Tag Archives: Action

Time Soldiers Review

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

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

CONS: Difficulty spikes, occasional collision issues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Mirage: Arcane Warfare Review

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It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Torn Banner’s Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. Oh it has some issues. Weird bugs that don’t affect game play. Advanced tactics the community is split on how fair or unfair they may be. But overall it is a good game that a lot of people loved. Seriously, it’s done fairly well over the last few years. While things are tapering off of it now, it was a great example of a big game from a small studio. If you never played Chivalry, give it a spin. It goes on sale on Steam a few times a year, for a really low price. It basically took the Battlefield style of game play, put it in a Medieval setting, and gave it a deep melee system. The unique controls are a cut above most any other sword attacks in other First person shooters. Letting you “steer” your attacks. Mirage takes these swinging mechanics, and implements them into a different setting.

PROS: Improved mechanics. New magical abilities. Character designs. Customization.

CONS: Server connectivity issues. Team Objective mode isn’t as deep as it is in Chivalry.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: The swords, and sorcery bring many reminders of the IP.

On the one hand, you can think of Mirage: Arcane Warfare as Chivalry with spells. But on the other hand, you really can’t. Mirage does carry over the mouse swinging sword fighting of Chivalry. You can swing overheads, swing horizontally, and stab. You can still steer the swings (The community calls this “dragging”) in any direction. This gives you a way to fake people out. Turning vertical , and horizontal swings into diagonal, or curved swings. Or speeding them up a bit. Or slowing them down a bit. The difference here is Torn Banner has altered the system mildly. In Chivalry it was possible to move the camera so wildly, skilled players could do helicopter swings, or arch so far back, their swords could hit people behind them. Of course equally skilled players could see this coming, and either block it properly, or even back pedal, and tire the tricksters out.

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But here some of the really extreme stuff is toned down. You still have plenty of depth, but you won’t be doing some of the over the top stuff. However, Mirage adds spells into the mix. This alters the combat significantly, and while many had their doubts, it works. In fact it works so well, that it really does accent the sword fights nicely. Each of the game’s six classes, can choose three of six spells. Each unique to the specific class. To keep the game from being spam heavy these have RPG style cool down periods. So if you use a spell, it’s going to be awhile before you can use it again. The cool down periods vary depending on the spell. Spells can also complement another spell, and sometimes that means complementing a spell cast by one of the other classes on your team. This adds all kinds of depth to a pretty cool system. On top of that, blocking has been beefed up a bit over Chivalry too. Not only can you block the melee attacks that come your way, but the spells as well! Just like Torn Banner’s last game, blocking requires knowing the timings, and aiming at the tip of the attack. So becoming proficient will take a lot of practice.

Each of the classes suits a different play style. There are six, each of which has their own pros, and cons.  The Taurant is a big brooding tank character. He gets heavy swords, and axes. He dishes out a ton of punishment on enemies, and his spells continue that theme. The Vigilist takes a lot of inspiration from the Knight class in Chivalry. She gets a shield, and pole arm. Her spells are focused a lot on defending the team. Like the giant dome she can put down, that is temporarily impervious to enemy spells. Then you have the Entropist. This class acts as a combat medic, while also being a great backup. He has spells that are centered around healing teammates, as well as some nice ranged attacks. The coolest spell he has will summon a magic carpet he can fly on, and attack from.

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Rounding things out are the Vypress, who is a faster, attack-heavy class. She can dual wield weapons, and she has spells focused on movement, and misdirection. She’s one of the weaker classes, but a skilled player can avoid, and parry a lot of stuff coming their way. The Tinkerer is speedy, and has spells that are great for booby traps. The Alchemancer is Mirage’s ranged class. You can either play him as a purely ranged character, who casts fireballs from afar. Or as a melee attacker. The thing to remember though is he is even weaker than the Vypress, and doesn’t have the speed on his side. Still his spells are great for supporting teammates, and quietly sneaking around.

One departure the game makes from Chivalry is in the weaponry. Where that game had a ton of weapons for each class to unlock, and debate over placing in a load out, this game doesn’t. There are still a lot of cool weapons in the game, but each class can only choose from a primary or secondary weapon. You can’t be swinging a mace, and then decide to switch to a hatchet. This is due to the importance of the aforementioned spells. Still, the weapons you can choose from, are all pretty interesting, and have their own stats. Some have better range, while some weigh less, and can be swung faster. Some do more damage, but are slow. And the weapons can be paired with spell combinations to some great effect after you’ve experimented, and practiced enough.

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Mirage has a lot of modes to choose from as well. There is the traditional Team Death match mode, where teams compete for frags. As well as a Last Team Standing mode called Arena. Here, teams go head to head until only one of them has any survivors. There are also a variant of Capture The Flag, where one team has to grab their randomly placed Jinn, and get it to their designated spot to have it planted. While this is going on, there are control points called Demiglyphs that can be held for bonus points.

Then there’s an actual Control Point mode, where you capture Glyphs, and Demiglyphs. If you hold the point long enough, you’ll get 20 or 10 points depending on the size. Glyphs are the larger of the two, so conventional wisdom would say to go for those. But sometimes grabbing the smaller point can turn the tide too. Then there is also a push cart mode, like the ones you’ve played in other games.

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The Team Objective mode in Mirage isn’t quite the same thing as it is in Chivalry. It still works a bit like a Rush mode in that attacking, and defending teams are given objectives to perform. And they’re still a combination of game types. But it isn’t as well concealed here, as the objectives don’t have the same compelling trappings, and the variety isn’t quite as nice.

That doesn’t mean that Mirage doesn’t have anything to grip you in terms of setting or story. It just doesn’t have the historical intrigue Chivalry did, or some of the Battlefield, Medal Of Honor, Joint Ops, or even some of the Rainbow Six games did. This game goes much more into the realm of high fantasy. So think more along the lines of Hexen, Heretic, Ziggurat, or classic CRPGs in terms of setting. Though there is a lot of inspiration from ancient Arabian architecture, and design here.

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All of this does mesh together really nicely. The swords, and sorcery will likely remind you of stuff like Masters Of The Universe, Willow, or even KRULL. The story centers around two civilizations who use magic to better their societies. Upon discovering one another, they begin to have reservations about their counterparts’ ethical standards in using magic. Eventually, tensions rise, and the two go to war with one another. Again, the design on display is beautiful. Where Torn Banner’s last game went for a more realistic look, this game goes for a cel-shaded look that is neither cartoonish or complicated. It feels closer to something like Borderlands than it does something like Team Fortress 2 or Overwatch. I just wish the game showed off the story through the tutorial rather than being something you had to read about on the game’s website. The tutorial isn’t much to write home about. It does give you a quick series of battles that get you acclimated with the basic controls. But that’s about all it does. If you’re coming into this for a campaign, you’ll want to be moving along. But if you like competitive multiplayer read on.

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Another really cool feature in the game is the customization. It isn’t quite as intricate as something like a WWE wrestling game. But it does have a fair amount you can customize. You can choose different helmets, headdresses, hair styles, skin colors, tops, accessories, and more for each of your classes. On top of that you can do this for each class in both factions. So if you want your Taurant to look one way on team purple, but a different way on team orange, you can! This gives the game a lot of personalization as you can try to make characters look the way you want. Again, not quite as deep as something Yukes would do in a wrestling game. But far beyond what many modern competitive shooters would do these days.

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When actually playing the game, most of the time things are a blast. The fine tuned swinging mechanics are wonderful, and they do combine with the new magic abilities quite nicely. Getting into a game with a group of people who communicate, and strategize can lead to some really gripping, competitive match ups. It’s one of the most fun experiences you’ll have. Mirage also supports LAN play, which makes it a great game to play with friends privately.  The audio here is also really good. The voice acting fits the look, and motif of the characters well, and the soundtrack has a nice orchestrated arrangement. It feels like the sort of thing you’d hear in an old black & white serial.

There is one big problem with the game though, and that is the unreliable servers. Most of the time you’ll connect to a game, and have a great time. But after a couple of rounds, you’ll find your ping inexplicably spiking. Going from a ping of 60 to a ping of 300 leads to a sudden rash of rubber banding, unsynchronized animations, and generally bad performance. Eventually, you’ll notice things smooth out, as your ping sinks back down to an acceptable level. But this can really turn off a player. On a day when you experience it once in a while, it is merely annoying. But on a day where it happens every other game, it will make you put the game down, and play something else. One can only hope Torn Banner can work this problem out sooner than later. Now it doesn’t appear to be as bad as what was reported about Ubisoft’s For Honor when that game launched (as that game didn’t even use dedicated servers). But it is still a blemish on an otherwise splendid game.

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As far as performance goes, it uses Unreal Engine 4, and seems fairly well optimized as of launch. My aging 760 card, and i7 4770k was able to run the game maxed out, and still crack 60 frames per second except in really frantic spots. Setting things lower made things get above 90. The biggest drain on resources appears to be the number of blood pools left by dead bodies, and the length of time corpses stay on the map. Regardless of your other settings, you can lower both of these things in the options, and you’ll see a noticeable performance gain. Obviously if you have a fairly old setup, you’ll want to move other things like texture quality, and draw distance down. As well, as shutting off Vsync, and lighting effects among other things. If you have something mid tier or higher though, playing on or near the highest settings shouldn’t be too much of a problem in most cases. Obviously, there may be some setups where this isn’t the case. But at least in my experience, performance really hasn’t been an issue.

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Overall, Mirage: Arcane Warfare is a really good game. I can certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Chivalry’s melee combat, and is still open to playing other kinds of competitive first-person action games. Likewise, it’s a cool game for those who want to take a break from something like Overwatch, or a modern warfare themed shooter. It’s not character focused the way Overwatch is, and it plays completely differently. Likewise, coming from a more traditional experience is also a chance to be surprised. Mirage may share some similarities with these titles, but there are far more differences to be found. Good ones.

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Be that as it may, the server issues can be a bit of a turn off, and one can only hope Torn Banner is able to iron them out sooner than later. Otherwise, as fun as it is, it could be the realm of a niche player base rather than the fairly large following its pseudo-predecessor had. Still, even if the worst case scenario came to pass, the LAN play makes for an exciting game to play with friends.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Alien Syndrome Review

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Throughout the 1980’s Sega was making its mark in arcades. It pushed what was possible in racing games, and rail shooters with Outrun, Space Harrier, and After Burner. It gave us the awesome Golden Axe, and the visually impressive Altered Beast. Unsurprisingly many of these games were ported to its own consoles, the Master System, and the Genesis. But there is one of their IPs that came, and went in this period. Something so familiar, and so different. Something so difficult, and yet addictive. I’m talking about Alien Syndrome.

PROS: Great visuals, atmosphere, music, and control (most versions).

CONS: Obscenely difficult. Dark Souls difficult. In deep space.

ALIENS: One of many blockbuster influences that can be seen here.

At its core, Alien Syndrome seems like a typical overhead shooter. You move either Ricky or Mary, depending on which player you are. As you go along, you kill various creatures for big points. But it isn’t so simple. Where previous overhead run n’ guns like Commando, or Ikari Warriors had you kill enemies, and charge to the end of a linear level, this doesn’t. Alien Syndrome is unrelenting about its premise. Your mission isn’t a simple matter of killing things, and getting to the end. Each stage is a ship, and on each of these ships are a number of survivors you have to rescue. Not only do you have to rescue these survivors, (who are stuck in cocoons the way the ones in Aliens were portrayed) you’re timed. Because each ship has initiated a self-destruct sequence a la Captain Kirk.

 

This is to ensure that the menacing invaders cannot make it to Earth in the event you fail your mission. Also because each stage is a ship, there are no straight runs to the north. Instead, each of the stages is a maze, with its own distinct layout. So you have to explore every last nook, and cranny looking for survivors. The survivors are represented by a row of heads. As you rescue them, they’re depleted from the bar. If things get tough, or confusing (which they will) each of the ships have a few maps. Finding these on the wall will pull up a map on  the screen. On the map are flashing pixels, that represent the survivors.

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Once you find all of the hostages, the game will prompt you to get to the exit so you can escape. But in each of the airlocks is a boss alien. These are large, and diverse. Each of them is imposing. Each of them has a powerful attack, and the later bosses employ some very tricky patterns. The bosses all look really cool too. For a title that has fallen into obscurity, it has some of the most memorable bosses in arcade game history. Even the very first boss, is the sort of thing you’ll wish were made into an action figure or statue. These designs are that good.

But, run n’ gun games are often only as exciting as their weaponry, and enemies. Alien Syndrome has a great many of each. Again, taking influence from the Alien movies, there are flame throwers, fire-ball guns, and grenade launchers. But there are others, like the blaster that shoots laser beams like the Imperial blasters in Star Wars. There are also temporary shields, and chess pieces you can find for points.

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How do you get these things? There are cubby holes on walls, marked with the appropriate letter for the weapon. For example L is the laser. The enemies are also varied throughout the game. In earlier stages you’ll fight brain slug creatures, but you’ll see everything from aliens to creatures that shoot their eyes as projectiles. Quite honestly, everything on display is really cool. Every ship has its own decor. So you won’t see a lot of the same tiles in subsequent levels. Some of the ships are what you would expect to see in a space-themed game. Steel floors, technical circuitry patterns for walls, and other touches. But other stages are completely alien (no pun intended.). Some ships seem like they’re made of flesh, others are like stone. Many of the stages have some really cool parallax scrolling effects on floors to represent pits or other pitfalls. And fall you will if you walk over them.

Alien Syndrome is quite the challenge too, because there isn’t a single moment where you aren’t attacked by a horde of aliens. You have to be quick on the draw, as well as quick to react. Dodging projectiles, enemy creatures, while trying to rescue people at the same time. The difficulty especially ramps up after the first stage, and the bosses will often hand you your own behind on a silver platter. There are also no continues, making your performance all the more important. It really does give you the visceral action of the genre, while providing other challenges.

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There are many ways to play Alien Syndrome as it was ported to a lot of platforms. Interestingly enough, the ports to Sega’s own Master System, and Game Gear resulted to almost entirely new games. The scrolling is gone. Instead things work on an almost flip-screen mechanic, only scrolling when reaching the end of the screen in a Castlevania door style transition. The other major changes are almost entirely different maps, and new bosses. The core concept is the same, and it retains the songs from the arcade machine. But these changes make for arguably the worst version of the game. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t play Alien Syndrome on the Master System. It is still a pretty good iteration. It’s brisk. It gives you the same style of gameplay in a new, and unexpected way. Rather, it isn’t the best option for those looking for a replicated experience on a retro console. If you do pick this one up though, you’ll want something other than the Master System Control Pad, because the sometimes mushy d-pad will have you accidentally walking into an alien, or projectile. I recommend the Sega Control Stick. It just seems more responsive in this game. For whatever reason, this game won’t see a Genesis controller properly, so the Sega Control Stick is the next best thing.

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The other two major versions I happen to own ate the Unlicensed Tengen NES port, and the Commodore 64 port. Both of these are pretty good, getting the stage layouts, enemy types, and overall feel pretty nicely. The Commodore 64 version fares especially well though, as it’s the most responsive version I own. Everything is fast, and smooth most of the time. While there can be a bit of slowdown when an awful lot is going on, it still performs better than the NES version overall. The C64 doesn’t have as large a color palette as the NES, but it somehow gets closer to the arcade experience in terms of visuals. The C64 also has the arcade cabinet’s animated attract mode, and a really good original soundtrack. It’s another example of the staying power of the computer’s SID sound chip.

But Tengen’s NES port is no slouch either. It still looks pretty good most of the time, and even manages to add some pretty cool cinema screens to amp up the experience. I should also note that while the C64 has the better soundtrack, the NES version also tries to replicate the arcade’s songs rather than experiment with them, or add new ones. While it isn’t as responsive or quite as fluid as the C64 version, it is the only one of the three to offer continues. On the C64, and SMS you’ll need to clear the game on a handful of lives. For those out there who don’t own a vintage computer, but you have an NES, and a SMS it’s a pretty close race. For authenticity the NES port wins, but the SMS version looks a bit nicer.

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Of course, all of this is moot if you have Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the Xbox 360 or PS3 though. Because the arcade ROM was included in the compilation. You’ll have a nearly 1:1 experience at that point. Be that as it may, most of the home ports all offer a pretty great send up of the original. Alien Syndrome also appeared on the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, ZX Spectrum, Sharp X68000, MSX computers as well as MS-DOS.

It’s a shame this IP has lied so dormant over the years, aside from a brief, largely ignored game on the PSP, and Wii that played nothing like the original. Alien Syndrome is a fun, if difficult run n’ gun. If you have any of the platforms it appeared on, you owe it to yourself to track down a copy. If you’re blessed to live near an arcade that has a working cabinet, do yourself a service, and put in a few quarters. With its challenge, memorable characters, and insane bosses, Alien Syndrome is one arcade classic you’ll never want to forget.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Slain: Back From Hell Review

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Generally I don’t do end of year lists, because I simply don’t have the resources to play everything. But sometimes that can be a good thing as this year proved that many games have been, and will be taken out of the oven too early. Slain is one such game. At least it was initially according to most who looked at it.

PROS: Everything you love about Castlevania 1, Golden Axe, and Heavy Metal!

CONS: The insane difficulty of NES Castlevanias.

DIE: Everything will kill you in this game. Usually in horrific, and gory ways.

When Slain was released, the initial reception wasn’t very good. Performance was terrible on many computers, it had bugs, crashes, and other problems. But things didn’t stay that way for very long. Where other developers may have spent eons trickling out patches to try to get things working, made excuses, or worse, given up entirely, these guys didn’t. The people behind Slain put out major overhauls for a few months. Once the game was in the state it should have launched in, it was given a subtitle to reflect it, and relaunched.

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So this revamped version I received for Christmas is really good! It has brisk action. It has a blend of fighting, and puzzles. It has really inventive character designs, and a head banging soundtrack. What it doesn’t have is a ton of exploration, a deep story, or a wide cast of playable characters.

You see, at first glance many people will think Slain is going to be a Castlevania clone, and they would be partially right. But these folks aren’t thinking of the  right Castlevania games. These days a lot of people are wistful for the entries like Symphony Of The Night, or Aria Of Sorrow. Versions of the formula that mixed in the exploration of Metroid into the series. Leading to the term Metroidvania. But Slain follows more closely to the first Castlevania most people who owned an NES played. Castlevania.

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So what you’ll be doing here is going through linear stages. At the end of each stage you’ll fight a horror themed boss, and then move on. After you complete the first stage, you do get to go to a hub level, where you can choose the order you want to play the stages in. Well, partly. Because two of them are locked until the second, and third, are completed. You can also replay any stage you’ve previously beaten. But no matter what order you choose there aren’t any changes. Each of the six stages does give you a pretty wide variety of settings. The entire game is oozing in Heavy Metal. The style of the characters, and even the pixel art itself, is right out of album covers. Old school fans will immediately think of the art on albums by Iron Maiden, early Metallica, Sepultura, Dio, Thor, and Iced Earth.

You’ll be fighting in old burned out towers, desolate plains, ethereal worlds, and blood soaked towers. There are also booby traps everywhere. Trap doors that will have you falling on spikes. Blood puddles that pull you down, and drown you. Background statues that attack you, ceilings that crush you, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The enemies will take you back to times of playing Castlevania. Albeit with a dash of Golden Axe. Instead of fighting one or two enemies at once, you’ll often be swarmed with five or six. All of the enemies look gorgeous. As far as monsters can. The details in the sprites are just as impressive, and imposing as the backgrounds. Plus, every character has a ton of animated detail. If you take five seconds to analyze something as simple as a skeleton walking toward you you’ll notice it instantly. He’ll then hack you to death with a machete because you weren’t paying attention.

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Which brings me to the death animations of your character. Because it goes along with everything else. You’ll see your organs fall out after a monster has you disemboweled. You’ll see the flesh fall off of your bones when you fall in an acid pool. You’ll see your head get severed by an enemy knight. or your character become paste when he gets crushed. The ways you go down in this game can give Mortal Kombat a run for its money.

So how do you survive? Well the game does take a few cues from Castlevania in that you’ll have to plod through areas, avoiding traps, killing enemies, and trying to make jumps without bats or Medusa heads knocking you into pits. The game also has both a health, and power up bar. But the similarities begin to end there. For starters, instead of picking up random secondary weapons from candles, you have a charge attack. The longer you hold the charge, the more powerful a burst of fire you can throw.

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But I can already hear you asking where to find mana to replenish your secondary ammunition. You find it in battle. Slain, has a pretty respectable fighting system. True, you can hack n’ slash your way through via Golden Axe inspired brute force. But you’ll actually have an easier time once you discover that timing is everything. Slain gives you an attack button, a jump button, a secondary attack button, and a block button. Holding the block button can , well, block attacks from enemies. The thing is blocking too many attacks will actually cause you to go into a hit stun, where enemies will finish you off.

However, if you time your block perfectly, the enemy gets hit stunned, allowing you to get off a critical hit. Many enemies will die after one or two of these, and it is here you get mana. But it goes further. Some bad guys will shoot projectiles at you. Instead of blocking these attacks, you can time your primary attack. Hitting the projectile at just the right time will knock it back, like a baseball. This is crucial to master, because for some of the larger enemies, mini bosses, and bosses you can’t survive without it.

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And before you go thinking you can instantly make the game go from difficult to easy by doing this, every enemy type has a different timing requirement. In the case of boss fights, you’ll also need to learn their patterns. Attack at the wrong time, you’re dead. Go on a flurry of hits blindly, and you’ll soon be on the business end of a super move that will one shot you. Even if you have full health at the time.

Still, you’ll need to master every trick at your disposal, because much like the early Konami, and Sega games that inspired it, it is difficult. But difficult in a good way. You’ll die 20 million times. But every time you’ll still want to play again. It gets you hooked on perseverance. That constant feeling of just one more try. You will give it one more try, and another, and another. Because every stage has a hidden piece of a talisman you’ll need to find. There are also elemental versions of standard swords, and axes. But the way they’re implemented is really cool. Again, the amazing sprite work, and animation is on display. These weapons aren’t just recolored, and buffed versions. The wild designs make each of these feel unique. Like the embers of fire trailing off of your flame sword. Or the water, and ice dripping off of your axe. Slain always has some new detail you’ll be discovering.

The soundtrack also takes inspiration from vintage metal, though it has elements of subgenres. There are moments where it feels symphonic, other times there’s a sense of power. Often times it will evoke crunchy, speedy licks, and solos. Curt Victor Bryant (of Celtic Frost) did a wonderful job giving players a soundtrack that matches the imagery in Slain. Again, it will remind you of early metal albums. If you grew up in the 70’s or 80’s listening to a lot of the heavier, darker albums, you’re going to love the music in this game.

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Unfortunately, the story we’re given isn’t nearly as interesting as the world it takes place in. You play Bathoryn. An old, expired warrior who is resurrected, and commanded to liberate six realms from monsters. There are some dialogue boxes between Bathoryn, and some of the characters, like the being who wakes you from your slumber. Or the banter with boss characters before, and after fights. But the exposition doesn’t show you the story, it just tells you what is happening. You go tracking down a villain named Vroll. He shows up from time to time to taunt you on your quest, and sometimes just before a boss fight. Throughout the game you also run into a mysterious mystic, who grants you the aforementioned weapons, as well as introduce some of the new enemies. The final confrontation does fill in some of the blanks, and there is an interesting twist at the end. I just wish the narrative could have been as interesting as everything else.

Be that is it may, Slain: Back From Hell is an excellent game overall. It is true, that it has a very high difficulty, but then so do many good games. If you’re someone who is willing to press on, there is a lot to like. Even if you’re not a big fan of Heavy Metal, the game’s horror elements, and atmosphere will still keep you entertained for hours. It isn’t a very long game at just six stages. But the challenge will have most people playing it for a long time. Even if you do become good enough to master it, you’ll likely come back to it for replays, or speed runs.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Shatterhand Review

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The NES was a haven for action platformers by the early 90’s. Castlevania, Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden had all become mainstays. So companies were desperately trying to get in on the trend. Some of the games that came out of this trend became system sellers, while others went under the radar. Natsume, who is known mainly for the Harvest Moon games these days, were unsung heroes of action games back then. Known for stuff like Shadow Of The Ninja, and S.C.A.T. But some of their titles didn’t get the fanfare.

PROS: One of the best action platformers you can find for the NES.

CONS: High difficulty.

TUNAGE: This game has some of the memorable chip tunes on the console.

Abadox was one such game. It was a very good shmup that outside of a wild commercial, didn’t get much attention. This game didn’t either. In fact, Shatterhand was given almost no advertising by Jaleco, and I only found out about it back when it was coming out because I frequently read Nintendo Power. But those of us who did get a copy back in the day got a big win.

For those who missed it back then, or those who are into discovering old games, Shatterhand is definitely a game that should be on your radar. In Japan, it was called Super Rescue Solbrain , and based on a show in the Metal Hero series of TV programs there. It centers around a team of police cyborgs that can power up, and fight super criminals.

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The shows weren’t released in any form in North America, or Europe at the time. So when the game was released outside of Japan the story was changed, the game retitled, and one of the stages was replaced with an entirely new one in its place. The game’s intro was also changed, as well as some of the character sprites. But the gameplay itself remains unchanged.

In Shatterhand the hero is renamed to Steve Hermann. The retooled story goes that a group of Military renegades form a terrorist organization called Metal Command. In 2030 they take over the world by unleashing their army of robots, and cyborgs upon the Earth. Streetwise cop Steve Hermann loses both of his arms in a fight with some of these terrorists, and a new agency called the Law, and Order Regulatory Commission (or L.O.R.D.) gives Steve new cybernetic appendages. So he becomes Shatterhand, and goes on a one man army mission to take down Metal Command.

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Right away you’re going to notice how good this game looks. Visually it’s held up very well over the years. Sprites are very detailed, with some really nice animations on everything. Characters, background objects, enemies, everything looks really cool. The tile sets, and parallax scrolling work really well, and every stage oozes with atmosphere.

The stages themselves also have really clever layouts, with power ups placed in great risk/reward positions. Of course sometimes this makes things seem masochistic. Like when you’re going up an elevator with missiles coming at you from the bottom, and the top of the screen while guys in Cobra Flight Pods come gunning for you. You spot that crate you need to get to  in order to build a robot companion only to escape with a single hit point left.

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But there are a wide range of power ups to help you. The main ones are robotic companions. But it isn’t a case of simply picking them up. Peppered throughout the stages are crates. Many of them have two different types of boxes inside, each with one of two letters. Along the top of the screen are three spaces. Each time you collect a letter it takes up one of the spaces. Grab three letters, and then a robot companion will beam in to help you. The robot that shows up depends on which letters you collected. You could get one that throws grenades. You could get one that uses a flamethrower. There are a few different robots. The key is knowing what combination is the best for each stage.

You can also become an invincible super robot if you collect the same sequence twice. This is only temporary, but if you can pull it off at the end of a stage, it will really help out in boss fights. Some of the bosses in the game have an insane amount of health, and so being able to deal high damage, without taking any helps a lot. Of course you can also destroy them by learning their patterns, and moving accordingly.

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Rounding out the power ups are an upgrade for your punches, health, a 1-Up box, and bags of gold. Which you will need because the power up punches, health, and extra lives cost money. You can also get money by beating certain enemies to death. But what adds to the challenge is that aside from the robot companions, you have only your fists. You have to kill everything in this game with your literal bare hands when you have no pick ups.

Shatterhand is a seven stage affair. The game borrows a bit from Mega Man in that after the first introductory level you’ll be able to choose your mission order. The first stage gets you acclimated with how things work. You’ll discover the basics of running, jumping, and punching bad guys, and obstacles. You’ll figure out how the letter combinations for robot assistants work, and you’ll face a pretty easy boss. But from this point on the game becomes brutally difficult.

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The submarine stage for instance has some very annoying enemies in its top-secret mad science lab area. Floating aliens that are hard to hit. Monsters that leap from the chambers you have to destroy have almost as much health as some of the boss characters. The city stage is especially tough because everything is on fire, bombs constantly fall from the sky, and it will easily have you using continues like crazy when you first play it.

These are just two of many insanely difficult moments in the game. After you clear the five stages in whatever order you choose, you’ll go onto a final level. This stage is a medley of the earlier levels’ mechanics. Including a boss rush with three of the bosses you already defeated earlier. Thankfully the last stage is a bit forgiving in that it will let you continue from the middle if you lose all of your lives.

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While on the subject of continues you do get a lot of them. But you have to remember to push the start button after the first few Game Over screens to bring up the option. If you don’t do it before the sad music of failure ends, it just assumes you quit. Also know that if you’re looking to beat the game with any respectable score, you’d better beat the entire game on three lives. Because continuing erases your score. It is possible to beat the game on three lives, but it isn’t easy. Particularly if you get to a boss without a robot, or without the suit of temporary invincibility. Because at that point you have to know the boss patterns to a pixel perfect T. Compounding this is that General Gus Grover is a massively huge cheater. First, he dons a power suit similar to the one you get for getting the same robot satellite twice. Second, he starts to blow up chunks of the floor, causing them to engulf themselves in flames. This makes parts of the floor impossible to walk on. So you have to act fast to kill him before you have nowhere to stand.

As much as it may sound like I’m complaining about the difficulty on display, I’m really not. For the most part the difficulty is still pretty fair. You know it’s your own fault when you die. The game isn’t overly long either, the stages can be cleared pretty quickly once you’ve figured out exactly what you need to do. The thing is, it is also the kind of game that requires a lot of practice, and a lot of patience in order to win. You won’t beat it on your first attempt without using any continues. You may not be able to clear the game on your 500th attempt without continuing either. But you’ll have a lot of fun trying to.

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Shatterhand is awesome. Beating the low-level enemies to death is a blast. Managing to even get to the bosses feels like an accomplishment. Defeating a boss will make you feel like a superhero. And after weeks of practice when you finally kick General Gus Grover’s ass you will want to celebrate with anyone who will listen. What sets the game apart from stuff like other hard games though is that again, doesn’t feel cheap. Except for the final boss setting the floor on fire. But even still, keep playing, and you’ll persevere.

Of course a lot of collector’s have discovered this one over the years, so it isn’t going to be a low-priced Game Pak. But unlike the terrible games that cost a fortune because of their rarity Shatterhand is a really good game. One that you’ll definitely want to keep in your collection once you find it. It’s one of the best action-platformers on the NES.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Werewolf: The Last Warrior Review

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Last week I looked at a rare, expensive, and weird shmup from Meldac on the NES. Well the Nintendo Entertainment System was home to many oddball ideas. As we get closer to Retro World Expo, I thought I’d dig through my collection for another NES game to showcase. Werewolf: The Last Warrior is not only a little strange. It’s also very cool, and is a game every NES collector, and owner should play.

PROS: Graphics, and sound. Very challenging.

CONS: Some will find it too challenging. This is definitely NES Hard.

RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE: Aside from one similarity it’s nothing like Sega’s Altered Beast.

Werewolf: The Last Warrior is awesome. You play a human who collects items, and then gets to turn into a werewolf, and mess people up. I know I’ve just described Altered Beast. But this is nothing like Sega’s arcade cab turned Genesis launch title. Because it isn’t a beat ’em up game. It’s an action platformer.

But many of the best NES Game Paks were action platformers. In fact many of the best video games of the era were action platformers. So what sets Werewolf apart from the pack? (I think I just made a pun.) A number of things. Right away one thinks of the RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE moments. Throughout the game you’ll find power ups that beef you up, grow your attack power, and of course let you be a werewolf.

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As a werewolf, you do a lot more damage to enemies, and you can do cool stuff like climb walls, do awesome backflips, and more. You become the werewolf by collecting enough red *W* symbols you find. They’re often hidden on pedestals you have to punch. You can actually become a super werewolf that the game names Warwolf. You can become Warwolf by finding enough orbs. Giving you an even bigger reminder that Altered Beast is a thing.

When you’re a super werewolf, you’re practically unstoppable. The game instantly feels like a Dolph Lundgren movie. You dispatch enemies quickly. You can super jump into areas you couldn’t before. But there is a kryptonite to your furry Superman. They’re blue colored *W* symbols. If you touch one you’ll go back to being a human.

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You do not want to be a human for very long in Werewolf. Everything, no matter how weak, will ultimately kick your ass. The game throws a ton of stuff at you. The roster of enemies on display is actually pretty large, even if they aren’t necessarily the most original. You’ll run into ninjas, goons reminiscent of the ones found in Rolling Thunder, soldiers, bad guys with jetpacks, and more.

Every one of the game’s five stages are broken up into two parts. Sometimes they’ll be straight forward. Other times they’ll be a maze you have to explore your way out of. At the end of the first part of any given stage you’ll fight a mini boss who kind of resembles Street Fighter’s Zangief. After you defeat him, you’ll move onto the second half. If you can beat the second part of the stage, you’ll go on to fight the boss.

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Each of the five stages also has something kind of archaic about them. The first time you play it you’ll try punching any where a power up may be, and this is how you’ll most often hit a blue power down, and screw yourself over. There are also some holes in the cut scenes you can nitpick. The story is that a mad scientist named Dr. Faryan has assembled a group of super-villains to take over the world, and you have to stop them. It’s the paper-thin B-movie plot you’d expect, but it isn’t air tight. For instance, in one scene you climb up the right side of a building to chase a Juggernaut knock off. The next portion of the stage you move left, and have to jump off of the left side. Yet the following cut scene has you falling off of the same side you climbed!

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Nitpicking  aside, the game is really challenging thanks to the cues it takes from Castlevania. It has the same slow, plodding movement as that game, and a lot of enemies showing up right when you need to make a pivotal jump. Blend that with some of the moments where the game kind of expects you to know to do something when it hasn’t shown you how, and it can get frustrating. That’s really the only major criticism here. Werewolf can be quite cryptic at times, and it will take you many attempts at it to figure things out. Especially if you manage to find the game cartridge, but not a manual.

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And no, it isn’t the biggest deal in an age where you can pretty much run an internet search for instructions, or a walk-through. But it does make one wonder what the thought process was when putting the game together. Still, Werewolf is a really enjoyable game in spite of the difficulty, and being sometimes unclear. The soundtrack isn’t particularly long, but the handful of chip tunes are really thumping speed metal send ups, with catchy melodic hooks. Which goes with stabbing jet pack wearing mercenaries,  countless henchmen, and ninjas very well. Just make sure you’re grabbing not just health, from fallen enemies, and mystery places. Grab any hourglass too. Each stage has a time limit after all, piling even more pressure onto you in this high difficulty contest.

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Between the music, mostly solid platforming, and the detailed sprite work on display it is one of the more engrossing games in the NES library. I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t get as much attention as some of the more expensive games of its ilk these days. If you’re collecting NES games, and have been eyeing stuff like Power Blade, and Vice: Project Doom, you should have this on your radar. It isn’t quite as polished as V:PD. There are some times where the cryptic nature forces a restart. But it is still a terrific game nonetheless.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Pitfall! Review

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To some, this is going to seem pointless. To others, there may be a bit of intrigue. David Crane was one of the original pioneers at Activision. Long before it was the behemoth it is today. It started life, as one of the original indie studios. Looking to come up with something original on the biggest console of the early 80’s, Pitfall! became one of the biggest hits to ever grace a system of the era.

PROS: A classic that still holds up today.

CONS: Some versions don’t have the most responsive controls.

GATORS: Nearly four decades later, they’re still one of gaming’s most nefarious enemies.

Pitfall! was a smash hit. It spawned numerous product tie-ins, and even a Saturday morning cartoon. When you play it, it is easy to see why. The setting was something different. Instead of a high-action arcade game, Pitfall! is a platformer that takes place in a jungle. You play as Pitfall Harry, and his goal is very simple. You need to find 32 treasures within a half-hour. On three lives.

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The thing is, while your goal can easily be surmised in a sentence, actually doing so is very difficult. There are a lot of traps, and obstacles set up to impede or completely derail your progress. Barrels slow you down, most everything else will kill you. Unattended camp fires, snakes, all add up to the pressure. Two of the game’s key enemies are some of the most iconic. The trademark scorpions, and the alligators. You can cross lakes by jumping on their heads when their mouths are closed. If they’re open, you’re getting eaten, unless you happen to land on their eyes. Scorpions show up in the underground areas, and take a lot of practice jumping over.

Each screen presents you with a challenge to overcome. Some are non-existent, displaying only a couple of holes, and a ladder. Others are the aforementioned lakes, tar pits, and deadly creatures. There are no maps. You have to go out on your own, exploring the jungle screens until you find a treasure. Gold bars, silver bars, rings, bags of money, all waiting to be claimed.You’ll notice that there aren’t any weapons, or attacks in this game. The only thing you’re doing is running, jumping, climbing ladders, and swinging on the occasional vine. Which lets out a chip tune of the Tarzan chant.

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But despite the fact you’re really only given two commands, you’ll find the game has a bit of complexity. Aside from the challenges of the many traps, is the use of the underground tunnel system. Using the underground paths will take you three screens left or right, rather than the usual one. There are also brick walls placed to keep players from abusing this fact. This also brings about an overall puzzle to the game: Finding the proper path. You have only thirty minutes to clear the game. So unless you’re going to look for a walk through online, you’re going to play the game many times to figure it out. Even once you figure it out, it doesn’t make the game easy to complete. You still have to make each jump count.

But the rabbit hole goes even deeper. Because every treasure type you collect gives you its own specific point value. Every mistake you make that doesn’t cost you lives, costs you points. Fall down a pit, lose points. Touch a barrel, lose points. This means to be truly great at Pitfall! Not only must you have a shot at beating the game, you must have a shot at beating it without making any mistakes. Moreover, as quickly as possible. This makes the game one of the earliest speed runnable games in video games. In fact, Activision, Imagic, and others gave out physical rewards to players who could prove themselves contenders. In the case of Pitfall! The best players were sent exclusive iron on patches.  These can fetch a fair amount online when they turn up. In any case, getting a perfect score of 114,000 is easier said than done.

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The Atari 2600 original version of Pitfall! is probably the most impressive due to all of the limitations David Crane worked around to bring the game to life. In his GDC panel six years ago he talked about them, and the 1,000 hours of work it took to make. Even if you’re not technically proficient it is a fascinating story to hear.  The 2600 version also plays spectacularly well, has very responsive controls, and is easily one of the best games on the system.

But there were other versions that came after. The Intellivision port is very similar, with a minor bump in graphical fidelity. It retains nearly everything from the 2600 version, though the Intellivision controller is a bit stiff, making some of those split-second timings a bit more difficult to adhere to. As such the game is among the hardest versions. Though it is entirely possible to complete with enough determination.

The Colecovision version has similar controller issues to the Intellivision version, although the visuals are even bumped up more. This version was also used as a reference for the MSX computer port. The Commodore 64 version also looks similar to the Coleco port. But the C64 version has a different color palette, better sound, and more responsive controls. Mainly because it feels similar to the Atari 2600 original.

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The game also ended up on the Atari 400/800 computers, and the 5200 console. These look almost identical to each other. The game controls better on the former, mainly because of the 5200’s notorious controller problems. Finally, there was also a release on the Apple II computer. But despite the improvements some of the other versions add in the graphics, or sound departments, the 2600 version seems to have the most responsive controls. It’s also the most common version, making it the least expensive version. It has also been re-released several times over the last 30 years. There were a few Activision Atari 2600 game collections that included the game.

Pitfall! is a true classic that everyone who loves video games should play. It’s as important to the hobby as Space Invaders, Pac-Man, or even Super Mario Bros. are. While later games in the franchise may have tarnished its branding, The original remains among some of the best platformers ever made, with its emphasis on treasure hunting, pixel-perfect timing, and inadvertently becoming one of the earliest examples of speed runs. It’s a timeless game for good reason.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson Review

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As a game collector, I occasionally stumble into titles. Games I have no prior knowledge of. Or very little knowledge of. Like some of you this will begin online, and end in a storefront. Earlier this year, Mark Bussler over at Classic Game Room did an episode on Senran Kagura: Estival Versus for the PlayStation 4. A very bizarre, over the top hack n’ slash action game with an emphasis on endowed characters. I like to think I know a bit about esoteric games. But I had no idea that this was actually a series.

Imagine my surprise one day when I saw this sequel for the 3DS sitting on a store shelf. “They put a sequel out, on Nintendo’s handheld?” I thought. Well yes. Except this ISN’T the sequel to the PlayStation 4 game. After some research I discovered that the series oddly enough, started on the 3DS in Japan. So this game is the sequel to THAT game, and the one Mark reviewed on his show is actually a spin-off.

PROS: Great graphics, responsive controls, a simple combo system that isn’t mundane.

CONS: Some of the content isn’t for everybody. Can get a bit lowbrow.

COLLECTIBLE: Apparently the print run for this game wasn’t very high in the USA.

Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson is an arcade style hack n’ slash game. You’ll go through a variety of stages fighting hordes, and hordes of enemies. There are also, of course, bosses. As you play through the campaign you’ll be introduced to a wide variety of characters. Many of whom you will be able to take control of throughout the game.

The controversial gimmick in this series is where some folks may have some reservations about picking one of these games up. When you’re fighting enemies, you’ll find your attacks will rip their clothes to shreds. When they’re just about dead, they’ll be down to their undergarments. Your characters are subject to these rules as well. Take enough damage from opponents, and your clothes will be ripped to pieces. When you’re completely out of health you’ll be down to your underwear as well.

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The game plays the gimmick more for laughs, and less for eroticism. Even if the camera angles during transformations are peculiar. But like an R Rated B movie comedy on Cinemax in 1995, it can come off as kind of crass. Of course humor is subjective. Some are going to laugh at how over the top it is. Others are going to be totally confused. While some may even feel a little offended. The game is absolutely unabashed in its presentation. So again, this game is most certainly not for everyone.

Fortunately, there are enough good things about Senran Kagura 2 that action game fans may want to check it out. The fighting system isn’t the most technical, it’s actually fairly simple. But not so simple that things feel mundane. It feels a bit like the Rocksteady Batman Arkham games. You mix up attacks with a weak, and strong button which result in some really awesome combos. They aren’t deep, but the animations are brisk, and smooth. There’s also a nice variety of moves during these sequences as well.

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You can also jump, and do air attacks using the jump button with the attack buttons. There’s also a dash you can use. Finally, there’s a transformation sequence you can perform once you earn enough scrolls while playing. These are reminiscent of the transformation scenes from the old Sailor Moon anime. The off-putting difference being where the characters place their scrolls during these sequences. Once transformed you can then perform a super when you have enough of a meter filled. You use these by pressing the L button along with other buttons which do a variety of crazy animations. These are normally the kinds of things you can see in fighting games like Street Fighter V or Marvel Vs. Capcom 3.  There are even tag team combos you can do in some levels where you’re forced to toggle between multiple characters.

Senran Kagura 2 also has a couple of camera options when playing. By default the camera will stay fixed, and you can target enemies with the D-pad if you feel more comfortable locking on to them. If you’re playing on a 3DS (Sorry 2DS or 3DS XL owners) you can also use the optional Circle Pad Pro. This lets you run the camera freeform like a mouse, or a second thumb stick. The newest 3DS can also do this with its built-in Circle Pad Pro replacement. As I own the 2DS I really couldn’t test this option out, but I was able to play fine with the fixed camera.

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All of this makes for a hack n’ slash beat ’em up game that feels really good. Again, everything flows smoothly, and quickly. You quickly find yourself going from enemy to enemy seamlessly, and racking up crazy combos. Whether you come from classics like Double Dragon, Streets Of Rage, and Final Fight or modern games like God Of War, Devil May Cry, or Dynasty Warriors you’ll likely enjoy the fighting system here. Tamsoft were also the developers behind Onechanbara. But where that series can sometimes feel mundane, and repetitive this game doesn’t.

I think a major reason it doesn’t is because there is a wide variety of enemies on display, each with a different set of strategies needed to defeat them. There are various monsters, ninjas, soldiers, other students, and storyline characters to go up against. The vast number of playable characters also helps. Each character plays completely different from the rest of the cast. Some characters are faster, with attacks that do minimal damage, but also stun enemies so you can get in more hits. Others are slower with far more powerful attacks. Then you have others that fall somewhere in between. It can again, feel like a fighting game in that regard. You can try using the entire cast, or you can settle on one character you feel most comfortable with. Of course the campaign will make you play with each character as there are scenes that require particular characters for the storyline.

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The game has a fairly extensive campaign where you’ll follow the adventures of several stables. These are good, and evil students of Shinobi who rival one another. But as the story goes on you’ll discover that they also have common enemies. I don’t really want to give anything away, but it’s a halfway decent romp. It isn’t the most original story, and there are a lot of events you’ve seen dozens of times in other games. But I will give it credit for at least attempting to give each of the characters some personality beyond being simple eye candy. There are actual motivations, cares, fears, and some moments of genuinely funny dialogue. It has its share of common archetypes mind you. There’s the super serious personality, the hyperactive personality, the one that second guesses themselves constantly, the brash personality. But there are some original takes on them here.

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Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to hold up the storytelling in Senran Kagura 2 alongside revered tales told in Portal, Half-Life, Deus EX, or System Shock 2. This is still a very silly, over the top game. But it does at least try to be more than a soft core button masher. That said, some of the extras don’t, like the  game’s costume decorator where you can pick the two outfits for any given character. You get to unlock new ones as you play the game. Some of them are actually pretty cool looking, while others are right out of Bikini Car Wash Company. Rounding out the extra features is the AR photo mode. This mode lets you take any of the player models, and super impose them over a photo you take with the 3DS camera.

Senran Kagura 2 also has a Co-Op mode, where you, and a friend can sync up your 3DS systems, and play the campaign together, or replay individual missions together. Back on the single-player  front, you can go back, and play any previous stage with any character to level them up. At the end of every stage you’re also given a rating. The better you do, the higher your score, and the more unlocks you’ll receive. Senran Kagura 2’s difficulty does start to really ramp up around halfway through the game. So going back, and replaying earlier levels with some of the newer characters you unlock isn’t the worst idea.

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In between levels you can also go back to a hub level, which changes between chapters. There are 5 chapters, each with several missions. Senran Kagura 2 is a pretty long game all things considered. The hub level lets you communicate with the characters for some back story dialogue. You can also choose to enter one room to go on missions, one for each of the various modes, as well as the options menu. Here you can change audio, and visual settings. You can also turn off the clothes tearing sequences if you want. You can also use the sub-menu on the touch screen to jump to any of these rather than walk around the hub.

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All in all, Senran Kagura 2 is actually a pretty fun, and challenging game if you can get past the exploitation B movie vibe of everything. There’s no full frontal nudity or intercourse on display so this doesn’t get into anything overtly pornographic. But it isn’t embarrassed about its suggestive camera angles, or dirty jokes either. Which is why  it still isn’t something for everyone. If, however you can look past the risqué elements you’ll find a pretty good action game, and R rated comedy underneath it all.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Jet Gunner Review

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These days it isn’t hard to find a game with graphics inspired by the Nintendo Entertainment System. Some of them are terrible, others are pretty great, and some fall somewhere in between. Jet Gunner is one of the better ones you can add to your Steam library. Because it does give you what it promises, and even goes beyond.

PROS: Nintendo hard. Performs well. Very generous Easter Egg.

CONS: Lack of options.

JETPACKS: May be making a resurgence in games.

Jet Gunner does give you what it promises, an action platformer that will remind you of NES games by Capcom, and Konami. The story is simple. A giant brain controlling the world’s robots has gone mad, and attacked humanity. As the last human in the military you have to single-handedly destroy the robots, and brain. Basically, a B movie level plot that could have been in many NES games.

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Jet Gunner is an action platformer that has the pace of NES Contra, with enemies out of Super C, and Castlevania. It also has the re-spawning enemies, and jumping challenges of Mega Man. Keep in mind when I say this, I don’t mean they’ve lifted any sprites or designs. Rather, that these elements were clearly inspired by those games. Jet Gunner also does a few interesting things with these elements so it doesn’t feel like you’re playing a cobbled together pretender.

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There are sections early on that will keep you on your feet, or off of your feet. Buildings crumble beneath you. Cars try to run you down. Chunks of the scenery fall from above. This game can be ambitious at times. It also has a jetpack mechanic. Double jumping will launch you into the air. Some of the game’s platforming is built around it, putting you through jumping puzzles to get 1-ups, health or weapons.

The weapon variety is actually pretty nice. Again, it will likely remind you of the NES Contra games. There’s a machine gun, a spread gun, a flame thrower, a gun that shoots flaming buzz saws that boomerang, and others. Most of the weapons feel pretty useful except maybe for the spread gun. It shoots a high, and low arc. But nothing straight in front of you. Each gives only a finite amount of ammo though, so you don’t want to shoot these things haphazardly.

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The game also borrows an element from Shatterhand, and that’s giving you random robot helpers. Weapon pickups have two different colored boxes. One color gives you the gun, the other will spawn a robot helper with that weapon. Unlike Shatterhand, you don’t need to collect multiple letter combinations to get them. One box is all you need.

Across the six stages you’ll go through the usual video game locations, cities, jungles, oil refineries, and the like. But again each of them does something different to keep things from getting monotonous. Ironically things can still feel a little monotonous due to the lengths of the stages. Each gives you a lot to see, but go on for six sections each. Every stage has multiple bosses though. Each one of these ranges from a spin on a Contra boss to something creative, and original. When you find the former, you’ll just smile, and remember the stage 1 fortress, or the stage 6 Robot. But when you hit the latter you’ll be amazed, and wonder why every boss couldn’t be on the same caliber. The game also does save your progress after you beat each stage, and you can continue as many times as you want.

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Jet Gunner has a couple of minor bugs, in the vein of things you’d find in some actual NES games. At one point I glitched through a platform on the second stage. They’re very uncommon, and sparse so you won’t really see them very often. The only other complaints I had were the lack of options. You can run the game windowed, or full screen. You can also turn off Vsync to get better performance. But this is one of the rare cases I’d advise you leave it on because everything flickers, and you’ll be running into invisible enemies. You can play with either a keyboard or an Xbox 360 game pad. If you have any other game pad you’ll have to use an external mapping program like Xpadder in order to use it.

The graphics, and sound on display do very well to emulate the feel of an old NES Konami game. It uses a nice palate for backgrounds, and the foreground characters have a fair amount of detail. The characters are all one color though, so they don’t have some of the definition  some old games had. Still, it’s nothing to sneeze at. The music isn’t all that memorable, but it does fit the general theme of the game. Jet Gunner also has one hell of an Easter Egg. If you dig through the game folder, you’ll find it includes a second game. An entire second game. It’s cool to see any developer go the extra mile to give you value. You basically get two games without even realizing it.

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Overall, I’d say Jet Gunner is a worthy addition to your Steam library. It might not be the best looking indie game, but it does give you what is advertised. A challenging action game with NES inspired graphics. It’s fun to play, and while levels can get a bit long-winded, the length is mitigated by the ability to save, and continue. Plus you’re getting a second game included with it without even knowing about it. If you were to give this to someone, you could actually get away with saying “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Broforce Review

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Way back when The Expendables 3 was coming out in theatres, I reviewed a freeware game based on the film. That game was built upon today’s game as a spinoff. Why didn’t I talk about Broforce then? Well it was in Early Access back then. Which meant that the game wasn’t finished. Obviously I can’t review something that is incomplete. But, an exit from Early Access at the end of 2015, and a generous Christmas gift later, Broforce is technically done. Is it better than the free game from awhile ago? Yes it is.

PROS: Over 50 years of action movie nostalgia. Hilarious. Fluid controls.

CONS: Some may find it too repetitive. Insanely difficult bosses.

MISSING: A few noteworthy names.

Broforce is another in a long line of independent action platformers. You’ll be moving your characters from A to B, mowing down enemies, and fighting bosses. Initially you may come to the conclusion that it’s yet another budget title inspired by Contra, Ikari Warriors, and Commando. In some ways, that is a fair assumption. But stick with it for more than ten minutes. Before long you’ll find that it differentiates itself in a variety of ways.

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Right out of the proverbial box, the game tells you all you need to know. Broforce is a parody, and celebration of action hero movies. There are references to over 50 years worth of films. Of both the big budget blockbuster, and low budget, direct-to-video B movie variety. The game even references action themed television. Rambo, Robocop, Universal Soldier, and 007 films, are but a mere handful of the properties that see themselves lampooned.

Broforce has a pretty hearty selection of modes considering the kind of game it is. The primary mode is its campaign mode. Here, you will go on 15 missions, each with several stages. Earlier stages give you a handle on the basics, but they quickly ramp up the difficulty. In each stage you’ll also see captives. Freeing the captives is your ticket to unlocking each of the many playable action heroes the game has to offer. This is also the way to score 1-ups. When you lose a life, your next life will be a different character. You’ll never get the same character to show up twice in a row.

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After running through a number of stages you’ll face a boss character. These can range from beefier enemies you’ll face regularly in subsequent levels to over the top finales. Unfortunately boss fights are one of the few things in Broforce that might sour some players. That is because a number of them are just brutal. While they do have patterns you’ll eventually figure out, they aren’t intuitive. The first several times you attempt these fights, you’ll find the clues to victory are almost cryptic. You’ll feel very trial, and error at least initially. Once you finally do realize what you must do to win, these fights are still going to be pretty tough.

Beating a mission will take you back to a globe that looks like something out of Minecraft. You move a helicopter around it to go to the various missions. You can do some of these in whatever order you wish, but not all of them. There are also optional missions that crop up from time to time. You really should play through these for two reasons. First, you’ll get gear that can make things a little bit easier for you. Second, these stages require you to learn some of the more advanced movement techniques that game has to offer.

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These techniques are almost a necessity when you get to the final leg of the campaign, where dexterity is a must. You’ll need to be able to speed jump, wall jump, and shoot with expert timing. All combined with the basics you’ll learn early on. Each of the characters has three basic moves, and a special. You can jump, shoot, or use a melee attack. Special moves are tied to things they’ve done in, TV or film. Sometimes they’ll be of a better use in combat. Other times in movement. In either situation it’s going to pay to not only master them, but to plan on when to unleash them since each has a limited number of uses.

When you finally do beat the campaign, you’ll find you won’t be done. Because there are a host of multiplayer options, as well as a harder version of the campaign to play through. Ironbro mode allows you one life for each of the action stars you rescue. No continues. No mulligans. If Rambo falls off of a cliff, he’s gone forever. Considering how difficult the boss fights are, you can’t afford to lose a single hero in the normal stages.  But that’s not all. Aside from the two campaigns, you have an arcade mode that eschews the storyline. You also have multiplayer, both online, and offline for up to four players. You can play the campaign together, or play competitive modes. The game also includes the level editor used by the developers themselves! There are already countless maps up on the Broforce Community Workshop.

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Multiplayer is a lot of fun. Playing locally is especially fun, as it brings back the feeling of gaming with friends. As great as the online options are here, it was nice to see local couch or desk multiplayer included. Playing the game with friends is as frantic as playing Contra or Battletoads with a friend. Everyone will have to try spectacularly hard to stay together, and communicate strategies together, on the fly. The game also lets you drop in or out on the fly.

Playing online means you can either set up a private game that friends can join, or you can hop onto a public game, or host one. Playing privately is probably the best option short of couch play. But you never know who might play with you publicly. In the few games I joined, I found a lot of really skilled players, that made things a lot more cohesive. But being the weakest player in a few of those games, I’m not sure how much I contributed. Either way, it made an already fun game more entertaining. Though I must admit if you get into a group of fairly unforgiving people it could be less so. Fortunately, it’s easy to drop out if you find yourself paired up with anyone you don’t get along with.

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Versus modes come in two varieties. The first is a race mode that plays a lot like Giana Sisters Dream Runners. In the sense that you have to make the opponent fall so far behind they’re off screen. Doing this results in a win. But you’re also granted access to your weapons. So you’ll be killing enemies, and trying to avoid calamities the entire time. Some of these rounds can become pretty heated, so you might just want to play the race mode.

The second is a death match mode. Think of it like a combination of Joust, and Duck Game. You’ll run about an on rails scrolling stage, trying to kill each other. There isn’t much else to mention here. It’s nowhere near the depth of the aforementioned games, and you probably won’t get a lot of play time out of it as a result. Community maps help this a bit, but it still isn’t as fun as the campaign. Really, playing co-operatively is the best kind of multiplayer for the game, and it shows.

 

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The aspiring designers out there will also want to stay for the level building tools. Which is surprisingly intricate. You can use any of the game’s built in assets to make stages as simple or as complicated as you wish. You can also upload them to the Steam community. Again, there are hundreds of levels made by fans you can download, and install. So even if you don’t feel compelled to create your own stages, you’ll probably find a lot of ones you enjoy playing through.

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Broforce is a wonderful game, through, and through. While the campaign can get a little bit repetitive if you blow through it in a marathon session, it is still a blast. It makes a great party game when you have friends or relatives over. It even manages to be a lot of fun online with very few connectivity issues. It might not look quite as nice as other indie platformers in its league. But it has plenty of charm, and humor. It’s such a good time you probably won’t be bothered all that much.  It’s well worth the asking price. If you’re still on the fence you can always check out the Expendabros game. It will give you a good idea of what you’re in for, and costs you nothing. But for anyone who loves action games, and action films, Broforce is a entertaining ride worth taking.

Final Score:8.5 out of 10