Sony's first console sold 100 million units, making the electronics giant an industry powerhouse.


With Halloween just around the corner, I can't think of a better game to review than Konami's Playstation classic, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.  Calling this one of the best games ever made isn't meaningless hyperbole; it's common knowledge.  Ask anyone, and they're enthusiastically agree that Symphony of the Night is a masterpiece.

It's also vastly different from the previous games in the Castlevania series.  The spotlight has shifted from the Belmont family to Dracula's prodigal son, Alucard.  You may remember him as a supporting character in Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, but as powerful as he was, that game barely tapped his potential.  In Symphony of the Night, he's capable of far more, arming himself with dozens of weapons and crushing his foes with powerful magic spells.

You'll also notice a difference in the castle itself... it'll seem a lot larger than it was the last few times you dropped by for a visit.  That's because the level structure has changed... it's much less linear than it was in the past, giving players the opportunity to revisit stages and uncover hidden rooms.  Moving onto the next level is no longer a simple matter of beating a boss... this time, you'll need to collect items that will let you make it to that platform hanging just out of reach, or squeeze through those seemingly impenetrable iron bars.

It's not just the castle that's been made more complex... Konami has added depth to the gameplay as well.  Unsatisfied with carrying around a whip, Alucard can find and use all kinds of weapons, ranging from swift and deadly swords to brutally effective maces.  Many of these implements of destruction are infused with magical properties which make them even more powerful, and others... well, you'll wish you'd left them where you found them.  You can also enhance your stylish Victorian wardrobe with an immense assortment of headgear, armor, capes, and jewelry.  It's not only fashionable, it'll give you an important edge against the thousands of monsters scattered throughout Dracula's lair.

I never mentioned the monsters, did I?  Well, you remember how great the creepy creatures were in the original Castlevania, right?  Take them, add enough shading and detail to make them genuinely frightening, and throw in every other mythological beast you've ever seen, and you've got the cast of villains in Symphony of the Night.  You'll even find enemies you haven't seen anywhere else, like the tragically grotesque Beezulbub, a rotting giant hung from the ceiling by rusty hooks, and Granfaloon, a fleshy orb using a graveyard's worth of corpses as its protective shell.  You can't help but be impressed by the monsters in this game, from the tiniest bat to the master of them all, the sinister Dracula.

You'll also be dumbstruck by the quality of both the sound and graphics.  The game truly is a symphony with its beautiful soundtrack, featuring everything from classical music surpassed only by master composers to head bangin' heavy metal rock.  The graphics are equally exceptional, with polygons and other special effects spicing up your magic spells.  The bosses are enormous, sometimes double the size of the screen, and Alucard is a thing of dark beauty with his flowing cape and white mane of hair trailing behind him.  If it weren't for the slightly silly voice overs and the unfortunate moments when the game slows down to accommodate large numbers of enemies, the game's audiovisuals would be flawless.

That's not to say that the game doesn't have flaws in other areas, however.  Konami lengthened the game with a second castle that appears after you've thoroughly explored the first one, but it's simply the same castle, turned upsidedown and populated with more dangerous enemies.  This makes the going doubly frustrating... when you're not using your gravity boots to reach areas that were easily accessible in the first castle, you're struggling to stay alive against relentless foes like the nearly unstoppable Galamoth.  The complicated joystick motions used to cast spells don't make things any easier.  When you're in a dire situation and your hit points have dropped dangerously low, you don't have time to make like Geese Howard and bust out a Rising Storm to recover your ailing health.  More often than not, you'll be left wriggling the joypad like an idiot while your enemies close in for the kill.  The rest of the game has very solid control, but those convoluted magic spells really suck... and I'm not talking about blood here.

Nevertheless, Symphony of the Night is the best the Castlevania series has to offer... and when you consider just how good the other games in the series were, that's saying a lot.

Accl- uh, I mean Bandai
3D Fighter

There's a company in Japan called Bandai. You might have heard of them... they make many consumer products, including Power Rangers figures and really shitty licensed games. They're basically Japan's equivalent of Acclaim. One particular effort they did (that was actually brought to the US in limited qualities) was Dragon Ball Final Bout. Based on the series Dragon Ball GT, this was the first foray into 3D for the DB universe (unless you count DBZ VR VS in the arcades). Interestingly enough, you'd think a game like this would kill the DB franchise. On the contrary, it was the one "extraordinary effort" keeping the franchise alive--the game was delayed, so they kept the GT series going to maintain interest in the game.

I thought this game might be interesting, so I bought it. I didn't think it would be as bad as I had heard. Now my life is changed. I feel like I have lost my sanity to this horrible, horrible game.

Anyway, onto the game. The characters in this game are mostly from the GT series: Goku (both adult and child*), Trunks, Pan (Goku's granddaughter and Gohan's daughter), Cell, Freeza, Piccolo, Gohan, and Majin Buu. This is one of the problems with the game--the cast seems to be mostly DBZ rehash (though there is a saga in which Goku has to battle Freeza and Cell when Earth and Hell are linked). They could have put in some of the new characters in the series--Bebi, Uubu (the new form of Majin Buu as a young boy who has no knowledge of his nihilistic past), Super-17 (a cross between Android-17 and another #17), or even one of the seven evil Shenlongs (Dragons) that appears in the end of the series. Instead, what do they do? They put in a total of three Trunks (normal, Super GT-style, and Super DBZ-style) and six Gokus (normal adult, normal child, super adult GT, super adult DBZ, super child, and SSJ4), along with Vegetto (Goku + Vegeta fusion). That's it. Stark raving laziness.

This would ruin it for many folks, but wait! There's more!! The graphics are horrible. They look like LEGO people, almost. There are some nice touches (Majin Buu puffing up when he charges, for example), but there's little steak for all the sizzle. The sound is passable, but you wouldn't really expect anything less from this. As for the gameplay...

Well, the less said about the gameplay, the better, but since I must, here goes: The close-up combat is horrible. The punches and kicks are stilted and take an eternity from start to finish. As a result, there seems to be an almost total reliance on distance fighting. The only semi-effective close move is the meteo attack, which seems too east to do, making it possible to link six or seven meteos in one series. This seriously throws off the balance of the game. Furthermore, the characters' walking is deathly slow. It takes an eternity to get over to the opponent.

As for the distance game, there's the basic fireball, as well as the mandatory "more effective fireball attack" that is usually three fireballs in rapid succession, but sometimes varies from character to character. Also, there's the homing fireballs some characters have. And, finally, there are super fireballs. The far-away attacks have a window during which you have to input a command to do one of four things: block (1/2 damage), dodge (slight damage), dissipate (use energy field, slight damage), or blast war (classic from the second and third SNES fighting games). This is pretty much the crux of the gameplay.

Note: this is for the Japanese version of the game. Given the fact that the US version is going for upwards of $200, I'm not going to try to find that.  And what's even sadder is that in Japan, this game is actually in the "PlayStation the Best" series (Greatest Hits equivalent). Try to wrap your head around this: There were actually at least 1 million Japanese consumers who were big enough suckers to buy this god-awful game. I feel like Akane wouldn't be enough to "analyze" this game. I feel like we would need Amy Rose from Sonic Adventure and Skuld from Oh My Goddess! to aid her in the "final analysis."

*A major plot point in GT is that Goku gets turned into a child again (he's in his mid-50s at this point) by the "Ultimate Dragon Balls," which were created by the original Piccolo (before he split into two separate entities). He has to retrieve the Balls, which have scattered across the galaxy, because 1) they're the only balls that can reverse the wish, and 2) if he doesn't collect them in one year, they'll destroy the earth (and that's where I keep all my stuff!) He winds up getting help from Pan (his granddaughter) and Trunks (who has his future self's sword). The series actually has some good points--interesting attention to backstory (the species that the Saiyajins annihilated factor into a major plotline early on, and Dr. Gero, the creator of the androids, makes his not-so-triumphant return), and a good cast (Uubu, Pan, and the robot Gill, who actually has a Dragon Radar). The fact that neither of these was used in major detail (except Super Bebi--Bebi possessing Vegeta as a giant gold ape) was a travesty, and for this alone, I will for all eternity call Bandai "Acclaim Japan."

Role-Playing Adventure


Everything in this review is all in my opinion.  I know there are people out there who probably pray to their FF8 CDs twice a day.  So don't read this if you can't stand a little negative criticism.


This is the area where FF8 really shines.  The FMV sequences are just amazing and are some of the best I have seen in any game.  The in-game graphics are also extremely well done--the characters are highly detailed, as are the graphics, and the special effects are very flashy.  I did find the limited animations to be something of a let down--the backgrounds are mostly static, and the characters have only a handful of gestures that are repeated far too often (like Quistis holding her arms every 5 minutes).

One really nice change is that the graphics are all realistic looking, unlike FF7's confusing backgrounds (where you had multi-colored cave walls with misplaced light sources and couldn't tell where the heck you were or where you were going).  My biggest gripe is the same one I had with FF7--sometimes it's hard to see where a door or path is, and walking along the walls or checking each rock in an effort to find an exit gets really tiring fast, but it happens often and is really annoying.


The music in this game is really sub-par; it sounds just like the simplistic, MIDI-like tunes heard in FF7.  In fact, some of the tracks bear an uncanny resemblance to old FF7 tunes.  Very little of the music caught my attention or is even much as I disliked FF7's music, FF8's is even worse.  It's not like the tunes are actually harsh or anything, they're just all very boring.  There are some really good songs you hear in later discs (like in Esthar), but they can't save this game from having a lackluster music score overall.  The sound effects, on the other hand, are pretty good--monsters roar and squeal, you can hear the splash of the surf when you're by the water, there are all kinds of sounds for magic spells and attacks, etc.


FF7 had a great plot, but it was presented in such a muddled manner that it was hard to understand just what was going on, even by the time you beat the game.  FF8 does just the opposite--the plot is easy to comprehend but is mediocre at best.  Most of the time you can make a pretty good guess as to what will happen next in FF8, and the few mysterious and intriguing aspects of the story are given rather dumb and hasty explanations.  Some parts even come off as uneeded (as an example, seriously, you could drop the whole Matron thing without detracting from the plot--it's hastily put in and resolved without adding anything worthwhile to the story).  I commend Square for trying to make FF8's storyline easy to understand, but it shouldn't have come at the cost it did: it's far less entertaining than other RPG plots.  Even the 7th Saga got more interesting as time went on than this game did.


FF8's Squall acts just like FF7's Cloud, only more insensitive.  Cloud was boring enough in FF7, but to just repeat the whole "I don't care" attitude thing with Squall in FF8 is beyond tedious.  After about 5 minutes of gameplay, you stop caring what happens to Squall, and it only comes off as more and more pathetic when the other characters try to get him to show some emotion (particularly Rinoa).  Suddenly Squall falls head over heels for Rinoa halfway through the game for apparently no reason, and it only serves to show the shortcomings of the character designs even more.  The other characters are uninteresting--Seifer, Irvine, and Quistis just blend into the background for most of the game.  Zell sticks out just because he's so overemotional, a stark contrast to the other characters, but he still pales compared to FF7's Barret or Cid (both of whom were nothing great to begin with).  Selphie actually has a few good moments, but for the most part she falls into the dorky, childlike mold so common in other RPGs.  Even Edea, who is your enemy for most of the game, comes off as lukewarm and is nowhere near as imposing as Kefka or Sephiroth of previous FF games.  Raijin and Fujin are probably the worst two characters, since they basically run around spitting out "Ya know!?" and "RAGE." for the majority of the game. ;)

Ironically, the only interesting character in the entire game is the one you spend the least amount of time playing with.  Unlike everyone else, Laguna comes off like a real person, who is brave, clumsy, shy, and determined under different situations.  In other words, he's a realistic and a likable character.  And although his allies are boring, at least they gave the occasional sarcastic response to Laguna's hairbrained schemes for comedic effect.  If you could have played with Laguna instead of Squall for the majority of the game, it would have made for a much more entertaining experience than having to play with Squall, who is about as lively as a mannequin.


For reasons unknown to mankind, SQUARE decided to over-simplify FF8.  This ranges from really minor stuff like being unable to change the window color, to serious stuff like omitting rank changing and defending from the battle menu, removing armor and accessories (all you can do is upgrade your weapons), and being unable to cast magic spells on multiple targets.  With so few and limited options, it undoubtedly makes it easier for newcomers to get into the game, but it also makes the game so simplistic that it gets boring.  I mean, when all you can really do in battle is attack, use magic, use a restorative item, or one of the few special abilities available to you, it gets dull after a while.  It also takes out quite a bit of strategy (i.e. you can hit flying enemies with any weapon, unlike in FF7, and enemies in the back rows don't take less damage than those in the front row, so you can just attack indiscriminately).

The only thing that saves the gameplay is the interesting way in which item use has been implemented; you can earn a lot of weird and seemingly useless items from monsters, and then modify and refine them in to all sorts of stuff.  It's pretty neat, even if it can make your characters too powerful.  The magic 'drawing' system seems like a neat idea, but is actually quite boring, as you run around drawing spells from points or monsters for hours on end just to get enough magic spells.  I actually ended up just going into battle against an enemy, incapacitating them with Bad Breath or something similar, then putting something heavy on my controller to keep them all drawing magic for 20 minutes.  Sure it's dull, but it's faster than hacking up monsters to get items you can refine into spells, or waiting around for draw points to recharge. Leave it to SQUARE to make sure that the only cool gameplay addition ends up being not very well implemented.


FF7 was ridiculously easy, and FF8 also shares this distinction.  If you play through the game without using GF abilities, the game is reasonably hard.  On the other hand, if you give into temptation and use the GFs, the game becomes a cakewalk.  GFs do tons of damage when summoned, and the abilities you learn from them just ruin the game. For example, you can get Diablos only a few hours into the game, and from him you can earn the power to never encounter random battles. That would be like getting the Moogle Charm in FF6 by the time you reached the Returner's base.  It just makes no sense.  The refining powers of the GFs let you turn items and cards into powerful stuff--for example, with the Card Mod ability (which Queztlcoatl can learn, and you get him at the start of the game), you can earn half of Quistis' Blue Magic spells before even going to the Fire Cavern, just by collecting cards from the other Balamb Garden students and turning them into the appropriate items to use on Quistis.  This even includes the way powerful spells like Bad Breath and Mighty Guard...uh, excuse me, didn't of the playtesters at SQUARE notice this?

As the game progresses, you only get stronger GFs with more and more abilities (like the Revive ability of Alexander, which ressurects a character with full HP and costs absolutely nothing to use).  As if your characters weren't powerful enough, the enemies are beyond dumb, most of them having idiotic attack patterns (for example, Imps will try to Dispel someone with Auto-Reflect repeatedly, even though it can't be dispelled).  As tragic pointed out, the only difficult aspect of this game is when it comes to finding save points, as they are far and few between, a real problem when you've been playing for 40 minutes, have something else to do, and there are no savepoints in sight.  Ouch.


I can't really comment on this since I haven't played the Japanese game.  On one hand, at least the text reads better than FF7 and has few spelling and grammar errors.  It's nice to not have to figure out who said what and for what reason, unlike in FF7's hard-to-follow conversations.  Also, it was neat to see the magic names in their original Japanese names, and some of the shortened names were understandable, such as "Quetzalcoatl" becoming "Quetzcotl" or "Grashaboras" ending up as "Doomtrain".  On the other hand, you have the usual name mistranslations--"Golden Needle" becomes "Soft", "Garkimasera" ends up as "Imp", and "Meteor Bullet" is mangled into "Meteo Barret".  You'd think after FF7, the people at Square would get into gear and start translating correctly, but apparently it's not a big concern for these guys.


I've heard the argument time and time again that RPGs are not meant to be replayed often; which makes no sense to me.  I mean, if I counted the number of times I replayed Dragon Warrior III, or Chrono Trigger, or Secret of Mana since I bought those games, I'd probably be up in the trillions.  Any quality RPG has just as much replay value as other game genres.  Unfortunately, FF8 got pretty tiring after just the first play through.  One problem was the fact that the game was so short-- despite FF8 being on four CDs, it felt like I spent more time playing FF Mystic Quest than I did getting through FF8.  When I found myself confronted with the message to pop in the next disc, the same thought of "Geez, already?" kept entering my mind.  Unlike other RPGs, I didn't think after I'd beaten it that it would be fun to relive it all because there wasn't that much to go through again.

Another blow against FF8 is that there aren't a lot of secrets and bonuses in it.  Granted, I don't really care for FF7, but at least it had all sorts of mini-games, and hard-to-find items, and bonus areas (like Yuffie's quest in Wutai or the Ancient Forest with the frogs). All FF8 has is the card game, which is entertaining, but not the most exciting thing ever to pop up in a video game.  One of the fun things about replaying RPGs is trying to discover all the stuff you missed the first time, but with FF8, you pretty much see it all on the first play through (at least that makes it a good candidate for a rental).


FF8 is a below-average RPG; the great graphics can't save it from it's boring (and highly predictable) plot, uninteresting music, one-dimensional characters, neutered gameplay, non-existant replay value, or utter lack of challenge.  If you didn't care for FF7, you probably won't care for this game, and even if you liked FF7, you probably won't care for this game, either ;)  It's not like FF8 is the worst RPG ever made (there are plenty of other games that could hold that distinction), but you should definitely rent it first or borrow it from a friend before deciding whether to purchase it or not.  Square obviously feels that putting out commercials full of FMV are enough to make people buy this game, when in fact the FMV is about all FF8 has going for it.  

Natsume, Wanashi, Four Winds

With recent releases, it's become apparent that Sony's first console is a dumping ground for a wide range of budget priced titles aimed at a mass market that finds themselves more than willing to shell out $10 for dreck like Largo Winch and Disney Kid's Kitchen with Mickey and Minnie (don't quote me on the exact title of that one...).

At the same time the ol' PSOne has become the home for quirk-filled, anime-flavored arcade games and four year old shooters. Beating Psikyo's Sol Divide to the Toys 'R Us Deals Zone cardboard rack is the Natsume published Gekioh Shooter King, a slightly above average, relatively nice looking shooter that abides by the Capcom school of cheap Dreamcast games: supply a cathartic twitch game experience at a bargin basement price (in this case $10) and throw a bunch of useless, but fun, crap on top of it.

Its hard to go into detail about the actual game. Gekioh is, basically, a Raiden clone, and a pretty good one at that. It has a power up and weapon system completely lifted from Seibu Kaihatsu's legendary series and the menacing bosses, less menacing mini-bosses, and plethora of standard cannon fodder and environments carry the series' design astethic. Later levels drag, painfully so, and beat you senseless with pattern-happy space tanks (astro tanks to some) and giant robots with prutruding tentacles. The game, thankfully, doesn't rely on endless "bullet hell" patterns, instead offering barrages of foes to cut down. So it's basically a poor man's Raiden. In the case of those people that can't afford Raiden Project on Ebay, I mean that literally.

What really makes the game are the variety of modes. Beyond easy, Gekioh (arcade default), and hard mode there are six bonus modes (the manual deems them as "hilarious"). Slow mode adds, for some strange reason, zombie sound effects and makes your ship more lethargic. Antique mode adds a sepia toned FOX Movietone motif to the game. The screen jitters like an old film, you get a jittery sounding projector, hair on the "frame", and sound effects and music associated with newsreel footage. Comedic mode adds a laugh track, cued when you die, and cartoony "crashing anvil" sound effects when you blow up foes. Oddly, no music is available in Comedic mode. No Mercy and Stingy are basically the same thing: No Mercy gives you nothing from items and makes it harder to earn to power ups and extra lives via high scores. They also make it mindnumbingly difficult. Stingy mode is only two levels long, and gives you one life and no credits. The coolest mode, arguably is Pocket mode. If you are one of the six people who own a Pocketstation in the US you can download a mini-game to it. It plays sort of like a dumbed down Solar Striker, the now anicent Game Boy game. If you have no Pockstation, fret not. The game allows you to play a beautifully emulated version of the game.

At ten dollars, it's a given that Gekioh is worth the price. If it was just the game sans the extra modes it would've been a two green jewel and a purple jewel (that's a five, kids) game that would've been worth ten bucks. With the extra weird, though basically pointless, features, it's MORE than worth that price. Gekioh is worth a go, and, at least from my experience, only available at Toys 'R Us. 

Atlus/Arc System Works

Everybody is talking about Guilty Gear X this, GGX that.  Everybody, however, seems to forget what began it all... the original Guilty Gear fighting game for PSX.  The game was a marvel of engineering--a well-animated 2D fighting on the Sony "2D?  What's that?" Playstation.  The game had many interesting characters, sort of stepping beyond most archetypes:  A girl who uses her hair as a weapon, a blind man who attacks with his shadow, a doctor who uses a scalpel... of DOOM, and a Swiss fighter.  They also explored rarely-used archetypes, such as "American ninja" and "British guy who uses obscure Japanese weapon that maybe 12 Westerners would be able to identify by proper name."  Yes, Guilty Gear has an answer to Billy Kane in Axl Low, a man trapped in a world he'd normally never live to see.  They even have similar moves.

But enough about that.  You know about the Gears from GGX, right?  They were a fusion of magic and machinery, the ultimate soldier.  Many Gears were actually engineered from humans in a Guyver-like fashion, like Sol Badguy, the main character.  But the Gears rebelled under the rule of the "leader" gear, Justice, Gear 01.  The Holy Knights, led by Kliff Undersn (Andersen?) and Ky Kiske, eventually sent Justice to another dimension (because they couldn't kill him, you see).  But the barrier between the worlds is weakening.  Justice is about to awaken once more, and a tournament is initiated to form another guild of knights.  However, there seems to be a dark force behind the tournament, using the violence and bloodshed as a catalyst to accelerate Armageddon...

The game plays similarly to GGX in most respects, including the fabled double jump. However, each character has two life bars a round, ala the Real Bout series or Last Blade, and you can actually charge up a certain special for each character.  This creates one of the greatest problems with the game: Ultra-powerful L3 maneuvers, such as Kliff's L3 Houkou Gaeshi (his palm blast attack), which can take off MORE THAN ONE WHOLE LIFE BAR!!  Also, when one bar is down, it's unlimited supers for the rest of the round, also ala RB or LB.  However, there are no SDM's.

Also, the Instant Kill is done quite differently.  You can initiate it two ways: 1) by attacking the opponent with P+K, or 2) by blocking an attack JUST as it hits.  Then, hit QCF+S (I think) to follow through (if you're on the defensive, I believe QCB+S will escape, and you can actually do the move yourself).  This is the other major problem with the game--the Instant Kill was too easy to do, and it ended the ENTIRE MATCH by default; i.e., WOW! YOU LOSE!

Also, the Hard Slash is a bit too hard in many cases: Kliff again comes to mind, as does Potemkin.  Certain characters can't dash, such as Potemkin and Kliff, but Kliff actually lurches as you attempt to backstep, and sometimes throws out his back, doing damage.  This seems a bit silly in some cases.  I can see making the "slow but strong" guy not be able to dash, but the old guy is supposed to be able to simultaneously take on the combined forces of the US and Europe.  Certainly, he should be able to at least hop forward.

For what it is, it's a good game.  I actually got it for store credit ($15) at an EB, and sold it on the other EB(ay) for $40+.  Who says games aren't a hedge against investment?  Still, it could have been better, as was seen in GGX.  That said, it's a good look at the roots of Guilty Gear X. 

(Mostly) Side-Scrolling Platformer

I didn't pay much attention to Klonoa when it was first released, thanks largely to a moronic print ad that compared it to a social disease (uh, Namco, it's a lot cheaper to just let your competitors take shots at your products rather than paying big bucks to do it yourself...).  When I finally did play it years later on one of the Official Playstation Magazine demo discs, I figured I didn't miss out on much, since the first round included on that disc was pretty simplistic... the polygonal graphics didn't add as much depth to the game as Super Mario 64, and the ability to throw and hold enemies had already been done, and given more dimension, in the much older Super Mario Bros. 2.

Despite all this, there are a few people who swear by Klonoa, and one of them was so confident that he could change my mind about the game that he let me borrow his copy for a couple of days, telling me, "Trust me, it WILL get a lot better once you've gotten through the first round."  I didn't really understand how this could be possible, but after playing it for a few hours, Klonoa's qualities had become a little more obvious.  After a few more hours, there was no way I could ignore them.  My friend was right... Klonoa DOES have a lot to offer if you're willing to stick with it.

Remember when I told you that Klonoa doesn't have a lot of abilities?  Well, it's true... the flea biting ankle biter can catch and inflate enemies (I like to think of this as a tribute to Dig Dug), then throw them in one of four directions... oddly, not up or down, but rather toward and away from the camera.  Klonoa can also spring off his enemy's back, sending him skyward and the foe to the ground.  And, well, that's it.  I didn't think this would be enough, but fortunately, the game's great level design and even better enemy placement make Klonoa's limited talents a lot more versatile than you'd expect.  For instance, one stage requires you to set an exploding enemy next to a switch, then head for the door before the monster explodes, triggering the switch and (very briefly) opening that door.  In other areas, you'll have to leap off enemies not to reach higher ground but to break boxes blocking access to paths below you.  You'll even climb vertical lines of flying enemies to reach some platforms.  This clever exploitation of enemies doesn't happen very often in video games (there was a classic moment in Metroid where you had to freeze and leap off the backs of enemies, but you only needed to do it once or twice), but it's the backbone of Klonoa's gameplay... you won't even be able to finish the demo without it.

What else does Klonoa have going for it?  Well, it's got great graphics, even though they are affected by the Playstation's limitations...  there are still edges on the polygonal playfields and the sprites don't look that great when the camera pans in during intermissions, but I can't think of a 3D platformer on the system aside from maybe Spyro: Year of the Dragon that looks better.  The gems spread throughout each round are stunning... when you pick them up, they break into shards that briefly form a spinning, shrinking ring, and the fairies you'll occasionally find make them glitter like they're under a berzerk strobelight.  The enemies have a lot of detail and animation, too... when you toss the Moos, they burst into more colorful shapes than you'll find in a box of Lucky Charms, and the Boomies have rays of light that penetrate their skin shortly before they go, well, Boomie.  Finally, the superb level design adds depth to not only the gameplay but the artwork as well... you'll see bridges hanging over other trails, and objects in the distance that act as scenery at first but become useful items once you've found a path leading to them.  The blinding light pouring in from open doors is another great effect, although you might find yourself feeling a little confined if you can't quite reach them...

I was satisfied and sometimes even impressed with the sound as well.  The music is pretty complex despite the use of digital instruments, and it definitely accents some areas, like the first mine cart ride.  When you hop on, you'll hear a tune that becomes louder and more pressing as the cart rolls on and starts to fall apart... but the music stops the moment you do.  It's a great example of how music can get a player more involved in a game rather than just getting on their nerves... although admittedly, there is music in Klonoa that does this as well.  And while I don't mind the gibberish spoken by Klonoa and the rest of the characters, the cliche'd cartoon sound effects left me rolling my eyes.  Considering the great work they did in ancient games like Galaga and Dig Dug, I think Namco could have given us something with a little more originality.

Let's throw in a couple of other gripes for good measure.  You may have heard that Klonoa is a little short, and that's true... but after winning the game, I kind of wished they would have made the last few stages even shorter.  The level design goes from clever to devious to downright sadistic when you're climbing the tower to face off against Ghadius... if teeny weeny platforms drive you nuts, you can only imagine how frustrating it is to try to clear them while enemies are running after you, threatening to knock you into the pit below.  Ah, the bottomless, instantly lethal pit.  I can't count the number of lives I've lost to those gaping canyons, yet those motherfucking things are always hungry for more.  By now, you'd think they'd be overflowing with corpses, and you could just walk over the decaying Italian plumbers and vampire hunters to reach the other side, but somehow, that just never happens.  There must be a little bulldozer in there pushing out all the debris, keeping the pits ready for the next furry mascot that tumbles inside... and the next, and the next, and the next.

But I digress.  The last boss isn't much fun either... well, Ghadius and his whirling wheel of death are entertaining (and disorienting!), but after you beat him, he has to go and summon video game cliche' #287, the overwhelmingly powerful entity bent on destroying the world.  That stupid thing has not one, not two, but three forms, and all of them are obnoxious.  The other characters try to help you defeat the creature, but they're not really much help at all, cowering under clouds while you're getting pelted with rainbow beams and chased by metal encased enemies.  You don't even get their assistance (good riddance, I say) during the second battle, when you're inside the beast, trying to throw enemies at gems hanging near the edges of a platform that just won't stay still.  The creature should have died after the gems were shattered, but naturally, you have to deal with both it and your moronic friends one more time before it finally gives up the ghost.  It got to the point where I was afraid to let the credits roll, because I thought for sure the damned thing would pop back up at the last minute just like in Rocket Knight Adventures or the film Cannibal: The Musical.

Fortunately, the creature died.  For good.  And when the game finally convinced me that there were no other forms of Mahatomb or an even more powerful enemy to take its place, it presented an ending that, while very heartbreaking, made me glad that I stuck it out through the last two rounds, and that I gave the game another chance.  If you can find it on sale somewhere or have a friend willing to lend you a copy, you might want to do the same... you'll be surprised at just how good Klonoa is once you spend a little quality time with it.

Fox Games (Gremlin)

Quickly forgotten.  Underrated.  Maligned.  N20 is all these things, but it never deserved to be any of them.  N20 is one of the better shooters on the Playstation, eclipsing its inspiration Tempest 2000 with more options, an entracing soundtrack by The Crystal Method, and advanced graphics that make even Jeff Minter's eyecatching sequel to Tempest look like an outdated relic.

N20 is essentially an evolution of the play mechanics first explored in Tempest.  You slide around the edge of a funnel, firing inward to destroy a variety of progressively deadly enemies.  Each foe has its own preferred method of attack, ranging from swarms of suicidal beetles to vicious black widow spiders that drape webs inside the funnel... collide with any of the strands holding these webs in place and you're finished.

This makes the game a great deal like Tempest, but here's what makes it better.  Each enemy is not only given its own specialized attack but a weakness that can be exploited for bonus points.   If you're tired of that black widow spider making your life miserable, you can not only exact revenge on it but squash its orphan, a small white larva, by running over it with your ship.  Similarly, you can earn extra points- and stars that will eventually unlock bonus rounds- by blasting all segments of a centipede or every beetle contained within a cocoon before they reach the end of the funnel.

On top of that, there are tons of items and weapons that can be collected.  Not all of them are particularly useful, but there are some which become extremely useful as the game progresses.  These include the firewall, N20's beautifully deadly answer to the super zapper recharge, shields which for a brief period of time allow you to absorb otherwise deadly hits, and a chain gun which sends a trail of bullets down the funnel that obliterate even the most persistent enemies.  Finally, there are spinning coins which can be used at the end of each stage to earn either extra points (good for extra lives or just bragging to your friends) or more of those crowd pleasin' firewalls.

I haven't even gotten to the best part!  You have to see and hear N20 in action to truly appreciate it.  The graphics are fantastic... it's hard to imagine how they could be better on the original Playstation, but fortunately, you don't have to settle for mere Playstation quality when you've got a PS2 around.  On the PS2, the game's exceptional artwork and special effects become even more amazing.  Either way, the dazzling combination of sweeping lights, psychadelic playfields, stylish exploding text, and accurately drawn insects, along with selections from The Crystal Method's Vegas album, will give you the impression that you've an exterminator at a wild rave party.

You'll want to keep those bug infestations and that infectious music coming if you're a fan of Tempest or other classic shooters.  I won't go as far as to say that N20 is flawless... some people will find its artistic direction more irritating than exciting, and in its default setting, the camera follows the ship as it slides around the edge of the funnel.  Fortunately, the camera can be locked into place, keeping the player's head from spinning along with the playfield, but this one flaw is probably what kept the game from achieving the same popularity as Tempest 2000.  However, it's very easy to fix.  If you were turned off by the game when you first played it, and didn't know about the fixed camera option, you owe it to yourself to give N20 another chance.

Acclaim, Artdink

Oh, Mr. Domino... if only you were as invincible as the title of your game suggests!  The truth is, this tiny hero will stumble over all kinds of hazards as he struggles to build spectacular lines of tiles.  These obstacles, ranging from swinging boxes of chocolate-covered pretzel sticks to massive station wagons, will join forces to make Mr. D's life miserable... and very short.

Regardless of the risks involved, Mr. Domino refuses to be swayed from his mission.  He's out to set up the ultimate chain of dominos, spreading them across shady casinos, convenience stores, and quiet Japanese suburbs.  And once they're dropped in place, he'll return to the scene of the crime (namely, littering) to tip them all over.  If he's smart, he'll place the tiles in front of trick squares... once these are triggered, objects in the background are set into motion, adding a touch of Rube Goldberg-inspired flair to the spectacle of dropping dominoes.

As Mr. D goes about his business, unaware of the futility of constantly unraveling his own work, you'll notice that his world bears a striking resemblence to the colorful cosmic playgrounds of Katamari Damacy.  Every object on the playfield is rendered with a modest polygon count and a limited amount of detail, but their bright colors ensure that they're easy to spot against the more elaborate backgrounds.  The stages are cleverly designed, illustrating their respective settings perfectly.  Whether Mr. Domino is dodging dice on a craps table or weaving around discarded sandals in the breezeway of a Japanese home, there's never any doubt about his current location.

The soundtrack acknowledges the game's outlandish premise, but never surrenders to it, striking a balance between Mr. Domino's lighthearted Nippo-centric setting and the merciless challenge hidden beneath it.  Your heart will pound to the beat of the throbbing techno-influenced tunes as Mr. Domino makes a mad dash for the health square that will let him cling to life for just one more minute. 

It only takes one stage before you realize that this isn't going to be the cakewalk that Katamari Damacy was.  In fact, once you get past the skin-deep visual resemblence, you'll start to see that No One Can Stop Mr. Domino! is the polar opposite of Namco's surprise hit.  It's not just because Mr. Domino drops what the Prince of All Cosmos and his cousins would likely clean up with their rolling junk collections.  The game offers far less freedom than Katamari Damacy, pushing the hero through each linear loop of a stage rather than letting him admire his surroundings.  If Mr. D misses something important the first time through, he won't get another shot at it until the next lap... if he survives long enough!

What brings these two games together are the qualities they share... charm and originality.  The only game that even comes close to playing like Mr. Domino is Kid Klown's Crazy Chase on the Super NES and Game Boy Advance, and without the strategy that comes from dropping tiles, it's not an especially accurate comparison. 

There's also no stopping the game from taking pride in its Japanese roots.  There's plenty of head-scratching humor in store for players who trigger the trick squares in each stage.  Vegetables will sing, microwave ovens will explode, and famous paintings will scream bloody murder as their eyes bug out... and it will all play in reverse if Mr. D walks over a reset square! 

It's moments like these that will leave just you as determined to succeed as the game's square-headed star.  Victory never comes easily in No One Can Stop Mr. Domino!, but it's always sweet.

Sony, Seibu Kaihatsu

Even when it was released twelve years ago, Raiden was a fairly simplistic game... this made it easily approachable to players who found the weapon systems in Alcon and 1943 confusing, but it was so streamlined that it didn't offer more experienced shooter fans anything new or surprising.  When you put your coin into a Raiden machine, you got a solid gaming experience... and that was it.  That was Raiden's hook, and you could have accepted that if the straightforward gameplay had remained exclusive to the Raiden series.  Sadly, other game companies wanted a piece of this unspiced pie, and the result were a lot of bland shooters with nothing to distinguish themselves from one another.  People tired of the genre after playing the same game over and over with different graphics, and most companies, unaware of why shooters had become so unpopular, stopped making them altogether.

With this in mind, you have to wonder why Sony took a chance with Raiden Project, a collection that includes both the first Raiden and its sequel.  Perhaps the answer lies with the fact that Raiden II is far superior to the first game, and still impressive even to this day.  It's the opinion of most gamers that the Playstation can't adequately handle 2D graphics, but I tend to question this belief whenever I play games like Raiden II.  There's so much detail in this game... not so much in the artwork itself but the animation that greatly enhances it.  Even the smallest enemies produce debris after they've been destroyed, and each piece of scrapnel spins wildly before hitting the Earth's surface, creating a small cloud of dust or splash of water.  The playfield is affected by your ship's attacks as well as the actions of your enemies... drop a bomb in a forest and you'll not only hear a sound, but will be left with a lot of charred, naked trees.  Enemies that crash land into houses will take a large chunk out of the roofs of the buildings, but only where they've made contact. The larger tanks leave behind treads, and enormous glowing craters after you've blown them up.  Land walkers leave impressions in the ground, giving you an impression of their enormous weight and size. 

They're little details, but nevertheless important ones... without them, Raiden II would just be Raiden with a handful of improvements.  Those improvements include a new weapon that bridges the gap between the bullets and beams in the first game... hell, it pretty much obsoletes them!  The plasma laser starts out as a concentrated line of fire, then transforms into a homing laser that twists and bends to catch not only every enemy in your path, but those nowhere near it.  There's a new bomb, too, and although it's less powerful than the original, it activates immediately, guaranteeing your safety.  You can choose one or the other depending on your personal preference, or mix and match them by collecting bomb icons once they switch to the type you want most.

Also included on the disc is a conversion of the original Raiden that's among the best available on a home console... only the more colorful Jaguar version can rival it.  Nevertheless, it's a pretty no-frills game, and certainly not preferable to the more exciting sequel.  The graphic flourishes that abound in Raiden II are limited to the occasional glowing crater and large explosion in Raiden.  The music takes a step down as well, with low-pitched, twangy instruments that sound like they were pulled straight from an early Genesis game... you can select an arranged soundtrack instead, but it's not much of an improvement.  Finally, while there are enough enemies and bullets onscreen to hold your attention, they aren't as plentiful as they are in the sequel and nowhere near the amount you'd find in a later shooter like Radiant Silvergun or Dodonpachi.  It's competantly designed, but why settle for that when a brilliantly designed game is on the same disc?

That game is the reason I recommend The Raiden Project to shooter fans.  You can't play Raiden II on MAME (at least, not as of this writing), so you might as well get a taste of it somewhere.  Besides, The Raiden Project is a relatively obscure Playstation release, a fact which collectors will definitely appreciate. 

Ask/Polygon Magic
Fighting Cocktail with a Splash of DDR

People who have visited The Gameroom Blitz for a long time may remember that Jess wrote something about Slap Happy Rhythm Busters in an update. I had seen this game in EGM, so I was seeking it out.

A few weeks ago, I got the game for around $30 on Ebay... God bless the buyer's market. But enough about that; let's talk about the game.

SHRB is an interesting cel-shaded 2-D/3-D fighting developed by Polygon Magic, who also developed such games as Galerians, Vs. and Countdown Vampires. The style of design is much like Jet Grind Radio for the Dreamcast, which means it looks like a 3-D cartoon.

The characters seem pretty diverse, deviating from the normal stereotypes: There's Ramos, the fiery rave DJ, Euri, the requisite "cute candy raver," Oreg, the taxi driver (yes, he does drive a taxi), Holemon, the strange butcher with a birdcage for a head, Nitro, the robot whose hands can become a diverse array of tools and weapons, Zekoo, the samurai, Garia, the fortune teller, Mia, the Chun-Li clone, Trash, the garbage man with a mechanical third arm coming from his backpack, April, a spunky cowgirl who can actually lose her hat, and Vivian & Roxy, two girls who alternate between chicken-fighting and double-teaming their opponents. Each character has about two or three specials, a launcher, a move that knocks an opponent off the opposite wall, and two supers.

Also, there are ten other characters: Chad & Gram, two brothers who fight piggyback-style, Baron & Volt, a monster with his doctor on the sidelines, Sledge, a fast-fisted tattoo artist, Tomtom, a graffiti punk with many Stand-like attacks, Mercantile, a wolf who fights like the unholy offspring of Galford's dog Poppy from Samurai Shodown and J.Talbain from Darkstalkers, Stealth, the deadest ringer for the Predator that you can find, D-Ramos, an evil version of Ramos (with a cattle-skull mask!), Jakoo, who seems to be a super version of Zekoo, Frosty, a happy-hardcore snowman, and Rude Boy, the final boss of this game who's a lot tougher than he looks.

The game is pretty simple to pick up: two punches, two kicks; moves are done with one of four motions (down*2, qcf, qcb, b-f), and supers are usually a special done with two punches; throws are done by hitting both weak attack buttons. However, the main innovation of the game is the "Beat" combo. When you have max super (or B-level), hit both strong attack buttons when close to the opponent, and you'll attack with a move that uses one level. If it isn't blocked, you'll go to a screen with four arrows. Hit the proper directions as the steps line up, and you'll do a great amount of damage; finish an opponent off and you'll get a "Fever" animation, which is like a fatality. Many of them range from the funny (Ramos' involves the victim being Dolby'd and then flamed, while Oreg puts the opponent into a taxi and drives increasingly fast before hitting the brakes) to the overkill (Nitro's "Zero Cannon/Broadcast Energy Transmitter/big laser satellite" move comes to mind) to the just plain weird (Euri skips away with you into a Candyland setting... which makes me believe that some recreational drugs were in use during the making of this game). Also, there's a DJ Practice mode in which you can practice your Beat combos and unlock the opportunity to play as secret characters. The music is pretty much all techno, but it has several flavors of it, such as hip-hop techno, Western techno (with the infamous Good, Bad & Ugly whistle), and bass-busting backbeat.

Any concerns about the language barrier should be easily put aside: A good 95% of the text in the game is either in English or the incredibly easy-to-read Katakana character set. Even the loading manga are mostly in English, which leads me to believe that the company might have been THIS CLOSE '' to getting a US distributor... a pity.

In short, I give this game a 9. It's everything I hoped for, but it could have had a bit more to it, like more characters (yeah, yeah, I know it has 20+ characters, and you know what else? I don't give a rat's ass) or more music (some appropriate horror music, good old rock&roll or old-school rap or even... *shudder* J-pop).

Acclaim, Capcom


Go, Ming!  Go, Ming!  It's your birthday!  It's your birthday!

"After all my work in ER and 'The Joy Luck Club', you had to show them this..." An embarassed Ming-Na Wen to Conan O'Brien, after watching a clip of her work in the Playstation version of Street Fighter: The Movie

I haven't talked to a single gamer who can tolerate this cheaply produced cross between Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat (and judging from the above quote, the actors were equally unenthused about starring in it), but y'know, I must admit that I have a certain admiration for the original designers in that they had the gonads to alter the eternally popular SF2 engine and risk pissing off fans of the series in the process (and boy, did they! :). And hell, it was about time someone tried to incorporate Street Fighter 2's precise, intuitive controls into a fighting game with digitized graphics... who's idea was it to release Mortal Kombat with a block button, anyhow!? Urf... But anyways, here's the deal. Capcom went through the original game as designed by GameStar, took out the storm trooper and most of the Mortal Kombat-style moves, and replaced these features with better control and characters more familiar to the series, like Dee Jay and an unfittingly scrawny incarnation of Blanka. They sold the rights to the new and improved game to Acclaim (who'll apparently buy the rights to anything that's been on a film reel), and smash boom bang, we have Playstation and Saturn versions of a title which could very well have been released on the Genesis and SNES.

In fact, the dull digitized characters aren't even as detailed as the vivid sprites on the 16-bit versions of Street Fighter 2, or even the 8-bit Turbografx version, if you're willing to go that far back. Their outfits look like second-hand wardrobes from the Goodwill Thrift Shop for Needy Fighting Game Characters, with drab earth tones and butt-ugly reds and oranges, and the actors themselves are nothing to shout about. They're stiffly animated, and many of their attacks are clumsily performed (as one would have to expect from a digitized version of a game with superhuman characters). The voices are pretty silly, too, but are especially bad on the Playstation, where Jean Claude VanDamme announces the beginnings of rounds and the characters' names. If you thought the scratchy vocals on the Genesis version of Street Fighter 2 were bad, try deciphering phrases like "Roun' Wan" and "Yeew Ween"...

Things aren't all bad on the Saturn version, though. Its access time is nearly half that of the Playstation's, and the control is much better thanks largely to Sega's nifty six button pads. Even the full motion video is better... it's very blocky, but it moves at a much smoother clip than the full-mo on the Playstation version (and I thought that system had compression hardware especially designed to handle the stuff...odd...). So if you've got to have a copy of this game and own both systems, the Saturn version is definately the one to get... that is, if you find it on clearance and can't afford X-Men, Night Warriors, or Street Fighter: Alpha. Otherwise, it's only worth renting once. Coincidentially, when you DO rent it, have a friend who loves Street Fighter 2 come over, and pop this in when he's not looking. Watching him wince at every special move and sound bite is in itself worth the three clams... >:)


As you may know by now, Tekken means "clenched fist" in Japan, but nothing at all here. Similarly, Tekken the game is a big deal in the land of the rising sun, but nobody gives a shit about this shameless Virtua Fighter rip-off here in the States (and if you do, don't tell me about it, 'cuz I really don't want to know). Why? Because quite frankly, it pales in comparison to Virtua Fighter 2 and even Toshinden in nearly every respect. The graphics are ugly, the music is unmemorable, the characters look like puppets, and the control is to say the least in need of a serious tune-up (hell, if it were a car, it would have been hauled to the junkyard by now! What the hell is the deal with having to pound buttons in sequence to perform special moves?! You call this intuitive play control, people?!). Yet, Namco saw fit to release this for the Playstation... go fig. I must admit that the translation is 97% accurate (the flicker and smaller characters is really a minor quibble when you consider that the game is an exact translation otherwise), and that Namco tried its best to improve it with hidden characters, cool to the bool computer rendered cinemas, and a neat Galaga teaser, but sprinkling cheese on a turd souffle' doesn't make it any more appetizing, and adding features to a game which shouldn't have been made in the first place doesn't really add to its appeal, either. If you're dying for yet another fighting game with a polygonal graphics engine, and don't own a Saturn, you'll probably be deliriously happy with Tekken, but if you're like me (heaven forbid there be someone ELSE like me on this planet! :), you're just not going to want to bother with it. At least the pathetic dipsticks who run out and buy this pile will be forced to experience a REAL game first...

THQ, Inland Productions
Wrestling, or so the Germans would have us believe

WCW, we hardly knew ye.  When the promotion died in 2001, it was the end of an era for many wrestling fans.  And for many of those fans, it was an era that probably should have ended long ago.

The sooner we get this review over with, the less emotional trauma I'll suffer by dredging up the memories, and the less inclined you'll be to claw your eyes out after reading it.  So, if it's a bit brief, I'm doing all y'all a favor.

The game starts with 32 characters, comprising many of the top stars of WCW (circa late 1998).  The game had an interesting presentation--each default character had a little clip introducing himself, and the game would play clips of the superstars before the match.  However, the game itself had very little substance.  Each character only had three moves aside from the common set (which varied only for the "really fucking tall/heavy" guys)  but that doesn't matter... because you only need one.  The TEST OF STRENGTH (of doom)!  Yes, all you have to do to win this game is the following:

1) Approach opponent.

2) press up+O.

3) violently mash buttons.

4) repeat until opponent's life bar is depleted.

5) press down+X.

6) press down+O when near fallen opponent.

7) A winner is you!!111!

There were three belts to get in this game:  the World title, the US title, and the TV title.  The only difference between the three title hunts, however, was the number of matches you had to go through to get the belt.  Winning a title would unlock a character depending on which star you used to beat the game.  However, there were 64 more guys on top of this, many of whom are either Nitro Girls (a dancing troupe that appeared on WCW's show for the live audience's benefit), semi-obscure members of WCW staff, "jobbers," Ric Flair, and Inland Productions developers.

The only notable contribution this game made to wrestling, aside from a shining example of what not to do, was that it allowed the player to change the allegiances of each character.  Of course, this actually made little difference, other than the attire and the "run-in" partners.

In short, this game is crap.  The only thing separating this from Final Bout is that it's remotely playable.  I give it a 1, and warn you now not to buy it, rent it, or accept it as a gift.  If you buy it, I cannot be held responsible for any serious injuries inflicted by or through the emotional trauma you shall incur.


tech specs










24 channels


GFX processor unit




16.7 million





best games

Armored Core: PP
Bloody Roar II
Castlevania: SOTN
Gradius Gaiden (Jpn)
Konami Arcade Classics
Point Blank
Street Fighter Alpha 3
Spyro: Year of the Dragon
Suikoden II
Zanac X Zanac (Jpn)

worst games

Battle Arena Toshinden
Crash Bash
Fighter Maker
Galaga: Destination Earth
Samurai Shodown III
South Park Rally
Street Fighter: The Movie
Tomb Raider III