Tag Archives: Adventure games

Cave Story + Review

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Cave Story probably doesn’t need much of an introduction. It was one of the earliest indie games to garner a cult following. A Metroid inspired adventure game, Studio Pixel’s effort was praised and landed on Steam, even the Nintendo Wii’s WiiWare service.

PROS: An excellent Metroidvania with a few new enhancements.

CONS: Subsequent releases added costs.

SWITCH: Between the original and enhanced content.

Released by Studio Pixel in 2004, Cave Story was originally a freeware game with some updates over time. It was continually praised in gaming magazines and sites of the time. Eventually, after being picked up by Nicalis, the game would finally see releases as a digital product in 2010, most notably on consoles.

The 3DS, in particular, has two versions of the game. There is the downloadable version off of the game which features a lot of the things represented in the + version here. The retail version, Cave Story 3D was rebuilt from the ground up in order to properly take advantage of the console’s 3D effects.

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Which takes us to Cave Story +. What makes this version of the game different than the original release or its other many ports? Well out of the gate there is a big one: Graphics. Cave Story + has an updated look. Things look much sharper and as a result, you can make out a lot of little details you might have missed if you’ve played one of the earlier releases. The soundtrack has also been overhauled with enhancements. The result is the same songs you know and love, just in a much more produced form. It feels a lot like when you hear the difference between a stock Sega Master System soundtrack and the same songs on an FM Sound Unit. Undoubtedly some will prefer the original sound or look of either the graphics or audio. So Cave Story + will allow you to choose the original release’s video and sound or these enhanced versions. They also add a famitracker version of the soundtrack so if you want more of an NES -esque sound that is also an option. Other than that, there are challenges you can unlock as well as characters to use in a two-player version of the campaign.

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Cave Story + is basically the same game as the original release with the minor tweaks outlined above. Though there is also a new Wind Fortress area here. If you’ve never played Cave Story, you play the role of a Robot named Quote. You start out in a cave (hence the title) but before long, you’ll find yourself in a village of creatures who resemble rabbits. These creatures are called Mimigas and are quickly terrorized by a mysterious mad scientist. He calls himself “The Doctor”, and employs a couple of traitorous Mimigas to do his evil bidding. They kidnap one of the key Mimigas from the village, and so it’s up to you to rescue them.

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And from here the game begins to open up in the way the classic Metroid games do, allowing you to explore new areas as well as finding new ways to enter previous ones. One of the big hooks in the game are teleporters that let you fast travel between these sections. Combat in the game is entirely different than in Metroid or Castlevania though. While this is often thrown in the hat of names when the word Metroidvania comes up, there isn’t any real melee combat to speak of. It’s much closer to Mega Man in some respects, as well as early Commodore 64 games like Turrican. You will need some pixel-perfect jumping skills. And you’ll also have to become accustomed to the floaty gravity of Eurocentric computer platformers of the 1980s. Quote has a little bit of slide momentum when landing so when you need to land on that one tiny brick, keep that in mind.

Most of the weapons in the game allow you to shoot horizontally in a line as well as vertically. Though it is much like their later game, Kero Blaster. So there are no arcs. It’s straight up and directly in front of you. There is also an interesting leveling system in Cave Story. You have health pickups. You can also find items to lengthen the health bar. But you also have a weapon upgrade system. You can fill the meter of any of your weapons by picking up chips that resemble Doritos. Eat enough of them and they’ll become more powerful. You can max them all out at level three where they will do an insane amount of damage. It’s imperative you do this when encountering bosses as most of them are proverbial tanks and you’ll need to take down their health quickly.

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But there is a twist. When you take damage, not only does your health meter go down, so does your weapon meter! That means your weapons can actually decrease in power and if you get swarmed by baddies not only will you be coughing up oil, you’ll also barely break their skin when you shoot them. Fortunately, as with Metroid, there are times you’ll be able to farm small enemies to fill up before you move onto a tough horde or a boss encounter.

One really nice thing Cave Story has going for itself is the wealth of secrets and multiple endings. Depending on your decisions and on your puzzle-solving skills you can find a slew of items to give you a competitive edge near the end of the campaign as well as end your quest with a few different ends to the story. The best of which has quite a bit of fanfare and pizazz going along with it. It also gives the speedrunner crowd a lot to shoot for as well as anyone who is obsessed with 100 percent completion of any game they play.

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As mentioned earlier the cleaner graphics are quite good. But the original game was no slouch either. No matter which aesthetic choice you decide to roll with, the character designs look great. And no matter which version of the OST you play it’s going to feel right at home with everything else. All of this said, Cave Story is a lot of fun, but it also isn’t something you’ll blow through on your first run. There are certainly some difficult challenges near the final areas of the game you’ll uncover and while it can feel cruel at times, it is fair about it. The game also gives you a few difficulty settings to choose from.

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Overall, there’s a reason why this game has been so lauded for over 15 years. While I don’t know you need to pick up the + version here if you’ve played an earlier version, those who have never played it would do well to pick up this one for the bonus content. And with the Switch version (That I played here) the added portability of being on a dockable tablet makes it versatile. But if you don’t have Nintendo’s hybrid, the game is equally viable on any platform it appears on. And with fairly low requirements nearly anyone with a computer can play it there. In short, whatever way you have to play it, you should play this one. The general greatness overshadows the minor problems. Sure, it doesn’t have the most original story, but the character dialogue and design are top-notch. You’ve explored in a ton of games, and yet many don’t do exploration as well as this does.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

GATO ROBOTO Review

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Like the term or not, Metroidvania games have seen something of a resurgence in the world of independently made games. Large maps where you have to slowly discover and uncover areas through exploration have been around for years. But the best games with this design philosophy have had their own little hooks that make them stand out from the crowd. Axiom Verge, VVVVVV, and The Messenger all had unique takes on the idea. And Gato Roboto also has its own things it brings to the table.

PROS: It’s Metroid, The Nodes Of Yesod, Blaster Master, and Mega Man. With KITTIES!

CONS: Short. Veterans may find their way through even faster.

HUMOR: This game will get some laughs out of you.

Let’s get this out of the way. Gato Roboto is an excellent game. I think most people who buy it will enjoy it immensely. You’ll enjoy the gameplay, laugh at the jokes, and the Undertale inspired character designs are pretty good too. Aesthetically, Gato Roboto also wears the clothes of games played on our IBM PC Compatibles, Apple II’s, Commodore 64’s, Atari 800’s, and ZX Spectrums back in 1984. Outside of a handful of other mentions, most games that take the retro look take inspiration from the NES. So Gato Roboto stands out from the crowd a tad bit more in this regard.

It also helps that everything about this game is so darn cute. It’s like the folks at Doinksoft pretty much knew this was going to have to resonate with the Hallmark Card crowd, and it really does. You play the role of a cat who is on a military vessel with its owner. You, being a seemingly oblivious pet step on a keyboard which causes the navigation system to go off course. This results in a crash getting you and your owner marooned on an alien world. Your owner can’t escape the wrecked ship, so you agree to go do the job they cannot. Fortunately, they know a little bit about the planet and give you some clues.

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Before long, you’ll discover a lab that looks suspiciously like the save stations in Super Metroid. You’ll also find a vehicle that looks suspiciously like the vehicle from Blaster Master. And like the latter, throughout your adventure, there will be times you’ll need to get out of it. The difference is in Gato Roboto you’re entirely defenseless when roaming on foot. These moments have an element of stealth gameplay, where you have to sneak around or approach a situation like a puzzle. When riding around in your vehicle you convert into a tiny kitten themed mech. And much like the Metroid games, you’ll have to find items to give you more powerful weapons, longer health bars, and the ability to go places you previously could not.

It also has a bit of the pre-Metroid exploration games like The Nodes Of Yesod, and The Arc Of Yesod. Those games also had you rolling around a large map for items. But they didn’t scroll. Gato Roboto has some areas like this, where the screen just flips to the next one. And with the art style used, it really fits the motif. Even if it can be jarring with the spots that do have four-way scrolling.

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If Undertale made you laugh, it will be apparent to you that Toby Fox was an inspiration here. There is a lot of similar humor here. Characters balk at certain interactions. They’ll make references that are just vague enough that the intended audience gets them. And there are a few spots where they go the opposite direction with reference humor to make sure everyone gets the gag. They also throw in some stuff that only pet owners or the friends or relatives of pet owners will get.

Through it all, everything feels pretty tight. There aren’t too many moments where you’ll die and wonder why. That said, things do feel different when exploring the world on foot than they do when you’re piloting a vehicle. You have a little bit more momentum when scrambling around on four legs. You have a different arc and sense of gravity when jumping. There are also places you can go on foot that you can’t when piloting your mech. It all feels really good.

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Boss fights usually feel right out of the Metroid games. Though there are a few that will hearken back to the NES Mega Man games. One fight, in particular, reminded me of a very specific Sonic The Hedgehog fight. While another reminded me of playing Super R-Type. So there are a number of old-school references geezers like me can enjoy along with the contemporary ones those I have a decade on will love as well.

Throughout it all, the audio soundtrack complements it well. If I had any complaints about it, there isn’t any particular tune that really stood out to me. Nothing that I know will make me go “I know this was from Gato Roboto!” years from now. But there’s nothing here that will feel out of place.

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The only thing I feel that some people won’t like is just how short it can feel. My first playthrough was done in less than four hours. I found nearly 75% of all of the items in the process. By contrast, I probably put a good 20 hours into The Messenger, and Axiom Verge each. Be that as it may, Gato Roboto’s vehicle mechanic and collectibles do feel unique from other exploration games. It’s also a good candidate for speed running. In fact, one of its achievements on Steam is centered around it. As for the collectibles, you can find up to 14 hidden cartridges in the game’s map. If you manage to get them, they’ll allow you to change the color scheme from black and white graphics to other two-toned visual solutions. But more importantly, finding them all will allow an NPC to give you better equipment. If you go for a 100% completion run this might extend that playtime a bit. Especially if you decide to do that before trying to speed run the game or getting through it without going for the better items.

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In conclusion, Gato Roboto does do enough to set itself apart from other Metroidvania style games. It’s very funny, has some challenging bosses, and some of the items can be pretty tough to get. I just wish it could have been just a little bit longer. On the other hand, a good game should leave you wanting more. Gato Roboto is a good game. One you ought to check out. Especially if you’ve already played some of its acclaimed contemporaries. And even if you haven’t, you’ll still likely enjoy it a lot. Especially if you like to get legitimate moments of comic relief in your games. Gato Roboto is one stray worth taking in.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

The Messenger Review

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Sometimes a game comes out with a ton of fanfare, but ultimately lets everybody down. This is not one of those games. The Messenger earns every ounce of excitement, and praise preemptively thrown its way. Nearly everything about this one is so on point you can stop reading, and buy the game. In the words of Triple H, it is “That damn good.”

PROS: Sprite work. Controls. Music. Story. Humor. Nearly everything really.

CONS: A bug that makes a certain section of the game nearly impossible to solve.

NINJA GAIDEN: The original NES designers were invited to play it, and loved it.

The Messenger was largely advertised as a love letter to the trilogy of NES Ninja Gaiden games. Upon booting up the game it’s easy to see why. The action, cinema screens, wall climbing, and secondary weapon throwing are obviously influenced by those classics. Devolver Digital even had the two lead designers of Ninja Gaiden play their demo before release as they couldn’t wait to see their reaction.

But while The Messenger would have likely done well enough as a mere homage, that wasn’t good enough for the team at Sabotage. The Messenger does so much more than mimic one of gaming’s best action platform games. It uses that formula as one small piece in a much, much larger puzzle. A puzzle that will likely take you hours to solve.

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The Messenger centers around a Ninja clan that gets attacked by monsters. As one of the Ninjas, you’re chastised by your sensei for not taking your training seriously. You’re told a super warrior is supposed to save the day, but unfortunately for everyone this person doesn’t show up in time. The monsters wipe out the village, and you’re about to be destroyed when they show up just in time. The enemies retreat, and this warrior gives you a scroll. You’re told to deliver the scroll to the top of a mountain, and so you go on your way.

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I won’t go into the rest of the surprisingly deep, and convoluted storyline here. But rest assured it is quite good. Filled with twists, turns, and even a lot of sardonic humor. I laughed a lot at the various jokes throughout my time with the campaign. But at the same time, I was pleasantly surprised at just how invested in the overall story I became. Plus the gameplay ties into everything very nicely. When the game begins, it truly will remind you of the NES Ninja Gaiden games. You have a similar run speed. You have similar jumping physics. You’ll even have a sense of familiarity as you can climb certain walls.

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But The Messenger throws in its own entirely new mechanics that set it decidedly apart from Ninja Gaiden. Most notably the extra jump you can get by killing enemies, or hitting specific targets. If you get the timing right, you can jump, hit a target, and jump immediately after to get extra air. You can also gain momentum by repeating the process on subsequent targets. This allows you to kind of hop distances between targets, and get through areas faster.  As you progress, the game makes mastering this technique essential, as it begins throwing in jumping puzzles, as well as highly challenging platforming sections where you’re surrounded by bottomless pits, spikes, or other death traps.

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The game goes along much like those old NES action games. You’ll battle your way through a stage, then fight a boss, watch some dialogue boxes, or cinema screens, and move on. However each stage has a few checkpoints after every few gauntlets. Some of these gauntlets are shops, where you can spend the diamond shards you find on upgrades for your ninja. Some of these give you more resistance to damage. Some of these give you more attack power.

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Over time you’ll also acquire new abilities like a wind suit, and grappling hook. And later in the game you’ll need them because stages are built around their use. It’s crafted so well, and so engrossing you’ll want to keep playing until you get to the final showdown with the demon army, and win the day. Throughout it all, you’ll be blown away at the NES inspired sprite work, and Famicom-esque chip tunes. It’s nothing short of amazing, and you’ll love every minute of it.

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Another interesting mechanic is that while old school, this is another game that ditches lives. Instead of dying a set number of times, or having a limited set of continues, you simply keep playing. Now the original first two Ninja Gaiden games on the NES had unlimited continues. However this game does something a bit different. When you die, a little red bookie monster shows up. He steals any money you make until his debt for respawning you is paid. So while the game becomes more forgiving, at the same time you do well for not dying. Because not dying means more money, and more money means getting all of the items, and upgrades sooner.

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When you finally defeat the Demon army’s second in command you’ll probably do what I did. Think there’s one last stage where your endurance, and cunning are pushed to the proverbial limit. Then one grandiose boss fight, and a satisfying finish. Well this is one part of the game I have to spoil in order to talk about the entire package. I’m not giving away details, just know that nothing could be further from the truth. The game basically comes out, and yells “Surprise! Now you’re going to play a Metroid clone!” The game really opens up at this point, and connects every stage you’ve played together. This makes one overarching world, and you’ll be sent throughout it.

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However, The Messenger does not go sending you on power up fetch quests, in order access the new areas. Rather, you have to go find items that act as keys, and find NPCs to further the story. You can buy map markers in the shops, but even then, getting to those places is going to be very intimidating when you first attempt it. These new areas are filled with new traps, and puzzles. There are also challenge rooms where you can try to get these green tokens. If you find every one of them in the game there’s a surprise waiting for you. But that’s not even the best part.

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The Messenger also adds a dash of stage morphing. It may just remind you of Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, although it isn’t done in the same way. The storyline adds an element of time travel, where you go through portals that send you 500 years into the future. And then other ones send you back. When you go into the future, the 8-bit NES aesthetics change to 16-bit Super NES aesthetics! The music also goes from sounding like the Famicom, to sounding like the Super Famicom, and Mega Drive decided to go on tour together. The soundtrack in this game immediately skyrockets from a pretty great one, to an absolutely stellar one. Not only that, but the game uses the time travel mechanic in some pretty intricate ways. Like Metroid Prime 2: Echoes did, The Messenger will make you go to one area of the map in the present, go through a portal to the future, so that you’ll come out in the right place in a different section of the map. Then you’ll go through a portal there to come back in the present where you’ll meet an NPC, or find a room with a green token challenge. Or something else entirely.

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The story also begins to get both more interesting, and more cryptic when you discover a hub section, and you’re discovering entirely new areas that were never part of a previous linear stage from the first act of the game. They’ve done a terrific job with all of this, and that’s before you even get to the impressive boss encounters that follow. They make the early bosses you may have found difficult seem like you were lifting feathers before. But it does this by easing you over time without you even realizing it. It’s an action game, that becomes an adventure game, that implements a feeling you get when playing an RPG.

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And I think that’s probably the best thing about The Messenger. It’s like you’re playing two completely different games back to back. You played Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword Of Chaos. But instead of credits, a dying Jaquio goes “It’s not over. You have to defeat Mother Brain now, or the world will end! Ha. Ha. Ha.” The fact that it makes you feel elated, rather than angry is quite the feat.

So with all of that said, is this a 10 out of 10 game that will forever be the title future indie games are held to as a standard? Not quite. Though it is very impressive, and should be something you should buy I had one major problem with it. At one point in the game there is a section where you have to navigate an area by listening for sound. Well for whatever reason, the game would not play the sound properly. It made finding my way through a complete crapshoot. I had to guess my way through as if I were playing the final stage of Super Mario Bros. And while this isn’t something that breaks the game, as you can still get through it. It does ruin the intended experience of hearing what you need to hear in the place you need to hear it in order to follow the right path. I’m sure in time they may fix it with a patch. But as it stands it’s just enough to keep me from calling it near flawless.

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Still, if you were hoping for a wonderful homage to Ninja Gaiden, you’ll get it. If you were hoping for something more than a wonderful homage to Ninja Gaiden you’ll get it. The Messenger truly is one of the best games to come out this year, and is something you really ought to check out. It’s one of the most engrossing games you’ll play this year. As impressive as the trailers may be, it’s still the kind of game you have to see to believe. Go buy The Messenger now. Even if you’re just stumbling upon this review 500 years from now.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10

Spiritual Warfare Review

You probably know all about Wisdom Tree by now. An unlicensed publisher called Color Dreams changed its focus from making typical games into religious edutainment. In some cases, under its new badge, Wisdom Tree simply reskinned its Color Dreams games. Many of them panned as being badly made, while a lot of others were merely competent.  In other cases they were original titles ranging from bad to passable. But there was one game that was a stand out.

PROS: A Zelda clone with Christian overtones that actually fit its premise.

CONS: Biblical trivia interrupts the flow.

OKELY DOKELY: This game could be a Ned Flanders sight gag at times.

Spiritual Warfare is a stand out in the Wisdom Tree roster of games. It’s the lone attempt at an action RPG, and it borrows liberally from Nintendo’s flagship Zelda series. From the starting position, it’s patently obvious that it is going to. In Zelda walking into a cave introduces you to an old man who gives you a sword. In this game, you’ll find an angel in a building who gives you a pear. Shortly thereafter you’ll find canisters that work the way the bombs in Zelda do. Just like Zelda, you’ll scroll through an overhead perspective taking on enemies, and pushing objects to find secrets. There is a pretty key difference in the overall goal though. In Spiritual Warfare you’re going on a quest to find physical representations of allegorical pieces of armor. Why? Because you’re also going on a quest to save souls, and kill the Devil in the process.

The game starts you out in a park filled with criminals, and bullies. After getting your pear you’ll be able to defend yourself by throwing fruit at them. Throughout the game you’ll find other fruits of the spirit. Tossing them at enemies doesn’t kill them. Instead, it causes them to repent from their ways, and pray to God. Some of these people are actually possessed, and so this process will cast out a demon. You have to then kill the demon with the fruit of the spirit. Throughout the game the areas become more diverse. You’ll go through a metropolis, a section of suburbs, the slums, an airport, a forest, a beach, a prison, and Hell itself. All the while saving souls, and trying to survive.

Along that process you’re going to find extra heart containers to expand your life, and other items. There are also storefronts run by angels who sell you other fruits, or power ups with a currency called spirit points. How do you get spirit points? The enemies whose hearts you’ve changed will drop them. You’ll need to have them on hand for many of the game’s power ups, and even some of the pieces of spiritual armor. You can also use them to restore health by going under the inventory screen, and selecting the praying hands. You can also gain spirit points by answering biblical trivia questions. Every so often you’ll see an angel fly around the area you’re in. If they touch you you’re taken into a game show setting where you’ll be asked random questions about the bible. This is where the game is a little bit flawed. Because instead of working this information into the actual game world, it takes you out of the game to take these quizzes.

The problem isn’t that there is bible trivia. The game is a Christian focused game. One would expect any edutainment title to have some sort of educational aspect of the subject matter to be there. In this case Christianity. The thing is, it would have been much more effective to have these moments come out in the gameplay somehow. Meeting an important character, who quotes a line of scripture that can be applied to that moment in the game whenever running into them would be more effective. Instead, this just takes you out of the game, and feels like homework given to you by a religious educator. Plus if you ignore the angel, you won’t have to take the quiz. So it defeats the purpose of having them there. The only time you might want to take the quiz is if you are low on health or spirit points. Because if you ace it with a perfect score your health will replenish, and you’ll get a decent number of points.Toward the end of the game, you may find yourself taking quizzes more as enemies begin getting quite difficult, and your energy tank equivalents running low. But instead of feeling invited to learn more about the bible you end up feeling forced. Which can make a player feel more resentment than welcome.

Thankfully the core gameplay is good enough here you may want to try it out anyway. The game controls well enough, and there are a lot of surprisingly well thought out puzzles. Boss fights are surprisingly good too. Many of them are more than a simple act of shooting fruit. Many require pattern memorization, dexterity, or puzzle solving skills. Many of the pieces of armor are guarded by bosses too. The boss rooms also require keys you can find throughout the game. The keys also open up secret areas locked away in buildings or other areas that have highly needed items inside.

When you finally do find your way to Hell, you’ll find one of the most challenging dungeons you’ll likely ever play. Newer, monstrous enemies appear, and take a lot more damage to go down. Other times the game will throw waves of low-level grunts at you in these areas relentlessly. The dungeon also has a door maze element to it, as you continually end up going back, and forth through floors. This culminates with a showdown against the Devil himself.

Spiritual Warfare also has a password system like the one found in Metroid. The game has one major flaw in it though, some of the passwords will easily be written down wrong due to the fact that some of the characters are so similar. You can get through large chunks of the game, only to jot down a single character wrong, and have to restart the entire game. So be especially careful when writing these down. Spiritual Warfare isn’t an exhaustively long game, but it does have a duration that most won’t complete in a single sitting. Though there are speed runners of the game who have managed to blast through it in 20 minutes or less.

The game was initially an NES game, but it did make its way over to the Game Boy, Genesis, and computers as well. It isn’t as rare as some of Wisdom Tree’s other bible games. But it is still uncommon, and fetches a bit more than typical NES Game Paks these days. Still, if you’re a collector, or a Zelda fan you might want to check it out. If you’re not terribly religious you can skip the quiz portions, and if you are you can probably ace them to your benefit. Either way, you’ll probably get a laugh out of seeing the Devil go down from a pear to the face. Not bad for something that could pass for a Ned Flanders sight gag on The Simpsons.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Tomb Raider (Reboot) Review

As everyone should know by now (if you don’t already) late 2012’s Tomb Raider is a reboot of the classic action platformer series. Started on the Playstation, and PC in 1996. Tomb Raider has followed the adventures of Lara Croft who much like Indiana Jones is an archaeologist. An archaeologist who often stumbles into danger throughout her adventures.

The reboot attempts to show Lara Croft’s evolution from a capable yet self doubting woman to the confident action hero fans have come to expect. The story centers around Lara’s crew searching for the mysterious island of Yamatai for historical evidence of a kingdom that is said to have existed on it. During the search the crew is stuck in a violent storm, and shipwrecked. They find that the island was not only the one they were looking for, but it has also been overrun by a dangerous cult. Lara has to solve the mystery of the endless storm that has trapped everyone on the island, save her fellow travelers, and defeat the sinister cult.

Things really become bleak when it turns out that the cult seeks out Lara’s friend  to use as a vessel for the soul of the ancient deity they follow. Moreover, her other crew members find themselves under constant assault, the threat of being abducted, and tortured. Afraid, yet determined, Lara faces up to her fears in order to save the proverbial day.

The storyline is a pretty interesting one, even if it isn’t completely original. Throughout the game Lara discovers clues, artifacts, and historical evidence that tie everything together pretty nicely. There are some moments that come off as cliché’ or contrived. There are moments that are even quite predictable. But on the whole you will come away entertained. The theatrical feel is expanded when you are playing the game. The graphics are enough to give anyone pause. Player models have some of the best texture work seen over the last few years. Little details on clothing, accessories, items, and effects really display how painstakingly hard the developer’s art department worked on this title.

The sound effects are on par with the graphics, featuring some wonderful voice acting not only for the main characters during the cut scenes, but for every character. Guard banter is right out of a serial movie. The score accents the action, and adventure very nicely giving the game the Hollywood blockbuster movie vibe that it is obviously going for. Gunshots, wild animals, weather, are all other elements of sound that are exemplary in performance here.

The way the game plays is where some of the confusion will kick in. Tomb Raider’s world works much like a Metroid game. Every stage has multiple paths in, and out. These paths interconnect to each other so going off the beaten path, and discovering new things is indeed possible. There are also hidden alcoves in nearly every section that hide some lost tomb in a giant room. Each of these rooms is essentially a puzzle section. Solving these puzzles, and collecting the rewards gives players some back story, as well as a reason to go back, and replay sections that they might have missed. Much like the Metroid series, there are certain areas that require certain items to get into. Adding another reason for you to want to explore the island.

There are campfires in every level too. These work a lot like the save rooms in Metroid Prime or Super Metroid, where you can essentially have a checkpoint save. It is here you can also level up Lara, and her arsenal. As you go through the campaign you will find new weapons, search for salvage (either by solving an easy puzzle, or smashing a crate open) or taking out enemies, and searching their bodies. When in a campfire area Lara can upgrade her weapons, abilities, and items using the salvaged gears collected. There are also skill points she can use to buff certain attributes up. Much in the way modern military shooters allow in multiplayer. Campfires also allow for fast travel between areas.

Where the identity crisis kicks in however is oddly enough, in its story. The story unfortunately pushes the play experience into a linear one. Pressing a button will pull up a gray look to everything, and highlight where you need to go next, along with clues on how to get there. Instinctively, most of the people who play this will end up taking these paths. Solving a puzzle, going into a shootout section, then getting some more of the story. In a lot of ways it’s a missed opportunity. Instead of feeling like an open world you can explore at your own pace, you will end up feeling like you’ve been playing another linear third person shooter.

Thankfully, the shooting is never dull or repetitive. This is in part because of not only the well done mechanics, but because of the variety. Players can take a stealth approach, sometimes completely avoiding a firefight. Or they can go in all guns blazing. Weapons, and take downs feel satisfying. Stealthily taking down enemies from behind will bring up a Quick Time Event, that will keep enemy suspicion down if you are successful. Sadly, the game does have a bit too many QTE sections in certain theatrical areas of the story. They’re not implemented poorly, but there are a number of times you may wish you could skip them. The timing on some of them leave no room for error either. So you may find yourself replaying some of them several times before you’re allowed to progress.

The game also has a few multiplayer modes thrown in. One of them is the typical Team Deathmatch mode you’ve seen hundreds of times before. Another tasks one team with delivering supplies, with the opposite team trying to stop that team by killing them before they can complete their objective. The third is a variant of the second with one side exploring for parts to make an S.O.S. Beacon while the other tries to stop them. None of these will really hold your attention very long, as they aren’t going to have the focus of a competitive multiplayer shooter. As a result the multiplayer modes feel a little bit like a wasted effort.

Tomb Raider is worth checking out. It has an entertaining if derivative story. It has really fun shootouts, and stealth mechanics. It has some exploration for those who want it. Unfortunately, it isn’t as fleshed out, or as refined as it could have been. Hopefully, the upcoming sequel will allow exploration to deliver more of the narrative rather than linear storytelling.  Tomb Raider is still a really fun ride however. If you never got around to playing it before, you may want to  get around to it before the sequel hits.

Final Score 8 out of 10

Reposted Review: Another World

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(Originally posted on the inactive Retro Retreat.)

Not as iconic as Pac-Man or Space Invaders. But equally important.

Not the first cinematic adventure game, but one of the best.

PROS: Storytelling. Atmosphere. Gameplay.

CONS: Once you beat it, replays make for a short game.

DID YOU KNOW?: Interplay made an unofficial sequel for the Sega CD.

My first experience with Another World was on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. I was in my teens, and for my birthday one summer I was graced with a copy as a gift. Of course, I knew the game as Out of this world. The box art was kind of odd. It became even odder seeing the original European Amiga cover years later, when I would discover some of the history behind the game.

Another World or Out of this world (Depending on which title you prefer) started life as an Amiga game. Designed by Eric Chahi, the game would go on to be hugely popular throughout Europe, and become a cult favorite globally. It’s a unique game in terms of it’s combination of stylized Virtual Reality visuals, and puzzle platforming. It is one of the few video games that can tell an engrossing story using almost no dialogue whatsoever. It’s also a very interesting game in it’s software technology. Chahi actually coded his own 3D graphics engine, and used rotoscoping techniques. (For any of you budding programmers out there, pick the anniversary version up off of Steam or GoG. The 20 minute video on it’s creation is really great stuff.)  Rotoscoping had been done in Kareteka, and some of the platforming style had been seen in Impossible Mission. But Another World uses these elements in it’s own atmospheric way.

The game starts out with an opening cinematic. Like a lot of early 3D, and 2.5D games you’ll notice models aren’t the super textured, bump mapped, action figures modern gaming has gotten us accustomed to. Instead, much like the original Star Fox, Hard Drivin’, or Test Drive 3 you will see plain, single colored sides of the shapes that make up the characters. Plus, being a 2D play field you won’t see much in the way of a Z-axis. But this all works in the game’s favor. Unlike most of those other simplistic polygon games, Another World has a certain charm. In fact going completely whiz-bang  would probably hurt the game rather than help.

The low poly models actually complement the art style of the world. This aesthetic creates a world you want to explore, and the things you run into will get an emotional response out of you. Whether it’s the beast you run into early on, or the first time you meet an alien convict. The story of the game is that of Lester Chaykin. A physicist, the game opens with him arriving to his lab in his shiny black Ferrari. After opening a soda, he runs an experiment on his high-tech super computer. While the experiment is running however, a thunderstorm brews outside. When a lighting bolt hits the lab, a surge of electricity hits the equipment, and explodes. This explosion rips a hole in the space-time continuum.

Arriving on a mysterious world you now have to try to find your way around, and hopefully a way home. Another World sets up every stage in a similar way to vintage Atari 2600 games like Pitfall! but with a little less openness. Each area is a single screen. But on each screen you must figure out what to do next. Stay in the water of the first screen for instance, and Lester will be pulled to his doom by alien seaweed. There are a LOT of fatality cinemas in Another World. Every screw up will result in one, and force you back to a checkpoint. Much  of the game is very puzzle oriented. Even much of the combat is when it arises.  It never tells you how to solve the puzzles, or how to progress. There is almost zero dialogue, and the little there is tells you nothing as it comes from aliens you won’t understand. Along the way you do meet a sympathizer who tries to help you throughout the game. But don’t worry about him becoming a boring escort mission. He mostly leaves you to your own devices, and when he does become important it’s to move the story along.

Even though it is a simple story, it’s a very well told one. You will actually care about the strange world you are on, it’s inhabitants, and even the musclebound alien trying to help you. It’s not a very long game once you figure out all of the puzzles, and decide to revisit it. But the first time you play it you will spend days on it without a walk through as I did way back in the day on my Super NES. Movement is done with a D-Pad, or arrow keys if you’re on a keyboard. There are also two buttons. One for jumping, and one for action. Action can be anything from pushing levers, to firing a gun. In one chapter you will find a gun which is about the only real weapon in the game.  The gun has some versatility. Firing it will shoot a small laser beam to disintegrate enemies. There are also two charges. Holding it until a small charge appears will form a shield. Shields are important against enemies who have weaponry. A full charge however will blast a super beam that not only kills enemies, but also destroys certain scenery, as well as enemy shields. You can’t waste shots either because eventually the gun will stop firing, and you will be pretty screwed. It enhances the gameplay because even the gun becomes an element in some of the puzzles you need to solve to progress.

There are a few minor differences between versions. The original Amiga version’s blood was reduced on the SNES. The SNES also had a minor alteration in one scene toward the end I won’t spoil here. Interplay also wanted to change the music around when it published the game on other platforms. Chahi fought the company on this, and eventually the development studio he was contracted with, Delphine Software was able to work out an agreement with Interplay. As such the original scores are the same on every version except for some dynamic music that was added to the Super NES. The SNES, and Genesis also had text crawls of Lester’s journal entries added to the introduction sequences. The port to the 3DO also changed background graphics around which while well made, don’t have the feeling the simplified visuals of the other versions behind them. The one major change the ports brought to the table is one added puzzle section near the end of the game. It actually does enhance the experience, and makes the game longer without feeling like padding. In fact, the 15th anniversary remake, and the recent 20th anniversary re-release left this addition intact. Although the dynamic music introduced in the Super NES version does not appear in these reissues.

Another World may be over two decades old now but it remains a cult classic for a reason. It’s one of the most fun cinematic games ever made. It’s presentation holds up very well, and it inspired many of the story driven games you have likely played over the years since it’s release. If you missed it back in the day, or were too young to have played it definitely check it out. Collectors can find the Super NES or Genesis versions fairly cheap these days. The 3D0, MS-DOS, Atari ST, and Apple versions are higher. The most expensive version of course, is the original Amiga game. As of this writing it’s getting about $150 on online auctions.

If you want to simply experience it, or re-experience it pick up the recent 20th anniversary package on Steam or GoG. Eventually Eric Chahi regained the property from Interplay. This allowed him to do a 15th anniversary edition. So everything in that version is here. It’s a mere $10. It gives you the game with the option for newer high-resolution backgrounds you can turn on or off on the fly. A really nice 20 minute inside look at the game’s creation with it’s creator.  It also gives you the original game’s music tracks (Not the ones added to the Super NES), and you get some scans of the development artwork, and documentation. Plus, you can easily play it with a gamepad if you cringe at the thought of playing on the keyboard. Buying this on Steam also includes some achievements for those who simply need them in their games.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Reposted Review: Epic Mickey 2

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(Originally posted on Retro Retreat before its hiatus.)

Mickey Mouse returns to help his forgotten ancestor Oswald the lucky rabbit save Wasteland once again. Is it a trip worth taking?

PROS: Everything you loved about Epic Mickey, with optional co-op! Oh, and musicals!

CONS: While improved, camera still gets iffy. NPC Oswald sometimes gets finicky. Story isn’t as memorable or as emotionally impactful as the original game’s.

DISTURBING: Enemies, and some NPC’s are as twistedly Tim Burtonesque as ever.

Epic Mickey was a pleasant surprise for me.  I went into it not expecting much as I’m not a die-hard Disney buff. I like Mickey Mouse alright, he’s a cultural icon. But I don’t share Junction Point head Warren Spector’s obsession. I also like a lot of his material in video games, but most of it has been role-playing which isn’t my strong suit. Still, I picked it up, and really enjoyed it. It had a great story, faithful use of the characters, cool enemies, and it made great use of it’s paint/thinner mechanic. Gameplay was a nice mix of action platforming, and classic 80′s/90′s PC adventure game design. It reminded me a lot of American McGee’s Alice, but with Mickey Mouse, crossed with stuff like Grim Fandango, and Ultima. It had it’s flaws. A sometimes wonky camera, and some cheap A.I. in spots. But in the end it was a fun game. Epic Mickey had a fairly mixed reception. A lot of folks thought it was pure gold. A lot of folks thought it was average. Ultimately I thought it fell between good, and great. I enjoyed my time with it’s story, exploration, puzzles, and side missions.

Epic Mickey 2 will be more polarizing than the first game though. Because it improves on the first game’s mechanics, while doing a couple of other things slightly odd.

The story in Epic Mickey 2 isn’t terrible, but it is a notable step down from the first game’s. Epic Mickey 1′s story centered around how Mickey Mouse’s goofing around with magical paint, and thinner accidentally caused a catastrophe in Wasteland, the land of forgotten Disney cartoon characters. The catastrophe also gave birth to a race of baddies called the Blots. Mickey met Oswald who was jealous of Mickey’s success because he was sold to Universal, and in his absence Mickey went onto become a mega star. Oswald was also angry with Mickey because of the disaster.  Mickey had to set things right, reconcile with Oswald, and stop the looming threat over Wasteland. The story was on par with some of Disney’s animated movies. With themes of pain, forgiveness, atonement, and love.

Epic Mickey 2′s story sets it’s sights on The Mad Doctor. Promising that he’s turned over a new leaf, he wants to help the citizens of Wasteland put an end to the recent earthquakes that have been plaguing their world. As the story progresses, The Mad Doctor does a lot of his exposition in musical numbers. It’s like a fun cross between Dr. Wily, and Ursula the sea witch. Unconvinced that The Mad Doctor changed his ways, Oswald’s wife enlists the help of The Gremlins to bring Mickey Mouse back to Wasteland.

This is where the game starts up. Like Epic Mickey this is a platform adventure game with some role-playing elements. There are several areas in the game that all act as hub worlds. Within each of the hub worlds are projectors that contain some side scrolling stages that connect to other hub worlds or levels. There are also a ton of side quests you can do for NPC’s in the hub worlds. Some involve finding an item in a stage, and bringing it back to them. Other’s involve taking a photo of a certain structure. Others involve using your paint, and thinner to build or destroy geometry or any number of puzzles. Doing these gets you collectible items that another NPC may need for an entirely different quest, or an item needed to progress or something else entirely.

There are also many collectibles you can find throughout the game, as well as costumes. Some of these will aid you while others will be needed in a side quest. Costumes also impact the game. For instance, getting the Tron costume for Oswald makes his boomerang attack have more power, and range.  You can also enter shops to buy items, and power ups if you can’t seem to find them in stages, or if they don’t exist in stages or side quests. All of this is done in a way that doesn’t feel like boring fetch questing. You will actually have fun finding pins, parts of costumes, scrap metal, and such. Even the side scrolling projector missions have been tweaked, as spinning the reels on the film before entering changes what plane in the 2.5D world you end up. This is important too because some coveted items exist in these stages, and landing on the right plane is key to securing them. Even after you beat the game you may want to revisit it to finish uncompleted quests or try items you didn’t get the chance to. There are easily 20 hours worth of quest content in the game.

Paint, and thinner is once again, a focal point of the design. Using paint to solve puzzles or complete an objective will veer you closer toward a lighter, happier, moral side of the story. The execution of using thinner to do these things is considered selfish, and lazy. Thinner is often times the easier way to do things. Other times you may find it a necessary evil as it isn’t always apparent a paint way to progress is possible even if it is. New to this mechanic are double team moves involving Oswald, and ink wells.

Seeing how Epic Mickey 2 injects Co-Op, Player 2, (Or the A.I. if only one person is playing) controls Oswald.  Oswald has moves of his own, and a special remote. This ensures that two people don’t end up trying to do the same thing, but always work together. Oswald’s remote can turn on terminals, reprogram robots, and shoot laser orbs. Both players can also revive each other if they get to whoever’s fallen in time before they die. A lot of the puzzles throughout the game require both Mickey, and Oswald to solve. Sometimes Mickey may have to paint or thin a computer box before Oswald can hack it. Sometimes two adjacent gears require both players to simultaneously move them to progress. Even bosses require team work.

Where this gets a little problematic however is two-fold. First is the camera. While it is better than the camera in the previous game, there are just some angles where it will twist annoyingly away from what the two characters need to see, and you’ll slowly have to move it while trying to play. This will undoubtedly cause a few deaths until you can come to grips with workarounds in those spots. The second is when playing single player. Sometimes NPC Oswald will get stuck in a loop until you move. Other times he’ll insist you have to be in an exact spot for him to use his remote. Also unexplained in the manual is the fact that some double team moves in single player require you to press the help button, and the paint button at the exact same time.   This is why I said earlier the game will be more polarizing. Those who don’t have trouble adapting will only feel annoyed enough to dock a couple of points. Those who can’t stand anything other than flawless A.I. will probably feel enraged.

Moving on, the game also adds two power ups called Ink Wells. One of them is filled with invisible ink, which allows you to do some stealthy moves. There are also some puzzles that require it. The other well has indelible ink. This forms a gold plate over the characters that chips off slowly as players take hits. It’s a Godsend in spots where you need to go through waterfalls made of thinner, or in a crowd of bad guys. Speaking of bad guys, enemies, as well as most of the art in the game is unbelievable. Like American McGee’s Alice, there is an emphasis on dark, twisted versions of Disney rogues or other characters. Every texture has a wonderful eerieness to it.  Similarly when in hub towns like Ostown, using paint gives that optimistic cheer that Disney always seems to get right. Epic Mickey 2 looks great. The atmosphere is only helped by it’s wondrous score. From the entertaining musical numbers to the whimsical, and ambient soundtrack this game screams “Environments!”. As the original game did, Epic Mickey 2 also dangles the nostalgia carrot on the proverbial string. You’ll find old Disney merchandise you once owned as a piece of stage geometry, or run into characters you remember liking, or gasp when you see one that has been completely Tim Burtoned out.

Sadly, one of the low points however has to be the bosses. They’re fun to play through, but they don’t have the same sense of wonder or tragedy as the bosses from the original game did. You still can defeat them either the heroic way, or the evildoer way. But they probably won’t make you marvel. They’re challenging enough, you will have a battle on your hands. But they’re not as memorable as Pete as a Tron guy, or Cyborg Captain Hook, the evil clock, or the Blot Demon.

It should also be noted that the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii U editions were not done by Junction Point Studios, but were ported from the Wii by Blitz Games.

Epic Mickey 2 is a great game brought down by a couple of technical hitches. The wonky camera, and sometimes spotty NPC Oswald don’t break the game. But these can’t be overlooked. The story could have been better. The bosses could have been grander. But it’s still an entertaining ride. If you have an Xbox 360, Playstation 3, or Wii U it may not be something that beckons to be picked up immediately. But for anyone with an original Wii it is a flawed, yet wonderful send off for a soon to be retired system.

Final Score: 7.5 out of 10