Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time – a (kinda) review

Yeah I guess I’m just gonna review every video game I play, aren’t I?

A sad thing happened: I actually got burned out on Devil May Cry and needed something different, so I chose to go back to a game I bought last year but didn’t finish. The Sands of Time came highly recommended–it was voted the best game of 2003, and Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation considered it one of the best games ever. On top of that, I liked the old-school Prince of Persia games so I thought the new one would contain the same magic.

But in the end… well, to put it bluntly, The Sands of Time is a game I just want to love, because there is a certain charm to it. But I can’t, and I honestly can’t see why its so widely hailed instead of lambasted to the ends of the Earth and left in a dust bin to rot. Because, the truth is, The Sands of Time is bad. It’s just awful. The faults are numerous, and there are almost no redeeming factors.

And they’re some big faults. Let’s list them:

1. The plot. The story is basically just that the Prince is tricked into setting off a Resonance Cascade scenario and now has to get to the Hourglass of Time to undo his mistake. Everything important is laid out to you at the beginning, the plot develops along completely predictable paths, and there is only one major plot twist and it comes off like an excuse to pad out the length more than anything. For some reason, a lot of people praise the characterization and dialogue, but honestly the characters are stock Hollywood and all their emotion comes off as lacking in sincerity, and the dialogue comes off like they were just trying to be as catchy as possible while completely lacking substance, with the only notable thing being that sometimes the Prince is funny. And it all leads up to an ending that renders the whole game pointless.

2. The controls. I had a lot of times where the Prince didn’t do exactly what I expected him to do. Like I would run towards an edge and press X, and he would for some reason roll forward instead of jump. Other times I would be trying to hit the wall at an angle to run along it and he would instead run straight up. In combat, I would try to get him to dodge away from an enemy only for him to end up vaulting them (or trying to and taking damage in the later half of the game), or use the Dagger of Time on one enemy and he’d wind up using it on one that was in completely the opposite direction of the direction I was pressing! Even when Dante was burdened with that annoying auto-target in Devil May Cry 2, he still controlled a metric ton more smoothly than this. The Prince just has a mind of his own.

3. Though the graphics are beautiful, sometimes they lack clarity, and I had a lot of times where I couldn’t tell what was an important object I could interact with and what was just part of the scenery. The camera tries to do the Ico thing of focusing on what’s important, but it doesn’t work near as well and sometimes defaults to some totally useless angles and sometimes will resist adjustment. I also noticed framerate issues (most notably in the cutscene just after you kill the Prince’s dad), though those may be because I’m playing the PS2 version.

4. I had a huge problem with the audio volume. It was always too quiet, unless I turned my TV up really loud (much louder than any other game in my library requires), and even then, sometimes voices were borderline inaudible. There is also no subtitle option, which sucks when you can’t make out what a character says.

5. This is a huge one: this game is badly programmed. I had two separate occasions where a puzzle was rendered unsolvable because a game script wouldn’t register. Fortunately, both times I was able to fix it by simply resetting the game, but still, what shit. I’m reminded that last year I wound up having to restart the game because of one of these glitches, which taught me to never use the same save slot twice. Thanks, Ubisoft. On a more minor note, I had about three instances where the Prince fell straight through a platform he clearly hit. Then there’s that rebounding-off-the-wall technique, which is cool, but sometimes it just refuses to work and forces you to die. I’m surprised that pretty much no reviewer seems to have noticed this, or that a game that has such a serious flaw can be elevated to such a lofty position in the gaming fandom.

6. The combat. I. Fucking. Hate. the Combat. Actually, when I started playing, I thought “this is gonna be awesome!” but that feeling goes away about fifteen minutes into the game, when it turns out this is one of those games where you’re forced to stop and kill everything, like in freaking Double Dragon, and worse, on most of the enemies you’re required to use a special finisher or else they’ll just get back up, which is a problem because it leaves you open for cheap hits, or sometimes you’re so distracted by the other monsters you simply can’t find a free moment. And enemies just keep gating in until the game arbitrarily decides you’ve had enough! The only mercy it shows is that sometimes you fight animals, and these don’t require a finishing move, but still the fights are too numerous and go on longer than they should.

7. And in fact, that was my biggest problem with the whole package: the game itself is just too long. It goes on and on, and by the halfway point I was already crying “Please show mercy and just end!” If I wasn’t absolutely dedicated to finishing what I started, I would’ve simply turned the game off. The fact is, you’ll see everything there is to this game before even getting to the first boss fight, and everything after that is just lather-rinse-repeat. It’s not like there’s an interesting plot or anything to make it worth your while, either.

That’s it, that’s why I couldn’t stand The Sands of Time. It’s a heavily flawed game, that lacks in content, has boneheaded design choices, and really could’ve used more extensive beta-testing. I wanted to like it, because some of the platforming is genuinely fun and some of the Prince’s lines are actually funny, but the good things are outweighed by the tremendous flaws.

What really astonishes me is that 2003 was the same year that gave us Devil May Cry 2 and Metal Gear Solid 2, both of which are really good games and the latter is honestly what I’d probably call the best video game ever made, but both of those get shat on while this gets hailed as a classic. Bah, game reviewers. Ya just can’t trust them.

And no, at this moment I have absolutely no intention of playing Prince of Persia: the Warrior Within or The Two Thrones. One torture session was quite enough, thanks.


Devil May Cry 2 – A (kinda) review

If there’s one thing I’m wary of, its the opinions of other gamers. Particularly when it comes to sequels, where gamers will with some regularity always hate the second game. They hated Zelda II, Pac-Man 2, Metal Gear Solid 2 (and that last one is usually a good argument for not listening to gamers on anything ever), and so on and so forth.

And now I’ve finally played Devil May Cry 2, another game with a 2 in its title that is regularly foisted against its will onto the Hate Bandwagon. And again, I found the hate to be undeserved… for the most part.

The story is exactly what I expected: Another day, another demon-hunting assignment, this time on some island that’s been taken over by a corporation that has ties to the demon realm. Also this time Dante isn’t alone in the fight–the game is two discs, with the second disc containing an extra set of missions from the perspective of a girl named Lucia, whose story mostly dovetails with Dante’s and, in a turn I consider respectable, usually doesn’t contradict it. It’s a stand-alone story, that doesn’t really leave any threads hanging or leave any cliffhangers (okay, Dante’s ending has been interpreted as one, but I don’t see it that way).

One complaint I saw a lot was that Dante apparently behaves differently than he did originally. To be honest… I don’t see it, I really don’t. The body language reads exactly like the Dante we all know and love, and as for the dialogue, while Dante makes a lot less quips he still sounds like himself when he does speak. So I don’t buy any theories that he’s been replaced by a doppleganger. This is Dante, pure and simple. Yeah, he’s acting a little more down to earth, but the way I thought about it: in the first game, he was pumped up because he thought he was gonna finally deal with his mother’s killer (and he was right). Here, its just another job for him, so he’s not as excited.

Now, here’s some complaints I personally had with the game:

1. The controls felt a little awkward to me. Dante and Lucia both had a way of suddenly switching targets mid-combo, and sometimes it didn’t even make sense, like I’d be wailing on one monkey-thing only for the heroes to decide they’d rather attack some suit of armor that is on an upper floor and behind a stone, thus causing my attacks to miss and breaking off my combo. Dante didn’t move as fluidly as in the first one, and the worst thing is there’s a kind of auto-lockon which gets annoying when all you’re trying to do is hit those magical trigger plate things and Dante keeps wanting to attack an enemy that isn’t even in Melee range.

2. The gameplay itself feels slower somehow, and not as arcade-intense as the first. I especially notice this in the combo system, where you suddenly need to do tons of damage for the game to even start grading you. And on top of that, whereas I said the first game avoided the problem of combats wearing out their welcome, in this game the combats sometimes become genuinely annoying.

3. The whole setup feels… less enthused, less inspired overall. Like when you look up enemy descriptions. In the first game, you got in-depth files that described anything about them you had personally discovered. Got hit by an interdimensional portal, the descrip mentions it. In DMC2 though, all you get is a picture and a blurb. The same goes for equipment and shopping. Hell, Ebony and Ivory are now simply called “the handguns.”

4. I really did not like Lucia’s missions. It’s not that they felt tacked on or anything, its just that… to me, Devil May Cry is Dante’s game, and it felt to me like Lucia was trespassing on his turf, if you get me. The whole time I was her, I just kept wishing I was Dante again. As for real complaints, she has this totally annoying underwater section (that doesn’t play like the ones in the first game) that I wouldn’t like to go thru again. I should note that most of my pointing out flaws is because Lucia is still fresh in my mind, and while she’s not a bad character, playing as her does make some design issues stand out more than they do for Dante, almost as if they had the story for her figured out, but didn’t fine-tune her playstyle.

5. For some reason, this time you can buy upgrades to your weapons… but I have absolutely no idea what those upgrades actually do. I never noticed. They felt like a waste of money to me, and when I was playing as Lucia I actually went almost the whole game without getting any. Another problem is that you get multiple weapons but the upgrades are expensive, so the net effect is that you’re going to stick with the weapons you upgraded just to feel like you got your Red Orb’s worth.

So, is Devil May Cry 2 a bad game? No. What it is, is the inevitable sequel, the quick follow-up to a smash hit that, for whatever reason, doesn’t quite live up, but would probably have been positively received had it been a stand-alone game, so its sequel status becomes a liability. Personally, I liked it, enough to marathon through both discs in just as many nights, and I could actually see myself returning to it somewhere down the road. It is definitely an underrated game, and nowhere near being “garbage” or whatever you’ve heard, even if I did just spend an entire blog post complaining about it.

Speaking of underrated games, what the hell is wrong with people who pick on Resident Evil: Survivor? Okay, honestly, I think the problem there is that Capcom nerfed the USA release by taking out light gun support, which probably would’ve made it a more immersive experience, but still, I thought it was a solid enough entry in the Resident Evil canon. Maybe I’ll reviewify it later.

Anyway, time to end this entry. Peace out!

Devil May Cry – a review

A game store recently opened up in my hometown, a place that didn’t have a lot of prospects for game shopping up til then. I quickly became friends with the owners, and so when my mom went shopping for Christmas presents there, the guys took a gamble and recommended I might like the Devil May Cry trilogy. They apparently know my tastes better than I know myself.

Devil May Cry is a game that, though console-based and exploration-focused, seems embued with the spirit of an arcade game. You play as Dante Sparda, half-human, half-demon, who became a (seemingly self-proclaimed) Devil Hunter in order to get revenge on the one that killed his mother and brother. Then one day a lady named Trish hires him to go to an island and stop the dark god Mundus from being resurrected.

And that, right there, is most of the plot. Like an arcade game, the twists are few (And you’ll probably see them coming, though I won’t spoil them here) and things stay pretty straightforward from beginning to end. There aren’t even that many cutscenes, and the ones that exist aren’t very long and can be skipped by pressing Select.

If you think that’s a criticism, you’re flatly mistaken. Arcade games rock, and its nothing short of awesome to know that the spirit of such games survived onto the Playstation 2. And even though the cast of characters don’t have much dialogue, you’ll still get to know them thru gestures and body language–especially Dante, who is nothing short of the most awesome video game hero of all time. Picture this: You go into this dark castle, who knows what lurks in the shadows, there’s danger around every corner and you never know where a possessed puppet or a giant bug or whatever is gonna turn up. Sounds like the stuff of nightmares… and in walks Dante, slicing and shooting his way through the legions of hell. Dante has come to dominate the world of heroism that Doom Guy began to reveal. But Dante isn’t just a one-dimensional badass in the mold of Duke Nukem or your average DC Comics character. He respects the foes that deserve respect, he cares about those he should, he’s capable of seeing things from a wiser and more philosophically-advanced perspective than your average two-gun goon. And he’s flawed. His sheer humanity makes his accomplishments not only endearing, but triumphant. Not bad for a guy who isn’t even fully human.

Standing against Dante is the dark, gloomy environment of Mallet Island, or more precisely the castle and some of its surrounding environs. The game itself has trappings of Resident Evil-like Survival Horrors and Metroid like exploration platforms, but as I said, it leans heavily towards playing like an arcade game. Indeed I can’t help comparing Dante to Capcom’s earlier hero, Strider Hiryu. For some reason, the game is divided up into “Missions,” even though you’re free to backtrack and explore the island (the parts of it you’ve opened up, anyway) no matter what mission you’re on–the Mission screens mostly just serve as a save point and to remind you what you’re trying to do at the moment. The game is entirely linear and the level design is a lot like how Capcom always did their NES games–the areas are linear and its always clear where you’re supposed to go, but sometimes if you mess around you can discover a secret that’s just a little off the beaten path.

And again, all of this is a good thing. I love straightforward clarity in a day and age where practically every video game ever has an almost required-by-law “what the frack am I supposed to do” moment. I like that I can beat the game without having to go to GameFAQs or buy a strategy guide. That’s not to imply everything’s in plain sight–upon beating the game I discovered I missed some blue orbs (life bar upgrades) and eleven of the twelve “Secret Missions.”

I also like the combat system. Oh my god, this is the game that Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time only wished it could be. The combat is nice and varied, putting Dante in intense situations where either he can get his head beaten in, or else he can whip out his swords or his guns (all of which have unlimited ammo) and try his best to blast thru, do amazing combos and generally beat the everloving snot out of all the creepy crawlies that dwell in the castle’s demonic depths. And if he’s trying his best and that isn’t enough, early on he gets the ability to use “Devil Triggers” which turn him into a super-powered demon for a short time. There’s also a shop system, where Dante can trade orbified demon blood (yeah) for items, a longer life meter or a longer Devil Trigger gauge so he can hulk out for longer. He can also buy new special moves. In general, there’s enough combat techniques and enough variety of enemies to keep you entertained, and unlike in Prince of Persia, the combat never overstays its welcome–most of the monsters die quickly, and unless they’re bosses you can usually just run past all the monsters anyway (though you won’t get money if you do).

I’m afraid I’m probably making Devil May Cry sound easy. Let me dispel that misconception right now: this is probably the hardest game on the PS2. Unless you’re the kind of guy who can get through the Strider games without ever using a continue, this game is going to challenge you, it may even frustrate you at times. I mean yeah, there’s some RPG-like upgrade mechanics, Dante has unlimited ammo and combos he can perform on demand and a Devil Trigger state he can go into as long as he has enough magic (which refills by fighting, so yeah) but if you get careless, and think you can just coast through, you will get your butt handed to you sooner or later. This is not a game where you can get careless or keep spamming a certain attack over and over and hope to win.

If the challenge does prove to be too much though, don’t fret: There’s an unlockable Easy Mode, which is more along the lines gamers this generation are probably used to. At first I thought Easy Mode was pointless, because the thing is Devil May Cry isn’t like other games where the “challenge” is all based around how much damage enemies do or how long their life bars are, there’s real, actually thought-out design involved in it. Easy Mode makes a lot of adjustments that seem minor on the surface but actually make a huge difference. Enemies are replaced with other enemies, there are some bosses you never actually fight, and the actual controls are changed slightly as well (that last part was the one I liked the least, as I actually thought Easy Mode’s way of automating a lot of attacks actually made then harder to do). That being said, when I played what I would do is get as far as I could on Normal Mode, then whenever I got to a hard part I would go through on Easy Mode to give myself an idea what to expect and help plan out my tactics, so I found it to be a good companion piece.

Oh, and once you beat the game, it unlocks a Hard mode. My god. At least you get to carry your weapons, special moves and life and devil gauge upgrades into it though.

So now is the part where you ask “Gee Edmond, is there anything wrong with this game, or has Capcom made the ultimate interactive experience that will never be toppled ever?” Well, there are a few niggling complaints.

The main complaint I had is that there is absolutely no way to control the camera. Granted, 98% of the time the camera was just where it needed to be and showed me what I needed to see, but there were a few times where I was fighting blind and had to guess, and you’d be amazed how soon that becomes second-nature.

Some of the bosses are kind of obtuse as well. The first time I fought “Phantom” (this giant spider or scorpion-like thing with a stone body) I had no idea what I was doing, how or whether I was even supposed to hurt him, and died a lot just because. That was one of those times where I re-fought him in Easy Mode and realized what I could do.

My only other complaint is that you get two core melee weapons, Alastor and Ifrit, and I find these two unbalanced–Alastor (which you get very early) is super-awesome and grants you access to some special moves and techniques that are not only good for combat but also general exploration (indeed I’m not sure how some of the Blue Orbs can be gotten without it). Ifrit, on the other hand, has a lot of purely-combat techniques that in my experience usually had too many drawbacks to be useful. There’s one for example where Dante does a really powerful uppercut, but there’s like a two-second delay upon entering the command and usually all that happens is he gets hit and the command is canceled. Outside of one puzzle, I never really saw much reason to use Ifrit, so I didn’t.

As you can see though, the flaws don’t distract from the sheer fact of Devil May Cry‘s awesomeness! And that game store talked my mom into not just getting me one game but the entire trilogy (oh, sorry, there’s four of them now)! And apparently, there’s an anime, manga and a pair of novels as well! Hooray for discovering a franchise while its still young and hasn’t yet gotten unwieldy!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think its time I popped in Devil May Cry 2.

First post in January

Wow, I can’t believe I keep letting this blog go dormant. Not much is happening though–generally, January is always kind of a boring month for me. All cold and either rainy or snowy and its really depressing and makes me not want to do anything.

Was on a Resident Evil kick for awhile, but I think I’m weaning off it. Oddly, now I’m into Light Gun games, even though holding the guns out hurts my shoulders after a bit (then again, I kinda like the pain). The only ones I actually own are Duck Hunt and To the Earth for the NES, and both are good, but I want something more modern. I’ve been watching MLP but lately I’ve been getting bored of it–the episodes are starting to feel kind of like repeats at this point, and some of the early novelty is gone.

One bit of good news: I recently acquired a Sega Dreamcast. It works, came with a controller, VMU (memory card with an LCD screen in it) and the DC equivalent of a rumble pak. The only game I have for it right now is Resident Evil: Code Veronica though, which means the system hasn’t seen much use, but I’m on the lookout for more. I’m particularly hoping to acquire fighting games and arcade-like shooters.

But really, there’s just not a lot to talk about. Maybe I’ll deliver on that one promise and pick on American cartoons a bit. Yeah, later.