Ico Review

*Review based on the PS3 release as part of the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus Collection*

Ico

Released nearly a decade and a half ago, Ico quietly became one of the most influential video games of the new millennium. There have been few games that have borrowed its gameplay, but its narrative, characters, world and tone raised the “video games as art” concept to new heights. It in turn inspired many of the artsy, minimalistic games we see today, particularly on the Indie scene. Though a good deal of the games it inspired have been more pretentious than artful, Ico remains one of the finer works of art in the medium, even if some of its mechanics are showing their age.

Ico is set in a strange, mythical world. A young boy – the titular Ico – was born with horns on his head. This is considered a dark omen by the people of his village, and so a group of warriors takes Ico to a mostly-abandoned castle, where he is locked away as a kind of sacrifice for the Queen that resides there.

Luckily for Ico, a tremor causes his chamber to collapse, setting him free. Shortly thereafter, he meets a girl named Yorda, who is also a prisoner of the castle, but for much different reasons. The two then set out together to escape the castle, its Queen, and the shadowy creatures that lurk within the castle’s walls.

The story isn’t all that complex, and the characters lack the moral ambiguity of its spiritual sequel, Shadow of the Colossus. But the experience ends up being far more than what the simple plot might suggest due to the beauty and subtlety it weaves into its world and narrative.

IcoAll the characters in the game speak fictional languages. But Ico and Yorda speak in different languages from one another (Ico’s subtitles are presented in English, while Yorda’s are made up of strange symbols). Their relationship is not one of stereotypical romance, but one built around friendship and empathy. Despite the characters’ inability to understand one another, their relationship is unique and treated delicately, making it one of the most earnest relationships in gaming.

As righteous and innocent as Ico and Yorda are, the Queen is equally sinister. It’s a classic good vs. evil story, one that creates one of gaming’s few real fairy tales.

The game itself is built around Ico and Yorda’s relationship. Though that means the game is largely a giant escort mission, it succeeds where many other such games fail due to the game’s minimalistic nature. It never bombards players with danger, and it focuses more on puzzle-solving and exploration than it does on stressful situations.

The game can be compared to Yoshi’s Island in that the player can only lose by two means: either falling from a great height (the only way Ico can actually die), or if Yorda is taken by the shadows. Though even if Yorda is taken, the game gives the player a fair amount of time to rescue her, relieving what might otherwise have been a frustrating element.

Ico is notable for lacking any in-game HUD. There is no health bar, nor do you have any inventory to keep track of. It really is just Ico, Yorda, and whatever weapon or item Ico is currently holding in his hands. It’s a unique change in presentation that still feels fresh today. Though the game may have benefitted from including a few button cues here and there (you may not realize that you can swing from chains until the moment comes when you need to, and even then there’s nothing that tells you to hold the “O” button in order to do so).

The shadows are the only enemies in the game outside of the final encounter with the Queen. They appear through shadowy portals on the ground, and usually come in packs. Some of the shadows are smaller, while others are bigger and can fly.

Admittedly, the combat is one of the game’s weaker elements. Ico fends off the shadows by picking up either a stick or a sword and swinging away. The combat amounts to little more than repeatedly hitting the attack button, which quickly begins to feel monotonous. The larger shadows, in particular, take a long time to kill, which just makes the action segments feel overly long. Combat can be made quicker by finding the game’s secret weapon (on a first playthrough, it’s a mace reminiscent of Sauron’s from Fellowship of the Ring, while in New Game Plus it’s replaced with something more akin to a lightsaber), but they still require the same button-mashing. Thankfully, many of the encounters with the shadows can be skipped over, but when action becomes necessary, you may find there’s not much to it.

The other gameplay mechanics include the ability to jump, grabbing on ledges, and climbing. In the times when Ico and Yorda need to separate, you can call Yorda back by tapping the R-1 button, while holding that same button when close to Yorda causes the characters to hold hands which, on top of being incredibly sweet, is necessary for much of the game.

There really isn’t much more to the core gameplay than that. It may seem a bit empty, and to a degree it kind of is, but gameplay depth is added to the experience through the game’s sense of exploration and puzzle-solving.

You may spend a good few minutes in any chamber of the castle before it becomes apparent what you need to do to progress. They aren’t puzzles in the traditional video game sense, but puzzles that ask the player to inspect every inch of the castle to look for a ledge or rope or ladder or anything that can help you find a way for Ico and Yorda to move on. It’s actually a very linear experience, but the presentation is so unique, and so full of eureka moments, that you probably won’t care.

Sadly, the game does have some mechanics that are succumbing to age. Besides the aforementioned combat, some of the controls can feel a little clunky, with Ico’s jumps in particular often feeling inaccurate. The camera, while not terrible, could have used some more polish, as it’s usually fixed at a certain angle in any given scenario, and whatever camera view the player can change is overly sensitive. And Yorda’s AI, while mostly reliable, has some frustrating moments. You will probably find it hard to imagine anyone could climb a ladder slower than she does, and she’ll often change her direction midway up (or down) a ladder for no reason. Similarly, sometimes when you call to her she’ll refuse to move or jump where needed, even when you’re calling her to the exact spot she needs to be.

In terms of aesthetics, the game still looks pleasing to the eyes (even if it is obvious it was an early PS2 title). The graphics may not wow players like they may have at one time, but the jump to HD in the PS3 version hasn’t damaged them. The art direction is wonderfully unique, and though the music is rarely present, it adds all the more beauty and atmosphere to the adventure.

Some may lament that Ico is pretty short, as it can be completed in only a few hours. But the short length works in favor of the storytelling. So many narratively-driven games also feel the need to provide a lengthy adventure, but only end up adding layers and layers of padding to the story, effectively drowning the narrative. Ico presents only what it needs to tell its story. And because of the short length, it feels like a complete story. You can unlock some new features in New Game Plus (along with the aforementioned lightsaber, you can also give Yorda English subtitles, and tweak the ending ever-so slightly). Though because the secrets adhere to the minimalistic nature of the game, only those who are truly captivated by Ico’s adventure will want to replay it to add the minor changes to the experience.

IcoIn a lot of ways, Ico remains one of gaming’s finest artistic achievements. It effectively creates a modern day fairy tale with complete and utter sincerity, and manages to tell a compelling narrative by doing very little. It succeeds with subtlety in a way that few games could hope to achieve (the castle itself becomes one of the great locations in gaming due to the atmosphere it exudes). But Ico is a bit less consistent as a game. It’s an enjoyable experience, but time has exposed a number of mechanics for their lack of polish. Yes, the puzzles are great, and the sense of exploration gives it depth, but you may find that controlling Ico himself is far from ideal.

This has become all the more apparent as its spiritual successor/prequel, Shadow of the Colossus, has an even greater sense of narrative artistry, while also providing a more complete game. With that said, Ico remains something that’s increasingly rare in the world of video games: a unique experience.

Shadow of the Colossus may have fulfilled the vision, but if Ico is a prototype, you probably couldn’t ask for a more beautiful one.

 

7

The Misadventures of Tron Bonne Review

The Misadventures of Tron Bonne

There are few entries in the Mega Man franchise as obscure as The Misadventures of Tron Bonne. Mega Man Legends is something of a cult classic, but it was never exactly as popular as the original series or Mega Man X. A spinoff of Mega Man Legends starring the game’s antagonists released mere months before Mega Man Legends 2 with very little fanfare was therefore never going to be a very big hit. That’s unfortunate, because there are also few entries in the Mega Man franchise as fun or original as The Misadventures of Tron Bonne.

The Bonne Family is a band of pirates that includes not only Tron, but her older brother Teisel (the leader of the gang), her younger brother Bon, and Tron’s forty Servbot henchmen. While the Bonnes played the role of comical antagonists in Mega Man Legends, here they’re depicted as more sympathetic anti-heroes.

The Misadventures of Tron BonneAs the title suggests, Tron is the star of the game. The Bonnes have recently finished construction on their new airship, the Gesellschaft. Unbeknownst to the rest of the Bonnes, Teisel financed the Gesellschaft’s construction with the aide of a loan shark named Lex Loath. Teisel owes a debt of one million Zenny to Loath, but before he and Bon can nab a treasure that will pay off his debt, they are kidnapped by Loath’s right hand man, Glyde.

Tron and the Servbots then make it their mission to collect the one million Zenny to pay back the debt and rescue Tron’s brothers. It’s a fun, simple story that really shines thanks to how entertaining the characters’ personalities are.

What really makes The Misadventures of Tron Bonne stand out, however, is the gameplay. The game uses a similar setup to Mega Mans 7 and 8, with a quick introductory stage leading into selectable stages (four to start with, with two additional levels unlocked later). These stages take on three different gameplay styles.

Misadventures of Tron BonneThe first style sees Tron piloting her mecha suit, the Gustaff, in action-based stages. She is accompanied by six Servbots of the player’s choosing, with a seventh Servbot serving as a “sniper” to help power up the Gustaff’s weaponry. These stages play similarly to Mega Man Legends, as Tron navigates 3D environments and destroys everything in sight to collect Zenny.

Puzzle stages see Tron piloting a weaponless version of the Gustaff, where she must lift giant crates from a grid-like dock and place them onto a ship. These stages can be real head-scratchers, as the Gustaff can only move a certain amount of spaces on the grid when carrying crates.

Finally, the RPG stage is played in a first-person perspective, as Tron remotely controls a small robot and commands three Servbots as they navigate caverns, talk to local Diggers, fight enemies, disarm traps and collect treasure.

Every level in the game has three missions, with one of the game’s drawbacks being that completed missions can’t be replayed in the same playthrough, with the exception of one of the action stages that sees Tron making return visits to ancient ruins with Metroid-esque exploration (this stage doesn’t have multiple missions as it requires players to progress incrementally).

The three play styles of stages are all fun and give the game a unique sense of variety as it meshes genres together. But it doesn’t end with the levels. In between your missions you get to spend some time on the Gesellschaft, and this is where things get even more interesting.

Aboard the Gesellschaft, Tron can not only communicate with all forty Servbots within the ship’s various chambers, but talking to each one of them unlocks new features within the game. Most of them have a special skill, whether it’s combat related (like grenades or slingshots) or focused on improving the Gustaff. Some Servbots have unique skills, with one simply painting the Gustaff different colors while another changes the background music in the Gesellschaft, to name a couple of examples.The Misadventures of Tron Bonne

These skills are unlocked in various ways. You can find special items on missions or from talking to certain Servbots, and giving these items to other Servbots will unlock their abilities. Others will need to have their stats trained to a certain point in order to realize their skill (strength and speed are improved in mini-games aboard the Gesellschaft, while a Servbot’s “brain” stats go up when they go on missions with the player).

The Gustaff can also gradually be upgraded with new armor and even a couple of weapons by finding materials within the game’s stages and finding the right Servbot for the job. New areas of the Gesellschaft are also unlocked as you progress through the game or when certain requirements are meant, and you can send up to three Servbots at a time to go on scouting missions, where they can retrieve more items. You even have the option to select a favorite Servbot, which has an impact on the game’s finale.

The interaction between Tron and the Servbots, as well as leveling them all up (which is optional) adds a whole new layer to an already versatile game. By the end of it all, Tron and a team of fully-trained Servbots can feel next to unstoppable.

Being a PSOne title, the graphics have understandably aged a bit, but the anime-inspired character designs and colors prevent it from looking too much like a relic. One way in which the game has benefitted with age is that the dialogue between characters is displayed through animated character windows. At the time, it was probably a sign of the game’s relatively small production values, but the character windows are certainly more fun to look at than most of gaming’s cinematics from that generation.

The music is another highlight. Although it’s never been acknowledged as an all-time great, I’ll happily say that the soundtrack to The Misadventures of Tron Bonne was one of the finest in the Playstation’s library. It’s certainly one of the most energetic and fun.

The icing on the cake are the characters. The voice acting is appropriately animated and lively (Teisel is particularly hilarious just to listen to), and each character has a great deal of personality, from rambunctious Tron herself to snidely Lex Loath. Even the minor characters you run across add to the game’s sense of humor and overall character. Few games are swimming in so much personality.

The Misadventures of Tron BonneI hate to admit it, but The Misadventures of Tron Bonne does have some drawbacks. The inability to replay missions is a bit disappointing, especially once you’ve built up the Gustaff and your Servbots, as you may feel you don’t have enough chances to show off what you’ve worked for. The aforementioned mini-games used to boost a Servbot’s stats, while fun, are ridiculously hard in their highest difficulty. That might not seem too bad at first, since the mini-games are just fine in lower difficulty settings. But if you want to max out a Servbot, you’ll need to play the highest difficulty, and it can get frustrating (the speed-based mini-game in particular requires almost pitch-perfect execution in order to succeed).

Then of course, there’s the camera, which can become bothersome at times. The RPG stage, though a personal favorite, is especially affected by the aged camerawork due to its cramped spaces, tight corridors, and first-person view.

When all is said and done though, the good far more than outweighs the bad. The Misadventures of Tron Bonne is simply a delight to play. Even today, I can’t say I’ve played too many games that feel as unique in their execution. It’s a wonderful clash of genres that tie together in a way that’s all its own. And it’s brought to life by a consistently entertaining cast of characters, a fun plot, and a sharp sense of humor.

You’d have to be Lex Loath himself to not get a kick out of it.

 

8

Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! Review

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage!

Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! was Insomniac’s second entry in their Spyro the Dragon series, and continued the Sony Playstation’s unique brand of platforming heroes during the late 90s. It’s sister series, Crash Bandicoot, struck gold with its second entry, and in many ways, Spyro did just the same for his second outing: It was bigger, more varied, and had more polish. But while Crash Bandicoot 2 has only minimally been affected by age, some of Spyro 2’s elements have suffered a bit more with time, thus holding back an otherwise solid platformer.

This second Spyro adventure features similar gameplay to the first title: Spyro still runs, jumps, headbutts, glydes and breathes fire at enemies. His sidekick Sparx the dragonfly still serves as Spyro’s health meter and grabs nearby gems. But there have been some changes and additions to the formula as well.

While Spyro still has to collect gems, he no longer needs to rescue his fellow dragons (a fairy now serves as a checkpoint, and saving can now be done any time via the pause menu). In their place are Talismans and Orbs. Each level contains one Talisman, acquired simply by reaching a certain goal, and are needed to progress in the adventure. The Orbs are optional, and anywhere between two and four of them can be found in a stage or world.

Defeating enemies no longer gives Spyro additional gems. Instead, each level contains a special power-up gate (super jump, super fire breathe, etc.) that requires a certain number of enemies to be defeated before its granted power-up becomes available.

Throughout the course of the game, Spyro can learn how to swim and climb, and even gains a new headbash attack. But it isn’t just new abilities that separate Ripto’s Rage! from its predecessor, as there’s a stronger sense of variety to be found in the gameplay and levels.

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage!At first, Spyro 2 may seem smaller than the original, with only three hub worlds compared to the first game’s six. But these three are all much bigger, and house more levels within them. Each level presents a different theme, and along with the usual likes of water and forests, some levels introduce more unique themes like the Himalayas (complete with monks and a yeti) or a level built around mad scientists. Although the ultimate goal of each stage is more or less to get to the end and nab the Talisman, each level puts a nice little spin on the premise with different challenges and stories, with each stage beginning and ending with a short cutscene that provides some simple humor and personality.

Additional gameplay variety is provided through mini-games. Most stages feature a good mini-game or two to change the pace from the item collecting. The majority of the mini-games are good fun, but others can be a bit clunky, leaving things feeling a bit inconsistent. There are some particularly annoying instances where not all of the mechanics of a mini-game are explained beforehand. An early stage features a hockey mini-game where Spyro has to keep the puck in his mouth and spit it into the enemy’s goal. In my first few tries I kept trying to headbutt or breathe fire to move the puck, since nothing informed me otherwise. If a mini-game deviates from the overall game’s usual mechanics, it’s nice to be informed of such.

However, the mini-games – and the other methods of acquiring the orbs – ultimately make the game feel more versatile and less repetitious than its predecessor. Even with the lesser mini-games in tow, their addition is more welcome than cumbersome.

Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! features a more prominent story and use of cutscenes than the first game, and although they end up being a tad excessive, this game’s writing and voice acting are a big improvement over the first Spyro (Tom Kenny now voices the titular dragon and a few other characters), so it’s far from bad.

Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage!The story is simply that Spyro is in need of a vacation, but upon entering the portal to his desired vacation spot, he is instead transported to another world called Avalar. It turns out, a scientist of Avalar, simply called “The Professor,” as well as a faun named Elora and a cheetah named Hunter, have created a portal to other worlds, and accidentally brought the Napoleon-esque dictator Ripto into Avalar. Ripto and his cohorts have taken over the joint, but Ripto has a fear and hatred of dragons, so Elora had the idea to bring Spyro to Avalar to defeat Ripto and his goons. It’s a simple, cartoonish plot, but it works for what it is.

In what seems to be the usual case for these early 3D platformers, the camera can be more than a little unreliable. It hasn’t really been improved from the first game, and when swimming or flying, it can even feel more clunky than before. It’s never game-breaking, but it does feel more noticeable in this second game. The swimming mechanics themselves, while a logical addition to gameplay, also feel a little dated when playing today.

Aside from the camera and some of the new mini-games and mechanics, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! is a solid improvement over its predecessor: The core gameplay remains smooth and the collecting is less monotonous. The worlds are bigger and the stages more varied. The graphics are cleaner and more colorful, and the music has also been upped a notch. The characters are cute and the boss fights, while few in number, are fun.

It might not hold up quite as well as Crash Bandicoot’s second performance, but Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage is further proof that the Playstation’s platforming heroes only got better with subsequent entries.

 

7

Spyro the Dragon Review

Spyro the Dragon

The early years of the Playstation saw the rise of many new faces in gaming, as Sony was building its brand to compete with the established franchises of Nintendo and Sega. In a robust library that saw the introductions of series like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider, the Playstation also had its share of more colorful characters that were more akin to those of its competitors. Crash Bandicoot was the unofficial mascot of the Playstation, but he opened the door for another platforming series to make its debut, Spyro the Dragon, by Insomniac Games.

Much like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro’s original studio produced a trilogy of platformers on Sony’s trailblazing home console. And while the first entry in the series is understandably the roughest, it still provides some good fun.

Spyro the Dragon was a more open-world platformer than Crash, with Spyro’s worlds being a little closer to Super Mario 64’s wide, open stages. Though in a fun twist, the worlds are their own little hubs that have a few smaller stages of their own sprinkled throughout.

Spyro’s moveset not only includes running and jumping, but he can also glide, roll, ram enemies with his horns, and breathe small bursts of fire. He’s a fun character to control, though like many early 3D platformers, the camera can become a bit tricky to maneuver.

The story is that a villainous monster called Gnasty Gnork has cast a spell on the dragons and trapped them in crystals (Spyro was so small the spell went right over him), and has used his magic to turn the dragons’ prized gems into his soldiers. It’s up to Spyro to save his fellow dragons and reclaim the treasure.

I admire the simplicity of the plot, though the opening cinematic’s presentation of having a dragon being interviewed by a news crew (with visible boom mic) before the spell hits seems a bit too jokey, and doesn’t mesh with the rest of the game.

The goal of each stage is to collect every gem (found scattered throughout a stage or by defeating enemies), freeing dragons from their crystalized state (Spyro simply has to touch them, and they then become save points), and finding the more secretive dragon eggs, which have been stolen by thieves. You don’t always have to empty a level of all its collectibles and dragons in order to progress, but completionists will have a hefty task with tracking everything down.

In a fun twist, progressing to the next world is not simply about defeating a boss, but Spyro can move on via hot air balloon depending on how many gems he’s acquired or how many dragons he’s saved.

Spyro the DragonSpyro is joined on his adventure by Sparx the dragonfly, who not only grabs nearby gems, but also serves as Spyro’s health meter. Sparx can take three hits before Spyro is left by his vulnerable self. In another fun twist, replenishing health is accomplished by having Sparx eat butterflies.

The game may look dated, but it’s colorful enough to look at. The music isn’t entirely memorable, but it’s far from bad. The voice acting is fun, but Spyro’s dialogue can be a bit one note if you’re used to more varied gaming scripts.

If there’s any real drawback to Spyro the Dragon it’s simply that, today, it feels like the rough concept that would be polished with Insomniac’s follow-ups. The core gameplay is fun enough, but it doesn’t exactly boast a whole lot of variety, and at times collecting everything feels a bit monotonous. It feels like the very base of Insomniac’s concept, with the sequels adding the depth.

Spyro the Dragon remains a solidly entertaining platformer in its own right, it’s just that in retrospect, it’s easy to see how the sequels improved on it in both variety and quality. Still, if you’re wanting to revisit some of the Playstation’s early gems, or want to introduce young audiences to some retro gaming, Spyro remains a good starting point.

 

6

Crash Bandicoot: Warped Review

Crash Bandicoot: Warped

When it comes to discussing the best entry of any beloved video game series, you’ll usually find a range of answers. Very rarely does a series have an entry that’s almost unanimously hailed as the best. Crash Bandicoot: Warped is one of those few, as it is consistently cited as the best Crash Bandicoot game. It’s with good reason. Crash Bandicoot: Warped is the best Crash Bandicoot game.

Threequels can go either way in the video game world. They’re either the point in a series where the ideas have seemingly wrung dry, and the game just seems to go through the motions, or they’re the point where creators really prove their mettle by continuously improving their craft.

Crash Bandicoot: Warped falls under the latter category of course. Taking most of its immediate predecessor’s best assets, Warped added a number of fun ideas of its own into the mix, producing the culmination of Naughty Dog’s vision for the Crash Bandicoot series.

The game uses a similar setup to Cortex Strikes Back, with the “Warp Room” concept now being expanded to one larger room leading to five smaller chambers, with each housing five levels and a boss.

Crash Bandicoot: WarpedCrash retains all of his moves from Cortex Strikes Back, but this time around he also gains new abilities after defeating the game’s bosses. The new moves include a double jump, a super spin (which also allows Crash to glide), and even a bazooka!

Levels are still played in a 2.5D perspective, with the quality of level design equalling and surpassing that of Crash 2. But Warped doesn’t just settle for matching its predecessor, and new types of stages are also introduced in addition to the platforming stages. Crash Bandicoot, as well as his sister Coco, now partake in motorcycle races, jetski obstacles courses, and aerial dogfights, among other new concepts. Admittedly, the number of these vehicle stages comes at the price of less platforming stages than its predecessor, but Warped’s variety is consistently impressive.

As was the case with the second game, a crystal must be collected on every level to progress further, with each stage also housing one or two secret gems (one gem for breaking every crate in a level, with the potential second gem usually being tucked away in a secret area).

Warped ups the ante for completionists however. In addition to the returning crystals and gems, Crash and Coco now have the option to collect relics. Players can return to any completed stages to partake in that level’s time trial mode. Complete a level fast enough, and Crash is rewarded with a relic. Only the third-tier “sapphire” relics are needed to unlock secret stages, but for those seeking the game’s greatest challenge, you can always go for the gold and platinum relics.

Crash Bandicoot: Warped’s levels aren’t quite as difficult as those in Cortex Strikes Back on their own, but getting every gem is as challenging as anything in its predecessor, and completing the time trials is a whole other beast entirely. This makes Warped the most “all audiences” Crash title, as less experienced players will have a decent challenge just getting through the game, while diehards have a hefty task waiting for them with the gems and relics.

The story this time around is that, after his defeat in Crash Bandicoot 2, Dr. Cortex and his space station crash down to Earth, accidentally freeing an evil voodoo mask named Uka Uka in the process. Two notable retcons take place here: The first is that Uka Uka was apparently the mastermind behind Cortex’s previous evil schemes, and the second is that Uka Uka is the evil brother of Aku Aku, the voodoo mask who was previously just a power-up in the past games, but is now a full-fledged character.

Crash Bandicoot: WarpedUka Uka is angered with Cortex’s failings in the past, and once again seeks the power of the crystals and gems to take over the world. But after the events of Crash Bandicoot 2, the crystals and gems have lost their power. So Uka Uka recruits fellow villain Dr. N. Tropy – who dabbles in time travel – to aide them in claiming the crystals and gems in the distant past, where they still have full power. Aku Aku then sends Crash and Coco through time in order to stop his brother, Cortex and N. Tropy’s plot.

While the time travel setup may sound like a gimmick, it actually helps the game stand out from its predecessors all the more. While Crash 1 and 2’s levels stuck closely with themes of water, snow, and the like, Warped instead has stages based on ancient Egypt, medieval times, an under construction Great Wall of China and, of course, dinosaurs.

In an interesting twist, none of the game’s world’s adhere to a singular theme, and the gimmicks are instead thrown about almost randomly. You’ll go from one backdrop to another and back again. In lesser hands this may just seem inconsistent, but here it works in Naughty Dog’s favor, as the sporadic nature of the level’s themes seems to reflect the game’s energy and sense of humor.

The overall sense of control feels more finely-tuned than in the past games, with Crash’s movements feeling more fluid than before. The visuals, while admittedly aged, also look more polished, with the animations being more vibrant than ever. Similarly, the music has taken another leap forward, with Warped having the best soundtrack of Naughty Dog’s trilogy of platformers. Even loading screens are made fun by the presence of various characters speaking to the player as the levels load up, giving you brief glimpses into their entertaining personalities.

As entertaining as Crash Bandicoot: Warped still is, however, the tricky perspectives of its predecessors are still present, and they have only become more noticeable with age. The game’s fixed perspectives still lead to confusion as to the placement of some objects and enemies, leading to some accidental deaths. And while the game’s bosses are a step up from the past two games, the final boss is once again a bit of a letdown (Uka Uka’s presence in the final battle is little more than an obstacle that needs to be jumped over).

Admittedly, some of Warped’s new ideas also fall short of their potential: Coco Bandicoot is introduced as a playable character, but all of her stages involve either riding in vehicles or on the back of a tiger, so she ends up feeling like a missed opportunity at some variety in the platforming gameplay. The aforementioned motorcycle stages, while a nice change of pace, are a bit basic and lack much distinction between one another.

Crash Bandicoot: WarpedWhen all is said and done though, Crash Bandicoot: Warped remains one of the original Playstation’s highlights. Crash Bandicoot started his gaming career as a bit of a manufactured gaming mascot, but with Crash Bandicoot 2 and, ultimately, this title, Crash became a genuine video game star.

It is a little bit of a bittersweet affair. Crash Bandicoot: Warped marked the last time Naughty Dog made a platformer starring the titular character before he got passed around to various other developers like a hot potato, never again reaching the heights of Warped.

Naughty Dog has gone on to make Jak & Daxter, Uncharted, and The Last of Us to immense acclaim, but many still hope that somehow the developer finds their way back to Crash Bandicoot one day. Playing Crash Bandicoot: Warped is still a blast even today, but it’s also a bittersweet reminder of the fruitful future for Crash Bandicoot that could have been.

 

8

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back Review

Crash Bandicoot 2

What a difference one sequel can make. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back was not only better than its predecessor back in its day, but the years have only magnified what an improvement it really was. The original Crash Bandicoot has its place in history, but many of its aspects now feel archaic. Crash Bandicoot 2 now feels closer to the proper realization of what Naughty Dog was trying to achieve when they created the Playstation’s original mascot.

Crash Bandicoot 2 takes the assets of the first game, and polishes them while also giving the formula more depth.

The core gameplay remains the same: Crash still jumps and spins his way through levels, which are presented in 2.5D. But Crash has some new moves this time around. He can now crouch, crawl, and slide. Jumping while crouching or sliding gives Crash a higher and longer jump, respectively. And Crash also gets his own equivalent of Mario’s stomp attack, but in keeping with the Bandicoot’s sense of humor, Crash falls flat on his face, in contrast to Mario’s fancier acrobatics.

Other then the new moves, a lot of the game is more of a refinement than a reinvention of the series. The graphics are more polished and colorful, the music is a lot more memorable and catchy, and the level design is more creative, with an added dose of story to compliment it.

Crash Bandicoot 2The plot is appropriately simple, but surprisingly thought out for a platformer that relishes in cartoonish silliness: After his defeat in the first game, the evil Dr. Neo Cortex stumbled across a magic crystal, and learned it held immense power. With his armies defeated and his former assistant Dr. N. Brio – tired of Cortex’s abuse – turning a new leaf, Cortex’s only ally is the cyborg-like Dr. N. Gin. Needing someone to help find the remaining crystals to complete a super weapon (mad scientists aren’t made for that kind of work), Cortex manipulates a gullible Crash Bandicoot into believing he’s seen the error of his ways, and convinces Crash to gather the crystals as a means to save the planet.

Meanwhile, Dr. N. Brio, trying to stop Cortex’s evil plot, also seeks Crash’s help in gathering magic gems which can help him defeat his former employer. But Cortex is a bit more convincing, so N. Brio sends his remaining forces to stop Crash, should he continue to aid Cortex (which explains the enemies and bosses standing in the player’s way).

The story continues throughout the game via holographic messages from the mad doctors (and Crash’s sister, Coco) in the game’s hub world. It’s a setup that really works in the game’s favor, and this is a good instance of the plot intertwining with gameplay, instead of being an excuse for it.

Crash Bandicoot 2’s levels all house one crystal – usually found towards the end of a stage and in the open – which are required to progress further in the game, and one or two gems, which are optional and sometimes well hidden.

Crash Bandicoot 2Every level has one gem that is acquired by breaking every crate found in the stage, similar to the first game. Mercifully, having to survive the entirety of a level is no longer an additional requirement. The other gems are found by other means (usually via bonus areas or performing special actions in particular levels), and sometimes involve backtracking and return visits.

The game’s later levels can get decently difficult, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble if you only wish to blast through the game and nab the crystals. But obtaining every gem is a task for those seeking a real challenge. There are a few gems where the tasks required to get them can feel convoluted or tedious, leading to some frustrating moments, but most are a fair challenge.

Another very important aspect that Crash 2 improves on its predecessor is saving. The original Crash Bandicoot’s save feature was more than a little bit of a mess, requiring players to collect tokens to play bonus stages to win the opportunity to save. Cortex Strikes Back instead includes a basic save feature in the game’s hub world, and all Crash has to do is walk up to a wall to save in between levels. Compared to its predecessor, it’s a godsend.

Crash Bandicoot 2Crash Bandicoot 2 also tweaks the level progression, with each stage accessed through the innovative “Warp Rooms.” Warp Rooms are condensed spaces that each grant Crash access to five levels apiece, which gives the game a more unique setup than the original’s more generic world map.

There are a few drawbacks to Crash’s otherwise stellar sequel, however. Along with some of the gems feeling like a chore to obtain, the game retains some of its predecessor’s tricky perspectives, with some areas becoming more difficult because you can’t make out the distance between objects. Boss fights are still nothing to boast about, with the final boss in particular being a big letdown.

All things considered, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back remains a textbook example of how to do a proper sequel. It learned from its predecessor’s mistakes and not only touched them up, but also created a heftier and more varied gaming experience of its own. Time may not have been kind to the original Crash Bandicoot, but Cortex Strikes Back remains one of the series’ finest moments. It’s still a whole lot of fun.

 

7

Crash Bandicoot Review

Crash Bandicoot

Back in the 1990s, animal mascots were all the rage in video games. Sonic the Hedgehog was a wild success, even surpassing Mario’s popularity for a time. But while Sonic may have been way past cool, he inspired just about every developer to try their hand at an “animal with attitude” character, in hopes of replicating his success, with mostly disappointing results. Most of the would-be mascots inspired in Sonic’s wake were uninspired, forced, and quickly forgotten. One exception, however, was 1996’s Crash Bandicoot, created by Naughty Dog.

Crash not only became popular, he was even seen as the unofficial face of the Sony Playstation for a time. Crash was successful enough to start a franchise and put Naughty Dog on the map. Unfortunately for Crash, his debut outing has suffered the effects of time, with many of its elements showing their age in prominent ways.

Crash Bandicoot is a 2.5D platformer, with 3D characters and environments, and a mostly 3D perspective, but Crash moves in a fixed path. It was more of an attempt at creating a 2D platformer from a 3D point of view, as opposed to a open 3D platormer like Super Mario 64, released the very same year as Crash.

Crash BandicootNor was Crash’s moveset as versatile as Mario’s. Crash can jump and perform a spin attack to wipe out enemies. A tiki mask named Aku Aku works as the game’s sole power-up (found in some of the game’s many breakable crates), and can be stacked up to three times (the first two work like shields to make Crash more durable, while a third Aku Aku grants temporary invincibility). Additionally, Wumpa Fruits work like Mario’s coins or DK’s bananas, with an extra life granted for every one-hundred you can nab.

The story served as a means to introduce Crash Bandicoot to the world. The mad scientist Dr. Neo Cortex is experimenting on animals, forcefully evolving them to create an army of animal soldiers to take over the world. Crash is an evolved bandicoot from these experiments, but ends up rebelling against the mad doctor. Crash manages to escape Cortex’s lab, but ends up on a far off island. With Crash’s girlfriend Tawna still in the hands of Cortex, Crash sets out to save her.

The plot really is inconsequential, but it does try to give the characters some fun, cartoony personalities, though those personalities didn’t truly shine through until the sequels.

Crash Bandicoot’s level design provides a handful of fun stages, but a lot of them can feel rather bland. The levels themselves can sometimes prove difficult, though you’ll probably lose more lives due to the fixed camera work, which is so focused on Crash himself that you can’t always make out the distances in jumps and the placements of objects and traps. Crash’s less-than ideal jumping physics don’t exactly help, either.

Crash BandicootThere are a few boss fights found in between some of the game’s thirty-two stages, but they end up being rather dull and easy. You may struggle to get to these boss encounters, only to feel the payoff wasn’t worth it.

The worst aspect of this original Crash Bandicoot, however, is the awkward save feature. In a baffling design decision, the primary means of saving is by completing certain bonus stages, which are unlocked in certain levels by obtaining three token’s shaped like Tawna’s mug (tokens shaped like the villain’s faces also appear in certain stages with bonuses of their own). But even if you manage to get to Tawna’s bonus round you can miss the chance to save if you die in the bonus round, and you can’t redo these bonuses again in the same playthrough. 

The only other method of saving is by collecting gems. Gems are secret items that are earned by destroying every crate in a stage without dying. That might not sound too difficult, except that some crates are hidden, and there’s no way of knowing how many you missed unless you’ve completed the level without dying. Worse still, much of the game’s difficulty stems from trial-and-error, and you often have to lose a few times in order to memorize a stage’s layout. This convoluted save feature often means you’ll go through several levels without a chance to save, making game overs feel like a crushing blow as you have to redo much of your progress.

Crash BandicootYou can always quit the stage and start over (being forced to sit through more load times) to reset any possible deaths, or come back and try a level again later, but asking players to jump through so many hoops just to get the opportunity to save the game is beyond outrageous. The ability save should just be included at all times or by reaching certain points and clearing certain levels. Saving your progress shouldn’t be an optional reward.

Still, there is some fun to be had with Crash Bandicoot, but it all only goes so far: The simple gameplay works well enough (though this too would be refined in the sequels). The graphics, while aged, at least show off the game’s sense of humor (Crash’s death animations provide Looney Tunes-style slapstick). The music is fun if maybe not entirely memorable. And every now and again you’ll come across a solidly fun stage.

The sad thing is most of the game’s best bits feel mediocre when compared to both today’s standards and the better platformers of the time (not only was Mario 64 released the same year, but Sega’s Nights Into Dreams as well). The worst aspects of Crash Bandicoot – namely the dumbfounding save feature – have only devolved all the more with time.

Crash Bandicoot may have created a star out of its titular hero, but the framework was bettered by the two succeeding games in the series by some margin. The original may have laid the groundwork for the sequels to justify Crash Bandicoot’s popularity in the 1990s, but the sad truth is the original title may be better left to memories.

 

5

Mega Man 8 Review

Mega Man 8

Mega Man 8 is a terribly underappreciated game. It was originally released in 1997 to celebrate Mega Man’s tenth anniversary, but gaming was changing at that time, and Mega Man 8 was seen as old hat. As the years have gone by its gained a small following, but still remains largely dismissed. Its reputation doesn’t begin to do it justice, as Mega Man 8 – while not perfect – remains one of the series’ best entries.

Mega Man 8 was originally released on the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation, so it goes without saying that this was the biggest leap in visuals for the series yet. Given that its sequels revived the 8-bit visuals of the NES games, Mega Man 8 is still the ‘newest’ looking title in the core series.

While a lot of PSOne and Saturn games have aged for the worse, time has been kind to Mega Man 8. The lovingly animated character sprites and colorful visuals still look lively. It expands on the art direction of Mega Man 7 and makes the series feel like an interactive cartoon.

Mega Man 8The game even featured fully animated cutscenes that have a similar charm to the anime of the late 80s and early 90s. On the downside, the game’s English voice acting is so bad it ranks among the worst in any video game (Dr. Light in particular sounds like Elmer Fudd, but even less eloquent). That’s quite a dubious achievement. But you could also say the bad voice acting gives the cutscenes a campy charm.

Mega Man 8 didn’t just overhaul the presentation however, as it made some meaningful (and largely overlooked) tweaks to gameplay and level design as well.

Similar to Mega Man 7, 8 separates the selectable Robot Master stages into two halves. After an introductory stage, four selectable levels open up, followed by an intermission stage, then four more Robot Master levels, culminating, of course, with Dr. Wily’s castle.

While the setup remains similar to Mega Man 7, Mega Man 8 built on its sense of exploration while also adding some fun variety to the gameplay, making its levels some of the deepest in the series.

Mega Man 8 includes Bolts similar to Mega Man 7, but they are no longer dropped by enemies. Instead they are hidden throughout each stage, with some requiring you to replay levels after gaining new powers in order to reach them. The Bolts are used as currency in Dr. Light’s laboratory, where Mega Man can purchase new upgrades to his Mega Buster, among other fun new power-ups. Finding the Bolts and acquiring these upgrades is completely optional, but those seeking a good challenge and full completion should have a good time tracking them all down.

Mega Man 8It’s in the levels themselves that Mega Man 8 differentiates itself from its predecessors. Although it’s classic Mega Man for the most part, various levels will suddenly throw the Blue Bomber into a rail shooter (where Rush, Beat, Eddie and Auto can help Mega Man blast away enemies) or he’ll be sledding through a stage at increasing speed, with a robot sign informing him of when to jump and when to slide to avoid obstacles. The levels themselves are some of the most fun in the series, but segments like these make Mega Man 8 one of the most versatile gameplay experiences in the franchise.

It’s easy to say that Mega Man 8 has some of the weaker Robot Masters in the series, with the likes of Clown Man and the trademark-infringing Aqua Man being downright goofy. But on the plus side, the powers Mega Man gains from them are among the more unique in the series. Mega Man gains weapons like an electrical grappling hook, an icy shockwave, a miniature tornado that sends Mega Man skyward, and a sword made out of fire. The introductory stage even gives Mega Man a soccer ball power! Not all the powers are great, but they all come in handy throughout the game in either combat or exploration. This is also one of the only instances in which Mega Man 2’s Leaf Shield isn’t reskinned and passed off as a new ability.

The fact that Mega Man 8 separates its Robot Master stages in two halves also means that the first four abilities are really emphasized in the latter four levels (Sword Man’s stage in particular is built around them). Not everyone likes the change of segmenting the levels, but it actually gave Capcom a means to better utilize the Robot Master abilities. It also gave them the opportunity to further emphasize the story.

In Mega Man 8, a strange meteor has crashed onto Earth, emitting a powerful, dark energy. Mega Man goes to investigate, but Dr. Wily has beat him to the punch, and is using this energy to power his new Robot Masters and a returning Bass in a plot to take over the world. Mega Man, true to his nature, sets out to stop Wily’s plans, but also encounters a new figure in Duo, a robot from outer space.

It’s the usual simple plot of Mega Man, but it gets some appreciated extra attention. The aforementioned animated sequences add to the stronger attempt at narrative, but are also undermined by the comically bad voice acting.

Mega Man 8Mega Man 8 ups the difficulty from Mega Man 7, and has one of the better difficulty curves in the series. The first four stages have their challenging moments, but shouldn’t take too many attempts to complete. The latter four stages turn things up a notch with some precise platforming and waves of enemies. Once Mega Man makes his way to Dr. Wily’s newest castle, things become reminiscent of Mega Man’s earliest entries. It’s never as hard as Mega Man 3 or 4, but Mega Man 8 is nonetheless satisfyingly difficult.

Another plus is that Mega Man 8 has one of the best soundtracks in the series, and that’s no small feat considering the quality of Mega Man’s soundtracks. Its techno-inspired tunes are as catchy as the best Mega Man tracks, and they each have a distinct personality to fit their respective stages. Much like the rest of the game, Mega Man 8’s music largely goes underrated, but it should be ranked alongside Mega Mans 2, 3 and 9 as being among the best soundtracks in the series.

As a whole, Mega Man 8 is one of the Blue Bomber’s most polished games. It has creative level design, fun powers, a good sense of depth and challenge, it has a killer soundtrack and the visuals haven’t aged a day. It might not have the same level of excellence as Mega Man 2 or 3, and the voice acting almost seems to be making fun of itself. But Mega Man 8 has always been, secretly, one of Mega Man’s finest.

 

8

The Last of Us Review

The Last of Us

While video games and zombie apocalypses are certainly no strangers to each other, The Last of Us attempts to rise above the oversaturated genre by telling a more compelling, mature story and a deep gameplay experience. And though it doesn’t always hit the mark in gameplay, and its story may fall short of its ambitions, The Last of Us nonetheless provides another solid entry in Naughty Dog’s catalogue.

The story of The Last of Us sees the world overrun by an incurable outbreak that turns people into zombie-like creatures, sending the world into chaos. In the early years of the outbreak, a man named Joel lost his daughter – not to the infected, but to a soldier – as they tried to find safety. As the years pass, the loss of his daughter has turned Joel into a bitter and hopeless man. Eventually, Joel finds himself in the company of a girl named Ellie. Ellie could be humanity’s salvation, as she is immune to the deadly infection. It becomes Joel’s mission to escort Ellie to a research facility, so that she might be studied and a cure can be found.

The Last of UsOf course, the plot unravels into something a bit more complex – both narratively and emotionally – and includes twists and turns, deranged villains, and the experience of one loss after another. But what makes the story of The Last of Us escalate into something more is the core relationship between Joel and Ellie. Ellie becomes something of a surrogate daughter to Joel, and their interactions and banters can come off as something smart and heartfelt. The game is wise enough to provide some quieter moments of character development between the two of them, and not just focus on the dread of the apocalypse.

On the downside of things, when the apocalypse is brought into the picture, The Last of Us falls into incredibly cliched territory. It becomes yet another showcase of “the zombies aren’t the real threat, the survivors are!” which has to rank among the most tired of genre tropes. Wouldn’t it be neat if, for once, the zombies were the ultimate evil in a zombie story, thus leaving the narrative free to explore new themes and not simply tread the same road of nihilism and pessimism that’s been treaded a thousand times before? Even the death of Joel’s daughter is used more as a means to justify Joel’s violence towards the bad guys than it is contemplative on the actual nature of loss. For a game that presents itself (and has been acclaimed as) a forward-thinking , giant leap in the medium’s narrative abilities, The Last of Us frequently stumbles when it comes to expressing any themes and all too often falls prey to the genre’s most familiar territory.

The Last of UsThankfully, the gameplay fairs a bit better. The Last of Us is a third-person action shooter, like so many games of today. But it sets itself apart from the crowd for rewarding patience and strategic pacing over simply shooting everything in sight. Some of Naughty Dog’s quirky controls are still present, with Joel seemingly magnetizing to any object in which he can take cover, but at least it’s not simply a case of just shooting everything.

Ellie, as well as a few other occasional allies, aid Joel with items and backup support in combat. Ellie’s presence ensures that the story is weaved into the game at all times, but she and the other friendlies also give the game more urgency, as their safety is as important as Joel’s. Joel’s allies help him out, and players must make sure he in turn helps them.

Unfortunately, with these allies comes one of The Last of Us’ big drawbacks: The friendly AI isn’t always reliable, and you’ll often find that you’re walking a mile ahead of your partners, as they’ve wandered behind or got stuck after a hectic encounter. The friendly AI never feels broken, but it can get distracting when you’re trying to hear one of Joel and Ellie’s conversations, only to resort to reading Ellie’s subtitles, as she’s so far away her voice is only audible in a distant mumble.

The Last of UsThe single player campaign is a lengthy affair, with solid stage design and a few good moments of character growth from Ellie. But Naughty Dog saw fit to add multiplayer into the equation. Although these multiplayer additions were (strangely) given little fanfare before the game’s release, they rival, and in many ways surpass, the single player campaign.

Multiplayer comes in three varieties: ‘Supply Raid’ and ‘Survivors’ both serve as team death matches, and see two factions of players facing off against each other, using the same guns, melee weapons and makeshift explosives found in the story mode to try to outwit and terminate the opposing team, with Survivors being notable for its lack of respawning. The third mode is ‘Interrogation’ in which players “interrogate” their rivals after their defeat to learn the location of the opposing team’s lockbox. The team that captures their opponent’s lockbox wins. All three multiplayer modes are engaging, and give the game even more longevity and depth than it would already have.The Last of Us

The Last of Us is a hefty gaming experience, complimented by a memorable musical score and detailed visuals. There are more than a few downsides however: The inconsistent AI of ally characters, the story falls prey to the same old tired themes of zombie stories, with the introduction of a primary antagonist late into the game feeling downright excessive. A number of instances where Joel is required to push Ellie on a makeshift raft are fun at first, but as they increase in frequency they begin to affect the pace of the game.

There’s a lot holding The Last of Us back from being among the ‘greatest games of all time’ like it has often been touted (and how it often seems to tout itself). But there’s enough quality in the gameplay and multiplayer to justify Naughty Dog’s efforts.

 

7

Puppeteer Review

Puppeteer

Puppeteer deserves credit for having honest intentions. It’s nothing if not an attempt to bring some color and whimsy to the Playstation brand, which is more renowned for the likes of Nathan Drake and Kratos. It’s a torch that has, for a while, been held solely by LittleBigPlanet, but Puppeteer looks to give Sackboy some company in the family-friendly department. Unfortunately, honest intentions cannot make up for a disappointing execution.

The presentation and story are charmers. Using the aesthetics of a puppet show, Puppeteer tells of a Moon Goddess who was overthrown by her subject, Little Bear, who became the Moon Bear King after stealing a magic stone. The Moon Bear King then takes on the hobby of spiriting children away from Earth, turning them into puppets, and eating their heads. One such child is Kutaro, whom the player controls. With his head gone, Kutaro is joined by the Moon Goddess’ cat, who shows Kutaro the ability to use different heads found throughout the journey, as well as helping him steal a pair of magic scissors, which become Kutaro’s weapon against the Moon Bear King’s forces on his quest to find the pieces of the magic stone, save the Moon Goddess and return to Earth (head intact).Puppeteer

The story often invokes a sense of childlike glee, though some of its more cutesy elements come off a bit forced. The puppet show motif works as a great setup, however, as this is a 2D platformer whose stages work in segments (think every segment as a new scene in a puppet show), and the aesthetics are perfectly complimented by the PS3 hardware. Puppeteer is simply a gorgeous game.

The downside is that, in terms of gameplay, Puppeteer just isn’t very fun. It’s ideas are inspired, but an awkward, sluggish sense of control brings them down. Kutaro’s jumping abilities may feel even more weighted than that of the Sackboys who inspired him, which makes the platforming lack fluidity. Using the magic scissors to cut down the environment as well as enemies is a fun trick – which also helps the puppet aesthetics mesh into the gameplay – but its uses are too simple and restrained, preventing what could have been a compelling gameplay mechanic from meeting its potential.

PuppeteerAnother missed opportunity is Kutaro’s ability to perform different actions through the different heads he stumbles across. Kutaro can store up to three heads at a given time, but they end up feeling more like extra health than they do power-ups (lose all three heads and it’s back to the last check point). The abilities the heads grant Kutaro seem limited to specific environmental situations – again preventing them from feeling like full-fledged game-changers – and like the scissors, they never seem to reach their potential.

A two player mode is present, with a second player having the ability to help Kutaro out by pointing out objects and finding items. It’s nothing extravagant, but should a less experienced player want to join in on the fun it provides them with the opportunity. On the downside, the second character is still present in single player, with Kutaro and his sidekick’s actions being controlled with separate analogue sticks on the same controller. It’s a setup that might work with the proper execution, but with Kutaro’s movements already feeling a bit on the clunky side, the two-characters-on-one-controller approach just makes the sense of control feel even more awkward.

I do not want to write off Puppeteer entirely. It is an appealing game that combines a great visual style with a charming, folktale-like narrative to make a game with an attitude that stands out among most of its Playstation brethren. But while Sackboy’s less-than-stellar platforming had a terrific level editor to fallback on, Kutaro is not so lucky. For everything Puppeteer does right with its presentation, it muddles just as much in the platforming department. It’s not broken, but it’s not desirable either.

Perhaps Kutaro deserves another round to take the ideas he’s been given, and fine-tune them into something great. For now, Puppeteer is a game of great style, ambition and whimsy. But one that lacks the polish it needs to send its ideas straight to the moon.

5