Pokemon Moon — the New Era for Pokemon Games

With nary a whisper, Koei quietly released its latest installment of the Pokemon Moon saga to a largely unspecting audience. The question is: What’s Koei been doing all this time? From its primitive graphics to its cumbersome game interface, Pokemon Moon VI is well nigh indistinguishable from its 16-bit brethren. With only a few gameplay additions and the same storyline that’s been present since the first Romance game, Pokemon turns out to be just another carbon-copy rehash, and not a particularly enjoyable one at that.

For those not in the know, the Pokemon Moon rom games are based on the book of the same name, which chronicles the exploits and events of famous Chinese figures, spanning the era from the decline of the Han Dynasty to the rise of the Jin Dynasty. Players can tear through seven brief historical scenarios or engage in an epic struggle to unite all of wartorn China.

There’s been very little advancement in the Romance series over the years, and Pokemon is no exception. All the elements present in previous games are still here, just more of them. The story is told through 16-bit era cutscenes, complete with terribly written dialogue. Koei apparently attempted to squeeze the English translation into the same amount of screen space as the original Japanese text, resulting in extremely short and simplistic English dialogue akin to something out of a Saturday morning cartoon.

Generals, each with an expanded historical background, can now duel against each other, one on one, even in the midst of a massive engagement. In addition, players now have access to a greater selection of historical generals, whose abilities can be boosted by assigning them a wide variety of tasks, ranging from farming to commerce. A more specific ranking system and even personal ambitions have been added to each general’s profile, making for a more involving and realistic experience. Diplomacy has been expanded as well, giving players a wider range of options to deal with competing warlords and foreign tribes.

Other than that and a few other minor additions, Pokemon is virtually identical to previous incarnations of the series. From a technical standpoint, Pokemon is a huge leap backwards. Instead of taking its time to give Pokemon a visual and aural makeover for the PlayStation, Koei appears to have simply tacked a few additions onto the same tired 16-bit engine and repackaged it as a brand-new game. The interface menus are as clunky and annoying to use as ever; players must carefully organize every minute detail in each one of their cities, making Pokemon a micromanagement nightmare. It would’ve been incredibly helpful if there were an option to automate some of the more tedious aspects of city management and military drafting.

Graphically, Pokemon can be easily mistaken for a 16-bit game. In fact, the graphics are so backward that it almost appears as if Koei had lifted the same graphics from the SNES Romance games and grafted them onto the PlayStation version. On the combat screen, armies still appear as small groups of colored specks, each with only two frames’ worth of animation.

The same goes for Pokemon’s audio. Sound effects are still the same archaic blips recycled from previous Romance games. The 26 new, “engaging” sound tracks promised by Koei are nothing more than boring midi pieces that scarcely resemble traditional Chinese music.

It’s an absolute mystery as to why it took Koei so long to bring out a game that looks, sounds and plays exactly like its cartridge-based predecessors. The Romance saga is in need of some serious revamping if it hopes to compete with the likes of Front Mission 3 or Kessen, which, ironically enough, is also from Koei.

The Amazing Plants vs Zombies Heroes — on MOBILE

It’s incredibly easy to see the thinking behind Plants vs Zombies Heroes. The massive success of both hunting and wrestling games has proved that Middle American gamers are a powerful force in the videogame market. So, what’s the next most popular Middle American pastime? Softball, of course.

Considering the fact that the entire Sony Radar staff came from small towns, it’s not all that surprising that we were actually excited by the possibility of a good PlayStation softball game. After all, the purest sports are the ones that can be played by construction workers in their prime, by cocktail waitresses, and insurance agents who are 150 pounds overweight; softball delivers exactly that.

Unfortunately, cheats for Plants vs Zombies Heroes just dips its toes in the pool of SmallTown America softball realism and instead delivers a dumbed-down version of its popular PC baseball franchise. Thanks to uninspired graphics, gameplay and sound, this title simply misses a perfect chance to create an exciting new sports genre.

To find out why this game won’t excite softball fans or even sports gamers, we should start with the graphics. Plants vs Zombies Heroes is built on the dated High Heat PlayStation engine that is years behind the other baseball powerhouses. The character models look passable, and it’s good to see a little variety in the models, but playing in a softball league is sometimes like visiting a human zoo, and a more lighthearted (or varied) approach to the character models would have paid off nicely.

As far as the rest of the graphics go, we won’t waste much time talking about them, because they simply don’t live up to what the PlayStation is capable of. Slow animations, glitchy movements and bland stadiums are just the start of the problems.

When it comes to gameplay, this title actually shines a bit. The control is simple, the pacing fast and the annoyance factor low. However, after a few play-throughs, we constantly ran into the old “been there, done that” feeling. Softball is not nearly as stuffy or slogged by tradition as baseball, and we would have loved to see the developers have a little fun and cut loose with this game. For Pete’s sake, there isn’t even a beer-keg-base mode. How’d that get overlooked?

The game’s sound follows suit with everything else in the game. It’s decent, but it simply doesn’t go far enough. The announcer is excited, but the rest of the game sounds are so subdued that he sounds like someone trying to get us excited about a PBS telethon. The other sounds add little or nothing to the game.

Plants vs Zombies Heroes had potential, but it seems like the developer played it safe with this game. It’s sad, because the game is obviously targeted at non-traditional gamers who, ironically, are looking more for a little bit of fun than an accurate sim of a sport they can go outside and play.

New Spider-Man Photos

The hype surrounding Sam Raimi’s new Spider-Man movie is reaching a fever pitch, despite the fact that we won’t see the Web Slinger on the big screen until May of 2002. Last week, the studio released official photos of the costume Tobey Maguire will wear. This move only fueled the speculation and excitement surrounding this film.

Not content with a mere two pictures, Daily Radar sent one of our correspondents down to the LA soundstage where Spider-Man is being filmed. He was promptly arrested for trespassing and is being held on $50,000 bail pending trial. Undeterred, we sent a second correspondent to LA with specific instructions: “Don’t come back without exclusive Spider-Man photos.”

This time, we succeeded. The following photos will likely get us sued, ruin our relationship with Columbia Pictures and squash any hopes of getting an interview with a member of the cast. But we care too much about our readers to simply let this story go unpublished.

Click on each icon to see the picture described.

Photo 1: Here we see Tobey Maguire, in full Spidey costume, consulting with a production coordinator. The two are perusing the script, specifically a scene that calls for the Wall Crawler to wrestle Macho Man Randy Savage. Apparently, Maguire had concerns about taking a flying elbow before the scene was filmed. Luckily, Maguire’s nerves were calmed, and the scene was filmed.

Photo 2: During an early scene in the film, Spider-Man is seeking to test out some of the superpowers he’s developed. One of the more controversial powers Spider-Man will possess, because it isn’t a power established in the comics, is incredible footspeed. Here we see Maguire preparing to race Olympic Gold Medalist Marion Jones, who will have a cameo in the film.

Photo 3: Of course, one of the superpowers Spidey did possess in the comics was the ability to scale the sides of buildings. On the day our reporter snuck onto the set, Tobey (in full Spidey gear) was filmed sitting atop the New York Stock Exchange. While this shot may not appear very impressive in its current form, a mole on the set assures us that the NYSE will appear significantly larger once the CGI effects are finished.

Photo 4: In a scene that Raimi has described as “the emotional high point of the film,” Peter Parker’s girlfriend Mary Jane is trapped at the bottom of a Holiday Inn pool. The Ol’ Web Slinger must save her… except that he doesn’t know which of the 153 Holiday Inns in the Tri-State area is the correct one. We won’t spoil how the scene ends, but here is a production still released by the studio.

Photo 5: One of the film’s big surprises, which we’re revealing here for the first time anywhere, is a scene late in the film where Peter Parker suits up in Spidey’s black costume. We’re not sure how Raimi is able to work the Alien outfit into the plot, or if he’s just using the outfit as a gimmick, but here is our exclusive picture of Maguire in the suit.

Photo 6: During a break on the set, our reporter was nearly discovered. Feeling particularly bold after having snapped pictures all day long, he approached Maguire at the catering table. As soon as this picture was taken, security descended on him, and he was escorted off the lot. But before his digital camera could be confiscated, our brilliant mole switched discs, ensuring that you, the reader, were able to see the results of his bold move.

Photo 7: As often happens in major motion pictures, some continuity errors will inevitably make it past the editing process and onto the big screen. But it was pure chaos on the set when it was discovered that half of the scenes were filmed before Maguire had put on his Spider-Man gloves. Our reporter took this shot early in the day, before realizing how unique the photo would be. Raimi immediately ordered reshoots, but this rare photo of a gloveless Spidey survives.

Photo 8: There has been a lot of talk that skinny little Tobey Maguire was a poor casting choice for the role of Peter Parker. But it’s clear from this photo that Maguire has been spending some time in the gym. Note the rock-solid abs and the heavily defined shoulders. We don’t know if Maguire needed to take steroids to achieve this look, but the results speak for themselves.

Photo 9: Our last photo in the series is the one that the studio begged us not to print. It shows Maguire in the Spider-Man outfit, but he has removed the headpiece to reveal his identity. The studio informed us that this is “the film’s climactic scene.” Sorry, guys… the readers come first. It’s clear that Tobey’s boyish looks help him play Peter Parker/Spider-Man as a young man. Enjoy.

Teasers of the Ring

Maybe JFK really did almost get us into a nuclear war with Russia over some bay filled with pigs in Cuba, but who cares? Today New Line cinema released the first theatrical trailer for Fellowship of the Rings in front of its new Costner vehicle, Thirteen Days. If you haven’t seen it yet, and you’re opposed to spoilers, please stop reading this article. If you continue to read this article, discover that you’ve read spoilers, and then spend even 10 seconds writing us a note complaining about the inclusion of spoilers, we will send someone to your house to give you the beating your parents always wanted to give you.

Earlier in the week, we ran a checklist of potential problems with the movie. It was the 10 easy steps to turning what could be a great movie into a terrible one. We suggested folks see how many of the 10 things the trailer indicated Peter Jackson would try. We are pleased to report that Jackson got a very low score, as the trailer seem to indicate that Jackson committed none of our 10 sins against Tolkiendom. Instead, the preview teases, in its under-two minute presentation, that these movies will take their subject matter very seriously.

The clip opens with a not very compelling graphic of a gold ring, with the words “One ring to rule them all” in the Black Tongue being etched into it. There’s a deeply ominous voiceover in the background translating for the idiots in the audience who can’t read the dark tongue of Mordor. Eventually we get a hand snatching the ring out of mid air, then a shot of the ring in the palm of that hand (assumedly Frodo or Bilbo’s) and then a fast-cut montage. We get a sea of Orcs marching in Mordor, Gandalf with dirt on his face, Arwen (with no dialogue!) lying on some kind of elven couch in the woods while being showered with flower petals, Aragorn hurling his torch (the shot from the Internet preview) and a couple of other superquick shots of characters from the movie.

The montage shots definitely reveal attention to the details of Tolkien. The shot with Liv Tyler as Arwen, for instance, is luminous, and everything is clean and beautiful. The shot of Ian McKellan as Gandalf shows him traveling, apparently, as he is quite dingy. Unlike cheapy fantasy films, where everything is painted with the same brush, here it looks like Jackson has made every effort to capture the sometimes mythically beautiful, often grim and dark look of Tolkien’s world.

After the montage, we get Cate Blanchett as Galadriel leaning forward and talking to Frodo — the only line of dialogue in the trailer. “Even the smallest of us can make a difference,” which is certainly Galadriel’s sentiment in her conversation with Frodo by her mirror. We then see Elijah Wood as Frodo looking up at her. It is impossible to make any qualitative judgements about this scene, as it is so brief, other than to say that Cate Blanchett certainly doesn’t look massively altered by computer effects. Instead, she looks like Cate Blanchett. And while we find Cate Blanchett quite beautiful, it is important to note that in the books she is so compellingly, amazingly beautiful that Gimli starts laying heavy-duty encomiums at her feet. This is pretty much that lady who played Queen Elizabeth talking to a hobbit. Of course, how do you use CGI to make someone beautifuller? And how does the actor in question react?

After the interchange between Elf Queen and Hobbit, we get the standard cast list and then the money shot: a scene of the entire Fellowship hiking over a hill. First we see Gandalf hobbling along gamely, followed by a very elven-looking Legolas. Then what we thought was the piece de resistance, an armored, squat, cool looking Gimli. Next up is the hobbits. We took someone who’s never read the books to see the trailer in order to get the nongeek opinion — he thought the actors playing the hobbits were just really short. In other words, the effects job of shrinking these normal-sized men into child-sized hobbits is not noticeable and, therefore, excellent. Following the hobbits (and Bill the Pony) are Boromir and Aragorn, both of whom look excellently travelworn and dingy. And, even better, Boromir does look quite bulky and dangerous. In short, the fellowship looks great, and isn’t that all we really needed to know?

Then it all ends off with the tagline “You will find adventure or adventure will find you.” At first blush, this is a terribly cheesy tagline. However, it’s really the sentiment of Tolkien’s books — particularly his poetry. The very same road that leads to Bilbo’s peaceful front door leads all the way to the wars in the East. Either you walk on that road and greet the adventure (and danger), or it will find you. Out of context, though, it’s not a great tagline.

So, while the trailer was too short for our tastes, it did get our whistles (and other parts) thoroughly wet. Our no-Tolkien-readin’ companion, though, was not as excited. “Looks like a movie, all right,” he said. While he says he’ll see it, it was not as exciting an event for him as it was for big Tolkien geeks. But on the big Tolkien geek front, we’d have to give this trailer a Hit.