Welcome to the tenth installment of a semi-regular feature here at GameCritics.com—the Bargain Basement. It's as sure as death or taxes that anyone who takes up videogaming will find themselves rooting through a bargain bin at one point or another. For those that do, few things feel as satisfying as saving hard-earned cash and getting a gem of a game at the same time.
The titles covered below can usually be found online or in any shop that has a selection of used or discount games (usually for $20.00 or less!) Please keep in mind that because the games in this feature may be older and not on the latest hardware, it's assumed that the graphics aren't bleeding-edge. The final scores for each title are based on a rating that takes this into account, and does not penalize them for visual shortcomings. Gameplay is what we're talking about here.
Happy hunting, and more importantly… Happy Gaming!
by Brad Gallaway
To start off this month's Basement, I'd like to put a special spotlight on one of the most creative, ingenious, and masterfully designed games to come down the pipe in quite some time. It also happens to be one of the most universally dismissed: Irem's Disaster Report. The premise is as unique as the gameplay. Taking on the role of a reporter assigned to cover a manmade floating city, a massive earthquake strikes the day of your arrival. The entire island is decimated. Rather than reporting the scene in the hopes for a Pulitzer, your mission becomes survival by any means necessary.
Before going further, let me say that Disaster Report does not make a good first impression. The first hour is awkward and dull, and the level of technical production deserves to be much higher. But a little patience and an open mind at the start will serve you well, because once the game hits its stride, Disaster Report's flavorful sensibilities are revealed to be a tasty treat, indeed.
The game takes a rarely seen approach featuring no combat or weaponry, and an almost total absence of the standard, laissez faire violence that passes for "gameplay" in the majority of today's titles. Much like Sky Odyssey, one of my all-time favorite games, Disaster Report proves that you don't need to have a foundation of bloodshed to build an engrossing and engaging experience. Instead of pulsing mutants or rogue military troops, your conflicts are with nature and the hazards inherent in a crumbling metropolis. It's rare in this era of God-modes and powerups to be at the total mercy of forces you cannot control. The numerous aftershocks, falling debris, fires, and flash floods all help to create a convincingly feeling of unstoppable, impending doom.
You'll encounter other survivors clawing through the perilous scraps of civilization and scrabbling back to safety. Helping each other and sticking together in such a crisis is not only believable, but it reflects the mature range of tasks set before you. Through the course of the journey, I was often struck by how logical and "realistic" many of the puzzles were. Of course, there is a certain level of fantasy necessary for the game to work, but I felt that I would be fully capable of performing many, if not all, of the things my onscreen character was asked to do. How often can you say that about a videogame?
In just one example, the door to a bus is blocked by a burning gasoline spill, but a power cable can be spotted near the top of the entrance. After searching the area, a sturdy coat hanger can be found and used to ride the cable like a zipline to your goal. It might sound contrived to some, but I actually did the same thing (minus the burning bus) in my youth, so I could completely identify with the mentality and makeshift logistics of "using what you have." This MacGyver-ish quality goes hand-in-hand with the interesting and superbly-crafted environments. Crawling atop jagged chunks of roadway or threading through overturned office buildings ignited my dormant survivalist instincts.
Living in the Pacific Northwest, the danger of earthquakes is a very real and ever-present one. Struggling through Disaster Report's shattered cityscapes, ruined parks and fragmented architecture, I couldn't help but imagine Seattle in place of the game's fictional island setting. Knock on wood that it will never come to pass, but it's to Irem's credit that the game was grounded enough for comparisons to even be drawn.
Besides the ambiance and concept, the game's direction is exemplary in its forward-moving pace. Disaster Report never feels slow or bogged down, and there's almost no backtracking to be done—always a plus in my book. Add to that some late-game plot twists, several path-altering choices, a wide variety of obstacles to overcome, multiple endings to discover, and a wealth of small touches (like your character's clothing deteriorating with each narrow escape) and you've got a progressively energetic game set in a fantastic locale: one step beyond everyday life. Though it was totally unappreciated due to lackluster graphics and a semi-sketchy camera, anyone looking deeper than Disaster Report's surface will find more than enough heart to satisfy.
Super Bust-A-Move 2
by Erin Bell
Unlike certain puzzle games that seem to get more mutilated with every new incarnation, the Bust-A-Move series remains more or less consistent on every platform and has never tried to get fancy in a way that compromises the core concept. The idea is to shoot bubbles at other bubbles and form chains of the same color so that they disappear, whether it be on Game Boy, NeoGeo Pocket Color, 3DO, PlayStation 2, or anything and everything in between. When deciding which version to play, it really boils down to which game offers the best presentation and extras.
Super Bust-A-Move 2 makes a strong case for itself, seeing as it's basically the Special Edition DVD of Bust-A-Move, and boasts enough different modes to keep puzzle fans busy until the apocalypse. Besides the basic 1-player challenge mode offering a string of puzzles in progressive difficulty, there is also a 2-player battle mode (using either the CPU or another human player), chain reaction mode, story mode, and an edit mode that allows players to design their own puzzles and store them on a memory card.
In-game highlights include eight different kinds of bubbles, reflective blocks, fulcrums, conveyor-belt walls that cause bubbles to rebound at odd angles, continuously scrolling "long puzzles," and playing areas that deviate from the standard rectangle shape.
The game isn't flawless, however. Super Bust-A-Move 2 suffers from insipid music and a feeble story mode that is easily the weakest part of the game. All the "story" amounts to is the addition of a few cutscenes thrown in between puzzles that are the same regardless of which character is selected, with atrocious voice-acting and dialogue that sounds like it was intentionally translated badly to add faux camp.
Aside from these complaints, Super Bust-A-Move 2 is rock-solid. There are enough new features to ensure that the game is more than just a stagnant rehash, and the sheer depth of options is enough to keep the experience fresh for a long time—certainly long enough to get your money's worth and more.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version
by Matt Wiese
Known simply as Clock Tower in the States, this unique survival horror game is actually the second game in the series, the first being for the Super NES. (It never saw the light of day in the U.S.) If you take that into account, it actually predates Resident Evil (which might explain why it caters to none of its dull conventions).
Players assume the role of either Jennifer or Helen, two young women being stalked by the one and only Scissorman. In the first game, Jennifer escaped Scissorman and his family, a group of cannibals/cultists/psychos who liked to lure people to their mansion with an ominous clock tower (hence the name of the series) and cut them up with really big shears. The sequel begins with Jennifer, alive but disturbed, being put in the custody of a criminal psychologist and his assistant (Helen) when suddenly the murders begin anew. Could it be… Scissorman?
Clock Tower's gameplay is unique. The characters are controlled with a point-and-click interface similar to old PC graphic adventure games. When you want to use something or run somewhere, you just move the cursor over it and press the button. Simple. The gameplay itself involves mostly running, hiding, and otherwise outsmarting Scissorman. This is not a game where you really ever fight. All the suspense and excitement is built on the core dramatic device of its cinematic heritage: the slasher movie.
If you've ever wondered what it would be like to be the protagonist of a film like Halloween, Friday The 13th, or Scream where wits (not guns) are your only method of survival, then Clock Tower should prove to be a compelling experience. Unlike the repetitious "find ammo, find key, run, shoot and repeat" formula that has strangled contemporary survival horror games into a carnival of boringness, Clock Tower provides the player with a consistently engaging and surprising experience.
There's nothing quite like being on the run from Scissorman while dashing to an elevator, frantically pressing the button, ducking inside, and watching in horror as he lunges for the door only moments before it closes. Other moments become a macabre game of hide-and-seek. You can run into a room, hide inside a box, and hope he doesn't find you. Will he? Thankfully, you never know. Although it isn't completely random, you can never be 100% sure Scissorman won't find you and put stainless steel snippers where your face used to be. This gives the game a real sense of tension and possibility. Most of the environments offer a seemingly endless combination of hiding places and weird evasion tactics to try, and there's nothing like the feeling of successfully outsmarting Scissorman and escaping with your precious little life.
With several endings, a short play-through time, two playable characters, and separate paths in the plot, Clock Tower is an experience offering depth over breadth. Sure it's over quickly, but you'll have more fun playing it than the last four Resident Evil games combined. Add a goofy sense of humor, deliciously over-the-top scares (some of which I guarantee will make you jump and scream), and cornball dialogue into the mix, and you've got just about the best campy experience a game can offer. Don't let its watered-down pseudo-sequel Clock Tower 3 fool you; if you want a genre-perfect translation of the slasher film concept into a videogame, look no further than Clock Tower for the PlayStation. You'll have a blast, and you'll never look at pruning shears the same way again.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway