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Maken X
Platform:  Dreamcast
# of Players:  1
Developer:  Atlus
Publisher:  Atlus
Features:  Jump Pack, VMU
Ratings:  Everyone
Memory Req.:  
Info:  http://
Have you heard of Maken X yet? It is ostensibly a first person shooter, though you don't do much shooting, save for the occasional tongue dart (yes, tongue dart). Rather, you wield a living sword that changes shape depending on who is using it. It's a novel concept, incorporating close quarters combat into a genre where long range weapons are the order of the day. Coupled with a nightmarish totalitarian design aesthetic and top-notch visuals, Maken X is one of the most intriguing (though not necessarily most playable) imports you'll find on any conso

The game starts out with an impossibly long cinema, throughout which we get to see the living sword in its embryonic stage (it looks like a disgruntled question mark) in the care of a team of scientists. A robot, outfitted in Soviet army gear, barges into the lab and starts firing projectiles from his long pink tongue before kidnapping the lead scientist. Subsequently, a little blue-haired girl who's been hanging around the lab (the lead scientist's daughter?) takes the sword herself and trots across the globe looking for revenge, inserting her consciousness into various useful bodies along the way (via a method called "brain-jacking"). I was sure of only two things... this game was going to be one bizarre ride, and that it's time to learn Japanese.

The battle system has been most likened to that of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, in that you press a button to lock on to a single target and can then move around the target freely, remaining oriented towards them. It works quite well, though it can get tricky when dealing with multiple enemies (though, as in Zelda 64, you do not have to be locked on to enemies to fight them), and enables some truly neat maneuvers, such as a jump flip over your enemy where you land in position to deliver a "critical" blow to your opponent's rear. It's a gut-wrenching, satisfying move. Other than that, the attacks are pretty straight forward, with each playable character having their own variety of weapon (all formed from the organic sword), long range attack, and differing physical abilities. The key to playing the game's different characters lies in the brain- jack. Over the course of you adventure you will encounter various individuals whom you are able to inhabit, as subsequently continue the adventure as. All the while, the original little girl waits in some rather lonesome realm of light and texture, no doubt pondering her strange existence. Each character then interacts with each level in a different fashion, enhancing replay value and putting a fresh spin on each of the already numerous levels. This is provided you have the patience to face many of the same enemies over and over again, however. But before I come to my grievances...

...let me comment on what I believe to be the true selling point of this game, which is the enemy design. They are, for the most part, truly horrifying, disturbing, and darkly beautiful. At the lowest level, you have kamikaze dogs, wired to explode if you don't swat them away in a timely fashion. Men with swastikas where their faces and fully functional machine guns in their chests. Axe- weilding behemoths, with smaller men growing out of their backs, whose express purpose is to fire rockets at you while you're busy dodging axe-swings. Sarcophagi with images of nude women which, if you turn their back to them, soon open to reveal a spike ridden individual who just won't rest until they've given you a deadly hug. If there's one reason for you to buy this game, it is because you won't see this stuff if and when it comes to America. I'd love for them to make me eat my words, however. Running at a sweet 60 frames per second and accompanied by some of the best audio I've heard since Medal of Honor, the game's menagerie of evil freaks provides some truly chilling m

oments.
But I must have one paragraph of concerns, no? First of all, as great as these enemies are, there are usually no more than two or three varieties of enemy on every level, each appearing numerous times. And even with the variety of attacks from character to character, it doesn't amount to much more than the jump-flip attack, your long range attack (if you have one) and the standard attack. What it amounts to is a rather repetitive fighting system in which you learn what it takes to beat a particular enemy, and then end up repeating said pattern over and over again because each enemy appears so many times on a level. The fighting system is simply not complex enough to enable any real variety between battles with a particular kind of foe, so you end up kind of learning an opponent's weakness a la Mike Tyson's Punch-out, and then grit your teeth and do it over and over again. It is guaranteed to try your patience.

That was what distanced me from the game in the final reel, and in fact nullified the appeal of replaying levels with newly brain-jacked characters. But the game is gorgeous, and novel in both design and concept. I'm really torn on this one, but if you're a more patient game-player than I, and at all intrigued by either the aesthetic or the sub-genre of 'first-person sworder' it damn near establishes, then by all means purchase what is surely one of the most idiosyncratic titles available for Dreamcast. I only wish I could be more whole- heartedly supportive. Ah, well... bring on the next import!

Seth Berkowitz



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