Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pokémon Rumble (Demo)

Pokémon Rumble is a basic brawler that draws on the Pokémon licence and sensibility: "Gotta catch 'em all!" Game play consists of fighting through six regions with linear areas full of wild Pokémon. Defeated Pokémon either cough up coins to be used for purchasing or upgrading Pokémon, or occasionally leave a body to be recruited onto your team. New team members may be brought into play at any time in order to replace a damaged fighter. Once you obtain a Pokémon of high enough level, you may enter the Battle Royal, which pits you against a ring full of opponents. The demo ends there, but presumably winning the Battle Royal opens up more advanced regions.

Pokemon Rumble Screenshot

Prior interest: none

I've never played a Pokémon game and I didn't have any particular interest in what looks like a dumbed down entry in the series. Pokémon Ranch, a previous WiiWare game, received miserable reviews as I recall.

Odds of purchase: STOP ME!

I now understand the insidious nature of Pokémon. Even though I knew I hadn't accomplished anything special in the first few regions I played, I found myself reluctant to end the game and give up the cute little fighting creatures I'd collected. And there was something mindlessly addicting to wandering around beating up underpowered opponents. It's got the Animal Crossing je ne sais quoi that makes you want to keep doing the utterly boring things the game asks without questioning. Nintendo has a gift for that sort of design.

Again, this sort of game demos especially well. Screenshots and reviews could never do the experience justice. Unlike the Bit.Trip: Beat demo, Pokémon Rumble does not satisfy the casual player who is interested in the title. Rather than being a relatively self-contained demo which may be abandoned after a few minutes, collection games demand hours of work to be truly satisfying.


Last night my son and I played a few minutes of Pokémon Rumble together and the multiplayer option works fine. It's always nice to find games that let parents play with their children, but this game is a bit too shallow for my tastes. He had a pretty good time, which might increase the odds I'll break down. I hope not.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Dark Lord (Demo)

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Dark Lord (what a convoluted name!) takes it's tower defense genre seriously. You play as a Dark Lord building levels of a treacherous tower to be assaulted by wave after wave of heroes. And by "you" I mean a pre-teen girl dressed in fashionable, New Romanticism outfits with cute sock-puppet minions.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Dark Lord Screenshot

Prior interest: none

I've never played a Final Fantasy game, there are piles of free tower defense games on the internet, and the "My Life" meme seems boring and overplayed. Having a demo to try out is the only reason I'd ever consider a game like this.

Odds of purchase: low

It's immediately clear upon starting My Life as a Dark Lord that lots of attention was dedicated to round off any rough edges in the game. Everything seems weirdly pleasing with the possible exception of controlling movement on the large world map. Even the bilaterally-symmetrical maltagonist, Mira, turns out to be interesting. There's plenty to see as the battles play out: heroes rushing into and falling out of the tower, goblins grunting and cheering, sunrise and sunset, and characters offering advice and warnings. Way before I was ready, the demo timed out leaving me wanting more.

On the other hand, it's still a (very well done) tower defense game. So I'm only slightly interested in spending money to continue the game. Further, the demo ends with some teases of the game's story, which seems completely uninteresting. Still, I'd say the demo was a success in terms of getting me interested in a game I wouldn't have even noticed otherwise.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bit.Trip: Beat (Demo)

Nintendo recently released the first demos on their WiiWare platform, which gave me several games to try out on my non-existent games budget. All demos take several minutes to download, limit the features of the game, prevent saves and boot you to the Wii Shop Channel on completion. Unlike other reviews, these are from the perspective of how effective the demo is at capturing sales in my opinion.

First up is Bit.Trip: Beat, which is Pong meets side-scrolling shmup meets rhythm game. Tilting the Wiimote positions your paddle/ship/beat-collector in order to catch balls/enemies/beats that approach from the left side of the screen. Successfully bouncing the beats back from whence they came increases your score and failing to do so brings you closer to demise. Doing well is also rewarded with musical beats that add to the background music while misses make a little whiff sound. Stringing together longer sequences opens more complex background images and music while misses cause you to drop into a mode that closely resembles the graphics and sounds of Pong itself. Meanwhile the controller rumble slightly shakes in time to the beat.

Bit.Trip: Beat Screenshot

Prior interest: high

I've been looking for a simple, old-school, action game to play when I have a few moments to fill at odd times. The Bit.Trip series seems like it fits the bill perfectly. I've seen videos of people playing in the groove that look simply amazing. Tilt control may be my favorite feature of the Wii. I hate having to dig through my collection to find disks to play a quick game. Plus I don't like spending a lot of money.

Odds of purchase: low

Overall, the demo is amazing and generous. Too generous. I died before getting to the end of the first song/level and was going on five minutes. Videos of the entire first level, which I believe is available in it's entirety, last nearly 15 minutes. That's pretty much plenty for me. I don't see myself playing this game often and seriously enough to need to play the other two songs anytime soon and certainly not at the cost of $3 each.

The Bit.Trip games seem ideal for demos since they turn on the quality of the experience. There are bound to be people who balk at spending money on a game that is widely seen as short and quirky, but who might be pushed over the edge by a good, immersive demo such as this one. In fact, despite my initial reluctance to pull the trigger this time around having a significant portion of the game available every time I turn on my system just might make the difference when I finally finish the first level.


Well I played a few more times, got better and discovered the demo ends after 7 minutes or so. Which slightly increases my odds of buying Bit.Trip: Beat. Slightly.