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What’s This? Somewhat Current Video Game Reviews?

As I mentioned a few posts back, lately I’ve rented a few video games from the local video store. The way I figure it, it’s better to spend $5 or $6 and find out a game is crap rather than drop $50-$60 and find out a game sucks.

I initially rented Dead Rising for the Xbox 360 (on the recommendation of Chief Oddball), and that was a lot of fun…for about an hour. You see, as soon as I embarked on my first real mission – to save Brad, the bald dude you meet not too long into the game – the Xbox reported an error trying to read the disc. I took the game out, wiped it down, and tried again – to no avail. The game was damaged (one of the potential hazards of renting…or buying used, for that matter). So the game went back the next day (got a free game rental out of it once I explained the situation, at least) and instead rented Bullet Witch.

Bullet Witch is the latest 3rd-person action/adventure offering from Atari for the Xbox 360. In it, mankind – as a result of both natural and man-made disasters ocurring over a number of years – is on the brink of extinction. The world is now populated by all sorts of foul undead beasties, who delight in murdering any remaining humans in cold blood. You play as Alicia, a slender woman with a habit of wearing a very tight bodice as her primary clothing (of course). Alicia’s body is host to some sort of demon (or some such thing) that empowers her with magic (and that also talks to her from time to time by making the edges of the screen go pink and swirly), which she can use to fight off the undead. She also comes equipped with a sword-gun kind of thing (which immediately brings to mind Squall Lionheart of Final Fantasy VIII and his gun-sword) that also supposedly looks like a broom (since she’s a witch and all). It doesn’t really, though; all it has are a few spokes protruding out the butt of the gun, which I suppose are meant to evoke the bristles of a broom. Regardless, it still looks nothing like a broom. But that’s hardly a gripe, especially when you consider the other things in this game you can complain about.

If you read the post where I first mentioned this game, you may recall that I referred to it as a “steaming pile of mediocrity.” If you’re wondering why, well, I’m about to tell you. Graphically, the game looks very nice. Alicia is, of course, rendered oh-so-lovingly, so that fanboys everywhere can get off on yet another video game female dressed in the tightest clothing imaginable. The landscapes (generally city blocks and such things, at least up to the point where I left off) are decent, though perhaps repetitive and uninspired in spots (especially the underground subway level, which was pretty much me going through tunnels that all looked the same for 30 minutes). The sound is passable – the voice acting isn’t anywhere near Resident Evil horrible, but it still grates every so often.

What really kills this game is the gameplay. It’s just so uninspired. For the most part, the game consists of “Run around. Kill undead grunts. Repeat.” As you progress somewhat, the undead grunts are joined by giant floating brains (with tiny bodies) that you have to kill in order to advance further into the level (as paths are artificially walled off by the brains, called Walnut Heads). That’s pretty much the game right there. There was a boss battle, but the game has you run away because the boss is unbeatable at the particular juncture when you first meet it. Fuuuun.

Oh, did I mention that the Walnut Heads use telekinesis to lift up automobiles to throw at you? And that – more than once – I was killed by an invisible object from behind because it didn’t show up on my screen? Actually, I take that back – it showed kind of a shadow on the ground, but you don’t really pay attention to that stuff when you’re shooting a bad guy.

What else? The camera, while not as bad as the one in Red Ninja: End of Honor, is lacking. Actually, my main gripe with is there’s no “center camera” button – to my knowledge, anyway – forcing you to manually swing the camera around and around in the middle of firefights as you try to locate which enemy du jour is shooting you at any given moment. Another thing about the camera: the default camera speed is way too slow to pan around the map when you’re running about; but if you increase the camera movement speed, this compromises your aiming abilities when you go into “shooting mode” (or whatever it’s called) in order to get a better aim at your enemies.

Oh, and those enemies? Generally – at least for the weaker ones – they are easily killed with two or three swipes of your gun-sword, but you literally have to pour 60-70 rounds from your machine gun-sword into them to kill them with the gun itself. This may not be the case as you upgrade the weapon further, but it’s rather silly in any case (as is the fact that it takes at least 5-7 head shots to kill the weakest enemies with the sniper version of the gun-sword).

Some of the other controls are clunky, as well. You use the right and left bumper buttons on the 360 controller to bring up your spell screens (of which there are three; pressing the bumper buttons cycles between the three levels of spells), and a spell is then assigned to each of the four primary buttons (A, B, X, Y). Unfortunately, gameplay still continues as your screen dims when the spells come up, leaving you totally vulnerable to attack as you try to decipher the way-too-elaborate-gothic font the game developers used to write the spell names in.

Also of note is the fact that one of the spells Alicia starts off with is “Sacrifice,” which allows you to heal any wounded humans you find along the way – and you’d better heal them up, too, because the number of people who survive in the level counts toward your end-of-level score, which influences how many points you have to spend on weapon and spell upgrades. Fun! Luckily, most of the humans you encounter are pretty resilient, so you should have no problem getting at least 70-80% survival rates in the early going (if not higher).

According to the instruction booklet, you can end up downloading further side missions and extra outfits for Alicia, but I never got that far. I finally gave up when I was at the airport level, and one of the Walnut Heads there kept killing me with phantom automobiles to the head from behind. Meh.

Upon returning Bullet Witch, I used my free game rental to try out Ninety-Nine Nights, a game released not too long after the 360 debuted. Essentially, this game is a medieval fantasy version of Dynasty Warriors. You can play as seven characters (only one of whom is available at the onset – the others have to be unlocked) and go through various stages obliterating large numbers of enemies as you work your way to your goals (which are usually simple, like “go to this spot on the map”). Depending on the number of enemies you kill, the longest combo chain you manage, time elapsed, etc., you get graded at the end of each stage, which results in various bonuses depending on your score.

Graphically, the game is nice looking. It slows down in some spots, but that’s to be expected when hordes and hordes of enemies all appear onscreen at the same time. The fighting system is easy to get used to, as well – in no time flat you’ll be rendering 2000-hit combos (no lie) and slaughtering 2000 enemies per campaign. Plus you can go back to previous campaigns to level up or to get a better score.

Irritatingly, the game doesn’t show your level-up progress. You get experience points for each kill, and there are even items to increase the EXP you get, but nowhere (that I could see) does the game actually tell you how much EXP you have, and how far it is until the next level. Another irritating “feature” is the fact you can only save before and after a level, and most levels have up to half-a-dozen different tasks to undertake. So if you screw up, you have to start all over again. Dynasty Warriors only does that on the hardest levels, and even on the easier levels gives you at least one in-level save; not so with Ninety-Nine Nights, which can get infuriating after a while.

Still, I think the good in this game outweighs the bad – and really, it’s not that difficult (up to where I’ve played, at least). The most I had to replay a level was twice before beating it (and you can always go back to levels you previous beat and use those to level up if a newer level is tough to beat). And this is really geeky, but it was cool piling up combo after combo after combo of 500 hits and above, which is just insane. I guess I’m just easily pleased. It’s probably not worth paying even $30 for, but if you find it cheap (which you probably won’t for another six months) and you like mindless Dynasty Warriors-style action games (and honestly, this game is better than the dull Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires for the 360), give it a go.

Dead Rising Rating: N/A. If I was a jerk, I’d make this text as small and unreadable as the in-game text for this game appeared on my TV screen (since I am not rolling with a HDTV as of this time).

Bullet Witch Rating: Zero Woman.

Ninety-Nine Nights Rating: MASTERLOCK!