Miami Law (2009)

Imagine all of those testosterone soaked cop shows from the 70’s and 80’s in convenient handheld form, that is Miami Law in a nutshell.

As the kind folks over at Hudson have stated “Miami Law is an action-adventure game worthy of its own prime-time TV show.” Just imagine a pulse pounding handheld version of a cross between the 80’s mainstay Miami Vice and 2000’s mainstay 24. It’s got all the action TV staples you can imagine including a storyline with a shadowy terrorist conspiracy, furious shootouts in abandoned warehouses, challenging crime-scene detective work, and car chases; what more can you ask for in an adventure game.

I was really anticipating this game for two reasons: I am a huge fan of adventure games, and the localization was handled by Gaijinworks, the successor to the fan-favorite yet sadly gone Working Designs production house. This game starts out somewhat similar to another adventure game that I played not too long ago called Jake Hunter, but has something that Jake never had: a soul. This comes across mainly because of the meticulous work done in the localization department, as the dialogue is great. The storyline is also fairly mature, so no ambiguous kiddie-fied translation here.

 

The main story revolves around the intense loose cannon Law Martin from the Miami PD and the brainy tech-savvy Sara Starling from the FBI, who is put in charge of your case. Martin is in deep undercover trying to infiltrate a drug syndicate to avenge the death of his former partner Sam. Sara is put in charge of keeping an eye on Law, to make sure he isn’t too far from the good graces of his civic duty. Depending on what you would like to do, you can choose to switch characters at various points in the game, and depending on what you choose; the gameplay ends up worlds apart. For instance, one scene places you in a tense situation as you are trying to trick the sub-head of the syndicate into thinking you are a former prisoner from an Arkansas Prison rather than a detective. If you Choose Law, you get a dialog segment, where you are buying time, but if you chose Sara you have to plant a fake prison record into the Arkansas penitentiary database, so his story checks out.

Generally there are huge differences like that throughout the game and the “minigames” are quite varied. Law usually ends up being the man to engage in car chases, gunfights and detective work, and Sara usually is behind a computer screen hacking, wiretapping, or, if she feels adventurous, sniping with a high caliber rifle from the door of a nearby helicopter. These “minigames” are really fun and really help to break up the sometimes-monotonous nature of games like this. I especially liked the shootouts as they were essentially handheld versions of Time Crisis, complete with reloads, headshots, and a cover button. Due to this duality system, the game already has built in replay value, as you could play the whole game as Martin, then play it again choosing only Sara.

 

The normal gameplay works out just like many other recent visual novel games. You have icons for speaking, looking, moving from one area to another, a cellphone to call out on, a PDA that acts as your log book and displays character bios, and sometimes a fist shaped icon that allows you to rough folks up. This navigation is pretty easy to understand and is rather intuitive, but seems a little bit too linear. Except for a few instances where people give you the run around, you pretty much know exactly where to go at any given time. The gameplay is really good, but almost too standard sometimes, but the minigames really help that out.

One good thing that Miami Law implements is a quick restart option for when you die or make a bad decision. For instance, at one point in the game you are looking for a drug dealer on a beach amongst a handful of random residents. I foolishly tried to rough this one man up that I thought seemed like a good idea. I got too pushy and started brandishing a gun on the guy and yelling, and was immediately booted off the case, as Sara was keeping tabs on me via a wire. In most games I would have reverted back to a previous save point, then would have to endure the same dialog over again. Not so, thankfully, in this game. All you do is choose “restart” and you are taken back to that exact point where you made the bad decision. I really liked this as it moved the game along.

 

Unfortunately “moving the game along” may be the one big gripe I have about Miami law, as it is really far too short. The game consists of five chapters that clock in at around 5 hours total. Taking into account two consecutive play-throughs in order to play as both characters and Miami Law still clocks in at a brisk 10 hours, this is far less than many of these games now. I would assume that this is due to the fact that the dialog, although masterfully written, is pretty short and to the point, so the novel side of this “visual novel” is a bit weak. If you look at this game the way they want you to, as a cop TV show that you are in control of, it suits it just fine.

The graphics in Miami Law are stylish, well-drawn and very different to what you may see in some of these games. The characters show a good range of emotion in their static pictures, and a lot of detail was put in place to make this game look like it really takes place in Miami. In most games like this you see a ton of Caucasian folks walking around no matter where you are, but this game is full of Hispanic, black white, and any other race of character that you would find in Miami. This sounds like a minor thing, but this very small bit of detail really helps make this game that much more realistic.

The same bit of detail was put into the games sound presentation as original music was composed by Grammy-nominated Miami Beat Wave, a music production group hired to give the game an authentic Miami flavor. The soundtrack has 15 tracks that really pull off the feel of the areas in the game, whether it be a high tension warehouse area or the beach. The only things that are missing are voice acting and lyrics to the music, but I guess that’s just me looking for rust in the armor.

Miami Law is a great game, but a bit too short to really warrant the price it holds. Although you can play through the game multiple times and experience all-new events, this really should have been a budget game from the start, or a tad bit longer. Really, this is the only bad thing I can say about the game, but it really hurts it, I kind of hope that this game does well, and a decision to make a sequel is made, as the characters and gameplay are pretty good, but more would be awesome.

All in all Miami Law may have been the best Adventure game that I have played in a while that wasn’t in some way related to the Phoenix Wright series. With all of the top notch music, dialog and attention to detail, this is a title that all adventure game fans on the DS should love to play – that is if they can get past the short playtime. If you are looking for a good cop-based adventure game that mirrors television shows of the genre, then you really can’t look any further than this little gem.

Forgotten Gems: Theresia – Dear Emile (DS)

For me, survival horror games have lost their edge. I remember actually getting scared while playing Resident Evil 2 ‘back in the day’ and have been saddened at the state of the genre since. While I love games like Resident Evil and Condemned, these series have begun to take a turn down ‘action game alley’ and have lost what made them so appealing to me in the first place. Granted, I have yet to play Resident Evil VII, so my opinions could change. Recently, while scanning a list of adventure games on the DS, I ran across a game I had enjoyed a LOT a decade or so ago and had somehow forgotten about. The game, Theresia: Dear Emile, seemingly came out of nowhere back in 2008 from Aksys games and was flooded under all of the other holiday games on the DS. It is a shame though as Theresia was probably the scariest game I’ve played in a while.

Theresia is an adventure horror title exclusively for the Nintendo DS. In this game, developed by WorkJam, players take on the roles of two different characters trying to understand their past, present and intertwined destiny. The first of the two stories, called Dear Emile, is the story of an amnesiac girl who wakes up in an abandoned complex full of corpses and traps left by someone trying to kill her. The other story, Dear Martel, can only be accessed after completing Dear Emile and stars a young scientist. The meat of the game is within the Dear Emile Scenario. I can’t reveal too much more about the storyline as it is very much veiled in mystery, and I do not want to spoil the fun.

The game follows the backdrop of a war torn country, with biological weapons and the horrors of war, as well as isolation and death. While other survival horror games resort to demonic forces or zombies as the main antagonists, Theresia pits you against an entire building that seems to be trying to kill you. Through the course of the game you come across many disturbing scenes like a pantry left alone so long that it is completely covered with ravenous bugs; piles upon piles of dead corpses; torture rooms for war prisoners; and even dead loved ones that cause horrible memories to flood in. It is this method of making me feel the desperation of the little girl I am controlling that makes this game so unsettling. In a way it reminds of the overly creepy vibe I get from many of the Shin Megami Tensei games.

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The immediate realization I had after turning the game on, is that it plays almost exactly like the old Shadowgate series that was on the NES, N64 and computers. The game is presented with a first person view of corridors and hallways, much like an old-school first person shooter minus the gun. Also like Shadowgate, you have the ability to look at objects, touch objects, use a number of inventory items and in some cases combine said items. This is all pretty standard fare for a point and click adventure game for veterans of the genre, but Theresia does a few creative things with the set-up.

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One thing that is immediately apparent is that Theresia does not want you to explore the game too much. There are many areas where in a normal adventure game you would find small trinkets hidden in desks drawers or barrels, for example. In Theresia, 99 per cent of the objects you can touch and examine are booby trapped and have to be disarmed or simply left alone. At the beginning of the game you come across a records room full of books, and you can look at a bunch of these books on the shelf. However, only a few can actually be removed as the others have spring loaded darts or knives hidden behind them. This means that in many places you are scared to examine the area too much for fear of instant death traps like electrified doors and acid. Throughout the game you do find elixirs for your life bar, so you can keep yourself alive much longer, but as the game progresses these are few and far between.

Most of the puzzles in Theresia are hard, not I’m going to kill someone if I don’t beat this hard, but hard nonetheless. Because of this, the developers have added a hint system into the game in the guise of a barbed wire covered pendant – or a mirror in the second scenario – that the protagonist carries with her. All you have to do is drag the pendant to the icon that represents yourself. The girl squeezes it, cutting her hand in the process, and a hint comes up. During my play through I did not have to use it very much because although the complexity of the puzzles is very steep, I didn’t really get stuck too often. I am glad this was in here though, as the hint system sometimes alerts you to things you may not have noticed.

An example of this complexity can be seen in one of the more laborious puzzles I ran across in the prison area. I had a block of ice I had fished out of a fridge that had frozen over, and needed a way to get the key that was frozen inside. My first thought was to hack the key out with an axe, but the game informed me that it might mess up the key, so the next logical step was to melt it. I later stumbled across a crematorium room that was used to burn prisoners, and assumed that this was the key to the iceblock. I had to figure out a way to light an incinerator found in said room, but the wood I carried was too big. And without spoiling all of the shocking twists and turns I had to go through, I ended up having to cover something with ethanol then burn it to heat a metal slab then retrieve the key with pliers after dumping water on the fire that had melted the ice. As you can see, this isn’t some simple adventure game, and it can be VERY time consuming. These puzzles were fun to figure out and, unlike similar games like Touch Detective, there were no huge leaps of logic that nobody could have figured out without the help of a strategy guide.

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The controls for Theresia are fine, but not well tuned to the DS. Theresia does not use any DS functionality besides the stylus for the simplest of controls and the two screens, obviously. Personally I even found the stylus controls to cramp my hand up a little bit and played the game almost entirely without the stylus, only taking it out if I had to turn a crank or something. I feel that this was an oversight and makes the game feel even more like a port of a PC game, which it is not. The button mapped controls worked well but you could not do everything without the stylus, so it wasn’t really a great alternative control scheme.

The graphics for Theresia are a mixed bag. On one hand you have beautiful hand drawn anime inspired cut scenes that use stills, and the occasional well done 3D cinema scene. But this is sometimes undermined by the fact that, for the most part, the corridors and hallways all look like Wolfenstein 3D in some ways. In some areas the textures look very good, but in others they are like a retro PC game. I have a feeling this is because of how massive this game is, and better graphics would have taxed the small DS cartridge. The 2D rooms you stand in run separately from the 3D corridors, and look beautiful. They are hand drawn and are the norm for DS adventure games. With this in mind, and the exceptional art design and mood set by the game, it all seems to fit well.

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Theresia’s next technical point, the sound, was also done very well. Like many survival horror games, the music consists of moody ambient sounds that set the tone for the game. The sound designer was able to harness his keyboard for true evil, as the music leaves you creeped out more so than the game in some ways. The music is often disjointed and not happy whatsoever, while other times you get a baroque funeral dirge blasting at you. None of these make you want to be in this horrible compound anymore. These musical arrangements really add to the game’s presentation and keep it as creepy as possible.

Theresia – Dear Emile is a very good and scary adventure game for the DS and, even though it is slightly different from most survival horror games presentation-wise, any survival horror fan should at least check it out. Although the dated graphics may be a turn off for some, the sound, art design, and retro feeling make this game a great choice for fans of the genre. Depending how much you explore, this game takes easily 15-20 hours to complete, which dwarfs many DS adventure games. Some may see this as a snail’s pace and will stop playing the game, but for others, like me, a longer game is appreciated. All in all, Theresia – Dear Emile is much underrated, and needs to be played.

Too bad the sequel was a mobile phone game 😦

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