TAT Archive – Sleeping Dogs Pt.3

Originally Published in 2014, for TAT Games

Sleeping Dogs

Five more of the best games you’ve never played during the last generation… Again

Hi ho, and welcome one and all to the third and final part of this epic trilogy. Once more, we enter the dust-covered realm of those under-appreciated games of the last generation – under-appreciated games that are worth a second look-in.

Pandora’s Tower

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Format: Wii

Developer: Ganbarion/Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Released: 2012

The third and final game released as part of ‘Operation Rainfall’, Pandora’s Tower is somewhat of a rarity; an original Nintendo IP that doesn’t skimp on the gory details.

An action RPG in the vein of God of War, Ganbarion’s Wii effort places you in the shoes of Aeron – a prototypical silky-haired, boyishly handsome protagonist who is tasked with traversing 13 towers in the ultimate goal of defeating their ‘master beasts’.

Why?

No, it’s not because he wants to save the world – but rather, he desires to prevent his beloved Elena from turning into a giant slug. Yes, you read that right.

For you see, fair Elena is chosen to sing at the Harvest Festival – a sacred custom of her home; the Kingdom of Elyria. During her sterling performance, however, she is cursed and turned into a monstrous creature. Although reverting back to her human form, it is revealed that she will once again undergo the unwelcome metamorphosis – unless she eats the flesh of the 13 master beasts. Yeah.

Coming from a community of vegetarians, this is clearly a harrowing mission for the poor girl. Fortunately, this is where you – Aeron – come in. Meeting a mysterious merchant named Mavda (who carries the corpse of her husband like a backpack), Aeron receives the Oraclos Chain, a whip-like weapon that allows him to rend the flesh of the fearsome beasts.

So, still with me? Good, because this is only the abridged version of the game’s narrative. Truly, it’s to Ganbarion’s credit that they’ve created such a detailed universe, that it would be a massive shame if it was restricted to one game. Likewise, the art and design is simply top-notch, with incredibly detailed architecture, armour and weapon design that really sells the continent of Imperia as a real world.

But what about the game itself? Well, Pandora’s Tower is an intriguing mix of hack n’ slash and time management, with Elena acting as a traumatised virtual pet, who must be fed monster meat at regular intervals, whilst being soothed by regular chats with Aeron.

In terms of the action scenes, the Oraclos Chain is used as a multi-purpose tool. Not only does it rip apart enemies; it can also bind them together, allowing Aeron to slash them with his sword. It opens up a strategic front to combat, as the chain is unusable during these moments. Additionally, it can be used as a Zelda-type hookshot, grabbing distant items, pulling various switches, and allowing Aeron to do his best Indy impression by swinging across gaps. Items themselves can be sold, or used to craft new weapons and armour. When facing the master beasts themselves, Pandora’s Tower echoes the majesty of Shadow of the Colossus, with incredibly designed bosses that lumber about harmlessly. Of course, you’re forced to be a jerk by killing them dead. Jerk.

As I mentioned earlier, there is also a time-limit to proceedings. Basically, it’s up to you how often you visit and feed Elena. As you might expect, showing-up regularly makes her happy, while neglecting her turns her into an anti-social she-slug. Aeron must always be aware of the speed of his progress. He must always know went to press forward, or when to pull-back and fight another day. Either way, his actions will result in differing endings, which goes some way to offer replay value.

Pandora’s Tower is well worth tracking down. It is one of the few games where the Wii Remote + Nunchuk option is the superior set-up – genuinely highlighting how motion controls can actually improve a gaming experience.

2017 Edit: It’s on the Wii U eShop!

 

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

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Format: PS3 & Xbox 360

Developer: Ignition Tokyo

Publisher: UTV Ignition Entertainment

Released: 2011

When one tries to think of instances of the successful intermingling of biblical tales and videogaming, thoughts generally turn to oddities such as animal-bothering simulator Super Noah’s Ark – where faithful reinterpretation isn’t exactly high on the priority list.

Props then, to Ignition Tokyo, for having the stones to create El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron.

A stylistic retelling of the story of Enoch and his quest to find Heaven’s seven fallen angels, El Shaddai is a stunning effort by the Japanese developer; an effort that has sadly (albeit somewhat expectedly) gone unrewarded.

In case you need to brush up on your Bible studies (like, er, I did), the game centres around Enoch; a scholar who was allowed to live in paradise amongst the angels. Unfortunately, seven of the blighters decide that Earth is the place to be, so they decide to vamoose – resulting in a pissed-off God who threatens to drown humanity.

That is, unless Enoch can bring them back.

This is done by hacking, slashing, and hopping about on platforms. Yes, El Shaddai does its best Dante’s Inferno impression by becoming an action game; but unlike EA’s abominable effort, Ignition Tokyo handles the subject matter with a poise that is sadly very rare in the gaming industry. Instead of shock value, El Shaddai is an elegant piece of art, where wondrous watercolours and abstract imagery reign supreme. Truly, this is one of the best looking games you’ll ever play, with dreamlike environments and peculiar character design that makes every moment a pure joy for your eyes. Though the majority of the game is set in a giant tower, each ‘floor’ represents a different world that is completely different from the others. One level ‘does’ an Okami by smothering the screen in bold lines and traditional Japanese aesthetic. Another acts as a bright and colourful 2D platformer, complete with blobby little Nephilim characters prancing about. One stage even takes place in a futuristic city-scape, where Enoch gets to cruise around on a badass bike whilst demolishing giant robots.

Despite such a vast array in visual styles, the game still manages to feel cohesive – which is a true testament to the skill of the artists.

In terms of gameplay, proceedings are fairly simple. Enoch only has three different types of weapon at his disposal – and though they’re given fancy names, they pretty much fit the ‘quick > medium > heavy’ template, with combat echoing the tried-and-true rock-paper-scissors dynamic. At regular interval, Enoch must ‘purify’ his weapon by pressing the L button, lest he be corrupted by its energy. It’s basically a good/evil morality system, but it doesn’t make much difference in the long run. This is very much a narrative-focused game; there’s even a super-easy mode that negates the risk of death – and even in the ‘normal’ mode, there is little to fear from expiration.

Still, El Shaddai is still worth experiencing. Sometimes the thrill is in the story – and not the difficulty. It’s still fairly easy to find, so don’t resist snapping-up a copy!

 

Sin and Punishment: Successor of the Skies

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Format: Wii

Developer: Treasure

Publisher: Nintendo

Released: 2010

Remember that N64 game, Sin & Punishment? The one developed by Treasure, where you played as spunky teens Saki Amamiya and Airan Jo as they travelled through incredible environments, as they shot and slashed every living thing around them in the hyper-kinetic pursuit of that almighty high score?

No, of course you don’t.

Despite having full English voice acting, Sin & Punishment was never released outside Japan. For seven long years, we lowly Western gamers lived in abject misery knowing that we would never get such a brilliant title – until the glorious gateway known as the Virtual Console, which saw the game finally release worldwide on the Wii. In glee, we bought the game in droves (well, I hope you did, dear reader), and revelled in its bullet-ridden madness. Clearly, Nintendo noticed this flurry of activity, as it decided to commission Treasure to create a sequel tailor-built for the Wii.

Fast-forward to 2010, and Sin and Punishment: Successor of the Skies was born. Though Australia never got it (outside of one retailer). Typical.

Taking control of Isa Jo (the son of the original protagonists), and a new girl named Kachi, Successor of the Skies is basically the same concept as its forebear – only bigger, badder, and bolder. That concept? An on-rails shooter akin to Sega’s Space Harrier, where countless enemies and enormous bosses flood the TV screen as you madly try to keep your score multiplier alive and kicking. A melee weapon can also be used to slice enemies and deflect projectiles back to their original owners, whilst shifts in perspective ensure that things never get too stale. Furthermore, both Isa and Kachi possess unique traits that mix things up a little; the former can use his backpack to hover, whilst switching between auto and manual aiming; and the latter has a nifty hoverboard and the ability to lock-on the multiple targets at once.

Visually, it’s a stunner too. Much like the N64 version before it, this next-gen – ahem – Successor, pushes its host console to breaking-point. The Wii gasps and grunts as it pushes so many polygons at a blistering pace, whilst flaunting graphical effects like bloom, depth-of-field, and wobbly transparency-o-vision. Enemy design is similarly spectacular, with giant, screen-filling creatures that echo the tried-and-true traditions of the very best Treasure games – and the immense challenge that comes with it.

For a machine that was derided for its ‘casual’ slant, Sin and Punishment: Successor of the Skies is a remarkably hardcore Wii game; and one that should not be missed out on. Maybe if you all buy it, we’ll get a Sin & Punishment 3 on Wii U, eh?

2017 Edit: It’s on the Wii U eShop!

 

Bayonetta

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Format: Xbox 360 & PS3

Developer: Platinum Games

Publisher: Sega

Released: 2010

September 13, 2012 will be a day that will be remembered for a long time to come.

Why? Because it was the day that Bayonetta 2 was announced – and it was coming exclusively to Wii U.

Like a hellish fissure that cracked along the ground, the internet exploded in a great rage that was felt in every digital corner. No one was safe, as vitriol was violently hurled toward Nintendo for ‘stealing’ their beloved Platinum-class franchise right from under their quivering noses.

Of course, anyone with a modicum of sense sees things differently.

Because the bottom line is that we are getting a sequel to one of the best action games ever made. We should be happy.

A foreign concept, I know.

Somewhat ironically, the original Bayonetta was published by Nintendo’s former nemesis, Sega – who also financed the similarly awesome MadWorld and Vanquish. The game puts you in the high (rocket) heels of Bayonetta – a witch packed to the brim with insane weapons, witty double-entendres, and shape-shifting hair that acts as her dominatrix-inspired outfit. The narrative is suitably crazy, when she awakens from a 500 year deep lake slumber, before finding herself suffering from some gnarly amnesia. It’s a bugger when that happens, huh? Anyway, she finds herself owning one half of the ‘Eyes of the World’, before being told by an informant named Enzo that the other half is in the European city of Vigrid. Over the course of the campaign, the plot twists and turns at an alarming rate, with lore about Umbra Witches, Lumen Sages, and Cardinal Virtues all up in your face.

The action is equally remorseless. Bayonetta makes games like Devil May Cry look positively sedate in comparison, with a combat system that is smooth as silk. Aside from the expected inclusion of combos and juggles, the sultry witch can also perform ‘Torture Attacks’, slow down proceedings with ‘Witch Time’, transform into vicious creatures, and steal weapons from her foes. There’s even an arcade shoot em’ up called ‘Angel Attack’, where you can blast angels for points – and then use those points for upgrades. Your ammo is a collectable currency called ‘Arcade Bullets’, which adds a nice dose of strategy to the proceedings. You can also collect ‘Halos’ in order to upgrade weapons and buy techniques, and do something relating to a ‘Climax’.

I’ll let you figure that one out yourself.

Bayonetta is such a smooth, complete package. Its tongue-in-cheek humour is symbolic of a wider design philosophy at work; a design philosophy that hearkens back to the good old days of gaming, where the only thing that mattered was being awesome. There are no pretentious messages or thought-provoking themes, or bare-bones linearity that accommodates only one play-style. Bayonetta is a gamer’s game, with Platinum’s obsession over minute details echoing the very best combat games from Capcom (which is apt, considering the two firms have shared personnel).

It’s says a lot when a game sells two million copies, yet still feels like a snubbed gem. It’s to Nintendo’s credit that it decided to revive the series for a second chance at glory, and I personally can’t wait to once again experience a climax with Bayonetta 2.

That sounded less disgusting in my head.

2017 Edit: It’s on the Wii U and Steam!

 
Metroid Prime: Trilogy

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Format: Wii

Developer: Retro Studios

Publisher: Nintendo

Released: 2009

When composing a list of great videogames that were overlooked, one of the last titles one would expect to see is Metroid – one of the most iconic franchises in the entire industry.

Despite their incredible quality, the adventures of Samus Aran have never been particularly big sellers for Nintendo (relatively speaking), so it’s a shame to see such an amazing product like the Metroid Prime: Trilogy get such a limited release.

Packing Retro Studios’ genre-defining Metroid Prime games onto a single disc, this trifecta is utterly essential for any collector – and gamer – worth their salt.

First, Metroid Prime. Originally released in 2002 for the Gamecube, this was the game that finally bought the series into 3D (after skipping the N64) – and good lord, was it magnificent. Played in a first person perspective, Prime followed Samus as she explored the richly detailed world of Tallon IV in the pursuit of the alien Space Pirates. Much like its predecessors, the plot wasn’t told through cutscenes (*cough*OtherM*cough*), but via the world itself. Journal entries littered Space Pirate computers and terminals, whilst flora, fauna and enemies could be scanned and catalogued. The system really evoked a sense of ‘place’, as did the ‘Metroidvania’ structure that was successfully replicated in the 3D world.

Released in 2004, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is perhaps seen as the dark horse of the trio (though it is my personal favourite). Travelling to the planet Aether in response to a distress signal sent by Galactic Federation Marines, Samus finds herself trapped between two alternate dimensions; the light of the Luminoth, and the darkness of the Ing. Much like Nintendo’s own The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, this light/dark dynamic is used to its fullest potential, with the duelling gameplay creating mind-bending puzzles, and a reliance on polarising ammunition ensuring that there is a new twist to combat and exploration. It’s also the most difficult game of the collection – though it’s been toned-down a little from the GCN version. Additionally, there is a multi-player mode… But let’s just ignore that, eh?

The final title is the 2007 Wii original, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. This final chapter takes a more action-oriented approach – though it still contains plenty of exploration and puzzling. Instead of one location, Samus travels to different worlds in order to stop the spread of the deadly substance known as Phazon, as well as to combat a wide array of colourful (albeit poorly-voiced) bounty hunters. This was one of the first Wii titles to show what the console was truly capable of – both graphically, and in terms of the capabilities of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk.

It’s the influence of the third game that has seeped into parts one and two. Now, all games are controlled with the Wii set-up, which works dazzlingly. In addition, the achievement-esque credit awards from Corruption are now incorporated across the whole package, rewarding players with artwork, music, the ability to take screenshots, Samus’ Metroid Fusion suit, and decorative knick-knacks for her ship. Of course, the GCN games also now run in widescreen, and there are various graphical tweaks to make the generational gap less noticeable.

If you can find it cheap (well, relatively cheap, as copies can fetch up to $200), you need to absolutely jump on it, and experience some 50 hours of the best videogames ever made.

2017 Edit: It’s on the Wii U eShop!

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