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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It seems Metroid clones are almost a dime a dozen now. Every year it seems we get a bunch of them, which only goes to prove Nintendo had a winning formula back in 1986. What’s pretty surprising is just how many of these modern spins on the formula have proven to be major successes in their own right. One of the better ones I’ve played is today’s game Blasphemous.
PROS: Solid controls. Character design. Level design. World building. Audio.
CONS: Story can be a bit nebulous at times leading to confusion.
GUILT: A lot of the themes and visuals center around it.
In the fictional world of Cvstodia, you take the role of a silent Knight. The world around you is filled with all sorts of bizarre creatures and you’ll run into many people in the land who are in a constant state of torment. Being a Metroidvania you’ll spend many hours exploring the land and entering different areas. You’ll find a giant boss within the first few moments. Something that led a lot of people to comparing the game to Dark Souls when it came out initially.
It turns out your silent protagonist is part of of the Brotherhood of the Silent Sorrow, a religious sect that was taken out by Escribar, a Darth Palpatine-esque character who leads a different sect. A mysterious entity known only as The Miracle resurrected you, and has made many other sometimes seemingly arbitrary decisions. As you end up traversing the world and finding different characters you’re told of a mountain of ash and the presumable ascension from the status quo if you can reach the top of it. In order to do this you’ll need to suffer through the game’s three humiliations. Each of these is a massive boss battle.
Blasphemous has a ton of influence from early Christianity with a lot of its art direction clearly resembling things seen in early Catholic imagery. And a lot of things seem to really borrow from the theme of Purgatory as you’re going through all of it. The idea of suffering, and atonement for one’s transgressions before they can move forward is there. And while it’s very loud in the imagery and dialogue, it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Nor does it go for a 1:1 parallel.
Still, there is enough of it that it isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Some of your upgrades come in the form of beads on a rosary-like rope. These are going to give you any number of beneficial results. Some let you take less damage from fire. Or let you go through poisonous gasses without dying. Or buff certain attacks you might have enabled. Or any number of things. There are also major characters that act in place of the power up shrines you might see in a Metroid title. One of them has you taking swords out of their body to power up your attacks. Another is a tortured soul that lets you put more beads on your rosary.
And a lot of the enemies you’ll eventually face also take the form of corrupted clergy, or mystics. There’s a lot of creativity with the character designs too as it goes beyond merely being influenced by Medieval and Renaissance church art. Some of the adversaries you’ll go up against are both unsettling and imposing. Along the way, you’ll also run into a few NPCs that ask you to go on side quests. If you do them successfully you’ll get a better ending.
But without giving anything away, all of the endings are pretty good. Overall, the storyline is a pretty intriguing one that will keep you invested. Helped along by all of the world building that was done here. That said, it can be pretty hard to follow sometimes, and some of the points, and explanations will be found outside the game. Because it doesn’t always detail everything very well.
Be that as it may, everything else in the game is pretty fantastic. It isn’t just a really great looking game, though I can’t stress enough just how good the pixel art in it really is. But the level design is very good too. Some of the blocked progression will have you spending hours on your initial run as it isn’t always obvious where you need to go. When you finally do figure it out, you’ll be amazed you didn’t think of it sooner. Then you’ll move on and get yourself lost again. But through it all you won’t mind so much. Also throughout that map you’ll find the aforementioned power up rooms and upgrade rooms. But you’ll also find your expected warp rooms, as well as rooms to fill the bile jars you’ll find around the game. As well as a character who can buff the amount of health your bile jars can give you. Think of these like your E Tanks in Metroid.
If all of those special rooms weren’t enough you will find a few other ones. One of them is a type of room where you can build a skill tree of sorts using the currency of tears you’ll get by killing enemies throughout the game. There is also a slew of body parts you’ll pick up throughout the game. There’s an underground chamber where you can drop them off inside different compartments.
Combat in the game reminded me less of Metroid or Castlevania though. Instead, it feels much more like Slain. Much of it is built around a counter system where you have to get the split-second timing down to do a parry. Parrying just before an attack hits you stuns the opponent, allowing you to deal more damage. You’re going to want to take full advantage of this too because a few of these bosses are super tough. Particularly late in the game where they become much more powerful as well as faster. You’re definitely going to want to find as many beads and flasks as possible as well as have them powered up. Especially as you near the end.
Blasphemous excels in its world building, and a lot of that is due to the excellent backgrounds and character art we’ve discussed. But the audio is another large part of that due to the ambient music that as in Nintendo’s Metroid, is tailor made for each of the many regions in the map. It can be nebulous, ambient and even unsettling at times. Fitting right in with the themes of the game. You never know how much something is going to hurt, or how long it will last. But you always know it’s probably going to be harder than it looks. And while I don’t know it’s the sort of soundtrack you’ll want to commute to work to, it is something that makes the game feel more immersive. The overall sound design does so too, with some terrific samples of cries, screams, and effects that make things a lot more believable. They’ve done a terrific job with all of this.
Really, if you haven’t experienced this game yet, you should. My only major complaint with it is that as good as the storytelling is, it doesn’t go quite far enough in giving you information you need to figure out what is going on. So in order for many players to understand everything, they’ll find they have to go outside of the game for certain details. Information about some of the stables of villains, or regions. Some of the details on the motivations of the Miracle. Sure, things are likely to be up to the player to hypothesize or discuss with other players. But those who still want a coherent, fleshed out storyline will probably need to do some internet sleuthing even if they 100% the game.
Still, even with those missing details, everything here is going to hold your interest until you get one of the endings. I didn’t have too many technical issues during my time with the game although there was one time when the game never took the Game Over screen away when I continued. So while I could hear my character moving around, swinging a sword I couldn’t see any of it due to the black screen and red text. So I was forced to reload my last save point and continue on. So be aware there are a couple of bugs that may crop up. To their credit, the developers are still supporting the game with updates and fixes so your experience may differ by the time you’ve read this.
Ultimately, Blasphemous is a terrific game fans of Metroid, Axiom Verge, Celeste, The Messenger, and other big exploration games may want to look into. But it isn’t going to be for everyone. Some people might be put off by some of the imagery or horror elements here. That said, it is a well-made game worth looking into. There’s a fair amount of challenge, as well as replay value. Particularly if you want to find every possible part of the map that you can explore.
I’ve never been a massive Role Playing Game player. I can definitely appreciate a good one for what it is. But the complexity and math in many of the deepest ones have always drained me. I always preferred the twitch, hand-eye coordination focused experiences of platformers, shooters, fighting games, beat ’em ups, and other action genres. That isn’t to say early TSR versions of Dungeons & Dragons games on my Commodore 64 weren’t good or fun. But growing up, worrying about mapping and spreadsheets felt more like playing Excel than action games ever did. But as I got older, I began to understand why other people preferred a more cerebral experience. Ys (along with Ultima) is one RPG series that made the genre more palatable to action fans like me.
PROS: The deepest storyline in the series yet. Excellent combat. Massive world to explore.
CONS: The world still isn’t 100% open. Don’t expect Skyrim or Breath Of The Wild.
HOURS: One of the longer games in the series. I spent 53.7 hours on my play through.
Ys as a series has always had a great blend of action and JPRG mechanics. It’s still very much an RPG. You need to find items, talk to specific people at specific times to get specific information. You need to go explore large sections and dungeons for gear. You need to grind for experience to defeat later enemies and bosses. You need to visit shops for key items. At the same time, you don’t have to worry about spreadsheets and such. You simply delve into a menu, grab the thing you need and go. You don’t have to have long drawn out menus in equally drawn out turn-based battles either. Combat is as immediate as playing Golden Axe. Early Ys games used a “Bump” system where you ran into bad guys off center to do damage. But later games replaced attacks with button presses and flashy animations.
Most of the Ys games have the typical fantasy lore, and storyline you would expect a general JRPG to have. Adol (and sometimes his pal Dogi) end up washing ashore in unfamiliar territory and somehow end up having to solve the problems engulfing the land. Usually some evil sorcerer is behind it. Sometimes it’s more of a sympathetic villain comparable to Darth Vader. Sometimes it’s something else entirely. But now and again the series will shake things up with new ideas. Ys Origin took place centuries before the original game, and explored a lot of the back story, introducing three character arcs to boot. Ys 7 had a robust party system. So what does this game do that the other games didn’t?
The big thing here is the world. Ys VIII gives you a massive map. One you can see things in the distance and get to. It’s so big that it’s easy to go into it thinking you’re going to get a major dose of Western CRPG influence in a huge world you can go anywhere in. And while at later points in the game things open up, this is not going to be like an Elder Scrolls game. So don’t make the mistake of thinking it will play like Morrowind or Oblivion or Skyrim. While the map is quite vast there are yellow lines around every major section of the map. These lines presumably do two things. First, they hide some loading. You can tell this by the fact that it resets and respawns the same enemy sets specifically for each section. Second, it blocks you from going into a section before the game wants you to. This ties into the storyline because some of the sections pretty much require you to have seen a particular cutscene or complete a certain event leading to said cutscene before you can go there. So as expansive as the world is, it isn’t like a Western RPG where you’re crafting much of the story through exploration. The main story progression demands some parts go in a particular order.
Fortunately, you’re probably not going to mind being stonewalled once in a while, because this is one of the best storylines in the entire series. Like most of the Ys games you will end up shipwrecked. But that’s about the only similarity to the narrative of the other games. Things start Adol and Dogi off on a cruise ship headed to what can only be compared to Bermuda. Near the island is a section of ocean where ships disappear and the crews are never heard from again. When things open up though, you don’t just get a setup cut scene. You play through a fairly interactive ship, talking to the crew, meeting the other passengers, and even getting some foreshadowing that doesn’t reveal itself as such until much, much later. Things culminate with a surprise battle against a giant Octopus like boss. Defeating the boss sends you to the meat and potatoes of the game. The ship is destroyed in the chaos and Adol is once again washed ashore.
But this time it’s a massive island. Marooned, prepare for quite an arduous trial. Getting off of the island is going to be much, much more involved than you would imagine. You’ll have to not only find other survivors who expand your party, you’ll have to built a new settlement with them. This gives it a bit of a Tower Defense element. Once you have found enough of the passengers, your hideout becomes an RPG style village where you have item shops, a medical doctor’s office, food shop, and more. One of the people you can rescue will also be able to tailor costumes for playable characters. In addition to those you can also buy costumes as DLC for the game. But I never felt the need to do so. There’s already so much stuff under the hood here it felt rather pointless to me. The game also has an underlying mechanic where you can choose to help fellow survivors by doing side quests. Doing so builds your reputation with them, and they’re more prone to helping you out either with beefier items, or in terms of the game’s story. Ys VIII also has multiple endings, so getting the best of them often means doing what you need to do to help your village.
Another new feature this entry adds is a horde battle/defend the base mashup, which gives things a bit of a Dynasty Warriors meets Plants Vs. Zombies. You’ll have to put up barricades, bait traps, gongs, and other stuff to impede monsters from getting into your makeshift town. But then you have to go out and attack the invaders with some hack n’ slash action. Doing this also gives you certain benefits although if it’s not your sort of thing you can choose to ignore most of them. There are a handful that tie into the story, so you will be forced to play those.
Combat also has a few changes. You can change between different combat styles which effects certain enemies in different ways. It is possible to brute force your way through without paying attention to it. But that also means grinding for a lot of health options like potions, and finding food supplies. Speaking of food, this game does take one page from Nintendo’s Breath Of The Wild by implementing a cooking system. Although it isn’t as Deep as the Zelda game’s it does come into play with the food, medicine, and general crafting. You’ll have to find so many pumpkins, or plants, or enemy bones or what have you to make dishes. The higher tiered dishes will refill more of your health, and revive fallen party members in fights.
That’s right, party members. As in Ys 7, you can recruit many of the characters you meet into your system, and change characters on the fly. Some are ranged characters that use magic or guns, others are more up close and personal. On top of this, some of the people you rescue will have talents that turn into even more shops. Shops that let you create new costumes with perks or a blacksmith that can level up whichever weapons you’re characters presently have.
And if all of that isn’t enough for you, you’ll still need to spend hours exploring the world, finding entirely new items, clues that lead you to other characters, and even shortcuts and entrances to new areas once you’ve rescued enough people. You’re also going to need to play a lot of the Sega Bass Fishing inspired minigame they’ve thrown within the game. Getting some of the exotic fish leads to key items as well as needed treasure and food ingredients. And you’ll run into some other NPCs who can level up your attack’s effectiveness as well.
Frankly, if you’re the sort who wants to 100% your RPGs there is a lot of stuff to do in the side quests alone. Even if you don’t, you’ll still find yourself doing a fair amount of the side stuff so that you can get a leg up on some of the harder points in the game. And while the game may have those narrative driven walls I talked about, that doesn’t mean there’s a straight linear experience. You’ll still be backtracking to areas you already visited to find alternate routes. You can still discover some things far earlier than I’m sure many intended.
Once you get pretty far into the storyline, you’ll start seeing elements that might seem out of place. But the narrative does do a fantastic job of tying it all together. The island features many, many secrets, most of them are intrinsically tied to our heroes escaping the island. And over the time you spend uncovering them, you’ll learn more about each of the characters various lives and backgrounds. One of the things that really struck me with this particular entry is how important everyone feels. Even characters that on paper might not seem to add importance to the story, still add a lot to the world building. Most of the characters do grow over the course of the storyline and come out richer for the experience. Some learn lessons. Some don’t. But the change in setting really reinvigorates the overall mythos while doing something different. It’s a far cry from the typical “Evil wizard wants to take over the world” fare you might be used to. And things feel really cohesive too. The answers might not come when you would like them to, but they do wrap up the loose ends pretty nicely. There are several endings as well. So there is a bit of replay value for those who want to experience everything.
As the story unfolds you’ll discover that the island is actually populated by dinosaurs. But before you can say “Jeff Goldblum” you’ll be peppered with numerous monsters and mighty reptiles. Before long Adol begins having dreams of a bygone era. You’ll play through these typically upon finding settlements to rest in. At least initially. Later in the game you’ll have to go into the past to affect the present and vice versa. Sometimes it will be necessary in order to make an area accessible. Other times it will be necessary in order to fill in gaps of the story. One of another new things are campsites which in turn tie into the food system. As you can set up a campfire and cook meals. Before long, the dreams partially become reality as the past and present begin to affect one another. Without giving too much away for those who haven’t played it yet, you’ll begin to learn the secrets of the island, the lost civilizations that once thrived there and how all of it is tied to the characters’ current predicament.
Returning from previous games’ are the fast travel crystals that allow you to get between large areas without having to grind away for miles. It’s also handy when your village gets raided by enemies as you can choose to get back and do the tower defense horde mission if you want to. Also, as in most of the series you’ll find items you’ll have to constantly swap in and out of use. Some of these let you climb to seemingly impossible to reach areas. Others let you breathe under water so you can explore for new areas or treasure. Still others let you walk over water letting you get through some of the swampy areas a little more quickly.
And no Ys game is complete without a plethora of major bosses. Ys VIII features a metric ton of them. Many of them are even optional fights but all of them are worth fighting and defeating. Of course, you can still run into some of them when you’re too low on experience or you don’t have enough healing items. So be sure to save often. That is one nice thing here, in most cases you can save whenever you want. Although during the aforementioned boss fights you cannot, nor can you change your party roster during a battle. So you’ll need to make sure you do that before encountering a boss. There are also a couple of times when the game is going to make you think you’ve gotten the final encounter over with and you’re ready to see the credits roll. Only to surprise you with more story. More grinding. More questing. Ys VIII is a massive game.
Beyond all of that are going to be a bunch of other side quests, and optional goals I didn’t get to touch much on. Like the giant Gorilla you’ll meet who can level up your characters and give them some new skills. You fight him in mini boss battles to do this. Win and you get the new moves. Fail, and you get to scour the world for food so you can pay them to do it again. Every playable character can be powered up this way, so you may find yourself swapping party members to give all of them a fighting chance near the end of the game. And the end of the game leaves you with a variety of emotions. Elation, poignancy, contentment, and perhaps some regret. But after beating the game it was nice enough to tell me that there are multiple endings depending on your choices throughout the game. So it does lend itself to replay value. Especially since it does so in a vague way. So unless you’re going to look up how to definitively get the best canonical ending, you may find yourself coming back to this one a couple of times every few months to play a bit differently and see if you’ve altered your literary destiny.
As you can see, the game looks terrific. As mentioned, you can see way off into the distance, and for the most part if you can see it you can eventually get to it. It isn’t so much the technical aspect that makes it happen here. The game doesn’t really have a lot of geometry at work. It’s almost all being done with texture work and art. And it’s all fantastic. On the technical side though there are some impressive lighting effects at play, especially when you find yourself in dungeon sections, caves, and underwater where you can see it at work. Falcom has always managed to do so much with so little in the Ys games and this one is no exception. This game is also on a wide variety of platforms so even on the less powerful options you’re getting something tremendous.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the soundtrack. While this is another entry that experiments a bit more with different genres it still gives long time fans their hardcore, symphonic metal. Each area of the island seems to get its own score. Which is nice as it makes the games feel a bit more distinct. There are orchestral areas, rock areas, electronica areas and others that have more of a world music influence. Of course, encountering bosses introduces the majority of the crunchy guitar solo driven heavy metal the series is known for.
Anyway, Ys VIII could very well be the best game in the series. And while it might have launched with some well documented translation problems, I only recently got around to playing it. So for me the problems were nil. Though I suspect even with some inaccurate or broken dialogue one could have still gotten a rough approximation of what was going on. In any case, if you’ve been curious about this one for a while, check it out. And while there are other longer RPGs out there, this one never felt like it was wearing out its welcome to me. I never got bored or overly confused with menus or felt like I was doing anything pointless. Whether you’re a hardcore fan of the series, or a dabbler looking to try something new, Ys VIII is worth picking up. It’s got great mechanics, wonderful characters you’ll care about as well as loathe for the right reasons. It’s got a bunch of subtle and not so subtle influences. And the storyline will keep you interested over the entire 50 plus hours you’ll likely spend playing it. And the multiple endings might be something you want to go back to the game to in order to experience it all.
The Nintendo Switch has had a track record of being like my niece when she was a toddler. “I CAN DO IT MYSELF!” she would exclaim when she got interested in trying something. Like when she flew a kite for the first time. She’s a teenager now (Time flies)but she would never give up on anything at 4. Much like her, the Nintendo Switch has been running video game software most would not have thought possible. While visual concessions were there, we still saw Panic Button port DOOM (2016), we saw Shiver port Mortal Kombat 11 last year, CD Projeckt Red migrated The Witcher 3 with all of its DLC content onto the thing, and now Croteam has migrated Serious Sam Collection.
CONS: Minor performance issues. No gyroscopic aiming. No physical editions as of now.
BONUS CONTENT: A Horde mode, and Split-Screen multiplayer added.
While this bundle is on all of the current generation platforms I’m focusing on the Switch version here since that’s the one I bought. But I can compare the games with the original PC releases as I explain how well the transition to Nintendo’s tablet system has gone. I imagine the PlayStation 4, and Xbox One versions will look a little bit better as they share some technology with the PC in components. But the content will be pretty much the same, so if you plan on looking into either of those versions this review may still help you.
It’s hard to believe but Serious Sam has been with us for almost twenty years already. I can still remember working at an OEM when I played a demo for the first time. I would get computer game magazines and read up on new releases and this was at a time when often times demos of new games would come on CDs bundled with magazines. PC Gamer had given away one such demo disc with the Serious Sam The First Encounter demo along with the free Seriously Warped Deathmatch mod for those who bought the full game. It was one of the demos that hit home (along with the poor performance of UT, and SIN on my current machine at the time) that I would need a new computer.
Fast forward over the years and Croteam would make The First Encounter, The Second Encounter with GODGames, then go to Take 2 Interactive (2k) where they would make Serious Sam II, leave Take 2, and go to Devolver Digital (Founded by ex GODGames members) where they would put out HD remasters of The First Encounter and The Second Encounter before giving us Serious Sam 3 BFE, and The Talos Principle. These all ran on updated versions of their Serious Engine. Serious Sam II on Serious Engine 2, the remasters on Serious Engine 3, and SS3 on Serious Engine 3.5.
Since this collection runs under Serious Engine 3.5 you won’t be seeing Serious Sam II. Previously, Croteam did put out a similar collection on the Xbox 360 that came with one of the indie spinoff games normally on digital stores like Steam. So if you don’t have a respectable computer these days, but you do have that 360 collection and one of the current consoles, do you need to get this collection? Well this collection gives you a DLC that collection did not. So you may want to indeed if you’re a big fan of the franchise. But there’s more to it than that.
Serious Sam Collection for Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 here includes Serious Sam HD The First Encounter, Serious Sam HD The Second Encounter with its Legend Of The Beast DLC, and Serious Sam 3: BFE with its Jewel Of The Nile DLC. It doesn’t include any of the indie spinoff games like the 360 collection did, but you do get the DLC for the second title here that that collection did not include. So this feels a bit more complete.
Of course on the PC, there is Serious Sam Complete Pack which also included Serious Sam Fusion which acts like a similar launcher hub as the one built into this collection. So in either case you can play these three games from one executable program. But the PC collection also does give you the indie spinoffs as well as Serious Sam II. If you just have to have every canon game in the series, that’s one edge to getting these games on Steam.
On the other hand, while a few of the games and spinoffs have been on previous video game systems many have never heard of these games or played them outside of Europe. This is despite their massive popularity on computers and those previous ports and iterations Stateside. So getting these again on consoles gives people who have played them in the past a convenient way to play them again in their living room. The fact that the Switch is a tablet means it’s also an easy way to enjoy yourself while terrorizing patrons with the sounds of headless kamikazes when you get your morning coffee. But more importantly, it potentially introduces these games to an entirely new audience preparing them for the eventual day when they play Serious Sam 4 or try to track down Serious Sam II out of curiosity.
So for those who have never played these games, what do you do? Serious Sam is a series inspired by the id Software and 3D Realms games of old. Games like DOOM, Quake, Wolfensten, Duke Nukem 3D, and Blood. However, many make the mistake of coming into these games and playing them like those games. Serious Sam may be inspired by those old shooters of yore, but it plays nothing like them. It plays more like a First-Person version of a 1980s or early 90s twin stick arcade shooter. Games Eugene Jarvis made for Midway, like Robotron 2084, Smash T.V., and Total Carnage.
In all of these games you’ll be placed in long, intricate levels that feature massively open rooms, fields and arenas. You’ll explore rooms and areas looking for secrets, killing a couple of enemies here and there before getting into one of these battlefields. You’ll immediately be swarmed from all sides with hundreds and hundreds of enemies. Survive these onslaughts, pick up some health, and ammunition and continue the cycle over 15 levels or so. But that’s just the barebones version. These games do a lot with so little. Just when you begin to get the hang of fighting low-level enemies, the games introduce new enemies. Each enemy type has to be dealt with a certain way. The Kleer Skeletons are best dealt with by using a shot gun at just the right moment as they pounce at you. But get more than five of them and you may want a minigun. But while you’re dealing with those, the game will quietly send in Harpies from the heavens that require different tactics to defeat. By the middle of these games you begin to very quickly juggle different weapons for different threats while fighting them all at the same time. It’s crazy, stressful, and a lot of fun. On the downside, some might find it too repetitive. But honestly, the combination of 80s arcade gaming and late 90s PC FPS action is a winning one. You’re always doing something. When you’re not killing monsters you’re resupplying. When you’re not resupplying you’re hunting for secrets. And despite the name of our hero, these games do not take themselves seriously at all. Even the grittier newer releases with their more realistic graphics are still about being over-the-top arcade action. With funny one liners that could be in a Dolph Lundgren vehicle, and plenty of hilarious Easter Eggs.
So that’s a summary of what you do in general. I’m not going to review each game individually here as I’m talking about a collection. Though I will talk a little about the differences in each before getting into how well these games have made the transition from computers to consoles. The two Serious Sam HD titles are remastered versions of the original games that came out in 2009, and 2010. While Serious Sam 3: BFE was originally released in 2011. The DLCs for the second HD Remaster and Serious Sam 3 came about in 2012.
The two HD remasters have a slightly less realistic look to them than the third game does, being older. But the general play style is the same. Here’s where the series began in a sense of releases. Sam is sent back to ancient Egypt to defeat Mental in the past so that in the future the alien race is unable to conquer the Earth. You’ll spend hours in each of them and it’s important to remember these are technically two halves of one game. The second half has a much wider variety of settings than the first half, and really perfects the formula set up in the First Encounter. Moving onto Serious Sam 3 you’ll learn you’re playing a prequel. the BFE stands for Before First Encounter. So in that game you’re playing the events just before the original game. There are a number of visual effects that the third game has over the remasters. But that does come at a price of performance.
Serious Sam Collection does give you a remarkable number of options for a console release. And while the number of options are not as deep as they are in the PC releases over the years, it’s impressive. Very few console games give you any customization. Many of the core game options have made their way over as you can tinker with your crosshair, turn gibs on or off, change the color of the blood from red to different colors or even use the hippie texture which changes the blood texture to flowers. You can also turn the blood off entirely. You can change the order of weapons when cycling them, and you can pick which character you want to use for multiplayer modes.
But it doesn’t end there, the game will also let you choose from a number of preset button mapping settings including some that will swap the thumb sticks’ roles to accommodate left handed players. You can also disable auto aim and you can tinker with the sensitivity of the thumb sticks for your aiming. Croteam also migrated the color scheme graphics options here. So like on PC, you can change the tone of the colors to be brighter, darker, richer, or softer with different presets and then tweak the individual brightness, contrast, saturation, and gamma of each. But probably the coolest thing here is the fact you can optimize the game for graphics settings or performance. When you go into the actual game it doesn’t seem to make a dramatic change in visuals either. But you do feel the difference while playing the games. This is especially true in Serious Sam 3.
On Nintendo Switch the games look comparable to a computer running with lower and medium settings enabled. Things like shadows and Antialiasing are obviously set lower as you can see jag lines along things like cables or palm trees. Performance with the graphics set to optimize graphics over performance seems pretty similar to setting it to optimize performance in the HD remasters. The frame rate seems to hover around 60 most of the time, though when things got hairy with hundreds, upon hundreds of enemies setting it for graphics could sometimes see a split second dip in framerate into the 20s where things would chop up a second before going back to normal. Setting it to performance made this even rarer, and it would come at the cost of some less defined shadows, AA, and draw distance. Not that big a deal. Serious Sam 3 however, almost requires you set it to performance as the bump in graphics requires more from the Switch’s Tegra. It never gets unplayable on Graphics, but it does kick way down to the 30s in frame rate.
And while you may not physically see it with your eyes, you can feel the difference in your hands. Things are much less responsive and the dips that are uncommon in the remasters are more common. The performance setting seems to uncap the frame rate (I’m not a coder, I can’t say for certain) but it feels much closer to what it does on a computer. It still dips once in awhile, but it feels much better. And visually, it doesn’t look that much different. You can really analyze it and then notice some of the things I mentioned when talking about these settings on the remasters. But it’s not a massive difference save for the rare occasion you might notice something in the far, far, distance sprinkling into view.
While there will no doubt be some who downplay having these games on the Switch due to the lower settings, they’re missing another marvel. Serious Sam Collection joins the likes of Mortal Kombat 11, The Witcher 3, DOOM (2016), and Wolfenstein: The New Order, as games that probably shouldn’t have been possible on the system, not only running on the system but running well. And while concessions in the graphics were made, these games still look pretty great. And tweaking the color options can actually compensate a bit for taste. I tinkered a bit by starting out with the “Vivid” setting, and then moved the contrast, brightness, gamma settings around a bit and found it really made some of the moments in the third game look a bit more lively. The settings get shared across all of the games though, which is a little disappointing when you consider that the earlier games are more colorful, and so what you do for the third game may not work out as well for one of the other games for you. Turning off the blood, and gibs can also help you slightly with performance as it’s a tiny bit less for your Switch to draw and animate during the massive battles. And so if it saves you a couple of frames per second here or there, those who want the best speed possible may just do that.
To this day, there are some video game players on the PC end that will run games on the lowest settings possible, even on a new system with bleeding edge parts because they do not want a sub 60 FPS experience under any circumstances. And while there’s certainly a point where you can become so obsessed with framerate it keeps you from enjoying a game, there’s something to be said for having a framerate that stays high so that when intensive things happen and it has to drop, it drops from really high to high. That way as a player you’re not seeing or feeling it the way you do when it goes from high to low. Even some of those who buy this for one of the other consoles may consider this. I didn’t notice enough of a change to warrant leaving it off for myself. But your mileage may vary.
When compared to the PC versions of these games, obviously the PC versions are going to come out ahead, as they’re more feature rich on the computer and unless your computer is well over a decade old, they’ll probably perform better there. But that said, it is interesting to see how close these get to the computer versions. In terms of content, everything is here. The same stages, the same number of enemies, the DLC is here in its entirety. Everything is here. And it looks and sounds terrific by the standards of the Nintendo Switch. As I said earlier, that they squeezed all of it onto the little tablet that could, and had it perform as well as it does and still looking nice really speaks to the talent at Croteam. The console versions all also add split-screen co-op campaigns, horde modes, and deathmatches to the mix. Which is fantastic for anybody who has friends, family, or roommates as you can play together without everyone having to buy the game and a console plus a subscription. But like the computer versions, it supports online play as well. So you can still go through the campaign, or play deathmatches, or horde games together that way.
Be that as it may, there is one sticking point with the multiplayer and that is draw distance of enemies. Whether you’re playing the game online with friends or strangers or you delve into split screen you can expect this issue to crop up. It seems that enemies will draw into view six feet in front of you at times. This can be an issue because when you play the game normally, you may have harpies coming from the distance, or a large herd of werebulls gunning for you. Not being able to see them until they get close increases the difficulty a lot. Even if you’re playing on a lower setting with less enemies, it’s something to be aware of. This is presumably to keep the game’s framerate from tanking as it has to draw everything multiple times. And while it doesn’t break the game, it does increase the challenge beyond what was intended. It’s still going to be fun, but you have to expect some unfair moments. Fortunately, you can spawn right where you died during a multiplayer match, and you have unlimited lives unless you set it otherwise. So co-operatively beating the campaign is doable.
And while this isn’t going to look nearly as good as a computer running everything maxed out in 1080p, 1440p, 4k or 8k, it does look the part. Again, compare it to a 7 year old machine with a midrange card of the era in it, running at medium or low. It’s following the trend of those other PC games, and Mortal Kombat 11 I mentioned before. If you’ve never played these games before and only have a console, you’re probably going to love them on your Switch or PS4 or XB1. They’re fun games on any platform really, and they’ve made the transition to consoles pretty well. I do however have one major issue with the Switch version. In spite of all of the customization that made its way over, and amenities made for consoles it would have been a slam dunk to have motion controls be the icing on the cake. Splatoon 2, DOOM, Wolfenstein, and even Overwatch have gyroscopic aiming. This is one edge the Switch has when it comes to shooter games. While some might deride motion controls, when it comes to shooters on controllers, it has always been far superior than using thumb sticks. Because it’s much closer to the movement of a mouse on PC. It would especially benefit these games considering just how many enemies are thrown to you at any given time.
Still, in spite of the lack of motion controls, and some technical workarounds stifling multiplayer a little, I still recommend Serious Sam Collection. If you’ve never played these beforehand this is a fantastic way to become introduced to the series. If you have played them, this gives you the perfect opportunity to replay them in the living room, and in the case of the Switch version you can conveniently play them on the go, which is great because you can play these for five hours or five minutes. The occasional performance dip is disappointing but these are still very playable versions that perform very well most of the time. The lack of motion aiming on the Switch is a missed opportunity, but the games are still so fun its worth dealing with their omission. Plus you get all of the DLC expansion packs and you’re getting the bonus of couch co-op. Sadly, as of now there are no physical versions, so video game collectors might feel a little disappointed by that. But these are nevertheless worth picking up even if they won’t be booted from a card, or Blu Ray. For some it will be a new experience, and for veterans it’ll be fun reliving them and comparing them. And who wouldn’t love hearing the loud chorus of “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!” emanating from your Nintendo Switch during your morning coffee run at Starbucks? If the coffee doesn’t wake you up, the explosions of headless kamikazes will.
For full disclosure I was given a copy of this game from a friend who worked on this one. But that doesn’t sway my opinion on it, and I was not monetarily compensated for writing this review. All thoughts presented here are my own.
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and write a review. Hours at my regular job have been consistently high, and while things haven’t changed much in terms of the number of them I’ve been pulling, my schedule has been inconsistent. So I’ve focused more on getting some streaming in at night as playing games has always helped me decompress and talking to people who may hop in is usually a good experience.
PROS: Character design. Level design. Controls. Mechanics. Soundtrack.
CONS: A couple of cheap moments.
DON’T: Mistake this for a F2P mobile game port.
One of those games I streamed recently was Get-A-Grip Chip, an interesting game on Steam where you play as a robot who has to look for batteries using a magnet. It was given to me by a friend who did some of the work on it. It’s pretty fun. “Looking for batteries with a magnet? That’s supposed to be fun?” I can hear some of you asking. Well as simple as that sentence was, it’s a more complex idea with a lot of little ideas packed inside of that idea.
I’m told, that early on while working on something else, the team at Redstart Interactive found one really fun feature they had implemented, a grappling mechanic. They spent so much time on tweaking, and experimenting with it that they ended up building an entirely new game out of it. This game is ultimately what that game became. That story reminds me a lot of how a lot of Nintendo development stories go, start with something fun, then build the game, the world, the characters, and story around that. It works for Nintendo regularly, and it honestly does work here.
At first glance you might not see it. Visually, it has the crisp, flat, cut-out tones of something you might find on your cousin’s iPad. And what I mean by that is not the quality of the artwork, sprites, or character designs. All of these are very good with a blend of color depth and detail you might see in a South Park episode. Simply, that the way it is displayed could be perceived as a mobile title due to many of them having a similar look at first glance. That said, the world, the characters, and overall artwork is really good. And you’ll find a wide variety of different settings and environments in this factory as you play through this game. There are a few cutscenes in the game and these seem to have a more animatic vibe, animating a couple of frames to give you a sense of what is happening rather than a full-fledged FMV or animation. It’s something I’ve seen in many games lately even bigger ones. Monster Prom does it, Even Street Fighter V does it with its character story ladders.
Speaking of story, the one we are given here is that a company called RoboCo Manufacturing is making robots. Something I think is probably obvious. What isn’t obvious are the lack of failsafe measures. Because an accident happens on the line, a giant gear gets embedded in one of the manufacturing robots and this causes its programming to go haywire. This in turn causes the machine to go proverbially insane and begin blasting everything with death beams. One seemingly sentient robot named Chip needs to escape, but not before saving the ever so cute, also seemingly sentient batteries who look like Duracell gone Chibi.
Anyway, Chip has very limited mobility. He can move left, or right. In some cases up, or down. But 90 percent of the time left or right are your options. But Chip also has a magnet you can shoot short distances to latch onto things allowing you to swing around like Bionic Commando. The comparison to Capcom’s classic arcade game, its many home ports, NES pseudo-spinoff and even the newer ones that came out in the days of the 360 are appropos.
Because a lot like that series, this one will focus an awful lot on swinging around. Rivets, hanging rebar, there will always be something you’ll have to latch onto. Now while Bionic Commando focused on combat being an action game, this one goes more for mascot platforming. I was reminded of a number of them. Kirby came to mind because of the exploration element. While this is often far more challenging than Kirby, you still are going to be looking at ways to find creative solutions to seemingly complex problems. And some of them will not be so much seemingly complex problems as they are actually complex problems.
On the easier side of the scale, figuring out where the hidden batteries you need to save are is usually as simple as looking for a misshapen piece of wall. Or a sliver of a rivet just peeking into view. Actually getting to some of these batteries is quite a different story. Sometimes, sure, you can just roll behind a slightly off center looking wall and rescue your Rayovac friend. Often times, these paths will lead to new and far more challenging means to rescuing the battery in question. If and when you do successfully save a battery, you’re not in the clear because you still have to get them to the next checkpoint. When you do save one, the HUD will come up on the screen, and in the top left you’ll see a battery count. Each stage has ten batteries to save.
Now while you don’t have to save every battery to clear a level you do need to find so many of them to truly get further in the game. There are five floors, represented by levels of the building currently in the process of being destroyed. Each of the floors has five stages and a boss battle, each of which have the aforementioned batteries hidden within. Save enough batteries and you’ll unlock the next boss battle. It’s something that along with some of the boss battles, reminded me of Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams. In that game, you need to collect so many gems on your first run to unlock future stages, and also like that game there are sections where some grave danger initiates an auto scrolling section. The boss battles here are often like those sections in Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams. A wall of lava, acid, or other nefarious substance will follow you forcing you to rush through as fast as possible without perishing.
Doing that in of itself can be pretty daunting especially considering you have to do all of this by grappling. Doing all of that, and getting all of the batteries requires some Godlike reflexes and quick witted thinking on your feet. It is here, that I also really have to commend the games’ level designs. They all have a great blend of thinking fast to solve problems, and also trying to execute things, and discerning patterns as fast as possible. It really does lend itself well to speed running. But it also doesn’t really feel unfair except in maybe one or two instances where the game drops an unexpected enemy or obstacle your way. The game controls fairly well too with the WASD keys moving you, and you can use your mouse to aim your grappling hook. The game recommends using a game controller, so you may find that moving with a D-pad instead of keys on a keyboard is easier for you.
Get-A-Grip Chip also gives you unlimited lives, so the only thing that can ever really stop you from being able to beat the game is a lack of perseverance. It’s the kind of game I can see anyone really enjoying as you can clear the game by sheer determination. But I really think those who love a super difficult game will find a lot to like too, as trying to get some of the batteries rescued requires a LOT of dexterity, especially near the end of the game where you have to solve puzzles and solve them FAST. One nice thing is once you’ve saved a battery you don’t have to save it again on subsequent attempts. So you can 100% the game by focusing on only the batteries you didn’t find in previous attempts. Speed runners will get a lot of mileage out of this title though because trying to get through each stage in a really short period of time without dying is going to be quite the feat.
Clearing the game does also give you a satisfying ending, and it even shows you how many of the batteries you were able to save before escaping the collapsing factory. I quite liked Get-A-Grip Chip. Save for a handful of moments where they surprise you with an obstacle you have no way of knowing is coming, it’s generally very fair. When you die, more often than not you’re going to know it’s because you were unable to grab that ledge fast enough, or didn’t wait for that electrified lever to fully discharge or any other number of things. Everything is defined pretty well too. There was one instance later in the game I didn’t realize a background object was not a foreground object I could land on. But that could have easily been me being a dope.
And through it all I found myself really enjoying the soundtrack. There’s a pretty good variety here too. While everything could probably fall under the umbrella of Electronica since there are clearly a lot of compositions that were made on a computer that also would be far too much of a simplification. There are a lot of elements of different genres and subgenres here. Sometimes you’ll get some Techno. Sometimes there are moments that will feel more New Wave. Other times there are background songs that are decidedly Hip-Hop, or Heavy Metal. All chosen for appropriate sections. It’s pretty cool stuff, and as it turns out you can also buy the soundtrack on Steam too if you enjoy it enough to listen to beyond the scope of the game.
The characters are pretty cool, and it does a lot with the color palettes it employs. And with the control scheme I could easily see a sequel or prequel where they expand on some of the ideas presented here. I could even conceive a scenario where the company could potentially make a homebrew style version for older consoles and computers seeing how the set up works essentially on two sticks and a button. Seeing an Atari 2600 version, a Commodore 64 version, NES version, even a Colecovision or Intellivision version could be interesting. But now I’ve begun to ramble. The point is, Get-A-Grip Chip is one of the (to borrow a phrase fromMetal Jesus Rocks ) hidden gems on Steam. If you’re looking for something a little bit different give it a shot.
It’s finally here. It’s hard to believe, but Serious Sam 3 is almost 9 years old as I’ve started typing this. Over that time there has been a lot of concern with many fans. Many wondered if it would see the light of day after Croteam had such luck with the beloved Talos Principle and then their VR efforts with Serious Sam VR games like The Last Hope, and ports of The First and Second Encounter to VR. From there it was a sporadic blip or two. A quick quip to say it was coming, or news that the writers of The Talos Principle would be writing the storyline to this game. A couple of years ago we got the first trailer, then not much of anything. But then leading up to the release, we suddenly saw several trailers.
PROS: Legion System. Writing. Added Features. Classic gameplay is retained.
RIDE: Piloting Werebulls and Khnums is one of the most fun things you can do here.
Those trailers got a lot of people psyched. And shortly after I began my initial play through, I saw a few people lamenting the game. And I couldn’t understand why. When first starting the game I had a pretty exceptional first impression. The game has a slew of options for tweaking graphics, performance, audio, and more. The game does a pretty good job of pre picking options based upon your hardware configuration when it does its initial scan. But if you want to lower things for performance, or raise things to make them look as good as things allow.
That said, the requirements for Serious Sam 4 are a little bit beefy. While they’re nowhere near the level of hardware you’ll need for some of the AAA multiplatform blockbusters from the likes of Activision, EA, or Ubisoft, you won’t be able to get by on a potato machine. You’ll need at least a 64-bit quad core processor running 2.5Ghz or better, 8GB of memory, an nVidia GeForce 780 or better on the graphics end. If you prefer AMD graphics you’ll need a Radeon 7950 or better. The video cards have to have at least 3GB of Video memory on them and even that might be a bit anemic. The game will take 40GB or more of hard disk space. According to the game’s Steam page that should let you run the game at around a 720p resolution at 30 Frames per second (approximately 1280 x 720). Things may not look so sharp for those with an older computer but a 1080p monitor resolution or higher. Particularly if you want to run it full screen.
My computer (the one I played the game on) contains an AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB M2 SSD along with an nVidia GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER. So I actually exceeded the recommended requirements a little bit. Be that as it may, I did have a couple of issues I’ll get to later in the review. But most of the time, things seemed to run the way they ought to. At least through the first half of the game anyway.
When the game begins we’re treated to an interactive introduction where the characters in the story can be seen talking. Or rather their reflections of themselves talking on broken satellite panels and spaceship debris floating above the Earth’s atmosphere. Things then shift down to the surface where we see a massive battle going on with the tens of thousands of enemies that Croteam promised us we would see. And to their credit, it’s one of the coolest things you’ll see in a video game. As I said, this is an interactive scene. In engine. Not a cutscene. You move around, fighting the hordes of Mental’s minions. It’s a short-lived moment though because you’ll be knocked out by a giant monster. Once this happens, we’re sent back a few months before this scene takes place.
This sets up the storyline by The Talos Principle’s writers Jonas and Verena Kyratzes. And if you thought that the deep, philosophical writing style of that game would be repeated here, and overshadowing everything you would be wrong. Here they go for a Direct-To-Video Dolph Lundgren vehicle, and it fits the series’ mix of violent, gristly action, and tongue in cheek effectively. Much like Serious Sam 3, this game dabbles in expanding the world of Serious Sam by introducing some newer characters as well as fleshing out some background ones a little bit more.
But the game never makes you delve into any of it if you don’t care to. You can skip every single cutscene the game has to offer if you choose to do so. One of the earliest characters you’ll meet is Kenny, who is basically like the Orko to your He-Man. He’s a comic relief character but almost in reverse. What I mean by that, is when the game introduces the other members of Sam’s team over time, you’ll find most of them have the 1980s action movie vibe about them. They crack one-liners while blowing away hordes of enemies. Kenny is more like a traditional rank and file soldier. Not a chiseled, gritty veteran (Though the game has one of those), but a character with an almost straight-man comedy role. Over time, the characters become an Expendables-like ensemble. The storyline basically starts right before the events of Serious Sam 3 so we have another prequel. A prequel to a prequel. But the story is honestly pretty entertaining.
One of the highest ranking officials in Mental’s army, Lord Achriman has all but conquered Earth. But he is constantly being annoyed by the small uprisings around the globe that keep him from putting a period on the end of his proverbial sentence. Throughout the game’s cutscene’s and in game background audio he fills the role of Half-Life 2’s Dr. Breen. Appearing on TV and Radio to spout off his propaganda and thinly veiled attempts to get the human race to just give up and let him have the last 10 percent of Earth as well. Sadly, as of this writing the character doesn’t seem to have a credit for the voice actor. But it’s easily one of the best performances here. Obviously, John J Dick reprises his role as Serious Sam, and he does it as well as ever.
Over the course of the game you’re tasked with helping a Priest, Father Mikhail get to the Ark Of The Covenant, so that the human resistance can use the Holy Grail to defeat Mental’s forces. This is another fantastic character who is well-written and somehow both grounded and over-the-top. A lot of the humor they sprinkle in is also over-the-top. Over-the-top without doing anything that very many would find too offensive either. Not that I’m debating comedy here, rather saying I didn’t see anything very sensitive people on any spectrum would be too bothered by. And honestly, when it’s funny, it’s really, really funny. I genuinely laughed several times during my playthrough. The characters are all likeable, even the villains, and the story even throws you a few curveballs here and there. Some you’ll see coming. But some will honestly catch you by surprise.
But don’t think this is going to be a game of escort missions, or boring fetch-quests. Well fetch-quests that don’t involve getting a key or other item you don’t really need. This is still very much a Serious Sam game. Though we’re given a number of new features here as well as find a few other features from previous games expanded upon. First off, Serious Sam 3 introduced a melee kill system that DOOM 2016 perfected in the eyes of many. It’s returned here, and it feels like they’ve given iD Software the kudos here because this will feel very similar. That said, some of the melee kills here are more involved than you might expect. They’ve also implemented a point system similar to DOOM 2016. Over the course of the game you can find these blue glass orbs. You can then use these to access a skill tree, and you can use the points to unlock abilities. And its used to great effect here. You’ll want to use these too, because Serious Sam 4 is the most challenging installment yet.
That’s because of something Croteam calls the Legion System, a software engine enhancement they’ve created that (as I mentioned earlier describing the intro) allows the game to display tens of thousands of enemies at once without a massive resource drain (most of the time. more on that later). As such there are a number of times throughout the game where you’ll be killing more aliens than ever. And while they are only that insane number a handful of times throughout the campaign, most of the time you’ll still be going up against more enemies than you did in the older games.
For those new to Serious Sam as a series, many have made the mistake of thinking of these games in the same vein as classic twitch FPS games like DOOM, Quake, or Duke Nukem 3D due to the fast gameplay, crazy weapons, and wise-cracking protagonist. But while those certainly inspired elements of the games Croteam’s series shares more in common with classic twin stick arcade games when it comes to level design. Where DOOM often has tight corridors, monster closets of a dozen to thirty most times and few massive arenas, Serious Sam does not. Serious Sam’s missions and maps share more in common with something like Midway’s Smash T.V..
You’ll often start in an area that gives you health items, and perhaps a weapon. You then leave that area and enter a large arena or vista. Here, you’ll be swarmed by many, many enemies. Often times it numbers in the hundreds. That’s not to say the games only put you in giant maps or sections with enemies. Each of them do, in fact put you in smaller structures, or areas with thin hallways, or mazes with a smaller number of enemies. But unlike other FPS games, it’s almost relentless. There aren’t very many moments where you can let your guard down in Serious Sam games, and Serious Sam 4 is no exception. Serious Sam’s enemies are also more vulnerable to some weapons than others. So it’s a constant management on the fly requirement as you’re always switching weapons as you confront different enemy types in the same massive wave.
Serious Sam stages are always quite large when you take into account the fact that with the exception of the second game, you can go almost anywhere within reason to hunt for secrets and other items. You can still very much do that in Serious Sam 4. But instead of just blindly roaming around for hours, this time stages have alternate missions that going off the beaten path will lead to. The game does mark these, and puts up little descriptors telling you what lies in store for you if you succeed in finding it. Often times it pays to take the risk, and go for these. They’ll have little cutscenes often times to set things up in the story to explain why Sam isn’t just going for the goal. Sometimes you’re getting something for a citizen, other times you’re trying for some meta storyline stuff. But in any case you do get useful things for doing so.
Among these are some of the new items you can use in combat. One of these is a thermos that basically gives Serious Sam super speed like the shoes in the other games did. The difference here is its been combined with Serious Damage from the older games. So you’ll outrun enemies, and have four times the stopping power. Another one of these items is effectively bullet time. So you get a splash of Max Payne in your Serious Sam 4. And it benefits you greatly when you’re fighting in some of the larger scale events and you need that extra time to dodge the 486 rockets from the 56 Scrapjacks that just warped into the battle. Then there’s the Black Hole Bomb, which like Mega Man 10’s, sucks all of the on screen enemies into a black hole. A fun, and well-executed take on the classic smart bomb. Finally there’s the tactical nuke which is more or less a flashy smart bomb.
Throughout the game you’ll also find audio logs, text files, and other things that fill out some of the story details the cutscenes and voiceover might miss. They do manage to do a couple of funny fourth wall breaking jokes here too. But by the end you’ll probably find a lot of it endearing. They’ve done a great job in the action and comedy side of Serious Sam.
Beyond that, they’ve once again retooled many of the classic enemies, and given them some noteworthy updates to their looks. In most cases, they’ve built upon their Serious Sam 3 counterparts, blending some of the more contemporary horror and sci-fi feel with these fantastical characters. But at the same time, they’ve brought back some of that classic, silly feel from the old games here, reminding us of just how not serious, Serious Sam is. This is reflected in the bright colors, and crazy designs of some of the newly introduced enemies. There are vampires that scream at you like Sindel, the Draconian Pyromaniacs that shoot fireballs with flamethrowers, and The dreaded Processed, a bunch of mutant Prisoners who swarm you and shank you with knives.
Combine it all together with far more numbers than you’ve ever seen previously and we’re talking quite a few dicey moments. Especially if you find yourself in an area with very limited ammo or health drops. Which happens a couple of times at dire moments in this game. It’s one of the handful of issues I had in my initial run. There are a couple of large scale fights where you simply will not have enough supplies on hand to survive. While this can happen to you even in the old games, in the old games it’s usually the result of you being a little too callous and free wheeling with your ammo. Here, these fights are going to be especially hard if you come into a situation with only four rockets, and find that there is a scant two, rockets flashing in the field waiting to be picked up. Now don’t misunderstand me. This is not a frequent problem. But when it happens, it really hurts. To remedy this the game does have a couple of options to help a little bit.
The first thing you can do, is save, and save OFTEN. That probably goes without saying. But if you can go back three or four rooms, pick up the right ammo again, then try to get back to the point you’ll have trouble with without using it, that’s something. The second thing you can do is use the aforementioned perk system by choosing options that will make enemies drop ammo for your currently held weapon when you kill them, or give you 1 to 5 percent health back if you dispatch them with a melee attack.
The third thing is one of the newer features, and that is headshots. If you can hit the enemies square between the eyes it does big damage. Most of your small enemies like the Processed, and Octarian foot soldiers will die in a single hit. Some of the medium enemies will take four to ten. Like the Scrapjacks. Large enemies like the Khnum will have you admitting you’re boned no matter what you use. Though you can use the perk system to allow you to ride some enemies like Werebull or Khnum as vehicles. This is honestly pretty cool.
Other ways to try to work around that are to save the aforementioned Black Hole Bombs, Bullet Time, and Nuke for the most dire situations. There’s also a health syringe I forgot to mention. It falls under that category as well as the enemy on enemy gas canister I also forgot to mention. This gas makes the enemies fight each other for a short time. So if you find some of those be sure to save them up for when those undefeatable waves turn up. One last power up I forgot to mention is the decoy, where quite humorously, a hologram of our hero skates around and fakes out the enemies causing them to shoot at it instead of you.
Some may complain that these are ways to make some of the game easier. But considering the fact that you’ll often fight several hundred to a thousand enemies, you’ll be glad they’re here. Despite ALL of those workarounds, there will be some moments where there just won’t be enough extra ammo or health lying in the area. So try to conserve ammo wherever and whenever possible.
One of the other things Croteam mentioned is just how large they can now make maps as well as their new vegetation system. Well there is one massive stage where you’ll be able to see it in action as it does indeed display a bevy of bushes, flowers, and trees. Unfortunately this is the stage where a lot of the technical problems reared their ugly heads in my initial play through. The first of these was a strange A.I. bug. I ran into an encampment of enemies where none of them moved around at all whatsoever until I shot one of them. Not a major problem in the grand scheme of things, but still odd enough. And it could make things a little too easy. This is also the stage where you’ll get to use a few different vehicles. These are some truly fun moments, especially when you can use them in combat.
Near the end of the stage, I started to get some of the other issues. There were a couple of weird pop in issues where the game seemed to suddenly have issues loading higher quality textures, and I also had some brief stuttering in a large scale battle. This wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow had it not been the one and only time I really saw it happen.
While I’m talking about the look of the game here, I’ll address one complaint I’ve seen come up a few different places online, and that is how the game allegedly doesn’t look much better than Serious Sam 3. That, in my opinion, isn’t entirely true. While the main characters look slightly better than the ones in the last game, the enemies here look FAR more detailed, and varied. The lighting here is greatly improved, and one also has to remember that this game renders an obscene amount of enemies at any given time, which likely requires as much power as rendering some of the Hollywood visuals present in some other new releases.
Some of the revised characters like the Gnarrs, Headless Kamikazes, and Scorpions look markedly better than they did in the previous game, and a lot of the new combatants have a level of detail that will simply amaze you, especially when there are 25 of them among the 400 other creatures charging at you. like the flying Kalopsys’ Brain stems or the wrinkles in the Processeds’ orange jumpsuits. Even the weapon models have some really nice textures on them that add a sense of realism to them. Environments also look noticeably better than they did in the last game. Especially thanks to the enhanced lighting effects.
Now that isn’t to say, that the game looks on par with some of the AAA games out there, but again, that is offset somewhat by the impressive animation and enemy counts. The other thing to consider is that development did stall for the creation of The Talos Principle, and the VR Serious Sam games. So it’s likely that they enhanced their existing software technology rather than create an entirely new iteration of their Serious Engine.
One part of the game that is undeniably fantastic however is the soundtrack. Damjan Mravunac really outdid themselves this time, giving us not only a lot of awesome new songs that fit the motif of each stage they appear in, but some remixed versions, and reimagined versions of classic songs from The First Encounter, The Second Encounter, and Serious Sam 3. One of the ones that especially stuck out to me was the Vatican Fight music that played during the lead up to an epic boss fight involving a Gundam in Italy.
Boss fights in Serious Sam have always been these grand scale, larger than life fights and the ones in Serious Sam 4 really up the ante. Almost all of them involve fighting skyscraper sized behemoths, and even the ones that don’t will still require some level of puzzle solving skills. This is especially true when you get to the last couple of them where mere brute force won’t be enough to take them down.
Once you do clear the game, there are a couple of factors that will likely lead to replays if you find you really enjoyed your run. The first of these are the side missions. Any of the ones you might have missed are still there for you to experience. So if you’re the type who likes to do everything a game has for you to go for, this gives you a great reason to play it again. The other thing is the multiplayer. Like previous Serious Sam games, you can go through the entire campaign in Co-Op. This makes an already fun game even more so. Unfortunately , this time around you can only have four players. This is likely a concession for performance concerns. But coming from previous titles where sixteen people could play together, it can be a little bit disappointing. Still, this is the perfect kind of FPS to play with friends of all skill levels as everyone can contribute to slaying down the hordes of skeletons, kamikazes, scorpions and harpy menace.
In closing, Serious Sam 4 is a terrific entry in the franchise that mostly follows the familiar formula that made the series beloved. It’s simplistic but brutal blend of arcade mayhem and difficulty is as fun as it ever was. And most of the new ideas, imported features from other games, as well as the clever writing and voice acting really accent the proven formula nicely. It really will give you some moments that will wow you, and it will genuinely make you laugh when it throws some humor your way. That said, the bugs, and performance problems that crop up three quarters of the way through the game can be pretty annoying at times. If and when you run into any of them you’ll either have to try to tweak the game settings, and settings on your computer to compensate if they happen to get pretty bad for you, or (In the case of A.I. inconsistency) you’ll have to find a way to cheese your way through. As of this writing, Croteam has said they’re looking into these problems and hope to have patches out to fix them. But as it stands they can mar an otherwise wonderful game. The other thing I would be remiss to not mention is that if you’ve played one of the older games and didn’t enjoy it for whatever reason, this won’t change your mind. While I feel they really improved on some things here, it’s again, still very much a Serious Sam game. The core concept is centered around clearing large waves of enemies to advance, and if that isn’t your thing, this probably won’t change that.
Problems aside, I still found this game incredibly enjoyable. It’s easy to recommend to franchise fans because of how fun it truly is, and I can even recommend it to newcomers who are looking for a fast-paced action game experience. Serious Sam games have their own unique flair and feel. They’re not in the Doom, Quake, or Duke Nukem 3D area of classic shooter despite the large amount of action they provide. But they’re nothing like any of the various military themed shooters, or the popular hero arena shooters out there either. This one also has a number of new additions that you may find yourself wishing the older entries had. Serious Sam 4 is a bad ass game hampered by some hitches that will hopefully be ironed out sooner than later. But even with its problems, it’s more than worth playing through. Especially if you have a couple of friends looking for a co-operative experience who are also willing to buy a copy for themselves.
These days it seems there are constantly new Metroid-like games. Many of which take Nintendo’s tried and true formula and then alter it with their own characters and setting. Many of them have been quite good. Another one you can put on that list is today’s game Mystik Belle. This game does something that really stands out by including elements of point and click adventure games in it.
PROS: Bright characters. Clever writing. Spot on controls.
CONS: A couple of obtuse puzzles.
ULTIONUS: Has a few nods to their previous game Ultionus: A Tale Of Petty Revenge
Mystik Belle tells the story of a little girl at a witching school who is blamed by the faculty when a mysterious witches brew goes missing. In order to keep herself from being expelled she reluctantly agrees to go find all of the ingredients so her teacher Ms. Willow can make another brew to replace it. She quickly gets more than she bargained for though when she finds out just how much she has to go through just to find a single ingredient.
Her pain becomes your pain, because Mystik Belle is tough. You’ll be exploring a fairly large map, fighting monsters and looking for items so that you can explore even further in areas previously inaccessible to you. Mystik Belle is also very much a point and click adventure game. Though it doesn’t give you the countless hours to search around every item of every background because there is danger at every turn. Especially when you’re just starting out.
You’re berated by the top three witches who run the school, you get barked at by an old monster, you’re given a hall pass and told to move your ass. Right from the beginning though you will love the writing. It’s cute demeanor may make you think it’s a family-friendly kids’ game. But it isn’t. The main character is rather sassy and the characters you run into sometimes drop some less than child-friendly dialogue. Make no mistake, it isn’t crass for the sake of being crass. You won’t be hearing a constant barrage of cuss words this side of a hard R action film. But when it does drop a swear you probably don’t want to have your four-year old around.
That said, the writing here is still very good. The characters have great personalities and charm about them. In many ways it feels like the best parts of the old Brat Pack teen comedy movies of the 1980s. It’s like if sword and sorcery movies were sent to the Breakfast Club detention hall. Would you like another? Yes! They’ve got you for two months.
Anyway, you’ll also be wowed by the bright, large, colorful sprites and multilayered backgrounds. Just like Ultionus, this one has a look very reminiscent of vintage Commodore Amiga games, though there aren’t the constant nods to it this time out. The level of details especially jumps out to me in this game. This is apparent in some of the animations of enemies as well as some of the powers you gain throughout the game.
The soundtrack is also something special. Each area has its own distinct theme that not only fits the mood of what you’re seeing but also throws nods to older games. One of the tracks in particular took me back to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. The chip tunes here are very good and I hope it’s one of the soundtracks that ends up on the Steam soundtrack store. Certainly something you’ll likely enjoy.
As you go through your quest to find the ingredients to the brew, the point and click elements begin to become very apparent. Because you’ll need to find that split second to check backgrounds when you see an exclamation point, and you’re going to need to talk to EVERY NPC you run into. This is the only way you’ll be able to find some of the items you need to progress. Sometimes you’ll have to travel between areas not only to find an item in the wild, but to talk to one person to figure out where the next person you need to talk to is. Other times they’ll give you cryptic hints as to where something might be. Other times you’ll see something you know you need, but will have no idea on how to get there or what you’ll need to access it. And of course, there will be times you need to combine several items to create another item in order to gain access to a new area or to give someone to get something else you need. So think like Metroid meets Maniac Mansion. Two things that don’t sound like they belong together, and yet Mystik Bell makes it work very, very well.
The entire experience controls excellently too. When you die, you’ll know it was your own fault. Interestingly there are no save stations, or save options in the menu. If you die it will let you start in the room you died in with the health you entered the room with. Or you can spawn back at the beginning of the game with your items in tow. Mystik Belle can be tough at times but the toughest part in the game are some of the obtuse puzzles that will take you forever to solve. It isn’t always noticeable where you need to scour for an item, and it isn’t always obvious where you need to place something or who you need to give it to. That’s probably the only major complaint I can levy, is that there are a couple of times where the game could be just a little bit more specific.
Despite that, it’s an excellent, quaint game that really stands out from the pack. It isn’t often a fast paced style of game melds with another slower paced genre the way it does here. But it does so very, very well. On top of that there are two endings depending on whether or not you find every last item and collectible in the game. If you’ve truly been looking for something different give Mystik Belle a shot.