What the heck is Player 1 Project?

I’m a long-time video game collector who had an epiphany that I, like most collectors, have recently focused solely on collecting the items and forgotten why I’m collecting the items in the first place. Its time for me to get back to actually playing the games I’m collecting. Video games are a huge part of my past, a bigger part of our culture than some care to admit, and are undeniably their own medium of art. This blog will be all about reminding us long-time gamers why we’ve grown to love video games so much over the years.

Player 1 Project is my personal journey through the history of gaming. One gaming system at a time, starting with the Atari and moving forward through video game console and handheld history, I will replay systems and games that most of us haven’t touched in several years. While doing so I will do my best to put in words the nostalgia I feel, while also giving you a brief history lesson on the console and games. When covering each console I will be playing three games. The first will be a game that I have never played. The second will be a game that you, the reader, will vote on using a list of all the games I’ve currently collected for that specific console. The third will be one of my favorite all-time games for that system. I will write brief reviews on all three games, telling you how they hold up today, how they were for their time period and what they may have inspired in some current generation games.

You can get involved by keeping up with the blog posts and especially by submitting your vote on which game I should play for upcoming system reviews. Before I start on a new system I will post my list of collected games for it. You can cast your vote for which game I should play by using the straw poll link included with the list of games or by commenting on the post that lists the games.

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REVIEW: Star Wars – Knights of the Old Republic

Never Played: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (aka KOTOR) is one of those games that I always heard was great but I never played it myself. Like Escape From Butcher Bay, I didn’t play this great game as a kid because I didn’t have an original Xbox. This blog is the perfect chance to play it, especially with my recent reinterest in the Star Wars universe, thanks to the excellent Marvel comics and of course the new kotorfilms. KOTOR was developed by Bioware for the Xbox and PC in 2003. The game takes place in its own corner of the Star Wars storyline, it does not include or conform to anything from the original movies. It is a semi-live action RPG, with a game system strongly influenced by the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. KOTOR had fantastic reviews and sales which led to it receiving a sequel the very next year.

My first Bioware game was the first game of the Mass Effect series, which I’ve become obsessed with over the last decade. Playing through KOTOR was a fun experience for me because I got to see these early beginnings of several design choices Bioware used and improved on later in Mass Effect. Things like the Paragon/Renegade mechanic, the short skill tree system and the focus on conversation choices. All of these mechanics help me become more easily engrossed in Bioware games and KOTOR was no different. I really liked the base plot and character set-up I was given and how I was able to shape him over the next 36 hours through my own decisions. The skill and leveling systems, while not deep in any way, are more than adequate and are easy enough to pick up. Ease of use is important to me personally because while I’ve enjoyed tons of RPGs, I’m not one of those die-hard RPG players who want a million options and an endlessly deep skill tree. I like just a touch of hand-holding and that’s what I got in KOTOR.

From a technical aspect KOTOR was very hit or miss as a game to come back to and play now, over a decade after its release. Graphically it is quite unappealing, as it attempted to look (and at the time was kotor-osuccessful) realistic, but certainly doesn’t look the part on my gigantic modern day Plasma TV. The soundtrack I personally found unimpressive, but overall true to the Star Wars themes we’ve heard in its various media. The controls were perfectly adequate and I had no problem with them at any point in the game. What I do appreciate about KOTOR and is actually still impressive even to today’s standards was the voice acting. Like Mass Effect, KOTOR had phenomenal voice actors, who must have recorded thousands of hours of footage in a game with dialogue as diverse as KOTOR. Again, this great dialogue helped me feel more in tune with the plot and my character. Speaking of plot, I very much enjoyed it. For those who don’t know, in KOTOR you are given control of someone who wakes up on a ship as it is crashing and being overrun. You escape and are in search of a powerful Jedi named Bastila. After meeting her and other very interesting characters of various races of the Star Wars universe you start to unravel what is truly going on in this world, especially concerning a Sith named Darth Malak. I won’t spoil any more for you so I can avoid the many plot twists. While certainly not ground breaking or unique in the Star Wars setting, it was one that was interesting enough and had enough twists to keep my attention and keep me wondering what each character’s true motives and roles were throughout the story. The personality of the characters and their involvement in the plot was a high point of the game and held my interest.

All in all you will notice that I brought up many times the theme of KOTOR holding my interest. I bring it up because to me it is a cause for concern in long RPGs. If the plot line or character development isn’t top notch I tend to get bored quite quickly. So for KOTOR to hold my attention and make me not want to go to sleep, to want to keep diving into the story and get to the bottom of things was an impressive feat. I think anyone who’s a fan of RPGs would enjoy a play of this old gem, whether they’re a Star Wars fan or not. It has all the ingredients you need in a good RPG: interesting characters, intriguing base plot, adequate leveling systems and adequate combat systems. I’m very glad I chose KOTOR to play through now and as soon as I’m done with this entire blog project KOTOR II is near the top of my “Games To Play” list.

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REVIEW: Halo 2

Poll Winner: HALO 2

The original Halo game put the XBox on the map and quickly became a household name. It deservedly is often credited as a blueprint of how to make a first person console shooter, the pinnacle for developers of that time period to strive for when developing a console shooter. So Bungie had big shoes to fill when developing a sequel, they needed to knock it out of the park with equal quality and some new ideas for the genre. They did just that in 2004 when Halo 2 released for the XBox to overwhelming reviews. It became the highest selling game for the system, selling 8 million copies.

Rarely does a sequel outshine its predecessor when the originhalo 2al is widely considered a masterpiece. Whether we’re talking movie sequels, a new music album or new video game, sequels to great media tend to crumple under the pressure or not live up to the ridiculously high expectations we set for them. Halo 2 was the rare exception to this rule. Graphically it pushed the boundaries of Microsoft’s system, with cut scenes that are almost on par with most we see today, good textures and elaborate alien landscapes. Speaking of the cut scenes, Halo 2 had cut scenes that at the time were better looking than ones any other studio was doing (sans maybe Square Enix). It delivers strong in the audio department also, matching the original game’s quality sound effects and large scale orchestral tracks.

The gameplay manages to keep that same wonder and originality seen in Halo, like the alien weaponry, unique alien enemies and use of futuristic combat vehicles. It does so while halo 2 gifslightly improving them and more importantly, showcasing them all. Halo 2 added a handful of new weapons, the ability to dual wield some of them and it also put a focus on vehicle combat.  My only minor beef with the combat was the AI was not the smartest I’ve ever seen, but that has been a common theme for me while doing this blog. Developers have made big strides in that department so its more noticeable than some other game play mechanics. Multiplayer modes were just as fun as the original but with more options in game type, weapons, vehicles and maps. It was the first console game I personally remember as being THE reason to console game online. There were a few people playing console games online before that with the original Halo and some with SOCOM, but Halo 2 is the first game I remember that everyone just HAD to get access for their console online so they could play multiplayer around the world.

For me personally the biggest improvement Halo 2 has over the original is in a department some gamers don’t even care about when discussing shooters: the story. It isn’t the same story of like “Hey guys let’s stop this invading alien force and kill them all!” Halo 2 has depth and character development that very few shooters had at the time. The focus of the story is split between Spartan and Arbiter (an important character of the Elite race). It gives us much insight into the Covenant’s reasoning, hierarchy and intentions in a way that Halo didn’t. It also introduces a handful of characters who will become extremely integral to the overall story of the Halo universe which has now spanned comics, anime and live action films along with its games. Not only is the story just overall far more intriguing than the original game’s, Halo 2 does a better job of making it seem an important part of the game and make the player truly feel like they’re a part of it. What I mean by that is there are several endings to levels in Halo 2 where the gameplay focus changes dramatically from just typical run-and-gunning to focused events the player controls. For example, the mission where you’re on board a falling space station and have to work your way down to escape before crashing to your death, or the mission where you are on a bridge and must fight your way across the important tactical highway in your Scorpion tank.

With us now having several spectacular entries in the Halo franchise it is easy to just focus our awe and appreciation at whichever is the most recent entry at the time, especially since this is a series of shooter games (a genre that tends to make slight, non groundbreaking improvements over-time instead of large overhauls). But Halo 2 to me is the most important entry of the series and is responsible for the Halo universe becoming the phenomenon it has over the past decade. Halo 2 was the perfect improvement in shooter gameplay and story development that captured the attention of millions of young and malleable console gamers, turning them into lifelong Halo fans and rocketing the world of Halo from something that all gamers were familiar with to something that every American, gamer or not, have heard of.

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REVIEW: Chronicles of Riddick – Escape From Butcher Bay

Personal Favorite: ESCAPE FROM BUTCHER BAY

Following the mildly successful movie Pitch Black, developer Starbreeze Studios created The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, a prequel to the film which also released in 2004, The Chronicles of Riddick. The story involves Riddick, who has been taken under capture to a max prison called Butcher ChroniclesOfRiddick_XboxBoxBay, and must figure out a way to escape. It is a FPS action/stealth blend, released for the Xbox and PC. Escape from Butcher Bay had excellent sales and reviews. The game was remastered in 2009 and packaged in with its sequel The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena.

I’m a big fan of the Riddick movies. Pitch Black was not only one of my favorite and first sci-fi movies, it would probably make my top 10 favorite movies list. So back in the day when I heard there was a game being developed that was essentially a sequel to Pitch Black, I was excited. Problem was it ended up being Xbox and PC only. For a long time all I had was a PS2, then a 360. I didn’t get my own original Xbox until just a couple years ago. My first interaction with Escape from Butcher Bay was its remastered version when it came packaged with Assault on Dark Athena on 360. I loved it for many reasons, which I will get into in a sec. For this review though, I wanted to play the original version for the first time, so I can give you the honest opinions on the version of Escape from Butcher Bay that came out for the Xbox.

I found the original Xbox version of Escape from Butcher Bay to be of the same quality as the remake aside from one major issue, which I will cover first and get it out of the way: the graphics. For the time period, Escape from Butcher Bay was praised for good graphics. However its one of those games that don’t age well visually, because it attempted to be as realistic as possible, using all technology available at the time to accomplish that. We’ve come such a long way though, games like Escape from Butcher Bay now look like crap because we’ve become used to much more realistic graphics and we have more advanced TVs that reveal these flaws even more. When playing Escape from Butcher Bay there were numerous times where the screen was too dark to see enemies or surroundings, even with my TV’s gamma at max. There were numerous times that character models were noticeably blurry, edges of terrain abnormally blocky and poorly textured.

Other than that, the original version of Escape from Butcher Bay is phenomenal. It has a great blend of stealth and combat that’s on par with even Metal Gear Solid games. The voice acting is fantastic and uses the same actors from the films, with Riddick and Johns being voiced by Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser Escape-From-Butcher-Bay-2respectively. As if having Vin Diesel wasn’t enough the game also features my man Ron Pearlman and famous rapper XZibit. That helps add to the atmosphere of Escape from Butcher Bay, which is already well done with dark environments (although again, often times too dark), gritty NPCs, great narration and a plot that while not full of twists or complicated narratives, suffices to stay interesting and immersive. The cinematics are well done and help set up the story and mood properly. Escape from Butcher Bay makes good use of sound, particularly during stealth moments when you’re trying to tell how far away your prey is by the volume of their conversation or footsteps. Suspenseful background tracks blend into the narrative pretty well at a couple key moments of the story too. Controls can be clunky at brief moments but no more than most stealth games, which never feel smooth and well responsive in my opinion (until MGSV).

This was a strange review for me because I played the HD remake first, so the whole time I’m playing Escape from Butcher Bay I was having a bit harder time enjoying it because I couldn’t help but keep comparing it to its improved version. Escape from Butcher Bay is still an amazing game for its time. But if I had to suggest you to play it, I would have to suggest playing the remake that came packaged with Assault on Dark Athena (which is also a fun game). The remake helps greatly in the graphics department, to help you better appreciate the things Escape from Butcher Bay nails: immersion, setting and killer stealth action.

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REVIEW: Microsoft XBox

XBOX REVIEW

After all these hours now playing the Xbox over the last month, this review will end up being mixed. While I’ve had tons of fun playing the console, there are plenty of things I could harp on that are kinda easy to ignore when you’re in the middle of enjoying a game, but kinda hard to ignore when you’re sitting here trying to fully assess it. Take the noise for instance. The XBox at times sounds like an aircraft carrier, loud enough where its xbx controllerdefinitely distracting. Occasionally there were times where I’m really trying to hear something important in a game and the console is too loud, but the majority of the time its not loud enough to bother me much. When I’m in the middle of an intense stealth moment in Chronicles of Riddick or trying to hear a dialogue exchange in Knights of the Old Republic, the XBox is loud enough to annoy me and pull me out of the experience. The XBox also has to be the heaviest console of all-time, it feels like almost twice the weight of most other consoles I’ve reviewed so far. On top of that it is too big, taking up tons of shelf space. I also am not a fan of the white and black buttons due to their tiny size and them being nearly flush with the controller surface. This makes them really difficult to press when you need to hit them quickly. Its not very noticeable though because most games I played didn’t use them at all.

On the positive side the system is pretty powerful for its era. It was certainly the most technically impressive of the PS2/XBX/CUBE generation. The controller overall is fine, with a nice layout and ergonomic feel that would continue to be improved upon by Microsoft with each subsequent XBox model. I really like the black on black design choice of the console and controllers, the lime green power light and logo contrasts very well with it. While the XBox does share most of its best games with the PS2, let’s not forget there were several fantastic XBox exclusives: Halo, Halo 2, Knights of the Old Republic, Fable, Ninja Gaiden Black, Project Gotham Racing, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Jade Empire and more. The XBox also is easily moddable to have games from all platforms, adding to its resale value and replay-ability.

Overall I did enjoy my time with XBox and would recommend it, especially if you can get your hands on a modded one. If you can get past the noise its a great system.

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HISTORY / COLLECTING: Microsoft XBox

HISTORY OF THE XBOX

In 2001 Microsoft made its first move into the console gaming market with the release of its “XBOX” console. It launched at a hefty price tag of $299.99 (which would be $401 today adjusted for inflation). The XBox was a bit more powerful than its peers (PS2 and GameCube), sporting a Pentium processor, hard disk drive and full Dolby Digital sound. Notable launch titles included Halo, Project Gotham Racing and Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee. Halo of course for those of us who remember was a huge hit with the gaming community and is partly responsible for the huge influx of first person shooters on consoles over the next decade and a half. It helped propel the XBox past the GameCube into the #2 spot right behind the PS2, where it stayed for pretty much the entirety of its lifecycle. Over its roughly 8 year lifecycle it sold a respectable 24 million units.

Just as important as the console itself though was Microsoft’s creation of XBox LIVE shortly after the console’s launch. XBox Live is an online gaming service that consumers pay a monthly fee to maintain access to. It allows players to play against and with other Xbox users around the globe, as well as access and buy games, movies, music and more. In modern times this sounds far from a unique service, as we are surrounded by hundreds of them, but at the time XBox Live came out it is a ground breaking move for the console gaming world that would give them a foothold in the competition between the next generation of consoles and forced Sony and Nintendo to create their own online services to have any hope of competing with Microsoft over the long haul.

The XBox’s controller was similar to other button layouts we’ve seen, but added two small white and black buttons that served minimal use in some games. The controller is bigger than most others at the time and featured dual analog sticks as well as a d-pad, with two rows of shoulder buttons, similar to Sony’s DualShock design. While the controller does have room at the top to have a memory card inserted, memory cards were not really necessary for those with a small to moderate collection of games as the XBox’s hard disk drive stored enough memory to support a respectable amount of game saves, one of the few advantages it had over its rival PS2.

PERSONAL HISTORY WITH THE XBOX

During this era of consoles I and most of my friends had a PS2. Hell, everyone had a PS2. It is after all the best selling console of all-time. Earliest recollections I have with the XBox are first at a Wal-Mart demo station I played Oddworld and didn’t care for itsc chaos at all. Not necessarily the system, because the game looked beautiful and the control was pretty similar to the DualShock. I just didn’t care for the gameplay of Oddworld, wasn’t my cup of tea. Months later though a little brother of a friend of my girlfriend and I played through the Halo campaign co-op and that unsurprisingly sold me on the XBox. This thing had beautiful games and Halo was jaw dropping amazing at the time, I HAD to have one. But we could never afford to get a new console and I never ended up owning an original XBox for myself until I was an adult and had started collecting seriously. Still, I had my moments with it at friend’s houses from time to time, particularly Halo, Halo 2, Project Gotham Racing and the Splinter Cell series.

COLLECTING FOR THE XBOX

Collecting the console itself and its games is actually not too difficult or expensive to do. Actually all three of the consoles of that generation are reasonable in price to collect for. The console itself is built like a damn tank (and heavy as one too) and so it tends to hold up well with time, so there’s not much worry of buying dud used XBox’s. Most of the gems for the system are reasonably price ~$20 or less too like the Halo, Splinter Cell, Project Gotham, Oddworld and Grand Theft Auto series. Most game stores, pawn shops and thrift stores that sell used games will have most of what you’re looking for. So if XBox collecting sounds like something you’re interested in then I say dive right in, its cheap and easy. There’s a “yo momma” joke to be made somewhere in there.

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REVIEW: Golden Sun

Poll Winner: GOLDEN SUN

Another game I always heard good things about but never got to play for myself until now. Several people have told me how I need to play this game over the years, namely my cousin Austin. So this was the perfect opportunity to see for myself if Golden Sun really gold sunwas as good as they say. Golden Sun was created by Camelot Software Planning, who have often affiliated with Sega, but have partnered with Nintendo a lot too (for not only this game but also for the Mario Tennis and Mario Golf games). It released in 2001 to phenomenal reviews and pretty solid sales, quickly gaining a name as one of the better JRPGs made up to that point. It spawned a sequel called The Lost Age (also on the GBA) the very next year and then a third game Dark Dawn years later on the DS.

So I can already tell you I may do a lot of comparing of this game to Chrono Trigger, I can’t help it. That’s because they’re both 2.5D JRPGs from close to the same era and also are both JRPGs I’m playing for the first time. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t really care much for Golden Sun at first. It was slow in both action and story, none of it interested me all that much. Maybe I was spoiled by recently playing Chrono Trigger for the first time, but I found the early game of Golden Sun overall to be unexciting. But as the game progressed I got more and more interested, especially as I learned the slight mechanics twists it uses and as the puzzles got more difficult. For example in Golden Sun your mana pool regenerates itself as you move about the environment instead of you worrying about having to make countless trips to shops for items when you’re grinding. This simple change would make me enjoy so many other JRPGs more and I personally wish they all would adopt it. The rate you regain it is slow so there’s not really much worry about it breaking the game by making it too easy. It greatly improved the fun of battles because I wasn’t scared to use my various mana abilities with my characters, I didn’t have to be frugal with my MP. I tossed out fun spells left and right even on normal mobs. I also liked that pretty much all party members felt useful, since in every other RPG there always seems to be one member who you would never take with you on an important battle. The story, while still not super interesting to me personally, did pick up and finish stronger. What impressed me the most out of everything though was as I ran into more and more variety in the game worlds and dungeons they all felt unique. Again, reminiscent of Chrono Trigger. Some areas were significantly different, like the desert area or ship area. Speaking of the ship it was probably my favorite part, and the kraken fight was probably my favorite battle. It was all just a nice change of pace after the many hours I had into Golden Sun at that point. On the technical side of things the game is ultra impressive for a handheld title. Its sprites, animations and soundtrack were on par with great SNES and Genesis classics like (once again) Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, Secret of Mana, etc. Actually it may be the best looking game on the Game Boy advance.

On the negative side, Golden Sun had far too many random encounters. This is a personal preference though, some gamers may like that. I think its also because I’ve been spoiled on modern JRPGs that have the ability to adjust your encounter rate. I also felt at times the game had far too much text and useless dialogue. Also, without spoiling anything, the final boss was pretty damn easy, which I personally don’t mind but I know a lot of hardcore JRPG fans will hate. A lot of you hardcore JRPG guys want your characters to have to be fully grinded out, max level, max equipment, max everything to be able to defeat a final boss. I think you’re crazy and that Golden Sun, while a touch on the easy side, was more in line with what I prefer. If I’ve put a decent chunk of hours into a game and thought into my character builds and strategies I should be able to beat the game without grinding for another 100 hours.

Golden Sun ended with a pretty obviously open ending, making the player assume there would be sequels, which there were. After finishing this blog I will be adding those sequels to my Games To Play list for sure, at least the GBA sequel. Any self respecting handheld collector or RPG collector should own Golden Sun. Its technical quality was pretty much unheard for its time and platform, it was a bit ahead of its generation and definitely deserves recognition for that. Kudos to Camelot Software for that.

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REVIEW: Advance Wars

Personal Favorite: ADVANCE WARS

When I was a kid my brother and I would come up to visit family in Indiana every month or so. When we did our favorite people to see were our three cousins who were all boys and all our same age. On these visits we would battle our Pokémon, have Goldeneye multiplayer sessions, or whatever the current game was at the time. One of those games we frequently competed on was Advance Wars. Nintendo made handheld multiplayer a promoted feature on the Game Boy Advance. Everyone had a link cable to battle and trade their Pokémon or to race on Mario Kart Super Circuit. My cousins and I loved to play Advance Wars against each other.awars

Advance Wars was developed by Intelligent Systems, who have also developed Fire Emblem games and Paper Mario games, that’s quite an impressive portfolio of work. It was 0a turn based tactics game that came to the GBA (and only to the GBA) in 2001 with great sales but even better review scores. Most consider it the best game on the Game Boy Advance (along with Metroid Fusion which we will also be reviewing). The success of the game led to a second Advance Wars game on the GBA and then two more later on the Nintendo DS.

The thing about Advance Wars is that it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Little to none of the mechanics in this game were new to the turn based tactics genre. Where Advance Wars succeeded was in execution and presentation. Advance Wars is an incredibly deep and impressive tactics design wrapped up in colorful and attractive characters and animations and is well taught and explained to players who may be unfamiliar with them. At the time this game came out there were very few turn based games in the Western world. The creators of Advance Wars made it a point to present the game in an easier to learn format, in hopes that the Western world would catch on and get hooked quick and they were successful in those endeavors. Advance Wars does this by having what might be the best tutorial mode I have ever seen in a video game, even still to this day. Every unit or strategy is given its own dedicated tutorial, which are essentially little miniature battles. The game will educate you and instruct you on how this next mechanic works but it won’t hold your hand and force you through. Once its taught you the basics of the mechanics it lets you finish out the battle and use said mechanic to your advantage to win. Once you’ve won that stage of the tutorial it teaches you the next logical progression, another tasty layer to the strategy cake. After a few layers I remembered just how incredibly deep Advance War‘s combat could be. There are a plethora of different land military, land vehicle, air and water units. Not only that but the game also has multiple forms of terrain which influence battle and ways a team can win. On top of that each team’s captain has their own ability that is unique to them, that you can only activate a couple times per battle. For example Andy allows you to repair all units in one turn, Olaf turns the field to snow terrain for a few turns which his troops aren’t hindered by.

This all sounds like a lot to keep up with, and admittedly it is. But the presentation is so inviting that it doesn’t feel daunting or intimidating. The characters and vehicles are drawn in somewhat of a cartoony fashion instead of a realistic one. The captains are a tad over the top in their personalities. There is a bit of humor sprinkled in here or there in the dialogue. All of that coupled with the amazing tutorial helped me relearn the mechanics super quick and remember why I loved this game so much.

Advance Wars isn’t as much fun when you’re just playing the computer, which I was for this review. While the one player mode is great in its own right and still worth playing, I wanted so badly to be able to play this against my friends. Unfortunately no one else close to me still has a GBA and Advance Wars, so I didn’t get to relive those days. Still, I had fun with this game and this time around was able to appreciate more how great of a job the developers did with it. If you’ve never given Advance Wars a try you should definitely do so. Time does not show on this game, its still just as enjoyable as it was when I was a middle schooler.

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REVIEW: Metroid Fusion

Never Played: METROID FUSION

I’ve been a huge fan of the Metroid games since a little kid, well, since Super Metroid obviously. If I had to pick a favorite gaming franchise Metroid would probably be my choice (maybe second only to Street Fighter). Metroid Fusion was the one and only Metroid game I had never played before, so this blog is Metroid_Fusion_boxdefinitely a good excuse to finally do so. Metroid Fusion was the first of two Metroid games for the GBA, releasing in 2002 to amazing reviews and decent sales (which is pretty much the ratio for every Metroid game ever created). It was developed by Nintendo Research and Development 1, who also developed Super Metroid (which this game reminds me more of than any other Metroid game). Metroid Fusion is considered to be the latest in the timeline of Samus Aran’s journey.

Graphically Metroid Fusion is quite impressive, with excellent use of color and beautiful sprites. The art style reminds me a lot of Super Metroid, but with more crisp and clear outlines. Bosses in particular look awesome and intimidating, even on the small GBA screen. The cutscenes are nice too, almost manga-like in style. The soundtrack is just as brilliant, with good use of suspenseful tracks during certain plot points. Sound effects of weapons, doors and bosses are all impressive and immersive considering the limited technical abilities of early handhelds like the GBA.

Where Metroid Fusion excels the most (like all Metroid games) is in gameplay and level design. The game takes place on a single space station that is in lockdown, with different sealed off quadrants, each with their own security clearances. To progress through the plot you must gain different clearance levels to get access to areas you could not before. You get that access by gaining new abilites that allow you to work your way into the new areas. For example, once you have missiles you can blow up rubble to get to a previously unreachable area. Or once you have ice weaponry you can freeze enemies and use them as jumping platforms to get up to a room you previously couldn’t. These mechanics reward the player for smart thinking and exploration. Often these new weapons are found by defeating bosses, which Metroid Fusion is in no shortage of. Several of these bosses will be very memorable for me due to their crazy designs or the fun mechanics of their fights. Gedo X was an awesome fight (I won’t spoil the details for you) which I had a lot of trouble with at first. Nightmare X was frustrating difficult for me and there was a point where I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to complete this review or not. His amazing gravity controlling mechanics and weird design combine to make him one of the most memorable bosses ever. Speaking of memorable bosses, Dark Samus (known in this version as SA-X) has some particularly awesome moments in this entry of Metroid. She’s constantly stalking you throughout the game and when she’s near you you must hide or run for your life.

These moments can be very suspenseful and sometimes require very smart play by the player. As difficult as Metroid Fusion can be at times, I must commend it for doing a stellar job at explaining mechanics to the player and walking them through how a Metroid game works. The pacing also is top notch. There is a steady stream of new weapons and abilities that fit their way perfectly into the progression of the game’s level design.

If there was a Metroid game I could suggest to new players who want to get into the series, it would be this one. Not only because it is a great example of how amazing Metroid games can be, but also because of the great job of direction the game gives you. Metroid Fusion is one of the best handheld games I’ve ever played, its one of the best Metroid games ever, which is really saying something.

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REVIEW: Nintendo Game Boy Advance

GAME BOY ADVANCE REVIEW

The Game Boy Advance was and still is technically and aesthetically impressive, even without considering it came out in 2001. It was worlds ahead of its predecessor and ahead of Sega’s best effort: the Game Gear. Nintendo managed to simultaneously make the system lighter than the Game Boy Color while still improving performance with a 32bit processor and bigger screen. Graphics, sound, button layout, button responsiveness, battery life…the GBA performs in all areas. On top of that it had a great library which let us replay many SNES and NES hits on the go, while still sporting many new gems like Advance Wars, Golden Sun, TLOZ: The Minish Cap and many more.

The only complaint I could possibly make about the original GBA model is that it suffers from not having a back-lit screen. In some lighting it is nigh impossible to see what’s on your screen. But this was a problem that every electronic device 15 years ago suffered from, so its pretty forgivable. Nintendo fixed that issue with the newer model GBA SP, gbaspwhich had a square shape layout instead, and folded into a flip up style which was gaining popularity at the time (am I the only one who remembers how popular the Motorola Razor phone was?). The screen looked beautiful with its built in lighting that could be turned on and off at your whim if you wanted to preserve battery life. Speaking of which, the SP had a rechargeable battery. No longer did you have to keep dishing out cash for AAs, just charge the SP for a couple hours and its good for quite a long time. Nintendo also cranked out a third GBA model, named the Game Boy Micro, which I cannot comment on since I’ve never played it and don’t yet own it.

Overall the GBA is absolutely amazing, with excellent performance, an even better performing SP model and one of the best game libraries ever.

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