Friday, July 23, 2010

The World of Gamecube Homebrew

Homebrew is a magnificent thing, really. Independent developers taking matters into their own hands and breathing life into game consoles. Historically, these developers often start out with the obligatory "Hello World!" program, that only displays the latter message, as proof that a system has been successfully hacked to run unsigned code. Once this gets into the hands of homebrew developers, the floodgates open, and people start making and releasing a variety of programs to be run on the system... at least, that is how it should be.

Although it pains me to say this, the Gamecube's homebrew community is currently very small, and was never all that big to begin with. Most developers flocked to the original Xbox for its hard drive and similarities to the Windows operating system, the PS2 for its wider exposure, and the Dreamcast for its ease of programming. The Gamecube never really got its chance to shine in the world of independent development. That isn't to say that there is no homebrew available for the system; just considerably less. Regardless, let's take a look through the best that Nintendo's box of joy has to offer.


CubeDoom/QuakeGC/Wolfenstein 3D Gamecube

This one is exactly what it sounds like. A group of talented developers went forth and ported 3 of the most famous First-Person Shooters ever released on the PC, to the humble Gamecube. note that one needs the data files from each game to play past the freeware levels included. For anyone who loved these games, but was never very fond of the computer version's control setup, or was always disgusted by the lackluster console ports of previous generations, I would definitely recommend looking into these ports, as the Gamecube's extra power doesn't just run the games, it emulates them. However, some of these ports have problems that the developers haven't yet fixed. For example, sound only sometimes works in the Wolfenstein port, and networking is not yet implemented in CubeDoom. There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the Quake port, though. I commend the developers for their valiant effort, but there is still work to be done on these ports to make them better. But, if you're looking for some retro FPS action on your Gamecube, then you aren't going to find anything much better than this.



Emulators

Here's where the Gamecube really shines. The system has had some great and powerful emulators made for it, emulating systems all the way up to the Nintendo 64! The 'Cube has all of your standard emulators such as NES, SNES, Genesis, Game Boy, etc., but it also has emulators for the TurboGrafx-16, Sega Master System, PS1, Neo-Geo Pocket Color, Atari 2600, and of course, the Nintendo 64. [There are even rumors about a Dreamcast emulator in the works for the Gamecube and Wii; something I will definitely keep an eye on!] The Gamecube is able to emulate all of these systems with ease, even powering through some of the more graphically-intensive games like Diddy Kong Racing and Perfect Dark with few errors. The PSX emulator is just as impressive, and like most emulators for the Gamecube, is still undergoing active development, due to them being released simultaneously on the GC and Wii. It seems that as long as Wii emulation is alive, so will be Gamecube emulation. As you can expect, almost all the games for consoles before the PS1/N64 work flawlessly in their respective emulators, so I will mainly focus on the latter. I was able to play quite a few games on the N64 emulator with no errors at all. It was smooth, accurate, looked great, and it was much better to play with a Gamecube controller. The PS1 emulator still needs some work, but it definitely gets the job done. There's also something so very right about playing Final Fantasy VII on a Nintendo system, if you know what I mean! The Gamecube is a fine platform for emulators, easily outclassing the PS2's confusing programs. Go and play a few emulators on your 'Cube today, and prepare to be amazed. Here's a video of the latest N64 emulator for the Gamecube. Yes, the title says it is for the Wii, but they are released simultaneously on both platforms, and they play mostly the same.


video


SuperTux

One of the most famous games on the Linux operating system has received a stunning port to the Gamecube. You play as Tux, the penguin Linux mascot, and try to make your way through the vast land of Antarctica. The gameplay is very similar to Super Mario Bros. In fact, intentionally so. You could even say it was a clone of SMB. But, that doesn't mean it is a bad game; not at all. The levels are plentiful and give you a good challenge, while still not being overwhelming. You could easily sink a few hours into this game if you wanted to. As one of the best homebrew platformers available, SuperTux is something to defend yourself with against the accusation that there are no good homebrew games on the Gamecube. Play it as soon as you can; it is some serious platforming fun.



There are a couple ways to run Gamecube homebrew. The first one to see the light of day was the PSOload method, which uses an exploit in Phantasy Star Online Episodes I & II to run unsigned code. You can find more info about this in the bibliography of this post. However, this method was fixed in the updated version, Phantasy Star Online Episodes I & II Plus. You can also load and play entire Gamecube disc images through this method. the more popular method is the SD card method, where you use an exploit in the Gamecube Action Replay cheat software to make your own code that starts a homebrew loader. You need an SD card, a Gamecube SD card adapter, and a copy of Action Replay for the Gamecube to do this one. The last method is the most straightforward, but requires the most work. If you modify your Gamecube with a modchip, then you can burn homebrew and emulators to a disc. This is good for people who were already going to modify their Gamecube, and don't have any spare SD cards.


Well, that's really the cream of the crop for Gamecube homebrew, as far as I know [I would love to be proved wrong, though!], but it is certainly enough to get new Gamecube owners something to start out with, and most notably, to show the emulation capabilities of the system. I also want to give a shout-out to Gamecube/Game Boy Player fantatic and all-around cool guy, noiseredux of Racketboy Forums, who told me about some cool Gamecube homebrew programs that I missed initially. I have included a link to his blog in the bibliography. Have fun with the games from generations past with emulation!

Bibliography of Links:

Gamecube Homebrew/Emulators: http://gcemu.dcemu.co.uk/
PSOload Tutorial: http://www.eurasia.nu/wiki/index.php/GameCubePsoUploadTutorial
SDload Tutorial: http://www.gc-linux.org/wiki/SDload
Noiseredux's Blog: http://www.rfgeneration.com/blogs/noiseredux


This is lisalover1, and get off my lawn!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Review: Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes


Metal Gear is one of the most revered series in the action game genre, mainly due to all but perfecting the concept of stealth action. Despite the MSX and NES [and almost 3DO] Metal Gear games before it, Metal Gear Solid on the PS1 was the one that got everyone's attention, and marked a new milestone in gaming in which just Chuck Norris-ing your way through an action game was not the only option. You no longer had to worry about winning, you had to survive; a major accomplishment in and of itself. Thus, players were forced to think outside of the box [no pun intended] and figure out the best and safest way to go about a mission. But, I'll get to all that once I start the review. Most people remember Metal Gear Solid as just a PS1 game, but few know of the Gamecube remake, which featured countless enhancements to the original. Does the remake expand on the already superb Metal Gear Solid, or is there a reason that it has been neglected?


Gameplay

Continuing from my comments in the first paragraph, the Metal Gear games featured a radically new gameplay style, in which the player must sneak around and avoid combat as much as possible, in stark contrast to other action games. If you tried to complete the game by rushing in and shooting everything that moves, you would be quickly outnumbered, overwhelmed, and dead. After all, Solid Snake is still Human, he can only take so many bullets. That's not to say that it is hopeless. Throughout the game, you get access to some pretty cool weapons to mess around with. But, strangely enough, I found myself using the weakest weapon, the SOCOM pistol w/Silencer for most non-boss fight portions of the game, because it was the quietest weapon in my disposal. That's saying a lot about the effectiveness of a game's intended mindset when you don't want to use the Rocket Launcher(s), Machine Gun, or Sniper Rifle that you have, instead choosing the most sensible option. Speaking of weapons, the Gamecube version includes the First-Person aiming system from Metal Gear Solid 2, making aiming weapons and and looking around a lot easier, not to mention a lot more fun when making precise shots. That is the most notable gameplay mechanic change in the remake, but dozens of other tweaks and fixes were added to make the game more enjoyable. The "Very Easy" difficulty setting was also added. One thing I must note are the controls. Aiming in first-person mode is generally simple and straightforward, but sometimes, it can be very difficult to accurately aim your weapon in time if you need to shoot quickly. You can obviously still use the 3rd person perspective from the original, but shooting in first person is so much easier that it is hard to go back to the old way. Also, pausing in the game is weird; there is no real "pause" button. Instead, you have to either press A+Start to bring up the codec screen, or B+Start to bring up the map. Pressing Start alone It's a minor thing, but someone who doesn't know this when playing may find out the hard way, if you know what I mean. Despite some annoying cheap tricks that the game sometimes uses, and a few illogical segments in which you almost NEED a guide to progress, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes has incredibly solid gameplay and will provide a good challenge, no matter which difficulty setting you may choose.

Gameplay: 8/10



Story

Gamers have always praised MGS' story, saying it is more like a good action movie than an action game. After playing through it myself, I have to say that you can believe the hype. Written by Konami's mad genius, Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear Solid's storyline is powerful, gripping, and confusing. The game starts out simplistic enough; covert operations soldier Solid Snake is sent in to get information on the new war machine known as Metal Gear Rex. That's where the simplicity ends, though, as things start to fall apart soon after, resulting in a perplexing and compelling mystery that doesn't really make sense until the end. Many people complained about the game leaving you in the dark for so long, but in my opinion, it adds tension and motivation to keep playing.

As I have said, Snake himself is a relatively vulnerable character when considering how quickly he can die in the game, and how the player is actually afraid of even common enemies in the game, because you are heavily outnumbered and outgunned. This is a very interesting storytelling mechanic known as Disempowerment. In other words, in most action games, you are more than capable of dealing with enemies, and in large numbers. The only thing limiting you is your own skill, because the character is naturally stronger than the enemies in the game. That's empowerment, where for the most part, you don't have to worry about the enemies, because you know you are stronger than them. Conversely, disempowerment is when the character is not stronger than the enemies. When the player knows that he can be quickly defeated by enemies which have more powerful weapons and/or more people to help them, tension and even fear are created, giving the player a healthy dose of respect for the situation the game has put them in. They must use everything that both the character and the player has at their disposals to overcome the challenge, despite being in a disadvantageous situation. This establishes somewhat of a bond between the player and the character, and draws them into the story. Metal Gear Solid masterfully utilizes disempowerment, and it shows.

Something that people seem to forget about Metal Gear Solid is that it actually has a good sense of humor at times, even with its serious story. Everyone of course knows about Psycho Mantis' memory card-reading trick [which was updated in The Twin Snakes to recognize saves from some of Nintendo's games], which is probably kind of freaky if you didn't know about it until playing it. Early in the game, I was told that I needed to call a frequency on my codec, but the game didn't tell me what it was. All that was said was that it was "On the back of the package". I remember looking forever for that code in the game, until I realized that I was actually supposed to look on the back of the game's box, where the code is shown in a screenshot! Brilliant! At another point, I had to press the A button as fast as I could to stay alive, so I went to the other room to get my turbo controller, to make it easier. Just as I was about to switch controllers, one of the characters faced the screen, and said, "And don't even think about using a turbo controller, because I'll know!" I was positively shocked, but I laughed my ass off about it the entire rest of the day! One more thing, in the original MGS, in a certain part of the game, you are in an office, and you could find a PS1 connected to a TV in one of the cubicles. In The Twin Snakes, it is replaced by a Gamecube and Wavebird controller, on the Gamecube system menu. There are also now Mario, Luigi, and Yoshi dolls in another cubicle. Little things like that give the game charm and personality. Other than that, the story in the remake went mostly unchanged, save for a few minute differences.

Story: 9.5/10


Sound

The entire soundtrack of Metal Gear Solid was recomposed and re-recorded for the Gamecube version, to take advantage of the extra storage space, and the superior audio capabilities of the 'Cube. Most of the tunes are just higher-fidelity versions of the originals, with slight alterations, but Konami added a few new tracks, as well. For example, the music that plays when escaping from enemy sight, and waiting for the caution meter to go down is now replaced with the opening theme from Metal Gear Solid 2/3 [I always liked that song]. The game also supports Dolby Pro Logic II, so if you have a good audio setup, and if you're really bold, a modified Gamecube with optical audio output, then the game will sound heavenly. The audio for this game alone is practically a tech demo. All the voices were re-recorded as well, with almost all of the original voice actors. They sound as good as ever, though, and capture the essence of each character very well.

Sound: 9/10


Graphics

Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes looks spectacular. There's no denying it, the game is a technical masterpiece. Running in 480p progressive scan, at a steady 60 frames per second, and sporting some of the best graphics the Gamecube has to offer, even outclassing the other Metal Gear Solid games on the PS2. The 3D models are exquisite, the textures are detailed, and countless new effects and details were added from the PS1 version. For example, in the portions when Snake is outside, the snow effect is much more realistic, and the snow even sticks to and piles up on Snake if you stand still! All the graphics got completely overhauled from the original, and it is apparent that Silicon Knights and Konami really went over the top to push the limits of the Gamecube. The original Metal Gear Solid may have been a very graphically impressive PS1 game, but The Twin Snakes makes it look like it was running on a 32X! I barely recognize the original after seeing the remake. The cutscenes were redone, as well, with new camera angles, and much more action than the relatively static originals. One area in particular that I want to point out is the weapons. The weapons in The Twin Snakes are so meticulously detailed that you would think they were meant for a very early 360 game! You don't believe me? Take a good look at the image above, then see what you think. Thought so. Moving on, the character models are a major improvement, as their mouths actually move when they talk, and you can clearly see their faces. You have no idea how much nicer this is. Now, with the power of the Nintendo Gamecube, Metal Gear Solid is a true cinematic game.

Score: 10/10


Extras/Value

One glaring omission from the remake that I must address is the lack of VR missions. The original game had them as a sort of warm-up before the actual game, and they became so popular that a separate PS1 game was released only containing VR missions. Silicon Knights intended to include them in the Gamecube version, but ran out of time. They were actually going to add a few more things to the game, but didn't want to delay it any further, so it was released without those extras. It's a shame; the VR missions were pretty fun. Oh, well. Also, as was the case with Tales of Symphonia, a special-edition Gamecube was released in a special edition of the game, and is now a collector's item.

Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is one of the more sought-after Gamecube titles, and because of this, it is more expensive than your average Gamecube game, and is currently being sold at Gamestop for $23. Unless you played the original a lot and you're comfortable with the original as it is, then I would definitely recommend buying The Twin Snakes. It is essential to a Gamecube collection, and is just a great game for everyone else. However, I can understand if you are a devoted MGS fan, that you would want the original only... kind of. You might be crazy, and you should probably get yourself checked out.

Extras/Value: 7.5/10



Overall

Metal Gear has rightfully earned its place as one of the cornerstone franchises of action games, and maybe one of the most revered series of all time. The remake of the landmark third game in the series, Metal Gear Solid, proves that the best can get even better when you don't have to deal with hardware restrictions. The Twin Snakes showed how a remake should be done, and gave Gamecube owners something to brag about to jealous PS2 owners. With superior graphics, sound, and gameplay, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes was an absolute triumph, and should be remembered as the game Metal gear Solid should have been all along.




Overall: 9/10

This is lisalover1, sneaking up behind you right now.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Gamecube Broadband Adapter


Last generation was the time when online console gaming saw a tremendous growth, and is when most people say where it started to mature. The Sega Dreamcast came shipped with a modem adapter, and could be upgraded to a Broadband adapter. It also came with a web browser, which built on and expanded the one released with the Saturn's Netlink modem. Sega knew that online gaming was the future for consoles, but sadly lost the console wars early on. The Playstation 2 eventually got its own network adapter, and the Xbox of course had built-in ethernet. Everyone was prepared for the relatively new concept on online console gaming. Except Nintendo. Having very briefly experimented with online technology with the Nintendo 64DD's Randnet service, people were expecting the Gamecube to fully embrace the concept to compete against Microsoft, Sega, and Sony. Unfortunately, this did not happen quite so smoothly. When asked about the possibility of online services for the Gamecube, Nintendo said quite bluntly that "Our users don't want online games."; a statement that would come back to haunt them.

But that is not to say that the Gamecube remained an offline console. After Sega expressed interest in porting their online smash hit Phantasy Star Online to the Gamecube as an initial exclusive, Nintendo was very interested, despite knowing that the Gamecube was not made for online functions. Thus, two network adapters were released for the system: A Dial-Up Modem, and a Broadband Adapter. Both of which allowed for the release of Sega's Dreamcast classic. Other than that, Nintendo did little to utilize the network adapters, besides incorporating LAN functions into a few games [Which I will get to later]. Eventually, the Gamecube faded away with a mountain of untapped potential.

Even though Nintendo didn't have much faith in the Gamecube BBA, it is still alive and kicking in the eyes of homebrew developers. Yes, there is still some very good reasons to own a BBA, and there are still some things that the Gamecube can do that the Wii cannot. Let's discuss them, shall we?


1. Online Play
Nintendo shut down all the Gamecube online servers quite a while back, but that doesn't mean your 'Cube is forever confined to local multiplayer. Programmers have figured out how to keep last-gen systems online through some creative methods. There have been a couple programs made to do this over the years such as Warp Pipe, but the most popular one is currently Xlink Kai, which has hundreds of players a day across multiple consoles. Although Gamecube online activity is hard to find now, you can still arrange online matches and play online. Here's how it works. For any Gamecube/Xbox/360/PS3/PS2/PSP game that supports LAN play, Xlink fakes the console's connection to the local network, and redirects it to Xlink servers, thus making it playable online. Now, the catch is that this will not work with online games unless they support LAN play. However, this catch also works conversely, in that games that were not previously online, but did support LAN play are now playable online. The following games are supported by Xlink:

Mario Kart: Double Dash
Kirby: Air Ride
1080 Snowboarding
Super Smash Bros Melee*
Sonic Adventure 2 Battle*
Super Monkey Ball 2*
Starfox Assault*

Now, I know what you are thinking: "Hey, those games with an asterisk at the end didn't have LAN play!" Well, hold on, because I have more good news. A certain brilliant homebrew developer created a program called "GCARS-CS" which theoretically allows you to play any multiplayer Gamecube game online. Although only those games are currently supported, the program could work for any game. It is a great idea, and the people who use it say that it works well. So, if you're willing to go through a bit of setup and planning, you could be playing your Gamecube games online, right now. Pretty cool, huh?

I have one more thing to mention. You might have been disappointed when I said that online games that did not support LAN could not be played with Xlink. Well, they can still be played online, just not through Xlink. Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II [and just recently, Episode III] are playable via fan-made private servers. All you need to do is change some settings in the game, and you can play PSO on your Gamecube again! It is obviously not quite as active, but there are still people playing, so you are sure to find somebody. There is also one other MMO available for the Gamecube besides Phantasy Star Online. The game Homeland, only released in Japan, is still being played online today via the same method of private servers. So, you have many options for playing your Gamecube online. The online community for the 'Cube is clearly not going down without a fight, and it shows through the support still being shown for it.


2. LAN Play

This is obvious because I mentioned it before, but you can play your Gamecube via a LAN connection; a method that will never die, no matter what the circumstances. You can hook 2-4 Gamecubes up to the same network, and have some good ol' multiplayer fun. You must have more than one Gamecube, and a BBA, separate television, controller, and Ethernet cable for each one, but there's nothing that can match the sheer fun of LAN console gaming. If you can afford it, it is a total blast.


3. Homebrew

Homebrew developers have come up with some crafty ways to use the Gamecube's BBA. If you have a method to load homebrew on your Gamecube, you can do some pretty nifty things. For example, you can load Gamecube ISO backups over the network, without having to burn any discs, or install any modchips! It is somewhat slow on many games, and some games are incompatible, but still, the fact that this is even possible is amazing. You can also load homebrew over the network, without having to copy it to an SD card or a Gamecube memory card. Both these things are good solutions if you want to keep the files on your computer.


The Gamecube is still alive in its own right, with devoted developers taking advantage of even the most neglected add-ons for the system, and making programs that help people experience the Gamecube's online functions for long after they were supposed to be canceled. If you were ever curious about what the Gamecube's online play was like, you haven't missed your chance. You can still experience all of it, and more. Long live the Gamecube on the World Wide Web!

Here are some links to the services and programs I mentioned in this article:

Xlink Kai: http://www.teamxlink.co.uk/
Phantasy Star Online Private Servers: http://schtserv.com/
Gamecube Homebrew: http://gcemu.dcemu.co.uk/


This is lisalover1, looking for someone to play Gamecube Xlink with!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Review: Tales of Symphonia

Note: I will often make and post reviews on this blog, all of which are of Gamecube games. Most reviews will be for GC exclusives, but some will be just for games that either ran better on the Gamecube, or were important to its history.


Tales of Symphonia is the first 3D entry in Namco Bandai's "Tales" series of Action RPGs, and was an exclusive for the Nintendo Gamecube in all regions except Japan, where it received a shoddy Playstation2 port. The game takes advantage of the Cube's power to make a beautiful game for the player to explore. Is the game a triumph of the highest caliber, or does it fail because Namco Bandai never localizes anything and hates their fans, not even giving them the Tales of Vesperia PS3 port, or Tales of Graces, or well over half the games in the series? ...Sorry about that.


Gameplay

Tales of Symphonia is an Action RPG, so instead of just sitting around, navigating through menus, and selecting attacks in turn-based format, you are actively participating in the battle in real time. Also, unlike most RPGs, there are no random encounters. All enemies can be easily seen, avoided, or confronted visibly. The battle system feels much like a 3D fighter [a genre in which Namco has quite a bit of experience in], in that you can string together combos by timing your moves correctly and teaming up with other characters. You also use special attacks that can be mapped to the B button + different analog stick directions, and the C-Stick. It makes battles very fast-paced and fun, with an infinite number of ways to fight. A nice little feature exclusive to Symphonia [surprisingly never brought back in later installments] was the Unison attack, which was a gauge that filled up as you fought, and when it filled up completely, you could hit the Z button, and unleash hell. By which I mean, you can assign different attacks to party members for use in unison attacks, and as soon as you hit the Z button, you must start as many of these attacks as possible before the gauge empties, and all the attacks would be performed at once, creating a flurry of attacks. Sometimes, doing certain unison attacks in a row will trigger an even bigger combo between two or more characters, causing massive damage, and most likely stunning the enemy for a brief period. It also just looks awesome. The battles never get boring; I found myself intentionally running into enemies just for the fun of the fight. Yes, the battle system is certainly one of Tales of Symphonia's most standout features.


As is a common feature in the Tales series, multiplayer is available in battles, allowing 4 players to fight at once. I can attest to this being very fun, having beaten the game both alone and with a friend. When playing alone, you can go through battles like you would in a normal ARPG, but when a friend comes along, you add a whole new level of strategy to the game, allowing you to work together to do some really neat tricks and combos. As I stated before, up to 4 people can play at once, effectively make the game a "party" RPG.

Outside of battles if pretty standard fare for RPGs; you go around, exploring towns and the overworld, talking to people and gathering info. Not much to say here, except that I should mention that there is a nice system in the game for cooking meals. The meals require ingredients which can be bought cheaply or found free. The meals heal the whole party, and their effectiveness depends on the recipe and the person cooking. You learn new recipes as you explore each town, and cooking can become a very useful tool if you use it right.

Gameplay: 9/10

Story

For the most part, I was impressed with Tales of Symphonia's story. It starts off in the land of Sylvarant, in a small village called Iselia. Here is where the primary characters live. Lloyd Irving, the main character, is friends with a girl named Colette Brunel, who is destined to become the "Chosen", the Half-Human, Half-Angel being that will go on a journey to save Sylvarant. I don't want to spoil too much, but let me just say that the first third of the game is devoted to this portion of the story. The game starts off with this standard, run-of-the-mill story; what everyone expects from your average JRPG. However, it soon grows into something far more complex and enthralling. I honestly didn't think the story was anything special until I got past the first couple dungeons. But, trust me, Tales of Symphonia's story is something to behold when it is in full steam. I spent many sleepless nights playing the game, just to see more of the plot. There are times when the game does something somewhat cheesy and melodramatic, but I really had to think about when they were, and even then, they were few and far between. What I am saying is, if you want a good RPG story that will really suck you in and keep you clinging to your Gamecube controller, look no further than Tales of Symphonia.

Story: 8/10


Sound

I didn't fully appreciate tales of Symphonia's musical score until I saw the soundtrack as a whole. I was absolutely shocked to find that there is a total of 83 songs in the game! It is truly amazing how they fit such an extensive soundtrack into 2 Gamecube discs. Thus, it is rare to find the same song in two different locations [unless they are the same type of building, of course]. The music has a lighthearted yet majestic tone; reminding me a lot of the music in the Dragon Quest games. Most tracks are mellow and fun, so as to not distract from the rest of the game. But, the music mirrors the events quite well, and each track provides a spot-on musical interpretation of the events at hand, which is very effective in immersing you in the game. It won't blow your mind, but tales of Symphonia's soundtrack is still one of the better overall soundtracks I have heard in a game. There's not really much else I can say about it, so I'll let the music do the talking. Here's one of the songs from the game:

video


Sound: 8/10


Graphics


The art style for Tales of Symphonia was largely up in the air during development, due to it being the first game in the series in 3D. So, Namco decided to employ a semi-cel-shaded look for the game, an art style that has since become a common trait in Gamecube games. The character models look beautiful, and are very expressive, with each character having multiple animations for their emotions. It really feels like the expressive sprites of games like Final Fantasy VI or Suikoden II, but in 3D form. The backgrounds and locations are also very detailed. I always found new things that I hadn't noticed before when I re-entered buildings. That level of craftsmanship and care taken into each area is spectacular. I suppose that Namco really wanted to show what the Gamecube's next-gen graphics could do when designed by the right people. It is a beautiful game to see, with the only graphical downfall being that the game does not support Progressive Scan mode; something I think would have really helped the game. The environments are so detailed that the standard 480i resolution causes them to sometimes be blurry, and I am unable to see some very small things clearly. Other than that, Tales of Symphonia will make your 'Cube feel good about itself.


Graphics: 8.5/10


Value

Tales of Symphonia is currently selling at Gamestop for $20. Not the best deal you will get on a used game, but in my opinion, it is worth every penny, because the game's length will more than justify the cost. Tales of Symphonia markets itself as a 40-hour game, but it is really selling itself short. You will easily get around 60-80 hours from the story alone, as long as you're not doing a speed run. I personally spent around 150+ hours on my first playthrough, going through everything I could, and I still wasn't able to complete every side-quest! Think about it. For $20, you could buy a bunch of okay games that will last you a total of maybe a week, or you can buy one incredible game that will last you several weeks. Which one would you rather have?

Value: 10/10


Miscellaneous

As I said before, there are a huge number of side quests in Tales of Symphonia; all of which give you cool extras throughout your game. A good number of side-quests' rewards involve things called Titles, which, when equipped, give your characters bonus points and abilities when leveling up. It is a nice little system that gradually pays off depending on your play style. Speaking of which, the special attack progression system is really something else in Tales of Symphonia; it is a bit more of a realistic system than you would expect. Instead of just learning set new moves when you level up, the game instead determines your character's new moves based on what types of moves you use most often. For example, if you use magic more often than physical special attacks, you will learn more magic, and vice-versa. It makes you think more about how you want your characters to level up, and what to make them fight with. All these things add unprecedented levels of depth to the game, and make it all that more enjoyable of an experience. I could go on about each subsystem and all the side quests of the game, but I think my keyboard would wear out if I tried. Also, I should say that this game was so popular in Japan that a special edition Gamecube was released for the game!



Miscellaneous: 9.5/10


Overall

Tales of Symphonia is a game for the ages, and is definitely one of the best adventures you will find running on Nintendo's lil' powerhouse. It has everything you could want in an ARPG, and is in the top of its genre because of that. You will not get easily bored of Tales of Symphonia, and I have a feeling you will like it as much as I did. If you have never played an RPG before, this might even be a good place to start, due to the simple-to-learn, hard-to-master combat system. I would definitely recommend this game to anyone who plays games, as it is one of the classics of the Gamecube's era. Buy Tales of Symphonia. Right now. You will not regret it.



Overall Score: 9.5/10

This is lisalover1, going off to play some Tales of Legendia after all this talk about the Tales series.

Gamecube Controllers

One of the first things people think of when they think of the Gamecube is the controller. It is certainly an unorthodox design upon first glance, and may even look uncomfortable to hold properly. Non-uniform button sizes, analog sticks, huge triggers, and a general lack of symmetry. But, is it really that bad?

Well, take a wild guess as to what I'm about to say. I think that the Gamecube controller is one of the better controllers for any system. One could argue that the 'Cube's controller is more about function than form, which is what I will focus on. Just for reference, here's a picture of the controller:You can see how someone would be intimidated by it initially. But, the genius behind it comes when you actually start to play. Let's start with the analog sticks. Now, I want you to do something. Pick up a PS2 or Xbox controller. It's all right; I'll wait until you have got one... Okay, now put it down, and then pick it up again. Where do your thumbs automatically gravitate to? For most people, their thumb rests on the PS2 controller's D-Pad, or the Xbox controller's left analog stick. In both cases, your thumb goes to the highest input mechanism on the controller's front face. As you can see from the Gamecube's controller, that is where the analog stick is. This is a small thing, but you can see Nintendo wanted to make a very ergonomic controller. Speaking of analog sticks, a controversial part of the Gamecube's controller is that it has an octagonal frame around it. Many people think that this is less practical than the standard circular frame. I have to disagree. Consider this; that frame allows you to make more definite movements, and you will know that you are registering that exact direction. This is very helpful in 3D fighting games, where exact movements are necessary, but where an analog stick is preferable over a D-Pad. you can see how this would be advantageous.

The buttons are also somewhat odd in their size and placement. For one, the "A" button is the biggest button on the button on the controller's face, and the B, X, and Y buttons seem to gravitate around it. This takes some getting used to if you have done all your previous gaming on a PS/PS2 controller, where all the buttons are in a pattern, and the same size. But, this arrangement is not without purpose. Remember what Nintendo's number-one genre is; Platformers. A genre that truly only needs one button to define it, and everything else is auxiliary. And what button does one normally use to jump? Bingo. I don't know if I am reading too deep into this, but I think Nintendo wanted to have a controller that was suited towards Platformers, by making the jump button the most accessible one on the controller. Well played, Nintendo. Well played.

The next item is one of great controversy, that being the D-Pad. I am actually going to say that I think the Gamecube controller's D-Pad could have been a whole lot better. The fact that Nintendo stuck to their original design of a D-Pad normally works out very well, when it is the primary control mechanism, but not when it is off to the side. When reaching down to it quickly during gameplay, or even using it as the primary control for a game, it proves to be too small and uncomfortable. I have to agree with everyone else on this one; the Gamecube controller does not have a good D-pad.

Sorry about that; a bit of a downer, huh? Well, let's move on to the final part of the controller, the triggers. I am going to go out on a limb here, and say that the Gamecube's triggers are some of the best available. They are big, they are analog, and have a lot of space in which to move them, making racing games a breeze. If you go from using a PS3's triggers to a GC's, you will DEFINITELY notice the difference. The next best triggers that come close are the Dreamcast's and Xbox's, which in my opinion, are tied for 2nd place. The GC's triggers are very smooth and comfortable, and are a joy to use. Then there is the "Z" button, which I am still counting as a trigger. It seems weird that there was no other button like the Z button on the other side of the controller, but I'm going to try and explain its usefulness. Because there is only one "Z-like" button, that makes it the dumping ground for control mapping. There is nothing that people expect the Z button to do; it is not bound by expectation, so developers can have it do whatever they like. Since it is close to the triggers, it can reload in an FPS, or shift gears in a racing game. It is out of the way, so it can bring up the menu in an RPG [although, I can not for the life of me figure out why RPGs can't just use the start button for the menu; they're weird like that.], or a multitude of other things that wouldn't make sense if mapped to anything else.

That is most of what I can say for the official Gamecube controller, but what about the other ones? Can they serve a purpose that the official controller does not? I will go through some of the most well-known and coolest "other" GC controllers.

Aw, hell, yeah. Now, I haven't ever used one of these controllers personally, but I will still give my opinions on it anyway. The Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw controller is exactly what it sounds like, and is something special, indeed. It seems that you hold it like a normal chainsaw, but the analog stick and face buttons are strategically places near each handle. It seems like a good enough controller, and the D-Pad is in a much easier-to-reach location, but the C-stick is not harder to reach. All in all, it seems like the best purpose for this controller is just to look like a total badass.

Hori. The Holy Grail of controller brands. They made a controller for the Gamecube, but it is a lot different that the official one. Built from the ground up for use with the Game Boy Player, it aims to resolve the issues people have with the GC's D-Pad, by taking a cue from one of the most loved D-Pads in gaming history. Yes, the Hori GBP pad looks awfully similar to a Super Nintendo controller [It even has a select button!], but that's the point. GBA games were not meant to be played with an analog stick, so Hori filled a need for a good 2D game controller on the Gamecube. This controller often goes for quite a bit on Ebay, so don't except to get one for the same price as an official controller. It is also great if you run a SNES emulator on your Gamecube, to have something authentic to play with.

Silly me, how could I forget about the Wavebird? Regarded by many as the best wireless controller outside of this generation, the Wavebird is versatile, lightweight, and most importantly, almost exactly like the official wired controller. It is everything that a good wireless controller should be, with the only downfall being the lack of rumble. It has a dial on the bottom that lets you switch the frequency of the wireless signal, and connect to different Wavebird receivers, so you can connect any Wavebrid to any receiver. Everything that I have said about the wired controller can be said for the Wavebird, as well.

Now here's one you probably have never seen before. The Gamecube Keyboard Controller was designed specifically for Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II, so players could chat more easily. It seems like a gigantic and unwieldy target of ridicule at first, but it is actually a pretty cool idea. I own a keyboard for my Dreamcast, and it is annoying to switch back and forth between it and my controller to play and chat. With this thing, I can easily do both. The controller is generally expensive [around $50], but it is a very cool thing to have in your collection, and to watch people's reactions when they see it.

What in the world is this contraption? Well, it is an unreleased early prototype Gamecube controller, when the system was still just starting to be developed. Note the lack of a D-Pad, and that a N64-esque start button is in its place. Also, the colors of the buttons are changed around, and there is a third bean-shaped button surrounding the "A" button. It still has triggers [you can see them in the shadow underneath], but I can't tell if it has a Z button. Man, I am glad that this was never released.


Wow, that was a bit of a long post, wasn't it? I may go more in-depth into some of these other controllers at a later date, but I think this is fine for now. I hope you all found the article enjoyable and informative. This is lisalover1, and I hope to see you all again really soon!

The Glorious Purple Lunchbox

Welcome to my new blog, devoted entirely to Nintendo's little box that could. I will be periodically posting articles that make you feel really bad about selling your Gamecube a few years back, by showing you some of the system's greatest games, coolest accessories, and features you probably have never heard of before. You will soon see that the Gamecube is a much better console than most people give it credit for. So, I would like to start by taking some of your questions.


Q: Why are you talking about the Gamecube? Isn't it that awful kiddie console Nintendo used to make?

A: First of all, fuck you. Second, you just don't know the system well enough. The Nintendo Gamecube was a console that ultimately lost the console wars to the Playstation 2 and Xbox, but that doesn't mean it is a bad system. It had some of the most original and creative titles of the generation as exclusives, and often had superior versions of games that were also released on the Playstation 2. It also had an efficient and comfortable controller, made it a formidable contender, at the very least. I will elaborate on all of these topics in later blog posts, but I just want to summarize them now. Anyway, all these things and more make the Gamecube one of my favorite consoles.

Q: Well, if you admit that the PS2 and Xbox won the console wars, then why don't you write about them?

A: You're missing the point. I am trying to argue that the Gamecube can be just as good, if not better than those consoles, depending on how you look at it. Every console has its advantages and disadvantages, and the Gamecube is no exception. For example, look at a game like the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Here, the Gamecube was able to keep up with graphics meant for the Wii, a next-gen console. The game looked better than most Xbox games, and is a clear example of the largely-unused power that the 'Cube had under its hood.

Q: When will you write about [insert game name here]?

A: That depends. Is it a good game? If so, I will probably write about it eventually.


So, that just about wraps up the introduction. I will be posting some real articles here soon, so keep on the lookout for them. I will also probably fix up the appearance of the blog, too. It is looking kind of bland right now, so I think I will add some stuff to make it more relevant to the topic at hand. Until next time, this is lisalover1, signing off.