Everyone's got that game they used to love but nobody else seems to remember it. This site it dedicated to those games. Check in each week for a fresh look at another hidden gem and weigh in on whether it should be remembered as a classic or not.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

ModNation Racers

Year: 2010
Developer: United Front Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PS3
Metacritic score: 82
VGChartz sales to date: 1 million 

Kart racers are great games because they combine the thrill of competitive racing with the hilarity that ensues from blasting your friends with crazy weapons.  It's a testament to the genre's staying power that a spin-off series like Mario Kart can find success across so many console and arcade releases  That level of greatness takes a careful mix of control and chaos but a healthy dose of speed helps too.  In a lot of ways ModNation Racers nails the combination but what puts the game over the top is the crazy degree of customization.  The multiplayer portion of the game is where you can build custom tracks, karts and racers and share them with other players online.  You can race against up to 12 others using your creations or you can download from thousands of options already online.  Just about any character, car or theme you can think of already exists in dozens of variations.  This social aspect of the game has earned it many comparisons to Media Molecule's 2008 PS3 exclusive LittleBigPlanet, and true to form ModNation Racers is a game that doesn't fully come to life until you've explored the ability to create and share with others online.
It's-a me, Nintendo's legal department!  This is-a DMCA take-a down notice.
The career/story mode is probably where most people will first dip their toes into the water.  The story follows an up-and-coming racer named Tag trying to break into the Modnation Racing Championships, or MRC.  You'll compete in a series of race circuits, each one consisting of multiple events at a number of different tracks.  The track designs in the career mode are top notch with the right mix of zany obstacles, shortcuts and jumps without being too confusing to follow.  There are weapon pickups scattered around each track which will randomly give you one of four weapon types: speed boost, missiles, electricity or sonic waves.  Each weapon type has three levels and driving over successive pickups will increase the level whatever weapon you currently hold.  Every stage of every weapon also has two firing modes, either front-fire or laying it down behind you like a mine, so there's plenty of variety in the mayhem being dished out all around you.  Luckily you've got a full arsenal of offensive and defensive tactics to get you to the finish line alive, most of which make use of the boost gauge you fill by pulling off tricks, drifting or performing other actions.  The boost gauge determines how long you can use your kart's turbo boost but it can also be used up performing other actions.  In addition to the weapons above, you can also use a little boost to sideswipe opponents riding alongside you by flicking the right analog stick.  One of the most critical actions you can use boost for it triggering a shield that will briefly protect you from any oncoming attack.  A warning system lets you know when someone is targeting you but you'll need quick timing to make sure you pop your shield just before getting hit or it won't do much good. 

Better hope you didn't pop that shield too early, or those missiles are gonna hurt
To move onto the next race you've got to finish in the top three, but if you complete all three objectives on each track you open a grudge match challenge against that tracks local lap leader.  There are also five hidden tokens on each track waiting to be collected which can then be exchanged to unlock new items to trick out your character, kart or tracks in the Mod Spot.  Since most tracks have multiple routes which can sometimes be hidden the tokens encourage you to explore a new course each lap and can lead you to discovering useful shortcuts.  Clearing every track objective while picking up the tokens and still taking 1st can be extremely challenging, so thankfully you don't have to do everything in a single race, but it certainly adds to your bragging rights.  This game is no pushover, the AI of your opponents is based on your own performance, so if you're having a lightning lap it means everyone else likely is too.  This helps prevent blow-out wins regardless of your individual skill level, but it can also make come from behind wins hard to pull off.  Throughout the race your pit boss will chime in with helpful information, and there's also biting commentary from race announcers Biff and Gary before and after the flags come out. 

Once you've mastered the basics in career mode it's time to enter the Mod Spot.  This is an open online lobby where you can drive around to various game modes such as single player or online races, the garage where you can create and modify content, and areas where you can view top created content, view lap leaders for the ever-changing Hot Lap competitions and much more.  If you're just looking to hop into some races it's as easy as driving through the right gateway, but you can also host matches if you have specific tracks you want to play.  As with any game with such a heavy online component, your mileage will vary in your interactions with others and the quality of the user-created tracks.  Most tracks are just as polished as the ones created by United Front Games, and there's plenty of examples that completely outdo what the developers included in the box.  You will come across maps that are confusing, unfinished or downright annoying in their design but the robust community review system makes it easy to filter out the chaff.  Once you find a rotation you like, it's easy to keep your tires hot by seamlessly re-joining the same lobby to wait for the next race and even in it's third year ModNation has plenty of others waiting to play any time of day.  Connection issues or waiting to join a race is something you will very rarely experience.  It's also fun just to see what characters and karts other players are using, and with text, voice and gesture based chat you can always share with someone when you find a design you like.  You can easily spend dozens of hours in the Mod Spot just designing or modifying user-created content and watching one of your creations rack up hundreds of downloads can be even more rewarding than dominating in the races.  For those who lack the patience to design content yourself it's great being able to search through the vast existing catalog of creations to find exactly what you want.  By creating a shared space where players can create content, join races or just mill about and socialize the game takes on a life of it's own.

The robust track editor let's you whip up tracks as wild as your imagine will allow and includes a dizzying array of details to play with.  It's easy to spend so much time constructing a city for your track to go through that you forget to make the track.

Leaving all the creativity up to the player makes for a bland experience right out of the box.  Having an intricately detailed and massive focus on user-generated content helps give your game staying power, but you still need an enticing style and design straight from the developer to draw players into your world.  While I'm sure the mostly blank canvas design was an intentional decision by the developers to encourage people to add their own creations, it nevertheless makes the series blend into the background.  The game did a lot to earn it's comparison to LittleBigPlanet, right down to squishing together separate words in the title while still capitalizing each one.  But Media Molecule injected an immense amount of style and feeling into their homemade arts and crafts setting whereas ModNation feels much more generic.  The characters in the story are mostly boring designs, with the biggest offender being the mostly silent protagonist Tag.  Thankfully you can use your own characters or karts even in the career mode so you're not stuck with bland Tag and his plain black kart the whole time, but it's still hard to engage with the story when all the characters in it are about as stimulating as soggy cardboard.

Didn't I see these guys in a Wii Sports game?  Wait, no, I think they're Xbox Live avatars.
This inability to stand out in a crowd despite the game's unique approach was especially disastrous because of the unusually large number of releases in the racing genre during it's launch window.  Two other racing combat games, Blur (from the studio behind Project Gotham Racing) and Split/Second: Velocity both released the same month.  Both these games offered up photo-realistic graphics that contrasted sharply with ModNation's cartoon style.  If that wasn't enough, the series that defines the racing genre more then any other made it's first major release of the generation when Gran Turismo 5 came out later that year.  These games likely drew away most of the die-hard race fans who opt for realism over karting, but who may have otherwise gotten into the ModNation community if there hadn't been so many alternatives.  ModNation couldn't even boast of being the only kart-racer released that year since Sonic & Sega Al-Stars Racing beat it to shelves by a couple months.  Reviews were overwhelmingly positive though the long load times were criticized and some felt the dynamic difficulty balancing was too aggressive, which can be especially punishing when getting hit downgrades or removes your current weapon leaving you helpless to retaliate.  Sales were good enough to justify releasing later versions on handheld systems, but it was obvious that a simultaneous release of multiple games in the same genre in the same week hurt sales for each of those games.  While LBP had sold 3 million copies by its second year (having themselves suffered from a competitive release schedule) ModNation is closing out its 3rd year and sales have petered out around a million behind that benchmark.  


Yes and no.  Even though most gamers let this one pass them by, ModNation Racers found enough success to see continued releases on PSP and PS Vita.  The game is a The PS Vita version even supports limited Cross-Play with the PS3, allowing you to share created content across platforms (but sadly not race head to head).  As for a true sequel to the game, well that's kind of a tricky proposition.  You see, when ModNation Racers came out in 2010 a lot of reviewers described it as LittleBigPlanet meets kart racing.  But then in November 2012 Sony released an actual LBP karting game called, fittingly enough, LittleBigPlanet Karting.  Media Molecule actually shared development of that game with...United Front Gaming.  No, seriously.  

It's not very often that two competing developers collaborate on a game that is directly positioned against each of their own flagship products.  Sure Nintendo and Sega are happy to pair up Mario and Sonic every now and then, but it's usually some bizarre spin-off that ends up demeaning them both.  In this case however, both developers got to do what they do best, with United Front Gaming providing the karting mechanics beneath LBP's unique style.  While it's a great karting game, it doesn't feel like a true follow-up to ModNation because no matter how creative you are, everything you make still has that homemade LittleBigPlanet feel.  Even though ModNation wasn't as interesting up front, it was like a lump of clay that can be molded into something so beautiful you forget what it looked like at the start.  There's still hope for a return since even as LBP Karting was in development United Front Gaming was releasing ModNation Racers: Road Trip for PS Vita. Hopefully they'll wave the green flag on development of a sequel soon, because racing endless variations of characters and karts around millions of original tracks can't stay this fun forever, can it?

Gentlemen, start your copyright infringing
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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Marble Madness

Year: 1984
Developer: Atari Games
Publisher: Atari Games
Platform: Arcade (originally); ported to numerous platforms; currently available on PC, iOS
Metacritic score: Not available
VGChartz sales to date: Unknown

Life is full of simple pleasures and gaming is no exception.  The gaming industry loves to get worked up over big AAA titles and the drive for greater immersion in games, but there's plenty of what we now deem "casual" titles vying for our attention.  There's a tendency to view these games with scorn, citing their simple mechanics or limited depth as evidence that our hobby is being dumbed down to appeal to players lacking the skills to play "hardcore" games.  To those people, I humbly present Marble Madness.  This is a game without story, plot or even any characters and whose gameplay is based on a simplistic board game popular since the 19th century.  With only six levels and no save feature, it's a game designed specifically with casual play in mind and a skilled player can beat it in under 5 minutes.  It's also one of the most challenging video games ever created and is probably responsible for an entire landfill's worth of broken controllers.

You'd think watching your marble shatter from too high a drop would be a warning to treat your controller well, but it only serves to further enrage you
Developed in the wake of the Great Crash of '83, Marble Madness wasn't exactly meant to be Atari's next killer app, but to push their new emphasis on more lucrative specialized controllers and simultaneous two-player gameplay.  Marble Madness fulfilled both these goals by making use of Atari's new trackball device and allowing two players to compete with each other at the same time.  Luckily the head designer was Mark Cerny, lead system architect on the recently revealed PS4, and as a result gamers got a game that was both challenging and addictive in it's brilliantly executed simplistic design.  Players take control of a marble and try to race through a simple isometrically viewed maze before the timer runs out.  You're given 60 seconds to make it through all six levels, but each time you finish a level you get some time added back onto your total.  The levels themselves are 2D polygonal drawings heavily inspired by the work of M.C. Escher to give the illusion of 3D graphics.  The levels are populated with various traps and enemies (and possibly a second player) that can impede your progress or bust your marble, causing a significant time penalty.  Speed is the name of the game here, as a faster finish rewards you with a higher bonus score and more time to take on the remaining levels.  Since you only have a set amount of time to complete the whole game, each level is a nerve-wracking battle between your desire to get there as quickly as possible while patiently navigating the course to avoid costly time penalties.  With a second marble thrown into the mix and a 5 second bonus going to whoever wins each race, two-player mode can ruin a friendship if you succumb to the marble's madness.

Roving pools of acid will dissolve your marble to dust, costing you precious seconds while you regenerate
Despite the humble origins, Marble Madness stands as a notable entry in the history of gaming.  It was one of the first games to use stereo sound and had a composed soundtrack.  It was the first Atari game programmed in C, whereas most games were written directly in assembly up into the 1990's.  It was also one of the first games to use 3D elements convincingly by combining perspective drawings with ray tracing to create levels that gave the illusion of depth and height.  When it first debuted in arcades, Marble Madness generated so much interest that the trackballs would break down from overuse.  Ports were launched on every system imaginable, including the NES version most of us are familiar with that has some of the weirdest credits of any video game.  Milton Bradley (yes, that Milton Bradley) got the license from Atari through their quasi-legal subsidiary Tengen, which is why their name appears in the title credits.  Even though they aren't credited anywhere, the game was actually developed by Rare who would go on to make the similar Snake, Rattle n' Roll for the NES.  Other ports of varying quality were produced for the Apple II, DOS, Sega Mega Drive, Genesis, Windows, Amiga, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Gameboy (and later Gameboy Advance) and many more, most of which were published by Electronic Arts (who currently holds the rights).  While most of these ports were forced to ditch the trackball in favor of the inferior d-pad controls standard to most consoles, they at least gave players a bevy of ways to get their marbles rolling.    

A short but impossibly challenging game is the perfect recipe for arcade success, but in 1984 the arcade scene was in its death throes.  The Atari 2600 signaled the rise of the home console domination of the market, giving the first taste of a future where video games could be enjoyed from the comfort of your own couch.  While most arcade ports to the 2600 were vastly inferior to their arcade counterparts, it was still clear that soon the technology would catch up enough to close the gap.  When the NES arrived Stateside in 1985 that promise would be fulfilled, but in the meantime Atari was still focused on the arcade.  They sold over 4,000 Marble Madness cabinets in the first 6 months while interest peaked and the game became the highest-earning cabinet in most arcades.  But then demand suddenly dropped as gamers grew bored of the limited number of courses.  

Though few in number, the levels got progressively harder by adding more challenging obstacles and increasing the complexity of the mazes
The desire for fresh games may represent one of the earliest impacts of the growing impact of the home market.  Arcade games had traditionally been very short and incredibly hard since they were specifically designed to scam kids out of their quarters.  Donkey Kong was just 4 screens that repeated until it overloaded the memory and glitched out, but it still made over half a billion dollars in it's first two years of release saving Nintendo of America from insolvency.  But by 1984 gamers weren't content playing the same few levels for years on end and the arcade profits dried up.  That same year, Atari was split in two with the gaming division taking over existing rights and software development while the hardware division began producing new consoles.  They released a flurry of consoles and home computers over the next two years, some of which competed against each other but the crown jewel was supposed to be the $1000 Atari ST.  That went about as well as you'd imagine, but it was the only Atari system to get a port of Marble Madness.  Ports on other systems saw better sales but most of those were published by Electronic Arts and developed by outside studios so Atari only would have received a flat licensing fee.

Definitely, but don't expect developers to race the clock in bringing it to market.  Atari released the game on iOS as part of a massive collection in 2011, but shows no interest in a standalone title.  EA was developing a spiritual successor to the game that also included the original levels, but quietly slipped passed it's 2010 release and has been unheard of since which could suggest licensing disputes.  It's too bad, because the trackball controls and gameplay mechanics are a great fit for tablets.  New levels with updated designs would greatly add to the games appeal, you could even incorporate tilt-based controls to give more depth to the mechanics.  But given how many different studios released various ports over the years it wouldn't be much of a surprise if the game turns out to be a legal hornets nest.  

Other versions of the game that have already been released are available on PS2, Xbox, GameCube and PC in the form of the Midway Arcade Treasures collection.  The title is misleading since it actually contains multiple games never published by Midway, including Marble Madness.  And while that port was developed by an outside studio Midway had contracted, it was actually just a compilation of three arcade collections the studio had developed earlier for SNES, Playstation and PC.  At the time Midway owned both Williams and Atari, but since then Atari has been sold and resold multiple times and just last month filed for bankruptcy.  Don't mourn too long, because the brand has already died many deaths and will likely be resurrected once again.  But when Lazarus rises again from his pit, it's unclear if he'll bring Marble Madness with him.  

Choose the right path and you will shave a little time off your run, but choose poorly and you'll be stuck in development hell while lawyers wrangle over your publishing rights.  
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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Jet Set Radio

Year: 2000
Developer: Smilebit
Publisher: Sega
Platform: Dreamcast (originally); now available on Game Boy Advance, PC, PSN, XBLA, Android and iOS
Metacritic score: 94 (original DC version only)
VGChartz sales to date:  Unknown

Some games are are bogged down by their idiosyncrasies, letting their quirkiness and unique kinks distract so much from the actual gameplay that they can be more enjoyable to watch then play.  It's a rare game that can embrace those idiosyncrasies without being overwhelmed by them, and Jet Set Radio is just such a game.  Originally released as Jet Grind Radio in the U.S. because of copyright issues, the game was quick to grab attention from both the press and gamers when it was first revealed.  With it's bright cel-shaded animation, funky soundtrack loaded with catchy beats and fast-paced graffiti tagging gameplay this is a title that definitely stands out from a crowd.  Graffiti tagging is really the soul of the game, but it's focus on constant motion through grinding and pulling off tricks adds a welcome dose of frenzied action to the equation.  Jet Set Radio is in many ways a great game because of it's flaws, not in spite of them.

Developed by Sega's in-house studio Smilebit, JSR wasn't technically the first game to use cel-shading, but it was arguably the first to do it well and it set a standard still felt in games like No More Heroes and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.  At the time there was nothing else that looked quite like it, combining traditional polygons with a style of flat animation that gave the impression of a comic book come alive.  This style perfectly matched the game's focus on graffiti art and made for a natural connection between what your character was doing onscreen and how you experienced it.  Despite the stern warning screen on startup, graffiti tagging isn't seen as a crime but a form of artistic expression which was a fairly radical idea back before anyone heard of Banksy or Sheperd Fairey.  Skating around collecting spray cans and tagging the level doesn't deface it, but adds more color and vibrancy to the area.  Smaller tags can be sprayed while performing tricks, but bigger murals trigger a series of analog stick gestures you need to match.  Screw up and it will cost you extra paint, while getting the rhythm of it right will net bigger scores.  Completing the package is the truly enjoyable soundtrack composed of a fun mix of funk, hip hop, J-pop, rock and jazz elements.  The Tony Hawk series may have given you licensed tunes, but the huge number of in-house tracks found in JSR prove to be far less annoying and repetitive over an extended gaming session.                

This is gonna take a lot of paint
The story takes place in the city of Tokyo-to which for some reason is described as an "unknown Asian country" in the introduction's English translation, despite most of the in-game billboards being in Japanese and advertising prices in Yen.  Within this country that is totally not Japan, young punks called "Rudies" are put down by the fuzz for just wanting to express themselves through skating, graffiti and some really kick-ass tunes.    In Jet Set Radio's version of the world, inline skating is still cool and street gangs mostly limit themselves to acts of vandalism and public disturbance.  Despite the noticeable lack of drive-by shootings and crack dealing, the authorities take the rather extreme response of sending in everything from riot police to attack choppers to try and shut down all the dangerously youthful self-expression going on.  As the founding member of the GG gang, your goal is to grow your gang, defend your turf and spray over tags from rival gangs, all of which is helpfully narrated by Professor K, DJ of the eponymous Jet Set Radio which acts as a sort of gangland Walter Cronkite, not unlike the DJ from the classic film The Warriors.  Also there's some complicated backstory involving a magical record and a greedy businessman trying to take over the world, but I might have been hallucinating that aspect of the game given how little impact it has.

Look I know it must suck for the guy whose car you just tagged, but I think this is a little overkill

The game starts off with you controlling main protagonist Beat as he recruits new members Gum and Tab in a brief tutorial.  Each stage consists of a few square blocks of city streets comprising a variety of landscapes that include surface streets, parks and sewer systems.  Each of the three city sectors have their own feel with your home turf Shibuya-cho being a typical downtown cityscape while Benten-cho is a late night entertainment district and Kogane-cho is a seaside town at sunset.  Playing as any unlocked member of your crew, your goal is to find and tag the designated spots before the timer runs out.  Attempting to thwart your wanton destruction of property is the trigger-happy Captain Onishima and he won't hesitate to call in the big guns for backup as you tag more spots.  There's no way to fight back, but you can outrun them by grinding on rails and other environmental objects and using your speed boost.  The boost has a limited amount of juice, but can be recharged by pulling tricks by jumping while grinding.  If you take too many hits it can end your run early, so keep an eye out for health pick ups that (confusingly) look just like spray cans.  Unlike the paint, these health kits don't respawn so try not to spend too much time eating pavement.  

Make sure you get some distance on the goon squad chasing you before starting a tag, they aren't about to politely wait until you finish

Raise you hand if you owned a Dreamcast?  If the five of you who raised your hands would like to form a support group in the comments please go right ahead.  As we've previously discussed there were a number of factors that conspired to limit sales of the Dreamcast.  That's a damn shame because Sega's swan song was an incredibly fun console that foreshadowed much of today's gaming landscape.  It also means that a lot of gamers missed out on a lot of really great titles that were Dreamcast exclusives, including Jet Set Radio.  Reviews at the time praised the game for it's style and concept, but also raised some criticism over the somewhat wonky physics and the simplistic controls. Reviewers cited both these issues, comparing them unfavorably to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater which debuted the previous year.  This may be why even accounting for the limited install base, JSR didn't sell as well as other hit Dreamcast games.    

While most reviewers didn't let the control issues impact their overall impressions too strongly, this is one area where the game hasn't aged gracefully.  With just one button to perform tricks there's little depth and it can be hard to chain grinds together because of hiccups in transitioning from one object to another.  It's a shame because the level design lends itself naturally to free-flowing and continuous grinding when the controls don't get in the way.  Aside from this shortcoming, my only real gripe with the game is when a passing car hits you and you land on it's hood, forcing you to watch helplessly you're zipped out the level's exit.  Experiencing this again triggered flashbacks of hurled controllers, quite a danger with the Dreamcast especially when they were fully loaded with two VMU's.

You could do some serious damage with one of these bad boys
It's safe to say anyone with a JSR itch can find plenty of ways to scratch it.  When Sega quit the console business for good in 2001 they wisely opted to continue profiting from their existing software lineup even though it meant doing business with their former rivals.  This has been a boon for all those long-distance admirers of JSR because after many long years it's now available on just about every platform out there.  A downsized port came to Game Boy Advance in 2003 but was a far cry from it's namesake.  It wasn't until 2012 that we got a proper HD remake available on PSN, Xbox Live Arcade and Steam along with mobile versions for iOS and Android.  Though still saddled with cumbersome controls (and some bugs reported in the mobile versions) the game has never looked so good.  While some older cartoon-styled games like Sega's own Crazy Taxi look dated, JSR still looks fresh and eye-popping despite being released around the same time.
It's not all happy fun times though, as JSR has been absent from new titles outside of a few cameo appearances in other Sega games.  There was a sequel that came out for Xbox in 2002 but it sold poorly despite good reviews.  Smilebit now exists as Sega Sports Japan and mainly churns out Mario & Sonic Olympic tie-in games.  If we do see another Jet Set game it will need to reinvent its mechanics without harming its unique style.  There have simply been too many good skating games released to ignore the improvements they've made in physics and trick controls.  But Sega has shown a willingness to dip into their catalog before, so maybe if the HD remake does well the series will get another shot.  Surely they can find a better use for Beat and Gum then just mash-up sports games, right?      

Er...right.  Moving on then...
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Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Year: 2001
Developer: Bungie (PC & Mac); Rockstar Toronto (PS2)
Publisher: Take Two Interactive
Platform: PC, Mac OS X, PS2
Metacritic score: 71 (cross-platform avg)
VGChartz sales to date: PS2: 530,000; PC/Mac sales unavailable

Genre's get spoken of a lot when talking about video games. It's human nature to want to classify and categorize things, boiling them down to their "essence" so that we can simplify the process of thinking about them in relation to the stuff already in our heads.  A genre helps us determine what other games might be similar letting us decide whether it's something we'll enjoy or helping us to figure out the game's mechanics.  But the dark side of genre's is that it makes it all to easy to fall into a groove, checking off those main features gamers expect and then calling it a day.  Rarely are developers and publishers willing to stray too far from a genre's formula, not only out of fear of alienating consumers but also because combining different forms of gameplay is often beyond the abilities of whichever engine the game is being built on.  But when they are willing to go out on a limb, developers have a shot at radically shaking up the status quo and even creating an entirely new genre much as David Jaffe accomplished when Twisted Metal ignited the car combat genre.

All those in favor of whooping a little ass today, show of hands please?  Any opposed?  Yeah that's what I thought.
Oni jumps head first into these uncharted and treacherous waters by combining a 3rd-person shooter with a brawler.  The game's style, themes and story are all heavily influenced by anime, particularly the excellent Ghost in the Shell series.  You play as Technological Crimes Task Force agent Konoko, an elite member of the World Coalition Government's police force.  Ostensibly the TCTF is tasked with confronting the Syndicate, a global network of united criminal organizations that is constantly challenging the WCG for control and power within this near-future dystopia.  But in truth the WCG has also been using their police to suppress any opposition to their authority, criminal or otherwise, and Konoko begins to suspect there's a lot her employers are hiding from her, including her own past.  Uncovering that truth will mean placing herself at odds with both the Syndicate and the government, but fortunately Konoko is well equipped to deal with any threat.

Sunglasses and leather coats, of course, are included in that list of equipment.
Konoko is a bundle of graceful lethality.  She can effortlessly switch between laying down a stream of lead from an SMG to suddenly face-kicking three dudes at once.  It's that fluid shift between hand-to-hand combat and gunplay that makes Oni so unique and so fun to play.  You'd think that having access to a range of firearms including handguns, SMG's, assault rifles and even heavy duty weapons like rocket launchers or energy rifles would obviate the need to let your fists do the talking.  But Oni does a good job of balancing the power and ammunition available to make a guns-blazing approach more challenging then you'd assume.  In addition, you'll usually be dealing with groups of multiple enemies who will use their own firepower to give cover while melee units close around on all sides.  Since being hit disrupts your firing it's most effective to use your arsenal to close distance and then relying on Konoko's considerable martial arts skills to finish the job.  While at first she's limited to a few basic strikes, as you level up Konoko will be able to unleash a visually exciting dance of punches, kicks, throws and leaps to string together powerful combos.  You'll need to learn these tricks and make the most of them since there are multiple classes of enemies each with their own melee style.

Only two enemies this time?  That's perfect, one face for each foot.
Re-playing Oni after all these years reveals how surprisingly fresh the gameplay remains, but also shines a light on some aspects that were clearly unfinished and rushed. At the time Bungie was known as one of the best of the small contingent of Mac developers having found major success with the Marathon and Myth series. Oni was one of two games the studio was working on, but when that other game was publicly unveiled during the keynote address at the 1999 Macworld Expo, the studio's fate would take a drastic and monumental shift.  That other game was Halo: Combat Evolved and Microsoft liked the reveal so much they immediately bought Bungie out from under Apple's nose, famously triggering Steve Jobs' epic wrath.  But for Bungie, the buyout meant they had to hand off ongoing work on Oni to another studio while they turned their focus entirely towards creating gaming's next blockbuster franchise.

Take Two stepped in and took control by handing development off to Rockstar Toronto, but was wise enough to keep most of the existing staff as Bungie's West coast office in place.  But it's likely that this transition is the reason why the game feels a bit unpolished.  Maybe the project lost some key staff, or perhaps they were trying to rush the game to shelves before Bungie released Halo during the Xbox launch a few months later.  It's also possible Take Two didn't want to devote too many resources to a project that wasn't theirs from the start.  Whatever the cause, Oni's overall quality suffered in the end.  Parts of the game that had been previously teased, such as LAN-based multiplayer, were absent from the finished product.  More troubling, the levels had a distinct feeling of sparsity and emptiness since most interior spaces were devoid of any interactive elements or even scenery clutter.  Anyone willing to look past the rough edges was treated to an incredibly original game whose flowing combat promises a more polished game hiding below.

Knocked flat on her back, surrounded by enemies, some of them pointing guns at her.  She's got 'em right where she wants 'em.

I wouldn't count this one out just yet, but it's not looking too good.  When Microsoft bought Bungie, Take Two took over the remainder of development along with publishing in exchange for rights to the property.  Since then Take Two hasn't done anything with the game since it was originally published, aside from a blurb for the game on their website.  At the very least you'd think it would get a re-release on Steam, especially since it would add to their growing library of games able to run on both PC and Mac.  In any event, it's fairly easy to find a used copy online and finding a download of the superior PC version should also come naturally to anyone reading this site.

Even if Take Two has forgotten they own this property, there's still hope it will again see the light of day.  Bungie split off from Microsoft back in 2007 and in 2010 announced a 10-year partnership with monolithic publisher Activision Blizzard.  Unlike some other developer contracts with Activision, Bungie secured a deal in which they retain ownership of any IP they develop during the contract period.  Bungie has been pretty tight-lipped so far about what's in store, with only a few murmurs hinting at a sci-fi themed MMO likely headed for the next Xbox console.  It's doubtful they'd buy back the rights to Oni just to turn it into an MMO, but it would make sense for them to reclaim that property now while they can maintain ownership and control over it.  But then again you never know, introducing a fluent blend of shooting and martial arts into the MMO genre could certainly bring a little spice to it, and Bungie has proven they're willing to take risks with an established formula.      

Any formula that includes a jump kick to the back of the head is a winner in my book

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