The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
| Game Boy Color|
Jan ~ unfinished
Oracles of Ages has always been a game I've been little to no progress in - I can't remember if I ever made it past the introductory section or not! I figured if I could beat its companion game, Oracle of Seasons, that might give the motivation to conquer it.
I played this for a couple of weeks and cleared two or three of the dungeons before losing interest. I simply wasn't getting a lot of entertainment out of it. The improvements to the Link's Awakening engine are neat - dungeons now boast scrolling rooms rather than static screens, and the gimmick of changing seasons will alter the overworld, allowing you to find new paths to explore. These and other new additions help give the game a greater 'presence', a more plump adventure than the rather linear Link's Awakening...
...but I just didn't have a lot of fun with it. The dungeons were a bit of a bore, and navigating the overworld got rather tiresome eventually. I had the same issue when I started The Minish Cap again in 2011; I don't know if Zelda games are my cup of tea anymore! Ah well. It seemed like a fair enough instalment, but I think I'd get more entertainment watching someone else play it.
| PlayStation Portable|
Jan ~ Feb (Normal)
Aug ~ unfinished (Classic)
I'd left this unfinished for a long time, I figured I'd get it done and dusted. I completed the Normal Game in under a week.
It's pretty traditional Bomberman - blow up all the enemies and find the exit. It's a copy of the original NES gameplay, though it's got a lot of parallels with the DS game: all items collected are added to an inventory which you can activate at any time, and bosses are fought at the end of each world, though you can't apply items while in the middle of fighting them.
Compared to the DS game, this is a more rounded single-player experience. It's a lot nicer looking, it's a lot bigger, and it might be pandering, but seeing old enemies make their first appearance in years is a real treat: Bagura is the villain again (his last English appearance was 8 years ago, back in Fantasy Race!), Orion's mech from Bomberman 64 shows up, as well as the first boss from Super Bomberman, and even some weird goons from Bomberman Hero sneak in a cameo. It probably helps that the game keeps introducing new enemies and graphics, rather than repeating themes and bosess halfway through like the DS version.
My only beef is that it feels a little slower than most other games, and on rare occasions the number of enemies would actually induce slowdown. The enemies also have a frustrating habit of stopping just short of a bomb explosion - even enemies who never stop mid-path! And when you also take note how defeated enemies pause for a second before playing their death animation, it's hard to tell if you've hit anything or not. Just a strange little nuisance that bogs the pace a little.
Come August I started the Classic Mode, which you unlock after completing the game. It's a straight-up revisit of the NES game; no level design, just the grids, the baddies, and the exits. I got about thirty stages into it before finding better things to do with my evenings. It's a cute diversion, but kind of abandons what made the main game so decent.
I also dabbled in the Battle Mode a little, but the loading times between every menu just killed it. It played well and was more traditional than the weird tall arena you used in the DS game, but it just takes too long to dive into.
A decent enough little instalment, it's what you'd expect from Bomberman on PSP.
Jan ~ Feb
I still had some Capcom fever left over from last year! This was one of the first games I'd ever played in MAME years and years ago, and I was determined to give it a serious go for once.
It's rare to see an arcade game that's a 2D platformer, especially one that's heavy on exploration and other mechanics. There's armour and weapon upgrades; there's a shop system; there's prisoners to free who'll give you items; there's keys to open up secret passages... but at the end of the day, the game's just about jumping about and smashing shit.
It's a good game with solid fundamentals; the goal of each level is simply to defeat the boss, but the levels are huge and sprawling, you're never sure how far you can go! The platforming can be a little fussy in later stages, especially given how restricted your movement is once in the air, and matters aren't helped by the game taking a few cues from Ghosts'n Goblins, namely the endless parade of enemies constantly spawning and chipping away at your health. There's fun to be had exploring, but the constantly ticking timer and depleting health always keep you on the right track, usually.
The latter half of the game is home to some really hellish instant-kills, the most frustrating one being a sword-wielding bipedal dragon you fight as a boss. He's constantly advancing, raining meteors down on you and casting fire upon the ground, seriously limiting any of your movement options - and if you touch him, you die instantly. On one hand, it's a really tough challenge that puts all of your skills to the test... but on the other hand it did cost like several dozen credits and multiple wasted evenings, so I'm a bit salty.
It was a great game to see to the end, one I'd recommend spending an hour with just to see what it's like. It does feel like a lot of its mechanics and systems are there simply to hide how basic the core game is, though.
Alone in the Dark
| Xbox 360|
Feb ~ Mar
Boy, was that a game.
My dad began asking me about the Alone in the Dark franchise all of a sudden - he had watched the Uwe Boll film on Netflix, apparently - so I tracked this down to satiate his interest.
Alone in the Dark is one of those franchises that almost exists exclusively as trivia in nerd culture: "it's the granddaddy of survival horror, but Resident Evil did it better." That's all you ever hear. It's one of those lines you can throw out to educate but offer absolutely no substance, right up there with "in Japan it's called Doki Doki Panic". Heck, it wasn't even until Retsupurae's look at the original DOS games that I even got an idea of what they played like! And, well, the trivia is right: Alone in the Dark did it first, but Resident Evil did it better.
BUT I DIGRESS!
You play as Edward Carnby, a dude who's lost his memory and appears to be of importance to some spooky cultist bloke. Demons are awakening and the city's falling apart and shit's hitting the fan, basically.
What this means if you run around in third-person, fighting enemies using a really dodgy combat system and solving lots of physics puzzles. The game has some interesting mechanics; Edward's inventory is stored in his coat, limiting what he can hold but also allowing you to combine them in interesting ways; you need bottles, wicks and a lighter to create molotov cocktails, and you can pour alcohol on your ammunition to create fire bullets. Enemies can only be killed using fire, which can be accomplished by jabbing them with burning stakes, shooting them with flaming bullets, or simply knocking them out and dragging them into some nearby flames.
What drags the game down is that everything is executed so unpleasantly. The controls, for a start, are god-awful. Carnby doesn't have full 3D movement, nor does he have tank controls ala Resident Evil; instead it's somewhere in between, and it's horrendously fiddly. Attacking isn't assigned to a button, but to the right stick instead; you tilt it one way to reel your weapon back, then the opposite direction to swing it. Carrying a weapon also changes how Edward moves for some reason, and there's a wide range of bizarre quirks to the mechanics. In short, the controls are stupid and bad and I don't like 'em.
The controls aren't even the worst of it, it is an obscenely fiddly game. The game's love for physics renders puzzles uncooperative and driving sequences unpredictable. The game's progression is explicitly linear, but its clues on where to go are vague and unclear, often because the camera chooses to focus on the most unhelpful elements possible.
Then at the final chapter it suddenly becomes completely non-linear, giving you a huge open map to explore and forcing you to burn these evil tree roots to gain powers before you can access the finale - completely unlike the rest of the game, to put it bluntly. It is such a weird turn.
The constant quirks and faults and frustration made it become an actual nightmare to play. I did not have fun. It was the closest thing to torture I've experienced trying to play through it.
... but, in a way, it kind of has its charms? The best way I can put it is the game is an experience. It's a nightmare to play and the story is a crock involving unlikeable characters who are nothing but twats to each other, but there's a B-movie vibe that makes you glad to have gotten through it. And by proxy of being a video game, you end up feeling more invested in it.
With a movie you can just sit there for two hours and let it waft over you, but having to play and struggle through Alone in the Dark for at least four weeks, you're forced to adapt to its bullshit to power through it. And because of that, I felt like I had a bond with the game. Not a pleasant one, mind you, but like a bond between strangers caught in the same plane crash.
(I never said it was a good experience, did I?)
It took a lot of swearing and frustration, but my dad and I ultimately enjoyed the experience side of it. The game is full of memorable little moments, like driving through crumbling streets and setting fire to monsters in Central Park; you run across that area so much you become quite acquainted with all its locales and crevices. Maybe we'll see the real deal sometime to compare and contrast!
I've heard vague remarks that the PS3 version is better, and I've been tempted to check it out and see what it did to salvage the game, but as a player experience I'd say what I played was pretty rotten.
A PC port of an iPad twin-stick shooter (well, technically); run through levels, shoot all the baddies, that sort of carry-on. It's simple, basic fun.
The arcade mode limits you to only 3 weapons, each of which has a certain usage: turrets and armoured enemies are weak to rocket launchers, your flamethrower will fry infantry, and the machine gun is for everything in between. It's a pleasing little balance.
The Mercenaries mode gives you the same game but features an inventory and shop system wherein you spend money on a wide range of weapons and upgrades, and choose which 3 to take into each stage. And lastly, there's a score-based survival mode.
It's a short and simple little game; it's not exactly intense and feels quite softened for a top-down shooter, but it's a cute little game. Its low-poly graphics and expressive textures compliment the game very nicely.
My one beef? It's a twin-stick shooter, but there's no option for actually using twin-sticks! You can play with a mouse and keyboard, or keyboard-only with automatic lock-on targeting. There is some barebones gamepad support, but you can't actually set up commands to aim manually. The auto-aim works fine, but it feels like such a glaring omission not to support it!
Sonic Adventure 2
I honestly can't remember what put me in the notion of this. I wouldn't be surprised if I was arguing over Sonic games with someone, and played this to give myself a refresher on what it's really like. It's far too easy to confuse the Sonic games with my rose-tinted interpretations!
Well, Sonic's gameplay is fun. There's an entertaining sensation of speed and control, and although the levels are pretty freakin' linear, there's usually some degree of choice to be had, even if it's simply going up or going down. It's a style of play that's well suited to playing for mastery, replaying stages over and over to best your score. And the whole thing stays the same - you're always in control of Sonic the same way, rather than swapping between shit like lane-shifting and 2D platforming or whatever the new games hurl at you.
The other characters? Pretty woeful, actually. Tails is a clunky, jerky mess, a real sight in comparison to E-102's relatively slick gameplay in the last game. Knuckles' mode isn't a challenge so much as a test of patience, bashing your head against large levels to find hidden gems. I must've had patience for them when I was still wearing short pants, but now they're a real kick in the teeth to wade through between Sonic's levels.
I only played through the Hero story and skipped all the cutscenes... though I did watch a few because of how bizarre it is to see Sonic in a quote-unquote realistic setting. Eggman's got some hair-brained scheme and the main goal is to nab all the
deus ex machinas Chaos Emeralds, but then you've scenes involving the death of a child and the characters listening to the last words of a mad scientist as he stands before a firing squad.
I know kids anime tends to cover slightly darker stuff than's the norm in the west, but seeing it combined with cutesy cartoon animals is... I don't know what to make of it! At least the first Sonic Adventure is a bit more abstract; an ancient society that abused its power, something that feels a little more fable-esque.
Once I'd finished the Hero story I left it there. I'd had my fill. I can still see the appeal of the game, but it's tough to overlook all the glitches, faults and dodgy parts nowadays.
| Nintendo Wii|
Apr ~ Jun
I spent years looking for this game, and finally found a used copy in GAME out of the blue. It was a thrill to finally find it, but I'm not sure if it was worth the search.
It's what I'd call a "sleepy" kind of game. You romp around levels trying to find the exit, perhaps exploring if the stage demands it, and picking up enemies as means of progressing: you can throw them, use them as a double-jump, break blocks with them, and some enemies can explode or fly you to higher platformers. It's a very cute game and finding the right way to approach puzzles can be fun to figure out.
It's just... very slow and leisurely. It might work for you or it might not. Ultimately, I just found myself wishing I was playing the second game on PS2 - it's got more interesting levels, it looks nicer, and there's more variation in its mechanics. It helped that it wasn't all platforming, all the time; it had occasional skateboarding sequences. They weren't much, but they were a nice change of pace! This game never, ever, steps away from the platforming, and it feels a bit too dry because of it. It's hard to feel enthused when you know nothing's ever going to change.
One thing I didn't like about Klonoa 2 was its story - more because it slowed the game to a crawl for what little it actually offered - and this game is even worse. It's a cutesy, cuddly kids game saddled with this weird anime story of death and tragedy and prophecies and I DON'T KNOW! It feels like a dumping ground for someone's rejected manga plot. Maybe the English voice acting might add something (I played the game with the gibberish voices), but what has this story got to offer?
There's a scene where the villain kills Klonoa's granddad with a spirit bomb, and Klonoa screams his name while holding his corpse - and my reaction was, boy, is this some anime shit. I think my problem comes from Klonoa's design - he's a great cartoon character with big floppy ears and puppy dog eyes, he's darn-near engineered for visual expression! Instead he sits around yapping all day in cutscenes where the characters just stand there. If they had a decent animation crew they could've told the story entirely without voices, and I wouldn't have to experience flashbacks to watching Escaflowne.
My dad theorised that maybe the story was put in to encourage kids to read... and it's an angle I hadn't considered. Harvest Moon on GameCube did have a label on the back saying "a basic reading ability is necessary to fully enjoy this game", but that's a game entirely about communication and interacting. Klonoa is a boopy-doop romp-around platformer suddenly saddled with the most stock of shonen storylines. Maybe a story like this is there to make players of all ages feel more respected, and a purely-silent cartoon plot would be embarrassing to younger players? I don't know. I just think there's too many people in the games industry who are desperate to flex their writing chops, for better or for worse. (and I'm no exception, I'm afraid!)
The game is okay, if a little hard to be enthused by. Playing one level per sitting is enough, to be honest. It would've been nice to have the second game on the Wii, because it's simply better, but things didn't work out, it seems. Oh well.
That's my beef with these remake projects - they announce that the sales of the first one will justify the production of the rest, but has that ever successfully happened? Those Mega Man remakes on PSP sure didn't proceed like Inafune hoped. Is remaking the first instalment why they tend to fail? Those are usually the ones most folks are familiar with already; just get to the instalments that need improvements or a wider release already!
Little King's Story
| Nintendo Wii|
Apr ~ unfinished
I picked this up the same time I got Klonoa. I'd heard the name trotted out when people discuss some of the better unique games for the Wii, and figured I'd give it a shot.
You're a little king (surprise!) whose goal is to conquer the world by expanding your kingdom. You build up the town, train the villagers into certain occupations (farmers, soldiers, hunters, etc), and go about beating up monsters to claim new land. It's a very cute game that can be really engaging; exploring new lands and trying to keep your troops alive while encountering strange new threats is a lot of fun, though quite challenging.
I'll confess I found the game very fiddly in a lot of ways, and it was difficult to step into at first. The introductory section was incredibly long and boring, and I never exactly adapted to the controls - the game features absolutely no pointing or waggling, so why was the Wii Remote & Nunchuk setup necessary? A Classic Controller would've been so much easier to wrap my paws around. Trying to reorganise your troops on the fly to avoid enemy fire was an ordeal, and losing valuable soldiers because of it was more than a little aggravating! The game itself felt solid, but the controls felt a bit... not-optimised, I guess. No johns, I swear.
Also, jeez, is this game blurry. People thought the N64 was a blurry mess, this looks like the screen is smeared in god knows what! That's the clearest screenshot I could find, I swear.
I sunk several hours into the game, but never actually accomplished a great deal: I rescued one of the princesses but ultimately drifted off to other things. It's a tough game to play in short sessions, and it's so easy to lose all your progress to a nasty enemy encounter, but it's one I'd love to find the time for again.
FAST: Racing League
| Nintendo Wii|
May ~ unfinished
I'd bought this a while back (Shin'en's a studio worth supporting, yo!) but never tried it out until my brother came to visit. It's basically F-Zero meets Ikaruga - it's pure racing without attacks or weapons, but orbs you collect that can charge your polarity from white to black, with colour-coordinated panels found throughout each track. These panels, if the same colour as your ship, can offer speed-ups, ramps, or magnetise you to the ceiling of the track! If you're the opposite colour... then it won't work, and you'll probably crash. You can carry up to 10 orbs; changing polarity costs one, and you can spend five to use a speed boost. It can be a fiddly mechanic at first, but it's very interesting and makes for some engaging race courses.
As a WiiWare game, this is a solid product. It offers three to four grand prix cups (with 4 to 5 courses in each), a challenge mode with time trials and item collection tests, and better visuals than a lot of disc-based games! It's a very solid game with a very intense difficulty - it's demanding from the very first cup and can require a bit of trial and error to adapt to its mechanics and the tracks.
If I had to gripe, the game completely lacks any sort of free-play mode: there's no way to pick a course and just practise. Even in multi-player you only have access to the grand prix, so you can't pick your favourite courses - you're playing the whole cup, no buts. It's a curious omission. In addition, you can't unlock anything in multi-player mode. Sure, you can earn flawless gold on all races, but if you're not playing them in single-player then you won't unlock the next cup, the new cars, any of that stuff. It's not like playing with a partner is any easier, mind you!
I've said it plenty of times, but it can't be overstated: this is a rock-solid racing game, and to have this on WiiWare is an even bigger surprise! Definitely recommended. When I left off I had gold in 2 or 3 cups, but had yet to unlock everything, so I've got more to look forward to should I come back to it.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
| Xbox 360|
May ~ Jun
I first played this at my brother's on his PS3 and was instantly smitten with it; a little bit of Mario Kart, a little bit of OutRun, and a lot of transforming! Vehicles change between cars, boats and planes throughout each race, and even the tracks themselves also transmogrify: paths can change, hazards can spawn, among other unpredictable elements. On my first few playthroughs it was a trifle daunting, but it's very playable once one adapts to it.
It's feels fun and inventive, but most importantly, there's a great air of challenge to it. The Mario Kart games can feel a little too random, trying too hard to force an equaliser among racers by punishing you for winning or rewarding you for being crap. This game feels like it does a better job of balancing it, though favouring skill over happenstance. Learning how to drift is essential to winning the harder courses, and all the items are avoidable one way or another. Even the wasps, the equivalent of a blue shell, spawn obstacles in front of the leader's path: they can take you by surprise, but there's usually always a way through.
There's 20-something racers all with different stats, and winning races with them will earn experience points that unlock "mods" to alter their stats. It arguably doesn't need this level-up system, though I won't deny it's just satisfying to see numbers go up - that and it's an incentive to play as each character just to see what extra options they have. Maybe this racer will suit your play style once you get the next mod?
There's also a ton of content: there's 20 courses (plus their mirror variants), time trials, a lively online multi-player (as of this writing!), and a World Tour mode with heaps of unique challenges: traffic attack, one-on-one duels, battle races. And darn near everything can be played locally with up to four players!
When I bought the game for myself it didn't even take me a week to 100% it. I cleared the four-star difficulty in all Grand Prix and World Tour, and it took me until the end of July to beat the developer times on all Time Trials. I don't think I cleared the mirrored Casino course's record, but it gave me the achievement anyway so that suits me.
The big problem I have with the game is that there's a very pronounced skill ceiling... and at that point you can see why Mario Kart tries to aggressively equalise itself. After 100%ing the time trial mode you learn a lot of sweet drifting and stunt skills, but it's tough to unlearn that stuff - taking it to the online mode usually means all the racers are lagging far behind, and they might not even reach the finish line under the time limit! Unless you find another player of a similar skill level, it kind of dilutes the challenge from the online play.
(i know this sounds like a childish boast of my kart racing skills but this really bummed me out, okay)
I was blown away by the game. I'd fallen out of the way of racing games, but this was a pleasant surprise: a solid package that can be gotten for fairly cheaply. You can tell the game had a rather low budget, but the sheer amount of stuff they included with that budget is pretty commendable!
Lyle in Cube Sector
A cute li'l indie Metroidvania. Your cat's been kidnapped, so you've gotta run around and use blocks to explore and beat up baddies. Along the way you uncover more ways to interact with blocks; picking them up, throwing them, kicking them, double-jumping off of them, spawning your own blocks to double-jump endlessly - it goes on!
It's an engaging little game with a cute, kooky LED-lookin' art style; all dark backdrops with bright green highlights. BogoSoft has a quirky art style (best seen on the comics on their site) that translates really well to the dinky pixel graphics. For an indie exploration game it's an adequately-sized little romp, with a few secrets and collectibles to find and some good chiptune to listen to along the way. Worth checking out!
Metal Slug XX
| Xbox 360|
Jun ~ unfinished
I'd played Metal Slug XX a bunch of times, but this was the first time I sat down with the Combat School mode. I think it took me so long to try because there's no achievements relevant to it (I know, I'm pathetic!), and the layout and dodgy translation make it a little daunting at first - it initially doesn't seem as straightforward as the PlayStation versions. Once I'd started, I was having a good time!
It essentially combines the Combat School and Another Mission modes together, so you have your traditional time trials, prisoner collecting and boss challenges, and variants on them (complete the mission without dying or using only your handgun). But then you get some oddball missions, like having to navigate a maze of poisonous bugs; collecting as many items in a screen full of destructible objects; or keeping a ball airborne for as long as possible. It's very odd, and some of the missions are admittedly a bit cack, but it adds some pleasing spice to the game.
It's also great to have a mode that truly emphasises your score and perfecting how to approach the challenge, particularly using characters' unique skills for better scores. Ralf's Vulcan Punch is great for bosses, but his firepower is lousy. Eri's stacks of grenades are useful, but without them she has no perks. Even Clark's Argentine Backbreaker gains a purpose once you're expected to rack up an outrageous score in a tiny amount of time. It can get frustrating, but it's very easy to pick up, attempt a challenge or two and go on with your day.
It's a neat little addition to the game. It's not quite as fascinating as Metal Slug X's Another Missions, nor as in-depth as Metal Slug 3's bonus modes, but I still had a stack of fun with it.
As for completion, I think I cleared all the challenges, but had only gotten perfect scores for the first two or three missions.
Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
| SEGA Mega Drive|
Jul ~ Aug
I played this on the PSP from July through August; I've dabbled in the game dozens of times, but this was my first time with my eyes set on completion. It's a solid game with terrific mechanics; Joe controls very smoothly and has a great arsenal at his command, some of which I never even discovered until several playthroughs in!
If I had to gripe, the latter half of the game becomes a bit of a drag. After blasting through some outstanding stages, you go through a slow rock-climbing segment, then a maze-like mansion, before having to ride moving platforms across instant-death pits and traps. It's challenging, but by this point I'm just a little exhausted! I'd hoped for a climax that was a little more kung-fu action and less bumping my head on electric fences.
Still, a totally solid game, one I'd recommend and am glad I finally saw through to the end. Will definitely have to give it another go sometime.
Come July I finally decided to get onto Steam again, and thought I'd check this out after hearing lots of press for it.
It's Breakout... with magic! Bounce the ball with your paddle to destroy all the blocks and enemies, but magic can be used to alter the ball's direction, to shoot fireballs, or even just manually control the ball and plough right through walls. Secret doors also allow you to buy power-ups and other knick-knacks.
It's a neat idea with terrific pixel art, but holy cow is the game slow. The pace is always glacial, only speeding up as the level progresses, and the spells are never as helpful as you'd like them to be, especially when there's only one block left. You'd think magic would prevent those scenarios from occurring, but quite often you're left grinding for magic refills (by bouncing the ball without hitting anything) just to alter its direction at the right position. Tedious is one word. Fucking tedious is two.
It has its merits, but it's simply not as slick or pick-up-and-play as I'd hoped it to be. Perhaps it works better on handhelds?
Pineapple Smash Crew
Jul ~ Aug
Now THIS is the perfect pick-up-and-play game! It's pretty much the exact kind of game I've been looking for.
You play as a group of four mercs, roaming through decrepit space stations looking for coordinates leading to a legendary treasure. All levels are randomly generated with one of three objectives - kill all enemies, collect all data cubes (hidden in crates), or vaporise toxic barrels. Kill stuff, grab stuff or move stuff, basically.
It's a blisteringly simple game; you run around, shoot dudes, and each of your units can hold a grenade. Collecting PowerCubes will increase your units' defence and eventually allow you to unlock new grenades of various purposes; some are simple explosives, some are instant-kill lasers, some are traps or shields or gimmicks. Every grenade has a purpose, and while it's easy to throw and forget, it's rewarding to use them in conjunction to wipe out a wave of enemies effortlessly.
It's a very fast and very slick game, excellent for picking up and playing nigh-instantly. Some sessions can be over and done with in one minute, running straight to the objective rooms; or you can take your time and explore every room, destroy every enemy and collect as many PowerCubes as possible.
On Easy Mode there are infinite units at your disposal, but the later difficulties add a timer to each level and a limit on how many units can die. Running out of time will slowly drain your health until all units are dead, which adds a new twist and forces you to plot your task; do you want to risk health to get more resources, or value their lives for an early exit? The hardest difficulty doesn't even offer any extra units; if one soldier dies, they're gone for the rest of your run!
It's a rock-solid game, exactly the sort of experience I've been looking for, and I would seriously recommend it. My only gripe? I WANT MORE! The difficulties only impose limits on the player; they don't appear to crank up the enemy AI or number of them on each map. More than 3 objectives would've been nice, and the trouble with randomly generated games is once you know it, you know it. The layouts may be different but you know every asset they could throw at you, and it's rare for the levels to throw you a curveball, something that'll really test your mettle.
Still, it probably remains my absolute favourite game on Steam as of this writing, and even after finishing all difficulties multiple times I'm still dipping into it almost every week. I love it, man!
Aug ~ Sep
I'd enjoyed Guerrilla Bob and Pineapple Smash Crew, and was on the lookout for more pick-up-and-play top-down shooters. Screenshots of this game appeared to focus a lot on tanks, jeeps with mounted turrets and helicopters, and my immediate assumption was you could ride and drive all of those machines. Maybe this is the top-down equivalent of Metal Slug!
Ha! No such luck.
Tiny Troopers is instead (as far as I can tell!) a port of an iPad tactical shooter - direct your troops around, tell them who to shoot at and call in airstrikes or item drops when necessary. The gameplay is dirt-simple and plotting out your action both before and during the mission is pretty cool - will this mission require a hot-shot rocketeer, or have I just blown those points on an easy objective?
The game is very, very slow, though, and it can get a bit exhausting just how huge the maps get or how long some missions last. Escort missions are easily the most tiresome, if just for how scripted they are. It doesn't help that the game feels poorly optimised for computers; there are no options to lower the graphics quality, and the resolution options only crop the screen and don't resize anything. That means enemy spies will often see you before you can see them, and items and bad guys can be hidden off the borders of the screen! Not to mention if your resolution is small enough, the HUD will practically dominate the entire screen.
It's not bad, but it simply wasn't what I was looking for. (and no, you can't drive vehicles at all. what a con!)
Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
| Xbox 360|
Sep ~ unfinished
One of those purchases I made when there wasn't much of interest on the 360, and boy is this a lingering shadow every time I see it on my shelf.
I picked up Shadow's playthrough which I'd left off at the fight with Silver (because FUCK THE FIGHTS WITH SILVER) and managed to get my way to the final boss... and just dropped off. I did start Silver's story and got to the jungle level, and also dropped off because eyeugh is that a terrible stage.
It's a rotten game. I mean, it's riddled in poor and boring design. So many of Shadow's levels are spent waiting to kill all the enemies until the next door opens. Even Sonic Rush had that! It feels like such an odd thing to put into a Sonic game, yet it's a staple of modern game design. Silver's stages feel like experiments in gimmicks and physics more than legitimate challenges. It's not much fun to play.
The really, really stupid fanboy in me still wants to think there's some neat ideas. Being able to play as all those characters, each with their own unique moveset and abilities, is pretty cool. Blaze isn't just a repeat of Sonic, she's got all sorts of aerial dives and acrobatic kicks and so on - she's actually more fun to play as than Sonic!
And while the art style leaves something to be desired, the quality of the visuals isn't too bad, though it sure as hell ain't optimised. Cutscenes will actually lag because of the excessive lens flare at times! But the game's design and programming is just so obscenely sloppy. I almost wish the game got a PC port so people could dig through it and see where they went wrong, and what they could do to fix it... if anything.
The game is a bit of a shitshow, but it's probably the last Sonic platformer I can wrap my head around: it's a 3D platformer. It isn't switching between side-scrolling or lane-running and corner-drifting and quick time events or whatever the new games do. You control a character in a 3D space, and that control remains the same all throughout (except for Sonic's mach speed segments which are almost hilarious in how busted they are). I'd say "thank god for small mercies" if the product weren't such infamous trash, though.
It's one of those games that I almost want to finish just so it's off my chest, but every time I boot it up I regret it dearly.
A cute little puzzzle platformer; you play as a mother collecting her babies and escorting them to the exit, tossing them about to rest on switches, break open blocks or other practical purposes.
It plays simply but feels quite inventive; the real challenge comes from the time trials, completing levels as quickly as possible. And these aren't leisurely time-trials either; this stuff demands spot-on timing if you want to beat the developer's records! Admittedly that mode can be a little patience-straining, but the main adventure is good fun.
I finished all 100 levels and achieved Gold or Perfect time trials on about half of them.
Final Fantasy: Mod of Balance
| Game Boy Advance|
Sep ~ unfinished
I've always wanted to play the first Final Fantasy, but it seems a bit hard to go back to, personally: the original NES one's interface is a bit fussy to deal with, and the Dawn of Souls version is so overloaded with EXP that you need to actively prevent your characters from levelling up to unstoppable strengths, it's so easy!
This mod takes the GBA version and attempts to make it somewhat sensible again, scaling down the experience a bit, buffing up the enemies and overall trying to offer a decent challenge. Battles need to be approached with some strategy, areas must be explored carefully, and keeping your party in good health is actually quite difficult. It plays like I assume the game is meant to be played, is what I'm saying!
It's a very nifty mod, though I admit I never got that far - I reached Gurgu Volcano and used maps to find the optimal path through dungeons, but the game just fell by the wayside. I think I just hate random battles. I know, it's an RPG for god's sake. I'm never happy, am I?
Metal Slug 4
| Nintendo Wii|
Picked this up on the Wii's Virtual Console. It's an adequate game hampered mostly by the fact it came after the sensational Metal Slug 3; to progress from a tightly-designed game like that to something that looks like amateur developers desperately throwing assets everywhere is... well, a bit of a step down. It does feature some neat additions, such as stealing enemy vehicles and a new scoring system, but it's just a middling sequel. It's not quite as new as Metal Slug 5, nor quite the game-changer as 6 or XX. It's fair enough. Gaming Hell has a much more indepth look at the game and its design, and is a very worthy read.
The Virtual Console version emulates the home console version so it includes a level select - that only goes up to Mission 5, strangely (a leftover from MS3's code?). Unfortunately, the PAL version runs in 50Hz, meaning the game plays slower than it should - so much so that the song during the credits finishes before the staff roll does!
Metal Slug Advance
| Game Boy Advance|
I played through the game again using the Paper Thin card, which reduces the player's health to zero - one hit and you're done. I've done this plenty of times before, but this was my first time trying to clear all levels with no "continues" - if I died, I redid it from the start.
It's not a bad little challenge and it does quickly ramp up, though it definitely spells out the design differences between this and the arcade games. Enemy AI is ramped up to unforgiving levels, filling the screen with so many rockets, grenades and rolling bombs that there's no way to survive. Even the lack of animation is dangerous; foes that used to have pronounced wind-up time to their attacks now zap you before you can react.
It's a curiosity and it did occupy me for a month, though it wasn't all that fun, either. Stages like Mission 4 encourage you to just avoid as many encounters as possible, because with the enemy reaction times and willy-nilly approach to spawning, you are given no advantages. And because enemies are so keen to lunge at you on sight, or fire bazookas or throw grenades endlessly... unless you can scroll them off-screen, you might have gotten yourself into a no-win situation.
To the game's credit, it does offer a better facsimile of the arcade experience than the NeoGeo Pocket titles, but it's still far off from it, and what it builds with what it's got is... adequate, I guess.
Radia Senki - Reimei Hen
Oct ~ unfinished
I've had the translation patch sitting around for ages and thought I'd finally play it. It's an RPG with real-time Zelda-like battles, where up to four CPU-controlled allies help you out, which I thought sounded cool.
It's quite cute-looking with a very classic feel to it; it's a typical fantasy world, but what I played showed off allusions to sci-fi elements, which was intriguing. The combat system was pretty neat - alongside basic options like attacking and using items, you can issue simple commands to your allies. Attack, retreat, hang out here - nothing complicated, but neat to see on the NES.
It is a bit slow-paced, particularly when enemies float over inaccessible terrain, and it's disappointing that you can't change your player character - he's stuck with a sword while your allies get sweet fireballs and other special attacks. It is neat to see battles happen on the actual overworld, obstructions and all. Amusingly, the escape command is for the party to play dead; it's amusing when you're battling wildlife, but hilarious when it tricks your prison guards.
There's a whole lot of walking around, though, and I didn't get all that far. I dropped off after I'd reached a mining village ruled by some bad kingdom of some sort. It was a great game to fill up a leisurely morning, and I've love to get back to it sometime.
Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
| SEGA Mega Drive|
Oct ~ Nov
I sought this out after finishing Metal Slug Advance. I'm a sucker for puzzle games: Tetris, Wario's Woods - all good games to play on the pooper! But I've never actually dabbled in Puyo Puyo much, so this was sort of a new experience for me.
I played through the single player mode on the default difficulty, and actually completed the game! I totally wasn't expecting that! Some foes I was stuck on for dozens of attempts, but Robotnik himself I beat on my first try. Which blew me away, because my Puyo Puyo skills are pretty awful. I don't know the comboes, I can't stack them up in advance... and junk blocks? Those things just give me a mental breakdown!
It's a good little game and makes me tempted to dabble in more Puyo Puyo - I think I'm a puzzle game softie, and it delivers something a bit more intense.
Metal Slug: 1st Mission
| Neo Geo Pocket Color|
I'd been meaning to replay this for a while, especially after knowing I'd have to expand its coverage on Metal Slug: Missing in Action sometime.
I completed it on Hard Mode, ranked Private. I finished Mission 15 with the Metal Slug intact, which took me straight to the final mission - I never knew that, so I must never have accomplished it before!
It's a very different beast from the arcade games. There's a health bar, for starters, that allows you to survive more than one attack - different enemies have different strengths, of course. On Hard you can survive multiple knife wounds, but a tank shell to the face will instantly obliterate you unless you're at max health. Collecting point items will increase your Rank, which increases your maximum amount of health. Likewise, collecting Continue Coins will allow you to, well, continue, so long as you have 10 left. Get a game over and you'll need a new save file, son!
The Neo Geo Pocket hasn't the processing power to support the intense enemy density of the arcade games, so the levels are designed more around exploration, platforming, and item gathering. There's oodles of hidden hotspots for items, and collecting them all is implied to be a major challenge behind replaying the game.
The levels are quite varied with some unique themes, like making your way through a Rebel-occupied cityscape, nipping in and out of buildings and even using the sewers. Most of the levels are quite big, though knowing where the exit is will help you skip a surprisingly large chunk of them.
The game features nearly twenty missions, but you won't see them all in one playthrough. By taking alternate exits or even dying on certain levels, you'll end up being led to a different mission - and in the latter case, you'll have to bust your way out of a Rebel prison using only your knife. It's a cool feature, one that its sequel would greatly expand upon. It can be quite obtuse about this at times, though 2nd Mission would try to remedy that with its radio call function between stages, offering hints and tips.
You only have three special weapons, two bomb types and two vehicles, sadly. The Metal Slug and Slug Flyer are used only in special screens - you can't eject from them and travel on foot. The Metal Slug functions fair enough, but the Slug Flyer is relegated to slow-moving, auto-scrolling stages that I suppose are meant to evoke a shmup, but are just a chore to go through. The Slug Flyer also has the dubious honour of facing the longest boss in the game. Its pattern is predictable, sure, but it has so much health that the fight can easily go on for ten minutes!
The player also lacks the quick dexterity of the arcade characters. You have to toggle between your gun and your bombs with the Option button, which is rather unwieldy. If you throw a grenade while moving forward, you can't turn or move until the animation finishes - so if you're jumping towards a spiky vehicle, you'll be lucky if you can move out of the way in time. For the most part the player controls reasonably well, but little quirks and oddities like that can become a nuisance, especially in some of the tougher fights.
Exploration and platforming is easily the game's forte. Some of the bosses are decent enough fights, but the combat is underwhelming for the most part, especially against the Rebel infantry. Many levels will stall at a certain screen, spawning waves of soldiers to jump in to fight you. The arcade games had screens like these, but had much more reactive enemy AI, with quicker wits and varied tactics. The soldiers in 1st Mission are predictable and very, very slow. It can take a good three to four seconds from them entering the screen to react to your presence, and even longer before they'll draw a knife or grenade!
I enjoyed the game. It's a very different beast, and I may have to concede that Metal Slug Advance makes for a more authentic handheld experience, but I respect this one for trying to work with its limited hardware, and changing the design accordingly. The second game is far better, if memory serves well, so this one is probably relegated as simply a stepping stone. Oh well!
Metal Slug 3D
| PlayStation 2|
Nov ~ unfinished
I barely played an hour of this so I can't really judge, but hoo-ee, did this seem like a strange way of transitioning Metal Slug into 3D. Most leaps to 3D have emphasised exploration, and the handheld games have dabbled in that angle... but this game just felt aimless and awkward and clunky as hell. The controls felt so clumsy I was almost certain my controller was busted. Not to mention the one time I used the Metal Slug it was an uncontrollable piece of shit. It felt like I'd picked up a curse power-up or something.
I don't know, it just seemed like a strange way of making a 3D Metal Slug? It just rubbed me the wrong way entirely. You'd think Ikari Warriors could've been a good basework to build from, but I guess not. If I ever get back into curating Metal Slug: Missing in Action then I'll probably have to play this again, and I can't say I'm looking forward to it.