Insanity’s Blade Review

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A number of titles have been Frankenstein’s monsters. Taking ideas, or mechanics from a variety of games, and combining them to bring something new to the world. It happens in everything, as any great idea has the potential to be improved upon, or repurposed for something else. Sometimes this gives us something glorious. Other times something banal, and uninspired. Sometimes something completely terrible. But a lot of times we’ll see something great trying to break out of some shackles.

PROS: Soundtrack. Graphics. Character design. Borrowed elements are good ones.

CONS: Glitches. Performance issues. Annoying bugs.

CAVALCADE: There’s a line of large, and obscure references on display.

Insanity’s Blade is a pretty cool game. Right off the bat, its cinema screens, and characters will remind you of Golden Axe. Begin playing, and the movement will possibly bring out memories of playing Rastan. Some of the enemy designs, backgrounds, traps, and weapons will bring about memories of the first four Castlevania games. The loot you pick up, and the rising coffins then make you remember Ghosts N’ Goblins. If all of those references weren’t enough for you, the dagger throwing, and climbing may even remind Commodore fans of First Samurai (an obscure game that was also ported to the Super NES.).

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All of these elements do work well together too. Stages have elements of all of these games. But connected in ways that flow well. One may see this, and figure it would feel disjointed. And they very easily could have. But fortunately, everything was well researched by the level designers in this regard. Moreover, many of the stages have branching paths. So it gives the game a little bit of replay value, as you can opt to take different routes on a second play through.

Also great is the inclusion of two-player arcade co-operative play. You can also opt to play either a story mode, or an arcade mode. Both of these are basically the same game, but the arcade mode reduces the story bits, and the mandatory side quest stages that I’ll get to later. Quite honestly, there are a lot of things to like in Insanity’s Blade.

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As you may already know, Insanity’s Blade is an action platformer. So again, you’ll be going through stages in the vein of early Castlevania titles. Expect pixel-perfect jumping. Floating heads. Spiked walls. Pits. The most brutal retro Konami stuff. There’s even some Mode 7 like effects that take you right back to Super Castlevania IV. But as I said earlier, there are plenty of other games it takes inspiration from. You’ll have the same movement speed, and jumping arcs of Rastan. You’ll start out the game with a mere punch, the ability to grab enemies, and a jump button. But you’ll find over the course of the game, you’ll get to shoot knives.  Think Shinobi.  (For an interesting twist, these can be disabled in the options menu.). Blowing up enemies drops coins, and money bags seen in Ghosts N’ Goblins as I said before. Pick up all of the money you find because hidden in every level is a shop castle that rises from the ground. These shops have weapon, and health upgrades in them. You’ll want them because like Magician Lord, the better the firepower, the longer you’ll live. The thing to remember is once you go inside them, they won’t come up again until you lose the level, and have to start over. So don’t go in them until you’re sure you have enough gold to afford what you want.

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Beyond the shop weapons, are weapons you’ll get on your quest. There’s a couple of swords, a Castlevania whip, among others. These are usually dropped by bosses, and tie into the game’s storyline. Bosses are another point in the game where I was reminded of First Samurai. Because like that game’s bosses, these are large, weird, and take a ton of punishment. Of course they also continue the look of all of those mentioned 8-bit, and 16-bit era console, arcade, and home computer games.

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The storyline is a bit simplistic, but works for the game fine. You play a character named Thurstan whose family is killed in an attack on his village. So he goes on a revenge mission looking to kill off the hordes of monsters responsible. He’s joined by a dwarf named Finn who gets roped into the adventure. Things get a bit weirder when they happen upon a sorceress, but I won’t spoil the story for those who haven’t played yet. It does what it needs to do, and according to the developer, was adapted from a graphic novel. Between the cinema screens, and labels you’ll be greeted with a map where you can choose either the next stage, or a side mission. Side missions usually have boss fights you need to do as they give you items required to complete the game. Other times you’ll face a gauntlet of enemies, or rescue some NPCs. The game also throws in a classic shoot ’em up stage near the end of the 16 stage adventure. There are plenty of things on hand for those who loved all of its influences.

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Playing through Insanity’s Blade though, you’ll find there really is a great game trying to break free of some small problems. Which is a shame because what is great, truly is great. The problems are two-fold. On my system which isn’t the latest, and greatest but is still well above the system requirements I ran into slowdown. This is the biggest issue. The game will randomly become jittery, and sluggish before going back to normal. It doesn’t make things unplayable, as the slowdowns are but a hiccup in the grand scheme of things. But when they happen during a tricky jump, or a trap you’re trying to avoid it can be very annoying. The game also doesn’t have an option to turn Vsync on or off.

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The second problem I ran into were a number of graphical bugs, where a background tile appeared where a foreground tile should have been. Also, as great as the visuals are some characters blend in with the backgrounds, and you won’t see them until after you’ve taken damage. This especially sucks when it happens by a pit, or other trap, and the knock back pushes you into said pit or other trap. I also had a couple of random crashes to the desktop. Again, nothing common enough to make the game unplayable, but still enough to grate.

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Be that as it may, I still had a good time playing through Insanity’s Blade. It’s now been out a while so I don’t see the hitches being resolved. But hopefully their upcoming Battle Princess Madelyn avoids these problems as the new game seems to have the same vivid pixel art style, and action platforming in mind. I also forgot to mention Insanity Blade’s soundtrack which has both an 8, and 16-bit option for its chip tunes. It’s pretty solid, and while it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of the NES Castlevania Trilogy, it does go along with its action fairly well. There are also a number of secrets hidden throughout the game, so it does give you another reason to go back, and replay it from time to time.  It’s a fun game. It’s just got a couple of quirks that keep it from being as memorable as the titles that inspired it.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Kero Blaster Review

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I had a birthday a couple of weeks ago. It was an inconvenient time to hang out or grab a few beers with anyone. I was working, everyone I know was busy with their own work, and life stuff going on. Plus as you get older birthdays tend to become less, and less of a big deal anyway. But one of my friends from an old job was kind enough to send me a couple of games on Steam anyhow. One of these was Kero Blaster.

PROS: Great music, pixel art, and mechanics.

CONS: Minor technical hitches.

MASH UPS: It feels both very NES, and C64. That’s a winning combination.

I’d never heard of Kero Blaster. Despite the fact that it’s made by the creator of Cave Story. The little Steam tile didn’t look so hot when I opened my email. But I installed it, and after a title screen crash, the game started working properly. Fortunately, once I got my Steam Controller working I was pleasantly surprised. Kero Blaster does an ingenious thing by showing you controls right on the Title Screen. You have to clear the little blobs off of the screen, and you then answer a phone to start the game.

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From here you choose the save file you want to load, and the game starts. Upon playing for the first time, you’ll see a cut scene where a cat calls you into the office to bark at you. After the reprimand you go to an elevator where two scientist cats send you on missions. As you play through the game, you’ll get more cut scenes between stages that explain more of the storyline.

Honestly, the storyline is pretty good. It doesn’t make much sense at first, but over time the pieces are filled in, and you’ll find it’s quite funny. You play a frog who works at a company called the Cat, and Frog Company. Where the owner, a cat, progressively gets less, and less healthy looking. There is a bunch of workplace humor peppered in there over the game’s several missions. There aren’t too many games that make me legitimately laugh out loud. But this game has its moments. I think fans of comedic anime, and manga will laugh a few times playing this as well.

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Once the initial cut scene ends, you’re sent off on your action platform adventuring. The game seems to take influences from games that made the NES, and Commodore 64 platforms famous. Kero Blaster’s jumping mechanics remind me very much of Turrican. Jumping has a similar slow, yet precise feel to it. Also like Turrican, is the jet pack you’ll eventually get, allowing you to do double jumps to get to higher ledges. However the stages themselves are structured more like the ones in a lauded NES action game. Some stages have a Mega Man feel, others seem like something out of Castlevania. On paper, these are three series that have little in common. Yet the elements of each that were borrowed, and tweaked work really well together.

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Much like Mega Man, and Turrican, you’ll be doing a lot of shooting. Killing low-level enemies, medium enemies, and then fighting a giant boss monster at the end of every stage. Boss fights usually result in you finding a new weapon to use. Each of these is handy in specific situations, but they can all be used on the overwhelming majority of enemies. Unlike the Mega Man games, you play the game in a linear fashion, and there’s no real boss order as a result. But the boss fights do involve looking for patterns to mitigate damage taken. Again, it hearkens back to many C64, NES, and SMS games. Like a lot of other platformers out there, there are mid level shops in every level. Here you can spend coins dropped by defeated enemies. Doing so lets you level up your weapons, health meter, and buy help items. Kero Blaster has a pretty high level of challenge. But to make things a bit easier you get to keep your upgrades when you run out of lives. You also have unlimited continues, so if you persevere, you can eventually beat the campaign. When you do finish it, you’ll unlock a hard mode. So if you’re the type who loves old school difficulty, there’s something more for you to shoot for.

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The game has a wonderful aesthetic, that again, reminds me of Commodore 64 platformers. It’s displayed in a letterbox aspect ratio, with a limited color palette. Sprites are large, and backgrounds feature some nice detailing. I also really love the character designs in this game. There is a lot of variety in the enemy types here. Some are hilarious references to other games like crabs that behave like the Sidesteppers in Mario Bros. Then there are the aforementioned blob creatures which begin showing up in a number of ways. There are even Mega Man X style mid bosses here. While the graphics remind me of the C64, the audio very clearly hearkens back memories of NES soundtracks. The NES APU had a pretty distinct sound, and Kero Blaster does a pretty good job emulating it. Many indie games do so as well, but the compositions here are what set it apart from the pack. Many of the songs in this game are on par with those in titles like Shovel Knight. They are quite honestly that good. Very addictive, catchy songs that fit the action nicely. In addition to those though, there are some lilting, atmospheric chip tunes for accompanying environments too.

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That isn’t to say I didn’t have any issues with Kero Blaster. The .exe randomly crashes on my set up. Rarely when I’m playing the game, it usually happens when launching or exiting. Still, it has been often enough that it’s worth bringing up. Playing the PC version I have no idea if this is the case on IOS, or PlayStation 4. But at least on PC, expect to see a crash to the desktop once in a while.

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The default button layout is also not ideal. I was constantly pulling up the menu when I didn’t want to, or pressing shoot, when I meant to press jump. Fortunately the game does let you remap buttons on your controller, and keyboard. So you’ll certainly want to do that. Once you’ve done that, there isn’t much to complain about. Of course, some may be fine with the default controls. This may be different on the other releases too, as I have not played either of those versions.

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There are also a couple of areas I felt the collision detection could have been just a tiny bit better, as certain projectiles wouldn’t seem to hit the character, and would still net damage. It never felt the game was too hampered by this, but you may feel some of your deaths are cheap. These moments were rare in my play through, but still felt annoying when they did occur.

Finally, the game does not allow you to move your character’s stance while firing. If you’re walking right, mowing down waves of baddies, and suddenly get attacked from above you have to stop firing, then aim up, and begin firing. Again, not something that breaks the game, but if you don’t know this going in, you’re going to be upset.

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Ultimately though, I really do recommend this one. It isn’t drawn out with padding, nor is it something you’ll likely blow through in an hour. At least not on the first play through for most. The problems it does have aren’t so bad that they make things feel unplayable. It has likable characters, a fun story, and some genuinely good stage design. It’s a fun to play action platformer for your computer, IOS device, or PS4. And you get to torch monsters with a flamethrower as a frog. Slippy wishes he could be even one tenth of that level of bad ass.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Rivals Of Aether Review

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Super Smash Bros. It’s arguably one of the most popular Nintendo franchises. Some may even say the most popular Nintendo franchise. From the original Nintendo 64 game all the way up to the Wii U iteration, it’s an iconic game. But fans will constantly debate what version is best. A passionate group of Smash fans would tell you it is the Gamecube version. And whether you agree with that or not, you have to admire that level of dedication. Not only have they gotten it recognition in the fighting game community as a competitive game, they’ve gotten it featured in tournaments.

So of course it was only a matter of time before companies would try to make their own platformer fighting game hybrids. Some of them terrible, some of them just okay, and some of them pretty damn good.

PROS: Super Smash Bros. Melee pacing. Unique features. Great character designs.

CONS: Relatively small roster compared to other fighters. Not a lot of single-player stuff.

WHAT?: Is what you’ll ask confusedly upon seeing some opponents’ recoveries online.

It would be easy to dismiss Rivals Of Aether as another Smash pretender. It has a similar 4-player party fighter feel. It has the same general goal; knock everyone off of the stage, and be the last one standing. It has a cast of characters with nowhere near the recognition of Nintendo’s major IP. Some of you may even ask “Why bother playing this over any of the Super Smash Bros. games?” But before you sigh, click on a different site, and prepare to see if Mr. Game & Watch has finally made it to S-Tier thanks to a professional player’s new discovery hold on.

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Because Rivals Of Aether is actually quite good. The game may not have the high production values, marketable Nintendo mascots, and blockbuster score. But it’s probably the best of any attempt to compete with Nintendo’s formula yet. Yes. Better than Sony’s attempt. And better than Papaya’s Cartoon Network themed clone. Both of which were solid efforts.

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Right from the get go, this game makes no qualms about who it targets. If you’re one of the die-hard Super Smash Bros. Melee fans out there, Rivals Of Aether is hoping you’re going to pick it up. Assuming you haven’t already. But if you’re not, and you enjoy the Smash games, you may just enjoy this as well. This game embraces the competitive end of the Smash fandom. You’ll find no items, or power ups. Not even for simple fun. What you will find, are some really cool looking stages, and characters. All of the characters make a great first impression here. They’re fairly unique (Except for maybe Wrastor who is clearly a Falco Lombardi stand in.), and have designs that stand out.

Upon getting into a match, you’ll find it plays very much like Smash. You’ll want to be the last one standing, as I mentioned earlier. It has similar play mechanics under the hood. Directional Influence is a major part of defensive play, affecting the angle of knock back when you’re sent flying. There are tilts, specials, and meteor attacks to boot. Enthusiasts will feel right at home here.

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But it isn’t a carbon copy of Super Smash Bros. either. Rivals Of Aether makes some enhancements that make it feel different enough to justify looking into it. It adds a second set of regular attacks it calls Strong Attacks. Where the Smash games have a button for regular moves, a button for special moves, and then different attacks based upon whether or not the stick was moved simultaneously with a button press this one adds a third button. It’s a small thing, but it also means another few moves per character.

The game also has a bigger emphasis on parrying. If you can time the block button perfectly, it grants you a brief moment of reprieve by putting an opponent in stun for a second. It also brings in advanced tech techniques by timing movement just before hitting surfaces. Rivals, also puts in a wall jump technique which can be really helpful when recovering from a strong knock back.

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One thing everyone will love is the sprite work on display. The pixel art is really, really nice stuff that hearkens back to the 16-bit console era. This game oozes Super NES, and Sega Genesis in terms of motif. The chip tunes aren’t half bad either.  Every stage has its own thumping songs that fit its visual flair. Interestingly, some stages will favor certain characters. To balance this out, at least in multiplayer, players can vote on what stages to disallow for a conflict. So if you see your opponent has chosen Orcane, you can put a giant red X on his stage so he can’t make easy saves by swimming.

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The game also has a pretty robust tutorial in it. Honestly it gives the level of care, and attention some of the better Street Fighter, and Tekken tutorials have had in recent outings. If you’re a newcomer it’s honestly worth checking out, and if you’re a Super Smash veteran you should at least look at it, as it can go over some of the differences nicely for you. It covers the absolute basics, but then covers combos, cancels, and the advanced wall jumping mechanics as well.

 

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Rivals has both offline, and online matches where you can play against random players, or friends. It’s, pretty fun. It doesn’t usually lag that badly unless the opposing player is on the other side of the country or world. And even then I’ve still had some matches that were playable. Not great by any stretch, but at least I could move without having to expect to wait 30 seconds to see Zetterburn take a step. Be that as it may, I still don’t recommend veering too far outside the realm of low ping opponents.There are also tag battle modes which can be fun to play, though I suspect most will play the Free For All mode the most. I was also impressed with the character creation tools. Like the ones found in King Of Fighters XIII, and Capcom Vs. SNK 2 you can change the color palette of the characters to use as a custom appearance for yourself. So if you want to make Wrastor green, you can do so.

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Where the game falters a bit is when it comes to one player modes. Aside from the excellent tutorial, the only real thing it has is the Story mode. Here, you take each of the characters, and play through their part of the game’s lore. Like most fighting games this is told by picking a character, playing through computer opponents in a 1v1 match, until you reach the final boss. After defeating the boss, you’ll get a bit more backstory, and credits. Once you beat the game with every character though, there isn’t much left for you to do. You can take the points you earn for playing, to unlock the secret characters. But beyond that there really isn’t much else. When considering the small roster, it doesn’t translate into much single-player time. Sure, one could point to the Abyss mode where you try to exceed goals the game sets with enemies, and items to beat. But for a game that wants to tear you away from Smash, that isn’t much.

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Don’t misunderstand me though, Dan Fornace, and his small team have done a terrific job in making a Smash-like fighter. If you don’t presently have a Nintendo console, and played a lot of Super Smash Bros. in the past, Rivals of Aether is a no brainer. If you do have a Gamecube, Wii, or Wii U, and love Super Smash Bros., you still may want to give this game a shot. Because it’s going to be more of what you love. As long as what you love is playing against other people in person, or online. This game has the competitive end set. But if your favorite parts of Smash have been breaking targets, Adventure modes, and Subspace Emissaries, Rivals may feel a little bit anemic. That said, if you’re a big fan of fighting games put this one on your radar.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Carmageddon: Max Damage Review

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Ah Carmageddon. It probably seems esoteric now, but twenty years ago (man time files, and boy am I old.) it was a pretty big deal. It was a racer that involved wrecking other cars, wanton destruction, and the wholesale vehicular manslaughter of pedestrians. It caught the ire of the same people upset about the absurd violence of games like DOOM, and Mortal Kombat. So when it was ported to consoles, in some regions it was heavily censored. The game led to two sequels. One was a pretty decent one. The other not so much. So here we are with the fourth game all of these years later. How does it fare?

PROS: Still has gory comedic violence. Fun tracks, and vehicles.

CONS: Not a big visual leap over the old games. No improvements to handling.

WHAT?: Power ups are crazy.

I enjoyed the original Carmageddon back in the day. The sequel was also pretty fun. It was juvenile. It was full of stupid humor. But there was a certain amount of charm in it all. Running over pedestrians for time bonuses, destroying opponents to steal their car, all on dangerous, and silly themed races. There were issues with the games like the inconsistent enemy A.I., and the bad handling causing you to spin out fairly easily. But the underlying game under it all was still goofy fun. Visually these games weren’t much to look at, the car models were blocky, and the pedestrians were even more lo-fi. But that made the mayhem more comedic so you didn’t mind so much.

And the audio, man, was it good. The voice samples, and dialogue went along with it fantastically. Plus it had a pretty cool soundtrack. It was pretty good. But the third game changed things up a bit too much for some, and not nearly enough for others. Plus it didn’t come out in the best state from what I remember. It kind of came, and quietly went. Carmageddon went dormant for a long time.

Over that time,  Interplay, the game’s publisher went into all kinds of financial woes, and the IP ended up at Square Enix. Stainless Games would finally get the IP back in their hands, and upon doing so, brought out the fourth game in the series. First as Carmageddon: Reincarnation, and now that it’s got a console port it’s been retitled Carmageddon: Max Damage. So after all of these years, and all of this time, how does this new game hold up?

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It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Visually, the game does look better than the first three games. But not by very much. This version has some advanced lighting effects, and some other visual cues. But the vehicles themselves are still fairly low on the details, and the pedestrians are still blocky people you’ve been smearing over the pavement since Carmageddon II.  The PC version does feature a robust set of options, so if it taxes your hardware, you can lower some settings. The sound is the same sort of scenario. The sound quality is a bit better than the old games. It doesn’t sound as compressed, and there’s still a hard rock soundtrack to jam along to while destroying other drivers.

Carmageddon: Max Damage also follows the same rules as the second game. You start out picking one of two vehicles, and racing sets of events to unlock new ones. Each set generally has three or more events you need to win in order to get a stamp of approval. Win enough of them, and you’ll unlock the next set of events. You don’t have to play every event to unlock the next set, though it is recommended because you’re more likely to unlock every set that way.

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During the events you can also find tokens that can be spent on upgrades for your vehicle. You definitely need to upgrade your vehicle because later races feature more aggressive opponents who will destroy you pretty quickly if you’re unprepared. To keep yourself from being destroyed, you must keep up scoring points. You get points (and time) for running over people, doing crazy stunts, and blowing up racers.

There are several event types in each set. Some of these are a traditional race, where you need to place first to advance. Others are challenges where you have to get to a certain number of checkpoints first, or kill a number of specific people first. Often times there will be a specific opponent for you to destroy, and in doing so you get to keep their vehicle for your garage. And then the best are the classic events where you can go for whichever goal you want. Killing racers, running over people, or winning the race.

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During the events as you’re earning points doing all of those over-the-top things you’ll start getting rear ended. Or jammed into a wall. Or knocked off of a cliff. All of which start to severely damage your vehicle. The damages will affect how your car handles too. So if you get T-boned you may end up only being able to take left turns. Or you could bang up the front end to the point the car barely runs. You can even get into situations where the car’s engine is shot, and you have no tires.

This is why you need to earn points. You can use the points to fix your car on the fly, or recover your vehicle if it falls into a chasm. Now if you rack up an insane score, you can spend a large chunk of it to constantly keep your car in pristine condition. This makes the game considerably easier. But it still isn’t a cakewalk. Especially as you progress, and begin dealing with more, and more aggressive A.I. There are also Mario Kart styled power ups you can find by driving into oil drums. Some of these are useful, like the Sith Lord Force lightning that you can use to electrocute opponents. Others are just silly, and ultimately useless, like the one that makes you wobble.  Still there are others that are there to troll you, like the power up that blows your car in half, and could lead to a loss if an enemy hits you afterward.

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In between events you can spend the tokens you find on upgrades for your vehicles. These are drip fed to you through the game though because certain upgrades are only purchasable at certain levels. This gives the game some replay value as you can go back with a beefier car to play older events you’ve skipped. But at the same time it can be annoying when you’ve found 7 tokens, and can’t spend them on what you want even though you have enough currency.

The main problem with this one though, is the fact that it hasn’t improved the driving physics over the old games very much. Far too often you’ll find yourself spinning out after attempting to make a hard corner. Or you’ll find the rag doll physics when trying to roll your car over either don’t move enough, or move too much making getting yourself re-oriented an annoyance. It doesn’t make the game a bad one, but it is a big enough annoyance to take you out of the experience. It’s enough of a distraction, you may find yourself playing it in short bursts rather than several hours.

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This isn’t to say Carmageddon: Max Damage isn’t fun. As long as you enjoy dark humor, and cartoon violence it’s got a lot under the hood you’ll enjoy. One of the really cool things I’m glad to see has been retained is the replay feature. When you finish any event in the game you can go back, and re-watch it. As you’re watching it again, you can experiment with a ton of different camera settings. You can change the point of view, for different parts of the play back, you can fast forward, rewind or pause video. You can even take the HUD off if you want. This is also where you can get some laughs, as this is where you’re most likely to listen for the voice samples, and pay attention to the gore. Because when you’re trying to actually win a race you’re probably most focused on driving or other goals.

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The game also supports Mods you can get in the Steam Workshop on PC, and the game supports multiplayer. There isn’t much of an online play community here, but the ability to play the game with a friend does add some fun to the package. I like that this is a game that supports LAN though, so if you do have a few people coming over with laptops, you can do classic multiplayer through your home network.

Overall, Carmageddon Max Damage isn’t a bad game. But it isn’t something I’d tell you is a must-buy either. A big chunk of the package depends on your sense of humor. If you like dark, and violent comedy then you’ll get some laughs out of it, and it is competent in its modes. The thing is, it doesn’t excel at any one racing mode. If the mechanics had been vastly improved over the old games it would be worth a recommendation. But it really hasn’t. If you’re looking to add a technically sound arcade racer to your game collection, there are better options. But if you want something to make you laugh at a preposterous send-up of Death Race, you could easily do worse.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Fantasy Zone II Review

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Not too long ago I finally managed to snatch up a gem. It’s probably no surprise that this is a gem. In fact, if you have a means to play this one, you should probably stop reading, and go buy this right now. It really is all of the good things you’ve heard. It will please Golden Age fans. It will please shmup fans. It will please hardcore SEGA fans. If you dig video games at all, period. You’ll probably dig this game.

PROS: Colorful graphics. Great characters. Wonderful music. Pure joy.

CONS: Very difficult. But don’t let that stop you.

CONTROL STICK: You’ll want to use this (Or a Genesis Arcade Stick) over the stock pad.

Fantasy Zone II is the sequel to Fantasy Zone, a game I have yet to acquire on the mighty Sega Master System. It’s regarded as one of the earliest examples of a cute ’em up. A shoot ’em up where everything is bright, cheery, colorful, and cartoonish in aesthetics. You’ll notice this the second you see the title screen. Your ship, the Opa-Opa is a cute little pod with bird wings on it. Enemies are everything from flowers to flying turtles.

The game is a mixture of both Golden Age arcade shooter conventions, and the side scrolling shooter arcade games that followed. Every level sees you going along a backdrop that continually circles around itself. Basically, you’ll spend a ton of time blasting enemies with your lasers, and bombs. One button shoots the laser guns, the other drops the bombs. So you’ll cycle along the play field killing enemies, and then collecting the money they drop upon their deaths. Before long, you’ll discover some of the larger stationary enemies will open warp doors. These doors will take you to new sub-levels that basically work the same way. Every level has a store hidden within it too. Here you can upgrade your ship with new weapons, and abilities with the money you’ve collected.

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Once you’ve defeated every stationary enemy in the level, the door to the boss room opens up to you. Ideally, you’ll want to enter these encounters fully beefed up with extra power ups, and weapons. Because the boss encounters are where the game gets very challenging, very quickly. That isn’t to say the levels themselves don’t get difficult. They do. In a lot of ways they feel like an even harder version of Defender. Defender is a notoriously difficult arcade game. As every board just throws more, and more at you as you play. Fantasy Zone II, also does this. But on top of that, every enemy has its own attack pattern, and often times you’ll find yourself going after three or four enemy types at the exact same time.

The other major element of difficulty is in the power up system. Many of the upgraded lasers, and other items are timed, or give you a limited number of shots. So if you don’t hurry up, or you waste them on low-level grunts, you won’t have the extra might for the boss encounter. Moreover, if you lose a life, you’ll also lose any powers you purchased from the shop. Which means you’d better spend another ten minutes grinding money out of grunts so you can re-buy those power ups before fighting the boss.

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Here’s the crazy thing though. While all of this sounds like the kind of thing that would make you rip your hair out, and smash your Master System, it won’t. This game is quite honestly one of the hardest games you’ll ever play. Well unless you happen to eat, sleep, and breathe shmups. Then it may not crack your top ten. But for the rest of us, this game can be downright brutal. But it’s also downright compelling. Just like Defender did for so many of us growing up, Fantasy Zone II can be very addicting. Quite frankly, it is one of the most fun games ever. True, you’ll die, over, and over again. But you’ll probably play it fifteen times before giving up, and playing something else. Considering you’ll get better the more you play, that can add up to a couple of hours a session.

And as you improve, you’ll get to see more of the aforementioned boss encounters. Which just seem to add more craziness to the stew with every reveal. You’ll fight a killer space log in the first stage. Later in the game you’ll see the dragon boss from Space Harrier. There’s also a Mega Man styled boss rush for you to contend with at the end.

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As tough as this all sounds, things can be mitigated if you have the right tools for the job. Namely, a better option than the Master System’s stock game pad. I recommend using either a Genesis game pad, the Sega Control stick, or one of the arcade stick controllers that came out for the Genesis. It makes things much easier to play, as the stock pad’s D-pad just doesn’t have the precision required. Beyond control issues with the stock controller, I really don’t have much to complain about. Again, there is a high difficulty on display, but it’s also fair. When you die, you’ll know it was a lack of talent on your part nine times out of ten. It’s very rare, I’ve felt a death was cheap, or a fluke. I don’t think I ever ran into severe slowdown the way I have in some other games on the console either.

One of the other really great things about Fantasy Zone II is the soundtrack. These are some of the addictive chip tunes ever played back on the Sega Master System. If you have a modified console with the FM Sound Unit, or the Japanese Mark III with the FM Sound Unit accessory the soundtrack is even better.

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Fantasy Zone II isn’t the cheapest game you can find for your Master System these days, but it’s worth tracking down a copy. It isn’t anywhere near the cost of something like Power Strike (Aleste). But it’s going to cost you more than something common like Out Run, or After Burner will. If you don’t own a Master System, or a Mark III, or a Power Base Converter for your Genesis, there are alternatives. The game was ported to the Famicom, MSX Computer, and was also re-released on the Wii Virtual Console. If you have a PlayStation 2, there was a remake as part of the Sega Ages line. Sega also updated the game, and released it to the Arcades. Subsequently there is a version based loosely on that version for the 3DS. Fantasy Zone II comes highly recommended.  If you’re building a vintage Sega collection, or you just love old school arcade games this should be on your radar.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.

ConnectiCon 2017 Recap

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Have you missed me? Well, I’m back after a packed three-day weekend. It was this year’s ConnectiCon, one of the higher profile conventions in my neck of the woods. For those who don’t know, it’s a three-day convention that aspires to be as varied as possible. The show makes an attempt to have representation from comics, anime’, film, television, books, online personalities, and gaming.

Last year’s show was a tough act to follow, as it had many more recognizable names to the casual observer. But there were plenty of good, and even great things for visitors to look forward to this year. Operationally, I can only speak as a paying visitor, but I saw improvements in terms of managing lines, addressing concerns, and trying to make things a bit easier to navigate. Getting my weekend pass was pretty seamless. The pre-registration line was easier to find. Wait times went down, and it looked like even though paying at the door was more complicated, I didn’t really see any outbursts from customers about it.

 

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Line management to get into panels was easier to follow. There were a couple of panels that probably should have been scheduled in bigger rooms though, as a number of the guests they had, were pretty big draws. If you didn’t find out about some of them early enough, you weren’t getting in. Among them being Sylvester McCoy (Dr. Who), Jeremy Shada (Adventure Time), Courtenay Taylor (Regular Show), the cast of The Nostalgia Critic, Andre Meadows (Black Nerd Comedy), and Team Four Star (Dragon Ball Z Abridged). That being said, there were still plenty of great panels in addition to these, hosted by some talent some may not have been aware of.

Friday

My first day went pretty swimmingly. After waiting in a long, but quick-moving line, I had my badge, and began walking the floor. I started out with the Opening Ceremony panel, where there were a few segments covering the general behavioral rules, reminders to stay hydrated in the heat, and a fun game of Mad Libs. They also introduced Bruce Nesmith of Bethesda, who was doing a game industry panel. Unfortunately it was one of many panels I didn’t get into. I also missed the Andre Meadows panel that day due to panel overlap.  As I mentioned earlier, while there may not have been as many big names this year, there were still a ton of great panels. I managed to get into the Art The Hypnotist panel this year. It was a very interesting one. Hypnotism isn’t something I’m very knowledgeable about. Up until this panel, I’d only had a bare-bones, stereotypical movie understanding of what exactly it entails. I’m not a sudden expert on it now either. But I did get a bit of entertainment, and education out of it.

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Art started out by explaining the process. Everyone would be tired out, and put into a sleepy state through a combination of soft music, and meditation. Then he would go around the room, find people who were in a deeper sleep state, and ask them if they were comfortable going on stage. Eventually, when there were enough volunteers the show began. Over the course of a couple of hours, Art would demonstrate that he could make them think they didn’t know the number 9, which perplexed the volunteers. There was also a point in which three volunteers were asked to go on stage in front of the hypnotized, and the subjects were made more or less attractive using the words Iced Tea, and Beer.  There were a bunch of other tricks too. But the great thing here, is that by the end all of the volunteers would remember everything, and everyone in the room was in on it. So it was funny, and exciting. But it also didn’t leave anybody feeling embarrassed or mortified. If he ever does a show near you, check it out. It’s something different from the norm. At least it was for me. My buddy Dan from The Best Spuds was also there, and he loved every minute of it.

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I spent a good amount of time after that panel checking out the gaming section, and this was greatly expanded this year. Not only were there even more arcade games than last year, they even added some pinball machines to the mix. So I spent a few times over the weekend playing the Simpson’s Pinball Party Machine, Double Dragon, and Street Fighter II. They also had a pretty cool Gundam themed fighting game I’d never seen before. So that was pretty awesome. Of course I was surprised, and overjoyed to see one of the many PS4’s they had set up was running Rogue Stormers. If you still haven’t played this one yet, you really should.

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This year the convention also coincided with Hartford Riverfest  So the Best Spuds, and I checked out some of the food trucks in attendance. We found one called Chompers, that served bacon cheeseburgers, and chicken parmesan in deep-fried ball form. They’re deceptive in that the size of them makes you think one order isn’t going to be enough. One order really is. But I’m still glad I bought one of each kind. They were awesome.

Saturday

On Saturday, I managed to get into a couple of panels. The first being the Nostalgia Critic Q&A panel. Doug Walker has said that ConnectiCon is one of his favorite conventions to attend, and so this year he returned along with his Father Barney, Brother Rob, Tamara Chambers, Jim Jarosz, and Malcom Ray. But there was also a surprise appearance from Andre Meadows who would arrive before Malcom arrived, as Malcom was feeling a little under the weather. As in previous years, fans got to ask questions to the cast about the show, which is in its tenth year. As well as any other questions. There were some you’d expect, and some you wouldn’t. But the best part of the panel was when a nervous child was reassured by a kind Doug who traded places with him. The kid sat at the desk with the other Channel Awesome players, and Doug would sit in the audience while the kid asked everyone his question. Which escapes me as of this writing. But it was a kind moment.

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One fan asked the group what their favorite guilty pleasures were, which elicited a number of answers. The first Transformers movie. Moulin Rouge. Watching a child do better at running a panel than Doug Walker. (That was Rob Walker’s answer.) But through it all, the panelists were very kind, and appreciative of the fandom.

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After the Nostalgia Critic panel I found a short panel on Hip Hop music. Basically, it was a short history of the genre, and some of its subgenres. But later in the panel it covered some newer subgenres like Nerdcore, as well as some of the experimentation going on in some of the more obscure circles of Hip Hop. Overall it was pretty decent for anybody looking to get more into the genre. Later on I would get into a content creation panel hosted by Mark “Cornshaq” Davis the 3rd. Which was a very insightful look at getting a foothold in making YouTube video content. But the really great takeaway from it, was just how much of the knowledge presented is applicable to most any creative endeavor. How to interact with readers/viewers/etc. properly. How to get the word out, and advertise without coming off as desperate. Digging deep, and having the courage to try new things. Differentiating between genuine criticism, and those who just want to be jerks. Listening to genuine criticism. Differentiation. Links to other resources. The importance of branding. How seemingly small, unimportant details can actually be a great assistance at times. As well as practices to avoid! Obviously, for the purposes of a recap, I can’t go into great length here, but there was a lot of useful information. If you like game content in video form, check out his channel too. It’s pretty good stuff, and he often mentions things you may not be aware of.

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After the panel, I got a chance to talk a bit more with Cornshaq, and the guys over at Nerdfit Network. We just had fun talking conventions, pro wrestling, and craft beer for a while. I had a really fun time talking about the events leading into WWE’s Great Balls Of Fire Pay-Per-View. Like the sometimes hilarious over-the-top levels of violence between Roman Reigns, and Braun Strowman. Like when Braun tipped an ambulance over with Roman inside. All of whom were very kind, and friendly.  If you haven’t seen any of their material, give them a shot. They were a really swell group of people.

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Speaking of swell people, when I was in the dealer area, I met some of the creators from Darby Pop. They were very cool people, and they have some interesting spins on traditional comic book themes. Writer Jeff Kline was even kind enough to sign the Indestructible trade I picked up at their booth. It’s a really cool premise, about a man who is mistakenly identified as a super hero, and is suddenly thrown into a world of celebrity. All the while wondering how he is going to last before everybody learns the truth. I haven’t gotten that far into it yet, but so far I really like what I’ve read. The artwork is pretty slick too. You can find their stuff online if it sounds like something you’d be interested in checking out for yourself.

 

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Every year that I make it out to ConnectiCon I look forward to meeting up with friends at the City Steam Brewery. They make some of my favorite beer, so when their old Brewmaster retired, his successor had a tall order to fill. Well since then, the current Brewmaster has made a bunch of new recipes. On top of that, the food in their restaurant is as awesome as ever. I tried their new IPAs, Jungle Crush, and Woo! (Which immediately made me remember The Nature Boy Ric Flair.). Both of which were excellent, though the fruity, citrus notes in Woo!, make for one of the best new things I’ve tried recently. I can only hope they start bottling, canning it, and getting distributors to pick it up. It is really good. Also really good was the Macaroni & Cheese Cheeseburger.

Sunday

Sunday was surprising because it was a much shorter day than previous years. For all intents, and purposes the day was over by 3pm even though the Convention Center was open until 6pm. But that being said, I did get some panels squeezed in. The biggest being the Team Four Star all-ages panel. These guys are hilarious online, but even funnier in person. I was unable to get into their 18+ panel the prior Friday,  but this panel was still really good. It was another Question, and Answer format. But there were a lot of varied questions this time around. Not only about their work on the long running Dragon Ball Z Abridged series, but about what is coming next. As the DBZ material begins to run dry, the group is looking to branch out into more original series. They didn’t give much in the way of details. But after getting to ask them if they had considered doing mash-ups or skits like Nicolas Cage as Robocop, Anthony Sardinha immediately did a spot on impersonation. Scott Frerichs also stated they’re steering away from doing much with Dragon Ball Super, as the show is newer, and involves a lot more red tape. Throughout the panel there were many jokes, character voice gags, and friendly banter. A lot of fun.

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After that panel, I made it into Jay Little’s panel on making gaming more accessible. Which was pretty insightful. He’s been designing both video games, and table top board games for over 20 years, as well as teaching design in Wisconsin. The experience came through in the panel.The presentation went over how creators could make steps toward making design decisions that would make things more palatable to those with a disability. Or taking balance into consideration to make things deep enough for die-hard fans, but not so difficult to turn off any potential new players. As well as making games more appealing to players of all stripes, and backgrounds. There were also some figures about how much more a game’s development costs rise when a team decides to add these features further along in development, rather than including them in the planning stages. For anybody who follows the creative or business end of video games, it was a really good panel. If he’s slated to give one of these panels at a convention in your area, you should check it out.

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My day closed out with a cool panel about creating pixel art. It was hosted by the same person who gave a tutorial on creating levels for the original DOOM at last year’s ConnectiCon. It was an interesting look at the medium, and the creative benefits of limited color palettes in retro games. Be they the JRPGs that graced the NES, the deep adventures that awaited on the Super NES, and Sega Genesis. Or even the vintage computers like the Commodore 64, or Atari ST. There were even some examples of creating sprite sheets for animation, and layering.

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After the final panel, I took a final run through the dealer’s area, and gaming area. I didn’t get into as many panels as I would have liked this year. But while there weren’t as many celebrities this year, there were still a lot of excellent guests. Steve Lavigne was there. He did a lot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stuff for Mirage, and Playmates. He still does. Guy GilChrist was there. He’s done a ton of work for Jim Henson. I didn’t get to meet either of them either. But the point being, there were still a lot of interesting people. Even if meeting creators or celebrities wasn’t your thing, there were other things to do. the RKO Army Shadowcast show came back again. The Cosplay Death match was back, and if you were over 21 you could buy beer while watching it.  The annual AMV contest, and masquerade were back too. And if all else failed, there were the karaoke, and expanded gaming areas to take part in.

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Still, there were a number of workshops, and panels from previous years that didn’t return this year. So for some attendees things might not have been as exciting as in previous years. Hopefully next year retains the pluses of this year’s event, and brings back more of the stuff that this year didn’t seem to have. I was also perplexed that the program book for this year didn’t list any of the panel descriptions or schedules. The book just directed readers to look at the times on their computers, tablets, and phones. The thing is, this isn’t always as convenient as a book, and not everyone has a modern smart phone. Those with a prepaid phone, or without a phone at all, basically had to walk to every room in the building to see what panels were going on. Some of the panel titles weren’t listed on Friday too. Which meant that if you didn’t have your phone, or if it was out of battery power, you couldn’t see what panel was happening.  It was the one big grievance I had with the show this year. Even if it hadn’t affected me, it still would have affected some.  That said, I still had a fun three-day break from every day life. So overall I can’t complain too much. 2017 wasn’t as good as 2016. But it was still worth the annual commute to Hartford.

100 Foot Robot Golf Review

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Not too long ago, I discovered a game called Mecarobot Golf. A Super NES game by TOHO where the primary golfer was replaced with a giant golfing robot. It’s a great simulation for its time. But I was left wondering how much more fun it could have been with multiplayer, and a roster of movie monsters, and robots. Well, it turns out late last year a company decided to answer that question.

PROS: Humor. Large Roster. (Mostly) Pick up & play mechanics.

CONS: Wonky animations. Audio clips repeat too often.

VOLTRON: The classic bot is piloted by a pack of Pembroke Welsh Corgis.

Games made as a joke don’t always have much in the way of staying power. For every Shower With Your Dad Simulator, we get 15 games like Who Wants To Beat Up A Millionaire? But considering the game’s premise, and its similarity to the Super NES Game Pak I mentioned earlier I gave it a chance. Frankly, I’m glad I did. Make no mistake, 100 Ft. Robot Golf isn’t going to make your top arcade sports game of all time lists. But it does manage to do just enough right to make for a compelling party game.

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The game has a nice amount of content. I was surprised to find that there is a full-fledged campaign included along the usual practice, and exhibition matchups. The campaign takes you through a story mode, that more or less lampoons 80’s anime. An obviously suspicious TV host decides to try to get a bunch of Robot Golf pilots to come out of retirement for a new show. But as the story unfolds, a few mysterious clues art thrown out about a cataclysmic event on the moon. Throughout the story of course, there are a ton of jokes. A lot of which is reference humor. Quite honestly you don’t need to know about or understand anime to get a lot of the humor. The game enlists the voice talents of the McEllroy Bros.  who are known for their comedic podcasts.

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Here, they usually are heard as the Sportscasters during match ups. Although they’re in a few of the cut scenes as well. The rest of the cast does a pretty good job of mocking some of the bad dubbing found in some early anime. All in all, it’s funny enough to hold your attention for a play through. Beyond that, you’ll more than likely want to mainly play multiplayer. However, there are a number of custom skins you can unlock for each of the robot golfers. The way you do this is by scoring medals in the campaign’s chapters. You can then go to medal shops during the campaign to spend them on the unlockable items. So there are incentives for going back, and replaying chapters. One of the shops also features a crossover! There is a Saints Row themed shop buried in the campaign, and even a secret guest character I won’t spoil here.

So how is the actual golfing? Well, it’s a mixed bag. While you can play the standard golf rules pretty much every other golf game follows, this is not a simulator grade game. If you’re the type who watches the sport on TV, and plays a lot of EA’s Tiger, and PGA games, you’re probably not going to come back to this much. It doesn’t have a wide variety of clubs, or weather scenarios for you. Each golfer gets a driver, a wedge, and a putter. That’s it. There are some things to be aware of though. You still take into account the wind, and there are obstacles to be aware of.

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That being said, the game is actually a lot of fun because of the lack of realism. The swinging mechanics differ for many of the robots. Some of them require timing a press on several gauges to be pixel perfect. Others have gas gauges you have to pay attention to. Others have a two pilot scenario where the gauges have to be synchronized. So in spite of the simplicity there are a few things to keep it from feeling too simple. Each robot also has a special ability they can use on the course.

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Now where the game becomes really interesting is during multiplayer. Not only can you play a traditional set of rules, you can also play custom rule games. You can play the game where the first person to get the ball in the cup wins, regardless of attempts. You don’t have to alternate turns. Players can go full on swinging whenever they want. Moreover, you can do things to screw over your friends. If they hit a nice long drive you can jump in the way of the ball, and cause it to bounce off of your robot, and into a ditch. If you’re trying to get the ball through a narrow gap between two buildings you can destroy the buildings, and then take your shot. Players can attack one another. There are all kinds of crazy, over the top, ways to play golf.

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But not everything about the game will make you smile. Visually, the game looks fairly dated, with low-detailed backgrounds, and models that could have been done on the PlayStation 2. There are some questionable physics when it comes to destroying buildings, and other scenery. The giant edifices sometimes won’t tip over, instead sliding across the map like a bar of wet soap. The low gravity moon stages, and aqua stages may anger hyper-competitive players as it becomes easy for opponents to interfere with a long drive. The most annoying thing is probably the fact that audio quips begin repeating way too soon. So while you will laugh your ass off the first time you hear them, you may just turn off the audio upon the four hundredth time.

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Be that as it may, I really enjoyed the underlying game. The campaign was an entertaining play through, and you don’t have to be any good at the game to complete it. Of course, getting better at the title will get you the medals I mentioned earlier for those unlockable items. But the real star of the show is the multiplayer. This game is a wonderful option for game night, as it supports split-screen gaming on your TV. It also supports matches over the internet, though even that is going to be something you’ll want to do with friends. There doesn’t seem to be a large pool of random competitors playing regularly.

 

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Still, if you’re looking for something different to play when friends or relatives come over you’ll all have a pretty fun time. It isn’t going to outdo more serious sims for golf enthusiasts. But if you grew up with Voltron, or Gundam, and regularly marathon shows produced by Seth MacFarlane, you’ll probably really enjoy 100 Foot Robot Golf.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Freedom Planet Review

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Sonic The Hedgehog. He’s seen a number of ups, and downs over the years. The consensus seems to be his earliest adventures on the Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Sega Master System, and Game Gear were his greatest glory days. Fast, frantic, platforming action that involved any number of paths to victory. But after the Dreamcast faded into obscurity Sonic went in all kinds of directions. Many of them terrible. A few of them average, and a few that were pretty good. But I’m not here to talk about Sonic this time.

PROS: Really amazing pixel art, chip tunes, and the game play you remember.

CONS: The shortcomings you remember. Padding.

BIKES: If running fast isn’t enough you can speed around like Chris Pine in Star Trek.

When Sonic The Hedgehog was released it was only a matter of time before the imitators would come about. People dump on Bubsy, but that game was far from the worst clone. Awesome Possum, Aero The Acrobat, even The Road Runner had a Sonic inspired game. So with so many others that didn’t hit the mark, what makes this game stand out in the sea of Sonic contenders?

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For starters, Freedom Planet absolutely nails the feeling of Sonic The Hedgehog. The physics, the sense of speed, all of it. If you’re a big Sonic fan who longs for a return to the 16-bit glory days of yesteryear, buy it. I could end it there. I’m serious. This is bar none, one of the best Sonic clones you can get. But there are a lot of things that set it apart from its biggest inspiration.

Freedom Planet has a deeper, darker, storyline than the Sonic games. Most of the Sonic games feature Dr. Robotnik/Eggman imprisoning animals, stealing emeralds, and holding the world hostage. Freedom Planet instead involves a much more detailed plot. It opens up with a King being killed by a despot in cold blood in front of his son. Who is then taken hostage, and forced to fight for the despot. It wasn’t something I was expecting going into this. But it got my attention for sure.  From there you discover that there is an all-powerful stone that three kingdoms on the planet safeguard, and of course the despot wants it for himself.

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From here the game opens up, and you can choose to play either an adventure mode or a standard mode. Playing the adventure mode, will let you experience cut scenes, and the stages are played in different orders depending on which of the three characters you choose. Going with the standard mode eschews the cut scenes, and you play every stage in order. Like a traditional platformer from the era the game pays homage to.

The interesting thing with the adventure mode is that you’ll get a slightly different experience each time you play through it. That’s because the game is played through the eyes of each character. The three characters are: Carol, a green wild cat. Lilac, a purple dragon, and Milla (an unlockable character), a dog. Each of the characters has their own attacks, and abilities making each play through a little bit different. Carol has some speedy punches, and kicks. She can also ride a motorcycle if you find gas can power ups. Lilac has a useful double jump. Milla has a shield, and can throw cubes.

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Once you start playing though you will immediately be reminded of Sega’s most popular mascot platformer. The same sense of speed. The same loops, twirls, and crazy tracks fill the game’s 14 stages. With all of the collectibles, 1-Ups, power ups, and health items in each of them you can opt to try to find everything, or you can try to clear everything as fast as possible. I know I’ve waxed on about how many Sonic influences there are, but the game also has a surprising number of similarities to Capcom’s Mega Man X series too. This becomes apparent in the game’s combat, and enemy designs. Instead of jumping on bad guys to defeat them, you’ll punch, kick, or hit them several times to take them out. Freedom Planet is also a big fan of putting in multipart stages, and mini-bosses. Some of these are really imposing, and lead you to believe you’re at the end of a stage. Only to discover you still have a way to go.

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Boss fights themselves are grandiose in Freedom Planet. These moments feel more like playing an arcade beat ’em up than they do a platformer. Although you’ll discover they have attack patterns, again in the vein of a Mega Man X title. But some of these, especially toward the end of the game can be really impressive in both challenge, and visual flair.

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Freedom Planet also has the courtesy to grant players four different difficulty levels. If you’re absolutely horrible at this sort of platformer, or even platformers in general the Casual setting is for you. It is nearly impossible to lose a life if you’re even remotely good at these kinds of games. But from there you have Easy, Medium, and Hard difficulty settings. With the latter going very much into the “Get good!” end of things. Aesthetically, everything in the game is beautiful. Galaxy Trail’s pixel artists should be commended for just how well they’ve recreated the look of games of the early 90’s. As you play through this one, you’ll be constantly reminded of those days on the Genesis, and Super NES. It really is a beautiful game to look at. The soundtrack is just as good, going for the twinge lo-fi synth of the Sega Genesis, and early computer sound cards like the AdLib. The tunes themselves are filled with hooks, and melodies you’ll want to hum along to. If you want a game that will satisfy your nostalgia, while giving you something new, this fits the bill.

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There are also some other small galleries you can visit when not playing the main game. Throughout the main game are cards you can find, and these will unlock sound files, songs from the soundtrack, and concept art in these galleries. Not something that the average player might get into. But for players who become big fans of the story, characters, and lore, it gives an incentive to replay the game a few times.

Of course, I did have a few minor complaints with this one that may be bigger concerns for someone else. First off, because it adheres so closely to many of Sonic The Hedgehog’s rules it has some of the annoyances. There are times you’ll have to make blind jumps, only to land on an enemy or a hazard. This can lead to some moments of trial, and error. While not a major problem that ruins the game, Some might feel it detracts from an otherwise enjoyable experience.

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Another issue is near the end of the game there is a shoot ’em up stage, and it doesn’t feel up to the same standard as the rest of the game. The bigger issue is there is no checkpoint after completing it. It is considered a part of the following stage, which is a pretty long one. So if you run out of lives, shut off the game, and come back to it later you’ll have to play the entire shmup part again. So unfortunately, instead of feeling like some variety, it ends up feeling like padding. Again, not a problem that makes the game unplayable by any means. But it really could have used a checkpoint at the end.

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Overall though, Freedom Planet is a wonderful platformer. It feels like an homage to Sonic, and Mega Man X while also being unique enough to stand on its own. It has some of those mechanics, but it adds enough of its own original ideas, and tweaks thus avoiding becoming a forgettable wannabe. In fact, the game did well enough when it launched three years ago that a sequel is around the corner. So whether you play it on the Wii U, PC, or the recent release on the PS4 you won’t regret it.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Time Soldiers Review

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While the world was getting hyped about E3 last week (and yeah, there are some cool looking games coming down the pike. I’ve been peeking in on conferences when I can.) I was hunting for some additions to my collection. I stumbled upon a Master System cartridge I’ve rarely seen outside of conventions, and it was pretty cheap so I thought “Why not?” The box art alone was worth the price of admission. But I got a fairly compelling action title in the process.

PROS: A really cool take on the classic top down run n’ gun.

CONS: Difficulty spikes, occasional collision issues.

WOAH: Giant dinosaurs with laser guns. What’s not to love?

Originally a twin-stick arcade shooter by ADK (The folks who gave us World Heroes), Time soldiers was ported by Sega to the Master System.  Before you even open the box to put the game in you’ll marvel at the artwork. It has everything a child of the 80’s was into. Dinosaurs, rocket launchers, and tanks. Once you start playing, you’ll see it lives up to the lofty promises the box advertises.

The setup is that in the distant future, a despotic, intergalactic Warlord decides to conquer the Earth. To do this, he traps many of the world’s best soldiers in different time periods throughout history. The guy basically looks like the Anti-Monitor from The Crisis On Infinite Earths, and probably has a lot of the same powers. So “Why couldn’t he just destroy the world with antimatter?” seems like a good question to ask.

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Anyway, you have to go on a quest to rescue each of these warriors from their cells throughout history. On paper, this seems pretty straightforward. Go kill bad guys, and blow up stuff in a sequential order, and roll the end credits. Time Soldiers takes inspiration from earlier run n’ guns like Ikari Warriors, and Commando. You play from a top down perspective, and do just that. Kill hundreds of enemies who come charging at you guns blazing.

But what makes this game stand out from almost every other game of its ilk, is the fact that it is never the same game twice. Time Soldiers, places each of these hostages in a different place every time, and you have to kill a boss in order to proceed. Often times, the game will not place you in the proper time period from the get go. So you’ll play the first stage, and then be sent to a new era.

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Each of the eras has a few different versions, and these will vary depending on when you’re sent to that era. So if you get sent to the Prehistoric era on stage two, it will have one version. But get sent there again a few stages later, and it will be a variant. The game will also make you fight a mini boss if you’re in the wrong era for the current hostage you’re tracking down. Defeating the mini boss will then either open another time machine (which look suspiciously like the portals from Stargate) where you’ll have to go to another time period or it will summon the actual boss.

The bosses are pretty cool. They’re not nearly as difficult as the stages are. But they’re large, and interesting sprites. They remind me a lot of the encounters of Alien Syndrome, though the patterns are much easier to learn than in that classic. But don’t be fooled by a lower difficulty. Time Soldiers only affords you two continues  on the Master System. Since you die if ANYTHING touches you, this game still isn’t an easy one. Especially since the game may send you on longer paths during certain rescues. The saving grace are some boss warps that can skip you ahead to a boss fight. On the other hand, if you aren’t powered up, taking them down with a pea shooter makes things more intimidating.

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Time Soldiers does offer a wide variety of weapons. In that respect it can feel like Contra. The thing is, these armaments aren’t permanent. After so many shots, or so many seconds they run out of ammo. So often times you’ll want to conserve them for taking down bosses, or mini bosses. You get these, power ups, and boss warps by shooting specific enemies in any given level. Basically, you’ll want to shoot as many targets as possible, because as the game goes on things will only get tougher.

Time Soldiers has a really nice look to it, and embraces the absurdity of everything. Dinosaurs shoot lasers. Ancient Romans have shields that can take a ton of bullets before going down. The mini bosses continue the weirdness, with cutesy, pink helicopters just being the tip of the iceberg. Everything is colorful, and some of the backgrounds are interactive in a sense. Going over tall grass or mud will slow you down. There are a few catchy chip tunes to thump along with the action, and the sound effects stand out against some of the other titles in the genre.

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Overall, it’s a really good action game for the Master System, and easy to recommend you add to your collection. It’s also one of the more affordable obscure games out there. It was also available on some computer formats, but as I don’t have any of those versions, I can’t really comment on them. Still, if you have a chance to check one of them out, you just may want to. If I had any major issues with this Master System version, it would be the occasionally weird collision detection. Most of the time things go the way they’re supposed to, but I did notice a few occasions where I passed through enemies I shouldn’t have, or got stuck on a piece of scenery in one game, but not on a repeat attempt. It isn’t enough to ruin the game, but it is something holding it back a little bit. Otherwise, it’s a solid addition to any collector’s library.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Mecarobot Golf Review

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At a recent retro game trade event I saw something too peculiar to not pick up. It was a golfing video game. The fact it was a golf game isn’t the odd part. The oddity comes from the giant robot on the artwork. Plus it was published by TOHO. The folks behind Godzilla. At that point, how could I not pick it up on the cheap? The Atari 7800 graced us with a ninja themed golf game. Could the Super NES top it with a killer robot armed with golf clubs? I decided to investigate.

PROS: A pretty good console golf simulator. Great use of the Super NES’ mode 7 effects.

CONS: Single player only. So you’ll REALLY have to like golf to get enjoyment out of it.

MISSED OPPORTUNITY: The TOHO characters you love are nowhere to be seen.

Originally called Nobuo Serizawa’s Birdy Try in Japan, Mecarobot Golf is a pretty good golf simulator. The original version had a setup where Nobo Serizawa would play 18 holes against stiff competition. This version is mainly the same except the characters were all changed for the North American market. One of the most peculiar being the switch from a famed Japanese golf star to a robot.

To go along with these changes, there was a back story created for the game. Apparently, in the future robots aren’t allowed to play golf. So an eccentric billionaire builds a special course for Eagle. He’s the robot you see on the game’s cover art. You’ll be playing 18 holes against Eagle, and that’s pretty much it.

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Mecarobot Golf is a pretty good golf game though. You have three main modes to choose from. You can practice driving balls to your heart’s content. You can play with tutorials through the game, and you can play the main mode. Which is really the reason to pop this Game Pak in.

When starting the game, you’ll name your golfer, and select a set of clubs. These also act as the difficulty level, as the set you choose determines your handicap. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have a character file that keeps tabs on all of your stats. You can also save your current game if you don’t want to play all 18 holes in a single sitting.

Visually, the game is quite nice. Sprites are really colorful, with a lot of smooth golfing animations. The use of mode 7 scaling is great too, making for some nice Outrun feeling drives, as you watch the ball zoom above the course. The golfing sound effects are pretty good too, conveying the feel of hitting the ball, and the sound of the ball rolling into the cup. Musically, there isn’t much to write home about. Some soft tunes to go along with the quiet, solitary golf experience.

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The golfing experience here is pretty good though. You can alter you footing, and the viewing angle of the course. You’ll get important information on your HUD, like the distance, and wind speed. Or the number of strokes for par. The ball physics are even pretty nice, and the game does a good job of simulating the feeling of golfing on different terrain.

Honestly, if you are a big fan of golf games, you’ll probably want to pick this one up. The underlying simulation is a commendable effort. However, there are a few missed opportunities that drag the experience down a bit. First off, the lack of any of TOHO’s major film characters. There’s already a cool robot your golfing against. Being able to play as Godzilla, Mothra, or another giant monster would have been awesome. Weird, but awesome. But the biggest strike against the game is a complete lack of multiplayer. Sports games are always more fun to play with friends. If you’re coming into this for a multiplayer experience, or a monster movie experience, you’re going to be disappointed.

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Nevertheless, if you collect obscure, silly, or just plain absurd games, and you like golf check this one out. It’s not terribly expensive, and it’s a solid game to boot. Golf purists may want to import the Super Famicom version as giant killer robots might not be their specific interest.

Final Score: 7 out of 10