Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rayman 3D Review

As a kid, I had been interested in the Rayman series, being the platformer lover that I was (and am). At around 5 or 6, this resulted in me unknowingly buying a racing game, Rayman Rush, and from what I remember, it was a fairly mediocre one at that. I lost all interest in the series until this year, when a friend got a 3DS. The only game he had for it was Rayman 3D, a remake of Rayman 2: The Great Escape, which was a very highly regarded platformer during its day. Recently, I went over to see him and, having very little better to do (as he was experiencing the awesome puzzleness of Portal 2) and interested to see what I had missed way back when, I decided to play it through until the end. Here is my opinion of Rayman 3D. (Also, this is my first review for a 3DS game. Yay.)

(NOTE: This review is really dumb and gets so many details blatantly wrong that you'd think it was written by IGN. Don't trouble yourself with it. ~T-Man 2013)

Rayman 3D is a 3-D platformer starring Rayman, a…thing…with a huge nose, two long…ears?...antennae?...is it hair?...and floating appendages that aren’t connected to his body. Well, that’s totally not weird at all, right?

Seriously, just what the heck IS Rayman?

Regardless, Rayman’s primary moveset includes a “magic fist,” which allows him to throw magic orbs that ricochet off of walls and other surfaces and serves as his main means of attack; holding himself up between two close-together walls, during which time he can move along the walls and even jump from where he’s hanging; and the ability to spin his…"ear-hair-tennae"…around like a propeller in order to slow his descent from a jump. As the game progresses, the power and versatility of these abilities will increase. Not far into the game, Rayman is able to use his “magic fist” as a grappling hook to swing from ring-like, purple fairies by simply shooting at them, and later can charge it up for a more powerful shot. In addition, in one level only, Rayman is able to use his propeller ability to fly.

Unlike a lot of 3-D platformers from the late 90’s, Rayman 3D is not inspired by, nor is it a clone of, Super Mario 64. Instead, Rayman 3D takes a fairly linear approach that focuses more on straight-up platforming than exploration, which leads to one of the game’s biggest strengths: the level design. Rayman 3D's levels feature lots of fun platforming and, especially for its time, a good amount of variety. From using an indestructible plum to cross a lava flow, to lighting a powder keg with a torch and using it to fly to your next destination, to riding a missile with legs through an obstacle course as if it were a highly combustible horse, Rayman 3D definitely knows how to keep things interesting. It's really not hard to see why it was so highly regarded back in 1999. And yes, you do all of that stuff in the game. And yes, it is ridiculous, but at least it’s not out of place in a game where I can’t even tell you what the main character is supposed to be, right?

But although it’s not a Super Mario 64 clone, the game isn’t devoid of item collecting. Far from it, actually. Scattered throughout the game’s levels and sometimes even trapped in cages are yellow fairies referred to in-game as “Lums,” and there are times when you will need a certain number to access a new area. There are 1,000 in the game, although to complete the game, you aren’t going to need nearly that many. Now, if you DO get all of the yellow Lums in a level, as well as break all of the cages, you are allowed access to the bonus stage. In it, you must help one of Rayman’s friend Globox’s babies win a race by tapping the "A" and "Y" buttons repeatedly. If you win, a fairy will fully restore Rayman’s health....but considering that most of the actually dangerous hazards in the game kill you in one hit, (in which case, you’ll respawn with full health anyway) it’s honestly kind of useless. In addition to yellow Lums, there are red Lums that restore your health, orange Lums (recognizable by their demented grins) that seem to extend your health if you get enough, green Lums that act as checkpoints, and blue Lums that replenish some of Rayman’s air when he’s underwater.

Unfortunately, fun as the gameplay and level design are, there are several reasons why I would advise against putting down a full 40 bucks for Rayman 3D. First of all, the graphics really haven’t aged well. The framerate can get really shaky at times, and a good deal of the objects in the game are just flat, 2-D images or textures, most glaringly the thorny vine obstacles and pits, the animations of which are just laughable. And don’t even get me started on the backgrounds. Granted, the 3DS has only just been released, but when one of the first games shown for it at E3 looks as good as a GameCube game, it really makes one wonder why they didn't take more time to improve the graphics. The 3D feature doesn't do much to make the game look better, either. In fact, it only makes a difference when objects are close to the screen. Also, the sound quality (with the exception of the music) is pretty bad as well, even if you’re wearing headphones. Most notably, the Klonoa-esque gibberish spoken during cutscenes is virtually inaudible.

In addition to that, even if the game’s combat system was serviceable back in the day, it’s pretty lackluster now. As stated earlier, Rayman’s main means of attack is shooting glowing orbs at enemies. Combat pretty much consists of holding “L” to strafe and avoiding your enemy's attacks while holding the “Y” button to charge your own attack, or, if you can’t use the charged shot yet, tapping the “Y” button repeatedly until the enemy’s dead. Don’t get me wrong, I know not to expect much from combat in a platformer, but in most platformers, normal enemies usually take one hit to defeat – two or three at the most. Nowadays, if you’re going to give non-boss enemies a health bar, you need to make combat interesting than this.
Fortunately, combat takes a back seat to platforming, but there’s a flaw that hurts that, too: the camera. The camera is highly uncooperative, sometimes even going outside of the level, and makes areas where you are supposed to swing from the ring-like fairies especially difficult because you can’t always see where the next one is. It doesn’t help that the game provides no means of controlling the camera except for centering it behind Rayman’s back by pressing the “L” button, and even that doesn’t help much sometimes.

On top of all that, the game is…pretty short. I was able to beat it over the course of a single day. Granted, it was a dedicated day on which I had very little better to do, but even so, a single day is still a single day. Now, I know that no platformer is that long – in fact, Sonic Colors, which I gave a 9/10, is just as short as Rayman 3D. But before you start calling bullcrap, allow me to clarify something: for me to recommend a short game for full price, the experience either needs to be top-notch the whole way through, or the game needs to have the replay value to back it up. Sonic Colors succeeded in both areas. Rayman 3D does not succeed in either.


Rayman 3D is most certainly an enjoyable platformer, sporting fun and varied level design, but with all of its flaws taken into account, 40 dollars is a lot to ask for it. I can’t be sure if the framerate and camera problems are exclusive to the 3DS version, considering that I’ve never played any other version of the game, but even if it weren’t for those flaws, the lackluster combat system and short length would still drag it down quite a bit. Still, if you’re a fan of platformers and haven’t already experienced the game on another console, you might want to check this game out once the price drops a bit.

Score: 7/10

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Alan Wake Review

Alan Wake, an Xbox 360 exclusive, is the first game by Remedy Entertainment since Max Payne 2. I have yet to play those games, but being the huge horror fan that I am, I thought Alan Wake looked interesting. When I found it for a good price at the local game store, I didn’t pass up the chance to buy it – and boy, am I ever glad that I did. Here’s why Alan Wake is a work of art that everyone should experience.


Alan Wake involves the titular character, a successful and well-known writer who has been experiencing writer’s block for two straight years, going on vacation with his nyctophobic (afraid of the dark) wife, Alice Wake, to the town of Bright Falls in an attempt to briefly forget about his career. They reach their cabin on Cauldron Lake when Alice reveals that she brought a typewr
iter, hoping that the different scenery would inspire him. An argument ensues and Alan goes outside to clear his head, until he’s startled by his wife’s screams when the lights in the cabin go out. He rushes up to the balcony overlooking the lake and believes he sees her in the water. He dives down to save her, and then wakes up later, having apparently been in a car wreck on a cliff, injured and with no memory of the past week. That’s when crap gets real.

Technically, Alan Wake is a survival horror game, and one of the few that doesn’t involve endless swarms of zombies piling onto you to eat your brain and exploding in gushes of blood when you successfully pull off a headshot. Instead, you’ll be fighting off human beings possessed by darkness, referred to in-game as “Taken”. Gameplay-wise, Alan Wake is a third-person shooter. However, Alan Wake adds an interesting gimmick to its combat system.
Taken can’t be hurt by bullets alone. To damage them with your gun, you must first burn the darkness away with light, hence why you will be carrying a flashlight throughout the entire game. You can tell how close you are to burning the darkness away by the ring around the center of the light. As you shine light on them, the ring gets smaller and smaller until it reaches the center of the light, at which point you can do damage. The larger the enemy, the larger the ring. Fortunately, by holding the left trigger you can boost the light and focus it on an enemy, making the ring disappear faster. However, doing so makes the battery life go down, so be weary of that. If it runs out, you can press the “Y” button to insert a new battery into it, boosting the charge back up a bit, but if you don’t have any, it will recharge on its own (albeit slowly).

Though certainly great, the gameplay of Alan Wake is actually its weakest aspect. The best parts of the game are the story and the atmosphere. The story itself is fantastic. Though I would rather not give any details beyond what I already said in order to avoid giving out spoilers, the plot is highly engaging and keeps you interested as more and more details are revealed.

The storyline is complimented by the atmosphere and storytelling. Remedy Entertainment has successfully accomplished the feeling of a horror mini-series. During the nighttime, the atmosphere is dark, creepy and unsettling, and you never quite know when you’re going to be assaulted by a group of angry Taken. If you stumble upon a TV, you can tune into the game’s Twilight Zone knockoff with intentionally hammy acting, Night Springs. The storytelling adds to this as well. Every cutscene, Alan’s style of narration, the “recap” scenes at the start of each “episode” of the game, and some of the (intentionally) sillier moments that all TV shows and horror movies have, all added to the feeling that I was playing an interactive horror show – and that’s definitely a good thing.


Alan Wake is a true masterpiece. Perhaps the best thing about the game is how well each aspect compliments another. Much of the storyline is revealed during gameplay, which is made more engaging by the atmosphere. The atmosphere, in turn, adds an eerie feeling to the story and gameplay, and it along with the storytelling adds a horror movie-like feel to all of it. Take out or change just one of these elements, and it wouldn’t feel the same or be as perfect as Alan Wake is. Well, almost perfect. The only flaw with the game is that the characters’ facial animations during the cutscenes look kind of awkward. It’s not bad enough for me to knock the score down, and aside from that the graphics are fantastic, but it still deserves mention.

In short, Alan Wake is an engaging third-person shooter with a fantastic story, atmosphere and storytelling. I cannot stress how hard it is to stop playing when you start. If you own a 360, then this is a game you absolutely shouldn’t do without.

Score: 10/10

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Retro Review: Crazy Taxi

It’s not very often that my Dreamcast is used for much else than Sonic Adventure nostalgia, and recently I’ve decided to break out some old Dreamcast games that I never played much of as a kid. Among those is the original Crazy Taxi, the classic arcade port that was fairly popular way back in 2000. I never played it much then, because, well, I was just 4 and I sucked at it, and thus I don’t have much nostalgia for it. So, looking through my vast collection of games, its yellow and black-spotted disc caught my eye, and I wondered if it would be worth playing again. I thought “Why not?” and popped it into my Dreamcast. Considering the game’s nature, I expected to enjoy myself for a little while and quickly get bored, but to my surprise, this 11-year-old arcade game is still highly addictive.

(Also note that this is the first in a series of what I’m calling “retro reviews,” in which I look at an older game from a modern, non-nostalgic perspective.)


In Crazy Taxi, you must drive a taxi (wow, I would never have guessed) around in an open-world city and pick up pedestrians, after which you must get them to their destinations within the time limit – through any means possible. To transport the passengers to their destinations (and get tons of money), you are going to have to completely disregard your safety as well as that of your passenger, boosting through traffic, driving through oncoming traffic, jumping off of ramps, driving along the rooftops…yeah, you see where I’m going with this.

The whole point of the game is to collect as much money, which acts sort of like a “high score”, as possible. Before starting one of the game’s two areas, you are allowed to adjust the time limit to suit your preferences. A game can last for just three minutes, five minutes, or ten minutes. If you choose to play by the arcade version’s rules, you start out with fifty seconds on the counter, and you get more time whenever you pick up pedestrians and when you drop them off at their destinations. During the time limit, you must make money by picking up pedestrians and delivering them to where they need to go, and the faster you do so, the more money you get. You can also get money by sustaining “combos.” A combo will automatically start if you keep from hitting an obstacle or another car for long enough, and you also add to the combo by drifting and jumping off of ramps. Be aware, though, that passengers have their own time limits, and if you take too long to get them where they need to go, they’ll jump out of the cab in frustration. When time runs out, you are graded on your performance based on how much money you received.

And…that’s the entire game. No, really. Well…there is the “Crazy Box” mode where you can play extra challenges, and it’s pretty cool, but it’s honestly not very much. Also, there are only two playable areas in the entire game. Needless to say, it’s a very shallow game. Combine that with the VERY poorly-aged graphics and, under normal circumstances, it would be very hard to recommend such a game. And yet it is so fun and addictive that it doesn't even matter.
Seriously, this is a game that, shallow as it is, is going to keep you coming back for more constantly. It is tons of fun to just go back through, challenge your scores, and just enjoy the over-the-top action. In addition to that, it’s fun to pick up pedestrians you didn’t the last time through and see if you can get them to where they need to go in time, and there may even be areas of the two cities that you haven’t seen yet. Of course, that’s not to say that the gameplay is perfect. There are times when the taxi almost seems to get stuck for a few seconds, most often if you try to turn from a complete stop while offroad. It doesn’t happen too often, but if you’ve got someone in the back of the taxi and time is ticking, it can be pretty annoying. Still, this game was released in the year 2000, and it's still very addicting in the year 2011. And that’s saying a lot.

Oh, and did I mention that (on the Dreamcast version only) the entire soundtrack is made up of songs by Bad Religion and The Offspring? Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a fan of either of those bands, and even if you outright hate them, you can’t say it doesn’t fit the game. YAH YAH YAH YAH YAH!

Pictured above: The soundtrack to youthful rebellion. Or reckless driving. Whichever.

In conclusion, Crazy Taxi is a cheesy, over-the-top joyride that makes up for its lack of depth with its enjoyability and addictiveness. It’s not a game I could recommend for full price, but as old as it is, it’s unlikely you could find any version of it that costs that much anyway. Of course, very few people these days own Dreamcasts, but the game has been ported and re-released a good number of times. The most recent re-release of the game has been the XBLA version (and it’s only ten bucks!), but considering how shoddy the XBLA port of Sonic Adventure was, I would caution against taking chances with that one. Personally, I would recommend the PS2 version, as it seems to be the most well-received port aside from the DC version.

And with that, I’m off.

Score: 7.5/10