PANGAROIDS Review

Before going on, for full disclosure, a while back the two people who made this game had apparently asked me to take a look at it. Unfortunately, I only recently got the notification I had gotten a message. Sometimes WordPress has the funkiest glitches. On top of that, I had a lot going on outside of my online presence so it took me a while to finally get to this one.

PROS: A solid Asteroids clone with some twists.

CONS: Not the deepest experience

POWER-UPS: Be sure to get them often.

With that out of the way, I’m getting to this now. I contemplated calling this a mini-review at first because on the surface there isn’t much to talk about. Upon seeing it for the first time your likely reaction will be “Oh, an Asteroids clone. Okay.” and go on about your day. But after you play it for a while you’ll start to see that they did put some thought into differentiating it from the many games that have taken a shot at updating Asteroids.

Pangaroids is a game that adds a slight hint of Pong into the mix by having borders around the playfield. What does this do? Well, the Asteroids (which I think are supposed to be space hockey pucks) can bounce off of the borders at various angles. So when you aren’t initially crushed by one of them, they can still rebound into you. As in Asteroids, shooting them blows them into smaller pieces that you also have to avoid while shooting them.

This results in the screen getting cluttered up a lot faster than in Atari’s old vector game. To help you, there are power-ups that will randomly drop from the destroyed space pucks. You can cycle through them before picking them up by shooting at them. And while it never gets as varied as other shmups that do this like Twin Bee or Cotton, it does break up the formula a bit. There are missiles, shields that can protect you from a hit, and a few others. Some of them will affect enemy behaviors to a minimal degree.

The game also has a similar thruster mechanic to Asteroids. So you have to try to anticipate where momentum is going to take you in addition to where your targets are going to be. So the game does have a bit of strategy involved within its space. Visually, the game doesn’t really do much to stand out. Make no mistake, it doesn’t look bad at all. But it has a clean, sterile look within its border, and sprites give off that early 2000s Newgrounds vibe.

The game controls well enough, with a little bit of floatiness you’d expect to see in any game following Atari’s classic arcade game. You move the ship using the arrow keys, and you fire with the space bar. Honestly, it’s pretty good for what it is. It isn’t going to set the world on fire and won’t pull you away from a deeper game you might be playing through. But for a game you can fire up in short bursts, it’s a pretty good option.

I’d say if you own a laptop you should add it to your Steam library. It’s the kind of game you can play on a commute or while waiting in an office for an appointment. And if you’re an old-timer like me, you may want to drop some time going for a high score. And you don’t see solid freeware games like this these days very often. As publishers usually go the ad-driven or microtransaction fuelled route instead. A full-fledged freeware microgame that plays well is a rarity. And the whole thing was made by a figurative handful of people so all in all a solid effort.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

RetroWorldExpo 2022 Recap

Man, has it been a year already? Well no, not quite, but close. I look forward to this show every year. There’s not much like it here in Connecticut. There are smaller pop-up swap meets or shows. There are other conventions that happen like ConnectiCon (which I sadly had to miss this year) but those focus more on the general pop culture whereas this show is more about old-school games and such first, over the contemporary stuff.

This year, I didn’t get quite as much done in terms of photos due to an aging phone battery. But I still managed to snag a few. Some of the big names from last year weren’t able to return. But there were still a lot of personalities who made their way out. Including a couple of super-secret big names That I’ll mention a little bit later.

Saturday, I somehow managed to get up early enough to make the trek to Hartford. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found it harder and harder to roll out of bed before 9am. But it had to be done. Thankfully, Interstate 84 was mostly clear as I made my way into the State Capitol. Once I got to the Hartford Convention Center one change was immediately apparent, and that was the center had changed the way it was dealing with parking. There was still a greatly appreciated low rate for convention goers. But rather than paying upon departure, I had to pay upfront, and the tender had to be one’s credit card.

That said, once my card was scanned, getting into the garage was seamless, and the check-in line was done in the same efficient manner that it was last year. So here’s hoping that other shows booked at the center will adopt RetroWorldExpo’s approach. Before long, I was upstairs and entering the sales floor.

This year there were a fair number of new guests as well as returning ones. But I didn’t make it into as many panels. Nevertheless, they were present throughout the show and there were plenty of other things to do. As usual, there’s always something to do and even with a panel reduction, it was impossible to see everything and everyone.

I did get to witness the return of Big Bucks Entertainment who have done game show recreations for the last few years. This year though they did a panelist edition of Press Your Luck in which Pam from Cannot Be Tamed, “Pixel” Dan Eardley, and the duo of Carlos and Daniel Pesina (of Mortal Kombat fame) competed for the crown. Pam was far and away the favorite with a massive lead up until the end of the game. She passed the last spin to Raiden and Johnny Cage who earned a free spin and passed it back to her. Sadly, her next turn resulted in a Whammy taking away all of her points and giving the win to the Pesina brothers. There’s always next year.

After walking the floor a bit, I ran into several people I haven’t been able to see in a while. My pals Peter and Kat of Imaginary Monsters were there with the latest build of Grindblood, a Robotron 2084-esque twin-stick arena shooter. This build added a multitude of new selectable characters, including the Pumpkinheaded hero of Halloween Forever. It came along a lot further though there is clearly work to be done. The gameplay feels solid and responsive but there are understandably some glitches they’re in the process of ironing out. But what is there is pretty promising.

TheRenesance returned this year with his beautiful landscape paintings of iconic retro game scenes. He streams over on Twitch and you can get his prints and original paintings at The Gamescape Artist. He also does commissions. So if you need some classy art to spruce up your home or office or game room give him a look.

Tom Ryan’s Studio was also back. Another fantastic artist you should check out. He specializes in more pop culture-related art, but it’s amazing, professional work. He also has a bunch of enamel pins, screen-printed t-shirts, and other products you can get his artwork on. So definitely give him a visit.

Some of the other returning guests I got to talk to again were Dan Eardley and Norman Caruso aka The Gaming Historian. They’ve always been very friendly, down-to-earth fellows. If you get the chance to see them at a show don’t be afraid to go say hello. They had back-to-back panels on the second day that I’ll get to.

The aforementioned Pesinas were there as well as Tim Kitzrow who you may know as the color commentator in Midway’s classic arcade sports games like NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, NHL Hitz, MLB Slugfest or the recent Mutant Football League by Digital Dreams. Later on in the day the three of them would do a Monsters Of Midway panel where they talked about their time working together at Midway and the way the environment changed over the years after Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam had become household names. They were asked about the days of controversy over MK’s blood and fatalities and while they weren’t entirely insulated from it, it didn’t really deter them. And they didn’t really have contact with developers at other companies with games under fire for similar reasons. As a company Midway mostly would ignore that. They also talked about their departures from Midway. While Dan Pesina left over a lack of full compensation for his work, Tim Kitzrow would be with the company until the dissolution of Midway and would go to Electronic Arts for their take on NBA JAM reprising his role as the announcer. He had mentioned the wide difference between the tone between his time at Midway over Electronic Arts with the former feeling like a garage band operation where there was more creative freedom.

Carlos Pesina would stay beyond Midway’s end. When Warner Bros. bought the company he would join Netherrealm doing motion capture work (He was even Mokap in Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance) and more for every Mortal Kombat game and Injustice game. He retired from Netherrealm this year. They also talked about the importance of anyone working in a creative industry having a lawyer for legal counsel as some of the financial hardships they went through could have been potentially avoided had they known a legal professional who could have better explained their options. Dan Pesina spoke about how all of the original Mortal Kombat character actors and choreographers are still friends today.

While this panel was going on things really picked up when WWE Superstars Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods of The New Day crashed the show. While I missed seeing them it was pretty cool to have big surprise guests at the show. A friend of mine even got a chance to play the old WWF Raw Deal card game with them. Would have loved to have seen it. But as I’ve said, there’s always something you’re going to miss as there is plenty going on.

Some of the stuff I missed this year included the Blitzkrieg Pro Wrestling show, and some of the panels with names like Jeremy Parish (formerly of 1up.com) Game Dave, Lon TV, My Live In Gaming, and RetoRGB. I missed my pal Mike Levy of XVGM Radio and DYHPTG. I also missed Dan Larson (Toy Galaxy)’s panel.

But I did get some more time in with the arcade cabinets, pinball machines, and console games that were all set up on free play over the course of the weekend. FRAG returned this year and set up their high-score challenges. I didn’t sign up to compete for any scores this year but I did find myself going back a few times to play some games. Centipede returned So I did go back to that machine a few times on Saturday as it’s just a timeless arcade cabinet.

There were also some tournaments set up for Street Fighter V and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate along with a few other games, which drew some respectable crowds. There were also New England qualifiers for a Tetris high-score challenge as well. I didn’t participate in any of the contests this year. Mostly because I haven’t put in nearly the hours it would require to play at a competitive level in them. That said, there seemed to be a pretty good turnout for both of the major fighting games. With Street Fighter 6 due out next year a lot of people are likely going back to Street Fighter 5 in anticipation.

I spent a fair time going around the vendor areas as well. I say areas because this year they had placed a few vendors near the tournaments and arcade setup. I also found that across from my pals at Imaginary Monsters, Premium Edition Games was there showing off and selling some of the games they were publishing for the Nintendo Switch. The representative was explaining to me that their business model differs from some of the other companies out there like Special Reserve Games or Limited Run a little bit. Namely, because they don’t generally stop at an initial print run with a small window. There’s a four-week ordering period and they tend to make more than the minimum number of copies if the interest seems to be there. Titles usually have standard and deluxe versions with extra feelies or collectibles inside of the latter. And there’s an insistence on including manuals with each title. They also adopted something the original Activision did in the 1980s. If you manage a set of achievements such as a high score, you can contact the company to get a patch. Ultimately it is similar to what publishers in the same space, but with a fairer ordering window for those who might not have the funds to order something the second it might go live. I did end up picking up a copy of Cathedral upon a recommendation from a friend. The Deluxe edition came in a beautiful package I haven’t had the chance to open yet. But I am looking forward to streaming it in the not-too-distant future.

There were also auctions again this year. I didn’t participate this year though, I was excited to see there were a few boxed Commodore platforms and accessories up for auction. There were a couple of Commodore 64 bundles and I even spied a 1541-II Floppy Diskette Drive. This was a revised update of the original Floppy Drive which was much smaller, and with slight improvements to the read/write times. Though you’d still want a fast load cartridge it was a cool thing to see as you don’t see them as often. A couple of friends were there trying to go for some of the items. One attendee won an auction on a working Sony Playstation store display sign in great shape for $600.

After the first day came to a close, some friends and I headed over to City Steam for our annual post-con beer and dinner run. They recently put out a new Blueberry Sour Ale, called Twist, a new Pilsner called Steam, and a new IPA called Cosmic Impressions. All of which were quite good as was the Kielbassa and Sauerkraut I had for dinner. If you’re in Hartford, it’s a great place to go as it just has an inviting atmosphere. And they also do comedy shows there from time to time as a lot of times stand-up comedians come through the state on their way to Boston or New York City.

My Sunday started a bit later, but I still made it in time for two panels. This year I got into The Gaming Historian panel. For 2022, Norman Caruso gave us all a sneak peek at his current project that I won’t spoil here. After the presentation and a Q & A session about it, it was time for Jeopardy. This year he was able to find a patch for the Jeopardy program he uses that now allowed the contestants to buzz in using their phones. As usual, there were a lot of questions you could know by having watched many Gaming Historian episodes. Although there was an entire category of answers to questions not yet covered on the show.

Immediately following that was the Pixel Dan panel. Like last year Dan Eardley talked a lot about the creation of his book The Toys Of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe which if you haven’t seen is a phenomenal guide to Mattel’s many action figure lines based around He-Man. The book itself has pretty much every action figure, vehicle, playset, and accessory available in all of the various Masters Of The Universe toylines from 1982 through 2019. With a bio for each character and photos of every toy both in the original packaging as well as loose with its accessories. It even has photos of the toys’ gimmicks and features in action. It’s a great guide for both passing fans who may want to reminisce about their childhood toys as well as hardcore MOTU fans who want an in-depth checklist of what to look for when searching for toys to add to their collections.

It took him approximately three years to make as it involved flying around the country to photograph toys in various collectors’ homes. Photo shoots of the rarest toys could be filled with a lot of anxiety as accidentally damaging those pieces could prove to be a very costly mistake. He also talked a bit about the next project in the works without mentioning what the IP might possibly be as there are some final steps that have to be confirmed before it can move forward in an official capacity. There was a nice open question and answer forum after that with the fans in attendance and as always he was very cordial to everybody at the convention.

After the panels, I found myself reconnecting with some friends on the floor I don’t get to see as often in person as I’d like due to distance and time. I ran into fellow streamer DNick55 who had been ecstatic to find some of the Splatoon amiibo figures he’d been missing. My pal Russ Lyman was around the floor throughout the show, and I got to catch up with him a bit. My buddy Aldo who streams on his twitch channel occasionally was there as well. I played some Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 against him and was thoroughly destroyed. A couple of my other buddies were at the auctions, and my pals BestSpudsPlay were volunteers this year so I ran into all of them a number of times. RFGeneration was back, and I got to chat with Bil McGee a bit about some limited vinyl records he had out for sale as well as some bad fighting games. Sadly nobody at the show had a copy of Criticom for me to show him. But I did get to show him a clip of Maximillian Dood famously suffering through some of it. Which got a lot of laughs.

But alas, the show came to a close. This year the time just flew right by for me. I wish there was time to see everything but unfortunately at any show that is impossible. Still, it’s one show I always try to make it out to. Not only for the events and panels. But for the camaraderie. As we get older there’s just not the same amount of time to get away from work or life commitments to see your friends in person or meet other people into the same stuff you are. Particularly if they live several hours or days away from you. So that aspect is one of the best things about this show in particular. It’s big, but not so big it’s solely about the games. It’s akin to a smaller theme park. You can spend the day and go on more than three rides. But you’re still not going to have time to ride all 75 of them. In spite of that, it’s a fun time for any fan of video games old or new.

After the show, I walked across the convention center with my pals Kat and Pete before they took their 6-hour trek back home. We stopped at Bears for dinner. If you haven’t been to one they have three locations here in Connecticut and recently expanded into North Carolina. It’s a great barbecue restaurant. I had some insanely good pulled pork and Mac & Cheese. But after a good meal and some conversation, it was time to head home. I didn’t get much of a haul this year but what I did get was pretty cool. I ended with the Premium Edition Deluxe Edition of Cathedral for the Switch, a Jakks Pacific Namco plug & play I picked up for a coworker who was looking for one, and of course an excellent Gamescape Artist print of Wily Castle 2.

I already can’t wait to go to next year’s show. It’s a fun weekend I look forward to every year.

Demon Throttle Review

It’s not very often I get into the FOMO-fuelled side of game collecting. But if there’s something I’m a huge fan of I’ll make an exception and be a sucker. During the final E3 as we know it, Devolver Digital premiered their last prerecorded lampoon of Nintendo’s Direct video series where new games and products get announced. Of course in their parodies they have their own zany storyline going on and do in fact, still tell people about the new stuff they’re publishing.

PROS: A fantastic shoot ’em up with some humor by the folks who gave us Gato Roboto.

CONS: The music could be better. The protagonists’ sprites look bland. Controversial launch.

SECRETS: There are a lot of unlockables for such a small game.

In a more controversial move, Devolver partnered with Special Reserve Games for the subject of this review. There would be two different physical releases you could only get through the SRG store, and once their fulfillment was made that was it. They did two batches, one during E3, and one a bit later. But that was it. The game’s branding even touts “Only Physical. Never Digital.” But going this route over a mass-market production also really limited the number of buyers, which no doubt would include many a scalper. Which there were. When the game got announced there were already listings on the site with insane prices.

But how is the game itself? If you were lucky enough to get an order in like I was, then you’ll find you’re actually getting a pretty great title. If you were not, however, not all is lost. I’ll be telling you why at the end of the review. Which will be shorter than usual, because the game isn’t very long. Made by Doinksoft, the studio that brought us Gato Roboto, Demon Throttle is a shmup. Or Shoot ’em Up if you will. It’s blended with some Run ‘N Gun elements. Your characters are on foot. You shoot demons down as if they were troops in Capcom’s seminal Commando. But by and large, it’s a shmup. The screen auto scrolls vertically, and you have free reign most of the time. It reminds me a bit of Dragon Spirit or Gunbird. Shmups where you pilot a person or creature instead of the more traditional spaceship or vehicle.

Where Doinksoft differentiates things further is in how the game plays. Instead of always hovering over everything you are still traveling on foot. So you’ll have to shoot not only enemies but huge swaths of scenery in the hopes of finding power-ups and life replenishments. You’ll find a lot of the staples you’d expect in the genre. There’s a temporary shield that acts as an extra point of damage. There’s a mace that acts as an orbiting option that can take out enemies. There are speed-up icons that make you move faster. And there are others that benefit your characters in different ways. That’s right, characters. You’re not just flying solo. You have to take control of two characters.

You get introduced to them in the opening movie. It’s made of cinema screens, replete with lo-fi voice samples to emulate the thrill of playing The Adventures Of Bayou Billy on the NES. You find yourself controlling a cowboy, who wants revenge on the head demon for “Kissing” his wife. You’ll also control a vampire who wants to get back four magical chalices the demons stole. And it’s here you’ll start the game.

The game is a short, but brutal four stages. You’ll go along blasting away demons and scenery until you get to the boss. It sounds par for the course, but remember you control two characters. You swap between them by pressing X. You can jump onto scenery or over bullets with B. Shoot with Y. While A fires off your bombs. The cowboy gets dynamite, while the vampire gets homing daggers. When piloting the cowboy you’ll shoot in a straight line. Six bullets at a time, and you can take five hits before dying. When using the vampire, you’ll get a crossbow that acts as a spread gun. And you’ll only be able to take four hits before going down. If both characters die, it’s game over. Demon Throttle has no continues.

The lack of continues or 1Ups really makes the game a challenge. Demon Throttle is tough. Fortunately, the game does have its own take on the Konami code called the DoinkSoft code in the manual. It doesn’t give you thirty lives though, it just starts you out with a shield for one extra point of damage on each character, and gives each of them two lives on every stage instead of one. The game is still going to kick your ass. Like many of the toughest shooters, it’s a game where the more you play it, the more enemy and power-up placements you’ll remember and improve over time.

The other feature that will help even the most frustrated player is the leveling system. Each of your characters gets experience points for killing bad guys. So if you try to kill as many bad guys as possible you’ll level up. Each character can get up to level five before being maxed out. And you’ll want to do that. The cowboy will shoot extra bullets and gain speed shooting. The vampire’s spread will be further and become more powerful. Each of the four bosses has a different series of patterns to memorize and maneuver around. Oftentimes, including moments of bullet hell.

When you finally do beat the game it’s probably not over. Because there are two endings. Remember those chalices the vampire wants back? Each stage has a secret stage in it a la Dragon Spirit where you need to uncover a stairwell. Run into the stairwell and you’ll be in an underground cave stage unique to each main stage. Defeat that stage’s boss and you’ll get the chalice. But you’re still not done because it takes you back to the current level’s midpoint and you have to finish that stage to go onward. So in a way, you actually have to beat 8 stages on two lives per stage. Four lives with the cheat code. Also, the stairs are in a different place every run. Beating the game unlocks a hard mode too, where you play remixed stages with far more enemies in them.

Over time and multiple plays, you’ll unlock a bunch of cute extras. With different screen borders you can enable before your play-throughs, as well as a sound test and even a bestiary. Once you unlock that, you can find hidden meat, or as my pal, Hungrygoriya says, “Meatsticks”. Find that, and then the game will put you into a random battle that plays like a turn-based RPG battle. If you defeat that monster they’re unlocked in the bestiary where you can read more about them. And I should mention if you have a friend over, you can play a two-player co-op mode where you each control one of the characters. One or both of you may like the CRT filter left on.

So DoinkSoft squeezed a lot of extra stuff to keep you going back to the game. Even a harder mode unlocks when you do manage to clear it. As with Gato Roboto, they went for a specific retro look. Where the previous game had a lot of monochrome DOS, Apple II, and Commodore 64 influence, Demon Throttle is very much an NES influence. There’s a similar color palette to it, the stages have that early NES look, while the pixel art for the enemies, bosses, and cinema screens are dead ringers. DoinkSoft clearly has a lot of love for the post-crash years of North American gaming. And as in Gato Roboto, they still appreciate crass comedy. Demon Throttle has its share of dirty jokes. And they’re pulled off well. In my several hours of playing through to the bad ending, I also never ran into any major technical issues.

The soundtrack and effects aren’t as memorable as they were in Gato Roboto, but they’re still good. They fit the motif of the game well, and the echoey effects that a lot of the NES games Rare made are here. Every now and again, there’s even a little bit of C64 SID influence, but it sounds very NES 95 percent of the time.

Now earlier, I said if all of this sounded good to you, you don’t have to fear that you can’t ever get it affordably. After playing through it on stream a nice person pointed out to me that there is a wider release coming and you can pre-buy that on Amazon. People who do will get a download code for Gato Roboto. What you won’t get in the wider release are the extras that the initial Special Reserve versions came with. And these extras were stickers and an instruction booklet for the base version, while the extra ten dollars got that stuff plus a fancier box for the premium version. The SRG limited releases were also numbered. Mine is 1,275 out of 10,000 for example. It’s a nice showpiece, but unless you just have to have every conceivable variation of every game for your Switch, just nab the wide release when it launches in September.

Overall, Demon Throttle is a fantastic time for any shmup fan or anyone looking for a retro-styled challenge. It’s just too bad that neither Devolver or SRG really made an equal attempt to let people know it wasn’t going to be impossible to find after enthusiasts and resellers got their copies. Still, if you stumbled upon my review, let people know they don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on something they can buy for $29.99.

The steep difficulty and potty humor won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. But if some crass toilet or sex jokes on par with something out of Family Guy or South Park don’t bother you, you may want to give it a look. if you’re looking for a challenge not seen since the days of quarter-munching Toaplan games and not afraid to blister your thumbs, you might want to give it a try. Demon Throttle is a fantastic little game, marred by a marketing misfire. Hopefully, there will be an official “Hey! don’t worry guys, we made plenty!” follow-up campaign.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shredder’s Revenge Review

Back in 1984 Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird struck gold when their comic about four turtles saving the world became a minor hit, and then a major one. Three years later Mirage Studios would have a cartoon based upon the book out and Playmates would have an action figure line that coincided with it. As the end of the decade approached Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would become a major franchise that seeped into all facets of pop culture. Video games would be inevitable. Konami would get the video game rights, and proceeded to create some of the best licensed games ever made. Based upon the 1987 cartoon show, these would start out with an adventure game on computer platforms and the NES. But most memorably would be the several beat ’em up titles that spanned across the Arcades, NES, Super NES, Sega Genesis, and Game Boy. Flash forward to today, and it’s an entirely new landscape. But now Tribute has entered the fray with a new TMNT brawler. But does it hold a candle to those old Konami games?

PROS: Terrific pixel art, animation, gameplay, music, and more. 6-player co-op!

CONS: Some minor but annoying bugs. Technical hitches in some versions.

TURTLE POWER: There’s an obvious amount of love for the glory days here.

In a word; yes. Shredder’s Revenge is fantastic. However, I’d be remiss if I told you to expect a carbon copy of the vintage Konami experience. Because while there are plenty of callbacks to the old games, it doesn’t play identically. If you’re coming into this game expecting another Turtles In Time, you’re not going to get that. That’s because Tribute has implemented its own entirely new set of mechanics. Yes, you’ll be mashing the attack and jump buttons. But not in the exact same way you did in the arcade or on your Super Nintendo.

You’ll have an attack button, a jump button, a button for supers (More on that in a bit), and a button for dodges. There is also a button for helping up a friend when they get knocked out when you’re playing multiplayer. You can also do taunts. Beyond that, there is a whole set of underlying mechanics. The biggest of these is a robust combo system that could fit well in a fighting game. You have your typical attacks, but you’ll get auto combos, juggles, air juggles, and more. Beyond that you can get some light tech elements too, allowing you to get up quickly upon falling down.

The combo system is important too. Because throughout the game you’ll need to use super moves to get waves of enemies off of you when they surround you. They’re also very useful in boss fights as they make quick work of many of their health bars. Combos can also have a challenging element in trying to keep your hit counter as high as possible. Every time you get hit by an enemy the counter will reset. If your counter gets reset before your super meter gets filled, you’ll also drain your meter before you can use it, and you’ll have to fill it again before you can use it again. You can also use taunts to try to fill the meter, though if your taunt is interrupted it will be for naught. That said, on lower difficulties you can essentially cheese your way to supers by taunting in between waves of baddies.

There are two main ways to play Shredder’s Revenge. The primary mode is the story mode. This mode plays each of the game’s 16 stages across a map made in the vein of the overworld section in the initial TMNT game on the NES. Playing through each of the stages unlocks a path to the next one, and within each of the stages, classic secondary characters from the original cartoon series can be found. Finding these characters will then place them on their own specific points on the map. Going to these has the characters telling you to find a certain number of items across the campaign. For example one of the characters may want you to find diary entries or another may want VHS tapes. These items then get hidden within the stages so over the course of a few play-throughs you’ll be breaking every conceivable crate, or other destructible pieces of scenery to find them all. If you do, you then drive back to deliver the items to the corresponding character. Find every item and there are little surprises waiting for you at the end of the game.

The story mode also takes a page from the NES version of Double Dragon, where you’ll unlock some moves over time. You can also level up your super meter to three bars, allowing you to have a little bit of an easier time with some of the later levels. Because some of the later stages throw a lot more enemies at you at once. Having the ability to do three supers helps immensely near the end game too.

The other way is the arcade mode. This eschews the map and its character-driven fetch quests. In turn, leaving you with a cut-and-dry experience. You’ll start at stage 1 and power through to stage 16. Playing this way also does away with the story mode’s leveling-up system. So you’ll have to be more selective when deciding when to use a super. The arcade mode also limits the number of continues you can use. To supplement these continues, you can earn 1-Ups throughout the game by earning enough points. At roughly 200 points or so, you’ll earn one. The thing is, each enemy only nets you one or two points. While playing solo this isn’t a big hindrance. But if you’re playing this mode with a group, you’re going to want to divide the workload evenly if you don’t want one player walking away with the lion’s share of lives. Fortunately, the game’s aforementioned help-up function is going to mitigate that.

Over the course of the game, you’ll see it’s very clear the team at Tribute really love the classic cartoon, Playmates action figure line, and vintage Konami brawlers. The pixel art is absolutely fantastic. The characters are very detailed, with expressive facial animations and a slew of frames for each of the many moves. Enemies have that same amount of time and care packed into each and every frame. There are many nods to all of that classic TMNT pop culture too. Many of the vehicles and figures from the classic toyline are represented here. A lot of the 1987 cartoon series is constantly referenced with even minor characters showing up. The Neutrinos, Punk Frogs, Erma, and other part-time players are here alongside your major protagonists and antagonists. Each of the characters controls very well, and the collision detection is mostly very good. There are even a lot of nods to the Konami games of old. For example, when you do the grapple moves, they’re similar animations to the ones you saw in Turtles In Time.

The audio follows that same trend. The chiptunes on display are clearly inspired by Konami’s old classics but it doesn’t end there. There’s a lot of variety with Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop, and Metal tracks. There’s even a track by Mega Ran in the game. Beyond that, they somehow managed to get the budget to bring in some of the original actors from the classic cartoon including Rob Paulsen and Cam Clarke. As such, the cutscenes can get a lot closer to the old arcade experience between stages as you’ll get to hear the fab four (The turtles, not the Beatles) sound off with the supervillains of Dimension X. Beyond that you’ll get to hear some classic voice quips during the combat. The punches, kicks, clangs, and explosions all sound top-notch too.

Again, Tribute has absolutely crushed it when it comes to presentation. Coupled with the excellent gameplay, there’s not too much to complain about here. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of things that can stand to be improved upon. The game’s online gameplay is one of the major areas. Depending on which version of the game you’re playing your mileage may vary. I bought the game on both PC (via Steam) as well as the Nintendo Switch (via the Nintendo e-shop). While I didn’t run into any major issues, I did notice the Switch version suffered some slowdown when certain sections of the game got particularly busy. It was also on the Switch I once found myself stuck against a backdrop item when in the middle of a jump kick for a couple of seconds.

And while I didn’t run into any bugs when playing online, my good buddy and fellow Twitch streamer 1UpJohn ran into several major issues when playing the Xbox Series version on Livestream. Players would be invisible. Other times an enemy or boss would be stuck in a grounded frame of animation which in turn would essentially soft-lock the group from being able to progress. These bugs strangely enough only happened to him when playing online multiplayer. Not frequently enough to ruin the game by any means. But they did occur often enough that he had to replay a couple of stages a number of times.

These are some issues to be aware of at the time of this writing. And while in my circle of friends the Microsoft Xbox family had the highest number of occurrences, it doesn’t mean that these problems will never show up on Switch, Playstation, or computer versions. Beyond that, there is also the fact that the aforementioned taunt function abuse can cheese the game. To the point where those who play online with random players, may feel frustrated if they’re not looking to blow through the game with an exploit. Supers in the game do a lot of damage to bosses in particular. Fortunately, playing the game on the hardest setting can mitigate this somewhat.

Hopefully, Tribute will be given the resources to patch out some of these bugs, and possibly rebalance the game so those looking for a little bit more of a challenge can get one. Overall, though this is a fantastic beat ’em up. If you’ve been starved for more belt scrollers this is a solid buy. If you’re a child of the 80s or 90s who grew up with the vintage cartoons and action figures there’s a very good chance you’re going to love this. The amount of care and detail displayed throughout the game shows that the developers had a lot of reverence for that era of the TMNT IP. Nickelodeon could have easily slapped the Turtles on any fly-by-night project for another nostalgic cash grab. Thankfully, that was not the case here. If you’re a TMNT mega-fan there’s a lot to love here. And if you were looking for a 1:1 recreation of the Konami model, you’re not going to find that. This is still very much its own thing. But you should still check it out. There’s enough love of those old games here blended in with everything else you’d be hard-pressed to come away unsated. The gameplay isn’t better or worse than what those old games had on offer, it’s just a bit different.

Sadly, the problems hold it back from being as great as it could be. But it’s still a very enjoyable experience. Perhaps if this game does well enough for Tribute and DotEmu they’ll be able to make equivalent brawlers for some of our other favorite Saturday morning cartoons of a bygone era. Perhaps He-Man and The Masters Of The Universe?

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Cruis’n Blast Review

I know it’s been a long time (too long) since I’ve been able to find the time to get in a review. But with the traffic at work slowing down a little bit (finally), and a snowstorm keeping us closed for a day, I can actually get in some writing. So today we’re going over a game I’m a little bit late to the party on, but one I’m glad I finally picked up for myself.

PROS: Visual design. Inventive tracks. Drifting mechanics. Takedowns. Split-screen!

CONS: Rubberband A.I. returns. No online multiplayer. Some track section recycling.

WHAT!?!?!?: Is what you will shout upon seeing some over-the-top stuff. But in a good way.

Cruis’n is a series that hearkens all the way back to 1994 with Cruis’n USA. Midway’s foray into the series was a fun and sometimes weird take on Sega’s Outrun. It saw you driving through several tracks from one end of the United States to the other. It was a lot of fun. And due to the IP being co-published by Nintendo, a port to the Nintendo 64 was inevitable. And while the port by Eurocom to the console was a solid effort it still didn’t perform as well, and there were some of the visual gags edited out.

Sequels Cruis’n World and Cruis’n Exotica took the series into an even zanier territory. Where tracks took you into impossible situations. Like driving under the deep sea for example. After these games, Midway focused on their more grounded San Fransisco RUSH games which were technically superior racers that still kept a similar driving style.

What some people may not know, and it wasn’t until I looked at the credits that I learned it, is that after Warner Bros. bought Midway, Robotron 2084 creator and arcade legend Eugene Jarvis would go on with other Midway alumni to form Raw Thrills. And Raw Thrills has been making coin-op arcade games at a pretty steady pace over the last several years. You’ve probably even played a few of them at a barcade or a movie theatre.

Well, Raw Thrills would get the opportunity to make a new Cruis’n game in a partnership with Nintendo in 2016 with the Cruis’n Blast arcade cabinet. The first major appearance of the series since Midway published the ill-fated Cruis’n on the Nintendo Wii. The Cruis’n Blast arcade cabinet did well enough that Raw Thrills has ported the game to the Nintendo Switch, and they’ve expanded the content to some degree.

So what sets this one apart from the rest of the series? Well, the fact that some of the original people who made the first three games at Midway also worked on this one really shows. It feels like both a return to form and a considerable upgrade over those old games. That may seem like an odd statement to those who have seen the visual fidelity of other racing games in recent years. No Cruis’n Blast certainly can’t hang with something like the latest Forza game’s photorealism. And there are other arcade racers that still push more polygons than what you’ll see here. And yet Cruis’n Blast still looks pretty breathtaking even several years after the arcade cabinet release.

A big part of that is due to the wonderful art direction. Screenshots don’t do this game justice. When you’re playing this game, it really is a treat for the senses. It’s bright and colorful. It has fantastic texture work. Everything feels cohesive and while things can be really crazy and completely unrealistic, it all does seem like it belongs together. You can expect to see stuff you would ordinarily see in some blockbuster action films. One moment you’ll be driving through a fight between two yetis and then a second later sliding down a giant flow of lava and magma and somehow not bottoming out or destroying your car.

Like the Cruis’n and Rush games of old, the game ditches the usual lap-based tracks for some A to B line races. Along the way, you can find alternate routes and shortcuts in each of the tracks. You’ll have to avoid traffic as hitting cars that aren’t competitors will slow you to a crawl. You’ll also have to avoid grinding up against the guardrails, walls, and other things so that you can keep your vehicle going as fast as possible. But not only are there forked paths for you to choose from but there are also many ramps to jump over and many tricks you can use to maintain your lead.

Returning from older games, are the booster moves. You can double-tap the gas to get a quick boost while doing a wheelie. You can do it while turning to get the vehicle upon its side. You can do it off of jumps to make the car jack knife spin forward. The game also has a nitro system you can use three times per race. Though you can use the prize money you pick up or earn at the end of a race to add more. This game also has a proper drifting mechanic. You can slide around corners at high speeds and begin to fill a meter. If you can fill it out quickly and straighten out your vehicle you’ll get a quick boost. All of this stuff goes a long way to keep you going at an insane speed. On top of all of that, the game takes a page from Citerion’s Burnout games and allows you to get takedowns on your A.I. rivals. They’re big, flashy explosions that even use a splash of bullet time to make them feel as impactful as the other crazy stuff you’ll be seeing at the same time. It’s all a super fun sensory overload.

Being an arcade port, the game has all of the arcade version’s tracks in it. But that’s not all. The game also has six circuits, each with its own four courses that you’ll need to place highly in. In order to unlock the following circuit. You need to get a Gold trophy ranking in each circuit. So in order to do that, you’ll need to place first in the majority of the four tracks and never less than third place. Each of the tracks (including the arcade machine tracks) has three hidden keys in them. You’ll need to find all of them in order to unlock some of the vehicles. And with so many branching baths in the tracks for them to lie in wait in, it’s one way you’ll go back and replay the tracks a multitude of times for.

Speaking of unlockable vehicles, there are a number of crazy ones including triceratops, a flying saucer, and a unicorn. But there are other more grounded ones including some classic cars, an ATV, and a host of others. Beyond those, you can also level up each of them as you re-play all of the game’s tracks with them. You can get new paint jobs, decals, body kits, and most importantly some slight engine upgrades.

There are four difficulties, and you’ll have to get all gold medals in each of the circuits to not only get to the next circuit, unlock higher difficulty settings. Playing through the circuits does not unlock them in the next difficulty either. So if you play through the game on Easy you’ll have to do it all again on Normal. Do it all on Normal and you’ll unlock Hard. Do it all again on Hard and you’ll unlock extreme. Fortunately, you don’t have to re-unlock the extra cars in subsequent difficulties, and the arcade tracks are in a separate menu so you won’t have to replay those if you don’t want to.

That’s especially nice since the game has split-screen multiplayer. This brings back a great party game option for you when you have people over. And guests can use the crazy cars you’ve unlocked as well. It even performs pretty well in split-screen for the most part although the 4-player option is a notable cut from 60 fps to 30 fps. But the game also has a local wireless option where you can network four Nintendo Switch consoles for a quasi-LAN experience.

So with all of the good on display here, is there anything to be wary of? Sadly, yes. If you come into this game expecting some online racing like I did you’ll be disappointed. There are no online modes to speak of here so the only way you can play with someone else is if they come over to do so. Eugene Jarvis said in an AMA they *want* to do so. But that doesn’t confirm they will be able to.

Another thing that will drive some people nuts is the return of rubberband A.I. You can expect to be clowning the other racers on higher difficulty runs only to have the distant second place car, suddenly boost past you as you approach the finish line or the game to decide to move a motorist in front of you when you have a third of the course to go. This makes sense as the game was originally an arcade machine, and the old games were also arcade machines meant to get you to keep putting in tokens. Cheap computer opponents are a simple way to do this. But this doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. You can fully expect to flip a few tables here, especially once you get beyond the scope of Normal difficulty.

And of course, if your friends can’t abide a lower if understandable framerate they won’t want to play in four-player mode as the look and feel of 60 vs 30 is going to be obvious. I think the game is fun enough to grin and bear it but some of the arcade racing purists out there may find it unacceptable. If everyone has their own system and game card the local wireless option mitigates this. But not everyone does.

One other smaller nitpick I have with the game is that it does recycle bits of tracks in some of the later ones. Particularly the last two circuits where they changed some of the visual cues to go with newly introduced themes, but reused stretches of earlier tracks. Many racing games do this, and it isn’t a dealbreaker by any means. But I would have liked to have seen completely original tracks in the end. I could have also done without the pretend Katy Perry theme song that permeates the menus as it just isn’t my cup of tea. The rest of the soundtrack is pretty good though with elements of electronic dance music, funk, disco, and one rock n’ roll track. You can cycle through the OST while racing.

But overall, I really like this iteration of the Cruis’n series. Its bright colors, wacky vehicles, insane set pieces, and Split-Secondesque transitions are all fantastic. The addition of drifting mechanics pairs really well with the classic Cruis’n and Rush formula. Tracking down the different keys for the unlockables feels fun and inviting rather than a chore. The presentation is a huge reason for that. Cruis’n Blast isn’t the deepest racing game. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything under the surface. You’ll need to learn some advanced drifting and the shortest routes for you to take first place. Especially in higher settings. Fans of Mario Kart’s gyroscopic options will also love that they’re an option here as well. But more importantly than that, it’s just a fun game. Whether you were playing the originals in the arcade and Nintendo 64 in the late 90s or you were raised on newer high-speed arcade racers, Cruis’n Blast is well, a blast.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

RetroWorldExpo 2021 Recap

After being shut down last year, and some delays RetroWorldExpo was able to return in 2021. There were a couple of concessions this year, there were no hyped after-hours events as in previous years. But there were a couple of surprises in the roster of guests this year. Beyond that, there was still a lot of fun to be had, and Hartford still had some nightlife beyond the convention center to take in after hours.

Still, there was a lot packed into the two days and it wasn’t possible to get to everything I wanted to but I still got to see a lot. One unfortunate thing is on day one my phone’s battery was low pretty much all of the day, and so I didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked to. I pressed on anyway getting in a few notes where I could. The panels started a little bit later this year and so I was able to start out my Saturday on the main floor perusing the vendors.

Getting down the guest booths I saw Pixel Dan again, who returned. This year he brought his new book The Toys Of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe Where he and Val Staples (One of the main people behind He-man.org ) compiled every Mattel-produced He-Man toyline piece from the original line through the recent Classics line that ended last year. It’s a pretty deep dive into the various toylines as you’ll hear later. I got to talk with him a bit, and as every year I’ve gotten the opportunity he was nothing but friendly. I bought a copy from him for myself and had it signed which was really cool.

Timothy Clarke was there too. He was the man behind the Boglins toyline, and in recent years has been able to reclaim the rights to produce them. So he was selling some entirely new ones. Pat Contri and Norman Caruso of Pat The NES Punk and Gaming Historian fame were back as well. And new to the show was a YouTuber who probably doesn’t need an introduction: MetalJesusRocks.

Some of the other major names that made it out were the returning My Life In Gaming’s Coury and Tri. As well as RetroRGB. LON TV’s Lon Seidman was there, the members of Hack The Movies, Kieran and Justin from the Cinemassacre podcast also made the trek. Destiny Fomo was there this year. As well as Bonzai Pop’s Mike Pixley and Boundary Break creator Shesez.

But I got to also see a number of local content creators who were on the floor. My pals Russ Lyman and Mike Levy were there and had a couple of panels I sadly didn’t get into. (Sorry guys.) I also got to see fellow Twitch streamers ConsoleKev , Kobayashi Riku, Dan from BestSpuds , 1UpJohn , and I got to see DNick55 in person for the first time. All on the floor over the weekend Which was really cool. All of these guys are fantastic people you should check out if you haven’t already.

Big Bucks Entertainment was back again too. Over the two days, Davira Kuy hosted recreations of Press Your Luck and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? This year they had somebody make it all the way to the end of Millionaire where they won the big prize at the end which was a Power Rangers DVD signed by the original cast!

I also ran into Tom Ryan who had a booth up again this year, and a new National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-inspired print that I just had to pick up for my Brother who loves that movie. He seemed to be doing pretty well this year, and he had a large assortment of newer pins in addition to prints.

And I got in some time with the arcade cabs and console games this year. Over the course of the weekend, I found myself getting in a few games of Tempest, Killer Instinct, Popeye, and Double Dragon. Which actually crashed on me during the second day,. Not sure what happened, but by the end of the show it was working again. I also got in a respectable score in River Raid on the Atari 2600.

My buddies over at Imaginary Monsters were there along with a lot of other independent developers. Imaginary Monsters showed off an interesting take on Robotron 2084 called Grindblood’s Gauntlet where you play a tormented character gunning down waves of monsters and demons. The current build played pretty nicely with some excellent twin-stick controls. Hopefully, some of the ideas can be expanded upon to flesh it out a little more. But the foundation here was pretty good.

Another indie game I got to check out was When The River Runs Dry, by a studio called ZwinzlerGames. In it, you play an anthropomorphic horse character who wakes up in a forest where drought is taking place. You use the keyboard to navigate your character and the mouse to do certain things in the environment or cast items or attack certain enemies. And it isn’t really a fast-paced game. Rather, you have to take your time and explore like you would in something like The Legend Of Zelda. But a lot of the pointing and clicking reminded me of old-school Sierra games like Police Quest. But that doesn’t mean you can dawdle either because there is constant pressure to find water sources too. Taking too long means it will drain out and your character will collapse. You’ll know if you are taking too long too because the screen slowly grows dark all around you as a cone shrinks. The controls seemed a little confusing at first. But it’s something you may want to keep your eye on.

Possum House Games was there as well with a demo for Space Cat 9, a roguelike platformer where you play as a kitten going up against an army of mice. They also had some trailers for their previous releases on Steam. First up; Shot In The Dark, a really interesting take on stealth platforming where you need to use contrast in battle. And I mean contrast in terms of black levels on your display. Because the color scheme is composed of mostly black and white graphics with bright reds for certain atmospheric moments. You move your character with the keyboard while using the mouse to click and shoot enemies. You play a cowboy with a revolver who ends up going on missions that become more and more bizarre.

The second trailer was for their first major release called The Sword And The Slime. In that one, you play a sentient magic sword that is accompanied by a gelatinous puddle of slime. And you need to use the slime to find creative ways out of sticky situations. So it’s a bit like David Crane’s A Boy And His Blob on the NES, but a little bit faster-paced and with a much weirder and surreal setup.

Screenwave Media was there too with their own demos of some upcoming releases. I was unaware but they are actually publishing LOVE 3, and as someone who enjoyed the original LOVE I was surprised to learn I somehow never saw a sequel. well apparently Fred Wood had put out a sequel a few years ago and I had either forgotten or I hadn’t heard about it. It was called LOVE 2 Kuso. LOVE 3’s promotional materials were a little bit deceiving in that it uses rendered models in the advertising which made me think it would be transitioning to a 2.5D sort of style. But when I got to see the demo running, it isn’t. It’s still very much the aesthetic of the original, yet obviously expanded upon. And for those of you who have never played the original LOVE, do check it out. It’s a great platformer with some awesome music with a style that very much takes me back to games like Lazy Jones on the Commodore 64. You may have to google all of those things. But it will be worth it. But the early look at LOVE 3 was pretty nice.

The second game they showed off was Iron Meat which I think is the one that was probably the most popular of the three. It’s a Run n’ Gun in the vein of classics like Contra and they went for a Super NES era look to the graphics. The demo is controlled nicely and it does have a lot of stuff Contra fans will like. If games like Super Cyborg and Blazing Chrome weren’t enough Contra-likes for you, you might want to check it out when it releases.

And the third one they showed off was Dumpy & Bumpy which is a puzzle game involving pushing blocks. So I was immediately reminded of HAL Laboratory’s LOLO series as well as the classic SEGA arcade game PENGO. It’s got elements of both of those along with other objectives they throw-in. It didn’t make the biggest splash with me compared to the other games they showed off. But it wasn’t bad by any means. If you love puzzle games that don’t do the usual match three colors rules or tweaking Tetris, you may want to keep an eye on it.

There was one other developer there too and while their game demo wasn’t as polished as some of the other things there, their staff was very passionate about their game and after playing it I have to say they have something here. The Killer Gin is a small group of people who made a game using RPG Maker last year called Killer Gin. At the show, they had a spinoff called Killer Gin Battle Arcade which is presently in Early Access on Steam. Visually what I saw isn’t going to compete with some of the similar indie games out there. But it controlled well and does do something a little bit differently.

Killer Gin Battle Arcade appears to be another take on the Super Smash Bros. Ring out rules gameplay. You get a variety of characters from their JRPG, who battle to knock each other out of the game. The difference here is that there aren’t really meters where you have to damage someone to a ridiculous level before you knock them out. Nor does it have a life bar system. Instead, the game uses elements of classic arcade games. The first is from the original Mario Bros. Enemies will spawn onto the blocks and you’ll have to hit them from underneath to be able to weaken them so you can kick them off. The second is like JOUST. There are pits, lava pools, and other things you need to avoid. While this is all going on the four of you are still trying to knock each other out of the map. And what little I played of it was honestly pretty fun.

The game has a long way to go before it’s done. but they hope to add Parsec support so people can use that to play online together since the team is relatively small and not versed in extensive networking code. The rep at the show also mentioned the potential for different ring announcers and accompanying countdown animations in future builds. Obviously, they’re not going for a Smash killer here. But with some graphical improvements, a few new features this could be a surprisingly fun diversion you might want to look into.

The first panel I went to was by Screenwave Media. Head Ryan Schott and their media manager talked about their core business as a Multi-Channel Network which is partnered not only with Cinemassacre, but several high profile YouTube channels. Basically dealing with many of the flags, content claims on YouTube as well as getting out promotion and advertising for these channels. Entering the video game space with AVGN Adventures they’ve begun carrying over some of the things they would do as an MCN for higher profile YouTubers to publishing games for indie developers. And they brought up some of the different avenues some budding developers could use to expand their reach when trying to market their games.

After that panel, I caught Pat Contri’s panel where he showed off the latest Pat The NES PUNK episode followed by a Q & A session with the audience. Some of the discussions centered around topics that have been on his CUPodcast as of late, like the Intellivision Amiico and the controversies that have been coming out about it. The controversy surrounding WATA graded sealed games. And then some information about his new Nintendo 64 book he is in the midst of putting together after his Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System books. Both of which are excellent and cover the entire scope of their libraries. The Nintendo 64 book will also take a look at Japanese-only releases as well as the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive.

I also attended the Gaming Historian panel. Norman Caruso gave us a look at an upcoming project involving the original Donkey Kong. He found some new information, and without giving much away it’s going to be a pretty great episode. After a Q & A segment following the presentation, he closed with a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? game where one audience member managed to get through to the top with a little help.

There were also two independent wrestling shows this year via Blitzkrieg Pro Wrestling I really didn’t get to see much of them but they did one each of the days. Speaking of Pro Wrestling, WWE alumni Tatanka was there too, but he wasn’t in the wrestling show. He did have a guest booth though.

At the end of the first night, I went to City Steam Brewery with some friends and had some great beer and food. I tried out their seasonal pumpkin beer cleverly titled “Gourd Vibes Only”, and tried their new Hartford Yard Goats-themed IPA. I also had their Jungle Crush IPA with my two Kielbasa sausages with sauerkraut. If you ever find yourself in the State Capitol city do check it out. It’s got a terrific restaurant in it, a comedy club, and of course many great kinds of beer to choose from. After dinner, we walked back over to the Convention center and in the adjacent lobby, many of the guests were there. Before heading off I ran into Metal Jesus Rocks who was rather cordial.

I came back the following day for the second day of the convention. The second day is generally shorter but RetroWorldExpo always seems to divide panels up with the larger YouTube names between both days nicely. When I made it back to the Convention center I spent the first chunk of the day browsing around for any interesting merchandise I might have missed out on. I didn’t really see too much although I have to say one booth stood out to me after my pal Juu Hachi pointed it out and that was Canvas Quest. They had the game-themed posters and wall art you might expect a business with that name to have. However, where they really made themselves stand out was in the area of pins. There were hundreds of different pins based on various games ranging from completely esoteric to super popular. I found two that I just had to pick up in spite of the fact I’m not a big button or pin collector. The first of these was a pin of Evil Otto based on the Atari 2600 port of Berzerk. And the second is the Yar pin which of course is the giant space fly you play as in Yars’ Revenge.

I also got into three panels the second day. The first of these was Pixel Dan’s panel where he talked about the process of making his book. It took over 3 years to put together. Much of the work involved flying all over the United States finding different collectors in the Masters Of The Universe fan community. The book features photos of every Mattel produced or officially licensed as canon toy in the original Masters Of The Universe line, Princess Of Power line, He-Man line, Masters Of The Universe 200x line, and Masters Of The Universe Classics line. That’s nearly 800 toys and it features several photos for each both in completely unopened packaging as well as loose, but with all of their accessories intact as well as the accessories themselves.

He also mentioned getting the accessories photographed was the hardest part of the process as centering the shots for small pieces proved difficult. The photography was done in each of the collectors’ homes over the course of a few days at each, and there were many collectors to visit. Because some only collected MOC (Mint On Card) or CIB (Complete In Box) while others may have had loose figures with or without all of the accessories. And obviously, a sealed collector wasn’t going to want their collectibles opened in the process. He did show off one video clip where he and Val Staples had to photograph one person’s Eternia playset which is one of the rarest playsets in the toyline and is a behemoth with many fragile parts. Getting the playset on the filming table was quite the task and everyone bit their nails anticipating something banging or dropping which of course, thankfully didn’t happen.

At first, the project was going to be self-published, but Dark Horse offered to pitch it to Mattel on their behalf since Dark Horse had already had the official license to do other Masters Of The Universe hardcover collections. Mattel gave their blessing and so the project then became an official part of Masters Of The Universe! The book is very detailed in not only the descriptions of every toy, but each page has an easy-to-follow layout showing the toys in the package as well as loose. Each accessory has its own photo and they even managed to take photos of the action features most of the toys had. Like Mosquitor’s blood pumping window or the battle damage, you can see on Battle Armor He-Man and Skeletor when they are hit in the chest. They even color-coded the pages depending on which faction the character in question may have come from. In MOTU there are generally four, the Heroic Warriors, Evil Warriors, Evil Horde, and Snakemen. The sides of the pages also have grey tabbed sections so you can get a good estimate of which toyline you’re going to be thumbing through without even going to the table of contents. The amount of details is staggering and it’s a fantastic book for any collector.

After Pixel Dan’s panel, I saw the MetalJesusRocks panel. This was an off-script panel where Jason (as he told us is his real name) loosely revisited a topic he covered in a video not too long ago about modern-day collecting tips. Some of these included things like looking at platforms that people may not be paying much attention to. Often popular systems mean that more people are going to want the big games on them and so a lot of prices for those games will reflect that in the aftermarket. So maybe instead of looking at Gamecube games try looking at something else you might not have considered before. You might find you have as much fun, and they may be less expensive in the process. Other things might be to look at the Japanese or European versions of a game you might want. Sometimes there’s a great divide between prices between different regional versions, and if it’s a title where language isn’t going to be a barrier it could be a good bargain for you. Beyond the tips there were some nice discussions about some of the Limited Run releases, console digital storefronts eventually closing down, and games we may buy a multitude of reasons out of love or obsession.

The last panel I managed to catch was the Super Retro Throwback live podcast where hosts Steven Christina Jr. and Sammie Ann Fontaine discussed some pop culture with an audience. Topics included bad remakes of popular movies, first films seen in a theatre, earliest console game memories, the Occulus Rift, and the 12 hours or more time commitment to get through the extended cuts of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy of films. There was some audience participation and they also gave out some free stuff throughout the course of the panel. I ended up with a shirt and a copy of Dead Rising IV on the Xbox One.

I spent the last hour of the show just chatting with some friends and I caught up a bit with DougMansLand who had managed to live stream through much of the weekend there. He had a pretty good turnout at his booth. If you haven’t checked out his channel give it a spin. In a short time, he’s already built up quite a nice variety channel. But time flies when you’re having a good time and unfortunately, 5 o’clock came up pretty quickly. There were some things I missed out on this year. I didn’t get to see the auction this year, though I had heard there were some pretty interesting things this year including a fully restored late 90s gaming rig. I also didn’t get to see the Street Fighter V tournament or the wrestling shows. And I missed Russ Lyman and Mike Levy’s panels which I’m sure were really good. RetroWorldExpo squeezes so much in it’s impossible to get to everything But that’s part of what makes it so fun.

I already can’t wait to see what they do with the show next year which is supposed to be happening sometime in August. Again, I apologize I didn’t get any useable shots of the indie games on display as my phone’s battery barely had the juice in it to take the photos I managed to. But all of the ones I played and saw showed some promise. Many of them have demos on Steam and Itchio so definitely check them out if they sound like games you would enjoy. Next year I should be better prepared. This year I definitely needed the weekend though. Between some mild health scares, the stress in my personal life, and recently losing my mother to pulmonary fibrosis getting the time to decompress and see people I haven’t gotten to in a while was a needed respite.

Some things I would selfishly like to see next year would include; a Berzerk cabinet, a Frenzy cabinet, Mark Bussler (of CGR fame) as a guest, and if possible an Unreal Tournament 2004 tournament and a Splatoon 3 tournament (assuming Nintendo has released it by then.). I know I’m probably asking for the moon there. But even without those things I know I’ll be looking forward to the show. Here’s hoping I’ll be seeing all of my local and not-so-local friends there if possible.

Chivalry II Review

Wow. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a game from Torn Banner Studios. Their first major release; Chivalry: Medieval Warfare was a fantastic, if buggy game that blended the Push mode gameplay of a Battlefield game with an innovative swinging mechanic unseen up to that point. And it had just enough janky animations to give us some unintentional comedy along with the depth of the combat.

PROS: Expanded mechanics. Cross-Platform play. Large scale maps. Upgraded visuals.

CONS: A bit light on launch content. Unlockable things involve a huge time sink. Bugs.

EPIC: Exclusivity will turn off a substantial amount of potential PC players.

Torn Banner followed that up with a fun expansion pack based off of the Deadliest Warrior TV show, which gave fans some combat tweaks, and deathmatches. Sadly, it didn’t have the Objective mode that made the base game famous. Most recently they tried their hands at making something newer with Mirage: Arcane Warfare. That game used Chivalry’s sword fighting combined with some light RPG elements and magic spells in a competitive team game. It was a really good game that didn’t sell well and was quickly abandoned. Something many buyers still haven’t forgotten. This, and the fact that the publisher of Chivalry II, Tripwire Interactive did a timed exclusivity deal with the Epic Games Store will undoubtedly mean some people will have some trepidation here.

Fortunately, Chivalry II seems like it has already done infinitely better so far than Torn Banner Studios’ last game. So it doesn’t look like it’s going to suffer the same fate. Be that as it may, there are still going to be a lot of people who may decide to wait for the game to show up on Steam or GOG in a year or get the game on their PlayStation or Xbox console of choice instead.

If you do decide to nab this one, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the gameplay though. Chivalry II is fantastic. Especially if you were a fan of the original release. For starters, almost everything you would have loved in the first game is here. You get the swing manipulation that made the original game famous. Chivalry II again has three primary attacks. A horizontal swing, a vertical overhead swing, and a stabbing motion. But unlike most games, you don’t simply end it at pressing an input. On PC, you’ll use the left button on the mouse to do a horizontal attack and the mouse wheel does the other two attacks. Rolling up stabs, and rolling down does your overhead. But it doesn’t end there. Immediately upon doing one of these attacks you’ll, be able to “steer” them by moving the mouse (or thumbstick on a controller). This opens up a ton of possibilities by letting you turn an overhead into a diagonal slash. Or a horizontal swing into someone’s leg. The right mouse button can be used to parry or block attacks. In the old game you needed to equip a shield to block. But in this new entry anyone can block by holding the button down. This makes handicap situations where it’s you up against 3 opponents a little bit easier though, you’ll still likely die until you get in a lot of experience.

Parries are done by pressing the right mouse button just as the enemy weapon is about to hit you, and you also have to “steer” the parries as if it were a weapon. If you do it, you’ll open up other combat options like ripostes where you can get a free hit, or a window for something evasive. Some other changes are to the class system. Now every character can do a dodge. In the original this was reserved for a Man-At-Arms class. This along with the blocking addition gives everyone more options and allow you to get within the side view or even behind an opponent if you’re good enough.

Both of these options use a lot of stamina though, so you’ll have to do so wisely. If you over do either of these you can expect people to easily figure out ways to make you exhaust yourself, and get yourself into a situation of helplessness. You can become disarmed both figuratively and literally. Another mechanic they’ve added is the inclusion of shield damage. In the original game, you could equip all sorts of shields and it was cool. You could use them to protect yourself from arrows, and incoming strikes. This is still true in Chivalry II. However, now shields can take damage which means you can’t completely hide behind them. Eventually, they will start to degrade, losing pieces as you continue to use them. That isn’t to say they’re like glassware or paper though. They can take a lot of punishment, and even in disrepair they can still be effective. But the days of crouching in a corner behind a tower shield barely taking damage are over. Eventually the shield will break to the point of uselessness.

But, the game has a few other mechanics that have been added or retooled. Two of the ones that jumped out at me were the charge ability and the throw ability. You can hold down the attack inputs to trade off a long windup with a more potent swing. That means that although you will be more vulnerable, the swing will do more damage. You’ll still need to play mind games though. If you ONLY go for these high powered swings you’ll be easily cut down as people can see it coming and either stab you before it comes out or evade it then attack you. The best of the best will parry you or interrupt you. Throwing weapons and other items is another cool new feature. You can throw your sword into an archer before they can line up a shot, or you can throw a disembodied head at opponents as a message.

And with so many objects you can pick up on the battlefield the possible projectiles become endless. Flaming chickens, branding irons, wagon wheels, cabbages, and more await your baseball arm. And in the case of foods you can eat them for health replenishment. Everyone also starts with a bandage too, so if you come out of a skirmish near death you can use it and replenish yourself faster than trying to find cover and wait. Another health update in the game is the inclusion of being downed. If you’re a big Fortnite fan, you’ll already know how it works. For the rest of you it’s a second chance mechanic. If you are defeated on the battlefield you won’t always die in the fight. Sometimes you’ll eat a hatchet and end up 99.7% damaged. In this state you can’t fight and have to crawl to a teammate to help you. In most cases you’re going to be finished off though. Unless you know you have 10 or more people directly behind you to pick you up, opponents will stab you as you try to escape. It’s not uncommon to see some players intentionally seek out those on their hands and knees to get some quick scavenger kills.

Beyond all of that, you’ll still be able to do feints, a quick cancelling of a move input at the beginning of its animation. This will fake out a lot of opponents who will try to counter or parry early and allow you a free hit. You can still combine moves together by swinging at just the right time during a previous movement. But sometimes you’re going to find opponents who know what you’re going for. So there are also now interrupt moves where you can get in a cheap punch to flinch them and allow you a minor chance at a comeback.

They’ve done a great job with all of this. And it continues into the game’s different modes. As of now the game has its classic Free-For-All Deathmatch and Team Deathmatches which are a nice way to practice the combat. And within that realm you can also find Duel servers, where you’re going to get into one on one fights. Again, another great way to get a handle on the melee combat. But the biggest reason to play this game is the returning Team Objective mode. This essentially works like it did in the original. It’s a Push mode where the attacking team tries to push back the defending team to different points on the map until they get to the final one and hopefully win the day. Unlike something like Battlefield or Call Of Duty though, players usually aren’t going to sit at a flashing letter for 60 seconds and then move to the next flashing letter. Each of the points is a tangible objective the attackers need to accomplish. Sometimes it involves razing a farm to the ground. Sometimes it involves stealing the Kingdom’s riches. Other times it involves using siege weaponry to gain passage into a castle. Things like towers, and battering rams. Often when attackers do push their way to the final point the game assigns a defender the role of a major character the attackers must assassinate and thus the defending team has to coalesce around them to wind down the remaining minutes for a last second win.

It’s really engaging stuff, and you’ll likely be really addicted to the gameplay on offer. Feeding into that is the revised class system. In the old game there were four: Archer, Knight, Man-At-Arms, and Vanguard. In Chivalry II there are four base classes, and then within each of those four are another three you’ll unlock over time as you play.

This is where some of the game’s shortcomings start to come into play. There’s a big focus on customization here, and so you’ll have to unlock things by playing. The grind to do so is pretty real though. You won’t take long to get the subclasses unlocked, but the weapons, and cosmetics are a much different story. You’ll have to put in an obscene amount of time to get a certain texture for your outfit unlocked. The weapons aren’t as bad in this regard. But it’s still a grind. Of course, like a lot of modern games there’s a pretend currency you can buy with real money to buy the cosmetic items early. But even if you do, you still have to be a certain level before you can equip it. So you probably won’t ever want to do this.

Created with GIMP

To it’s credit, there are a fair amount of things you can alter here on your different characters. Multiple faces, costume accents, and other skins. And you can also tweak the look of your classes between your time spent on the Agatha Knights, as well as the rounds where you’re assigned to the Mason Order. Plus you can do a set of characters with no affiliation for the FFA rounds you find yourself in.

Going back to the classes a moment, one thing I also didn’t get to mention is that in combat each of these has a special move that they can use to help their team. Think of these like the ones in Nintendo’s Splatoon games. Over time, frags, and objectives you pull off you’ll fill a meter. When the meter is full you can perform the move. Some classes like the archer class can build braziers so your team can set projectiles on fire before shooting them. Others like the knights can blow a horn that heals the team. Or place a banner for an area of effect healing circle.

Created with GIMP

In addition to that, Chivalry II has a host of new abilities for each of the classes that add more depth to the combat. Some of them can do a shoulder tackle, causing an opponent to get knocked over and rolled around a second or two before being able to get up. The Vanguard’s charge attack returns, leading up to a powerful leaping strike. In the massive crowds of opponents these can be quite the spectacle. And while I personally find it more complicated, you can play this game in third-person by pressing P on the keyboard. Some of you may prefer it in third-person as you can see more of the combatants, and those prone to motion sickness may also prefer this viewpoint. For me, first-person just felt more natural.

Now, Chivalry II is going to draw some obvious comparison with a competing game: Mordhau. And some of you may be wondering which is better. But it isn’t a cut and dry, or open and shut case. Both games do similar things, but do them differently in ways that aren’t always a better or worse scenario. Some things in Chivalry II are better in my opinion. Chivalry II has better servers. And this is a BIG edge because it means you will have far better online matches. There are more of them, and they (as of this writing) seem to have far more stable connections. I’ve had more rubber banding, ghost swings, and slowly degraded performance experiences in Mordhau. Now that said, Triternion has recently upgraded their servers, and promised more updates to fix this. But as of this writing, Chivalry II has (in my experience) better performance.

In terms of content, Mordhau does have a few things Chivalry II either doesn’t have or has less of. Off the bat, Mordhau has horseback riding. And on the large scale battlefields in Chivalry II, horses would make things far easier to navigate. And while horses in Mordhau can feel a bit overpowering at times, their existence is something that is still welcome. Torn Banner Studios has talked about adding them in future updates. But as of now this is a point for Triternion. Triternion also gets a point for having far more customization options in its create-a-character feature. You can reshape faces, do a lot of individual part swapping in the costume designer, and overall it just does more.

But Chivalry II has generally better performance, and the animation seems smoother in my opinion. If you haven’t played either, this is instantly noticeable and will catch your eye far faster. Models are a little bit more detailed, and the overall look is just a little bit more refined. Chivalry II also has a lot of performance options throughout the menus. You have a multitude of different lighting effects, texture quality settings, supported resolutions and more. On my system (AMD Ryzen 3900X, 32GB RAM, RTX 2060 SUPER, Seagate FireCuda 1TB M2 and a T-Force 1TB SSD) I’m able to run the game maxed out around 1080p with a high frame rate. There are MANY settings you can tinker with though, and the game still looks good on the lower settings. If you haven’t been able to upgrade a CPU, RAM, or a graphics card (which is completely understandable at the time of this writing as chip shortages have driven prices through the roof.) the game should still be a fun time for you on the computer with lowered fidelity. Of course, if you’re near the minimum requirements ( Intel I3 4370, GeForce GTX 660, 8GB RAM) you may want to wait or go with the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One version. I didn’t have a machine that old to test the game on, but I suspect using a nearly 10 year old card will involve tweaking files beyond the scope of the in-game options. Your mileage may vary at that level.

But there’s nothing like the feeling you get when you survive a fight and throw someone’s disembodied head into an opponent’s face. Chivalry II also gets up to 64 players in a game at the same time! But when it comes to the gameplay, both games are fantastic at giving you a melee system that will take you plenty of time to master. Mordhau’s chambering system gives it a different feel than Chivalry II’s despite being similar on a surface level.

Both games have great dismemberment effects. Both games have situations where you’ll be able to fight on a few seconds longer upon losing an arm until you bleed out. Both games have great archery mechanics. In Mordhau, holding the bows back too long will make you sway wildly. In Chivalry II holding the bows back too long will drain your stamina and result in an almost recoil sort of effect. But in both cases finding that perfect blend of distance, and hold time results in a satisfying hit or kill on an opponent. In both games you need to lead opponents. Now some of you will find you like one more than the other, or one deeper than the other, but at the end of the day they’re both excellent in their own way.

Chivalry II is an absolute blast to play, and the only thing keeping it from perfection are some nagging issues that are going to annoy people. Most of these are the result of bugs. Chivalry II features other cool features I didn’t mention yet like cross-platform play. If you’re on a computer or a console, you’re going to run into players on either of the formats. Which is really cool. What isn’t cool is when you try to pair up with friends to find that the party system doesn’t place you on the same team! And while they’re FAR less common (at least in my experience) than they were in Chivalry 1, models still can be found jittering around after you die in rare collision bugs. There are also some occasions where your character doesn’t charge into battle with everyone else at the start of a match, and you have to choose your character again to get into the game. Things like this along with the microtransactions creating a grind hold back an otherwise fantastic game.

Chivalry II is a lot of fun, and it’s one I can highly recommend checking out. The objective based maps are some of the most fun I’ve had in a new multiplayer game in a while. The added lore here even benefits things as you can understand the motivations of both the Agatha Knights as well as the Mason Order in the game’s storyline. It’s told in some menu texts, as well as a couple of really well made videos. But then the game does a great job of referencing it throughout its environments and world building. And as in the first game, neither of the armies come out smelling entirely like roses. Both do some really nefarious things in the various missions, but for the sake of simplicity the Agatha Knights are sold to us as the Heroic Warriors and the Mason Order are the Evil Warriors.

The basic gist is that 20 years have passed since the original game and things are leading to an uprising. In the original Chivalry, the kingdom of Agatha was thrown into upheaval when King Argon led a crusade mission in which their mightiest warriors were defeated. With the King dead, his right hand General, Malric Terrorwin grew enraged as he believed they were put on a fool’s errand. After the defeat, Malric would form The Mason Order with those who agreed with his view. And before heading back to Agatha, would betray the remaining knights along with his group. But the Agathians had a fill in leader in interim King Feydrid Kearn. The events of that game led to a war for the crown between Malric Terrorwin’s Mason Order, and Feydrid Kearn’s remaining Agatha Knights.

By the events of Chivalry II, Malric has won that war, the Mason Order has become the de facto leadership, and Malric is now its despotic King. Killing people for questioning him as he sees his rule as absolute. However, Argon’s offspring Argon II emerges with a claim to his father’s throne. The Civil War between the Agatha Knights and Mason Order is reignited as the Agatha Knights hope to overthrow Malric and restore the kingdom to its former glory.

In the end, whether you end up fighting for the Agatha Knights or the Mason Order, you’re going to feel really invested in the world and its large scale 64 player battles. Torn Banner Studios did put out a roadmap which claims they’ll be supporting this game for years with fixes and content. Hopefully they can live up to those promises because Chivalry II is an excellent game. It’s just a shame it came out of the proverbial oven just a little bit too early. If you can look past the more egregious issues like the glitched party system, the microtransaction grind, and the limited number of maps at launch, you’ll find one of the most fun multiplayer games of recent years.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Hellbound Review

Well coming off of a round up of old-school inspired shooters coming soon, this time out we’re looking at relatively recent one. Hellbound is a game that wears its DOOM fandom on its sleeve. Almost to a fault. But can it hang with id Software’s long-running demon slaying series?

PROS: Visual Fidelity, Rock solid controls. Fast and fluid combat.

CONS: Lack of personality. Bland vocal performances.

MOTHER#$%#^*: Our hero loves to cuss for the sake of cussing.

Hellbound has a lot of really awesome things going for it. It looks spectacular, almost as good as the recent DOOM games. It plays as fast-paced as the recent DOOM games. It has some pretty great locales. It’s got a pretty good variety of enemy types. And there’s all kinds of little nuances in it you’ll likely appreciate.

In short, it’s very fun, and the majority of people who pick it up will likely enjoy their time with it. But there are some caveats with that statement.

Before I get into them though, Let’s go over what you get here. Hellbound as you can probably tell by now, is a shooter inspired by DOOM. Its protagonist isn’t a Space Marine stopping an invasion from Hell through a teleporter experiment gone awry on Mars. Instead you’re a being known as Hellgore who was a soldier killed on Planet Hell, and was resurrected for the sole purpose of revenge. The entire populace was wiped out by a being known as Ferlord, and his army of demonic minions.

With that quick setup Hellgore begins his mission of carnage and bloodlust. While the game definitely references the original DOOM and Duke Nukem 3D in its marketing, it clearly feels more akin to the 2016 version of DOOM. The level designs are pretty good and do offer some of that classic colored key hunting. But much like DOOM 2016, the overall size and scope of the maps are much smaller than they were in 1993. And while you will have to backtrack to a few previous areas to use that red key you just found, the jaunts are much shorter, leading to a more linear, modernized feel.

That in of itself isn’t a bad thing. The stages do have a nice flow to them, and there are even a couple of puzzles that will likely stump you. But it isn’t the same thing as it was in the old games that inspired it. In the original DOOM there were stages you could conceivably spend two hours on looking for secrets alone. That isn’t to say there aren’t some clever secrets in Hellbound because there are. A good number of them too. And while things aren’t as free as they were in DOOM 1993, that doesn’t mean there’s no exploration. This isn’t the hallway, cutscene, hallway formula of some of the blockbusters of recent years either.

Where the game begins to fall short is that there isn’t a lot of its own personality. While the main character (voiced by Artie Widgery) puts out some nice delivery, the dialogue at times is just crass for the sake of being so. I know there was a lot of shock value in some of the glory days of early PC FPS games. But something about it doesn’t seem genuine. Even though it’s very clear that everyone involved in making this poured their hearts and souls into doing so, in some ways it feels tied a little too close to DOOM. In the best and worst of ways.

In the best of ways, it’s that it nails the action. As I mentioned it has a very DOOM 2016 feel although you don’t have a melee attack or skill tree system. But all of the guns are DOOM style mainstays. You have a pistol, a shotgun, a beefier shotgun, a minigun, a plasma rifle, and a rocket launcher. They also have one weapon, the Head Crusher which is basically a baseball bat in lieu of the Chainsaw you’d have in DOOM. Of course if all else fails, you can still punch demons. The game also has soul orbs that are basically the super health orbs from the original DOOM. These give you up to 200% health. Then they veer a little bit into QUAKE territory by giving you a Hell Damage icon that is effectively Quad Damage. So a lot of enemies will explode, and harder targets go down faster for a time. Then there’s the Hell Skin which is basically the armor version of the damage icon. Finally there’s the Hell Speed which makes you run even faster.

On the flipside though, the character designs are largely DOOM stand ins. And while that wouldn’t be a bad thing, the characters are clearly meant to resemble their DOOM counterparts. The former humans are probably the biggest divide in design. But the Vladers, Karnals, and Pygons are very clearly Imps, Pink Demons, and Cacodemons from id Software’s frontrunner. So much so, at times you might find yourself wondering why you’re not playing DOOM 2016.

I don’t want to make it sound like this game is a bore though, it truly is not. It is good. The gameplay is exceptional at times. I only wish it differentiated itself just a little bit more. One thing some people won’t like however is the short length. It’s about the length of a single episode of one of those games it takes its inspiration from. Fortunately the gameplay is there. So for many, you’ll want to go back and replay it on a higher setting for more of a challenge. And if you still need more after that, there is a horde mode where you can choose an arena and see how long you last.

Ultimately, it has enough entertainment value to keep you going through it. By the end of the game I found myself hoping there was more. And that’s a good thing in a way, because it held my attention. It’s a really fun shooter. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the personality of something like DUSK or AMID EVIL. Yes those games were also inspired by old games, but they had environments, characters, and designs you can more easily get behind. DUSK had great horror elements in its simplistic look. Even though it took its shooting cues from QUAKE, it still felt very much like its own thing. Hellbound doesn’t. It feels more like a glass of RC to DOOM’s glass of Coca-Cola. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the best of these titles can stand on their own merits. And while Hellbound is excellent at what it does, it isn’t going to be something you might play over the game that inspired it. Even with voice samples, Hellgore isn’t as interesting as Doomguy.

I know I’m talking in circles now, so to recap: Hellbound is a very fun DOOM-like that you’ll really enjoy if you’ve already played DOOM 2016 and DOOM Eternal to death and want something very close to their template. But I wouldn’t get it over DOOM 2016 if you haven’t played that already. And there are other retro-themed shooters with more personality, games that stand out more than this one to consider. My hope is that they’ll continue Hellbound though. Perhaps a sequel that expands upon the excellent gameplay here, and comes back with some more original characters and locales. There’s a fantastic foundation here. It just needs a little something to stand out from the crowd of similar games also inspired by the games that inspired it.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Retro Shooter Preview Round Up

Man, I know it’s been a frustratingly long hiatus. I’ve been working overtime at my job most weeks over the last several months. This has limited my free time, so I’ve ended up focusing more on my Twitch channel over the blog. Over there I play a wide variety of stuff as well as a fair amount of Splatoon 2. But lately I have been going through a number of FPS games in Early Access. Some interesting preview builds of games that hearken back to the early days of Apogee and id software. Being that they aren’t done, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend getting them right now. One of the risks in buying anything in Early Access is that there’s no guarantee the games will be done. And this isn’t the most original idea for an article as several bloggers and YouTube creators have made similar ones. Be that as it may, these are some of the ones I’ve found pretty interesting upon buying. Games you may want to keep your eyes on.

Of course, the resurrection of what many consider the original shooter formula isn’t new. They’ve been slowly coming out for a while. New Blood Interactive has been hitting it out of the park with games like DUSK and AMID EVIL, but we’ve seen plenty of other games too like the Rise Of The Triad 2013 remake, Ion Fury, and others. Anyway, these are of the preview versions I rolled the dice on, and some of my thoughts on them after playing them.

Prodeus

This is one of the most promising of the bunch here. If you really enjoyed the DOOM 2016 remake or it’s DOOM II: Hell On Earth inspired sequel DOOM ETERNAL, but wished it hearkened back to the old games a little more, this could be for you. What makes this one stand out? Well it has the DOOM 2016 look in terms of its world. It also has a similarly streamlined layout in terms of maps. Things are a bit more linear than they were in 1993, but it still retains some of the colored keys and secret hunting. But it also blurs the line more than the official Bethesda/id/Microsoft property does because you can have the enemies represented as either fully rendered models or you can choose to see 2D sprites! And while there isn’t quite enough there for a full campaign yet, the game does have a level editor and many fans have already done a bunch of fantastic community maps. The game also does an interesting Super Mario World style overworld map, showing you what you’ve beaten, and if you’ve found specific exits for secret levels.

ULTRAKILL

New Blood Interactive is one of those publishers that does appear to finish their Early Access projects, and all of them have been must play experiences so far. DUSK and AMID EVIL are two acts that are going to be tough to follow. But ULTRAKILL seems poised to do pretty well for itself. Where DUSK combined Quake’s aesthetics and gameplay and Deliverance’s unsettling backwoods horror, ULTRAKILL pushes the low polygon retro look further. Where AMID EVIL brought back the Heretic/Hexen feel that has languished, ULTRAKILL brings in elements seen in all kinds of games, old and new. It has a melee system that is tied to its health system. You punch away projectiles. Punch enemies so they’ll bleed on you and fill your health meter. But it also has a creative kill system in the vein of PlatinumGames’ Mad World, or People Can Fly’s work on Bulletstorm. You continually have to dash out of the way of projectiles one moment, and find creative ways to take out waves of enemies the next. If all of that isn’t enough for you, stages are chock full of secrets and the game already has several secret stages that each play absolutely nothing like the rest of the game. It’s also got an interesting yet popcorn storyline. Mankind is dead. Blood is fuel. Hell is full. The soundtrack is also this nice rush of industrial metal and techno subgenres.

Viscerafest

Like ULTRAKILL this game also has an importance on dashing and punching. But for different reasons. Instead of being creative for point awards, and continually refueling your health meter, this game has you doing it for survival and resource conservation. You see each stage only has so many ammunition pickups. So if you go full Lundgren on every alien you see, you won’t have the buckshot you need to kill a larger enemy type, or destroy a damaged wall to get that secret item you spy on the other side through a window. Another cool thing about this game is the save system. Instead of going full old-school and giving you a quick save function or rather than go full new school and implement a checkpoint system, they give you beacons. These beacons are limited, and found throughout levels. You can then plant one on the ground to create your own checkpoints. This is to keep you from cheesing your way to the top by quick saving every time you kill something. And it also keeps you from having to redo something you had trouble with clearing. You have to be careful though, because you can plant one too early and still have to redo a tough monster closet, or too late and miss something important. The game also has a unique art style as like Prodeus before, you have sprite based enemies and pickups. There’s no option to switch to models, but it works for the anime and Blake Stone: Aliens Of Gold pixel art blend they have going on. (Well I was reminded of Blake Stone anyway.) Cut scenes are done in these fantastically done animatics (Think Street Fighter V’s cinemas) while in-game graphics have everyone looking fresh out of an Apogee PC shooter circa 1993.

This one also throws in some sarcastic one-liners with its protagonist. Like Shelly in Ion Fury, Caroline here will do the same. Unlike Shelly, Caroline is far more psychotic. She relishes blowing away bad guys, eating the hearts they leave behind when they’re punched into giblets, and causing mayhem. There’s a lot more dark humor here, and the game never tries to be something it isn’t. It also has a rather fantastic Industrial Metal and Electronica soundtrack. This one by Michael Markie. The game only has one episode done, but the final game looks like it will have three based on what the current build’s hub level looks like. There are also a ton of skulls to collect throughout the stages, and it looks like there will be a place in the hub level for you to use them at some point. I really enjoyed playing through this game’s build. So I’m hoping the full game lives up to the first episode. The one bug I ran into (one that disables all of your weapons except the pistol) is apparently already being worked on. So the developers have been going out of their way to talk to players which is a positive sign.

Maximum Action

Maximum Action is an odd case. It started out nicely enough to intrigue New Blood, even getting partnered at one point. Then they were mysteriously dropped and the updates seemed to trickle. The game was picked up by Balloon Moose Games and carried on. A few days ago a major update finally dropped, adding a new stage and cleaning up a few things as well as changing composers. The game hasn’t excited me the way the others have, but there is a really cool hook here, and that is each level is a different movie scene. You basically play through the stage as pretend Dolph Lundgren, and at the end you can watch the replay. Which is pretty cool. And so the scenery of each stage is inspired by different action genres. Some have you doing James Bond style stealth missions. Others have you blowing away 80s drug dealers like the protagonist of a 1987 direct to VHS vehicle. And each stage also works as a sort of puzzle game as you have to figure out which bad guy to take out in which order. Or where certain bad guys enter a scene. Or when a vehicle will tear through. So it’s like a cross between Hotline Miami and Duke Nukem 3D. There are some goofy bugs though, particularly in the game’s playback feature where you can watch your performance. Here’s hoping this one can come out with some major fixes, because there is a really fun idea underneath it all. The Goldeneye 007 era blocky enemies are also entertaining.

HROT

HROT is another game that takes inspiration from the original Quake. It’s got the similar brown, drab palette. What really sets this one apart though isn’t just the Eastern European horror show it puts on display. It’s set in Czechoslovakia during the 1980s and the story centers around some mysterious activity. It’s entirely coded by one guy in Pascal. That in of itself is quite impressive. It’s also got some fantastic level design, on par with the classic id game. And like DUSK it does a lot with very little. It’s a bit on the short side as of now, but it’s one hell of a short ride.

WRATH: Aeon Of Ruin

3DRealms is publishing this one by KillPixel and what stands out on this one is that it is actually being made in id Software’s original Quake engine. But it does diverge from the Quake mold a bit. After all Quake II skewed the series purely into action, while Quake set things up in more of a dark, foreboding adventure mold for a possible continuation of its story. While Wrath doesn’t completely do that as it still has plenty of monster closets to deal with it does change things up a bit. Similar to Viscerafest you’ll need to collect items to create checkpoints. You’ll find a wide variety of different weapons to dispatch monsters with. The game also takes the hub world approach with different areas opening up levels to go through. Think in the vein of something like the original RAGE. There’s a fair amount of variety in terms of the different environments too. And despite the focus on exploration over action, there is still plenty of action. You’ll come away from many firefights on your last legs, praying you’ll find some health and ammo before finding another group of bad guys. Like Viscerafest and ULTRAKILL, Wrath also adds a dash attack. This function is quite useful navigating some of the vertical sections here as well as allowing you to conserve supplies by stabbing low level enemies instead of shooting them. It’s a pretty feature rich game too with a lot of customization options for all types of PC configurations. However, I have never gotten it to play nice with screen overlays, so I haven’t been able to livestream it myself. Still, it’s another interesting one you may want to look into.

And with that I’m off. I do have another few shooters in my Steam wish list so as I get to them I may do another one of these preview lists. And when some of these are completed I may be doing full reviews of some of them so stay tuned!

Turrican Flashback Review

Released in 1990 by Rainbow Arts and Factor 5 Turrican was one of the biggest successes in computer gaming. As the 8 and 16 bit home computer business model was being supplanted by the IBM PC compatible desktop in the US at the time not everyone got to play them. Commodore 64, Amiga, and Atari ST players here would find something amazing though. In Europe however, things were reversed as computer platforms were still a more popular platform than the home consoles were. (Although consoles were still popular don’t misunderstand.) Turrican was huge throughout Europe, and Turrican would eventually end up on consoles all around the globe starting a year or so later.

So what made the series so special? Well Manfred Trenz who had already had Katakis, and The Great Giana Sisters under his belt, would combine several different genres together. Turrican has the action platforming of a game like Mega Man. It has the non-stop blasting of run n’ gun games like Contra. But it rewards a lot of exploration. Going off of the beaten path throughout the many stages earns you power ups and extra lives. There are many inspirations from Metroid. Then there are the many gems to collect like in the Giana Sisters vein. Getting enough of these requires the added exploration, and you need to do it if you want to earn continues.

PROS: All of the major releases are here in one affordable collection!

CONS: Random crashes to the start screen.

RIGHTS HELL: The Commodore 64 originals were unable to make an appearance.

The series would move from the Commodore and Atari computer realm to consoles eventually. Turrican would appear on the Game Boy, Sega Genesis, Turbografx-16, and see later entries on the Super NES. To get original copies of some of these titles is pretty expensive today, especially the Super NES releases which can cost as much as a car payment.

Enter ININ and Factor 5 with this (and another!) collection. Ratalaika has done a mostly wonderful job getting these games emulated and running. I say mostly for a reason I’ll get to in a bit. But first the good. First off, from as best as I can remember, Amiga emulation seems spot on. The games sound very good and the unmistakable Amiga sound comes through in spades. The games have all been mapped to a controller layout perfectly too. So you don’t have to worry about where major keyboard keys would be mapped. You can customize layouts to some degree, and you can also choose from different borders. You can also decide what aspect ratio you want to use depending on your preferences. And like many retro collections now, you can decide between a host of different scanline filters if you want to try to emulate a CRT look. Flashback also includes a save state feature, and you’ll definitely be using it. I’ll explain later.

You get four major games here, and they’re arguably the most important of the releases. Turrican and Turrican 2 are here and they’re the Amiga versions. These are the ones that most people remember as by release many Europeans had moved from the C64/128 ecosystem to the Amiga one. And while the C64 version would have been amazing to see here, there are some kind of rights entanglements around it where Factor 5 owns the IP but the C64 version has elements another entity owns. Because of this it isn’t likely to be in any kind of collection in the foreseeable future. As I noted before, the Amiga versions seem to be emulated very well, and they play great.

Mega Turrican is the third title in the collection which is the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive outside the US) port of Turrican 3 which was originally on the Amiga. In it, the circular laser whip from the first two games gets replaced with a grappling hook making it feel completely different. But the rest of the core gameplay remains the same. Being on the Genesis the game’s jumping feels a little bit less floaty so you will notice it playing these games in order. Emulation is spot on again though, as that really stringy, buzzy Genesis sound comes through. And it plays fantastically well.

Rounding things out is Super Turrican, the first of the Super NES releases. Super Turrican is a lot like Super R-Type in that it combines elements from the previous games to be this totally awesome Greatest Hits Frankenstein game. It’s also got a lot of entirely new elements mixed in. So it’s a fantastic experience. And as I actually have a copy of Super Turrican I can say again, the emulation is excellent here.

This leads to the one major problem I have with this collection, and that is that will randomly crash to the console start screen. I have the Nintendo Switch version, But I’m told this can happen on the PlayStation 4 version as well. At least in my case, the occurrences were uneven too. On the first two games it happened maybe three or four times across the both of them. When I got to Mega Turrican however, it happened countless times, particularly near the end of the game. In Super Turrican it happened a little less often than the other games but there was at least one instance I ended up rebooting the game.

This is why you’re going to want to use the save state feature, because the odds are pretty good you’re going to start a game over because you ended up crashing. Hopefully, this issue will be addressed at some point with a patch because everything else about this collection is really, really good.

Now beyond the scope of this collection, is another one from Strictly Limited Games that was released in both a collection that gives you all of these games plus the Amiga version of Turrican 3, the director’s cuts of Mega Turrican and Super Turrican, as well as Super Turrican 2. This can be attained as a massive bundle with extra collectibles or as two volumes for a little bit of a price cut. Being that it’s a Strictly Limited release, this is one that is something you’ll have to get in on soon as once they have a predetermined number of orders in, they won’t be making more. For those who really want a version of every game in the series it is a viable option worth looking into. For the rest of us Turrican Flashback is a highly recommended collection that comes with one major caveat holding it back from perfection. Hopefully the Strictly Limited Anthology doesn’t ship with the same issue. As I haven’t played that collection I can’t say whether or not the same technical issue is present.

In any case, even with it’s problem Turrican Flashback is a collection worth tracking down. Especially if you want an affordable way to play these classics again. You get all of the most important games in the series and you only really miss out on the final game Super Turrican 2. For the most part you will have been able to say you’ve played through the series. And all of the games (save for a random crash) are emulated very well, and play very well. My hopes are that Ratalaika can find a way to fix the crashes with a firmware update, and that Factor 5 can rescue the original Commodore 64 games from rights hell so they can be re-released in some capacity in the future. This is a series with a rich history, and one that for many encapsulates a period of computer gaming history between the era of 8-bit home computers taking over the role of consoles in the early 80s (particularly in the US during the videogame market crash) and the era of the MS-DOS and Windows PCs supplanting them and their 16-bit brethren in the mid 90s. Eventually, Commodore Amiga and Atari ST games would also appear on Sega and Nintendo machines, as well as IBM PC Compatibles. But these were important home computers and Turrican is an important series. One that cemented Factor 5 as a powerhouse developer who would push hardware as far as they could. Even with it’s problems, Turrican Flashback is a collection action fans of all stripes ought to consider.

Final Score: 8 out of 10