presentation. The graphics are good enough, but after playing some of the better-looking games on the 'Cube, Chaos Field really starts to look mediocre. It is nowhere near being a dealbreaker, though.


Radirgy Generic


Don't let the name fool you; this game is anything but generic. Radirgy [a.k.a Radio Allergy] is a stylish SHMUP released for the Gamecube, Dreamcast, PS2, and will soon be released on the Xbox 360. The game's visuals are fresh, virbant, and colorful in comparison to most games; the visuals have the same "techno cel-shaded" feel as in games like Jet Set Radio, and it certainly makes the game interesting. To accentuate this, the game also runs in 480p. However, the game still retains its arcade screen size, so the areas to the left and right of the game window are not used. Shooter purists won't mind this, but personally, I always liked my shooters to take up the whole screen, even if they are vertically-scrolling. But, that's just my opinion. It isn't really an issue once you get into the game. The gameplay is fairly standard, but you are given a few different extra features with which to dispatch enemy ships. The first is an energy sword-like attack that deals quite a bit of damage, but you must be at point blank range to use it. Another nice feature is your special move. Instead of a bomb that takes out everything on the screen, you get a forcefield that absorbs bullets, and retaliates against enemies. The more bullets it collects, the more powerful your attack will be. It is a neat attack, and can be surprisingly effective when used correctly. The music in Radirgy is cool, and has a distinct futuristic theme that fits well with the game. Once again, the game really reminds me of Jet Set Radio in its overall presentation. One thing I should mention, though, Radirgy was not released on the Gamecube outside of Japan. It was very, VERY close to getting a US release, but was cancelled at the last minute, and added to the "Ultimate Shooting Collection" for the Wii. There are supposedly finished copies of the localized game available, and several beta discs. [Say, if you happen to have one, let me know; I'd be glad to buy it from you]. It was a real shame that it was never released; it would have been the last truly great Gamecube game.


Shikigami No Shiro II


Let me just get the history of this game out of the way, first, because it can get confusing. Shikigami no Shiro was originally a PS2 and Xbox game, and got localized under the Name Mobile Light force 2 in the US, while the original Mobile Light Force was actually a port and localization of Gunbird to the PS1. The insteresting thing is that both games used almost the exact same box art, which looks more suited for a Charlie's Angels game. However, Shikigami no Shiro 2 was released for the Gamecube, Xbox, and PS2, and was localized in America for the Xbox and PS2 under the roughly translated name Castle Shikigami 2, despite never receiving a game with the name Castle Shikigami. Europe only got the PS2 port, which was renamed Castle Shikigami 2: War of the Worlds, not to be confused with the Science Fiction classic. The Gamecube version was never localized at all. Then, Shikigami No Shiro 3 was released for the Wii and 360, where it was only localized on the Wii, and got a slightly more correctly-translated title, as Castle of Shikigami 3, making the 3rd one the only game in the series localized on a Nintendo platform. *Whew*! That was the most complicated game series chronology I had to explain since Adventure Island! Anyway, back to the subject. Shikigami No Shiro 2, as I said, is import-only, just like Radirgy. But, the game is still worth checking out. For one, you get a larger-than-normal number of players to choose from, all with distinctly different shooting styles and strengths. Yeah, that's right; I said "players", not "ships". In Shikigami No Shiro, you play as a person who flies and shoots with psychic powers. Well, it's different, I'll give it that. The backgrounds are all in 3D, and they move around a lot, giving a surprisingly cool effect when moving through an area. The background moves like a roller coaster, and is a nice supplement to the action. Other than these things, Shikigami No Shiro 2 is a fairly standard shooter, with a few extra difficulty modes to make things easy for newcomers, but still give veterans a challenge.


Hudson Selection Volume 2: Star Soldier


Now we're talking! Star Soldier, in my opinion, is the absolute pinnacle of Gamcube SHMUPs. I used to give that honor to Radirgy, but only recently have I played Star Soldier, which blows it out of the water! I have no idea how I missed out on this awesome remake, but I'm glad I discovered it when I did. Star Soldier games always have a knack for finding their way onto Nintendo consoles, and the 'Cube is no exception. This game is actually a remake of the original Star Soldier, with updated graphics, sound, and everything else. I honestly didn't expect much going in, despite knowing that the original was a classic, but I was shocked to see the effort put into remaking the game! The music is pure awesome, with tons of hard rock to get you pumped up, and is easily one of the best soundtracks I have heard in a shooter. The graphics are great, too, with a good amount of detail put into enemies and scenery. Nothing mind-blowing, but it is cool, nonetheless. You really can't tell it is a remake; it looks as good as most Gamecube games. The control is absolutely perfect. The analog stick works quite well, but the D-Pad is even better. If you happen to have a Hori Classic controller, prepare for gaming nirvana with Star Soldier. It is so tight and responsive, it makes most other SHMUPs feel inferior. Everything in the game is polished to a blinding point, and as far as I am concerned, it easily makes it the Gamecube's best shooter. You want to know the best part? When the game was released, it was a budget title, meaning it sold for much less than a normal game. It sold for 3,000 yen at release; about $30. If has escalated in resale value since then, for obvious reasons, but still, this could have easily passed as a full-price game. It would still be worth it. Hudson released 3 other remakes for the Gamecube and PS2 under the same pricing structure, and they were all superb. So, if I have not been perfectly clear, if you are a shooter fan and own a Gamecube or Wii, you have to get this game. It is another import, so you will have to find a way to play it on a non-Japanese system, but trust me, you will NOT regret it.


So, there we have it. The best Shoot Em' Up action the Gamecube has to offer. The library may not live up to the sheer number found in that of the Saturn, PS1/2, or TurboGrafx, but Nintendo's lunchbox can still stand tall and say it has an admirable SHMUP library. I would really recommend tracking down some of these titles; while only 2 were released outside Japan, they are still fun and certainly worth playing. So go give your 'Cube some shooter love today.


This is Lisalover1, inserting another damn credit.