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Final Word: Detonation

It may be a device that looks innocent, harmless and friendly, but to its competitors, the Game Boy Advance is anything but. In GBA, Nintendo has created a force more powerful than anything in recent sci-fi memory. Critics can moan and groan about Nintendo’s 64-bit console and the mistakes made along the way, but no critic is a naysayer when the topic is Game Boy. Nintendo seems to have made all the right moves with its star portable and done the impossible along the way. With the help of franchises like Wario Land and Pokemon, the big N has made a platform that continues to reinvent itself. Inside the system’s tiny eight-bit processor, under the right light, with the right microscope, one could easily spot a tiny fountain of youth.

Either that, or luck from heaven must have been in play over the years as one event or another kept the Game Boy on its feet. Every year the Game Boy exceeded everyone’s expectations. When Nintendo turned to new colors and shapes to keep the machine interesting, consumers responded gleefully. And now, in a time when 128-bit consoles are becoming the norm, game developers continue to release gobs of software for the Game Boy Color, a close variation on the original Game Boy. Gamers don’t seem to mind, because they are certainly buying the games.

As life goes, all old things must make way for the new, and after more than a decade of portable eight-bit games, there’s about to be a change. However, it’s not PocketStation2 or WonderSwan Color at the helm of this change. Nope, it’s the Game Boy Advance, and like Game Boy before it, it’s here to stay.

Developers have already made the Game Boy Advance a phenomenal success. Without a single GBA sale made, without a single 32-bit portable cartridge purchased, the Game Boy Advance has already won the handheld race hands down. For at least five and as many as 12 years, Game Boy Advance will be the portable console to own. Just as the PlayStation was made a reigning success by the third-party support it received, the Advance will be an obvious choice for gamers from day one. First-party software developed by NCL and Miyamoto’s teams will be a sparkling bonus to the droves of games available from big-name developers and new companies alike, some founded for the sole purpose of developing GBA software.

Game Boy Advance will be a pop-culture favorite. Pokemon and similar collecting/trading games will sell the system to the youth of the world. Backward compatibility, Gamecube connectivity, network capability and the popular, very forward-thinking widescreen ratio will sell the system to everyone else. More so than the Game Boy incarnations before it, the Game Boy Advance will explode onto the world in mid 2001, and Nintendo is holding the detonator. “KABOOM!” In the distant future, when aliens have invited us to colonize with them in a far-off galaxy of paradise…

It’s the Game Boy that Earth will be remembered for.

Enter the Samus

In every hardcore gamer’s decorated gaming past lies an insidious secret or two. We all call ourselves dedicated gamers, with supreme knowledge of the most obscure and remote videogame minutiae as well as a staggering list of games played. Yet even the most dedicated players, for one benign reason or another, have missed out on a couple of classic videogames, never getting to know the greatness that millions of others know so dearly. Of course, your humble Backward Compatible columnist is no exception to this rule. It is with regret that I admit to our readership that I had never fully played the videogame achievement called Super Metroid. In fact, I had never played a game belonging to the Metroid series (a revelation that, if known by Mr. Wolf beforehand, would probably have prevented my rise to DailyRadar columnist). [ed note: Yes. That’s true. You’re fired.]

But the great thing about this world is that you always have a second chance to right the wrongs. That is why I decided to finally experience Super Metroid in full — a game that I reserved a spot for in my all-time top 10 based on principle alone. Now, after beating the game and finally seeing all its sublime elements in action (the spot-on control, the tantalizing graphics, the suffocating atmosphere and especially the killer action), it is with great pride that I announce that Super Metroid still measures up to even the stoutest of games, and that this Nintendo gem clearly deserves its lofty ranking as one of the all-time greats. [ed note: Ah, redemption. You can stay.]

Among the notable strengths of Super Metroid are its strong story and atmosphere. After our hero Samus Aran kills off all the Metroids (powerful beings with mighty capabilities), a Metroid hatchling is born and takes an instant liking to the suited wonder. Samus, always on the side of good, takes the Metroid to be studied, so that its powerful capabilities may be used in helpful ways. Of course, it isn’t long before all hell breaks loose. The Space Pirates raid the lab, stealing the Metroid and leaving the station in ruins. Samus does not arrive in time to stop them, so she must now go back to the planet Zebes and rescue the Metroid before the Space Pirates can use its power for evil. It is important to note that once Samus reaches Zebes, not much happens in the way of “story.” It serves as a backdrop for the action that goes on, but it does not really progress as the game moves forward. In its place, however, is a healthy dose of atmosphere. Samus descends deep within the planet, and that, along with the cramped level design (a Metroid staple), creates a claustrophobic atmosphere and a true sense of being “in the thick of it.” The decidedly adult and sci-fi theme plays well; it is not a game solely intended for adults, but then again, there are no dancing bears or pastel colors that would normally send adult gamers runnin’ for the hills.

The graphics, though seven years old, still stun. On the surface there may not seem to be a lot of graphic variety (underground cavern after cavern), but there still is an immense amount of diversity. Rock-infested grottos, fiery pits, underground recesses covered in overgrown fauna and sterile spaceship passages are all full of life (or, when appropriate, very dead) and depicted cleanly. Samus is an imposing figure onscreen, and her full range of actions, animations and attacks is quite an exhibition. The enemies are a little simple in terms of design, but the bosses are staggering behemoths, both visually stunning and intimidating at the same time. Quite simply, there is never an ugly area in the game, a feat that is not to be belittled. Combine that with an impressive audio arrangement (replete with an epic score and plenty of atmospheric sound effects) and one can see that Nintendo knows its way with bells and whistles.

Despite all the wonderful graphic and atmospheric facets, the heart of Super Metroid is the gameplay. First and foremost (as mentioned earlier) is the level design. In most 2D games the horizontal aspect is emphasized, but in Super Metroid it’s all about the vertical. None of the areas are truly opened, and Samus must work her way up and around these areas. The level design caters to Samus’ abilities, especially since her jumping prowess is unparalleled. Her abilities at the beginning of the game are rather meek, but throughout the game Samus picks up a number of upgrades, including better blasters and armor, special missiles, the ability to roll in a ball, increased health, etc. These abilities will continually open up new areas for Samus to explore. Dozens of hidden goodies are spread throughout the game, and some are very tough to find. Nintendo did a wonderful job of integrating hidden passages within the environment, so much so that every out-of-place rock or discolored wall should fall under suspicion. Simply put, this game is the whole package in terms of action thrills and exploratory curiosity.

All this jubilant praise may sound like the ramblings of a callow, wide-eyed gamer, but as a new experience Super Metroid is unparalleled. I can only imagine how impressed I would have been had I given the game the thorough playthrough that it deserves when it was released years ago. I could have devoted many more paragraphs to the wonders of this game and every painstaking detail, every superbly designed element and every jaw-dropping moment it houses. But I will say that the individual parts (graphics, control, gameplay, audio) all stand as equals, and the result is quite simply one of the best games ever. It is truly a shame that Gumpei Yokoi’s (may he rest in peace) flagship series never did make its triumphant appearance on the N64, and any effort to try to justify that injustice should fall moot. All we can do is wait in anticipation for the Gamecube version to satisfy the masses’ Metroid craving. The important message in all this is not one that looks to the future, but rather to the past: All-time greats are still great the first time you play them, no matter when that is. Keep that in mind the next time you exhibit regret for missing a great game. There is always a second chance.

Engrossing Battle Experience Only with Boom Beach

boombeach

SuperCell’s Title, Boom Beach, is back and it’s better than ever. Not content to merely dress up the graphics and release an updated version of the original, its developers took the time to create an original and exciting game. From the cockpit of your hover tank you command vast battles, build defenses, and get your hands dirty by personally blowing the hell out of the enemy. Although there is very little customizability available in the interface, most of the preset functions are the very picture of efficiency. With a touch of a button you can shift around the battlefield, issuing orders while still remaining in the heart of an engrossing battle.

In fact, Boom Beach has emerged as one of the most addictive and approachable games to grace the mobile market in a long while. According to the Boom Beach storyline, an alien alloy was discovered on the moon during the early days of the space program. This alloy, called bio-metal, allowed scientists to make huge leaps forward in technology. Competition for the alloy turned deadly as both superpowers began to amass loads of weaponry on the moon’s surface. The Russians launched a covert operation under the guise of a space program while the USA created an entire lunar landing event to cover up their military build up on the moon.

The story is a bit far-fetched but extremely well portrayed and translates into a solid premise. The single-player game can be played from both the USA and Soviet sides, although it has obviously been designed to play as the Americans first.

During the first few missions on the U.S. side, players are gradually eased into Boom Beach’s seamless mix of real-time strategy and action, and from there, chances are you’ll be hooked. You begin with a bio-metal Recycler, which is the most basic of all the construction units, and from there you’ll build base defenses, scavenge scraps of bio-metal, and construct new vehicles.

The action is exceptionally easy to control from your tank’s cockpit, adhering to the basic principles of most first-person shooters. Battlezone uses a combination of mouse and keyboard controls; the only problem is the lack of fully mapable keys. But once you’ve learned the default keys, you’ll be good to go.

Your arsenal consists of a wide range of offensive vehicles that run the gambit from well-armored tanks to fast scout craft; the enemy’s vehicles run the same range. Using the simple interface, you can build a base, order your troops to hunt down enemies, or just hang out and look for targets to eradicate. The main things that separate Boom Beach tactics from those of most real-time strategy games are that you can’t have more than ten offensive and defensive vehicles under your command at once, and each vehicle requires a driver. When the vehicle is crushed, mauled, or just generally fubared, the pilot is ejected and must run back to your base. Needless to say, these pedestrians are ripe targets for enemy vehicles cruising for some violent entertainment.

The seamless integration of the action and strategy genres combined with a sleek interface and intense action make Boom Beach a must-have for any gaming fanatic. So what are you waiting for?