Category Archives: Reviews

Slam Land Review

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(Full Disclosure: I know one person that is attached to the creation of this game. Be that as it may, I paid for my own digital download of the retail release on Steam with my own money, and have not been endorsed by the studio, publisher or any creator. All thoughts are my own.)

Super Smash Bros. is one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises of all time. It started out humbly enough on the Nintendo 64. Then it became a massive success on the Nintendo Gamecube, being one of the console’s top drivers. Every sequel since, has done gangbusters. Even iterations that weren’t as well liked, have all sold well, and have been enjoyed by the general audience. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is one of the most hyped upcoming entries yet.

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So it should be no surprise, that over the years many games large, and small have experimented with Nintendo’s formula. From Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL to PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale, other developers have tried making platformer fighting games. Some of them have been solid. Some have been pretty good. Some have been outright terrible. But Slam Land has to be one of the better takes on the formula I’ve purchased, and played.

PROS: Great visuals, audio, and a compelling twist on a proven formula.

CONS: No online multiplayer. Small character roster.

MISSED OPPORTUNITY: The announcer never shouts “BOOMSHAKALAKA!”

Why is this? Well, because it has a really simple mechanic that really changes the dynamics of the game. Instead of the game focusing on knocking every player out of the arena, it adds a proverbial basket to each of the game’s arenas. The object is instead, centered around throwing or punching your opponents into the goal like a basketball. But it doesn’t end there. You can stack multiple opponents together for major point bonuses when you dunk them. You can “Steal” the ball so to speak, by knocking an opponent out of the hands of another opponent, and catching them for yourself. This one simple change also keeps people running to the goal. So you don’t find yourself falling off of the stage, at the last second, unable to see yourself in the mayhem. At least not as often as you might have in some of the Super Smash Bros. games.

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Slam Land also makes a few adjustments to keep things from getting monotonous. Namely by adding a few different modes. There’s a Trash mode, where instead of throwing each other, you, and opponents collect garbage bags to throw into a goal. As is the case with the main mode, you can knock bags away from people or throw them off the stage to buy yourself some time. You can also, again, stack up multiple bags to dunk at the same time for big points. But the more you carry, the slower you move, allowing an enemy to knock you down, and take them away.

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Another variation is the game of Horse, where you spell the word “Horse” by getting baskets as in the basketball game. However, it does this by dropping Knight pieces with the corresponding letters into the map. And once you get one letter into the basket, you can’t score with the same letter again. So the four of you will be trying to balance getting letters you need, and throwing the ones you don’t need out of the map. This way you can keep opponents from catching up to you.

The other mode you can play is Peanut. This mode drops a peanut into the stage. Again, you’ll all want the peanut so you can shoot a basket for points. However, the longer you hold the peanut before dunking it, the more points you will get for doing so. So if you can hold it for several seconds you can be scoring 8 points or 12 points instead of only one. Of course, as in the other modes, enemies can knock you down. Thus claiming the peanut for themselves for a massive point boost.

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Every one of these variations is a lot of fun because they all feature a great sense of risk versus reward. Do you go for more bags for the big points, or do you just throw one to retain the speed to get away from everyone? Do you hold the peanut or go for a shot before someone can steal it? Do you throw your opponent now or wait until they’re distracted by someone else?

All of the modes go for three rounds too. So you might dominate one round, only to find you’ve been triple teamed faster than Braun Strowman in a fatal four-way. Even so, you’ll find all of them quite engaging. You can also play the primary mode with either time or stock rules. These work the way they do in Smash Bros. Where you’re either trying to get the highest score in a duration, or trying to be the last person with any lives left. The difference however is that stock mode in Slam Land, means you’re still going for points by eliminating opponents. Unlike Smash, you can be the last one standing, and still lose. So you can’t expect to turtle your way to victory.

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There is also a pseudo-campaign mode here, but really it just puts you in five games involving a mix of the pre-existing modes. I recommend playing through it initially because you’ll get acquainted with the modes right away to see which you enjoy the most. After that though, you can really roll with whichever modes you, and your group of friends like most. Rounding that out is a quick mode that just starts up a single game.

Audio-visually the game is really quite nice! Everything has a really crisp 2D look that resembles a sticker book. The characters all have a cute look infused with some pulp. It screams early 90’s Nickelodeon cartoons, and even some contemporary Adult Swim cartoons. One of the playable characters reminded me a bit of  The Ren & Stimpy Show, while the ominous blue character who shows up in some of the game’s stage backgrounds reminded me a lot of stuff like Superjail. But that isn’t to say any of this stuff feels like a copy of anything. Everything is wholly original, but these are just some of the things I was reminded of by the game’s art style. The bottom line is that it looks great. The light audio soundtrack, and booming announcer voice accent all of it very nicely too.

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There are a few things that I would have liked the game to have implemented though. While I love the look of the characters I would have liked to have had a bigger roster. Functionally every character works the same way of course. You move them, and then you have a jump button, a pickup button (which you also use to throw), and a punch button that makes your character throw an uppercut. A simple control scheme, that anyone can understand. But having more characters would have been a nice touch. The five characters you do get are pretty cool though, each with neat little details. The human walks around in his BVDs. The Skeleton has some great inking for wear, and tear. The bug animates nicely. The carrot has a giant grin, and the other garish figure is so weird you’ll just fall in love with it. I would have liked more of that.

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It’s also going to disappoint some of you that this game has no online multiplayer. So if you’re someone whose friends are mostly long distance, you’re stuck playing against bots. The bots have pretty good A.I. but there’s nothing quite like playing against other people. This is why the Switch version is also an attractive option. Because it’s exactly the short, and simple kind of game you can take to a family gathering, or play with strangers at a coffee shop or with your coworkers on a lunch break. The other versions are great if you do have people over regularly. But for those who don’t, but who do own a Switch, it’s something worth considering. If you pretty much only play by yourself though, it’s not as easy to recommend.

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All of that said though, this is a phenomenal multiplayer experience. It’s also a cut above many other Smash clones because it plays so much differently. There may be four of you, and an arena. But the basketball mechanics really make Slam Land stand out. In fact, if you’re looking for a party game, and you’re not a fan of Super Smash Bros., you may just find you’ll enjoy this because of that different goal. Bread Machine Games should really commend themselves on making such a simple, yet addictive spin on the platform fighter. It might not be as deep as Nintendo’s own game, but it is a super fun game that can complement it nicely. If you’ve got a Steam account, a PS4, or a Switch, and want something a little bit different pick up Slam Land.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle Review

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Last time we looked at an old, and underrated fighter. But this time out we’re looking at something newer. Arc System Works created something special when it brought the Guilty Gear series to the world. A highly stylized 2D fighter, it had some of the smoothest, and most impressive animation ever. The details in the characters were also a sight to behold. They followed up that success with BlazBlue. A different series, but with the same commitment to detail, and fluid animation. This drew the attention of other creators, and before long they were making games based on other properties. So now we have a BlazBlue crossover game. Does it hang with the likes of Namco’s Tekken Tag games, or Capcom’s many Vs. titles? Is it something you should pick up? Read on.

PROS: The brisk animation, and gameplay you’ve come to expect from ASW.

CONS: Some may deride the repurposing of some sprite work.

HOLY CRAP: The finishers in this game are pretty amazing to watch.

The short answer to both of those questions is “Yes.” But let’s take the long answer road, and talk about why. BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is a fighter that caters to the core player. The depth of the fighting system, and its complex multi-tiered combos are things you can spend hours just trying to grasp. Yet, it isn’t a game that newcomers can’t enjoy. Yes, there will be a vast skill gap when you first begin, and you’ll get destroyed online. But the game gives you plenty of features to start out with, and the tools to learn how to play properly.

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The initial mode of the game is a story mode.  It isn’t terribly deep, but it does try to set up some kind of reason why all of these characters from different games are here. As the game features a lot of characters from properties, I’m not intimately familiar with I couldn’t begin to explain every detail. But the primary plot is that one of the characters from the BlazBlue universe has created some kind of super computer that has forced everyone together to fight in a tournament. Over the course of the tournament, the teams discover secret gems they can use to escape. Subsequent play through will fill in some more gaps, but generally this is a great way for you to get acquainted with the basics. You’ll be forced to play tag battle, after tag battle until you’re able to complete it.

When you turn the game on, and start playing you’ll find yourself in an open arena with concession stands. These work as an elongated version of an options menu. You can walk to the center to begin the storyline mode. You can go to another door to go into the online lobbies, go to another to spend your in-game currency on avatars, icons, and tiles. Then there’s another that acts as an info desk. Of course you can also bring up a traditional menu if you’d rather do that. This can be easier than roaming around to different booths. One of the things you’ll find in the options is the training mode.

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The training mode in BBCTB is one of the better ones I’ve played in a fighting game. It tries to tell players in layman’s terms what the advanced mechanics do, which makes it helpful when you’re starting out. This isn’t to say that you’re going to play through the tutorial, and instantly comprehend it all. Yes, you can go through, and clear all of the lessons, but you’re not likely going to retain everything the game has to offer in one run of the sessions. These make for a pretty good reference guide. Even after you clear a lesson, when you forget how to do something, you’ll be able to go back to re-learn it.

Of course like all fighting games, playing the game often is going to really help you not only retain the knowledge of how to do things, but learn when to use them. There is a lot of a risk/reward at play in the fighting system. For example, many of the game’s mechanics like dashes, and combos are centered around rush downs. Going on the offensive is a big, big, part of BBCTB. If you can get even a few small combos in, and put opponents on the defensive you limit their options. However, there is also a big risk when you do go for big damage. Because if you whiff an attack, or the opponent knows how to spot a high, or a low opening they can get a jump on you. The game also has a parry system too. So if your opponent has mastered timing, you could find them escaping your onslaught, and countering you.

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The game’s tag system is an integral part of this as well. While in the midst of a combo you can call in your second character in for a double team. You can also then take control of that character during the double team, or leave them there fighting as an NPC beside you. Knowing when to use each option is key. Obviously you can also swap characters when the one you’re presently controlling is beaten down, and needs a breather. But, again, if you’re being rushed down badly with low health you might not have a chance to do so unless you can manage to parry first. Tag teams can also use up your gauges at the bottom, so you’ll also want to be managing those.

Also, being an Arc System Works game, you can expect a lot of highly stylized finishers of varying degrees. There are Distortion finishers where the end of a match comes with flashy spectacles filled with bright colors. But if you can manage to max out your gauges, and time the motions properly, you can do Astral finishers. These are mesmerizing displays that are so visually appealing you’ll enjoy them. Even when you’re on the losing end, you’ll be wowed upon seeing them the first several times.

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Playing the game online will be the bread, and butter for most people, and so you’ll be spending a lot of time in the lobbies. There are many of them. Some categorized for absolute beginners, others for the general audience, and then you have the ranked lobbies. In all of the lobbies, rather than be given a static menu, you move an avatar about an arcade. You can move up to the left or right position of any machine, and wait for a challenger, or walk up to anyone presently waiting for a challenger. The game also lets you communicate a number of ways. You can use icons with common gestures like “GG” or Good Game. You can use body language with your avatar. For instance you can have them bow. Or jump in place excitedly. Probably the best option is pulling up an on-screen keyboard, and typing in a short sentence.

Once you’re ready to fight, the game transitions to your character order screen. You can choose your characters in the online option menu before challenging someone. Once you’ve selected the order, one player chooses the stage, and you’re in a match. In my experience on the Nintendo Switch, most of the matches have had a solid connection even over my wireless network. There were a handful of moments where lag crept in, but for the most part it’s pretty solid. Other versions may fare better, but as far as I can tell, it should be a pretty good experience when playing online. You can also invite friends to play online should any of your friends also own the game.

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Local versus play is a lot of fun though, the wide variety of characters is nice. You’ll be seeing not only characters from BlazBlue, but those from the Persona series, Rooster Teeth’s RWBY, as well as Under Night In-Birth franchises. Plus every character seems fairly viable, able to dish out a lot of damage. Undoubtedly as the best skilled players get into the deepest pros, and cons of each there will be the expected tier lists of which teams are best suited. For anyone new to fighting games, there are also a few auto combos on hand. Arc System Works also follows the trend of other fighting games, by offering extra characters via DLC. You can buy them individually if you wish, but there is also an option to get all of them, including the ones that haven’t been announced. And while this is going to disappoint some players expecting a full roster out of the gate, they have vastly undercut other fighting games in this area.

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One really cool bonus that the game does include however is an EP on mini CD. A few of the more noteworthy songs from the game’s OST are on it. Speaking of the sound, it’s all very good. It includes not only a fairly good soundtrack ranging from Rock to Orchestral but the sound effects are loud, crisp, and sync up with the onscreen action. Moreover you get a lot of great audio performances here by both the original Japanese actors, and the English actors. You can also mix, and match by character. Visually, the backgrounds are nice, with some great 3D models, while the 2D sprites of characters, and animation are top-notch. One thing some fans have complained about however, is the fact that some of the characters are composed of frames of animation from older games. I will say this is noticeable, especially on a large TV, and the result is that in some matchups, one character will look a little bit grainy versus another. Overall though this is a fairly minor nitpick. The underlying mechanics in this game are fairly different from the other BlazBlue games for one. Second, this is hardly the first fighter to do so. Capcom Vs. SNK 2 was especially remembered for doing this, and it was still one of the most beloved entries in Capcom’s Vs. series. This is also a non issue if you’re playing this on the Switch on the go, as you’ll barely notice it on the small screen.

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In the end I think this will be fondly remembered by fighting game enthusiasts. Not everything in it is going to be loved. If you like a more defense focused fighter, you may appreciate it a little bit less, and you’ll be buying characters as it’s par the course these days. Still, I’ve found myself really enjoying the mechanics a lot in spite of being completely outclassed by nearly everyone online. If you’re a die-hard fighting fan who hasn’t checked it out already, or you’re just someone who hasn’t played a new fighting game in a while you may find yourself enjoying it as much as I have.

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All of that being said, those who decide they want the Switch version would do well to pick up a traditional controller option or an arcade stick. While the game is playable on the go using the joycons, the lack of a D-pad makes performing some of the sequences a bit more difficult. Beyond that, the game performs well on the console, and if you’re looking for a fighter for the Switch, this is a nice one.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

WeaponLord Review

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Back in the ’90’s fighting games were in full swing. Easily the most popular genre in arcades, there were countless titles ported to the Super NES, Sega Genesis, as well as other platforms. On top of this, many publishers pumped out fighters hoping to be the next Street Fighter grade success story. As such, a number of games came out for home platforms in lieu of arcade machines. One such game was WeaponLord.

PROS: Beautiful graphics. Deep fighting system. Fun.

CONS: Figuring out the game on your own isn’t intuitive.

NAMCO: Is rumored to have loosely based its Soul Edge & Soul Calibur games off of this.

WeaponLord is both one of the most difficult, and yet rewarding fighting games I’ve ever stumbled upon. I found my copy at this year’s ConnectiCon, and knew basically nothing about it going in. As we did in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s I went into this based on the label/box art. I suppose I could have used my primitive phone’s web browser, but that wouldn’t have been much fun.

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Anyway, WeaponLord focuses on fighting with swords, axes, hammers, and other melee combat weapons rather than martial arts moves. The brainchild of James Goddard, and Dave Winstead, this game is a lot like Barbarian. Except with a better roster, and interesting, complex mechanics. This makes sense when you learn that the Conan mythos, and other fantasy properties were an influence in its creation. Goddard, and Winstead had come from Capcom during the heights of the Street Fighter II phenomenon. Goddard also created the character Dee Jay who first appeared in Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers.

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Around this time the short-lived Xband modem was being hyped up for the Super NES, and the Sega Genesis. These two developers wanted to make a fighter that could take advantage of it, and try to get the lowest lag possible. This was a time when mainly computer games could be played one-on-one over a phone line. The concept, while not new, was very rare on consoles. The one high-profile example of the Xband was the 1v1 Deathmatch mode in the Super NES port of DOOM. Strangely the feature wasn’t even advertised in that game’s manual.

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Anyway, to make their game, Goddard, and Winstead would leave Capcom, and join Visual Concepts to make WeaponLord ar reality. Were they a success? Yes, although not nearly the success of the games their former employer made were. WeaponLord is an ambitious game, and it shows. The graphics, and animation are top-notch. Remember when I said Conan was an influence? The characters, and backgrounds on display will remind you of a Boris Vallejo painting. The pixel art, and sprite work details are nothing short of spectacular. Characters are fairly large, and everything looks breathtaking.

This comes at a high price however. This stuff takes up a lot of storage capacity, and memory. So the game has a small roster. This also means that matches are considerably longer than in other games, because things move along much slower. If you’re used to playing flashy modern fighters at 60 frames per second, you’re not going to get that here. You’re not going to get the standard pace of a 16-bit era Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat port either. However, if you come into WeaponLord with an open mind, and a willingness to learn, you’ll find a deep, and entertaining experience.

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As the game focuses on swords, clubs, and blades it doesn’t share a weak, medium, fierce attack setup, like many other games of the era did. Instead you have backward, and forward swings. There are three of each, and go from fast, but weak to slow, but strong. The basic moves also integrate your movement. So a crouching forward swing works completely different from a standing one, or while in the air. This may seem obvious to veterans of the genre, but it’s going to be a lot more noticeable to newcomers in this game, than some of the more popular fighting games out there.

Special moves don’t generally follow the circular, and charge motions of a lot of popular games. A number of them do, but you’ll find a lot of them if not most of them are similar to Primal Rage. You have to hold an attack button, do a motion while holding the attack button, and then release it. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you wrap your head around it, you’ll start learning how to link normal, and special moves together a bit better.

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But the game also has a very good parry feature. Holding a weak swing button, and moving forward, up, and down can perform a deflection if you time it properly. This puts the opponent into a short stun, and allows you to capitalize on it with a combo. But this feature is also risk vs. reward. Because if you do it too early you’re going to get stomped, and if you do it too late you’re already getting stomped. Unfortunately because of the era this game came out in, there isn’t any real tutorial to speak of in the game. You only have whatever information the manual lists, and nothing else. But that shouldn’t stop you from picking up, and enjoying vintage fighting games like this one. Especially when you stumble upon one that is this good.

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The depth continues when you discover that some moves will break weapons if you manage to land them, at just the right time, during the right frame of animation! If you manage to do this, your opponent’s attacks will actually do noticeably less damage! One thing that isn’t as deep, but is a cool Easter Egg is finding that similar conditions can actually damage your opponent’s outfit. Pieces of armor crack, hair gets cut off, textiles get torn. Seeing this stuff is pretty cool even today.

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It also wouldn’t be a 90’s fighter without a finishing move, and WeaponLord has its own take on the idea. Again, this is a part of the game that reminded me a lot of Barbarian, an old Commodore 64 fighting game, that while simple, featured gory dismemberment. WeaponLord doesn’t have the over-the-top fantastical fatalities associated with Mortal Kombat or Killer Instinct. Instead, it has long combo strings, that if you can pull off, results in decapitation, missing limbs, and disembowelment. These executions also play a part in the game’s story mode.

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The game has three main modes. First, there’s a story mode, where you take your character through an arcade ladder, and get some lore throughout the process. It plays as you might expect, going along, getting victories, and then fighting a boss character. Beating the boss character gets you an ending, and there you go. Except that WeaponLord’s story campaign changes based on the difficulty level you’re playing on, and whether or not you kill off your opponents. If you don’t kill these characters in your initial two out of three match ups, you have to fight them again later. These conditions also change the ending you’ll get, so it gives you incentive to play it a few times. Apparently the Sega Genesis port doesn’t eschew the rematch upon killing opponents. But the storyline is still a similar experience. If you pay attention to the storyline, you’ll find that the game has two stories. The story in the story mode takes place after the tournament, while the arcade mode tells the story beforehand. Beating the story with each character gives you part of a password you can use to play the story from the boss character’s perspective.

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The second mode is the bog standard arcade mode. Here it’s just a matter of clearing the arcade ladder, but without the additions of the story mode. But, if you want to get into the lore, you’ll want to play it for the prequel content. Finally, you have the Versus mode, which is the meat, and potatoes of any fighting game. If you can get some people over, you’ll have quite the fighting game night for many of the reasons outlined above. In all honesty this is one of the best fighting games on the Super NES in spite of the sluggish movement. On its face it may seem like yet another clunky, mediocre game. There were a lot of them back in the day. But stick with it, and you’ll find WeaponLord is a winner.

 

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WeaponLord was published by Namco, and so the innovations in this game appearing in its later series like Soul Edge, and Soul Calibur won’t go unnoticed. It’s rumored that the developers of those games were inspired by Visual Concepts’ barbarian fighter, and it’s easy to see why. Many of the things these games brought to the forefront of the genre were introduced in this obscure title. Had this game not come out the same year Killer Instinct was ported to the Super NES it might have gotten more attention. As it stands, this is one of those games you should really check out if given the opportunity. It has a steep learning curve, but once you pick up some of the basics you’ll find a very entertaining fighter filled with personality. It isn’t perfect by any means. The game could stand to perform a bit faster, and it should have spelled some of the combat out better. But this should not have its identity mistaken for mediocre stuff like Street Combat.

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It may be rough around the edges, but WeaponLord is awesome.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Time Pilot Review

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Time Travel. It is a widely used theme in fiction, and video games have been no exception. It was a plot device in Chrono Trigger. It was used it Timesplitters. It was used in Time Slip. It has even been used in multiple Final Fantasy games, including the first one. So it should be no surprise that even in the golden age of arcade machines, developers would take a crack at the idea. Today’s game was one of Konami’s efforts. Before Contra, and Castlevania there was Frogger. Somewhere in between these franchises came Time Pilot.

PROS: Tight controls. Nice visual details.

CONS: Cheap A.I.. Home versions missing features.

GREAT SCOTT: There are no DeLorean cars, but there are space ships.

Released in 1982, with ports following a year later, Time Pilot is both original, and derivative. It came at a time when many games were about blowing up ships, for big points, and the high score. However it is also a game where the enemies change vastly between waves. Something that, while simple, seems to add some variety.

So what do you do in Time Pilot? You destroy enemies for points. But there are some nuances about it. Each wave of enemies takes place in a different era. When you first begin the game, you’ll be in the year 1910. So you’ll be smack dab in the middle of early biplanes. Upon seeing you, they’ll swarm you, and do their best to shoot you down. So you’ll go along, blowing up planes. Once you’ve destroyed enough of them, a boss will appear. The first boss is a giant zeppelin. If you can manage to take it down, your ship will flash, and warp ahead in time.

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Wave two takes place in the year 1940. So you’ll be taking down biplanes in the midst of World War II dogfights. These planes also drop bombs in addition to shooting bullets at you. So the game’s difficulty inches upward as a result. If you can survive long enough, and destroy enough planes you’ll be attacked by the boss: a bomber. Manage to shoot it down, and you’ll again warp ahead.

Wave three gets you to 1970, and you’ll be going up against a ton of helicopters. These have much wilder flight patterns than the planes you were going up against, and so you can again expect things to get a bit tougher. You’ll face an even bigger helicopter in a boss fight. If you can defeat the boss you jump ahead again.

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Wave four jumps ahead twelve years to 1982, and so the enemies change to what was contemporary. Fighter jets. The jets are faster than anything you’ve faced at this point, and like the helicopters, have heat seeking missiles! If somehow you can take down enough of these you’ll go up against a B-52 bomber. If by some miracle you survive all of this, you’ll jump ahead.

The final wave takes you to 2001. So naturally you’ll be going up against extraterrestrial U.F.O.s. This stage has so much random craziness in its attack patterns. You’ll fight a mothership of course, and taking it down is quite the challenge. If you manage to do so the game starts over, and each wave the difficulty amps up even more. You can also get big points by rescuing other pilots in each era who can be found parachuting. Just fly over them, and nab the bonuses.

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Time Pilot had a few official ports although there were unofficial clones on home computers like the Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum. As far as the officially licensed ones go, they appeared on the MSX computer in Japan, and in North America on the Atari 2600, and Colecovision. The 2600, and Colecovision versions were published by Coleco. The game has been included in several compilations, and services for the PlayStation, Xbox 360, Gameboy Advance, and Nintendo DS.

Visually, Time Pilot is pretty nice, and the 8-bit sprites hold up pretty well. the clouds , planes, and bosses all scroll around smoothly, and the performance is pretty good. Every version looks pretty good, with the Colecovision running neck, and neck with the MSX version. The Colecovision includes most of the features found in the arcade version albeit with less detailed sprites, and animation. The paratroopers are there, the erratic patterns of enemy waves, and all of the firepower. However, it is missing the 2001 UFO wave which seems to be a glaring oversight.

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The 2600 version looks better than you might expect, however there aren’t multiple flight paths for the enemies. So every enemy wave member flies in the same pattern. The enemies also don’t have any secondary weapons, and the bosses can be taken out in a single hit, making this the easiest of the home versions. It also doesn’t have the paratroopers. It’s still a pretty solid effort though, and even includes the 2001 wave the Colecovision version omits. It’s also an uncommon game on the Atari 2600 so it’s one of a handful of VCS games you’ll pay more than the usual $5 for.

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The compilation on the PlayStation, and the Xbox 360 probably have the best way to play the original game, as the arcade ROM displays nicely on a TV. The Gameboy Advance port on the Konami Collector’s Series: Arcade Advanced , is also worth looking into though. Because although it switches around the orientation for its smaller screen, it also includes a prehistoric stage not seen in any other version of Time Pilot. If you have a way to play it on a TV through a Gamecube GBA player or the Retrobit GBA Adapter cartridge console for the Super NES, you may just want to track it down. The DS Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits compilation is also a nice option if you like to play old school games on the go. The 3DS family also plays the DS games so it’s another option if you have the newer handheld.

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All in all, this is a wonderful game that often gets overlooked in the realm of classics. It’s arguably deeper than other Konami classics like Scramble, or Super Cobra, and yet it doesn’t seem as fondly remembered as either of those classic games. It’s a shame because Time Pilot really is an addictive action game that will please anyone who enjoys high-score challenges, or any form of shoot ’em ups. Whether you play the original arcade version or any of the ports, Time Pilot shouldn’t be missed. It can be short, and one could argue repetitive. But the change in time periods, enemies, and strategies go a long way in keeping things fun, and interesting. Which is probably why the idea was revisited in Time Ace.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion Review

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Splatoon. It’s become one of the most popular Nintendo franchises in a fairly short period of time. And, as I’ve pointed out in two reviews, it’s easy to see why. It’s an excellent take on third-person team shooting. Plus, each of the games offered a substantial campaign that was easily worth the asking price. Now, Nintendo has gone 90’s PC gaming, and released an expansion pack for Splatoon 2. It boasts a whopping 80 stages, and promises to expand the lore. But does this expansion truly deliver?

PROS: An 80 stage campaign. Killer OST. Unlockable multiplayer content.

CONS: Some of the mission goals aren’t always clear.

PEARL & MARINA: Can be used to cheese your way through.

Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion does indeed deliver on its promises. Maybe not in the exact way you might want. But it gives you what it promised mostly in spades. The campaign centers around Agent 8, a Octoling who wakes up in a subway with no memory of who they are. You’ll start out by customizing the general look of your Octoling, like you did for your Inkling in the mainline Splatoon 2 campaign. As it turns out, Captain Cuttlefish from the original game is also in the subway. Over the course of the campaign we learn that the subway is actually a test facility.  That’s right, Inkopolis has its own Aperture Science.

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The way the expansion is structured is a bit strange at first, but eventually you’ll figure it out, and everything will make sense. Throughout the course of the game you’ll be riding along on a subway train. Stages are placed about along train lines. Some of these tracks intersect with other train lines, and if you want to see everything, you’ll need to complete every stage on a line. Beating any given stage, will give you something the game calls Mem Cakes, icons that resemble the characters throughout the Splatoon mythos. That is, if the characters were marshmallows in a breakfast cereal. Completing an entire line, and collecting all of the Mem Cakes will net you apparel you can use online when you complete the storyline. There’s a giant insect on the subway train. Every time you go to him with a set of Mem Cakes you’ll get the aforementioned clothing.  You can also play as a Octoling online if you complete the storyline. So this expansion gives you incentive to try to beat all eighty of its stages.

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In order to play stages you’ll need some power eggs, and the game starts you out with some. Each stage has an entry fee depending on how difficult the designers feel it is. Once the fee is paid you’ll begin the stage. Stages do show off a lot of variety. Many of the levels play like the ones in the primary campaigns of Splatoon, and Splatoon 2. You’ll go from point A to point B, and take out any enemies you see along the way.  While that sounds simple, in practice it rarely ever is. Your reflexes, and mind will be pushed hard as you try to balance combat, and platforming. These are a lot like EX grade stages in other games, where the bar is raised even higher. You’ll find yourself learning advanced techniques, and new mechanics. But don’t be intimidated. These skills parlay into the primary Splatoon 2 multiplayer, and you’ll likely do better at its other modes too.

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But that’s far from the only kind of stage you’ll be playing. Other stages are survival modes, where you have to go a period of time avoiding obstacles, and projectiles for a period of time. Some of them will send you into a room of death traps. Other times it will be a room of enemies. Often times you’ll be completely unarmed, and in just about every instance you cannot take a single hit of damage. The time limit can be as low as a few seconds, or as long as a few minutes. When you first start out these will indeed be pretty tough. But over time you’ll learn patterns, and eventually clear them. As frustrating as the early attempts can be, these stages are a lot of help too. Because again, you’ll learn how to better dodge, and outwit online opponents by playing them.

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The 8-Ball stages are about on par with what you’d find in Valve’s Portal series, at least in terms of complexity. Initially, things start out pretty softly. You’ll get the basic mechanics of the idea, shooting an 8-Ball at just the right angle to move it along a series of courses to the end. But as you unlock newer stages based around the mechanic, they become far more elaborate. Many of them have segments where there are no guard rails. So if the ball falls into the abyss, you lose a life. Some of them involve pinball bumpers, multiple balls, switches, and time trials. They’re some of the best stages in the expansion.

There are also a number of puzzle stages that involve rotating the stage around in order to reach your objectives. Again, these are comparable to some of the Portal puzzles in terms of complexity. Then there are the handicap matches. These are the multiplayer games, only instead of playing online, it’s just you up against a team of Octolings. These matchups can be compared to the ones in the main Splatoon 2 campaign. You’ll have to defeat the Octoling soldiers which seem to have advanced A.I.

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But it doesn’t end there. Some of the stages will give you an option of what weapon to use, while others will demand you use a specific one. There are also gauntlet stages, where you’ll have to defeat hordes of enemies in order to get to the next checkpoint. Some of these use the mechanics from the main game as well, such as invisible walls, and floors that need to be inked in order to see them, or switches that have to be shot in order to freeze a piece of geometry so you can jump on or over it. There’s even one that puts the attackers on a turn table, where a switch will cause enemies to spin around in front of you.

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There are also a few boss stages in this campaign. Many of them bring back harder versions of previous bosses. But there are also a few new ones that go along with the storyline of the Octo Expansion. The toughest part about these, are the high entry fees. If you lose, you’ll be going back to other levels to grind away enough currency for a re-match. Be that as it may, these can feel like a massive accomplishment when you finally emerge victorious. When I say these are harder versions, I really mean these are harder versions. The strategies you used before won’t always translate to the rematch. Plus you’ll have to dish out more damage than before, and be on the lookout for new tricks from these old dogs.

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The overall goal is revealed to you when you happen upon a phone in the early goings of the Octo Expansion. This mysterious phone wants you to collect four devices, that are represented on the rail line maps. In order to get to each, you’ll have to play stages that lead up to them in order. Once you’ve done so, you’re ready to escape (which isn’t as cut, and dry as it sounds) But you won’t see every rail line initially. You’ll discover them when you find a stage that intersects on them. So as I mentioned earlier the game gives you a lot to do. Especially if you want to earn those cosmetic items for multiplayer in Splatoon 2. Discovering new lines will also have the conductor giving you currency to enter new stages with so you’ll get a perk for doing so. Don’t forget clearing stages also gives you money so you’ll earn money to go on. As stated earlier, certain levels also give you a choice as to what weapon to use. So if you want to go high reward for an equally high risk, you can choose the least advised option for a bigger payout.

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Of course some of the challenges on display here take only the most honed skills. For many, this will only give the drive needed to complete these. But if you find them too frustrating you can call on Pearl, and Marina to let you skip them. It’s a lot like the aid Nintendo has put in some of its Super Mario Bros. games. Allowing people of a lower skill level to see everything. However the game also makes note of the stages you’ve skipped, and gives you faded versions of the meme cakes outlined earlier. This means you also miss out on some of the lore, because much of the storyline is built into background item drops, chat logs, and other devices. It isn’t all front, and center via cut scenes.

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A lot of this stuff is really well written too, and goes a lot deeper with allegorical commentary, than you might realize. But it also does it without beating you over the head. It’s subtle enough that those looking for it will find it, and those that don’t pay as much mind to it won’t miss it. And at the same time there’s nothing controversial one could glob onto. They did a great job of letting players see the events from a number of viewpoints. There is also some Sci-Fi in this that comes out of nowhere, and yet still fits the storyline like a glove.

You don’t have to clear every stage to be able to complete the campaign, but because of some of the multiplayer rewards, and some of the storyline elements you’ll have enough incentive to go back, and play the stuff you skipped, or replay the stuff you might have previously found too taxing. You’re definitely getting a lot of value in the Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion.

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Be that as it may, I do have a few minor gripes with it. The largest small problem is that it isn’t always clear where you’re supposed to go in some missions. In this handful of stages, you’ll figure it out simply enough with some trial, and error. But knowing off the bat helps immensely most of the time. A minor nitpick but there you are.  It’s also possible to cheese your way through by skipping stages after every two failed attempts. The flip side of this is that you’re not really getting the experience of actually playing the game. It’s certainly a viable mechanic for newcomers to be able to see more of the game, but it has the potential for abuse.

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I also would have preferred more original bosses over the returning bosses from the campaign. The new versions of these old bosses again, do present new, and more difficult challenges than before. But seeing these guys again just didn’t have the same magic. Especially when so much of the rest of the expansion is so new. Still, you’ll likely enjoy the tension that these skirmishes provide. It’s just too bad they couldn’t have had some more original characters for these encounters instead. Visually speaking, there isn’t a notable jump over the base game, but it still looks great. Nice designs, some slick textures, and visual cues. Pretty much everyone will be fine with it. But for those holding out hope this would look like a pseudo-sequel were probably aiming a little too high.

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And finally, I would have preferred more New Wave, Power Pop, and Pop Punk tracks than the expansion pack delivers, but the Electronica it gives the audience is very good. It’s at its best when it goes for ambience during some of the most difficult tasks at hand. There are also some great uses of sampling the original Wii U game soundtrack in it. So in terms of using the soundtrack for telling the story, one can’t complain much.  Again, all of my issues are minor, and two of them boil down toward preference more so than actual complaints. Really the main issue is that some goals aren’t laid out to you properly in a very small percentage of levels. In the grand scheme of things, that really isn’t that big a deal.

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Octo Expansion is a worthwhile expansion pack. Players who wished the base game had more single-player content than the base game should absolutely download this. With 80 stages, and so much variety, chances are you’ll be playing this a fairly long amount of time. It also has plenty in it for anybody who has become a big fan of the characters, and the world they inhabit. There is a lot of backstory here for those willing to look for it, and for those looking to uncover it. Not only in the cut scenes, and chat logs. But in the actual gameplay as well. It is even a solid buy if you come to Splatoon 2 for the Turf War, Ranked Battles, and Splat Fests. Because beating a lot of these stages will actually improve your skills online. They often require learning some advanced techniques to complete which then parlay into multiplayer. Plus there are all sorts of apparel, and Octoling options you’ll have access to once you manage to complete the storyline.

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Is Octo Expansion required to be able to enjoy Splatoon 2? Not at all. If you stick with the base game, you’ll still get to enjoy all of the Turf War, and Salmon Run you want. But if you like the idea of some added online perks, and hours upon hours of new content for a game you already love, Octo Expansion is a solid recommendation. There are so many things to love about this one. Whether you’re a hardcore fan who sings Calamari Inkantation every chance they get, or just somebody who happens to enjoy a good console shooter, Octo Expansion is quite the catch.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

The crossover event of the year

Well okay, that might be a bit of hyperbole. But I was invited to do a crossover with the folks over at The Well-Red Mage. A gaming blog that puts out some of the most intricately detailed articles you will ever read. It’s great stuff. Even your favorite magazines as a teenager covering the latest Mortal Kombat game never went this deep in the weeds.

Anyway, they’re doing a massive event this month highlighting games on different systems you should consider adding to your collection. I was asked to help by going over some classic Commodore 64 goodness. So crack a beer, click the link, and enjoy. And while you’re there you may want to check out the other articles throughout the rest of the month. They’ll feature some other great guests you ought to check out. Thanks to The Well-Red Mage for the opportunity.

Console Challenge Day 3: Top 7 best Commodore 64 games!

Super Monkey Ball 2 Review

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Again I apologize for the delays. The frequent trips to the doctor’s, and the ten-hour work shifts took up a lot of time this month. But I had one day in May free to spend with family, and that surprisingly leads to a game review. When you’re spending time with people who aren’t the rabid video game fans you are you want to make sure there’s something approachable. But something challenging at the same time. It would be easy to choose some Atari 2600 games. Many of them fit the bill. But it’s an hour’s work getting pre-composite systems up, and running on a modern TV. Then you must have a good scaler in the set, if you don’t you need to get your upscaler to bridge the VCR to the set. Your folks don’t have all day. And while there are some great experiences on current consoles, some of the older relatives may find the multiple functions required rather daunting. You need something older in a pinch, but you don’t have to go back to the 1970’s for your indoor picnic. You can break out a Nintendo Gamecube for this one.

PROS: Campaign. Mini games. Visuals. Pretty much everything.

CONS: Some mini games aren’t as memorable as others.

CROSSOVER POTENTIAL: Nintendo, and Sega collaborate a lot. Where’s Super DK Ball?

Following on the heels of Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2 is easily one of the best games on the Gamecube. (Admittedly, one can also get Super Monkey Ball Deluxe if one does not own a Gamecube, but does own a PS2 or an Xbox. It’s basically both games in one.) Released in 2002, Super Monkey Ball 2 is a bigger, and better version of the already excellent Super Monkey Ball. It has even better stages, and even more party games than the original, making it the preferred version to play at gatherings. Though the original is still a tremendously wonderful game everyone should check out if given the chance.

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So what do you do in Super Monkey Ball 2? Where does one begin? There are so many cool modes to play here. The obvious meat, and potatoes are the game’s challenge stages. What makes this fun, are not only the well crafted levels. But the fact you can play with three other people. The object of the game is to get your monkey through a goal ribbon. That’s it. Now that may sound easy, but as the old adage goes it’s “Easier said, than done.” When you first begin any of the modes, you’ll choose a monkey. Each of whom has some minor differences in how they control. Aiai is the main character. He’s the most well-rounded of the primates. Then there is MeeMee who is similar in stats to her co-star. Baby is the lightest of the monkeys while Gon Gon is the heaviest.

The challenge stages are broken up into three sets. A ten stage beginner set, a twenty stage intermediate set, and a fifty stage expert set. Everyone alternates turns, and turns end when someone succeeds or fails at a stage. Everyone also gets two lives, and several continues to try their hand at clearing the stage. If you can manage to get through an entire set of stages without using any continues the game will then enter you into a gauntlet of bonus stages, which increase the challenge ten fold. Some of the main stages can get to be quite the challenge. Some of the bonus stages can get almost sadistic as they require pinpoint accuracy, and impeccable timing.

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But through it all, none of it is really all of that infuriating. It’s just something really addictive. When you fail at a stage, you just want to attempt it again, and again until you’re victorious. The mechanics in the game work something like Marble Madness, where you’re pushing your monkey ball or pulling it back as you’re trying to navigate paths. Except it is then combined with mechanics out of a rolling ball sculpture. Some stages feel like you’re moving the stage around, while others feel like you’re in control of the ball. The only thing you’re ever-moving in these stages is the thumb stick. Again, many of the courses on display get pretty elaborate. Combined with the short amount of time you’re given to complete them, you can easily find yourself frantically trying to keep your monkey from falling into an abyss.

Super Monkey Ball 2 also has a story mode in it for those who want a solitary experience. Here, you have to go through 100 stages in a row to stop a mad scientist from taking all of the world’s bananas. Immediately you’ll wonder why Sega, and Nintendo haven’t done a Donkey Kong, and Super Monkey Ball crossover together. Be that as it may, these stages are very much an extension of the challenge stages. Just more of them, and more intricate in the second half.

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But if a massive story mode, and huge number of multiplayer stages isn’t enough for you, there are a plethora of mini games on hand as well. Some of them have to be unlocked by earning points in other modes. But you’ll have the best of them opened up almost immediately. There’s Monkey Race, which tries to combine the main game with elements of Mario Kart. This one is decent, but nowhere near as good as a proper Mario Kart game. There’s a fun brawl mode, as well as a boat racing mode. Then there’s Monkey Golf which is an interesting take on Golf, as well as a really fun Monkey Bowling mode. This one makes our monkeys into the bowling ball, and does all kinds of wacky things with the lanes. So you really have to nail timing to get a good angle, and approach each lane as a puzzle.

There are mini games based on Baseball, Tennis, and Soccer too. These play about as well as the Golf mode does. Monkey Dogfight is a pretty fun mode as well.  It’s basically a combination of one of the other mini games, and the Vs. mode from Star Fox 64. Monkey Shot is an on-rails light gun shooter. It’s a fun concept, but it would have been better if it had a compatible light gun to play it with. Still, you can move the cursor about at a fairly quick pace, so it’s still an entertaining diversion.  Monkey Billiards is a pool mini game where all of the balls are replaced with monkey balls. It’s cutely crafted to say the least.

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Arguably the best of these mini games is Monkey Target. I must admit it takes some getting used to. But once you understand how it works, it’s a phenomenal party game. Each player rolls down a ramp, and after launching off of the half-pipe at the bottom can open their ball. This converts the halves of the ball into a hang glider. From here, each person has to hang glide over an ocean, and try to land on a floating target for huge points. Depending on where you land, you’ll get a different number of them. To make things more interesting you can collect bananas in the sky for points, find stars to double your points, and even items to help you stop on a dime. For your landing to count you have to close the ball before landing. Falling on that 1,000 point spot gets you zero points if you land on your stomach.

But the best part about Monkey Target is just how deep it is, in spite of how simple it is. You have to account for altitude, and wind which are represented in your corner of the screen. If the wind is blowing west, and you try to move east, you’ll get some resistance. Also if you lose momentum your monkey starts to beep that they’re falling. This is where panic mode sets in when first starting out, and people pull back. But you can’t. It is here you want to push into a nosedive, pull back at the last second, and get a nice lift back into the sky.

Of course, in spite of how good you become at the gliding, some of these targets have shapes that make landing on them quite the task at hand. Often if you don’t line up your landing just right, you’ll roll off into the ocean, and sink. And, because this is a party game, your Uncle can employ dirty tricks like crash landing into you, stopping on your coveted point value, and knocking you back to that ten point border. Still, it’s a great time, and one of the reasons you’ll want to fire up the game beyond its primary puzzle stages.

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And it does all of this while looking, and sounding amazing. Character models have some nice little details on them. The bright colors, and lighting effects feel right out of Sega’s 00’s arcade era. It looks like the natural extension of a First-Party Dreamcast game. The soft Electronica soundtrack complements the game nicely. Even today, 16 years after its release Super Monkey Ball 2 holds up well. It’s a beautiful game indeed. It also supports the Gamecube’s Progressive Scan mode. So if you have the costly Gamecube component cable or you’re playing it through a Wii on component cables you can make it look considerably sharper than on the stock composite cables. There are some Third-Party HDMI solutions coming out now as well. Like this one reviewed by RAXTheGreat1. So that’s something you may consider looking into.

Overall, Super Monkey Ball 2 is a must own if you have a Gamecube. Especially if you have company over for events, or holidays. It’s a lot of fun. The original is also a blast, so you may just want to pick up both of them. For those who don’t have a GCN, but do have an old Xbox or PlayStation 2 Super Monkey Ball Deluxe basically contains both games. So be sure to pick it up. The series would continue on newer consoles, and even a phone app. But honestly SMB2 is the apex of the series. Hopefully Sega will revisit the franchise someday. Whether or not that happens however, Super Monkey Ball 2 is still highly recommended.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

River Raid Review

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Released in 1982, River Raid was one of Activision’s earliest hits. Long before being known for controversial business practices, and publishing another Call Of Duty annually they were a fledgling upstart. One that took the unbridled creativity of ex Atari programmers, and gave them credit for producing games. Many of the early Activision names went on to have big successes on the Atari 2600. David Crane, Garry Kitchen, were two of the big names. But River Raid was made by Carol Shaw.

PROS: Tight controls. Game play innovations. One of the 2600’s marvels.

CONS: The complete lack of a soundtrack.

RED ALERT: The panic ensues at higher stages.

She had done other games while working for Atari, like 3D Tic-Tac-Toe which added an awful lot of depth to a simple game. But River Raid was, and still is one of the technical marvels in the Atari 2600 library. It was also one of the earliest games that would publicly acknowledge a woman for creating it. Not only does the River Raid manual include a short bio about her (the way all of the early Activision game manuals credited their games’ respective designers), future ports made her name the marquee.

As for the game itself, it may seem like any other simple arcade style shoot ’em up of the era. But River Raid, does a lot of things that were revolutionary at the time. For starters, when you fire up the game for the first time, you’ll see visual details that many other 2600 games simply did not have at that time. Most of the 2600 shmups up to that point took place on a black background, on a static screen. River Raid also bucked that trend, by being one of the earliest shooting games on the 2600 to scroll vertically. Many other titles would also show up around that time to do vertical scrolling like Data Age’s Journey Escape, or Parker Bros.’ Spider-Man. Players who weren’t around for those early years of console games, may not realize just how big a deal this was.

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That one feature would set it apart from many other games released on the market from 1977 to 1982. But a lot of vertically scrolling games made for the VCS in 1982 onward would now have to meet or beat this standard. Graphically, River Raid is also one of the most visually impressive games on the Atari 2600. The game makes excellent use of color to determine where there is water, where there is land, and even has some pretty cool enemy vehicle designs.

The object of the game of course, is to try to score as many points as possible without touching any land. Or crashing into vehicles or bridges for that matter. You’re flying along a river of no return. As such, you’re basically flying just above the choppy waters trying to shoot down targets. You’ll be blowing up tanker ships, helicopters, and higher altitude fighter planes. The river is broken up into sections. At the end of each of these sections is a bridge that needs to be destroyed in order to advance to the next section.

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All of this might sound pretty easy until you also notice there’s a fuel gauge on the screen. River Raid also utilizes a fuel system. If your plane runs out of gas, at any time you’ll fall into the river, and explode. How do you keep your aircraft fuelled, and airborne? By flying over fuel tanks. But the little touches that add complexity aren’t over yet. You see, you can also accelerate, and decelerate your plane. pushing up on the joystick will speed up your plane, while pulling back will slow it down. What complicates matters is the fact that the faster you fly, the faster you run out of gas, and it becomes harder to maneuver small areas.

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Moreover, the sections of river become more, and more complex the further you go. The game speeds up, and you’ll see branching paths in the river at the last possible second. Then you’ll have to start making split second choices. Do you take the path with more enemies, and try to go for points? Or do you take the path with a lot of twists, and turns? The latter might not have enemies, but it does have a lot of fuel. On the other hand, the paths are narrow. So getting through without crashing into a riverfront house is going to prove difficult. And of course the game’s scoring system gives you some respectable points for blowing up fuel containers. But if you do that, you won’t be able to get all of the fuel out of them. Unless you become a top-tier player who knows exactly when to blow up the container while refueling. One thing that is nice, is that the game sets off a warning when you’re almost out of fuel. You also get extra lives for doing well. Every 10,000 points will give you an extra plane, though you will max out at nine of them.

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Of course, River Raid did so well on the Atari 2600 Activision would port it to most of the popular platforms of the era. There were versions for the Atari 8-bit family of home computers, as well as the Atari 5200. There were also ports for IBM PC compatibles, the MSX, ZX Spectrum, and Commodore 64 computers too. Activision even put out versions for the Intellivision, and ColecoVision.  Nearly all of these versions look much better than the 2600 original, but the 2600 version is arguably a little bit more responsive than some of the others. A few of the ports do add a few arrows to the quiver like tanks that shoot at you from the bridges, and faster attack helicopters. Still, no matter which version of the game you pick up, you’re going to have a great time. River Raid stands the test of time because of the core game design. Every aspect of the game offers you some element of risk versus reward. It also does this with some airtight controls. If you’re collecting for a platform it appeared on, you really ought to pick it up. Especially if that platform is the Atari 2600. The 2600 original is a pioneer on many fronts, and it’s still a blast today. Classic game enthusiasts are still trying to speed run their way to the kill screen of exclamation. Whether you grew up playing shmups in the era of Space Invaders or the era of Ikaruga, chances are you’ll be able to appreciate River Raid, and what it did for the decades of shmups that followed.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Wild Guns Reloaded Review

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Every now, and again a previously obscure game ends up in the spotlight. Often times because it turns out to be pretty uncommon or even rare. Said game then begins to skyrocket in price in the aftermarket. Wild Guns, is one such game. Originally released on the Super NES by Natsume, it was an action game with a unique setting, and mechanics. It blended Run N’ Gun gaming with Rail Shooter gaming. All in an attractive steam punk western setting. Of course to buy it now is an expensive endeavor. But Natsume, and Atari have brought it back in an updated package.

PROS: New content. 4-player Co-op. Tight controls. Visual flair.

CONS: Multiplayer has some design choices holding it back a bit.

SUPER PETS: There’s a dog operating a giant drone.

Wild Guns Reloaded is a beefed up version of the original Super NES game. As I don’t own the original version, I can’t speak to every minor difference but upon doing some research there are a few big ones. On the positive end, the game now supports 4 players. So you can enjoy this with more people. They’ve added two new playable characters, and you get some bonus stages in cooperative play that the original release didn’t have. The game now renders in a full 1080p resolution, so you don’t have to decide between pleasing your purist friends who want original aspect ratios, or pleasing your other friends who don’t mind stretch-o-vision over black bars. There are sliders for you to scale the image though, so lovers of the 4:3 standard can also rejoice.

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On the flip side, you do not have any continues in multiplayer. Which is absolutely absurd considering you have unlimited continues when playing the game alone. It’s the biggest blemish on the package. But as disappointing as it may be, this is a game you still may want to pick up. Because there really is a lot about this game to love.

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As I mentioned before, Wild Guns Reloaded is a blend of two action genres. On the one hand, you move your character about as if you were playing Sunset Riders. On the other hand, you fight enemies as if you were playing Operation Wolf. If that sounds like a strange combination, that’s because it is. But it’s one that works really well once you become accustomed to it. You move around freely, able to jump, and avoid the incoming projectiles. You can also use a melee attack on enemies that get in close. Some enemies can only be taken out this way. But when you start shooting, you’ll instead move a cursor about the screen. Aiming at all of the different threats around you. While firing, you can perform a quick dodge to get out-of-the-way, and you can even throw electric laser lassoes around bad guys. The lassoes temporarily hold them in place so you can deal with other impending threats.

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The end result is a fast action game, that also requires a lot of strategic thinking on your feet. You also have to have eyes in the back of your head, as you can’t really focus on just one threat. You have to be able to react to every last interruption on hand. Is it difficult? Absolutely. But at the same time it feels ever so rewarding when you’re able to complete a segment. The game starts you out in an initial stage that sets up the formula. You’ll play through one section until a timer hits zero. Then you’ll move onto the next section, and then if you complete that section, you’ll move onto a boss fight.

Once you win the initial stage, you’ll then move onto a Mega Man styled stage select screen. Here you’ll go on to play through each of the next few stages in any order you wish. Most of these follow the same sequence as the first stage. Though one stage is an automatic scrolling stage. But even this stage follows the trend of using three sections. After completing these you get thrown into the final stage where you’ll go through a huge gauntlet of enemies, and bosses.

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Wild Guns Reloaded offers four playable characters with their own traits. Clint, and Annie return from the original game. They perform similarly with faster firing weapons, and movement. They’re not exactly the same, Annie seems a little bit more mobile. Joining them are Doris, who throws grenades in lieu of using ballistics, and then there is Bullet. He’s a Dachshund.  A Dachshund with a killer drone. So he plays with a lock on, but like everyone else, one hit takes you out of the action. Clint, and Annie are probably the best all around characters to use. But Doris, and Bullet are great new additions for those who may want even more of a challenge.

That being said this game has three difficulty settings to choose from, but I wouldn’t call any of these particularly easy. The lower tiers make bosses a little bit easier to take down, and some of the midrange enemies take fewer hits. But you’re still going to die if you get hit by anything. So again, expect a challenge. But as the case with Contra or Operation Wolf, the challenge is more or less the point. Interestingly the Nintendo Switch version also includes a Beginner difficulty that just gives the player unlimited lives. Handy for a first time play through. But it also makes the campaign feel hollow as there is no way you’ll be forced to overcome any of the game’s obstacles.

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Playing with other people is a mostly fun endeavor. Having backup means you don’t have to manage every last obstacle, as the other players can do some of the work. But the lack of continues is a puzzling decision. Especially if you’re playing with a group where there’s a considerable skill gap. Because not only can none of you continue from the last stage you reach upon a fail state, your lives are all grouped together. If you have a friend or relative that can’t cut it, you’re getting held back. If you’re the one who can’t cut it, you’re holding your team back. It’s also strange because you have unlimited continues when playing alone. The Nintendo Switch version also doesn’t migrate that Beginner setting to the multiplayer. So you won’t get any mercy in that version either. Despite the odd decision to remove continues, playing with others is a fun time because of the reasons outlined above. It really is great when you are all able to rake in a high score, and defeat a giant boss together. As with the one player game, every little inch you scrape further feels like an accomplishment. But you’ll really need to grow a thick skin when playing with friends because once your lives are gone, that’s it.

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Visually, the game now renders in a proper widescreen aspect ratio, and resolution. The sprites, and backgrounds sport an immense amount of detail. This shouldn’t surprise anybody who has played the original Super Nintendo Game Pak. It was visually impressive then, and it’s pretty impressive now. The little details in the backgrounds, the wonderful use of gradients, all work with its anime-styled designs. The steam punk influence is obvious as you’ll fight robots, vehicles, and cowboys armed with laser guns. The audio goes along with it nicely, as explosions, and screams sound great. There’s also a techno-western fusion going on in the soundtrack.

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Performance is pretty solid too, with the game maintaining a steady frame rate. Even during battles where the screen is completely congested with projectiles. Whether you’re playing the PC version, the PS4 version or the recent Nintendo Switch release. The Switch version looks great in docked mode on the TV or in tablet mode when taking it out on the road with you.  All versions offer a scan line filter if you want to simulate the look of an old CRT Television. There are also an online leaderboard you can try to shoot for.

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Overall, Wild Guns Reloaded is a really fun, and challenging update to a cult classic. It has a great look, really intriguing characters, and does a lot with its setting. The enemy design is great, and it’s an enjoyable arcade experience. It’s just unfortunate it is so inconsistent with its rules for single player, and multiplayer. It’s strange that one can continue at their leisure when playing by themselves, but not with friends. One would think the multiplayer would be given similar stakes. Be that as it may, playing with other people is still fun to do. But you’ll definitely want your guests to know what they’re in for before you start playing.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Halloween Forever Review

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In the world of indie games it isn’t uncommon to see games that try to emulate the titles that inspired them. But when taking into account how many of these games exist, being one of the games that emulates them well is a pretty big feat. Being one of the games that not only does the memory of classic games justice, but does so with unique personality, and original additions deserves commendation.

One such game is Halloween Forever, and I don’t just say that because I saw the game’s artist do a live stream creating pixel art on Twitch. I bought the game (yes, bought. It wasn’t given to me, and I wasn’t asked to review this.) after discovering the channel because his stream turned out to be quite informative. After downloading it, I fired it up to find that it really is a fun, and interesting game. Like the Arcade, computer, and NES games that it pays homages to, it’s a challenging action-platformer. The most notable, and noticeable inspiration here is Capcom’s Ghosts N’ Goblins.

PROS: Cute characters. Animation. Music. Humor. Play control.

CONS: Confusing menu navigation. Blind jumps.

SANTA: Putting demons on the naughty list.

Before you can start the game, you’ll have to go through an options menu. This is where nearly all of the faults in Halloween Forever lie. Unfortunately you’ll need to know how the controls are mapped in order to navigate them, which you won’t. This oversight is the sole glaring issue. Because you can’t simply use the arrow keys, or the W,A,S,D, keys in a way that you would expect.

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That’s because you can’t see the default layout – to get into the menu options – to change said layout. So you’ll spend a good ten minutes figuring out what keys do or don’t select. Or you’ll take a wild guess, and try clicking the options with a mouse to find it actually works. When you do get into the control settings you’ll find the default settings a bit weird. W jumps, A,S, and D move you left, right, and let you duck. The Left key shoots, the Up key lets you interact with doors, ladders, and other things. You can re-bind the keys to something you like better, so if you want to play with a more traditional two button lay out you can. Still, navigating with the mouse through the menu options is going to make life easier. Fortunately you can also use a compatible game pad like the Xbox 360, Xbox One, or Steam Controller.

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Rounding out the options are the choice between whether to play full screen or in a window, and some configuration menus. There’s an interesting option in here if you find the game too trying for you. You can enable a 99 lives setting. Keep in mind the game more or less considers this a cheat code. So if you turn this setting on, the Steam achievements will be disabled as long as the mode is enabled.

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When the game boots, you’ll see a short sequence of cinema screens that give you a concise understanding of what your goals are. An evil wizard who looks suspiciously like a robed Skeletor has cast a spell to curse the world, and make Halloween last forever. Thus throwing the world into chaos, as it is invaded by monsters, demons, floating Gorgon heads, and of course; Leatherface. This of course, doesn’t sit well with a certain pumpkin who rises from the patch, and decides that he will be playing the role of He-Man in this Halloween themed adventure.

Once you’ve started the game, and you’ve selected your options you’ll get to choose a character. I’ll come back to this in a bit. When you first start the game you’ll pretty much have the pumpkin man you’re introduced to in the opening cinematic. The other option is Santa Claus. Yes. Santa Claus. You’ll find out later on that there are a lot of folks who have a stake in this mission to take down this reaper.

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You’re then shown a map that lays out the order of the stages you’ll have to go through in order to win the game. Then you’re off to the races. Right away, you’re going to notice the way the game looks. Then you’re going to realize that the game looks much better in action than it does on its description page on the Steam store. The graphics are a little bit simplistic, for some. But the number of frames in the animation, and the little details in them are not. I have to commend Imaginary Monsters for this. Characters run around smoothly, and they have a lot of nuances you’ll appreciate if you pay attention.

Fabrics flow around. Projectiles have visual flair on them. Bad guys’ eyes animate while the fireballs they shoot from their sockets are also animating the aforementioned flair. The bosses you’ll run into continue these things. So while the game does have an aesthetic that falls somewhere between a Commodore 64 game,  and an early 90’s MS-DOS platformer it’s more complex. These are the little things that would have meant multiple disks or a longer download back then. Of course the gameplay itself comes right out of the early days of NES games.

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As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest influences is Ghosts N’ Goblins. You’ll move about a lot like Arthur did in that game, with an attack, and a jump. You can also double jump in Halloween Forever. Your attack has an arc to it. So you have to plan ahead when you attack enemies as you need to land your shots just right. But that isn’t to say Halloween Forever is a cut, and paste clone of Capcom’s arcade game. They may share some movements, and settings. But that’s about where it ends. It does have a couple of other influences, like Castlevania, and Mega Man. Perhaps even a dash of Monster Bash. But even this is largely just in the occasional trap. Or in ensuring the bosses have a readable attack pattern. Which they do.

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But beyond that, you’ll find an entertaining, and charming action platformer. One that has a lot of endearing character designs. Not just in the heroes you control, but in the enemies you’re forced to confront. There’s a cuteness factor in the super deformed style these characters are portrayed in. This continues even into your projectiles, like your pumpkin man’s candy corn, or Santa’s barfed up Christmas presents. It’s really something that will make you smile. Everything controls smoothly, and responsively. Climbing ladders, switching platforms, taking out baddies all feel tight.

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What won’t make you smile (aside from the options menu) are some of the challenges in Halloween Forever. A couple of the later boss fights are downright brutal. Even after you’ve figured out their patterns. Of course getting to those fights requires getting through a gauntlet of platforming challenges. Each of the five stages might seem straightforward on the surface. But each has a few secret paths through them as well. If you find these secret paths you’ll be able to collect a hidden rune. You’ll also find other characters that have been taken, and held hostage. Which you’ll really need to do. Because once you rescue these characters you can play through the game with them. Each of these characters plays slightly differently from one another. Some have better attacks for certain situations than others. One may make one boss fight a lot easier, but might have a tougher time getting through another part of the game. Also rescuing these people means that reaching their holding cells in subsequent play through sessions will net you 1-Ups in their place.

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If you beat the game, and see its ending though, the game isn’t over. Each playable character has their own ending, and chances are you’ll want to see each of them at least once. All in all, this has at least as much content as the titles that inspired it had. The chip tunes are awesome, and while this game may be short, and sweet it is pretty sweet. An absolutely terrific first effort by Imaginary Monsters, and I’m surprised it hadn’t caught my attention when it was originally released a year, and a half ago. The only major issue on display here is the screwy options menu you’ll be better served using a mouse for. Beyond that, one might complain about a blind jump or two. But that’s really about it. If you want something cute, entertaining, and don’t mind it being a bit esoteric, Halloween Forever is for you. It’s tough, but not insurmountable. It also has a lot of charm. It’s a really fun game you ought to check out.

Final Score: 8 out of 10