Ninety-Nine Nights

I love Rez. Rez is ace. And, leveraging my O/C nature, I scoot about looking for other games that had been subjected to producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s touch. And so, when video became available for N3, I downloaded – and enthused. This looked like a bumper hack’n’slash-fest with squillions of characters onscreen – something that I find appealing. After all, the scene in Kameo where you wander into a valley of carnage is one of the few memorable moments of that game.

The six-out-of-ten review in Edge (which began with the line “Ninety-Nine Nights deserves a better score than the one at the bottom of this page”) only heightened my anticipation of this game. Edge roundly criticised N3‘s flaws, but their description of the underlying game mechanic had me salivating. A pre-cursory (after all, my mind was already made up) pootle through the demo available on XBLA made did little to discourage; thus, I pre-ordered, I picked up, and I played.

The initial intro movie is beautiful – certainly FMV, but still lovely. The titles looked a bit… clunky. Very clunky. Stuttery framerates, poor design. Really disappointing. The save system is cack-handed, giving the gamer every opportunity to unwittingly over-write their progress. There’s no checkpoints or opportunities to save within levels, which often means that the frustrated player can often lose half-an-hour of progress because of a poorly executed boss battle. The plot and character development is pretty much non-existent and, when it is there, is astonishingly lame.

And, worst of all, this game crashes. A lot.

A peek about the Xbox Forums indicated that I was not alone in this issue; often, the DVD drive in the ‘360 would slow to a stop, and the next time the game requires some data to be streamed in, it crashes, resulting in the fearful Blade-Of-Borkedness popping out from the right-hand side of the screen.

So the trick is to never let the drive spin down; I discovered that popping into the inventory screen every couple of minutes seemed to cause sufficient activity to prevent problems. It’s a bitch of a thing to remember when you’re in the middle of a 5,000+ hit combo, though, and tends to kill the mood.

But despite all these niggles, N3 is still a worthy diversion. Graphically, it’s a treat, with some decent character models appearing onscreen… and there’s a lot of them. At some points in the game, you can spy the plain scenery covered with two dozen of your own henchmen and literally – yes, literally – hundreds of bad guys in floods of hackable goodness. Sure, the baddies are relatively low-polygon in nature and blend into a blurry mush of things-to-kill, but that’s all that’s required of them… the important number in N3 isn’t the number of vertices per bad guy, it’s the number of bad guys on the screen.

In fact, the only graphical quibble lies in the design of some of the playable characters. And it may be a cheap shot (and, believe it or not, I don’t want to turn this blog into a repository of my fave pervy images), but I’d like to know how this is supposed to protect a knight in battle:

Inphyy and her WonderBra [2,575 KB]
Aim for the cleavage.

Gameplay is pretty simple – select a character (starting with principal protagonist step-siblings Inphyy and Aspharr, other characters are made available as the game progresses). Wade into battle. Mash X and Y in various rhythmic combos until all opposition has been vanquished. There’s a two-stage mega-weapon power-up, and it’s a joy seeing each character’s Blue Orb Spark for the first time. Vigk Vagk, in particular, has a visually spectacular attack; Tyurru, despite her nubile 12-year-old jailbait qualities, has an attack which slows the 360 to a crawl as it models a tidal wave flooding the surrounds causing maximum damage.

Levelling up characters can be a bit of a chore, but the extra combo variations make it worthwhile. Tyurru, in particular, morphs from a crapulent weakling into a veritable superweapon as she clambers through her ranks. And Inphyy’s Level 9 Seraph Butterfly combo (a joyfully simple A, A, Y) is a joy to behold.

Tyurru [34 KB]

So, in short – enjoyed the game, hated the crashes. The O/C in me is still playing it for the purposes of item collection, but – due to the random drops and lack of complete list – it’s difficult to determine when this task will be complete. Still, it’s not an onerous duty – in fact, as long as the crashes are avoided, it’s a secret pleasure.

Ridge Racer 6

Xbox Live – I’m abso-fucking-lutely loving it. Far more than I ever thought I would.

Most of you 360ers will know about; a neat part of their service is that they provide leaderboards that you can filter by Game, Zone, or Country. So naturally, once you get past the usual jousting amongst your friends, you get to the stage where you start looking at where you stand with respect to your neighbours.

Now, I’ll profess to being an average gamer – I’m OK, I’ve got a smidge of “natural” ability, but I’m far from good. But, in perusing the Australian charts, I saw a chance, an opening. For Ridge Racer 6.

Now, up until a few years ago, I fucking hated racing games. But then a pic of Ahchay & nbcl… er, strawdonkey playing F-Zero GX graced the virtual pages of Way of the Rodent, and I thought “I’ll have some of that.” And I was poo at it. Only this year, after playing pretty frequently, did I manage to unlock the Master Cup. But I loved it, each and every second that it was handing my arse to me on a platter with a frilly pink bow on it. But that’s another story.

The point is, I’m not a natural racer – I’m as untalented at racers as I am in fighting games. But I liked Ridge Racer 6 – eschewing any pretence at realism, it just felt like honest, glorious, absolutely silly good fun. From the first extravagant drift around the first corner, I was hooked. For all the second-hand swearing I submitted my SO to, she never once saw me without a big stoopid grin on my face. I was crap at the game, but I was learning… slowly.

I caned RR6. Calouses formed on the the tips of my thumbs from thrashing the cars around the Ridge Racer Universe. Hours of gameplay passed. I got stuck many, many times. Venturing online for the first time, only to encounter the Japanese and Korean pros who had been playing three months longer than I and could lap me whilst drifting (for fuck’s sake!) only served to reinforce my own perceived crapulence.

But then – 80 hours in – something clicked. Some nugget of knowledge finally lodged itself in my brain; something suddenly made sense. I unlocked the Final Series. I persevered with the much-hated Final 1 race… then came Final 2. The rest came with a rush, almost like a flourish. I finished the Final Series. My Gamer Score went through the roof as Achievements were achieved and unlockables unlocked.

I checked the Australian leaderboard again; there were still two players ahead of me. Comparing their Achievements to mine indicated that they were both able to score some extra points relatively easily. To leapfrog ahead of them, I had to do some serious racing – I had to get the 100 points for racing 10,000 miles.

But after 80 hours of play, I only had 6996 miles.

The next day-and-a-half were a flurry of driving, occasionally looking over my shoulder to look for any movement from the competition, whilst pushing my thumbs and forefingers to the brink of RSI. I was calculating the number of races left, counting them down. Continuous triple-nitrous blasts were continually applied. Sleep – bah! No time for sleep!

10 races to go… 5… 3. 2. 1.

As I exited the Single Race menu, the standard Ridge Racer 6 achievement display popped up. I scurried over to, confirming that the Achievement had registered. I checked; they hadn’t updated their stats yet.

F5. F5. F5. F5.

And, suddenly, I sat atop the leaderboard for my country.

I won’t lie; at the time I thought it was going to be mere moments until I lost that honour, because I’m really not that good. But the thing is, it feels like one of the greatest bits of gaming I’ve ever managed. It feels weighty to me. It feels like an Achievement: I really wanted to do it, and I managed to learn – or was taught (by a spectacular game) – how to do it.

Would I have bothered, had I not been spurred on by Xbox Live and its endless possible statistical comparisons? Maybe not – I certainly never “finished” F-Zero GX, did I? So I have this overwhelming sense of pride in this tiny, piffly, insignificant thing that I’ve done, and it’ll always be associated with the social cajoling of Xbox Live. And I’ll always feel lucky to have experienced that.

Sadly, though, this is not a story with an entirely happy ending. About a month-and-a-half later I was joined at the top of the Australian rankings by a chap who was my alphabetical superior; thus, when demonstrating my top-ranking to my nephews, they remained unconvinced that having your name second on the list is equivalent to an “equal first”. They’ll learn, the bastards.

Worse, though, is the amount of Achievement cheating that appears to be going on now. A recent check of the leaderboard shows a bunch of people who appear to have used someone else’s saved game to glean their “achievements”; seriously, acquiring all of RR6‘s Achievements in one day? Getting a 200 Win Achievement before a 50 Win Achievement?

Clearly, this fantastic incremental idea of public Achievements – those very items whose presence drove me to be a better player – can also have a negative effect, too.