Fatal Labyrinth

Much like a house that has been ravaged by a terrible fire, or a car that’s been left parked on the street overnight in Lackawanna, Fatal Labyrinth is an RPG that’s been stripped all the way down to its frame. There’s barely any story, one town, no stores, and only one playable character. The game also eschews the tedious turn-based menu-driven battles of most RPGs – which would normally be a good thing – and actually manages to come up with “combat” that’s even less interesting than picking “fight” off of a list.

You begin the game in the only town, and learn that some magic goblet has been stolen, causing darkness to fall over the land, and an evil dragon to come back into power. At first, I wasn’t too concerned – sure, lots of people were whining that it meant the end of the world, but there’s people like that in every one of these games. I mean, if Madden was an RPG, there would be some guy who’d tell you that if the Eagles don’t win on Sunday, evil would spread across the land. So I was pretty unmoved by people’s pleas for help until I saw this:

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That really drove the whole thing home for me. A world plunged into perpetual darkness and about to be destroyed by an evil dragon sounds pretty bad, but it’s also really hard to relate to. It’s never happened to anyone in real life, and in video games, a crisis like that is averted on a pretty routine basis. But wet laundry? That’s something else entirely. Have you ever taken a shirt out of the dryer a little too soon, and put it on the next day, and it was still damp? It’s horrible. You walk around all day with a shirt that’s all squishy and wrinkled and feels vaguely cold. It’s probably what being attacked by one of those slimes you always see in RPGs feels like. I wasn’t about to abandon an entire town to such a miserable existence, even if it would have been a fairly brief one before they were, you know, wiped out by that dragon.

At first, I kind of dug Fatal Labyrinth’s simplified approach. The design reminded me a lot of Gateway to Apshaii, which had been one of my favorite Atari games when I was a kid. However, Fatal Labyrinth is actually a bit too simplified. Say what you want about the combat in games like Phantasy Star (and believe me, I’ve said plenty), at least it’s slightly interactive – I mean, you still have to pick “fight” off of the menu, and you even have some other options, even though you’ll rarely use them. In Fatal Labyrinth, “fight” is the only option, and you simply hold the button down in the direction of the monster you’re facing and watch them stab each other until one dies or you run away. Some might generously call it an Action/RPG, but that would be insane. This is more like an Inaction/RPG.

It wasn’t very long before the game started to get boring. Picking up equipment is almost pointless – there are only a few different pieces and plenty of duplicates, which you can’t sell or do anything useful with other than chuck at an enemy for minimal damage. There’s nobody to talk to, no side quests or sub-missions, and you can’t even leave the labyrinth once you enter it. You just explore, fight the same monsters over and over (there’s a new one every few levels), and pick up worthless items that you usually already have. The entire thing is just one long grind from start to finish. It’s straightforward and super-efficient to a fault.

Fatal Labyrinth might be ok as a cell phone game, where its streamlined, linear design would probably make it easy to play. But compared to most of the Genesis’ library, or even some Atari games from the early 1980s, it comes up severely lacking.

Race Drivin'

Race Drivin’ is a unique game in a lot of ways. Oh sure, it’s the sequel to Hard Drivin’, and uses so much recycled content from its predecessor that it’s hard to tell the two apart, but compared to other Genesis games, there’s a lot of originality. For one thing, it’s one of very few games to attempt 3D graphics on the Genesis. That’s actually not as good of an idea as it may sound. Think about it – Starfox proved that the Super Nintendo couldn’t handle 3D graphics without making everything look like ass. You can’t really expect a Genesis, the Super Nintendo’s retarded half-brother, to do a better job, can you?

It’s also one of very, very few games to simulate driving a car with no brakes, and almost certainly the only one to simulate doing so while high on hallucinogenic drugs.

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It’s kind of unusual to see 3D graphics this bad outside of a Dire Straits video.

Or at least I think it’s supposed to be simulating a drug-induced trip, since taking a spin down any of the tracks in Race Drivin’ is a journey into madness. At times, the road rises to incredible heights and floats in midair with nothing underneath to support it. Severely banked turns rise out of the ground like roller coaster tracks while moving vans perform soaring jumps over wide gaps in the background. While much of this insanity can be explained by the game’s limited 3D graphics engine, some of it was clearly a conscious decision. A road that just kind of hovers in the air might be the result of the Genesis not being powerful enough to draw the ground underneath it, but once somebody decides that the airborne highway needs a barn and some trees floating in midair next to it for scenery; you’ve crossed the line into willful insanity.

By the way, do you know what would come in handy when you’re driving a car down a road that’s floating in midair and has no guardrails? Brakes. They allow you to slow down the car, or better yet, just stop it entirely and just wait for the LSD to wear off. According to the game’s instructions, the B button is for brakes, but pushing it only resulted in an annoying noise that I guess was supposed to be tires screeching, with no noticeable effect on the speed of the car. I’m inclined to say these controls were unrealistic, but who knows? Maybe the physics are different on a road that’s tilted sideways at a crazy angle while floating in mid-air.

Steel Empire

Ah, steampunk. Literary types love this Victorian-inspired setting because it calls to mind an alternate reality lacking electricity, computers or mass production. You love this setting because it reminds you of Final Fantasy III. Nevertheless, the world of simpler machines, steam engines, and craftsmanship is an interesting one to imagine (though most people sort of overlook the increased air pollution and much more rigid class structure that would probably result from it).

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Aside from being huge targets, hard to maneuver, and flammable, Zeppelins are perfect for aerial combat.

And an interesting setting can sometimes carry an otherwise average game. But here’s the problem – setting and story are intertwined. If there’s not much story, you don’t pay much attention to the setting. So while a steampunk theme might do a lot to make a mediocre RPG at least somewhat interesting, it adds almost nothing to a shooter like Steel Empire. I really don’t care if I’m shooting down zeppelins, spaceships, or hummingbirds, I just want to see them explode.

And aside from a unique setting, Steel Empire doesn’t really bring anything original to the genre. It’s decent, but definitely not Top 100 worthy.

Eliminations in Brief for 3/25/09

It’s good to be back!  Well, at least it was until I started playing these ten mistakes

Test Drive 2: The Duel – Nothing can convey the feeling of speed and power you get from driving a exotic sports car quite like hearing the roar of your engine. Unless, of course, that roar sounds more like the mighty buzz of 10,000 dying bees.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Perhaps the best way to capture the intellectual feel of the show in the game isn’t to have the first few levels play like Prince of Persia.

Tecmo World Cup ’92 – Coming soon from Tecmo, Olympic Summer Games ’94!

General Chaos – Hello General, may we introduce you to Major Disappointment, Private Shame, and Colonel Not-Nearly-As-Much-Fun-As-I-Remembered?

Zool – There is no good stuff, only Zool!

Raiden Trad If I were to ask someone what the one thing about their game that made it different from the 1,000 other shooters available on the Genesis was, their answer had better not be “cows”.

Task Force Harrier EX – Come to think of it, the answer probably shouldn’t be “anime cutscenes and terrible sound clips,” either.

AAAHH!!! Real Monsters – Really? Nickelodeon licensed this, and yet my dreams of a Hey, Dude! game go unfulfilled?

Flink – Making a Mario-style game with a 10 year old boy as a protagonist doesn’t do anything to revolutionize the genre, but does do quite a bit toward making me feel vaguely creepy.

Sagaia – A rather convincing argument for why the shooter genre is all but dead these days.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Echoes of the Past

Captain’s Log.

We were on patrol near the Federation/Romulan neutral zone when we received a distress signal from a nearby planet. I had Lt. Data call up the signal immediately, but due to a user error, the message was accidentally closed before we had a chance to scroll down and read any of it. We were unable to access it a second time, and for some reason, our computers had saved no record of it. This strikes me as patently ridiculous. My cell phone is still storing text messages Cmdr Riker sent me inviting me to his swingers party last summer, yet our high-tech starship somehow can’t keep a record of a distress call? I made this observation on the bridge, and ordered the crew to look into having all communications with the ship forwarded to my cell phone as text messages, in order that we may have at least some record of them.

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Android or not, Data looks extremely uncomfortable in his chair

I wanted to beam down immediately, but Lt. Cmdr. Data informed me that the planet we were orbiting was not actually the planet from which the distress call came from, nor was it safe for a landing party. I then brought the crew into the Ready Room, and ordered them to take us to the planet in question. They responded by looking at me blankly until the woman with the cleavage finally explained to me that nobody actually knows how to fly the damn ship, and that I’m basically going to have to do everything by myself. This would be less of a problem if not for the fact that I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.

I spent the next 15 minutes stumbling around the bridge attempting to figure out how the hell to plot a course to the planet we needed to get to. I think I managed to hide my confusion by pretending to take an inordinate interest in the engineering screens, and then accessing the computer to read up on the Romulans, and try to figure out why they hate us so much. I was finally able to locate the Conn (which was hidden beneath the communications screen – who builds a ship like that?), and set a course for the planet we needed to reach, traveling at a speed of Warp 6.2.

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Get ready to spend a lot of time standing around watching this.

We then spent an inordinate about of time standing around on the bridge, watching little rainbow colored specks go by on the monitor, waiting to arrive at the planet. It sort of reminded me of the long cars rides my parents would take me on when we would drive cross-country for vacation. I tried to convince the crew that, as captain, I had better things to do that stand around and watch stuff go past the window, and to just call me when we got there; but they kept insisting that it was my duty to stand by idly while they drove us there. Honestly, I don’t think they appreciate the full extent of all the non-military functions I have aboard this ship. There’s a lot more to running a starship than just warping and phasers, and if I don’t get the payroll entered on time week, their checks are going to be late again. Then they’ll get real bitchy.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived at the planet. I put together a landing team of Lt. Worf, Lt. Cmdr Data, and two redshirts to land on the planet. Immediately upon beaming down, they were attacked by Romulans. Lt. Worf became confused and attempted to attack them with his communicator, while the other members of the party stood around and got shot. Eventually, Worf got out his phaser. Not wanting to escalate the conflict I ordered Worf to set it to “Make them sit down”, the same setting as the Romulans appeared to be using. After a brief battle and a LOT of sitting, the Romulans were subdued. We were then able to make contact with the person who has sent out the signal.

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Hey, get off your ass and do some work!  Damn Romulans.

Subject thanked us for the assistance, but refused an offer to be taken off the planet, instead hinting at some important knowledge contained on the site, and making vague references to other activity in the area that we should be investigating. Well, whatever lady, I’ve got some budget reports that need to get done – I don’t have time to be cavorting around space on your whims. I was also supposed to have a meeting with Worf this afternoon regarding some different suppliers for our warp fuel, but I have a feeling that he’ll want to postpone it after all the sitting he ended up doing in the battle.

End Captain’s Log Entry.

Todd's Adventures in Slime World

As someone who grew up on Jumpman and the Apshai games, this one hurts. It’s not just the disappointment of seeing Epyx, one of my favorite game companies, put out a bad game – if that were the case, I’d have been more upset over California Games, which they were also responsible for. The thing that makes Slime World painful is that it’s so hopelessly outdated – just playing it makes you agonizingly aware that the company was inescapably stuck in the 80s and headed down the road to extinction. Slime World’s concept is painfully simplistic, the graphics aren’t bad so much as they are just bland, and the controls are clunky. Not only that, but playing Slime World serves as a painful reality check that all those old Atari, Amiga and Commodore 64 games that we like to get nostalgic for probably weren’t all that great in the first place.

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It’s like an Atari XE game from 1986 that fell into a time warp and instead ended up on the Genesis six years later.

Thanks, Epyx, but the next time I’m feeling nostalgic for the mid-80s, I’ll just watch Red Dawn again.

The 10 Worst Genesis Games That You’ve Probably Heard Of – #10 Altered Beast

At first glance, Altered Beast isn’t really that bad. It’s a decent, if unoriginal beat-em up in which you play as an ancient soldier, whom Zeus raises from the dead to rescue his kidnapped daughter, Athena. You travel from right to left across five stages punching and kicking an endless horde of identical monsters. The longer you play it, though, it stops feeling mildly generic and seems more like its ripping off one game in particular. At first, this is hard to pinpoint. “When have I played this before?” you think. Was it Golden Axe? No, that game allowed limited movement along a 3rd dimension, and had enemies that could take a few hits.Altered Beast is strictly two dimensional, and almost all the enemies die after being hit once. Was it Ninja Gaiden? Nope, Ninja Gaiden had some platforming, whereas AB’s jumping is limited to the occasional area where you can hop up to a second plane. And then it hits you…

Altered Beast is exactly like Bad Dudes.

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At the time Altered Beast was released, few other games allowed you to breakdance.

Well ok, it’s not EXACTLY like Bad Dudes.In Altered Beast’s favor, you get to turn into a Werewolf (or dragon, or bear, or other animal depending on the level), which is kind of cool.On the other hand, Bad Dudes has one of the greatest storylines in video games – President Ronnie has been kidnapped by the ninjas.If you were only going to steal one thing from Bad Dudes, it should have been that.

And it’s not as if they replaced it with a storyline that was equally good (as if such a thing were even possible). Why would Zeus need your help rescuing Athena? Did he run out of lightning bolts or something? And wouldn’t he have gotten Hercules  Perseus, or Jason to do it? Zeus didn’t even like Athena – he saw her as a threat to his power. And here’s one other serious flaw with the narrative: Athena isn’t the princess from Mario – she’s the Goddess of Wisdom AND War. Good luck with that, potential kidnappers – it’s going to take a lot more than some candy and an unmarked cargo van to pull off that abduction.

Silly storyline aside, Altered Beast is an average, if derivative, beat-em up. That’s not really so bad, but what earns Altered Beast a spot on this list is that it was the original pack-in game to come with the Genesis. Which means that for the first year or so, every single person who bought a Genesis was essentially forced to buy a copy of Altered Beast as well. They might as well have packaged them with an apology letter while they were at it.

Graphics:Altered Beast is one of the best looking games to come out in the Genesis’ first year. In terms of winning contests with impossibly low standards, that’s kind of like having fewer “Calvin pissing” stickers on your car than anyone else in Ohio.

Sound:It’s kind of hard to take a game seriously when the very first thing you hear is Zeus commanding you to “wise fwom your gwave!”

Control:Each level allows you to turn into a different monster, each with its own special attacks. These attacks generally fall into two categories – “projectile” and “run right into enemy and take damage”.

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In a more perfect world, suggesting this… whatever the hell it is… as the Level One boss would get you fired.


Final Verdict: When you’re the first to come out with a revolutionary next-generation system, and then have the audacity to name it after one of the books of the Old Testament, you’re making a bold statement. And that statement should not be “Buy a Genesis and get a free copy of Altered Beast! It’s just like Bad Dudes, except with werewolves!”