Sunday, August 29, 2010

12 Months, Sixty Dollars and a PS2: August


Legion:  The Legend of Excalibur   

Remember back when I foolishly thought that Mobile Light Force 2 was going to be a dungeon crawler ala X-men Legends?  Well, if I was disappointed back then, this month’s game more than makes up for it.  Legion: The Legend of Excalibur (Legion from this point out) is a fairly traditional dungeon crawler wherein you take on the role of King Arthur recruiting and leading the Knights of the Round Table through noble quests worthy of the son of Uther Pendgradon.  Along the way, you’ll rescue terrified villagers, defend besieged castles, and even seek out the Holy Grail.

For its part, Legion is a fairly complex game.  While the fundamental game play is pretty much the same from level to level, the level designs are dynamic and the variety of quests keeps the game fresh.  The introductory levels do not do the game due justice and if you are initially unimpressed by what the game is giving you, stick with it until Percival joins you on the Avalon mission.  Once you gain a few knights to aid you in your quest, the game’s true strengths become apparent.  Each character has different weapons and abilities and will bring their own unique flavor to your quests.  You can take control of the knights who join you (and sometimes it is almost a must), or you can just command them as the King of the Britons.

Game play is pretty solid and despite the instruction manual’s attempt to confuse you, the controls are pretty much pick-up-and-play with a few things to learn here and there.  Controlling each character gives you command of different abilities, strengths and weaknesses and there is enough variety to keep the game interesting depending on how you want to tackle a level.  Stamina stats keep you from using your heaviest attack incessantly, and the swarms of enemies require you to think out your approach to a given a situation.  Navigating the various menus is uncomplicated and keeps from making a simple crawler a logistical mess, a shortfall of the aforementioned X-men Legends game.

If Legion has problem areas they are minimal.  One thing that struck me was the difficulty.  The game isn’t terribly hard, but there are spots that seem insanely difficult.  They seem insanely difficult until you realize the games other major flaw: patience.  With flashbacks to Robotron: 2084, there are parts of this game where the enemies swarm you in what seems like an endless push guaranteed to send you to the game over screen.  However, all is not lost in such a situation.  When faced with overwhelming odds (like the castle siege in level 2) there is usually a place you can retreat to and let the enemy come to you in smaller bunches where you can knock them off with relative ease.  If you are really lucky, this retreat point will also be near a healer so that all of your knights will stay refreshed.  This strategy works for most areas where the game jumps up and bites you in the butt.  So the difficulty in Legion is kind of schizophrenic, but outside of that the game is pretty solid and a lot of fun.

Most of all, it passes the $5 test.  If you can find Legion: The Legend of Excalibur for five dollars, not only is well worth the coinage, it is a shame to pass it up.  If dungeon crawlers are your kind of bag, baby, then Legion is definitely worth adding to your collection.  I hereby declare this five dollar find a winner! 

Next month…Green…

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Closer Look at How the Game Genie Killed Difficulty in Modern Gaming

This is your password, good luck!
or “Why Modern Gamers are Sissies”

In my day video games were hard, seriously ball-busting hard.  We didn’t have endless continues.  We didn’t have fancy memory cards or hard drives.  If you were lucky, and I mean really lucky, your game MIGHT have a battery back-up, but most likely if you were going to be able to save your progress for later play you were going to have to enter a code and chances were damn good that said code was going to be roughly 45 characters long and the game programmers were wise-asses who used goofy-ass fonts that meant you had NO way of telling the difference between “0” and “O” and you better hope like hell you didn’t get confused and switch two characters, because if that code wasn’t exactly right you were screwed.  And most games didn’t have codes anyway so when that screen said “GAME OVER” you hoped and you prayed that they gave you at least one continue so that you could see what was on the next level.  And even if you did get that continue, you were going to have to start back over at the beginning of the very level that killed you.  But it was even money that “GAME OVER” meant “START OVER” and that you were looking at chucking another half hour into levels that you had already struggled through just to get your ass handed to you again by that same boss that just ended your run.  And furthermore this was a common occurrence since the difficulty of games was insane.  Lots of games had cheap, one-hit kills, hit points were a fairly new innovation and not at all easy to come by.  Level designs were insidious and usually ended in a boss fight that required near perfection to win.  And we didn’t have fancy internets or millions of strategy guides either.  If you couldn’t beat a game, you had to hope like hell that your best friend’s older brother was better at the game than you were and would tell you how to use the super secret attack to get past the final boss.  That was it.

But, at the end of the day, when you beat a game, YOU BEAT A GAME.  It was yours, you owned that game.  Why?  Because you invested hours, days, weeks, into that game.  You played every level inside and out, upside down. You beat every bad guy every way possible; you learned every secret, every trick.  You earned the right to say you beat that game and no one can say otherwise.  Beating the game meant something because it was something that required work, effort, and time.

Then came the Game Genie.  Apparently, the lazy, unskilled kids out there were getting bored with video games because they were too hard and they weren’t talented or patient enough to see the harder games through.  The result was the Game Genie, an insidious little device that latched onto your video game and went with it into your console.  Once inserted it would allow you to enter all kinds of nifty codes that would give you access to invincible modes, unlimited lives and continues, unlock all the weapons/items in a game, allow you to select which level to start at, and on and on.  Now the entire game was at your command, nothing would stop you from seeing that ending screen now!  And best of all, you didn’t even have to be good at video games, you just had to know which code to enter!