Monday, March 08, 2010

Miles Edgeworth Ace Attorney Investigations

Miles Edgeworth Ace Attorney Investigations
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Adventure - Nintendo DS
1 player
Miles Edgeworth Ace Attorney Investigations

I admit it. I'm a sucker for this game series. Ever since I first heard about it (a courtroom drama video game? really?!), I've been intrigued. Oh sure, the games have had their ups and downs. But through it all, it generally maintained a certain charm. Miles Edgeworth marks a departure from the previous entries, and even has a different title than the other games (Gyakuten Kenji, instead of Gyakuten Saiban). But if this Miles Edgeworth Ace Attorney Investigations is anything to go by, the original Ace Attorney series is officially irrelevant.

Miles Edgeworth somehow kept everything I ever loved about the series, but ditched everything I hated.

Gone are...
- Mysticism (psychic powers, channeling spirits and the like, magatama)
- Gimmicky touch screen garbage (having to simulate forensic work is NOT gameplay)
- Perceive system in Ace Attorney 4 which has no logic whatsover

Still contained within are...
- Distinct (and sometimes outrageous) character personalities
- Using logic to connect evidence to refute / confirm testimonies
- Plot continuity not only between cases, but entire games

Unlike the regular Ace Attorney games, Miles Edgeworth does not take place in a courtroom at all. Instead, the scenarios in this game focus on detective-work and apprehending criminals, but the techniques you use are very similar to what Phoenix Wright uses in court. You still talk to people, convince them into telling you their alibis, and point out problems in their arguments with evidence. So it's still very thought-based. The investigative parts resemble those in Phoenix Wright, but they're much more streamlined. First of all, movement is now done in third-person. You can see your character visually on-screen and move him around. It doesn't make for a huge change, but some might appreciate the increase in interactivity. To alleviate some of the irritations of previous games, Capcom got rid of the clunky navigation between areas by keeping investigations focused. If you're in a room, the game generally won't let you leave until you've gathered everything you need. Phoenix Wright would allow you to wander through 8 different locations, until you trigger an event that lets you get back to court. In Miles Edgeworth, though, the investigations are contained.

If it stopped here, it would already have the best gameplay in the series, but Ace Attorney Investigations adds a couple of new systems that reinforce the concept of making logical connections. The first is aptly named, "Logic". "Evidence" is the physical clues gathered and documented that you use to point out flaws in testimonies, etc. But new to this game are ideas and thoughts. As you find interesting tidbits or things that don't quite make sense, you keep track of your thoughts. At any time, you can connect two thoughts if there's a link, and it can reveal a new truth. It is may be an extension of what's already in place, but it makes for a great addition. Similarly, the second new addition isn't a completely new game system, but rather a twist on what you already do in the game. In a select few situations, you're able to evaluate simulations of past events and point out inconsistencies. The overall end result is a very focused experience of piecing together logic.

The only slight letdown to it all is that it seemed easier to me than the previous games. Part of it is because the main character is so much more competent than either Phoenix or Apollo, and as such, points out hints, whenever you need to present something. But even without those hints, I generally thought that connections between evidence and testimonies were much more obvious than the older games. I suppose it could just mean I've played too many of these games, so that the formula has become predictable.

Still, I hope Miles Edgeworth Ace Attorney Investigations is the future of the brand. It takes all the stuff I liked from the Ace Attorney games, expands on it, and dumps the junk I wasn't crazy about. The eclectic character personalities are still there, with a mix of old faces and several new ones. And the gameplay is by far the most sophisticated of the series. Even though the overall story wasn't as satisfying as some of the previous entries, it was nevertheless a complete joy to play. I want more.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Dark Void Zero

Dark Void Zero
Developer: Other Ocean
Publisher: Capcom
Action - DSi Ware
1 player
Dark Void Zero

Dark Void Zero is sort of a weird title. Capcom's marketing team calls it an unreleased game from the 80s, that they are releasing at long last on the DSi Ware store. Wikipedia calls it a publicity teaser to generate buzz for Dark Void, a 3D game for the PC, Playstation 3 and XBox360. Whatever it is, people seem to be agreement about one thing: Dark Void Zero is a much better game than Dark Void is.

Dark Void Zero is a NES-inspired action game, and that's a good thing. Visuals and music are decidedly 8-bit, as well as the gameplay. Sorta. Just like Retro Game Challenge, DVZ takes 8-bit conventions, but mixes it up with some modern elements for a slight twist. They don't go overboard with the modernization, and it mostly plays like a classic NES game. And frankly, the result is quite awesome.

You control a character named Rusty, and you're pretty much Earth's last hope. But who cares what the story is about? The game wastes little time and throws you into the action from the get-go. For the most part, this plays like your standard 2D action platformer. You pick up weapons, kill enemies, watch for cannons, jump over chasms, etc. You can fire in 8 directions, which is a definite necessity, given the aggressive nature of the enemies. The level structure is somewhat similar to Metroid in that you have freedom to explore areas, find that you can't proceed initially, grab crucial items, and backtrack to those points once you've found the right item. Luckily it doesn't have any leveling up garbage that plagues modern titles, so it's a pure action game. As a consequence, DVZ offers a decent challenge - quite the surprise for a fogey like me. If you don't utilize your situations right, enemies can easily overwhelm you.

For you collectathon gamers out there, you can search out 100 orbs in each stage and 5 special items for bonus points and extra lives. They're not necessary, but they certainly add a bit of flair to an already solid game.

The twist? You can fly. Scattered throughout the stages are jetpacks that grant you the ability to ascend heights and hover. Considering there are a bunch of aerial enemies and ground hazards, flight is a must. Your 8-way firing ability is even more crucial, as you're trying to position yourself not only to hit enemies, but to avoid colliding into danger. Flight makes the game that much more intense and turns up the action even more. But if you can fly, then what is the point of the platforming? DVZ answers that question with no hesitation.

Dark Void Zero is set up so that there are certain sections of a stage that cannot be traversed just by walking and jumping. But other sections will not allow you to fly. Stages contain antigravity fields that destroy your jetpack, forcing you to walk. So the game walks a fine rope between the two styles of play, and you have to adapt to each style and figure out which is right for each situation. But it succeeds marvelously because of how tight the stage design is. You get the feeling that every situation is very intentional, and all the enemies, barriers, and tools (weapons/powerups) are placed where they are for a purpose. Your goal as a player, then, is to use analyze your options and utilize what's available to overcome whatever scenario is presented. It's brilliant.

With its healthy challenge, two distinct styles of play, and well-designed stages that complement each and integrate both, Dark Void Zero is a surprising gem. It grabbed me from the beginning and was entertaining throughout. Complaints? Personally, I have none, but it should be mentioned that there are only three stages. It probably amounts to about 3-4 hours of trying and retrying to get through the stages. Although that doesn't sound like much in this era of 40-hour games, it's an appropriate length for no-nonsense action games of old. Plus, at 500 points for the download, it's hardly much of an investment. It may be shorter than a lot of games, but for me, it's also that much sweeter.