Really, I should stop the review right here. $80 is just such a ridiculous price for an N64 game in the year 2000. Especially considering that this game just doesn't work very well, and it seems highly unlikely that you'll ever see any other N64 game that will use the enclosed VRU microphone gadget.
You see, in Hey You Pikachu, you use a microphone to talk to Pikachu. Using simple commands culled from a 200+ word vocabulary, you direct Pikachu through a series of mini-games... usually revolving around Pikachu fetching something. Nintendo, having already established that extra gimmicky hardware damn-near-doubles the price of the game (Starfox64 + Rumble Pak, Pokemon Stadium + Transfer Pak, Donkey Kong 64 + Expansion Pak), has now proven that pokeidiots will pay any price for a new fix. Like me.
But unlike the other Paks, you're left holding the bag on the VRU. No one has yet reported any additional games that will use the VRU.
So $80 is really quite a bit to dump, since at least $30 of that is for the Voice Recognition Unit. And don't wait for Nintendo to drop the price, because They Won't. Pokemon Snap still sells for $50, for example. Bastards! Market share! Bastards! Market share!
Maybe I'm being too harsh. Pikachu does understand you fairly well... as long as you speak clearly and loudly and don't have the London Philharmonic performing selections from "Tommy" in the background. The little electric rat comes when you call it, can keep up with instructions, and will come up with activities on his own if you let him. Everybody keeps comparing it to a virtual pet, but all you do is goof off, and I don't think his "friendship meter" actually means a damn thing.
Honestly, he listens about as well as a real animal. Somewhere between a wild raccoon and a dog on Day 5 of obedience school.
The game runs as a never-ending blur of days. Each day begins with you and Pikachu waking up... you get to dap around your bedroom and eventually choose some kind of outside activity. The outside game runs on an unspecified time limit; when that's up, Professor Oak demands you come home. Bedtime ensues. Your progress is saved and then it's morning again. New day, new game (maybe.) Stop the world; I want to get off.
As the days pass by, Oak will send you new gadgets to play with and new play areas will open up. Most of the "new" play areas are just harder versions of the old ones. Here's the activities I've discovered so far:
* Getting the wrong ingredients for Bulbasaur's stew
I've had such a bad time trying to complete these tasks that I'm not feeling really motivated to find more. Every game depends on Pikachu understanding you, and when he doesn't, they suck. In the Bulbasaur stew game, you're supposed to rustle up the ingredients that Bulbasaur asks for. Pikachu even writes them down. But once he gets to the garden area, he stops caring about his friend's meal and just wants to sneeze at things and throw carrots.
Now, you might say that I'm not playing the game correctly. You might say that getting Pikachu to listen properly is part of the game. I say that when I scream "Onion" into the mic, Pikachu ought to freaking pick up the onion... instead of blinking at me and running towards the radish.
Perhaps what is so frustrating is that all of the games are so distressingly simple... or, at least they would be if Pikachu understood you. So when it takes four times before Pikachu follows my "Come here" instruction, I see a game with a problem. And anyway, since most pokemon junk is aimed at impatient, marble-mouthed kids, shouldn't Pikachu be a little more responsive? Each game is a failure waiting to be proved a success.
Compounding the issue is the awkward first person perspective. Sometimes you can roam free; other times you're stuck circling around Pikachu. In all cases, it's very hard to focus on a particular berry, flower, or other item, because the control is so floaty. I would've liked to see the directional pad used in conjunction with the camera joystick, so that you could better interact with the environment.
Speaking of the environment, the graphics are pretty weak by today's standards. (The game was released in Japan in late '98.) The pokemon themselves are nice, but the world is blocky and blurry... not even as sharp as Snap.
And dammit, Pikachu itself is so cute and well-crafted. He/She displays many emotions and has quite a few sound samples. It's just a shame that the cheap microphone interface gets in the way of the game.
I bought my first Game Boy solely for the original black-and-white Spider-Man game. It was a deft little side scroller with lots of nice Spider-Man touches. The bosses were pretty lame, but the in-town webswinging was nice... a great early showing on the Game Boy.
Now, positioned during the Spider-Man lull between the death of the FOX cartoon series and the live action movie, Spider-Man has re-appeared in a great action title for Nintendo 64 and PlayStation. The PSX version actually came out months ago, but I decided to wait for the N64 version, figuring it would have improved graphics and such.
It does, but the N64 version does have quite a few costs too. Someday, I'll pick up the PSX version and do a complete comparison, but until then you're going to have to live with me bitching about the N64 edition.
Finally, finally, finally, we have a game that lets you act as Spider-Man might actually act (for the most part.) He can webswing, he can climb up the walls and ceilings, he has multiple webbing attacks. And there's lots of audio samples that fly out randomly during the levels for some of that classic Spidey wit.
The levels are designed around Spider-Man abilities, instead of just being regular old levels with Spider-Man grafted on them. On more than one occasion, I could not find my way out of a level... only to suddenly remember to look up... and there would be a hole in the ceiling to climb out. I must be very dim to have fallen for that one several times. Many sequences require long distance webswinging between gigantic sewer pipes or skyscrapers. Several levels break up the run-and-gun monotony... one has you scurrying up the side of a building while a helicopter launches missiles. Another forces you to keep up with Venom as he zig-zags through the rooftops. The final boss fight is a show stopper, mainly because it's not much of a fight... more of a flee. You have to keep ahead of the boss while leaping and webswinging through a windy escape route.
Spidey also has lots of furniture and props to pick up and hurl. The interior levels show off some very nice detailing, like filing cabinets, security cams, and potted plants... but the exterior levels have a tendency towards weirdness. Processor limitations force the skyscrapers to draw in out of the fog. A few sound effects gamely try to make it feel like a full fledged city, but the vast stretches of emptiness between the buildings turn it into a Mario-style floating platform level.
Thanks to Nintendo's archaic cartridge format, the cutscenes of the PSX version have been lost and turned into awkward, momentum-draining slide shows. The slides kill all of the game's energy; it's like having a commercial break in the middle of Saving Private Ryan. They did try to make the slide shows look like a comic book... but I DON'T WANT TO READ A COMIC BOOK IN A VIDEO GAME. I want to PLAY a comic book. The main menu lets you re-play any of the slide shows; it should come with a voucher for a personal apology phone call from someone at Nintendo.
Speaking of bonus features, Spider-Man is a true product of the modern day action game... packed with a theme-appropriate passel of bonuses! Scattered throughout the levels are hidden Spider-Man comic books. The books have no purpose other than to be collected, but it's something to do. There is also a fun selection of alternate costumes, which, one found, can act as cheats for the game. For example, wearing the black symbiote costume gives you unlimited webbing. And, a few training levels let you set records of speed, kills and endurance. Shame there's no two player version.
But this game has a dirty, ugly secret. The controller scheme seems designed to make your Spider-Man play difficult; it sabotages all of the web abilities and makes you resort to the more-accessible kicks and punches. Damn! They got so close to a superb comic book game and then they scuttle it with a clumsy button system. Each of Spidey's web attacks comes out of combining the C-up button with a joystick direction. So more often than not, you won't have the timing right and Spider-Man will end up jerking himself to the left instead of shooting impact webbing. I really wish they would have playtested this and cleaned up the buttons (see sidebar), because it does a great job of shooting Spider-Man right in the ass.