Mortal Kombat: Deception

I’ve long vented my frustrations and disappointment with the Mortal Kombat series’ move from 2D to 3D. Unfortunately, Mortal Kombat: Deception doesn’t move the needle much for me in the advancement of the series department, as it continued to make MK feel more like an annual update in the vein of John Madden Football or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (of course, after they milked the cow too many times!)

Deception really feels like an MK 5.1 and not MK 6 in the lineage of things. Sure, there’s new characters, new arenas, and a new boss (a pretty cool one too, Onaga). But it also features all of the old characters, arenas, and bosses as well.

There’s only so much you can rehash here and I still never got into the weapons-based combat, which has a larger spotlight here and is the “update” to the previously used arenas.

Yes, there’s Konquest Mode, and some other add-ons, but I’ve always felt those were secondary – not even – to the main meat of a fighting game. I suppose the pressure was on after the fall of the arcades and the rise of consoles to make these games more “worthwhile” for a $50-60 purchase, tacking on replay gimmicks. I seldom count them in my own reviews, as single player is where it’s at most of the time.

That would include Chess Kombat and Puzzle Kombat. Say what you will, but I never cared about these features.

No, I cared about some pure fighting and fatalities. MK has always delivered on the violence and usually created unique characters we care about, but aside from the main boss Onaga, this game has no one truly memorable that debuted in this title.

Instead, that came with redesigns of existing characters, many of whom anchored the series since its beginning such as Sub Zero, Scorpion, and Liu Kang.

While this game sold like hotcakes back in 2004, some reviewers were harsh on it like I was. Actually, some more than others.

I understand the love, especially for the legacy of the MK series, but personally I still feel as if Deadly Alliance and Deception still hadn’t delivered from the game’s transition to three planes.

Metroid: Zero Mission

Hot on the heels of the latest Metroid series release, Metroid Dread for the Nintendo Switch, I just had to revisit this Game Boy Advance classic, which I overlooked as simply the original Metroid with updated graphics.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Just as Nintendo had done with rebooting Metroid II: Return of Samus as Metroid: Samus Returns on the 3DS, they took the first Metroid game and gave it a shot of steroids on the GBA years earlier.

Retelling the same story with a map closely resembling the original game, the rest falls into brand-new territory with not only updated graphics and sound, but much of the map is laid out with new terrain, areas, and controls to help you navigate both.

In addition, many weapons and features from latter Metroid games make an appearance, which turns the old school experience into a unique one of its own. I was so blown away by this game, it has instantly jumped into my top list of GBA titles ever made.

My only knock on Zero Mission is that it’s a short four-hour run-through. I could’ve backtracked for a few more items to 100% the game, and add a bit more time with it, but as you can see, it wasn’t necessary to complete the game.

I will say that Zero Mission is much more forgiving than the original Metroid, and its also a lot more accessible. There’s a hard mode if you wish to crank the difficulty back to the first game, but the main items helping are more energy tanks, save rooms (which didn’t exist with the password system on the NES), and maps/map rooms so you can find your way around.

Extra touches with the new power-ups don’t feel out of place either, including the speed booster first introduced in Super Metroid.

Speaking of completing the game, the bosses are all revamped as well – from Mother Brain to Kraid and Ridley, expect a different experience than what you saw on the NES. It’s familiar, but also welcome.

The images below have some spoilers I won’t note here, and if you haven’t had the pleasure of playing this title yet, do so: it’s not only one of the better Metroid games (as if there’s a bad one) but one of the best in the genre it created too. Not only is it a great remake, but it successfully refines and adds upon its source material.

Star Wars: Battlefront

The original Star Wars: Battlefront is a game which spawned sequels and were among the best “real” movie experiences in video games to date – showing what could be accomplished on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

Of course, the game is dated in several ways. So, if you’re a Star Wars fan, please proceed! If not, you may be underwhelmed.

I had owned this title initially for the PS2, but this review is based on a current replay on Xbox. It should be noted both versions are very similar if not identical in certain ways.

Let’s start with the bad: this game does look and play “old” at times.

I love how Microsoft had the foresight to know high definition was the future of gaming. From the jump, this game (unlike the original Halo) can be played in a widescreen format. Truth is, the original Xbox was capable of 720p output using component cables – it could upscale to some degree but the CPU struggled with true HD content.

That’s likely the bottleneck of why moving around the map, and much of the gameplay aspect, feels like Lord of the Rings and the fellowship’s endless walk to Mordor! That’s my first gripe: walk. Walk some more. Maybe, just maybe encounter some enemies.

The gist of the game, of course, is a large map where hundreds of opponents face off to capture different bases – a “king of the hill” type concept. As you capture new bases, you can spawn closer to other enemy camps in order to dominate the map and the opponent.

Yet, some of the bases are so far away from the rest, and when you die, you have to respawn at the ones you currently control. Thus, more walking… (It also doesn’t help that you often respawn facing in the opposite direction of where you should be going to start!)

With no “run” button available, I assume the developers slowed down the game for one or two reasons. First, the framerate: the sheer size of the maps and the number of characters onscreen, including lasers zooming past and explosions abound, would probably crash the hardware if it were sped up.

Secondly, there are vehicles throughout the game. They are substantially faster, almost to the point of being difficult to control! They range from mounting a Taun Taun on Hoth’s Echo Base to flying an X-Wing.

And therein lies the strengths of the game. The combat is pure fun. Even when it becomes frustrating, you realize that you’re a weakling in the game, fighting as a separatist battle droid or one of the expendable Endor rebel troops. Neither are no match for higher power weapons or enemies, including the Expanded Universe’s Dark Troopers, or cameos from Darth Vader, Count Dooku, Mace Windu, Lukey Skywalker.

The game spans several words, each with two sets of battlefronts (or maps). The worlds are inspired by the original Star Wars trilogy and the first two prequels (Episode III had yet to be released.)

There’s a lot to cover as to how the game actually plays, but the basic premise is that it’s a massive battle where you have to gain control of every base on the map and/or wipe out every last part of the opposition.

The premise is perfect for multiplayer action, which back in 2004 usually meant more couch co-op than online play (which was built into the game but ceased over a decade ago).

As for the single player campaign, it’s short, but satisfying. There’s nothing like reliving some of these famous, or completely new and made-up battles. The DVD film footage between stages looks really dated but that’s okay. The game is otherwise more than passable and really fun – even for replay value.

The first time you step up against an AT-AT on Hoth, hope on a speeder bike on Endor, stroll through Mos Eisley, Naboo, or even Bespin (Cloud City) you’ll get lost in what makes the Star Wars universe special.

While I already mentioned the graphics, the audio samples are straight from the films and will raise goosebumps on your arms at times, especially if you make a wrong turn and come face-to-face with Darth Vader and the whir of his lightsaber.

On that note also, the controls are very simplistic, and can be a little bit of a mess as you navigate the maps – but the ground campaigns are otherwise smooth to play, while the vehicles are a tad messier at times and probably should be to give a competitive balance.

In all, I highly recommend this game, with the asterisks of the above faults. It will play best for fans of the franchise, of course, and it was a heck of a trip down memory lane that I may be glued to playing for short spurts now that I rediscovered it.

Halo 2

Like most of my Xbox reviews, I want to point out that I played this version of Halo 2 on the Xbox One.

Unlike a lot of my reviews, this game was remastered for the new console, but with a caveat: you could switch between the HD remastered graphics and the original, while playing on the fly!

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

When Microsoft launched their first-ever console, the original Xbox, a lot of folks had no idea what to think of it. Would it be yet another failed concept in a crowded field? That field included Nintendo, Sony, and at the time, a struggling and then failed Sega console division.

As such, onlookers such as myself heard of Halo and only knew of rumblings that it was a “killer app”.

As the Xbox gained momentum, I also gained an Xbox, just in time for the release of Halo 2.

Let it be known, Halo 2 was the true killer app for the OG Xbox.

By this time the bulky “Duke” controller was replaced with a more streamlined version, broadband internet began to penetrate more homes, and Xbox Live was taking off like a rocket. The sequel to the original Halo dropped in 2004 to take advantage all of all this and more.

While Halo 2 brought online multiplayer, I still feel Halo 3 (on Xbox 360) was the pinnacle of that component being a bigger feature than offline campaigns in games. Halo 2’s campaign was solid, but I can’t be the only one who felt the plot was a bit disjointed.

You alternate playing as the Master Chief and “enemy” Covenant equivalent “The Arbiter” as we learn of opposition’s obsession with the Halo ring world installations. I won’t spoil anything else here, but just know that sometimes the storyline gets confusing if you’re not totally all-in on the Halo universe.

Halo 2 is considered one of the greatest games of all time because it greatly expands on what made the first game so popular. The game’s cover art teases a feature missing in the first game, the ability to wield two guns at the same time.

While some weapons are exempt from dual-wielding, the change was notable as first-person shooters such as Goldeneye and Perfect Dark had done so years earlier. The omission felt odd in Halo, but Halo 2 makes it “make sense”.

New weapons are a given, but none more so than the introduction of the energy sword, which often allowed for one-hit kills that were also popular in other FPS titles.

Of course, the weapons all have their give-and-take moments, and dual-wielding means you can’t melee attack, toss grenades, or switch to your holstered item without dropping the second gun. (In other words, there’s strategy involved!) The inclusion of vehicles is here as well, including more opportunities to see how the Covenant tech works too.

There are some sheer brilliant moments in Halo 2, aided by full-motion video cutscenes, gorgeous settings, and an epic cinema quality soundtrack.

To this day, playing Halo 2 on its original settings is still jaw-dropping. The HD remake sends it into another stratosphere where the no longer dated effects disguise it as a current-gen blockbuster.

FPS fans who have never had the privilege of playing the original Halo games are definitely missing out – and the series’ first sequel is as over the top as any other franchise’s, including Super Mario Bros.

I highly recommend this game – and as a bonus, those with Xbox Game Pass can play it at no extra charge.

Pokémon LeafGreen

Pokemon FireRed and Pokémon LeafGreen were both enhanced remakes of the 1996 original Pokemon Red and Blue RPGs.

As my first foray into the series, I decided to skip the crappy Game Boy graphics and jump right into the updated versions. Knowing that each game has little difference (other than “catching them all” of course) I flipped a coin and went with LeafGreen.

Mind you, I did not grow up with the Pokemon craze, so my initial reasoning for checking these games out was to see what the hype was. Needless to say, I can see why they have appeal, but catching them all isn’t really my cup of tea.

Yet, the games have charm. They have a good mix of what you’d typically expect from Nintendo titles. This particular game borrows elements from The Legend of Zelda (trading sequences, overworld maps/levels) with that of something akin to Final Fantasy (with the monster battles). However, its unique premise is that instead of acquiring weapons or learning spells, you instead capture “Pokemon” creatures who are then leveled up and do battle with one anothers.

Of course, the more/better you capture, the more/better your odds.

With the groundbreaking double cartridge option, where each game has exclusive variations of certain Pokemon available, and tossing this on a handheld platform, Nintendo created a monster which was spun into its own company.

As for the game itself?

I rather enjoyed it.

As mentioned, the Nintendo hallmarks of a great campaign that didn’t feel too short (but almost bordered on too long) with the usual charm and solid game play, controls, and music helped firmly establish this franchise.

My main gripes are probably more attributed to the Game Boy Advance technology, with consideration that this was ported and remastered to some extent from a monochrome Game Boy title. Those grips include the tedious pacing of reading menus and slamming on the A or B button to labor through them, especially with battles. Thankfully, walking/running around is corrected eventually with use of the bicycle too. (Or else that would’ve been a reason to can this game entirely!)

I couldn’t imagine being a kid and wasting hours of my time without some ability to save states or fast forward through some of the time-killing components of the game. (I imagine the pacing was corrected in later versions, but have yet to verify that.)

Overall, the childish charm of these games shouldn’t be overlooked by any adults who missed this era. As mentioned, if you’re an RPG game type, this will be right up your alley – maybe even more than mine. For that reason, I definitely recommend checking these out, but start here, as the Game Boy graphics (along with the many hours needed to complete the game) may kill your eyesight!

X-Men Legends

Hey! A video game based on a comic book and it doesn’t suck?

This was a new concept way back in 2004, where the usual schlock of movie and comic tie-ins ended up as horribly constructed video games.

Low and behold came X-Men Legends, a pseudo RPG and action game which borrowed from the latest X-Men movie craze but also remained faithful to the strongly influenced comic book tie-ins throughout.

You begin the game as Wolverine, completing missions as you navigate throughout each level. As the game progresses, more X-Men are added to your party. Villains are a-plenty too, whetting the whistle of any X-Men fans with a diverse cast of just about anyone you could think of.

Voice acting, including Patrick Stewart reprising his Professor Xavier role, adds an extra element to a well-designed and graphically gorgeous game for its time: the characters are cel-shaded into a more realistic looking environment, creating a mix of both reality and fantasy worlds.

The blend works, as does the action aspect of the gameplay, however it can become repetitive and the limitations of the PlayStation 2 kind of did this title in for me as far as being a completion-ist. The main storyline revolves around “Allison”, a gifted young lady who is working her way up to becoming a member of the X-Men.

It’s a novel concept, but also forces you to revisit the X-Mansion between missions, adding extra layers of Danger Room training and lengthy dialogue sequences that are mandatory to forward the story. You’ll learn a lot of backstory on each mutant, collect items which serve as Easter Eggs to the main mission, and more, but you’ll also writhe in pain over the loading times: even switching between inside/outside or the three floors of the X-Mansion get to be a chore.

The main thing is, the formula for this game evolved into what is now the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series. A remaster of this game would be great, if only to finish it, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of wasting more time on loading screens – especially when you die and have to restart from a save (or “X-Traction” point!)

However, comic book and X-Men fans alike will enjoy this game to some degree. There are side missions which delve into Jean Grey’s “Dark Phoenix” and Wolverine’s “Weapon X” that are worthy inclusions to an already deep title.

Again, I give this a thumbs up understanding that my backlog is a bit too large to spend too many hours on this. I may return to it later, but for now it will remain an incomplete as I move on to the sequels.

Super Mario 64 DS

Take a groundbreaking game which basically launched three-dimensional, free-roaming, open-space worlds in the video game genre and then up the ante.

That’s what Super Mario 64 DS is – not just a remake of Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64 but a launch title for the fledgling “dual screen” Nintendo DS console, showing off its own graphic capabilities when compared with its predecessor the Game Boy Advance.

All of the usual suspects are here: the game plays 90% like it’s N64 groundwork, but the few subtle changes are where the game really shines.

Rather than begin the game as Mario (the only playable character in the N64 version) players find themselves navigating Yoshi outside of Peach’s castle. Of course, the narrative is the same: Bowser did something bad to the Mushroom Kingdom and now you’re tasked with saving the princess.

Except, this time, you can control Mario, Yoshi, Luigi and Wario: each with their own special powers. As you progress through the castle, you must acquire stars – earned by defeating each level’s task. Each of those tasks is dependent, in this version, on which character you choose at times. As I mentioned, only about 10% of base game differs from the N64, but it’s this 10% where you’re forced to use Luigi or Wario in certain situations that makes this game stand out on its own.

Add in better, but still not quite sharp 3D graphics (hey, it’s still the DS) and the usual crisp audio, and the game is a pleasure to play – except for when certain cramped DS controls spoil the fun. (I already strongly disliked some of the precise jumps or mistaken back flips to my doom in the N64 original.)

Overall if you’re going to play (or replay) Mario 64 for nostalgia purposes, this is the title I’d recommend… yes, even over the WiiWare rerelease of the N64 source material. It’s just really cool to have some of the added perks with additional stars, minigames, multiplayer, and more.

Pick this one up if you’re a Mario fan for sure!