Saturday, January 30, 2010

Twelve Months, Sixty Dollars, and a Playstation 2: January

Okay, so my favorite local second hand, MUST HAVE MUSIC AND MORE, has a slew of Playstation 2 games and recently I discovered that a great number of them are being sold for the low, low price of $4.95.  For those of you who have been following along at home, this is how I came across Pryzm , Chapter One: The Last Unicorn, that little gem that I alone made famous last year!  As I was browsing through the stacks the other day I saw a good number of these $5 games that looked at the very least interesting, if not potential diamonds in the rough.  After thinking it over I came to a conclusion:  The PS2 has a vast library and very few catch the attention of the popular culture, but lots and lots of games get released. Somewhere in those stacks of discarded, unloved games must be some really great games just looking for someone to play them and at the risk of five dollars a go, I think it’s worth finding just what is out there.  The result is this on-going experiment, a journey that you and I are going to take through the unwanted library of the PS2.  So strap in, kiddies, we’ve got twelve months, sixty dollars, and a Playstation2 and we’re about to discover what we’ve been missing!


Brave: the Search for Spirit Dancer
Evolved Games
Our journey begins with the little game that could: could have been better if it had been more challenging and a little deeper.  Brave: the Search for Spirit Dancer is much like a “my first adventure game” for 10-12 year olds.  There is plenty of action, but only a mild level of difficulty. The story is simple and the quest straightforward.  There are things to discover and areas to explore, but not terribly much to find.  The game follows the tale of a young Indian brave, aptly named, who sets out in search of the great Shaman Spirit Dancer to help save his tribal lands from the evil Wendigo.  Brave’s quest is one of personal growth as he learns who his true father is (I’ll let you guess…) and discovers his own potential.
The game isn’t bad, as a matter of fact it is very fun and the story and characters are engaging despite lacking depth.  The game’s biggest weakness is its lack of challenge.  Some parts of the game are tough, beating the rock monsters in the Volcano level, but any part of the game can be overcome with a couple of tries.  Sometimes levels seem impossibly short when a much larger, deeper level would be extremely welcome.  Conversely, the game’s greatest strength is its great variety of level design.  Some levels are straightforward adventuring, some have you guiding an out of control canoe down rushing rapids, others have your soaring on the back of a giant eagle dropping boulders on enemies or plucking them off the back of stampeding buffalo.  Like I said, there is a variety of things to do.  And best of all, the levels are fun to play; heck they’re even fun to replay, which is good because the game doesn’t have too much else in the way of replay value.  The game boasts hidden totems in each level to seek out and find, but the only thing you unlock by finding them is concept art, and that’s really a hit and miss kind of reward.  That said, I’ll probably play through the game again at some point to find them all, because that’s what I do.  The final battle with the Wendigo is pretty awesome as are many of the action sequences, but there just isn’t as much game here as there should and could be.  It took me a little over 5 hours to beat it on the first try. Not really want you want from a modern game that probably retailed at no less than $30.
Graphically, the game is pretty sound.  The environments are lush and the colors are vibrant.  I cannot decide if the character renderings are slightly racist or just highly stylized, but all in all they are harmless and sometimes bigger social hang-ups are only really there if you want them to be, so I’m going to assume that they are just stylized and whimsical and be happy with that.  The music is very cool and moody and fits the game perfectly.  And for once a game features voice acting that, while a bit cartoonish, isn’t the most painful thing I have ever heard.

But the big question remains, is Brave: the Search for Spirit Dancer worth the Lincoln I sacrificed to obtain it?  Absolutely.  There are far worse ways to spend $5 on a video game, heck there are far worse games to spend ten times that on.  Brave isn’t going to be the next Castlevania, despite the recent Wii release entitled Brave: A Warrior’s Tale which by all reports is the same game with a few extra levels, but it is certainly a game worth playing, and doubly so if you have smaller kids who are looking for something fun to play without having to resort to games about gang violence or WWII.  I would venture to say that my first foray into the $5 world of the PS2 was met with moderate success. 

Next month I’ll be spending my allowance on ROBOTECH: Battlecry, is it worth $5?

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