Some games I played in
2012
(video games)



Darksiders

Xbox 360
Jan 2 ~ Jan 5 (rental)

Got this as a brief rental, but only invested enough time to beat the first dungeon. It's got a bit of a dodgy start, but once it really began, it looked pretty good. Huge, sprawling landscapes to explore, and lots of Zelda-esque tricks and tools to make use of, all wrapped in a combat engine very reminiscent of character-action games. Seemed like a surprisingly good package in this modern age of gaming!

Further reading: This blog entry talks about it in barely more detail than the last few sentences. What a way to start!

Rayman Origins

Nintendo Wii
Jan 14 ~ Feb 6 (1st play)
Apr 7 ~ Apr 13 (2nd play)
Sep 10 (all Electoons)

I'd tried the demo of this on Xbox Live a while back, and wasn't too taken with it, but my foolish desire to support 2D platformers in the mainstream persuaded me to splash the 15 on the Wii version (which was a pretty good price - it was going for 42 only a week or two before that!)

Although a 2D platformer, it feels like quite a different beast in comparison to other mainstream titles. It's certainly not in the leisurely-paced vein of the first Rayman, nor is it firmly rooted in a block-based engine ala New Super Mario Bros. - it's a fast-paced, frenetic game that flaunts its huge levels, abundant secrets and quirky physics to the max. It's a bit jarring, but it's definitely a breath of fresh air.

It feels very inventive, and very "alive". The art style is bristling with character, players and enemies alike reacting comically to any stimulus, and the levels make abundant usage of physics to add tilting platforms, swinging ropes and dynamically-morphing terrain. It never feels dull or static. Levels are often surprisingly large, emphasising exploration and collecting as much as possible, though it's just as entertaining to race through them as quickly as possible. The game does focus almost solely on its platforming (it's got a lot of elements to play with!), though each world has one or two shooting stages where you ride friendly mosquitoes. They're amusing distractions, though not the most enticing to revisit.

People were quick to dub the game a "masterpiece" after release, and while it's certainly a solid title, I wouldn't throw the term around so freely. It is good. The engine is terrific, the art excellent, and the levels more imaginative and engaging than Ninty's Mario offerings. The game did begin development as a series of episodic downloads, however, and it still reeks of that. Something about the game's design and flows suggests that the contents of those episodes were simply split into pieces and shuffled through the game.

You could also argue that there's not much in the way of bonuses - you unlock costumes as you gather Electoons, and there's a final secret level, but that's literally all there is. It's a solid game, but it can feel a little distressing acknowledging that all there is left are time trials and collection challenges, with no reward for finishing them all.

One of my personal pet peeves is that the game has unlimited lives. It's a great boon for the co-op mode, which encourages you to be a twat to your fellow players, but means no hard feelings - there's no game overs, so plunging everyone into a pit just kicks you to the nearest checkpoint.

In the single-player game, the lack of lives makes it feel like the game is incapable of punishing you. You can die dozens of times on the same screen, and all it can do to stop you wasting your entire afternoon is pop up a message saying, "this level's too hard! Want to quit?" The final stages are host to some really intense and precise platforming challenges, verging on memorisation or reaction puzzles; they're mighty tough to clear, but very satisfying to conquer. It's a very oldschool kind of difficulty, but if the game's only way of punishing you for lousy play is "why not take a breather?", the vibe it's going for gets lost.

(then again, I thought the lives were an unnecessary feature in New Super Mario Bros., an unneeded punishment to its co-op mode and a worthless collectible in single-player, so it's a wishy-washy topic!)

Big dumb gripes aside, t's a terrific game and a refreshing take on 2D platformers, one that really seems to push them forward (or at least something a bit less throwback-y). I did a single-player and a co-op run, both of which were a whole heap of fun. The game's not perfect, and those tiny little flaws do kind of blemish it a little, but it's worth checking out.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter

Nintendo 64
Jan 15 ~ Jan 27

One of the first games we got for the N64, and one I don't recall my brother, my dad or myself ever managing to complete without cheating. It only took fifteen years, but I certainly tried!

I've a soft spot for the game, but Turok: Dinosaur Hunter feels like a franchise that, rather than becoming "retro" after aging, has become an antique or a curiosity. I can't say it's a surprise - the game boasts some expansive worlds and a variety of cool enemies and weaponry, but the frighteningly aimless game design is what makes it such a trial.

There are eight levels, accessed by a central hub, but they can only be opened by collecting keys. Each level is frighteningly huge, with all manner of paths, secret areas and vortexes, and it can take multiple attempts to find all the keys. Each level has a start and a finish, but either side simply returns you to the hub. It's quite possible to run and gun your way through an entire stage, but unless you collected keys along the way, it'll have been a fruitless voyage.

The game begins with the keys dotted along the main path, but later they'll be hidden behind obtuse puzzles or nefarious mazes. Exploration can be a lot of fun, as the worlds are often far larger than they appear to be, hiding secret paths in the craftiest of places... but revisiting stages again and again can become a slog, both because of the infamous fog, and due to the lack of item respawns. Human enemies drop basic health and ammo refills, but every revisit becomes a serious drain on your resources.

Combat is fun, and each of the weapons serves an appropriate purpose; the bosses in particular are great, if a little cheese-happy with their attack patterns. The problem is, what with having to revisit stages, combat with regular foes quickly becomes a chore. They're only going to respawn in ten seconds anyway, so why waste the ammo?

Jumping is not fun. The outdoor levels do feature some great vertical level design, hiding pathways and secrets above or below you in inventive ways, but the physical act of jumping is a great palaver. Turok falls like a stone, and it's unbelievably fussy with when and where you jumped. One of the game's sneakiest secrets is that you can begin falling for a few inches, and then jump - it won't get you as high, but will get you further. My heart skipped darn near every time I had to use it.

I completed the game on Easy difficulty, but didn't get all the Chronoseptor pieces, and certainly didn't feel like I explored the levels the way they were meant to. Still bodied the Campaigner, though.

I actually quite like the game's design, and think there's a lot of potential there, but it's marred by the hardware limitations and how the bloody key hunting overshadows a lot of the game's good points. The later games did give you more tangible objectives where running and gunning had a bit more clout, but they came with their own problems. Oh, Turok.

Resident Evil 5

Xbox 360
Jan 19 ~ Apr 25
Mar 9 ~ Aug 12 (pro)

Despite buying this in 2010, it wasn't until the middle of 2011 I actually picked it up... and it wasn't until this year that I began trying the Mercenaries mode and DLC campaigns!

Resident Evil 5 basically takes RE4, gives it a co-op system, splits the campaign into chapters, simplifies the item mechanics... and throws the notion of survival horror out the window. I'm not arguing much, because the action game it produces in its place is excellent, packed with great levels, mean foes, and tight controls. I'd played the game a lot the year before, and I still played it plenty this year.

RQ87 and I did a couple of runthroughs of the game, including a Professional-difficulty session through March and April. It is tough, though we admittedly lamed it out with infinite ammo, rocket launchers, and all manner of cheatsy armaments. Didn't stop us from accidentally killing each other and causing other embarrassing deaths, though. Admittedly, some stages I don't know how you'd have the patience to play without such extras - the final boss is difficult to tell if you're hurting it or not, so the two of us just railed it with rockets endlessly. Lot of fun, actually!

Discovering the Mercenaries mode was what really brought the game to life, though. You're dumped into a large arena with continuous waves of enemies, and you want to wipe them out, keeping the kill combo running for as long as possible, finding and using bonus items and special attacks to multiply your score and extend your time limit. It's a difficult mode to work your way into, having to struggle through some embarrassingly-short forays and similarly crappy scores.

It's a mode that really demands you to learn the ins and outs of the game mechanics. Learning the layouts and secrets of each level is essential, as well as making the most of your arsenal and attacks, not to mention exploiting quirks in the game engine. Meleeing dudes is a great time to reorganise your inventory. If a dude with a hammer is about to squash you, pick up an item - the invincibility frames will save you! It's nothing short of insanity when you reflect on it, but when you're playing, it's a really thrilling rush.

I spent those first four months playing the mode over and over again to perfect my scores, and didn't settle until I'd gotten an S rank or better on every stage with every character. I still haven't got all double-S scores, though, so I've still got ample reason to dive back into it. And I barely scratched the surface of co-op Mercenaries! And... heck, what excuses do I need to replay it?

The DLC campaigns aren't bad, and thanks to being exempt from the main campaign's bazillion options for neutering the challenge, probably capture the survival horror vibe better than that does. Desperate Escape is a big ol' action chase that happens off-screen of the main story, while Lost in Nightmare pays homage to the first Resident Evil, emphasising its puzzles, exploration and seemingly invincible monsters over shootin' and tootin'.

They're decent extras, but lack the ease of replayability of the main campaign. RQ87 and I played these a couple of times, including Professional difficulty playthroughs during August, Desperate Escape requiring two runs because of the seriously tough final clash on the rooftop.

It's probably got a bad rep for the 'damage' it's done to the franchise, but RE5 is a seriously solid game, one I'm glad I bought and sunk so much time into. It is a little disappointing to acknowledge that I've seen darn near everything the game has to offer - I never got playing the Versus mode, but that might have been for the best - but I'm glad I raked so much enjoyment out of it while I did. A big ol' recommendation, and one of the top games I played this year.

LaserCat

Xbox 360 (Indie)
Feb 1 ~ Feb 2

A fun, simple little game very much inspired by single-screen platformers from the ZX Spectrum. Guide LaserCat around the maze-like world, taking part in basic platforming and answering trivia to collect keys!

It's a very quaint and simple formula, and the game is of a fairly breezy difficulty, but it's all bundled together in a pleasant little package. Some rooms have rather nasty trap patterns, and working your way around the castle can be befuddling at first, but the game is just so darn adorable there's no room for hard feelings.

With a lot of games it's easy to take for granted the time and effort it takes just to produce a 'basic' engine, but LaserCat, for all its small size, makes the most out of a very simplistic game and handles everything very nicely. Short and sweet and very recommended.

Akane the Kunoichi

Xbox 360 (Indie)
Feb 4 ~ Mar 6

I rather foolishly bought this instead of trying a demo, based purely on the nice-looking graphics in the screenshots. Doubly foolishly, I was expecting a fast-paced Shinobi III style adventure with all manner of acrobatic ninja antics. Surprise! It's a bog-standard 2D platformer! And the graphics aren't even that good!

It's an okay game, and I'll give it credit for being put together a bit better than a large amount of other Xbox Live Indie platformers... but it's just not that inspiring, y'know? There is a moderate difficulty curve and the last few levels are particularly tough, but the levels are large and rather aimlessly designed, and the game as a whole feels rather slow-paced.

I forced myself through this just so I didn't have an unfinished game sitting on my hard drive. I didn't collect all the kimonos, but unless that unlocks a new game that's 50% less boring, I don't think I'll bother.

Wild Guns

Super Nintendo
Feb 6

One of the few games I picked up on the Wii's Virtual Console, if just in a futile attempt of saying, "this is a good game! I wish to pay money to demonstrate my appreciaton for it and the people responsible for its creation!" But, well, royalties in the video game industry is a real can of beans, isn't it? Some developers don't get the appreciation I'd love them to.

A very fun and simple game with great graphics and mechanics. A crosshair shooter the vein of arcade games like Blood Brothers, you run your little dude across the bottom of the screen, shooting any and all enemies that come your way, be they bandits, cannons or bipedal robots, as well as obliterating whatever landscape they're set against, before fighting a suitably impressive boss. It's an arcade game through and through, so fighting through it again and again, working to improve your score and skills is where the real lasting appeal comes from.

My only possible complaint is that having to replay the beginning stage every time you play before you can reach the stage select gets a little tiresome, but it's a crackin' little shooter. I finished it on Easy and Normal, and dabbled in it quite a bit throughout the year. A high quality title.

Abobo's Big Adventure

PC
Feb 7 ~ Feb 8
"AFTER I FINISHED TRAINING HIM, LITTLE MAC WENT ALL POWER CRAZY AND USED HIS SKILLS FOR EVIL!"

An NES tribute game made by the folks at I-Mockery. It's a fair enough little romp, the novelty lying in its countless cameos, unashamed pandering, and seeing so many styles of NES gameplay recreated in Flash.

It's full of quirky references and surprises, but a number of levels feel a bit drawn-out and tedious, particularly towards the end of the game, which dampers what manic attitude it was aiming for at times.

There's probably better games in the same vein to be found, but not a bad effort.

Live-A-Live

Super Nintendo
Feb 15 ~ unfinished

For whatever reason, I suddenly became interested in media where characters from all sorts of worlds and eras met in a big melting pot. Y'know, because that's the niche genre if ever there was one. I was interested to see how this game handled the concept, and starting playing a bit of it after watching Frankomatic's Let's Play, but ultimately didn't have the patience for it myself.

You've got seven campaigns, each in a different setting and with a slightly different approach to gameplay. The wild west chapter is about setting traps for incoming bandits; the wrestling chapter is nothing but fights; the prehistoric chapter has no dialogue, and so on. It's flavouring at best, and doesn't exactly impact the gameplay a great deal; it's still a 16-bit RPG, after all.

The space chapter is easily the highlight of the game. In a setting ripped clean out of Alien and 2001, it follows a robot aboard a ship that's ravaged by the crew's distrust, mechanical failures, and a beast that's escaped from containment. It's little more than a visual novel, progressing from one event to the next with no combat, but the bleak and quiet atmosphere is superbly done, and it's surprising a 16-bit RPG has captured that sci-fi vibe better than many others games; including most licensed Aliens games!

The battle system is also a nice change of pace. It's still turn-based menus, but set up on a game board, so the characters' positions and range of their attacks play into how fighting takes place. It's a neat system with some really nice graphics, but it feels rather underdeveloped. There's a complete absence of magic points, there's no info on any of your attacks, and it feels unsuited to make boss battles rewarding or regular enemies not such a chore. It's hard to explain!

I played two chapters, but gave up on the third. It's not my kind of game, but Frankomatic's LP is a good watch. Seeing him and Cess struggle through countless battles was more entertaining than doing it myself.

Mega Man 3 (The Wily Wars)

SEGA Mega Drive
Feb 16 ~ Feb 22

Got into a Mega Man mood this month. If I want a quick time killer the Mega Man games are always good for a quick spin, but it's been a while since I played one to completion. It was fun finishing this again, and it made me admire just how big the game is, y'know? You've got eight Robot Masters, then four Doc Robot stages (with all eight of Mega Man 2's bosses!), and then Wily's fortress. For a third instalment, it's a very packed game.

The Wily Wars is a fair enough port, and was my introduction to classic Mega Man. The updated graphics are nice (if a bit hit and miss, especially in MM3), but the rebuilt game engine feels imperfect. The fact all three games share the same physics is nice, but some of the core mechanics feel a bit dodgy, and some boss behaviour has been altered for the worse. It is a convenient package, though, so I can't bellyache too much.

Rockman & Forte

Super Nintendo
Feb 17 ~ Feb 29

And this was my other introduction to classic Mega Man back in the day. Of all things, right?

For a SNES game, it looks fantastic; having Mega Man 8's chunky graphics in a SNES game is impressive, and the new sprites are terrific. It's a pity the game tries its damndest to be as frustrating as possible. No E-Tanks, janky platforming, and some torturous boss fights.

I played through the game as Bass, who the game seems to be designed around. His double-jump and dash neuter a lot of the difficulty from platforming (which is seriously stingy when you're playing as Mega Man), and his multi-directional buster and abiltiies make him a lot of fun to play. Even then, the game isn't bad, but it's not the most entertaining the series has to offer.

Tobe's Vertical Adventure

PC
Feb 18 ~ Mar 1

Played the PC port to completion, but didn't get all the animals or maximum treasure.

I'm all for supporting indie stuff when I can (and if it's good!), and Tobe's Vertical Adventure has a basic and fun premise - work your way down a vertical dungeon, climbing and using tools when appropriate, before racing to the top again under a tight time limit. It's an entertaining, arcade-like little game, great for playing with chums or perfecting your scores.

The problem is that the engine feels buggy and quirky, and spotty controls result in feeling like you haven't as much control over your character as you should have. 2-player should be a lot of fun, but quite often I was struggling against random deaths, glitchy wall-running, and a screen that struggled to follow both players.

I'm keen to see the game do well, but it's vexing to see the game ship with dodgy, unpredictable bugs miring the experience... twice!

Further reading: We got grouchy reviews for both the Xbox Live Indie Games version (which I don't think is listed on the marketplace anymore), and this PC port.

Kirby Mouse Attack

Nintendo DS
Feb 28 ~ unfinished

I'd bought this nearly three years ago, but don't think I'd even touched it. What better piece of fluff to play when waiting for kettles and saucepans to boil?

It sure is a Kirby game. They're not exactly known for intense, challenging experiences, and my fondest memories of the series still lie in Kirby's Fun Pak, with its variety of campaigns and entertaining co-op mode.

Mouse Attack doesn't bring a lot new to the table. There's a few abilities that weren't in the previous Game Boy Advance games, and each stage contains three treasures to find, but the game just drifted through one ear and out the other... or the closest approximation of that analogy there is to playing video games. In one finger and out the other? That sounds vulgar, man. Go wash your mouth out.

But that's the best way I can put it. I apparently cleared six worlds (I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't written that down!), but it was a mighty forgettable experience, and I kept pondering where the game kept its difficulty hidden. Was collecting all three treasures in each stage meant to be the challenge? What incentive was there to do so? At least Nightmare in Dreamland had the promise of a 4-player co-op mode that a mere five people in the entire world probably got a chance to try. This one had zip. At least, I think it had zip, I earnestly can't remember!

I do remember hearing that the game has some throwbacks to continuity from old Kirby games, which I'm sure wins its favour in a lot of Kirby fans' hearts, but I guess this game simply isn't for me.

Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage

SEGA Mega Drive
Mar 13 ~ Mar 21

This game was exhausting. It's already plagued me for years as a game I could never make progress in, but fighting my way to its conclusion was a grueling eight days.

I had hoped beating it would cleanse me a little, but I think doing so only gave me new grievances.

First things first: I did not beat the game fairly. In my defence, the game doesn't play fairly, so I think it's justified. For many, many stages I abused save states something fierce, reloading them constantly to preserve health and power-ups. You'd be surprised how one combo from a street thug can spell disaster a few screens later, and it's incredibly easy to burn through all three lives facing a single boss, without getting a single punch in!

I think come the stage in the Fantastic Four's base I just dropped in some infinite lives, after spending two solid days trying to survive a poorly-drawn robot squashing Spidey under its asshole.

To the game's defence, it is long. There's a huge number of levels, complete with branching paths and a choice between Spidey and Venom in some, which would be an incentive for replay value had the game not driven you insane by that point. On the downside, did you think socking people in the kisser was fun? Tell me what you think after twenty levels of it!

In addition, it is seriously stingy with its assets. City streets and rooftops are revisited with abandon under new colour schemes, and it takes nearly a dozen levels for a new enemy type to be introduced. Likewise, every single boss is fought many, many times, and the final boss is fought in three consecutive fights with no change to his tactics. All you get is a change of location - one of which makes it easy for Carnage to fling you right off the stage.

I did not finish the game with a happy face.

Further reading: The Games I Own review goes a bit more in-depth... though I wrote it before I slogged my way through the game's entirety, so it's not quite as bitter as I'd like it to be. Mentally add ">:("s while reading.

One of many thrilling boss battles:

LOOK OUT SPIDER-MAN
SPIDEY VS DR. J
THOSE DOCTORS GOT UMBRELLAS AND THEY KNOW HOW TO USE THEM

YOU TELL 'EM SPIDEY
Okay, you wanna ACT like animals... then I'll treat you like animals! From this moment on.. YOU'LL GET NO MERCY FROM SPIDER-MAN..
YOU TELL THOSE SAVAGES YOU'RE NOT TO BE MESSED WITH

T.E.C. 3001

Xbox 360 (Indie)
Mar 15 ~ Jun 7

I'm afraid I bought this purely because of the Two Best Friends Play Xbox Live Indie Games video. I'm sorry, but I'm easily swayed by foul mouthed Canucks!

You play a sprinting robot with the simple task of reaching the goal as quickly as possible, and preferrably with as few headlong collisions as possible. Slow-down and speed-up pads litter the tracks and are the only way of altering the robot's default speed; you'll want speed-ups to hit the time record and to cross huge jumps, while slowing down is necessary for hair-pin turns and other devious tricks. It begins fairly simply, but by the end you'll be jumping, sliding, dashing and launching yourself skyward across outrageous courses before you can even think of reaching the goal.

For an Xbox Live Indie Game, it's a pretty solid production; it's very tightly put together, and looks pretty professional. It's got a good challenge with a decent learning curve, albeit a bit of a sharp rise in difficulty. Given the game's lust for speed, it can be a little disappointing that a lot of the stages demand you take them slowly, but that's more down to personal preference than anything remotely resembling critique.

A minor complaint regarding the game's graphics are the gateways that change the colour of the screen. It's a neat and dumb little feature, but some colours are very difficult to see with, though you're given the option of locking the colour. You have to set this every time the game is booted, however, as it doesn't save along with the rest of the game's options. Odd.

A pretty solid Indie title. Probably not to everyone's tastes, but speed-running robots for $2 can't be sniffed at.

Platformance: Castle Pain

Xbox 360 (Indie)
Mar 18

Completed this on all difficulties - around 10 minutes and 40 deaths on Hard mode.

It's one of those 'hardcore' 2D platformers with precision platforming and frequent deaths, I wanna say in the vein of I Wanna Be The Guy. It's only one stage, but the real challenge comes from doing your best to survive, and completing it as quickly and smoothly as possible.

It's a fair enough game, albeit with a couple of minor glitches - mostly just getting hung up on walls, little hiccups. It's a decent production, but admittedly not my kind of game. For 80MSP, you can't grouch too much.

Astroman

Xbox 360 (Indie)
Mar 19 ~ Mar 29

A rather quaint little indie platformer. After getting stranded in deep space, Astroman's only course of action is to explore the nearby planets, recovering his tools and components for his ship, allowing him to venture further and further into space.

The game plays out like a straightforward jump-and-shoot platformer, but takes a leaf from Metroid - getting upgrades will grant you abilities to reach new areas, and ship components will allow you to access new planets.

The curious thing is that most exploration games tend to feature non-linear, "ambidexterous" level design (for lack of a better term), while Astroman is strictly left-to-right. There's an entrance and an exit, with checkpoints, but it still expects you to poke around all the corners for secret pathways. It's an interesting twist, a little spoiled by having to start the level from the very beginning every time you revisit, but certainly a neat take on it.

It's probably a strange thing to praise, but one of the game's best aspects is how leisurely it feels. The enemies are never brutal, serving more like basic obstacles than deadly foes, and the level designs do have platform challenges, but feel designed to urge you to take your time with them.

The ambiance is what sells Astroman - the graphics are cute, mixing simple vector art with atmospheric filters and effects, and the music in particular is superb. The soundtrack, composed by Jeff Ball, is a mixture of orchestral ambiance, light techno and general space-y warbling. As a musical philistine I'm in no position to describe it, but it's a great set of tunes that really makes the game its own. You can download it for free from Jeff's site, though if the option were there I would've paid fat cash for it.

My completion time was 3:04 (though I'm certain it was longer than that!) with 70% of items collected.

It's not an intense experience, but it's a perfectly enjoyable, leisurely little platformer that I have to recommend.

Castlevania

NES
Apr 9 ~ Apr 12

Played this emulated on the PSP while on holiday.

It's the first time I've completed the game, though not without save state abuse, shamefully. It's hard to appreciate the game on a small screen with such iffy emulated controls, but it's still a heap of fun and a great challenge. I'm glad to experience it all the way through, but I'll definitely need to give it a proper run-through sometime.

... a review of the game? What do you take me for! Other, more qualified folks can probably tell you how great the game is. Track 'em down, why doncha?

Bill & Ted's Excellent Game Boy Adventure

Game Boy
Apr 27 ~ Aug 30

I first saw this on Farmhouse: The Adequate Gamer's channel, and was quite intrigued by it. I'm a sucker for platform games of all varieties, and I don't play enough single-screen ones! I only played this on the side, but it kept me occupied for a good while.

It's a pretty bare-basic concept - collect all the shiny things to open the exit, and don't get killed by the historical figures (or historical pits). Sometimes specific shiny things will change the terrain in some way - add ladders, remove platforms, destroy walls - so knowing what order to collect them in without trapping yourself becomes essential.

It's a pretty fun game; stupidly simple, but very enjoyable! The memorisation levels do get a bit tiresome, and break up the fast pace of the game, as do some of the items like the bombs and the balloons, but it's only minor inconveniences at best. Nothing some brute force and ignorance can't solve.

It's a very generic game, though, and the Bill & Ted license would be practically unnoticable if it didn't have the cute splash artwork. The sprites are microscopic and the backgrounds consist of little more than random floating objects - the only way of telling the difference between the wild west and a school concert is what's floating in the air, a cow skull or a giant guitar.

Still, it kept me entertained for a few months, and it's the perfect game to play on the shitter.

Apple Jack

Xbox 360 (Indie)
Apr 28 ~ unfinished

I've had this game for a while, and I've been determined to finish it. Didn't quite manage it this year!

Taking the grabbing-and-throwing mechanics of Super Mario Bros. 2, this game expands upon it and chucks it into a puzzle-orientated setting. The goal is to defeat all enemies on the map by throwing objects - or other enemies! - at them. It sounds simple, but quickly becomes complicated with the inclusion of colour-coded enemies that can only be hurt by objects of the same shade; using walking enemies at platforms across dangerous terrain, and many other tricks.

It never seems to run short of ideas, and there's a lot of fun to be had simply playing with the throwing physics. It's a very, very inventive game... albeit a very frustrating one. The goofy graphics and serene acoustic music (by Josh Woodward) have a calming effect that prevents it from making your blood boil... most of the time.

If I had to gripe, it gets a mite tiresome around world 4. The levels get a bit too long and the solutions a touch too obtuse; it's the case where I usually know what and how to solve it, but actually acting upon it feels like a legitimate chore (which aptly sums up my experience with A Boy And His Blob on Wii, btw). Before then you can spend a good hour taking levels at your own pace, but by that point it feels a bit too demanding, like you can only play through the level this way. I'm no fan of wussing out, but the ability to skip a stage, or even a branching path system, would've been nice so you're not left thumping your head against a single puzzle for hours on end.

I reached level 4-13, a level covered entirely in spikes, where you must use ride washing machines until they meet a crossroads, when you have a brief opportunity to pick them up and find a foe to toss them at. I got well and truly stuck, to say the least. There's a solution video on YouTube, but it's not the most informative in the world.

This is another Xbox Live Indie game I'd definitely recommend getting, and I've heard great things about its sequel, though I'm reluctant to move on until I'm done with this.

... and I'm reluctant to play it until level 4-13 falls in a ditch.

Super Mario 64 DS

Nintendo DS
Apr 30 ~ May 11

Since the birth of this bloody site there's been a very childish and puerile rant about the fallacies of this game (and lack of co-operative multi-player). It was poorly written and unbearably whiny, so I thought I should probably give this another go. We all have to held accountable for something, and "shit on the site I should have purged long ago" is one of 'em!

There's a certain novelty to playing Super Mario 64 on a handheld. It's not quite as smooth and slick as the original, but running around those 3D worlds, jumping around and throwing blocks, all in the palm of your hand, it's really quite enchanting! The controls are a bit finicky, and do suffer in the more precarious stages such as Tick Tock Clock, but they're quite adaptable given time and knowing about its quirks. After fumbling with dodgy ports on the Game Boy Advance, it's pretty neat to see real, interactable 3D worlds on your handheld, even if they are ones I saw over a decade ago!

The additions are rather hit-or-miss, though. The new stages range from forgettable to obnoxious, Luigi's ghost house probably being the worst of them. Changing characters sounds like a cool idea, but adjusting to each character's quirks and properties feels like more hassle than it's worth. One character can collect nearly all the stars in a level, and by the time you encounter one that demands someone else, you wonder, why bother?

I don't know if I was missing something, but having no way to swap characters besides running to the castle's cloakroom was a royal pain, and gave me little incentive to use them, especially after all the trouble spent on unlocking them. Mario and Luigi felt like the only worthwhile ones, for long-jumping or the ability to float halfway across the goddamned level, respectively. Luigi's jumping might have been a little bit broken, you guys.

Given how it's a launch title for one console being reformatted into a launch title for another console, it's not quite A1, but it's not a bad little game given the time and patience. The graphics look great for the DS, even if it is a little strange to see Bowser on-model for once. It's not the remake I would've hoped for, but it's an entertaining change of pace and a charming little experience.

And you know what? I'm not that miffed about the lack of co-operative multi-player. I never met anyone else who owned a DS, anyway, so would I be missing?

(okay, still a bit miffed on principle, though.)

Turok Evolution

Xbox
May 1 ~ May 15

I remember my brother being feverishly excited for this game, and being bummed that despite Official Nintendo Magazine raving about it on the cover, the review inside was decidedly mediocre. It's so-so, but I enjoyed the game more than I was expecting, despite some serious dumb-dumbs.

The plump review at Games I Own shares all that I like and loathe about the game... but I wanna repeat that the environments are nice, y'hear? They're not breathtaking, but after the oh-so-foggy nature of the first game, it's nice to actually experience worlds that feel like worlds, littered in foliage and crawling in wildlife. It really livens up the combat, since the outdoors are so vertical, you never know if enemies may be hiding behind bushes or high up on the cliffs. Modern games have probably accomplished the feeling a bit more competently now, but I think it deserves props.

I guess what really deserves repeating is that the weapons are decidedly lousy in this game. Besides losing most of them between stages, none of the guns feel very comfortable, always suffering from some fatal flaw. The pistol is the only decent "all-around" gun, and either through accident or shitty design, I was missing it for over half the game. Thanks, game!

Mega Man Battle Network

Game Boy Advance
May 3 ~ Aug 4

Mega Man gets digital! If you want me to go indepth on the mechanics of the game, my Games I Own review caters to that. In a nutshell, I feel I dig the game's ideas more than the game itself. The battle system is cool, but it's wrapped in external problems from the overworld and shop systems, making fights frustratingly common and the rewards worthless and unsatisfying. I'm surprised I waded my way through the game, to be frank!

The bane of my goddamned existence: You know what I want to vent about? Elec Man's dungeon.

So what's the objective? MegaMan.exe's stuck in a control panel that's (wait for it) out of control. You've got to traverse a huge screen and collect batteries, which will create new paths when placed into the appropriate slots.

The batteries need to be put in the correct order, otherwise they'll lose power; do it twice, and they need to be taken away and recharged. There's zero indication what the order is for each slot. Sometimes you'll need to reserve a battery for the next set of slots you find, so you can create a path to fetch the old batteries and put them in the new slots.

There are four huge screens of nothing but this. Did I mention half of the walkways are completely invisible?

The game has very frequent random battles. You'll never walk for more than five seconds without a battle, and five is if you're lucky. You'll be fighting a lot.

So while you're running back and forth for batteries, enemies just keep getting in your way. Some enemy formations require a precise combination of chips to kill quickly; without them, they'll wall you into a corner and kill you with no chance of escape. Do you enjoy saving? You'll be saving a lot.

... and if that wasn't bad enough, there's two boss fights in a row at the end of it. The first boss is actually easier than the worst enemies you fought, but the second one is invulnerable half the time and can kill you in two hits... and has a habit of warping onto your side of the board, and it's far too easy to walk straight into him and take damage. The same amount of damage you'd get if he slashed you with his sword. Marvellous.

Also, you're under a time limit. It doesn't appear to give you a game over if it runs out, but it serves no purpose other than to make a video game for children so goddamn stressful it hurts.

That dungeon is the reason I gave up on the game so many years ago. I forced my way through it in one long walkthrough-spamming session, and it was still completely torturous. Fuck that dungeon. It's like they outsourced that one area to a cartoon supervillain.

...

It took me twelve hours to finish the game. I was hoping after that dungeon, the game would pick up.

It didn't get any worse, but it didn't get any better.

Kameo: Elements of Power

Xbox 360
May 16 ~ May 22

I picked this game up in one of those 4-for-20 deals long ago, and figured I should finally get some play out of it.

It's very "eh."

Despite jumping consoles twice during its many years of development, the game is very much the spiritual successor to Star Fox Adventures, in all the same ways. On one hand, the graphics are beautiful, looking lush and impressive even for a launch title, and the areas are all large and colourful. And on the other, the game itself is pretty hokey. The combat is boring and unrewarding, the puzzles feel tiresome, and very rarely did the game muster any entertainment for me.

I blew through it in a week, and as such I'm having serious trouble even remembering the game. I can't help but wonder if seeking 100% and doing all the sidequests would've garnered a stronger opinion from me... but if the main campaign did so little for me, what would the optional content have to offer?

Further reading: Games I Own, Like and Hate has a more in-depth review.

Monster Land

arcade (Xbox 360)
May 25 ~ unfinished

I played this as part of the Monster World Vintage Collection; it's not what I bought it for, but I spent a couple of weeks dabbling in it.

It's very much an old-timey arcade game, filled to the gills with obtuse tricks that are vital for your survival. The game plays like a basic platformer with some hacking and slashing, but also mixes some RPG power growth into the equation. It's a neat feature, and certainly unique for an arcade game, but it does mean if you're not this strong by the time you reach a certain stage, you're boned, son!

... at least, that's the impression I got. I could reach one boss with consistent ease, a goblin dude with a chest laser, but could never get find a way of harming him. My shield would do squat against his laser, and could find no way of avoiding it.

It's not a bad little time waster and an intriguing bit of fun, though it's not a patch on the other two games in the compilation.

Wonder Boy in Monster World

Mega Drive (Xbox 360)
May 26 ~ Jun 5

Evolving from the arcade game, this takes the 2D RPG platformer formula and makes it a bit more conventional, introducing a connected overworld, a proper equipment system, among other conveniences.

I enjoyed it a lot. The arcade game has its own unique charm, but this one is a bit closer to what I'm familiar with. There's great fun in exploring the 2D world, and getting new equipment along the way is rewarding. It's a very eye-pleasing game, with chunky, colourful graphics; I was always looking forward to what town was coming up next.

There's a few dumb issues; the player moves a bit slowly, which is just a bit of an annoyance in the vast town areas. The boss fights were particularly finicky, what with the short range of your weaponry and how it seems to boil down to exchanging hits. The game also begins with a button memorisation puzzle, which is not only a bore, but also a bit of a nightmare when you're working with re-configured buttons on the Xbox 360 controller!

Lastly, the game comes to a bit of a frustrating halt at the final boss. There's a few hiccups, but the game plays pretty smoothly; I reached the final boss in three days. It took a solid week to get past him. It's such an outrageous leap in difficulty, playing up all the player character's faults that it's shocking. Not that the ending is something you can't live without, but still!

It didn't end on a high note, but it's a fun, charming little game, one I'm glad I played. It does sound like the Japanese version is the one worth playing, with less dumb hurdles thrown in the player's way.

New Super Mario Bros.

Nintendo DS
Jun 4 ~ unfinished

Fun fact! I played this while scanning darn near all of the entries for ONM Remembered. It's the perfect pace of game to dip into while waiting for pages to scan, but it lost its luster after a while. I had lost my 100% save file, so this was an excuse to start from the beginning. There's... not much incentive to do so. Great, now you need to wade through all the crummy levels to get to the sub-par ones! Again!

The engine is solid and the new power-ups are decent; the Koopa suit is awkward, but it offers a fun challenge, and the Mega Mushroom is heaps of fun... so long as you find a level it's compatible with. But the level design just feels uninspired, and so many of the sub-castles feel like a genuine slog to go through.

I was mad excited about the game years ago, but I think after the novelty of 2D Mario returning after so long faded away, the game feels pretty unsatisfying. The ingredients aren't bad, but there's little to get excited about now. I dropped the game after world 5.

Monster World IV

Mega Drive (Xbox 360)
Jun 19 ~ Jul 1

After the RPG flavourings of the last game, this one dilutes that in favour of a more linear quest with platforming and puzzle solving. It's very much a different specimen, but it remains a very fun little adventure.

The protagonist, Asha, is paired up with a blue blobby beast called Pepalogoo whose purpose is to be an all-purpose tool, ranging from parachute, to platform, to a projectile. Asha has a great range of control, moving far swifter than the chump in Wonder Boy ever could, and as such you don't feel hindered by her comparative lack of abilities. Some controls can become a bit finicky in certain situations later on, but using the two of them works out very nicely.

The game is really sold on its terrific visuals and audio, carrying a cutesy anime interpretation of Middle Eastern fantasy. The characters are full of personality and wonderfully animated, and each dungeon carries a unique atmosphere. A great musical motif carries through the game across all its landscapes, which is a great feature.

Sadly, the level design is a lot less inspiring than the previous game. So many rooms are just flat stretches of walking from left to right, and it begins to feel like padding after a while. Even the hub area is just a big straight line, whereas the hub in Monster World was tall, compact, and easy to navigate. And speaking of straight lines, the game is explicitly linear. There's little to no exploration, you can't revisit old areas, and the town is little more than a brief stop between dungeons. If you can't afford something after a dungeon, you've only one means of getting limited money, and it's possible the item's price will have changed or gone off the market entirely by the time the next dungeon is complete.

Linear design aside, it's a very slickly produced little gem, full of charm and makes for a very entertaining play. I found it a memorable little title, and look forward to giving it another run-through sometime.

Metal Slug 7

Nintendo DS
Jun 27 ~ Jun 28

I played this to keep me occupied in between scanning books, so I wasn't exactly giving it a critical eye.

There's a certain novelty to playing Metal Slug on the DS, though it's not the most enchanting one. The handheld's controls feel a little ill-suited for the fast-paced action, and the screen seems too small, especially when the backgrounds are among the ugliest in the series; losing clarity and distinction of what's ground and what's not is no fun.

Aside from that, it was still very familiar to me, having played its remake Metal Slug XX. It didn't even seem as radical a change as Metal Slug 2 to X, though. Some screens in XX felt a little out of place, such as the revisit of the man-eating plants, and I was expecting them to have been shoehorned in for the revamp... but no, they were there in the original! How odd.

I'm not sure what merit this has when XX is available, though. 2 and X are the same game, but they've got quite different item and enemy layouts, so there's value in playing both if you want the variety. 7 didn't seem to throw any surprises my way.

Goldeneye 007

Nintendo 64
Jul 9 ~ Aug 5

Got the urge to play through this again, and opted for a run on Secret Agent difficulty. This was the first time I'd ever completed the main game on that setting, apparently!

The game probably hasn't aged perfectly, especially given the era of ultra-convenient first-person-shooters we live in now (where's my regenerating health? where's my checkpoints!), but it still holds up as a well-crafted game. After dabbling in literal railroads such as World At War, it's cool to play through large levels with a variety of objectives to accomplish.

... that said, I don't miss levels like Surface. I played those levels when my console had a dodgy RGB cable, and they were blindingly white. They weren't any fun when you could see the ground, either!

I've been so used to bumbling through the game on Agent difficulty that Secret Agent was a pleasant surprise. The enemies weren't all complete dopes! Still victim to dodgy AI flaws, like the inablity to see around waist-high railings in Cavern, mind you, but coming across new enemy placements with stronger weaponry was nice.

The latter half of the game did give me a hard time, but enjoyably so. I stunk pretty hard, but working out the right way of going about your mission and getting through it unscathed is always rewarding, especially after bashing your head against the same challenge for so long. Control was a galactic pain in the arse, though. Protecting Natalya comes down to hard luck, but once that's over, you're frantically scurrying through a large level, completely oblivious where the exit is while an endless supply of guards come swarming in. Satisfying once you finish it, but you don't get there without gritting some teeth first.

It's probably going to get harder and harder for future generations to revisit this game, not counting the legal issues, but credit where credit is due, it's a very entertaining game. Just wish folks out there were still interested in multi-player!

Saturn Bomberman

SEGA Saturn
Jul 21 ~ Jul 22

Played this on a whim and recorded it for YouTube. It gave me a chance to refresh myself on the game, study it a little bit for the website... and heck, I just don't play the game enough!

You can hear a lot of my comments on the game in the playthrough videos, but I might as well repeat them: the game's graphics and music are excellent, with a rich level of detail in every level. These little elements and the transitions between stages finally makes these worlds feel alive, and more than just dinky little grids.

The gameplay is largely the same as Bomberman '94, though the selection of items and Tirras gives you more options on how to approach them. Some of the items are a bit dodgy, and the Tirra growing mechanic doesn't add a lot, but it's nice that they tried something different, even if it never showed up again.

It's a well-rounded package of a game! It's got a colourful single-player mode, a very extensive battle mode, and a bonus score attack mode for good measure. It's just a pity we don't see as many Bomberman games serving as much as this, and of a similar quality.

Super Bomberman 3

Super Nintendo
Aug 11 ~ Aug 19

Around this time I'd gotten the idea that I should start playing some Bomberman games I'd barely touched before, to get myself better acquainted with them. What better stuff is there to play while on the toilet?

I'd dabbled a fair bit in the rest of the Super Bomberman series, but this was my first time really sinking my teeth into this one. It plays out much like a remix of Bomberman '94 - you got levels with multiple screens, capsules you have to explode to open the exit, and colourful Louies to hop upon that give you abilities. They came out around the same time, only on different consoles, so it's no big surprise. Also, jeez, do you want a lecture on how similar all Bomberman games are? (they're pretty frickin' similar)

Super Bomberman 3 does have 2-player co-op, though, which is a pleasing bonus, even if I had no one to try it with. As such, all areas take place on a single screen, but there's more maps packed into each level, some with inventive tricks such as screen-wrapping to make them feel larger than they really are. Playing this one made me realise how Super Bomberman 4 is almost a step backwards - it may have twice as many levels, but 3 has levels with more maps, and with more dynamic level designs. That said, some of the levels in this one did feel very long at times, and 4 has nicer graphics and more interesting mechanics.

... this is a review, not compare and contrast! Super Bomberman 3's a fun game, and I look forward to covering it on the site.

Bomberman '93

PC Engine
Aug 21 ~ Aug 23

Speaking of compare and contrast, this one is basically an expansion pak to Bomberman on the Turbo-Grafx! We're talking exact same mechanics here - you've got the four minute timer, the enemies spawning upon time-up or from destroyed items... I can't even remember much in the way of new power-ups.

It's not a bad game, though, and I'd consider it more entertaining than its predecessor. I can't speak with any finality, since I'd slogged through that first game a whole bunch of times now for the sake of the site, whereas this was my first time even playing '93, so anything new was appreciated.

For that matter, there's a surprising amount of enemy varieties, some with quite interesting behaviours... at least, more interesting than "move aimlessly" (it did dredge you in enemies that could walk through walls a bit much later in the game, but at least it stopped the Wall Pass from being a complete game breaker). The bosses are huge and a lot more lively, and each world begins with a screen warning you about them, so it's nice to see what you've got to look forward to each time.

The last game was nothing but grids, but this one actually has proper level designs now - hard block arrangements and gimmick traps and stuff! It's nowhere near as elaborate as the levels in '94 or Super Bomberman 2, but it's a start (and discounting Bomber King, Bomber Boy and the arcade games, this is probably the first instalment with actual level design!). The levels all look quite nice, and if anything, the game's big and colourful graphics are reason enough to keep playing.

It was nice to see the game in full, and there were a few neat moments. As a single-player game, I'd still recommend '94 over it - that game's just more compact and quicker to provide innovations.

I should probably make a Top Bomberman Games list sometime, to narrow the series down to the instalments worth giving a hoot about; a bit like Mandi Paugh's Mega Man list. I love the franchise, for sure, but of the eighty-something games or more, there's probably only a core dozen worth giving a hoot about. Distressing, eh?

Bomberman 64

Nintendo 64
Aug 24 ~ Aug 30 (bad end)
Nov 12 (Rainbow Palace)

If I was going to be playing all these Bomberman games, then I had to try out the one that got me into the franchise. I've oodles of fond memories of the game, but I have not given it a serious replay since I bought it... fourteen years ago? Good grief.

Bomberman 64 was a game of the era where venturing into 3D was a bold new move, one where developers were discovering what could be done with this new Z-axis and technology, and how previously-successful franchises could make use of it. Hudson dropped the block-mazes and the blow-up-dudes-to-reach-the-exit motif, and turned Bomberman into... like, some sort of 3D, puzzle-solving, exploration game? It's tricky to define, but it's an interesting game.

The first thing I noticed upon replaying it was how much I love the environments. It felt so good playing something with worlds that were so open, with so much packed into them! It genuinely felt like the worlds were created first, making for weird and wonderful architecture, and only afterwards did they try and plot a course and objective through each level. Taking a straight path to the level's goal means you'll miss most of the content!

However, it does come across as the game design's downfall. Although the goal of each world is to simply find the exit, all but one of them require some degree of puzzle solving to open the gate, with only a vague hint towards what you're meant to do. Having played the game something fierce years ago, I usually knew what to do, but I can completely understand someone venturing into the game and being blindly lost. It's shocking how some large setpieces are there for the sake of a single bonus item; it's easy to spend a long time working on one puzzle, only to find it wasn't what you were looking for.

But the environments, to me, are what make the game. It feels like the first time Bomberman takes place in an actual world, and not some magic grids-and-blocks land. They're very low-poly, early in the Nintendo 64's life, but to me there's something very mesmerising about some of the environments. Green Garden, particularly its third stage, is really beautiful: a massive stone ruin, some parts sinking and some rising out of the water beneath it. The Japanese manual has terrific illustrations of them, with painstaking accuracy to what you see in the game itself, which is a real boon.

This game also introduced using bombs for more than just destruction, but as platforms, bridges or blunt objects, and it's always rewarding to find a use for them. From destroying supporting structures to using them as stepping stones, or simply whacking stuff with them, the game gets a lot of mileage out of them.

The most important use for explosives is the Bomb Jump; dropping on top of a bomb will cause Bomberman to bounce off it. Many of the game's secrets and Gold Cards are hidden either across long gaps or on high platforms, forcing you to create elaborate bridges and stepping stones using your perpetually-bouncing bombs. It's a really inventive idea, and one the designers were clearly proud of, but it is most certainly not user-friendly. It's a goddamned nightmare, in fact.

Despite being 3D, the game's design still shows signs of a grid - this gap is five bombs long, three bombs high, and so forth, so in theory, Bomb Jumping should be a snap. It is not. Stacking bombs just a few pixels across or landing on the wrong side can have disastrous consequences, and every attempt at building stepping stones is a torturous procedure, where Bomberman gets wedged between bombs and has to slowly rebuild the whole set-up. It is unbelievably finicky. Words cannot express how gammy the whole system is. My nostalgia keeps me thinking "it was a good idea!", but that's the only aspect of it that worked - as an idea.

Another thing nostalgia and bias can't defend is the camera. It's all right... sometimes. When it gets stuck inside geometry, it's tough to find a single angle that's remotely useful. It's a pity, because the credits montage shows custom camera angles that look both useful and beautiful, and one can only wish the C-Buttons were capable of that kind of range.

I played the game on Hard, which must have been my first time trying it. Enemies are faster and take more damage, but that seems to be the only change. I did load up my old Easy save to finish Rainbow Palace, because jeez, I don't want to collect 100 Gold Cards again.

It was a lot of fun revisiting the game in depth again, even if it did highlight how some parts are a bit of a slog. It feels like a game I end up respecting the ideas and concepts behind it more than how they actually excuted them. It's hard to deny that the game was ropey to begin with, and has not aged at all well... but darn it, I can't bring myself to dislike the game. I have trouble imagining people revisiting it in the future, but to me it'll always have some merit.

Street Fighter X Tekken

Xbox 360
Aug 26 ~ Aug 29 (rental)

Got this as a quick rental. I followed a little of the hype leading up to the game, and I seem to recall some pre-release talk about it being made suitable for casuals, to ease folks into Street Fighter's system and whatnot. They did say that, right? Because, uh, I didn't feel that. There was a tutorial, but it still didn't teach me fundamentals like, jeez, how do I pull off these quarter-circles reliably? Why can I only master Tiger Uppercuts when I'm facing left? Principles like that, man. And there's not even an Easy mode so I can scrub my way through it like in Marvel!

I didn't touch the Gem system, either. It sounded like an intriguing system in all of the pre-release materials, but holy crap, the menus surrounding it are intimidating as all hell. Rows and rows and rows of all these gems, all these instructions and commands... it's mad daunting! I guess, like fighting games in general, it's something you have to really sit down and figure out for yourself to get the most out of. As a scrub noob bitch, though, it seemed to add nothing but unnecessary complication to the whole shebang.

So when are they gonna incorporate single-button special moves? Tell me the PC ports have that, at least. Then I'll get interested.

My gross incompetence and negligence aside, the game was a lot of fun to dink about in. The fights are a lot of fun, with an entertaining roster from both factions. I never quite worked out the Pandora option, but the tag system was a pleasing change from vanilla Street Fighter, without the manic insanity of Marvel's team comboes.

As always, the production values are incredible, and the game looks as sharp as ever; I love just looking at these games, even if I can barely play them. It's kinda neat getting introduced to all these Tekken guys I've only been vaguely familiar with in the past. The comical Street Fighter interpretation of them probably ain't at all accurate, but it's a fun way to see these guys for the first time.

I beat the campaign with five teams, and dabbled in a bit of CPU versus (because I wouldn't want to embarrass myself or my opponent in netplay!). I shuffled between Asuka, Rolento, Zangief and Bob, and getting a lot of mileage out of those first two - Asuka in particular was great fun to fight as.

Bomberman GB 2

Game Boy
Sep 1 ~ Sep 15

Back to instalments I've never played! The first Bomberman GB (or Wario Blast state-side) is a rather hokey CPU battle mode, but this one ditches that for regular enemies and actual level designs. This game's unique gimmick is that each world has two modes, Mode A and Mode B, each with a different objective. World 1, for instance, you can choose Mode A where you simply have to defeat all the enemies... but in Mode B, you have to defeat them in a numbered order. Other objectives may render enemies invincible, only becoming vulnerable after all the crystals in the level are defeated, and so on.

I only chose Mode A for my playthrough, but it's an interesting feature, and can force you to approach each level a little differently. With the invincible enemies, you'll want to bomb a path that takes you to the crystal with as few encounters as possible, though this is hindered a little with the Game Boy's small visibility. Like the previous game, you gain new abilities after each world, and they too add to your assessment of each stage. In the level with the gates, for instance, you'll want to exploit your Bomb Kick to wedge gates open, or else they'll shut behind you and make life a bother.

Each world is pleasingly different, and certainly gives more incentive to play the game to completion than Wario Blast did. Sadly, the game ends on a rather sour note. The second-to-last world introduces warp pads, zipping you between isolated areas of the map. This drags each level out for way longer than they should do, turning them into scavenger hunts looking for a measly number of enemies spread out across a large, barely visible map.

And there is no last world. You get a boss rush instead! Including the boss you just fought at the end of world 7! You're given maximum bombs and fire power, mercifully, but the whole affair feels like unnecessary padding. The game's long enough as it is, frankly.

As one last kick in the teeth, the final boss has three forms and its last form has some seriously dodgy collision detection. The game's bosses get pretty tough towards the end, but their real difficulty seems to come with their spotty collision detection than having genuinely nasty patterns or whatever.

This is most evident with the boss of world 6, a jumping top thing. You have to bomb it for the brief period it's on the ground, spending less time ground-bound after each hit, until it's there for less than a second before springing off. It is very difficult to time your bombs just right, and even when it looks like it's been blasted, it usually doesn't count. Because of that, it's easily the most troublesome boss in the entire game. It's not even dangerous, it's just a bloody nuisance!

Bosses aside, the rest of the game is relatively decent, a good step-up from the last affair. Its length and repetition do wear it out a fair bit, but I'd say it's a more satisfying product than Wario Blast.

Bomberman GB 3

Game Boy
Sep 19 ~ Oct 13

The last in the GB series. I played this one with the translation patch created by Duke Serkol and David Mullen. Thanks, guys!

This one mixes things up a little yet again. You're given a choice of three worlds to enter, all with six stages and a different objective in each one. The objective is pretty negligible, though. Basic affairs like destroying all enemies, blasting all generators, collecting all items... once in a while you're tasked with solving block puzzles or tricking an invincible eating-machine into gobbling up the (also invincible) enemies for you.

I admit I was probably getting burned out on Bomberman shit by this point, but I didn't find this one quite as engaging as GB2. That said, I do respect it for trying to mix up the formula a little. There's the aforementioned objectives in each stage, and once in a while there'll be some sort of gimmick to keep you on your toes: Giant snowballs that roll around the area; invincible floating enemies that slowly track you the entire time; auto-scrolling levels; and most amusingly, some stages have Skull Bombs littering the map that, if bombed, will instantly obliterate the entire level. They're dangerous and also totally hilarious.

There's a shop after you complete each world, where you can buy skills (Line Bomb, Bomb Kick, Dash, etc) or Moto-Bombers, which are basically Louies - they serve as an extra hit and each have a unique skill, like jumping over walls or crushing soft blocks. It's a nice change from just getting your abilities in a set order like the last two games, and I appreciate the game offering the freedom of choice. You can buy 'em all, or you can survive without them if you're feeling bold!

The Moto-Bombers are a wee bit game-breaking, though. You get to choose one before each stage/screen, and if you lose it it'll remain lost for that stage, but is repaired by the next one. So, basically, you'll always have an extra point of health in every stage if you buy one.

The only skill you'd really want is the Bomb Kick, so you can save up and get the best Moto-Bomber after your second or third world. That one scores you three hits points and a Dash ability!

Some stages are very tricky, especially when dealing with invincible enemies or auto-scrolling. The bosses are a more pleasant difficult compared to GB2's tests of patience. A bit easy, but I'm not complaining.

Mind you, Devil Bomber, the final boss, is a bit of a chump. His tactics are slightly nastier than the other bosses, but the game foolishly makes you fight a "clone" of him halfway through the final world... which is nigh-identical to the real deal, except for missing one or two abilities. In a sense, the game gives you a practise run before you can fight the final challenge. That's a dumb design choice if ever I heard one!

Playing the game, I was hoping it would explain a bit about Devil Bomber, or at least foreshadow how or why he would inexplicably show up as "the man behind the man" at the end of Bomberman Hero. Haha, nope! What was I thinking? The ending is actually even worse than the previous GB games, because it ends up reading like a toy commercial. "Coming soon to local toy stores, Commander Bomberman and his Skybomber jet, with real sky-bombing action!"

It's a fair enough instalment. It's better than Wario Blast (but what isn't?), and though it's a pity it didn't see an official English release, I'm glad the more inventive titles from that period still reached our shores.

Metal Slug X

arcade (Wii VC)
Sep 24

I'm a useless sucker who drops cash on every Metal Slug and Bomberman reissue I can find, in a dire attempt to support their respective companies. Because we're never going to see something with quality like this again!

What can I say? I've been playing the game for ten years now. It's still a brilliant game. If you dig hectic 2D platformers with guns and explosions and camels, then join the party.

The Virtual Console release isn't too shabby, and I believe is the first rerelease to properly emulate the Neo Geo AES's battery function, so it's got a working stage select and everything. Happy days! The PAL release is a teensy bit slower than it should be, which is stupid, but we've come to expect it by now. Nintendo clearly aren't wising up. Wise up, Nintendo!

La-Mulana

Nintendo Wii (WiiWare)
Oct 1 ~ unfinished

I played the game quite intensely during October, but tailed off around the beginning of November. I had beaten three ankh bosses, gotten two stone tablets and focused on exploring the Twin Labyrinths and reversed Temple of the Sun, but ultimately got a bit lost.

The game bills itself as an "Action Archaeological Ruins Exploration" game, and it's a damn good description. This isn't just your ordinary Metroidvania manner of exploring, finding tools and using them to gain access to old areas - La-Mulana demands some real archaeology. Well, the video game equivalent thereof - reading tablets, deciphering clues to solve puzzls, piecing together the cryptic backstory... it's very engaging and very original!

The game is very tough, though. Being inspired by game design of olde, there's heaps of traps that exist to screw you over, and not just by killing you - there are traps that can deny you access to items and weapons if you don't think it through. Keep extra saves handy, y'hear?

The bosses are always tough, and no matter how strong you get, always seem to deal deal fat stacks of damage. Every time I faced one it felt like I couldn't beat them until I discovered a new ability or weapon... but during my progress that was never the case. It's just a matter of fighting the best you can and defending yourself competently. It's actually a pleasant surprise. It feels like a common occurance in a lot of games to just beat a boss first time without much hassle. It's tough, but rewarding!

Solving the puzzles of the ruins is actually very rewarding, moreso than just revisiting an old location with a double-jump or something. It's a tough game to make progress in, and you seriously need to keep a log of things you discover. There are many areas to explore even early in the game, but the game seems to have a designated path through it - you can make a lot of discoveries, but by a certain point it seems you need to do certain tasks in a certain order, and you better know what that is, or finding your next objective becomes a bit of an endeavour.

I really loved the atmosphere, and the enemies and environments never failed to inspire me.

What surprised me most was the story, actually! The game begins under the simple premise of "explore these ruins!", but as you go you discover stone tablets - some are related to puzzles, while some offer cryptic hints towards the history of the ruins. They're frighteningly incomprehensible, and the player's actions have no real bearing on the plot, so to speak, but piecing together the backstory from the scattered ruins was actually a lot of fun. I'm not a man who cares for stories in games, but making finding out the story into a game was a really interesting move, and one that got me more than a little engaged in it! You don't see that shit in AAA titles.

My session with the game may have petered off without accomplishing a great deal, but I had a heap of fun playing the game. It's very demanding, and even starting a fresh save file might be a bit exhausting, but I would like to get back into it again. Well worth trying out in some degree.

Bomberman Act:Zero

Xbox 360
Oct 13 ~ unfinished

It bears repeating: thanks a million, Rage Quitter 87! This was an awesome birthday gift. Also, fuck you, Rage Quitter 87, now I have to play this game!

Well, it's the walking joke of the franchise. Japanese developers catering to the Western market in the worst way possible. Next-gen gaming gone horribly wrong. Whatever angle you want to take. If they're still online, Hudson Entertainment had some amusing articles back in the day trying their hardest to win folks over with the game's design philosophies... and then a few years later, admitting in an interview the game was a horribly misunderstanding on both the Japanese and American developers sides. It's a bit more of a tragedy from that angle, but that doesn't mean we can't laugh at it, right?

Surprisingly, the core of the game itself isn't actually that bad. It mixes up the formula a bit, changing some things you'd probably only notice if you're familiar with the mechanics of the series (welp!); bombs have a brief period where you can walk through them when they've been dropped, and flames no longer travel instantaneously, so a bomb at the far side of the map won't vapourise you if you're in the line of fire, so long as you move fast. It's minor little changes, but it actually gives a fresh take on the battle game, especially combined with the huge maps and new modes.

The big addition is the "FPS Mode", which, despite the acronym, gives you control over a third-person camera, so you can only see where you're standing, and not the whole map. Players also have life bars, and standing in explosions will quickly drain their health rather than obliterate them; power-ups are lost after certain amounts of health is sapped, for instance. Seeing only a portion of the huge map plays up the tension, especially when bombs can have screen-spanning blasts or you can lay a line of bombs the length of the entire stage. Throw in enemies making devious usage of penetration and remote bombs, and it's actually a very entertaining and intense mode.

... but, well, we know what's coming. Online-only battle mode.. You cannot play this on the couch with your buddies. So, you know, there goes your primary reason to play a Bomberman game. I mean, who wants to admit to playing the battle mode on their own, huh? Haha! Ha. Hum.

Well, that's the other problem: there's not much of a single-player mode. You can play through in traditional overhead one-hit-kill mode, or the aforementioned FPS mode. Whatever option you take, you play through 100 stages of CPU battles. Nothing but. Once in a while it might impose a challenge, like exceptionally tough foes or the sudden death blocks raining down from the start, but that's it. And there's no way to record your progress. You made your way to stage 47 and died? Haha, sucks to be you! Back to the title screen. Hope the hour and a half was worth it, chuckles.

Yes, playing the game is a bit of a time investment. It's nearly a solid minute of pointless transitions and score tallying between finishing one stage and starting the other, and most battles don't last longer than a minute or two. It takes a dozen or so battles before the fights get really interesting, which demands more time than you'd expect. I think it was stage 47 I reached during one of my sessions, and it was at least an hour and a half, if not more. It definitely felt longer. It's a game that demands either some pals for moral support, or a good book to nip into during the downtime.

The game is actually fairly solid, despite missing some essential power-ups to step up the metagame (the Power Glove would've been a plus - even Atomic Bomberman included that one!), but the game's deluge of other faults and omissions kind of overshadow that. It's a very demanding game to mine entertainment out of, but there is some to be found... it just requires time that'd be better spent doing something a little more productive than playing Bomberman Act:Zero.

Some day, I will complete the single-player mode. I swear it.

... and then I'm going to have to complete the other mode.

... life isn't fair sometimes.

Further reading: It's old as beans by now, but an old blog entry still offers some sound opinions on the more dodgy aspects of the game.

Super Bomberman 5

Super Nintendo
Oct 14 ~ unfinished

At this rate, this was the only Super Nintendo Bomberman I'd yet to finish, so I might as well get it over with...!

I reached the final boss in a single sitting, and couldn't figure out how to beat it for the life of me. Um. Well. That's one mystery to try and solve next year! ... or not.

All of the worlds bar the final are borrowed, lifting the graphics and enemies from the previous four games, which is neat on one hand and criminally lazy on the other, especially given the clashing art styles. What's unique is that each world has a good dozen or more levels, with multiple exits in each, so you won't see all a world has to offer in one sitting. It even means there may be secret boss fights, be it with a whole new foe or the same baddie with a few tricks or traps up their sleeve. It's a neat feature to have, especially in a game with such basic and limited replay value as Bomberman.

I'll reserve judgment on this one until I get to know it better, but it seems like a decent enough entry.

CT Special Forces 2

PlayStation
Nov 13 ~ Dec 7

I've a strange soft spot for the CT Special Forces franchise, perhaps more out of what it tries to do versus what it actually accomplishes. It aims to apply the principles of a realistic first-person-shooter to a 2D platforming run-and-gun formula. Although looking similar to the likes of Contra or Metal Slug, it demands stealth, strategy and patience to navigate the levels successfully.

The result has always been a bit ropey, though. The enemy AI is very primitive, the level design is little more like a long walk, and their attempt at adding variety is to include sniping missions, helicopter rescues and vertical shooting stages. It's a nice gesture, but none of them are terribly interesting, and I feel improving the core gameplay would've been time better spent.

Although the first game was optimised for the PlayStation, the following two were built for Game Boy Advance, and the PlayStation port is pretty hokey in comparison. There's graphical errors that arise from showing more than they intended to be visible; a dreadfully blatant loop point in all of the audio tracks; and one or two instances where I got stuck or fell through the ground. It doesn't break the game, but the only plus point about this version is the ability to save your progress, rather than using passwords.

Until now, this was the only 2D instalment I had never finished, and only because I'd never figured out how to beat the final boss. I had to look up the solution - you're meant to throw grenades down its hatch. Intuitive, yes, but not well implemented. Not only is there little to no indication of this, but it takes a whopping 40 grenades to take down... in a level where the most you can possibly collect is 44! If you wasted any, you've no choice but to get a Game Over.

Playing the game did truly spell out the dodginess of the series' game design for me, but I've still got a soft spot for it... just not the PlayStation port. Maybe sometime I'll finally get around to playing that 3D one, eh?

Lost Planet 2

Xbox 360
Nov 28 ~ Dec 3

Despite the date, that's only how long it took me to finish the campaign. This game occupied me for the entirety of December, and then some!

I had played the campaign a year or two ago, and had actually reached the final stage without even knowing it, but was getting pounded so badly I ragequit. This time I started afresh, and was surprised I'd actually gotten so close to the ending last time!

The game is essentially Capcom of Japan's idea of a third-person shooter (when it isn't mistaking that for Resident Evil), with freaky aliens, giant mech suits, and suitably ridiculous weaponry. I haven't played the series, but the way the game controls reminds me a bit of Monster Hunter - you don't quite have the smooth and uninterrupted control over your character as most other shooters, but are at the mercy of the animation. Firing fat-ass rocket launchers will glue you to the ground, players are rendered immobile if an Akrid knocks them off their feet... it's not a system that's for everyone, but given time to get used to it, the game has the same great feeling of timing, strategy and reflexes as Resident Evil 5.

I beat the campaign on Normal and Easy difficulties (and tried it on Hard before giving up because fuck that train boss), cleared all the training missions, and unlocked all the character parts, weapons, emotes and skills. I also played the hell out of the multi-player battle simulator, because there sure as heck isn't anyone else to play with!

It's a real shame, because a lot of the game is basically a promotion to try multi-player, but aside from a few nobodies trying co-op campaigns, there's no audience out there. A lot of the campaign missions feel like team-vs-team scenarios; one level is set on top of two trains, your group trying to take control of the other. I was itching to see this really brought to live in multi-player mode - two huge teams warring against each other inside and outside of these railway giants!

... but, well, if nobody else is playing, then I can't play multi-player to find out if that was a mode or not!

The training mode does include a very entertaining battle simulator against computer opponents, but it's a pretty raw package - you get five modes and five maps, far short of what the real multi-player menu has to offer. There's no Vital Suits in any of them, the franchises' main draw, for crying out loud! And as entertaining as it is, it isn't effected by any of the multi-player DLC. I found out the hard way, sadly. As pathetic as it sounds, playing deathmatch against the CPU is actually a really entertaining part of the game.

During my time getting back into the game, I also discovered that the customization options apply to all modes, not just multi-player. The game's interface is spectacularly lousy and rather devoid of useful information, but this is a great fact to learn. Approaching the campaign having fitted your player with a custom loadout of weaponry and grenades, and even a unique costume (only if you've finished the campaign first) really brings the game to life. Bringing a miniskirt to a space marine fight is what Lost Planet's all about.

I'm surprised how much fun I got out of the game, mostly due to discovering how entertaining the training mode was. I actually popped the first Lost Planet in briefly to see if it had any of these features. Haha, nope, that game still sucks!

I got fat stacks of entertainment out of this game, though it's a tough one to recommend for several reasons. It takes some time to really warm up, and for all its great features, without multi-player, a lot of them feel like they've gone to waste. Not to mention that as a third-person shooter, it doesn't quite offer the instant action and satisfaction most folks would rather seek from the likes of Halo or Gears or whatever's hip. Still, given time and patience, there's heaps of fun to mine out of this game, and I'm still finding myself sinking time into it. It's a good game!

BS Kaizou Tyoujin Shubibinman Zero

Super Nintendo
Dec 13

I wasn't just in the mood for a 2D platformer, I was in the mood for one where you punched things!

The game can be finished in half an hour, but it's a fun little Mega Man-esque romp, except with punch comboes instead of Mega Busters. You have a selection of three attacks at your disposal; a combo, a charge-up attack, and a special move that requires a basic command motion.

They're a basic but pleasing set of moves, and I'd like to see more platformers with brawler-based abilities... but for mercy's sake, give scrubs a chance! Player 1's uppercut requires a simple quarter-circle motion, but for the life of me, I could never get it to work when I wanted. Knowing you're missing out on one of your three abilities when there's four other buttons going unused is insanely depressing.

Super Mario World

Super Nintendo
Dec 13 ~ Dec 19

I played this on my dad's request. I wasn't complaining. It's been a long time since I sat down with Super Mario World!

There are some games I've played so many times I know them nearly inside out, and it becomes almost a routine to go through the motions each and every time. There's little they can do to surprise me. As many memories as I have for some of the old titles, they almost feel 'trapped' in nostalgia, where I can't do anything to create new memories for them.

Playing it with my dad watching was entertaining, though, and seeing it from a different viewpoint was a nice change of pace. My brother and I may have been dipping into this game every year or so, but he may not have seen it in nearly a decade; and it gave me the opportunity to respect the game anew. The music, the graphics, the abundance of secrets. Even commenting on little details like the eyes on the hills, the question blocks sprinkling across the map after clearing a Switch Palace... it was nice to get an opportunity to appreciate them again.

I finished the game in two sittings. I missed out on a heck of a lot, but it was a fun ol' ride. And I might sound like the biggest dork, but seeing that ending again made me more than a little melancholy.

Forgotten Worlds

arcade
Dec 22

I think I got Capcom fever! My brother and I played this in MAME years ago, and completed it without even knowing you could rotate the character around. Well, that was embarrassing.

It's an intriguing little shmup. I'm no pro on the genre, but the mechanics are pretty nifty, and the variety of Options at your disposal is cool. It's very tough; I didn't keep track of the continues I used, but I stunk pretty badly. In some areas I'm not sure quite how you're meant to survive them without serious damage. If I were feeling adventurous I could play the game over and over and over again until I figured out how... but that's something I'll leave to the pros for now!

I love the game's atmosphere. It's so surreal, so full of strange monsters and ethereal landscapes. And so little of it is explained! I think that sense of mythic wonder is what intrigued me the most. You've got these two floating soldiers facing off against egyptian gods, towering giants and Hokuto no Ken homages, and there's not a hint of story or explanation to be found. I'd almost love to see the game revisited as a next-gen production, but still with zero context or explanation for anything.

Resident Evil 6

Xbox 360
Dec 28 ~ Jan 2 (rental)

I got this as a five-day rental, which was a good span of time to finish the three main campaigns and dabble a little in the Mercenaries mode.

If Resident Evil hadn't gone Hollywood before this, it has now! Each of the stories play up different aspects - Chris is a straight-up soldier man, Leon goes for spooky times, and Jake is a fugitive on the run - but they're all very much trying to be blockbuster action movies. You're never far away from the next big cinematic setpiece, and they're all very intense. The game begins on a sequence you don't see until the end of the game, because it wants so hard for you to be thrilled.

And I was wowed! There are so many sequences that are alternately breathtaking or hilarious, simply because of how over-the-top the whole ordeal is. It's a lot of fun playing through just to see what ridiculous scenario's going to occur next.

... perhaps because of the game's desire to be an action movie, the gameplay itself was kind of forgettable. It's a completely different control scheme from RE4 and 5, opting for free-roaming movement rather than tank controls. It suits the game's direction and love for large-scale battlefields, but I felt I never had the precision control over my character as I had in RE5. Even little things like finding items or interaction hotspots felt cumbersome because the character would rather run in a circle than just turn around.

Other aspects, like the game's hard-on for pointing the camera at something else, or its very flash inventory system, felt like they took control away from the player in the name of looking cool. The inventory is hard to quickly manage, especially early on when enemies are constantly being thrown at you; and unlike RE5, there's no opportunity to manage it in between chapters or stages. As such, you're always carrying every single gun you pick up, and I was very reluctant to dump any of them out of fear the game would 'surprise' me with a sniping section or an armoured foe.

I loved the structure of RE5's campaign, splitting the chapters into bite-sized stages - it made replaying the game very accessible, and gave it a very arcade sensibility, where each stage represented a certain challenge. Each of RE6's chapters are easily an hour or so long, uninterrupted for that true cinematic vibe. They were fun to play as a rental, but for every entertaining challenge, there was something that just felt like a chore. I can't imagine myself in a rush to play any of the campaigns again, outside of co-op (which I never got to try, sadly!).

Also dampening my enthusiasm were all of the final boss fights. Certainly designed to be epic, with booming music and high stakes, they were all unanimously major bores. The designers obviously had some grand plans on how to fight them, but actually figuring those out and the right way to execute them was a serious hassle, thanks to both the lack of and serious overload of stimulus. The end of Leon's story features an enemy who 'dies' three times by that point, but keeps coming back, and the fight against him went on for half a fucking hour before giving some vague clue on what to use, and even then still left me to find the other steps by myself. In the context of the story, it's meant to be exhausting, but ordeals like that just wounded my enthusiasm for the story and the game itself.

I didn't get as much time in the Mercenaries mode as I hoped, but what I played was seriously solid, and fat stacks of fun. I reaped hours of entertainment from RE5's Mercenaries, but it eventually felt like a very "rigid" affair, all about exploiting the location of time extensions and combo multipliers.

RE6's version felt a lot more loose, dropping the combo multiplier items in favour of skills you can select before playing to give you an advantage - more item drops, improved melee strength, and so on. With the improved evasion and melee abilities, you're a lot more capable of facing enemies... which is good, because there's a lot more enemy types to be fought, and some of them are real toughies!

I admit this is the point where I say the series has gone in a direction I'm not fond of. It was an entertaining rental, but the campaigns, for all their sizzle and flashiness, lacked the replayability of RE5, and I can't see myself wanting to revisit them much. Unfortunately, the Mercenaries mode was freakin' incredible, and now I'm left wanting to buy a game purely for its secondary mode. That's not fair, man!

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