Tag Archives: Adventure

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

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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

Super Mario 3D World Review

One might ask “Why bother reviewing Super Mario 3D World?” Everyone in the gaming press pretty much loved it upon its release. It’s one of the best games on the Wii U, and one of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary time for the console.  On the other hand, there are a lot of people who haven’t played it, and perhaps I can add something new to the discussion despite being late to the party on this one.

What you’ll love: The new power ups. The 4 player mode. MiiVerse stamp collecting.

What you’ll hate: Probably nothing. Though you might have wanted more sandbox levels.

Get on the floor: Bowser is apparently way into Disco.

Super Mario 3D World is easy to write off as the big brother of Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. Many did just that to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, as well as New Super Mario Bros. Wii U when those games came out. Despite the fact that they were both, and are very good games in the long line of Super Mario Bros. games. But to paint SM3DW with that same brush would actually be pretty far off of the mark.

Super Mario 3D World is actually more of a send up of every kind of Mario platformer rather than a strict 2.5D or 3D sandbox game. There are moments where you will have a sandbox or side scrolling experience. But most of the game’s levels are structured somewhere between the A to B design of Super Mario Galaxy, and the exploratory design of Super Mario 64. The game seems to cast the widest net this way, hoping to get not only long time fans of Mario, but lapsed fans, and new players as well.

All of the levels are fun, and in many cases addictive. As in every game since the Nintendo 64 era there are stars to collect in every stage. Every stage has a certain number of stars that need to be found in order to be able to play it, and most stages have three stars hidden within them. Some of which are a huge challenge to find, as they are well hidden. You’ll also need to use the gamepad’s touchscreen in a few levels, using it to open doors, pull out platforms, and more.

The game also uses its environments really well. Sometimes you will have to find a star in the background, and figure out a way to get back there to collect it. Other times there may be one that lies somewhere so far into the foreground you cannot see it. Some may ask you to risk your life to get them, and you’ll agonize over the logistics of how to do so without dying. Or sometimes there may be a time limit associated with it. The game tells you: “Hey, nab all of these green coins in 8 seconds.” To which you reply: “But there are Podoboos, Piranha Plants, and Goombas there.” The game then says to you: “Oh, sorry, I’m afraid you ran out of time. You’ll have to replay this level again if you want that Star.”

But you will replay that level. As well as all of the other ones. Because you will become a star fiend trying to get through to the end. Furthering the need to find secrets are the MiiVerse stamps in almost every level. These stamps don’t do much for you in terms of winning the game. However during your time with the game you can connect with other players for strategies, asking where a secret item is, or even just venting about your 43rd loss on Grumblump Inferno. When you do, you can use the stamps to illustrate your message to the other players.

Also coming over from MiiVerse is Ghost Data. This feature shows Mii’s from other Wii U’s during your time in a stage, playing that stage, as you are playing (Say that five times fast!).  This sometimes shows you how to find a star, or secret area because you can see what other players were doing when they played the stage you are currently in. The downside is sometimes on a difficult section you may find yourself paying more attention to the Mii than the stage hazards costing you precious lives.

Stages are laid out in worlds. Much like Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and the New Super Mario Bros. series there is a map screen you can explore. When you’ve gotten enough stars you can enter stages. At the end of every world is a castle stage with a boss. Defeat the boss, and you get to go to the next world. Rinse. Repeat. There are not only your standard stages in the worlds, but also Mystery House stages. These stages can give you anywhere from five to ten stars, and put you in a timed gauntlet of puzzles on par with those found in Valve’s Portal. There are also Captain Toad levels where you have to traverse  a fully 3D stage without the ability to jump while figuring out how to get the stars within it. Usually these have at least five stars to collect.

If all of that wasn’t enough, elements from previous map screens return. Super Mario Bros. 3 had Toad houses, where Toad would give you free power ups. They’re back. Super Mario Bros. 2  had a slot machine for 1-Ups at the end of every level. They appear on the map screen here. SMB3’s encounter spots are here too. So you may have to tangle with 3 Hammer Bros. one world, or Charging Chucks on another. New to the map screen are Sprixie houses, where a Sprixie will give you a free stamp.

Most of your favorite power ups from Super Mario Bros 3 return. Of course you’ll see the iconic Mushrooms, and Fire Flowers. But you’ll see The Tanooki Suit, Hammer Suit, Kurbio’s Shoe ( as a skate mind you but it’s here). The new attraction of course is the Cat Suit. This suit allows Mario, and the others to climb walls for secrets, break certain obstacles, and leap great distances with a pounce. There are also cherries. These clone your character allowing you to solve certain puzzles. You’ll also see a lot of glass pipes holding items, stars, and even enemies. These not only give you the ability to go further in a level, or lead you to secret areas, but some act as well crafted puzzle sequences.

You’ll also notice I said “Mario, and the others” in the previous paragraph. That is because the game also brings back Super Mario Bros. 2’s biggest feature: Pick the right character for the level. Each character can, of course complete any level in the game. However, some levels will be easier with certain characters. Almost every level has an item only one of the four characters can get without using an item. Some go as far as putting a switch in with the character’s face on it. Essentially letting you know you HAVE to use that character to see what that switch will do.

This also leads into the multiplayer co-op feature.  Super Mario 3D World can be played with four players for couch co-op. While it’s unfortunate there is no online co-op, the feature does lend itself well to party gaming. It has a very nice balance in terms of the risk of lone wolfing levels, or trying to really work as a team to get the job done. Each of you will get a different character: Mario, Luigi, Toad, or Princess Peach (Toadstool if you’re an old-timer like myself). Mario performs as you’d expect. Luigi tends to skid farther so he feels slippery at times. But he jumps significantly higher than the rest of the characters. Toad tends to run the fastest, but doesn’t jump very high at all. Peach can float for a short time, making her a nice option on stages with a lot of pits.  You can also play as Rosalina, (The mysterious character from Super Mario Galaxy, and it’s sequel) by getting enough stars to unlock a stage in a secret world.

If you, or one of your partners find yourselves too agitated by a certain part of a stage there are also the golden Assist Blocks. These allow players to essentially coast through, flying over the entire level. Beware though, if you use this feature even one time, it forever taints your save file with the inability to have glittering stars as reminder that you used it.

If by the end of the game you have enough stars you can open up secret worlds. Of course there is Star World, but there are even more beyond that.  If nothing else this game gives you more content than a lot of other games do for your $60.  Visually, the game is very impressive too. Nintendo’s artists always do an amazing job with character models, textures, and art in general but this game is gorgeous. It may not be to the level of a bleeding edge PC game. But even those obsessed with photorealistic graphics will admit that it still does look really good. It’s bright, it’s colorful, it’s a lot of fun to look at.

It’s even fun to listen to. Of course Charles Martinet is back, and great as always. But musically this game is also a joy. Every song accents what is happening on the screen near perfectly. While the story in the game is your typical Mario fare,  the music still goes a long way to making you care about what is going on even if it isn’t very deep. One stage features a very catchy New Wave song that plays while parts of the stage appear, and reappear in time with the song. One world map screen has music right out of a Roller Skating Disco movie. Other stages have grand orchestral themes. Other spots feature some Jazz.  All of it going a long way to help tell a tale about the four main Mario characters stopping Bowser from keeping fairies called Sprixies  captive in jars. Why does he want them held captive in jars? Because he wants to use their power to take over the world. Again.  For what has to be at least the thirteenth time.

It all comes together in a really great package that like all of the Mario games before it is indeed a must buy for any Wii U owner. It’s one of the most fun games to come out near the end of last year, and if you missed it, pick it up while you still can. Even if you don’t typically play platformers it’s a fun ride worth taking.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Deadlight Review

Adventure platforming returns in Deadlight.

PROS: Great visuals, gameplay, level design.

CONS: You’ve seen this story dozens of times now.

MAKE IT HARDER ON YOURSELF: Try to beat it without shooting any zombies.

As a gamer during the holiday season sometimes friends, and family may scrape enough together to get you a game or two. One of the more interesting games I received for Christmas 2013 was Deadlight. Released at the tail end of 2012, Deadlight is a survival horror themed game that shares an awful lot more in common with games like Another World (Out of this world), Flashback, and the original Prince Of Persia than it does those like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Eternal Darkness.

It’s almost jarring because the visuals in this game go out of their way to use the Unreal Engine to evoke that sense of dread seen in the last 15 years of survival horror. The storyline follows that of a gristly aging man named Randall Wayne who is searching for his family in the zombie apocalypse. It’s not the most original story in games or films especially in this current trend of zombie themed stories over the past several years. But to its credit, Deadlight does try to put its own spin on it toward the end. Throughout the campaign you guide Randall through Washington suburbs, cityscapes, underground caverns and more as he tries desperately to find his loved ones.

The game is displayed, and played in a 2.5D perspective. As I said near the beginning of the review, Deadlight takes its inspiration from early 90’s platform adventures built around trial, and error puzzles. The most notable of which is Another World. So much so that when you beat the game, you can find Eric Chahi’s name in the special thanks section of the credits along with Jordan Mechner’s. These were the creators of Another World, and Prince Of Persia respectively.  Like those games, Deadlight’s gameplay puts you into situations where you have to think about carefully timed jumps, plotted out uses of items, or causing distractions to solve puzzles. Most enemies have to be outwitted rather than dispatched save for a couple of epic sprinting sections that will bring back memories of escaping Combine forces near the beginning of Half-Life 2.

Miss a jump, and you may fall onto spikes. Time a roll wrong, and you may find yourself electrocuted. Fail to solve a puzzle in time, and someone you care about may die causing a game over.  There are also a lot of secret items, like diary pages, and scrapbook pieces you can collect to fill in some of the back story if you’re so inclined.

If it sounds like I’m calling Deadlight too derivative, don’t take that the wrong way. It does indeed borrow a lot of elements from its inspiration, but by no means does this make it a bad game. In fact, it does a pretty great job in its attempts to recreate that style of gameplay that has been relatively absent since the days of the Amiga, Super NES, and Genesis. It’s clear that the folks at Tequila Works loved those games, and were really committed to making a great send up of that gameplay.

Deadlight does make a few missteps along the way though. First of all, the PC version of the game has a very paltry configuration menu. If you play this game on a computer you will find one sole, slider devoted to quality. That’s it. Moving it left turns some of the effects off, while moving it right will turn some back on. You can’t turn on or off individual settings at all whatsoever. So those who really like to tweak games will be disappointed. Keyboard commands are there, but it’s clear that the game was meant to be played on the Xbox 360 pad. From the Microsoft game studios logo in the credits, to the 360 button prompts, to the references to Xbox Live, you will really want to play this on a 360 pad if you have one.

Deadlight tells its story mostly through cinema screens that are animated in only one or two spots. I know this is a growing trend in middle budget, and independent games. But in the case of Deadlight it really misses an opportunity to try to ape its inspiration. One of the reasons Another World was so great was because of how it could tell its story so well without a single line of dialogue. It used it’s environments, and players’ reactions to them to tell the story. Deadlight has some great environments, and to be fair most of its voice acting is pretty decent. But it doesn’t use them to their full potential. It would have been nice to see  more of the cinema screens replaced by the in-game sequences the game already uses to further back story in some sections.

Also I would have liked to have gotten to know the motivations behind the true villains revealed to the audience during gameplay. We are told that they are behind the zombies, and they have ulterior motives. But the game doesn’t really explore that back story very well. It does give us some insight into the past of the protagonist though, and so it does wrap up that narrative, even if it is a little abrupt in doing so.

In the gameplay department, it isn’t always obvious which ledges can be navigated or what objects can be moved. But those are indeed nitpicks. After a few times of dying trying to solve puzzles you’ll have that idea bulb go off, and make your way out. Finally, the game isn’t very long. Advanced players can make their way through the game in about three hours. The average player will probably complete it in about five. The game is a budget priced title, so this isn’t as bad as a AAA $60 title clocking in at far too low a running time. But at $15 some players may decide to wait for a discount.

Overall however, I really enjoyed my time with Deadlight. It isn’t going to be the most original title you’ll play. It’s story, and gameplay have been done elsewhere. But it is also a very well crafted game you can tell developers really poured a lot of effort into. The mechanics work great. The play control works great. The puzzles are put together very well. It’s just a really fun game to play through, and figure out. For anyone who wishes there were more Another World, Flashback, Prince Of Persia, or early Oddworld games to play, check it out.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.