Reviews of Games You've Already Played

I don’t buy too many games the day they come out, so by the time I’m done with one it’s been around a while. Here are some thoughts on a couple of games that have been around for a while.

DEUS EX: Invisible War

This game has been derided for being a shallow, cheap, and generally lame followup to DEUS EX. Having not played the first game, I can only give impressions of the second on its own terms.

On the up side, the game has excellent production values. It’s pretty, with nicely rendered and detailed environments. The writing is interesting and the game makes you want to see what’s going to happen next, which is always good. I didn’t even mind the NPC dialog much, and that usually drives me bats. The game generally offers many paths through each particular phase, and it’s sometimes interesting enough to play different stages multiple times with different strategies. You can save any time you like. Hoorah.

On the down side, the game’s levels are small, and to make up for it they take a ludicrous amount of time to load. The game world is a bit contrived. Vents are conveniently placed to allow you to bypass locked doors. And, the world is full of a myriad of items all of which might be useful, but you never know. This would be OK, except that the game has a stupid inventory system where you are allowed to carry a ludicrous amount of stuff, but for some reason you can’t carry as much as you want. This means you leave half the stuff you find lying around, and you risk needing to backtrack for some crucial item that you didn’t have room for.

My other main beef with the game is that the combat blows. Except for the sniper rifle, all the weapons are severely underpowered and chew ammo at a high rate without killing anything. The shotgun is particularly anemic. The game tries to support multiple styles of combat, but I can’t really see how you’d do this game with the melee weapons.

Once you get the sniper rifle, the game is a bit too easy. Sneak around, possibly completely invisible, and snipe everything in sight at will. This is particularly true on the last level of the game, where if you set yourself up with the right abilities your enemies will fall like flies.

Finally, the game is a bit short. I don’t usually complain about short games. But, I got through this in a little over a week, and that includes replaying multiple areas. I could imagine someone who was good at games could finish this in a couple of nights.

Overall though, this game was good and interesting enough for me to finish, which in and of itself is a recommendation.

Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga

I mentioned this game briefly in my recent bout with self confession. This Gameboy RPG is modeled after the Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario games for the SNES and Nintendo 64 machines. Briefly, you control the two brothers as they run around, fight stuff, collect coins, mushrooms and other magic vegetables, and try to rescue something valuable.

The game design is remarkable. You never feel like you have to optimize your path through the world for fear of running out of some critical resource at a bad time. You never search endlessly for the next step in the path through the game, or just the right sequence of button pushes for some stupid puzzle. Things are generally transparent but interesting.

The navigation and combat system is really fun. You move around in the world much like you would in a platformer, although perfect timing isn’t always necessary. The combat system is similar. It’s a great combination of turn based play and timing based attacks. Each turn, you decide what attack you want to use. Each attack can do a certain amount of damage, but if you hit the right button at the right time, you can do extra damage. Again, the game design shines here. While Mario doesn’t have 3-d rendering, pixel shaders, normal maps and physics, what it does have is nearly perfect game-play mechanics. A game like DEUS EX just wishes it could have something as good as Mario jumping, but it doesn’t come close.

The most gratifying aspect of the gameplay is how the brothers gradually gain cooperative moves and attacks. For example, each brother can jump a certain height and distance. But, a bit into the game, you learn how the two can combine to be able to jump both higher and further than each can alone, so you can get through more challenging terrain. The moves available for combat evolve in a similar way. You start with simple jumping attacks, but soon the brothers can combine multiple jumps to do extra damage. Not only is the system easy to understand, but the interface is described to you in tutorials integrated into the gameplay. If only all interfaces were this well designed and explained.

The main nit I have about the game is the use of savepoints. But, this is mostly mitigated by the fact that you can hit a hot key and sleep the GBA any time you want. Hit the hot key again and the game comes back exactly where you left it. So you can just carry the game with you and play in arbitrarily small slices of time. Perfect!

If you are thinking about getting a GBA, you must buy this game. In fact, this game highlights one of the pleasures of the portable platform, which is that it has a really strong collection of turn based strategy and RPG games which have mostly died out on PCs and consoles. This is a great thing.