Monday, January 26, 2015

Ultimate Duck Hunting (Wii) flies like a dead duck

I'm sure that many of you are familiar with Duck Hunt on NES, but I doubt that many have seen Ultimate Duck Hunting on Wii. Apart from the subject matter, it has no relation to the NES game and it was developed by some people you've probably never heard of.

I'll admit that I'm not terribly familiar with hunting games, but as a critic of games in general, I can confidently say that Ultimate Duck Hunting is pretty darn bad. Right from the start, you'll notice that the presentation is lacking; there's no widescreen support, the graphics are poor even by the previous generation's standards, and the menu text's font looks like it was never changed from the default. The game tries to distract you from the ugly visuals with real pictures of dogs and scenery on the menu backgrounds, but don't be deceived! No matter which of the handful of locations you choose to hunt at, you'll be met with a depressingly drab and muddy environment.
As for the gameplay, before you can begin, you have to train your dog to obey your commands. This is basically just a tutorial for how to get your dog to retrieve the ducks. The controls sometimes work well enough, but I had a lot of trouble getting my dog to go out to the duck instead of coming back to me. Even when the controls do work, depending on your dog's stats, it might take a bit for it to respond. Then, even when the dog responds, it's likely to run right past a fallen duck without seeing it. But the chances are high that you won't have that problem because you're unlikely to ever shoot a duck in the first place. Even with the option of a few different guns and camo, two duck calls, and five, ten, or fifteen decoys, nothing appears to influence whether the ducks come within range. The majority of your time will be spent standing on a small bit of land and watching longingly as flocks of ducks fly in the distance. If you try to shoot them, they'll fly away. If you don't shoot them, they'll fly away. Very occasionally, one will fly directly overhead, but it'll be too late for you to react and shoot it. You'd think that shooting would work well with a Wii remote, but this game manages to screw it up. You do point and shoot with the Wii remote, but you have to turn the field of view with the nunchuck's joystick. That in itself isn't so bad, except that there are no options for adjusting the sensitivity or inverting the y-axis. If you do manage to shoot a duck and retrieve it, you get some seemingly arbitrary points and then the hunt is abruptly over. You're then free to move on to do the exact same thing at a different location which differs only in appearance.
If you and a friend want to be bored together, you can try out the splitscreen multiplayer option. Cool, I guess.

Finally, the most important thing that everyone who played the NES Duck Hunt will want to know is whether or not you can shoot the dog. Well, you can't. It'll just sit there unflinchingly and let out a whine. Similarly, shooting your friend in multiplayer mode does not trigger any animation on their part, but simply a "Yow!".

If you're looking for the quintessential hunting game experience, I don't know what to recommend, but there surely must be something better out there than Ultimate Duck Hunting.

Monday, January 19, 2015

.hack//Versus [Review]

Genre: Fighting - Platform: PS3 - Release: June, 2012 (Japan)
For those unfamiliar with the .hack series, the gist is that there's an MMORPG called "The World" that everyone plays in the future and it has mysterious happenings in it that cause people to go into a coma in real life or get trapped in the game or something else of similar ilk. There've been several .hack anime series, a couple RPG series on PS2, light novels, manga series, and movies, but .hack//Versus is the first fighting game in the series. It's also important to be aware that .hack//Versus is a pack-in game with the .hack movie: .hack Sekai no Mukou Ni, which is included on the same Blu-ray disc. As such, the game doesn't have as much content as one would expect from a regularly released game. Furthermore, for a fighting game featuring characters from all throughout the .hack series, the roster is pretty ho-hum (though their play styles are varied and fun). For beating the game, there's also an unlockable anime that expands on the story somewhat. Don't get too hyped about the movie and story though; it's the same old thing with people going into comas, but without the philosophical undertones of previous entries. And it's only in Japanese with no subtitles in any language.
The "The World Edition" also comes with mini-posters, art booklets, and more.
However, even though there isn't a ton of content to the game and movie is merely average, what content Versus does have is surprisingly enjoyable and well designed. While most arcade-style fighting games are bogged down in unintuitive controls more akin to the cheat codes of old NES games, .hack//Versus's controls are simple and easy to learn. But that simplicity in control doesn't mean that the game lacks depth. To start, you have your typical standard attacks which can be varied by pressing forward or back, or by using them while airborne. Then you have your skills, which are used by holding L1 and pressing one of the four main buttons. Grabs, blocking, and chargeable break attacks are also in. What makes it all more interesting though is the tension meter which can be used strategically to either dash, break out of a combo (or cancel your own), enter "Exceed Mode", or activate your ultimate skill/attack. The "burst" that you can use to break out of combos really makes the battles interesting because knowing when to blow half your meter on it is what separates the noobs from the lesser noobs. Exceed Mode is also cool and varies between characters, but in general it powers up your character with new attacks for a limited time. Admittedly, I'm not the most experienced when it comes to fighting games, but I very much appreciated the accessibility of the controls and the unexpected level of depth, especially in how unique each character's play style is.
Since it's a fighting game, your focus would rightfully be on multiplayer, which Versus does have. All characters are unlocked from the start (although there are only eight) and there is both online (ranked and unranked) and offline multiplayer available. Unfortunately, the online community is pretty much dead, so you'll be hard pressed to find an opponent. Thankfully, the single player story mode is also quite good. Rather than simply being a series of battles of increasing difficulty, each fight also has optional missions or preset conditions which reward you with unlockables when completed. These missions are usually stuff like beating your opponent while in exceed mode, getting a certain hit combo, finishing the round within a certain amount of time, or breaking stage objects, and they help to keep you on your toes. After a fight, comments from the fake people watching your fight appear all over the screen, marveling at your skills. If you get enough comments, you'll also unlock support items and new weapons which can help decrease the difficulty of certain missions if you get stuck. There's a story that goes along with the battles too and periodically interrupts with a cutscene, but, from what I could tell, it's not really anything too interesting. If I had one complaint about the single player mode, it's that one of the characters is never playable, making them unique to multiplayer.
The Final Word:
If you've been sucked into the mysterious world of .hack for the story, don't get your hopes up for any engaging plot here. If, on the other hand, you want to fight with your favorite characters, and your favorite characters happen to be one of the eight available (two of which are original to this game/movie combo), .hack//Versus might be worth checking out. There's not a whole lot to it, but what it does have is quite fun and deeper than it appears. I like it. As an import game, you shouldn't have much trouble playing if you don't know Japanese. You'll just miss out on the story and will have trouble figuring out the missions and support items, which aren't really necessary anyway.

For another importable PS3 game, check out Boku no Natsuyasumi 3!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Scribbage - Bananagrams before it was cool

(c)1963 - E. S. Lowe Company, Inc.
No, I don't usually review board games.
Are you a fan of Scrabble, but not a fan of Cribbage? If so, I have excellent news! Scribbage has nothing to do with Cribbage and much more to do with Scrabble and similar word games.

The game is simple: players take turns rolling out the letter cubes and then making a single crossword within the two minute time limit. Scores are counted in the same way as in Scrabble (although the point values are different), where letters used in two words are counted twice. Any leftover letters have their point value subtracted from that player's total for the turn. Like in Bananagrams, you can rearrange your words as much as you want within the time limit, but you can't flip the cubes over and must use the letters that you roll. With only thirteen cubes, you really have to make every letter count and use high-scoring letters effectively.
It's like a fast-paced solitaire Scrabble. Yes, technically you can play with other people, but since you have to take turns, other players have to spend minutes at a time just watching the other player make their crossword. ...Then again, I guess I've taken longer than two minutes to make a single word in Scrabble, so maybe that's not a valid complaint. Also, there's a good bit of luck involved since each player will have different letters to work with and may end up with an unusable Q or many low valued letters. This is less of a problem in Scrabble since you can build off of other players' letters, but in Scribbage it's easier to lose from bad luck. That's why I say it's more of a solo game where you challenge yourself to get high scores.

Scribbage isn't that unique of a game, but it preempted Bananagrams as a speed-based word game and one-ups it by having point values to consider in addition to simply forming words. It seems a bit lacking as a multiplayer game, but if you find yourself stranded on a desert island with only Scribbage to play, it should keep you entertained for a while.

For more details, here's the box top (click to enlarge):

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