Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
25 May 2002
The Return
Well, that was a lot longer hiatus than I thought it would be. Feh.

Recent Cheap Games
I recently dumped some cash at my local used games stores and, although it would be nice if every cheap game was a hit, came away fairly pleased. I'll summarize the results quickly.

Let's start off with the stinker. Back when I was just getting to know my original PSX, I had a friend, Rob, who would go with me to rent games for a night and see how they were. One of those games was Loaded, which I recall at the time enjoying quite a bit. I think that Rob and I both spent a solid evening blasting through a few levels, perhaps even playing two player cooperative. I can only hope that, truly, the cooperative play is better than the single player experience, because this game bites.

At its heart, Loaded tries to be a modern Robotron. Instead of a revolt against the machines, however, this game places you in control of insane asylum maniacs trying to bust out. It is hard to believe that this idea was the heart of a game on which Alan Pavlish was the lead producer; Pavlish was the creator of the RPG Wasteland, one of my favorite games of all time.

The controls are rough and the graphics, definitely gratuitously gruesome, are sub-par, even for 2D/3D hybrid game like this. (It has a 3D playfield and 2D sprites for many objects, including the player.) If a game wants to be a successful shooter, it needs to provide impressive powerups and intuitive gameplay, and it needs to do so quickly. This initial revisiting of Loaded seems to indicate that it provides neither, at least on the first level. This game had me wavering between bored stiff and agonizingly frustrated.

Fortunately, I spent little on this dud. It did, however, come in the old-style large case that original PSX games came in. Although I agree with the waste reduction that standard jewel-box packaging has brought us, the Infocom fan in me bemoans the loss of truly colorful game covers and full-color manuals. (Not that Loaded has a full color manual; it doesn't. However, the general reduction in accompanying game materials has also discouraged the art of clever game packaging.)

I paid: $5
Game is worth: $2
Save your dough, unless you want to try the cooperative mode, in which case it's probably still worth a dollar.

Gex: Enter the Gecko
This is another game that I played a while back when Rob and I were renting games regularly. I recalled it being a good bit of fun back then, and I think it has held up pretty well over time. It's the well-worn story of the wise-acre lizard platformer that had his first outing in 2D on the 3D0, Saturn, and PSX has come out of retirement for another battle with his nemesis, Rez. You have to make it through several completely 3D platform levels, each themed from movies or TV (like a horror movie or Saturday morning cartoons), and find glowing remote controls suspended before giant TVs. Fortunately, you get to pick which levels you want, so the game isn't completely "linear" in the traditional sense, and I believe that it may not be required to have all remotes to go up against the final boss.

Here's an observation: if a game attempts a graphic style for which the minimum acceptable hardware level is below the target platform, then the game is far more likely to age well. Perhaps more succinctly: if you want your game to age gracefully, then do only graphics that are appropriate for your hardware. Limit the number of opportunities for a player to look at a graphic and be confused by what it really is, because you've had to downsample the texture (or what have you) to the point that it has become nearly unrecognizable.

The good news is that Gex doesn't push too hard and thus it looks pretty good, even by today's standards. The cartoon look gets along well with the PS2 hardware texture smoothing and the game was always an example of pleasantly short load times. An example of a game that hasn't aged well would be Twisted Metal 2. This is truly sad, for TM2 is one of my all-time favorite games, but even through my rose-colored gaming goggles, it looks sad.

Gex isn't without issues: the camera work is absolutely atrocious in places. Controls, while they are analog, are not as tight as a platformer really demands. Combine these two flaws, and Gex can be controller-throwing fun if you miss your platform one too many times. Too bad that it came out before the modern development of turning objects and walls transparent when necessary.

You might get turned off by the sharp-tongued lizard patter after a bit, but frankly I find it entertaining. For platform originality, I think it fares pretty well. As noted, the graphics are solid, even years later. In all, a decent buy, although probably not worth what shops are asking.

I paid: $10
Game is worth: $7

Monster Rancher 2
When you outgrow Pokemon, Monster Rancher from Tecmo offers some new features that seem to take the genre in new directions. In particular, monsters are created and then customized through a user-determined regimen of training and battling. Monster have a limited lifetime and will die if not frozen and preserved for 2-player battles. You have the freedom to determine the demeanor and specialization level of your monsters, and this power has drawn me and my friends into exploring the system. We're still probing to find out how all the little pieces of the game fit together and it is almost a blessing that the manual is sparse and the FAQs online don't attempt to spell out specific strategies too rigidly. Most of the fun, so far, is finding a role as a trainer that you enjoy and trying to raise successful monsters within that role.

I do think that some details, like exactly how fights are carried out, could be better spelled out in the manual. There is in-game help and you don't actually have to control your monster during the battles, but that in-game help is only marginally more informative than the manual itself and letting the CPU control your monster often guarantees a quick loss (for you).

This is also a game that doesn't try to push the hardware too much. As such, it looks good by today's standards, but could definitely have taken advantage of a higher resolution. One wonders why they didn't attempt to use one of the higher modes on the PSX; it's not pushing that many polygons or textures and the AI isn't so complex that it needs those CPU cycles doing elaborate strategic planning. The music is charming, so far, but I may be turning it down or off after a few more days.

One thing I do look forward to doing is battling against other players. My friend Bob got MR2 for his (new) PS2 and I may see if he and the others will want to play a tournament or something. Some other friends have also considered getting it, so the opportunity could be there to have a 5-6 person tournament. If that works out, it would probably be worth blogging here.

What I paid: $17
Game is worth: $20

I also managed to get a Powerslave for PSX. This could make an interesting comparison to the Saturn version, since people have claimed that the Saturn version, despite the less powerful hardware, is the better of the two.
--Matt Matthews at 01:10
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