Here are my reviews for some of the PlayStation games from my collection. This page will be updated irregularly (as I write more new content). The focus is mostly on strange, unusual, and/or rare games that happen to pique my interest.
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List of games reviewed:
Published by Square Enix, 1999
I recently purchased Final Fantasy VIII. While I did not have the patience to completely finish Final Fantasy VII, I really enjoyed it, and so I assumed that I would also enjoy the sequel... Unfortunately, I was wrong.
The graphics are strikingly better than FF VII. The characters are much more realistically drawn and the background graphics are sumptuously detailed. The CGI moves are almost cinematic in quality. There are very occasional clipping errors when the camera pans around, but this is infrequent.
The mechanics of the game have changed substantially since FF VII. They have been made much more complicated -- there is even a detailed in-game tutorial to supplement the manual.
Unlike almost all other RPG games, there is no armour and few weapon upgrades available. There is also no reasonable way to "level-up" as the enemies level is based on the characters' level. Unlike FF VII, the difficulty does not slowly ramp-up as the game progresses. It starts out very difficult and only gets harder.
"Magic" plays a very significant role in this game. Not only is it used for in attack and defense in combat, it also impacts character development. There is no armour in this game (and very few weapon upgrades), so junctioned magic serves to improve both offensive and defensive statistics.
Some people love the card game that almost every character in the FF VIII universe plays. I, however, do not. Unfortunately, not playing this game is not an option, as it is the only way to obtain certain items necessary to upgrade the weapons. As the overall game progresses, the rules of the card game become increasingly more complex, reducing it from a game of skill to something more like a game of chance.
One thing I really like about the game is the availability of public transit! Most of the major communities in the game world are linked by train, and one of the major cities actually includes a municipal bus network. I spent quite some time just playing "tourist" by riding the bus around the city to see the various sights. It is also possible to rent cars (and trucks) to reach those areas of the world not serviced by public transit.
The translation from the original Japanese version is much better than FF VII. On almost all screens the background graphics (e.g. store signs) have been translated into English. The only example of Japanese text remaining (that I have noticed) is on the Brothers Guardian Force's armour.
Published by Gotham Games, 2002
The graphics are best described as cartoonish. The PlayStation is capable of so much more. There are several different lanes and characters to choose from, all are equally ugly. Additional outfits can be "purchased" with winnings from tournaments.
It has the mechanics (and scoring) of 10 pin bowling basically correct, but the physics model used is more than slightly off. It is pathetically easy to score consistent strikes. The different lanes and characters appear to be purely cosmetic; they have have no discernable impact on the game play.
Don't waste your money!
Published by A1 Games, 2000
Graphics are 3D and very stylised rather than realistic. The colours are vibrant and bright.
There are two modes of play: Normal and Trick. Both modes are much closer to miniature golf than to regular golf. For example, the whole green is surrounded by a fence that can cause the ball to ricochet, allowing for some unusual banked shots. For a more realistic golf experience, see PGA Tour 98.
The trick course includes additional obstacles such as tunnels, ramps, warp zones, and conveyer belts. Both courses have banked terrain, water hazards, bunkers, and the like.
One minor annoyance is that balls cannot be lobbed; they always roll. This makes it much harder to avoid course obstacles.
This is a simple but exceedingly fun game -- and I generally don't like sports games!
Published by ZedniMax, 2002
Fundamentally, this game is very reminiscent of the Atari 2600 (and arcade) classic game Warlords in that the main objective is to blast one's opponent's castle into dust. There are some strategic elements as well, including the ability to research and develop new weapons (better catapults, cannons, and even zeppelins), build and repair buildings, and levy taxes from the peasants.
None of this is essential, however. There are various modes of game play available -- from a full campaign to a simple quick and dirty battle. The learning curve is therefore quite gentle; it is not necessary to master all of the game elements before any fun can be had.
This game does not take itself too seriously. Starting with the opening video clip, humour is an integral element of this game. The tutorial mode, for example, is narrated by a "Sergeant" with a thick Cockney accent and a wonderfully dry sense of humour.
I really like the fact that this game can be played for a long time (in a campaign) or for a quick game; as the mood strikes.
Published by Acclaim, 1998
The graphics are mostly realistic. Most of the game screens involve construction sites and what I can only assume are accurate representations of Japanese vehicles and equipment. There are sometimes clipping errors when the shovel's bucket is buried or immersed in something, especially in the curry sauce mini-game.
Power Shovel is rather more of a simulation than a game per se. The player controls an excavator and undertakes increasingly complex tasks. At the end of each task, a salary is awarded and the money can be used to unlock other aspects of the game (e.g. photo galleries of heavy equipment, additional game options).
I have never operated an excavator, but the controls seem reasonably realistic. Most of the stages involve moving sand or dirt (loading trucks, digging trenches), demolishing something (buildings, vehicles), and/or moving the equipment through a defined course.
There are two main modes -- License King and Arcade King. License King requires passing a series of increasingly complex, timed tests.
Arcade King has similar (though slightly less difficult tasks) and a salary is paid at the completion of each task. The Arcade King mode also includes a selection of mini games, some quite absurd (e.g. dipping curry onto plates, rescuing endangered turtles from a swimming pool). Money is awarded for the completion of each "job".
There are also Level Design and Versus (two player) modes; I have not tested either of these modes.
This game is part of the Japanese "de Go!" series of simulations and its roots are quite obvious. While all of the significant in-game text has been translated into English, the voice acting is still in Japanese. It is more than a little disconcerting to be yelled at in Japanese. On the other hand, the small amount of vocal music on the soundtrack is melodious, if unintelligible.
Published by Working Designs, 1999
Note that this review is based on the (1998) demo version, rather than the complete game. This version ends shortly after the first "boss" battle, but the game is otherwise complete in terms of game play elements, graphics, etc.
Frankly, the graphics in this game are quite disappointing. They are all two-dimensional and look like they were ported directly from the SNES. The (infrequent) cut scenes are of much better quality. This is another PlayStation game with Japanese origins, and the characters are all drawn in an anime style.
This is one of the easiest RPGs I have ever played. After a little bit of levelling up and acquiring some better equipment, routine battles become pathetically easy. There is even an AI option that lets the computer manage the combat for both sides (albeit poorly). Only the "boss" battles require some strategic thinking. There are a few simple puzzles, but these are not too challenging. This would make a very good beginner-level RPG for someone new to the genre.
The plot is extremely, rigidly linear. I found it difficult to get interested in the game at the beginning as there was little I could actually do. It is necessary to speak with certain characters in a particular order and the game will not advance until this is done.
The overall environment is surprisingly non-interactive. While it is possible to wander through various buildings, there is not very much to do. Unlike most RPG games, there are only a very few items that are not "nailed down". Cupboards cannot be searched and/or pillaged and most bookshelves cannot be examined to reveal a list of titles.
Published by A1 Games, 2001
Overall, the graphics are disappointing. The anime-style animated characters are reasonably well drawn, but the backgrounds are very crude. They look almost as if they were originally drawn by small children. The title screens are of even poorer quality.
The game is basically similar to Monopoly . Rather than purchasing properties, however, the goal is to open stores. There is a wide range of stores available, from video game shops and movie theatres to restaurants and pharmacies. In lieu of rent, other players are obliged to purchase something from the store when they land on that space. Stores can be expanded and the quality of the merchandise can be upgraded. The goal is to reach a certain, predetermined, level of assets.
Hostile takeovers of opponent's stores are possible. Stores can run out of merchandise; restocking is limited to one store per turn and this can (normally) only be done if one lands on a store one already owns.
Playing strategically is very difficult because of the frequent random events that occur in a game. This can range from losing a substantial sum of money, to having all the stores closed for a number of turns (therefore losing income), and so forth.
This game is an example of a promising concept ruined by a very poor execution.
Published by Artdink, 1997
This is an early PlayStation game, and it shows in the quality of the graphics. While the environment is three-dimensional, the characters and objects are somewhat crudely drawn. The landscape is mostly barren. Many of the digitized objects look out-of-place; their graphics style does not fit well with the rest of the game environment.
The word "strange" does not even begin to adequately describe this game. There is no plot, nor even much of a structure to it. The player controls a primitive caveman (or cavewoman) who wanders around the world searching for (and eating) food. Food sources include variously shaped Japanese sugar cakes(!), as well as various animals (some of which will fight back).
Eventually, as enough food is gathered, the population of the village will slowly increase. This causes the level of culture to increase, and better weapons to be developed, leading to increased hunting success. The ultimate goal of the game is to slay enough woolly mammoths to build a tower of mammoth tusks. This will take a very long time to accomplish.
This game was originally released in Japan as "Wild, Pure, Simple Life". The Digital Press guide lists this game as a rarity of R7. This title serves to illustrate the fact that very rare games are not necessarily fun or entertaining.
Published by Activision, 1998 and 1999
Because all of the games in these two collections are now more than twenty years old, there is little point on reviewing the games themselves. They are all more-or-less faithfully emulated versions of the originals on the Atari 2600 and Intellivision, respectively. Therefore this review is going to focus on the overall product rather than the actual games.
Both collections include 30 emulated games.
The Activision collection includes 29 Activision games and one Inmagic game (Atlantis). Obviously no licensed titles are included, and many of the larger and more complex games (e.g. Robot Tank, Space Shuttle, Private Eye, Pitfall II) have been dropped. I assume that this was because of technical issues with the emulator. Some of the less fun games (e.g. Bridge, Checkers, and Oink) are also excluded.
Not surprisingly, the Intellivision collection skews very heavily towards sports games (11 of the 30 titles); it also includes several less action-oriented games such as Checkers, Chess, Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack, and (oddly) the children's game Sharp Shot. Almost all of the non-licensed titles created by Mattel Electronics are included. The most obvious exclusion is Utopia. This title may have been excluded because there is no single player mode.
The Intellivision collection includes several video clips of interviews with the original programmers. Disappointingly, the Activision collection does not include any extras, not even a list (or pictures) of the high-score patches that were once available.
All of these games were originally developed for other controllers, and not all of them have adapted well to the PlayStation controller. This is especially the case with Activision's Kaboom (which used the paddle controller) and any of the Intellivision games that make heavy use of the keypad. The keypad overlays are not incorporated into the game graphics, nor can they be found in the manual. Fortunately, most are available for download.
The Activision collection has a much nicer interface, with a simulated Atari 2600 and a stack of cartridges. The virtual end-labels match the colours of the originals It also seems to load faster than the Intellivision collection.
Overall, I prefer the Activision collection, but as both are now available used for less than $10 each, there is really no reason for nostalgia seekers (and retro gamers) to not get both.
Published by Square Enix, 1997
While there is an isometric view of the various playfields, the characters themselves are two-dimensional. They have the typical Japanese-style anime look found in most RPG games.
This game is something of a hybrid of two genres; a Strategy-RPG. In that way, it is broadly similar to the classic Sega Genesis game Shining Force, but it is deeper and much more complex.
Final Fantasy Tactics is very linear and plot-driven. There are numerous cinematic cut-scenes to further advance the plot. A helpful feature is the automatically updated journal that summarizes the plot and helps track the complex interelationships among many, many characters that populate the game world Very few, if any, side quests are available.
Several of the missions involve rescuing or protecting a NPC. Unfortunately, these missions are made particularly difficult by the fact that the the computer AI is not especially bright. Often the chracater one is trying to protect will run head-long into harm's way and get killed, making it necessary to restart that mission.
There is a very wide range of weapon and armour upgrades available, including firearms. There is, however, no reasonable way to "level-up" as the enemies' level rises in step with the characters' level. As characters increase in level, however, more specialised classes or "jobs" become available.
The connection between FFT and the other Final Fantasy games is not especially evident. Most of the magical and medical items (e.g. High Potion, Phoenix Down) are the same in both games. Cloud Strife, the main character in FF7, is supposedly a hidden character in this game, though I have not personally verified this.
Published by Konami, 1997
The environment is completely three-dimensional. The graphics are slightly reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII in terms of character models, but they are definitely more realistic than cartoonish. In keeping with the overall theme of the game, the graphical environment is dark and foreboding.
The game is basically a First Person Shooter with a very strong emphasis on solving puzzles. It includes some RPG elements in that there are better weapons, armour, and other items to be collected and used. It is very complex.
The plot involves a Marine bomb disposal expert sent to investigate a secret mlitary research facility. It is very difficult at the beginning as the main character is both poorly equipped and working against the clock. Save points are both few and far between.
The excellent voice acting really adds to the ambiance of this game. The main character provides dry commentary, the commanding officer barks orders, the villan makes demands, and snatches of overheard radio transmissions help advance the plot.
Published by Midway, 2000
The graphics are very bright and colourful. The Buddies themselves resemble a strange cross between Leggo creatures and pill capsules.
Team Buddies is a strategy game, where you control a squad of Buddies and make war against other tribes. Weapons, items, vehicles, and additional soldiers are all created by stacking crates in different combinations.
There are numerous missions, which become increasingly difficult as the game progresses. Completing a single-player mission will often unlock hidden features which can then be used in the multiplayer mode. A helpful feature is the built-in tutorial that explains the mechanics of the game (e.g. how to give orders, how to build new weapons).
The game itself is very fun. The action moves briskly as each mission is fairly short, and many are timed.
The game is very rare! The Digital Press guide lists it as a R8 and it is rumoured that only 50,000 copies were released worldwide. Many rare games are not especially fun, but Team Buddies is a welcome exception to this rule.
Published by Sony, 1996
Frankly, the graphics are disappointing. They are at the same level of quality to games released for the Sega Genesis. Indeed, styalistically, the game reminds me very much of the Genesis game Shining Force. (This is not surprising given that Camelot, the developer, was also responsible for Shining Force 2.) The character sprites and backgrounds are all two-dimensional. The characters are animated, but only very crudely.
This is a very simple RPG game. There are no real character classes, per se. While some of the characters are rather better suited to being fighters and others as magic users, most are general purpose.
Indeed, magic plays only a very limited role in combat. Annoyingly, there are no mass or group magic attacks; only one enemy (two at the most) can be targeted in each round. Battles are all turn-based. As there are no ranged weapons, there are only melee fights where strategy playes a limited role. After spending some tedious time at the beginning of the game leveling-up the characters, most battles are quite easy.
There are a handful of puzzles and many (frequently) frustrating mazes to add some variety to the gameplay. Unlike some other Japanese RPG games, it is linear in structure, but not rigidly so. The usual weapon and armour upgrades are available for purchase at regular intervals.
According to the Digital Press Guide, this was the first true RPG to appear on the PlayStation. While, it is really unfair to judge this game too harshly in comparison to later releases, it simply does not meet the standard set by most PlayStation RPG games.
Published by EA Sports, 1997
Disclaimer: I have never actually played golf, so there are undoubtedly many subtleties to this game that I am missing.
The graphics are very lush and detailed; they appear to have been digitized from photographs of the real-world golf courses they are based upon. Similarly, the golfers look realistic; some are modeled after actual PGA champions, while others are more generic. The play screen simultaneously shows a third-person view from behind the golfer and an overhead view of the course.
While they are little more than commercials, the video clips of the various golf courses really show-off the full-motion video display capabilities of the PlayStation.
Unlike Putter Golf, this title is really more of a simulation than a video game. Not only can the individual course be selected, but there are also options about wind, the state of the course, and many other game-play settings. There are no hidden or unlockable courses; every hole of each of the five courses can be played in practice mode - 90 separate holes in all! Other modes provide for competitive games with up-to four players.
As noted above, I am not a golfer. Consequently, I am probably missing some important features. That said, this is still an entertaining diversion even for the non-sports game fan.
There is a noticeable delay between sections of the game as data loads from the CD. This usually occurs between holes.
There is minimal voice acting, where the commentator provides advice and the occasional amusing comment. This feature, which can be turned off, really adds to the game. There are also appropriate sound effects.
Published by Time Warner Interactive, 1995
While this was not a system launch title, it is a very early release. Consequently, the graphics are very blocky and polygonal as compared to more recent games. The animation is smooth.
The fighting characters are all various robots. Some have (vaguely) humanoid forms, while others are based on various insects or animals. All the characters are very colourful and easily distinguished from the each other.
This is a standard fighting game. There are eight playable characters, and a hidden "boss" character that must all be defeated to beat the game. There are one- and two-player options. As is typical for the genre, game play consists largely of button mashing and searching for secret combinations and special attacks. I am not a big fan of this genre.
The game is not very difficult at the first level, but it quickly gets harder. Fortunately, it is possible to replay an unsuccessful battle and continue the game.
The fighters can visibly take damage to various body parts, but this does not seem to have any impact on their performance or ability.
The manual alludes to various hidden extras, but I cannot stand to play this game long enough to discover them.
According to the several sources, this game includes a hidden game of the shooter Phalanx:
To get it, hold Select + Start simultaneously on controller two and then turn on the PlayStation. Keep holding the buttons down until after the Zoom logo appears. The phrase "Bonus Game" will appear.
I have not personally tested this.
Like PGA Tour 98, there is a blow-by-blow commentary from the announcer. While it can be turned off, I feel that it really adds to the game.
Published by Capcom, 2000
I have not played Breath of Fire III (also on the PlayStation) or the earlier SNES games in the series. It is not clear from the manual (or even the game itself) if the plot is a continuation of the earlier games, or just set in the same universe.
The graphics are just spectacular! The backgrounds are detailed and the characters are smoothly animated. The various cut-scenes have an Anime movie-like quality to them. The camera can usually be rotated through a full 360 degrees; I have not noticed any clipping or other graphics errors.
Unlike with some RPG games (e.g. FF VII), the character models do not change to reflect changes in weapons and/or armour. The portrait used for Nina uneasily reminds me of the Disney character Belle, but that is just a personal observation.
All of the usual RPG elements are present. The game is linear in plot structure, but the difficulty level increases slowly. It is possible to revisit previous areas to level-up against weaker enemies. On the other hand, it is possible to avoid most of the random encounters by not exploring the (many) optional areas.
There are a few puzzles and small mazes, but nothing especially difficult. Even the periodic "boss" battles are not that hard if enough time has been spent levelling-up in advance.
Game play is varied by the numerous mini-games throughout. Some are integral to the game, while others are purely optional. Best known is the fishing game - this involves not only purchasing (and finding) suitable equipment, but also finding the various hidden fishing places.
The translation of the game is very good. There is a very small amount of Japanese-language voice acting remaining, most notably in the opening sequence. One scene has several very melodic Japanese songs; fortunately there are subtitles.
Unfortunately, this game has one major failing: one of the mini-games requires very precise timing. It is necessary to complete this segment to advance in the main game. This has caused me much frustration (and it has prevented me from actually playing the game any further). If I had wanted to play an action game, I would have done so!
Published by Published by Fox Interactive, 1999
This game reminds me of Tom Stoppard's play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead"; it is basically an episode of the X-Files from which Mulder and Scully are largely absent. To summarize the plot, Mulder and Scully have disappeared while investigating a case in the vicinity of Seattle, and so a local FBI agent (controlled by the player) is dispatched to search for them.
All of the usual supporting cast are present, including "X", the Lone Gunmen, and even the Cigarette Smoking Man (in a brief cameo).
The game makes extensive use of full-motion graphics; it is largely an interactive movie. Because the PlayStation lacks a hard-drive, there is almost constant loading of data from the CD, but the lag-time is usually very minimal. In addition, there are a great many pages of text to read - case files, reports, journals, log books, and such like. Everything is very clear and legible.
Sometimes it is possible to zoom-into part of a scene (e.g. a map or poster displayed on a wall). The quality of these scanned images varies from excellent to rather fuzzy.
The overall quality of the acting is reasonable. David Duchovny basically sneers through his few lines.
The game is rather easy. It is largely linear in structure, but there are some options and (occasionally) multiple ways to solve problems. The game is largely driven by dialogue and exploring various buildings, vehicles, etc. There are only a few action/timed sequences. The ending requires very tight timing.
It is easy to get lost in some of the larger structures (especially where it is dark); the game could very much benefit from a map showing the overall layout of the buildings, etc.
Overall, I very much enjoyed this game. My main criticisms are that it is rather too short; I played through it in about two-three days.
Like many contemporary movies, product placements abound - from the Apple Newton PDA and the Noika cell phone that the main character uses through the scattered containers and packages for Pepsi, Dunkin' Donuts, and such like.
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Last Modified: January 2, 2008