Half-Life for PC – Know Your Enemy

Half-Life for PC – Know Your Enemy

Half-Life is a first-person shooter set in a H.P. Lovecraft meets Arthur C. Clarke fantasy world. You play as Gordon Freeman, the survivor of a malfunction at the Black Mesa Research Facility, and it’s your job to put things right again. But there are those that seek to stop you, a vast cast in fact of nightmarish creatures and vengeful military personnel stand in your way. Here is a run down of the enemies in Half-Life.

The Headcrab
Reminiscent of the facehugger in Ridley Scott’s Alien, the headcrab can be found throughout Half-Life. It’s infant-like cooing and slow movement speed lure you into a false sense of security until they leap ten feet through the air and bite you on the face. One of these blighters will be waiting for you around almost every corner of the Black Mesa Research Facility, and if they aren’t it’s best to check anyway, just in case.

It may look harmless, but it'll try to eat your head in the blink of an eye

It may look harmless, but it’ll try to eat your head in the blink of an eye

The headcrab can be taken out relatively easily. I found that waiting for it to pounce before dodging to the left and giving it the old ‘one-two’ with the crowbar did the job pretty well, however, they like to hang out in groups, and they like to sneak up on you too. The best method for getting rid of them is a double-tap with the pistol from a safe distance. If you thought that was bad enough, you should see what happens when one gets a hold of an unsuspecting scientist:

2

The Houndeye
At first glance, these cute little yappers present no threat as they come bounding up to you. Then they blink a few times and fire out a white-hot shock-wave that drains big chunks of your life energy. They will go down fairly easily, with a single blast from the shotgun usually enough to finish them off, but their tendency for hunting in packs means that if you have to reload at any time you’re pretty much toast.

Down boy!

Down boy!

If it wasn’t for the fact that they try to kill you, I’d bet these would make pretty good pets.

Vortigaunt
When one of these is near, it’s a good idea to find some cover. The vortigaunts are human-like in statue and they make this gabbling noise that suggests they are intelligent – they seem to be the foot-soldiers of this whole fiasco. But, get too close and you’ll get a bolt of green electricity straight in the face.

Et tu, Brute?

Et tu, Brute?

The vortigaunt teleports in without a moments notice, and they usually bring their buddies along for the ride. Often they beam in behind you and at other times they come in swarms, making for some pretty interesting set-pieces during the game. Their green beams are pretty easy to get out the way of as they have quite a long wind-up, and a close quarters blast to the head with the shotgun will for the most part send them packing.

The Alien Grunt
or Pineapple guys as I call them owing to their unique ability late in the game to emerge from large pineapple-like pods whenever something hits them. The Alien Grunts are dangerous enemies, their right arms shoot out several buzzing flies which are able to pursue you even around corners.

Alien gruntThey’re big too, and able to absorb a lot of firepower. The Gluon gun or some kind of explosive seemed to be the best way to deal with them, other than that, running away seemed to be the best option for the majority.

The Barnacle
These guys are great. They hang from the ceiling, dangling their tongues to the floor and ensnaring the uninitiated. By the amount of human remains contained in each of these monsters, I’d say that they are to blame for the majority of deaths in the facility. Their tongues blend in well with the various wires and cables hanging around in the now dilapidated research centre, and Gordon often finds himself moving mysteriously skyward as a barnacle reels in the bait. It doesn’t take much to kill one of these, providing you have the range, and it’s best to clear the room of them before entering – that is if you are able to spot them of course.

Barnacle

The Tentacle
These formidable beasts are encountered only a few times in the game, but their appearances are memorable. Apparently noise-sensitive, you have to either sneak past them, or distract their attention with a grenade – and make sure you do, as one hit is often enough to knock you for six.

Forget the Sarlaac

Forget the Sarlaac

The only time you actually kill these guys is with the aid of a blast from a rocket-engine – hardy doesn’t even begin to describe them, so save your ammo for something more squishy.

The Snark
Speaking of squishy, the Snark can be either your best friend, or your worst enemy. Quicker on their feet and smaller than the headcrabs, the snarks are a nightmare to deal with in close quarters. They will swarm you in seconds and start taking chunks off you from all directions. It doesn’t take much to kill them, but you have to get them in your sights first.

SnarkFortunately, you can also use them as a weapon should you happen across one of their nests. Just make sure you are close enough to your enemy before you release them or they will turn back on you. After they run around for a while squeaking, the snark will explode in a plume of green gloop.

The Bullsquid
There’s a cold slapping sound as a ball of green mucus slams into the wall just above your head, you look around to see where it has come from and then you spot one of these in the distance:
BullsquidThe sniper of the alien world, the Bullsquid shoots high-speed phlegm missiles from long range. Combine this with a resilience against almost anything besides the magnum pistol and you have got one tricky customer.

HECU Marines
As if all these gruesome aliens were not enough, you also have to contend against numerous human enemies. Encountered most frequently are the Hazardous Environment Combat Units, or HECU Marines. They come in different varieties from the squad leaders with red berets to the foot soldiers. Most of the time they lie in wait for Gordon around corners and on ledges. From there they pelt you with painfully accurate fire from their MP-5s, chucking in a grenade or two for good measure.
HECUWhere there’s one you know there’s a whole load more waiting around the corner. The best strategy is to find some good cover, lay some trip mines and wait for them to come to you. HECUs often get into fire fights with the aliens in Black Mesa, so a lot of the time you can just sit back and watch the fire fight before moving in to mop up whatever is left.

Black Ops
Several times in the game you will encounter the black ops units. Operating in small groups, the black ops units use hit and run tactics to devastating effect. You’ll definitely hear them coming, but its unlikely that you will see them until its too late and they are already firing at you with their powerful handguns.
Black opsThey’re fast, so you’re going to want to find a good spot to dig in as they are no match for your firepower.

Icthyosaur
Unfortunately, I don’t have any screen-grabs of this particular beast as any time there is water in video games I lose all composure. Prime examples of this are the lake sequence in Resident Evil 4 and the sunken corridors of Big Shell you have to navigate in Metal Gear Solid 2, if there’s water I’m not going to do well. I now have another experience to add to my list with the inclusion of the Icthyosaur in Half-Life. The only weapon that seems to fire underwater is the tranquilizer gun and it takes so many darts to put this thing to sleep, especially in the panic caused by running out of oxygen and the guttural growling of the Icthyosaur which I will no doubt hear in a nightmare in the not too distant future. Thanks Valve.

The Gargantua
There are only a few of these giant aliens wandering around the Black Mesa Facility, but you’ll soon know when one is near. The gargantua are immune to conventional weapons as far as I can tell, and their plasma shock-wave attacks hurt.

HAL anyone?

HAL anyone?

The cold red stare of the gargantua is enough to make you turn tail and run, which is precisely what you should do if you encounter one.

The Alien Controllers
Whereas the shrieks which emanate from the alien controllers are enough to put your teeth on edge.

What are you screaming about?

What are you screaming about?

Good luck trying to get close enough to one of these fellas for a kill-shot as they fly about in all directions shrieking and hurling balls of light at you. The magnum is your best bet here with it’s fast, powerful hits and good range.

Warning: Spoilers

The Nihilanth
The Nihilanth is the main boss of Half-Life. Not only does it shoot incredibly powerful balls of white light at you, but it also shoots out portals which whisk you away to infuriating puzzle rooms. And when you’re not being teleported away, it is teleporting in back-up to kick your butt.
NihilanthIt took a lot of attempts to beat this guy, even after I had to resort to a walkthrough to find out how exactly to finish it off. The Nihilanth is one tough customer, who will absorb everything you have to throw at him. To beat it, you have to get inside its head.

Pokémon Conquest for Nintendo DS – Bonding

Pokémon Conquest for Nintendo DS – Bonding

Ever since I played Pokémon Red as a boy all those years ago I have been searching for a way to make the Pokémon experience more realistic. Apparently, people don’t take too kindly to Pokémon battles between actual animals, so I have had to restrict myself to the video games that are on offer. In terms of a realistic experience, the main series of Pokémon games peaked with Pokémon Soul Silver. The ability to have your favourite Pokémon follow you around in the game world for all NPCs to see and then to carry them around on your belt for all the IRL NPCs to see with the Pokéwalker was the pinnacle in Pokémon vanity. As both functions were then scrapped in Pokémon Black and White I had to look elsewhere. Fortunately, there are many other avenues to explore with all the spin-off Pokémon games. I had dabbled with Pokémon Ranger in the past, but didn’t really enjoy the experience, and Pokémon Coliseum looked good, but renting Pokémon didn’t appeal to my purist needs. Enter Pokémon Conquest.

Pokémon Conquest is a cross-over between Pokémon and the Nobunaga’s Ambition series of games developed by Koei (later to become Tecmo Koei, most famous for the Dynasty Warriors franchise). It keeps elements of Pokémon such as the capture and raising of familiar Pokémon and introduces several new factors such as grid-based strategy battles and area capture. The goal of the game is to gain control of the entire Ransei region through strategic Pokémon battles over various terrains. The main campaign should last upwards of 15 hours, depending on how much time you want to invest in your warriors. There are no difficulty settings on the main campaign, however when you complete it you will gain access to new stories with various degrees of difficulty.

Pokémon Conquest cover sleeve

Pokémon Conquest cover sleeve

There are several tweaks made to familiar elements of the original games in Pokémon Conquest, it is these which most appealed to me whilst on my search for a realistic Pokémon experience:


Evolution

In the main series of Pokémon games it is the case that the most highly evolved Pokémon will be the strongest Pokémon, especially within a particular evolutionary line. For example, a level 100 Blastoise will always be stronger than a level 100 Squirtle. Therefore, even if you much prefer the way Squirtle looks to the way Blastoise looks, you will be at a disadvantage in battle if you do not evolve it. This is not the case in Pokémon Conquest. In PQ, each warrior has one particular Pokémon that they have the potential to create a 100% bond with. This doesn’t mean one particular evolutionary line either, it means one Pokémon within the evolutionary line. Meaning that whereas the warrior has a 100% bond with Squirtle, they may only have a 90 or 80% bond with Blastoise (I discovered this with a great amount of guilt when I evolved Oichi’s Jigglypuff and found that she no longer had a 100% bond with it – I’m sorry again, Oichi!). Therefore in Pokémon Conquest, there is the potential for a Squirtle to be better than a Blastoise, and the need to evolve Pokémon to make them stronger is not so important. The need to evolve Pokémon is further tempered by the fact that some top-level evolutions come with a price, for example, Rhyperior has a strong attack, but he cannot use it two turns in a row.

Bonding
There is a mechanic in the Pokémon games for bonding. Winning battles, feeding certain berries to your Pokémon, having them get massages and haircuts all increase the amount that they like you. The move Return ties into this mechanic, as the more your Pokémon likes you the greater the strength of the move, also certain Pokémon will not evolve unless the bond between you is at maximum level. However, in Pokémon games, it is almost impossible not to have Pokémon like you over time, and the only real effort you need to put in is if you are trying to get them to like you more quickly. In Pokémon Conquest, bonds take centre stage. Instead of raising the level of your Pokémon, you raise the bond percentage between you, this, in turn, raises the Pokémon’s attack and can lead to evolution. However, the fact that each warrior only  has one Pokémon with which they can form a perfect bond makes the whole experience much more personal and therefore rewarding. This one-to-one interaction with a Pokémon as friend and ally, is something I have had to add into the original games with my imagination, but in PQ it takes on physical form, and takes me a step closer to finding a realistic Pokémon experience.

For me, finding a realistic Pokémon experience is about immersion. It’s difficult to get immersed in a handheld Pokémon game compared to a console game. Despite also being a handheld game, Pokémon Conquest has – to a certain extent – taken me further than the original games in experiencing what it would be like to be a Pokémon trainer. Ever since that first game over a decade ago I have been waiting for a console quality Pokémon game that will allow me to truly feel what it would be like to interact with Pokémon. Perhaps it’s a good thing that this game hasn’t been made yet. The new Pokémon games on the 3DS are but a small part in a much wider change in gaming towards more immersive and realistic interaction. Maybe one day we will all know the excitement of actually throwing a Pokéball and waiting to see whether our dream Pokémon has been caught. Until then, I will occupy my time with the handheld games

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII for PSP – A Shining Star

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII for PSP – A Shining Star

A couple of years ago I was faced with a choice. I wanted to buy a handheld console, but I didn’t know whether to get a Nintendo DS or a Playstation Portable. The DS had the Pokemon games and the PSP had Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. Back then I chose the DS purely because it had more games, but recently I have had a bit more pocket money and so I bought a PSP and I played Crisis Core. Even though I still think I made the right choice back then, Crisis Core was well worth the wait.

Crisis Core Cover Art

Crisis Core Cover Art

Crisis Core is a prequel to the much-loved game Final Fantasy VII for the Playstation. Its main character is Zack Fair, whose presence is felt throughout the original game, even though he is never directly encountered. Those who have played Final Fantasy VII will come to this game with a pit in their stomachs as they take control of the fated Zack. The game is only part of a world that exists around Final Fantasy VII. Other parts include the excellent Advent Children feature film, and the enjoyable Playstation 2 game, Dirge of Cerberus. Each addition to the series throws new light onto the events depicted in Final Fantasy VII, and works to flesh out the world featured in that game. Crisis Core is perhaps the most relevant of these as it depicts events that are directly represented in the original game.

Final Fantasy VII is my favourite game. I find the characters charming, the story inspiring and the setting beautiful. What is essentially a story about revenge goes on to become a thoughtful narrative on what it means to exist. It also explores how the characters as moral agents react to the threat posed to the world by the heavily industrialised Shinra Corporation. In Final Fantasy VII, Shinra are the bad guys, from experimenting on people to literally draining the life out of the planet, they are universally despised by all right-thinking people. This is why Crisis Core is such an interested game, as in it you play as a Shinra employee.

Shinra is not yet the evil organisation in Crisis Core that it will later become, but it’s still pretty shady. As Zack, you play a member of SOLDIER, the elite fighting force at the beck and call of the Shinra big wigs. Zack’s innocent demeanour and joie de vivre at the beginning of the game are in stark contrast to what I thought I knew about Shinra, and throughout the game I constantly asked myself: am I the bad guy? What was more disturbing than that however, were several scenes in which Zack and Sephiroth interact. Sephiroth is depicted as the epitome of evil in Final Fantasy VII and yet here he seems to be an all right guy. It is here that the finesse of Crisis Core is most apparent as characters and organisations we thought of simply as ‘the bad guys’ take on a new dimension.

Crisis Core is impressive in lots of other ways too. The action/RPG genres are seamlessly blended in a fluid and poised battle system, with a control scheme that is simultaneously easy to use in a real-time action environment and reminiscent of the traditional RPG command-based system. The score is sublime: a mix of new and old that both invokes fond memories of the original and yet entertains with several new additions.

The game isn’t perfect though, there are several segments (pretty much mandatory mini-games) which seem to be there for little else than the sake of having them there. For example, there is a point in the game where you travel to Banora and for one reason or another someone is spraying the town in splatter-gun fashion with missiles. Your job is to destroy the incoming missiles by pressing the attack button at just the right time to cut them in half. This probably sounds much cooler than it actually is for in reality it’s a pointless endeavour, unlike another part of the game in which you are required to build a flower wagon for Aeries, which neither sounds nor is fun. Crisis Core has several other flaws besides, but so did the original game, and they didn’t make me love it any less.

For me, the materia system in Final Fantasy VII is the best of all the Final Fantasy games. It is the only system that allows you to give each character their individual and personal set-up, compared to say Final Fantasy X where after a certain point in the game all characters can use exactly the same spells and skills as one another. It is also the only system which rewards grinding for AP, unlike Final Fantasy VIII in which you will find relatively early in the game that you have maxed out the abilities available to you. With Final Fantasy VII however, even after 60 hours of gameplay you still have not mastered all of your materia. I was glad to discover that Crisis Core keeps the materia system relatively intact, with the addition of a new feature that allows you to fuse materia together for some interesting results. As materia cannot be levelled directly in Crisis Core (instead seemingly relying on chance with the introduction of a fruit machine mechanic called the DMW) this new system adds a new layer to character customisation.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is a real blend of new and old. It manages to strike a balance between honouring the original game and creating a space for itself. Although a prequel, it manages to resist being absorbed into the original narrative, instead creating a new and equally memorable story of its own. The developers of Crisis Core have made it a meaty enough game that you would not need to have played the original to enjoy it. Just as Crisis Core throws light on to Final Fantasy VII, so too does Final Fantasy VII throw light back onto Crisis Core. What is even more impressive is that this also holds true of Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus as all four link into each other. Each element stands out on its own and at the same time lends light to the others. But in this constellation of stars, Crisis Core shines out as one of the brightest.

Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny for Playstation 2 – A Game with Real Character

Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny for Playstation 2 – A Game with Real Character

Story-line, game-play and characters: the three main elements of any great game. For me Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny’s greatest strength lies in its characters. The incredibly life-like (by Playstation 2 standards) character designs add a sense of realism to the game, despite the fact that most of your time will be spent fighting demons. The strong voice acting and well-made character models help to gloss over many of the story-line and game-play issues – of which there are a couple, most notable being that you are forced to use the D-pad rather than the analog stick for movement. This wouldn’t be such a big deal were it not for the large number of spiral staircases which need to be navigated in the game, and which are infuriatingly difficult to get up with the D-pad alone.

Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny box art

Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny box art

Jubei Yagyu is the main character of this story: a samurai whose village is destroyed during the opening sequence of the game. This event brings about the revelation of Jubei’s destiny as heir to the ancient clan of demon-slayers, the Oni. Jubei is modelled on the Japanese actor Yusaku Matsuda who died in 1989, twenty three years before this game was released. Straight away a sense of reality is conferred onto this game, and, more specifically, its characters.

Jubei and the other excellent character designs are exhibited throughout the game in spectacular cut-scenes. There are numerous different channels that the story can take, affecting which cut-scenes are shown. This is based on a ‘friendship’ system that I did not realize existed until much too late in the game. Early on, Jubei finds his way to a village. In this village are four different characters to interact with. Gifts can then be given to each of these characters, and they all have very different personalities and tastes, from the refined Magoichi who is interested in history books, to the less refined monk, Ekei, who lists women, good food and alcohol among his interests.

The friendships Jubei forges during this stage will affect the rest of the game, as those you please most will help you out later on. For me, the fact that it was not made explicitly clear that this mechanic existed made the whole process seem more organic. Because of the choices I made for Jubei, my path through the game will be different to another person’s. For example, in my game Ekei seemed to be everywhere, Magoichi remained a distant and aloof figure, whilst the ninja Kotaro was just some weirdo that jumped off the roof of a horse’s stable to warn me about a beautiful woman and then was never heard from again. It’s this mechanic that made me feel as though I was having a unique experience, and it makes me want to leave the game at just one play-through because of it.

Onimusha 2 exemplifies what makes video games special to me as an artistic medium. Paintings, books and films are exactly the same for every person that sees or reads them. They may have different interpretations about what they have experienced, but the subject matter remains essentially the same. With video games, however, you are given a certain amount of freedom, and it is within this space that you forge your own unique experience of a game. Even with the most linear of games, your experience of it will differ from the next person.

Kind regards,

Lefthumbstick

I’d love to hear about your version of Onimusha 2, so why not leave a comment?

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for Wii – Adulthood memories

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for Wii – Adulthood memories
Twilight Princess Cover Art

Twilight Princess Cover Art

The first Legend of Zelda game I ever played was Link’s Awakening on the Nintendo Game Boy when I was about ten years old. I remember loving the game, but being unbelievably awful at it. I used to ask this pretty girl in my class called Corrin how to advance whenever I got stuck, and I got stuck a lot. She claimed to have beaten the entire game in a five hour flight to the United States, something that still seems impossible to me to this day, and yet she did seem to have all of the answers that I needed. I didn’t play another Zelda game for the next ten years or so as I only owned Sony consoles. But when I received a Nintendo Wii, I knew straight away that there was one game in particular that I would need to play. That game was Twilight Princess. Apparently, not much has changed since I was ten years old as I still managed to get stuck, a lot. Except that now instead of asking a pretty girl how to get past something, I turned to the internet (the story of my life).

Even though Twilight Princess is incredibly more advanced than Link’s Awakening, there was so much that was familiar to me. Mainly it was the feeling of bewilderment at the scope and complexity of the game that I was playing, but there was also the humour and warmth of the NPCs and of course the kick-ass weapons. I felt exactly the same compulsion to find out how to get past obstacles that mysteriously blocked my way, and to find those ever-elusive heart fragments. It honestly felt like seeing an old friend again, except now they were grown up and had a whole bunch of new and exciting stuff to show me.

Visually, Twilight Princess is a world away from the 8-bit Link's Awakening

Visually, Twilight Princess is a world away from the 8-bit Link’s Awakening

From the very start it felt as if the Wii was the natural habitat for a Zelda game. For a series of games that are designed – more so than others – to put you in the shoes of the hero, what could be more natural than letting you swing the sword or aim the bow yourself and in real-time. Link doesn’t talk, he doesn’t question whatever it is that he has to do, and you can even give him your own name should you wish to do so. On console games, the distance between player and protagonist rarely gets closer, and with the Wii’s interface that gap got even smaller. I move my arm and the baddie on my TV screen gets it in the neck, surely this is what they were aiming for when the very first video game was launched.

The Legend of Zelda series may not be the most innovative when it comes to characterization or story lines, but when it comes to gameplay it is one of the most innovative. How many times has Link saved Zelda now? And yet, each time there is something new and wonderful to discover. A lot of games have expansive worlds with realer-than-real graphics, and that’s fine, but Zelda games make do beautifully with a small world jam-packed with things to do that you want to keep returning to, interacting with and exploring all over again. Towards the end of Twilight Princess you discover a hidden village. The hidden village is a wild-west style shanty town, and your job is to clear it out before being killed. It is easily one of the most fun things to do in this game, or any other come to think of it. The entrance to the hidden village is behind a boulder that you walk and ride past at least twenty times, never once suspecting that there may be an entire village behind it. This is what I am talking about with the Zelda series, no matter which game you play, they will always be something new and exciting for you to discover.

Kind regards,

Lefthumbstick

Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron for the PSP – A Star Wars Fix

Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron for the PSP – A Star Wars Fix

Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron

I am a Star Wars junkie. I had been clean for almost eighteen months, but then my birthday rolled around and I received some Star Wars themed gifts and then I fell off the wagon. This time around my Jonesing was for video games in particular. Now I’ve played most of the Star Wars franchise games, multiple times, and so I knew that none of the ones I already owned were quite going to cut it for me. The only one that remotely interested me was Battlefront II, but of course as luck would have it my brother still has my copy. So, rather than rebuying a game I not only already own, but have sunk around 100 hours into, I thought I would try something new. Star Wars Battlefront Renegade Squadron was just about new enough.

I had already played the first Battlefront game for the PC, so I knew that in the best case scenario this game would be like a stripped down version of Battlefront II, and this is for the most part what I found. I knew that the PSP had limited power, and with it having only one joystick I also knew that it wasn’t going to be a smooth ride playing an FPS on it, but still I was a little disappointed by the game play. The aiming system requires you to hold down the R1 button allowing you to lock-on to the nearest enemy, it’s like sticky reticle pushed up all the way to maximum. There’s a little feature where if you lock on for a certain amount of time you stand the chance of getting a critical hit, but the amount of time it takes and the actual damage these hits do means that it really isn’t much use. The only time I found myself wanting to use this feature was on tanks and vehicles, but unfortunately it does not work on them. You can set your controls to alternate which allows you to move with the thumbstick and aim with Triangle-O-X-Square, but setting your controls to this means that you will no longer be able to perform a roll, as there was not enough buttons left over for that apparantly. In Star Wars Battlefront, rolling is kind of a big deal.

Even though the gameplay and environments are a little stripped-down, the game does make up for it in other areas. Campaign mode, which pitches you as a member of a rag-tag, no-nonsense group of bad-ass freedom fighters is pretty cool, the ability to customise your character from a selection of bodies and heads is a nice touch, new weapons such as the carbonite freeze gun are fun to use, albeit a little useless, and the Galactic Conquest is far more of an involved affair than the one in Battlefront II – or at least it would be if it wasn’t so easy. That’s more of a criticism of the Battlefront series in general though, rather than this one in particular, as even on Elite with the odds stacked against you it’s still pretty easy to score a Victory. My favourite part of the game was the space battles that are virtually unchanged from Battlefront II, you can no longer knock out the critical systems from inside the enemy ship, but who used to do that anyway? Besides, you get to control Slave I if you manage to play as the hero on some levels.

It sounds like I am having a go at this game, but it is actually a pretty decent Star Wars game. It’s the first hand-held Star Wars game that I have played, so coming to it after playing so many console and PC games my expectations were likely a little too high. If you were in a particularly unforgiving mood you might just get away with calling it a poor game, but I wouldn’t let you get away with calling it a bad Star Wars game. It certainly helped scratch an itch, let’s just hope I don’t get back into the novels, that’s when I know things have really gotten out of control.

Kind regards,

Lefthumbstick

I see that this game has a pretty decent looking multiplayer mode. Obviously, coming to it six years too late there’s no one on any of the servers anymore. But if you still own this game and fancy going a couple of rounds, leave a reply and we’ll set something up.

Bleach The 3rd Phantom for NDS – An Acid Test

Bleach The 3rd Phantom for NDS – An Acid Test
Bleach the 3rd Phantom

Bleach the 3rd Phantom

I love playing games that belong to frachises. Being able to muck around in a world that I am already familiar with makes these kinds of games so much more immersive to me. If I love the franchise, it usually means that I will view games based in it through rose-tinted glasses. That’s not to say that I don’t know a cash-grab when I see it, and there are plenty of those around, but I will be able to overlook some of the shortcomings that would normally hold me back from enjoying a game. That’s not to say either that just because it’s a franchise game it will automatically mean that it is a bad game. The most obvious example of this are games based on Star Wars like Knights of the Old Republic, Republic Commandos and Jedi Outcast, these are all excellent games. Bleach The 3rd Phantom is not an excellent game, but it is an excellent Bleach game.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bleach, it is a manga written by Tite Kubo that has been adapted into an anime. It follows the story of Ichigo Kurosaki, a substitute soul reaper, as he fights against monsters born from the lost souls of humans, called Hollows, and other assorted ‘bad guys’. Soul reapers live in the Spirit World, and it is their job to look after the souls that reside there and also to help assist souls in their transference over to the spirit world. Each of them has a zanpakto, which usually takes the form of a sword. Each soul reaper’s zanpakto is unique and allows its wielder to use different skills, the most powerful of which is their Bankai which is the fully released form of their zanpakto.

Although it is not complex, there is a lot going on in the world of Bleach. There is a fairly large cast of recurrent characters, each with their own baggage and backstories distinct from one another. I don’t think that you would need to know all them in order to play this game, but if you did you would be able to appreciate it on a whole different level.

Bleach The 3rd Phantom is a tactical RPG, similar in design to something like Final Fantasy Tactics, although stripped down. The main differences are that you do not get damage boosts from attacking behind or to the side of enemies like you do in FF Tactics, and in Bleach each time you engage in direct combat the game switches to a 2D fighting style screen – although the characters are not controllable during this. Also, Bleach The Third Phantom uses a system where most characters give a boost to adjacent allies. Usually they assist either with defence or attack, at the selection of which they will pop up in the 2D animated sequences and either bust a move, or block an attack. The map terrains are less challenging than you would find in FF Tactics, however the maps in Bleach The Third Phantom do include lay-lines of reishi, or spirital pressure, that can be drawn into the character by selecting ‘Pressure’. This powers up attack, allows the use of Bankai and other super-moves and even means that you can perform a team attack, which is pretty much two characters that are good friends kicking the butts of the bad guys in unison. Oh yeah, and there is also an affinity mechanic in the game, but more on that later.

The side-on 2D fighting sequences are not the only part of the game where you will be forced to sit back and watch. There are entire chunks of the game where you select various characters to talk to. Whilst these are great for a fan of Bleach – such as myself – I would imagine they could become very tedious for someone who was not acquainted beforehand with the characters featured in them.

In fact, it is precisely my knowledge and love for Bleach that allowed me to enjoy this game so much. As an RPG, you are allowed quite a bit of control over the gameplay elements: you can select which characters you would like to have on your team of eight from over 50 possible characters, and you can choose – to a certain extent – which skills they learn. I say to a certain extent, because the way in which your characters learn skills in this game is by levelling up their zanpakto to a maximum level of 16. Each time a character levels up from battle they earn 5 skill points, but you will need 10 skill points to level up their zanpakto. Each time you level up their zanpakto you are presented with three paths to choose from that teaches techniques of a different variety. The skills available depend on the character, but they are usually things like boosting their Bankai, or teaching kido (basically magical) moves. The level limit means that you will not be able to complete all three of the paths, and at the end of each path there is usually a powerful move, so you have to be careful and check the skill trees when assigning points. Once a zanpakto is maxed out, you can still spend points on boosting stats.

So, for my battles I recruited characters that I liked from the series. It was then fun for me to play the characters as they would normally act in the anime. For example, there is a bald-headed character called Ikkaku who is so secretive about the fact that he has mastered his Bankai, that he will only ever use it when none of his allies are around. Accordingly, Ikkaku, whilst on my team, would never use his Bankai unless he was completely isolated from his allies, even to the point where he would allow himself to be defeated before showing his Bankai to those around him. This is just one example of the kinds of fun that I had with this game, and the type of fun you could only have if you were a Bleach fan already. There are numerous elements of this game – the storyline, for example – that non-fans would likely not get along with.

Taking on the Espada

Taking on the Espada

As a fan of the anime, rather than the manga, I can better tolerate weak storylines thanks to all the filler episodes released – one of the problems when adapting a weekly manga that is still being written is that sometimes your source material runs out and you are forced to make up stories of your own. Even though this game boasts an original storyline by Tite Kubo himself, it’s really not as strong as any of the storylines in the main arcs of the series. At certain points, the story will sort of align itself with the main story of the Arrancar arc of the series, which is nice for myself and other fans of the series, but doesn’t really add anything to the storyline itself. The main character is an underpowered Arrancar called Arturo, recycled from other games in the Bleach series, who we are constantly told is incredibly powerful, although he always seems very easy to beat.

This introduces another down-side of the game. The battles in the main story are really easy. One of the things I love about the series is how every battle comes down the wire, but in this game you can easily breeze through the enemies. I got half-way through the game and thought “Oh no, I’ve put it on the wrong difficulty setting”. So I started up a dummy new game only to find that there are no difficulty settings. Even though once the game is completed you unlock a ‘Battle Tower’ (which supposedly consists of twenty levels, even though I am inexplicably on the thirty-something level now), the game really could have done with the ability to increase the difficulty settings. It’s doubly a shame because this would be a game with good replay value if not for the easy battles, as you are able to choose from two original characters at the start of the game, and then later in the game you also choose the form that your zanpakto will take from three possible designs. On top of that is the ability to make up wholly different teams from the available characters.

As I mentioned before, there is an affinity mechanic to this game which is worth mentioning. Certain characters have pre-set affinities with other characters which usually matches up with the canon of the series. Before going into battle you are able to select certain characters from the ‘friend’s list’ (not the actual term used in-game, by the way, I’ve just got Facebook on the brain) of the guys on your team. This can affect your choice of team members, as certain characters won’t be compatable with others in terms of assists and team attacks. Also, after each battle the affinity of the main character will rise with the other characters on your team – the affinty between characters that are not the main character will not rise, and as far as I know, there is no way of making the affinity level go down. There are also conversations in the ‘free time’ portions of the game that will increase your main characters affinity with other characters – this is also the method by which you can recruit characters to your team, and another factor in the replay value as it is not possible to recruit and befriend all characters within the free time events.

I would highly recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of Bleach. The ability to collect together your favourite characters, govern how they grow and control their actions would please anyone with a love for the characters of the manga or anime. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to someone who was not a fairly big fan of Bleach. Even if someone had watched a few episodes of the anime or read a few chapters of the manga and thought that it was okay, I still wouldn’t recommend this game to them. But that is only because I feel that a great deal of the game would be lost on them. To me, this is a game that has been put together by people with a real love for Bleach and would be most enjoyed by someone with a real love for Bleach, like me!

Kind regards,

Lefthumbstick

It would be really interesting to hear from anyone that has played this game without any prior knowledge of Bleach – if such a person exists. Am I wrong? Can you enjoy this game without liking Bleach first? Leave a reply.