The return of the old-school RPG

Oh hey look — Brendan’s talking about RPG’s again. I can’t help it, there’s just too much to be excited about these day. Thanks to things like free 2 play, indie development, and Kickstarter, the gaming industry has seen an influx of fresh, creative minds as well as the return of legendary game creators, able to finally create the worlds they’ve been wanting to for years, but that have been pushed aside in favor of the cash-cow, AAA first person shooters and action games we’ve been buried under for the past couple console generations.

Look I know: RPG’s have been around for ages and have evolved with the times to remain relevant while still providing the types of experiences people have come to expect from the genre…

…err, sort of. I’m a huge fan of the Mass Effect series — arguably the biggest RPG franchise of the current console generation — but it’s not really an RPG. It’s a great, great series — truly — but compared to even some of its contemporaries it’s not much of an RPG. It’s also not the only series shifting away from role playing game’s origins.

While I’m not a big fan of JRPG’s, I can’t deny that the Final Fantasy XIII series (that sounds weird) has been a major departure not only from the roots of past FF games, but from JRPGs in general. And I recently vented my frustration with Blizzard, but it’s worth noting that Diablo III, despite remaining true to much of what’s great about the Diablo series, is missing that “RPG” quality. When I say “RPG’s are coming back,” I mean the old-school, hardcore RPG’s of yore.

Ishar 3

To be fair, there’s still a fair amount of Old-School RPG DNA in some of the biggest games today. Besides the few games still adhering to the old school formulas (Dungeons of Dredmor, The Dark Spire, Etrian Odyssey series), there are several titles that appeal to those who were gaming in the 80’s/90’s, or appreciate their legacy. The Witcher 2 is a great example of a game that balances the cinematic, character-based story of games like Mass Effect, with deep combat, skill systems, and character building of true old-school RPGs; Bethesda’s games offer massive worlds filled with quests, dungeons, and NPCs to create your own story — not to mention games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim prove you can evolve character building without sacrificing depth. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an article about RPGs if I didn’t mention Dark Souls, and it’s predecessor Demon’s Souls: truly hardcore RPGs of the modern era.

But when it comes to real old-school RPGs utilizing the same design of classic titles like Wizardry and Ultima, the industry has been in a bit of a drought. There’s always been a small, cult following around a few underground niche titles, but now there are a few projects brewing that will hopefully usher in a new surge of old-school RPGs.

Legend of Grimrock
Developer: Almost Human
Released: April 11, 2012
Website

We reviewed this game back when it was released earlier this year. It remains one of my favorite indie games of the year. Despite middling reviews from some critics, for many gamers like myself Legend of Grimrock was a great throwback to the dungeon crawlers of the 19980’s/90’s, tweaked and modernized for more accessibility. More importantly, it set the ground work for future sequels, and opened the door for new games in the genre to flourish.

Shaker
Developer: Loot Drop
Estimated Release: January 2014
Kickstarter Page

Being developed by Tom Hall (co-founder of id Software), and Brendan Brathwaite (Wizardry, Train, Dungeons & Dragons), Shaker is currently being funded on Kickstarter. The duo started the studio Loot Drop Games, and together with a highly qualified team, are looking to create a game in the same vein as the classic CRPGs of yore a la Wizardry, Lands of Lore, Ishar, etc.. Personally speaking, this is probably one of the few currently funding Kickstarter projects I’m really, really excited about. Check out their Kickstarter page and please back it! We need more games like this.

Project Eternity
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Estimated Release Date: April 2014
Website

Obsidian games are a studio well known to any RPG fan. Recently, the company was able to fully fund a brand new party-based RPG in the vein of Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate. This is another project I’m super excited for, and I’m really happy to see that they exceeded their goal and will be making this game. There is quite an impressive pedigree here, and some of the ideas being talked about remind me a lot of Planescape: Torment, one of my personal favorite games of all time. The success of this project gives me high hopes for the future of the genre.

Wasteland 2
Developer: InXile Entertainment

Estimated Release Date: Oct. 2013
Website

Before there was Fallout, there was Wasteland. In the wake of the massive success of Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, Brian Fargo decided to reboot his post-apocalyptic RPG Wasteland, and launched the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter. The project has been fully funded, and work is underway. Check out the video above for a small glimpse of what we can expect from this project. I never got a chance to play the original Wasteland, but as a huge fan of Fallout and Fallout 2 (games directly inspired by Wasteland) the footage has me jonesin for some top-down, post-apocalyptic roleplaying insanity.

Ultima Forever
Developer: Bioware,
Estimated Release Date: Winter 2012
Website

Speaking of well known developers, Bioware is resurrecting one of the oldest and most influencial Role Playing series with Ultima Forever. Essentially a remake of Ultima IV, this new title is going to be entirely free to play (or, as Bioware calls it “Play4Free”) and will be playable on PC, as well as iPad. According to Bioware, the game will feature many of the old mechanics of the Ultima series, while combat will be positional and action-oriented, comparing it to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Definitely on my list of need-to-play games —  I mean c’mon, free Ultima!

That list almost sounds too good to be true. So many great names and developers are behind these projects, and my hopes are high. And these are just classic RPG’s; we’re also seeing the return of point and click adventure games (thanks to Tim Schaefer and Double Fine’s highly successful Kickstarter campaign), mech games (MechWarrior Online, Hawken), turn-based strategy (The Banner Saga, XCOM: Enemy Unknown), and of course Chris Robert’s return to gaming and the long-forgotten space-combat sim with Squardron 42. It’s almost too much to handle! With such bright prospects like these, it’s hard to argue we’re not in a new golden-age of videogames. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a basement to return to.

Advertisements

The Dark Spire versus Etrian Odyssey II: Hardcore RPG face-off

Blah blah blah Skyrim. Blah blah blah Dark SoulsBlah blah blah Diablo. Blah blah blah Mass Effect.

We’ve probably beaten  it into your heads by now, but here at Power Cords, we like RPGs. Personally speaking I love RPGs; but unlike many gamers (and even some of the writers here at Power Cords), I prefer a specific type of experience from my RPGs. While some pine for loot and others eat up story lines and dialogue, I prefer immersion and exploration.

There are different definitions of exploration. For example, the fantasy setting of The Elder Scrolls series offer massive lands to traverse and are the perfect settings for exploration; while games like Dark Souls, Legend of Grimrock, and Dungeons of Dredmor allow players to explore and experiment with the game mechanics through trial and error (and a fair bit of luck). I love that sort of hands-off design that encourages the player to try new things — even if the ultimately end in failure. as I mentioned earlier this week, I’m still playing Dark Souls for that very reason. Unfortunately, I’ve found myself away from my Xbox — and therefore Dark Souls — this weekend. Not to be melodramatic, but in an effort to stave off the bumming, I took a look at two relatively unknown RPGs for the Nintendo DS with similar design concepts and old-school sensibilities: The Dark Spire and Etrian Odyssey II. 

The Dark Spire

Developed by Success and published by Atlus, The Dark Spire is a dark, dreadfully difficult hardcore dungeon crawler that is essentially a throwback to the CRPGs of yore like Wizardry and A Bard’s Tale. The basic scenario for The Dark Spire revolves around a single, massive tower with several floors to explore. Hidden atop the tower is a sorcerer who has stolen a necklace from the royal family. You create a party of adventurers to scale the tower, defeat the sorcerer, and return the necklace. That’s it.  Some quests and dialogue flesh out the background and setting a bit more, but that’s about it. The story doesn’t get any deeper than that; climbing the tower and scouring each of its floors is a story in itself, and is far more compelling than any hackneyed fantasy tale would be.

I haven’t had too much time with the game yet, but so far I like what I’ve seen. The art is wonderful — it has a dark, comic-book-ish feel (large hand drawn “BOOM’s” will flash across the screen when a character scores a critical hit). Despite having essentially zero animation, the art still manages to draw you in and create a strong sense of place. The music is also great, often times sounding like Castlevania crossed with the early Elder Scrolls games. But the art is just the surface of the extremely deep game.

In The Dark Spire, you control a 4-man party, exploring grid-based dungeons in first person, a la Legends of Grimrock. Character stats are rolled randomly in the creation process, making each one you create unique from the rest. In terms of gameplay, very little is explained to the player. New items do little to explain how they will affect your characters’ stats, instead requiring trial and error to find out what work best. Certain game mechanics, such as character alignment, praying, quests, or learning new spells, exist without tutorial or explanation. There seems to be quite a bit here that could easily be overlooked if you jump in impatiently; try to mash the A button to get through the random battles, and you’ll quickly find yourself at the game over screen. I’ve even read there are hidden classes that can be unlocked through a class combination system and unlockable races. How do I go about discovering this stuff? No clue, but I look forward to delving into this game to find just how deep these mechanics go.

Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard

Etrian Odyssey is another Atlus joint, this time being both developed and published by the Japanese company (it’s worth noting that Atlus also published Demon’s Souls, of which Dark Souls is the spiritual sequel). EO II is very similar to The Dark Spire: first person dungeon crawling, random monster encounters, minimal story, and interfacing with towns mainly through menu navigation. However, EO II features a few gameplay hooks that set it apart. First is the map system. Instead of slowly uncovering a map as you explore, your tasked with drawing and completing your own via the stylus screen on the DS. This adds another layer of depth to exploration, but also another way for you to completely screw yourself over; draw an incorrect map, and you may jeopardize the success of your quest.

The second change is the class/guild system. In Etrian Odyssey II, the world of Lagaard is filled with guilds of adventurers attempting to uncover ancient secrets about their world. At the outset of your adventure, you create your own guild. You can then fill out your ranks with up to 30 characters. While the stat rolling isn’t random like in The Dark Spire, the number of classes available to you is far greater, each one filling slightly different rolls than the others. You may then select up to 5 of your guild members to join your party and enter the labyrinthine forests of the Yggdrasil tree.

Equipment and stats are more transparent in EO II than The Dark Spire, but the added depth of the class system means you must experiment with class synergy to find effective formations, provide both deeply challenging yet highly rewarding gameplay.

I also really like the art design of the Etrian Odyssey games. It’s almost like an lighter, anime-inspired Dark Souls, and very reminiscent of the Disgaea series. The character portraits and art design makes EO II a very pretty game, despite the majority of the game being handled through static 2D sprites and menus.

Closing thoughts

Both games are excellent examples of hardcore dungeon crawling. Their depth and difficulty scratch the Dark Souls itch — well, as closely they can, at least. I enjoy and appreciate their design philosophies, choosing to let the player explore the game mechanics and dungeons to find their own paths and strategies instead of hand-holding or restricting experimentation. While that can lead to failure and frustration, it also leads to high levels of reward and progression. I haven’t had enough time with the games to say which I prefer over the other but at this point, despite having seemingly more aspects of the gameplay unexplained and hidden initially, I’ve found The Dark Spire more conducive to pick up and play, simply due to the meticulous map drawing of Etrian Odyssey II being a hassle at times (it doesn’t help I’m not playing the games on their original platform *ehem*). That being said, I do find Etrian Odyssey’s class mechanics and presentations slightly more appealing.

The Dark Spire

Despite being very similar in gameplay and design, Etrian Odyseey II and The Dark Spire offer different dungeon crawling experiences: one is a mythical adventure inspired by manga and anime; the other is a dark medieval quest. They’re hard games that require patience, planning, and dedication, but the payoff is immense. If you’re in the market for a heavy duty RPG experience, then both of these games are perfect for you. Personally, I’d recommend both equally; picking one or the other essentially just comes down to aesthetic taste. But hey, why not pick up both? It’s always good to have options. And kudos for Atlus for bringing these and many more excellent RPGs to the states.

Scores

The Dark Spire: 4/5

Etrian Odyssey: Heroes of Lagaard: 4/5

The Art of the Instakill

CorridorDigital is YouTube duo Sam and Niko who specialize in VFX and making cool video game and other action oriented shorts. While dang near everything they make is entertaining and worth checking out their most recent video, Art of the Instakill, is particularly awesome. The 2 minute video is kind of a compilation of all of the most awesome and classic “instant kills” featured in several of our favorite games. Check out the video below!

Check out CorridorDigital’s youtube page here as well as their other channel, samandniko which kind of goes behinds the scenes in some of their videos as well as showing off some of their other happenings.

So what are some of your favorite instant kills? I know I personally love the Lancer saw-in-half one from Gears of War but what are some of the other classics? Leave your thoughts and favorites in the comments below!

Final Thoughts on Mass Effect 3

WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS.

I know, I know. The topic of Mass Effect 3 — the ending specifically — has been beaten into the ground, debated and discussed, hashed out and argued. But let’s talk about it just one more time.

A few weeks ago, I talked about how I felt about the Mass Effect 3 ending in the greater context of story telling in video games. And how it kind of sucks. A couple of weeks later, myself and the rest of the team put our thoughts to rest in an episode of Powercast.

But here we are, nearly eight weeks since Mass Effect 3 was released, and discussions are still simmering in pockets all around the internet. Debates about indoctrination theories, explanations of plot holes, and speculation of the future abound. And ever since Bioware responded to the ending-hate with assurances of expanded ending DLC, the fanbase’s fervor has been reignited.

This is absolutely unprecedented in videogames. Never has a story enthralled players to the point of deeply discussing an ending weeks and months after the game’s release. I’m actually quite  impressed that our favorite entertainment medium has crafted a story which facilitates as much discussion as Lost or Inception. It’s a sign of the medium’s growth and maturation towards something much more rewarding and expressive.

"The work of one man (or woman) results in a shift that leads to change on a massive, galactic scale."

Now, when I offered my two cents on the ending, I said that while I had some big problems with it, overall I was fine. My big issue
stemmed from the lack of control and variety in the endings or how they play out. This opened up the floodgates for why I feel storytelling in videogames needs to change to better converge narrative with gameplay.

To be clear, I still strongly stand by this. In fact, in the time since that post, I’ve found myself seeking out games with more creative or gameplay-driven storylines. In my opinion, Mass Effect still falters in its execution, relying too much on cinematic practices and not enough on gameplay. But in my criticism of Mass Effect’s illusory decision-making, I overlooked something incredibly interesting: Bioware was playing into the constraints of the medium.

By playing into the illusion of choice, Bioware in fact used gaming’s greatest flaw in the Mass Effect 3’s favor. Instead of a cliche “you saved the world” ending, we got three wildly different end-scenarios. I say scenarios because all players saw practically the same cinematic, just different colors or prerendered clips inter-spliced. But all three possible outcomes (and every permutation within them) create wildly different outcomes for the future of the galaxy, Commander Shepard, and your crew. And before you bring up the plot holes or the random Normandy fate, consider this: your relationships with these characters came to a close throughout the entirety of Mass effect 3. The entire game is the ending, not just the last 20 minutes.

“More often than not, videogame endings don’t make us feel anything at all.”

And don’t forget, if indoctrination theory is right, none of this really matters after all.

For me, the “destruction” ending is the most plausible for my story, but that’s because I like the indoctrination theory. For others, synthesis may be ideal, and others still, control. There’s a choice there, and when you look at the ending from the point of view that “these people saved billions of years of life,” the fate of Commander Shepard and a few dozen crewmates ultimately becomes null in vastness of the universe.

And yet, extraordinarily powerful.

The work of one man (or woman) results in a shift that leads to change on a massive, galactic scale. NONE of us will ever cause such change. In that way, Commander Shepard makes quite possibly the most important decision ever posited to a videogame character: the cosmic fate of all organic life. While many have taken away the idea that the ending seems to say “nothing matters in the end,” I believe the opposite. Everything matters. Every choice creates a slightly different path which could lead to radically different outcomes for the three possible scenarios. We, as Shepard, are literally changing the face of the cosmos.

Carl Sagan would be proud.

Don’t get me wrong here: I wasn’t happy at the end, far from it in fact. I was sad. Whether or not Shepard lives or dies, there is massive, soul-crushing loss on such a large and unfathomable scale. But I like that the end didn’t make me happy. That doesn’t happen often in videogames. More often than not, videogame endings don’t make us feel anything at all.

"We, as Shepard, are literally changing the face of the cosmos."

Mass Effect 3 made us feel. We saw many of our favorite characters die, and watched as worlds were lost, and hope eroded. In spite all the positive change you bring to the galaxy, the loss of beloved characters is immediate and harsh. It’s not easy knowing that we can’t get a happy ending, but knowing the power our decisions wield in the face of such unfathomable odds is inspiring. And if it’s indoctrination theory, the door opens for innumerable possible outcomes each player could find for themselves. I love that idea. So much so in fact, I almost wish the expanded DLC wasn’t coming. I’ve decided my own ending, I don’t need Bioware to tell me how it all ends.

Sure, there are issues with the ending outside of just the choices and outcomes. And I don’t dig the reliance on cinematic tropes. But plot holes and space-magic aside, the ending of Mass Effect works. It makes sense thematically within the series and tone of the final game. Did I want a happier ending? I’m not sure. A part of me wants to say yes, but I know I wouldn’t be satisfied with that either. It’s an ending to a great story and series, nothing was going to be ideal. But no matter how dark it was, or how upset it made people, the ending sparked debates which have lasted weeks, and created an opportunity for personal interpretation usually reserved for literature and film, proof the stories in our medium are growing up. That’s an exciting and inspiring thought.

GIANT ROBOT WEEK; Site Updates!

Image

WE’RE BAAAACK!

Sorry for that hiatus guys; now we’re back and super stoked to bring you: GIANT ROBOT WEEK!

With so many awesome new games coming out focused on giant mechs, we’re gonna bring you mech- and giant robot-themed posts each day this week! Be sure to stick around for that.

Also, keep an eye out for some new changes coming to the blog as well. We’re cooking up some new ideas, which include some news about the podcast(s!). Stay tuned.

-Brendan, and the Pwrcords.com team. 

Storytelling in Videogames: Something’s gotta give. (and my Mass Effect 3 ending response)

Update: my thoughts on Mass Effect 3 specifically have been expanded and fleshed out in this later blog post.

By now, you’ve probably heard about, or experienced for yourself, the ending(s) of Mass Effect 3. I won’t get into it, but my 2 cents on the matter: I find the lack of variation disappointing, and while I can accept the  of choice and the bleak outcome, I find the endings to be ambiguous, and to open up unnecessary questions. 

I’m not going to discuss what aspects I mean by that, but in general it seems a majority of fans share these same sentiments. If you are looking for a discussion about the nuances of the game’s endings, there are plenty of other forum threads and blog posts to seek out. This post is about an issue I feel Mass Effect 3 brings up, but no one is discussing; the Mass Effect series has proven that storytelling in videogames needs to change. Continue reading “Storytelling in Videogames: Something’s gotta give. (and my Mass Effect 3 ending response)”

Mass Effect 3: Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the game.

This post was inspired by an article I read on Lasertimepodcast.com entitle “Why Mass Effect 3 scares me”, which can be found here. This is not a direct response, so much as giving my two cents on the issue.

As we creep nearer and nearer to the release date for the final chapter of the Mass Effect series, I get the impression that an increasing number of gamers are expecting to have a poor experience with the game. All over the internet, in forums, comments, and blog posts, people are expressing their distaste for the changes in directions they feel the series is taking with the final installment.

Shots have been taken at EA, day-one DLC, the inclusion of multiplayer, the demo, and the supposed de-emphasis on story. These have led to everything from debates on the game’s outcome, to sexists death threats against a Bioware employee who is not even involved with Mass Effect 3.

I’m sorry, what? Continue reading “Mass Effect 3: Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the game.”

Game of the Week 2/24/2012: Mass Effect 2

Welcome back to Game of the Week! This week, Brendan tells us all about the second part in the epic sci-fi trilogy, Mass Effect 2.

Mass Effect 3 is right around the corner. We’re just a few short days from seeing the end of Commander Shepard’s saga, and his mission to save the galaxy from big, bad, mechanical super-beings. With the closure to this story imminent, I’ve recently gone back through Mass Effect 2 — one of my personal favorite games of all time.

What it is: Mass Effect 2 is the second game in a sci-fi action-RPG series from Bioware. The series is unique in that for the first time, choices made in the first game can affect the entire outcome of the series’ story arch.

The story behind this series is a high-science fiction tale centered around Commander Shepard — the first human to be instated into the Specters, a group of special agents who carry out missions around the galaxy against some of the biggest threats to all species.

In the first game, Shepard was recruited to take down a fellow Specter, Saren, who had gone rogue and was arming a race of sentient robots know as the Geth to go to war against all organic life. This all occurred after he (and Shepard) came into contact with a relic from an ancient civilization known as the Protheans, giving them strange visions of the future. Players had to race across the galaxy, recruit a team to take down Sarin and stop his attempts at galactic genocide. Many options are open to the player, giving them full control over their story, making their experience unique.

In Mass Effect 2, the ramifications of the player’s choices in the first game begin to play out. Saren is defeated, but now the true motivation behind his actions have surfaced: he was being controlled by a race of ancient machines, The Reapers. Every few millennia, the Reapers descend upon the galaxy, harvesting and devouring all organic life.

Mass Effect 2 puts Shepard in a new part of the galaxy — the Terminus systems, something of a “wild west” in the Mass Effect universe. Human colonies in these systems have been attacked and their inhabitants taken by a mysterious race of aliens called the Collectors, who seem to be working directly with the Reapers. Again, the player recruits a team, and is faced with numerous choices that can change the outcome of the game — and therefore, change the entire experience players will have in Mass effect 3.

Why I love it: The Mass Effect is probably my favorite gaming series of this generation. I love sci-fi, and Mass Effect takes the best bits of Star Trek, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Battle Star Galactica, and even Alien, and adds heaps of character and style to create a very unique scifi universe. Possibly the best sci-fi universe in decades.

The origianl Mass Effect is a great game, and when compared to mass effect 2, it’s story is a bit more cohesive, but some odd game play design choices and bugs held it back.

The reason I prefer (only slightly) Mass Effect 2 is because not only did those gameplay hitches get ironed out, but the story is a much more fleshed out web. Instead of a straight line from beginning to end, with some side quests, in Mass Effect 2 you get more bite-sized stories where you get to know each character and their motivations much better than the vast majority of videogames can accomplish. It’s such a compelling universe to be in.

Besides all this, I’ve never put so much consideration into the choices I’ve made in a video game. Where as in games like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, role playing is game play mechanic (I’m gonna be a dual-sword wielding Orc who hates Hig-Elves) in the Mass Effect series the role playing is entirely story-driven. Each moral decision my Commander Shepard faced became my moral decisions to make.

In Mass Effect 1, my decisions didn’t feel  quite so important. There were some big moments where I had make some hard choices, my motivation behind those choices were contained within the game.

In Mass effect 3, the choices of both games will bring a close to a story I’ve followed for the past few years, and any decisions I make will once again be contained within the game, rather than the series.

But in Mass Effect 2, I was seeing BOTH my decisions from ME1 coming into pay, yet the reasons for doing what I did was because I was worried about what would happen in the next game. Because it’s the middle entry, it also hold the most opportunity for not only changing the ending of the series, but also for rectifying (or completely fucking up) the things you started at the beginning of the series.

So, in a nutshell, Mass Effect 2 offers more time to spend in the best sci-fi universe of the past decade, but also for the first time EVER, fans care about a series not for its gameplay, graphics, or achievements/trophies, but solely for the story. In a medium where story is (in my mind, rightfully) less important, it’s amazing to see what these games have accomplished.

Game of the Week, February 10 2012: A Love Letter to Super Metroid

Welcome to the first entry for our new Game of the Week column, where every week our fine writers feature one of their favorite games, and why you should love it too! This week, Brendan fills us in on an the SNES classic, Super Metroid.

There are games that define a franchise; games that define a genre; even games that define a console.

Super Metroid is a game that defines an era. Sure, maybe it’s a broad statement, tinted slightly with nostalgic goggles used to look back on fond memories, but there’s something of a universal truth to the statement:

“Super Metroid is one of the greatest games ever made.”

What is it? Before we get into why it’s one of the best game of all time, let’s talk about what the game actually is. Super Metroid is a 2D, side scrolling, action/adventure game, with a heavy emphasis on exploration. The game puts you in the power-suit of Samus Aran, the female protagonist of the Metroid series, and the galaxy’s biggest badass. Super Metoid built on the open-ended exploration of the original Metroid game on the NES, adding a map to see where you are and what’s left to explore; meters showing how much of the map you’ve seen, and how many items you’ve collected; and an inventory where you can keep track of/activate abilities and equipment you’ve earned — abilities like the classic Morph Ball and grapple beams, and equipment like the x-ray visor and super missles. Depending on your completion rate and your time, you receive different endings. All of these simple design decisions create an extremely addictive sense of exploration.

What really amplifies that pull to discover is the game’s setting. Super Metroid takes place on the planet Zebes. On this planet, ancient alien ruins, labyrinthine cave systems, underground research facilities, and even a crashed space frigate create a sense of isolation and mystery. Samus is alone on her mission; after a Human Alliance space station is attacked by the Space Pirate Ridley, and the last living Metroid (which were wiped out by Samus in the Gameboy’s Metroid II: Return of Samus) is stolen, Samus tails the Pirates to the planet to save the Metroid and destroy their plans and defeat the nefarious Mother Brain.

Sure, a rather bare-bones and cliched sci-fi plot, but the Metroid franchise has always told its stories through gameplay and the player’s own experiences, rather than dialogue-heavy cut scenes — even when the story involves other characters for Samus to interact with (at least, that was the case up until Metroid: Other M was release a few years ago).

Super Metroid’s atmosphere and world are immersive and compelling, and the game’s music is simply amazing, adding more dimension to the already alien surrounding.

Why do I love it? Pick any of the gameplay elements I listed above: the music, the atmosphere, the gameplay, sense of exploration and mystery — few other games reach the peaks that Super metroid does, and it’s my personal belief that no other 2D action/adventure game has reach quite the levels of mastery that Super Metroid does.

Along with the Gamecube’s Metroid Prime, it hold a special place in my heart as one of my favorite games of all time. Between both Prime and Super Metroid, as well as nearly every other game in the series, Metroid has solidified itself as my absolute favorite video game series of all time, and is responsible for pulling me back into gaming just a few short years ago. Super Metroid has given me something special, and the series’ formula has made for some of the best experiences I’ve ever had as a gamer.

And I’m not alone in that sentiment. The game created a thriving (and still active) speed running community, who took Super Metroid’s gameplay and turned it into something entirely new.

Not only that, but the game’s music is by far my favorite video game music (aside from Metroid Prime’s). Fellow fans created the band Metroid Metal, who cover and arrange metal version of classic Metroid tunes into prog-metal masterpieces. It’s probably the best way the experience the music of Metroid outside of the games.

Unfortunately, the series took a rather grave turn with the recent Metroid: Other M, and I’d be remiss not to mention it. Other M’s heavy focus on story, and the mischaracterization of Samus from bounty-hunting warrior, to an over-sexualized, incompetent and helpless liability infuriated fans. Futhermore, the changes to the gameplay were too far-removed from that of the series’ past. Sure, some fans lamented the switch to first person in the Prime series, but you can’t ignore the fact that those games still captured the feel and look of the Metroid series. Other M took Metroid to unnecessary and insulting territory. It is my hope that one day we’ll see Samus return with a game worthy of the Metroid name. And seeing as Nintendo’s next generation has begun, I have hope.

I’ve beaten Super Metroid numerous times, but I’ve never grown tired of it. From that first time I played it on a friends SNES some 16 years ago, I was hooked. As the game nears its 18th birthday, I have more than enough reason to return to the dark depths of the planet Zebes, and you should too.

Super Metroid is available on the Wii store. Check out more Metroid Metal at their official website.

And seriously, PLAY THIS GAME!

To play or not to play: An MMOs hater’s SWTOR dilemma

–By Brendan

I don’t like MMOs. I liked Guild Wars, and Guild wars 2 looks promising, but compared to games like Everquest and World of Warcraft, it’s a very different type of game.

I tried to play WoW, made it to level 40 or 50 on a Bloodelf whatchamacallit, then called it quits.

I gave Final fantasy XI a shot, but the grind was too much, and I hadn’t really found a good group to play with, so once again I called it a day.

do, however, like Bioware RPGs — Knights of the Old Republic and the Mass Effect series especially (the Dragonage series was kinda ‘meh’ for me). With those two truths nagging at my mind, I find myself torn: is SWOTOR the first MMO for me, or just another grinding mill of boredom? Continue reading “To play or not to play: An MMOs hater’s SWTOR dilemma”