Category Archives: Namco

#53: Soul Calibur II

Format: GameCube Genre: Fighting Released: 2003 Developer: Namco

The Soul Calibur games are without doubt my favourite 3D fighting games, and I reckon Soul Calibur II – specifically the GameCube version – is the best of the lot. It certainly had the best guest character – Link from the Zelda series, who was perfectly suited to the hack and slash gameplay.

GameCube owners lucked out on the character front – the Xbox version had a rather disappointing Spawn as its special guest character, whereas the PS2 version had Heihachi from Tekken who, although certainly an impressive fighter, seemed to have been out of the office when the memo was sent round about packing a weapon in his overnight bag.

And it’s the weapons that elevate the Soul Calibur games above your average 3D fighter – from Kilik’s great big bludgeoning stick to Nightmare’s mahoosive sword, the various hack ‘n’ slashing tools added some fantastic variety to the fights.

Is that a bomb in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?

The Soul Calibur series’ greatest innovation was the introduction of a ‘story mode’ for the single-player campaign. Most fighting games have pretty dull single-player modes that simply require you to fight your way through a set number of opponents in order to ‘beat’ the game [*yawn*]. Thankfully, someone at Namco realised this is a pretty tedious way of going about things, so they introduced a map that your character works his or her way across, with various extra missions and bonuses to unlock, along with an overarching story for each fighter. Some of the fights had special requirements that livened things up from the usual ‘hit your opponent in the face until they fall over’ rigmarole: one of the more interesting ones was a level in which you could only damage your foe by knocking them against a wall. Another one saw you poisoned at the start, causing your health to tick down gradually – the only way to restore it was to successfully hit your opponent (natch).

Good old Astaroth. Nice hat.

The money earned from the story mode let you ‘pimp’ your character with all sorts of improved weaponry – in a way, the whole thing was more like an RPG than a traditional fighting game. Some of the weapons were particularly brilliant – I remember Yoshimitsu’s ‘joke’ weapon was a shepherd’s crook that made bleating noises every time you hit your opponent.

The costumes were fantastic too. The levels of costume absurdity seemed to have risen steadily over the course of the series, culminating in Soul Calibur IV‘s  truly ludicrous range of fashion nightmares, but the more ridiculous the costumes get, the more I like them. Astaroth’s outfit’s in Soul Calibur II deserve a special mention – I was a big fan of his purple jester hat (see above), but he also had an even better one that looked like some sort of rubber mohican.

"Ta da! What do you mean you think the codpiece is too much?"

Generally the characters in Soul Calibur II were wonderfully designed and carefully balanced – and then there was Necrid.

No-one likes Necrid. I bet even Necrid probably doesn’t like Necrid. Not only does he look ridiculous, he’s a real pain to fight with too – his style is basically a very lazy mash-up of several other characters’ moves, none of which is very satisfying or interesting. The character was designed by Todd McFarlane (he of Spawn fame), and you kind of get the impression that the Japanese designers wanted his input in order to appeal more to Western audiences – perhaps they should have had more faith in their own talents. Thankfully, Necrid didn’t make it into the subsequent two games, and he exists now only as an embrassing blip in the series’ otherwise noble history.

Necrid - by far the least likeable character. Although he seems to be giving Yunsung a good old thrashing here.

If you get the chance, I heartily recommend tracking down the GameCube version of Soul Calibur II – not only is it blessed with probably the best single-player mode in the series, it also gives you the opportunity to lay the smack down on various golems and ninjas with a certain green-clad pointy-eared chap harbouring various bombs and boomerangs about his person. And surely that’s an opportunity not to be missed.

Lewis

Screenshots from http://www.firingsquad.com.

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Filed under 2003, Fighting, GameCube, Namco

#26: Katamari Damacy

Format: Playstation 2 Genre: Miscellaneous Released: 2004 Developer: Namco

Katamari Damacy is like some sort of gaming Prozac – every person I showed it to walked away with a smile on their face and a spring in their step, no chemical aids needed. It’s like concentrated happiness pressed onto a disc, ready to explode out through televisions worldwide in a giddy dissemination of the gospel of cheerfulness. And it’s utterly bonkers.

Katamari Damacy Japanese box

Let’s start with the plot. The King of All Cosmos (the enormous bloke with a crown further down this page) has gone on a bit of an alcohol binge and accidentally knocked the stars and moon out of the sky. As you do. For some reason he decides the best plan of action is to get his son, the diminutive Prince, to roll up loads of junk from planet Earth with a sticky ball called a Katamari in order to replace the missing stars. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make out much more of the plot than that (I played the Japanese version of the game – it was never released in the UK), which is a shame because if the dialogue between the Prince and the King was as joyously insane as the rest of the game, it would have been a real treat to read.

katamari damacy building

My favourite part about Katamari Damacy is its fantastic sense of scale. You start of the game with a tiny, 5-cm Katamari, and you find yourself picking up things like paper clips and LEGO bricks while dodging rampaging mice. Gradually, as your Katamari gets bigger, you find you can pick up larger and larger objects, and there’s a joyous moment in each level where the things that have been chasing you – be they mice, bears or circus elephants – suddenly turn tail and run as you bear down on them with your enormous sticky ball of doom. Eventually, by the time you reach the final level, your Katamari gets so big that you can actually pick up entire skyscrapers – possibly one of the most satisfying gaming pay-offs of all time. I found myself  compulsively replaying the final level again and again in order to make my Katamari as big as possible – to the point where I could pick up the islands themselves.

katamari damacy pencil

There’s a wonderful attention to detail throughout the game. As I was living in Japan at the time, it helped that I could recognise some of the more esoteric objects, such as the giant kotatsu early in the game and the maneki neko that seem to crop up everywhere. The items seem to get weirder and weirder as the game progresses, and some of my favourite ones crop up in the later levels, including a delightful Ultraman lookalike and even the Japanese god of thunder, Raijin, who’s hiding out in a cloud on the last level.

The actual physics of the ball are ingenious – if you pick up an awkwardly shaped object, such as a pencil, the ball reacts accordingly, making it difficult to roll in a straight line. The game could never be described as difficult, but moving the Katamari efficiently through a level requires just enough skill to make the game rewarding – and utterly addictive.

katamari damacy king

However, the highlight of the game has to be its fantastic soundtrack, which features everything from J-rock to jazz. Turn up the sound on your PC and click on the intro video further down the page – you’re in for an aural treat. Not to mention a visual feast of dancing pandas, singing ducks and rainbow eruptions…

And I guarantee that you’ll be humming the theme tune for days afterwards.

“Naaaaaaaaaaaa NaNaNaNa Na Na Na Na Katamari Damashiiiiiiiii”. Damn, that’s in my head now.

katamari damacy large ball

Katamari Damacy made my life slightly better simply because it never fails to cheer me up – even just writing about it has made me positively smirk-happy.

Everyone should play this game at least once – its combination of bizarre humour, fantastic music and addictive gameplay make it one of the best games ever released for the PS2. It’s just a shame that Namco never released it in Europe… Come on Namco, don’t we deserve a bit of happiness too?

The bizarre game opening, featuring the signature tune, “Katamari On The Rocks”.

A sample of gameplay from the US version of the game (I finally get to read a bit of the dialogue between the King and the Prince – and it’s just as bizarre as I supposed).

Lewis

(Screenshots from www.whattheyplay.com and www.ign.com)

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Filed under 2004, Miscellaneous, Namco, Playstation 2

#15: Time Crisis

Format: Coin-Op/Playstation Genre: Light Gun Game Released: 1995/1997 Developer: Namco

There’s a simple reason that Time Crisis made my life slightly better – if, in the event of some sort of apocalypse, I was forced into the position where I would need to defend my homestead against invasion, the lightning-quick sharp-shooting skills I learned from this game will surely be more than enough to repel any maruading zombies/aliens/angry Belgians. My acquired ability to pick off multiple foes in quick succession, punctuated by brief dives for cover, will undoubtedly serve me well in any situation where I am required to return small arms fire whilst conserving ammunition – basically, if there’s only one gun in the bunker and the men in blue suits are hammering down the door, just leave it to me. Job done.

time_crisis_cover1

There really is nothing quite like gunning down a small army of colour-coded international terrorists to brighten up your day. Despite the constant repetition, I never seem to tire of this game; in fact, knowing exactly where and when every single little hapless blue guy will pop out is almost comforting. It’s a warm familarity, like a dog-eared, stain-covered, favourite jacket for which each stain has its own personal story.

time-crisis-screenshot-1

I’m going to stick my geek hat on here (it’s the one with the flappy ear muffs) and tell you the extent of the misplaced devotion I have given to this game. Several years ago now – back in the days when I thought mobile phones were gimmicky and unnecessary – I spent around six months studying at Barcelona University. Otherwise starved of my computer game fix, I used to pop into the local arcade on the way to uni, although being a skint student, I limited myself to one credit – which always went into the Time Crisis coin-op. After several months of toil, sweat and frustration (well, mainly frustration), I finally managed to beat the game on one credit – the only time I’ve ever managed to finish an arcade game in one go. Beaming from ear to ear, I wallowed luxuriously in my enormous sense of achievement, then turned away from the machine with a cocksure smirk to drink in the awed looks and rapturous applause from my admiring audience – which consisted solely of the fat, moustachioed arcade owner, who was sat reading a porn magazine in the corner and who didn’t take a blind bit of notice of me.

Such is the life of the arcade gamer [sigh].

time-crisis-screenshot-2

I suppose that’s one of the most melancholy aspects of playing video games – you put hours and hours of tireless devotion into honing your skills and learning every nuance and technique the game has to offer, but in the end the only people you’re going to impress are other, equally devoted (obsessed?) gamers. It kind of adds a trickle of ennui to the whole proceedings – which turns into a flood once you realise that the arcade owner is more interested in tits than your gaming prowess.

Which is fair enough I suppose.

time-crisis-screenshot-3

Nevertheless, I continued to devote hours of practice to the home version of Time Crisis after I returned from Spain, despite the knowledge that, like all video games, all this tireless devotion would ultimately be for nought.

Unless, that is, the Belgians invade. In which case I would be able to proudly hold my head up high and say that this game, this single, mighty game, was my inspiration for taking on the entire Belgian Empire single-handedly with nothing but an automatic pistol. Perhaps, when it’s all over and I’m being triumphantly carried through the jubilant streets of a liberated London, I’ll look up and notice that Spanish arcade owner in the crowd;  lip quivering, he’ll slowly raise a salute in my honour as ‘Red Hot Senoritas’ slips from his grubby fingers, only to be trampled by the exaltant crowd.

At last, justification for my video game obses… erm, devotion.

Lewis

(Note: The screenshots in this post are taken from the arcade version of Time Crisis. All screenshots are from the excellent Arcade History website: http://www.arcade-history.com/.)

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Filed under 1995, 1997, Coin-Op, Light Gun Game, Namco, Playstation

#7: Tekken 2

Format: Playstation Genre: Fighting Released: 1996 Developer: Namco
  
It’s 2000. Late May. Can’t be sure but I kind of remember it being a Tuesday. It’s lunch time. I’m in the second year of university, in the middle of my summer exams. I have an exam in an hour, I’m not doing last minute revision, not going through my notes, not preparing myself for the exam in any way. Instead I’m sitting on the floor playing Tekken 2 with my house mates. Why? Good question.
Tekken 2. Takes you back doesn't it?

Tekken 2. Takes you back doesn't it?

I’m not even that big a fan of beat ’em ups. I’m just not very good. I try my best but… Everyone else seems to fall into two camps – they either know all the moves and pull them off with supernatural ease, invaribly smacking me silly with 76 hit combos, or they have no idea what they are doing and cheerfully mash the buttons (known in gaming circles as the ‘Girl Method’), again smacking me silly through sheer enthusiasm.

Unfortunately I’m always stuck in the middle. I simply don’t have the patience to learn the moves yet I feel it would some how be cheating to just mash away. I straddle these two methods and sadly fall in the chasm between. In other words I lose. A lot.

Tekken 2 was one of the few beat ’em ups that I really tried to get to grips with (the other being Marvel Vs Capcom, sure either myself or Lew will blog about that another time). I decided to spend a lot of time learning the moves of Marshall Law, who seemed to me the sort of character a serious player would choose, like Ryu in Street Fighter II. I always picked Dhalsim or Blanka with SFII – the easy ones. Anyway, I spent a lot of time trying to master Marshall. I really tired to learn the moves and remember combos, as dull as that was.

Law mid fight. You can tell this isn't me playing as he's winning here.

Law mid fight. You can tell this isn't me playing as he's winning here.

It was a complete waste of time. I still lost. That Tuesday all those years ago I distinctly remember being roundly beaten by my friend Amy a button masher of the old school. She didn’t try to be good, she just tried to have fun. Amy too had an exam in an hour. Difference is she revised rather spend her time attempting to master a game she was never going to be good at. As I walked to the exam I realised what a stupid amount of time I had wasted. I could of been revising or at least playing. Properly playing, not turning a game into a chore.

So yeah, after Tekken 2 I never really bothered to play a beat ’em up in a ‘serious’ way again. I accepted that I would never be particularly good, and to just enjoy them for what they were. I gave up on Marshall. From then on I just picked Yoshimitsu. He had a big sword. He looked like fun.

And in the interest of fun let me finish with the supposed plot of Tekken 2. Yep, there was one. This is taken from wikipedia so it could be a fantastic practical joke. Who knew it was all about smuggled endangered species?

‘Two years have passed since the King of the Iron Fist Tournament. On a stormy night, a lone figure fights his way up a rocky cliff until he reaches the top.

The Mishima Zaibatsu, under the leadership of Kazuya Mishima, has become even more corrupt and powerful than ever before, as well as becoming involved in many illegal operations. These include kidnapping, extortion, smuggling of endangered species for illegal experiments, and blackmail. Unknown to everyone, Kazuya is being backed up by a mysterious force known as Devil, who inhabits Kazuya’s body and serves as his only counsel.

Kazuya’s activities have made enemies for him from all corners of the world, one of which is Jun Kazama, an animal rights fundamentalist. Kazuya’s biggest problem, however, is when news reaches his ears that his father, Heihachi Mishima (whom he defeated two years ago in the first King of the Iron Fist Tournament) is alive and plotting revenge against him. In an attempt to rid himself of Heihachi and his enemies once and for all, Kazuya announces the King of the Iron Fist Tournament 2, with a cash prize one thousand times the first (one trillion dollars).

Jun Kazama eventually comes face to face with Kazuya, but rather than arresting him, she finds herself drawn to him (due to Devil’s powers). She later ends up pregnant, with Kazuya being the father. In the confusion, she departs from the tournament.

In the final round, Heihachi confronts Kazuya, and they battle once again. Heihachi wins the first round, prompting Devil to take over Kazuya’s body and unleash his full power. This results with Kazuya becoming a Devil-like creature. Despite his advantages, Devil is still defeated by Heihachi, and flees the unconscious body of Kazuya.

After the tournament, Devil attempts to inhabit the body of Jun’s unborn son, but Jun manages to fight him off. Heihachi, meanwhile, takes Kazuya’s body to a volcano, and drops him in. Heihachi then escapes on a helicopter as the volcano erupts behind him, having finally taken his revenge and regained his company’.

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Filed under 1996, Fighting, Multiplayer, Namco, Playstation

#6: Ridge Racer

Format: Playstation Genre: Racing Released: 1995 Developer: Namco

There was a time back in the late 80s and early 90s when you just couldn’t escape the phrase ‘arcade perfect’ in computer game magazines. Or rather, endless moaning about how ‘arcade imperfect’ most console games actually were. Basically, there was a substantial gulf between the version of, for example, Street Fighter II you played in the arcade and the slightly-tatty-round-the-edges version you bought for your Sega Megadrive, and the release of any arcade conversion would always be greeted with frenzied playground speculation as to whether it was ‘arcade perfect’ or not. The arcade version of a game was the zenith of graphic perfection that all home versions aspired to reach, yet always fell short.

However, all that was to change with the release of the Sony Playstation and one of the first examples of a ‘pixel-perfect’ arcade conversion: Ridge Racer.

ridge-racer-box1

It wasn’t actually ‘arcade perfect’ of course – the frame rate was a little slower and, most notably of all, you didn’t get a full size Euros Roadster to sit in (a la the ‘Full Scale’ arcade version, which could be found in the London Trocadero once upon a time) – but it was hugely impressive nonetheless.

ridge-racer-full-scale

I remember setting up my brand new Playstation on the big TV in the living room and being utterly blown away by how good this game looked. It’s no exaggeration to say that this game, along with the Sony Playstation, was at the  forefront of a total revolution in gaming. One minute we were all happily playing our 2D platform games, and the next minute we were in the midst of a new 3D age. I doubt we’ll see another such big jump in terms of graphical power for many years to come – until they get around to making truly 3D games anyway.

ridge-racer-screenshot1

The game wasn’t without its flaws: cars often clipped through each other, and there was some truly horrendous pop-up. Most heinous of all, there was a paltry one track on offer – admittedly, it could be played in various configurations, but still, one track is a slim offering by any standards. Having said that, I was happily enthralled in that one track for months on end, and I can’t think of many games that have as compelling a ‘just one more go’ factor as this one.

A large part of what made this game so compelling was the soundtrack – the music was excellent, and the game-show-host-style commentator was not to be missed (bear in mind that actually having speech in a game was almost unheard of before the rise of CD-based consoles).

“Alright everyone, one minute to go, are you ready? The engine’s now locked and ready to go, are you all set?”

Indeed sir I am.

Lewis

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Filed under 1995, Namco, Playstation, Racing