Tag - Konami

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

Castlevania Lords of Shadow

Castlevania Lords of Shadow

Considering how much complaining I’ve done in the past about Konami bringing back the barbarians, I felt that I should take some time out and reflect on Lords of Shadow, the recently released Castlevania game in which the barbarians have been… uhh… broughten.

Lords is the very definition of an ambitious game. This classically designed single player experience borrows from many different genres and introduces so many new mechanics and ideas that the first few hours leave the player confused and frustrated. The God of War inspired combat feels natural enough at first, but it isn’t before long where the player will discover that pounding the attack buttons will get them nowhere. Once players finally get a feel for that, they’re asked to conquer Shadow of the Colosuss inspired Titan battles, which once again introduce a new set of rules. Factor in the increasingly complex battle mechanics (the game slowly introduces different magic types, new items, and plenty of useful combats and gadgets) and Uncharted style platforming and players will find themselves in over their heads. Let us not forget the many different puzzles also sprinkled throughout the game to break up the fighting and the jumping (each of which can be bypassed by the player if they chose, though the player will miss out on valuable experience points for skipping them).

Thankfully the long length of the game (which is impressive for a single player campaign these days) allows the player enough time to adjust to everything the game tries to teach them in those first few levels. By the mid point most players that haven’t given up will be one with the deep combat system and they’ll be experts at dodging, making use of well timed blocks, balancing between dark and light magic, and have no problem spamming monsters with holy water and fairies. The game demands a lot from the player, but patient and persistent players will be rewarded with a really well thought out combat system.

Outside of the extremely steep learning curve, Lords of Shadows suffers from some of the typical issues of other 3D games. Sometimes platforming is tricky leading to many unintentional deaths (makes me respect the nearly perfect platforming in a game like Mario Galaxy even more), and while I mostly appreciate the fixed camera (I hate dealing with a camera these days. Seriously, mapping a camera to the second stick is lazy game design these days) it occasionally has a few moments where it’s not placed well. Some other technical issues, like the inconsistent frame rate, are blemishes on what would be a stunning game in the graphics department (and don’t get me wrong, some scenes look fabulous).

The pacing picks up around half way through the game as well, though I’m not so sure if it’s that the pacing became better or that was the moment where the game clicked with me and I found myself enjoying it more. Having gone back to previous stages to find items I missed, I found I actually enjoyed the stages more the second time around now that I knew what I was doing. Regardless, once players find their way into the castle, the game comes into its own and has its fair share of unique stage design and incredible boss battles.

But is it Castlevania? There are conflicting reports that this game was never supposed to be a Castlevania game (a teaser from 2008 suggests it was originally called “Lords of Shadow” but Konami employees have stated that was a test, so we won’t know for sure), but the fact of the matter is that if it’s titled Castlevania, then it’s Castlevania. And really, was Symphony of the Night a Castlevania game? Not really, but that didn’t stop it from being one of the highlights in the series and changing the direction of the series forever. From my perspective, someone that has grown up with and owns nearly every single game in the series, I would undoubtedly say this is a Castlevania game. It has enough Castlevania elements in there to warrant it being part of the series. It’s just sort of the Batman Begins of the series, taking 25 years of history and essentially flushing it down the toilet. As a fan, I have zero problem with that. The timeline is a tangled mess only rivaled by that of the Zelda series, so it’s about time for a fresh start.

Speaking of the story, Lords of Shadow easily has the best plot of the entire series. Sure, it has plenty of poorly written moments (please name me games that don’t) but as a whole it works well. Between each stage Patrick Stewart, as his character Zobek, gives us some understanding as to what Gabriel is doing and how he might be feeling. These pages can sometimes add to the plot development, but you can practically see Patrict Stewart rolling his eyes while reading some of this stuff. Outside of the normal cut scenes and the narrated segments, the game has tons of optional details about the world for the player to uncover. Every monster and character Gabriel meets get an entry into the player’s journal, and their are scrolls littered throughout the game that offer both hints and insight into the overall lore. There is some really cool stuff in here, particularly where the developers put their own unique spin on classic Castlevania staples (I seriously loved the history of the castle they share here and there).

I could probably write another five or so paragraphs on this game but I should probably wrap this up before it gets too long winded. Just know that despite suffering some technical issues and having a rough learning curve that Lords of Shadow absolutely delivers a grand adventure. It’s the sort of 3D Castlevania adventure I’ve wanted to play since Castlevania 64, and as someone that has grown slightly tired of the Metroidvania line of recent Castlevania games I’m glad to see the franchise manage to go back to its roots and also reinvent itself at the same time.

Also, count me in for the (hopefully) inevitable Lords of Shadow 2, where developers MercurySteam can perfect what they implemented here, and also bring the series into what appears to be their daring new direction for the franchise.

TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist


Lately I’ve been dying to get my hands on a Sega Genesis and a handful of games for it. Growing up as an SNES kid, I was willfully ignorant towards lots of the cool stuff that was on the Genesis and I guess I regret treating Sega’s black box that way. Thanks to my extremely generous friends (thanks dudes), I now have a Genesis complete with a library of great titles. One of those games in the library happened to be Ninja Turltes: The Hyperstone Heist, which is fantastic since that’s one of the games I wanted to revisit.

I played through Hyperstone ages ago at a friends place and being the jerk I was, I just kind of wrote it off as the poor mans Turtles in Time. In a way, I’m still right in thinking that, because I believe Konami wasted a really cool opportunity here. Instead of crafting a brand new experience for Genesis owners, Konami decided to take the easy way out and use all of their assets from both Turltes In Time and the original Arcade game. Mainly aping Turtles in Time, Hyperstone literally shoe horns in some of the locals from previous games, like the pirate ship which is now a ghost ship. With the exception of a stage themed after a dojo, along with a brand new boss (Tetsu from the TMNT movies), a handful of different foot soldiers, and a new music track or two, nearly everything in the game is recycled from previous titles.

Speaking of the bosses, the first three bosses in the game (out of about 6) are nearly identical in their attack patterns. They stick to one side of the screen, throw a few objects and then charge to the other side of the screen. Considering the wide variety of bosses Konami had to choose from (since you know, they didn’t feel like creating new ones) you would think they would choose some characters that offered a couple different attack patterns.

Konami cut other corners too, like taking out the ability to throw foot soldiers into the screen. This is most likely because the Genesis lacked the ability to scale objects, but we all know Konami made the Genesis do amazing things in both their Contra and Castlevania titles. Other graphical missteps are in the sewer scenes where the turtles appear to be walking on top of water while the pizza monsters jump up from under the water. Back in the day, Konami was known for their craft, so it’s rather obvious they were in this for a quick buck.

As I said before, it’s a huge missed opportunity on Konami’s part. The Hyperstone, Shredder’s mega weapon, has the ability to shrink things, and the game starts off with him shrinking New York City. At one point he threatens to use the Hyperstone on the Turtles, but it never amounts to anything but a threat. Konami could have had a lot of fun here, had Shredder shrink the Turtles and then have them fight all sorts of little critters and do a Honey I Shrunk the Kids type of deal with the Turtles. Sure it sounds a little cliche, but it’s something they could have had some fun with.

All this bitching aside, Hyperstone is still built upon the foundation that is Turtles in Time, which means it still plays like a dream. Unlike the SNES game, the Genesis version runs quickly at all times with never a hint of slow down (it must be all that blast processing). Kicking ass and beating up the Foot still feels great and when everything is all said and done, that’s all that matters. Though a personal pet peeve of mine is that the dash is activated by using the C button, and is no longer auto-activated nor the option of double tap activated, but I still got used to it by the end.

The strange hodgepodge of elements from both of the TMNT arcade games, plus the new stuff, gives the game enough of an oddball appeal that a person like me sort of has to have it in their collection. The Hyperstone Heist is probably one of Konami’s weaker Genesis games, but it’s a quick paced, lightening fast brawler that still offers a great (yet brief) time.

Forgotten Games: Monster In My Pocket


Monster In My Pocket was a somewhat popular toy line that came around in 1990. The toy line was similar to the old M.U.S.C.L.E. line (that I used to LOVE) in that it was made up of a boat load of small, soft plastic figures. Instead of being wrestlers, Pocket was based after mythical creatures, like vampires, mummies, werewolves, and anything in between. The franchise seemed to have only lasted a few short years, but it made the media rounds in the form of comic books, a made for TV animated movie, and of course, the 1991 Konami video game.

I wasn’t really a fan of the Monster In My Pocket franchise, and by the time the NES game came around, I believe I had already moved onto the SNES so I didn’t care much about the game either. However, there used to be a local video store that rented out NES games, but they weren’t really up to date on their Genesis and SNES stock (actually, they went out of business not much longer after Blockbuster came to town, and now Blockbuster is on its way out, weird huh?). So I was in there one time and decided to rent Monster In My Pocket because of the Konami name branded on the package. Even at a young age, I was confident in Konami products, especially licensed ones.

About an hour after renting it, I had finished the whole thing in a single sitting. It wasn’t really hard, but it was rather enjoyable regardless, and at least I only rented it. That brings us to today, where I felt like playing through the game again, so I ordered a copy off eBay for a whole dollar. The game came in a few days ago, and this morning I recreated history by plowing through it again in a single sitting.

As a late generation NES title, this game is doing some cool stuff, and it has really good graphics all things considered. The lead characters (you can choose between Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, guess who I chose) are large and well animated, and the game pushes a bunch of large scale sprites. Since you’re supposed to be a monster that can fit in a pocket, the stage layouts are reminiscent of Capcom’s Rescue Rangers game, with over sized house hold objects. In classic Konami fashion, two players can run through the game together, in what feels like an easy man’s Contra. While there is no shooting and combat is done in close quarters, the game moves quickly and has a strong focus on platforming, which is what makes it feel more like Contra than say Konami’s NES TMNT brawlers. In fact, it’s the only NES game I know of that has a double jump, which is something of a standard these days. Which leads me to question, which game had the double jump first, this or Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts on SNES? Or was there something before that? My money is on Ghouls, but I could be wrong.

The game consists of six stages, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if you actually had to get good at them to win. Obviously developed for kids, Konami decided to go easy on the player, so unlike Contra there are no one hit deaths (you get five hits) and there’s plenty of health laying around. On top of that, the player respawns right where they left off until they run out of lives in which they just start at the beginning of whatever stage they’re on. I imagine someone who is even half way decent at video games could plow through this game in a single sitting, two tops.

It certainly isn’t a classic, but there’s enough Konami charm in there (tight controls, great hit detection, bold graphics for the NES, great pacing, 2 player action, and the expected fantastic Konami style chip tune soundtrack) to make it worth looking into for NES collectors. Considering how cheap you can nab it on eBay and the fact that it will never be re-released ever, I’d say its worth the half hour it takes to run through, especially if you have a couple of beers and a buddy.

Konami characters and their 80s counterparts (Update 2.0)

Gillian Ford

Konami has a bit of a history when it comes to creating characters based on Hollywood icons. From Contra to some of Hideo Kojima’s greats, familiar faces can be found all over Konami games. Take a peek.

Jimbo and Sully. Mad Dog and Scorpion. Bill and Lance. The two protagonist of the Contra series have gone by many names here in the states (it’s always been Bill and Lance in Japan) but their initial influence has never changed. Someone at Konami must have been a big fan of Predator and Rambo, because these characters are clearly based off Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. And why not? If Arnold and Sly made a movie together during the 80s, the world may have blown up. Since they never did, Contra was the next best thing that could happen.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are Contra

This little known Sega CD game (in the states anyway) comes from the well known Hideo Kojima. This cult classic cyber punk adventure game stars a man named Gillian Seed, who resembles Harrison Ford‘s character from the movie Blade Runner. I guess if you’re going to make a cyber punk adventure game, why not take from the movie that invented it?

Harrison Ford is Gillian Seed

Another Kojima game, but this one never actually made it to the states. I don’t know a heck of a lot about Policenauts other than the fact that it stars a blue haired Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. I guess the game is kind of like the anime version of Lethal Weapon in the future? Or not.

Policenauts with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover

Metal Gear Solid
This is an obvious one. Snake was clearly created after the legendary Snake Plissken played by Kurt Russell in Escape for New York and LA. If the interviews from Kojima saying that Snake was inspired by Plisskin wasn’t enough proof, then maybe the fact that Snake showed up in MGS2 as “Iroquois Plissken” will make you a true believer Dr Jones.

Snake Plissken is Solid Snake

Snake isn’t the only celeb creeping around in the Metal Gear world. Take a look at Big Boss from the MSX game Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.

Big Boss is Sean Connery

Sean Connery FTW.

Updated: A shot I forgot to include is the cover art from the original Metal Gear title. This time, it looks like Kojima was really into Terminator, as that is clearly Michael Biehn.

Metal Gear Biehn

Bayou Billy

I can’t believe I forgot about Bayou Billy. This ridiculously hard NES game basically stars Paul Hogan’s Crocodile Dundee. Thanks for the heads up tkshredder.

Bayou Dundee

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