Tag Archives: Adventure

Black Jewel Review

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Conan The Barbarian. The Beastmaster. He-Man, and The Masters Of The Universe. Swords and Sorcery were a staple of the 1980s  action genre in nearly every medium. Even in the realm of video games where we saw hits like Golden Axe and Rastan. The 8-bit powered computer scene had ports of these as well as games based on the aforementioned properties. The biggest being the Commodore 64.

PROS: Challenging. Recreates the look, and sound of a C64 Accurately.

CONS: Hit detection on traps could be a little more forgiving.

ONE LIFE TO LIVE: Like the title of a defunct soap opera, you have one life.

The Commodore 64 is one of the greatest platforms of all time. There were thousands of games released on it. Some are even coming out on it today. Black Jewel is not a C64 game, but it is a terrific sendup. From the moment you start the game you’ll see the unmistakable BASIC screen load the game. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear you were running an actual C64 image file in an emulator. But you’re not.

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The game’s developers were heavily inspired by the classic computer, and it shows. The game’s video introduction sequence mimics the classic loaders of the ’80s showing off flashing colors, a detailed splash screen for the title, and music. And immediately the soundtrack will enamor anyone who hears it. Gianluca Pappalardo is the name credited with the soundtrack and they succeed with flying colors here. The music not only fits the Barbarian action hero vibe the game goes for but accurately simulates the sound of the SID chip as well. Despite being a game for Windows, it sounds like it could have come from the Commodore 64’s Sound Interface Device.

So it’s been established this game accurately mimics the look and sound of a Commodore 64 computer. But how is the actual gameplay? Here, the game continues that Commodore 64 inspiration. Black Jewel is an action platformer that requires meticulous planning in order to get through each scenario. It’s got the exciting battles you’d expect from something like Rastan, yet you’ll need to treat each stage as if you were playing Another World. While there are no puzzles, you still kind of need to see each room as a puzzle.

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At the beginning of the game, you’re told the story. It isn’t very deep. But it doesn’t need to be. An evil warlord named Darkor has stolen a Black Jewel. A mystical artifact that has allowed him to terrorize the land and enslave its inhabitants. As Ryan, you take up arms and go on the quest to save the land by reclaiming the Black Jewel. Of course, this will involve killing Darkor.

This is all much easier said than done. Because Black Jewel is a tough game. As I’ve stated before this is heavily inspired by early computer games. The controls are simple enough. You move left or right with the arrow keys and press the *D* key to swing your sword. And you’ll be pressing up to jump because there were only one button joysticks in 1983. You can, of course, use a controller with the game, but you’ll still be pressing up for jumps.

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The game moves along at a perfectly fine speed. But keep in mind you’re a big, lumbering barbarian. So you’ll have floatier jumping than in something like Mega Man. The scenes are also modeled after the flip screen mechanics of early home computer games too. Remember, scrolling games didn’t become the standard until the latter half of the decade. The level design in Black Jewel is also built off of the history of the time as well as the appearance. And frankly, it’s very good.

Each stage is made up of several rooms, each taken up by a screen. Each of which will have an enemy to dispatch or an obstacle to overcome. When you’ve completed it, you can go to the next one. Some of these will be simple things like jumping over spikes. Other times you’ll be tasked with killing two bad guys while avoiding fireballs. This is the kind of stuff you would see even in adventure platform games in 1994. Black Jewel will not only test your action game skills but your puzzle-solving skills too. Again, despite not having what many would call puzzles.

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At the end of each stage, you’ll fight a boss. Each of them has to be dispatched in order for you to continue. Most of them can be pretty tough as they utilize a couple of attack patterns. They’ll sometimes throw you a swerve by switching them up when you least expect it, so you really have to be on your toes. Defeating them opens up the next stage. It’s here you’ll notice something. Stages do not get splash screens or other introductions. You will just see the scenery change. Also, it won’t take you long to notice something else. That giant sword at the bottom of the screen is getting shorter.

That sword is actually your health meter. When it’s gone, so are you. Game Over. You have exactly ONE LIFE to clear Black Jewel. When I said this game was tough, I wasn’t lying. Now that doesn’t mean that it is impossible. It can be beaten. It isn’t a long game. And it even has health potions to restore your meter to varying degrees. Some will fill it 25% others 60% and others will top it off. That said, one ought to pay very close attention to what is going on at any given time. Because you can take damage without realizing it.

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My one main problem with the game is it doesn’t quite go far enough in showing what is a background, or what is a deadly trap you shouldn’t step on. Oh sure, you’ll figure it out too late eventually. But that also means you’ll be back at the title screen. Now some things are obvious. Skulls and spikes usually mean trouble. But another object might seem innocuous until your sword starts draining. Also, you should keep in mind when something does hit you, to back away immediately. You do not get to take a hit, fly back, and get 3 frames of invincibility as in some of the classic action games you’re used to. If you’re standing on a spike, a pixel too deep into an enemy or a boss that sword will be a mere hilt in seconds. Fortunately, you’ll find you can skip over some of the bad guys instead of fighting them. But this does not work on bosses.

Still, considering that Oscar Celestini set out to make an homage to these early Commodore 64 action-adventure style games, Black Jewel is a success. The animation is phenomenal. The sprite work and backgrounds are amazingly detailed. Plus everything looks so true to the C64’s 16 color palette and aside from a full widescreen image, it’s almost 1:1 to the untrained eye. I won’t lie, at times the gameplay might feel a little rough around the edges for people used to faster-paced arcade slashers. But once you’ve died a few times, and gotten used to the mechanics it becomes a remarkable game.

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If you grew up gaming on a Commodore 64 this love letter will very likely appeal to you just from the look and sound alone. If you didn’t, it’s still a pretty fun game. The combination of action and adventure elements are great. There’s a balance between hacking up bad guys and planning out how to get through each room with as much health left as humanly possible. You can’t just rush into it like you would a Golden Axe machine set on Freeplay. And yet it isn’t so cerebral you’ll need to do math equations. It requires both approaches and a bit of patience.  It’s highly unlikely you’ll clear it on your first attempt or even four-hundredth attempt. But it doesn’t wear out its welcome by going on for hours either. Black Jewel may be tough, it may be esoteric. But to borrow a phrase from famous YouTube star Metal Jesus Rocks, it certainly is a “Hidden gem.” You can pick it up on Steam if you like what you see here. Overall, I can recommend you do.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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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.

Battle Princess Madelyn Review

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Ghosts N’ Goblins is one of the classics that is often imitated these days. It isn’t hard to see why, as it’s pretty much a winning formula. A hero that can only take two points of damage before dying, must go on an action platforming adventure of quarter-munching proportions. Some of these games simply take that essence, and try to provide a carbon copy. Others take the idea, and try to build upon it.

PROS: The brutal, unforgiving, and yet somehow addictive fun you love.

CONS: Bugs, minor collision detection issues. Inconsistencies.

GHOST PUPPIES: May haunt your dreams, but they can also help you.

Battle Princess Madelyn is one such game. It uses the combat of Capcom’s classic series as a foundation, and puts a large skyscraper of ideas upon it. For the most part it works because it does something substantial. It has not one, but two campaigns to play through. The first of which combines the tried, and true combat with adventure game, and JRPG conventions.

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The primary campaign is a Story mode. It opens with a little girl named Madelyn lying in bed playing a Minecraft clone on her tablet. Her Grandfather comes in, and in true The Princess Bride fashion proceeds to read her a bedtime story. He tells her the tale of a warrior, coincidentally also named Madelyn in a European kingdom in what is presumably during the Medieval period. This Madelyn has a tiny lap dog named Fritzy. With the castle overrun by monsters, the little canine sacrifices his life to save the Royal Guard.

After some dialogue with her Grandfather, it turns out that Fritzy’s soul isn’t content to go to the afterlife just yet. As a spirit, he decides to follow Madelyn into glorious battle. Over the course of the game Fritzy goes from being a merely cute avatar that follows you around, to being a very useful back up character that will help you immensely. While the initial area looks like it will be another Ghosts N’ Goblins clone, (Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts to be specific), That is quickly proven not to be the case, as a fellow warrior sends you into town.

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Once in the town you begin to do things that are more akin to an Adventure or JRPG. You have to talk to townspeople, whom give you vague clues, or demand you go on fetch quests. You eventually find your way to the castle where key members will send you on the adventure. The castle is also home to two major spots. A toy room, and another room that becomes important much later.

Over the course of the game you’ll find dolls of low-level enemies, major characters, and bosses. Collecting every one of these gets you the best possible outcome, so its something you just might want to invest in. The other room becomes important later in the storyline, and involves warping you around to various areas.

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The game’s many stages are interconnected though not as intricately as something like Metroid. Be that as it may, you’ll still want to map it out, because you’re going to spend a large part of the campaign going sector to sector on foot. Why? Well remember the villagers I mentioned before? Many of the fetch quests they send you upon involve finding, and rescuing their friends from zombies. Aside from that there are also ghosts that can lead you to other secrets. And there are many hidden paths, shortcuts, and items that you’ll have to destroy parts of environments to even find. Basically, if you want to get the best possible finish you’ll need to do a lot of rescuing, and a lot of discovering. The rewards for many (but not nearly all) of these feats are the aforementioned dolls. Each of these dolls gets you one step closer to unlocking the door in the toy room, and the resulting end game.

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Not only that, but the only way to open up the game’s shop to buy power ups is tied to one of these fetch quests. Many of the villagers throughout the game want you to find one of the items they’ve foolishly lost. Each of the game’s areas has a village of their own, and many of their citizens lost these items in other areas. So you’ll be warping around a lot too.

Throughout it all though, the game has that classic Capcom arcade game play down to a science. Well mostly. The majority of the time you’ll feel like you’re playing the unofficial sequel to Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts. Zombies rise from the Earth in much the same way. There are all sorts of monsters, and demons that show up out of nowhere, and you’ll have to master your jumping, and shooting pretty quickly. Where things falter a bit is in the hit detection.

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Unfortunately, there will be a few times where you’ll have your foot stand near, but not on a hazard. But the game will say “Nope. You touched it.” which leads to a cheap death. Other times you’ll suffer cheap deaths when enemies spawn on you, or shoot a projectile that gets stuck in a part of the environment. Thus making hitting it unavoidable. These aren’t heavily widespread moments, but it can be enough to get frustrating. In the case of the story mode, this is mitigated by having pretty decent checkpoints, you’ll automatically start in when you run out of lives. When you die, you’ll start right where you died too, so at least you won’t have to start an entire section over.

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Eventually you’ll find your way to boss rooms. Throughout the game you’ll need to find keys to the boss rooms, so again, keep exploring. Boss fights are quite frankly the highlight of the game. All of them can hang with the best fights in some of the best Super NES, and Sega Genesis games of yesteryear. They’re very inventive. Even when one of them might seem generic, like the Spider bosses, or the Skeleton, they do things that throw that impression out the window. Either through the environments they take place in, or through their attack patterns, or even character mannerisms.

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When you defeat a boss, and move to the next area you’ll almost always find yourself near a town, and in that town you’ll find a fast travel artifact. Late in the game you’ll need to collect items to be reassembled in that second room I mentioned earlier. Here you’ll feel like you’ve reached the end. But you’re still far from it. It opens up all new areas that can only be accessed in the room, and you’ll also find your dog’s soul will now become even more useful. Over the course of the game you’ll acquire the expected knives, spears, lances, and such. All of which you can cycle through using the left shoulder button. But you’ll also start finding puppy soul powers you can use. These can help immensely, especially on bosses. Do keep in mind however, that these have limited supplies shared with your lives. So you’ll want to save these for key moments.

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Upon beating the story mode, you’ll find you won’t be done. You can go back, and find all of the dolls you missed. But beyond that you can play the Arcade mode. This mode is very much a Ghosts N’ Goblins experience with stages feeling more linear, and with the brutal challenge fans of that series would expect. You’ll have to start a stage over when you’re out of lives. Lives are really tied to Fritzy’s meter more so here, as when it becomes depleted completely you know you’re going to start the level over. Thankfully, you’ll still start where you last died. At least until the meter is depleted. You also get to use Fritzy’s powers in this mode as you find them by holding the attack button until it’s charged. Keep in mind as in the Story mode this will deplete the meter, so it reduces the number of lives you can use. Over time you can refill the meter the better you do. Getting to the end is a lot more streamlined as a result. Stages don’t feel exactly the same, as large chunks are completely different. Though you’ll still go up against the same bosses. Be that as it may, it’s still quite a tough game that will take all but the most devoted players a while to get through. Mostly due to the overall challenge of it. But some of the problems from the Story mode do rear their head here. So while the stages are shorter, and in a specific order, they add their own challenges, and sometimes the technical issues can make them even tougher. You can basically keep continuing, but each time means you’ll start the current stage over again, through all of its phases.

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The most striking thing about the game is just how good it looks, and sounds. This game is a wonderful send up of Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts. It has an amazing portfolio of sprite graphics, and animation that look like it could have appeared on Nintendo’s 16-bit juggernaut or even Commodore’s Amiga line of computers. The game even has a soundtrack that will evoke memories of the Commodore Amiga, early MS-DOS Adlib sound, and even a dash of the Sega Genesis for good measure. But even beyond that, you can have a more modern, CD quality orchestrated soundtrack if you choose. The game also has an optional scan line filter if you prefer a slightly blurred look to everything rather than have everything looking crisp.

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Still, on the whole it’s hard not to recommend this one. There may be some inconsistency in the FMV sequences, and the rest of the graphics. There may be some hit detection issues, and you’ll suffer a few cheap deaths here or there. But when the game is at its best it works so well it just has to be experienced. With two primary modes to play, it’s almost like having two games in one. Of course the main attraction is the Story mode. The variety of missions, and side quests while similar, will appeal to a lot of people who might normally skip it out of fears of the high difficulty, as it is a bit more forgiving. Be that as it may, the Arcade mode is something any fan of Capcom’s classic arcade game might want to play. The combat, while not perfect, is noticeably better than many of its peers. If not for the handful of technical issues you’ll likely run into, this would be a must own. But just because it falls a few notches away from perfection doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be played. It is true that it can feel, cheap, relentless, and unfair at times. But it’s also a lot of fun the other 90% of the time, with its solid action, loveable characters, and the fact it makes you want to spite it by beating it. It isn’t going to be for everyone. But for fans of adventure games with an old school twist, or Ghosts N’ Goblins fans yearning for the day when Capcom will finally take their money, it’s worth recommending. If this sounds like you Battle Princess Madelyn is still worth firing up on your computer, Xbox One, Switch, or PlayStation 4.

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

Owlboy Review

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The Super NES is known for many great things. Obviously Nintendo’s own wonderful games, and some of the most memorable efforts from names like Capcom, Konami, Square, and Natsume. These efforts often resulted in excellent adventure games, action RPGs, and action platformers. In recent  years a number of new games have shown up paying homage to these titles. But not all of them have done it as well as Owlboy.

PROS: Beautiful visuals. Tight controls. Engrossing story.

CONS: A few annoying bugs. Objectives aren’t always clear.

PIXEL ART: This game really does raise the bar for the art form.

Owlboy is easily one of the best modern platformers done in a style that resembles the 16-bit titles of yesteryear. Immediately you’ll be blown away by the insane amount of detail in the pixel art. The shading of the grass, the gradients in the clouds, and the plethora of tiles that make every background, and object stand out. Not only is there a great amount of detail, but so much of it is animated. Animated so well, in fact, that it matches the characters with their text balloons almost flawlessly.

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Speaking of facial sprite animation, and text balloons, Owlboy has a story on par with many coming-of-age animated Disney films. When the game begins you take control of an owl named Otus. Otus isn’t well liked by most of the inhabitants of Ville. He’s mocked, teased, bullied by many of the other owls his age (often because of his muteness), and he’s ostracized by adults. He gets blamed for things he has little to nothing to do with. He has one friend named Geddy who works defense for the town. Things change drastically one day, when a mysterious troublemaker distracts the two, and allows an invasion of pirates to occur.  From here, our pariah has to go on a three arc adventure to become the hero.

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Along the course of the story new characters get introduced, and this is where the game’s mechanics start to really take shape. Owlboy combines the Platformer with Adventure, and Action RPG elements to create something pretty special. You’ll explore different towns, and talk to NPCs the way you might in a game like Ys, or Faxanadu. You’ll explore areas the way you do in Metroidvanias. You’ll get into boss fights on par with those of the Classic Mega Man series. The developers at D-Pad even went the extra mile to make the shop one of the most entertaining moments in the game.

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Otus can run, jump, fly, and do a couple of  roll attacks as you go through the game. But he can also pick up some of the NPC characters you’ll meet, some items, and even some enemies. All of which are needed to solve puzzles, and get to a lot of areas. Most of the puzzles are fairly challenging to solve, involving every possible thing you can lift. Throughout the campaign you’ll also find fruits, and vegetables that replenish health too. Around halfway through the game you’ll find a shop. It works a little bit differently than the typical shops in most RPGs, and Adventure games.

Rather than simply buy items with the money you have, the shop keep sends out employees to just give them to you once you have enough coins. They don’t take the coins from you though. So it’s almost like a level up progress bar accented with comedy. These moments are quite hilarious too. The game makes excellent use of its characters, and animation to deliver laughs. Rather than simply give you the normal mundane experience of grinding money until you can buy the best kit, it’s gives entertainment. And these funny moments fit right in with the rest of the story.

 

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The story is great, the characters, are great, and everything else for the most part is as well. Not only do you get a bunch of interesting challenges to solve, but you’ll also do your fair share of platforming. Any good platformer requires excellent, and responsive controls. Owlboy has them. As you jump, fly, and switch characters around, things feel natural. So while things may look insurmountable at times, with enough practice you’ll get through them. The game utilizes the Adventure feel of checkpoints rather than the life system many retro-platformers do. These are fairly numerous, so there aren’t very many times you’ll find yourself re-doing long stretches of hurdles upon a mistake. That isn’t to say things will be easy. There were a few parts of the game that I found myself spending thirty to forty minutes on because I didn’t do just the right move. Or because I didn’t kill an enemy quite fast enough. But again, perseverance pays off. If you don’t give up, you’ll get through it.

The game is a lot of fun too. It scratches the itch of just about any old-school experience you can think of, and it’s engrossing. It makes you feel accomplished when you do something grand, and it doesn’t feel discouraging when you fall down. There are also plenty of moments that will just wow you. From riding rock dragons, to infiltrating bases, to the tremendous boss fights, there is a lot to love. Boss fights bring back the era of memorizing patterns. Much like the Mega Man, Castlevania, and Contra games of old, each fight makes you watch for openings. Eventually you’ll realize the boss is doing the same thing, and you’ll learn where to move, or which character to utilize, at what time. Most of them have several forms though, and with each form, a new pattern to learn. But through it all, you’ll have a great time. Whether you were in that era or not.

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As I’ve stated before, Owlboy looks astonishing. But the soundtrack goes along with it all so beautifully. The game has a wonderful orchestral score that flows from scene to scene, and area to area. It’s as if a Metroid game were filled with symphonic songs inspired by classical composers. None of it really comes off as cliché either. It’s almost expected in any fantasy setting to hear strings, and woodwind instruments. But here again, it feels like an animated Disney film. There are up tempo notes of optimism when things are looking up for our characters, and there are bombastic yet somber moments when it looks like all is lost. It probably isn’t the sort of thing you’ll listen to on a work commute, but it does accent the story, and gameplay very well.

It would be easy to write the game off as some niche experience for geezers like me who jammed on Ys III, Mega Man X, and ActRaiser on the Super NES back in the day. But it really isn’t, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you skip it because of that impression. Yes, indeed, there are plenty of things to like for those who were around for the 16-bit console wars of the 1990’s. But the new twists on gameplay, identifiable characters, and well told story, are things anybody who likes video games can experience. Owlboy joins the ranks of well-crafted, memorable indie releases like Axiom Verge, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, Undertale, and VVVVVV.

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It isn’t without its faults, as even the best games have some issues. In the case of Owlboy it seems to be bugs. Minor bugs, but annoying nevertheless. One of which seems to screw up your controls at random. Loading from the last checkpoint seems to fix it. This only happened to me once, near the end of the game. But it’s still worth mentioning. Another is how, at least on PC, the game still runs in memory even after exiting to the desktop. Pulling up the Task Manager in Windows allows you to shut it down, but it’s still 30 seconds of annoyance. There are also a couple of times in the campaign where it isn’t always clear where you’re supposed to go next. But this is really a minor nitpick since you’ll be spending a good portion of time just exploring anyway.

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Overall though, Owlboy comes highly recommended. It’s fun, engrossing, and has something for just about anyone. It’s a game that will likely garner an emotional response from you, thanks in part to the excellent animation. It’s a game you’ll likely cherish in part because of the story, and characters on display. But it’s also a game you’ll likely enjoy going through due to the top-notch play control, and well crafted gameplay. Owlboy is a must play addition to any collection.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.

The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild Review

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Well it’s been out for a few days, and you’ve heard everyone tell you to run out, and buy it. Not only the game, but a new Nintendo Switch to play it on. As well as a pro controller, extra joy cons, and maybe a case or screen protector. “It’s a killer app! Totally worth spending over $400 on!”. But with no other major titles coming until the summer, you might feel like I do. Is it really worth spending all of that now?

PROS: Nearly everything about it.

CONS: Pointing out the few things wrong with it almost seems like nitpicking.

WOW: This will impress Zelda, WRPG, JRPG fans, and those who like none of those things.

Well to some, it will absolutely be worth spending the extra money on a new console to play this game. To others it won’t be. But if you happen to own a Wii U, and collect games for it, you will want to buy the latest Legend Of Zelda title. Just like the Twilight Princess, this entry comes on both the platform that is retiring, and the platform taking the other’s place. If you’re waiting on the new system, and have the old one play it on the old one. If you simply have to have a valid excuse to buy a new console no matter the circumstance then play it on the new system.

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I could end things there, telling you to just buy the game. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you just why, all of this hype, praise, and fervor is warranted. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild does something previous Zelda games, including the best ones, haven’t been able to do. This game does something for every type of player. Previous games might have been too RPG for an action fan. Or not RPG enough for an RPG die-hard. There wasn’t anything cerebral enough for the Simulation fan, or maybe competitive enough for someone who rarely touches a single-player game.

Other people like me, are generally casual Zelda fans. We’ve played a couple of the hallmark games, like the original NES game, or A Link To The Past on the Super NES. But haven’t gotten into the 30 plus years of the lore. So this game does a wonderful job of giving lapsed fans, and newcomers a window into just why so many devoted Zelda fans love the series so much.

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Things start closely to the way they did in the original Legend Of Zelda. As Link, you are taken out of a deep magical slumber. Though it eerily resembles the cryogenic machines you see in many a science fiction story. There’s a voice that tells you, you are needed once again. You exit a cave, and see a vast, vast land upon you. When I say vast, I really do mean vast. The world of Hyrule in this iteration is one of the biggest open worlds ever presented in a video game. If you thought any of the Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row, or Elder Scrolls games had large worlds you haven’t seen anything.

But more importantly, and equally impressive, is that there is almost always something to do in Hyrule. You can spend tens to hundreds of hours completely ignoring missions. Just spending it wandering around without it getting old. Sure, one can cite driving over people in Saints Row 2 for a couple of hours. But eventually, you get tired of it, and shut the game off. Here, you’ll stumble upon enemy camps. Or you’ll find something out-of-place, investigate it, and get an item from the creature who moved things around. You can go mining for raw materials to have things crafted. You can go fishing, or hunting animals for meat. You can collect wild fruit, and vegetables. You can use all of the stuff you’ve harvested to cook meals.

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Cooking meals is not only something fun to screw around with, it’s an important part of the game. Meals can often net you benefits akin to power ups. Some meals will give you warmth to survive sub-zero temperatures. Others will make you run faster. Some can give you increased attack power, or cause you to take less damage. On top of that, the game implores you to experiment. Try adding unconventional ingredients to meals just to see what happens! Often times you’ll get meals that would make someone projectile vomit, but sometimes it results in something that would even make Gordon Ramsay pleasantly surprised.

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Of course, this is still a Zelda game, so you’ll be doing a lot of the stuff you’d expect from an action RPG, or an adventure game. You’ll find towns, talk to people, and be granted with all kinds of side quests, and errands. Doing these often nets you with rewards that make the main quests you’re given, a bit easier. Which is something for newcomers to keep in mind. You can go anywhere in Hyrule. Not figuratively, literally. You can get to any vista you set your eyes upon. The thing is, some of these areas will be quite hostile, and lethal when you get there. Especially if you’re unprepared.

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But that’s also what makes this version of Zelda so fun, the fact that the game doesn’t hold your hand. A main character may tell you where you need to go. But they’re not going to tell you what route to take, or when to go. Only that you need to. In the interim there are many other things you can choose to do. You can try to find the many shrines in the land for instance. These are dungeons that will force you to solve puzzles or defeat enemies with functions on your Sheikah Slate. (Minor spoiler: You get a magic tablet in the game at some point.)

The storyline is a bit of a departure from previous games. In most of the previous Zelda games, you had to save Zelda from Ganon, and that was the main goal. In this one, you find yourself in a Hyrule Ganon has pretty much held hostage for a century. Zelda isn’t a captive this time, she’s an active combatant. I won’t say much more than that as the game is still new enough that I’m trying not to reveal too much. But there are a ton of characters you’ll meet, and interact with. These conversations, and experiences tell some of the story, but that’s just it, it’s some of the story. A big chunk of this game, again, feels like a Western Role-Playing game, where your game play experience is a bulk of the story. You’re deciding where Link goes, what he’ll level up first, and what weapons he’ll use to fight.

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There are all kinds of weapons in this game too. Even things you wouldn’t think of as weapons, can be used as weapons. You start the adventure with no weapons of any kind. Alone, you have to go into the wilderness, and discover things on your own. Run into a monster unarmed? Better find something, anything to defend yourself with. You can use sticks. Limbs of a defeated skeleton. Farm equipment you stole from a village. There are bows, swords, and spears to be found. If you’re resourceful enough you can find your way out of a situation. Every weapon in the game, intended or improvised, can break too. So you really have to make sure you have something in reserve for a backup.

But you can also play very stealthily, and avoid a lot of combat by trying to sneak your way into shrines, landmarks, or other objectives. This is actually the preferred method when all of your weapons are broken, you’re low on supplies, and the nearest town is a fortnight away. You can climb any surface, save for during the rain, where things become slick. (Because there has to be *some* realism). Though you also have to keep an eye on your stamina. Get too tired, you’ll fall off of that cliff to your doom. Or drown in the pond. Or pant after sprinting, and get shot by a goblin archer. Or gored by a wild bull.

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Which brings me to another point. The difficulty. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is tough. If you’re ill prepared at any time, there’s a good chance you’re going to die. As stated a moment ago, there are a zillion ways to die in Hyrule. On top of the environment killing you, or the wildlife, the enemies are especially brutal. Particularly once you get beyond the initial area. Even when you think you’ve got one of the villains on their last leg, they’ll one shot you, and it’s a Game Over. Bosses in the game are also hidden. You never know when you’ll stumble onto one, and when you do you’ll panic.

The thing is, the sense of wonder, and discovery balances out the trepidation, and frustration really well. It isn’t hard “Just to be hard”. It’s to more or less affirm that in Hyrule, much like life, you have to get out there, and take chances. You have to go fight zombies at night. You have to risk falling to your death to get that treasure. You have to sneak up on that wild horse, and make him your pet. That’s right, this game also has mounts. You’ll want to use them to get you across long distances. Sure, you can fast travel between shrines, but that doesn’t always get you headed in the right direction. You can also fight while on horseback, which is yet another really cool feature. There are stables where you can keep your horses, and there are shops where you can get new clothes, weapons, food items, and other stuff too.

All of this in addition to the campaign’s many missions. It all culminates to make one of the best single-player experiences in a long time. It also supports any Zelda themed Amiibo toys you may have. The Breath Of The Wild figures, aren’t the only ones. If you’ve got the Super Smash Bros. themed Zelda characters those work too. The in-game content varies, some of them clothing items, but most of them random loot drops.

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Visually, the game is pretty stunning. I own the Wii U version, though I’ve seen the Switch version first hand. They’re largely similar, so whatever Nintendo machine you decide to buy the game for, it isn’t too different. That being said, I have noticed the Wii U version has lower texture quality (Think a PC game’s *medium* setting as opposed to *high*). But the physics of the wind blowing grass in the fields, or the little touches like insects flying off of flowers, or tiny birds fluttering about, are all here. Unfortunately the one major issue affecting the game is performance drop off. It isn’t uncommon for open world games to have performance issues, as they’re some of the more demanding games for video cards, and chipsets to render. In the case of Zelda, some of the drops are really rough in some areas. The initial area seems to be the worst since it is so densely populated with objects, and NPCs. Factor in the special effects, and the frame rate begins to take a big hit.

 

Now the good thing is, these still aren’t bad enough to make things unplayable. It’s still responsive enough to do what you need to do. But it will be noticeable, both from a visual standpoint, as well as feeling. Movement becomes sluggish, and frame drops will sometimes make it look choppy. The other saving grace is these usually only last a few seconds, and in the scope of the game world, they’re pretty small areas. Still, for some players it is going to be really annoying.

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The other issue is that at least on the Wii U, you’ll see a significant amount of pop in a few areas, as it looks like the draw distance was adjusted to increase performance. It’s a pretty minor nitpick in the grand scheme of things. Still, seeing wild sheep randomly appearing as your parachute passes over a farm, or seeing details of rocks load in when you get closer to a mountain, are noticeable things. Nothing that ruins the enjoyment, but it is a technical issue that open world games often have, and Zelda is no exception.

 

Be that as it may, the game still looks beautiful, taking the pseudo cel shaded look of Skyward Sword, and merging it with some of the realistic look found in Twilight Princess. The result is pretty great, giving a nice mesh of fantasy, and realism. It can be very vibrant, rich, and colorful when it needs to be. It can also be very grim, frightening, and full on terrifying when it needs to be. This gives an already great game, an amazing sense of atmosphere. The dynamic soundtrack does this as well. In many ways it reminded me of playing one of the Metroid Prime games. A song that fits any situation. When things are bleak, the music reflects that. When things are hopeful it reflects that too. Even when things are calm, it manages to come off with something light, and nurturing. Unless you start thinking things are too quiet. In which case the game probably thinks that too, so the soundtrack begins to change.

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I could probably fit another 8,000 or so words into this review talking about the excellent weather effects, how you’ll freeze to death in the snow without the right clothes. Or how great the animations are for any situation. Or the effective use of day, and night cycles. Or the neat little effects like fire burning grass when you swing a lit torch at a bad guy in the fields. Or about how you need to solve the shrine dungeons to get enough McGuffins to go to another place to extend your life meter (Okay, another spoiler there.). I could talk about the importance of towers, and constant saving (Again, you will be screaming “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!” a lot.). But I don’t want to give everything away, nor do I want to prattle on too long. The point is, that yes, The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is worth getting, even if you’re not a rabid Zelda fan. The technical hitches keep me from calling it sheer perfection. But if you haven’t owned a Nintendo console since the Gamecube, it makes for a very strong launch title for the Switch. Likewise, if you own Nintendo’s current system, and want to wait until there are more games for the Switch before buying one, this is a terrific sendoff for the Wii U. It’s a huge game with hundreds of hours of content. Not busy work. Not banal tasks. Real stuff. Plus, by the time you do see everything the digital expansion pack they’re working on will be out, which could possibly make a great game even better. Early adopters get some in-game cosmetics, but I recommend waiting, until it arrives. There’s already a ton to do in the initial game.

The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is excellent, and an early contender for many GOTY lists. Whether you experience it in the flashy new sports coupe or the old jalopy you’re going to be going on one hell of a ride. I’ve still got a long way to go journeying through it. But at 40 hours in, I think it’s safe to say this is one ride worth taking.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Rise and Shine Review

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Duos can be very effective in storytelling. Sherlock Holmes had Watson. Batman brought on Robin. He-Man had many allies, but usually rode into skirmishes on Battle Cat. Ren, and Stimpy. The list goes on. There’s a strength in a duo’s ability to give subtext to a story or a series of stories. Their relationships grow as time goes on, and what each of them bring to the table can be as engrossing as what happens around them. It has even been effective in video games. Rise, and Shine is another game that uses the duo very well.

PROS: Beautiful art. Interesting characters. Reference humor.

CONS: Fairly short experience for some. High difficulty for others.

CAMEOS: Far too many to note, and not in ways you’d expect.

Rise, and Shine takes place in a world called Gamearth, a planet under assault from Space Marines. Everything is laid to waste as the invaders kill all of the inhabitants, or turn them into monsters. As Rise, you’re given a magical revolver named Shine, when you see a Hyrulean gunned down in front of you. Before dying, he gives you Shine, and you move onto a quest to get to the Odyssey Temple.

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The setup immediately throws you into the action, and introduces new mechanics as the story moves along. Rise, and Shine is advertised as a twin stick, run, and gun game. But it really isn’t. There are elements of that to be sure, namely in the combat sections. But the reality is that the game shares a lot more in common with old cinematic adventure-platform hybrids. You’ll enter sections, and have to solve a puzzle to move forward, in every room. Even many of the fights you’ll end up in, are won by solving a puzzle.

In many ways it reminded me of Another World, a game that influenced many, many games after it came out. Games like Flashback,  Fade To Black, and the Oddworld games all had elements of Out Of This World. Rise, and Shine does as well. But the twin stick combat does make it considerably different. The game also throws in a number of challenging puzzles that take advantage of combat mechanics. Again, you’ll move with one stick, while aiming with the other. On PC you can move with the WASD, keys, and use a mouse to aim, or you can use a game pad with twin stick controls. But also remember, the game will transition from these brief Metal Slug meets Robotron moments, into the aforementioned Another World meets Max Payne moments.

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At one point in the game you’ll be given different ammunition types. Electrical bullets, as well as normal ones. The electrical bullets can be used on certain enemies, or switches. Other times you’ll need to use the normal bullets. In battles you’ll often switch between the ammo types, as some enemies, and even bosses will require hot swapping between them.

Eventually you’ll have two other mechanics to master. Exploding bullets that act as remote mines, and bullet time zones. Many of the game’s puzzles will require you to learn them in order to get switches, doors, or other paths to open up to you. There are also a few times where you’ll need to be perceptive, or go off of the beaten path to find secrets, items, and other assorted Easter Eggs.

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Rise, and Shine also has a very captivating style to it. It has a crisp, computer animated 2D look to everything. But unlike some other games that have gone for a similar style, this doesn’t feel like a Flash cartoon. The attention to detail alone makes it highly worth looking at. The color gradients, the outlines, and lighting make characters, and backgrounds pop. It really does feel like a child’s pop up book come to life. Albeit, with a gory M rating. Rise, and Shine has some absolutely nightmarish imagery.

Heads roll. Bodies get crushed. Entrails, and limbs are strewn about the streets. Pools of red splash with every kill. Plus with the high difficulty, you’ll likely witness your own demise hundreds of times. As a matter of fact, the high body count, and number of your own deaths are worked into the story. On top of that, the game is loaded with all kinds of game references going back to the industry’s infancy. Be that as it may, you’re going to see a lot of Nintendo references compared to most others. Still, it’s a fun ride, through, and through.

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One complaint some will have is the length of the game. One of the things the game seems to take away from Another World is a focus on telling its story in a highly stylized way, with as few technical problems as possible. Another World is quite the challenge on the first run through, but once you memorize its puzzles it can be cleared quickly. The same goes for Rise, and Shine. As of this writing I’m on the game’s final boss, and I’ve spent a good 4 hours of play time getting here. Most people seem to be in the 5-8 hour range, but for those who pick up things faster, they may clear it in 2 to 4 hours. That said, the final stage has an obscene level of difficulty, I haven’t been able to clear.

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This is something the individual potential player will have to take into consideration when thinking about picking it up. But if you do, you’ll find just that. A highly detailed, fun experience with a lot of challenge, and a very clear focus. Outside of a shorter experience, there isn’t very much to complain about other than the difficulty spike in the last stage. In my time with it I’ve yet to find any major bugs, or crashes. Everything performs well, and it is just as responsive on a controller or with the keyboard. Though I personally had an easier time aiming with a mouse, than a thumb stick.

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In the end, Rise, and Shine is a pretty good game. One that gives fans of adventure-platform computer games, and fans of brutally hard games a great time. But if you’re somebody who is wary of shorter games, or you’re easily frustrated by difficult games, you might want to wait on this one for a while.

Final Score: 7 out of 10.

 

 

Cybernoid: The Fighting Machine Review

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Hewson. That isn’t a name that many people remember but it was an important one. Back in the mid 1980’s home computer gaming was on the rise. Computers were more capable than game consoles, and did more than play games. Families were opting into them as parents could figure out their finances on them, as well as work on them. Their children could do homework, run educational software, and of course play games.

Many developers cropped up out of this environment, as they could affordably code their own software. In the USA home computers would spare Activision from the console market crash, as well as allow Electronic Arts to slowly build its empire. It gave way to independent publishers too like Cosmi who would put out a lot of great budget titles. Japanese companies like Konami, Capcom, SEGA, Technos, and Taito would see official ports of their games on computers. But in Europe computers would prove arguably even more popular. Time Warp, Rare, Firebird, Codemasters, and Hewson are but a handful of European developers who would make a lasting legacy on these machines.

Hewson Consultants was one of the smallest of these studios. But it managed to put out some of the most memorable titles for the European market. Their biggest strength was arcade shooters. Over the years they would put out things like Paradroid, Tower Toppler, and  Uridium. But today’s game was one of their most noteworthy titles published.

PROS: Style. High difficulty. The C64 version’s glorious soundtrack.

CONS: May be TOO difficult for some. Short. Some versions have control issues.

DTV: Cybernoid, and its sequel are bundled in the C64 DTV Games in a controller system!

Cybernoid came out around the time when arcade shmups had transitioned to scrolling stages. But instead of going along with the likes of Gradius, and R-Type, Cybernoid retains vintage flip screen gameplay. That isn’t really a bad thing. The result is something that feels different, even if it is technically inferior. Cybernoid is a game that uses the flip screen mechanics to implement characteristics of an adventure game.

The story is pretty cut, and dry. You’re a pilot for a federation army sent into an asteroid belt to stop pirates from stealing your resources. Cybernoid is a tough game through, and through. When you fire it up, you’ll immediately have the sense things are going to be difficult. As the game doesn’t scroll between screens, each screen is its own puzzle, adventure shooter. Some areas will be a fire fight. Other areas will have a bunch of death traps you’ll need to carefully navigate. Sometimes you’ll find a combination of the two.

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The game becomes extra challenging when you realize that you’re also being timed. If you fail to complete a stage in time you die. In fact, many things will kill you. If your ship grazes a bad guy, you die. In true bullet hell fashion, the screen will be filled with projectiles. If a single one touches you, you die. If you crash into certain parts of the scenery, you die. But there is something really satisfying about Cybernoid in spite of the steep learning curve. When you finally solve a room, you will feel ecstatic. Then crushed when you lose your last life in the next room. But restart you will.

The game does give you a pretty high number of power ups to help you. How do you find these power ups? By killing everything you possibly can. Destroying enemies will allow you to salvage the wreckage for items. You can find missiles, force fields, option shields, and more. You’ll also want to conserve a lot of the power ups because in some rooms you’ll need them to destroy some of the obstacles. If you run out of supplies when you get to these rooms, you’ll be stuck watching the timer count down to your demise.

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Cybernoid isn’t very long either just clocking in at three stages. But those three stages will likely take you days of committed gaming to beat. Cybernoid was also released on several platforms, and depending on where you are in the world, some versions may be easier to find than others.

The 8-bit versions of the game are largely similar. Most of the ships, characters, and background textures are the same. The color palettes, and screen modes differ mildly between the versions. The ZX Spectrum, and Amstrad CPC versions look closest to each other while the Commodore 64 version probably has the best look of any of the 8-bit computers. Interestingly the Commodore 64 version also has an entirely different soundtrack than the other computer versions. The legendary Jeroen Tel wrote his own score for the C64 while the other computers had the original soundtrack by Dave Rogers.

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Here in the states though, most people are probably most familiar with the Nintendo Entertainment System version published by Acclaim. This version was done by a small developer called Studio 12. The NES version looks like it was based off of the C64 version, even the color palette used is similar. The NES version also has its own original soundtrack that is decent, but nowhere near the earworm level of the C64 version. The two versions also play pretty close to each other, though the C64 version feels a lot more responsive. On the C64 things feel a lot more fluid, and you’ll have an easier time trying to avoid huge swaths of projectiles. Though again, by no means will the game be easy.

This doesn’t make the NES version bad, but it isn’t the preferred version. This is because of a number of small things that hold it back. Things feel a little clunky when compared to the C64 version. Getting around a couple of the obstacles is harder as a result. A couple of enemy types were shrunk in size to compensate for this but it doesn’t help all that much. There are also a couple of minor bugs that rarely come up. But when they do, they can really annoy you. However, the NES version does have one advantage, and that is you can select between three difficulty levels. They don’t change the level of challenge dramatically, but if you’re getting creamed you can make things mildly easier. The NES version also has a cinema screen that plays upon your death, as well as an ending. Other versions simply restart the game with your current score intact.

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Cybernoid did find its way onto the Amiga, and Atari ST as well. These versions have better graphics than the 8-bit versions. But I can’t really tell you much about them as I haven’t spent any time with them. In my research I’ve found that many people who have played them aren’t particularly all that fond of them. They have a much lower reputation in terms of play control, and balance than their 8-bit counterparts.

No matter which version you go with though, you’ll be presented with a high level of challenge. Cybernoid isn’t particularly long, and may not have the constant action of classic shmups. But the blend of bullet hell, and flip screen adventuring make for a unique, classic. One that belongs in your classic gaming library.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Interstellaria Review

Every so often a game tries to wear multiple hats at once. In a giant stack. Trying to merge many different genres together. Sometimes this works very well. Sometimes it doesn’t. Or sometimes it works, but not as well as you might like it to.

Interstellaria.

PROS: Engaging, deep game play. Challenge. Humor.

CONS: clichéd storyline. Poor explanations of inputs, and rules to the player.

STAR TREK: There are a lot of parallels to the franchise here. Fans may want to jump in.

Interstellaria has a lot of genre elements in it. Point & Click adventuring. Strategy gaming. Space simulation. It takes all of these elements, and attempts to make a really delicious video game stew with them. At face value, it comes off as a rousing success. In practice, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Interstellaria starts with a short series of cinema screens that move the basic plot around. It’s years after a world war, corporations have taken over, and mankind heads to the stars. Where the threat of interplanetary war looms.

You start out as a randomized character, in a building. Your roommate kicks you out of your apartment, and you have to go looking for a job. the hunt takes you to a job on a freighter, where your space adventures begin. From here the game takes on elements from very early home computer space sims, and bits of FTL’s ship building. The ships allow you to place weapons, sleep chambers, warp core engines, tactical computers, and navigational computers around them. You can assign a role to each member of your crew. Captain, Engineer, you name it. You can also rename any of your playable characters. You can give them friends’ or relatives’ names. You can stick with the zany names the game generates. It’s entirely up to you.

The game has a lot of things to keep an eye on. You have to make sure you have enough crew members for each important role. Someone to pilot the ship. Someone for weapons. Someone for engineering. Think of this as an unofficial Star Trek game, and you’ll start to see the potential. Like the show, Interstellaria has you exploring the cosmos looking for new worlds to explore. When you discover a world upon landing (or crashing) on it, you can move your characters about searching for resources to bring with you. You can meet new characters, recruit them, and build your crew. The game will have you spending hours doing this. Discovering planets, life, and giving you a lot to do.

You’ll also have a number of encounters in space. Sometimes a hostile race will come along to destroy your ship. Other times you can hail them, and attempt diplomacy. The game has a lot of amusing dialogue trees during these moments as they lampoon a number of its sci-fi influences. Throughout the game you can also find items to enhance the statistics of your crew members. Some may give them faster speed, but cost more food consumption. Or let them stay awake much longer at the cost of another stat. The ships you command work very much the same way, and you’ll spend a lot of the game micromanaging the status of your engines, weaponry, and navigational computers.

During space combat you’ll also pull up an overhead combat screen where you’ll move your cursor around attacking enemy ships, as well as moving your own ship. This is where some of the game’s flaws start to crop up though. The game has a way of overwhelming you with the amount of things you need to pay attention to, and not directing you on how. Or more accurately not directing you on how with proficiency. There are text boxes that will pop up telling you to turn on weapons before you try to shoot them. There are text boxes telling you to move a guy to navigation. But it isn’t obvious just on how to do that. Especially when you start playing it for the first time. Even if you’ve played a handful of times it isn’t always obvious.

This becomes less of a problem if you get invested in the game. But for a lot of people, that means a lot of game time spent on training yourself to go through some seemingly archaic interfaces, and menus. Which isn’t fun to do. So it has the problem of hooking people from the outset. The game also has a number of small bugs. Giving items to certain characters can crash the game. For instance giving a robot character an item that uses food points, causes the robot to get hungry. Since the robot cannot eat, the game confuses itself, and crashes. On the surface, someone may say, “Oh it requires food. Robots don’t eat food. I can’t use this.” In practice you’ll have players who like to experiment, or players who don’t pay attention, and inadvertently discover these glitches. No game is bug free, and these bugs don’t completely ruin the game. But some of them will make you groan if you find one after sinking a lot of time into the game. So do save often.

The game doesn’t have quite the level of randomness of space roguelikes such as FTL. The map is the same, the instances are in much the same order. But the battles are randomized. The drawback is once you’ve discovered all of the planets you’ve seen most of the exploration portion of the game. But you might keep coming back for the battles, and ship building. But even with that being the case, many of the old space sims it pays homage to worked the same way. If you’re looking for a campaign you can take at your own pace this will still appeal to you. If you’re going more for a randomized builder it still might, though not quite as much.

In spite of its shortcomings I still recommend checking the game out. Especially for Star Trek fans looking for something that captures the spirit of the shows. It manages to be fun, if sometimes frustrating when learning what you’re supposed to do. But once you get past the learning curve it can be a blast. You can also be forced to start over too through your own ineptitude. So it isn’t a foolproof run once you have a handle on the star map chart. Your entire crew can die in a battle leaving you with no other option. It’s a challenging game. It’s worth playing. It just has some issues that keep it from reaching top warp speed.

Final Score: 7 out of 10.

Grim Fandango Remastered Review

I’ve said it before about other games, but it seems almost pointless to review Grim Fandango Remastered. It’s a good game. It’s a wonderful game. You’ve probably heard every big name from Jeff Green (of Computer Gaming World fame) to PushingUpRoses (of YouTube fame) sing its praises many, many times since it came out way back in 1998. So why bring it up again? Well, the recent re-release has had some time to simmer, and this might shock you. A lot of folks didn’t play it back in the day. Plus there are a lot of folks who weren’t around back in the day, and five of you may have somehow missed all of those other reviews, articles, and episodes.

PROS: The Lucas Arts classic adventure game in High Definition!

CONS: Not much replay value. Light on extras.

LAST OF THE GIANTS: Despite the critical acclaim, the original game didn’t sell as well as Lucas Arts needed it to.

Before delving into the game itself again, I’m briefly going to go over the extras. To be honest, Grim Fandango Remastered does not offer a lot in the way of extras, and bonus content. It doesn’t even offer much in the sense of settings in the PC version. You get a handful of sliders, and aspect ratio options. That is all. While this is a re-release of a fairly old game, this is pretty threadbare. The game was originally on PC, and while this re-release was shooting for the PS4 audience, the PC should have added some drop menus at the very least. Thankfully, one really helpful inclusion is the added mouse controls. Originally the game used a setup similar to Resident Evil’s tank controls. Those are still present in this version, but the mouse controls are much nicer. The game ends up feeling much more like the point, and click games that inspired it as a result. They’re not perfect, as sometimes you’ll want to go in one direction, and the game will think you indicated something else. It can be annoying, but it is a lot better than trying to navigate the game with tank controls.

If you’re insistent on using the tank controls, they’ll take you right back to the days of Resident Evil 2. They work exactly as you would expect.  You use the arrow keys to move, and a handful of other keys to perform functions.The problem with them is that going back to that scheme can feel very clunky. Particularly when trying to navigate around some of the objects. Even if it does give you the convenience of using a game pad or a keyboard. Still, if you prefer them for whatever reason, you’ll be happy they’ve been left intact.

Moving the mouse about the screen will pull up various icons when you discover an interactive object. One of them will have a description recited to you, another will be a command to take the item, while others will use an item. When moving your character with the mouse, you’ll just click wherever you wish him to go, and he will begin the long walk. Double clicking the mouse will cause him to run. Something handy to know when you want to get somewhere right away. This version also has much sharper graphics, and textures, which is great because you can see certain interactive items much easier. It also makes reading crucial text easier as the crisp resolutions are easier to see.

Grim Fandango tells the story of Manny Calavera (played by Tony Plana) who works in a travel agency in the afterlife. As a Grim Reaper, he has to get souls from the land of the dead to the ninth underworld. Clients who lived with enough virtue have more clout in the world, while those who lived pretty dastardly ones have very little. The worst of which are seen to have to make the journey on foot. Of course, Manny also has to deal with his overbearing boss who demands he turn high margins off of clients that are essentially loss leaders. Things get exciting, and terrifying when he manages to snag a higher ended client away from a coworker though, and that is when the game goes into high gear. The story has a number of twists, turns, involving mystery, and betrayal along the way. I won’t go into it here in case you’re one of the many who missed it in 1998. But there are tons of places online that go deep into the storyline if you want to see spoilers. Being an adventure game, I would advise against that, as the story is pretty much the point of playing the game.

Grim Fandango has a lot of great things going for it. It has hours of superbly voice acted audio to go along with dialogue trees. It has many well designed puzzles in it, many of which you’ll solve by accident. The game implores you to explore each area, at your leisure. Taking your time, checking out every nook, and cranny of every area. The game’s areas are laid out very similarly to Capcom’s Resident Evil. Each room is a huge pre rendered background, and you explore these rooms for items, puzzles or other characters to interact with. Sometimes the story will lead you to back track to somewhere earlier for something you may have missed. But it never feels tedious, or boring thanks to the addictive atmosphere. The game has a four act structure that you’ll eventually play through. The game is almost impossible to lose. So those worried about high difficulty need not worry. Adventure games of this ilk, are, and always have been about the narrative, the characters, and the world presented. The best of them will keep you invested with all of these elements. That’s why Grim Fandango is considered one of the best.

There are excellent performances from Tony Plata, Maria Canals, Jim Ward, Alan Blumenfeld among others, as well as a lot of creativity. The game blends a lot of Aztec folklore, with film noir to create not only a really fun story, but a really great aesthetic too. The game’s visuals are heavily inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead imagery, but has its own unique spin. Combine this with hints of Humphrey Bogart movies, and you have a winner. If you already own an original copy of Grim Fandango, there are a few positive reasons to pick up this remaster. First, (assuming you’re getting the PC version) you’ll be able to run it on a modern system natively. You won’t have to fiddle with DosBox emulation. Second, the improved graphics, and controls are a Godsend, that make an already great adventure game even better. The extras again, may not really do it for you, and again the lack of graphics, and performance options are a little bit disappointing. Nevertheless, with all of the improvements, and even some overhauls (some of the content was actually redone as it couldn’t be re-acquired, or imported properly.) it is still a title worth considering buying again. Especially if you are a big fan of Tim Schafer’s other major work.

For those who have never played this game previously, you pretty much need to experience it. Whether you buy the PC or PS4 version is immaterial. This game is almost essential due to the historical relevance, and its well deserved reputation in the realm of point & click, and adventure games.

Final Score: 9 out of 10